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From the Two Truths, the Four Truths; from the Four Truths, the Three Precious Gems

Alexander Berzin
Kiev, Ukraine, May 2012

Session One: The Two Truths

Unedited Transcript
Listen to the audio version of this page (0:53 hours)

Introduction

Well, thank you for that lovely introduction. I’m really delighted to be back in Kiev. This evening the lecture has been advertised as The First Turning of the Wheel of the Dharma, but actually I’d like to speak about one aspect of the main teachings that Buddha first taught.

The Four Noble Truths

Buddha lived about two-and-a-half thousand years ago in India, and he taught many, many different things because he had many different disciples and he always taught in a way that would be best suited for how they would understand. But the first thing that he taught was about his basic insight of how he became enlightened, and this means that he taught what is called the four noble truths. These are true facts about life that ordinary people would not see as being facts, but highly realized beings who have seen reality would see that they are true. We’ll speak about this in more detail tomorrow, but just to list what these four truths are:

  • He was talking about what are the true types of sufferings that everybody experiences in life.
  • What are their causes?
  • Then he taught that it was possible to actually get rid of these problems, to achieve a stopping of them so that they would never recur again.
  • And then he taught about the understanding that would bring that stopping about because it would get rid of the causes of suffering.

So this is the basic structure of what Buddha taught, and so he presented that first.

When we look at these four truths, these four noble truths, they don’t exist in isolation all by themselves, but there’s a basis for it, and then there’s something that will follow if we really understand these four truths. So basically, in very simple words, the basis for these four truths that Buddha saw, these four facts of life, is reality.

If we want to summarize Buddhism with one word, then as one of my friends said (he’s also a Buddhist teacher), that one word would be realism. In other words, if we could see reality, if we could understand reality and accept it without projections of impossible things that just are not reality, then we would be able to deal with our problems; we would be able to deal with situations in life in a realistic way. So teachings on reality are the basis for these four truths, and reality has several levels of how things actually exist, how they work, how they function in life.

So Buddha taught about that.

The Three Precious Gems

And then from these four noble truths what becomes very clear, what follows from that, is what direction we want to put in our lives in order to overcome suffering and problems. And this is summarized by what is called in Buddhist jargon the Three Precious Gems, usually known by the three Sanskrit words for them: Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. And to put it in simple language:

  • Dharma is referring to the goal that we are striving for, that goal of getting rid of our problems.

  • Buddhas are those who have achieved that and who teach how to do that ourselves.

  • And the Sangha are the groups of those who are following these teachings and have reached some level of success but haven’t reached the final goal yet.

A Prayer to the Seventeen Nalanda Masters

His Holiness the Dalai Lama wrote a very beautiful text which is a request for inspiration from these seventeen great Buddhist masters from this most extensive Indian Buddhist monastery, which was like a university. Nalanda it was called. So this was the most famous university. It was run like a monastery, and it lasted for about a thousand years – I’m not exact in that figure, but about a thousand years – and it produced the greatest masters of the Buddhist tradition. So the Dalai Lama wrote (it’s like a prayer): “Give me inspiration to follow in your footsteps,” this type of thing. At the end of these verses, one to each of these great masters, the Dalai Lama has a few more verses. And what I’d like to present this weekend is basically a commentary on one of those verses, which basically summarizes what I just explained about reality and about the four noble truths and about these Three Gems, this direction we want to go in. These Three Gems are sometimes called the Three Refuges. Refuge just means that this is the direction that we want to go in – that if we go in that direction, we will save ourselves from suffering and problems.

So this is the verse:

By knowing the meaning of the two truths, which is the foundation, the way in which all things abide,

Abide means how they exist, how they function. So in other words, if we know reality.

And the second line:

We become certain about how, through the four truths, we keep entering but also can reverse our uncontrollably recurring rebirth.

In other words, if we understand reality then we will understand through these four truths how we perpetuate our problems but also how we can get rid of them.

Then the third line:

Brought on by valid cognition, then our conviction that the Three Refuges are fact becomes firm.

So remember the Three Refuges are talking about the actual goal that we can achieve – in other words, a complete stopping of all our problems so that they never recur again – and the understanding that will bring that about.

Now, if you want to practice the Buddhist path, you’re aiming for a goal, obviously. So how do you know that that goal is possible to achieve? Is it just a fiction? Is it a nice story, or is it actually fact? Many people will strive for the goal just based on faith: “My teacher said it was so. And okay, I want to believe, so I believe.” And that can work for many people, but it is not always the most stable way of practicing. Often what happens is, after a long time of practice, you start to question what you’re doing, because it’s really very difficult to get rid of anger and selfishness and attachment, and these sort of things, which are the real problem makers, and so progress is very slow. And progress is never linear. It always goes up and down. Some days it goes better than other days. And so if you’re just practicing on the basis of faith, then you can get discouraged because it doesn’t look as though you’re getting anywhere. So then you say, “Well, is it really possible to achieve the goal?”

