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Home > Advanced Meditation > Tantra Teachings > Relationships between Two Objects in Anuttarayoga Tantra

Relationships between Two Objects in Anuttarayoga Tantra

Alexander Berzin
February 2002, revised July 2006

[As background, see: Relationships between Two Objects in General. See also: Making Sense of Tantra: Part II Why Tantra Is More Efficient Than Sutra.]

Natural Inseparability, Joined Inseparability, and Unified Pairs

Two facts about the same attribute of an object share the same essential nature (ngo-bo gcig). They are inseparable (dbyer-med), in the sense that when one is the case, so is the other. The two facts, however, do not necessarily have to be naturally or innately inseparable (rang-bzhin dbyer-med).

The two truths about something (bden-pa gnyis), as defined in Madhyamaka, are naturally inseparable. A blissful awareness (bde-ba) and an awareness of voidness (stong-nyid, emptiness), on the other hand, are not naturally two facts about an understanding of an object. They need to be joined (sbyor-bcas) through the power of meditation.

Simultaneously Arising

Two inseparable (dbyer-med) items simultaneously arise with each other (lhan-skyes). Whenever one arises, the other arises inseparably with it. Just as the inseparability of the two items may be natural or may be joined by the power of meditation, the same pertains to simultaneous arising.

From the Gelug point of view, blissful awareness, cognition of voidness, and clear-light cognition (‘ od-gsal) need to be made to arise simultaneously. The three do not naturally arise simultaneously with each other. We need to join blissful awareness and cognition of voidness together on the path, through applying the progressively more intense four joys (dga'-ba bzhi) to deep awareness (ye-shes) of voidness. Consequently, our cognition becomes progressively more subtle and we reach the clear-light level of cognition. We do not merely access the clear-light level, however. Greatly blissful awareness (bde-ba chen-po) inseparable from cognition of voidness now simultaneously arises with each moment of manifest clear-light cognition.

From the Nyingma viewpoint of dzogchen (rdzogs-chen, great completeness), the clear-light level of pure awareness (rig-pa) naturally arises simultaneously with a blissful awareness and reflexive deep awareness (rang-rig ye-shes) of its own void nature.

Unified Pairs and Joined Pairs

The relationship between the two items of a joined inseparability may be that of a unified pair (zung-‘jug, unity, unification) or of a joined pair (zung-‘brel), although the term zung-‘jug sometimes appears as a general term for both relationships.

In the case of a unified pair, the two members are both attained for the first time with the actualization of the unified pair. For example, in the unified pair consisting of a purified illusory body (dag-pa’i sgyu-lus) and an actual clear-light cognition of voidness (don-gyi ‘od-gsal), both components are achieved for the first time with the actualization of the unified pair.

In the case of a joined pair, one of the members is attained before the actualization of the joining. Then, while maintaining a state of the first member, the second member is joined to it. In the case of the joined pair of shamatha and vipashyana, for example, we achieve shamatha before the joining. The attainment of vipashyana occurs while in a state of shamatha, and thus we attain the joined pair of shamatha and vipashyana.

Analysis of the Unified Pair: Purified Illusory Body and Actual Clear light

Consider the case of a unified pair (zung-‘jug) comprised of a purified illusory body and an actual clear-light cognition of voidness in general Gelug anuttarayoga tantra. A purified illusory body is purified of the emotional obscurations (nyon-sgrib) preventing liberation. An actual clear-light cognition of voidness is nonconceptual in the deepest sense.

The natal source (rdzas) that functions as the obtaining cause (nyer-len-gyi rgyu) for a purified illusory body is an unpurified illusory body (ma-dag-pa’i sgyu-lus). The natal source that functions as the obtaining cause for actual clear light is model clear-light cognition of voidness (dpe’i ‘od-gsal, approximating clear light mind).

An unpurified illusory body is not yet purified of the emotional obscurations. A model clear-light cognition of voidness is a model (dpe) of a nonconceptual one. Although, before attainment of a seeing pathway mind (the path of seeing), it serves as a model for clear-light nonconceptual cognition of voidness, it is still conceptual on the unconscious subtlest level.

The simultaneously arising causes (lhan-cig ‘byung-ba’i rgyu) of the unified pair and of the natal sources of its two components are the energy-wind (rlung) and mental activity that constitute them when they exist. In the case of a unified pair, the simultaneously arising causes are the subtlest clear-light levels of energy-wind and mental activity. In the case of the two natal sources, the simultaneously arising causes are subtle levels of each, slightly grosser than the subtlest clear-light level.

The energy-wind and mental activity of each of the three occasions (model clear light, unpurified illusory body, and a unified pair) are two facts about the subtlest continuum of an individual: they have the same essential nature, but are different conceptually isolated items (ngo-bo gcig ldog-pa tha-dad). They are naturally inseparable and naturally arise simultaneously with each other. Nevertheless, the energy-wind and mental activity of each occasion are different (tha-dad) from those of the other two occasions. They are not the identical (gcig) energy-wind and mental activity.

The unified pair does not constitute a natural inseparability; it arises from the power of meditation. The natal sources for each of its components, on the other hand, are neither naturally inseparable, nor joined together by the power of meditation. In fact, when either an unpurified illusory body or a model clear-light cognition of voidness arises in a mental continuum, the other cannot simultaneously arise.

