Joint Practice of Conventional and Deepest Bodhichittas
Moscow, Russia, June 2013
Session Five: Attaining the Buddha Bodies from the Buddha-Family Traits
We were speaking this morning about deepest bodhichitta. And we saw that it was not enough just to have relative bodhichitta, either
- just the aspiring state in which we aspire to attain our not-yet-happening enlightenment;
- or the pledged state of aspiring bodhichitta with which we pledge never to turn back.
And it’s not enough merely to have the engaged state of bodhichitta with which we take the bodhisattva vows and actually engage in bodhisattva conduct with the six far-reaching attitudes or paramitas. But within far-reaching discriminating awareness – the sixth of the far-reaching attitudes or paramitas – we need to discriminate very clearly
- the reality of enlightenment – or the voidness, I should say – of the enlightenment that we’re aiming to achieve;
- and the voidness of ourselves working to attain it;
- and the voidness of the whole causal process that will bring us stage by stage to enlightenment.
In other words, we need deepest bodhichitta in order to have a realistic attitude of what we’re aiming for, and how we will attain it. Basically, we need to clear away any misconceptions that we have of impossible ways in which any of this exists or functions. And with that understanding of voidness, that these misconceptions don’t correspond to reality – so there’s an absence of an actual corresponding thing to them – then we just proceed through all the methods to attain enlightenment.
When we speak about our individual, not-yet-happening enlightenments, our attainment of them will arise dependent on Buddha-nature factors. There’s a whole discussion, which is quite confusing, because of the terminology that’s involved. When we talk about enlightenment, we are talking about a state in which we have what’s usually called the four Buddha-bodies. “Body” here is a collective term. It’s not referring to just one physical body, but in English we have the word “corpus,” it means a collection or network of many things, like a body of knowledge.
So, we have a Body of Forms which are many, many different forms in which, as an enlightened being, we can appear. There are grosser forms and subtler forms, so-called Sambhogakaya and Nirmanakaya – we won’t go into the details of that. And in certain systems we also include the speech of a Buddha – our way of communicating. So, all of these things are forms, forms of physical phenomena. And we also have what’s called a Dharmakaya, and Dharmakaya has also two aspects. One is the omniscient mind of a Buddha, which is going to have also an all-loving aspect to it. It’s not just a knowing everything, but it is having equal love and compassion for everybody, and knowing skilful methods to be able to benefit them. All of that’s included in the so called Deep Awareness Dharmakaya.
And then there is the so called Svabhavakaya, the Essential Nature Body. And this is explained or asserted differently by different schools and traditions within Tibetan Buddhism. From the Gelugpa point of view – Prasangika Gelugpa point of view – it includes the voidness of the omniscient mind of a Buddha and the true stoppings of the various obscurations. These true stoppings also occur on the omniscient mind of a Buddha. In other traditions, even within Gelugpa, like within Kalachakra and so on, there are other things that are asserted as this Svabhavakaya. Everybody accepts the same thing; it’s just a matter of where they classify them, what they call them. So, there’s no need to go into all the variant ways of classifying these things in the different schools.
Now, we often come across these terms of “permanent,” “static,” “unconditioned.” And many of these are going to be conveyed by the same word in Tibetan, but in different contexts they’re referring to different things and have different meanings. So, if we speak about the fact that these Buddha Bodies have no beginning and no end, that’s one thing that everybody is going to accept: that they are eternal, because our mental continuums are eternal, with no beginning and no end, and the natural purity and nature of the mental continuum has no beginning and no end.
So, if we speak from that point of view, then the nature of the mental continuum, it’s purity and so on, is not created by anything, it’s not conditioned by anything. It’s always the case. It is a fact. That fact doesn’t change, that fact remains static, in the sense that it’s always true. The mental continuum in its nature is always pure. And it’s functioning in terms of making emanations and so on, in terms of either mental holograms (or how do we want to conceive of it) – that’s always happening, no beginning and no end. So that’s not in its nature conditioned by anything. It’s a fact.
