2.4 The eight consciousnesses – how to distinguish between Namshe & Yeshe
The fourth point helps us understand how to distinguish between the deluded state of mind and liberation:
Deluded mind consists of the eight impure groups of consciousness. The essence of that abides as the pure foundation. In order to indicate the suchness of that, the term 'mind itself' is used
The All-knowing Rangjung held that the eight groups are the five sense consciousness
the mental consciousness, afflictive mind and the foundation consciousness.
Since the 'instaneous mind' conditions all of those,
when counted together, there is also held to be nine groups.
The sutras mention many terms such as 'appropriating consciousness', 'deluded mind', 'cognitive obscuration' and 'foundation consciousness'.
Since it is taught that the instrinsic nature of the foundation is virtue,
it is essentially self-liberated Buddha nature.
It is not the foundation itself that is removed, but it abides as the foundation of what is removed.
The eight groups of consciousness consist of the six consciousnesses of the senses (the consciousnesses of seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, touching and knowing), the ego consciousness or afflicted mind (the sense of holding on to the aggregates as 'me', self-cherishing, holding on to a self) and the most subtle level of consciousness, the alaya or foundation, what is called the 'basic consciousness'. From the Buddhist point of view, everything is momentary and a product of causes and conditions. One moment of consciousness brings out the next moments of consciousness. Each of these moments of consciousness leaves its imprint on our very subtle basic consciousness, in the alaya, which constitutes the basis on which the next moments of consciousness arises. This is why it is called kun shi (kun gshyi), which means the foundation of all. The alaya is the consciousness that causes this moment of consciousness, then again the next moment of consciousness and so on.
Many different names can be found in the sutras for the impure consciousness, like 'appropriating consciousness', the 'foundation consciousness', or the deluded mind., The ‘appropriating consciousness’, len pe nam par she pa in Tibetan, is the ‘taking’ or ‘grasping’, consciousness, what makes the imprint of the last consciousness on the basic consciousness. 'Cognitive obscuration' is sometimes wrongly translated as the obscuration of knowledge. In Buddhism, wetalk about two obscurations: the obscuration of the mind poisons or the afflictive emotions, and what is sometimes translated as the obscuration of knowledge. In Tibetan, it is sheje drip pa (shes bja'i sgrib pa). Sheja means ‘knowable’, everything that is knowable. So sheje drip pa means the obscuration of everything that is knowable. It has nothing to do with knowledge. Sheje drip pa, cognitive obscuration, is an equivalent of kun shi nam she (kun gshyi rnam shes), the foundation consciousness or the base on which the deluded mind arises. These are different names for the same thing.
Another thing is mentioned here, the 'instantaneous mind', de ma tha yi (de ma thag yid), which together with the other consciousnesses form nine groups. De ma tha means ‘just then’ or ‘instantaneous' and yi means ‘mind’. There are different ways of defining what it is. Sometimes it is defined as what happens just after the sixth sense. I see something for instance; and just after that I say, “Oh, I see it.”: that is de ma tha yi. In Vajrayana, it is described as the main mental factor or one of the main mental factors that bring delusion. We designate with it and then hold on to what we have labelled, “Oh, this is what I see, this is that, this is this.” This particular function of the mind is sometimes categorised as a group of consciousness on its own, and that’s why texts sometimes talk about the nine groups or the nine consciousnesses. Otherwise it is regarded as 'the disturbance', a factor in the disturbing mind that is not counted as a separate element, but which is very important in creating the delusion because it is what labels our experience in terms of 'this is the see-er and this is what is seen.' This instantaneous mind, this is sometimes described as the ‘mind factor’ that energises or creates the reactions. Therefore it is sometimes compared to the wind that creates bubbles or waves on the water. When wind is there, there certainly will be waves and in the same way, when this instantaneous consciousness is there, there will be reactions like aversion and attachment. Although it is a very subtle thing, a very subtle consciousness, it is a very important factor. In the Mahamudra teachings, it is said that when this mind factor ceases or is understood, then it is very easy to clearly see the un-deluded, non-dualistic state of mind. Without freeing ourselves from this mind factor, it is impossible.
What is mentioned here in the text is very important. There are two things: the deluded mind and its pure foundation. “The essence that abides as the pure foundation.” The essence of the eight impure groups of consciousness, is a pure foundation. The nature of our mind is manifesting naturally, like the light or the sun is radiating, but as the most subtle part of our consciousness, which is called the alaya, is unclear, murky and lacks awareness, then when the first cognition or awareness comes up, we don't recognise it. It is like when we have not completely woken up, we are still half-asleep. We have some sort of awareness of things happening but we are not totally clear and misunderstand it. In the same way, when the clarity of our mind manifests, we perceive it as something that is out there and, consequently, we assume that there is an observer. We see things in a dualistic way with an observer and an observed experience. This duality creates our whole samsaric way of reacting.
This basic unclarity of the consciousness is the alaya. But when it becomes clear, it’s not something different. When we sit down in meditation and let our mind settle down, we first get an experience of the alaya: our mind is very peaceful, we get a cosy and nice feeling but our mind is not very clear. It is very difficult to go through this experience of the alaya. Nevertheless, if we bring more and more awareness, make ourselves more alert, we can go through or past it and experience what is generally described as the complete clearing of all clouds. It's like complete daylight, with the sun shining brightly – although it’s not 'seeing' something clearly, but just an experience of complete clarity. That is what is called the pure foundation. The pure foundation is our real true buddha nature, what we sometimes call sems nyid. We distinguish between two things, sems and sems nyid. In Tibetan sems means the mind, which is not just the thinking mind, but the whole of our experience. And sems nyid, is 'mind itself', which is the pure foundation we are talking about. Nyid is a word which means ‘itself’, or ‘that-ness’. Sems nyid, the ‘suchness of the mind’. It is also sometimes called rigpa in Dzogchen, the pristine awareness. This is expressed in the sentence “In order to indicate suchness of that, the term mind itself is used.”
The ‘all-knowing Rangjung’ is Rangjung Dorje, the Third Karmapa.
The text goes on:
Since it is taught that the intrinsic nature of the foundation is virtue, it is essentially self-liberated buddha nature.
It is not the foundation itself that is removed, but it abides as the foundation of what is removed.
The intrinsic, real or absolute nature of the foundation consciousness is not deluded. It’s called here ‘virtue’, but although ge wa (dge ba) is usually translated as ‘virtue’, it can also be translated as ‘pure’. There’s nothing impure, nothing deluded, nothing stained in it and therefore its real nature is virtue. What we now experience are the eight deluded consciousnesses, but they are just the way we experience things in a distorted way. When we try to analyse the mind and find out whether there is anything in it that we can take hold of, we cannot find anything, and that's why the essence of mind is emptiness. Nevertheless, although nobody can really pinpoint at or hold on to anything as being the mind, although nobody can catch it and put it into a cage, there is also a very clear awareness. This clarity is the nature of mind. And the mind's manifestation is unceasing. It never stops - because it’s clarity manifesting – and nothing can stop it because there is nothing substantial that could be stopped. This clear and aware nature of our consciousness is the intrinsic, un-deluded foundation that is sometimes called de shin shek pe nying po (de bzhin zhegs pa’i snying po), the buddha nature or ‘tathagatagarbha’. In the Sutras, it’s called ‘tathagatagarbha’, the buddha nature, whereas another terminology is found in the Tantras, namely lhen chik chie pe yeshe (lhan cik skyes pa'i ye shes), the ‘co-emergent wisdom’.
We perceive the natural manifestations of our clear mind in a deluded way, in the same way that a person mistakes a rope for a snake. There has never been any snake. The snake only exists in our imagination. When we are shown that we were mistaken and we see the rope as a rope, the rope does not suddenly come to existence. It has always been there. Nevertheless, when we realize the truth, our fear vanishes. And although we perceive things in a deluded way, there is nothing really wrong with us: our nature is not stained or damaged. This is why it is said that we have actually never been deluded from the point of view of our very nature. The delusion and the stains are superficial and temporary.
We shouldn't understand this as if first we all were absolutely clear and enlightened, and then we later somehow became deluded. It’s not like that. We have been deluded right from the beginning because the very moment we perceive things, we don't understand how they manifest and our way of seeing is deluded. We never understood exactly how things were and, in a way, we were deluded right from the beginning. This is why we also talk about the co-emergent ignorance, len chik chie pe marigpa (lhen cik skyes pa'i ma rig pa). It is important to understand this because the question everybody asks is, 'When did we get deluded?' It is impossible to give an answer to this question. We cannot say that we were deluded from a specific point in time. In a way we are never deluded, and at the same time we have been deluded right from the beginning, or 'from time without beginning' as is also mentioned in the text. It’s not that we first knew, and then forgot. We never knew. We never understood the right way. I am always looking for an example that would help you understand this. Our delusion is not something that actually exists: we are in a samsaric state of mind because we do not realise the real nature of things.
So therefore it is said,
So for instance, the eight consciousness groups are like a variegated rope
that is perceived as a snake, though that is not its true character:
from the very first moment of this delusion it was itself essentially empty.
It is from beginningless time that coemergent ignorance has obscured true nature.
I have just mentioned this co-emergent ignorance. It is what obscures the real true nature of our clear consciousness.
For example, the clear and limpid aspect of a mirror is the buddha nature,
and the tarnish on it is the foundation consciousness,
also called cognitive obscuration or coemergent ignorance.
Like the coat of tarnish, the foundation consciousness wears the collection of habitual patterns, the obscuration of afflictive emotions.
Our buddha nature is compared to a very clear and limpid mirror. The tarnish that appears on the mirror is like the foundation consciousness. It’s also called ‘cognitive obscuration’, or co-emergent ignorance. As it is what prevents us from becoming enlightened, it’s called ‘cognitive obscuration'. On top of this initial layer come more coats of tarnish with theso called ‘afflictive emotions’ or nyön mongs drip pa (nyon mong sgrib pa) in Tibetan.. The initial tarnish causes a lack of clarity and therefore all sorts of emotions, habitual patterns and misunderstandings accumulate. This ‘obscuration of afflictive emotions’ corresponds to the mind poisons. These two afflictions that arise due to our being incapable of seeing clearly the pure nature of our mind are what prevent us from getting liberated from samsara.
From the Buddhist point of view, our consciousnesses, what we call the mind, is a very enlightened experience in its essence. It is naturally enlightened, naturally very clear. It sees through everything, it has limitless wisdom. What we call the five wisdoms are the natural characteristics of our basic mind. But although the true, real, original or un-deluded nature of our mind has these qualities, this radiance, we don’t understand it and the way we experience things is instead very limited. That limitedness is what we call the ‘alaya’. There are many different ways of calling and presenting it, but the foundation mind, or the foundation ignorance, or whatever you call it, is this limitedness. This restricted way of perceiving prevents us from experiencing our full potential. It clouds our experience of the five wisdoms, whereby these five wisdoms turn into what we call ‘five mind poisons’. Sometimes it is said that these five mind poisons (anger, attachment, pride, jealousy and ignorance) can be transformed into the five wisdoms. In fact, it's not that through doing something with the five mind poisons they then become five wisdoms. They naturally are the five wisdoms. The five mind poisons are, as it were, the deluded version of the five wisdoms, but once the delusion is cleared, we see that they are the five wisdoms.
In order to better understand this, a much longer and more elaborate explanation would be needed. In a nutshell, what the author explains here is that, if we go beyond or through the eight aspects of our consciousness and discover that the nature of our basic fundamental consciousness is the union of emptiness and clarity, the more clearly we see or experience it, the more we get enlightened. In the traditional way, we wouldn’t call it enlightenment, but in English we don’t have a word to identify each specific stage, so we have to use ‘enlightenment’ for all of them. I think there’s no other way, but there are different stages of clarity. Attaining even the first level of clarity is enough to bring the end of our suffering. And when this experience is completely clear, we are a Buddha.
The essentially empty nature of consciousness is identified as the self, and objective reality is projected onto its luminous aspect.
Our mind has these two aspects of emptiness and clarity. But when they manifest, we misinterpret them, because our mind is slightly stained or limited. The nature of our mind is like a clear mirror, and if one looks in a clear mirror, one sees everything directly and exactly as it is. However, the mirror of our mind is a little smudgy, as if there was condensation on it. Therefore we don’t see things clearly and the empty nature is mistaken for a self whereas the clarity aspect is understood as something ‘out there’. This is how duality appears.
Sometimes it is explained like this: when I see something, because an experience of seeing is there, I assume that there must be a seer. From the Buddhist point of view, the seer is only an assumption. Because an experience of seeing goes on, we think that there must be somebody who is seeing, "I" am the seer. Therefore there are two aspects: someone who sees and something that is seen. However, when we look deeply at what happens, we understand that the seeing is a process. There is only the natural empty clarity of our mind but we divide it into a subject and an object. As long as we perceive the world in this dual way, all the reactions of aversion, attachment and ignorance naturally happen. What I see is out there becomes either good, indifferent, or bad for me. Duality is the base on which our samsaric way of reacting develops. When we understand that perceptions are a process with actually no separate subject and object, then we understand the nature of things.
The text continues to explain how our mistaken perception takes place:
The instantaneous mind moves the six consciousness groups and causes the meeting of object and organ.
Through nothing other than mind itself, the appearance of duality predominates.
For example when the eye perceives a form,
although there is no form outside of the eye consciousness,
the luminous aspect is mistaken for form and the empty aspect for the organ.
We need to clarify this a little. When we experience a form, which is what is grasped, there is the grasper who feels, ‘I, this is me, I am seeing a form’. But when we look deeply into the process of our perception, the object we see in our mind is not the object that we have seen with our eyes. Because when we see the object in our mind, it is a reflection in our mind and the experience to our eye is already gone, we are seeing a past object. It may be just one moment or two moments ago, but still it’s a past object that’s in your mind. So in fact we never see the actual object, we only see its reflection in our mind. It may be a little similar to when we look at the stars: some of the stars that we can see now may already have disappeared because, due to the distance and the speed of light, what we see is not the stars as they are now, but the light they emitted a long, long time ago. We see an image, a reflection of what they were in the past. So it’s similar. When we see a thing and say, ‘Oh I see that’ but actually what I see is not the object but its reflection in our mind. So both the perceiver and the perceived object are created by our mind. That’s how our mental way of functioning does not exactly perceive things as they are but in a slightly deluded, distorted way.
Then it says,
The instantaneous mind function coalesces the process:
eye consciousness originally arises undeluded, free of concept,
but instantaneously it is suppressed and the feeling of duality arises,
and with it the mental sixth consciousness.
