Sunday, July 31, 2011

The 10 Stages of Delusion That Go With the 10 Stages of Awakening

In Zen, the stages of awakening are known popularliy through the collection known as the "10 Oxherding Pictures." The 10 Oxherding pictures represent the natural stages of human consciousness finding its way back from delusion about its true condition to direct awareness of its true condition. There are various versions of the pictures, some with an elephant instead of an ox or water buffalo, some that have the stages identified differently (one 10-stage version ends with the empty circle and another 10-stage version has the empty circle as the 8th stage and ends with the 10th stage of "returning to the market place"), and there is an early version with only 8 stages ending in the empty circle.

If you are alert, you will have immediately noticed that there is a flip side to these stages that represents the original development which arrives in the condition of delusion where the 10 Oxherding pictures begin. And guess what? That side too has 10 stages, but they are very seldom discussed these days. Fortunately, Zen Master Guifeng Zongmi has already discussed them in several of his works from the 9th Century.

We don't need to get too worked up over the exact number of the stages or levels. The development is fluid and trying to define the boundaries between the stages is like trying to say on which day a child become a teen and a teen become an adult and exactly how many stages of human development are there from birth to death. Some of it is generally obvious and some of it generally obscure. Still, I think we can have a general consensus about the fact of human development and likewise we can approach the development of awakening with the same attitude of only requiring a general consensus of 10 stages, while remembering that having any consensus at all is useless if we don’t personally go through those stages in our own life.

In his preeminent work “Introduction to Zen” (also known as “Ch’an Preface" or "Chan Prolegomenon") written around 830, Zongmi presented his reciprocal stages of 10 each from Root Enlightenment to delusion and then from delusion to Buddhahood and Sudden or Immediate Enlightenment. Zongmi based his scheme on the widely known and esteemed “Discourse on the Awakening of Faith in the Mahayana.” It seems likely that Chinese Zen masters who adapted the 8 stages of the early Ox Herding pictures into the 10 stages format had either read Zongmi’s work or had been inspired in the same way as he had been by the “Awakening of Faith.”

Zongmi described the arising of delusion in 10 stages as the process of becoming a common or ordinary person, which I paraphrase, and to whiich I add the refrences to the Eight Consciousnesses and Five Skandhas, as follows.

1. All beings possess the true mind of root awakening. From our perspective of delusion this is called the Eighth Consciousness, i.e., the Storehouse Consciousness (alayavijnana) or (citta), while from the perspective of awakening it is the true suchness.

2. When the mind moves it moves in its sleep of non-awakening or unenlightenment. It moves in the dark so to speak as there is no reflection or spark of light. Out of the root of unity comes the separation of duality as a silent still string begins to vibrate with the first wave, but there is no self-awareness of the sound as yet. This is the stirring of the 8th Consciousness giving rise to the Seventh Consciousness, i.e., the Aware or Reflective Intelligence (manas), also called the Obscuring Ideation Consciousness (or Afflicted Ideation Consciousness) (klistamanovijnana) as it is the activity of discriminations.

3. Thoughts then arise as a result of the movement in the dark. This is like the light separating from the dark or the sound of the plucked string now vibrating the air surrounding it. This is the active functioning of the 7th Consciousness giving rise to the Sixth Consciousness, i.e., the Rational, Cognitive, or Ideation Consciousness (manovijnana).

4. The first intimations of a self-image appear as thoughts in their nascent or initial reflective function. Thoughts become aware (this is, awareness become condensed into thought) and its first activity is to be aware of the true mind of its own root awakening but through the filter of unenlightened activity that separates all awareness into the polarized duality of wave formations. Thus the first reflective sense of thought is to bifurcate itself and imagine itself as a “seer” or subject peering into the darkness of reality. This is the activity of the 6th Consciousness reflecting back on the 7th Consciousness.

5. From the position of a supposed “seer”, all things of awareness become sorted into the two categories of the “seer” and the “seen” and the so-called objective world of perceived objects appears. This is the 6th Consciousness stirring and reflecting on the Five Consciousnesses of the seen, heard, smelled, tasted, and touched.

6. Unaware that the appearance of objects seen of the 5 Consciousnesses has arisen from the thinking and polarizing activity of the our own mind (i.e, the 6th, 7th , & 8th Consciousnesses) we develop desires and aversions toward these imagined objects based on our constructed self-image embedded in our thinking process. This is the 6th Consciousness grasping at the 1st to 5th Consciousnesses as things of real existence.

7. Unaware that this grasping at and rejection of objects is based on our unconscious self-image, our framework of distinctions between subject and objects becomes fixated and aggrandizes the subject giving rise to an orientation to reality that is self-grasping or egocentric and called attachment to self. This is the activity of the 6th Consciousness discriminating every thing within the 1st to 5th Consciousness in reference to the constructed image seen by reflection in the 7th Consciousness.

8. Based on the intrinsic interactivity of our self-image, attachment to objects and attachment to self we then manifest an active relationship to all things within awareness and fall into clinging to our body of four elements (First Skandha) as our physical self, and fixating our attitudes of feelings and perceptions (Second and Third Skandhas) into polarized frames of reference that bring all things (dharmas) into its field. This activity of this polarized field is called the activity of the Three Poisons and the world of afflictions. Our 6th Consciousnesses relates to all things in light of its consciousness being colored by these three: desiring and loving, hating and despising, and the ignorance of confusion and delusion.

9. From this fixation of the first three Skandhas, the Fourth Skandha of mental configurations becomes fixated and our 6th Consciousness acts with a sense of relation to a solid self, which is actually a misidentification of the true mind of root awakening. On the basis of these mental configurations formed by the three poisons into the building blocks of our fixed identity that then molds and characterizes our sense of volition and intention, our actions (karma) arise to generate consequential light and dark results, that is, results that our identity structure categorizes as “good or bad” karma, “beneficial or unbeneficial” karma.

10. Once the karma-activity arises it follows its natural and determined course (in what we could call the gravity-well of Dharma), and we experience the consequences accordingly. The consequences of our karma-activity are inescapable from this stage, and they become manifested within the spectrum of the six frames of reference that are called the six paths of the wheel of birth and death, i.e., hellish, hungrily haunted, bestial, human, titanic, or heavenly.

The reciprocal path from this 10th stage of ordinary delusion (“all the world’s a stage”) to awakening is what is pictured in the 10 Ox-herding pictures.

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