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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 Seven: The Role of Karma

Alexander Berzin
Paris, France, September 2012

Unedited Transcript
Listen to the audio version of this page (0:38 hours)

Review

We have been analyzing the various causal connections between clear-light mind, these winds of karma, the creative-energy drops, and everything that’s involved in our experience of these mental holograms. And we proposed that the winds of karma are the mounts of the mental consciousness that occur during the four occasions, and we saw that the mental holograms themselves are probably this reflexive appearance of the clear-light mind underlying our experiences of each of these occasions. The drops determine what type of experience it will be – awake, dream, etc. And the mental appearances, these mental holograms, in a sense will arise from that subtlest clear-light mind through the drops, with the drops being like the oven out of which comes the bread.

The Stains Infecting the Creative-Energy Drops

Now, on the basis level it says that the creative drops are infected with the tendencies and habits of the two obscurations, and these taints are imbuing them like water into soft wood. Remember that?

  • The emotional obscurations have tendencies. I mean, the emotional obscurations include the disturbing emotions, but we’re only talking about the tendencies for the disturbing emotions here. And these tendencies of the disturbing emotions give rise to the disturbing emotions, like anger, attachment, only intermittently – sometimes, not all the time. These tendencies are going to be what gives rise to the disturbing emotions during our experience of the mental holograms, and this is the infection that we’re talking about.
  • And then the cognitive obscurations. The taints that we’re talking about here, the infection, are the constant habits. So these constant habits are going to give rise to the appearance of truly established existence all the time. And together with the emotional tendencies, as long as those emotional tendencies are there, then you will get constant grasping for true existence.

So these [taints] are going to be part of our experience of these mental holograms. Our mind makes them [the mental holograms] appear truly existent, we’ll be grasping for them to actually exist in that way, and we will have disturbing emotions with them, either these negative ones, like attachment and anger, and even when we have positive emotions, like love and compassion, we’ll still have this emotional obscuration of naivety about how what appears exists.

So now we’d like to try to understand how are these tendencies and habits infecting these drops. So these intermittent tendencies and these constant habits, what type of phenomenon are they?

Participant: These are the same thing as nonassociated factors?

Alex: Yes, they are this phenomenon that is known as noncongruent affecting variables (ldan-min ’du-byed). These are things that are neither forms of physical phenomena (gzugs) nor ways of being aware of anything (shes-pa). But they change from moment to moment, they affect what we experience, and they are not congruent with the mental consciousness, which means that they do not share various things in common with the mental consciousness. Like anger will share with the mental consciousness – both the consciousness and the anger will be focused on the same object, will be involved with the same mental hologram. There are five things that it shares in common. The two abhidharmas give slightly different lists, but it doesn’t matter.

But here we’re talking about things like time – there’s a whole list of them – which is just something that is imputed on a basis, but it’s not something physical, and it’s not a way of being aware of something. Right? If you think in terms of time, then you have various moments, and then you would impute on that an hour. Time is a measurement of change.

So, anyway, if we think in terms of a tendency or a habit, we have different moments of instances of a certain type of behavior, like drinking coffee, and on the basis of all these moments of similar behavior, the way that we can put it together and refer to the whole thing would be as a tendency to drink coffee sometimes (I don’t drink it every moment of my existence). That is what these tendencies and habits are, this technical term noncongruent affecting variables. They’re in this neither category.

So it’s designated or imputed on something, so there has to be a basis on which it’s imputed. Now, all the Kalachakra commentaries agree that it can’t be imputed on the drops themselves, because the drops are material substance, it says. So it’s not like motion or the aging of our body or something like that that can be imputed on something physical. This is a different category. We can impute impermanence on the basis of the body, that it’s changing moment to moment to moment. So you can impute or designate on that that it’s impermanent, because it’s changing through time. So tendencies and habits are not like that. They can only be imputed on a continuum, a mental continuum.

The texts say that it is imputed on the continuum of the subtlest consciousness. That’s usually referring to – well, let’s just say subtlest consciousness that imbues these creative drops. The tendencies and habits are imputed on the continuum of the subtlest consciousness. The subtlest consciousness passes through the drops, and the drops are infected by it because the subtlest consciousness passing through it is infected. So it’s not the drops themselves that are infected by nature.