Experiencing happiness, suffering, or neutrality,
the discriminations of attachment, aversion, and ignorance arise, and this is the afflictive mind.
Then through rejection or acceptance, the foundation consciousness is imprinted
with the accumulation of karmic action, also called formation.
When the sixth mind is counted together with the instantaneous mind,
perceiving externally with the five senses, it is the object;
when the afflictive mind functions with the instantaneous mind,
directed inwards, it leaves habitual patterns in the foundation.
Left there, the karma abides without effect, as unavoidable potential until it ripens.
This explains the process of how the deluded mind, the samsaric mind, arises. This is often taught in the Vajrayana. It is a description of the subtle five aggregates, and of three processes called 'appearance, increase and attainment’ in the Tantras.
So, when my eyes see a form, the first moment of perception, the direct perception, is what is generally called tog dral ma trul chie (rtog bral ma 'khrul skye), which means ‘undeluded and non-conceptual perception’. When for instance the eye looks at this thangka, the eye takes in everything that is in the thangka. It’s like a photograph, it sees everything without discrimination. That time is ma trul wa, not deluded, just as it is, and also it is non-conceptual. The eye doesn't comment it’s good, it’s bad, it’s right, or it’s wrong. It’s just direct perception. That perception, that awareness is called the ‘first awareness’. It corresponds to the subtle aggregate of form and to nang wa, 'appearance', in the Vajrayana terminology.
Then, when that first undeluded appearance comes, it is disturbed by the instantaneous mind, which says, “Oh, this is like this, this is like that. Oh, it is a thangka”. And then the feelings and concepts arise, “This is a nice thangka and I like it. But this part is not so nice and I dislike it. That is the second one, 'increase' or whatever you call it. The Tibetan word 'che pa' means something like ‘spreading’, you know like fire spreads in the forest. So in the same way our mental activities, the chain reactions kind of go ‘wham!’, out of control. That corresponds to the subtle aggregates of feeling and perception.
The concepts and feelings then give rise to perceptions that intensify to give rise to the seventh consciousness or afflictive mind, nyön yi in Tibetan. Because of this, we make distinctions like, ‘this is not good, this is good,’ and we start grasping at things with strong attachment, aversion and ignorance. We create karma by making this imprint of aversion and attachment on our basic consciousness. Karma is an imprint that becomes an habitual tendency of pattern. And because karma has now been created, all the conditions are now there to have a next moment of similar experiences. It's like a conditioning, it influences the way in which we perceive things. The imprint on our basic consciousness is kept until the conditions make it possible for it to arise again, to reflect again as a form. That is what we call the attainment or tog pa. It corresponds to the fourth subtle aggregate. However, as the imprint comes out as a form through the arising of the wind of formation, it also corresponds to the form aggregate. Actually, all these are not separate but very much inter-related. The five aggregates of this moment create the next moment of the five aggregates. From the Buddhist point of view, a person, a samsaric being, is these five aggregates. It is a formula describing how the whole process of our continuum is taking shape and going on.
These three stages, called appearance, increasing and attainment in the Vajrayana terminology, describe how the mind creates delusion, or the samsaric reactions. So therefore, when these three are reversed, we cease to react in a samsaric way. That is important to understand.
So that was the fourth point, how to differentiate between the wisdom and the ordinary mind activities, between yeshe and namshe.
You said at the beginning that the completion stage is only one or two lines and that we have to learn from somebody else the instruction on how to do it. Does that mean we need a special teacher to give us secret teachings?
No, no. In the sadhanas, the completion phase is only mentioned very briefly, if at all. ‘Sadhana’ means a practice book. The sadhanas of for instance Chenrezig, Tara or Chakrasamvara are practice books explaining mostly how to practise the creation stage, how to visualize, make offerings and all different kinds of things. But you won’t find much about the completion stage in it. You will just find one ‘instruction’, usually at the end, saying: ‘now do the completion stage meditation’ or ‘dissolve’ or something like that, which means that you can’t learn how to do the completion stage from the text of the sadhana itself. You have to learn it in other ways, like through the Mahamudra teachings for instance. All the teachings on emptiness, those leading to the View, to different levels of the View, explaining how to try and see the true nature of things, are actually related to it. Especially the Mahamudra, Dzogchen and all the Middle Path teachings, like Nagarjuna’s, are all actually completion stage teachings.
I am a little confused about the difference between the seventh consciousness, the afflictive consciousness, and the ninth consciousness, the instantaneous aspect that we spoke about. What is exactly the difference between these two?
I think they are more or less the same. The seventh is more like self-cherishing. It is like the concept of an ego, of an‘I’ holding onto something. The ninth is more like a force. It’s described here as the wind that disturbs the ocean and creates waves. In a way, it creates reactions like aversion, attachment and things like that. It labels: ‘This is it, this is that, this is like this, this is like that’, producing what we usually call the ‘mental factors’ (like the fourth aggregate, the mental factor). It designates things and therefore it’s very important because it's what brings all the reactions. So when I see a thangka, first I see it and then I say, “Oh, this is a thangka.” Then I remark “It's a nice thangka, it's not a nice thangka, what thangka is it?” All these comments come up. Then, “Oh, I like it, I want it." Or "I don’t like it, I don’t want this." Aversion and attachment arise at this point. In itself there is nothing wrong in perceiving something, but it brings lots of reactions. Maybe you can even call it ‘concepts’.
When we realise the nature of mind, all this delusion and obstruction vanish but will they grow up again?
Once it has vanished, it doesn’t come back again. When you see that what you mistook for a snake is in fact a rope, you will never see the rope as a snake again, and your fear will have vanished once and for all. In the same way it is said that once you see the true nature and get out of the samsaric state of mind, you can’t fall back into it because your understanding is perfectly clear.
So this is enlightenment?
I don't understand very well the difference between the cognitive obscuration and the obscuration of the afflictive emotions. Does one originate from the other or are they separate?
The cognitive obscuration is very subtle. The obscuration of afflictive emotions comprises anger, aversion, attachment and all those strong emotions. They are much grosser. Even when one has eliminated anger, fear, attachment and all the other emotions, one can still have some cognitive obscuration, because it’s very subtle. It's a subtle kind of distortion that prevents us from becoming totally enlightened. Once we got rid of the afflictive emotional obscuration, we are liberated from sufferings, we no longer remain in samsara, but we are not yet fully enlightened buddhas.
In Buddhism, we talk of five paths or stages. The first is the ‘accumulation’ stage. When we are in the accumulation stage, we practise, we do positive things, we try to understand, we meditate. We are very busy accumulating merits and wisdom. The second stage is called the ‘joining’ stage. Having reached the highest level of the accumulation stage, we come to a point where we are absolutely sure about the true nature, although it’s not yet a direct experience. The third is called the ‘seeing’ stage, and that is the point where we get rid of the afflictive emotions. We directly see the true nature and get rid of our negative emotions. At that moment, we are no longer in samsara. We are no longer samsaric beings. We can say that we have reached a state of realization but we are not fully enlightened like a Buddha. From that stage, we have to work through the ten bhumis to progressively get rid of the cognitive obscuration. Even at the level of the tenth bhumi, there’s still a trace of cognitive obscuration. It is only when we become a Buddha that this cognitive obscuration is completely eliminated. It takes a long time. It is sometimes compared to washing a cloth. When you first wash a cloth, the majority of the dirt is gone in a few minutes. But the little, small stains persist. They are very small, but they are there, and one really has to put lots of efforts and soap to rub them out.
But didn’t you say that enlightenment is just like, you see it one day and then that’s it, finished…? And now it looks like there are so many levels?”
There are different levels of clarity. It is said that we can see it, but in many different ways. The moon is often given as an example. If the moon is veiled by clouds, we still see it in a way, but only as a bright spot in the cloud. If the clouds are very thin, then we really see the moon, but in a hazy, not very clear way. Sometimes also we can see the moon in a clear sky, only a sliver is visible. It is only when the full moon appears in a clear sky that we can say that we see it completely. It’s a little bit like that.
If I understand correctly, ordinary beings go through this process of ignorance but there are special people who have a superior kind of devotion and don't need to go through all these processes. So what happens to them ?
No, what is being said is that some people who have a very great devotion can experience the wisdom just through devotion. There are some rare cases of people who can get the understanding and experience wisdom without going through the usual process of understanding and teachings. They may not have a deep understanding, they may not have received the whole teachings and studied them step by step, but they get something like a direct mind to mind transmission. In some cases this is possible. But this is not talking about going through the experience of samsara and nirvana, this is talking about how to work on the path. There are two ways of working on the path. One is through study and practice; the other is, in very rare cases, just through devotion. And of course, there is also study and practice on the path of devotion, but they are in the form of a teacher's instruction. So the teacher gives you an instruction, like, “You just visualise Dorje Sempa in front of you and recite the mantra.” So, you have full faith and you just visualise Dorje Sempa and recite the mantra, and sometimes you can get realisation in this way. But most people, ordinary people, would wonder what it means, what they are doing, why they must visualize a white Buddha that is just their own creation, why they have to add more delusion to their already deluded mind. They may also wonder whether they are doing it right or wrong, or whether they are doing something useful by meditating like that. Then it doesn’t work. If we react like that, then we need to understand more, to go into the teachings, to learn how and why and what is what. We have to understand why we do all these complicated things. When we have learned and understood a little more, then when we do the Dorje Sempa practice or any other practice, we have no problem because we know why, for what purpose we are doing this and how it is affecting our whole being.
So there are two approaches. One is to understand first, get the background information and then get more confidence. With that confidence, we can do the practice without encountering problems. The second approach is a kind of short cut. We ask somebody, a Lama or a person we totally trust, “Please tell me what to do”, and then we apply this instruction. If we really trust, sometimes it works, but there is a danger that if we get doubts and waver, then it won’t work. Then you have to go the hard way. That’s the idea.
It is said that a long time ago in India, a great master who's name I don’t remember instructed one of his disciples go down and stay in a small hut and meditate, visualizing himself with a big horn on his head. So the disciple stayed there, visualizing himself with a big horn on his head. Many days passed, and then one day the master went down to the hut and called his student. “Hey, come on out.” The student replied, “I’m sorry but I can’t come out because my horns are in the way.” The master went in and looked, and saw for himself the big huge horn on the student’s head, and how he couldn’t come out because of that. I think he had given him a test. Knowing that his student could really do it, he then gave him real instructions.
The fifth point is how the wisdom consciousness, the pure foundation consciousness (kun shi yeshe in Tibetan), develops its qualities, or how enlightenment is accomplished.
Habitual patterns of totally pure virtue cannot be accumulated
as imprints on the foundation consciousness.
In this case, the afflictive mind becomes the fully purified mind,
and since that is the remedy, virtue is imprinted on pristine wisdom.
We have already said that all the negative imprints of the eight consciousnesses are deposited on the foundation consciousness, the kun shi or alaya, which is the ignorant alaya. The text says that the positive actions or the virtuous activities cannot leave imprints on that alaya, because the positive habits are clearing away the negative imprints. When our positive sides and qualities improve, the wisdom alaya develops and therefore, the imprint of whatever positive things we do is laid on the wisdom alaya, not on the dark, ignorant alaya consciousness. The greater our positive accumulation, the stronger the direct, right of the reality or the true nature will develop. The more familiar we become with meditation, the more positive deeds we do, the more compassion and loving kindness we generate, the more that wisdom or rigpa will be strengthened and the more afflictive emotional patterns will be reduced. What the author is saying is that all the positive qualities are coming out of the purified mind, of the pure side of the basic consciousness.
Virtuous thoughts arise from the intrinsic radiance of foundation wisdom.
This accumulation of the roots of virtue,
become the conditions of freedom and cause of complete fruition,
and also cannot be interrupted or lost.
Any positive thing, any virtuous deed we do, cannot be lost because its imprint is left into the pure side of our consciousness.
So that is the fifth point: the more we practise, the more we develop our positive side, the more we understand and familiarise ourselves with the right view, then the more we understand the process of how we are deluded and how we can stop that process. As we have just said, when the first, direct consciousness arises, it is without any grasping and therefore that consciousness is harmless. But when the first mental activity or what is called the ‘instantaneous mind’ arises (the one that identifies: “This is like this, this is like that.”), then it triggers many other things. We get caught up in thoughts, designations and concepts. These reactions imprint on the basic consciousness, and we go on reacting, which causes the whole process of creating conditions. This is how delusion becomes a habitual pattern. This pattern is so strong that it’s very difficult for us to get out of it and this is why it is so necessary for us to try and develop our positive qualities, to try to see and understand this process and reverse it. Otherwise what usually happens is described in the sixth point:
With the foundation functioning as the cause of the outer objects, inner sense faculties, and all the consciousnesses in between,
the afflictive mind is like the clouds, the six groups like rain,
the karmic actions are the rivers and
habitual patterns of the foundations are the ocean.
In this example, the agent that connects all of this in some kind of continuity is the instantaneous mind.
This is what happens if we do not practise, meditate and reverse the process: the dark, deluded, foundation consciousness or alaya functions as the cause, the root or seed of outer objects, inner sense faculties and all the consciousness in between. We have already discussed how these patterns are created and how they generate the afflictive mind and all the emotions, which are here compared to clouds. Because of that, the six groups, the six sense objects arise, which are like rain. Because we react with the six senses, karma is accumulated, which becomes the main stream of our habitual tendencies. This is why all the karmic actions are compared to rivers, which then flow into the ocean. The habitual patterns of the foundation are the ocean. That’s how we create the ocean of samsara.
In this example, the agent that connects all of this in some kind of continuity is the instantaneous mind. The instantaneous mind, te ma ta yi (te ma thag yid) in Tibetan, is regarded as what connects all these elements together. And this process goes on. Clouds form out of the ocean, turn into rain, water gathers into rivers that flow down again to the ocean. So the whole process goes on and on and on. As long as this is happening, we can never be free; we can never get out of samsara. Therefore unless we do something to break this process and continuity of causes and conditions; we will never naturally or automatically get liberated. It is therefore necessary to know that we have to reverse this process in order to be liberated.
For the practitioner, this means that just as soon as the instantaneous mind barely arises from the foundation consciousness,
without any extension of duration, you should place the attention directly upon it.
This is called liberation in the first moment, or
vanquished at first sight, in certain doctrinal terms.
When the sixth mind consciousness and afflictive mind have just arisen,
and are recognised through mindfulness and liberated in their own place,
it is called liberation in the second or third moment.
