As the new year of 2023 approaches, (and as ‘time’ seems to be rolling by with increased speed and vigour), it brings forth some reflections and inquiry into the experience of ‘time’, the perception of ‘years passing’, what moves the ‘mind’, and the mystery of what it is to ‘be’ at all.
In this current age, with IT and AI increasingly at the centre of our lives, in some respects it is a world barely recognisable from the years preceding the advent of the world-wide-web… Or is it?
While the overall data processing has picked up a huge pace – in both the incoming and outgoing streams, whether via artificial or innate intelligence – the flavour of the content when scrutinised appears to be much the same as it ever was, albeit some in thinly-veiled disguise. As an apparently evolving species we may ‘feel’ like we are progressing… but are we, for the most part, merely travelling in circles as ever before, in repeating cycles of habitual activity and reactivity?
While in some respects we are exploring many new frontiers of knowledge and socialisation, if one were to judge by the outer signs – in the news and social medias, in popular discourse, in geo-political posturings, in the various outer expressions of humanity – one can easily find evidence of the same forces playing out as ever before.
The Buddha’s breakdown of the forces that move us, whether consciously or unconsciously, is a simple yet profound way to understand what’s going on both in and around us, and also how to carve a path out of the mire of repeated cycles of reactivity that lead to dukkha [Pali] – the experience of unsatisfactoriness, suffering, or stress.
‘There are the three roots of the unwholesome…. and the three roots of the wholesome…’ (ref: AN 3.69 – https://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/an/an03/an03.069.than.html )
Basically, the three roots of the unwholesome, or unskilful are: greed/covetousness; hatred/aversion; and delusion/confusion. And the three roots of the wholesome, or skilful are their opposites: non-greed; non-hatred; and non-delusion.
When acting with a mind that is influenced by any of these mental states, we either dig ourselves into the mire of more dukkha and stress, or dig our way out of that mire. It’s that simple really.
The Buddha, with his fully awakened vision, understood that:
“Mind is the forerunner of all conditioned states. Mind is their chief, mind-made are they. If one acts or speaks with an unskilful mind, suffering follows them like the cart-wheel that follows the hoof of the ox. [Or]… If one acts or speaks with a skilful mind, happiness follows them like their never-departing shadow.” Dhp 1.1-2
There’s a lot to be understood here. The fact that the mind itself (or mind-states more accurately) is what fashions our experience, and that by understanding the forces at play in the mind we can influence our experience, both in the here-and-now and in the resultant conditions to come. Within this territory alone lays the path of awakening, the path to freedom.
Choose any human volition you wish to examine, any display of the human mind in its various expressions, whether internally or externally, and you will find these primary influencers of greed/desire, hatred/aversion, delusion/confusion, or non-greed (kindness), non-hatred (compassion), non-delusion (wisdom) at the root of those expressions of body, speech and mind.
Mind often has a mixture of these influencers infiltrating it – rarely just all bad or all good… this is called ‘a mixture of black and white karma’ – which we all experience to some degree or other. And it is a constantly changing show. But the roots of the wholesome grow with our beginning to discern these influencers within our own minds and hearts, and explore how to bring about a more wholesome balance – regularly reflecting on the current mental states and giving rise to wholesome/skilful intentions of kindness, compassion, generosity and understanding, especially where we see their opposites at play.
It may feel like we are completely under the sway of unskilful influencers in the mind at times, but as soon as we recognise them, with the intention to understand and grow beyond, we are already well on the path to ditching the way of dukkha! We have the power in fact, to transform any moment with our understanding of this territory, with our cultivation of right view, right effort, and right mindfulness (ref: MN 117). This is the path of freedom the Buddha articulated. But it has to be engaged to be seen and known and realised.
So what is this sense of ‘time’ and ‘time passing’ in reality? And who is it that is caught up in it? Apart from the conventional agreements of the social norm in accepting the solar or lunar calendar methods of marking time and regulating our behaviour, in the main, the sense of time seems inextricably bound up with patterns of perception (memory/labels and imagination) relating to ‘past’ and ‘future’, with the stream of mental movement and its habitual referencing of a concept of ‘I’, ‘me’ or ‘mine’. But can time ever be pinned down? Can space ever be pinned down? Can ‘I’ ever be pinned down? Can awareness ever be pinned down? In fact, can any perceived thing ever be pinned down?
This is a contemplative inquiry, something to be actively looked into… For only then can we see the truth of these things for ourselves. Only then can we free ourselves of illusory bonds, of illusory habit patterns of mind, of illusory influencers of mind… Only then can we wake up to the truth of reality – in the sense of seeing and knowing what keeps us in a state of stress or unsatisfactoriness, or what releases the mind from the sense of being caught in the cycling of repeated stress, discontent, or suffering.
The world we live in is indeed a challenge at times, but no matter what, it is in that very same place we find ourselves that we can awaken. Awakening is awakening out of habit patterns, awakening to conscious awareness here-and-now; it is the place of freedom, and the place of transformation…. The place of place-less-ness and time-less-ness – because it is ever-new, not caught in past-travelling-to-future perceptions running on auto-pilot… but a portal to freedom – where love, kindness, compassion and wisdom are born; where peace can truly be found and felt, even amidst a world of apparent challenges. Waking up is as profound, yet as simple as that!
May 2023 be a year of transformation in your world, where this love, kindness, compassion and wisdom spring forth evermore, bringing relief to all who know and meet these truths.
With deep appreciation for your practice and commitment to truth, and with deepest gratitude to the awakened masters who compassionately guide us to this portal.
Jitindriya, Jayasara, and ever-purring Cat