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Explanation of the Seven-Part Cause and Effect Quintessence Teaching for Developing Bodhicitta

Alexander Berzin
Seattle, Washington, USA, November 2007

Session Five: Bodhicitta

Unedited Transcript
Listen to the audio version of this page (1:29 hours)

Review

We now have our last session of our discussion of the seven-part cause and effect meditation for generating bodhichitta, and we have gone through the sequence up until the final stage, the result of what we’ve been building up.

We spoke of the basis, which is equanimity, free of attachment, repulsion, and indifference, and awareness of everyone as having been our mothers, and remembering the kindness of motherly love, and appreciating that motherly love and feeling gratitude about it, and then having this heartwarming love – which naturally comes from that sense of gratitude and appreciation – with which we cherish others, are concerned about their welfare, we would feel sad if anything terrible happened to them, and we feel a sense of joy when meeting them and automatically have a feeling of closeness. Within that emotional state then there is love, wishing for the others to be happy and to have the causes for happiness.

We spoke about how – although it’s not exactly outlined in the teachings, but it would make sense in terms of the sequence – to look at here the wish for others to have worldly happiness, or in other words to get rid of the suffering of gross unhappiness or suffering. Then with compassion we wish for them to be free of suffering and the causes of suffering, and this would be the wish for them to be free not just of the suffering of suffering, but also the suffering of the worldly, samsaric happiness that we might have wished them to have with love, in other words, the suffering of change. Whether or not we want to include here the wish for them to be free from the all-pervasive suffering of samsara or not, that could be included or could be left for the next step.

The causes for happiness in terms of love would be for them – as outlined in the lam-rim, graded stages of the path – to stop acting destructively and build up positive force from acting constructively. For overcoming not only the suffering of suffering, but the suffering of change, the causes for that would be, for instance – if we want to separate that from the all-pervasive suffering – for them to have an understanding of impermanence, nonstaticness, so that they realize that this worldly happiness won’t last and so on, so they’re not so attached to that, although that wouldn’t necessarily free them from that type of suffering. And so really what we need is the understanding of voidness.

As I’m explaining this, of course other things come up in my mind, so I’m debating unconsciously with myself and now I found an objection to that, that they could overcome the suffering of ordinary worldly happiness with a worldly method, which would be to gain the higher states of concentration, in which then they go into higher levels of form and formless realm absorptions, in which they no longer experience that worldly happiness.

Be that as it may, there can be both worldly opponents to this suffering of change, and the deepest opponents would be the understanding of voidness, which is what gets you rid of the all-pervasive suffering, as we discussed, in other words, you’re no longer activating the karma. The suffering of suffering, recall, is what ripens from destructive behavior and the negative force from destructive behavior, and worldly happiness is what ripens from the positive force of constructive behavior. But that’s mixed, it’s tainted, it’s mixed with confusion, so it just perpetuates samsara. So what we want to do, of course, is get rid of karma.

And this means to get rid of the conditions and causes which would make it possible for our karmic tendencies and forces to ripen. If you don’t have the conditions, then you can’t say that you still have a tendency; or to make it more precise, if we speak of a tendency, or a habit for something to happen, for a result, that is an imputation based on causes and a possibility of a result. So if there’s a cause which has happened and a result which could happen, then you could say there’s a tendency based on that cause for the result to happen. If it’s impossible for the result to happen, because there are no conditions that would allow the tendency to ripen, then you can’t say that you have a tendency anymore.

A tendency is imputed on the basis of there being a possibility of a result. If there’s no possibility for a result, there’s no more tendency for the result to happen. That’s how you purify karma, karmic force, karmic potential – you eliminate the causes or the conditions for the ripening of these karmic tendencies and that would be the understanding of voidness, because what ripens them is clinging to suffering, that “I want to be rid of it,” and clinging to the worldly happiness, “I don’t want to be rid of it,” and that’s based on the strong identification of the “me” with what we’re experiencing.

Get rid of that and these tendencies cannot possibly ripen, because there is no condition for it, especially if you can stay focused on that understanding of voidness all the time, and then you’ve purified yourself of these karmic tendencies – that’s how you get out of it. That’s why Vajrasattva and these sort of things are just temporary remedies, but not the deepest, ultimate remedy to get rid of karma and becoming. With compassion, we wish for them to have the causes to be rid of suffering, so deepest level, because we have a conventional way of getting rid of this suffering of change by going to some higher absorption.

And impermanence would help, of course – the higher absorption would bring them there, but that would be temporary. Well, temporary is rough for gaining freedom from the suffering of suffering and to gain worldly happiness. It’s only temporary if they stop doing destructive behavior, because the forces are so strong there, the habits and tendencies are so strong that, for sure, they’re going to do it again, so ultimately we have to wish them to have the understanding of voidness completely.

And then the exceptional resolve. As we saw, we take responsibility, to a certain extent, to help them to gain worldly happiness with love, and with compassion we take responsibility to help them to overcome not only that, but also the ordinary worldly happiness as well. With the exceptional resolve we take the full responsibility to help them to achieve enlightenment. We also saw how important it is to not have a feeling of pride with which we are patronizing to the others, looking down on them, or “I’m going to save the universe,” the great savior complex; and also not to have jealousy of others who might also be helping to do this, feeling that we are the only ones who can save the world.

We also need to be very aware of the limitations of being a Buddha, and the limitation is that we’re not omnipotent. The power of the enlightening influence of a Buddha and the power of karma are the same, sort of a conservation of energy, or something like that. I mean there’s just a certain amount of energy in the universe, if we want to look at it from a physics point of view, and the power of a Buddha can’t overcome the power of karma, otherwise the absurd conclusion would follow that if a Buddha could free everybody and bring everybody to enlightenment, why hasn’t Buddha done that already?

We don’t want to get into the whole Job dilemma of the Bible, so Buddhism just avoids that contradiction by saying the Buddha can’t do it; nobody can save everybody just by their own power. Anybody’s liberation is going to happen as a dependently arising phenomenon, dependent on their efforts, the instructions of a Buddha, and the inspiration of a Buddha, but it requires many causes and conditions.

Step Seven: Bodhicitta

This is what we have covered so far and now we come to the big topic, which is bodhichitta itself. This is not a simple thing to focus on, not by any means, and it requires a great deal of sophistication to be able to know when we have built up through all these stages to having the bodhichitta aim, which we are led to by having taken responsibility, “I’m going to try to bring everybody to liberation and enlightenment,” and we see, “The only way I can do that is if I become a Buddha,” then what do we actually focus on, when we’re focusing on that?

The Necessity to Become a Buddha

First of all, we have to be convinced that “In order to be able to benefit others,” bring them to liberation and enlightenment, “I have to become a Buddha.” “Why do I have to become a Buddha?” Why is it not sufficient to be an arhat, to be liberated from samsara only? The reason for this – and we have alluded to this before, but just to underline it – is that when we look at the, particularly the Gelug Prasangika point of view explanation, our mental activity makes appearances of impossible ways of existing.