However, if you look at that from another point of view, then from moment to moment it is changing in the sense that what is arising changes from moment to moment, and what these things do in terms of helping others changes from moment to moment. The content – how the Buddha Form Bodies [appear], what form they appear in, and what they actually do to help others – that changes from moment to moment. The fact that they appear at all doesn’t change. So,
- if you look at it from one point of view – static, forever, doesn’t change, just a fact that it happens;
- from a different point of view, of the content, it changes from moment to moment.
So that’s why in different texts from different traditions you hear that these Bodies are permanent in one tradition, and you hear that they are impermanent in another tradition. They’re talking about different aspects, not the same thing. In essence they agree with each other. Okay?
Now, from the Gelugpa Prasangika point of view, talking in terms of the moment-to-moment changes of the content of what these things are doing, what these bodies are doing, then we would say that the Form Bodies are conditioned phenomenon. They change from moment to moment in terms of what they’re doing and what appearances they appear in. And the Deep Awareness Dharmakaya – that’s the omniscient mind of the Buddha – is also changing from moment to moment, because as we explained before, what’s happening now is changing from moment to moment. The fact that it is omniscient, that it knows everything, doesn’t change, but within what it knows it changes from moment to moment.
Question: Isn’t there a contradiction? It is said that Buddhas, they are beyond time. For instance about Padmasambhava, it is said that he is the Buddha of the past, present and future. And so if a Buddha is beyond any time, then for him there would be no time and no changes, then.
Alex: That, I believe, needs to be explained and understood and cannot be taken literally the way that it sounds. Because the way that it sounds, the misconception of that would be that time is occurring over here and there’s something separate from it over there, which is beyond. So that’s quite a dualistic type of thing. Various beings, like Padmasambhava, a specific Buddha, has appeared in the past, is appearing in the present, can appear in the future – no problem with that, because no beginning, no end. But when we say “beyond time,” or “beyond space,” or beyond whatever, we’re talking from the point of view of the mind.
It isn’t that time exists self-established by itself and is happening, and that there are things that are not inside that sort of package of time and space. It’s not like that. But if we think in terms of a concretely existing time, in other words through a concept of what time is or a concept of what space is, then we can’t really understand Guru Rinpoche. So it is beyond our ordinary concept of time and space. It’s all in relation to the mind. It’s not that time and space is some container over here and you can either be in it or out of it. You know, that’s this Newtonian idea of space and time as a container that things happen inside of. It’s not like that. It’s a more relativistic idea of it.
Okay, now, given this, within Gelugpa we’re speaking in terms of the Form Bodies and the mind of a Buddha (the omniscient mind of a Buddha) being nonstatic phenomenon. They are conditioned in terms of how they appear and the specific method that they know to help this person or that person is going to be effective or conditioned by that person and the situation. So its nature is not conditioned, it’s a fact. But its specific appearance in any particular moment is conditioned by the need of whoever it is that they’re helping at that moment. That’s not so difficult to appreciate. Okay?
Now, how does it come about that we have these Form Bodies and the mind of a Buddha? We have the Buddha-family traits, they’re called “Buddha-nature.” There’s no word exactly, literally “Buddha-nature”; they’re talking about the family traits, family being the family of everybody who can become a Buddha, so basically everybody. So what are these traits? There are many terms that are involved here. There is no need to go into it. You know, “the womb of a Buddha,” “the womb out of which Buddha arises” and so on – there’s a big discussion of the logical pervasion of all these terms. It’s complicated. All the different schools are going to define them and use them slightly differently, so let’s not go into that.
The point that I cannot stress enough is that because the different schools use the same terms slightly differently, try not to mix things up. If we’re receiving an explanation from one school’s point of view, know what their definitions are and that’s what they are talking about, and when you hear it from another school forget about the definitions of the previous school and try to understand it in terms of how that school is defining the terms and using them. Welcome to the world of Tibetan Buddhism. No uniformity.
So, we have three types of Buddha-family traits. There are
- the evolving traits,
- the naturally abiding traits,
- and the factor of a mental continuum that it can be uplifted or inspired by Buddha’s enlightening influence.
