Abhidhamma Post #3

Abhidhamma Post #3:
If you were to go into the task manager of your computer, you would see an idle proceeds running. This is necessary to keep the computer operating system running when it is not in use. If your machine is on, this process will be active whether you are running a large program or not.. Even when your machine is working hard and showing you a video, or a 3d graphic game, the idle process is still working in-between the time it shows you the video frames. Go ahead and check! Run a video and task manager at the same time. Click on CPU usage to sort by percent of processor time and be sure to show processes for all users (system). Idle will be in the high nineties and VLC (video playback program) and the other processes will take up the remainder, depending on how old your computer is. In other words, your computer is yawning most of the time…even while playing a video!

Remember, single processor computer "systems" only do one thing at a time. It is hard to imagine your computer literally "yawning" between each frame, but it does. You will see percentage points given to to each process which shows how much time is allocated to each program that is running. Time allocation means just that. It spends a percentage of its processor time to do a task (and switches very fast between the other applications). It needs to do this really fast so it can appear like it is doing many things at once, like show your mouse moving, display your keyboard pecks, or copy a file from a USB disk. That is why we call them, multitasking operating systems. In the olden days, we had only interrupts IRQ's to allow for hardware peripheral input in MS-DOS. The Abhidhamma says the mind also has an interrupt function for the senses. Isn't that cool?

Your car has an idle process too. It is there to keep your car from stalling. The idle process keeps your engine alive.

The mind is the same way. In Abhidhamma, we have an idle process. It is called Bhavanga or Life Continuum. That is because it keeps your mind going while it is not working. Otherwise you will die. I will refer to it as an Idle Process in this article, but please remember the name based on the function of it keeping a car's engine alive. This Idle Process of the mind is most active when you are in a deep sleep. But like a computer, it also allows for other mental processes to interrupt it. This idle process is always working, of course only in-between each process. As you might remember, The Abhidhamma says the mind only does one thing at a time.

The Idle Process's duration is special. Unlike other mental processes like seeing, hearing, anger or love, the idle process happens in-between every consciousness cycle. Except for the mind of samadhi, these mind cycles can only last for a brief and limited number of mind moments: seventeen to be specific. Even with today's fastest supercomputer, the mind is faster. Gigahertz means one billion computer moments per second. So even by using a slow 1GHz PC as an example, we can imagine that Seventeen is not so much time at all. After a count of seventeen, it Idles or sleeps. So, the idle process happens very often.

Do you follow all of this? OK go back to the picture of the task manager and look at how much CPU is spent on System Idle and VLC. The mind is similar and spends most of its processor time in idle! Do you believe this about your mind? Of course it is difficult to believe, but it is also difficult to believe your computer is yawning while you are watching a video too! Do you remember the real name? "The car idle keeps the engine alive…"yes…Life Continuum.

Mental Exercise
Sit down with your eyes closed and try to let your mind rapidly switch back and forth between all of the different feelings from your body that arise, and the different sounds the ears hear. Then imagine a Bhavanga or Idle Process in-between each of these rapid moments, just like you would focus on an empty spot in-between a rotating fan. Then slowly let your mind focus on that Idle process in-between the sensory noise. Stay there for a few moments and then go back to the sensory noise and repeat.

One more thing.
The Object of Consciousness
The very first Idle Process of your life is present in the second moment after you are conceived. Every mind has an object, and so does the Idle Process.
What is object of consciousness? If you have eye consciousness while looking at a candle, a color object will be the object of that consciousness. Hearing a baby cry will have a split millisecond of an "audible blip" as the object of hearing consciousness. Got it?

The object of the Idle Process is very subtle. It is your resting process and this object will remain the same for your Idle Process until the day you die. Likewise, the very first and final mind moment of your life will also contain this object too. This mind is very subtle, so most people do not notice it until they become advanced meditators.

I will end here, but I wanted to let you know this idea I had.
According to Abhidhamma, your Idle Process not only keeps you alive but the object of this consciousness has the reason why you are alive! It is my personal belief that this Idle Process equates to a proper subconscious equivalent, but much deeper than Freudian Psychology. Some who figure out what the object is unknowingly and flow with it, may call it "God's Plan," "It's my calling." "It's my purpose."

Whatever they want to call it, it is inside their Idle Process. However, since it is a process that sleeps, quite often the object will end up being

Your life long dream!

It is most obvious with those who are the best in their field, whether music, sports, preaching, teaching, science, acting, corporate business, who all swear they are doing what they are meant to be doing. This is because their subconscious confirms this in-between every consciousness cycle. These people are tapping into and flowing with their own stream of Idle Consciousness, their Life Continuum, their purpose.
This would be another subject called Dependent Origination.

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References and Notes:
Narada, Manual of Abhidhamma p188 to 191.

Previous Abhidhamma Posts:
(with reference links)
Abhidhamma Post #1

Abhidhamma Post #2

Computer Note: My knowledge of computer systems does not go much beyond the late 90's. However, a basic OS class that every Computer Science student must take explains some of these principles. Low level NT architecture seems to be the the same or similar today as before. Lastly, this does not take into account for multi-core processors. Multi-threading on a single processor machine is still one at a time. The purpose is to explain Abhidhamma and not computers, though they are relatable and help explain what goes on in the mind from another viewpoint which can be understood and inspected by the reader.

a quote from Idle (CPU) from Wikipedia.
"Most operating systems will display an idle task, which is a special task loaded by the OS scheduler only when there is nothing for the computer to do. The idle task can be hard-coded into the scheduler, or it can be implemented as a separate task with the lowest possible priority. An advantage of the latter approach is that programs monitoring the system status can see the idle task along with all other tasks; an example is Windows NT's System idle process."

Article by Bhikkhu Subhuti

Bhikkhu Subhuti is an American Buddhist Monk with roots in both Sri Lanka and Myanmar Forest Traditions. He currently resides in Myanmar but his heart sometimes floats back to Kauai, HI where he spent six months in 2015.