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..:: The Mental Field I ::..

“Buddhism, Yoga, and the Mind”


Alan Schneider


             The next few essays will explore the many ramifications of the Mental Field phenomenon – the experiential mode represented as our personal perception of experience. Many people feel that they are practicing this mode of perception during normal waking consciousness, but are, in reality, simply participating in the ego’s endless analytical chatter and classification schema – thoughts about events, as opposed to the experience of those events. A Zen Master was once asked by one of his students “Master, what did you do before attaining Enlightenment?” The Master replied “Chop wood and carry water.” The student then inquired “And Master, what did you do after attaining Enlightenment?”  The master again replied “Chop wood and carry water.” The puzzled student observed “Master, surely these are the same activities!” The Master responded “Prior to attaining Enlightenment, I did not simply chop wood and carry water. I was involved in a continuous inner dialog about both actions – planning the fire and fire building activities that I would carry out with the wood, and the drinking activities and cooking activities that I would perform with the water. And I was judging my competency at both activities as well – this day the water carrying went well, but the wood cutting was done poorly, and on another day the reverse was true, and I felt very satisfied on days when both went well, but discouraged on days when they both went poorly. All of the conditions just mentioned have nothing to do with the literal chopping of wood or the literal carrying of water – they are mental distractions that cut us off from the pure experience of both activities, and the satisfaction of simply being present in the ongoing consciousness of  our lives. As I became Enlightened, I learned to fully appreciate and participate in my experience of living hear and now, with neither advance planning nor subsequent regrets, caused by my judgments of my actions.  This is the difference in the two responses I gave you!” 

            Buddhism has traditionally dealt with the quality of life and human experience as it is, not as we feel it should be, or wish it was. Both of the last two mental conditions reflect the underlying state of desire for an outcome to be manifest, not acceptance and appreciation of the condition that is. The instant at which Gautama attained this realization when seated in meditation under the Bodhi  – or Wisdom – Tree is considered to be the moment of his full Enlightenment in Buddhist theory – Gautama had realized that all suffering was the result of desire for gratification, rather than learning to appreciate the inherent perfection of the present moment in consciousness. All of the Buddhist austerities are geared toward the control and eventual removal of the inner disturbance of consciousness that invariably accompanies desire, whether or not we attain fulfillment – the state of fulfillment is always transitory by its very nature, and reinforces the illusion of personal attainment. Why is personal attainment an illusion? Because all attainment manifest anywhere in any way in life is the result of Karma, and because the personal edifice, at least as expressed by the ego, is transitory and ultimately lost at death. 

            We live continuously in a Mental Field of perception. This field is the sum total of our consciousness, and tends to be inherently agitated by its nature. There are many sources of this agitation – the ongoing fear of injury and death (even if it these are not consciously realized), the blur of many states of desire for many types of gratification (gustatory, sexual, achievement of status, achievement of comfort and security, avoidance of unpleasant realizations that disturb the ego, etc.), the background chaos that presupposes conscious perception, the unperceived influence of physical processes that nonetheless effect perception on the conscious or unconscious levels (hormonal fluctuations, brain neurology, nervous enervation, etc.), misconceptions about the meaning and nature of life and perception itself, and so on.  Even though we are certainly aware (in most cases) of the fact that we apparently have a physical body that is the seat of our consciousness, the reality is that the body and the physical environment have us (and our consciousness) in an iron grip of oppression on the Physical Plane on manifestation. 

            This is a most negative and uncomfortable circumstance for consciousness, and the first task of Enlightenment is to begin establishing a distinction between the perception of the physical body and the assumed reality of that body, whether or not this assumption of physical reality is literally correct.  Although I may certainly be aware of my physical presence and its effect on my perception and behavior, I am more than that presence and those effects. I am my Field of Consciousness and extended Perception. I am the moral consequences of my actions. I am all that I love and esteem in life. I am my feelings and beliefs about the world and other people. I am the interaction of my personal and social selves. These are all occurring well beyond the basic experiences of the physical senses and central nervous system, even if sustained by them.  

            The ego, the experience of my personal self and manifestation, is the primary arbiter of  experience on the Physical Plane of Manifestation. The ego decides on the basis of acculturation what to accept and what to reject from the great flood of impressions continually occurring in consciousness. Since it is the result of social acculturation processes, the ego is primarily a social fiction imposed upon consciousness from the external environment for the sake of efficiency – it makes life more convenient for the living by streamlining interaction through the use of perceptual stereotypes. These stereotypes become substitutes for real experience and involvement in living. We do not “chop wood and carry water” – we “think about chopping wood, and the outcome of the football game, as we carry in the groceries!”  So it is that our culture insulates us from our experience through the ongoing interpretations of the ego.  

