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Explanation of the Main Points of “The Kalachakra Presentation of the Four Creative-Energy Drops and the Winds of Karma"

Alexander Berzin
Paris, France, September 2012

Session Two: The Awake-Occasion Creative-Energy Drop

Unedited Transcript
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The Importance of Analysis

We were discussing what Kalachakra adds to our understanding of the four noble truths. And we saw that one of the most distinctive features that it adds is the discussion of the flowing or coursing of the winds of karma in our bodies, our subtle bodies, and how that is involved with the aging process of the gradual destruction of the other channels within the body, their degeneration and destruction. But what I thought to investigate further is: is there another level that we can understand this explanation of the true causes of samsara? And so what I will proceed to explain are the initial results of my analysis.

One of the things that I want to illustrate here is the importance of analysis. Analysis means trying to figure things out, put things together. Analytical meditation, that’s something else. I’m talking here about basic analysis. In the Buddhist teachings, we are presented with many pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, and it’s up to us to try to figure out how they fit together. And so we need to get a vast amount of study and learning, and the more that we have understood all the various complex teachings that we receive in Buddhism, the more that we are going to be able to then put those pieces further together. This means studying and learning many, many commentaries, etc., and doing a great deal of reflection.

In the threefold process of listening, thinking, and meditating, this is the thinking aspect. So this second step, the thinking step, the purpose of that is to understand the teachings. As a result of this process, we will understand the teachings and be convinced that they are true. And so we use the methods of logic and so on to try to put things together. This is what we find in all the commentaries. This is the method in which the commentaries are usually explained or how they present themselves.

So let me first present the facts that we actually find in the commentaries, and then we’ll investigate how we can put these things together, something that we need to do in our own development. The traditional way in which Tibetan lamas teach is that they don’t really put things together; they give us the pieces of the puzzle. I’ll try to put some of the pieces together to show the way, how do you do that, but then we need to go more deeply ourselves.

The Four Creative-Energy Drops

we need to investigate first the role of these four creative-energy drops. There are two sets of these four.

1. In the center of the chakras at the forehead and the navel are what’s known as the awake drops (sad-pa’i gnas-skabs skyed-pa’i thig-le). The literal translation is the “drops that give rise to the occasion of being awake,” but let’s just use the “awake drops.” These are also known as the body drops (lus-kyi thig-le).

2. Then at the center of the chakras at the throat and the pubic region are the dream drops (rmi-lam-gyi gnas-skabs skyed-pa’i thig-le). They’re also known as the speech drops (ngag-gi thig-le).

3. At the center of the chakras at the heart and the center of the head – literally the “jewel” – of the penis (or in the case of a woman, the clitoris), there we have the deep-sleep drops (gnyid-thug-gi gnas-skabs skyed-pa’i thig-le), also known as the mind drops (sems-kyi thig-le).

4. And then in the center of the chakras at the navel and the tip of the head of the penis or the tip of the clitoris are the drops of the fourth occasion (bzhi-pa’i gnas-skabs skyed-pa’i thig-le), it’s called (the fourth occasion is referring to the peak occasions of experiencing the ordinary bliss of emission or orgasm). These are also known as the deep-awareness drops (ye-shes-kyi thig-le).

These are the two sets of four drops. (But you might have noticed that at the navel there’s a body drop and deep-awareness drop. Actually it’s only one drop, one drop with two aspects.) All of this makes sense because it’s consistent with the fact that in Kalachakra we speak of six main channels: we have the central channel and the right and left channels – these three above the navel and then these three below the navel. So parallel to that, we have four drops in the portion above the navel and four drops in the portion below the navel. So nothing special – nothing surprising, I should say.