The evolving traits are factors that are imputable on the basis of our tainted mind, in other words before we are a Buddha, that are fit to become the essential nature of the Buddha Bodies that are conditioned phenomenon. These are things that can transform, that are in our non-enlightened minds, that build up and can transform into the Form Bodies of a Buddha and into the omniscient mind of a Buddha. This is how it’s explained in Gelug Prasangika. In other traditions they might transform into the attainment of these things. They are just different ways of explaining it.
But in any case we’re talking here about the two networks: positive force and deep awareness. These build up, build up, build up, and it turns into eventually or brings about our enlightenment – however we want to conceive of it, in whichever system. The naturally abiding family traits are basically the voidness of this tainted mind – this is Gelug Prasangika. It’s the deepest truth about the mind, which is going to be a fact, whether we are enlightened or not enlightened, so it is what is responsible for the fact that we have a Svabhavakaya.
So, in Gelug Prasangika we’re just talking about the voidness of the mind; in other traditions we might talk about both the… It all depends on how we define and classify the nature of the mind, but in any case what we include in the nature of the mind, as described in all the different schools, that is going to be responsible for Svabhavakaya. That’s the naturally-abiding trait. In other words, what are the facts about the mind that allows for the transformation? And those facts going to remain facts, whether we’re enlightened or not enlightened. They naturally abide, they’re always the case.
And then the fact that our mental continuums can be stimulated and influenced by the enlightening influence of our gurus, of the Buddhas and so on, so that it will grow, these networks. Positive force and deep awareness will grow more and more. Our minds are different from a rock; the Buddha’s influence is not going to stimulate that rock to become enlightened, but it can stimulate our mental continuums to become enlightened.
Okay. Now, what are these networks? Let’s focus on these evolving family traits, in other words the whole process of causality, cause and effect, of how they somehow are fit to become the essential nature of these Buddha-Bodies. In a sense they transform. They are fit to serve as the essential nature, to become the essential nature. “Essential nature” is a technical term. Essential nature is basically what something is, what type of phenomenon something is. So, we can speak in terms of the essential nature of something being a sight, or the essential nature being a sound, or a smell or of a taste. Each of the consciousnesses deal with something of its own individual essential nature.
So the essential nature of the Form Bodies is that they are forms – forms of physical phenomenon. So, what is it that can transform into the forms of a Form Body of a Buddha? And the essential nature of the omniscient mind of a Buddha is that it is, in the classification of things, a way of being aware of something. So it’s a way of being aware of something; it’s a mind. So, what is fit to evolve and become a way of being aware of something, being an omniscient awareness of something? We get this whole discussion in the discussion about rebirth and beginningless mind, that the mental continuum always has to come from some previous cause that is also a way of knowing something. It can’t come from something of a completely different essential nature, like this matter or a form.
Things transform, remaining in the same essential nature of what it is, what type of thing it is. So matter and energy, or a way of knowing something. My nose can’t transform into anger – those are two different things, aren’t they? Different essential nature. Boredom can transform into anger, can transform into sleepiness, can transform into all sorts of ways of being aware of things. And a tree can transform into wood, can transform into a table that can transform into firewood, it can transform into fire, and so on. But the table can’t transform into anger – it’s a different essential nature. Okay? That’s what we are talking about here.
So, we have these two networks: one is positive force, one is deep awareness. But within that we have samsara-building (variants of it), liberation-building, and enlightenment-building variants. Positive force we get from our karmic actions done with all of our confusion and so on, and that builds up happier samsara. If that positive force from our constructive behavior is dedicated to our liberation, it contributes to liberation. If you dedicate it to enlightenment, it contributes to enlightenment. If you don’t dedicate it at all, it will just contribute to your continuing samsara, but a happier samsara.
The simple analogy that I use is, you do something positive, like on a computer you make a document, and then in which folder do you save it in? Do you save it in the samsara folder? I mean, you save it either in the liberation folder or the enlightenment folder. And the default setting, if you don’t specify it, it’s going to go into the samsara folder. So, it’s very important to have the dedication. You save it to the right folder. And you don’t get angry before you do that because otherwise that’s going to delete the document and it’s finished. So it’s not saved anywhere, if we simplify the whole process here. It’s helpful actually to understand the mechanism, if we simplify it like that.
