This is one of a series of transcripts of contemporary talks which have particularly resonated with me.
The following talk was given at the Insight Meditation Center in Redwood City, California. Please visit our website at audiodharma.org.
John Peacock 0:28
Okay. Good to see you all again. For a start, picking up on Dependent Origination, which is where we finished off yesterday. And I’ll do a little bit of recapping for anybody who’s new today.
John Peacock 0:44
So I’m gonna start off with a couple of quotations; might surprise you where they come from. But let me give you these quotations.
John Peacock 0:51
“Look at other lives besides your own. See what their troubles are, and how they are born. Try to care about something in this vast world besides the gratification of your small, selfish desires. Try to care for what is best in thought and action, something that is good apart from the accidents of your own lot.” That’s the first one.
John Peacock 1:17
And the second quote is this, “The creature we help to save, though only a half reared linit, bruised and lost by the wayside. How we watch and fence it and dote on its signs of recovery. Our pride becomes loving, ourselves becomes a not-self. For whence, for whose sake we become virtuous when we set to some hidden work of reclaiming a life from misery, and look simply for our triumph in the secret joy, ‘This one is better for me.'”
John Peacock 1:51
That’s not Buddhist at all. It comes from George Eliot out of a novel called Daniel Deronda. Which, if you haven’t read it, I’d recommend. She did have Buddhist influences, by the way, as you’ve probably gathered in some of that.
John Peacock 2:09
Okay to pick up on Dependent Origination. Let me try and recap a little bit, just to kind of set the scene again. Dependent Origination, the Buddha’s most profound teaching, I think. Even in the development of later traditions as we see them coming along, really in many ways, they don’t, in a sense, surpass what the Buddha has to say about Dependent Origination in the early texts. In many ways, even things like the Tibetan obsession with Emptiness is nothing other than an extrapolation of some aspects which are already there within the notion of Dependent Origination as we find it in these early Pali Nikayas.
John Peacock 2:55
So we’ve got within the Pali Nikayas a perfect description of The Mess. The Sansar-ic mess or the Sansara-ing mess, bearing in mind it’s a verb form. So we are, if you like, we’re engaged in this little activity called Sansara-ing, rather than being in a place called Sansara.
John Peacock 3:23
So we very much have to bear in mind, this is an activity. And although I didn’t mentioned it yesterday, perhaps I ought to mention it this time: in many ways, the notion of Dependent Origination covers everything, as far as the Buddha is concerned. Nothing arises out of nothing. There is no, if you like, First Cause which isn’t caused by something else. Everything is caused. Now, the classic, generalized formula of Dependent Origination that the Buddha speaks about, I’m just going to paraphrase it, is: This happens, this happens. This ceases to happen, this ceases to happen.
John Peacock 4:07
Often it’s translated as: This occurs, that occurs. That ceases to occur, this ceases to occur. But actually, even that’s a bit too linear. It’s actually this, this. This, this. In both of the cases. But this is the generalized formula. This covers everything. When the causes and conditions which sustain a particular phenomena cease to be, that phenomena ceases to be. And in many ways, this is a nice little recipe for getting out of Sansara, or out of Sansara-ing activity. Because if there are causes and conditions which uphold Sansara-ing activity, if we actually eliminate those causes, this edifice, this state of being that we’re calling Sansara, or I’m calling Sansara-ing, that will cease to be.
John Peacock 4:58
Hence, this is a big big extrapolation of the second of the Ennobling Truths. They’re what is known as Samudaya, or there is an origin, or something which supports. Actually what Samudaya means is “something which supports” Dukkha, actually supports its arising. And, well we all know because we’re going to come round to this in the links of Dependent Origination, that the Buddha’s proximate cause for the upholding, or the arising, of Dukkha is Taṇhā. And this is a word which we’ll speak quite a bit about, but all I want to say very briefly at this stage is that the word Tanha, in Pali, possesses enormous pathos about the human condition which you simply don’t get in the word “craving” when we translate it into English.
John Peacock 5:55
If this is a description of the human condition, that it is dominated, absolutely pervaded by Taṇhā, it’s pretty sad. It’s a pretty sad condition to be in. Now, I don’t want to make you miserable by saying that. But I just want to point that out, because we don’t capture that in the English whatsoever. When we translate it as craving. Or desire, which is often an alternative translation for this.
John Peacock 6:28
Something else which I didn’t say yesterday, and I also want to say today, the model that I’m working with here on Dependent Origination is very much of 12 links all occurring in one moment. Now, I say that because many of you will know the more classic Theravadan description of Dependent Origination is being spread over three lifetimes. This is Buddhaghosa’s model that you’ll find in the Visuddhimagga. Bhikkhu Buddhadasa, who’s probably one of my few Theravadan heroes, [said] that, actually, Buddhaghosa, in saying it’s spread over three lifetimes, is basically a closet Hindu. He just can’t throw off the idea of something being passed around through different lifetimes. Rather than this as being a dynamic description of the way everything is occurring in the moment.
John Peacock 7:38
Now I’m one of these sad people that toy around with Pali translations at times and spend hours thinking about possible ways of translating terms. Although Dependent Origination is very accurate as a term, sometimes it fails to capture what’s going on. And one, I don’t use it but I just want to share it with you because I think it’s quite useful, one possible way of translating it would be “Situational Patterning“. The way every situation, every moment is patterned. So actually, things take up a particular patterning in your life, moment to moment, if something is not done about it. Because in a sense there is always something carrying over into the next moment.
John Peacock 8:26
We started looking at this yesterday by thinking of confusion, Avijjā, this term that was written up on the board. Avijja. The word Vijja is actually related to … the Sanskrit “Vidya”. And actually both of them derive from that word, the word “Veda”, which means knowledge. So literally the word Avijja, when we prefix it like this, means non-knowledge. What we don’t possess. And I was suggesting to you yesterday, however, that it’s not simply about lack of the requisite information. And I was suggesting also yesterday that you probably have sat here and listened to numerous Dhamma talks. Actually, you should all be awakened by now. You’ve got all the knowledge. So in a way, we’re not talking about, are we, the collecting of some kind of information and knowledge that we supposedly need. We have the knowledge but we still don’t do anything about it.
