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Dependent Origination: Mental Formations (1)

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Teacher: Rodney Smith
Date: 2013-03-26
Venue: Seattle Insight Meditation Center



Sankharas or karmic formations, the second link of causality within Dependent Origination, appear only within the environment of ignorance (first link). In other words, sanskaras form when our back is turned in denial or aversion or when we do not look beyond conventional meaning. Using the analogy of the sky, as clouds form and we are conscious of what is occurring, we do not take the clouds to be anything other than the formation of moisture in air. If there is a lapse of awareness and the cloud shapes itself into a recognizable form, we will no longer just see the cloud as a cloud but could easily lose ourselves in the shape it has now taken. So too, like a Rorschach inkblot test, ignorance or the lack of awareness brings our conditioned mental tendencies forth and configures each moment as a personal representation of our past. We then fall in line and behave as the formation dictates. If it says we are sad, we assume the posture of sadness, never questioning how this filter is coloring our experience. If we infuse enough belief into the formation, assumptions and attitudes create the sense of a personal truth that we then play out in action. The only tool we have to free ourselves from these false assumptions is awareness, and it is all we need to break their hold.


This week, focus on the relationship between emotions and thoughts, two aspects of mental formations. Pick an emotion that you find difficult to experience (e.g. grief, anger, depression, fear, loneliness). Notice the interplay, how emotions feed thought and thought hightens emotions, leading to more exaggerated thinking. Pay particular attention to the thoughts spawned by the emotions. Notice how thoughts convince you your mood is an accurate depiction of the world. Ask if these thoughts are true or just perceptions of a reality colored by an emotion. The quieter and more allowing you are with your emotions, the fewer the thoughts; the fewer the thoughts, the easier it is to be with the emotion.


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