In this new series on Buddhist philosophy, we explore different teachings of the Buddha that are easily relatable in our modern life. In this episode we discuss:
- The Buddhist concept of No-Self
- Do you really exist?
- What is the meaning of your life?
- Who is the one experiencing your life?
- The five aggregates of experiencing the world
- What is Samsara?
- The illusion separation and truth of Oneness.
Watch the next Soul Session in this series on our YouTube Channel.
Debra Maldonado 00:01
Hello, everyone, welcome back to Soul Sessions, another fabulous episode with Rob and I. We are going to talk today in our continuing series on Buddhism and philosophy and how it can be applied in our modern life and every day. You don’t have to become a Buddhist to practice the philosophy. Today’s topic is the matrix of Buddhism.
Robert Maldonado 00:33
It’s definitely one of our favorite philosophies. A lot of cool stuff. We’ve actually met, I think we mentioned that last time, we actually met when I was studying Buddhism, and then I invited you to the Sangha, and you participated. You got a good dose of it. It was a great experience. I wanted to start off by some of the really cool stuff about the philosophy. For me, one of the coolest ones is their care for animals. This idea that all sentient beings are looking for happiness. They’re very much like us regardless of what life form it is. You should treat it with respect, because it’s very similar to you.
Debra Maldonado 01:28
I was terrified of spiders. I used to like to squash them when I was younger. Studying Buddhism, now most of the time I ask you to get rid of them. You know, taking them and putting them outside. I know it seems like such a small act for that small little creature, but it’s very loving. It shifts your perspective on caring for everything, not only just other human beings, but every living thing.
Robert Maldonado 02:04
It’s one of the coolest aspects of Buddhist philosophy. You don’t have to be a vegetarian to practice those things. You can also be just compassionate and mindful of animal life and plants, of course, and all life forms. What did you experience as some of the cool stuff?
Debra Maldonado 02:35
I love the idea that everyone — it’s very similar to Jungian psychology where you see everyone as you. In Jungian psychology we talk about the projection of our shadow and archetypes that we see in the world are really in us. Buddhism talks about that, and it probably prepared me for Jung’s work. What I see in the world is also connected to me. I find, even when there’s trouble in the world, there’s darkness in the world, there’s good things that happen, that I’m connected to both and instead of “They’re bad, I’m good or I’m bad and they’re good, everything is us. That matrix that makes up the world, we’re all connected to that in a way. The wisdom in others is my wisdom reflected back.
Robert Maldonado 03:37
Just to emphasize, we approach the study of Buddhist philosophy as students of the mind, as a philosophy. We encourage people to question it. It’s not like a religion where something is set and you can’t question it. In philosophy, what we like about the approach is that it’s the contrary, you’re supposed to engage with it and question the precepts there instead of just accepting. Buddha himself was a great philosopher in that regards, in that he invites people not to believe anything he says just because he’s saying. He says “Think about it, question it, try it out for yourself, see if it’s a direct experience that you can have.”
Debra Maldonado 04:33
He also said “Don’t make any statues.” That is that kind of reverence like he’s special in some way and you’re not, you’re separate. Of course, no one listened. There’s Buddha statues everywhere, but he really didn’t want people to think that he was different than anyone else, that everyone has this opportunity to be enlightened and everyone can reach those states.
Robert Maldonado 05:03
One of my favorites is the Zen philosophy, or the Zen Buddhist culture that evolved out of Buddhism, which I think really gets to the spirit of what Buddha was trying to do, purify our awareness to the extent that you’re in the moment, you’re having a direct experience of what’s happening now, in your body, in your mind, in your environment, without leaning on the gods, and the heavens and all the metaphysics or the mythology of things. Very pure, very direct. Meditate, sit, breathe, think about what’s going on here. The Zen school just typifies that beautiful simplicity of things. Let’s get to some of the philosophical ideas that are still with us today. They influenced Western psychology big time through Schopenhauer, through Nietzsche, through Jung, even Freud was influenced by some of these ideas that were floating around in Europe at that time. One of them is this idea of the ego. We call it the self in western psychology. When we think about ourselves, when we say self esteem. Buddha said, there is no self.
Debra Maldonado 07:00
That’s such a hard concept for people.
Robert Maldonado 07:02
It’s almost self evident to us that we don’t even question it most of the time. The ego isn’t real, which means the self is not real, the way we talk about the self in Western culture, the small self. There is no you in essence the way you think about it. It’s a hard concept for us to accept because the senses give us this idea that there is this me in my head peering out through the window of the eyes and looking at the world.
Debra Maldonado 07:47
That has a history, that has a body, and has talents, and skills, and problems.
