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Discourse on the Main Points of Dharma, Based on the First Panchen Lama’s Root Text for the Gelug-Kagyu Tradition of Mahamudra

Tsenzhab Serkong Rinpoche I
Barnet, Vermont, USA, August 1982
Translated by Alexander Berzin
Edited by Lucy Costa and Alexander Berzin

Part II: Commentary on the Text

Session Twelve: Meditation on Voidness

Going Beyond a Settled Mind: Vipashyana

Serkong Rinpoche: Once you have gained a stilled and settled state of mind of shamatha, one that is held with great flexibility of mind and exhilaration and ecstasy, just to have this by itself, this single-pointedness of a stilled and settled state of mind is no great accomplishment. It is not so meaningful unless you continue beyond that and gain an exceptionally perceptive state of mind, a state of vipashyana.

Vipashyana is an exceptionally perceptive state of mind and here, particularly, it is aimed at understanding voidness or reality. It is only with this that you will be able to cut the root of your uncontrollably recurring situations in life, samsara. Many non-Buddhists are capable of achieving a state of single-minded concentration and a stilled and settled state of mind and, on the basis of this, can go on to the different levels of mental constancy or the dhyanas, the different levels of concentration, and can reach the highest point or peak of samsara. However, that’s not sufficient because what you need is a state of the joined pair of a stilled and settled state of mind and an exceptionally perceptive one, which is the joined pair of shamatha and vipashyana.

Those people who gain these very high levels of constancy of the mind, these deep levels of concentration, are focused completely in them and, as a result, they can achieve rebirth as gods in the different levels of mental constancy and concentration. However, they’re in a very difficult situation because they are in these very deep levels of trance and they believe that they have achieved liberation from all types of uncontrollably recurring situations of samsara. But after a tremendous amount of time, their trance ends and they discover that they had not gained any such thing as liberation from their problems and, in fact, they’ve fallen out of that state. In that situation, what happens is that they then say, “Well there is no such thing as liberation whatsoever.” This builds up a very strong negative potential and, as a result, they fall to very difficult unpleasant rebirths.

So just to achieve a state of single-minded concentration, even though you might gain various types of ESP as a result of it, is no big deal and no great benefit. This can be seen in the fact that if you have this single-minded concentration and it’s not aimed at gaining an exceptionally perceptive realization of reality and voidness, that just having that by itself you can go very, very high in samsara, you can go to the highest type of position within compulsive existence, but once you go there, there’s no higher place you can go to and you just have to come back down. This would be similar to going to Toronto and going up to the top of the CN tower. You can go all the way up to the top but once you are there, there is nothing further that you can do except come back down.

Identifying the “Me” That Is to Be Refuted

So what’s the task at hand? The thing is, once you gain a stilled and settled state of mind and you have single-minded concentration, you need to aim it at voidness, at realizing the total absence of all fantasized, impossible ways of existing. The root text introduces this point as follows:

While in a state of total absorption as before, and, with a tiny (portion of) awareness, like a tiny fish flashing about in a lucid pond and not disturbing it, intelligently inspect the self-nature of the individual who is the meditator.

The way to carry out this examination and investigation is like this analogy: when you have a clear pond, a tiny little fish can flash around in the pond without disturbing it. In the same way, you stay within the total absorption, within the state of your mind being stilled and settled and with that as the basis, without leaving that, you then carry on the investigation. So here you carry out the investigation and, although it’s done in terms of investigating the nature of the mind, it’s specifically trying to investigate who’s doing the meditation, or who is the “me.”

As you investigate you see that, well, we’re nothing more than our body and our mind. Then you try to see what type of image you have, what you think of yourself as, what is your self-image. This “me” is in terms of this image and you have to try to identify what exactly is the type of “me” that is to be refuted, the type of “me” that doesn’t exist at all. Such a “me” is something that comes up very strongly in difficult situations. Like, for instance, when you are about to fall down and you have this strong feeling of “I’m about to fall down,” or when somebody accuses you of being a thief, then at such a time you have a strong feeling of “What do you mean, me?” as the one being called a thief. So these are the type of things that you should look to in terms of identifying the “me” that is to be refuted.