The most important thing to learn, especially in Mahamudra and Dzogchen, is how to self-liberate our thoughts and emotions. Even if we just know very little about it, even if it’s only a conceptual understanding, it can really give us great confidence and the immediate certainty that liberation, enlightenment, is possible. Although it is not something very easy to learn, it is the most important thing that will enable us to liberate ourselves.
The first thing that we need to do is to immediately be aware of the instantaneous mind - the first thought or any kind of arising - as soon as it arises and then to 'liberate' it, which means that there is no need to either push away or follow that arising. There is no need to react too much because this is the natural manifestation of the mind. These natural manifestations just constantly come and go. It's in a way like not taking them personally. They are like the wind blowing outside, or the sun shining, or the waves forming on the ocean. These manifestations just happen and we can neither stop them nor force them to happen. Therefore they are just OK. When we can let them happen just like that, they no longer matter, they're OK, they cannot do us any harm. Similarly, every thought, every emotion, everything that arises in our mind is instantaneous, momentary. It comes, it goes. There is nothing that comes and does not go. Whatever arises has to go. A thought arises and the next moment, another one takes its place, but that also has to go the next moment. Usually, when a thought or an emotion comes, we either think that it should or should not be there. But the moment we think that, we actually hold on to it. So it’s not only when we think, “This is nice, I must have it”, but even when we decide that a thought or emotion should not be there we are still hanging on to it and not letting another thought or another something come up. On the contrary, if we completely let it be, then when one thought comes, we let it come, but instantly we also let it go. When we let another thought come, the previous thought has to go, and in order to let the first thought go, we need to let the next thought come in. In this way, we can instantaneously liberate thoughts and arisings by not hanging on to them, by knowing that there’s no need to hang on to anything. All arisings are naturally happening, they come and go and never stop, so it’s nothing that important, it’s nothing that serious!
So when that can be done, when we are used to that, if we are able to liberate a thought at the first moment of its arising, “when the sixth mind consciousness and afflictive mind have just arisen”, that’s what we call the ‘vanquishing at first sight’. If we can continuously do that, then there is no possibility of having any clinging or aversion, any attachment, grasping or negative emotions, because we completely let things come and go, and we become totally free.
Now sometimes we cannot catch this first rising or we cannot liberate ourselves at that moment. It comes and we react, by making a little judgement for instance, “Oh, this is like this.”, “Oh, this is like that.” We form a concept, but if we can let it goat that time, that’s called ‘liberation as the second stage’. Then if we don’t get liberated at that moment - this is talking about really momentary things - and start developing aversion or attachment with thoughts like, "Oh, this is very nice, I really like to have that.", or "This is ugly, I don’t want to have that.", then we can still do the same and liberate those thoughts at that moment,-which is called the liberation ‘in the third moment’.
So in this way, we can liberate our arisings at whatever stage. We should understand that manifestations are unceasing and natural. We don't need to either fear or like them: they are just a natural phenomena. They are part of nature itself, and we don’t have to bother too much about them. If we can totally relax in them, then that’s how the liberation starts. So this is learning how to liberate our mind.
The difference between being deluded into the samsaric state of mind and being liberated is whether we allow this process of what the Tantras call 'appearance, increase and attainment' to happen or not. If we let the process go on, we create karma, and as it becomes stronger, we get more and more deluded. But if we do not let this happen, if we learn how not to let this process go on and complete itself, then we have started on the path to liberate ourselves. To do that and become acquainted with this practice is the real working on the mind, the process of liberation. To understand how to do this, even for one moment, is said to be extremely important. This is because if we know how to do it for one moment, then if we want, if we have the discipline, we can do it a second, a third moment, and we can go on doing it. However, that doesn’t stop everything. We don’t get liberated fully just because we know how to do this. This is just learning how to, but the delusion doesn’t stop. For that we need to work, we need to meditate, we need to practise. So that’s why the text says:
However, since that discursive thought is the dynamic energy of mind,
it is impossible for thoughts of attachment and aversion not to arise.
We cannot expect that thoughts of aversion, attachment and all other things will not arise. It can never stop, it’s the dynamic energy of the mind. It’s the nature of mind to manifest, so we just have to learn how to liberate it, moment by moment.
However if you rely on mindful awareness, discursive thoughts cannot accumulate karma.
It is like pouring water into a vase with a hole in the bottom.
If we are mindful and liberate whatever arises, we don’t go through the whole process that creates karma and cannot accumulate negative karma. A vase with a hole at the bottom cannot hold whatever water you pour in it. It will never fill up. In the same way, thoughts can come, emotions can come, but they don’t bind us, they don't accumulate karma.
The deluded thought and the aspect of awareness that distinguishes it are equal,
for the discriminating thought itself measures the thought of attachment.
It’s like fire alighting on fine grass husks:
although the fire and the husks appeared as two things,
they instantly become just fire.
So it could be called simply fire.
What is necessary is to practise, to practise and be mindful. The mindfulness is the most important thing. The only tools we have in order to practise and meditate are mindfulness and awareness. So the more we practise the more we need them. As soon as we lose mindfulness and awareness, we fall back into our habitual patterns and react in our usual samsaric way. Therefore the main practice is to bring this mindfulness and awareness in our mindstream and then work with it. It is said that practising this liberation of thought even very little can be very beneficial. It is said in the Sutras and Tantras that even one moment of really knowing how to do that will purify many kalpas of negative deeds. This shows how important it is and so we should try to work on this. Of course we cannot totally be aware all the time, but if we can be aware and work on this even for a small part of the day, then that itself is a very strong thing. It transforms our whole experience into wisdom. It is compared here fire igniting grass husks. At the start, we have fire and grass husks, but after some time it all becomes fire. In the same way, it says that if we can do a little bit of this, even if only for a part of the day, if we can work on that, then we can almost say that we have gained the wisdom.
Does the hole in the vase mean that if you have this mindful awareness then no matter how many thoughts you have they will not accumulate?
That’s right, yes.
Can we reach enlightenment just practising this?
Yes. Enlightenment guaranteed!
Then why do we complicate ourselves, our life, so much?
I don’t know.
We could just practise this, and if we had been practising this all this time we would be closer to enlightenment.
You can try. The main thing is to know how to do it. It’s something we need to learn from experience. It’s easy to say but difficult to do. It’s like anything else we learn. We can talk about something, but when we have to do it, then it’s more difficult. That's how we are. We have so many problems, we are so complicated, with so many habitual tendencies… But if we really understood what is to be done and then did it, then we would have made it.
It is very, very important to have this understanding. This is a very high teaching. If we know how to do this properly, then we get some confidence, and then we understand that it’s possible. So it’s very important. Most of the direct introductions on the nature of mind are more or less about this. But this is not something easy to understand, even at a conceptual level. People talk about it quite a lot sometimes, but most of them don’t get it. They don’t even understand it intellectually. So, when you intellectually understand a little bit, that is also, I think, a great progress.
It is said here that the good, positive and virtuous actions cannot get lost. But according to the teachings about karma, there is negative karma and positive karma, and even positive karma has to be exhausted at one point in order to reach enlightenment.
Well, there are many ways of describing it. Maybe we can just say for the time being that karma is based on the deluded or ignorant co-emergent ignorance, or what we call the ‘alaya’. Therefore, when that co-emergent ignorance is cleared, there is no karma left because the thing on which karma is based has vanished. From the Buddhist point of view, the positive aspects, like wisdom, the five wisdoms, the clarity, the three kayas, etc, are all part of the enlightened nature. They are the natural radiance of our - not mind, we don’t say mind. If we really want to go into details, we don’t say mind because mind is the state of awareness that is created by the eight mind-streams, and therefore the mind is deluded. What we are talking about is the rigpa, the enlightened, fundamental buddha nature. The buddha nature is our natural state, and it is full of all the positive, enlightened qualities. These positive qualities are not something to be gained, they are at all time naturally present. It’s the negative aspects that do not belong to the Buddha nature. They are like dirt that can be cleaned. Cleanliness is not something that we can gain, it’s the nature of things. We can only 'gain' dirt. We cannot put cleanness on our shirt, can we? When we wash away the dirt, it’s natural cleanliness comes out. That's how it works.
2.8 The self-liberation of thoughts & emotions
The eighth point is about the importance of liberating ourselves in the first thoughts and emotions when they arise. If we can’t self-liberate them, then we continue into this painful samsaric existence. Therefore, in order to put an end to this samsaric existence, we need to work on that self-liberation of thoughts and emotions.
In short, our present state of neutrality,
the darkness of total lack of awareness,
is the cognitive obscuration of foundation consciousness.
It is also called coemergent ignorance.
This foundation consciousness, which we have discussed many times, is the consciousness when we let our mind settle down, with no particular thoughts and emotions coming up. That foundation consciousness is an unclear kind of consciousness, but it is a neutral state, neither positive nor negative. It's not very reactive but it is the source of all reactions. As long as it remains unclear, that’s the source of all misunderstanding and it creates problems. It is a little bit like an unclear mirror, veiled by a layer of dust, smoke or damp. Because of its lack of clarity, this basic ground or foundation consciousness is also called the co-emergent ignorance. Ignorance here means a kind of unclearness, a kind of a dark, smudgy thing. It is co-emergent because that is how we are as long as we don’t clearly see the true nature of ourselves, or the co-emergent wisdom.
If we can directly meditate with clear awareness on that co-emergent ignorance, if we can stare at it and remain fully conscious, then that lack of clarity, that smudginess clears away and the co-emergent wisdom appears. Co-emergent wisdom, buddha nature or rigpa are different names for the same thing. When that comes up and develops, then we are seeing the true nature. We have to be able to do that in order to see this true nature, the buddha nature, the undefiled state of our intrinsic nature, that’s the most important thing. Normally, when we have an experience, we need to have an object of experience, we need to have a kind of ‘I see, I see this, I hear this sound’. We are conscious of something. Whatever arises there is awareness and an object of awareness. But when this very clear wisdom awareness arises, then there is no need of an object. That’s really very important. There is a very special clarity that has no need of an object. This is the experience of non-duality. And when we experience that awareness, then there is no chance that we can react with indifference, aversion or attachment. Therefore we are completely liberated. That is the main, the really final purpose of meditation, of the completion and creation stages and of every practice that we do. All we do aims at that understanding and experience. But of course it is not that easy because it’s the most fundamental thing that separates samsara from enlightenment.
However, if we cannot get liberated at that stage, then maybe when can liberate the first thought when it arises. This means being aware of the arising of a thought and letting it come and go. In this way, we can liberate those first thoughts as we discussed yesterday. But if that is not done, then the whole samsaric process occurs, as is described below:
When an object and the sense organ meet, such as seeing a conch shell on the road,
in the first instance of seeing the form, the eye consciousness is said to be without concept.
But due to that contact, what is called “feeling” occurs,
and then, if it is a nice white conch, mental pleasure, and so on.
At this point, with the arising of attachment or aversion, afflictive mind has arrived. From what is called “perception” comes “formation”, and so on:
Through the twelve interdependent links the wheel of existence turns.
Even if you tried to block eye consciousness and mental consciousness they wouldn’t cease,
but they don’t have the power to accumulate karmic habitual patterns.
But when finally afflictive mind has taken over,
for an ordinary person without recourse to view, meditation, and action,
habitual patterns imprinted on the foundation will accumulate.
For that reason you should try not to fall under its power.
The instantaneous mind is the one that connects this whole process, like the force of water.
This describes the process of how we get deluded, and as it is said here, for us at the moment, it is not until we become very used to liberating thoughts that whatever arises can turn into the wisdom consciousness. That happens when we are very advanced. At the moment, the senses and arising are perceived in a deluded way because of our habitual tendencies. But even if we see and hear things, when all these kinds of things go on, we can still learn how to liberate the thoughts, how to let things come and go, this is something we definitely can do now. When we can do that, although we experience things in our usual deluded way, still we can experience them without being overpowered by the mind poisons, without too much aversion, attachment and things like that. And when that happens, we no longer create negative karma and then we are on the right path.
Therefore this is what we need to work on at this moment. Whatever arises, we should let it come and go. This is something very important. Everybody, all the sentient beings are trying to avoid suffering, pain and problems. Everything that we do is to get out of these sufferings, problems, pain and things like that. But we don’t realise that the more we fear them, the more we don’t want suffering, the more we actually in a way create suffering, because fear creates the causes of suffering. So, in order to work on that, we need to find a way not to fear the suffering, a way to liberate that fear. We behave in a strange way, like moths: they feel attracted to the light, jump into it and then burn themselves. In a way we are doing the same. We don’t like the suffering, but we kind of jump into it. Only when we understand how this suffering is created at the very basic level can we find a way out of it. The dharma is not just about making our life a little bit better – although it will of course also make life a little bit better at different stages - but the real focus, the real purpose of the dharma is all about that, about how to resolve this problem in a more permanent way.
So this was the eighth point, which emphasizes the disadvantage of not liberating ourselves with this kind of practice.
The ninth point is the result, the liberation that can come through the view, meditation and action. It is explained in three points: the first result is when our meditation becomes stable and is not disturbed by the conditions; the second result is the spontaneous clear light; and the third result is the extinguishing or transcending of the mind.
Here is the first:
If you understand the significance of the eight groups in this way,
and are skilled in applying it directly to practice,
you can cut through the dualistic relationship of the six groups and their objects,
and then the six sense objects will not have the power to disturb meditation.
This is the beginning of turning the sense organs and their consciousnesses inward.
When we understand the way our eight groups of consciousness works, and then if we know how to liberate one instantaneous thought the moment it arises, we will progressively acquire greater control over our mind. We can proceed slowly. At the moment, our mind is totally under the power of the six senses. What we hear, feel, smell, taste and see is overpowering us, making us totally feel happy or unhappy, good or bad. We have no control. We cannot liberate all our thoughts at the same time. We have to do it one by one, moment by moment, like putting one straw into the fire, and then the next until the whole bundle is burnt. At the moment our mind is totally under our control, what we see, hear or think doesn’t matter that much because it can no longer take the full control of ourselves, we can remain calm whatever is happening. When that happens, our 'sixth sense', our intuition, becomes stronger and clearer. Our mind becomes much more stable because everything that happens outside doesn’t disturb us. We can, if we like, remain undisturbed. We learn to have the choice whether to react or not react to certain things. And we also learn in what way to react, because we no longer totally react according to our habits, patterns or conditionings. We have more of our own choice to react. This is the beginning of the turning inward of the sense organs and the consciousness. Our mind is not only looking out, but is a little more turned inwards.
