Phassa – The Conditioning Moment

On the mindfulness meditation page, I have described a thought process summarised as

This is a limited version of a much more profound teaching paticcasamuppada discussed by Ajaan Buddhadasa on p10 of Idappaccayata – download here. Here are the detailed stages he uses in his discussion of dependent origination (paticcasamuppada):-

“Then he realized that it came from jāti (birth). Jāti (birth), what does birth come from? Birth comes from bhava (becoming). Becoming arises from upādāna (clinging). Clinging comes from taṇhā (craving, ignorant desire). Craving comes from the vedanā (feeling). Feeling comes from phassa (contact). Contact comes from the āyatana (the senses). The senses come from nāma-rūpa (name and form). Name and form comes from viññāṇa (consciousness). Consciousness comes from saṅkhāra (the power of concocting). The power of concocting comes from avijjā (ignorance).”

In terms of the mindfulness discussion Buddhadasa says that a perfected person (arahant) “already possesses the perfect Right Mindfulness, he does not anymore experience suffering, because there is already the cessation of dependent arising.” In the wider framework that is Buddhism, mindfulness leads to an end of suffering – a much greater goal than discussed by Kabat-Zinn.

Perhaps unwisely I have limited the dependent co-arising for academic consumption – guilty of what I accuse Kabat-Zinn of? In my limited model I focus on the moment between the senses and the arising of the emotions. In the original Buddhist model this is called phassa – point of contact. I want to describe it as the conditioning point, the moment when conditioning arises.

Let us examine racism. Because of forces behind Trump and Brexit racism has become increasingly more acceptable within the last few years. How does racism arise? In the very young races mix without problems, this indicates to me a natural law of equality, we are all different people together. As we get older we become conditioned. Through our senses thoughts arise that lead to racism. Let us consider this. By the time a person is a racist, it is rare they will change. However we can work on conditioning, and perhaps eliminate the conditioned racism in many young people. In my own case I grew up a racist, all the people in my middle-class suburb of Manchester were racists; it was just conditioning.

When I moved to London I came into contact with black people and began to change. With their help I learned to remove my conditioning, and thus see the different forces that lead to racism. As such I am now a strong anti-racist. Fortunately there was minimal emotion involved in my own racism, in fact emotionally my tendency would be to reject racism as being part of my upbringing that I also rejected.

This lack of emotion is not however the case with many white racists. Unlike me many white racists will be emotionally invested in their community and its racism, they could not stand up to their community by demanding anti-racism. Because of racism in British there are many reactions – often violent. In addition there is a black underclass of criminality. If a mugging is committed by a black person, white people associate this with blackness, and become emotionally invested in racism. I know of someone who was badly bullied at school. A group of boys would almost daily steal his dinner money, they were black boys and would claim legitimacy because the person they were stealing from was white – a criminal excuse. In my view this boy who is now in his 50s is still scarred by this, and exhibits racism. In his case I suggest that the thought of black bullying comes up as emotion as soon as any consideration of racism arises.

As with the more general emotions that arise as a consequence of thoughts on race, somehow we need to break the conditioning. Before the emotion that leads to desire, clinging and accumulation, there needs to be an interception – a mindful interception, that says “do not cling to this emotion, all people are equal under nature”. There is a moment before the emotion kicks in, in which we can stand back and detach ourselves from any emotional consequences that arise. When friends start with their racism, stand back and listen, do not agree because they are friends, do not let emotions from personal experience pull you into a racist reaction. There is a moment when you don’t have to immerse yourself in the clinging, hold onto that moment, step back and learn with discernment. Don’t be conditioned.

Books:- Treatise, Wai Zandtao Scifi, Matriellez Education.

Blogs:- Ginsukapaapdee, Mandtao, Zandtao.


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