More on the Unconscious II
In my last piece I explained the unconscious or storehouse consciousness. In this piece I will discuss two complementary practices that free us from the contamination of negative or unwholesome seeds stored within this storehouse. The first is altering the seeds we place in there through our intentions and actions. The second is practicing meditation so can stop producing seeds and empty out those that we are storing. As we let go of projections from the past we store within our unconscious, we dip into a stillness which is always at the center of our being.
Yogacara teachers refer to paramita practice as a wonderful way to replace unwholesome seeds with wholesome ones. The six core paramitas are patience, generosity, morality, effort, meditation, and wisdom which I have discussed in other pieces, so I will only give a single example of how this works.
Let’s say that the current “shelter in place” limitations due to the coronavirus are making you anxiously impatient. Maybe you obsessively use the media to try to figure out when the pandemic might subside, and your life might get back to normal. You might practice the paramita of patience by repeating a phrase to yourself whenever you notice your agitation about this is rearing its head. You could use my teacher, Suzuki Roshi’s phrase things as it is,based on the teaching of radically accepting what life hands us. If you do this every time your agitation arises, you are planting new, positive seeds in your own storehouse. Or you can find a different word or phrase which resonates with you. We need positive seeds to enhance and sustain our meditation practice.
The second practice yogacara teachers recommend is meditation, which is also the 5th paramita. Through meditation it is possible to still the rushing waterfall of experience (perfume, seed, experience, perfume, seed, etc.) which I discussed in my last piece. Luckily, the yogacara unconscious both stores memories and is the seat of our quiescent Buddha Nature, unchanging, unborn and fundamentally real.
Extended meditation periods or retreats are times when we have the best opportunity to notice our seeds without judging them an, as a result, they shrivel up.
When ego (mana in Sanskrit), calms down in the stillness of our meditation, the storehouse empties out and functions as a mirror, reflecting all life within it. As the Chinese Zen teacher Shen Hui said in the 8th century, “Those who see into the storehouse have their senses cleansed of defilements, and open to Buddha-wisdom.” To settle into this mirror mind we need to recognize bad seeds as they appear in our meditation. If we do this without watering them, they dry up on their own.
Here’s an example: Let’s say a memory of the delightful taste of some beverage like coffee comes up during my meditation, followed by a craving to have a cup. All I need to do is recognize the craving; fully accept it; allowing the seed to shrivel and die as I keep coming back to my breath and my other sensations.
In meditation retreats you may notice forgotten scenes from childhood and jumbled scenes of unknown people arising or possibly be disconcerted by feelings of rage or grief. As you bring any of these negative seeds into full consciousness, opening to them without entertaining them, they begin to vanish.
These two yogacara practices, adding good seeds into our storehouse and releasing our attachment to all of our seeds, do not transform us overnight. Changing ingrained patterns takes similar dedication and proactivity to walking after surgery. But sooner or later each of us can tap into Shen Hui’s mirror mind and begin to enjoy our lives right in the middle of difficult times like the one we are currently having.
We have a tragic human history. Generation after generation, we have been caught by the limitations of our conscious mind and unaware of how negative projections from the past influence our behavior. If we add some good seeds into our storehouse and meditate with consistency and determination, our projections dissipate. The process of opening up to them and not activating them is very simple. The more we do this, the greater possibility there will experience “mirror mind,” our own still nature, which reflects all life within it.
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Tim Burkett, Guiding Teacher