Student’s Question: What causes the appearances of the phenomenal world?

How does energy arrange itself? What causes the appearances of the phenomenal world?

A student writes:

“I have been reading ‘The Philosopher and the Monk’ (a book by Matthieu Ricard). The question which has surfaced is – how does it come about that energy arranges itself into coherent wholes, such as human bodies and brains and all the rest of the phenomenal world? As there is no creator, by what cause does this happen?”

Lama Shenpen replies:

The traditional answer is by the forces of karma and pranidhanas (aspirational or wishing prayers) – the pranidhanas of ordinary beings and of Awakened beings. But this simply begs the question somehow. I think the question relates to what kind of universe it is that we live in anyway.

There is some creative power at work – and the only creative power we know of is Awareness itself. It creates our whole world, all our experience. It can create worlds within worlds within worlds in an instant, out of nothing and existing nowhere.

However, yours is a deep question. It asks how the creative power of our awareness relates to some kind of shared reality. Is that Awareness in some sense too? I think it must be, mustn’t it? Having got this far, where does that leave us?

It leaves us wondering at how our own creative power and the power of the shared reality relate together. The Buddhist view is that it is all powered by intention, another quality that occurs in awareness. In fact, by definition, it only occurs in awareness.

So Awareness has the power of creativity and intention and must be the nature of any shared reality that there is. So the question is – what is Awareness then? That is where the formless meditation practice comes in. It is through formless meditation that we come to understand the nature of awareness and experience.

The Buddha said that understanding this was the way to understanding everything. So I reckon that that is where to go for the answer finally – to one’s own practice of Formless Meditation.

Find out more about Formless Meditation taught in the Living the Awakened Heart Training here.