This positive force and deep awareness – the deep awareness understanding of voidness etc. – I mean specifically we’re talking about the deep awareness of voidness here. I should mention, we’re talking about the network of deep awareness, speaking from the Gelug Prasangika point of view here. Now, these networks, what we build up with them, are only going to be in the enlightenment-building true networks, if they are built up with bodhichitta which is unlabored.
Any state of mind that we want to generate can have a labored and an unlabored phase. We’re not talking about the differentiation between “artificial” and “genuine” – that’s not the differentiation we’re making here. “Labored” means that you have to go through step by step by step in order to get to that state. You have to work through, “Everybody’s been my mother”, “They have been kind to me and grateful” – each of these steps, in order to actually generate this bodhichitta state of mind. “Unlabored” means that you can just instantly generate it without having to go through the steps. Now that doesn’t mean that you just say the word and that’s it, you have it. It’s not just saying the word and then you have it. It means actually having that state of mind, genuine. Whether you have to build it up by steps, or you just get it instantaneously, the final thing is still genuine, it’s still bodhichitta.
But again, different textbooks are going to disagree on that point, so be aware of that. Some say both are genuine, some say only the unlabored is genuine. But in any case, it only counts as the cause for enlightenment for these Form Bodies and the mind of a Buddha if it is generated – the positive force and the deep awareness of voidness, if they’re generated with unlabored bodhichitta. When we get unlabored bodhichitta, then of the five paths – the path of building up or accumulation, preparation or applying, seeing, etc. – it’s the start of the first path. [The second path is] usually translated “preparation”; I translate it as “application.”
So that first path, it’s not accumulating in the sense that you’re accumulating objects. It’s building up, it’s strengthening these networks, once you have actually gotten unlabored bodhichitta – building it up more and more. Now you actually have these networks that will transform into these Bodies of a Buddha from the first path.
Now we have in general, with no beginning, these two networks. Buddha-nature factors, they’re part of the mental continuum, everybody has them. How do we know that we have a network of positive force? Because our ordinary samsara-building network of positive force brings about as its result [happiness], it ripens into happiness, ordinary happiness. So if we have ever, ever experienced any happiness whatsoever, that demonstrates that we have a network of positive force. That’s a family trait, we all have that.
Ordinary deep awareness – if we can do anything, if a worm can know that this and that are both food, there’s some deep awareness there. There’s some awareness, some understanding. So we have these basic factors – that has no beginning. But it’s only when we develop this unlabored bodhichitta that these then will take off in a sense and bring about enlightenment. Otherwise they’re just going to keep us in samsara. Like in Shantideva, Bodhicharyavatara, it talks about these incredible benefits and qualities of bodhichitta. It says, even when you first have generated it, it’s so fantastic. That’s referring to when it’s unlabored. At that point, when you enter the Mahayana path, then it actually will take off and build up enlightenment.
It transforms all this into gold – the words of Shantideva. So, rather than it just perpetuating, going on with basic factors that allow you to be a human being or any sort of sentient being, it now will transform and can actually bring you to enlightenment. So you go through the five paths and ten bhumis. You know, this whole presentation that you have to build up three countless eons, three zillion eons of positive force, of enlightening positive force – it starts then. The mental continuum has no beginning, so we’ve lived for more than just three countless eons. It’s been going on forever.
So, to build up these enlightenment building networks, the evolving family traits, we don’t need to have nonconceptual cognition of voidness. We don’t need to even have perfect concentration. All you need is unlabored bodhichitta. Along the way you develop perfect concentration, you develop a nonconceptual cognition of voidness, etc. But you don’t need that to start. You know how things go through phase transition, from ice to water, from water to vapor – it’s a phase transition. So similarly this network of positive force goes through a phase transition, from just contributing to more samsara, better rebirths; or contributing to enlightenment. So it’s always water. We’ve always had Buddha-nature, we’ve always had these networks. But we have to make that phase transition with unlabored bodhichitta, so now step by step we become enlightened. Okay?
Now, what is this positive force? We have different presentations in different philosophical tenet systems fromIndia. And we have a special presentation of this in the Prasangika school as understood by Tsongkhapa (the Gelug tradition), so it’s quite unique. Now in general we need both these networks in order to achieve either the Form Bodies of a Buddha or the mind of a Buddha. We speak just in general, general terms like that, the Form Bodies and the mind of a Buddha.
