The Truth - Summary
Now let's summarize: Consciousness does not possess the ability to be aware, nor does anything else have this ability. The contents of knowledge are also not the things themselves. Both consciousness and the content of knowledge are merely new phenomena produced when the senses interact with objects. It's like when wood burns, and a flame forms in the air.
Although the flame is produced by the wood, it does not exist within the wood before burning, and it doesn't persist in a specific location after burning. During the process of burning, the flame appears in various shapes and colors, different from the wood itself. These shapes and colors are products of various conditions coming together. Any of these conditions can influence the flame's shape and color, but the flame does not reflect the appearance of any of these conditions. It is entirely independent and entirely new.
Our consciousness possesses this very characteristic. Although it is produced by the interaction of the senses with objects, it does not exist before its arising, and it does not persist afterward. When consciousness arises, it and its contents do not reflect any other thing; consciousness is just consciousness itself, independent and brand new. So, rather than saying it's our senses or consciousness that cognize things, it's more accurate to say that the senses and objects create a completely new world of consciousness, and this consciousness is everything we know. This includes everything we currently see, hear, smell, taste, touch, think, and even this article we're reading.
But this doesn't mean the world is entirely mental, just as when we watch a movie in a theater, we only see the light reflected by the screen. Still, we cannot say that the movie itself is just a beam of light. Similarly, even though we only know consciousness, it doesn't mean the entire world consists only of consciousness. In fact, the senses, objects, and consciousness are interdependent and co-arise. If any one of them disappears, the other two cannot persist. It's like light, heat, and a flame or three sticks forming a tripod when put together. All of these are new phenomena generated by various conditions, interacting and continually arising. This is what the ancient enlightened ones truly meant by "dependent origination."
The term "dependent origination" doesn't mean that putting two sticks together creates chopsticks, or that wood and boards combined create a table because these are just names given to combinations; they don't create new entities. The real "dependent origination" is about the emergence of new phenomena, like wood and oxygen combining to create a flame, drumstick striking a drumhead producing sound waves, the eye and light interacting creating visual perception, and so on.
In the scientific community, it's widely believed that material in the universe is independent, and consciousness is independent. The material world existed before life emerged, and in occasional cases, matter formed life, which through evolution gave rise to consciousness. If the material world were to experience a major disaster one day, life could vanish, and the universe could return to a state of pure matter. However, if someone understands what I've described earlier, they'd realize that the world we know is actually created by matter and the senses together. Whether matter disappears or the senses vanish, the corresponding world also disappears. It's like the shadow left on the ground when sunlight shines on a tall tree. If the sunlight vanishes or the tree disappears, the shadow also vanishes. This is what the ancient enlightened ones meant by "dependent origination and cessation."
These are the foundational workings of the world. When there are senses and objects, there is consciousness. When consciousness arises, corresponding sensations, thoughts, mental processes, and cognition arise. When there are no senses or objects, there is no consciousness, and the corresponding sensations, thoughts, mental processes, and cognition do not arise.
When people truly recognize that consciousness arises from the interaction of the senses and objects, they won't see the world as either illusory or real. Instead, by observing thought from the perspective of "when this arises, that arises; when this ceases, that ceases," they can remove doubt, further discover the complete truth of this world, enhance true wisdom, eliminate ignorance, and embark on the path to genuine liberation.