You look for what is this “me” and, although there is no such thing as a “me” established from the side of our five aggregates – these are the aggregate factors of our experience – nevertheless it appears as though there is a “me” within these aggregate factors. It appears to some people that their “me” is their physical form, their form aggregate. Others identify the “me” as the mind and they say you can find out who the “me” is, or what the “me” is, and that when you look, the “me” turns out to be the mind. But if the five aggregate factors of your experience are the “me,” then, since there are five aggregate factors, there would be five “me’s.” Or, since there is only one “me,” and since you have five aggregate factors, then all of them would become one and the same if the “me” were all five.

If you identify the “me” with your form aggregate and you say that your “me” is specifically your body, then if the “me” were merely physical, if it’s merely the body, then when the body dies you have to say that the “me” dies. When the body becomes nonexistent, the “me” would likewise become nonexistent. If the “me” were merely something physical, if it were merely the body, then the whole idea of rebirth would be untenable. You couldn’t sustain the idea that doing positive actions in this lifetime builds up positive potentials that ripen in happiness, and acting destructively builds up the negative potential that ripens into suffering and problems. None of that could work if the “me” were merely the body. If the “me” were the mind then, since your mind doesn’t walk back and forth and your mind doesn’t eat food, you couldn’t walk back and forth and you couldn’t eat food. These types of absurd conclusions would follow if the “me” were identical to the mind.

So the “me” cannot be identified as being either the body or the mind, but yet it appears to us as if it were something findable on the side of the aggregate factors of our experience, on the side of our aggregates. Such a “me” that would exist from the side of the aggregates is the type of “me” that is to be refuted. However, on the basis of thinking that we have such a “me,” then we think in terms of these concrete categories of “me” and “mine.” On the basis of that, we think in terms of the concrete categories of “my friend,” “my enemy,” and we develop a great deal of infatuated desire and attachment toward our friends and loved ones, and we develop hostility and anger toward our enemies. Because of that, we act quite destructively, build up negative potentials and, as a result, experience a great deal of suffering and problems.

There are various examples that are used to illustrate this. In Tibet we would put piles of rocks up on a mountain pass and, when seen from a distance, this pile of rocks might be mistaken for a human being standing on top of a mountain. There’s also the simile of a striped rope in the dark, which you might mistakenly think is a snake. A pile of rocks like that is not a human being and to think that there is a human being on the side of the pile of rocks is mistaken. That type of human being who exists as this pile of rocks is something to be refuted. It is a human being that doesn’t exist and is to be refuted. With respect to the existence of the striped rope as a snake, in fact the striped rope is completely devoid of being a snake. That type of snake that is a striped rope is something that is to be refuted; it doesn’t exist. But even though the striped rope is devoid of being a snake, nevertheless we can have the type of mind with which we grasp at that striped rope as if it were a snake and, on the basis of that, we become very scared, frightened. In the same way, although the five aggregates from their side are devoid of being a “me,” nevertheless, on the basis of grasping at them to be a “me,” we think in terms of these categories of “me” and “mine,” we act destructively and we build up a great deal of negative potentials and suffering for ourselves.

When you investigate and see that there is no such thing as a “me” from the side of the aggregates themselves, then a great deal of fear might also arise because you imagine that your “me” doesn’t exist at all. If you think that this is the case, that “me” doesn’t exist at all, then you fall to the point of view of nihilism, and that’s completely incorrect. You have to be very careful when approaching this subject so that you don’t fall to the nihilist position and deny everything.

Even though you might be scared that there’s no such thing as a “me” when you see that there is no “me” to be found on the side of the aggregates, you should not conclude that there is no such thing as the “me” at all, because there is in fact a “me” that exists. And how does it exist? It exists on the basis of the collection of these five aggregates; the “me” is what can be labeled on that basis. It’s what the term or label “me” refers to on the basis of the aggregates being the basis of its labeling. So this is the type of “me” that exists, it’s a “me” that exists in terms of mental labeling: it is what the term “me” refers to, based on the aggregates being its basis for giving the name “me.”

