Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Dharma of Instincts and Skandhas

One person shared a story about feeling compelled to throw a rock at a squirell on a tree and feeling ashamed when the rock actually hit the squirrell. Another person replied:

The simplest explanation is that you were born with a hunting instinct.  You certainly weren't the first kid to do this.

The simplest explanation is usually simplistic.  Every person is born with every instinct. But as I read the original story there wasn't any hunting goinng on there.

In the context of psychological motivations, from the perspective of Analytical Psychology there are five primary instincts:

(1) hunger (feeding)
(2) sex (reproduction)
(3) action (fight, aggression, progression)
(4) reflection (flight, reflex, regression, digression)
(5) creativity (construction, imagination)

All five are necessary for and result in our survival, though they can be viewed in a hierarchy of neediness, sense of demand, or biological imperative in terms of our survival.   Most of our behaviors show a combination of instincts, and it is very rare for an act to be solely influenced by only one instinct. For example, "hunting" is a combination of the hunger, action-aggression, and creativity instincts.  When one instinct predominates in a manner that suppresses the others our behavior becomes obsessive or addictive. 

The instincts are the physical "muscle" or "force" that powers the psychic structure that culminates in consciousness, which in Buddhism is called the Five Skandhas.  As such they are inchoate in the First Skandha called "Form" and become more differentiated and coherent in our awareness as they are embodied in the mental "structures" or inherent patterns of personality of the other skandhas. 

From another perspective, each of the five instincts is the physical analog of the 5 Skandhas so that Form is analogous to feeding, Sensation is analogous to sex, Perception is analogous to aggression, Mental Formations is analogous to reflection and Consciousness is analogous to creativity. That is, in each skandha the corresponding instinct becomes the dominant influence. In the same way that the instincts do not operate alone, none of the skandhas functions in a vacuum without the presence and activity of the other skandhas. However, at any one time there is usually a dominant instinct and skandha active, so that sometimes the dominance is only a just noticeable difference and at other times the dominance is overwhelming in awareness and obscures the actual ongoing presence and activity of the others. 

The reflective instinct is the key to creativity just as the 4th Skandha is the threshold to the 5th Skandha of consciousness. The reflective instinct is the source of our self consciousness and comes out most primitively in the flight response when we feel the overwhelming need for self protection, as a flight response is the "bending back" (re-flexis) from the perceived danger. Reflection is also the source of our self-awareness or self-consciousness as it functions to bend back awareness to create (i.e., in conjunction with the fifth instinct) the image of our "self" in the first place. 

This bending back manifests in the mutual reflectivity of the Sixth and Seventh Consciousnesses, first to create the self-image which at first becomes enchanted with externalities and then, when ripened, there is the turning back (paravritti) of awareness itself from the glamour of objects to see through the subjectivity of the self-image to the treasure at the source of our awareness. As Zen Master Dogen said, we are usually reaching out to or advancing toward objects to confirm them on the basis of our "self," and this is the natural delusion that is technically called the Seventh Consciousness attending to externals.  When the turning around or bending back (paravritti) of awareness occurs it takes place in the deepest part of our consciousness called the Eighth Consciousness or Storehouse or Treasury (alaya) Consciousness.  Then the myriad things are no longer objectified as being confirmed by the self-image but their sensory data-stream returns to the source in the alaya and awareness perceives its own oneness in what Dogen calls satori. 

Here’s how D.T. Suzuki describes it:
The Manas is a double-headed monster, the one face looks towards the Alaya and the other towards the Vijnanas. He does not understand what the Alaya really is. Discrimination being one of his fundamental functions, he sees multitudinousness there and clings to it as final. The clinging now binds him to a world of particulars. Thus, desire is mother, and ignorance is father, and this existence takes its rise. But the Manas is also a double-edged sword. When there takes place a "turning-back" (paravritti) in it, the entire arrangement of things in the Vijnanakaya or Citta-kalapa changes. With one swing of the sword the pluralities are cut asunder and the Alaya is seen in its native form (svalakshana), that is, as solitary reality (viviktadharma), which is from the first beyond discrimination. The Manas is not of course an independent worker, it is always depending on the Alaya, without which it has no reason of being itself; but at the same time the Alaya is also depending on the Manas. The Alaya is absolutely one, but this oneness gains significance only when it is realised by the Manas and recognised as its own supporter (alamba). This relationship is altogether too subtle to be perceived by ordinary minds that are found choked with defilements and false ideas since beginningless time.

Zen Master Hui Hai, The Great Pearl, when describing the many names for formless Mind said,
As the Suchness to which all phenomena ultimately return, it is called ‘the Tathagata Treasury’.

Understanding this complexity of the phenomena of mind in its functioning of the instincts and skandhas is not for the purpose of better understanding but for the purpose of not attaching to understanding.  The one supreme Buddha vehicle of sudden direct awakening that does not rely on understanding leaps over the dull and sharp understandings of ordinary people and sages to see one’s own nature.

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