Back to Eden – To move beyond Self-Ignorance and World-Ignorance, our mind has to realise its limitations and break the walls of ego-consciousness. The fifth skandha acts as a kind of watchdog, an ultimate defender of our ego, analogous to what we called in junior high school a “hall monitor,” of the first four skandhas (simular to the five first chakras).
Knowledge is imperfect because the separation between knower and the known with senses as the only link to the external world. However, even our self-knowledge is compromised as our larger being is shut behind a wall created by the externalising consciousness. This wall is created by Nature to attempt the ego-centric individualisation of the mind, life and body uninvaded by the deeper and wider truth of our existence; it defends it against the deeper oneness and Infinity and against the cosmic Infinite. This is the first step of Nature. To move beyond Self-Ignorance and World-Ignorance, our mind has to realise its limitations and break the walls of ego-consciousness.
To move beyond Self-Ignorance and World-Ignorance, our mind has to realise its limitations and break the walls of ego-consciousness.
The argument of “The Crown” is that mankind has ignored the law of nature—the Heraditean law of “measures.” The conscious ego, an “inferior I,” sets itself up as an absolute, refusing to recognize that it is “no more than an accidental cohesion in the flux of time” (Phoenix 11, 384).
The reality lies in the great flux of creation and destruction, the passage from origin to end and back to origin. Consummation exists only when origin and end are one, when the union of spirit and matter reaches its maximum of being in a magnificent flowering.
But the thrust into fullness of being is prevented when the false I, the ego, is fixed or static, denying the deep reality that demands the death of the old and the birth of the new. Joining a Dostoevskyan psychology to his metaphysics, Lawrence argues that the ego, setting itself up as Absolute, recognizes “nothing beyond” itself (Phoenix 11, 391).
The ego “secretly hates every other ego” and hates “an unconquered universe” (391). It seeks to triumph at all costs, to reduce everything to its will. There is no “coming together,” only the spectacle of going apart, each ego a part of the general disintegration, corruption, and dissolution of the age. “Ego reacts upon ego only in friction” (394).
There is a desire to destroy life, even one’s own life, because reduction is “progressive”: the final satisfaction of the egoistic will is the omnipotence of death itself, the total repudiation of all organic synthesis or complex relatedness. By degrees, one reduces oneself back to the inorganic—through sex, alcohol, drugs, war.
The passion in the war is a passion “for the embrace with death”. Yet if the spirit of destruction can break down the ego, it is divine. From the breaking down, the going apart, there can arise a new creation, provided that the corruption is “pure”—provided, that is, that it destroys the old ego and makes possible a rebirth.
The passion for destruction must be balanced by the passion for creation, for “all birth comes with the reduction of old tissue” (405); God is both destructive and creative, the flowing apart and the flowing together. Evil is “this desire for constancy”.
The only course open to men is to reject the fixed mad aim of the ego and to become the ding an sich—identifying one’s own desire with that of the Reality of which one is an expression.
The Fifth Skandha: Defensive Consciousness (Vijnana)
With the fifth skandha, defensive consciousness, we set the facsimile we created with skandha 4, this fictitious version, into the overall conceptual framework that is our ego, and we feel or try to feel safe and secure and, above all, in control.
The fifth skandha acts as a kind of watchdog, an ultimate defender of our ego, analogous to what we called in junior high school a “hall monitor,” of the first four skandhas. In my junior high school, at the top of the food chain was the “head monitor,” who stood in the most important and trafficked location.
This person’s sole function was to stand in the very middle of two crossing hallways and to watch to make sure that everyone obeyed the rules: you had to stay on the right; you had to yield to people crossing in front; you couldn’t walk too slowly or too fast; no eating or drinking on the run; no inappropriate clothing; and so on. Just having this vigilant presence there in the midst of the flow meant everybody was on his or her good behavior and mostly kept to the rules.
Of course, once people escaped the head monitor’s field of conscious awareness, all hell might break loose. And this is just how it is with us: what is going on down the hall of our unconscious can be the most shocking chaos and confusion.
The fifth skandha is the head monitor. It makes sure every-thing that arrives at the level of conscious awareness is following the rules. Nothing is allowed to destabilize the system, the coherent narrative of our ego.
Whatever breaks the rules is debarred from admittance to conscious awareness. Thus, as a critical part of this function, the fifth skandha is always trying to push back down into the unconscious any information that would threaten or call into question our basic ego identity and its illusion of autonomy and control.
Since nearly all information in the inner and outer world does not just challenge but in fact disconfirms what we are always trying to think about ourselves and our lives, this is an enormously demanding function and one that requires a sometimes fierce constant vigilance.
Of course, we are never entirely successful in this—hence the inherent stress, anxiety, and pain of trying to pull off our ego project. The suffering of never being quite able to make our ego version work is what the Buddha called dukkha, the first noble truth of dissatisfaction and pain.
The skandhas, then, are an autonomous, self-perpetuating, and automatic system. Everything, from our initial freak-out and blind separation (skandha 1) down to the sophisticated stories we tell our-selves, the wonderful memories that are the building blocks of our sometimes quite elegant versions of ourselves (skandha 4), and the ever-so-refined territoriality of our consciousness (skandha 5), is part of a machine that goes along just fine without any reference whatsoever to any separately existing “self.” This is what Buddhism means by “no self” (anatman).
Literally, the realization of no self is that there is only this self-perpetuating machine and nothing else. Terrifying as such an insight might be to us ordinary folk, it was just this that freed the Buddha once and for all from, as the texts say, the terrible burden of having a “self.”
It is as if you had spent your whole life thinking that every moment of your existence required feeding, pacifying, looking after, and protecting what was, in truth, a rather dangerous, devious, and destructive demon. And then all of a sudden you realized one day that there is no demon and never was; you yourself had just made it up. Then your freedom would be boundless and joyful beyond measure, would it not?