To say that this “me,” which is merely what the word “me” or the name “me” refers to on the basis of the aggregates, to say that it is something totally nonexistent is incorrect because, in fact, you do have such a “me,” one that exists merely in terms of mental labeling. And this “me,” which is something that exists merely in terms of mental labeling as what the term “me” refers to, if you were then to pursue that further saying, “Well, since that’s the type of ‘me’ that exists, then that’s a ‘me’ that is findable.” If you followed on with that line of thought, then you make a merely imputedly existent “me” into something that’s inherently findable, and you destroy the whole idea of what is being talked about. So, in fact, it is something that is established merely in terms of mental labeling, but it is not something that is inherently findable.

So you have to be careful not to fall to the extreme of saying that, when you investigate and don’t find it, therefore, it’s totally nonexistent. You have to avoid falling to that nihilistic extreme. Likewise, you have to avoid falling to the extreme of saying, “Well, ultimately you can find something that is the ‘me,’” which then falls to the positive or eternalistic extreme of saying that the “me” is something that exists as an inherently findable object. The “me” that is not merely something imputed by the name “me,” but rather a type of “me” that exists as if it were coming from the side of the aggregates themselves, such a “me” is totally nonexistent. Whereas a “me” that is merely going around and functioning in terms of, “I’m going here and there,” “I’m practicing the Dharma,” and so forth, is something that you can totally rest assured that such a “me” exists, that there is such a thing. Therefore, there are two types of “me” and it’s very important to differentiate them. There’s the type of “me” that doesn’t exist at all and then there’s the type of “me” that does exist in reality, despite the fact that things cannot be established independently of the process of labeling, and despite the fact that they don’t exist in the way that they do appear to exist.

For instance, you have this Milarepa Center here, this hall, and it doesn’t appear as though it’s merely the Milarepa Center in terms of it having been given that name and what the name refers to on the basis of all the things here. Instead, when you come up the drive, it seems as though you’ve actually arrived at the Milarepa Center itself, that the Milarepa Center is here waiting for you, and it is not merely what the term Milarepa Center refers to, something that has been labeled based on all of this. It appears as though it’s been sitting here from its own side as the Milarepa Center. But actually, it was only the fact that you bought this place, this barn, then put up this picture of Milarepa, and put down the rugs and everything else, and, on the basis of all that, it can be called the Milarepa Center.

Now it’s totally reasonable that it is the Milarepa Center and that we’re all here attending discourses and practicing the Dharma at the Milarepa Center, because on that basis of it being properly labeled the Milarepa Center, on the basis of all the things that have been put in here, it is perfectly reasonable that it exists as the Milarepa Center. However, if it existed as the Milarepa Center independently of the whole process of it being labeled the Milarepa Center, then it should have existed as that Milarepa Center all the time, even before you bought this place, even before you did anything to it. And anybody who came to the ground here a number of years ago would at that time also have seen it as the Milarepa Center. So you should try to differentiate the two types of existence that are being discussed here, one that doesn’t exist at all and the other that is the actual reality.

This place appears to exist from its own side as the Milarepa Center and it doesn’t appear to exist as merely what’s imputed by, what it is labeled by, the terms “Milarepa Center.” So when you investigate the way that it appears, it appears to be this Milarepa Center from its own side. Let’s look for the Milarepa Center, what is it? If you look around, it’s not the pillars, it’s not the walls, it’s not the people who are in here and when you try to pinpoint exactly what it is, what is the Milarepa Center, you can’t find any Milarepa Center that exists that way as being the Milarepa Center all on its own. At that point, however, you shouldn’t conclude that the Milarepa Center doesn’t exist at all because, in fact, it does exist. We’re all here; we’re all participating in studying and learning the Dharma.

It’s totally reasonable and proper to say that it does exist, but it’s important to differentiate between what does exist in reality, and what is total fantasy, what doesn’t exist at all. If you don’t differentiate between these two things properly, then it’s going to be extremely difficult for you to understand what voidness is about and what the absence of totally fantasized, impossible ways of existing, of voidness, means. It would be like, for instance, if you know a special type of mantra and you recite this, then you’ll have the ability to pick up red hot coals and metal without burning your hands. You’ll be able to pick up snakes and they won’t bite you. But if you don’t know the correct mantra and don’t do it properly, you are going to get burned and you are going to get bitten. So it’s very important to know what is involved here and not be confused, otherwise the whole investigation of voidness can be quite dangerous.

