A Fiery Thirst

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Evola next tackles the issue of Samsaric Consciousness. Self-consumption in samsara consists of the angst and continuum of lived experience; self-consumption is always flavored with momentary bits of consciousness that always return to the dark hole of impermanence. This is a great metaphor for the world of incessant becoming, one that is unsubstantial in nature. Everything in this inadequate globule is always contingent upon something else—thus dependently originated. The root science that investigates this tenuous affair is the breakdown of the Skandhas (Skt), or Khandhas (Pali):

The Buddhist term designating a particular reality or individual life or phenomenon is khandha or santāna. Khandha literally means “a group,” “a heap”—to be understood as a bundle or aggregation-and santāna means “current.” In the flux of becoming there form vortices or currents of psychophysical elements and of allied states-called dhammā-which persist as long as the conditions and the force remain that have made them come together and pile up. After this they dissolve and, in their becoming (samsāra) they form similar conglomerations elsewhere, no less contingent than the preceding ones. Thus it is said: “All the elements of existence are transitory”- “All things are without individuality or substance (sabbe dhammā anattā ‘ti).’ The law of samsāric consciousness is expressed by this formula: sunnam idam atrena va attaniyena va ti ,void of “I” or of anything that resembles “I,” void of substance. Another expression: everything is “compounded” (sankhata), “compounded” being the equivalent here of “conditioned.”.In samsāra there are only conditioned states of existence and consciousness. (The Doctrine of Awakening, pg.45)

Such is the nature of this transitory compost—this heap of aggregates, no more truly substantial than a heap of cow dung. Evola makes it clear in no uncertain terms that this continuum is no more consequential than turds passing through a sewer:

When the conditions that have determined the combination of elements and states in that stem are no longer effective, the person as such-that is, as the particular person-dissolves. But even while he endures, the person is not a “being” but a flowing, a “current” (santāna) or rather a section of a “current,” since santāna is thought of as something that is neither started by birth nor interrupted by death… 

These sensory states, then, derive their origins from other causes and can claim no substantial beginning.” “It is in relation to body that the idea `I am’ arises, and not otherwise. And similarly with feeling, perception, the formations, and consciousness-in relation to such causes the idea `I am’ arises, and not otherwise”; but these causes are, however, impermanent. (ibid, pg.46)

When looked at through the skandhic-prism, even the vaunted spiritual “I Am” can be reduced to its least common denominator because when other transitory factors (like the gunas) are absent, there is no more “I Am” as well. Indeed, who or what constitutes the apparent “I” that is so dependent upon its constitutive elements?

More generally, the real “I” experienced by everyone, not the theoretical “I” of the philosophers, is conditioned by “name-and-form.” This expression, taken by Buddhism from the Vedic tradition, designates the psychophysical individual: “that part of this aggregate, which is gross and material”-it is said’-“is form; that part which is subtle and mental is name,” and between the one and the other there is an interdependent relationship. Bound to “name-and-form,” the “soul” follows its fated changes, and for this reason as we shall see, anguish and trepidation belong to the deepest stratum of every human and, more generally, samāric life. (ibid, pg. 47)

All of this is leading up to the “four truths of the Ariya”—translated as the Four Noble Truths of the Buddha:

All this can be considered as a general introduction to the theory of the “four truths of the Ariya” (cāttāri ariya-saccāni) and of “conditioned genesis” (paticca-samuppāda). The view of insubstantiality, as already discussed, does not go beyond a phenomenalistic consideration of the inward and outward world. To go further, we must adopt a different point of view in order to discover-in terms of direct experience-the deeper meaning and the law of this flowing, of this succession of states. The first two truths of the Ariya corresponding to the terms dukkha and tanhā, then appear. (ibid, pg.47)

Evola begins with the nature of dukkha and its origins, tanhā. It is best to include his lengthy and all-inclusive nature of dukkha, for as we shall see it’s not merely confined to the general notion of suffering:

The term dukkha is frequently translated as “pain,” whence the stereotyped notion that the essence of Buddhist teaching is simply that the world is pain. But this is the most popular and, we might almost say, profane interpretation of the Buddhist doctrine. It is quite true that dukkha in the texts also refers to such things as growing old, being ill, undergoing what one wishes to avoid and being deprived of what one desires, and so on; all of which can in general be considered as pain or suffering. Yet, for example, the idea that birth itself is dukkha should make us pause, and particularly as the same term refers to nonhuman, “celestial” or “divine” states of consciousness that certainly cannot be considered as subject to “pain” in the ordinary sense of the word. The deeper, doctrinal, and nonpopular significance of the term dukkha is a state of agitation, of restlessness, or of “commotion”’ rather than “suffering.” We can describe it as the lived counterpart of what is expressed in the theory of universal impermanence and insubstantiality, of anicca and of anattā. And it is for this reason that, in the texts, dukkha, anicca, and anattā when they do not actually appear as synonyms, are always found in close relationship. This interpretation is confirmed if we consider dukkha in the light of its opposite, that is, of the states of “liberation”; dukkha now appears as the antithesis of unshakable calm, which is superior not only to pain, but also to pleasure; as the opposite of the “incomparable safety,” the state in which there is no more “restless wandering,” no more “coming and going,” and where fear and anguish are destroyed. In order really to understand the implications of dukkha, the first truth of the Ariya, and therefore to grasp the deepest significance of samsāric existence, we must associate the notion of “anguish” with that of “commotion” and “agitation.” The Buddha saw in the world: “A race which trembles”-men trembling, attached to their persons. “like fish in a stream that is almost dry.” “This world is fallen into agitation” is the thought that came to him while he was still striving to achieve illumination,’ “in truth, this world has been overcome by agitation. We are born, we die, we pass away from one state, we arise in another. And from this sorrow, from this decay and death, no one knows the escape.”‘ Therefore it is a question of something far deeper and larger than anything the usual notion of pain can designate. (ibid, pg.48)

