Dependent Origination

Dependent Origination in Practice

The practice and study of dependent origination is a fundamental buddhist practice. The mind is explained by theory involving the concept of karma, which we concretize in the SigmaTropic system as accumulation concentration. We can charge and accumulate karma in a specific intention for later use. This dependence on the past and future is a key aspect of how karma, intention, and dependent origination are related.

We should always take a perspective in practice, that suffering, is the state of mind that we aim to transcend or understand. We hurt, and we don’t like to hurt, and we want to know why we hurt. Well in observing the mind as suffering occurs in our experience, we notice there seems to be some ungraspable “something” that occurs in perception that gives this feeling of discontent or pain of some sort. But if we really investigate the nature of suffering we see that it isn’t any one sensation, it’s a series of related and interdependent mental events that occur as a natural reaction to the objects we encounter in the world.

The mind registers an object, and through one of the sense organs, it arrives as a conscious experience. Very quickly, this experience undergoes a sort of mental series of examinations, the mind categorizes it as pleasant or unpleasant, there is a feeling of craving, and by referring to previous moments and furture moments there is clinging and these mind moments all interpenetrate and create the mass of mental activity that we consider normal consciousness.

It may seem like there is not really a process to our conscious experience, but we can begin to notice, especially in concentrated refined states of mind, that the basic building blocks of perception are the same types of observable phenomena that are not self and not permanent. They seem to have patterns, like the relation between hearing the sound of a bird and having a mental image of a bird arise in consciousness. The arising of the bird image in the mind is conditioned and dependent upon hearing the bird, memories of what bords look like, and this sorting process refers to moments in the projected and imaginary past and future. The mind fabricates and constructs the experience of the bird from these smaller bits of information- information which is already highly categorized and sorted by unconscious mental processes before even becoming a conscious experience.

Without the reference to fabricated mental events (i.e. reference to memories and past experiences) there would be no need for a time dimension in this interrelated series of events. But time functions as a conditionally arising constituent of our perceived experience just like any other fabrication.

Dependent origination is a directly observable property of how conscious experience is created. The way that knowledge is arrived at is through sharpening and clarifying the mind and bringing about the seven factors of awakening. Then with that basis, we are mindful and pay attention to the process of suffering and the process of cessation of suffering. Through this process we learn the construction process of dukkha, and learning this process intimately allows us to disprove some default assumptions about how reality works. With disproving those assumptions, the mind is less attached to phenomena and more free.

How to gain insight into dependent origination

We can gain insight into dependent origination which frees the mind and reduces suffering, by following the following practice of common presence:

Notice suffering and observe the mind that suffers. Observe suffering arise, and actively try to do whatever is necessary to stop the suffering. At the beginning this may involve an unwholesome or otherwise suboptimal action. As we develop tools and unification of mind to combat these obstacles, we can employ increasingly refined and powerful techniques. In the beginning, we just want a basic awareness of the mind suffering, and we watch as the mind gets relief from that suffering.

Pay especially close attention in this examination, to any sense of a self – other dynamic occurring. Try to experience the full charge of both the suffering, and carry out the action, experiencing the full charge of that action, and simply in the beginning observe the mind. For example, notice that you are suffering from the craving to have a cigarette. Notice the sense of visualizing how nice a cigarette would be. You visualize the smell of the cigarette burning, the taste of the smoke and the satisfaction you get from the nicotine. You take that and you go have a cigarette, paying attention to yourself and the mind the entire time for craving and aversion. And you go have your cigarette and enjoy it. Then the next time that craving comes up you do the same thing.

You start to notice that there is a particular pattern to the mental events that lead up to the craving for a cigarette- it is conditioned by other factors and the craving to smoke co-arised with and around other mental events.

Eventually doing this practice of watching suffering occur, you start to lessen your grip on the activities that once brought relief and you learn other ways of coping. We learn increasingly refined methods of calm abiding. In this process you do the same investigation – suffering arises, you notice the suffering and you notice the individual mental events that make up “suffering”. You simply notice, and you use whatever tactics you have in the tool bag to stop the suffering. Maybe you’re pissed because your daughter got a tatoo or your boss is an ass, or your wife doesn’t want to sleep with you.

