“The Conjuring Tricks of Consciousness”

Ajahn Sundara

“The Conjuring Tricks of Consciousness”

For a long time we may think we are in charge, so we can feel very bad about ourselves, guilty or embarrassed.

How many times do we feel embarrassed about the way we behave? Even when nobody sees it and it’s just an internal experience, you feel so embarrassed. This beautiful person that you hope to become one day is suddenly raging about some silly thing, some silly object. It’s as if your grand ideal has suddenly fallen off its pedestal. We often think we are in charge, but as you keep on practising you realize your behaviour is really just blind habits, blind conditioning, blind responses.

They are blind because they act out before your mindfulness can even catch them. When you’re mindful, you are aware, you are conscious, you can see clearly. But a lot of the time the habits are so strong that they just punch – they punch the world, they punch reality. Sometimes the punch is hidden away; it’s a punch with a smile, so it’s more difficult to realize it’s a punch. It’s a very polite punch, a very sweet one.

Even in ourselves, our relationship to our own tendency to punch ourselves, we can feel very guilty and blame ourselves and feel terrible. It feels right somehow to beat myself up because there is this illusion that because I’m in charge, I should be more clever. I should be much more intelligent than just to have silly responses to life. But responses aren’t silly or aren’t silly in themselves; it’s our judgement that makes them silly or not silly.

We can judge them and say – ‘This is right, this is wrong, this is clever, this is not, I’m a cynic, I’m a kind person, I’m a beautiful person, I’m a disaster, I’m terrible, I’m weak’ They go on and on, these thoughts that judge reality like that, and we can add to them or not add to them, see them or not see them as they are.

But in our meditation practice, we begin to see the stories we add to reality, like the story of our past life – not our past lives, but just our past life in this life. We don’t go as far as seeing any life other than this life from our birth until now. But in our meditation, we begin to see from the platform of a clear mind that life goes on and evolves quite naturally.

We can continue the stories, liking or disliking them, wishing they weren’t around, clinging to them and hanging on to them as ‘my personal face’, ‘my personal me’ We can perpetuate the sense of self forever just by not seeing what we are doing.

If you don’t see your mind, how can you have insight into the nature of a state of mind or the five khandhas or any aspect of the mind and body? That’s what insight is about: seeing deeply the nature of thoughts, the nature of vedana, feelings, sankhara, mental constructions, which can be a huge amount of stories or just a few thoughts.

But they all involve constructing something: what the Buddha calls ‘the conjuring tricks of consciousness.’ Our consciousness can be like a magician’s tricks, like a mirage.

This reflection by Ajahn Sundara is from the book, Walking the World, (pdf) pp. 143-145.