Robert Maldonado 07:56
It feels very solid to us until we start to examine it, then it’s nowhere to be found. Buddha goes through these five aggregates. He says, if you think of an onion, you start to peel away these five layers of our being. Sure enough, there is no self to be found. It seems to arise from the collection of these five aggregates. These five aggregates are: one is the body. Many of us identify with the body. In materialistic philosophy the body is the self. Once I don’t have a body, the game’s up, it’s over, there’s nothing. Very nihilistic kind of philosophy where you disappear basically, and there’s nothing to be had after that. There are some Buddhist atheists, because Buddha didn’t really incorporate the idea of the gods or a God into his philosophy. A lot of people think he was an atheist. But if you look at his history and his way of teaching, it’s more that he wanted to leave that out and focus on how can we get people to go beyond their suffering. Often he thought the mythology of the gods was a hindrance to them because there was always this idea “Once I die, or once I go to heaven or something else happens, then I’ll be fine.” Instead of focusing on “I want you to think about your suffering right now.”
Debra Maldonado 10:00
Through all my spiritual searching there was a lot of escapism, I’m going to go and float into my magic other dimension and leave this body, this is not important, because the afterlife is going to promise me this other thing. Then we end up hating our life and only reaching, grasping for the joy in life and rejecting the pain or coming for reasons why we’re suffering, because there’s some spiritual solution for that. But the spiritual solution is to understand what’s happening right now, in the moment is really where enlightenment happens, it’s not a journey down the road, it’s here in this moment.
Robert Maldonado 10:55
So the first aggregate is the body because it’s the most obvious. This is an interesting yoga philosophy. You have this idea that the physical body is made out of food, it’s made out of the stuff that we eat, it can reconstruct itself continuously to where we have a presence in physical reality because of food. There is something to that, of course, because we know now from genetics, the body breaks down the food elements, proteins and fats and carbohydrates, and reconstructs the body continuously. So they were present in this body.
Debra Maldonado 11:39
If you are superficial, or you’re self conscious about your body, it’s really just such a very little part of ourselves. It doesn’t last, and it’s food. We get so attached to the body, what our weight is, how wrinkles look on our face, look at our hair, everything’s physical, our strength and our power in the physical body.
Robert Maldonado 12:12
Buddha himself went through this period of negating the body, you might see those statues where he’s completely like a skeleton, he’s meditating, but he’s barely just skin and bones. He went through this period of “Can we just get rid of this body or get it out of the way so that we can really experience what the essence of our true self is?”
Debra Maldonado 12:42
Isn’t that what the asanas and yoga really were designed to do? Get the body quiet and balanced, so you can go to the mind.
Robert Maldonado 12:54
Yes, but a very different approach. Because you see it in the West too where you have this idea of punishing the body, starving it or hitting it directly. In the East, there was also these traditions of not eating, but to extremes, not the fasting for health, but fasting to deny the body, to diminish its presence enough to where you could experience the spiritual. But anyway, he ended up finding the middle path. You don’t want to eat too little. But you don’t want to go to the other extreme where you’re just gorging yourself and escaping through food. He says, the middle path is the way where you’re taking care of your body. But you’re also not obsessed about it. The urges of the body are not driving you, you’re in control of it. This first part of the aggregates, the body, is an important aspect that he considered. That gives us that false sense of the self, that there is a self in us that’s permanent.
Debra Maldonado 14:24
And we all know we die. It’s obvious that this body doesn’t last.
Robert Maldonado 14:31
If you dissect the body, there’s no ego to be found. There’s nothing left once the body disintegrates. So it’s an aggregate created out of the elements of the world. The other aggregate is the feeling. In our coaching, in Jungian model, we talk about these imprints that are left from the experiences of early childhood. He’s talking very much in similar ways. We feel everything we experience, instead of just thinking about it.
Debra Maldonado 15:20
There’s a feeling connected to it.
Robert Maldonado 15:22
There’s a sense of that we’re present with this environment, or this situation, or this person. It gives us a certain feeling. That’s always operating. It’s an instinct in us. It leaves these imprints on the body through the feeling of things, of what is reality. It’s always taking note in a sense.
Debra Maldonado 15:52
We end up living our life, reacting to past experience either through your feelings basically, or making all the decisions on emotional drives of moving away from pain toward pleasure. We aren’t even conscious of it anymore. We’re just feeling it out.
Robert Maldonado 16:16
So the samsara that are these imprints left in our mind body through the feeling of things, they play a big role in how we experience the rest of our life. If we never look at them, they pretty much give us a template for the rest of our life. He says this is one of the sources of this false sense of self as well. You are going around thinking you’re the body, or thinking that the body is part of the self, that these feelings are giving you the sense of who you are in the world. The third aggregate is perceptions, through the senses, through eyes, ears, touch, taste, smell, we perceive the world. We were constantly perceiving the world. That gives us a big sense of I exist because I see, because I perceive something, therefore, there must be a perceiver. It must be an I meeting itself.
