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Buddhadharma : Winter 2017
78 Buddhadharma: The PracTiTioner's QuarTerly guo gu 79 against which and through which we interpret and evaluate life: self and others. In traditional Buddhist language, these are atman and dharmas, “self” and “things.” Yogacara proposes that our sense of self is an illusion and that the world is a construct—both are fanta- sies. To see this clearly, we must explore these two constants in light of Yogacara’s teaching on the three natures: imagined nature, inter- dependent nature, and perfected nature. The Three naTures Most people equate a sense of self with perceptual and conceptual experiences—feelings and ideas. After all, feelings and ideas are all we’ve ever known about ourselves. Our self-narratives, values, and knowledge are based on them. What unites these experiences is our ongoing assumption that there is a me, I, and mine at the center of them. Moreover, we can see experientially that the degree of our suffering or happiness depends on the intensity of our attachment to views. For example, we like those who agree with our politi- cal opinions and we demonize those who don’t. Neuroscience tells us we are synaptically wired to be self-conscious, self-referential. Yogacara teachings tell us this tendency is subliminal, always seek- ing to perpetuate itself, and deluded. It contributes to our pattern of self-grasping. The problem isn’t the wiring, though, or our tendency to simu- late, in our consciousness, realities of ourselves. The problem is our attachment to our own sense of self as separate, independent, permanent, and ultimately correct. This attachment is a kind of stub- born fixation. Not only do we vilify others as enemies if things don’t go our way, we even objectify ourselves as a thing for self-criticism. When we examine more closely, this reified self is simply a continu- ous flow of momentary states of feelings and ideas, which are the contents of our consciousness. Mistaking the contents of our minds for who we are is like mistaking furniture in a room for the room. Yogacara calls this way of living self-referentially the imagined nature of existence. Yogacara also offers us a way out of this dilemma, directing us to become aware of the momentary states of feelings and ideas—the mental factors that are responsible for shaping who we are. When our consciousness is under the influence of certain negative mental factors, we experience vexations and create actions (karma) that lead to suffering. When our mind is influenced by wholesome mental fac- tors, we experience joy and contentment. The point of Yogacara is to