It seems like everybody gives far too much credit to consciousness, aren’t Formations much more important?
This question came up in the Online 10-day Retreat Nov 3, 2020, guided by Delson Armstrong. Day 6 was part of a daily 30-minute discussion on the suttas, the Dhamma talk and reflections.
Slightly edited to improve readability
Formations are, as I always say, the carriers of Kamma. It’s the kammic impulses. It’s always the Formations that start to create the images, that start to form the images and the feelings, and so on. But it’s the Consciousness, if you read today’s sutta which is: when it is hindered by Ignorance and fettered by craving – which is to say that it takes that to be self, it takes the images that it sees to belong to a sense of self – and it craves for that being.
Because of that, that intention of craving drives forward that consciousness.
The faculty of Intention is rooted in the Mentality-Materiality. It’s through this, that the process of the Formations arise. That gives way to the intention behind speaking, behind thinking and reflecting, and behind acting, breathing, and so on.
So the intention, let’s say, when not taking it personal, no personal involvement, doesn’t vanish but changes? Is it still there because you have to interact with the world?
Yes, at that time there’s no identification with that intention. In the case of an Arahant – somebody who’s fully realized and fully enlightened – Ignorance is no longer conditioning or hindering the Formations. And craving and conceit are no longer fetters within the Formations. Ignorance is replaced by Right View. Whenever the Formations arise, it’s due to Contact, Kammic contact. So, prior to full Awakening, they are experiencing the effects of old Kamma. The Formations, as Kammic carriers, will take the Kammic seeds, the Kammic effects of the old actions, old thoughts, and old deeds and speeches, that happened prior to full Awakening, and they will carry forward into the Consciousness. This will drive forward in intention.
But all throughout that process, there’s no sense of involvement, of a personal self. It’s just being seen, with Mindfulness, as a series of impersonal processes.
So, when someone like the Buddha, or an Arahant monk in the sutta says “It occurred to me….” they’re using conventional language that the thought came into mind. But the thought came into mind because of the Formations, and then the intention to say that maybe I’ll go out for alms today at this place or maybe I’ll go visit these people at this place, and so on and so forth.
Even though it’s using language that is very conventional, the understanding behind it, deep down, is that it’s all impersonal. There is no taking personal the intention. And since there is no craving or identifying with the intention, the intention is completely void of any fettered Formations, void of any craving and void of any identification.
When that intention drives forward, it will still continue on without creating any potential for craving to arise, for any potential for identifying with the Feeling that arises, at the level of thought or at the level of the sensory experiences.