Now, Serkong Rinpoche pointed out that what’s called the natal place (skye-gnas) of the clear-light subtlest consciousness is located only at the center of the heart chakra, and that it is located there at the heart chakra, that subtlest consciousness and the wind of the subtlest consciousness, throughout our lives. It doesn’t actually move. So what he asserted was that what is imbuing, what is flowing through these subtle drops, has to refer to just subtle consciousness. That’s mental consciousness, not the subtlest consciousness.

You see, I follow the example of my main teacher, Serkong Rinpoche, and he analyzed all these texts and used logic to figure out that when it says subtlest, it can’t refer to subtlest consciousness; they must be calling the subtle levels subtlest. I follow his example. He analyzed everything. So he used logic and questioned all the texts, which is exactly what Buddha said to do: “Question everything that I said. And if you find inconsistencies, something that’s illogical, don’t accept that. That has to have some interpretive meaning. It has to lead you to something else, which is the actual meaning.”

But as I explained from other teachings, the subtlest level of consciousness goes on underneath. That’s an underlying level not manifest with the mental consciousness (the subtle level). So in this sense, you can say that these tendencies and habits are imputed on the subtlest consciousness underlying the mental consciousness – so on the clear-light mind but underlying the mental consciousness – but it’s actually the mental consciousness that’s carrying these around. So you remember it’s the mental consciousness that is carried by these winds of karma flowing through the four drops, one on each different occasion. And these stains, the infection – these tendencies and habits – are imputed on that mental consciousness, which has as an underlying thing the subtlest clear-light consciousness. And Prasangika Gelugpa adds that it’s actually labeled on the conventional “me,” which is labeled on all of this.

You can get a picture of this. There’s mental consciousness. That’s subtle consciousness, whether conceptual or nonconceptual. Underlying it is the clear-light mind. Right? So what’s moving with the winds of karma is this subtle level, the mental consciousness. Let’s forget about the word subtle because you’re going to get confused. There’s mental consciousness [subtle] and clear light [subtlest]. So mental consciousness is carried along by the winds of karma through these drops. Right? And underlying it, on a very subtle level, is clear-light consciousness. Remember the holograms are coming up from this clear-light level. And on this package of these, the mental consciousness and the clear-light mind, we can label in each moment “me,” conventional “me.” And the tendencies and habits are labeled on the “me.” So a little bit complex. Perhaps a picture helps with that. But you’re doing Kalachakra practice, so you should be good at visualizing.

So in this way, really it’s these winds of karma that are carrying the infection through the drops. And it’s carrying it in terms of this package of “me” on the mental consciousness – well, “me” on the whole thing. This makes more sense than the other possibility, which is that there is some subtle consciousness and wind just sitting inside the drops that has these infections. Why? Subtlest consciousness and the subtlest wind – that doesn’t move, Serkong Rinpoche said. Why? Because it’s only when the winds move that you get all these grosser levels of samsara. So if we’re talking on a samsaric level, or the level of an arhat who’s not yet a Buddha, then grosser winds always move. They don’t stand still. That’s the nature of the winds. So it doesn’t make sense that there’s a subtle wind that doesn’t move that’s sitting inside the drops that have these stains.

This is the manner of logic. You take something to its conclusion, and then you say, “This is an absurd conclusion because it contradicts something else.” That’s how you analyze different possible solutions to a problem, not just in figuring out a Dharma problem – figuring out anything in your life. That’s the prasanga (thal-’gyur) method. You take something to its logical conclusion; and then if its logical conclusion contradicts other facts, then that conclusion is absurd, so it can’t be true.

So it has to be moving winds that carry this infection through the drops, not a wind that’s sitting inside the drop. That leaves us with the winds of karma as what carries these infections. So that confirms the conclusion that it’s the winds of karma. So how does it work?