Debra Maldonado 17:43
So I have this body. I’m feeling this. I’m perceiving this. And then the will?
Robert Maldonado 17:54
Here I’m bringing it down more, like students of the mind that we are, where we’re translating some of these concepts of Buddhist philosophy. The next aggregate is the sense of will, the sense of agency of being able to do things. It gives us feedback that if I see this object, and then I’m able to pick it up, there must be a self in there.
Debra Maldonado 18:25
I can move things, I can move my body, I can talk to people, I can make an influence.
Robert Maldonado 18:31
It gives us this false sense of I again, it reinforces that sense. But if we peel it away and ask “Is the sense of will really coming from an I?” Because if you consider some of the other elements that he’s talking about that the karma, for example, conditioning is really moving you and compelling you to act—
Debra Maldonado 19:10
So you’re never really making these conscious decisions. Most of us are sleepwalking and the ego takes credit for our decisions, I’m the one who met the soulmate, or I’m the one who made this money or I’m the one who made this choice and it’s so great. I’m the one even who’s helping others. I chose to do this versus it’s that karma that actually is creating.
Robert Maldonado 19:45
Even in western psychology, we know conditioning is a very powerful influence on behavior on all living forms, not only humans, all living forms are conditioned by their environment and through evolutionary psychology. It makes sense because you’re meant to survive in the environment that you live in. If you had to think about everything and learn it cognitively you wouldn’t survive.
Debra Maldonado 20:15
Like how do I chew my food? How do I tie my shoes? Button my shirt? All day long. Those things are constructive patterns we need. But then there’s also the destructive ones which keep us in a pattern of thinking, feeling, and reacting, that are not pleasant, we’re trapped. But we think we’re doing it. I think one of the main things is — this is for everyone — a lot of times we do personal development work, then we feel we did something wrong, we feel guilty about something we did, or something we said. If we feel guilty that means we knew we did it intentionally. Then if you look at other people, their intention is always for joy, not to harm others. Although it appears that way, it’s their karma playing out. If you can see that, that will help you not only have compassion for yourself, but for others because none of us are in control, unless we become enlightened. But that’s like someone will harm me, or someone like our parents, or ex relationships, they did something wrong. Then we feel that way too. I know doing individuation brings up so much regret because if I would have known my behaviors back then I would have done better. We just beat ourselves up. But that’s the trap of the ego. The ego is so arrogant, it thinks it made all those decisions consciously. But the ego was just reacting, it’s like a machine that keeps us together, like this individual expression of this body, it’s only there for us to survive.
Robert Maldonado 22:17
The final fifth aggregate sometimes is translated as consciousness. But if you read the description of how the Buddha was thinking about it, it’s more attention. It’s what we pay attention to, where we focus on things. That gives us a big sense of our self, a false sense of ourselves. Because we started thinking that in relation to objects, if I pay attention to something, it starts to feel real and solid, my mind is filled with it, it takes over my mind. That attention, that awareness, and the moving of attention. It’s hidden in plain sight. Most of us don’t think about it, but we’re always directing it. Or it appears that we’re directing it in certain directions and certain things. But again, it’s illusory, it doesn’t really have an I behind it, it’s more a function of the mind in relation to environment or things.
Debra Maldonado 23:42
If we weren’t conscious, have a conscious self, or experience that, we would not be able to perceive or know or have a body or feel there’s some part of us that’s conscious of our own, individual experience.
Robert Maldonado 23:57
Of course, we’re gonna get to what is there, if there is no ego self. But for these five aggregates Buddha was saying, that’s what’s giving you this false experience of your I, of your ego, of this false self that you believe yourself to be. Why is it important? Because it is the root of your suffering. The Dalai Lama said the only reason we suffer is because we over identify with the ego. We think we are the ego, we think there’s this I in me that needs to be happy, that needs to find satisfaction in obtaining things and experiencing things.
Debra Maldonado 24:51
Protecting myself, protecting this body. Feeling good. We were so attached to I want to feel good.
Robert Maldonado 25:01
The source of all happiness in human life is the letting go of that, thinking of others, practicing compassion, meaning the non ego, non self. It’s an important part of the Buddhist philosophy because it lays the foundation for why we suffer, and how we’re going to transcend it later on.
Debra Maldonado 25:30
Are we going to get into what impermanence is?