Getting the stability of the mind is the first stage of liberation, the first stages of getting somewhere. There are many different levels of stability of course; but that’s the first and most important sign. And the more stability we acquire, the more we can remain undisturbed or unshaken by the events happening around us. The more peace we develop, the more confidence we get that it is not necessary to feel frightened because of things coming around. So therefore there is also a sense of understanding that there are possibilities to liberate ourselves from within.
The second result, which is the next progress, is called here in the corresponding terminology ösal lhundrup, that is the spontaneous clarity, the clear light.
At that time, the signs that the ten vital winds have matured are experiences of smoke,mirages, eclipses, and so on.
The power of “real” appearances is diminished, and without obscurity,
countless deities, spheres, and so on appear wherever you focus,
outwardly and inwardly, in your body and your mind,
automatically arising without effort, expectation, or anxiety.
Body and mind are very much connected, and especially the functions of the body. 'Wind', or lung in Tibetan is not the wind that is blowing outside but a kind of energy. We talk about ten 'winds', five vital winds and five ancillary winds. Breathing is one of the five vital winds – if our breathing is too weak, we cannot live. Another is the wind that purifies our body, activates excretion, purifies our blood and clears away all the impurities. The third wind is what gives us the ability to speak, the energy to communicate. The fourth vital wind monitors the digestive system. And finally, the fifth wind is the wind related to the circulation, to the movements of our body and to the metabolism. These five winds are called vital because if one of them doesn’t function then we die.
When our mind becomes more stable and undistracted, what is termed ‘the maturity of the winds’ takes place. Due to the winds entering into our central channel, we have more power over our vital functions. At the moment, we have no power over them and they work on their own. If something doesn’t work, we can’t make it work through the will of our mind. We may want to digest food, but if our digestive system does not function properly, there's nothing we can do. But when our mind becomes stronger, more stabilised and clear, there is a possibility to exert some control over these winds. There are also different yogic practices, and the creation stage practices, that can help too. As we discussed, the creation stage is a very strong way of working on our habitual tendencies and therefore it contributes to this. There are also many kinds of practices where we concentrate on different chakras, work with our winds and the like. There are also the five ancillary winds, and these are energies linked with the chakras and the functioning of our senses and our whole body.
So when these ten winds become more matured, different kinds of experiences arise, that are usually called the Four Signs. These are described as smoke, mirages, fireflies (here the third sign is translated as 'eclipse', but it is not the right word) and a completely clear, cloudless sky. Some people have actually experienced this kind of a sense of smoke, of a misty space all around, which one can’t see through. Sometimes it is also explained as a not very clear, smoky experience. The experience of the mirage is when one sometimes sees clearly, in certain circumstances and conditions you see it very clearly, but in others one doesn’t see it very clearly, and everything is a little bit like the true nature, a mirage-like experience. Then the next is sometimes described as actually experiencing exactly like that, lots of flickering light dots coming towards you, like fireflies. After we have gone through these three stages which are not necessarily very clear, we come to the experience of a cloudless sky. We see with complete clarity, without any obstruction, and in a stable way. These are the four different experiences.
There are also different kinds of experiences. Many things can happen and we don’t need to discuss all that in details, but what happens is that, because the natural clarity of our mind is stronger, more developed, and more stabilised, because the habitual tendencies created by the eight consciousnesses are weaker, we tend to see pure visions of countless lights, deities, mandalas, and so on, inside and outside. Wherever our minds concentrate, we spontaneously see pure manifestations without any expectations or anxieties, without making any effort or having thoughts like, “Oh, I’m very happy to see the deities and the mandalas and the lights”. At that time also, because our mind is so clear, we can see through time andspace, see other people's minds and have very strong intuitive powers. But even when that happens we don’t get puffed and proud and conceited. These experiences are called the result of the clear light, the luminosity, the spontaneous luminosity stage.
Then, if we continue, the next stage of result is what we call the lohn be zhu zhe. Lohn be means ‘transcending the mind’.
As a sign of attaining warmth, you are no longer interested in useless communication and associations,
and you desire only to remain in solitude without distraction.
The flow of thoughts is cut off and, like the clear sky,
boundless experiences of bliss, clarity, and non-thought arise in body, speech, and mind.
However, these are only signs on the path, a few approximations of confidence,
and nothing whatever to do with attainment of higher stages.
We now get what we call the warmth. When that warmth comes, although we do not yet have the full realisation, we are so sure of the experience, we have such a strong conviction or confidence in the practice that we understand that there is nothing more important than that because it’s really leading to the complete total liberation. Therefore, we become less interested in worldly events and activities, in what we call ‘the eight worldly dharmas or concerns’. We loose interest in too much talking or in too much distraction and become very one-pointed in our practice. It also happens sometimes that the process of thoughts stops and our mind becomes totally clear, like a clear sky or space. And because of that, something never experienced before arises very strongly, namely great bliss, great clarity and great non-conceptual awareness. But even these experiences are not enlightenment. Sometimes, when people have these experiences of bliss, clarity and non-thought, they mistake it for enlightenment, become proud and then lose such experiences, because they are not enlightenment. It is therefore very important to understand that these are just stages that can be lost, but nothing near total enlightenment.
There are four stages in Mahamudra. The first is called ‘one-pointedness’. The second stage is thö dal, which means free from any extremes, but is sometimes translated as ‘simplicity’. The third is ‘one taste’, and the fourth is gön me, which means ‘no more meditation’. When we get this kind of total stability, and experience the great bliss, the great stability, clarity and all these things that we just discussed, this is the sign of having reached the one-pointedness, the first of the four stages in Mahamudra.
When these experiences are objectified, they are subject to arising, ceasing, and changing,
and cannot be permanent, according to all adepts.
True actualisation of the open spaciousness of inherent wisdom without object
is termed “the pristine wisdom of realisation.”
This refers to the second stage, the tö dal or simplicity free from all extremes. When the experience of one-pointedness comes, it is still tainted by a remainder of objectification. When our consciousness is split between two things, an object to be stabilised and an experience of clarity or bliss, then arising, ceasing and changing are bound to happen and it cannot be totally liberated. That’s what all the great siddhas have said. So what is really liberating is then this: the true actualisation of the open spaciousness of inherent wisdom without object. We already discussed briefly how the true wisdom has no object to see. There’s no subject and object, it’s just a clarity. When that experience comes, it's the pristine wisdom of realisation, the real wisdom, the total awareness, without any subject/object duality. That is the second stage of Mahamudra, which is called the simplicity.
At that time, the desires and aversions of view, meditation and action are exhausted and one simply falls directly upon ordinary mind.
When one gets very used or acquainted with that experience, when this experience of the pristine wisdom becomes stabilised, we come to the next stage, which is called ‘one taste’. At this time, we no longer have thoughts like, “Oh, this is the right view, this is not the right view, this is good meditation.”, even these thoughts are exhausted, and then what we call the ‘child luminosity’ which is the wisdom, the clear light that we realise through the path, through the meditation and practice, merges with the ‘mother luminosity’ which is our true nature, how we really are. This stage is what we call ‘one taste’. Mother and child luminosities become one. The luminosity of the clear light, the awareness, the buddha-nature that we try to see becomes so clear thatit is totally merged, totally one with the mother luminosity. The image of mother and child is used because, when a child sees his mother, he just naturally recognises her, jump on her lap and completely relaxes in her arms. In the same way, when we recognise this nature, there is no more doubt, nothing more to learn, no more clarity to gain, it’s all of ‘one taste’. When the one taste comes, one simply directly falls upon ordinary mind. 'Ordinary mind' is another word for the buddha-nature, the wisdom foundation. There’s nothing to delude or obstruct it and there is nothing more to do. That’s what we call the stage of one taste. Then,
With the absolute conviction of recognising what has been there all along,
like a contented person who has finished all work,
all effort is dropped: it is the ultimate fruition.
We come then to the fourth stage of ‘no more meditation’ or ‘no more learning’. After having experienced the one taste, there is absolute conviction of recognising what has been there all along. We recognise that this experience had been there all the time and there’s nothing more to recognise, this is the way it is. It is usually said that when one becomes enlightened, one doesn’t say, “Oh, now I’ve got the realisation, such a great thing!”, but rather, “This has always been there, I knew it all the time. Why didn’t I recognise this?” There’s no sense of discovering something new but instead there's the recognition of what was there all the time. This is why it is usually said that one becomes enlightened as the first Buddha because one realises that one has been Buddha all the time. Then, like a contented person who has finished all work, all effort is dropped. We have done everything, there is nothing more to do, it’s all completed and so we feel there is no more effort to be made, nothing more to accomplish. This is why this stage, which is the ultimate fruition, is called ‘no more meditation' or 'no more learning’. It is the same as buddhahood, the highest stage of enlightenment or realising the dharmakaya.
Now with that we have finished the nine stages or points of the understanding or explanation of the completion stage. Completion stage was the third point in this book, which is the Vajrayana way of describing the path. So far, we have gone through the different stages, first trying to give a general instruction on the whole practice, then on the practices and meditations from the point of view of the Sutrayana level, and then how to practice from the point of view of Vajrayana or the Tantra level. Now we come to the fourth and major point of the book, which are the secret pith instructions. This last point is not about detailed explanations of the scriptures and their understandings, but about getting to their very essence. This is necessary because the Buddha’s teachings, as you know, are very vast. The Kangyur, which compiles the teachings of the Buddha – we could say it’s like the Buddhists' Bible – has more than a hundred volumes. There are so many different teachings, instructions and ways of practising! But to try to put them into a kind of nutshell, to get their essence, so that a person can practise them, that is a pith instruction.
IV. The Pith Instructions
These instructions are given within the context of three things: the view, meditation and action. The view is the understanding and experience of the inseparability of appearances and mind. The meditation is how to meditate in the union of shamatha and vipashyana, or the calm abiding and the insight meditation. And the action is not only how we do things, activities or moral ethics, but how to mature our actions, how to see things and to self liberate whatever arises. Action is how to become totally trained, efficient or accomplished in this self liberation as soon as something arises. The pith instructions are given on these three things.
4.1 The View
Deceiving appearances appear in variety as non-appearance.
Though appearing to appear, being essentially without reality, they are empty.
Of mind itself, luminous awareness without foundation, free of basis,
you cannot say anything in regard to existence or non-existence.
Every appearance of any kind in the whole universe, all the appearances of samsara and nirvana don’t really exist as they appear. If we try to analyse them, if we to look at them deeply, minutely, we don’t find them to be as they appear, so they are deceiving appearances. These deceiving appearances can take any form. One could say that there is almost nothing that cannot appear, precisely because appearances have no essence, no solid reality. They appear but they are devoid of reality. So therefore everything that can be seen or perceived is described in the teachings as a combination of appearance and emptiness.
Furthermore, our mind is also the same. It’s a clarity but nothing more than that. There is no ground, no basis, no root, no essence from which this clarity is derived. There is nothing that we can hold on to, that doesn't change and disappear, nothing that we can pinpoint and say, “This is it”. Therefore, when we try to understand the nature of phenomena, either things outside or our mind inside, we discover their very strange way of being. The way things are is difficult to explain: we cannot say it is there, because in-depth analysis show that it is not really there, but we cannot say either that it is not there at all because it appears. In order to understand this through logics and reasoning, we would have to study the Madhyamika system of analysis, which we will not do now. But we can also approach this from the scientific point of view. A scientist told me that if one was able to press together all the atoms that make up this table, we wouldn't even be able to see them! This table appears to us as a big, solid object but there is so much space in between all its atoms that it just doesn’t really exist like it appears. And this is how all things are. Our whole vision of ourselves and the world around us is of course so much based on the way we see it, the way our mind sees it. There’s a major contribution from our own awareness. So therefore when we have some understanding of the way things are, the way we/our mind is, then we gain a clearer understanding of how unreal our reality (what we think is the reality) is, which is very important to understand.
In the levels higher than Mahayoga, the sublime view is that total purity
is inseparable from the truth of suffering.
When the absolute is actualised through meditation on the two stages,
it follows that the relative, which is without foundation and basis, automatically disappears.
Therefore, all phenomena of cyclic existence or transcendence, included within both appearance and mind,
have no reality whatsoever and arise in any way whatsoever.
When this is realised, it is proof that listening and contemplating have hit the mark.
This view of the inseparability of nirvana and samsara is a very profound view, a very important understanding that belongs to the Vajrayana level. There are many levels, like the Mahayana, the Vajrayana level, and within the tantras the father tantras and mother tantras, with slightly different levels or degrees of understanding corresponding to each. So, above the Mahayoga level, nirvana, the enlightened state of mind and the sufferings of samsara are seen as inseparable, as one. When we understand how the appearances that arise in our mind have no intrinsic essence or reality, then we understand that anything can appear any time. From the Buddhist point of view, this is actually the main understanding: anything can appear, anything is possible, any kind of reaction and all kinds of interdependent arisings can manifest because there is no absolute reality there. This and this put together can become something totally different, and then if you place it in other conditions, something totally different can emerge. All this is due to the causes and conditions. The reason why different causes and conditions create many different things is because there is no reality to it. Everything is appearing, but there is nothing real, no absolute truth in it. Understanding this can come through applying analysis, reasoning and logics at different levels, but it can also come through our own experience, through meditating on how things arise in our minds. When this understanding becomes clearer, the clearer it becomes, the less we are overpowered by the sense objects. At the moment, as we said in the beginning, we are so overpowered by the sense objects that we almost have no freedom. What we see, hear, smell, taste or touch affects us so strongly that we almost have no choice but go around following it, as if we werebeing led by the nose. Therefore, the more we see the mirage-, dreamlike quality of all these sense objects, their lack of essential reality, the freer we become because we no longer have to react so strongly with aversion and attachment to everything. Our inner strength grows. Even a little understanding in that direction goes very far in our actual experience. The text says that it shows that our listening, contemplation, and study have hit the mark, which means that they have been useful or fruitful,because to see this understanding can be achieved through our analysis and studies.
So here, the main understanding is that the sufferings of the samsara and the bliss of nirvana are not totally different things. When we clearly see the nature of things, there’s nothing called suffering and nothing called bliss. Suffering comes because of the way we react and grasp at things. If we didn’t react in that way, we wouldn’t suffer: I think that the view that suffering and enlightenment are inseparable, that there is no difference between them, is a very profound, a very high view. However, that understanding or experience is not totally beyond our understanding. When we have some experience of the true nature of our mind, when we have some first hand knowledge of how our six senses and the eight groups of consciousness work and bring suffering through the samsaric way of reacting, and how it is possible to reverse this process by releasing or liberating the instantaneous arisings of our mind, then it is not totally impossible to understand that there is no difference between the suffering of samsara and nirvana. When that understanding increases, it constitutes a very strong basis for our confidence that enlightenment is not something very far away that we will have to work for for many, many centuries before it can be reached. Of course, it is not an easy thing to understand and experience, but that kind of understanding is definitely possible and when it happens, it is really one of the most important experiences because the problems and pain that we experience in our life look much smaller, more unreal, and we know how to cope with them and solve them. So therefore it makes a great difference.
