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The Psychology of Spiritual Development

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by Sangharakshita

... it's only, in some cases at least, centuries later that the rest of humanity, as it were, starts catching up.

And this is the problem, or something like the problem, that confronted the Buddha. He had attained or reached or experienced, the greatest of all experiences, the experience of Enlightenment. Something transcendental, something absolutely beyond the ken of the ordinary person. So how is he to communicate that? Here is a man ploughing a field, there is a man sowing, there is another man trading, another man philosophising, another man amusing himself: so how was he to communicate his experience of Enlightenment to these people? How was he to put it across? What could possibly be the medium of communication? What concept, or what formulation, could possibly bridge the gap, the tremendous gap, between the Enlightened mind and the unenlightened mind? _________________________________________________________________________________________________ Now the Buddha's solution of this problem was in a way, very simple - or at least, apparently simple. And he stated his solution of this problem, he flung, as it were, this slender bridge across the gulf between the Enlightened mind and the unenlightened mind in the form of what we know in Buddhism as the law, or the principle or the Truth, of Conditionality.

This was the nexus, the link, the connection. And it is stated in the Buddhist Scriptures very briefly, very simply, perhaps we can say with deceptive brevity and deceptive simplicity - but genius very often is nothing if not simple - stated as: 'Whatever arises on any plane of existence, arises in dependence on conditions, and in the absence of those conditions, ceases.' And according to Buddhism, according to the Buddha's teaching, this law governs the whole of the universe, on all planes whatsoever: on what we call the sensuous plane, the archetypal plane, the spiritual plane - this great law governs the whole universe. All these planes in all their aspects, not only physical, but psychological: not only psychological, but spiritual. And this principle, this statement of this Truth we may say constitutes the basis of the whole teaching of the Buddha. This law or truth or principle of universal conditionality: Pratitya Samutpada.

Now to us, nowadays, this sounds familiar: it has a familiar ring: it sounds almost ordinary. But in the Buddha's day, when most people believed in divine, miraculous intervention, irruptions of the supernatural into ordinary life - in the Buddha's day, this sort of idea, this sort of concept of universal conditionality, was absolutely revolutionary - it literally created a revolution in Indian thought, in Indian psychology, in Indian spiritual life.

We might even go so far as to say that a concept of this sort, of universal conditionality, of conditionality governing every level and aspect of human life, was revolutionary even in this country a hundred years ago.

When Darwin, for instance, applied this idea to the question of the origin of species, when he propounded his theory of evolution, many people found it very difficult to accept: it was revolutionary in those days. It was revolutionary, we may say, in the west even sixty years ago when Freud applied this principle, or an application of it, to the workings of the subconscious mind. People used to think that things just sort of popped up into your mind - they weren't interested before that in the why and the wherefore of it, until Freud applied certain laws, or discovered or formulated certain laws and found conditionality working all the time at that level.

And we may even go so far as to say that this concept of universal conditionality is a revolutionary one even today as applied to the higher religious and spiritual life. We tend to think that on those planes things just happen by chance as it were, by a fluke: you have a sort of mystical experience and "Well, that's that." You don't know how it comes, you don't know how it goes: you have no control over it.

But Buddhism says, "No: a law is at work here, a law of conditionality. The experience arises in dependence on certain conditions. It ceases when those conditions are no longer there." So this great principle which was new, was revolutionary, even in the West until very recently, was expounded, was explained by the Buddha as the Law of Conditionality, or dependent origination, or conditioned co-production (these are alternative translations).

And he also explained, he also expounded the two forms, or two types or two trends in this great law of conditionality . And these are known as the reactive trend or type and the progressive trend or type of conditionality. We also speak in terms of the cyclical mode and the spiral mode.

Reactive, or cyclic, conditionality Now the first type of conditionality consists, according to the Buddha's exposition, in a process of action and reaction between pairs of factors which are opposites. For instance loss and gain - you lose something; you get it back; you lose it again - there's an action and reaction between these two opposite poles of loss and gain. In the same way, pleasure and pain; you react from pleasure to pain, from pain back to pleasure; in this way you oscillate and vibrate between these two extremes, these opposite factors. Or say sleeping and waking; you sleep in order to wake and you wake in order to sleep: in this way your life goes on. Or, a Buddhist would say, also, you oscillate between rebirth and death. You are born, only to die; you die, only to be reborn. Backwards and forwards you go.

So here, in this first type, this first mode of conditionality, the reactive or cyclical, the mind oscillates or vibrates between opposite states. The mind is never at rest. At the same time, though it is never at rest, it is never truly going forward. And this is the state of most us most of the time, as a little honest reflection will very _________________________________________________________________________________________________ quickly reveal. We oscillate, we vibrate all the time between these pairs of opposites, these extremes. We know no rest, but at the same time, we move not an inch forward.

Progressive, or cyclic conditionality Now the second type of conditionality the progressive, or the spiral, is rather different. It consists in a process of cumulative - we have to use the word reaction because we've got no better - between factors which are not pairs of opposites, but which augment one another, the succeeding factor augmenting the effect of the preceding factor. So that if, for instance, you experience A, you don't react to Non-A, you react to A+, and from A+ to A + more - A1, A2, A3 and so on. In other words, to give an illustration, if you experience pleasure in this sequence, from pleasure you react not to pain, but to happiness; from happiness you react not to unhappiness, but to rapture; from rapture you react not to despair but to bliss and so on. There is a progressive, a cumulative series here; a spiral series, not a reactive and cyclical one. Now here, we find as compared with the first type of conditionality, a steady forward advance; a real progression.

So these are the two great kinds or types of conditionality, according to the Buddha's teaching; the reactive and the progressive; the cyclical and the spiral.

And in the material world we find only the cyclical type of conditionality at work or operative. We find in the material world, in the phenomenal world generally, that everything sooner or later, passes over into its opposite and then back again. But in the mental and in the spiritual world, we find both types of conditionality - the cyclical and the spiral - are active and operative.

Now the cyclical type of conditionality, the action and reaction between factors which are pairs of opposites, is symbolised by what we call in Buddhism the Wheel of Life, most familiar in its Tibetan form as the Tibetan Wheel of Life. The Wheel of Life is not just a pretty picture on a monastery wall: the Wheel of Life shows us accurately and minutely the way in which our minds work when they revolve between the pairs of opposites.

The spiral type of conditionality is represented or symbolised by the stages or the sequence of the stages of the Path to Enlightenment. This path shows how the mind grows in a cumulative fashion from lower to higher states of being and of consciousness.

Now at this point a brief explanatory reference to the Wheel of Life may be of some help, of some assistance.

Some of you may have seen pictures, either originals or reproductions, of this Tibetan Wheel of Life. If you look at it, you will see that at the centre, the hub of the Wheel, as it were, there are three animals depicted; a cock, a snake and a pig. These represent or symbolise the three principal aspects of the reactive mind.

The cock represents the reaction of craving. The snake represents the reaction of aversion or anger or hatred, and the pig represents the reaction of mental and spiritual blindness and ignorance.

And if you look a little more closely you will see that each animal is biting the tail of the one in front. And this also has a meaning - it means that craving, aversion and delusion are all interconnected - you can't have one without having the others as well. So these are the three principal aspects of the reactive mind - the mind which reacts to pleasant experiences with craving; to unpleasant ones with aversion and to those which are neither pleasant nor painful with simple indifference based upon mental and spiritual blindness and ignorance.

Then if you look a little more at the Tibetan Wheel of Life you will see round the hub, a circle, the first circle, which is divided ...

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