John Peacock 10:00
Again, just reminding you before we move on, that I was saying that this has to do with actually, the other dimension of this term, Vidya, and Avijjā is not not-knowing but not-wanting-to-know. And I mean that on a very fundamental, existential level. It’s pretty painful, a lot of what’s being spoken about. The fact that existence is characterized by impermanence, Dukkha, and not-self. That is [how] existence is characterized. I said this yesterday, it doesn’t get any better than that. How much wishful thinking we might have, it simply doesn’t get any better. There is impermanence. Impermanence is written into that warp and woof of life. It’s there. It’s there in [the] fleeting moments of the evanescence of our mental processes to the world around us that we see changing. Sociologically, economically, politically, and the world itself is changing. There is nothing that is remaining the same. It is painful. In other words, it’s Dukkha. And I was suggesting yesterday that actually because the world is this way, it’s structurally incapable of ever providing you with ultimate satisfaction. If you’re looking externally, for the world to produce and to provide you with a sense of security, certainty, and satisfaction, you’re on too a bit of a loser. It simply ain’t gonna happen.
John Peacock 11:59
[The Buddha is suggesting, particularly in the early texts,] that this has to come from within. Instead of looking without, to provide you with the certainties and the satisfactions, the only certainties and satisfactions can come from the way that, in a sense, we process the material. What comes to us. However it comes to us. Be that painful instances or joyful instances. In other words, we learn not to get into this reactive patterning of simply pushing away what we don’t like and trying to grasp hold of what we like and stabilize it. And make it certain. So we live… I’m going to use, deliberately, this term today, and I didn’t use it so much yesterday… we live with some degree of wisdom in this world, knowing that, actually, whether it is aversive, whether the state is aversion and unpleasantness, or even whether it’s pleasant, it will change. It will change.
John Peacock 13:06
And again, I will say to you this is not to make you miserable. It’s just to bring you into the realism of the way things are. If we don’t live with that realism, we’re always chasing chimeras. We’re always chasing illusions. We’re always chasing phantoms, which are simply not going to be there. And I think perhaps I ought to say this at this stage because it connects in many ways with the title. What I think that religious traditions have done, including the traditions that have grown up on the back of the Buddha’s original teaching, is they seek to provide you with a degree of consolation. A degree of certainties. I don’t think the Buddha is doing that. I don’t think the Buddha is into cheap certainties. He’s not into cheap constellations.
John Peacock 13:59
Just to remind you of those final words, which [the Buddha said] in the Mahāparinibbāna Sutta, Absolutely all phenomena are impermanent; now get on with it. This is basically what he’s saying. Because that is the reality of the situation. That is what we have to deal with in our daily lives. This is the certainties, if you like, the certainties of old age, sickness, and death. These are the certainties, if you want them. When I lived in Tibetan society, they always used to be saying this in Tibetan society, There is one thing absolutely certain. Death. One thing that’s absolutely uncertain. When. And then they’d usually fall around laughing.
John Peacock 14:55
So it doesn’t have to make you po-faced about this, at all. Or deathly serious about it. But it’s taking on board that those are the realities. The only peace, tranquility, happiness, contentment that we can find is something that’s generated from within, not from without. When we live our world from within, but we’ve connected with others, and this, in a sense, is going to be the theme of what I want to talk about tomorrow, with Metta, of boundless friendliness, then we can find, and we can seek for the tranquility that we don’t find when we externalize and always look for others, and for circumstances to make you happy or content.
John Peacock 15:46
If you really want to know what the death knell of a relationship is… you do, don’t you? You’re supposed to say yes. If you want to know what the death knell of a relationship is, [demand from the other person]: make me happy. That’s like giving somebody an impossible task, an impossible burden. Happiness can be generated out or contentment can be generated out of relationship, but it’s not by the demand of making somebody the cause of your happiness. That kills or stultifies relationships. There’s another instance of Mara, The Killer, coming.
John Peacock 16:34
So these are kind of background remarks to get us back in. We have an awful lot of knowledge. I often feel, apart from a lot of technical material that I present in talks like this, that I’m not telling you something you don’t know. I’m not really telling you something you don’t know. What we don’t know is how to practice it. That’s the key to it. Actually how to practice it. ^^This is a pragmatic path. The Buddha is not doing this out of intellectual curiosity.^^ I will really make that point. There is nothing I have ever discerned in the Pali Canon, which is there for merely intellectual curiosity. It’s there because it’s a practical teaching. ^^Something that we can live, something that can actually change our lives.^^
John Peacock 17:27
I often say to my students in the UK, this practice ought to come with a government health warning. This practice could severely change your life. And it’s meant to; that’s exactly what it’s meant to do. It could actually change your life. But it takes time and it takes patience. And it takes the ability to open to, often, the painful in life.
John Peacock 17:56
The painful is going to come to us anyway. We can live in houses constructed on sand. But at some point in time, the walls are gonna fall down. No matter how solid [you think the edifice is], it’s gonna fall down because it’s based on something which is not solid; it’s not secure. And so we can attempt to put at bay the painful in life, but it will always erupt through at some point. Often, unfortunately, in things like tragedy in our lives. The loss of a loved one. This can disrupt whole lives.
John Peacock 18:36
In a way, what we’re doing is trying to understand how we can deal even with those most painful situations which will come to us without turning it into what I call Sansaric Hell. Because that’s what it can become so easily. We’ll see that later in the chain, because that’s to do with craving and grasping. This is craving and grasping and holding on in a particular way.