Now we have to get into the Buddhist analysis of different types of causes. We have something called an “obtaining cause” – it is that from which you obtain the result. It transforms into the result and ends once the result arises. A seed is the obtaining cause of a plant. The sprout comes from the seed, but when you have the sprout, you no longer have the seed. So, the network of positive force transforms into the Form Bodies of a Buddha. Once you have the Form Bodies you no longer have this network of positive force. And the network of deep awareness transforms into the mind of a Buddha. Now of course you have to understand that nothing can transform into the mind, but it is then, as it says, it becomes the essential nature of that mind. So that transforms into the omniscience of that mind, if you want to put it that way. Do you follow?
So all this deep awareness is limited, in a sense, when it’s in this network of deep awareness, and then transforms, in a sense that now it is unlimited, it’s omniscient. When it’s omniscient, that network of it being limited, not omniscient, is finished. So they grow like a plant. These networks grow like a seed growing into the plant. But for each of them, the other one acts as a simultaneously-acting condition. So it contributes; without the deep awareness, the understanding of voidness of this positive force – we’re very confused.
In other words, while you’re building up this positive force, if you don’t understand how that positive force exists, how it can become the Form Bodies of a Buddha, it’s not going to transform into those Form Bodies. It has to have the understanding to go with it. And that deep awareness of voidness is not going to transform into omniscience unless it is accompanied by a build-up of positive force. So you need both networks for the attainment of each of these, the Form Bodies and the omniscient mind of a Buddha. They work together.
So, now, we go back to what I started to introduce: What is positive force? What are we talking about here? We have the Gelug Prasangika presentation of it that is relevant in our presentation here. That’s what we are presenting. We do something positive, something constructive – our bodhisattva behavior – with these far-reaching attitudes there (generosity, patience, etc.) [and we build up positive force].
Now, we have two types of form asserted here in the Gelug Prasangika. We have what’s called “revealing forms” and “nonrevealing forms.” Revealing form is like a gross form that reveals the motivation behind it. It can be constructive, destructive or unspecified, which means neutral. In our case we’re talking about constructive. For our physical actions, this is referring to the form or shape that the action takes, or more specifically the shape or form of our body as it does this action. Or, when we are engaged in a verbal action, it is the sound of our voice.
So, the form of our body, the shape of our body as we are acting, reveals we’re doing something positive and constructive – the sound of our voice, the harsh (“bla-bla-bla-bla!”) or gentle can reveal the motivation. This is a revealing form. It lasts only as long as the action. That’s why the presentation for example of the thirty-two excellent signs of a Buddha’s body explains the type of causes that bring that about. A Buddha’s body has a long tongue for example, and that comes from as a bodhisattva caring for others with as much love and affection as a mother animal licking her young.
So, that shape, that revealing form of caring for others – not necessary that you’re always licking others, but caring for others – that’s why it talks about a shape of it, the general shape of it. Don’t think of it as an absolute specific shape, but the general shape or form that it takes by caring for others, like this is affection – that is going to transform into the shape of a Buddha Body, a long tongue. That you find in the classic presentations of the thirty-two excellent signs of the Buddha. So, if we understand these revealing forms as they themselves are positive force, then it makes sense. We can fit it together with the Buddha-nature teachings.
Now, also during the action we have a nonrevealing form. That nonrevealing form doesn’t reveal the motivation behind it, but it continues with the mental continuum – it’s like a very subtle vibration. It’s caused by a strong constructive or destructive motivation. You don’t actually feel it on your mental continuum, it doesn’t degenerate from moment to moment, and it can be only known with mental cognition. You can’t actually see it or feel it. That also is a positive force.
As I say, the easiest thing for trying to understand this is our analogy of a good vibration, something like that. And that continues not only during the action, but after the action is finished. The nonrevealing form, that vibration, continues with the mental continuum. It’s constructive and it’s also a positive force. It continues with the mental continuum until you give it up. You say, “I’m never going to repeat that action,” whether we’re talking about a positive action (“I’m never going to do that again”) or a negative one (“I’m never going to lie again”).
