Tangka Wheel of Life
The first of the twelve links is ignorance, the root of all suffering of samsara. The Sanskrit term, avidya [Tib: ma-rig-pa], means "not seeing" and implies a darkening of the mind. Explaining precisely what this ignorance is and how it works takes a lot of time and energy, so let's focus on the general principles.
When we go to the teachings, for example, we say to ourselves "Today I'm going to hear the teachings." Whenever we think this way, we have a certain conception of our "I" or "self". Buddhism calls this sense of self "ego". Our ego is always with us and becomes more evident on certain occasions, when we encounter very favorable circumstances or, conversely, great difficulties. In these moments, our sense of self becomes more intense and visible than usual. Each of us is subject to our own conception of the self. We can understand this easily from our daily experiences, without the need for lengthy theoretical reasoning.
Whenever our ego concept arises very strong, it grabs us as if something very solid, very vivid and totally uncontrollable existed within us. This is how the false self grabs us. However, it is important to check whether this "I" really exists as it appears to us. If we look for it within ourselves, from head to toe, we will come to the conclusion that neither our physical body nor any of its individual parts can serve as the basis of that "I" that arises so strongly under certain circumstances. Nothing in our body can be the ego. Our limbs, our organs and so on are only parts of the body which, in a sense, "owns" them.
If we analyze our mind in the same way, we will find that it is nothing but a flow of different thoughts and mental factors and we will come to the conclusion that nothing in the mind is the "I" that we conceive. Furthermore, since there is no separate entity outside our body or mind that can represent the ego, we can conclude that the self we normally feel does not exist.
If we meditate in this way, we will understand that it is true that the ego is nowhere to be found. However, that doesn't mean we don't exist at all. Non-existence cannot be the correct answer, because we are analyzing how we exist. In reality, the explanation is very subtle. We do not simply exist as our ignorant mind supposes, nor do we "do not exist". Understanding the true nature of the self requires thorough training and intense meditation practice. The mental factor that supports the mistaken and fabricated view of a self is what Buddhism calls "ignorance," the first of the twelve links of interdependent origin. All other mental afflictions, such as attachment to ourselves, our friends, our possessions, and aversion to people and things alien to us, rest on the foundation of this false self-concept. By acting under the influence of such attachment and aversion, we accumulate a lot of negative karma with the body, speech and mind.
The negative actions of the body, speech and mind that arise from ignorance, attachment and aversion contaminate the mind with what are called mental formations or volition. This is the second of the twelve rings. The moment we create negative karma, the action itself has passed, it has ended, but it has left an imprint in our stream of consciousness that remains there until it manifests itself, in the future, as a favorable or unfavorable experience, to depending on the nature of the original action.
Continuity of mental flow underlies karmic imprints. This is the third link, consciousness. It contains the footprints and subsequently causes them to mature and manifest in the same way that the seeds are placed in the earth, becoming the cause of the growth of a crop. However, not only do the seeds need to be planted in the ground, they also require favorable conditions to develop. Cooperating causes such as water, fertilizer and so on must be present for the seeds to ripen and reach maturity.
Attachment that evolves from ignorance is a condition that favors the development of the karmic seeds sown in our continuum. Therefore attachment is the fourth link of interdependent origination.
In our mind there is also another type of attachment, called craving, which has the special function of fulfilling the karmic seeds. This is the fifth link in the chain of twelve links. It manifests itself at the end of our life and conditions the drive of karma that gives rise to our next rebirth. While both types of attachment are of the nature of desire, each has its own function. The first favors the maturation of the karmic seeds; the second brings them to fruition and connects us with our next rebirth.
Come into being
The ring is the coming into being. At the end of our life, a propellant karma arises which immediately orients us towards our future existence. This special mental action that appears in the final stage of our life is called "coming into being". These six links are generally associated with this life, although they will not necessarily manifest in this life. In particular, some situations may develop in other lives, but in most cases they belong to this life. As we approach death, our body and mind begin to weaken. The physical energy and the grosser levels of the mind dissolve until we finally enter a level of consciousness that the scriptures call the state of clear light. This is the final stage of our life, the true consciousness of death, the subtlest level of the mind. We remain in this state for a certain amount of time, then a slight movement of consciousness occurs and we enter the intermediate state: our mind shoots itself from our body and enters the bardo, the realm between death and rebirth. The intermediate state has its own body and mind, but the body is not made of the same gross elements as what we possess when we are alive. Therefore, bardo beings do not have the disgusting form that we do. The bard's body is made up of a subtle energy called "wind", which exists in a different dimension than ours. However, we should not think that this is a wonderful or a beautiful state, because it is characterized by great suffering and hardship. We suffer a total loss of free will and are driven here and there by the force of karma until we finally find an appropriate place of rebirth. Beings in this state survive thanks to smell rather than ordinary food and it is this search for food that ultimately leads them to seek rebirth. After some time spent in the bardo state, they are reborn according to their karma. There are many different realms that we can be reborn into and each of them has its own causes and conditions. For example, to be born human, our future parents must unite in sexual union, their white and red blood cells (sperm and egg) must unite and enter the womb, and so on. Then, when the bardo being, impelled by the force of his individual karma, reaches his karmically determined parents, certain circumstances arise which end the life of the bardo being, and his mind enters the joint cells of the parents. (A discussion of how modern developments such as artificial insemination, in vitro fertilization, and so on affect this traditional description of conception is beyond the scope of this book.)
The moment the wind leaves the bard's body and enters the united cells of the parents is the ring of rebirth. This is the seventh link. Mere parental union, however, is not a sufficient reason for this ring to arise. In addition, the mother's uterus must be free from obstacles that could interfere with the development of the baby; the material causes of the child's physical body, that is, the sperm and egg of the parents, must also be free from defects; and the three beings involved must have a karmic connection with each other to establish this type of father-mother-child relationship. When all these circumstances are complete, rebirth takes place.
Name and form
From the moment the ring of rebirth is established until the baby's sensory organs develop it is the eighth ring, called "name and form". The material substances that make up the sperm and the egg of the parents are "form"; the consciousness that dwells within that material base is called "name".
The six sense organs
After the baby's sense organs have reached a mature and functional state, the ninth ring, that of the six senses, is born. It is like the construction of a building where the finishing works, such as windows and doors, have been completed.
The XNUMXth link is contact. After the sense organs have evolved, they function through the sense consciousnesses to make contact with external sense objects, such as visible forms, sounds, and so on.
Contact gives rise to the eleventh link, sensation. Pleasant sensations arise from contact with pleasant objects, unpleasant sensations from unpleasant objects, and so on.
Aging and death
All of this produces the aging process, the twelfth link in the chain of interdependent origin, which ends with our death.
We are all trapped in this continuous cyclical process of birth, aging, death, in-between state and rebirth. It is not something special that only applies to a few beings or something that only happens to a few. It is a process that involves each of us. We are caught in cyclic existence and experience the twelve links in every moment of our existence. It is very important to understand this. If we become fully aware of this constant process of evolution, we will arrive at a correct realization of the problems of samsara.
By meditating on this process, we will gradually generate the sincere aspiration to achieve liberation. That aspiration is pure renunciation. However, just having this aspiration is not enough; we must make great efforts to practice the methods that lead to liberation. On the one hand, we need the help and guidance of the objects of refuge, but on our part, we must learn and practice the perfect methods that we have been taught. Through the combination of these two elements, we will achieve liberation from the sufferings of samsara.
Dimension: 76 x 62 cm.