John Peacock 19:03
So we start. This is the background, this is the floor. This is the carpet to your experience, Avijjā. Confusion. Trying to make sense of the world. Now, as I was saying yesterday, I do really, really want to emphasize this because I think it’s such an important point: unfortunately, in the West, we live with guilt so much of the time. Guilt is a huge part. So when we start to say, well, the precursor of all this, and the reason why you’re in this state, let’s take the most pejorative way of translating this term Avijja: ignorance. Then somehow it’s your fault. No, it isn’t.
John Peacock 19:44
It’s not your fault. Unfortunately our conditioning doesn’t give us the tools, often, to be able to cope with life. So we go through life trying to do our best, trying to cope with things as they arise, but not having the full tools, or the full range of skills. Perhaps that’s a better word. The full range of skills to be able to deal with things. So I tend to use the word “confusion”. Confusion often isn’t under your control. So let’s take the pejorative sting out of this altogether. And I might just say something about that word “guilt”. This is a particular Judeic-Christio thought, the notion of Guilt. You will not find one Asian language, other than when they’ve translated guilt into an Asian language, or try to make it up in some way. You certainly won’t find it in any of the canonical languages of Buddhism. You won’t find a word for guilt. You find words for shame, but you won’t find words for guilt. And there’s a big difference between the two.
John Peacock 19:51
So this is our starting place, but it isn’t a starting place because it isn’t the first cause. It’s the background to our experience, is Avijjā. This is the most deeply rooted, problematic aspect of our experience, which in some senses can only be eradicated when we deal with the most proximate causes. It’s most proximate manifestations in our ordinary life, which we’ll see as we come later around, the dependent links as they manifest.
John Peacock 21:26
Now, according to the dependencies, the chain of dependencies, what is arising next is the Saṅkhāras. And this is where we finished off yesterday, on the Saṅkhāras. The Saṅkhāras, of course, the “formations”, the “volitional formations”. I’m not gonna go into too much more detail about these, but these are being formed. Something we’re actively engaging in through acts of intention, and acts of will. Now I didn’t mention this yesterday, but they are being formed by Cetana, by intention. So in many ways, a lot of our practice is about beginning to discern, and this is not always easy, what our intentions are.
John Peacock 22:28
Some of those intentions will be using a more Freudian language, unconscious, when they’re not immediately perspicable; we don’t immediately have access into what our intentions are. So we’re uncovering our intentions behind our actions. Now, the moment we get into talking about intention, we open ourselves up to the minefield of what I call Karma. I say minefield, because this is one of the most misinterpreted words. I’ll put the Sanskrit first because this is the word that we normally use. The Pali is the second version, [Kamma].
John Peacock 23:18
I say it’s the most misinterpreted word. It’s a very simple word in Pali and Sanskrit, it simply means “action”. That’s all it means. Yet, when you think of the layers of metaphysics that get laid on this term, particularly in Hinduism, where it becomes a fatalistic notion, within a lot of the cruder forms of Hinduism, not within all forms, where it becomes something which you cannot do anything about. Having lived in India quite a number of years, I hear people going, “It’s my karma”. And that’s passed into our language, too. … It basically means I can’t do anything about it. It’s my karma. End of story almost.
John Peacock 24:11
Now, that’s not the Buddha’s notion of karma. In fact, the proper way of looking at this, and this is why it’s much more detailed out, is what’s known as Karma Vipaka, Kamma Vipaka. … Now, that’s very simply, if you take this literally, action and consequence. Or “action and fruit” because there’s another word used as well, which is Phala, the fruit of an action.
John Peacock 24:48
Now the Buddha, living in the time he did, as I was suggesting and sharing with you yesterday, lived in a very agrarian society. So he often used the word Phala. Things fruit. And just as if you’ve got an orchard of all different kinds of trees, some peach trees, some apricot, some apple trees, some pear trees, they all have different times of fruiting. And if they’re young trees they might not fruit for a considerable amount of time. Whereas if they’re older trees they might fruit quite quickly. But they’re all fruiting at different times. And this is the kind of model he’s using for how actions produce consequences. They have different fruiting times in our lives. Some of them do not catch up with us until many, many, many years later. I’m not even going to talk about lifetimes models here. Because I don’t think that’s what’s intended at all. You’re talking about the fruits of your actions; some of them will catch up with you immediately, and some of them will catch up with you many years later. That is the model that he’s doing.
John Peacock 26:07
And the Buddha is basically saying, we live in this world creating Saṅkhāras because we can’t avoid acting. Even if I don’t act, that’s an act. In Western philosophical theory, we have something called The Doctrine of Acts and Omissions. So omitting to act is also an act.
John Peacock 26:32
So, here we live in this world where we can’t help but act. Now we’re in the world, we’re not sitting up in caves in the Himalaya, but even sitting up in a cave in the Himalaya is an action which will have consequences. And will have fruits to it. We live in this world, which has consequences, and it has fruits, which are related to our actions of thought, word, and deed. Body, speech, and mind is the classic formulation of this in most forms of Buddhism. So we’re acting, body speech, mind, but the intentions are generated in the mind.
John Peacock 27:12
Now, here’s an interesting thing: the Buddha is also saying, Try to, if you like, clean up your intentions, but don’t be attached to the fruit of them. It’s very interesting because often, if we think we have a good intention, you want to see it fulfilled. When you give that present to somebody, you want them to go, “Oh, I really like that!” Or if you do a good deed for somebody, you expect them, perhaps, to be grateful for it. In other words, you’re looking for a consequence. You’re looking for a particular fruit. Now, those are very simple examples. But actually, the world we live in is a complex nexus of causes and conditions. So even if we have the best intention, it won’t always give rise to the fruit that we may want. Often good intentions end up with not the consequences we want.
John Peacock 28:14
But what we’re talking about in terms of the Karma, or the Vipaka, the real consequence, is in relationship to your mind. That’s the real consequence about it. It’s not just attached to what occurs because of the action. So if your intention is clean, if your intention is wholesome, then it has a positive effect on the mind. So it’s not about actually getting everything you want through: Oh, my intentions are really good, and I’m really doing my best here. I’m still not getting the results. Actually, the results are in the mind, not in the external situations. Because the external situations are often so complex that you don’t get, necessarily, the consequence that you wish for.