Robert Maldonado 25:33
Impermanence is connected to this. Because if you think if we believe we’re the I, the ego, then these objects should give us happiness. For us to expect these external objects to give us happiness, there must be a belief about the I. In other words, they give rise to each other. This idea of impermanence starts to break that apart, this idea of the five aggregates starts to break the ego apart. You’re working on both sides of the equation, you’re starting to question and break apart. Is there any ego self? Are these objects going to give me happiness? If they’re impermanent, meaning they’re always in flux, they’re always moving. This is verifiable, this is not metaphysics because you can test even in physics, is this glass always going to be here?
Debra Maldonado 26:54
Is it solid? It’s not, made of space and molecules that are constantly moving, this is a vibration, it’s not actually solid.
Robert Maldonado 27:04
Not only that, my perception of it is continuously changing as well. It might give me satisfaction for a little while, when it serves me water or when I use it to drink water. But once it’s empty, it loses that appeal to me.
Debra Maldonado 27:29
If you think about it, it’s like money. If you think about money, we have this attachment to the number in our bank account. Money is a flow. Some people have a stock holder savings, that gives them security, but you still have to spend money, you have to pay for food, pay for home, it’s always flowing, you can’t just hang on to it and not spend it, you have to spend it. It’s that same thing is that a lot of people, their joy rises when the account number is high. They feel a little terrified when it gets too low. Everyone has that base that they feel comfortable in. There’s that whole idea that it’s slipping through my fingers, I can’t save it, I’m spending too much. We don’t even touch it anymore. It’s a concept in a number on a computer screen now, or on our credit card statement. It’s not even real as that we can hold and touch it but we’re so attached to it, and also attached to what it means about us. If I have a lot of debt, I’m bad. Or if I have a lot of savings, I’m good. Or if I make this amount of money in my career. There’s that fluctuation that we all can relate to with money and feelings and perceptions.
Robert Maldonado 29:01
Buddha wasn’t saying you should forget about all this stuff. He’s simply saying you can’t depend on that for your happiness, your well being because that is what causes suffering.
Debra Maldonado 29:17
Because we’re chasing this carrot. When I find that partner, when I reach a certain level of my career, when I make a certain amount of money, when I get a new house, that’s gonna make me happy. Then we get that brand new car we’ve been waiting for, we drive it for a week, and then we’re like “I think I want another one” or “It’s not as great, it didn’t give me the satisfaction that I craved.” The ego is constantly craving and is never ever satisfied, if we keep pursuing that we’re always suffering.
Robert Maldonado 29:53
If you put that together, you put these five aggregates that give us this false sense of I, and then this impermanent nature of things, that’s samsara, it’s the whole ocean of objects that we’re born into, of the world we’re experiencing, and we’re expecting things to make us happy. But they can’t, they’re the cause of suffering. Again, like we said in the first episode, not so much that we’re in pain all the time, but that we’re dissatisfied, we’re not comfortable, we’re not at ease, we’re not peaceful.
Debra Maldonado 30:39
Like the pebble in the shoe. It’s not terrible, but you never feel relaxed and like life is great. And if you do, people always say you’re going to be afraid the other shoe’s gonna drop, I hear that a lot. People can’t even enjoy their happiness when they have it. They’re waiting for something to go wrong again.
Robert Maldonado 31:07
If you notice, when we live from that ego perspective, we’re always preparing for something. But it never comes, or when it comes in, there’s something else that needs to be added or needs to be achieved. It just keeps us moving continuously.
Debra Maldonado 31:27
It’s like that play we saw, Waiting for Godot, where these two men are waiting for this person to show up. They’re waiting and waiting. They’re meeting all these characters like why are we meeting him again? They don’t even know why they’re waiting for this. We’re waiting for something to happen, and it’s always somewhere in the future. We’re always trying to plan. It’s great to have visions and what we want to create with our life. But we’re always in the future, one day, we’re never here in the moment, we never will enjoy because we’ll get to that milestone, and then there’ll be another one. I made 100,000, I want to make 200,000. It’s never ever enough. That’s the ego. Would you say that samsara is where Jung got his idea of the matrix when he was talking about archetypes? How does that tie in?
Robert Maldonado 32:27
In Jung’s ideas you can see the influence of Eastern philosophy. He follows Schopenhauer, a German philosopher who studied a lot of the early translations of the Upanishads directly. You see that influence playing out. But of course, Jung was an original thinker, he was also studying alchemy, Western religious history. A lot of different influences went into Jung’s psychology. But definitely the idea of the matrix, of this appearance of the universe as reality for us.
