The Five Omnipresent Activites of Consciousness and the Practice of Spiritual Cultivation

According to Buddhist principles, there are five omnipresent factors of mind that are present in all mental states, no matter how refined or high or empty of functional processes they may seem. These five omnipresent mental factors include   contact (connecting an object with the mind), discrimination (distinguishing awareness), intention, attention and sensation (feeling). Even at the stage of enlightenment, where the mind seems perfectly emptied of all thought clinging, the omnipresent mental factors are still in play. They are in all states of consciousness.

When we sit meditating, we can’t quiet our mind and empty thoughts because the omnipresent factors  are everywhere. We feel our bodies due to contact. Once there’s contact there’s sensation. We feel the sensations so then discrimination, or conception comes into play.  When you empty that out a little bit, you then think everything is empty but that’s just a realm of thought, so there’s still attention there.

The big secret in the field of spiritual cultivation is that many meditations or spiritual techniques, such as prayer recitation or visualization, are designed to tie up various mental factors so that an individual can create an opportunity to see the Tao, the foundational basis of the mind free from thoughts. The whole point of the spiritual techniques is to clear the mind of extraneous events and functions so that you might catch a glimpse or realize the true nature of the mind which like a womb, gives birth to the world of conceptions.

In Zen Buddhism, for instance, a variety of techniques were developed over the centuries to tie up one or another of these omnipresent mental functions. It remains for the cognitive sciences, and neuroscience, to develop appropriate tests to see the outcome of such “tying up” when it is done at the extremely deep level required by true meditation masters. A wise individual, who understands the science, can even invent new spiritual cultivation techniques based on their cultivation understanding.


In the past, for instance, the Zen school once used a technique of having people concentrate on koans or sayings without meaning, whose purpose was to tie up the omnipresent factors of thought and discrimination. Later they were told to hold onto the saying and never let it go if they could not pierce through it, which was an expedient way to tie up contact and sensation. In telling people to study these sayings, this was in itself a way of trying to tie up intent. 

In all cases of spiritual techniques, the purpose is to help you pierce through to the foundational essence of the mind. If your mental substratum is clouded by these factors, it is hard to make the breakthrough to spiritual realization. However, by engaging in the appropriate meditation techniques with enough discipline, diligence and patience that eliminate thoughts and tie up mental factors, the opportunity can arise for the awakening to enlightened illumination. An understanding of the five omnipresent mental factors of consciousness, and how certain factors might be tied up or ignored, can help one better understand this basic spiritual trail.


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