The infection is designated or labeled on the “me,” conventional “me.” So it isn’t that some of the infection, some of these obscurations, some of these tendencies and habits are labeled on some of the winds and some on other winds and so on. That can’t be the case. You label the conventional “me” on each moment of the five aggregates, and they are changing all the time, these five. And the 21,600 winds of karma, each one is occurring with each breath of the day. Only one breath is happening at a time, isn’t it? All the breaths of a day don’t occur simultaneously, do they? So the “me” is labeled on each breath. Each breath is changing into another breath each moment, so the “me” is labeled on each one successively, so the “me” is changing from moment to moment. And so the tendencies and habits labeled on the “me” in each moment are changing from moment to moment. Of course they’re changing because sometimes they’re giving rise to this, sometimes to that, sometimes they’re exhausted, etc.

If you can get a mental picture of that, I think that that helps very much to understand the impermanence of the five aggregates, of the “me,” of these tendencies and habits. Every moment, that whole package is changing. Do you follow that? Try to picture that.

And in each moment, these emotional obscurations are giving rise to the disturbing emotion of the moment that is accompanying the mental hologram of the moment. What’s happening? All this is happening simultaneously. Okay, so we have the mental consciousness, clear light, “me” labeled on it, going through a drop. One moment. One wind of karma. “Me” labeled on it. A mental hologram is arising, like in a magic mirror, from the clear-light level, through the mental consciousness, passing through a particular drop, so it makes it either an awake experience or a dream experience, etc., or a voice in your head.

And that tendency of an emotional obscuration will give rise to a disturbing emotion, let’s say anger, that’s going together with that experience. And also from the cognitive obscuration, it’s going to then make that mental hologram appear truly existent. In fact the whole package will appear truly existent. That disturbing emotion and the consciousness and feeling miserable – all of that’s going to appear, one big solid depression or something like that, a solid, lumpy thing: “I’m depressed.” And the combination of that emotional and cognitive obscuration will give rise to grasping for true existence.

The Relation between Karma, the Appearances of the Four Occasions, and the Winds of Karma

So that’s part of the picture. Now we have to ask: Well, what about karma? Where does that fit into all of this? They are called the winds of karma, after all. So what’s that all about? So you have to analyze further. Because we also have tendencies and habits of karma, not just of the disturbing emotions and grasping for true existence, so this would be similarly labeled on the “me” labeled on the package of these consciousnesses, actually on the whole package of the five aggregates.

There’s a bit of disagreement in the commentaries about whether these tendencies and habits of karma fit into these two obscurations, emotional and cognitive, or is something separate, and so on. But there’s something called the constant habits of karma (las-kyi bag-chags). And because of those constant habits of karma, the consciousness is limited. That’s the result of it. So we get rid of karmic tendencies, potentials, karma itself, when you get rid of the emotional obscurations. And you get rid of the constant habits of karma when you get rid of the cognitive obscurations. So in general, you get rid of all of the karmic obscurations when you get rid of the two obscurations.

Actually, to make it more complex – I’m sorry – the actual terms emotional and cognitive obscurations are not used in Kalachakra. They just speak in terms of the obscurations of the four occasions, and the way that they are eliminated is in terms of the four occasions. So it’s a slightly different presentation. We would have to include the presentation of the obscurations in this way that it’s presented in Kalachakra, but it’s much easier to understand it in terms of the two obscurations, karmic obscurations. Everything is complex with Buddhism. It’s terrible. There’s so many different commentaries, and they don’t agree with each other.

So this presentation of obscurations of the four occasions and how it fits with the two obscurations, there are a lot of different ways in which that’s presented. So I’m just giving a very general one that’s sort of a beginner level, and also I’m doing this in terms of the Gelugpa Prasangika version of this. There are different versions within different Indian tenet systems. Although it’s only the Mahayana ones that present two obscurations – Chittamatra and Madhyamaka. And after all, Kalachakra is a Madhyamaka system. And you should be aware that all the different Tibetan traditions have quite different versions of each of the four tenet systems. Even within one tradition, there’s no consistency. Different authors have different explanations, and even the same author could have different explanations in the earlier part of his life and later part of his life, so thank you very much. But we have to start with one, so we are starting with the Gelugpa Prasangika one. That’s the one that I’m most familiar with. And I’m giving a simplified version of everything, relatively speaking.