When, for instance, you are writing letters, three things are involved. There’s the person who’s writing the letters, then there are the letters that are being written, and then there’s the actual action of writing the letters. When you think about this example, there can be no writing without an agent doing the writing; there can be no writing without something that’s actually being written; and you can’t consider that an act of writing has taken place unless something has been written and unless some agent has done the writing. Likewise, there can be no letters that have been written unless they were written by an agent, and there can be no agent of writing unless there’s actually something being written. You can’t have independent writing all by itself without both an agent and something written. In this way, no matter from what angle you look at it, you don’t have any of these aspects existing on its own, independently from the others. However, it doesn’t look to us as though things appear this way, as dependently arising, we just look at things and there’s a letter, but it has in fact been written by somebody writing. In fact, all of these things are interdependent on one another.

So when you see in the various scriptures that the Buddha said there is no body, there is no form, there are no feelings and such things, these must be understood not in the sense of saying there’s no body or form or feelings, it is not denying them completely. It is just saying that they don’t exist in the way that they appear to exist.

So this is what is indicated here in a quotation that comes next in the text:

A person is not earth, not water, nor fire, nor wind, not space and not consciousness. Nor is he or she all of them. Yet what individual is there separate from these?

In other words, the person is not any of the specific elements within the body and yet, can you find any person that is completely separate from the elements of his or her body? The “me” is not something existing in terms of being any of the elements of the body when you look for it. It’s merely existing on the basis of the collection of all the various elements, the consciousness and so forth. Taking that collection as the basis of a person, or a “me,” then the “me” is what the term “me” refers to when it’s labeled onto the whole collection. So it’s on this basis, with this type of existence, a merely imputed type of existence, that the “me” functions and you should be satisfied that, in fact, it functions.

It is like, for instance, when you dream that you are thirsty and you dream that you drink something, then your thirst ends in that portion of your dream, in that episode, and so the thing just happens to work. The same thing in terms of when you investigate to find the “me.” When you don’t find it, then you should be satisfied and not pursue that further, but just be willing to live with the fact that the “me” is merely something that exists as something imputed and it can’t be actually located and found ultimately. When you gain the realization of voidness, the absence of this fantasized, impossible way of existing, and that there’s no such thing as an inherently findable person and so forth, then you should simply focus on that with an exceptionally perceptive state of mind.

The same applies when you do any of the deity meditations, you are visualizing a meditational deity, a Buddha-figure, and again there are all these factors involved. There is the deity that is meditated upon, there’s the meditator meditating or visualizing the deity, and there’s the actual act of doing this deity visualization or meditation; and none of these can exist independently of the others. You can’t have a meditated upon deity without someone meditating upon it and you can’t have someone doing deity meditation without there being a deity that’s meditated upon, and so forth. So, again, this process is one that occurs merely on the basis of all of these things being dependent upon each other and there being nothing inherently findable, no inherently findable deity, meditator, and so forth, that’s involved in this process. And so the text reads:

When you search and, like that, cannot find even a mere atom of a total absorption, someone totally absorbed, and so on, then cultivate absorbed concentration on space-like (voidness), single-pointedly, without any wandering.

The text goes on:

Furthermore, while in a state of total absorption, (scrutinize your) mind. Not established as any form of physical phenomenon, it is a nonobstructive utter bareness that gives rise to the cognitive dawning and projection of a wide variety of things – a continuum of unhindered (unceasing) clarity and awareness, engaging (with objects) without discontinuity. It appears not to depend (on anything else). But as for the conceptually implied object of the mind that grasps (for it to exist as it appears), our guardian, Shantideva, has said, “What are called a ‘continuum’ and a ‘group,’ such as a rosary, an army, and the like, are falsely (existent as findable wholes).” By means of scriptural authority and lines of reasoning (such as this), totally absorb on the lack of existence established as things appear.