John Peacock 29:05
Now, that’s a long way of coming back to talking about Saṅkhāras. Because we’re actually engaged in this stuff all the time. We’re actually engaged in it every moment. Our intentions are there rapidly. Very important part of just doing sitting practice. A good place to start is actually examining your intentions. What is your intention behind your practice? When I briefly led that meditation in the morning and gave you a few instructions, does your intention coincide with your bodily posture? For example, if I’m meditating and my posture is like this, does that actually coincide with the intention to stay awake and alert? Attentive to what is happening? It doesn’t. So actually we embody intentions as well. So intention is a bodily thing; it’s not just something going on in the mind, but it is reflected in the body itself.
Would you say that the ultimate goal of Vipassana practice is to discern the links of Dependent Origination experientially?
John Peacock 30:40
That’s part of it. It’s not the totality of it. Part of it is in understanding. In understanding Dependent Origination, you understand, as I say, the mess. But you also begin to understand the way of getting out of that mess. Ultimately, of course, and this is something I was referring to yesterday, ^^the goal, I think, of the meditation practices that we engage in, as far as I can discern out of the early texts, is very much the attainment of Upekkhā.^^ The attainment of poise, balance, and Equanimity in this life. That is, in a sense, a Nirvana-ing experience, to have this poise and balance in life. To have a degree of responsiveness, or total responsiveness as opposed to reactiveness in life.
John Peacock 31:40
Now, I say that because I think all too often the way the tradition reads things like Nibbāna and the goal of Vipassana practice, we have big words that get attached to it. Particularly when they’re mistranslated. For example, we have this word Paññā, in Pali, which is usually translated as “wisdom”. This is the goal of all practice, the attainment of Paññā. The attainment of wisdom. Well it’s a bad translation. The goal, if we even see it in terms of Paññā is the goal of understanding. The goal of insight. Now the insight is into the three characteristics of existence. That’s part of the insight. But ^^having insight into the three characteristics of existence is also meant to lead to Equanimity.^^ Because ^^that’s the insightful way of living with a real understanding of this.^^ That’s the, that’s my phrase, the “getting on with it”. “Strive on diligently” is the more polite way of putting it.
John Peacock 32:53
But it’s really: how do you live with that understanding? Now, normally, in our ordinary average everyday lives, we don’t live with that understanding. We try to avoid those facets of things. We actually don’t want to know. This is part of the Avijjā again. We don’t want to know about the impermanence, really. We don’t want to know about this lack of any fixed self within. And we certainly don’t want to know about Dukkha. Dukkha is a very unpleasant facet of reality. So it’s in the sense of understanding those and really beginning to have insight into those: How do I then live with them? And that’s the insight that generates Upekkhā. That generates, well, not just Upekkha, actually generates all the Brahmavihārās. ^^It generates the ground or the soil of metta.^^
John Peacock 33:49
Now in the traditions, and I’ll say much more about this for those who come tomorrow, Metta has been sidelined. It’s kind of a subsidiary practice. I see it as being much more central to what the Buddha is actually teaching. In fact, I think any practice without Metta involved in it in some way, is actually extremely cold. It’s simply tied into an ideal of wisdom. And it’s a kind of cold, almost slightly brutal, wisdom at that. So there’s a softness and gentleness that comes with the development of Metta. … I don’t translate Metta as “loving kindness” I translate it “boundless friendliness”. Boundless friendliness. Well if it’s boundless, it spreads out. Literally one of the etymologies of the word Metta means “to get fat”. It means “to grow fat”. It means “to grow fat with friendliness”. And those are activities. And so when we say the goal, the goal of understanding all of this, the goal of understanding this is really some of those things I’ve just mentioned as well. So it’s a big project in a way, rather than just a simple one. The Nibbāna-ing experience includes all of those things. But it also includes primarily, of course, the cessation of greed, aversion and delusion. Or infatuation, aversion, and confusion, [to] put it in a way, I think, which is more how we experience those things. Sorry, long answer to a short question again.
[You’re saying that one needs to experience impermanence, confusion, and not-self, experience them on a profound level otherwise they remain intellectual. But I can experience impermanence and maybe subtly or not so subtly thwart that and thumb my nose at it and go for something that will cause suffering anyway. I’m wondering if then, one step is experiencing this suffering, maybe that’s the ultimate step. I am not wanting to know that I’m suffering because of may actions. And then the Metta comes into that too. Because if I can really get that I am suffering, then I can get that you are suffering to.]
John Peacock 37:05
That’s very much what it’s about. I’ll explore this a lot more tomorrow. But it’s very much what it’s about. Jumping ahead into Mahāyāna Buddhism, in this figure within Mahayana Buddhism called Shantideva. And some of you might know his famous text, the Bodhicaryavatara. In this particular text, he’s saying this is exactly what it’s about, is beginning to gain empathy with others. In one particular passage in it he says, It makes no sense to talk about my Dukkha or your Dukkha, but only about Dukkha. So we take the personal out of it, stop personalizing it.
John Peacock 37:43
One of the aspects, and we have such a short time over these few days, but one of the other aspects of this is actually ^^everything that occurs to us we take so personally. Have you noticed that? We personalize everything. It’s almost like any suffering that occurs: Why have I been picked out? The alternative to that is: Why not? But we take it so so personally, every event that occurs to us. And then that becomes something that we then proliferate or obsess around,^^ once we’ve taken it personally. ^^Once we’ve added, in a sense, the first person pronoun into our experience, that’s become really personal. If I can see this, actually, a lot of this is an impersonal process,^^ as an impersonal process, then I am not affected. I start to add “I”, what I call “The Royal I-ness” into this at quite an early stage. Yet, as we go through the links, we’ll see that the links in this are pretty impersonal, up to a point. And then it becomes personal. Now we haven’t got there yet, but I’ll get there as we move on.