Debra Maldonado 33:18
On an ego level, we have many parts of that matrix. The matrix itself is an extension of these five aggregates because the body of the world, the feeling of the world, our perception of the world is still part of that illusion, or it’s illusory. It’s apparent reality, as they say in Vedanta, but it’s that samsara, our perception is fooling us in a way of what’s real. You’re not as solid as we think it is.
Robert Maldonado 33:52
It’s a real experience. We’re experiencing the world and ourselves in this body. It’s simply that the way we’re experiencing it is not the way it appears to us. It appears we’re in the body experiencing these external objects. But that’s not really what’s happening. Through Buddhism, through inward searching, this inward understanding of what is the mind, what is consciousness, we start to understand that we are creating that reality that we call the Universe. It’s arising from within us, not an external.
Debra Maldonado 34:40
We’re not just popped in the middle of some solid place that we’re trying to survive in.
Robert Maldonado 34:47
We’ll talk more about nirvana and these ideas of meditation and where it’s leading us to from the Buddhist perspective, but let’s talk about emptiness. If there is no self, if we’re empty of a self, and all things, as Buddha said, are empty of this self essence, what does he mean by that? What are the implications for our everyday life? We don’t want to just talk about philosophy as these interesting ideas, we want to see how it helps us understand our life in a direct way. How does it help us become better human beings, better stewards of the planet?
Debra Maldonado 35:43
I think a very simple way to look at emptiness is to question our assumptions about what is happening. A situation or a thing that makes you happy, or thing you want, understanding it’s empty, like the ice cream. I like vanilla, you like chocolate, the flavor in itself doesn’t have an inherent solid reality. It’s our interaction with it that we pour into that. We create this dynamic between us and the object but it’s actually empty, we’re pouring in the feeling. Another example is love. When you meet someone, they could be the love of your life, someone else meets that same person, and they’re like nice guy, but not much, not for me. That person doesn’t contain special qualities, you’re the person perceiving them, projecting, like Jung would say, the Animus or Anima, onto that person, giving them the qualities. The question is “Why am I giving this person so much power? Why am I loving this person? Why does that person trigger me?” When we talk about Shadow Work, it’s the same thing. It’s that reflection “What am I pouring into this situation or this person?” That really leads us back to that emptiness, it’s empty of duality. We’re the ones who decide what’s good and bad. Our interaction with that creates that spinning, that world that we live in, because my world with you is wonderful and beautiful. But it’s emanating from my mind. If it wasn’t in here, you can’t pour love into me. Things can’t put stuff into you. You’re putting everything out into the world. You’re the source basically. What you think is important, what you are attached to. That’s what’s going to create your reality.
Robert Maldonado 38:01
That’s a good way to initiate the conversation about emptiness. What is it that we’re experiencing in a sense? Let’s go back to pre-Buddhist times because Buddha came up in a tradition of brahmanism where meditation was very much an important aspect of spiritual work. The understanding of consciousness was at the heart of that as well. If you read the Upanishads, they are all about giving us a roadmap as to how does consciousness create this experience of the world, what they call Maya, this illusory, dreamlike experience of the world. When Buddha experienced that pure consciousness, you can think of them as a purification of our mind, so that we can experience the essence of it. When he experienced that pure consciousness in himself when he sat under the tree and said “I’m not getting up until I get it.” What he experienced was not empty in the way we think of nothingness. There’s nothing there. That interpretation comes from reading this from a materialistic perspective that we think only objects that are solid to me I consider to be real, anything else is unreal. That’s a misinterpretation of the whole Buddhist philosophy. He came up in this understanding of consciousness is forming the universe. In other words, the universe arises within consciousness, not the other way around. So what he meant by emptiness was very similar to what is explained in the Upanishads — pure consciousness is beyond thought. In other words, it’s beyond any conception, you cannot conceive of it the way you think of a glass or a tree, or even an idea or a feeling. Because anytime you have a name and form, you’re already outside the scope of that pure awareness.You’re already in the multiplicity of universal appearance of things. Therefore, a really good way to describe that pure consciousness is emptiness, there is no object there, there’s no thought, it’s like the purity of this space, where things appear, where the object appears. If you take away the object, the space is still there. That’s what he was talking about, that it’s empty of objects, of ideas, you cannot reach it through conceptualizing. In other words, you’ll never figure it out. You have to go there directly.
