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Buddhadharma : Fall 2018
64 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY progression of knowing and object, both of which arise and pass away together in each moment. As insight further unfolds, the disso- lution aspect becomes predominant, and we can know for ourselves the impermanent, continually dissolving nature of consciousness. It can be likened to the endless rushing flow of water over a waterfall. Nothing lasts long enough to be “self,” though we might still make use of that concept as a convenient label for the whole process of momentary change, just as we use the word “river” to describe the ongoing flow of water. Another way to understand the selfless nature of consciousness is to investigate the causes and conditions that give rise to it. The Bud- dha laid out the conditions necessary for a particular kind of con- sciousness to arise. For example, hearing consciousness requires four conditions: an ear in working order, a sound, a medium through which sound waves travel (air or water), and attention. If any of these four conditions are absent, hearing will not occur. We can test this to some extent for ourselves with a simple thought experiment. As you’re reading this now, or perhaps on a walk outside, be mindful of the experience of hearing. Then imagine for a moment that you have no ears. Would hearing consciousness still occur? Sometimes such simple thought experiments can help us intuit a more profound truth, namely that consciousness itself is an impersonal, conditioned phenomenon. Most of our lives revolve around the strongly conditioned belief in a self, with much of our energy devoted to gratifying it, defending it, aggrandizing it, and even at times disparaging it, all without even knowing quite what it is.