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Buddhadharma : Summer 2006
buddhadharma| 37 |summer 2006 of the water becomes completely calm again. So although the mental formation manifests, although the current of the life continuum vibrates, there’s no awareness born in mind con- sciousness because the impression is too weak. Sometimes in Buddhist psychology, one speaks of forty-nine or fifty mental formations. In my tradition, we speak of fifty- one. Of the fifty-one mental formations, contact is the first, fol- lowed by attention, feeling, perception, and volition. These five mental formations can take place very quickly, and their inten- sity, their depth, varies in each level of consciousness. When we speak of attention, for instance, we can see attention in the context of store consciousness, and we can see attention on the level of mind consciousness, and the intensity or the depth of attention is quite different on the two levels. The fifty-one mental formations are also called mental con- comitants; that is, they are the very content of consciousness, the way the drops of water are the very content of the river. For example, anger is a mental formation. Mind consciousness can operate in such a way that anger can manifest in mind consciousness. In that moment, mind consciousness is filled with anger, and we may feel our mind consciousness is full of nothing but anger. But in fact, mind consciousness is not just anger, because later on compassion arises, and at that time, mind consciousness becomes compassion. Mind consciousness is, at various times, all fifty-one mental formations, be they positive, negative, or neutral. Without mental formations, there can’t be consciousness. It’s as if we’re discussing a formation of birds. The formation holds the birds together, and they fly beautifully in the sky. You don’t need someone to hold the birds and keep them flying in one formation. You don’t need a self to create the formation. The birds just do it. In a beehive, you don’t need someone who gives the order for this bee to go left and that bee to go right; they just communicate among one another and are a beehive. Among all the bees, every bee may have a different responsibil- ity, but no bee claims to be the boss of all the bees, not even the queen. The queen is not the boss. Her function is simply to give birth to the eggs. If you have a good community, a good sangha, it’s like this beehive in which all the parts make up the whole, with no leader, no boss. When we say it’s raining, we mean that raining is taking place. You don’t need someone up above to perform the rain- ing. It’s not that there is the rain, and there is the one who causes the rain to fall. In fact, when you say the rain is fall- ing, it’s very funny, because if it weren’t falling, it wouldn’t be rain. In our way of speaking, we’re used to having a subject and a verb. That’s why we need the word “it” when we say, “it rains.” “It” is the subject, the one who makes the rain pos- sible. But, looking deeply, we don’t need a “rainer,” we just need the rain. Raining and the rain are the same. The forma- tion of birds and the birds are the same – there’s no “self,” no boss involved. There’s a mental formation called vitarka, “thinking.” When we use the verb “to think” in English, we need a subject of the verb: I think, you think, he thinks. But, really, you don’t need a subject for a thought to be produced. Thinking with- out thinker – it’s absolutely possible. To think is to think about something. To perceive is to perceive something. The perceiver and the object that is perceived are one. When Descartes said, “I think, therefore I am,” his point was that if I think, there must be an “I” for thinking to be pos- sible. When he made the declaration “I think,” he believed that he could demonstrate that the “I” exists. We have the strong habit of believing in a self. But, observing very deeply, we can see that a thought does not need a thinker to be possible. There is no thinker behind the thinking – there is just the thinking; that’s enough. Now, if Mr. Descartes were here, we might ask him, “Mon- sieur Descartes, you say, ‘You think, therefore you are.’ But what are you? You are your thinking. Thinking – that’s enough. Thinking manifests without the need of a self behind it.” Thinking without a thinker. Feeling without a feeler. What is our anger without our “self”? This is the object of our medita- tion. All the fifty-one mental formations take place and manifest without a self behind them that’s arranging for this to appear, and then for that to appear. Our mind consciousness is in the habit of basing itself on the idea of self, on manas. But we can meditate to be more aware of our store consciousness, where we keep the seeds of all those mental formations that are not currently manifesting in our mind. 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, trans- formation 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. © 2006 by Parallax Press For more on this subject, see understanding our mind: FiFty Verses on the nature oF consciousness, by thich nhat hanh. Published by Parallax Press.