March 25, 1993

Aaron: We have explored this chain up to the point of the six sense bases. These are your five physical senses and mind. First I want to offer you the next steps in the traditional scheme. Then I would like to explain my own perspective of that scheme. In the traditional scheme, once there is the six-fold sense base, and the sense object, contact is a necessary result. Thus, for there to be contact there must be the sense organ; for example the eye, and the sense object upon which the eye rests. Then there will be contact. This is obvious but we will use this distinction between sense organ and sense object further along.

In the traditional chain, from contact arises feeling, in the sense of positive, negative, neutral. Again, this is a necessary result. It is not necessary that you move from neutral to positive or negative. You may remain in neutral. But there will be feeling of one sort or another. If the feeling is one of aversion or liking, craving arises. There is not craving to obtain that object which is met with dislike, but craving to defend the self from that object, to be safe. Craving for escape. The traditional chain still calls this step craving. I believe that you can see that craving and aversion are part of one another. Those three steps in the traditional presentation are all that I wish us to consider today.

Last month we looked at vinnana-rebirth consciousness-in much depth. In a sense, we are now coming back to that for an even deeper look. You have heard me speak before about the leap from neutral to aversion or grasping, to like or dislike, or the staying in neutral, calling that moment of staying or movement the active moment. This is the moment when the seed is planted, the moment of rebirth consciousness. When we looked at this process last month, we talked about adhering and non-adhering karma. We saw how non-adhering karma grows out of absence of a separate self. Each of you watched in yourselves what solidified self and what led to dissolution of self and the clearer experience of connection. What we will do next is to come back to that with a movie camera in which the frames may be stopped so that we can take an even closer look.

I have told you that the traditional presentation of dependent origination assumes three lifetimes. We looked at the first lifetime, how ignorance and volitional formations give rise to rebirth consciousness which brings us into this lifetime with the formation of mind and body and senses and on into contact, feeling, craving. You have all heard me discuss this small segment of the entire chain before. I want us to look at this now and in the upcoming month with as much awareness as possible. What is happening in this moment? Let me first remind you this is my own presentation of this part of the chain. Please note that I move aside from traditional Buddhist labels. This is not written in the standard books, but is my own perspective which I think offers the human a clear understanding of the process.

There are the senses. The sense organ touches a sense object. If you live on the Earth plane, even if you are physically deprived of all use of your senses besides mind, the mind will still touch on external objects. You interrelate with your environment. You do not experience the results of that contact in a constant way. One who loves to swim would be delighted to see a lake on a hot day. One who fears the water will tremble at the prospect of immersion in that coolness. One sniffs a spicy curry and its mouth waters. Another inhales that same scent and pulls away with disdain. It is obvious that some of your relationship to that which you encounter does not come from the experience of this moment but from the past, from old mind experiences. Therefore, when you meet whatever sight, sound, odor, taste, physical sensation, or thought, it is not that object itself that draws you out of neutral. Rather it is old mind conditioning.

To find some freedom from our biases, it is useful to notice that old mind conditioning as it arises. You do not need to look into every past experience you've had with mud or apple pies to know why one appeals and one does not appeal, only to register that there is, in fact, a conditioned response occurring. Just the awareness of that conditioned response helps draw you back into center.

In my own terminology, I have broken down this phase of contact into three parts. The first I call contact. This is the simple moment of seeing, hearing or whatever. The second is consciousness-mind knowing there has been contact. The third part of the experience is perception. This is where old mind is inevitably drawn in. Have you all had the visual experience of looking at something and not understanding it? You stared and tried to draw on past images: 'What is this?" You wanted to label it. 'What am I seeing?" Perhaps you experienced a sense of relief when it finally fit into a pattern.

I would like you to visualize with me here for a moment. You have just made a journey in a space vehicle. You sat for that journey in a comfortable but uninteresting room, no windows. Now this ship has touched down. A door ahead of you opens and through some telepathic communication you are aware that it is safe to emerge. By safe, I mean you will be able to breath the air; you will not burn up or freeze.

Stepping to the doorway, your gaze settles on what seemed to be billowing blue, purple, and rose-colored clouds. Each is swirling like a small tornado about twenty feet high. There is the familiarity of what seems to be a solid ground surface and a space, perhaps air, above you. These small tornadoes do not settle but are constantly in motion. On the ground or what we will call the ground, is a writhing mass of seemingly millions of snakes of different sizes, yet they seem to have no head or tail but interweave and grow out of one another. There in the middle of this writhing mass is a liquid area. It would seem to be a stream of water from a higher level of the earth-type mass, falling in what might appear a very traditional waterfall and then flowing out again. This writhing snakelike mass covers everything else. And yet, you see it is possible to walk for there are creatures, not like yourselves but not so different as to be startling. There is a core of a body and appendages. They move; as they step the writhing mass on the ground separates itself to give room for the next footstep.

What do you do with this scene? I ask you to be as present in it as you can. Would you get over your squeamishness at the snakes and try to talk to the moving figures? Would you withdraw in fear of the small tornadoes? Can you see the process in yourself whereby your conditioned biases lead you to what, in this case, would be most inaccurate assumptions? I ask you to notice those biases. (pause) It will be reasonable to exercise caution, to put a foot gently on this seemingly solid surface to see if it offers adequate resistance to your weight, to see what these snakelike creatures do. Take a few steps out and discover that you are safe. (pause) Notice any arising of fear of the writhing mass at your feet. (pause) Notice whether the biases fade as you observe that you are not attacked. (pause) And yet, for those of you with deep fear of snakes, there may still be real discomfort.

Look carefully at this writhing mass. You begin to notice thinner areas and bulbous areas and cannot make much sense of that. What next? Would you turn to the beings that somewhat mirror yourself? (pause) Can you again see the bias there, the conditioned response? If you simply announce your presence, with thought, with word, you would find on this plane that the intelligent voice that answered you belonged to the small tornado, that the formed beings with appendages were the second density forms of the plane.

I offer this visualization to help you see the shift from sense consciousness to perception and how much that perception draws on old mind patterns. This is important. You can do nothing about your biases until you are aware that they exist. The first homework assignment I offer then is very simple. I would like each of you, for a few minutes a day, to spend some time with some sense object as if you had never experienced it before. See if you can differentiate the truth of that object or song or sight from your own biases about it. Really explore it. Stay with one thing through the week or explore a different object, a different sense, each day, as you choose. What happens to the experience when you bring freshness to it? What happens when you stay in this moment? The second homework assignment, to notice contact during your formal meditation, then consciousness of contact, and finally the perception of what the contact is, labeling it.

This is the first phase then, contact, and sense consciousness and then perception. The next step, which we will explore next week, is how sensation arises. Here I have substituted the word sensation for the traditional term, 'feeling," simply because of the common association that you have with the word feeling as emotion. I wish to distinguish that what I mean is not emotion but simply liking, disliking, neutral, so sensation seems a less biased term for you. For this week we will take it just this far, the three parts of contact. You will notice yourself move from the neutral of first perception into like or dislike. That's fine. Notice that. But for now, I would like your focus to be with perception. We will pause here for your break and then speak to questions. That is all.


Questions and discussion: (Not transcribed.)