This refers to the similes of a rosary or an army. If you look at a rosary, what is the rosary? It’s not the string that the beads are strung on, nor is it any of the beads, but you have the collection of all these beads and string and things like that all put together, and a rosary is what the word “rosary” refers to when it’s labeled upon this collection of its parts and ingredients. That’s what a rosary is, but it’s not something that exists inherently on the side of all its parts and ingredients. The same thing is true of an army, you cannot say that one person is an army, or any of the individuals gathered together are the army, but you just have a whole bunch of people together, various war implements, and so forth, and the army is what the word “army” refers to on the basis of all of these things gathered together. There’s no pointable thing within it that you can point to as the army itself. This is the view of voidness, the absence of fantasized, impossible ways of existence.

Then the text continues:

In short, as has been said from the precious lips of my spiritual mentor, Sanggyay-yeshey, omniscient in the true sense, “When, no matter what has cognitively dawned, you are fully aware of it as (having its existence established merely by its being) what can be cognitively held by a conceptual thought, the deepest sphere of reality is dawning without need to rely on anything else. To immerse your awareness in the state of (this) dawning and totally absorb single-pointedly, oh, my goodness!”

So this is something that the author, the first Panchen Lama, Chokyi-gyeltsen, quotes from his own spiritual master, Sanggyay-yeshey, from whom he received all these teachings and guidelines. When you understand voidness like this, the absence of all fantasized, impossible ways of existing in terms of realizing that there’s no such thing as things existing independently from their own side, independent of this whole process of labeling, then it’s like the next quotation, which goes:

Similarly, the hallowed (fatherly Padampa Sanggyay) has said, “Within a state of voidness, the lance of awareness is to be twirled around. A correct view (of reality) is not a tangible obstruction, O people of Dingri.” All such statements come to the same intended point.

Dedication and Continuing the Practice

When you conclude doing this meditation on mahamudra, the great seal of reality, then you need to dedicate all the positive potentials that are built up toward the benefit of all beings.

If you gain this realization of voidness and reality on the basis of wishing, by means of that, to free yourself of all your problems and sufferings, then you’ll achieve the state of liberation of a listener to the teachings. Whereas, if you gained this same realization on the basis of love and compassion for all others and the dedicated heart of bodhichitta, with which you wish to benefit everyone and achieve a state of enlightenment in order to be able to do so, then this realization of reality will bring you to the omniscient state of a Buddha, since it combines compassion with the understanding of voidness. If, in addition to this, you receive the empowerments of initiation into tantra, the hidden measures to protect the mind, and you keep all the close bonds to the practice and maintain all the vowed restraints involved in its behavior, then you will be able to actually achieve that state of enlightenment in this very lifetime. Even if you don’t do all the practices of tantra, merely if you keep the vowed restraints of its morality and you keep the close bonds to the practices and you do that without any break for sixteen lifetimes, then, even without doing any other intense practice, you will achieve enlightenment within that period.

You need to continue in your practice. You could practice in terms of mantra, for instance, and make requests to Manjushri and Avalokiteshvara for clarity of mind and to develop a kind heart, and you yourself practice being a good and a kind person, having a warm and kind heart and benefiting others. In this way through steady practice, you will be able to gain all the realizations and insights. It is not necessary to give up doing whatever type of work and occupation you are following; it certainly doesn’t call for that type of thing. If you look at the examples of the highly realized masters in the past, there were many who were farmers, or tailors, or who followed various types of occupations. The important thing is cultivating your heart, cultivating your mind through the process of whatever work you happen to be doing. Of course, there are people who devote themselves totally to a spiritual pursuit, there’s no denying that, but there’s no necessity to do that in order to be a practitioner and gain all the realizations and insights. As you live your life and continue doing whatever type of work and occupation you are involved in, if you pursue this within the context of following a spiritual practice, saying the various mantras, gaining clarity of mind, having a kind heart, being kind toward others and so forth, then it’s for sure you’ll gain insights and realizations and progress along the path.