Now, according to Gelug Prasangika, vows are also a nonrevealing form. So we take the bodhisattva vows, and that’s also something positive and constructive on the mental continuum, like the subtle vibration. Now, this is what is really going to provide the continuity, from the nonrevealing forms, this positive force, and continue all the way up and then that is going to then transform into the Form Bodies of the Buddha – these very subtle nonrevealing forms. Remember, it has to be in the same essential nature, so it has to be a form of physical phenomenon that transforms into the form of physical phenomenon that are the Form Bodies of a Buddha.
So now we can understand much more clearly why they make such an incredible emphasis on keeping the vows. If you give up the vows, that nonrevealing form that has been building up and that could transform into the Form Bodies of a Buddha, it’s finished; it’s no longer part of your mental continuum. So you really are lost after that. So it’s an unbelievable disaster if you give up bodhichitta and the bodhisattva vows. That’s why it says that so much in all the texts. And why there is so much emphasis on having this pledged state of bodhichitta that I’m never going to give up, I’m never going to turn back. You turn back by saying, “Well, I’m going to stop helping others.” “I’m going to stop being generous.” So then, that nonrevealing form of that type of constructive action is gone.
So once we really develop bodhichitta, unlabored, and we really take the bodhisattva vows – I mean obviously you take that before it’s unlabored, but when you’re really going to do it – it has to be very, very sincere. “I’m not going to stop, all the way up to enlightenment. I’m not going to turn back in the middle, and I’m not going to give up the bodhisattva vows.” And then, that positive force from the vows and the constructive things that we do will actually make this enlightenment-building network of positive force.
Question: So we are not able to build up this positive force that would transform into bodies of the Buddha?
Alex: Right. What you’ve built up is lost. I mean what you have as well is something like a potential, positive potential. This is like an abstraction. It’s neither a form or physical phenomenon nor a way of being aware of something. So when you stop acting there is also this potential to act like that again. It’s also part of this so-called “merit.” And in our ordinary actions, when the nonrevealing form ends, still there’s this potential. So there’s still some positive potential left from that. It’s sort of like an abstraction. So there’s still a so-called merit. “Merit” I’m translating as either “positive force” or “positive potential,” depending on which aspect we’re looking at it from.
But, if you analyze more deeply, it would be actually these nonrevealing forms that are in the same essential nature as the Form Bodies of a Buddha. So, it’s not really going to be what transforms into the body of a Buddha; just the potential that’s left. Do you follow? Let’s try to look at this graphically. You have an action, positive action. You’re helping others with being generous. And there’s the general form of being generous. So now there’s a subtle vibration with that. And the action is finished, and now that vibration continues, and there’s also some potential to act like that again. Now, we go down through time, and if that nonrevealing form, if that vibration continues, you don’t give up your bodhisattva vows and so on, and you’re never going to give up acting like that, then that can transform like the seed into the plant into the Form Bodies of a Buddha.
But this revealing form, when it’s finished, gives a potential for it to repeat. And this nonrevealing, the vibration, if you give it up there also will follow from that some potential, but that potential won’t lead you to enlightenment; it might lead you to a samsaric act of feeding you dog, being generous. That’s a little bit complex here, when we talk about so-called merit, because it’s both talking about this positive force, this subtle revealing and nonrevealing form and also the potential.
But I think one of the reasons (and this is my guess from analysis) why Tsongkhapa reintroduces this whole thing of nonrevealing forms into the whole discussion here, is that it makes much more sense in terms of the transformation of this network of positive force into the Form Bodies of the Buddha. (He reintroduces it from Vaibhashika, which is a less sophisticated school). So, simple understanding would be that we build up this subtle vibration, our mental continuum with the bodhisattva vows, with the bodhisattva behavior, we’re never going to give it up, and it’s that vibration that transforms into these very subtle Form Bodies of a Buddha. It’s not our gross body that transforms into that. Simple understanding.
But we have to understand that with some understanding of voidness; it’s not that one ping pong ball transforms into another ping pong ball. It’s not like that. But this subtle energy builds up stronger, stronger, stronger until it goes into a phase transition, and now you get the Form Bodies of a Buddha.
