Discussing conditioning is central to much of what I write so this advice is primarily for reference to avoid repeating myself.
Let me begin by saying there is only one conditioning process – a good contradiction to begin any spiritual discussion. Where does conditioning come in? Events happen, and we become aware of these events. Through mindfulness we process these events, and that is the end. We let go of what we process from the events through our senses – ayatana. This is what happens spiritually without conditioning being involved. But with conditioning comes attachment. The events happen, mindfulness processes but with conditioning aspects of our being attach to these events – cling to them. The full process of how an attachment comes into being (becoming) is called paticcasamuppada, here is how Buddhadasa describes that full process.
This conditioning process attaches to one of the khandhas. This happens after mindfulness has processed the ayatana but consciousness then attaches to one of the khandhas – kaya/body, vedana/feelings, sanna/memories and perceptions, and sankhara/mental processes. There are various words for these attachments. They become attached as an ego so in each person there is a collection of these egos which is sometimes called self or identity.
This process of conditioning is natural and occurs throughout our lives if we let it, but as mature adults we do have the choice of going beyond conditioning. Through the law of paticcasamuppada or otherwise, we can “intercept” the process and prevent events happening from becoming attached egos, this is what is called going beyond conditioning.
Why does this process of conditioning that can cause harm happen naturally? Because it protects us from birth, conditioning is there for survival. At birth and during our upbringing nature gives us tools called instincts which help us survive. Instinctively a baby’s love is attractive to mother love bringing a mother-child bond, similarly a bond builds with the father (I have not experienced other parental relationships so cannot describe them but they are based in instinctive love). During our upbringing other instincts come into play such as species procreation, and through these conditioning processes a human baby survives into adulthood. At this point a mature adult recognises that there has been conditioning to help them survive, lets that conditioning go, and begins to follow their path.
This conditioning survival process builds up a self or identity, a collection of egos that protects against society, but once an individual reaches maturity the individual recognises that such a self is not necessary, that it is a hindrance, and lets go of attachments. At that stage the individual is following the path nature intended. But always around the individual events are happening and conditioning can continue to happen but a mature individual must be aware of this and not allow conditioning to create new egos through paticcasamuppada; a mature individual is beyond conditioning.
So there is one natural conditioning process called paticcasamuppada. Let us examine what happens with attachment. Mindfulness processes events but sometimes the khandhas attach to these events becoming egos. These egos attached to the khandhas take on characteristics or defilements known as kilesa. These egos as kilesa also wish to survive so they use the same conditioning process to build more kilesa – more defilement. So there is one conditioning process but it takes on two forms. The first form as nature intended is that in upbringing conditioning creates a self/identity as a collection of egos for survival, but as mature adults we let go of this conditioning. The second form could be considered as kilesa conditioning. Once the kilesa have been formed, they imitate the conditioning process creating further conditioning to produce kilesa – this is the process of ongoing conditioning that exists throughout our lives, that awareness prevents from causing new attachment.
Previously I have referred to these two conditionings as natural and societal, but through tathata I want to change societal to kilesa. Through natural conditioning as mature adults we let go of the attached egos, release them, and begin to follow our paths. But the kilesa, through their own need for survival, imitate the conditioning process and attempt to increase kilesa by attaching new egos.
Buddhists recognise the formation of kilesa as being a problem in society, I have seen a Buddhist description of war as being based in greed (lobha), hatred (dosa) and delusion (moha) – central kilesa. But because Buddhism is concerned with an individual following their path, tathata does not always extend to examining how collective kilesa have manifested as institutions in society.
Bell hooks, as a writer, described society as patriarchy - imperialist, white-supremacist, capitalist patriarchy. Immediately I write this some Buddhists might show aversion for the political language, this is understandable because this aversion is intended so that we do not become mindful of the institutions of kilesa in society.
On December 15 2021, sadly bell hooks died but her works continue her. As a dedication to her I examined how the patriarchy as she described it impacted on my life – discussed here. As Buddhists how does patriarchal conditioning affect you? Zandtaomed asks you to go through a similar process of engagement (as described here) so that you can examine within yourself how kilesa have impacted on you, whether these kilesa have impacted you as patriarchy. Through this process of examining we can begin to SEE the way society is, and understand society's relationship with the kilesa. To understand conditioning it is not sufficient to simply examine the conditioning processes as how they affect us internally, but how conditioning affects what conditions us in society. Zandtaomed then described how this understanding of conditioning could help a seeker to understand through building up their own Seeker Story.
The essence of tathata is to SEE the way life is – both inner and outer. There is the unconditioned and conditioned. At birth we are born in unconditional love, and throughout life we can become conscious of this love if we let go of our conditioning. That is one view of the path, tathata helps us to SEE that. Here tathata sees the process of conditioning as paticcasamuppada, and suggests SEEing that process as dual conditioning – the natural conditioning of upbringing and the societal conditioning of kilesa with all its implications. Following the dedication process and building a Seeker Story are ways to help your tathata SEE.