            Fredrick Perls once described perception as follows: “The psychotic says ‘I am Abraham Lincoln’, the neurotic says ‘I wish I was Abraham Lincoln’, and the mentally healthy person says ‘I am I and you are you. If we find each other, it’s beautiful – if  we don’t, it can’t be helped’”.  In order to find each other, or at least establish the optimal conditions for finding each other, we must first find our true selves, meaning that the ego must, at the very least, be placed in its correct perspective to the balance of the Mental Field. The social self is not the true self – it conceals the true self behind a thick, complicated mass of neuroses or (in extreme cases) psychoses. The Mental Field is the true self, our true nature as sentient perceptual beings.  

            Gautama realized many things in the wake of his Enlightenment. He realized that there were essentially four conditions that remained fundamental in human experience, which he called the Four Nobel Truths – all life is suffering, the cause of suffering is desire, suffering is ended by ending desire, and the way to end desire is by following the Eight Fold Path. This Path is: Strive always to understand the Four Noble Truths, esteem positive intention, practice kindness in words, practice kindness in deeds, practice kindness in one’s occupation, maintain positive thoughts, become intensely aware of all mental states, and practice deep meditation and worldly detachment. The area of kindness in deeds was given additional attention with the Five Precepts: do not kill, steal, lie, fornicate, or intoxicate oneself.  All life is suffering because we are traumatized at and by the birth process, we contract illnesses, we become old and infirm, we are plagued by fear, and we are inherently capable of only transitory contact with all sources of love and pleasure. This means that our natural condition is really our root problem in consciousness. All that is required to fall in life is to blindly follow our natural inclinations! The ego is the absolute servant of those inclinations, regardless of how much structure of inhibition it incorporates. The ego exists to serve the body and its appetites through social specialization.  

            As I have progressed through this existence, I have come to have great respect for the Buddhist philosophy.  Essentially, Buddhism says we are inherently broken as a species, and describes the needed prosthetic measures to medicate our flawed condition. The term medicate is very important here, because it implies that we are naturally sick and crippled, and so we are. In our youth, some of us, the more fortunate ones, can enjoy this illness, but this too fades with age, leaving us empty and frustrated in the absence of spiritual consciousness.  

            So the first step in affirming the Mental Field is to initiate a progressive acceptance of the fundamental condition of humanity – perceptually chained to a very flawed physical vehicle – flawed by mortality, weakness, imperfection, transitory sensory perception, transitory desires and gratification, and random emotional drives. The Eight Fold Path of Buddhism is actually a very effective response to this most challenged condition – a particularly effective medication regimen, if you will. I advocate the practice of the Buddhist lifestyle as soon and as much as the individual can accept in the full knowledge that this is completely contrary to our natural state. 

            In conjunction with the Buddhist approach to lifestyle, a description of the evolution of conscious states of perception is needed as a map upon which to determine progress along the Eight Fold Path. The best overall description of these states of which I am aware remains the Hindu Seven-Chakra System. If a person at least does enough personal work to understand that the world of the senses is really taking place on what amounts to the Physical Plane of Manifestation, and that this is analogous to the First Chakra Muladhara, then the doors of consciousness are opened to all that follows. On the other hand, even attaining this basic realization can be very challenging on a Physical Plane characterized by television, junk food, and the internal combustion engine. It is a credit to our species and a sign of great hope for humanity that so many millions around the world have done and are doing this spiritual work, and much more beyond that!  

            Something which is not emphasized enough in Buddhist theory, and which I personally believe cannot be emphasized enough, is the practice of meditation as the single most effective medication to the human condition.  We are inherently incomplete as consciousness, and it is through meditation that we can become whole and experience integration with the Mental Field. If this practice is not instituted in the individual’s life, all else will be for naught. Even the successful practice of the first seven steps of the Eight Fold Path will leave a spiritual void within the consciousness that will generate an appetite for more external gratification. The practice of meditation will reveal this longing for what it is – the legitimate need for deep spiritual contact with the higher planes of consciousness.  This need can never be satisfied by external means – it can only be fulfilled by inner exploration and spiritual development.  

            I am my field of consciousness. This field emerges from the Cosmic Vibration of the Primal OM at conception, and returns to it at death. Not ashes to ashes and dust to dust, but Light to Light and Love to Love. As we deemphasize the Physical Plane and material gratification through the Ascension  techniques available in the world’s spiritual systems, including Yoga, meditation, The Eight Fold Path, and many others, we become empowered to live in the Spirit, and act in spiritual Grace. In the next weeks, I will expand upon the theory of the Mental Field introduced here in additional articles. Please return to these pages for this most relevant and stimulating discussion!


                                                                                 - With Love, Alan -

                                                                          (CR2008, Alan Schneider)


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