And the impossible ways of existing are that in the context of mental labeling... mental labeling, here we go. You have a label, a word, like for instance “me,” so that’s the label. Then you have a basis for labeling that “me,” and the basis for labeling it would be the aggregate factors, the five aggregate factors that make up each moment of our experience. These are things that change all the time and each moment of our experience is going to be made up of one or more components, or elements of these five groups.

It’s not that things exist in five bags somewhere, but these are just groupings, ways of understanding our experience. And so every moment of experience is going to have some sort of form of physical phenomenasight, sound, smell, taste, physical sensation – and the body is the basis for that, and the sensors, these are the photosensitive cells of the eyes, the sound-sensitive of the ears and so on. These are not referring to sense powers, it’s not something abstract, it’s referring to the cells themselves, forms of physical phenomena.

And then there’s going to be a primary consciousness. Primary consciousness is what is aware of the essential nature of this focal object. The essential nature is basically just what it is, but in the general sense – a sight, a sound, a smell, a taste, a touch – so it is only... it would be like – I’m treading in dangerous ground, because this is the Computerland here in Seattle – if you have a computer, and you have some sort of a programming code, then the primary consciousness would be that aspect that can read and say, “This is audio information,” or “This is visual information.” So it’s something like; that is what primary consciousness is doing, it’s just aware of what kind of information this is.

Then we have feeling – no, let’s do it in a different order, I’m not doing it in the traditional order – we have “distinguishing.” This is what is often called “recognition,” but recognition is far too sophisticated here. Recognition implies that you knew it before, and that you’re remembering it, and bringing it together with what you have experienced before. It’s not talking about that. It’s distinguishing within a sense field the defining characteristics or special individual characteristics of something.

So I see the colored shapes – that’s what I see when I am having visual consciousness – and I am able to distinguish and put together the colored shapes of this color and that shape and so on into a face, and I distinguish it from all the other colored shapes in the background. If I can’t do that, there is no hope of being able to understand anything that we’re experiencing, or deal with anything that we’re experiencing. If we put those colored shapes together in an inappropriate way, “a little bit of the face, a little bit of the wall, and a little bit of the carpet” into an object, that is going to be a big problem. So we have distinguishing; we distinguish an individual characteristic of the sound of that airplane passing overhead from the sound of the birds outside, or whatever.

Feeling, as we saw, is only talking about the dimension of happy or unhappy. That’s all it’s talking about, and that is how we experience the ripening of our karma. So if we’re experiencing unhappiness it’s the ripening of negative karma, and if we’re experiencing happiness it’s the ripening of positive karma. That is the difference between a sentient being and a computer, that you actually experience with some sort of feeling of happy or unhappy. The computer doesn’t experience happiness or unhappiness with decoding code and having something distinguishing this and that and so on. So that factor of happiness is very crucial for making a sentient being experiencing.

The last aggregate factor is “everything else,” so all the emotions are there, and all the cognitive factors are there, like concentration and interest and so on. And tendencies and these sort of things that are not ways of being aware of something are in there as well. Anyway, very briefly, the aggregates.

[See: Basic Scheme of the Five Aggregate Factors of Experience.]

Every moment is made up of the whole cluster of these things, and imputed on that is “me.” So, we have the label, we have the basis for labeling, and then there is what the label refers to. And what the label refers to, the referent object is “me,” the conventionally existent “me.” But that “me” is not identical to the basis, and you can’t find the “me” in the basis in terms of a findable thing inside, or a defining characteristic that by its own power, or in connection with mental labeling makes it “me.”

The fourth thing that’s involved with mental labeling, what’s absent is… We have a referent object, so the label refers to something conventionally existent. But there is nothing that corresponds to the label, and that would be what I call a “referent thing,” in quotation marks. A “referent thing” would be something that exists in a box, like our words and labels imply, like from the dictionary. The dictionary has all these words, which after all are just arbitrary collections of sounds, meaningless sounds, that by convention have been assigned a meaning, and the meaning was likewise made up by people and put in a dictionary.

Like “love,” and if we look at the whole spectrum of emotion, from the side of emotion there aren’t little boundaries, little walls, that “On this side it’s love” and “On that side it’s something else,” this is absurd. There is nothing on the side of emotions that corresponds to our words for the different emotions in a box, “There’s love and now I’m feeling it,” and “There is jealousy and now I’m feeling that,” is there? That doesn’t make any sense. When we say you can’t find the object of refutation, we’re speaking in terms of mental labeling, that you cannot find a “referent thing,” like love, on the side of the basis for labeling that allows for the correct label, that there, on the side of emotions, this aggregate that includes all the emotions, there is love in a little box with the defining characteristic of love that allows me to call it “love” and not “hate.”

But what is love, what establishes that there is such a thing as love? Well, there is a word or concept called “love.” Does the word and concept create love? No, of course not. But how do you establish and prove that there is such a thing as love? This is what I was alluding to when I said we’re not talking about impossible ways of existing when we talk about voidness, voidness is a total absence of something that never existed and never can. We are talking about a total absence of an impossible way of establishing that something exists, and you cannot establish that something exists from the side of the object. You can only establish that there is conventionally something because of conventions, there are conventions for it. But conventions don’t create it, and I don’t have to label “love” “love” “love” in order to feel love. These are very important things to keep in mind.

Again – excuse me if I’m repeating myself – I take great objection to the term “emptiness,” I prefer “voidness.” With “emptiness” there is the impression that there is something which is empty and that misleads you very much in the meditation. That is, when we speak of negation phenomena, like focusing on a table with no table cloth; there is a table, but it’s devoid of a table cloth, so it’s empty. “The glass that is empty of water,” that’s not how you meditate on voidness, that’s completely incorrect. It is voidness, nothing, no such thing as this impossible way of existing, and you just cut it off, “No such thing.” So it’s like a vacuum, like a voidness, except that we understand that it is devoid of impossible ways of existing. So that’s why I prefer “voidness” to “emptiness.”

Now, we are looking at bodhichitta – I forget how this came up in the discussion here – cause and effect, and in terms of cause and effect we want to get rid of the tendencies for samsara, and for that you have to understand voidness – that’s how it came about. And it’s impossible for a Buddha to eliminate everybody’s suffering, so to eliminate your suffering you have to understand voidness, so that you don’t activate the seeds of karma – that’s how this discussion evolved, this tangent, I’m sorry.

So why was it that gaining liberation is not sufficient for gaining enlightenment? It is that if we get rid of the disturbing emotions and if we get rid of karma… then what is happening here is that the mind automatically makes appearances of these impossible ways of existing … and when we understand that the impossible ways of existing are not referring to anything real, in other words there’s no “referent thing” in a box, then the first step is that you don’t believe it. If you don’t believe, then you’re not fooled by these deceptive appearances that the mind makes, and you don’t get the disturbing emotions that would arise in terms of “I’ve got to get that thing in order to make that me more secure,” so an experience of insecurity, or “I have to get it away from me,” or “I just have to ignore it.”

However, even though we don’t have disturbing emotions and we can have equanimity toward everybody – not drawn to some, and repelled from others, and not going to ignore others, and so on – still, there are the habits of grasping – this term, “grasping,” that’s a terrible translation also – for truly established existence, for this impossible existence. I don’t know of a better way of translating it, however, because it has two meanings here, one is – it’s just the word “dzin” (‘dzin) – “to hold” as an object this deceptive appearance, and the other aspect is “to believe” it.