John Peacock 39:16
But yes, this movement out into Metta, I think is an absolutely fundamental movement in the process of this. Because … once we’ve begun to understand Taṇhā, once we begin to understand the pathos behind the way that we generate pain and further confusion for ourselves, then what can that lead to? Simply friendliness towards it? Kindness towards it. Gentleness towards it, rather than the castigation that we put ourselves through a lot of the time.
John Peacock 39:55
Now, none of this and I’d go back slightly off your question, but none of this is meant to lead you into a position of saying “It’s my fault”. Or beating yourself up even further about it. Because that’s not what it’s about. It’s actually owning up initially, to our Dukkha. That’s what it is. ^^The only place we can start with is our Dukkha, the way that we pattern things at this moment.^^ And this gives us a clue to that patterning. We own up literally to who we are, which includes all of the foibles and the things that we do and the unhappinesses, but the happinesses, too, within our lives. ^^So it begins to become a full appreciation, an acknowledgement of where you are in order to move in some direction. Now, unless you do that, unless there’s this kind of owning up process, this acknowledgement process, there can’t be that movement. Because it’s not held with kindness.^^
John Peacock 41:12
And, actually, one of the things that struck me, I know we’re slightly off the point here, but I do think it’s important to say one, of the things that struck most Eastern teachers about coming to the West, and those who have been brought up in the West and educated in the West and everything, is just how tough we are on ourselves. How cruel we can become to ourselves. In Eastern traditions, for example, when I was doing Metta practice in Sri Lanka, Metta practice for yourself was actually fairly small. Because most Sri Lankan don’t have to have a problem with themselves. And in the same in Tibetan communities. I mean, the amount of Tibetans where were always telling me how good they were at things. They never had a problem owning up to how they were.
John Peacock 42:03
But in our societies, we’re not like that. We have this big guilt, [these] ways of beating ourselves up. And actually, sometimes the practice itself can be another way of beating ourselves up, of not being perfect at this. A Sri Lankan meditation friend of mine once said, When Western people get meditation, they make their lives even more miserable. Simply because you try to strive for perfection, which isn’t really based on an understanding of how you operate, what’s actually going on now, for you. [Coupling this misunderstanding] with Metta helps to soften the more … painful elements that you see when you begin to … see Paṭiccasamuppāda operating within yourself, when you see Dependent Origination there.
John Peacock 43:14
Now let’s get back to Saṅkhāras because we’re not gonna get finished otherwise. You’ll be left with wanting to know who did it.
John Peacock 43:29
Karma and Vipaka are actively involved in Saṅkhāras. Fruits. Doing things often enough will produce, as I said yesterday, basically routes that your mind will run down. Ways of dealing with problems, ways of being with people. These are Saṅkhāras. They’re also narratives about who you are. It’s almost as if you believe that the Saṅkhāras are you. All of these dispositions, these things that you’ve built up over the years, your particular proclivities and ways of dealing with phenomena as they arise and situations as they arise, you believe that they are you. And you tend to attach yourself to this understanding that you are this particular type of person. It becomes deeply ingrained, doesn’t it?
John Peacock 44:28
… One translation I suggested yesterday of this, making it slightly banal is actually “habits”. Now if you want to know how much habits are so much considered to be part of our identity, I don’t know if you’ve had this experience, when somebody challenges one of them. Don’t you feel hurt? If somebody challenges you, if somebody said to you, you’ve got this rather irritating habit, you know, of doing this. And you go, Well, that’s me. That’s the way I am. You get very defensive. The moment you see that you might see how identified we are with the ^^habitual formations^^ that we’ve built up for ourselves over the course of our lifetime. If you want to go into traditional, more Theravadan Buddhist view, well that’s over lifetimes. But it makes sense to look at it over this lifetime. You’ve spent the whole of your lifetime building up habits, ways of dealing with things.
John Peacock 45:30
This is part of the reason why we get the same stuff repeating in very similar patterns again, and again and again. Because we’re dealing with them pretty well in the same way. The other way of seeing Saṅkhāras, it’s not the way the Buddha necessarily talks about it, but it’s implied in the way that it’s detailed out, certainly in Abidhamma material, is that these are narrative structures that we inhabit as well. They are the stories that we tell ourselves about ourselves.
John Peacock 46:00
I’ve mentioned this novelist yesterday to some of you who were here, which is this novelist, Jeanette Winterson. There’s a particular book that she wrote, some of you might have even read, it’s called The Passion. And it’s a magical realist novel. And in this book all these strange things are happening, like people walking on water and doing all sorts of weird stuff. But every time something weird happens, there’s this little refrain that runs through it says, “Trust me. I’m telling you stories.” Jeanette Winterson. And I almost feel this about the Saṅkhāras, the Saṅkhāras, are going to you, “Trust me. I’m telling you stories.” Now, I’m kind of psychologizing in a certain way here, which isn’t necessarily within the text. But that is what’s implied by this. These are patterns that we identify with, and we identify them because they’re telling us stories that we’ve inhabited for long times, for long periods of time, that we think: this is who we are.
John Peacock 47:07
The most immediate relationship that Saṅkhāras have is with the next link in the chain. So this is your third link in the chain, Viññāṇa. Cognizance. Consciousness and thinking. Well, what’s the thinking going on? Well the thinking that’s going on is because it’s in direct relationship with the Saṅkhāras. Remember that the image that’s being used here in Dependent Origination is of dependency. Not that this is causing that, but these two things exist in a relationship of dependency. The one depends on the other. So most of these point in both directions. It’s not as if you can say, this is occurring, then this is occurring, then this is occurring. These are absolutely dynamically interlinked. This is a process. It’s not a linear kind of march from Avijjā all the way to Jarāmaraṇa, which is old age and death. These are all intricately interlinked, and creating chains of dependences. None more so than in the relationship between Saṅkhāra and Viññāṇa, between consciousness or cognizance, and what is going on in thought.