So that’s why this verse says, “Brought on by valid cognition.” In other words, you really have understood, based on logic and reason, that it actually is possible to achieve the goal, that the goal does exist. Then your conviction about the goal, and that it’s possible to achieve it, and that there are people who have achieved it – your conviction in that is very firm, that this is fact, this is true. And you believe it’s true not just because it’s written in some book that it’s true, that this happened, but you believe that it’s true, you’re convinced that it’s true, based on the fact that it follows from reality – from the two truths, and then the four truths, and then the goal, the Three Refuges.

And then the fourth line:

Inspire me to implant this root of the pathway minds that lead to liberation.

You plant a seed, but here we have what’s called the root; it’s not called the seed. And that means that with this structure now – two truths, four truths, Three Refuges – that this then becomes the root for all the spiritual path, for everything that follows from that, because then your whole practice is based on conviction. You understand what you’re doing, you understand that it is possible to achieve the goal, and you understand what that goal is.

So this is the verse that I’d like to explain. In our three sessions, I propose to explain one line in one, one line in another, and then the last two in the last lecture. That’s the structure that I thought to follow. And as I say, I think that this is a very important topic and a very important approach to Buddhism. Because if we’re going to follow a spiritual path, I think it’s very important to be convinced that it’s realistic; it’s not some sort of idealistic fantasy that we’re drawn to with emotion but which is utterly impossible. If we are convinced that what we’re doing in our spiritual life is realistic, then we can put healthy emotion into it. We need a balance of the two: this understanding and then some emotional feeling (compassion, enthusiasm, etc., patience).

The Two Truths

Relative, Conventional Truth

So the first line is talking about the two truths. Now, this is referring to what’s called the relative truth or the conventional truth – that’s one level – and then there’s the deepest truth. And there are many presentations of this, but I’ll follow the one that the Dalai Lama uses for explaining this. So when we talk about the two truths, we’re talking about two true facts about everything, about the reality of everything. So one is more surface level, and one is the deepest level.

So what is the surface level? This is that everything is relative. It’s talking about cause and effect. Now, we have that certainly presented in physics, and I think most people would accept physics. That’s talking about physical objects. You know, you push a ball and it moves. This is simple physics, cause and effect. And that can become of course very complicated in its description of how physical things happen.

So if you look at economic problems, you look at global warming, you look at wars – if you look at all these problems, it’s obvious that they don’t come from just one cause, they don’t come from no cause at all, and they don’t come from irrelevant causes, but all these situations arise dependently on many, many, many different factors. And not just what’s going on at present but also what has happened in the past. Right? Like in this country, in Ukraine, you can’t separate the present situation from the Soviet past, for example. And you can’t separate what’s going on from the world wars and all of that. The whole economic situation of the world and everything that’s developed has been influenced by all of the things that have been going on throughout history, so you can’t say what’s happening is the fault of just one person or one thing that happened. Things arise dependent on a huge network of causes and conditions. So this is reality, isn’t it?

Or if you look in terms of psychology: if you have a problem in a family, then again you can’t say that it comes from just one cause or no cause, but everybody in the family has contributed in a causal fashion to the problem in the family. And each member in the family doesn’t exist in isolation from their work and school and all the other people that influence them. And the family situation doesn’t exist in isolation from society and the economic problems of the society or the political system of the society. That influences the problem as well.

So when one starts to think in terms of the realism of this, you see that everything is interconnected, everything influences everything else, so everything that happens is happening as a result of a huge complex network of causes and conditions. So that’s reality.

Now, if this is the case with physical objects and let’s say economic or world problems or family problems, then what about looking on an individual scale with each of us ourselves? What about happiness and unhappiness? Does that have a cause? Does it come from no cause (sometimes I feel happy, sometimes I don’t feel happy, and there’s no way of knowing what I’m going to feel in the next minute)? So is it happening from no cause? Or is it happening just from what I’m doing, that sometimes I feel happy and unhappy? Well, that doesn’t make sense, does it? I could be eating the same thing two different days, and one day I feel happy eating it and the other day I don’t feel happy eating it, so it’s not coming from the food. I could be with my most beloved person and still sometimes feel happy, sometimes feel unhappy. And I could be wealthy and things go well with me, and I could still be unhappy. So where does this happiness and unhappiness come from? Is it being sent by some higher being that presses a button – sometimes you’re going to feel unhappy and sometimes you’re going to feel happy, and just sort of plays with the buttons? Pardon me, I don’t mean to be offensive. I’m taking it to a silly extreme.