And when we talk about the network of deep awareness – that’s a way of being aware of something, of voidness. We do that in meditation. Okay, now you’re out of meditation and it becomes – I’m just using the terms in a very vague, loose way – a potential. Just like an abstraction: it’s not a way of being aware, it’s not a form of physical phenomenon.
But the more that we focus on voidness, with this deep awareness and unlabored bodhichitta, the strength of that deep awareness gets stronger and stronger, because the network of all of that is reinforcing each other. That’s why I say “network” – it builds up, gets stronger, stronger, like charging a battery. So finally you get the deep awareness of the final moment before enlightenment, that deep awareness of voidness at the final moment of enlightenment, and that then transforms into the omniscience of a Buddha.
So this is the process for the transformation of the networks of enlightening positive force and deep awareness to transform into the essential nature, it says, of the Form Bodies and the omniscience – the mind of a Buddha.
And all of that can only happen on the basis of the voidness of the whole process, so that’s the abiding Buddha-nature, the voidness of the mind. Or in other schools they would include the clarity and awareness natures of the mind. I mean it’s all presented differently, but they all would agree that it’s only because of what a mind is that it could become enlightened. It’s only because of how it exists that it could become enlightened. Okay? A little bit complicated, but far less complicated than what I wrote down on my notes.
Yes, you have a question?
Question: Can you please give an exact definition of the term “essential nature”?
Alex: The essential nature is... Now I must confess I don’t know the exact definition as it’s given in the logic texts. So now I will just give you a very general definition. It’s basically what something is: what classification, what type of phenomenon something is. In our terminology, there are many words that are usually translated as “nature,” but they are not all synonymous. Sometimes they’re used synonymously, sometimes they are not used synonymously. Welcome to Tibetan Buddhism. Sometimes we speak of the essential nature (ngo-bo) of something, which is basically what type of phenomenon it is. And then we have another word that is also sometimes just translated as “nature,” which I translate as “functional nature” (rang-bzhin). It’s in terms of what is the nature of what this does.
You find those two terms used in these two separate meanings for instance in dzogchen, in the description of rigpa, pure awareness. Its essential nature is a clarity and awareness which is pure from the top, never been stained. That’s what it is, its essential nature. Its functional nature is that it spontaneously establishes appearances. So, two different terms. Sometimes in other contexts they’re synonyms; in this context it’s referring to two different aspects of nature – what it is and what it does.
Question: The problem is that it doesn’t follow for me personally (that’s probably my problem) from this definition, the difference of essential nature of a form and consciousness.
Alex: Both forms or physical phenomenon and ways of being aware of something are nonstatic phenomenon. They change from moment to moment. So from that point of view they’re the same category.
- Forms of physical phenomenon would be matter or energy, to put it in our Western terms.
- A way of being aware of something is an experience. An experience is not the same as a physical object, is it?
Those are quite different type of things. One is subjective – the experience of things – and the other is talking about objects. (“Objective” of course then you get into a whole discussion of is there objective reality, and so on. So, you have to be careful. Anyway.)
The final thing, and I will simplify it from a very complex discussion we already introduced, which is, when you are meditating with bodhichitta, you have to have something that represents it, that you are focusing on, that appears. Something has to appear. Some sort of mental hologram has to appear when you are sitting there generating bodhichitta. That represents our not-yet-happening enlightenment. So that’s just a mental hologram that we generate – an image of a Buddha in front of us, or ourselves as a Buddha. But it represents the not-yet-happening enlightenment.
How does that not-yet-happening enlightenment exist? Where is it, if it’s not like a ping pong ball sitting in our mind, sitting in these networks? So we have these forces, these potentials – deep awareness and so on, everything that we have been discussing – and they have the potential to transform into these Bodies. Or more specifically you can impute on it, infer on it, the ability to give rise to a result that is not yet happening. It has that ability to give rise to something, but it’s not yet happening. And we can also impute on it “temporarily not giving rise to that result, so long as the contributing circumstances for giving rise to the result are incomplete.”