John Peacock 48:45
Now in our experience, you can’t divorce the two. You cannot divorce consciousness and what you’re thinking about, or what you’re aware of. That’s the intimate relationship between the two. So much so that one of the early discoveries of the Buddha was that all consciousness, all consciousness, is what he calls intentional. This is not the way I was using it earlier on this is very much a philosophical way of using it. All consciousness has an object. There is never consciousness without an object. Now, again, with the risk of boring you, this is partly in relationship to what was going on in Indian culture at the time. Because the right the composers of the Upanishads were always talking about pure consciousness. They talked about Ātman as being pure consciousness or Brahman as being pure consciousness. This is one of the things that he spoke about, the Buddha saying there is no conscience without being conscious of.
Isn’t there a text in the Canon where The Buddha uses the simile of light falling on the floor and he says what if there is no floor and the light didn’t fall on anything. And he said, there’s also a type of consciousness that does not fall on anything and in the end he says that type of consciousnesses is without Dukkha.
John Peacock 50:27
Yeah, as far as I remember, that’s only there’s only one citation of that in the whole of the canon. Which tends to make me think it’s, again, an interpolation. Something that’s been inserted in the canon. Now, I haven’t talked about this so far. But something I think that goes on in the history of the formation of the canon, because remember, it doesn’t all come together at once, is that you start to get Brahmanical remains start to be placed into the Canon again. And that’s not accidental. Because a lot of the early converts into Buddhism were Brahmins. And so my response to a passage like that is not to desperately trying to make sense of it in comparison with all the texts that are saying actually, every form of consciousness has an object. Rather, it’s probably to see it as an anomaly that’s been inserted at some point into the canon. Now, without going into lots of textual examination of it I couldn’t give you a direct answer about that. But I do think it’s an anomaly within the canon.
John Peacock 51:33
Yet, and I will say this, many traditions, particularly later than the early texts, will go down exactly that route. Exactly that route. For example, some of the Zen traditions, and some of the, particularly Tibetan traditions like Dzogchen and Mahamudra, all of these are talking about pristine forms of consciousness with no object. So they’re coming out very, very similar. Even Yogachara, Citta-matra schools, which are very influential in China and the development of Zen, [they are] all talking about that. But that’s a much later development. This is why I think this is more radical. Why I think these early texts are much more radical than the later traditions. That’s kind of a response to your question rather than direct answer.
I had a conversation with another Pali scholar a long time ago about the origins of that word, Viññāṇa, that “vi” is something about separating…
John Peacock 52:47
Yeah. Divided knowing.
[Would it be fair to understand it as the act of the mind picking out something?]
John Peacock 52:55
Yeah, it is exactly that. Here’s a bit of Pali for you. Anything that has that formulation in it. Anything that has that formulation, Janna, Paññā, Sañña, all to do with knowing. Anything you see with that formulation in Pali is always to do with knowing. This is the devisive bit. That is dividing it simply up into consciousness and an object. So when we’re conscious of something, we’re conscious of an object. So in a sense there’s two, there’s a kind of diversive aspect to it.
Are you saying that “vi” is the consciousness part?
John Peacock 53:39
You can’t do as simply as that. You can’t do it as simply.
what’s the root meaning of that we as it occurs elsewhere?
John Peacock 53:45
Again, it’s actually a dividing. It’s saying there is a dividing of consciousness between an object and the consciousness itself that perceives the object. That’s really what it’s saying. … The most simple way of putting this is that consciousness is always a consciousness of. So it’s like saying, if I’m conscious, can I actually be conscious without being conscious of something, even that I’m conscious? So it’s always reflexive. There’s always a reflexive movement within it.
John Peacock 54:29
And this actually is quite remarkable. I don’t know how much you know about the history of philosophy in general. But this thought, which is there in the early Nikayas, that consciousness is always consciousness of, in Western philosophical thinking this doesn’t even get on the agenda til the late 19th century. It’s that far after, nearly 2400 years after the Buddha’s death. It’s somebody called Franz Brentano. And through his work with his disciple, Edmund Husserl, they founded the whole movement of Phenomenology, which was exactly about this. Consciousness and its acts. And the objects that it had within it. But it’s quite remarkable that the Buddha already had discerned this at such an early period.
I have a couple of questions. One is: how early in Buddhism does the Pali Canon get so vast? And how early in Buddhism does it develop into these many different schools of thought?
John Peacock 55:37
That’s a big question. If you don’t mind a simple answer. But it’s a vast question. …
It used to be believed until about 50 years ago that Early Christianity had fairly uniform ideas when it was a small movement. And now that consensus has changed. Now, it’s widely believed that early Christianity, even in the first century, had many many diverse schools of thought, each one with slightly different sets of holy books. So that’s been a big shift.
John Peacock 56:32
Okay, let’s give you a very simple answer. I won’t go into the technicalities. Basically what happens is you get a number of councils. The only thing all the traditions can agree upon is that there were such councils that occurred after the Buddha’s death. The first one occurred almost immediately after the Buddha’s death. The second one about 100 years later. And at that point, you get the splitting of the Sangha. You get a schism occurring, but not a schism on doctrine, a schism, on Vinaya, on the discipline. Now, strictly speaking, that’s the only way schism can occur in Buddhist groups. It can’t occur on matters of doctrine because it’s not supposed to be orthodox.