Now, what is the essential nature (ngo-bo) of these creative-energy drops? In other words, what is it? There are so many different words in Tibetan that are often all translated as the word nature, but actually they’re referring to different types of natures of things. So this is the essential nature of what it actually is. So what is it? It’s subtle matter (bem-pa) that is in the shape of a ball the size of a mustard seed, which is quite small, and which is a mixture of what’s called the white and red elements, white and red bodhichittas (byang-sems dkar-dmar). We have these terms white bodhichitta (byang-sems dkar-po) and red bodhichitta (byang-sems dmar-po). It’s very difficult to understand.

Normally, we speak of conventional bodhichitta (kun-rdzob byang-sems) and deepest bodhichitta (don-dam byang-sems). Right? Conventional bodhichitta is aimed at our own individual enlightenments – not the enlightenment of Buddha Shakyamuni, not enlightenment in general, but our own specific enlightenment – which has not happened yet, but which can happen on the basis of our Buddha-nature factors. And we are aiming to achieve that, to make that a presently happening enlightenment, in order to be able to benefit everybody. Deepest bodhichitta is the nonconceptual cognition of voidness.

There are many different complex systems of working with these drops, the red and white ones. But on the basis of them, you can generate a blissful awareness, which is going to be the type of mind with which we focus nonconceptually on voidness. So that means that on the basis of these white and red drops, one can gain deepest bodhichitta. This is an example of the cause being given the name of the result (often that is done in the Buddhist presentation). That’s why these drops are called bodhichittas.

So these four drops are a mixture of the white and red ones, which are two different types of energy, if you want to call it something like that. They’re matter. They’re in the form of subtle matter. And when I say matter, is that matter? Energy? But the term it uses is that it’s a subtle type of matter. So what do we actually call these it’s hard to say.

These four drops never move during one’s lifetime, although they disappear along with the rest of our gross and subtle bodies when we attain enlightenment. The forehead drop is the basis that gives rise to the 21,600 drops of white bodhichitta that we want to stack in the central channel, from the bottom going up. So in a sense, all these drops that you stack, the white ones, come out of that creative drop at the forehead chakra. That’s in the first set of the four drops. The navel drop is the basis that gives rise to the 21,600 drops of red bodhichitta that we also aim to stack in the central channel, going from the top to the bottom.

Okay, so that’s just basic information about these four drops.

The Creative Aspects of the Four Creative-Energy Drops and the Mental Holograms to Which They Give Rise on the Basis Level

Now, more interesting is that each of these four creative-energy drops has a facet (cha, part) that has the ability to give rise to something. They give rise in turn to appearances of objects, sounds, nonconceptual states, and bliss. Let’s call them creative facets, and let’s call the appearances that they give rise to mental holograms. I’ll explain that. And on the basis level, the four drops are infected (bsgos-pa) or tainted. Right? They’re infected or tainted with the tendencies and habits of the two obscurations.

So tendencies and habits, these are two different things. A tendency gives rise to things only sometimes, intermittently, not all the time. It gives rise to something sometimes, not all the time. We don’t get angry all the time, do we? So the tendency to be angry just makes us angry sometimes. Or tendencies of karma. We don’t yell at people all the time, constantly, only sometimes. Those are tendencies. That’s literally the word seed (sa-bon, Skt. bija).

When we talk about a habit (bag-chags, Skt. vasana), the habit is something that constantly gives its result. Right? So it gives it all the time. We’re talking about grasping for true existence or making the appearance of true existence. We have that all the time. So a habit constantly gives rise to that, not just sometimes. And of course there is the exception when you are in total absorption nonconceptually on voidness. Then these constant habits of grasping for true existence don’t give rise to these things, but that is an exception. The textbooks of the commentaries have several different ways of explaining how the continuity is maintained from before to after the total absorption nonconceptually on voidness. It’s very complicated.