So we get rid of the believing, but we still have the perceiving of it. The habit is going to produce both the perceiving and the believing this impossible way of existence. So first the habit stops giving rise to the believing in this junk that the mind produces. What does the mind produce? The mind produces an appearance of everything encapsulated in plastic, in boxes, corresponding to words, corresponding to what we see in front of our eyes. I look at you, what do I see? I just see you in a box; I don’t see everything that came before and everything that could follow after, and all the causes and conditions and things that have affected you. I don’t see that.

I don’t see what’s behind my head, either, so it’s like looking through a periscope – very, very limited perception. We are a limited being, that is what a “sentient” being is, limited mind, a Buddha is not a sentient being. So because the mind, our hardware is limited, then we have these appearances of everything in boxes. We don’t see all the connections of everything. And we don’t believe that it exists that way when we understand voidness, but still, we cannot perceive or cognize all the causal connections of everything.

In order to really benefit somebody and help somebody and bring them to liberation, we need to know all the causes for where they’re at now in terms of what they experience, for the level of their disturbing emotions and negative karma, and all of that, and we need to know what is going to be the effect of everything that we teach them. In the Theravada presentation – at least – of what a Buddha knows, the all-knowing mind of a Buddha, that’s what a Buddha knows, basically behavioral cause and effect.

A Buddha doesn’t necessarily have to know the directions of how to get to somewhere, or the facetious example that I use, everybody’s telephone number on the planet, and a Buddha only knows like one at a time. From a Mahayana point of view, a Buddha knows everything simultaneously, including everybody’s telephone number. When you think about that, “Is this just a stupid example, or is there some meaning to it?” Well, a Buddha knows all the causes, then a Buddha would know when you actually applied for your telephone and therefore what number you got. One can play around with these things of how does a Buddha know everything? Based on cause and effect.

We are therefore convinced that in order to benefit everybody, bring them to liberation and enlightenment, we would have to become a Buddha; otherwise, you don’t make the transition very nicely from the exceptional resolve to actual bodhichitta, wanting to become a Buddha and taking responsibility. So “How can I do this?” “The only way I can do this is to not just gain liberation, but I’ve got to get my mind to stop making appearances of everything in boxes in a limited type of way,” so I have to become a Buddha.

Focusing with a Bodhicitta Aim

Tsongkhapa specifies that in order to generate a state of mind in meditation, we need to know what it focuses on – the focal object – and how that mind takes or cognizes the object. With compassion, for example, we focus on all beings and on their suffering, and the way that the mind relates to that, or perceives it, is with the wish for them to be free from that. That’s similar to renunciation, with which we focus on ourselves and our suffering with the wish for ourselves to be free from it. So it’s the same type of mind, but just focused on the same type of focal object with other people than as is with ourselves. So that’s compassion. Love, similarly, you focus on others and wish for them to have happiness.

So what appears when you focus on bodhichitta? When you focus with the bodhichitta aim? This is the big question that is not so simple, and it is not the same as love and compassion meditation. Love and compassion and the exceptional resolve are a foundation and they accompany bodhichitta, but are not the major focal object. There are many different explanations here. One explanation is that you can have many different types of cognition simultaneously. For instance, we can see things in front of us and hear at the same time; we do that when we speak with somebody in person. Here are two different consciousnesses, two different cognitions, happening at the same time.

Some explanations say they alternate in nanoseconds, but others say that they happen at the same time and it’s just a matter of how much attention and concentration you have on one or the other or both, and you can have even single-minded concentration on one, and still the other is happening. So we can have love and compassion at the same time as having bodhichitta – or it could become... not really unmanifest, but without going into detail, in an underlying type of way.

When we focus on bodhichitta, some explanations are that there’s one step where you think of all sentient beings with the wish to bring them enlightenment, and then the major aim of bodhichitta is – as I said over and again in our discussion – our own individual enlightenments which have not yet happened, but which can happen on the basis of Buddha-nature. That’s the focus. And how do you take it? You take it with the intention to achieve it and to benefit all beings with that attainment, that’s bodhichitta.

Our Own (Future) Enlightenment Which Is Not Yet Happening

Now, a big, big question, what in the world are you focusing on here? How do you focus on that? This gets us into this whole discussion of “future.” One of the keys to this is that when we speak of “past” and “future,” those are Western words, Western ways of conceptualizing. In Buddhism, that’s not the way it’s conceptualized; it is phrased as “no-longer-happening” and “not-yet-happening.”

The no-longer-happening of something – to use a simple example – the year 2006, and the not-yet-happening of 2008. What we talk about when we talk about the past and the future is the 2006, which is no longer happening. Is it happening now? No, it’s not happening now, it’s no longer happening. Does it exist? Yes, it exists, but it’s not happening now. The 2008, which is not yet happening, does it exist, can it be known? Yes, I can plan for it etc. Is it happening now, occurring now? No, it’s not occurring now.

Within existent phenomena – existent phenomena are those phenomena that can be validly known, for those of you who study Tibetan, we’re talking about “yo-pa” (yod-pa), that’s existent phenomenon, and “mey-pa” (med-pa), nonexistent phenomenon – within existent phenomena, there is a division of “si-pa” (srid-pa) and “mi-si-pa” (mi-srid-pa) in Tibetan. These terms a lot of people translate again as “existent” and “nonexistent” – wrong, it’s not what it means, because both of them are existent. It means “possibly occurring now” or “not possibly occurring now.” Both of them exist. What’s no longer happening exists; you could know it validly, but it’s not occurring now. And our future enlightenment, which exists, is not yet happening; but you could know it now, it’s not occurring now.

This is one of the keys that opens up this whole topic. Now, there is the... we differentiate here the not-yet-happening of our enlightenment, which could happen, so you know it’s not yet happening, which is very important, otherwise you fool yourself into thinking, “I’m already enlightened,” which is not true. But here we’re focusing not on the not-yet-happening of that enlightenment, although we need to understand that, we are focusing on that enlightenment which is not yet happening.

The Third and Fourth Noble Truths on Our Mental Continuum

So what is that enlightenment which is not yet happening? If you ask the great Geshes, what they answer is the third and fourth noble truths on the mental continuum. Thank-you very much. So what does that indicate? Well, the third noble truth is a true stopping of the emotional and cognitive obscurations. The cognitive ones are these appearances of impossible ways of existing, and the emotional ones come from the belief, the unawareness, the ignorance that there are actual “referent things” corresponding to the garbage that our mind makes appear, and then all the disturbing emotions and the tendencies of those disturbing emotions that follow from that.

So a true stopping, Dharma refuge, one part of the Dharma refuge, the Dharma Gem is this true stopping on the mental continuum. And the fourth noble truth is true pathway mind. We’re not talking about a path that you walk on; we’re talking about – according to some tenet systems – an actual pathway of mind, it’s a way of being aware of things that will bring about a true stopping and that will result from a true stopping. Sometimes you can bring in the physical basis of this, but it’s primarily the mind.