Having gained a precious human rebirth and having gained the opportunity to meet with these instructions and teachings is something that is very rare, very precious. It’s something that you shouldn’t throw away and forget about. You should try to apply them and don’t be so short-sighted to think in terms of working only for a very short period of time, a couple of weeks, months or years, and that immediately you’re going to gain these fantastic insights and realizations and experiences. It doesn’t work like that. You should try to think in terms of vast expanses of time. Think in terms of slowly and gradually improving yourself and improving your condition. Think in terms of steady practice throughout this lifetime, throughout your future lifetimes, and that the next lifetime will be even better than this one and the one after that even better and think in terms of many, many future rebirths. Do not think in a very short-sighted manner, but in a very long vista with a long scope of time. In that way, you won’t become discouraged and you’ll find that, in fact, you will be able to make slow but steady progress.

So you should always try to think in terms of having a kind heart, being kind and warm toward others, not causing any trouble, not harming others, trying to get rid of these fantasies about reality, trying to see things the way they are and, on this basis, being a kind and warm person, continuing your practice and leading your life along these lines. This is something that is extremely important; this is what it is all about. Being a kind person is something that you can do regardless of whether you are walking, sitting, involved in your work or whatever. This is a practice that involves your whole life and all of your time regardless of what else you are doing. Likewise, you can say various types of mantra like om mani padme hum and aspire to gain a very kind and warm heart to be able to benefit everyone, directing all your positive energy in that direction, and it will be very beneficial.

When you are saying the om mani padme hum’s it’s not necessary to say that out loud so that people can hear you. That might be a bit weird. It’s not necessary to go around mumbling. but if you find that saying it under your breath is uncomfortable, you can likewise say it in your head; it’s not necessary to recite these mantras out loud. You can also visualize the mantra in your heart and do a type of mental recitation of it as well.

The text goes on:

Having accustomed yourself like this,, then no matter what has dawned as an appearance of a cognitive object to your six-fold network (of consciousness), inspect minutely its manner of appearance…

Alex: The “six-fold network of consciousness” refers to eye consciousness, ear consciousness, nose consciousness, tongue consciousness, body consciousness and mind consciousness.

Its manner of existence will dawn, denuded and distinctly. (This is) the essential point for having whatever has cognitively dawned being like what you recognize. In short, any object whatsoever that cognitively appears, such as your own mind and so on, make yourself certain about its manner of existence – don’t grasp at it (to exist in the manner that it appears) – and always sustain (that certainty). When you know (one thing to exist) like this, (you see that) it applies uniformly to the self-nature of all phenomena of samsara or nirvana.

In other words, no matter what appears to whatever type of consciousness, sights to your eyes, sounds to your ears, smells to your nose or thoughts to your mind, whatever appears, you should not grasp to it in the way in which it appears, because everything appears to be truly and findable existent. But, in fact, nothing exists in that way, because none of these appearances exist in the way in which they appear. Therefore, you should not grasp at anything to exist in the way that it appears.

Then the text goes on by quoting Aryadeva who was the great disciple of Nagarjuna and it says:

Aryadeva has also given voice to that in saying, “Any seer of one phenomenon is the seer of everything. Any voidness of one thing is the voidness of everything.”

In other words, it’s very difficult to gain a realization of voidness, but once you’ve understood how one thing is devoid of findable existence, then everything exists in that same way, everything is similarly devoid of findable existence. So you just apply your understanding toward everything.

While you are focused single-pointedly on the total absence of findable existence, no relative appearance of anything appears to the face of that single-pointed settling. So the text says:

Before the face of proper, total absorption on the actual nature (of everything) like that, there is just the severance of mentally fabricated extremes regarding (everything of) samsara and nirvana, such as (inherent, findable) existence, (total) nonexistence, and so on.

This is why it says, for instance, in the Heart Sutra, when speaking about the deepest level of true phenomena, to the face of total absorption on the deepest true phenomena, voidness, there are no forms and so forth, all the way up to Buddhahood. There’s just the deepest nature of reality itself – voidness. But just because it says that there are no ultimately findable phenomena, and within the sphere of this deepest level you don’t find anything, that doesn’t mean that things are totally nonexistent because, conventionally, things do function and exist, it’s just that they are not ultimately findable.

Even though ultimately there are no findable phenomena, nevertheless you do have conventionally existent phenomena, you do see them. When you arise from your absorption on voidness then you see various appearances. These appearances are still appearances of true existence, but things don’t exist in that manner. How are things existing? They are existing merely in terms of mental labeling, merely in terms of what various names and concepts refer to, on the basis of what they are labeled upon. Everything does in fact function within that context.

