Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you were suddenly behaving and speaking in a manner that was more consistent with the group you were hanging out with than with your own values? Have you ever found yourself caught up in an emotional response that seemed to originate from a source other than yourself? Have you ever found yourself embellishing details or exaggerating experiences to impress someone else? Have you ever ruminated on negative experiences and used those thought patterns to belittle yourself? These are all examples of unwholesome consumption of consciousness.
In reading and reflecting on the Fifth Mindfulness training on Nourishment and Healing, the idea of consciousness as a nutriment stood out as an important topic for a Dharma discussion. The Buddha taught that consciousness has four layers that have been described as mind consciousness, sense consciousness, store consciousness, and manas.
Mind Consciousness: Mind consciousness is the first layer of consciousness and has been described as our working consciousness because it is the layer of consciousness that makes judgments, predictions, projections, and plans; it is the part of our consciousness that worries and analyses. The brain is only 2 percent of the body’s weight, but it consumes 20 percent of the body’s energy. Much of that energy is consumed by mind consciousness, which is very expensive. Thinking, worrying, and planning take a lot of energy. Moreover, mind consciousness determines how the limited supply of energy in the body is consumed. Stress, inflammation, anxiety, depression, pain all have connections to how the limited supply of energy needed to operate the body is expended in a body budget that is out of balance.
Sense Consciousness: The second level of consciousness is sense consciousness. This is the consciousness that comes from our five senses: sight, hearing, taste, touch, and smell. Sense consciousness involves three elements: 1) the sense organ (eyes, ears, nose, tongue, or body); 2) the sense object itself (the object we’re smelling or the sound we’re hearing); and 3) the experience of what we are seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, or touching. The information we take in through our senses can impact our consciousness.
Store Consciousness: Store consciousness continuously receives, embraces, maintains, processes, and makes many decisions without the participation of mind consciousness. Store consciousness has been described as a field capable of growing all seeds whether those seeds are wholesome, neutral, or unwholesome.
Manas: Manas has at its root the belief in a separate self, the belief in a person. This consciousness, the feeling and instinct called “I am,” is very deeply seated in store consciousness. It’s not a view taken up by mind consciousness. Deeply seated in the depths of store consciousness is this idea that there is a self that is separate from non-self elements. The function of manas is to cling to store consciousness as a separate self.
One of the greatest challenges I have had with my practice is to see and realize that the thoughts and the thinker are not separate things. I have a very powerful sense that “I” is separate from you, from all the bad in the world, from Republicans, from the things that I consume. In this state of delusion, it appears that I am separate from what I consume, and therefore, I am not impacted by it. In Buddhist philosophy, this is referred to as “double grasping”.
In Transformation at the Base, Thich Nhat Hanh describes the term “double grasping” for the view that subjects and objects have an existence separate from consciousness.
Consciousness always includes subject and object of consciousness. Self and other, inside and outside are all creations of our conceptual minds. This has been transmitted to us by many generations, and is called the two-fold, or “double grasping.” First is the grasping of the subject of perception as self, and second is the grasping of the object of perception as an external, objective reality. In fact, both subject and object belong to perception. We have to train our minds in order to be able to release both kinds of grasping.
Thay uses a beautiful example for understanding a formation, that helped me to gain more insight into this teaching.
When we look at a flower, we can recognize many of the elements that have come together to make the flower manifest in that form. We know that without the rain there can be no water and the flower cannot manifest. And we see that the sunshine is also there. The earth, the compost, the gardener, time, space, and many elements came together to help this flower manifest. The flower doesn’t have a separate existence; it’s a formation. The sun, the moon, the mountain, and the river are all formations. –The Four Layers of Consciousness by Thich Nhat Hanh
It is easy for me to see that a flower cannot be separate from any element that makes it. You cannot simply pull out a flower and say “this is a flower, and it is only one thing”. However, when it comes my default view of myself, it is automatically me and everything else. Double grasping. As I contemplated this in preparing for this topic, it occurred to me that this separateness provides many unwholesome seeds, such as judgement, comparison, superiority, and indifference.
So how do we become more mindful of our consumption of the nutriment of consciousness?
Mindfulness keeps us in the present moment and allows our mind consciousness to relax and let go of the energy of worrying about the past or predicting the future. As we become more skilled at recognizing our tendencies and our thought patterns, we can respond in more wholesome ways. This will allow our body budgets to be more optimally balanced.
Our consciousness is fed by other consciousnesses, individual consciousness is made up of collective consciousness. When we are around a group of people, although we may want to be ourselves, we are often caught up in consuming their ways, and consuming their store consciousness. We can influence the collective consciousness we consume by carefully selecting who we hang around with.
We can also cultivate the practice of watering the wholesome seeds in store consciousness. With this practice, we can influence how our store consciousness stores and processes information so as to make better decisions. We can influence it.
When working with manas, Thay offers the following insights into releasing the notion of “I am”.
When we meditate, we practice looking deeply in order to bring light and clarity into our way of seeing things. When the vision of no-self is obtained, our delusion is removed. This is what we call transformation. In the Buddhist tradition, transformation is possible with deep understanding. The moment the vision of no-self is there, manas, the elusive notion of ‘I am,’ disintegrates, and we find ourselves enjoying, in this very moment, freedom and happiness. –The Four Layers of Consciousness by Thich Nhat Hanh
This Thursday night, after our regular sitting at Crossings, we will recite the Five Mindfulness Trainings. We’ll pay special attention to the Fifth Training in our sharing, exploring our experiences of cultivating good heath through mindful consumption. The questions we would like to start the Dharma discussion with are:
- In what ways have you committed to cultivating good physical and mental health for yourself, your family, and society by practicing mindful consumption?
- What have you learned when looking deeply into how you consume the Four Kinds of Nutriments: edible foods, sense impressions, volition, and consciousness?
- How do you use your practice to mindfully consume the nutriment of consciousness?
You are warmly invited to be with us!
Nourishment and Healing
Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful consumption, I am committed to cultivating good health, both physical and mental, for myself, my family, and my society by practicing mindful eating, drinking, and consuming.
I will practice looking deeply into how I consume the Four Kinds of Nutriments, namely edible foods, sense impressions, volition, and consciousness.
I am determined not to gamble, or to use alcohol, drugs, or any other products which contain toxins, such as certain websites, electronic games, TV programs, films, magazines, books, and conversations.
I will practice coming back to the present moment to be in touch with the refreshing, healing and nourishing elements in me and around me, not letting regrets and sorrow drag me back into the past nor letting anxieties, fear, or craving pull me out of the present moment.
I am determined not to try to cover up loneliness, anxiety, or other suffering by losing myself in consumption.
I will contemplate interbeing and consume in a way that preserves peace, joy, and well-being in my body and consciousness, and in the collective body and consciousness of my family, my society and the Earth.