True Stoppings and the Voidness of the Mind

That’s the type of thing that we’re focusing on, and for this we need to... it gets very, very complicated very quickly, very complicated. A true stopping, how do you focus on a true stopping? What is going on here? The true stopping here is the parting from the disturbing emotions, from all so-called “fleeting stains” on the mental continuum – not part of the essential nature of the mental activity of the mind. According to the Gelug Prasangika explanation from the textbooks other than the one by Panchen Sonam-dragpa (Pan-chen bSod-nams grags-pa), all the other textbooks assert that this is equivalent to the voidness of the mind.

And so in this explanation, Svabhavakaya – the essential nature body – is the voidness of the mind of a Buddha and its parting, its true stoppings. So it is the same, the equivalent. We don’t have to understand the logical pervasions here, but – without going into horrible detail, because this is really very complex – basically, when you focus on voidness – the absence of impossible ways of existing – you have a stopping at that time of the fleeting stains. So that whole configuration of focusing on voidness has the true stopping – but in a sense it could come back, if you haven’t gotten it fully – and if you have a true stopping, then that is in the state of mind that has the understanding of voidness.

What it’s talking about here is basically what’s called “the double purity of the mind,” that when you remove the fleeting stains, you get to the state which was never stained by them in the first place. Mind was never stained by this by nature, so when you understand that this is impossible and so on, you get to the same thing: you get this double purity. So to focus on the true stopping that we will achieve, which has not yet happened, in terms of this one side of bodhichitta, basically we’re focusing on the voidness of the mind.

True Pathway Mind

And when we focus on the true pathway mind, the fourth noble truth, which has not yet happened, what are we focusing on? Here we need to introduce the topic of Buddha-nature. Buddha-nature is talking about those factors which are responsible for our becoming a Buddha. Everybody has it. There are abiding factors and evolving factors, these are the factors that will, in a sense, become the various Buddha-bodies. The abiding factors are the voidness of the mind, it doesn’t change, the voidness of the mind is a natural state of purity of the mind of the fleeting stains – that is Svabhavakaya – it doesn’t change, always was the case. And the evolving Buddha-natures are those factors which will evolve and become the Dharmakaya, the mind of a Buddha, and the body, various bodies, the physical forms of a Buddha.

Evolving Buddha-Nature: The Network of Positive Force

We can elaborate tremendously on this, many, many different aspects, but we are speaking in the most basic thing, the two “networks,” I call them, rather than “collections.” We’re not talking about a collection of stamps; we are talking about building up something. In the case of what’s translated as “merit,” it’s “positive force,” which is networking with each other and getting stronger and stronger so that eventually you have a... like a phase transition of the mental continuum to another level of operation.

That positive force… it becomes a very interesting question, I have a big long article on this on my website, but let’s cover the other way first…. The network of deep awareness, the deep awareness of voidness, that is built up in total absorption on voidness, nonconceptually, so anything else is tainted: the appearance of true existence, the grasping for true existence, and all these sort of things. So, then you ask, “Well, positive force that’s built up, it’s tainted; so how could that be a cause for a mind of a Buddha, a Buddha-body, if it’s tainted?”

The clue here is that it’s dedication, that’s why dedication is so important. If you dedicate it for enlightenment, even if it’s tainted, built up with confusion, that positive force will act as a cause for enlightenment. If you don’t dedicate it, the positive force, because it’s tainted, will just contribute to nicer samsara. So the dedication is very crucial here and we don’t have a problem, although one could debate quite deeply of a tainted cause giving rise to an untainted result.

[See: The Two Entlightenment-Building Networkds (The Two Collections).] 

The Network of Five Types of Deep Awareness

I hope I’m not giving too much detail, but this is a good audience to give detail in. Now, the true pathway mind, what are we focusing on? We are focusing on these evolving Buddha-nature factors that are now causes for achieving the result. When we speak about the network of deep awareness, there’s deep awareness of voidness, of deepest truth. But there’s also a deep awareness of conventional truth – there’s “five types of deep awareness,” what is sometimes translated as the “five Buddha-wisdoms,” which is a silly translation, because the worm has it, everybody has it. It’s Buddha-nature.

It has to do with (1) the mirror-like awareness, that just takes in information; (2) the equalizing awareness, that puts things together, otherwise we can’t understand anything; (3) the individualizing, to individualize this thing from that thing, although equalizing can equalize these two persons as male and these two as female. If you can’t put it together, then it’s hopeless for dealing with what we experience – the individualizing, like in individualize this from that; and then (4) the accomplishing, which is basically to do something with it, to relate to it, in terms of communicating. And we know how to communicate with a child differently from how we communicate with an adult, so we have that ability, you see food, and even the worm knows what do you do with the food. You eat it, so how to deal with something, and then (5) the dharmadhatu awareness, the sphere of reality, which has two levels, conventional, what things are, and deepest, how they exist.

[See: Developing Balanced Sensitivity, chapter 10.]

Anyway, all of that is there, with these Buddha-nature factors, so we all have that. Even if we don’t have the network of deep awareness from nonconceptual cognition of voidness, which certainly most of us don’t have, what we have is the conventional one, those two [networks] are without beginning. Let’s not get into other aspects of Buddha-nature; we speak just in terms of that.

Cognition of the Not-Yet-Happening Enlightenment through Inference

Let us speak in terms of the tendencies for the result of the bodies of a Buddha and the mind of a Buddha and so on. Here, a karmic tendency has a certain facet of it – literally a “part” (cha) of it, a certain “facet” of it – which is “temporarily not-giving-rise to its result,” which it can give rise to, and that is the “not-yet-happening of the result,” that’s the future. So the “temporarily not-giving-rise to its result,” which is a certain part or facet of the tendency, of the cause here, that is the “not-yet-happening of the result.” The “not-yet-happening of the result” is imputed on the “temporarily not-giving-rise to the result,” which is imputed on the tendency.

What is another part of that tendency is the “ability to give rise to the result when the conditions are complete.” All of these are parts of what’s occurring now, and like this we can focus on something now, what’s happening now. So that’s what’s happening now, we have a tendency, a tendency has the ability, all these Buddha-nature factors have the “ability to give rise to the result” – enlightenment – “when the conditions are complete,” and the “temporarily not-giving-rise to the result” is the “not-yet-happening of the result.”

What is the basis of negation is the “absence of the result on our mental continuum.” On the basis of that absence of the result we can say that it is not yet happening. It’s very important to realize that when we focus on bodhichitta we’re not crazy. We understand that there’s an “absence of the result happening now,” we’re not a Buddha yet, And it’s because of that absence that we can say that there’s a “not-yet-happening of the result.”

Now, the “not-yet-happening of the result” and the “absence of the result” are “negatingly known phenomena,” or “negation phenomena” (dgag-pa), which means that you have to have some cognition of the result in order to know that it’s not there. How do I see the absence of an apple on the table? What do I see? I see nothing, and that nothing I understand as an absence of an apple. How do I know it’s an absence of an apple? Because I know what an apple is, and it’s not there – to put it in simple words.

