Awareness appears as a chain, each link being caused in some way or other
In this final part of the article, we’ll learn how to contemplatively explore awareness in terms of its causal nature. This means we’ll learn to see in direct experience that all objects of awareness come into existence due to the influence of other objects and sense contacts. Together as a sequential series, these appearances in awareness form links in a chain. As we learned in part 2, each link comes into being caused either by an impingement upon the senses, or by the previous moment of awareness. This means that awareness is not entirely free-floating; it’s not a mental faculty that’s completely open to control by the will. If it was, we would find that mental practices such as contemplation, meditation, and the sustaining of our concentration are easy, which they’re not. Such practices are however, very powerful, and their rewards immeasurable.
Awareness is not under the control of will alone; it can follow it’s own course too
As neither our best intentions, nor any force of will, can guarantee the success we seek in the practice, we sometimes get lost in trains of thought. Rather than be disheartened, we use it as an opportunity to learn more about the non-self nature of phenomena. We learn that not only is each object of awareness without self-nature (see part 2), but that each is caused by other phenomena – further proof that no object is self-like, or independently standing. So, subsequent to the distraction of some discursive chain of thought, we remark to ourselves how the passing phenomena that constituted it appeared conditionally as links in a causally dependent chain. What follows is an example of how we get lost in thought, together with the initial triggering and interspersed physical sense impressions which themselves perpetuate the chain:
We need not blame ourselves when we get lost in thought; it’s perfectly natural
We first became aware of a sound, then the non-verbal perception of there being a car outside, then the thought ‘It’s Frank, next door’, then a mental visual image of Frank peering over the wheel at his garage doors, then the thought ‘why’s he so damn fussy about parking so close to the door!’, then we felt our head tilt back as we exhaled sharply from our nostrils, then there was another thought: ‘I shouldn’t be so unkind to the old boy’, followed by awareness of another sound, then the perception of a car door slamming shut, then the thought ‘why the hell can’t Frank just close his damn car door gently’, then we noticed how our tongue is pressing itself against the roof of our mouth, then came the thought ‘Aaagh! – I’m supposed to be in some exalted contemplative state here, and yet look what I’m doing!’, and then we came back into presence.
It’s instructive to see how awareness can run regardless of our intentions
All of that was a causally conditioned chain of 12 qualitatively and modally discrete mental representations which in total lasted less than 20 seconds. We now deliberately interrupt the feeling of presence to reflect upon the whole in memory, carefully noting that each of those 12 links arose in successive dependence upon one another. Even link 8 – the awareness of a sound – was conditioned by the previous verbal thought which had drawn our attention to events occurring outside on Frank’s driveway. Link 1 was conditioned by the impingement of an auditory sense contact, and our coming back into presence after link 12 was itself conditioned by impingement of feeling our body contacting the chair. None of this series had any direct causal association with an imagined ‘self of me’; it all came into being by its own succession of direct causes.
Our imagined self so often subverts our better instincts in harmful ways
Even though the 20 seconds of that discursive chain of thought arose of its own causes, the entire sequence was in fact predicated upon, and constructed together with, a firm belief in a notional self-construct. Taken as a whole, the series of events all was based on an affirmation of actively thinking in the self-interests of ‘me’. This is in spite of the fact that even in our previous exquisitely attentive state, we weren’t ever able to locate this ‘me’ and its selfish will which wants Frank to behave differently and shut up. Still, this doesn’t put us off at all, and the whole chain of conditioned responses is identified with this purely notional self-construct of ‘me’. This idea, as we now begin to see in contemplative reflection, is entirely mistaken. It’s also what is meant when speaking of the self as a narrative construct which embeds in us as erroneous belief.
Sustaining presence is our guardian against harmful self-interestedness
In actuality, and as we saw introspectively in memory, the entire sequence comprised phenomenal objects of awareness which were qualitatively and modally discrete. They occurred as the sense of ‘I am-ness’ was lost in weakened presence and the self-centrically willing ‘me’ identified with the conditioned sense contacts in an altogether unnecessary story about how justifiably annoyed it was, and how this was all Frank’s fault. It’s instructive to ask ourselves which of these two modes of being we preferred, and which was more likely to conduce to contentment – the one in which the ‘self of me’ was subdued, or the story? As the practice develops over time, irrefutable evidence builds that not only is the ‘self of me’ no more than a narration, but that our failure to understand this is the direct cause of much of our discontent.
Living contemplatively means we no longer inhabit a fictional world
We wrongly believe our narrative creations correlate to the actuality of our being. This is to say that we fictionalise ourselves. We embed in belief our narrations of what we are, and what happens to us. Whilst it’s altogether necessary to have reference points for our actions, to have a means of comprehending our particular place in the world at any moment, this needn’t be a fictional account. We accomplish this simply by not identifying appearances in awareness with the purely notional self-construct of ‘me’. It’s entirely unnecessary to do so; life will still happen, and in fact flows more freely in the abandonment of this identification. Rather than our existence being an obsessional and interminable process of self-betterment, we instead make of it one of life-betterment. This is both the purpose and result of contemplative living.