You say that appearances can arise in many, many different ways because they are empty. Isn't this in contradiction with the law of karma, which implies that something very precise happens because something happened before, something is the consequence of something else. If you see all these appearances appearing in so many different ways, at the moment you have that kind of realisation, don't you break the law of karma, or . . .?
No, the law of karma is that anything is possible if the causes and conditions for its manifestation are there. So it’s exactly the same, it means that everything and anything is possible, but it’s not that anything is possible without any causes and conditions. When the right causes and conditions come together then anything is possible. That’s why karma is possible, that’s why every reaction is possible. If two things are put together, something new arises. For example, if you sow a small seed and the right conditions of rain and warmth are present, then you will get a big tree, with branches, leaves and fruits. That is the interdependence, the causes and conditions. I was talking about the same thing.
The teachings you have been giving are very precious and very high teachings, but even the first of them, which should be the easiest, the one that you should liberate the thoughts instant by instant seems to be very difficult unless you are in retreat. When you live in the middle of the city and have a social life, you are very influenced by what surround you and you get very attached to things. It seems very difficult to me, so could you encourage us a bit more and give us advice?
Well, to liberate our thoughts instantly is not an easy thing and I think I mentioned this also. It’s actually a very difficult thing. If we can do that, then it’s a very important step because it means we know how to liberate ourselves, it means we have found a way to really solve all your problems. Therefore it can’t be easy: if it was easy, everybody would have done it and all our problems would be finished. It means we have to train, to practice, to work on it. It needs understanding. Therefore, it’s not the first step but rather the highest and most profound practice. That’s why I am saying it’s not a simple thing, it’s the highest. There is however a very strong possibility there, and once we have learned how to do that, it doesn’t really matter whether we are living in a city or in retreat. It doesn’t matter at all. However, in order to learn how to do it, we may need to do a retreat or train in a less disturbing environment. But doesn't totally depend on where we are: it depends on our discipline of mind and awareness, our mindfulness and awareness. If we have mindfulness and discipline, and we have the 'know-how', then it does not necessarily require an extra time, because it is about our own experience. It’s about how we experience and see things, how we react to them. We always do that: we always see, experience things and react to them. We don’t need a separate time for that! We are never too busy to get angry or upset. Being very busy does not prevent us from reacting. But of course, it is not easy.
So what we need to do is to try and start with small steps. We start with one step. Every journey is started with one step. This book describes the whole path, from beginning to end. It gives the whole panorama of the whole Mahayana and Vajrayana way. So where do you start to practise? I mean, you cannot practise everything in one go. You have to get a broad picture, the whole panorama, an overview of the path, so that you know how to start, what to do in the middle, how to end, what are the possibilities and the results, and how to go from one thing to the next. All these things are necessary to understand but you cannot start by jumping in the middle: you have to begin at the beginning. So, in the beginning we can start to be a little mindful. Or we can just let our mind settle and practice the shine meditation. Mindfulness is just being able to sit down, let our thoughts come and go and be relaxed. We can learn to relax for a moment, which is also very important to start with. Or we can start with developing some loving kindness and compassion. That is also a good start. Then if we can learn how to liberate our thoughts at first arising and then let them come and go, at the next arising let it come and go, we can do that for a few seconds, a few minutes and that is also good enough.
So there are many different ways and one can start with whatever we understand and think we can practise, whatever we know is for our own and others' good. And then maybe, later on, if we gain more understanding or more stability, we can go on to the next step. That’s why I always say that the most appropriate practice for one person is the practice that person understands. Because if we understand a practice, then we know how to do it and we will do it. One cannot do something that one doesn’t know how to do. And when we do it, then we will get the result. We can't get any result without the practice. So that’s what the whole teachings are all about. If you know how to do the practice but if you don’t do anything, then it’s like all the food is there on the table but you don’t eat it. Even if the best menu was on your table, if you don’t eat you will still be hungry. We will never become enlightened or improve in any way unless we practise. It is said that even if we know the whole teachings of the Buddha, they won't help unless we put them into practise. Do you know Ananda’s story? Ananda had been the Buddha's attendant for about twenty or twenty five years. During that time, he had received every teaching that the Buddha had given and he remembered everything. He had such an extraordinary memory that he would never forget whatever he had heard even only once. He was also the person who asked all the questions. When his former attendant had gone away, the Buddha addressed the Sangha to ask who would become his new attendant. Everybody wanted to do it and all the monks were making prostrations. As many of them were arhats who could read minds, they meditated to find out who was the most suited person for this task and realized that Ananda was the one. They all went to Ananda, and asked him to become the new attendant.
However, Ananda was not really interested. They pleaded so much that he finally gave in but with four conditions, the two most important being that the Buddha would never give any teachings in his absence and that he would answer whatever question he asked. This is how he received all the teachings of the Buddha asked all the questions and he remembered every one of them. Even the people who had questions to ask the Buddha would ask Ananda, who would then ask the Buddha on their behalf. But when Buddha passed away, Ananda hadn’t become an arhat, he was just an ordinary person. He hadn’t reached any levels of realisation. He knew all the teachings, but he had had no time to practise. Mahakashyapa, the main disciple or lineage holder, then played a trick on Ananda. As a skilful means, he expelled Ananda, accusing him of the worst possible thing: being responsible of Buddha’s death. Three months before his death, the Buddha had announced that he would pass away. Kashyapa argued that Ananda should have pleaded with him not to die but to live instead for thousands of years, and as he had not done so, he was the cause of his death. He accused him of many other things too so that Ananda was expelled from the Sangha. Very depressed by all these unfounded accusations, he went away and came across one of his own former students who, in the meantime, had also become an arhat, while he himself was nothing. He sat in a cave and started to really practise. Because he knew how to practise and everything about it, he passed all the stages in a very short time and became an arhat within a few months. At that moment, Kashyapa came to him with all his monks and requested him to come back and give the teachings, recite all the teachings that the Buddha had given. It is in these big caves called the Satapatana Caves, near theVulture’s Peak, that he repeated all the teachings he had heard from the Buddha. This was called the First Council. This story shows clearly that if one doesn’t practise, nothing happens. But of course, in order to do that, we must clearly understand how to practise.
However, when you have the instructions on how to practise and follow them, it is not necessary for you to be very learned or very special or a monk, nun, lama or a rinpoche, it’s not necessary. Khenpo Achung, the most recent person to get the rainbow body, about three years ago, was indeed a very learned lama. But the one before him we know about, around ’56, close to where I was born, was just an ordinary person, a farmer, who had even gone hunting when he was younger.. He had I think four or five daughters and a son. The son became a lama who came to Sikkim later on, and we all met him. The father practised, but nothing out of the ordinary. No one knew he was a great practitioner. When he first fell ill, his son suggested that he should visit Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö, a great master who happened to be the Lama the son was staying with. Initially the father agreed, but later said that it wasn’t necessary, and didn’t go. When he died, as they were not a rich family, they put his body in a sack and bound it with a rope. This is how it is done in Tibet.
We think that once we are dead we are dead, and our body can be given to the birds or fishes or whatever will eat it, it doesn’t matter. The people were doing pujas but after one or two days, the bag seemed to become smaller, and then the rope that bound it fell off. They didn’t know what was happening and went to see Jamyang Khyentse, who said that he might be going into a rainbow body and advised to put the body on a kind of shelf and then let it be. This was done, and as everybody knew about it, all the neighbours came and touched it. Usually it is said that when people are going into the rainbow body, they should not be touched or disturbed. In this case, people came from everywhere, even from our place, to see and touch it to see what was happening. Although it was disturbed in this way, the body became smaller and smaller every day, until it totally disappeared except for the nails and hair. So this shows that the rainbow body can happen even for people who are not anything special, not really very intelligent or educated. But he must have been practising secretly the same techniques for liberating thoughts and emotions. So therefore it is not necessary to be too special or anything like that, but it is necessary to be persistent and disciplined in your practice.
We should get and understand one real instruction, like the one we discussed, which is a very important and powerful instruction, and then practice it continuously, without too much impatience. Impatience is something we should beware of in practice, because one can never do or achieve something with impatience. The result never comes. So we have to be patient and let it be. We have to let things happen. Even to grow vegetables or flowers, you sow seeds, you put on manure and water, and then you leave it to the sun and you rest. You can’t hurry things up. It has to grow at its own pace. Calling out, 'Grow quickly, open up !' will not help in any way. So, in the same way, we have to practise with regularity and patience, whether we encounter good or not so good experiences.
The View is important because it is the basis on which we meditate.
The View is not only conceptual understanding, but it is also about how to meditate What do we meditate on?
We meditate on the View. Therefore the View is very important.
Meditation should be the union of shamatha and vipashyana (shine or lhaktong).
I think we already mentioned this, that any Buddhist meditation can be categorised within either shamatha or vipashyana. There is no other Buddhist meditation that is not in one way or another included within these two categories. Even in Vajrayana, the Creation stage meditations are all included within shamatha, and the Completion stage meditations are included within vipashyana. However, these two are not two totally separate things. When we talk about meditation, we need to categorise it and say that shyiné is like this, lhak tong is like that, but in our actual experience we can’t totally say now up to this is shyiné then we enter lhak tong. We can’t establish a clear boundary between them, it’s just a way of categorising.
Shamatha is usually approached first, because it’s the most simple, the most basic thing. Just learning how to relax, how to let our mind be more peaceful, more stabilised, not too much disturbed, bringing some kind of calmness into the mind, that technique or training is the shamatha meditation. It is very important because it is what brings peace, calmness, relaxation and ease to our mind. It brings it home, so it is very important. But it is not something that will totally put an end to the causes of our sufferings or, as we say in Buddhism, totally liberate ourselves. In order to liberate ourselves n from the samsaric state of mind, in order to unveil the enlightened state of mind, we need vipashyana. Vipashyana is insight, seeing or experiencing things as they really are. Eventually, these two are not separate, they have to go together. Although we might have to start with one, each has to help the other and finally they have to go together. Let's go back to the text :
The many techniques of creation and completion, both with and without visualisation, such as rejecting or transforming or resting in deceiving appearances,
are purificatory methods and that is where the value of all practice lies.
The View enables us that all appearances aredeceiving and not totally true, rather like a dream or a mirage. Whether or not we use a visualisation doesn’t matter. In the beginning we talked about the three ways of transforming our emotions and thoughts: rejection, transforming and resting. We can do whichever of these we want to, and then let our mind rest in whatever practice we are doing. So, how do we relax like that?
Thoughts of past, present, and future are like ripples on water, never ending.
Without pursuing them, whatever the subject of concentration is,
upon that itself, like a master craftsperson spinning yarn,
not too tight or too lose, but just right for the material,
the wise direct their watch guard of mindfulness again and again.
We usually have thoughts and emotions arising in our mind about the past, the present and the future, all coming one after another, like ripples on water, and it never finishes. But whatever comes, it’s OK. We don’t pursue them, we don’t continue the thought process, we don't let ourselves be carried away and follow the thoughts. Instead we just let our mind settle down, we just remain aware in the moment. The traditional example is that of a very expert craftsman weaving yarn. To make yarn, one has to know the right balance between tightness and looseness. It has to be tight enough to make a real thread, but it has to be loose enough so as not to break or become too stiff. If you are doing it right then everything goes fine and you get a very strong and long thread with no bumps that won’t break. In the same way, our mind has to be concentrated enough so as to remain aware of what the meditation is about, but without any tension. This right balance between relaxation and this slight awareness andmindfulness is the most important thing. That’s the way to meditate and why the text says, the wise direct their watch guard of mindfulness again and again.
So if we are meditating on trying to liberate our thoughts and emotions in the first arising, then we just do that in that relaxed state, with some awareness and mindfulness, which are the only tools with which we can meditate. Then we just let be. And when we go on doing this and sometimes get tired, then we just stop and rest, do nothing, and then start again. We don’t let our mind be totally scattered, restricted, dull or completely drowsy. Drowsiness and distraction are the two obstacles to meditation that we have guard against. But we also need to rest, so therefore we break the meditation and take some rest again and again. We then go on doing that without too much impatience, without expecting too much in the way of results. We should take it joyfully, as a kind of break, like resting, just relaxing, not as work, not as something heavy that we have to do, but treating it like a game, a sport or like a vacation. Then slowly, slowly things can come.
When somewhat used to that, mindfulness will grow stronger,
and the progressive experiences, such as one-pointedness, will arise.
Don’t fall into the so-called residue of mind or awareness,
the ordinary mental undercurrent, but rather intensify the clarity.
The undercurrent can be more harmful than both sinking and scattering.
When we go on doing this, the first experience is said to be that we feel that we have got worse, that there is so much distraction, so many things going on, so many thoughts coming up so strongly that we feel that we cannot meditate at all. This is said to be a good thing because we are becoming aware of how turbulent our mind actually is. We usually don’t recognise fully how busy our mind is, but we discover it when we become a little more settled. That is the time we should continue and it is the most difficult thing because it is a point where people are sometimes tempted to give up meditation, thinking meditation is too much for them, that they are unable to meditate and that it just doesn’t happen. That’s why it is very important to know about this stage and understand that it is a normal step, that one really shouldn't give up. If we can continue with the same method, with persistence and joy, then slowly we will progress and our meditation will improve. It won't go quickly, and there will be ups and downs, but it will slowly come. Here the text talks about]one-pointedness as if it was coming straightaway, but one-pointedness doesn’t necessarily come very quickly, although eventually it will.
