Thursday, December 12, 2013

Seeing through the bias of life.

Yogācārian model of mind
A few days ago I wrote a post called, “The lens through which we see the world.” In that post I called into awareness that we are all looking through the filter of biases I labeled rose colored glasses. Like any lenses we see through, we remain unaware the filters are like a pair of glasses sitting on our noses, coloring our perceptions of life. The world just appears shaded rose colored and we assume this is true. Perception depends on the ability to discriminate one thing from another based on differences. That quality defines our ability to perceive the conditional world. Seeing differences is not the problem. The problem is the overlay on top of perception that tells us, the differences we see are either good differences of bad differences (the faculty that emerges from bias, which we call judgements).

When Jesus instructed, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you,” he was speaking in karmic terms: what goes out comes around. This instruction is not different from that taught by The Buddha: “You will not be punished for your anger; you will be punished by your anger.” 

Perception is unavoidable. Judgement is not, and the essential key that unlocks this capacity is understanding our own mind. The Yogācārians refined this understanding with a model: an illusion to see through illusions. The symbol above is an image that articulates the dimensions of mind, ranging from the unconditional to the conditional. You can enlarge this image (if you wish) by clicking on it. According to the model, at the base of mind sits the unmoving aspect of mind I wrote about when discussing Akshobhya, the immovable one who reflects whatever is perceived, as if in a mirror. That aspect, because it is beneath conscious awareness remains unseen, yet it is the seer in us all.

Moving upwards in consciousness toward the perceptible/conditional world, we move through a number of channels that color (bias) what we perceive. First there is the channel associated with our senses including cognition that combines into a gestalt that results in what was called the third subjective bias. On the other axis lies the deep mind, still beneath consciousness, and that channel splits into the storehouse (alaya-vijnana: Sanskrit-storehouse consciousness) and what is known as ahamkara or “I-maker” (ego). The alaya-vijnana contains karmic seeds: the residue from prior lives. When the body dies we retain the unresolved affects of how we lead our lives before. Having done good, the seeds start our new life on a good footing. Bad life before, bad seeds continue. Either good or bad, results in the first subjective level of bias.

The ahamkara/“I-maker” (ego) has a special kind of bias that is governed by the qualities of  greed, anger and delusion. The ego is not aware of the true nature of mind but instead believes it is the true nature and in a sense of fear, survival and possessiveness operates to insure competitive well-being. The ego defines itself by attaching to the ephemeral nature of things (attachment: raga) and when these things are lost the ego reacts with anger following loss (dvesha) and this error causes the second subjective bias

All three levels of subjective bias then combine to shape the color of an individual’s filters through which they perceive the world and cause judgements (which are understood to be justified, but in truth are misplaced self-righteousness). While Bodhidharma was right: “The mind is the root from which all things grow. If you can understand the mind, everything else is included,” in the end, it isn’t necessary to allow this model to govern our lives since there is only one thing we can do to insure spiritual growth: Do to others as you would have them do to you. When we do that, all of the levels of bias are transcended and we move forward toward realizing our own united perfection (τέλειος: spiritual maturity).
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