Right? It’s like if you have a seed, it has the ability to give rise to the sprout (the sprout isn’t happening yet), and it’s temporarily not giving rise to the sprout, because it won’t do that until all the circumstances are complete. So the same thing with these networks: they have the ability to give rise to the Bodies, but they’re temporarily not doing that yet. And also on our mental continuum, you can have the not-yet-happening of the result – it’s not yet happening, we’re not yet enlightened – and the absence of the presently-happening-enlightenment. This gets into quite a technical discussion, but very, very interesting.
- There’s a potential.
- It has the ability to give rise to a result which isn’t happening yet.
- So of course there’s the absence of the presently-happening result. And that presently-happening result is not yet happening.
2014 is not presently happening now in 2013. It’s not yet happened, it’s not present now, it’s not presently happening. Let’s think of it simply.
- You have 2013.
- There’s the ability for 2014 to follow from this, but temporarily for the time being, it’s not 2014 yet, because all the days haven’t passed until it will be 2014.
- So we only have a not-yet-happening 2014; we don’t have a presently-happening 2014.
- So now we have a not-yet-happening 2014, and an absence of a presently-happening 2014, because it hasn’t happened yet.
If you can get your head around that and understand that; understand then the Buddha Bodies not yet happening, in terms of the potentials and abilities of these networks; then you start to understand the voidness of how it actually happens.
Substituting what we just said, the networks for 2013 and the functioning Buddha Bodies, that’s 2014, and you’ve gotten the structure. 2014 doesn’t exist as a ping pong ball inside 2013. Even if it were a ping pong ball, where could it be in 2013? 2014 can’t come from nothing. It has to come from 2013. It depends on 2013 in order to come as 2014. If it didn’t arise through a process of each day occurring until it happens, then 2014 could occur at any time. It could occur now. And analyzing like that (this is deepest bodhichitta) you realize that 2014 can’t be like some ping pong ball – there’s just 2014 and there it is by itself, independent of anything else; establishing itself as 2014, as though there’s some number attached inside it, “2014.”
But 2014 is not a nothing. It’s just not yet happening. But it’s not a something that’s already happening. If you understand the structure of what we’re speaking about in a simple example like 2013 and 2014, then you start to be able to understand what we’ve been discussing these last two days. That’s a general principle: if you can understand something in a simple type of example, then you can take it deeper and deeper and apply it to a more complicated example.
But if we think about 2014, we could represent it by something and maybe we just represent it by the number “2014.” That represents 2014, so now I’m thinking what I’m going to do in 2014, and I can make my schedule. I have my schedule planner for 2014 (this little book that has a page for each of the days), and the 2014 isn’t happening yet obviously, but this book represents it, and I can write down and make my schedule of what I’m going to do, where I’m going to teach. But it just represents it. It’s not actually 2014, is it? But it allows us to think about 2014, deal with it, plan for it, etc.
So, the same thing with visualizing ourselves as a Buddha in tantra. It’s like our planner book. It represents being enlightened, but it certainly isn’t being enlightened. But on that basis we can plan how we’re going to act. And we have to have bodhichitta, because we want to be able to attain Buddhahood. I don’t want to attain being a visualization, do we? We want to attain being the not-yet-happening enlightenment that it represents. And we understand very well, like the absence of 2014 actually happening now in 2013, so likewise the absence of full enlightenment functioning now when I’m just imagining it.
So like that, we absolutely have to have relative and deepest bodhichitta to be able to practice tantra, otherwise it’s just craziness. Therefore – final sentence – work hard to develop relative and deepest bodhichitta, both of them, in a realistic way of having some understanding of what it is, and how it functions, and how you get there.
We have to end here. I’m sorry, no time for questions, I have to catch a plane. But this is something that you can discuss among yourselves. So, whatever positive force, whatever understanding has come from this, may it go deeper and deeper and act as a cause for all of us to reach enlightenment for the benefit of everyone. Good – save it in the enlightenment folder. Thank you.
Join us in trying to benefit others.
Support our work!
This website relies completely on donations. Its maintenance, preparation of the remaining 70% of our planned material, and further translating is costly. Although we currently have 80 volunteers, 23 essential team members require payment. Help us raise the 100,000 euros (US $150,000) required each year
to continue providing our website free of charge.
Reaching Our Goal (40%)