While we are meditating, it is sometimes said that there’s something called a ‘mental undercurrent’. We feel as if we were calm and everything is settled, but actually we are not aware of lots of small thoughts going on underneath. We are somehow slightly repressing our thoughts, not letting them come and go. These thoughts are there at the bottom, underneath, but we don’t realise this and mistake it for being very calm. This is not good, because it prevents from making progress. We cannot progress because we feel that we are doing very good meditation, while ignoring all these small thoughts that form the ‘undercurrent’, or what is sometimes called the ‘residue of the mind’. To deal with this we sometimes need to stop the meditation and take a rest. The breaks are also good for this. It allows us to strengthen our awareness. Another way to stay more alert is to let the thoughts in the undercurrent come up. Most of the time, when we meditate we don’t want disturbances, we don’t want too many thoughts coming up and so we kind of unconsciously push them down. Then when we seem to have no thoughts we think, “Oh, great meditation, I didn’t think too much.” However, the thoughts are always going on without our noticing it. That’s not the best. It’s even said here in the text to be more dangerous than distraction and dullness. Dangerous here doesn't mean that it will harm us in some way, but it will prevent progress in our meditation. It is said to be worse than distraction and dullness because we can easily recognize when we have fallen into distraction or dullness, but it is easy not to realise that we are repressing the mental undercurrent, and then believe that we are really meditating properly while we are not. So this is something we have to be extremely aware of, and that’s why we have to make our mind very clear. If a thought has to come, let it come, we don't have to repress it, just let it come and go, it’s not a problem. But if you repress it, then many thoughts remain underneath and that’s no good. So sometimes we just stop, rest, relax and let any thought come. Or sometimes, we just intensify our awareness of the object or whatever we are looking at, because these undercurrent thoughts can only be present when we settle down, when we have calmed down, with insufficient clarity and awareness. It is like the sea: sometimes the water is very calm on the surface, but then there are lots of undercurrents and if you swim there, it’s dangerous. So that’s the example.
So that was the first step, how to bring the meditation, the stability, within the view. We have to come down to just one thing only which is how to reverse the arising of our samsaric delusion, and therefore go back to the first thoughts, first emotions, first concepts and then immediately liberate them. Within that process we meditate, that’s the first step. Now the second is; within that meditation, within the stability and calmness, then we also cultivate the insight. And that is:
When you establish for certain the true nature of mind, many things arise,
yet they are not other than the one.
When we talk about the nature of the mind, there are lots of we can say and discuss, but we have to go back to this one point, that if we understand the nature of our mind, if we can liberate our thoughts and emotions at the source, that’s all, there’s nothing more to do. We always have to go back to this simple thing. There is no need to make things too complicated. In our actual practice we need to get the quintessence of the whole path, see what is its essence, identify the main thing, and then practice that one thing. Now if we consider the nature of our mind, of our consciousness, what is its nature? That is something we cannot grasp, we cannot hold onto:
That one thing also cannot be grasped by objective clinging.
The nature of the mind, the nature of the consciousness is such that it cannot be grasped. There is nothing to hold onto, nothing that we can pinpoint and say, “This is like this. This is it.” So therefore it’s beyond any kind of grasping. Neither is it something we could look at it, because it has no colour, no shape, no basis, no root, and therefore it is something we cannot really see. It’s also ‘beyond intellect’, which means that our intellect cannot grasp it. We can't intellectually define it as being like this or like that, or not like that. We can only say what it's not like but we can’t say what it is like.
Looking at it, it is not seen, being without colour or shape.
This is a sign of its being without foundation, free of basis, and beyond intellect.
Its essence is empty, its nature clarity,
and its dynamic play of compassion arises without inhibition.
So the only way it can be described is that it is empty in its nature, because there is nothing we can find. Nevertheless, not being able to find anything doesn’t mean nothingness. There is clarity, awareness. Awareness is very much there, although we cannot find where and what this awareness is, what substance it is made of. But we can all feel there is a very clear awareness, so it’s not nothingness. And within that awareness, the dynamic play of compassion arises. If the mind is disturbed or distorted, then instead of compassion all different kinds of emotions arise. When the mind is not disturbed or distorted, then only compassion arises together with all its different displays.
Indeed, it is the Three Bodies that have been spontaneously present all along.
The nature of our mind is what is called the ‘Three Kayas’, which are the three aspects of the enlightened nature. When we meditate and can liberate our thoughts, this is what we experience and understand spontaneously with complete confidence. This view becomes experience, and so becomes the real view. This is showing how the meditation and the view support each other. Through meditation, the view becomes more experiential, whereas the view strengthens the meditation. In this way the view is not merely an intellectual or conceptual argument but becomes an experience. That is the most important thing, because if the view becomes just an intellectual toy, it doesn’t help at all since it doesn’t transform our way of seeing things. And it won't do so until that view has become experiential, which can be done only through the meditation. So here what I have been describing as the view is the insight or vipashyana. And what I have been describing as the meditation is shine or the shamatha meditation.
You try to block thoughts and yet they are not blocked—
first one unblocked thought arises, then a second—let them arise.
When they arise, send them wherever they go and stand guard.
Since there is no place for them to go, they have returned,
like a crow who has taken off from a ship.
Rest like the movement of swells at sea.
We should not stop the thoughts. Actually we cannot stop our thoughts from arising, we cannot stop our six senses from functioning, so let them function. We just have to be open and let them arise, whatever has to come, let it come. But with the understanding that whatever has come, we can just let it go. We should just be a little bit aware that there’s a thought coming, then we don’t let it take over, that’s the only thing. When a thought comes we usually let it take over, and it continue after it. “Oh, a tree! I don’t know what this tree is. . It's quite nice, especially when the sun is shining on it. . . If this tree was not there then maybe there would be a better view . . . Maybe tomorrow I have to cut this tree down. . . How do I cut this tree? . . I need some people to help me . . .” I can go on thinking like that for hours. That’s not meditation. In meditation, we can let the thought, 'Oh, this is a tree' arise, but we don’t block the other thoughts. So, this is a tree, OK, but the next moment maybe something totally different comes, like, “I want to have a drink.” And then next moment something else again - so let thoughts come up, then let them go, be like the open sky. There is always fresh insight, there is nothing kept, nothing repressed, nothing kind of put into a corner. So we need to keep our mind fresh in that way. So here the example given is that; when we let a thought come and don’t hold onto it, it is like a bird in the sea. If birds like pigeons or crows are in a cage on a ship in the middle of the sea and one opens the cage and let them fly out, they will fly around for a while and come back to the ship because there’s nowhere else to go. In the same way, when we are meditating, we have nothing to fear. We don’t have worry that our thoughts will be gone because there is nowhere for them to go. So we let our mind be in the same way, and that is how we liberate thoughts. The text uses a very nice expression, (me ri lö de gyamtso shin du ne) but I don’t think it is possible to really translate it properly. Here it is translated as Rest like the movement of swells at sea. The Tibetan words 'me ri' convey the sense of complete fluidity, of perfect flow without any restriction or obstacle. It's not like movements and swells of the sea, it’s more an expression like, ‘Let your mind be like the ocean’, completely loose, at ease, relaxed. A thought, an emotion comes, OK, it's alright, just be a little bit aware, but don't worry, let it come, let it go. Another thing comes, let it go, so it self liberates. Let them just be like birds flying in the sea. It doesn’t matter. That’s it. Yes. So this is how to bring shiné and lhaktong together because it’s about liberating the thoughts and at the same letting the mind settle.
Then we come to the fourth element, which is that we need to have mindfulness.
Undistracted mindfulness and continuous mental abiding
may be difficult, and you must proceed by small steps.
Nevertheless it is crucial to maintain the effort without becoming discouraged.
The only tool we have for meditation and practice is mindfulness, so it’s very necessary. Undistracted mindfulness, to be totally mindful all the time is difficult. This is possible for a great master or for a realised being. They are always mindful and have no distraction. But until we get to that stage of realisation, it is difficult for us to be mindful all the time. Nevertheless, we should try to develop this mindfulness step by step, because without mindfulness we can’t meditate, so we need to make this effort. There is nothing to practise still we need to practise, that’s what is said here. That is the thing: without becoming discouraged. Sometimes things don’t go well and there are lots of ups and downs. But whatever happens we have to keep some regularity and continuity in our practice, that's the main secret.
If abiding is stabilised but attachment to it is not released,
you will not be able to surpass the three realms,
and the facade of realisation will be whisked away by the movement of thoughts.
One cannot see the moon’s reflection in disturbed water.
Therefore, first develop the experiences of calm abiding,
and then meditate on superior insight; this is the normal approach.
What is said here very clearly is that, if we don’t develop some insight, lhaktong, we won’t really get out of the attachment. If we don’t release the attachment and become too attached to the shiné meditation, then we won’t be able to transcend the three realms and we will still be in samsara. Moreover, without the lhaktong, even the stability we may have gained through shine can be lost very easily. This is why lhaktong is so necessary. On the other hand, if we have gained some insight through lhaktong but have no stability of mind, our insight will remain very momentary, like a little flash that will be gone the next moment. Without shine, insight becomes very shaky. So therefore we need to develop both shamatha and vipashyana.
But how do we start? There are different ways of working on shiné and lhaktong. The general approach is to first start with some shiné and then get into lhaktong. There are also some approaches according to which we enter through lhaktong, but the general way is to start with shine because if we don’t have some stability of mind, then it is much more difficult to get some insight. The example given here is that of the reflection of the moon in a bowl of water. If the water in bowl is very stable, then the reflection will be very clear. But if the water is disturbed, then the reflection becomes blurred. In the same way, if our mind is not settled, we can’t have a very good insight. The main reason why we can’t see our true nature is because our mind is shaky and unclear. That’s why the general approach is to first start with shiné.
Generally, everything up to the Great Seal is termed “mind path.”
Common Great Perfection is also included in this.
The class of exceptional esoteric instructions
is said to be the “awareness path”, and as such
it is not definite that one must begin with calm abiding.
When the nature of naked awareness itself without exaggeration or denial is revealed, it is sufficient just to become accustomed to that.
Everything up to the Great Seal means all the Buddhist paths or yanas until or below the Mahamudra. All these different yanas are termed as the ‘path of the mind’ and what is above that is called the ‘wisdom path’. Above that there is only one path: the Dzogchen or Great Perfection. The common Dzogchen practices also belong to the mind path, but its exceptional instructions on the true nature of our mind form the ‘awareness path’ or the ‘rigpa path’, that is only taken by those who really have a high capacity. If we can do that, we will directly recognise the nature of our mind when it is introduced to us. In such case, if we can directly go into the rigpa, the wisdom awareness, we don’t need to start with shine or shamatha, or the preliminaries: we can directly go into insight. If we have the naked awareness, if rigpa or the complete buddha nature is completely revealed to us, then we can just do that directly, we don’t need anything else.
However, if the true nature is not unerringly revealed,
then even the profound esoteric instructions will be difficult to assimilate.
In that case it is better to tread the gradual path.
Even if we have received instructions like Dzogchen, if the true nature, our rigpa or wisdom experience is not clearly revealed without any possible doubt, then we cannot practise only that, we need a basis and it will be better for us to follow the gradual path. It is not impossible to go directly to lhaktong or directly go rigpa and do away with the preliminaries of shyiné and things like that, but it is not easy and it depends on the person. Until you get a really strong introduction, then it is safer to take the gradual path, first practising some shiné, then moving into the lhaktong practice, and then slowly going further.
4.3 The Action
We now come to the third point of this fourth point on the pith instructions, the Action. So the Action is to train in self-liberating whatever arises, that is the action. It is described in eight points.
4.3.1. The quintessence of the instructions of all practice lineages
So, the first one is the essential points, the quintessence of the teachings. These are all the main practices of the different practice lineages in Tibet.
“Non-meditation,” “non-distraction,” “abandoning mental doings,”
“maintaining whatever arises,” “ordinary mind,”
and “free of intellect” all mean uncontrived.
The main thing is that all these different lineages, different methods, come to the same point, namely the nature of our mind, and if we see that, if we learn how to work on that, how to liberate that, then that is enough. The terminology used here is coming from both Mahamudra and Dzogchen teachings.
Whatever abiding or moving is perceived, it is unnecessary to fabricate anything
Again minding and again concentrating is certainly adding deluded thought onto itself.
Focusing directly upon bare awareness,
called “maintaining whatever arises,” is the path of all the adepts.
The main point here is that there should be no contrivance. Although it’s not very easy to understand, the word that describes the right state is ‘uncontrived’. We don’t do anything. We just let be, totally let be, in a completely natural state. That’s being in the nature of the mind. Natural here is not our habitual 'natural' state which is something fabricated. There are two kinds of ‘natural’ states. One is what we habitually consider as 'natural'. The English way would express it like putting one's feet up and letting one's hair down. Maybe that is also 'natural' in a way, but that’s actually a habit. That's not the kind of 'natural' we are talking about here, which is not just a habitual but a completely natural state of our mind. We can remain like that. To learn that is to be uncontrived, not doing anything, not changing or manipulating anything, not making any fabrications, but totally letting be. So therefore this is the main technique of meditation, to just be aware and then completely let be in this truly natural state of our mind.
In the ways of applying practice to one’s being, such as the Middle Way
Pacification and Severance, the Great Seal, and common Great Perfection,
Whatever thoughts arise, without making anything out of them,
You look nakedly right at them and they become the path of liberation.
Uma is the Middle Way, Madhyamika, that is Nagarjuna’s teachings.
Zhi chö (shyi gcod) is a particular instruction and practice which was brought to Tibet by Phadampa Sangye. Phadampa Sangye is supposed to have been Kamalashila, the great pandit who came to Tibet from India in the Ninth century and then defeated the Chinese Mahayana master Ha Shan in a debate after which the Tibetans decided to follow the Indian pandits rather than the Chinese masters. As Kamalashila was once going back to India, the story goes that his path, a narrow Himalayan path, was blocked by the dead body of a very big elephant. He mastered an instruction called phowa tun juk thanks to which one's mind can leave the body and enter into another body. To clear the path, he left his body, entered into the elephant's body and went some way to where this elephant body could be left out of the way. But when he returned to where he had left his body, he found another body instead. Kamalashila was very good-looking. A man who had received the same phowa instructions had come along Kamalashila's nice body and being himself very ugly, he had innocently exchanged his own body for Kamalashila's and gone away. Kamalashila had no other way left but to enter this ugly body and later on, when he came back to Tibet, as nobody would recognise him as Kamalashila, he called himself Phadampa Sangye. His teachings are called zhi chö, which means ‘pacifying’.
One of his students, a lady called Machig Labdrön founded a practice based on the Prajnaparamita Sutras that is called Chöd or cutting – severance as it is translated here.
Then cha chen (pya ch'en) is the Mahamudra, the main pith instruction, the highest teaching of the Kagyu school. Dzog pa means dzogpachenpo, which is the main teaching of the Nyingmapa. To identify these as the quintessence of all these, that’s the first point.
So when whatever arises, whatever thought, emotion or whatever, instead of finding a remedy for it, or rejecting it or following it, we just look at it, stare at it nakedly and it kind of disappears, liberates itself. That’s how to work on it.
In the path of the Heart-drop esoteric instruction Great Perfection
you look inwardly right at the one who perceives whatever thoughts arise,
and you encounter the essence of reality.