This really comes a little bit before bodhichitta, “In order to benefit all beings and bring them to liberation and enlightenment I have to become a Buddha,” “But I am not yet a Buddha,” remember that little step? This is the step, that “I’m not yet a Buddha.” So there’s an absence of enlightenment now, “There’s an absence of a presently happening enlightenment” – to make it more specific – “now on my mental continuum.” But there are the causes for it, and part of those causes is the “not-yet-happening of that enlightenment,” because those causes are “temporarily not-giving-rise to it,” but they have the “ability to give rise to it when all the conditions are complete,” in other words, when we fully build up this network of positive force and deep awareness. There’s a lot of understanding that’s going on here with bodhichitta.

[See: What Does a Buddha Know in Knowing the Past, Present, and Future?]

Question: Is that intention?

Alex: The intention is to achieve it, the intention to achieve enlightenment is based on the understanding that I’m not there yet, but I need to achieve it in order to be able to help liberate and bring everybody to enlightenment. So the intention arises from this understanding. You would intend to achieve something if you don’t have it yet, and you would only intend to achieve it if you knew that you could achieve it. Otherwise, what in the world are you doing? And you would want to achieve it by understanding the necessity to achieve it.

All of these are background for developing sincere bodhichitta. We need to have some sort of cognition of the enlightenment, and now this is an “affirmation phenomenon” (sgrub-pa), the enlightenment which has not yet happened. As I said earlier in this whole series of lectures, it’s our own individual enlightenment. We’re not talking about Buddha Shakyamuni’s enlightenment and we’re not talking about enlightenment in general, we’re talking about our own individual enlightenment, which has not yet happened, and we know it on the basis of my individual Buddha-nature, which are the causes that will allow it to happen.

That third and fourth noble truths, that’s the enlightenment which is not yet happening, so you can know the voidness of the mind that would lead us to the third noble truth, the true stopping, and you could know... this becomes the difficult part here. How do you know that fourth noble truth, that deep awareness of a Buddha, the omniscient awareness of a Buddha, and the bodies coming from the physical aspect of it, how do you know that fourth noble truth which is not yet happening? Here, we would know it by inference, that if the causes are there, there is the result, and we would know it conceptually, through inference.

How do you know something conceptually, through inference? You know it through a category. We have the category “enlightenment,” mind of a Buddha and bodies of a Buddha. Now we have to go to cognition theory, the Gelug Prasangika way of presenting it – there are many other versions – and here the appearing object in a conceptual cognition is a category, that’s what’s “smack in front of the mind,” if we express it graphically, like it’s expressed graphically in the text, it is “what is in front of the face of the mind,” they say. And that category, of course, has no shape or color or anything like that, and so what appears is a representation of the category.

[See: Introductory Survey of Objects of Cognition: Gelug Presentation.]

So what would represent enlightenment? Bingo! We have a visualization of a Buddha. Therefore, in our usual practices, in the beginning of any practice of refuge and bodhichitta. you visualize a Buddha, you visualize the tree of assembled gurus, you visualize all of that, and focused on that you put a safe direction in your life and generate bodhichitta. There it is, clear. What appears in your mind is a Buddha, or in tantra meditations, yourself as a Buddha or as a Buddha-figure.

That’s why it’s absolutely essential that you have bodhichitta to do tantra practice, because you’re focusing on your own future enlightenment which has not yet happened, here it is, through the category of “enlightenment.” And on the basis of an absence of it happening now I know the not-yet-happening of that enlightenment, and that not-yet-happening of the enlightenment is based on, is a facet of the cause, the tendency, Buddha-nature, my own network of positive force and deep awareness and all these other things that are there.

Although it’s very complex, this is I think what’s involved when one analyzes what in the world is going on in your mind when you sit and supposedly single-mindedly focus with bodhichitta. What appears? What do you do? And it is not sitting there and meditating on compassion. That is a prior step. This is of course very difficult, because we’re talking about the third and fourth noble truths here, we’re talking about voidness, and in a sense... this visualization for example – it doesn’t have to be visualization, we can do this with the mahamudra method – in the mahamudra method you focus on the nature of the mind, the deep awareness of the mind – it doesn’t have to be graphically focused upon. There are many ways of representing this fourth noble truth, the deep awareness of the mind and positive force of the mind.

But from a Gelugpa point of view, you cannot focus simultaneously on the two truths of voidness of the mind and the mind itself, the conventional mind. What prevents that is this other aspect of the cognitive obscuration, the cognitive obscuration not only makes an appearance of true existence, truly established existence; but also prevents you from focusing on the two truths simultaneously, because you have an appearance of true existence and you can’t have an appearance of voidness at the same time, so that’s reasonable,

So what we have to contend with is conceptual bodhichitta, and until we are a Buddha that’s going to remain conceptual, because we can’t focus on the two truths simultaneously. It is through a category of enlightenment that we can explicitly focus on qualities of Buddhahood, physical body, or something like the deep awareness of a Buddha, if we’re doing mahamudra meditation, and implicit in that is our understanding of the voidness, “the voidness is implicit” means that the voidness is not actually appearing to the mind, but the understanding is there. In that way we combine it.

Nonconceptual Cognition of “Not-Yet-Happenings” by a Buddha

Now, a difficult question... all this is difficult, so I should stop using the adjective “difficult,” but a very “challenging” question, this is a literally correct way of saying it – a challenging thing is, what appears to a Buddha when a Buddha knows the future nonconceptually, what has not yet happened? It’s OK in terms of inferential cognition, but what does a Buddha know? Because that also helps us a little bit with this future enlightenment.

Now we look in abhidharma, and in abhidharma we have a list of different types of... if we restrict ourselves to forms of physical phenomena, then we have those cognitive stimulators (skye-mched, Skt. ayatana), and these are the things that will stimulate a cognition. We have a list of twelve, and we don’t have to go into all the details of that, but there are forms – forms like colored shapes, those kind of forms – which can be known as one category of cognitive stimulator, which can be an object of both visual consciousness and mental consciousness, and there are those which can only be an object of mental consciousness, an example being the colored shapes that we perceive in dreams – they’re not known by eye consciousness, they’re known by mental consciousness.

There’s a whole list of forms that can only be known by a mental consciousness, like the shape of an atom, astronomical distances between stars, and stuff you can’t really see in its full scope, but we can know it mentally. In this type of form of physical phenomena that is in the category of the cognitive stimulator of the things, the dharmas, the sort of things that can only be known by the mind, then we have – this is a translation [of kun-brtags] that I use, I don’t know that it is the best translation – “totally imaginary objects.” For instance, you visualize Chenrezig, what appears? Well, there is a Chenrezig that appears, but that is a totally imaginary object that appears through the category of Chenrezig, And it could be based on a painting, it could be based on a statue, but there is something that appears, isn’t there? That’s a totally imaginary object.

When a Buddha knows a result which has not yet happened, what is appearing is a totally imaginary object, it’s not an external object – it’s not happening now – this is a totally imaginary object. But it exists, so we have to take away any sort of derogatory, belittling of “totally imaginary,” that’s why “imaginary” isn’t so good. But to call it a “totally conceptional” object is no good, because a Buddha can know it nonconceptually, so we’re a little bit stuck here for a good term, let’s leave it with “totally imaginary.” A Buddha can know that nonconceptually, what does that mean? That means that a Buddha would know it not through the medium of the category “enlightenment.” That’s all that it means, it’s still totally imaginary, it’s not happening now. These are the things that are involved here with bodhichitta.