Now, each moment is made up of the five aggregates. The five aggregates, as I explained, are all the different things that change from moment to moment and make up our experience from moment to moment. Well, we first spoke in terms of destructive phenomena that are part of these aggregates, like anger and so on. These are coming from the emotional obscurations. What’s coming from karma would be the unspecified phenomena. So you have destructive ones, like anger and so on. That’s coming from the emotional obscurations. You have positive ones, like love, compassion. There are also tendencies for those. We’re not talking about these when we talk about karma. Love and compassion, anger and attachment, these things come from their own tendencies. They’re not coming from karmic tendencies. So what is coming from karma will be the unspecified phenomena. These are things that Buddha did not specify as being either constructive or destructive. We’re talking about ethically neutral phenomena. So karma is involved with these.

Now, there are three different kinds of karmic result. I don’t want to go into great detail, because we also don’t have very much time. We have ripened results, and these are all these unspecified factors that arise or ripen from positive and negative potentials. So positive and negative karmic force, so-called merit and sin. But these terms merit and sin are totally inappropriate. So positive and negative karmic potential.

So what are these unspecified factors that are ripening from karma? We have the content of the mental holograms that appear on these four occasions. Right? So now we are talking about the content. The content itself – an image or a voice, and so on – that’s ethically neutral. The level of happiness or unhappiness that comes, that also is coming from a different karmic potential. Then the intention or wish to do something in relation to that appearance. All of these things are what ripens from karma, karmic potentials. One general principle: karma does not ripen from karma.

What comes first is the wish to do something. We say in English, “I feel like doing something.” “I feel like yelling at you.” “I feel like embracing you.” It’s sort of a wish. Right? It’s wish or intention. That’s neutral. But then there’s the compulsion to actually do it. That’s the karma. That’s destructive or constructive. But first you have, “Oh, I’d like to do that.” That’s where you can stop it.

I’d like to have a piece of cake, but I’m on a diet, so I don’t compulsively eat the cake. Just because I would like to eat the cake and I feel like eating the cake, that’s nothing special. That’s just because of the tendency to eat cake a lot. That’ll eventually go away if you don’t act it out. By acting it out and compulsively “Mmm, I’m going to eat it” – that’s destructive, and it just makes that tendency stronger and stronger so that you feel like doing it even more.

It’s very important to really understand karma, what it’s talking about, not just a vague thing that you really don’t know what it’s referring to in our daily life. For all these Dharma teachings to have any effect on us, we have to be able to identify what it’s talking about in our everyday experience. Otherwise you have no idea how to apply it.

Okay, so we have all these things ripen – they’re called ripened results (rnam-smin-gyi ’bras-bu) – these unspecified things in the aggregates of each moment.

And we have the results that correspond to their cause in our behavior (byed-pa rgyu-mthun-gyi ’bras-bu), which is referring to the intention or wish to do something in relation to these mental holograms. So from karma we have the content of the hologram, and we feel happy or unhappy with it. These aren’t coming from the same tendency or potential. They’re coming from different ones. And then from another potential or tendency, we could have the wish to do something in relation to that mental hologram – kiss it, hit it, lie to it, whatever.

Then we have results that correspond to their cause in our experience (myong-ba rgyu-mthun-gyi ’bras-bu). That’s referring to our experiencing the content of the mental hologram. It’s very easy to be confused about that, about this type of result of karma. Let’s say we have killed others or we’ve hurt others, and as a result we get hit by a car ourselves. Our karma does not cause the other person to hit us with the car. That’s coming from their karma. My karma is causing me to experience being hit by a car. So we’re talking about what the content of my experience will be, what my physical consciousness and mental consciousness will experience. Of course it happens in conjunction with what the other person does, but I don’t cause them to hit me. My running out in front of the car could be a condition for their karma to ripen to hit me, but it’s not that their hitting me ripens from my karma.

And then we have dominating results (bdag-po’i ’bras-bu), which refers to the environment that we experience as part of the content of the mental holograms.

So from karma we get all these various things that we mentioned – basically the content of the mental hologram, feeling happy or unhappy, and what we would like to do in relation to the holograms. Okay? And then the disturbing emotions come from other tendencies. And then the natural quality of the clear-light mind to give rise to these various things is involved. But the winds of karma, they’re carrying the tendencies and habits of the emotional obscurations, cognitive obscurations, and the karmic obscurations – the karmic tendencies and habits – all in the same manner that we described. It’s actually coming on the subtlest mind, which is underlying the subtle (mental) consciousness, but actually it’s labeled on the “me” that’s labeled on all of that. A little bit complex.