The Dzogchen is categorised into two paths: the common Great Perfection or Dzogchen, and the Nyingtig, or heart-drop, the highest instructions of the Great Perfection.
So there are two things here. One is that a thought arises and you just stare at that thought, and that thought disappears. And then another thought comes, you just stare at that thought, and you liberate it too. Another way, the Nyingtik way is, when a thought comes, to look at the perceiver or thinker, and try to find out who is thinking or seeing this, where the thought comes from, and then encounter the essence of reality.
Deluded appearance and thoughts disappear in their own ground without your paying attention to them.
So when we do either of these two, then wherever they come from the deluded appearance and thoughts just disappear in their own ground, without your paying attention to them. That’s the instruction.
I have heard several learned and accomplished gurus say
that the former is focusing outward with dualistic clinging,
while the latter is focusing inward and is truly nondualism.
‘Former’ means whatever thought or emotion arises. We look at that. ‘The latter’ is looking at the perceiver of thoughts and emotions. Jamgon Kongtrul heard that the former is a little dualistic whereas the latter is truly non-dualistic. So the latter is even better, but that depends on what is more suitable to us. So:
Even if that is so, the methods of liberating thoughts
must include definite experiences in the three stages.
These are the deepest instructions. Of course we can practise and try it, but even if we have gone through this in the completion stages, we need to understand the three stages of liberation of thoughts (instantaneous liberation at first arising, liberation of mental fabrication and concepts and liberation of emotions) and if we know that, it can be very powerful.
Furthermore, according to Vimalamitra,
liberation without a sequence of thoughts
is like a child looking around in wonderment in a temple:
there is no mental construct of good or bad made from the initial perception.
Vimalamitra was one of the greatest pandits of India. He was also one of the greatest masters of Dzogpachenpo, who brought these teachings to Tibet along with Guru Padmasambhava and Vairocana. It is said that later on Vimalamitra went to China and attained deathlessness. He is therefore supposed to be still alive somewhere in China. If you go there and are lucky, maybe you will see him!
According to the Nyingtik Dzogpachenpo teachings, there are three ways of practising instant liberation of thoughts and emotions. If we can look at that very thought, that very emotion, that very moment, the first way of liberating it is said to be like a child looking at a temple. If a small baby is taken into a Tibetan temple, he will see everything, lots of colourful things, but he won’t care if it’s there or not, if it's colourful or not, supposed to be holy or ugly or whatever. Whatever is there doesn’t matter to him because he doesn’t have any concept about what he sees. In a slightly similar way, we liberate appearances because they do not matter.
Liberation in its own ground of whatever thought arises
is like the snake’s knot disappearing in space:
as soon as it appears it disappears without need of a remedy
The second way of liberating is to let whatever arises liberate of its own. If we make a knot with its body, a snake will need no help to disentangle itself. In the same way, our thoughts and emotions liberate by themselves when we understand that there is no need for us to get involved with them. As soon as the thought arises, we know that we can just liberate it, so we don’t need to apply a separate remedy for it. It’s like a water-bubble: as soon as it forms, it just bursts by itself without us needing to do anything.
Liberation in the realisation that thoughts are neither helpful nor harmful
is like a burglar raiding an empty house:
whether it occurs or not, there is neither loss nor gain.
The third one is the understanding that there is no need to grasp at anything. Once we have become very experienced, whatever thought or emotion arises, we don’t have to even meditate, to care or to make any effort. This self-liberating on it’s own is compared to what happens when a burglar enters a completely empty house: nobody has to bother because there’s nothing to take away anyway. Similarly, when we clearly understand the nature of the thoughts and emotions, it not longer matters whether they come or not. These three ways of liberating thoughts are results.
In short, the essential meaning is this: understand the essential points of meditation; do not fall under the power of mediocrity in external manners;
and inwardly, exert effort tempered just right.
These should be understood as the signs of obtaining stability.
What this means is that, even though inwardly we are liberating our mind, letting it be totally natural and un-contrived, outwardly we should not let ourselves be carried away by our habitual tendencies and be totally undisciplined. But with insight we can completely relax. The more we can relax inside, the better it is. The more relaxed the better it is, although outwardly, in our behaviour, we should be careful not loose control. When we gain that balance, it is the signs of obtaining stability.
Non-meditation is the exhaustion of effort.
Although there is nothing to meditate on, there is something to get used to.
For the sake of habituation, while eating, resting, going, or staying,
in all activities, it is crucial not to give in to distraction.
If we understand really deeply how to apply this method of meditation, then we have nothing else to do. This only thing is all we need to completely liberate ourselves, to become enlightened, to get rid of all our sufferings and problems. So therefore, non-meditation is the exhaustion of efforts. Meditation at this level is totally natural. There’s no need to get rid of anything, nothing to meditate on, no remedies to apply. Nevertheless, even then, there is something to get used to, otherwise we can still run the risk of getting carried away by our habitual tendencies. What we must get used to is to remain in this state and remind ourselves of this understanding and experience over and over again. There may be nothing to meditate on, but still we have to experience it. We have to get used to this way of being. So therefore the more we can stay in this awareness, in this un-contrived state of mind without any distraction, the better it is, because that’s the practice. All the traditions, be it Dzogchen, Mahamudra or Zhi je share this as their main instruction on how to meditate.
4.3.2. The practical instructions according to the Zhijé lineage
The practical instructions according to the Zhijé school are called sangye la zhan, which means giving the Buddha hand-to-hand.
When alone, you can relax and maintain true nature,
when in a crowd, the powers of mindfulness, awareness,
and clarity need to be carefully guarded.
So when we are alone, we can relax in maintaining the true nature that we have just discussed, bringing out the naked, bare rigpa and remaining completely naturally in that un-contrived state. When we are not alone, we can look at whatever arises, increase and carefully guard our mindfulness, awareness and clarity, because we can be easily distracted in a crowd or when many people surround us. These are the two practices that we can use while alone or in a crowd.
Since mindful awareness in essence has no true existence,
there is nothing to attend to, but there is something to establish.
There is nothing to establish through mindfulness. Mindful awareness is empty in essence. Therefore there is nothing to do but we have to remain mindfulness so that we don’t forget to liberate our thoughts and emotions, to look at the nature of our mind with either of the two methods we discussed previously, namely to stare at whatever appearance that arises, just relax in and liberate it, or to look at the perceiver and then liberate the appearance. As we also said before, there’s nothing to establish, but there is something to get used to.
Since it is awareness-emptiness, it is somewhat difficult to establish,
but once you are used to it, it will be like meeting an old acquaintance.
When we meet an old acquaintance, we usually feel very happy and very familiar. In the same way, when we understand our true nature, we will be able to remain in it in a very comfortable way
Whatever appearances, sounds, or thoughts occur,
there’s not one iota that is not an aspect of awareness itself.
The more we are used to it, the more we will come to know that everything that appears is within that clear awareness or rigpa, and that there is nothing which is beyond that. There will then slowly come a time when we understand that there is nothing within our experience that could be called a distraction. So this is a very important instruction.
4.3.3. The practical instructions according to Mahamudra and Dzogchen
From the point of view of the Mahamudra and Dzogchen, the most important thing is first to distinguish rigpa from sem, and this is how it is done.
The esoteric instructions of exceptional Atiyoga speak of the distinction between mind and intrinsic awareness.
Mindfulness cannot grasp the nature of clear light—
this abstruse aspect, with movement and memory, that is difficult to cut through, is mind.
Esoteric’ means special, deep or hidden instructions. Intrinsic awareness is rigpa, whereas the mind is our usual distorted mind. These two have to be distinguished and it takes a long time before we can completely distinguish between them, but then we really know how to practise. That’s the right time to go in retreat for quite some time.
So the mind is what is still moving, being mindful, not seeing the clear light completely clearly. This lack of clarity or dullness is translated here as the 'abstruse aspect'. The movements refer to the different thoughts, emotions and perceptions that agitate our usual mind. It’s difficult to cut through this but this is what we have to do in order to fully experience the rigpa. When we can go beyond this turbulent layer of thoughts and emotions, then rigpa arises. Actually, rigpa is there all the time, but it’s the unclear side of it.
With no object of cognisance, the nature of clear light is seen—
this radiant aspect abides like a candle.
As we already discussed, the main difference between rigpa and sem, however clear and stable it might be, always has a certain object of cognisance. It is aware of something. Within sem, there is always the subject/object duality. In rigpa, there’s no object of cognisance in the rigpa. There is the clear light, but that clarity has no object. Rigpa has no object, it’s just clear, completely clear. That is why it is compared to a candle. Candlelight is clear on its own and the rigpa is like that, completely clear on its own. Manifestations are arising out of it, within it, and are not seen as something distinct. So that’s why it is very important to distinguish between rigpa and sem and for this we need the instructions and teachings of an experienced guide or teacher. If it were not for that, we wouldn't need a guru.
The latter is like the sudden fright without a known object,
But when it is recognised, confidence is established.
There’s something slightly wrong with this translation here. This is not what the Tibetan says. It says that when the real experience of rigpa first starts coming or is about to happen, we can be frightened, because that’s the time when we are about to step out of the ignorance, to move from ego to egolessness, or to the enlightened state. So therefore, in a last effort to maintain itself, the ego produces a certain feeling of fear beyond which we have to go. We have to bring in all our understanding and experience to deal with these fears because they are the last effort of the ego to place obstacles on our path, what are sometimes known as maras or demons. After we have gone through that, then we get the real confidence. We have never had before this kind of confidence. We know for sure that there is absolutely nothing else but this, because we see the truth face-to-face, the way the things really are, without any doubt. This is the kind of complete confidence that is now established.
It is said that awareness is empty of movement, unborn and liberated—
The translation is not really correct here, it should read, “It [awareness] is liberated in unborn-ness and in emptiness.” Everything is liberated within the emptiness and unborn nature. So we see everything like that, there is nothing which holds us back, which binds us, which prevents us, which cages us. It's totally liberated.
It is seeing the analogy, not just the words of emptiness.
These are the direct oral precepts of the lineage, which are like the heart’s blood
I don't know what the translator means here with the term 'analogy', because there is nothing like it in the Tibetan text. 'Pe' here doesn't mean 'analogy' but a book, and it means that it's not just something that is in books, that one gets just by reading books. This is what we are talking about. Emptiness is not just a word, it is not something we've learned or studied, but it's an experience.
These instructions that we have gone through are oral precepts, oral instructions, from the Dzogchen and Mahamudra lineages. A ‘lineage’ is the succession of masters who have had the total experience and transmitted it from one person to another. So therefore these teachings are not just empty words but they are real experiences, and therefore they are like the blood coming from the heart. The heart’s blood is warm, running, living, and so are these instructions.
They are not revealed to those broken commitment, sophists, and so on—
the protectors of Mantra keep a sharp watch.
These instructions are supposed to be very zealously and jealousy guarded by the protectors. Therefore, if these instructions are given to people who are not suitable, not worthy to receive them, or who have broken samayas or bad motivations, then it is said to be very bad for the teacher, who will undergo very strong reactions from the protectors. It is said therefore that these instructions should not be given lightly, just like that. Some lamas are really very strict about this and do not give instructions even after 500 requests have been done with all the preparations. Others will give some instructions more easily.
These instructions are not only given in the Dzogchen, but they also form the highest, the pith instructions in the Mahamudra. The Mahamudra also has different levels. Marpa the translator, the founder of the Kagyu school in Tibet said, “Within the darkness of ignorance, I open the window of the wisdom of rigpa. Like the sun shining in a cloudless sky, all my deluded appearances are completely cleared.” There are many other similar quotations but here Jamgön Kongtrul says,
Uncontrived reality does not need to be sustained continuously:
one incident recalled is sufficient,
Again, there is a little problem with the translation here. What is meant is that, if as a result of the instructions of the teacher, we have once experienced or realised how to differentiate between sem and rigpa, then we don’t have to watch it or remind ourselves again and again. We don’t have to do anything, to work on it with a contrived mind. We can just continue and remain in this realisation: that is enough. When we do that, we accomplish what previous Kagyu masters taught.
as was taught by the previous Kagyu masters.
By meditating on the essence, the karmic obscurations of many eons
are purified, and furthermore, the vital wind enters the central channel automatically
There are other benefits too great to speak of.
Generally it is said that in order to become totally enlightened, one has to purify all the negative karmas, all the habitual tendencies, and that it will take not only many years or many lifetimes, but many countless aeons. However, because of the power of this practice, it is said that all these purifications can be done within one lifetime if we can remain in this rigpa. And the sign that all our karmic negativities, conditionings and habitual tendencies have been purified is that our vital winds or energies (there are, as we described earlier, five vital winds and five ancillary winds) enter into the central channel and transform themselves. We then control these ten winds and become their master. In other words, there are other benefits because you are about to get enlightened.
If you know your own nature, it is the knowledge of the one thing that liberates all.
If we have understood how to be in rigpa, that’s all there is. There’s nothing else to learn, there’s no higher or deeper or more powerful practice to be done. This is the one thing that can transform everything, liberate everything, solve all the problems and sufferings. Therefore, this knowing is enough and comes down to knowing everything.
When your mental powers are weak, and maintaining without focusing on something is difficult,
Practice developing mindfulness in creation stage and other techniques that are in keeping with your condition.
Maintaining (awareness) without focusing on something is difficult for a number of reasons. It may be that we are not able to do that much, or we may only partially understand it. We may feel weak, or not realise the nature of this wisdom. It is actually very difficult for us to focus on nothing and what we are trying to do is to focus on something, when there is nothing to focus on. This approach is indeed completely different from our usual conceptual way of perceiving. Our usual way of perceiving is very much limited to three or two dimensions, with three things: a subject, an object and an action. But here there is no subject, no object and no action, so it’s a totally different way of being. It is therefore not easy to understand and it is very difficult to experience in the beginning.
When that is the case, when we really find it difficult to work on it, then we have to go into it gradually. All the different methods, like the creation stage and all the many other techniques were devised to lead us slowly towards that understanding. So we can develop mindfulness, practise the creation stages and the other techniques that are the most suitable for us and in keeping with our own current condition, capacity and level of understanding. The instructions that have just been given are pith instructions, which means that they are the main thing, the essence, the highest and most direct way. So they are something that one has to do at the end, but if at the moment we are not able to understand or to practise them, then we can practise any of all the other methods, which are in fact all skilful means to gradually lead us to the highest practice. There is no practice that is not slowly leading us towards that. So we can practise other methods, but we have to understand that they are only there to lead us to that. That’s why we said in the beginning that the creation stage teachings and practices are not ultimate but provisional, which means that they lead to the ultimate.