Debra Maldonado 41:47
It’s really hard to conceptualize but the way I found it easy to think about is, if you look at this room, what we tend to do is focus on the objects in the room, we don’t focus on the space. We know there’s something here because there’s oxygen and other stuff that we can’t perceive directly with the naked eye. But we know there’s this space that is holding all these objects in this room. If we think about the world, it is like that, there’s this emptiness, the objects are in it covering it. Biologically, there’s space in me, but you can’t see it, because my body’s covering it, so that it’s permeating everything. That’s the consciousness, I couldn’t live if there wasn’t space within me in that space. It’s not exactly the same thing. But it’s a way for us to conceptualize in a metaphorical way, what we’re really experiencing. If we take all the objects out of a room— we just moved, we had a home and had objects in it. Then when we moved out, we walked around and made sure everything was taken away, it was empty. It was just weird. It wasn’t our home anymore because our objects weren’t there. It was just this empty space. It’s interesting how we give meaning to things. When we have space and objects and memories and people, it creates its own story and samsara basically of “This is my life.” We can try past our childhood home, maybe growing up, there were so many memories in there, but it’s not there anymore. There’s other people living there. Nothing’s left, but the idea is still there, the memory is still there.
Robert Maldonado 43:48
This has relevance for East-West psychology because in the West, we’re very focused on the objects. We’re thinking the answer has to be in the object. If we understand the object, we break it down into its fundamentals — reductionism is at the heart of that — we break it down to its cells, into its atoms, and the atoms into smaller quartz and quantum fields, whatever, we’re going to find the answer in the object. Buddha is saying “You’re not going to find it there.” That’s the beginning of that idea of samsara, of finding satisfaction, knowledge in objects.
Debra Maldonado 44:46
In Western psychology they examine the object of the ego and its past experiences, trying to tear apart the childhood reactions and the terrible things that happened, the good things, the good and bad parents. All those ideas are basically examining the wrong thing because you’re examining something that is not even as slick. The person your parent was no longer exists, like who they were when you were a child, that person no longer exists. It was such a powerful idea. I never heard that before when you said that. That idea we hang on to so much, of the past that causes our suffering, we identify that this happened to me, I have these scars from my early life, I have to heal them. In this philosophy they no longer exist, but our ego hangs on to them. That’s what causes the suffering.
Robert Maldonado 45:52
He’s saying that the freedom, the true happiness, the true joy and peacefulness, that is our true nature, is to be found in the emptiness, meaning in pure awareness, pure consciousness.
Debra Maldonado 46:13
Not making the right or the wrong. We can chase it, I call it rearranging the furniture. In samsara, we’re trying to make this ego better, fix the past, so we can be better and achieve more. Then it turns out, we’re rearranging, we’re just getting more attached to other things. Whatever we reject has power over us. If we have regrets of past experiences, it’s like a weight, we’re carrying that with us. We’re not free.
Robert Maldonado 46:49
One of the best metaphors I can think of, how this object and empty awareness play out right in front of us, and we miss it is. It’s a thought experiment. If you think about empty space, the vacuum of empty space, where there’s no air molecules, nothing to obstruct light. If you shine a flashlight in that empty space, you won’t see the light emanating beyond the flashlight until it hits an object, then you see the light. In between the flashlight and the object, it seems to be empty. There’s nothing but the light is traveling through there. But you don’t see it until the object is illuminated. Our awareness, our pure consciousness is very similar. We don’t experience it until there’s an object. We think the object is what I’m conscious of, or what is awareness. But the pure awareness is already there before the object.
Debra Maldonado 48:15
You said that the ego is the object too, we have an object that’s an ego that’s interacting with other objects. But what’s beyond that is the emptiness, the pure awareness. We’re experiencing ourselves as an ego, but it’s not. It’s because we think our ego’s real that we have an experience of ourselves.
Robert Maldonado 48:44
This metaphor goes back to the idea that we’re trying to find happiness in the wrong place. We’re thinking that the object is more real than our awareness of it. It’s the other way around. Our awareness is the foundation of the appearance of all things for us.
Debra Maldonado 49:07
Another thought experiment. When I’m really attached to something, I want something to happen, and it’s causing me suffering, I’m like “Okay, I’m attached.” I let go of what if it never happens, what if I just let that attachment go, there is this space where I’m not willing it does not happen, but I’m not attached to it either. That opens up, and then naturally joy arises from that place of when I just dropped the attachment. If that thing doesn’t have that power it used to have, I could still go toward it, but it’s not the source of my happiness. I’m bringing happiness with me versus trying to attain it out there.
Robert Maldonado 50:04
Often people ask us give something practical, something they can apply directly in their life that’s going to give them results. What can be more practical than clarifying what is real and what is unreal. If you’re misperceiving the world, you’re chasing after things that are not going to give you results, that’s very impractical. If somebody is giving you instructions on how to be happier with objects, or how to make your persona better, or how to make your ego better, people would consider that practical. But it’s very impractical because it’s driving you deeper into the illusion that you are these physical things, you are the ego, the persona, the personality, these objects are going to make you happier. It’s going to drive you deeper into illusion, into suffering. These ideas might be a little difficult to grasp because we’re conditioned to think of objects as real, maybe even our thoughts are less real than the objects.