In very simple language, then, what is the role of the winds of karma here (which is part of the true causes of suffering, according to Kalachakra explanation)? It’s primarily that they are acting like the truck, the transportation. They are running through the channels. There are 21,600 a day, and they are the transport truck. And what the trucks are carrying is this consciousness, the mental consciousness, but with the subtlest underlying it, labeled on it as “me” (so it’s my winds, not yours). And what we are transporting is contaminated. And in order to deliver any goods, the truck has to go through one of four different tunnels. These are the drops. And when it comes through one tunnel, it’ll make this type of experience, and another tunnel will be that type of experience. And what the truck is transporting – it’s like, for instance, there’s something very subtle in the liquid that’s in it, and it’s going to give off different vapors (so those are the mental holograms). But actually the truck has many compartments with many different types of contaminants – all the different types of tendencies and habits that we’ve discussed – and they’re all giving off different vapors, and all of that’s combining into one terrible-smelling event when it’s gone through a tunnel.

So in simple language, what do we have to stop? We have to stop karma, which means we have to stop the process of contaminating what the truck is carrying, and we have to stop the trucks from moving and going anywhere and delivering this. That’s what the practice is all about. That’s just a very simple, basic way of understanding it, but we get some idea.

Topics for Further Analysis: Physical and Verbal Karma

So now further topics for analysis.

We’re talking here about mental consciousness, aren’t we, with the four drops. That’s our conclusion. So when we want to investigate further how the discussion of karma fits into this, then we would have to say that all that’s involved here is mental karma. Mental karma is the mental urge, the compulsive urge that draws us into thinking about doing or saying something – it’s a compelling thing – and then we will compulsively think, or worry, or just “Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah” in our minds and we can’t fall asleep.

So what about physical and verbal karma then? Are the winds of karma involved with those? That’s the question that I still haven’t worked out in the analysis.

According to the Gelug Prasangika analysis or assertion, physical and verbal karma have both revealing forms (rnam-par rig-byed-kyi gzugs) and nonrevealing forms (rnam-par rig-byed ma-yin-pa’i gzugs). The revealing form reveals the motivation. The nonrevealing form is very subtle and doesn’t reveal the motivation. That’s where the names come from.

So the revealing form of the action is the compulsive shape that the action takes. If we think of neutral things, like somebody always tapping their fingers, there’s a compulsive shape that it takes, a compulsive shape in which I do things. We’re not talking about the action itself; we’re talking about that compulsive shape that it will always take. And for speech, it’s the compulsive sound of our voice. Compulsively our voice is very harsh and nasty, or compulsively it is very nice and kind. The revealing form is occurring during the action itself. The compulsive shape of the action occurs while the action is occurring, obviously. The compulsive sound of our voice is occurring only when we’re talking, and it reveals our motivation. The winds of karma don’t seem to be involved with the revealing form.

Now, there is a nonrevealing form, which is like a very subtle vibration, and it occurs during the action, but it continues after the action is completed so long as we still have the intention to repeat the action. If we say “I’m never going to do that again,” then we lose that nonrevealing form (not just saying it; you have to actually mean it, obviously). And that’s also involved with the repetition of our behavior. If you intend to keep on doing it, then this nonrevealing form is part of the whole causal process. And these nonrevealing forms are not made of particles, gross particles.

What I haven’t been able to analyze yet is what is the relation between these nonrevealing forms and the winds of karma, so there’s more work ahead in trying to put all the pieces of the puzzle together. So it’s like scientists investigating, trying to figure out what’s going in a phenomenon, and here the phenomenon is our life.

Good. So that is all the material that I hoped to present this weekend. I know that it’s been a tremendous amount of material. And the details are not so much important to remember as is the general approach of analysis. And it’s important to see that this whole Kalachakra system is actually speaking on a very practical level in terms of its description of what actually is our suffering and the cause of our suffering.

And we only presented this in terms of inner Kalachakra, the inner cycles. There’s a parallel discussion that could be had in terms of astronomy and astrology. That’s the external level of Kalachakra. And then what we want to do with alternative Kalachakra is to get rid of all these causes of suffering and the suffering they produce.