How does it function? It functions, for instance, like things in a dream or like things in an illusion or things in a magic show, when you have magicians conjuring up images of horses and elephants; or like the reflection of the moon in water. You do in fact have a reflection of the moon in water, but the moon does not exist in the water. It merely appears to exist on the water, but cannot be found in the water. Like that, all things appear to be findable but in fact they are not. They only exist in terms of what the terms and concepts refer to. So you should try to realize this as you are going around and leading your life after you have arisen from your absorption.

Therefore the text continues:

Yet after you have arisen, when you inspect, (you see that) the dependent arising of the functioning of what is merely imputedly existent, simply by names, undeniably and naturally still cognitively dawns, like dreams, mirages, reflections of the moon in water, and illusions.

This is just continuing the same idea, that when you arise you see that everything is dependent arisings, that things do function and that the way they function is on the basis of mental labeling, and that nothing exists as being findable in the way that it appears to exist. You can look, for instance, at the pillars in this room. There are six pillars and you can ask what are the six pillars, or what are pillars in general. You can’t find the category “pillars” in general in any of the individual pillars, but you can only say on the basis of these six individual pillars that you can label the general idea that there are pillars in the room. But pillars as a general thing, as a category, don’t exist in any of the individual ones. It is merely what the word “pillars” refers to on the basis of the collection of these six items, and in that way all things similarly exist.

The text goes on:

(When you realize simultaneously that) appearances do not obscure voidness and voidness does not make appearances cease, you are manifesting, at that time, the excellent pathway mind (that cognizes from the single viewpoint) of voidness and dependent arising being synonymous.

This is saying that you need to understand that when things appear, they appear because they are devoid of being inherently findable. It’s only because they are devoid of being inherently findable that they can actually appear, because if they were inherently findable, they couldn’t appear at all. When you understand that the fact that things appear means that they are not inherently findable, because the absence of inherent findable existence is what allows them to appear, you have understand it in the correct manner. You need to understand that appearance, then, doesn’t deny voidness but, in fact, appearance is supported and is accounted for by the fact that things are devoid of being findable. Likewise, when it says that things are devoid of being findable, this doesn’t deny that they appear, in fact it accounts for the fact of why they appear. So both of them are mutually supportive and explain how each of them operates. In other words, things appear because they are not inherently findable as anything, and things are not inherently findable because, in fact, they do appear.

When you understand what it means to say that voidness is the absence of all fantasized, impossible ways of existing, when there’s an absence of fantasized, impossible ways of existing, then what it means is that things actually can appear. It’s just that fantasized, impossible ways of existing don’t exist, but things do appear, and the fact that they do appear means that things don’t exist in the fantasized, impossible way in which you imagine they do but, in fact, they actually do appear.

So when it talks about the absence of fantasized, impossible ways of existing, this doesn’t mean that things don’t exist at all, it just means that they don’t exist in this fantasized, impossible way that you imagine them to exist, because if they did exist in that fantasized, impossible way they couldn’t appear at all. The fact that they do appear demonstrates that they don’t exist in this fantasized, impossible manner but in fact they do exist in the way that they do, so you should try to understand how the two support each other. To say that there is an absence of fantasized, impossible ways of existing means that things do appear in reality.

The text concludes with the dedication which reads:

The speaker of these words has been the renuncient called Lozang-chokyi-gyeltsen [that’s the First Panchen Lama], who has listened to much (teaching). By its positive force, may all wandering beings quickly become triumphant Buddhas through this pathway of mind, apart from which there is no second gateway to a state of serenity.

“No second gateway” here means that there is only one gateway to a state of serenity. What is that one gateway? It is the gateway of realizing voidness, in other words, realizing reality, which is the total absence of all fantasized, impossible ways of existing. Aside from realizing that, there is no other way in which you can gain a state of serenity, where all the disturbing attitudes, suffering, and so forth, are gotten rid of, and you have the ability to help all beings. The author dedicates the positive force for everyone to become enlightened through realizing mahamudra, the great seal of reality, of voidness.