Debra Maldonado 51:43
We think that everything’s solid, and our thoughts are just random conversations we’re having with ourselves. So the five aggregates all represent the ego?
Robert Maldonado 51:58
They’re things that if you start to break apart, what is this experience of the self, you see that these things do not hold the self, there is no self behind that, there’s no ego self behind the body, behind the feeling, the perception, the will and the attention that we experience.
Debra Maldonado 52:25
The only thing that’s real is pure awareness.
Robert Maldonado 52:28
That’s the ultimate reality. What the Buddha called this emptiness is the essence of things. If you ask, what is the essence of this computer, this table, these microphones — they’re empty, they’re arising from pure awareness, from the pure consciousness.
Debra Maldonado 52:50
What about the individual experience of consciousness? Is there one beyond the ego? If you take away the ego, and there’s this pure awareness, but we also have an individual, personal experience of being in the world and then not in the world. What would the Buddhists call that? They don’t believe there’s anything else. There’s just emptiness?
Robert Maldonado 53:27
Again, we have to distinguish the religion from a philosophy.
Debra Maldonado 53:33
Because we have an individual experience of being aware that we’re aware. Or maybe that’s an illusion that it’s an individual experience.
Robert Maldonado 53:45
Exactly. The pure philosophy of Buddhism would say that ego experience you’re having is an illusion, because it doesn’t really exist the way you’re thinking it exists. It doesn’t mean it’s not existing, or it’s not real. It simply doesn’t exist the way you conceive yourself as an individual.
Debra Maldonado 54:18
Back to the conversation of the ones, the no self, then there’s the individual ego which is not solid or real, but we need an object to base it on. What we’re really experiencing when we become enlightened, is that pure, big self, like the oneness, but it appears to us as a separate experience because we’re seeing it through the filter of our five senses. So this idea that we have an individual soul is an illusion.
Robert Maldonado 54:55
The Upanishads explain it in a simpler way. It says the Atma, which would be the soul in you, is identical to Brahma and to the universal spirit.
Debra Maldonado 55:09
Because of the object and awareness connecting here on this level. It gives the illusion of individuality. But it’s like the sun shining in the jars, and the reflection of the water in the different jars. But really the sun is here. There was a question, the difference between the consciousness and pure consciousness is that there is no difference. It appears to be different through the lens of the ego.
Robert Maldonado 55:48
The metaphor of a dream comes in a little more handy here. If you think about the dream you had last night, in that dream you are experiencing yourself doing something. Interacting with objects and other people. Pretty much very similar to this experience. As soon as you wake up, you realize the nature of that experience, it’s illusory. Now, did you experience it? Yes, the experience’s there, absolutely. You were fearful, you were happy, you were interacting with objects and people and things. That experience is not diminished. It’s simply that it’s nature, as soon as you wake up you realize, was an illusory dream. This waking experience is very similar. When we realize its nature through understanding its emptiness, its consciousness, we realize its true nature, that it’s constructed from these aggregates, from us identifying with these aggregates of the body, and the sensation, and the will. It appears to us like in a dream that we’re experiencing something real, something solid, something that’s out there. But as soon as we realize its nature, it’s like waking up, you realize it was an illusion, it was constructed out of thought, out of these aggregates.
Debra Maldonado 57:40
The aggregates create those patterns, like we talked about, or psychological patterns, or shadow, and all the archetypes are in that system of matrix of what makes up the world. A lot of people would think this is depressing, things aren’t as good as I think they are and I want to hope, but in actuality, it’s more freeing to let go of the attachment. Because once you realize that you’re the one who puts the joy in things, you can control your joy, you are in control of everything in life, you’re not depending on an object out there to show up or not show up for you to feel joy, that it’s completely inside of you. That to me is liberating. I always talk about the idea of the eye of the storm. The world has a lot of stuff going on, people are scared, good things are happening, bad things are happening, depending on who you are. You’re in that swirling of the world. But you can stay in the center which is pure bliss. That’s really the key, you can be in the world, be in the aggregates, in the body, have this experience but at the same time be awake in it, where it doesn’t destroy you, or you suffer your whole life through it. That’s Buddha’s gift, how to be in this moment now, in this life, in this body, but be free at the same time.
Robert Maldonado 59:15
Very much so. In the metaphor of the dream, it would be like lucid dreaming, where you’re able to direct the dream and to be conscious in the dream, instead of being caught up in.
