What is "Conditioned Mind"?
Good day, good people!
Below is another chunk from the new book. My aim with this book is to structure it much like the first one, mixing stories from my life with the information I want to pass on about how our minds work and how we may be truly happy. The story picks up where the previous book left off, at the moment I left the monastery. Right now, at the beginning of the book, I'm doing something of a review, and then I'll go on to convey some of the things I've been seeing and understanding since I left the monastery.
What follows is a continuation from the previous blog: https://www.theoneopendoor.org/single-post/2019/11/29/Suffering-and-Happiness.
Have a beautiful day!
As human beings we have the capacity to suffer, as I described above. The natural question that follows this assertion is this: why? Why do we suffer?
There are a number of ways to attempt to answer this question. There is an evolutionary explanation I will explore in later chapters, which I find to be both fascinating and helpful, but this fails to fully reach the heart of the question. The only truly accurate answer, from my point of view, is also the broadest and simplest: nobody knows. That was the answer the Buddha preferred, reportedly. The question “Why do we suffer?” falls into the same category as all those other big questions that we, with our primitive minds, can have no real insight into, such as “Why do we exist?” In the old sutras, whenever the Buddha was asked some variation of the question, he always replies with something like, “That question does not lead to profitable discourse.” He didn’t care about why, and with good reason. Even if we knew the answer it wouldn’t help us any. The better question is how. How do we suffer? Now that’s a question that’s worth looking into!
To begin our exploration of this deep question, first we need to examine this thing that I and others call “conditioned mind”. The simplest answer to the question “How do we suffer?” is “Through identification with conditioned mind”, but that doesn’t say anything if you don’t know what conditioned mind is. So what, then, is it?
Said concisely, conditioned mind is a set of processes designed to operate within our minds unconsciously, which is to say outside of our awareness, with the effect that we believe ourselves to be a “self” that is separate from life as it simply unfolds. These processes construct the agglomeration of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that we call the “personality”; they create our sense of individuality and autonomy; they drive our self-centeredness; and they make us vulnerable to loneliness, despair, dissatisfaction, self-judgment, and everything else that we suffer from. The extent to which we are unaware of these conditioned processes is the extent to which we lack real choice in regards to what we think, feel, and do. The more awareness we have of these processes the more freedom we will enjoy.
Conditioned mind behaves like a machine. Like a machine it works according to predictable laws, without any real intelligence, to produce the same product without variation over and over again. A lawnmower produces cut grass; conditioned mind produces suffering—and it will continue to produce suffering in the same predictable way, no matter the life experience that is fed to the machine. No matter our circumstances, no matter the amount of self-deception required, if we are identified with conditioned mind we will believe that we are justified in feeling ourselves to be victims to life or deprived in some way; that we are isolated and alone, that we are not the person that we should be, that we do not deserve to be happy, that we don’t fit in, and every other miserable thing. Like a machine, conditioned mind is not real, and is not alive. It only has the power we give to it through our attention. Our attention is the fuel, we might say. We are trained as children to assume that conditioned mind is absolutely real, however, and so we devotedly give it our attention. Our survival, we are taught to believe, is at stake: if we do not give our lives over to conditioned mind, and do what it tells us to do, then we will not survive. And yet, conditioned mind is not real, and we do not need conditioned mind in order to thrive in this world. We need only to trust our innate capacities. Because it is not real, if we remove our attention—something that is both the simplest and the most difficult of all things to do—then it just dries up and blows away.
The "reality" of conditioned mind is supported by a set of beliefs and assumptions that we accept as children and then never, in the case of the vast majority of people, go back and examine. Such things as good and bad, and right and wrong, are accepted by conditioned people to be real entities, without question, even though they are completely made up. There is no such thing as good and bad, or right and wrong. These are merely ideas we have invented in order to better control ourselves and others, and to justify the violence and prejudice we perpetuate upon ourselves and others in order to fulfill our ego-desires. We go around believing such things as "I'm a bad person" just because we were taught to, because this is necessary for us to fit into a world where it’s necessary to follow the rules; a world in which everyone else also believes that they are not the person they should be, never seeing that all of this is utterly false. Because we are taught to avoid looking into such things, but to assume them instead, it is most difficult to see through the cultural pretense that there is such a thing as "bad person" or the “right person”, and so we allow these empty ideas to flatten our self-image and erase the joy in our lives. Look around and it's easy to see these fundamental assumptions operating everywhere. The world is full of people holding onto all sorts of absurd and dangerous notions about who they are, who others are, what is important and what is not, and so on--and they do this without any embarrassment or self-consciousness at all, so accepted is it to cling to and act out of our beliefs in this way.
Conditioned mind is built upon selfishness and self-centeredness. Within conditioned mind, I am the most important entity in the universe, and nothing really matters beyond what “I” want. All of the processes by which conditioned mind operates, even the ones that appear to be self-destructive, are designed to assist the individual to get its ego-desires met. The aggression and cruelty that goes hand in glove with conditioned mind is easily justified by someone trapped within the conception that their own needs and wants are all-important. This explains every unhappy thing humans inflict upon each other, as individuals and collectively. When groups of people are identified together with conditioned mind, as is happening everywhere all the time, the suffering that results is the same as what happens within an individual mind, only on a larger scale. You don't have to look far to see this in the behavior of our society. My group, my tribe, are seen to be the more important than any other group or tribe, to such an extent that a group will be willing to kill another group--to kill them!--in order to have access to their resources. I'm a bit of a history buff, and I can tell you that this has happened more times than can be counted since the beginning of human history, with probably billions of people killed directly, and certainly billions killed parenthetically through oppression, famine, and disease, all because of this “me first” and "us first" mentality.