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Buddhadharma : Summer 2017
summer 2 0 1 7 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly 11 first thoughts not a moment to lose Andrew Olendzki counts up the mind– moments in a day—and explains why each one counts. If there were six moments of cognition per second, there would be 360 per minute, 21,600 per hour, and assuming seven and a half hours of sleep each night, about 356,400 mind–moments in a waking day. In a life span of seventy-seven years, one person would experience about ten billion discrete episodes of experience. That’s it. This is the sum total of what is actually you, your world, your life: ten billion mind–moments. Let’s take this a step further and calculate that with about seven billion people in the world today, there are a total of forty-two billion per second, or two and a half trillion mind–moments per minute enacted on the planet as a whole. While the actual number does not really matter, the fact that such a number exists is astonishing. It defines and delineates the personal and the collective universe of human experience. It is called the consciousness element (vinnana-dhatu) in early Buddhist texts, and it comes to be called the dharmadatu, the element of dhar- mas or mental phenomena, in later Buddhist thought. Because the quantity of these moments is limited (yes, the numbers are large, but they are also inexorably finite), it becomes a mat- ter of great importance that we attend to their quality. The Buddha makes a valuable contribution to human civilization by notic- ing that the emotional engagement with experience that occurs every moment may be characterized as either wholesome or unwholesome, healthy or unhealthy, skill- ful or unskillful. Emotions rooted in greed, hatred, or delusion are harmful and result in greater suffering for oneself and others, while emotions rooted in generosity, kind- ness, and wisdom are beneficial and contrib- ute to personal and collective well-being. So it’s just a matter of doing the math. If the majority of your ten billion lifetime mind–moments are unskillful and thus unhealthy, then Buddhist tradition believes you will be reborn in a less fortunate situ- ation the next time around. The greater the positive balance of wholesome mind states, the better your life here and now and the better your rebirth will be. The details about how this happens are pretty vague, but as a general moral compass it is use- ful. If the totality of your 356,400 mind– moments each day are wholesome, then you are an arahant: nirvana is defined in the early texts as the complete extinguishing of the toxic emotional fires of greed, hatred, and delusion. FROM Untangling Self, WISDOM, DECEMBER 2016 OxHERDINg PICTURES | mark morse Seeing the Footprints