Debra Maldonado 59:29
Someone was saying, will letting go of the persona be the first step? I think Shadow Work in Jungian psychology is a really great way to break apart these aggregates because the shadow is basically built on these aggregates of past experience and what’s good, what’s bad, attachment to the ego persona. What we’re doing with Shadow Work is we’re seeing both sides of ourselves in the ego, that we’re not good, we’re not bad, we’re both, and that neutralizes our attachment. Then we start to see ourselves in other people. We start to see the matrix, we start to get a glimpse of the nature matrix first. A lot of people think Shadow Work is about all your negative stuff getting out of the way. But actually Shadow Work is about reclaiming all of who you are, becoming whole again to all aspects of yourself, reclaiming those parts that we repressed. For me, it’s a direct experience, a very simple way for people to get this bigger concept. Then as you go beyond Shadow Work, there’s working with the archetypes, the masculine/feminine archetypes, the Anima/Animus and all the other beautiful Jungian philosophies and dream work, all those experiences that we can have in Western psychology mixed with this beautiful, brilliant idea of emptiness. And make it a more joyful life. There’s a reason why this samsara exists. But when we’re in samsara, we forget that we’re in the concept that we’re suffering. We get caught up in it.
Robert Maldonado 1:01:24
Again, we’re conditioned. We have a karma and samsara as the conditioning power. It compels us to act, we’re not really acting in a free conscious way. We’re acting out of our karma, our conditioning, our past. The objective is simply to be free. The reason we study the mind is we want to be free, we want to be conscious, so that we can then make real conscious choices and decisions about how we show up in the world, how we interact with others, instead of being in the projection of the shadow, we’re projecting our own assumptions on to others, making them good or bad, misunderstanding the whole thing. That’s the main thing when we’re caught up in samsara.
Debra Maldonado 1:02:36
The first aspect of Shadow Work I worked on was relationships. I was saying all these men don’t want a commitment. When I realized that was me, I was projecting onto these people. I got the key to myself again, the key to that power. I’m the one. For 20 years I’ve been suffering. I’ve been the one who was creating it. I’m thinking these bad men out there are the ones hurting me, they’re terrible men. But I was the one who was creating my own suffering. At first I was mad at myself, and then I was free because I think it’s really hard. The ego does not want you to take responsibility for it, it will resist that you were the cause, it will want to project it out there, to make the world more powerful than it. It’s a trick. When you wake up, of course, it’s not just one realization, it’s a lifetime of remembering and falling back into samsara, getting caught up, because our conditioning is so powerful, and waking ourselves up again, until we can really fully learn how to balance that in mind.
Robert Maldonado 1:03:55
Again, we’re talking about the philosophy. If you have a religious practice in Buddhism, please excuse our philosophizing because it is a different perspective that we’re taking, where we’re looking at the philosophical aspects of Buddhism. It’s a psychology, Buddha was very much a psychologist. He was thinking about what is our individual experience, why is it that we suffer when we experience the world.
Debra Maldonado 1:04:35
He talks a lot about emotion, teaching feelings, where in Vedanta they don’t really talk about emotions as much as in Buddhism, so it’s a bridge to psychology. We went a long time today. This was such a deep conversation, hope your minds aren’t too blown. But feel free to listen again. And if you’re listening to the replay, please feel free to comment and ask us questions. We’d love to hear from you. We will be continuing next week where we’re going to talk about compassion and how to really embrace the world in a different way. I told Rob we should have done it this week. How to bring enlightenment in the world? How to make the world more awake? How can we be a part of that?
Robert Maldonado 1:05:35
In that regard Buddhism has a lot to offer to the West and to the world in general because it has the potential. It’s very applicable in today’s context, we need to start thinking in a cosmic or at least a global sense. What are we doing to the planet through our misunderstanding of it, through this illusory misperception of things, where we’re really escalating the level of suffering not only for ourselves but for all sentient living things? Therefore, we need to desperately wake up.
Debra Maldonado 1:06:25
The last question. “It’s not a belief that I was seeing a confirmation bias about not being mental commitment. It was I was the one who didn’t like commitment.” It’s a projection of the shadow. Shadow Work is a little different than belief work. It’s more about what we’re seeing in the world, what we judge about others is actually about ourselves. I was the one who didn’t want commitment. But that was creating the suffering because I didn’t realize it was me. I kept projecting it out that those people out there didn’t want commitment. And I was the one. Then I realized that I could make a decision. I do want a commitment now and figure out what was the fear around commitment. That’s what set me free. Great question. All right, have a great week, everyone. We’ll see you next Friday for our next Soul Session. We hope you enjoyed today.
Robert Maldonado 1:07:32
Thanks for watching. We appreciate it, all the great comments and questions. We’ll see you next time.
Debra Maldonado 1:07:37
Take care. Bye bye.