What is the difference between gone beyond personal identity and gone beyond individualized consciousness? Personal identity has to do with our psychological responses to life based on our desire system of pleasant, unpleasant and neutral. It is also holding on to our karmic stories as if they were solid and permanent sense of our identities.
Gone beyond Individualized consciousness is a level of practice and Buddhism that few have the aspiration to want to realize. It is very difficult process to actualize and demands a strong attention to meditation and mindfulness. It is the existential level of Buddhist wisdom. It asks that we see through our “solid bodies” and “I” minds, and discovering what is the source of each moment.
The Gate, Gate mantra is the last line of the small sized Heart of Great Wisdom Sutra. The Prajnaparamita Sutras come in various sizes. From the Mahaprajnaparamita sutra at 100,000 lines, down through 6 different sized versions until the smaller Diamond Sutra at 300 lines. We chant an even smaller sutra – The Heart of Great Wisdom Sutra, daily at Soto Zen temples. The “heart” is actually the “essence” of the larger sutras. And the mantra Gate, gate, paragate, parasamgate, bodhi, svaha, is really a small chant at the end of the sutra that encompasses the whole of the essence.
In order to practice with non-self, we have to understand what a being is. It is not a solid thing as we usually think of our “being”. We think it gets born, lives through a life and then dies. But in Buddhism a “being” or a “self” is actually a functioning dynamic of many elements energizing together.
In the Five Skandhas or the Five aggregates, these are the elements that come together in a being.
- Form — a body
- Feeling — pleasant, unpleasant, neutral
- Perceptions — the sense gates, sense objects, sense minds
- Formation — the putting together of all the perceptions, Katagiri Roshi called it the together-maker
One image from Science has helped me understand this idea about solid and non-solid-ness. When I was in elementary school, we learned that an atom was made of a nucleus and electrons and the scientist used to call the nucleus and electrons as solid bodies. As their instruments advanced, the scientists can see more subtly now. Now they say, there is nothing solid there. As they go in more and more subtly, they only find space and energy but no form. This is very much like our idea of a “self” and our understanding of the non-self. As we look for a solid self, we can’t find one, only the dynamic functioning of the energy of the five Skandhas.
In reading the Diamond Sutra the other day, I was struck with its unpacking of the idea of individualized consciousness, far beyond just our personal psychology. In that sutra it emphasizes this teaching of gone beyond Individual consciousness .
The Diamond expounds:
“And yet although immeasurable, innumerable, and unlimited beings have been liberated, truly no being has been liberated. Why? Because no bodhisattva who is a true bodhisattva entertains such concepts as a self, a person, a being, or a living soul. Thus there are no sentient beings to be liberated and no self to attain perfect wisdom.”
Skipping a paragraph or two:
“The Buddha said to Subhuti, “All that has a form is an illusory existence. When the illusory nature of form is perceived, the Tathagata is recognized.”
“So, Subhuti, all bodhisattvas should develop a pure, lucid mind that doesn’t depend upon sight, sound, touch, flavor, smell, or any thought that arises in it. A bodhisattva should develop a mind that functions freely, without depending on anything whatsoever.”
That seems like a good description of Awakened Awareness or Direct mind without attachment as Huineng has pronounced.
Or in the Heart Sutra that we are most familiar with:
“Therefore given emptiness, there is no form, no sensation, no perception, no formation, no consciousness;
No eyes, no ears, no nose, no tongue, no body, no mind; no sight, no sound, no smell, no taste, no touch, no object of mind; no realm of sight … no realm of mind consciousness.”
These are words and images that are pointing verbally at what it means to go beyond individual consciousness. And in doing that, our minds can start to function in a pure and lucid state, directly meeting the moment without attachment.
— Excerpts from “The Diamond Sutra, Transforming the way we perceive the world” by Mu Soeng