Summary

When you focus on bodhichitta, there’s something that represents the enlightened state of a Buddha, and we try to focus on that with the understanding of what we have now, of what will become a cause for the fourth noble truth. There’s some sort of form there of a Buddha, or we do it mahamudra style without a form, and we think in terms of positive force, we think in terms of deep awareness – probably the deep awareness aspect is more conducive here. When we think of this [representation] with deep awareness, there’s some sort of feeling of knowing and implicit with that an understanding of voidness and “This is what I want,” and it’s on the basis of the cause, the tendency for it, the facet of its “temporarily not-giving-rise to this,” but it has the “ability to give rise to this when the conditions are complete,” and it’s preceded by focusing on all beings with compassion, the wish for them to be free of their suffering, and that sort of is underlying it.

That seems to be a fuller description of what in the world is going on in your mind when you’re trying to sit there and single-mindedly focus with the bodhichitta aim. That intention to benefit all beings, that’s sort of a little bit underlying here as the basis, and now we’re focusing on our enlightenment which has not yet happened on the basis of the causes for it. And the cause is temporarily not-giving-rise to it, because there is an absence of that enlightenment now on the mental continuum, but “I have to get the presence of it in order to fully help everybody, I have to get to the “presently happening.”

It’s “temporarily not-giving-rise to it,” because the conditions are incomplete, so “I have to complete the conditions,” so that brings us into engaged bodhichitta to complete the conditions. The wishing stage is just focusing on that, but realizing that it’s “temporarily not giving rise to it,” because the conditions are incomplete, “Therefore I have to build up the conditions,” so engaged bodhichitta in terms of the activities and the practices of patience and so on that will complete the conditions for the result to come about,

And then we have to understand... I’m not even giving you a moment to digest that, I’m sorry, but our time is limited and perhaps you will have questions, so let me add something further here.

Voidness of Cause and Effect

When we are talking about voidness, which we have to implicitly understand, it’s very crucial that we understand the voidness of cause and effect. Now we can go back to the lovely presentation in Bodhicharyavatara, Shantideva’s text, or in other presentations, and what was refuted there? In terms of causality, what is refuted is that the cause is totally unrelated to the result, or that the cause is identical to the result, in the sense that it is the unmanifest result that’s sitting inside the cause, waiting to pop out when the conditions are complete.

So don’t think that “Enlightenment is sitting somewhere inside my head and it’s going to pop out when I get all the conditions complete,” or that “No matter what I do, I can’t possibly achieve it,” or “It will happen through a blessing,” or something like that, from an irrelevant cause, or insufficient cause. And we need to understand the voidness of the result. We go back to Shantideva, and he explains that very nicely, that what is refuted here is that the result already exists at the time of the cause. If it already exists at the time of the cause, “I’m already enlightened, I just don’t realize it,” then why would it have to arise? It’s already there, so it couldn’t arise.

And if the result is totally nonexistent at the time of the cause, how could something totally nonexistent become existent? How could it make a transition etc? Can a nothing become a something? We need to understand all of this in order to have a correct understanding of that third noble truth. We have to have an understanding of voidness of the mental continuum, the voidness of the cause and effect process which will be involved with achieving enlightenment, so we don’t have some weird idea of how it could come about that we have a presently-happening enlightenment.

And it gets even more wild, there is no “common locus,” is the jargon, of an enlightenment which is not yet happening and an enlightenment which is presently happening. In other words, there isn’t something which is both, that just moves through the timeline: now it’s not yet happening, meaning that it’s standing offstage somewhere, and now it comes onto the stage, and now it’s playing, now it’s happening. So it isn’t that the enlightenment which is not yet happening transforms into the enlightenment that is presently happening.

This starts to get quite subtle in terms of our understanding of voidness. These things are the heart of understanding, and this is why we have two aspects of bodhichitta, conventional bodhichitta and deepest or ultimate bodhichitta, we need to have the understanding of voidness. And that’s very much involved here with bodhichitta, otherwise it’s pretty weird, bodhichitta, that we’re aiming for something that’s impossible, or aiming to achieve it in a way that’s impossible, so we have the two bodhichittas, two aspects of bodhichitta.

Red and White Bodhicittas

Since we are on the topic of bodhichitta, let me bring up something which is quite extraneous to this, but is involved with the term “bodhichitta.” Did you ever hear of the term “red and white bodhichittas?”

These are forms of physical phenomena within the subtle body, which in anuttarayoga tantra, the highest class of tantra, one needs to manipulate, which is incredibly difficult to do. But if one has reached the point where one can manipulate them, then one needs to be able to move them in the central channel, and dissolve them at the heart chakra, and through that get to the clear light mind, which is naturally not making these deceptive appearances of truly established existence and doesn’t believe in it – it doesn’t mean that it understands anything, at least from a Gelugpa point of view.

But the white and red bodhichittas, these substances are an example of giving the name of the result to the cause, and so they are causes that, when manipulated and dissolved, will allow one to get to the state of the enlightened mind. Therefore they’re called bodhichittas, otherwise, it’s very confusing why in the world they are called bodhichittas. If that is dealing with a topic that you don’t know anything about, just sort of file that aside.

This is our basic presentation of bodhichitta. I don’t know whether you want to do a little bit of meditation, how in the world you would meditate? Perhaps it would be a good idea to just take a few minutes to digest what we have just been discussing, and then spend the rest of our session with possible questions. But what I’ve been trying to emphasize throughout our weekend seminar is that bodhichitta is incredibly profound and very, very extensive. It is from many points of view that bodhichitta is extraordinary, why it’s praised, and there’s a whole chapter in Shantideva praising bodhichitta.

First-Time Bodhicitta

It is aimed at everybody – well, it already comes from equanimity and through our whole sequence it’s aimed at everybody, impartially. That also acts as a cause for having an enlightened mind of a Buddha, because enlightened mind of a Buddha is aimed at everybody. In practicing in a way which is aimed at everybody impartially, equally, that also acts as a cause for reaching enlightenment. Bodhicitta is also a Buddha-nature factor, but within Buddha-nature factors there are those which have no beginning and those which do have a beginning, and bodhichitta is one of those that do have a beginning.

There is a first time when one develops bodhichitta. We have the stories of when Buddha first achieved bodhichitta, and we will be able to develop bodhichitta for the first time, and that is not referring to when we first do our baby-level bodhichitta meditations, we’re talking about when you have The Real Thing and you have it in an unlabored fashion, in other words, you don’t have to go through all these steps to build up to it, you just sort of have it automatically. That’s when you become a bodhisattva; that’s the dividing line of when you actually can be considered a bodhisattva – it’s unlabored.

It’s at this point that you enter the Mahayana path of building up – or “accumulation” it’s usually called, but it’s “building up” – we are building up now to combine shamatha and vipashyana, this is what we’re building up to with this first level of mind. So it’s at that point that we become a bodhisattva, when it’s unlabored and it’s The Real Thing, with all these understandings and so on going on.