John Peacock 57:18
So basically, it was very pragmatic. It was about: can I live with you if you’ve got a different set of rules to me? For example, one group might say: we’re not going to eat after lunch and the other group will say, hey, I want an evening meal. It’s literally as practical as that. And this is why you got the first split within the schools and this is the split between what’s called the Mahāsāṃghika, which literally means the “big Sangha”, and the Sthaviravada, which is the precursor of what becomes the [Theravada, in Sri Lanka. Now, the Sthaviravada were a bit po-faced, and wanted to really, really hold to minute points of doctrine, and minute points of Vinaya, very close, particularly the Vinaya very closely. And so they split off from the main Sangha. And then after that, almost like cellular splitting, there started to occur many, many splits on Vinaya within the schools. So by approximately 300 years after the Buddha’s death, you’re talking about a minimum of 18 schools.
And this correlates with the great expansion of the Pali Canon as a collection.
John Peacock 58:38
Probably the formation of the Pali Canon, as far as we understand it from a scholarly point of view, started within the Buddha’s lifetime. Including the formation of the Abhidhamma as well. They all started in the Buddha’s lifetime, basically remembering and memorizing what was being said. The Canon itself probably isn’t closed, even after it’s written down, until into the early eras of the Christian eras.
John Peacock 59:03
That’s a good note to finish on, that one. That there is joy within the Canon. … Within the Seven Factors of Awakening it’s Pīti, yes, but not as its associated within the jhana factors. It’s not the same Piti. It’s not Somanassa and it’s not Domanassa. It’s very different because it has a different connotation. It’s that which is the energy within the process that’s required for awakening to occur. And so it’s a joyful nature that arises. But together with things like tranquility and mindfulness and all of these other factors that are there.
John Peacock 1:00:11
The reason I’m trying to say that [is] because it’s very emphasized in Jhana practice, the development of Pīti as being a product of the second jhana, and everything else, together with Sukha, which is coming later. And these are viewed quite differently. Now, I don’t think that’s what the Buddha’s talking about when he’s talking about it as being part of the Seven Factors of Awakening. He’s talking about something, I think, far more fundamental and not associated simply with Jhana states. Piti has a number of different meanings. …
[Can you discuss practices such as awareness of awareness, consciousness of consciousness?]
John Peacock 1:01:20
These get into meditative states, which I don’t think really the Buddha’s talking about as being liberative states. That’s what I think, from my reading of the canon. I do emphasize it’s my reading. The particular way I read the Canon is that when the Buddha is talking about having genuine insight, they’re insights into what is arising when consciousness in the world rises together. Now consciousness doesn’t rise alone. This gets much more detailed in terms of Abhidhamma. When we talk about mind as such, we’ll actually be talking about Citta and Cetasikas. What we’re talking is mind and mental factors, or consciousness and mental factors always arising together. And these are what color the world.
John Peacock 1:02:09
Now in every moment of perception, there’s a minimum of seven different Cetasikas arising with every moment of perception. So there’s seven minimal mental factors arising, then there are all the wholesome and unwholesome factors that also arise with it, which color what we see as the object. So it’s actually quite a complex picture that’s going on here. And the Abhidhamma goes into a lot of, I’m not going to speak about it [now], but the Abhidhamma goes into a lot of detail about this. But actually as an aid to meditation, not merely as an intellectual tool. It’s an aid to meditation, of actually beginning to discern what goes along.
John Peacock 1:02:49
I think from our point of view, I don’t usually like Buddhaghosa, but I actually like this particular phrase of his. He says, you have to see that consciousness is like a king. It never arives without a huge retinue. [Consciousness] always comes with an enormous retinue of other stuff. So this is what’s going on in Viññāṇa as well. Viññāṇa and Citta these are kind of synonymous. It’s arising with a whole load of stuff. The Saṅkhāras.
John Peacock 1:03:21
Well, actually, what I’m referring to as mental factors are actually Saṅkhāras. These are all the wholesome and unwholesome factors that we bring to experience and create the narrative structures that we live within. And this is occurring again and again and again and again. And it’s discerning that process, beginning to discern that process.
Does it have a life of its own?
John Peacock 1:03:51
Well, I think you can see that. In the work I do in Oxford. When we talk about mindfulness based cognitive therapy, one of the things we say to clients is, Suddenly you find that your mind has got a mind of its own. Because that’s exactly… and this is just a common meditation thing, isn’t it? When we’re doing meditation, when you try to focus on your breath, well your mind doesn’t want to know about that. It goes off and does something else. It goes off and plays with something else. Breath? That’s boring! Let’s get out of here. It will go off and do something else. So you suddenly find that your mind isn’t as much under your control as you think it is. You’d think it would be a really easy thing, we’ll just focus on this. No way. It wants to go off and do something else. So it is actually not under our control.
John Peacock 1:04:42
So what we’re learning to do, in a lot of the early stages, is develop a degree of control. This is why the image is often used of training and elephant. And what they do when they train and elephant, and they still do this in Sri Lanka, is they tie it to a peg in the ground. And what does the elephant do? It pulls and it tugs and it tries to pull the post out of the ground and run away and do all sorts of things. Really good metaphor for the mind. And eventually it gets the point that it can’t run away and it settles down. Now you can start to train the elephant. So I think it’s quite a good image, that particular image. But in the early stages, what you’re finding is it’s not really under your control. Any sense of control is quite spurious a lot of the time.
John Peacock 1:05:31
Okay, I’m going to move on because otherwise you won’t find out who did it. So Viññāṇa. Well, Viññāṇa itself, of course, isn’t just arising on its own. It’s dependent on Nāmarūpa. And herein lies the crux, I think, of why we have a three lifetime interpretation of Buddhaghosa. It’s in this particular link. Literally Nāmarūpa means “name and form”. I mean, that’s about as good as it gets when it comes to near-ness of Pali, Sanskrit, and English. Nama is “name” and Rupa is “form”. And what it really stands for is mental and physical processes. This is what stands for. So Nama is the mental processes and Rupa is the physical processes.