The all-encompassing character here is the noun, agitation. Yet it is best to emphasize its sense as a verb, since agitate and agitating all indicate the very “active” nature of Dukkha—it’s the direct antithesis of illumination, or being primed with Bodhi and thus rising above all that causes distress. Yet, the main culprit that keeps all samsaric anxiety in perpetual motion, is the second truth of the Ariya—that of tanhā, its origins.

The answer is tanhā (Skt,: trsna) that is to say, craving or thirst: “thirst for life forever renewing itself, which, when it is joined to the pleasure of satisfaction and gratifies itself here and there, is thirst for sensual pleasure, thirst for existence, thirst for becoming.” This is the central force of samsaric existence, this is the principle that determines the anatta, that is, the nonaseity of any thing and any life whatsoever and that endows all life with alteration and death. Thirst, craving, burning, according to the Buddhist teaching, stand not only at the root of all states of mind, but also of experience in general, of the forms of feeling, perception, and observation that are most nearly considered to be neutral and mechanical. Thus we get the suggestive symbolism of the “burning world” “The whole world is in flames, the whole world is consumed by fire, the whole world trembles.” All is in flames. And what is the all that is in flames? The eye is burning, what is visible is burning, consciousness of the visible is burning, contact of the eye with what is visible is burning, the feeling-be it pleasure or pain, or neither pain nor pleasure-which arises from the contact with what is visible is burning. And with what is it burning? With the fire of desire, with the fire of aversion, with the fire of delusion”–and the same theme is repeated separately for what is heard, for what is tasted, touched, and smelled, and for what is thought; and again there is the same theme for the pancakkhandhā, the fivefold stem of the personality: materiality, feeling, perception, the formations, consciousness. This flame burns not only in desire, aversion, and delusion, but also in birth and death, in decay, in every kind of pain and suffering. (ibid, pg.49)

I like Evola’s imagery here of all that is fiery—the ‘whole world in flames, ect’, because it brings to mind the Parable of the Burning House—covered extensively in the series on the Lotus Sutra. The one facet that has always intrigued me is that of “grasping”—which has to do with that incessant thirst—something that beings in the human realm have in common with our cousins in the Realm of the Hungry Ghosts—it’s all truly insatiable. This all has to do with what we in Unborn Mind Zen refer to as “Perpetual-Regenesis”. {Evola refers to this as Conditioned-Genesis—more on this in our next blog}The following chart breaks all this down in schematic-fashion:

  1. Out of avidya (ignorance) arises the composed, sankhara, which is the origin of perception within the maternal womb.
  2. In dependence upon the composed arises consciousness (vijnana).
  3. In dependence on consciousness arises the corporal form (nama rupa).
  4. In dependence on the corporal form arise the sense organs.
  5. In dependence on the sense organs arises contact (phassa).
  6. In dependence on contact arises sensation (vedana).
  7. In dependence on sensation arises thirst or desire (tanha).
  8. In dependence on desire arises grasping (upadana).
  9. In dependence on grasping arises Becoming (bhava).
  10. In dependence on Becoming arises birth (jati).
  11. In dependence on birth arises old age and death, sorrow, pain, grief, joy…hence samsara.
  12. Then this cycle of perpetual regenesis repeats itself.

I once wrote that the act of grasping is critical in all this since it is the “cognitive mechanism” that leads to the act of Becoming which sparks the germ or seed within the alaya-vijnana that leads to corporeal confinement in the samsaric-realm; hence one needs to negate the act of grasping and instead, “turn about” and Recollect THAT which initiates all this grasping-business in the first place.

Evola concludes this section with some sobering thoughts:

… he who is strong enough to force himself, in this sense, to go beyond illusion, cannot help arriving at this disconcerting conclusion: “You are not life in yourself. You do not exist. You cannot say ‘mine’ of anything. You do not possess life-it is life that possesses you (emphasis mine). You suffer it. And the possibility of immortal survival of this phantom ‘I’ at the dissolution of the body [consciousness—inclusion mine] is only a mirage, since every-thing tells you that its correlation with this body is essential to you and a trauma, an indisposition, a fainting fit, or any kind of accident has a definite influence over all its faculties, however ‘spiritual’ and ‘superior’ they may be.” (ibid, pg.55)

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