Extract from Trailing Sky Six Feathers: One Man’s Journey with His Muse
I am familiar with Carl Jung’s exploration of consciousness – revealed in The Red Book – an account of his personal explorations of consciousness from 1912 to 1930. He was quite amazing in his steadfastness to this process; some would say quite mad and foolish in the ‘midst of his brilliance. I employ a different tactic, as I have the benefit of exposure to the Buddhist teachings on consciousness that Jung did not have access to – though he navigated similar waters. The Red Book records Carl Jung’s exploratory practice of encountering whatever was delivered from his deep unconscious – the good, the bad and the ugly, as Clint Eastwood may well point out! Whatever arose, Jung would engage indiscriminately before writing about the experience and transposing it into art and poetry. The lack of discernment in this practice is where I part company from Jung, though I consider him to be one of the greatest minds in early psychology. I concur that something very significant could emerge from the depths of consciousness to speak directly to the contemporary crises of our times – a very Buddhist notion. Yet Jung’s strategy did not grasp the detailed teachings on consciousness that Thich Nhat Hanh had passed on to me through his talks, retreats and books.
These teachings have been verified by Buddhist masters for over two thousand years, as they observed the changes taking place in their consciousness. They observed the same process in the training of their disciples, which further confirmed the validity of their own experience. This would not be a verification process that Western science would necessarily agree with, as examining the mind from a vantage point of an awakened mind is not something that Western science is equipped to do. The strategy I chose was to focus primarily on one aspect of my deep unconscious – the internal feminine face of earth wisdom, brought to my experience through training in the Native American tradition. I certainly shared Jung’s experience of encountering a self-correcting autonomous source of internal energy. A source of guidance that I should say frequently defied my logic and intellect. I also warmed to Jung’s courage when his findings found their way into Joseph Campbell’s creation of The Hero’s Journey. But I disagreed with Carl Jung’s approach and also on his views about the anima and the animus. Jung theorized that men had a female archetype – anima – in their unconscious, while women had a male archetype – animus – in theirs. In Jung’s view, it was essential to engage with the gender opposite buried in the unconscious. I would like to temper this view with the contention that both archetypes are present in men and women. The transformation to wholeness for men and women requires engagement and balancing both of these two internal energies. It all depends on what we choose to feed and nurture and just how discerning we are about this.
I chose to concentrate on a particular autonomous source – the feminine face of the Earth Mother – and chose not to focus on the vast range of demonic and unwholesome competitors that lurk in my deep unconscious. The male archetype had been reinforced and ignited throughout the early part of my life – with often disastrous and unbalanced consequences. It was now time to provide a corrective navigation which was much more than the anima archetype proposed by Carl Jung and his followers. I also felt that this primary concentration diluted the energy of other autonomous forces that could be harmful, both to myself and to others. This preference – I call it a strategy based on discernment – drew on my understanding of Buddhist teachings on consciousness. Here is a simplified view of these teachings.
Consciousness, in these teachings, has many levels. The deepest level is known as store consciousness – and it does exactly what the name implies. It stores everything – all our experiences, the information taken in by our senses, the memories of our ancestors and species. It contains absolutely everything; all possible mental formations, the darkest elements of ignorance, hate and greed as well as the enlightened mind of the Buddha, the Love of Jesus. The seeds of suffering passed on by our parents, inherited from our ancestors – are also stored without discrimination, as seeds of potential. These seeds become reality when we activate them with our thoughts and intentions or allow the triggers from life circumstances to do so. This all lies latent within us, buried, veiled and hidden. It is like the hard drive of a computer, hidden behind the screen, storing all the programs that are downloaded. This primary level of consciousness shapes our lives because we feed off it. In the teachings, store consciousness is considered to be the ground of definition for how our body, mind and environment manifest.
Then there is mind consciousness – our everyday rationality engaging with what it thinks reality is. The mind consciousness is the apparatus that makes sense of, and orders, the information pouring through the senses. So mind interprets the information coming through the senses – sight, sound, smell, touch, perceptions. However, to complicate matters there is another level of consciousness that is absolutely key for our understanding. In store consciousness, the storage of seeds of potential that have characteristics of suffering, hate, anger, fear, ignorance and shame – the unwholesome seeds – glom together as an energy to form another level of consciousness called Manas. This is a distorting, delusional level of consciousness based on suffering and ignorance. It corresponds to ego. It seeks to grasp and possess things, power, fame and celebrity, regarding itself as separate whereas the reality is its integration with all other levels of consciousness.
To maintain this sense of separateness, manas props up its importance with the acquisition of more and more “stuff.” This is hidden under false perceptions of reality. Does this sound all too familiar? If not, just turn on the daily news. But here is the kicker – manas regulates mind consciousness. This means that how we interpret the world through our senses takes its cue from a distorting, delusional level of consciousness that runs the mind. Our view of reality is always skewed and off line while manas holds sway over the mind. The energy of manas is fostered by our dysfunctional habits that create suffering. It comes from our cravings, attachments and delusions, which find their form in how we speak, act and think. It is the energy of fear, addiction, hatred and desire and it never shuts up.
This state of suffering and delusional affairs remains in place until mind consciousness decides to do something about it. Mind can choose to switch on the light of mindfulness practice – healing and transforming practices based on meditation. So the mind brings in concentration and insight, making meditation processes a daily and valid option in everyday life. This is in radical contrast to being run on automatic pilot by manas as the generator. The mind is now choosing which seeds of potential from store consciousness to nurture and bring into awareness. Mind consciousness, instead of being enslaved by manas, now becomes like a fresh memory stick creating new programs and concentrations. It delivers them as downloads to the hard drive of store consciousness. In other words – re-written programs replace the old worn tracks that only cultivate manas. We dance to a different music. All levels of consciousness are malleable so they can be reshaped by human concentration. Mindfulness is a necessary food for the reshaping. Its application can bring about an end run round manas by changing and defusing the programs and seeds that enabled manas to come into being in the first place. Thanks to this freshness and discerning concentration and insight, we can retrain the mind with every act of meditation. We start to come into alignment with universal energy of a higher order.
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