You simply go about your usual tactics and see if you can stop this suffering that arises. When you specifically attempt to stop the suffering, by any means necessary, you will notice a pattern in the mind. The object that causes the dukkha to become a big enough problem for it to take center stage, arises and passes, and a series of mental events arise and pass. If you try to see them they are quick but it’s possible. You want to notice the overall mechanical nature of these mental events and get a basic idea of the different timescales over which this concept of time can be applied. With increasingly refined mental tactics to bring on blissful states and combat the hindrances, the mind gains an increasingly subtle perceptual threshold. We stretch the mind for more and more mindfulness and vibrational awareness.

As we continue to keep this intention for clarity of perception over weeks and months, we start to notice that this long-scale intention that we’ve consistently held for the past month seems to be registering as a very strong condition for the intention to arise in the future. This is an experiment that one must undertake to prove to themselves, and while undertaking this experiment they should read about dependent origination and seep their mind in the dependent origination, trying to see every manifestation of it, always. This kind of investigation leads directly to the level II non-self insight and further developments.

Dependent origination is constantly occurring on a large and small scale. In the fast timescales, we can train to see directly how mind moments themselves which register as craving, clinging, becoming, liking, pleasant, these quick quarks are easily perceived with the full development of vibrational awareness in the SigmaTropic system. But everyone starts with the basic skills and everyone has different talents and abilities; however, the energetic principles described in this system appear to be universal.

Dependent Cessation

We can practice in such a way as to establish the viewpoint of the cessation of suffering through releasing clinging. Development of calm-abiding can show is directly the emptiness of sense perceptions, and that direct knowledge is an insight experience into the fabricated nature of all experience. When we attain physical pliancy, the wonderfully delicious feeling of comfort and satisfaction from meditation, we recognize that we initially did not experience this state, and due to conditioning factors, i.e. the strong intention over time accumulated toward calm-abiding and skill development, the state comes about. This is dependent origination on a long time-scale.

We can also see dependent origination in the shorter timescales before and after a cessation event. The cessation event is a key insight experience and the mastery and familiarity with cessation and jhana can give a meditator insight into dependent origination. Thus a key training in the SigmaTropic system is jhana. When we enter concentrated states, the mind is reducing the level of gross fabrication of experience and the energy is directed instead into a unified intention of the mind. This strong unified intention leads to the progression of mental states through the 8 jhanas. At each level of jhana, dependent arising is observable with even very quick transient self-components.

In the first jhana, there is applied and sustained attention on the main object in awareness, which is the breath or a pleasant sensation arising from the breath. We have a specific type of engagement with that object and due to certain conditions, the mind enters a state where the normal fabrication activities of the mind have lessened, and we experience rapturous pleasure throughout the body. This condition arises as a direct result of the seclusion of the mind from attachment to sensuality and the hindrances. As such, we can learn to directly bring about the condition upon which the first jhana manifests by learning to overcome the hindrances and overcoming attachment to sensuality. There are specific mental excercises we can engage with over a period of time to train the mind to overcome the hindrances, and with the right intention and mindfulness, the intention to seclude the mind from sensuality arises of its own accord. But these are both necessary conditions for the first jhana to arise.

Certain practices that bring about a seclusion of the mind from the hindrances and sensuality are well known in Buddhist and eastern philosophy. We can deliberately engage in fasting, Brahmacharya, and other renunciation techniques. These techniques may actually lead to insights into the workings of the mind, such that they cease to be “renunciation” – the mind recognizes the benefit while doing the practice and is inherently motivated to continue.

But the attitude we want to bring about for jhana is a sort of “hiding away” from the loud burden of the hindrances. We have a quiet resting place and we’d like to settle down and seclude the mind from all the noise and stress of the hindrances. So we turn inwardly and renounce outer objects for the moment, and in that moment we can experience the bliss of withdrawal. We see that the blissful feelings of seclusion were directly and conditionally related to the renunciant mind and the lack of the hindrances. We arrived at a skill with the hindrances due to deliberate practice, and we use that skill to turn the mind away from worldly obsession, and instead look inwardly for fulfillment.

We also pay attention to the hindered mind and the dependent process that the meditator uses to take the hindered mind and un-hinder it. We sometimes apply remedies or mental exercises to rouse the mind out of one state and promote a skillful quality of mind and suppress an unskillful quality. In this system we take an active approach to working with the mind, and sometimes deliberate simple techniques to bring the mind out of gross hindrances are necessary.  In that process of bringing the mind out of the hindrances and into a state where the seven factors can arise, we see that there are causes and conditions underlying what we perceive, and we have an influence over those causes and conditions (from a certain perspective-not an ultimate perspective).

