In a previous post, I suggested that we should befriend that yogacara consciousness, or consciousness-process, called ‘manas.’ This is often described as the ‘bad guy’ of consciousness, because it is the root function of attachment or craving. I prefer to call it the ‘sticky stuff’ or ‘gravity’ of consciousness, since it serves the very useful function of binding together the objects of sense consciousness into concepts, along with conceptual consciousness (yogacara’s ‘sixth’ consciousness).

This befriending of manas as a very natural and useful process of consciousness doesn’t imply that we just passively let go of our so-called struggle for liberation. The world we live in is usually referred to in Buddhist tradition as the ‘world of struggle.’

Instead of fighting manas as if it were some thing to which we should be averse (surely the catch-22 of this is obvious), we are able to resist closing ourselves and instead be compassionate - that is, open - to delusion. After all, it is delusion that makes manas into the ‘bad guy.’

Manas does what manas does, and I am grateful that it does. It allows me to use symbolic logic, have language, and think much more quickly and efficiently (even if it is at the cost of direct contact with experience). Manas attaches to and sticks to concepts, and there is not problem with that… so long as it sticks to concepts as concepts.

It is when concepts are confused for things-in-themselves that the tag-team of manas and delusion cause us problems.

If we take the energy usually wasted on trying to ‘defeat’ manas or overcome its work, and then use that energy instead to pay close attention to our concepts (or ‘dharmas’), we can let manas do what it does without falling into delusion.

One way to loosen the grip of delusion is to change our internal language. Instead of saying to ourselves, “I really like chocolate pudding,” we can say to ourselves, “The I-concept has an affinity for the chocolate-pudding-concept.” This may seem terribly clunky, and of course we don’t normally think like this, but that is the entire point. As soon as we remember to make the change, the benefit is already ours: we are treating concepts as concepts, and not as things-in-themselves.

Another way to address this challenge, and perhaps this is the more traditional exercise, is to pay close attention to the functioning of manas itself - not to stop it, but simply to see what it is doing as it is doing it. Left unattended, the work of manas creates a mental space not unlike a carnival’s house of mirrors, where reflections of reflections of reflections just keep interacting. Looking closely at the functioning of manas without trying to stop it or resist it is enough to become aware of the greater delusion we experience in the hall of mirrors of our own minds.

To illustrate this, I remember reading a short horror story in which the main character was a photographer. He was quite celebrated and he sold many prints of his still life photographs. The artist secretly congratulated himself on selling many photographs, all of the same item. He accomplished this by secretly taking photographs of all of his subjects’ reflections in the same mirror. He alone knew that every one of his photographs was really a photograph of the selfsame mirror. Looking closely, we too can catch this sleight-of-hand in our own consciousness and not pay too much for any single print.