4.3.4. Integration, or how to strengthen the experience
The fourth point is to integrate this experience, this realisation, in order to strengthen our experience and realisation.
In sustaining non-focusing, the mixing of basic space and intrinsic awareness
is enhanced by mixing the source, mind, with the centre of space
or the depths of the ocean to illuminate mindfulness.
At that time awareness-emptiness without centre or circumference arises.
Here also the translation is a little awkward. What this passage means it that we need to maintain the understanding and experience of rigpa, but without making it rigid, and in order to do that then we have to integrate it in what is called ‘basic space’. This ‘basic space’ here is the dharmadatu [Skt.] or ying [Tbt.]. So when we have this experience of rigpa, we just completely let be in total relaxedness, in total naturalness, as if we were letting that understanding of rigpa merge with limitless space or with the ocean. Rigpa, intrinsic awareness, is limitless and its experience should therefore also be limitless. This is called integrating and it strengthens our experience which is said to have no centre and no circumference because, when you have a centre and a circumference, then you still have limitations, whereas this experience goes beyond any limitation. This is thus the exercise through which the realisation or experience of rigpa is enhanced.
4.3.5. How to clear the obstacles
Three things are said to pose the danger of misunderstanding:
emptiness, calm abiding, and neutrality.
Emptiness, shunyata [Skt.], the understanding of the nature of things, is the antidote, what clears the obstacles. Calm abiding or shyiné is a meditative state that is also a way of clearing obstacles. And then neutrality, this is what is to be cleared. The main obstacle is neutrality. But these three things can be misunderstood and we have to understand clearly what they are; otherwise we might mistake one for the other. So here the author explains the differences.
Emptiness means freedom from the extremes of existence and non-existence, birth and cessation, eternalism and nihilism.
It is called an experience in awareness, unimaginable, inconceivable, and ineffable.
Emptiness means freedom from any grasping. Therefore, if there still is a concept like, ‘This is existing', 'it’s this and not that', 'it’s not existing,’ then it is not an experience beyond any holding on to concepts like birth, cessation, eternalism or nihilism. The real lhaktong or vipashyana is the experience of emptiness, and the real emptiness is the experience of the great awareness, free from imagination and concepts. So it’s unimaginable, inconceivable and indescribable, but it is also a very clear experience.
Calm abiding is thoroughly pacifying the churning of thoughts and resting the mind evenly, without centre or circumference, abiding like the ocean without waves.
The calm abiding or shiné experience is when the thoughts are pacified. The mind is resting very calm and even. It’s an experience of utmost calmness, utmost peace, and within that peace we may sometimes experience some emptiness, bliss and absence of thoughts. But the main aspect of shiné is the calmness. The example given is like an ocean without waves, without any ripples, without any turbulence, completely calm. So that is shine and it is a very good basis for lhaktong, for the vipashyana, or experience of emptiness. If, within the peace of calm abiding, we can look a little inward, we may then experience the emptiness. But of course, we don’t need to experience the emptiness in order to do shine. All I want to say is that it is a very good basis for the vipashyana experience of emptiness.
Neutrality is when the power of mindful awareness weakens,
And you pursue the subtle mental movements.
When mindful awareness arrives, it is more like hindsight,
It is like water flowing through grass:
You see it only when it comes out the other side.
The third one that we could misunderstand is neutrality. This is what we call lung ma tenin Tibetan. We already mentioned this neutral state when we discussed the shine meditation but we then translated it as equanimity. It is a kind of calm dullness, a lack of clarity, that is neither positive nor negative. This is when meditation is nice and cosy but our mind is weak and lacks awareness, not noticing the many subtle movements that are still going on. Therefore we have to do something when we realize that some dullness is clouding our mind. But this state is difficult to notice, like water flowing through grass. We often only realize it afterwards, when mindful has come back and it is therefore a problem. In the meditation, we have to be careful about this neutrality.
During meditation, if a state of neutrality occurs, single it out, that is, tighten up the mindful awareness.
In order to dissipate this neutral state, we have to increase our awareness. It is advised to break the meditation and start it again, because this neutral state sometimes comes when our meditation session is too long. This is why the meditation instructions state that, especially in the beginning, we should meditate in short sessions and make many breaks. After each break, we will be more awake, more mindful.
When dark torpor sets in, clear out the stale breath
and wake up by chanting loudly, swaying and so on.
Breathing out fully will make us a little fresher and more alert. We can also recite the mantra or something like that - if we have a good tune and a good voice, otherwise we will disturb the neighbours! And, sometimes we can move or sway to and fro, or from side to side.
4.3.6. How to work on emotions
When angry thoughts arise vividly,
if you look at them nakedly and rest without fabrication,
they will vanish in their own ground without harm or benefit.
Generally there are three ways of dealing with negative emotions. The first is to try to generate a positive emotion instead of a negative one. When a negative emotion arises, we try to replace it by a positive emotion. The second is transforming the emotion, usually during a visualisation. We visualize ourselves in an enlightened form, like Chenrézig or Vajrasattva, and through this our negative emotion is transformed. The third one is understanding the nature of the emotion. We look at the thought or emotion rather than looking outwards at the object or reason of our anger, jealousy or desire. We don't go through the process of looking at what wrong was done, how hurt we are and things like that, but instead we just look at that emotion itself and rest in that, without fabrication. We have already mentioned that there are two ways of looking at the emotions: looking at the emotion, thought or arising itself, or looking at the perceiver of this. Here we look at the emotion itself. It isn't easy to learn how to do that, but if we can, it is actually the most effective way, because then the emotion will naturally vanish on its own, in their own ground, and therefore will do no harm.
Self-arising wisdom is none other than that.
That vivid arising within a state of non-fabrication
takes the form of anger but is essentially pristine wisdom.
When they are purified or transformed, the five mind poisons become the five wisdoms. So this self-arising wisdom is like that. When we look at the anger, that state of energy transforms into wisdom by using the wisdom-awareness, the clarity and non-reacting, non manipulating state of our mind. That is what we call the anger transformed into wisdom.
In the wake of the vanishing anger, the radiance of emptiness need not be pursued.
We don’t have to 'create' emptiness, or to somehow seek or find the emptiness of the anger. We just have to rest, to relax in the emotion, and the anger vanishes, or rather theenergy that drives the anger and makes it negative vanishes, so that only its positive energy remains and it is thus transformed.
That emptiness without frame of reference is what’s called “unity,”
as are Vajrasattva and the others.
The emptiness mentioned here is not nothing, not a vacuum. Here emptiness is the experiential emptiness which is not a negative thing but a positive one. So there is no negative force behind the anger that vanishes into emptiness by itself, and it’s just nothing to bother about. The unity mentioned here is the unity of clarity and emptiness.
In the context of the five wisdoms, Vajrasattva is the purification or transformation of anger into the mirror-like wisdom. All the other mind-poisons can be transformed in the same way, which is why the author says:
Apply this also to the afflictive emotions such as desire, and so on.
When we do it with desire, it then becomes the discriminating wisdom. Ignorance becomes the wisdom of the dharmadatu or the wisdom of the absolute space. Pride transforms into the wisdom of equanimity and jealousy becomes the all-accomplishing wisdom and things.
In the completely perfect sense, there is no meditation and nothing to meditate on. When mindfulness alone is enough, it is the peak of practice,
If our practice merges in the more ultimate sense, we find that there is nothing to meditate on. There comes a point when there is no more meditation. When mindfulness alone is enough, it is the peak of practice. Mindfulness here means seeing this true nature of ourselves. That is enough, and there is nothing more than that.
In the ultimate sense, even mindfulness itself does not exist.
When the basis of mindfulness is absolved in basic space we speak of wisdom.
Within that state of mind, when this experience of wisdom becomes very clear, then it is said that our awareness no longer has an object. When that happens, that is when we get rid of the ego, of our sense of I and others. It’s not that we lose our understanding. There’s a very great clarity, but no holding on to a self and then thinking of everything else as something to do with me. When the mind or mindfulness dissolves into what we call basic space or wisdom, there is no more watcher and therefore no more need of an antidote. So:
As when fuel is used up the fire is also extinguished,
When delusion is used up the remedy itself is eliminated.
We need wood to keep a fire burning and when there is no more wood, then the fire dies out. So in the same way, there is no more remedy necessary.
This is the sphere of activity of all noble ones.
It is not meditation, nor is it non-meditation.
Not being meditation, there is nothing at all to focus on,
and not being non-meditation, there can be no distraction.
This is the result, the final understanding or the final way of being of the enlightened beings: there is no more need to do anything, not even to meditate or try to become mindful. This state of integration of meditation in our actual whole experience cannot really be called meditation because there is nothing to focus or meditate on, there is nothing to do, but it is cannot be called non-meditation either, because there is no distraction.
Simply place the mind on the bare apprehension of the nature of reality.
This is not a thought-object of the rational mind
Because the absolute is beyond intellect and without reference point.
So the only thing you do is to let the wisdom, rigpa, be in its true natural wisdom, natural reality. There is no thought. It’s not something like a thought-object, ‘I am doing this, I am doing that.’ Within the experience of this absolute nature there is no more thought activity and reference points. We remain in the completely un-contrived nature, the bare rigpa, without the slightest distraction.
If the intimate connection between thought and object is not severed
although you call it “uncontrived,” it cannot reverse delusion.
In the state of meditation or experience where the connection between the thought and its object is severed, there are no more thoughts and thought-objects. As long as there is a thought and a thought-object, something here inside and something out there, a perceiver and a perceived object, then our meditation is not really un-contrived and it cannot reverse the samsaric delusion, the reactions that we discussed before, how our eight conscious groups function to create our samsaric pattern, our samsaric way of reacting. Therefore our experience cannot be un-contrived. To be un-contrived, just completely natural, is the most important thing.
Severing the inner perceiver and the external object
may be called self-arising self-liberating, but it is still duality.
When there is no antidote it is self-arising self-liberating.
In the beginning, when a thought, a concept or an emotion arises, we have to self-liberate it. It is self-arising and self-liberating, but as long as there is still an inner perceiver and a perceived external object then, even if we want to call it self-arising and self-liberating, it is still deluded. So at that stage there is still duality, but of course, this is how we have to start, this is the practice we have to do at the beginning. But when we come to the last stage of non-meditation, where we completely remain in rigpa, then this kind of self-liberating is no longer applicable because there is nothing left to liberate. The inner perceiver and external objects are no longer two. The duality has been severed, it is cut off, finished. Instead, there is a complete clarity, but a clarity without a thought-object. We no longer think, ‘I am doing this,’ ‘I am seeing this,’ ‘This is seen by me,’ or anything like that. The really, truly, ultimately self-arising self-liberating happens when we experience that there is no more need of any antidote. Everything is already perfect, everything is liberated. There is nothing left to liberate, nothing left to do, no need to focus and no distraction: it’s just awareness, the complete, clear awareness, but without subject and object. That is the final experience, the integration of the highest type or what we can call enlightenment.
When you are doing shiné and you are watching the breathing, at the same time, thoughts are coming. When you let them come and go and pass, is it vipashyana? So are you at the same time practising shiné and vipashyana?
As I said earlier, we cannot totally say this is only shiné with nothing to do with vipashyana, or this is vipashyana - nothing to do with shiné. We can’t totally segregate the two. Basically, when you are breathing, you are focussing on your breathing as the main point, and then you let your mind settle down, letting the thoughts come and go. That is shiné. In vipashyana also, you don’t have much more to do at the practical level. Nevertheless, the main thing here is the understanding that what you are doing is liberating. You know how your mind works, and how your mind gets into delusion, and also how your mind can liberate itself from that process. If you do that, that’s vipashyana, that’s lhaktong.
This morning you gave the example of seeing a tree and then trying not to follow the thoughts, not creating more thoughts. But if I think, “OK, I’m not going to follow it”, that means I'm trying to repress it rather than letting it liberate by itself. So it seems not that easy to do. Does it gradually come easier with the practice.
Of course, there is nothing which doesn’t come easier with some practice. But the thing is first to learn how to do that. That’s the most difficult thing, how to learn to do it, to understand what it exactly means. It is not that you create more thoughts in order to stop one thought. You don’t have to create more thoughts. But you don’t have to stop the thoughts either, because you can’t do that anyway. What you try to do is not getting carried away by the thoughts, but instead remain in the present moment. You just remain relaxed and free, not carried away by the thoughts but not closed to them either. You let thoughts come but you don't let them take over. Actually it’s, in a way, the most natural thing to do. It’s the way your mind really is. You just let your mind be in its totally natural state, because the mind is like that. There’s nothing to grasp, but it is full of manifestations, so you let these manifestations be, but not take over. There’s no need to force things, it’s just there. So that is the thing.
So if one can do this, then the main thing is that one is completely free, not caught in the reactions, the sufferings and problems. It’s therefore a very important thing to do but it’s not easy because we are not used to it. We are used to being taken over by the thoughts, which then become emotions and reactions and we thus create stronger habitual patterns that completely overpower us. That's what we call the samsaric cycle. It goes off and we are squashed in it. To get out of that is not easy because it is like a very strong addiction we are caught into. That’s why we need to steadily practise, practise, practise and practise again - but slowly and with some relaxedness. This is the most important thing. We need to be able to relax while practising, to maintain the mindfulness and awareness, but still be relaxed.
You said yesterday that discursive thoughts are the manifestation of the mind, so we are to just let them go freely, and you said they don’t create karma. So I'm wondering about that not creating karma. Don’t thoughts create any karma even if they are followed by an emotion?
It's not that the thoughts don’t create any karma. But if we don’t let the thoughts and emotions take over and complete or accomplish the whole process, if you liberate them, then, in that case they don’t create karma because there is no grasping and the process cannot finish.
What kind of psychic material is the undercurrent thought/emotions stream made of? Is it connected with the alaya? Is it material from previous existence, or something like what we perceive in dreams? Could you say it's what Freud called the subconscious?
I think it can by anything. 'Undercurrent' here doesn’t mean necessarily subconscious.Yes, of course, it can be from the subconscious level, but not necessarily. It's like anything that is coming up. These are not particular thoughts or particular emotions, but it can be anything that is manifesting. This is very possible when we are sitting, trying to meditate, and we are a little relaxed, a little concentrated, so therefore we are much calmer at the surface level. But when we relax, sometimes we don’t realise that there are small thoughts going on below. So that’s what we talk about. I think it is not necessarily only coming from traumatic experiences in childhood, or from a very deep subconscious level, although it could be.
© Dr. Ringu Tulku