In all these observations we are paying attention to the lack of a solid agent that is deliberately moving through the world. In paying attention to any sense of a self/other duality, we can learn to see the self-fabrications themselves as empty just like any other experience. When we see that the felt sense we have of being a “me” is a fabricated construct that arises due to conditions, and that we can influence those conditions, it makes sense why we practice. We can see that the experience we have and our identity is entirely made up by the mind and we free ourselves of boxes that limit our thinking.

Cessation, Jhana

At this intitial stage, there should be a very clear shift in practice compared to before attaining cessation. The meditator finds that their energetic system is wired differently and better now, and they seem to intuitively understand spiritual concepts and meditative practices much better. The insight into non-self is a key turning point in the path. Cessation is a repetitive experience for most people. I personally have cessations every day and have since attaining stream entry in 2018. By repeatedly having this experience, the meditator learns the patterns of these events and how they relate to basic processes in the mind.

Cessation is an unmistakable event where the mind completely stops, and doesn’t fabricate anything from the inputs of the senses or the thinking mind. All activity that we know makes up our conscious experience stops for an instant, and then restarts again. This is a profound experience and totally changes the way the mind experiences itself from then on.

For a cessation event to lead to non-self insight, there must be an intention for metacognitive awareness of the mind while it is happening. With this metacognition, the mind understands that the cessation of all fabrications that lead to all normal conscious experience, and the return of conscious experience, directly contradicts any belief that the self is a permanent autonomous substantial thing. Everything we know that creates our “self” can completely stop, then start again, and somehow, we just carry on our merry way. This is the same as death for the self-identity, and it registers like a “death” of some permanent essence of being that is the meditator.

During the cessation there is no suffering, and it’s the first time the mind sees that the self and everything we experience in normal consciousness is conditionally related to other things. What we experience as a contact from the ‘outer world’ in our senses is the link between “the world” and “the meditator” and the rest is mental activity related to the contact and the interrelated web of cumulative causes and conditions. We can actually see directly in this cessation moment, that the process of conscious experience can be stopped by removing one of the “conditions” upon which it arises. When there is a moment free of craving and with the seven factors of awakening present, then the meditator has the conditions in place for a cessation to occur. We directly sever one of the conditions that conscious experience depends on- and then normal conscious experience ceases for a moment.  Importantly- we don’t die physically – but the mind is recharged and the fruition glow is very, very pleasurable. The mind has this conditional nature to it- all we see is in relation to our mind’s perception of a very limited set of data. When the mind stops completely like this – it is such a relief – it tells the mind that the mind itself is responsible for all experience, including suffering, and that their mind experiences any experience at all based on conditional interrelated conditions.

Most of our conscious experience is mental activity that proliferates starting with one craving or aversion or one complaint, one painful tense spot or image in our mind, but the mind bounces around rapidly evaluating these different things coming in and experiencing liking and disliking. We can simply watch the process proceed in the mind and see how the craving and clinging is related to the suffering, and hold an intention to disidentify with whatever occurs.

A meditator will eventually be able to perceive increasingly subtle aspects of the minute mind moments around cessation in striking detail. The experience of cessation tells you something very profound about how basic cognition is structured. We can see that in the moment immediately before cessation, there is a quick flash of lights, or a confusing train of thoughts, or any other experience of the sense doors that makes for an object, but instead of experiencing the object in the typical way, which is to respond with craving, aversion, or ignorance, the object registers perfectly and the mind experiences that experience without mental proliferation. They cut the link of fabrication that is vital to conscious experience, and as a result there is a loss of normal conscious experience. The mind experiences the object as it is, and there is no intention of any part of the mind to engage at all. This leads to an experience of consciousness without an object – we are present and alert but nothing is experienced. We were there, then “we” weren’t there, then “we” were again.

So a lot of the time I just sit with objectless focus and that’s what my teacher recommends and praises, or I so simple mindfulness of breathing or meditation on mind practice from TMI. whatever approach I use, there is almost always a progression of flavors to experience that mirror the jhanas even if I’m not explicitly intending to practice jhanas. I start out in a very sharp perception with blissful sensations, and eventually perception widens and there is often a fruition or two. This is all standard stuff. 

