Thursday, January 19, 2012

The 8th Level of Consciousness

In Buddhist psychology there are 8 levels of consciousness. The first 6 levels include the 5 senses, plus the mind that processes the senses. The 7th level processes what to do about all this sensory input and this is where the ego strives to preserve all the goodies for the perceived self.

The 8th level of consciousness is something that exists before thoughts. It is the sense of "being" before the thoughts and interpretations come in. It is the level at which we experience alaya or basic goodness. This is "alaya," which means "abode" as in "Him-ALAYA," the abode of snow; so alaya
is referred to like a home base in the mind, free from discursive thought.

In Training the Mind, Chogyam Trungpa talks about alaya using the analogy of a film projector, in which we project our lives onto the screen of the world, but the bulb behind the film is something more original; It is alaya. In other words, it lights up your mind before the projections come into play.

One of the instructions in the "7 Points of Mind Training," or Lojong slogans, is to, "rest in the nature of alaya." This can be achieved through meditation and I would guess that if you were very disciplined and diligent about your practice, you could experience this within a year or less of practicing (everyone is different and it shouldn't be seen as something bad if takes longer).

For non-Buddhist or non-Hindu meditators in our society, it is a pretty awesome milestone to be able to rest in the nature of alaya. We mostly just get glimpses of it. Supposedly it becomes easier and easier to access.

I'm also thinking that you can set the conditions to experience it by communing with nature. I could be wrong, but I have the sense that the nature of alaya comes through strongly when someone is experiencing the natural world. There is something about staring at the bark on a tree or looking at the clouds in the sky that lets us rest into a state that precedes thinking.

Buddhist meditators - and maybe meditators from other traditions - take this a step further. We are instructed to be careful not to stop by only resting in the nature of alaya. This is only one rung on the ladder to developing awakened heart, or bodhichitta.

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