Concluding Advice

Having achieved a precious human rebirth with all the opportunities and respites we have, then, with this as our working basis, we should strive to gain the understanding of reality, to gain this insight into voidness. This is something that you won’t be able to do unless you build up a great deal of positive potential or merit to enable you to gain these various insights and realizations. This is something that is demonstrated in the life history of the great Tsongkhapa who, in order to build up a great store of positive potential, did an intense practice of offering three and a half million prostrations and making a million eight hundred thousand offerings of a mandala plate, a round symbolic offering of the universe. He did the latter with a round piece of stone, and he rubbed this round piece of stone with the underside of his wrist, this million eight hundred thousand times, so that his wrist was completely sore and the flesh worn away and open. He devoted himself in such an intensive manner in order to build up the great store of positive potential that would allow him to see reality.

The same thing is true when you look at the lives of people like the great translator Marpa who went to India on foot, under tremendous amounts of heat, and encountered a great deal of difficulties in order to study with Maitripa. The same is true in the life of Milarepa, who worked extremely hard and underwent a great deal of difficulties and hardships in order to gain a realization of reality. This is something you should keep in mind, that you are not going to be able to see reality, voidness, without a lot of hard work and difficulty. It requires building up a great deal of positive potential.

If you are devoting yourself totally to this spiritual practice of the Dharma and you don’t have any material possessions that’s OK, because you can look at the example of Milarepa, who practiced very intensely without having any possessions. If you are not doing Dharma practice, then look at all the various possessions that you can accumulate in life. In fact there is no lasting essence to them at all. If you have many possessions, you’ll find they are going to cause you a lot of problems and worries and will cause you a lot of upset. However, if you find that you are doing Dharma practice, intensive practice, and you do have material possessions and wealth as a result of the positive potentials you’ve built up in the past, this is not something bad. This is OK and you can proceed with that, taking advantage of that.

The main thing that you need to have, regardless of your economic status, is a feeling of satisfaction. You should feel satisfied with what you have because it doesn’t matter how much you have, if you are not satisfied with it, you are not happy. In addition, it is important to be a happy person and to be in harmony with everything around you. If you are a happy person and always giving off that type of feeling, you’ll find that the people around you, and even your pet animals, will also be happy. But if you are always losing your temper, then you’ll find that even your pets will become very nervous, jittery and upset because of the type of person you are.

When you look at all of us here, by our actions in the past we’ve all built up a karmic relation that allows us to gather here and study and learn together about these things. We are also, through our actions now, building up the potentials to experience gatherings like this in the future and, therefore, it’s very important as a group that we are all harmonious with each other. All of you at this center have plans for building a temple here. This is something that is extremely important and an extremely positive thing to engage in, because you build up a potential equivalent to making an offering of gold equal to the number of atoms in the place that you build. It’s described in those types of terms and, therefore, to build a center and temple like that here is a very positive act, it’s very good.

Your teachers and the directors of this center, Lama Zopa Rinpoche and also the learned Lama Thubten Yeshe, are very dedicated beings, very dedicated bodhisattvas, who are working to make places like this available for the benefit of others. When they come here it is very beneficial for you to pray with them and have respectful faith in them. Very soon you’ll be visited by Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey, a very great master who’s been working very many years to teach Westerners. It is something very excellent that he’s coming here and, likewise, you should say prayers with him and show him respect. If you have anything you feel you would like to communicate with me after I have left here, then please feel free to always write to me and tell me whatever you need to.

I will say many prayers on your behalf that things go well for all of you, that you all remain in good health and that everything continues here with great progress and I thank you very much. If you have any questions then you can ask. Now I will give you the oral transmission of Om Mani Padme Hum.

I also want to thank the people who drove us here when we came. It was a very long and tiring journey for them and I thank them very much. There is a saying in Tibetan which is that, out of a hundred otters, you’ll find one that has a piece of turquoise that it keeps as a treasure in its head, and, out of a hundred poisonous snakes, you’ll find one that has a pearl in its head, and, out of a hundred groundhogs, you’ll find one which is a meditator, and out of all of you here you have one monk. So the fact that you have one of them here with you is very good for all of you.