Around fruition there often tend to be signposts indicating I’m in that territory. My mind gets spacey and slippery, unconstrained by objects. There are often moments where a certain perception will grab the mind and there is a sense of the mind getting intrigued by the discontinuity between one perception and the next and there is partial collapse moments where there is a sudden mental collapse around a perception and the a tension in the mind and feeling dyssynchronous with experience. These moments will keep happening until there’s a sudden complete shut-down, almost matter-of fact in the immediate moment preceding the shut-down, where there is an object and the mind has no reaction of clinging or craving to that object, almost like an object registers and the mind fully perceives it and processes it peripherally, very rarely in the center of attention as attention isn’t really a thing in that territory. Right before the fruition there’s several types of phenomena depending on the door, often my eyelids will contract, often but not always there’s a moment of what appears to be a complete darkness followed by a feeling of being fully dead then coming back to life suddenly, several variations. Sometimes there’s a thought or image and I notice a strange paradox in it that seems to register in the gut, not through the thinking mind. I’m often distracted when it happens but afterwards the paradox is utterly clear and lucid. After the fruition there is the recognition of it being a fruition and there is a few seconds and then an inpouring of subtle or overt blissfulness felt in the body, similar to third jhana. I’m usually clear and centered and the motivation to continue meditating or do any kind of practice falls away for some time. 

Cessation is unlike any other experience in life. It is very much like suddenly dying and instantly coming back to life. It is an experiential break in the continuous experience of being a permanent being. Cessations have done a lot of good things for my mind, and they seem to be the fundamental experience that is a prerequisite for seeing that reality is mind, which is a conclusion that this log is based on. I would speculate that they are a death-like experience and totally change the way the mind perceives itself. 

In my experience, cessations are unmistakable, but not neccessarily a mind-blowing experience. They do leave a rather distinct impression on the mind. After stream entry, I had a phase where I had lots of very clear cessations that happened in a very similar way. The before and after phenomenology is what is most relevant for the insight I have gotten from cessation. 

For me cessations occur when my mind is naturally in a place of wide perception, with a holistic view of all phenomena. The mind is in such equanimity that notions of being a meditator doing a practice, or being an autonomous continuous self temproarily fall away. I get lost in a phenomenon or an experience and forget that I’m supposedly a permanent being. Often times cessation happens after being in a very contracted, self-involved mind state, and having that exhaust itself, the mind relaxes enough to see a paradox in the line of thinking. The mind sees the thinking as phenomena happening and something about the self-concept in the thought trips something in the mind and the subject-object duality collapses. This doesn’t happen via the analytical mind, it’s a gut-level, experiential seeing. There is a moment of discontinuity, utter death, out cold, which leaves a distinct impression on the mind, and after the moment there is almost always a flood of relaxing blissful sensations similar to third jhana and the mind is freed from the self-attachment in a very obvious, matter-of-fact way. When thoughts or images are the last phenomena before the cessation, this is how it happens. Whereas a moment before I was quite embedded in a narrative, after the fruition, the continuous self in the narrative was broken and the narrative loses all power. This has a distinct effect on the mind and is incredibly useful and renewing.

Sometimes the mind is at a higher level of energy and these ones are less common for me, but the visual field or a bodily vibration will be the last phenomena before cessation. In this case there is a quick succession of colors in the visual field (often flashes of light and dark) or a quick succession of body sensations and mental impressions, and the eyes tend to move down on the last sensation in a series (often, three flashes or strobes), and there is a discontinutity and upon returning the same inflooding of peaceful bliss. Somtimes when the focus before cessation is the visual field, after returning the various specks of light and static in the visual field will morph into sparkly little nimittas, or take distinct shapes and dance around.

The moment itself can take different flavors. Sometimes I have frutions that are a very clean break and the two ends are the same, and it is experienced more like a cip snipped out of a movie reel. Other times there is a falling sensation immediately preceeding the moment, and a discontinuity and a sudden “coming back” with a sense of disorientation. I think the falling moments are more likely the dukkha door and the sudden break-like moments are more likely the impermanence door. The common threads are the sense of complete death, the distinct, complete change in mental state before/after and the sense of well-being/blissful peace after.

At a certain point I started having cessations everywhere and anywhere, including walking. I have had numerous experiences of walking and having a fruition, and the walking simply continuing during fruition, long enough so that I would be clearly a step or two or more further along when I regained conscious awareness. I have had them working in the lab, driving, at the computer, etc. I have had certain experiences where I am listening to dharmically related content or someone describing something related to the self-paradox, and I will spontaneously have a fruition.

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