Through the power of meditation on voidness, we purify the two natal sources so that they are parted forever from the emotional obscurations. Consequently, a purified illusory body and an actual clear light cognition of voidness simultaneously arise inseparably as a unified pair. At the time of the unified pair, the unpurified illusory body and model clear-light cognitions that served as the obtaining causes for its components no longer exist.

Thus, a purified illusory body and an actual clear-light cognition of voidness have the same essential nature, although they are different conceptually isolated items. They are the two truths (bden-gnyis) about the mental continuum of an anuttarayoga practitioner who has achieved a true stopping (‘ gog-bden, true cessation) of the emotional obscurations. They are the two truths about such a mental continuum, however, only during total absorption cognition of voidness (mnyam-bzhag, meditative equipoise).

An unpurified illusory body and a model clear-light cognition of voidness, on the other hand, do not share the same essential nature and do not illustrate the two truths about something.

The Basis for the Actualization of Something and the Basis for the Negation of Something

The devoid-form (stong-gzugs, void-form) and unchanging blissful awareness (mi-‘gyur-ba’i bde-ba) of voidness that substitute (dod-thub) in Kalachakra for a purified illusory body and an actual clear-light awareness of voidness in general anuttarayoga do not constitute a unified pair.

In a unified pair, each component has its individual basis for actualization (sgrub-gzhi). The basis for the actualization of a purified illusory body is the subtlest energy-wind, while the basis for the actualization of an actual clear-light cognition of voidness is the subtlest clear-light mental activity.

Note that the voidness of a purified illusory body – as a nonimplicative negation (med-dgag) or, in simple language, an absolute absence of its true existence – is not the basis for the actualization of that illusory body. Rather, the purified illusory body is the basis for the negation (dgag-gzhi) of its true existence – in other words, the basis for its voidness (stong-gzhi).

In the case of Kalachakra, unchanging blissful awareness is the basis for the actualization of the devoid-form that arises simultaneously with it. Ultimately, both have the same basis for actualization. Both are actualized from clear-light mental activity.

Same Similar-Family Cause

Moreover, devoid forms and unchanging blissful awareness share the same similar-family cause (rigs-‘dra’i rgyu).

A similar-family cause is one that is in the same family of phenomena as its result and, in a sense, serves as the model for its result. For example, the model of a vase is the similar-family cause for both a clay vase and a visualized vase, although the two vases have different natal sources. The model of a vase, a clay vase, and a visualized vase are all in the same family of phenomena – vases.

The term family (rigs) here is the word for caste, Buddha-family, and Buddha-nature. For example, each of the five types of deep awareness (ye-shes lnga, five Buddha-wisdoms) is a Buddha-nature factor (sangs-rgyas-kyi rigs) and generates a Buddha-family. Amitabha, Avalokiteshvara, Tara, and Hayagriva are all Buddha-figures of the lotus Buddha-family. They all share the same similar-family cause or model, in the sense that they are all representations of a Buddha’s individualizing deep awareness (so-sor rtogs-pa’i ye-shes).

In general Gelug anuttarayoga tantra, illusory bodies and blissful clear-light cognitions of voidness have different similar-family causes.

  • The similar-family cause of an illusory body in general is the deep awareness of the subsequent attainment cognition (rjes-thob ye-shes, post-meditation exalted wisdom) of illusion-like voidness (sgyu-ma lta-bu’i stong-pa nyid).

  • The similar-family cause of a blissful clear-light cognition of voidness in general is the deep awareness of total absorption cognition (mnyam-bzhag ye-shes, exalted wisdom of meditative equipoise) of space-like voidness (nam-mkha’ lta-bu’i stong-pa nyid).

In other words, the meditations that we practice as the model for achieving illusory bodies and clear-light cognitions of voidness are different classes of meditation. The former is meditation focused directly on superficial truths; while the latter is meditation focused directly on deepest truths.

In Kalachakra, on the other hand, devoid-forms and unchanging blissful clear-light cognition of voidness derive from the same similar-family cause – the deep awareness of total absorption cognition of voidness. The meditations we practice as the model for achieving each are the same.

Same Functional Nature

An item has the same functional nature (rang-bzhin) as something else if it exists and functions in the same way. For example, five aggregate factors of body and mind (phung-po, Skt. skandha) comprise each moment of our ordinary experience, while five types of deep awareness, symbolized by five dhyani Buddhas, comprise each moment of a Buddha’s experience. Dhyani Buddhas are the principal male figures of the Buddha-families.

The Sakya tradition explains that the five aggregates and the five types of deep awareness both arise from clear-light mental activity as the causal alaya continuum (kun-gzhi rgyu’i rgyud, the causal everlasting continuum of the all-encompassing foundation). Another name for the causal alaya continuum is the “ultimate alaya” (mthar-thug-gi kun-gzhi, ultimate all-encompassing foundation).

When clear-light mental activity is obscured with unawareness (ignorance, confusion), it gives rise to moments of experience comprised of five aggregates. When, as a Buddha, that activity is completely purified of all obscurations – not only the emotional ones preventing liberation, but also the cognitive obscurations (shes-sgrib) preventing omniscience – it gives rise to moments of experience comprised of five types of deep awareness. Both sets of five function similarly to constitute experience. Thus, they have the same functional nature. Because of that, the five aggregates have the same functional nature as the five dhyani Buddhas.

The Sakya tradition refers to this relationship between the five aggregates and the five dhyani Buddhas as the natural inseparability of samsara and nirvana (‘ khor-‘das dbyer-med). It is not the case that through the power of meditation we need to join the two sets of five inseparably. We need merely to realize what is already the case.