There is an old Buddhist saying that you can never enter the same stream twice. This seems kind of odd to the uninitiated especially if you swam in a river or stream often as a kid, so what do we mean here? We have two Buddhist terms that I would like to introduce and discuss here in relation to the steam. The first is impermanence this is understood that everything is in a constant state of change and the second is “dependent arising”. Impermanence is simple and covered in detail here, but dependent arising can be a bit complex. Let’s use the following example of a stream to discover the meaning in dependent arising. We have a stream flowing past us the fresh cool water is clean and clear. As the water flows by it erodes the banks of the stream in some places and deposits the eroded earth in others, it changes constantly. When our stream meets another stream and the two merge and flow on together, soon we have a river. Then at the end of the long river, we often have all the sand or earth carried by the river deposited in the delta where the main river once again divides into smaller streams as it slowly meets the ocean. Once the river has merged with the ocean a new process takes over as the water evaporates into the air becomes clouds and falls back to the earth as rain to be collected by the stream once again. This natural environmental cycle is dependent arising constant and ever-changing based on the impermanence of the surrounding conditions. One part of the process depends on the other and when seen as a whole there is no beginning or end to be found. Take one part out and nothing exists. No start or creation point is then necessary.
“At first practice is like a river rushing through a gorge. In the middle, it’s the river Ganges, smooth and flowing. In the end, it’s where all rivers meet, mother and child.” Tilopa Ganges Mahamudra.
It is here where we realise Dzogrim or that we are a drop of water in the whole ocean.
It is like this that we can understand our own existence here on earth one big cycle of ever-changing conditions and we can never be the same person twice like we can never enter the same stream or river twice. How do we compare to the river, certainly we are more complex? Here modern science would have to include our store consciousness, that is the sum of all the knowledge, thoughts, and actions we have ever encountered or our stream or consciousness. William James in “Principals of Psychology” used the phrase, stream of consciousness, to describe an unbroken flow of perceptions, thoughts, and feelings in the waking mind.
Buddhist theory calls our store consciousness “Alaya” this is the sum of all our experiences or our karma from all our lives since beginningless time. This Alaya is constantly mixing and interacting with our new life situation. Based on previous actions we decide the new course of action and we cycle through our existence without beginning or end just like the water in the stream. We are never the same person from each moment of mind to the next. The point here is clear we are the result of our actions and ideas, we should be more responsible.
This quote from the physicist Böhm sums it up quite nicely:
“I would say that in my scientific and philosophical work, my main concern has been with understanding the nature of reality in general and of consciousness in particular as a coherent whole, which is never static or complete but which is an unending process of movement and unfoldment….”
D. Bohm, _Wholeness and the Implicate Order_, p.ix
The coherent whole is his comparison for the cycle of dependent arising that is never static or complete. And the unending movement of the river unfolds slowly as new conditions arise in mind.
Modern neuroscientists cannot find the mechanism of how our vast knowledge or memory is stored and then recalled, there are theories but none that are generally agreed upon. There is evidence that certain areas of the brain are associated with certain types of memory but the mechanism is unknown and much of what we know is based on the theory from one man Henry Molaison who has his complete hippocampus removed. After the removal, Henry could not form new long term memories. While this part of the brain certainly plays an important role in memory there is no proof of the storage processes in the brain then the storage could be somewhere else. Just my thoughts but the hippocampus is rather small to store all those memories. Not to mention it’s removal prevented new memories from being formed. The memories formed prior to the operation were still there, showing that the hippocampus is not the storage location.
Alaya has no specific location it is said to be non-local, or more simply said, space is information, omnipresent or everywhere, like energy. It’s simple and beautiful think of it as a cosmic conscious internet or quantum network, flowing through the universe everywhere and always new. Our entire being changing with every new situation and experience. Like always in Buddhism, this responsibility is our own to decide what direction we take, ask yourself do you want a comedy or tragedy today? The choice and answer is clear, are they not?