So we have here that the four drops are infected – it uses a very strong word – like a disease. They’re infected with these tendencies and habits of the two obscurations, the emotional and cognitive ones. And it uses a very interesting word. It says that these imbue (sim-pa) them, like water into soft wood. Water can go into the soft wood but comes out. Imbued means that it sort of infuses it; it goes through and comes out, like an infusion of tea – well, not quite like an infusion of tea. But I think the easiest example, at least that I can think of (the text doesn’t give an example), is like if you have very soft wood and you pour water into it, eventually the water will drip out the other end, but it imbues it. That’s the way that the drops are infected with these tendencies and habits. Very interesting.

So this is what I wanted to investigate. This is where we start to analyze. What is going on here? What are they talking about? And how does it relate to the four noble truths? Whatever Buddha taught was for the purpose of getting rid of suffering, so there has to be something that we can figure out from this, the presentation of the four noble truths.

So when these drops are infected like this, what do they give rise to?

The Awake Drop

The texts say the awake drop while we’re awake gives rise to the appearances of impure objects in conceptual cognitions. So what does that mean? Impure (ma-dag), the appearance of impure objects (ma-dag-pa’i yul-snang)? You have to know the definitions; otherwise you have no idea what they’re talking about. Impure means with an appearance of truly established existence, as if encapsulated in plastic – just by itself, there it is. That’s an impure appearance.

Now, what appears in conceptual cognition? Now we start to get a little bit complicated. Now you have to bring in some background of cognition theory. Well, first of all, how does cognition work? When we cognize something, actually what appears is – the literal word that’s used in the text means “aspect” (rnam-pa). And an aspect here, I believe, is a mental hologram. I think that’s the best way to describe it. Think about that.

When we see something, there’s all sorts of light and energy, and so on – the Western analysis – that comes to the eyes, fires on the retina, gets translated into electric impulses and chemical discharges. And then what do we actually see? It’s like a mental hologram, isn’t it? The brain somehow translates those electric impulses and chemical things into an appearance. That’s a mental hologram. Do you follow? The same thing with sounds. It’s just a vibration of air that hits the eardrum, and then it gets translated into electric impulses and so on, and then our brain somehow makes a hologram of a sound. That’s what we hear at the moment of hearing. That’s what is arising.

It’s actually quite extraordinary, especially speech. We only hear one tiny little sound in any moment, a consonant or a vowel. You certainly don’t hear a whole word at one time. You hear the first syllable, then the second syllable, and you certainly don’t hear a whole sentence at one time, do you? So how in the world do you understand language? It’s a hologram of the whole sentence that then you can have meaning to it. But actually in one moment all you hear is the sound of one letter. It’s extraordinary, isn’t it?

So these are mental holograms. We have that with sensory cognition, so seeing, hearing, smelling, taste, or a physical sensation. It’s a hologram. We also have this with mental cognition. And when we talk about conceptual cognition, that is only with mental cognition, with mental consciousness. So the mental holograms that we’re speaking about here from the awake drop, they’re only appearing to the mental consciousness. They’re not talking about sense consciousness here.

Okay, now we have to understand what appears in conceptual cognition. This is not easy.

First of all, the appearing object (snang-yul) – so the thing that’s the closest to the consciousness – is a static category (spyi). Static – it doesn’t change. Don’t think of it please as a generality or a universal. I think that’s quite misleading. It’s a category. It’s usually translated as universal or generality. I find that quite misleading. No, I prefer the term category. Otherwise you get into Western metaphysics and you get misled when you think of universals.

An example: the category dog. It’s a category. There are many different types of category. This is a category of an object. It’s an object category (don-spyi). Now, as a category it’s static: it didn’t grow from something, it doesn’t change; it’s just a category. And a category doesn’t have any appearance, does it? It’s just a category. So it has no form, no appearance.

Now, the object category is mixed with something called a conceptual isolate or distinguisher (ldog-pa). It isolates things conceptually in a conceptual cognition. It’s an isolator, sometimes called a distinguisher. The best way to explain it is that it’s nothing other than, so nothing other than a dog. So there’s a category dog. And then this is mixed over with nothing other than a dog. So this nothing other than is going to narrow it down: it’s not anything else. That also doesn’t have an appearance.