Questions and Answers

So what questions do you have?

Participant: You spoke about the karmic winds. But when you speak about purification in this context, how do we bring about this purification? Is it through the recitation of the mantra only?

Alex: The recitation of the mantra is a very, very beginning step. But basically what’s going to get rid of all these problems is of course the nonconceptual cognition of voidness with bodhichitta motivation – so the same as in sutra – but we want to have it with the clear-light mind. That’s the most efficient level of the mind for understanding voidness because it is automatically nonconceptual and it doesn’t have either making the appearance of true existence or grasping for it, believing in it. It doesn’t have any disturbing emotions.

Now, how do we get to that clear-light mind? There are many ways. But one of the ways is through generating the mind with increasingly more intense levels of bliss. There are many different ways in which that can be generated, but the one that is recommended here as the most stable is the bliss that is called unchanging bliss (mi-’gyur-ba’i bde-ba), which is generated with this devoid-form. To get to the devoid-form, you have to stop the moving of the winds, these winds of karma, and then having with that devoid-form and unchanging blissful awareness the nonconceptual cognition of voidness, clear-light mind. Then having 21,600 moments of that will get rid of the movement of 21,600 winds of karma. That’s really not easy to understand – that’s very, very difficult to understand – and it’s with the stacking of the drops and so on.

Let me use the example that Serkong Rinpoche used in general anuttarayoga tantra, and that will give us a little bit of an idea (my adaptation of his explanation, I should say). Let’s say we have a house. The electricity is coming up from the basement. It’s coming up to one room in the house, and this room is tainted – it’s defective; it brings suffering. So what we have to do is go down to the basement – we go down to the subtlest level, this clear-light level – and instead of having the electricity go up to this room with the defective wiring, we reconnect it so it goes up to the other room, so then it will be untainted, not defective. So in the first room, it was giving these appearances of true existence and all our disturbing emotions. And in the second room, it gives rise to appearances of not true existence, as a Buddha, the bodies of a Buddha.

So like that, what we want is to not have the electricity of the winds of karma flow through these drops and make these deceptive appearances. But rather, on the basis of a different type of consciousness – we’ve gone down to that subtlest level – we want these drops to give rise to pure appearance of the four Buddha bodies, and when it does that, the drops will disappear.

So we have to get down to that subtlest level and sort of deal with the basic way in which that basement level is working. By its nature, that basic level is going to give rise to appearances, it has some communicative aspects (so that’s the indestructible sound), it has an aspect of being bare (which means without categories and without those other things that cause problems), and it has an aspect of deep awareness (which can mean some sort of deep awareness, understanding of its own nature, it’s blissful – there are various ways that describe what deep awareness is talking about). So instead of these natural features of that basement of the clear-light level giving rise to the confusing aspect, we go down there, and through various practices we get it so that this basis level will give rise to the four Buddha bodies instead, which have that same structure.

Now, this is not an exact analogy. I’m just playing with images. But let’s say to get from the basement to the contaminated room, the room of contamination, there are 21,600 stairs. And there’s 21,600 stairs up into the room of Buddhahood. You’re building these steps, basically, and you build each step with each moment that you stay in the basement. You have this experience of unchanging bliss, and you’re there in this form of the devoid-form. Okay, so now we’re down in the basement, and we’ve taken on this devoid-form. And each moment that we’re there… Moment, by the way, means a period of meditation; it doesn’t mean a finger snap. So with each period of meditation with this incredible unchanging bliss, we build one step, so that’s one drop of white and red bodhichitta (they’re stacked). And in building that step, it makes one of the steps that go up to samsara disappear. When I have built 21,600 stairs – sounds like building a staircase to heaven – if I build up these stairs going into the Buddhahood room, I will have made disappear the 21,600 breaths of karma, the staircase that goes into samsara. Although that’s a really rough analogy, I think it gives the general idea of the process here.

Now, unfortunately that brings us to the end of our time. So let’s end with a dedication.

We think whatever understanding, whatever positive force has come from this, may it go deeper and deeper and act as a cause for everyone to reach enlightenment for the benefit of us all and especially through this Kalachakra method, if it suits us – it doesn’t suit everybody – if it suits us.

Okay, thank you very much.