So, bodhichitta is aimed at everybody, and bodhichitta can be developed, generated for the first time, so that becomes a very difficult question, given beginningless time, how is it that we’re not, all of us, already enlightened? Or at least developed bodhichitta? How can there be a first time on a continuum with no beginning and no end? That’s not an easy question. You have to have hope that it’s possible to achieve it for the first time, and not put ourselves down that “I’m so stupid and so selfish that I haven’t achieved it for the first time.” But it requires a great deal of effort, and understanding, and practice.

This is why the understanding of future and past is very important. It’s not that everything is predetermined. Given the parameters that we have of what are the mental factors that are going to be present on a mental continuum with no beginning, well, there are some Buddha-nature factors which are going to be present in Buddhahood as well and are causes for Buddhahood, and included here is compassion and so on. And there are others which are so-called “fleeting taints,” ignorance, or unawareness, anger, these things. They have no beginning, and the mental continuum has the ability to understand, that’s part of Buddha-nature, the ability to understand things.

So how is the dynamic going to work between these two sides? This is very interesting, we don’t want it to degenerate into a Manichaean Zoroastrian dualism of good versus evil here with the two forces of ignorance and wisdom fighting each other on our mental continuum. That would be pretty weird from a Buddhist nondualistic point of view, wouldn’t it? So how is it that understanding, which then leads to positive potential and positive force, which you have to build up to a critical level, will then lead to the first attainment of bodhichitta?

How is that going to occur given this dynamic between unawareness and destructive behavior and the positive Buddha-qualities? It’s not that it is fixed; we have choice, but choice not in the sense of free will. “Free will” means that I could do anything without having built up the causes. We’re not talking about that. I can’t flap my wings, and jump out the window and fly. With complete free will I could do that, so we’re not talking about that, that’s an extreme. We can only do what we’ve built up the causes for. If there were no such thing as intention and choice, then it would be hard to see how anybody could possibly develop bodhichitta for the first time, wouldn’t it?

Unless you bring in the example of “put twenty zillion monkeys in front of a typewriter and one of them will type out Shakespeare,” so just by laws of probability someone will achieve enlightenment. I don’t think that’s a very satisfactory answer, is it? So there has to be some amount of intention – but not existing in isolation from all the other mental factors and influence of other people, particularly great teachers – that comes into play here on the basis of cause and effect that would allow for a first generation of bodhichitta. Now, I can’t claim to have really worked out the logic of it, but it has to be possible; otherwise the whole thing is a bit screwy in terms of “we all should have become enlightened already.”

So it requires some effort given the parameters of beginningless time and having both fleeting taints and Buddha-nature factors. There’s some intention there. When we speak in terms of sentient beings, what makes a sentient being is not only what I was saying before, the experience of the results of the karma, so happiness and unhappiness, but the anterior of that not the posterior. The posterior is that you experience the ripening of karma; the anterior of that is that you act on the basis of intention, so making choices. Therefore, you choose to go over as a big fish and eat that little fish.

I don’t know whether this is biologically correct, but from a Buddhist point of view, a plant doesn’t choose to grow toward the sun. It’s not making an intentional choice, therefore it doesn’t experience karma. It doesn’t build up karma and will not experience happiness and unhappiness as a result of that, whereas those that are in the category of sentient beings, including ghosts and these sort of things – we shouldn’t limit it to just humans and animals, that makes it a little bit too rational, doesn’t it? Not rational, but limited to what we are aware of – when we’re talking about these sentient beings, we are talking about those that actually make choices based on intention, and therefore experience the results of that in terms of happiness and unhappiness, that’s a sentient being.

Therefore it must be possible on the basis of karma to build up bodhichitta for the first time. That’s why it’s important to realize that when we talk about positive force, the positive force acting as a cause for enlightenment, that the point is the dedication, otherwise any positive force that we have will only contribute to more samsara, it won’t contribute to developing bodhichitta, will it? So we want to be able to direct our positive force toward enlightenment.

So how would you know about that? You would know about that through Buddhas. Now we have an interesting thing, that there’s no such thing as the first Buddha. There have always been Buddhas. But each Buddha developed bodhichitta for the first time at some point. That becomes very interesting. I think some mathematicians will have to start working with that one to sort of untangle it. But these are also interesting questions, “How in the world can I develop bodhichitta for the first time?” And “Why haven’t I developed it already?”

Questions and Answers

Question: You kind of answered it when you said “direction,” but I was just sort of exploring the idea of dedication and how that triggers a different path towards building that positive force?

Alex: How does the dedication trigger the various paths for, not so much building up the positive force, but for what result is going to come from it? I use a simple-minded analogy of a computer and saving your data in one folder or another. The default setting for positive force when you save it is that it’s going into the “improving samsara” folder, and you have to very consciously press the button and save it in either the “liberation” folder or the “enlightenment” folder, otherwise it’s automatically going to go into the “good time samsara” folder.

Question: What about dedicating it to smaller goals, like toward gaining teachers in future lives and precious human rebirth. Is it OK to put a little bit in each folder?

Alex: The question is, what about dedicating it to goals that we will need in order to achieve enlightenment, the precious human rebirth, always meeting with our spiritual teachers, and so on. Sure, that’s fine, but I think what is important is to realize that those are subfolders within the larger folder of enlightenment, and not have them as totally separate folders, if we can play with that imagery. These are stepping stones that are necessary for enlightenment and therefore make it not our final goal, but, “May I be able to have a precious human rebirth as a vehicle to be able to make it all the way to enlightenment.”

Remember – I think I alluded to this earlier – that the renunciation is so difficult with the initial scope, where we want to have a precious human rebirth in our next lifetimes, and be with the gurus and all of that, there could be an awful lot of attachment together with that, “I want to be with my Dharma friends,” and all that sort of stuff.

Question: Does Buddha-nature prove that everyone will become a Buddha?

Alex: No. Buddha-nature proves that everybody can become a Buddha. This is why we have this interesting thing “until the end of samsara.” Sambhogakaya will teach until the end of samsara. So then there always arises the inevitable question, after everybody becomes enlightened, then what? We all sit around the swimming pool as Buddhas, what do you do after that? There’s also an auxiliary question, which I always find very funny, how does the last sentient being develop compassion to become a Buddha if there are no other sentient beings suffering for that person to develop compassion for? And the answer is that Buddhas will therefore manifest as suffering sentient beings so that the last person can develop bodhichitta.

However, leaving that aside, just because everybody can become enlightened doesn’t mean that everybody will become enlightened. You have to work for it. It isn’t that the universe is going toward the ultimate enlightenment of everybody. There is no imperative that everybody will become enlightened. Why should it be the case that everybody will become enlightened? If that’s the case, then all we have to do is sit back and wait for it to happen, because it will eventually happen, everybody will become enlightened. So everybody can become enlightened, but you have to put in the effort.

Question: If there’s no beginning with time, there’s endless time, and wishing at all costs to avoid Abrahamic context, does Buddhism say that we all began as enlightened and fell?