John Peacock 1:06:33
Nama will include Sañña, as well. It’s worth pointing that out. Sanna being, remember when I did the aggregates with you yesterday, Sanna being the discriminative perceptive aggregate. Now, Buddhaghosa, I think, and this is why I say it’s actually better looking at the early texts rather than through Buddhaghosa. Buddhaghosa suddenly sees this as being the generation of actual physical body and mind at this stage, coming into existence. Now if you’re talking about this as I am, and Buddhadasa, and lots and lots of other people speak about this as being a one lifetime process rather than a two lifetime process. Unless you really look deeply and find out what’s really going on in Nāmarūpa, we’ve got a problem. Because we’ve got two bodies being born at link eleven [, … and then the other being born at link four. And so the only way of doing that is to say, well, actually everything occurs before that is passed me everything occurs from three to ten as a link is present, and everything from eleven to twelve is future. People follow that. You’ve got three lifetimes there as a way of trying to account for the fact that you seem to have two births within this system.
John Peacock 1:08:09
Now, I think it’s completely spurious what Buddhaghosa goes off and does with this material. Because actually what the Buddha is indicating by Nāmarūpa is not the birth of a physical body and a mind at this stage, what he’s actually talking about is the patterning or the blueprinting, of what is going to come later. So if you think of Nāmarūpa as being the way in your present, that you’re actually determining your future. So you can still use the temporality, but you don’t have to talk about it as lifetimes. ^^You’re determining your future by the way that you condition and pattern your mind now. And the way that you treat your body.^^ You’re blueprinting yourself up for your future moments.
John Peacock 1:09:01
Now, we can see that as being future moments, twenty years time, or we can see that future moments as being ten minutes time, it doesn’t really matter. Actually, it’s a very rapid process. ^^Everything that we’re doing now is determining what we’re going to become in the next moment and the next moment the next moment, unless we influence it.^^ So this is the kind of blueprinting that’s occurring.
John Peacock 1:09:28
Now, why is it occurring in this way? Well, that’s because the Saṅkhāras that are formed from forming are dependent on the confusion which is then patterning consciousness. And consciousness is part of the Nāmarūpa. It’s not separate from the Nāmarūpa. It’s actually, in a way, again we’ve got a double thing. Dependent on consciousness, there is Nāmarūpa. We’re conscious of mind and body. We’re conscious of the patterning that’s going on. So This is a very, very dynamic process.
John Peacock 1:10:02
The Buddha is playing here. Again, Buddhaghosa has completely lost the plot. And I’d say that actually with a slight tongue in cheek, because again, we haven’t got the philosophical background of India. Because within early Indian thought, the sense of the real person was the Nama. Was the name of somebody. The name was intimately tied up with who the person was. And **the Buddha is taking this and he’s playing… I can’t go into detail about this, this would be another half an afternoon… but he’s taking this and playing with something that’s there within Indian thought of his own time. And again, saying, No, it isn’t. It’s not the real sense of a person. These are just the processes that are being patterned. This is not the fixed individual tied to some sense of name with a particular form.
John Peacock 1:11:05
He’s actually playing with it. So it’s, again, part of the background. I’m sorry if this sounds a bit sketchy. But it would take a lot more detail to go into it. We just don’t have time, unfortunately. But what he’s doing is he’s playing with the Indian background from which he arises yet again. Now, that poem that I read to you yesterday, the poem of creation, you’ll find this going on in that as well. When you really begin to analyze the Sanskrit terms and their relationship to the Pali. So he plays so much with the doctrines, philosophies, religious ideas of his time. So much so that by the time you get to the formation of something like the Theravada school as we know it, they’ve actually last, not the plot here, but, they’ve actually lost the context in which the Buddha was talking about this.
John Peacock 1:11:59
This is actually one of the benefits, I think, that we have in the West of modern scholarship. We can actually go back into this material and really begin to correlate what’s going on and say, Upanishadic thought, which is where this is derived from, Upunishadic thought, and what is going on in the Buddha’s relationship to that thought, and these ways of critiquing it. Whereas the Upunishadic thought, with the idea of the Nama being related to the essence of the person, he is basically undermining that metaphysical sense by putting it directly back into a practical sense. This is you as you are patterning yourself now, through all of this stuff. Let’s not think about it as being some kind of sense removed about essences of individuals and essences living on another plateau, any of the stuff that was going on in some of this Upanishadic thinking, but what’s actually going on right now. So you should be concerned about the way that you’re patterning your Nāmarūpa now. …
Viññāṇa, consciousness, objects, you made that a big point. Nāmarūpa, is that consciousness noticing that the body is a separate object?
John Peacock 1:13:38
No, it isn’t. It’s showing actually their interrelationship. It’s actually their intimate interrelationship. One of the points I was making yesterday in relationship to the Khandas, and I think this is a really important point. Particularly, the way the body is often undervalued in comparison with the mind, is that the Buddha is always talking about consciousness and mind as always an embodied mind. It’s not a kind of free floating thing. Now again, the tendency of the traditions has been to actually end up with a duality, with a separation. We get the elevation of mind over body and then you get all the ascetic practices coming back again. You get those things coming in because there’s a denigration of the body. Now that’s, I don’t think, going on in the early texts at all. The mind is an embodied mind. And actually this is why this intimate relationship between Nāmarūpa.
John Peacock 1:14:47
How long we been going? Can you stand one more point before having a break? This is this will be a quick one. Saḷāyatana. Six sense spheres. So the mind, body, has, possesses, and is conditioned, all this is conditioning, the way that our senses operate. Now in Buddhist thought, as you probably well know, there are five senses plus the mental sense, consciousness. So these are sense objects, plus the consciousness that goes with them. So there’s nose sense consciousness, and eye sense consciousness, and ear sense consciousness, body sense consciousness, and a mind sense consciousness. And the job of mind sense consciousness is to cognize mental stuff, just like the eye is to cognize visual stuff. And they talked about spheres of existence, because in a way the eye is something which literally palpates or encompasses the visual field. This is why it’s called an Āyatana, which is a sphere, in Pali. And then after this, it all starts to get a lot more interesting.
John Peacock 1:16:27
[Brief logistical outro.]