Then there is a mental hologram that represents a dog for us. So if everybody in this room tries to think of a dog, everybody is thinking of a dog, but what represents a dog in our mind looks quite different for each of us, doesn’t it? It’s quite individual. So we’re talking here about these mental holograms that appear when you think of something or imagine something – imagine a dog – or remember something. All this is conceptual. Remember your mother. So there is a mental picture that represents your mother. She doesn’t look like that all the time, does she?I mean, it’s quite interesting why you choose one image to represent your mother, or your dog or your house, than another one. That’s a totally different topic.

So category dog, nothing other than, and then this image. Right? And for us that’s what a dog should be. And it appears truly existent. Right? As though this really is established: “That’s a dog,” “That’s my mother.” And with some sort of complex mechanism, this is what this awake drop is responsible for. It’s responsible for these mental holograms that appear when we think of something, when we remember something, and when we imagine something while we’re awake.

So obviously this is very, very fascinating, isn’t it? Where do these images and mental holograms come from? Why are they in the form that they’re in? This is what we need to investigate within the Kalachakra teachings, how does it explain this. Because it does explain this. This is what is so incredible.

this description of what this creative facet from the awake drop gives rise to – that description doesn’t exclude the mental holograms that arise with sense cognition, when you see something or hear something. It doesn’t exclude that, but it doesn’t explicitly include it. When you are awake and you see something, it’s not conceptual. Now we have to go into cognition theory. This is why I was saying that you have to have a good background of Buddhist knowledge to be able to analyze this stuff. Nonconceptual, not through a category. When we have nonconceptual cognition, there are no categories; that’s only conceptual. So I see you nonconceptually, and there’s a mental hologram of colored shapes. Colored shapes. It’s not as though color is one thing and shape is something else. They’re shapes that have color. Right? That’s a mental hologram. Or some theories say that it’s just pixels, colored pixels. So that is the mental hologram that appears in sense cognition nonconceptually.

And there’s distinguishing (’du-shes). This is usually translated as recognition. That’s a very misleading translation. So a distinction: I can distinguish the colored shapes of your head from the colored shapes of the wall and the people around you. If you can’t do that, you can’t possibly perceive anything. You have to be able to distinguish objects within the sense field. Now, it’s only conceptually that now I fit what I’m distinguishing into the box of this category of woman or nun or Elizabeth. All of these are boxes; these are categories. That’s conceptual. So we’re talking here about mixing what I see with also an appearance that represents a nun or a woman. In this case, the same mental hologram that I see will then be transformed into the mental hologram that appears in the conceptual cognition.

It’s complicated. I’m sorry. It’s not so difficult. What represents Elizabeth? If I sit here and I think of Elizabeth, or I’m back in Berlin in my home and I remember Elizabeth, there will be some mental image, some hologram, that represents her. Right? It fits into the box Elizabeth, the category. Categories are like boxes, as if truly existently there’s a box and it all fits into the box, like the box of good or the box of bad.

So now I see Elizabeth. Well, I see these colored shapes (Gelugpa says I also see Elizabeth, the whole object). That only lasts a microsecond actually. And now I put it in the box, and the mental hologram of these colored shapes now, at this moment, is what will represent the category Elizabeth. That’s Elizabeth. Now Elizabeth moves a little bit to the side, and so now there’s a different mental hologram, and now that represents Elizabeth. Mental holograms are changing all the time – she’s moving like this and that – and it’s all into the same box, the category Elizabeth. That’s conceptual. So that’s what we’re talking about.

The description of the awake drop is not explicitly talking about these mental holograms like when you’re seeing. I think that has a separate explanation. But let’s just assume that because it’s not stated explicitly, that’s not being discussed. Because obviously when we’re awake, we see and we hear. We’re only talking about conceptual appearances. So that’s the awake drop or the body drop.

Let us stop here for our lunch break, and then we’ll continue with the other drops.