Alex: Yes, that’s a good one. She is saying, is it the case given beginningless time, and we want to avoid the Abrahamic assertion, how did we all start? No beginning means there wasn’t any start, so it wasn’t that we were all enlightened already, that we already knew and then we became obscured. Remember, we were talking just a short while ago about the voidness of cause and effect. So it isn’t that the result is already there of the enlightened mind, and it now became obscured, either at some point in time, or it always was, and then you just have to get rid of it and you return to the original state, which was deeply there all the time. This is a common misunderstanding of the Nyingma position, so it’s not like that.

Question: But what does Buddhism say? What state were we in?

Alex: What does Buddhism say? No beginning.

Question (cont’d): But what state were we in?

Alex: What state were we in? What state have we always been in. There is always a no-longer-happening of what came before, because things cannot arise from no cause. If they did, then a nothing becomes a something. And then how does a nothing become a something? If something is truly nothing, how could it change from being nothing? And if it’s not truly nothing, then it’s something, and if it’s something, why would it need to become a something again? To be presumptuous enough to state the Madhyamaka line of reasoning.

Question: Just a practical question about dedication. What’s the difference if... you said a fairly brief dedication at the end of each session, and lamas are always known for going on for many hours of dedication, what’s the difference between the two dedications?

Alex: What is the difference between the two dedications, a short one and a very elaborate long one? I think that the difference is the style of the teacher and the level of practicality. I don’t know that there would be necessarily a difference in devotion. I follow the tradition of my teacher Serkong Rinpoche in particular, and Serkong Rinpoche always emphasized, in a very funny way, that when the Lord of Death comes, he doesn’t wait for you to sit in a proper posture, and light some incense, and light the candles, and go through “sangye chodang...” (sangs rgyas chos dang...) really slowly, something like that. When death comes, you have to get it together instantly.

I remember when he had taught a full lam-rim course, and this was in Italy, and it was followed by instructions on Chenrezig meditation, and the people in the audience asked if we could have a meditation at the end. And so Rinpoche said, “Fine, go through the entire lam-rim and the entire Chenrezig practice,” and “OK, do it in two minutes.” And he was being generous with two minutes, and the people sort of freaked out, and he said, “Well, OK, three minutes.” And then he went into this explanation that you should be able to do the entire lam-rim, all the stages, in the time that it takes, he used the Tibetan example, when you put one foot in the stirrup of a saddle till you put your other foot over the saddle, and then he went into this thing that the Lord of Death doesn’t wait.

I think Shantideva has something similar, he doesn’t wait around. So dedication, to me it seems as though it should be instantaneous. You don’t have to go through a whole long blah, blah, blah; it’s just a state of mind. Do you have to verbalize it? No, why should you have to verbalize it? If you want to verbalize it, fine, I don’t think that doing it instantaneously is any less devotional than doing it for three hours.

Question: Effective?

Alex: I think the variable of effectiveness has to do with sincerity, not with the length of time that it takes. Life is short, and so one wants to use it, the time that we have, very effectively and efficiently. And that style of my teacher resonates very well with my personality. I don’t do anything slowly – actually it is a fault – I like, as they say in German, “schnell, schnell, schnell,” “fast, fast, fast.” It works for me, may not work for other people.

Question: When you were explaining how to meditate on bodhichitta and getting into the explanation of the fourth noble truth, talking about meditating on the form bodies, building up those accumulations, and you also said one could meditate on mahamudra instead, and I was wondering, how do you imagine sentient beings without a form body? I guess I got a little caught up on you have to feed those potentials.

Alex: OK, a simple question for the last one minute of our session, how with mahamudra... I was mentioning that one could also represent the enlightened state that we’re aiming to achieve either with visualizing a Buddha, or – I think I mentioned it here – with focusing on the guru is a Buddha, or also doing it in terms of mahamudra practice on the nature of the mind. Of course there is Gelug style of mahamudra, there’s Kagyu style of mahamudra, there’s Sakya style, and they’re all different. But if we speak in terms of the mind – here is a Gelugpa center, so we’ll stick with Gelugpa – if you take the terms of the defining characteristics of a mind, it is mere clarity and awareness.

These are misleading terms, “clarity” is referring to the appearance-making, in other words, the arising of a mental hologram, and the awareness is some sort of cognition. The making of a mental hologram and the cognizing are not two separate things, it’s not that first is the mental hologram and then you cognize it, Making a mental hologram is the knowing of something in some way or another; it doesn’t have to be in focus. And “mere” just means that’s all that is happening, and there isn’t a separate me that is making it happen or observing it happening. All there is this mental activity, so making a hologram, that’s the appearance side, so you get the body, appearance of a Buddha, you get it from that side, and the knowing aspect, you get the mind of a Buddha. So the two come together.

Or you can elaborate it a little bit more a la Kagyu, that the knowing aspect of the mind is the mind of a Buddha, and the “energy-that-goes-out” aspect of the mind, which in general will make an appearance, is the communicating aspect of the mind. In dzogchen that’s called the “compassion” aspect of the mind, you go out and communicate to others and become Sambhogakaya. And the actual content of the appearance is Nirmanakaya, with a hologram. So the making of a hologram, as opposed to what is the content of the hologram, so then we get Sambhogakaya and Nirmanakaya out of that aspect of appearance-making.

There are many different aspects within mahamudra meditation in which we can derive all the bodies of a Buddha from the nature of the mind. And they speak very much, especially in Kagyu, of the inseparability of appearance and deep awareness, and appearance and voidness, and deep awareness and the voidness, and all these sort of things. It’s a big topic, you can’t just cover it very, very briefly, but that’s what’s involved. Mahamudra meditation is also very much connected with bodhichitta.

Question: Can you fall back from bodhichitta? You said there’s a first time.

Alex: Sure, you can give up bodhichitta, and that is considered a very unfortunate thing, because in turning your back from enlightenment, what are you turning to? The Dark Side. I’m sorry, I couldn’t resist that. You’re turning away from achieving enlightenment, so what are you turning to? You’re turning to samsara, so you’re turning to suffering. So there’s a first and of course there’s a second that might be more difficult to achieve.

Question (cont’d): I understand that you don’t fall back from Buddhahood? Though I recently heard that some teacher has said so, so I guess...

Alex: No, you don’t fall back from Buddhahood, Buddhahood is forever. Otherwise, it’s not a true stopping; this is one of the incorrect understandings of the four noble truths. These are true things: aryas – those who have nonconceptual cognition of all of this – see that this is true, and others do not see this as true, so they have four misunderstandings of each of the four noble truths. It’s on my web site, in “The Sixteen Characteristics and Sixteen Wrong Views of the Four Noble Truths.”

[See: The Sixteen Aspects and Sixteen Distorted Ways of Embracing the Four Noble Truths.]

In that, one of the misconceptions about a true stopping is that it’s temporary: you can only get rid of the problems for a little while, you can’t get rid of them forever, they’re going to recur, which then degenerates into “Tough luck, make the best of it,” which is not the Buddhist solution to samsara, but which for many therapies is the solution, “Learn to live with it.” We don’t want to just “learn to live with it,” that would be Dharma-Lite, but until we get out of it, we do have to learn to live with it, so it’s not useless.

OK, any last thing? Then let’s end with the dedication, short version, may whatever understanding and positive force, the two networks, that has been built up by this, may it go deeper and deeper and act as a cause for everyone to achieve enlightenment for the benefit of all.