But if everything that we seem to experience – like moving physical objects, or you stick your hand in a fire and it gets burned and it hurts – all of these things follow laws of cause and effect, then shouldn’t my happiness and unhappiness also follow from understandable laws of cause and effect? This is the question. And this is really the main point here about reality when we talk about the relative truth. It’s the cause and effect in terms of our behavior, in terms of happiness, unhappiness, etc. (I’m talking about within the context of this particular teaching. This is the emphasis when we speak about the first of the two truths. In other contexts other things would be emphasized.)

So this brings in the basic Buddhist teachings on karma. Now, what is karma talking about? This is something that is not so easy to understand. There are several explanations of it and a lot of misunderstanding about it. To put it in very simple terms, karma is speaking about compulsiveness. What happens is that our actions, whether positive or negative actions, tend to be compulsive: I feel like yelling at you, and then compulsively I yell. I feel like going to the refrigerator to get something to eat, and compulsively I just go. Or I feel like trying to be the most perfect, good person, and compulsively I act that way. So it could be negative, neutral, or positive.

I feel like looking in to see if the baby is okay because I’m very worried, and then compulsively I’m constantly looking, constantly checking, even much more than is necessary or healthy. You know, the parent that is always asking the child, “Are you okay? Is everything okay?” It can drive the child crazy. But it’s from a compulsion. The parent compulsively is worried, and because of that, with good intention, they’re compulsively asking. So it could be positive, or it could be negative (compulsively yelling at the child).

So where does this compulsion come from? And what does it lead to? These are the questions that the teachings on karma ask. And the Buddhist explanation is that we act in a certain way, we act on the basis of this compulsion, and it builds up certain habits; it leaves an aftermath on our mental continuum (in other words, on each moment of our experience after that).

So of course we can explain this on a physical level, that neural pathways, connections, become built, and so then it becomes a pattern, a habit, of behavior. Buddhism certainly doesn’t deny that, but Buddhism is more talking about the experiential side of this. So we build up certain habits, certain tendencies, and then different situations will trigger that, and then what comes from it is that you feel like repeating the action – and then the compulsion (which is the actual karma) arises, and you repeat it – and you get into situations in which similar things happen to you. You know, how people will often be in relationships that are not very healthy emotionally, and that will end, but then they get into another one with the same type of pattern. So they’re meeting someone that is going to produce the same type of pattern in themselves. They seem to be almost attracted to people that they will again have an unhealthy relationship with. You know, falling in love always with someone that is unattainable, that you can’t possibly have as a partner. That’s a very frequent happening. And then you fall in love with another one that’s unattainable.

So this is one aspect of karma, this compulsiveness, and this obviously is a causal type of relationship: you act in a certain way with compulsion, and it builds up tendencies to repeat it, and so different situations and different conditions will trigger it and it will repeat. So again we have the law of cause and effect. I think that’s fairly easy to accept if we think about it more, to accept that it’s true.

But what about happiness and unhappiness? And this as well is explained in terms of karma: if we act compulsively mixed with disturbing emotions, which then results in acting in a destructive type of way, this will eventually lead to an experience of unhappiness. Whereas if we act in a constructive way, which means not under the influence of disturbing emotions, let’s say with patience and kindness as opposed to acting destructively with anger, then eventually we will experience happiness. Actually it’s explained the opposite way around: if you experience unhappiness, it’s because of destructive behavior; if you experience happiness, it’s because of constructive behavior. That’s the way that it would be more properly explained. So how do we understand that?

First of all, although I said it in a very short way, we need to understand the difference between constructive and destructive behavior. The distinction between these two is not so much drawn on the effect that is has on somebody else. For example, you could be a murderer; you’re very angry with somebody, and you cut them with a knife. That’s destructive. On the other hand, you could be a surgeon, and you cut somebody open with a knife in order to perform an operation that will save their life. So obviously the action of cutting somebody with a knife is not the determining factor of whether it’s constructive or destructive. It’s all dependent on the motivation, the state of mind with which the action is done. So if the action is mixed or motivated by what’s called disturbing emotions – the main ones being anger, attachment and greed, naivety, jealousy, arrogance, selfishness, these sort of things – then it’s destructive, even if you’re doing something where the action itself is nice. If you give somebody a nice massage because you want to sexually seduce them because you have great desire, that is destructive. If you give someone a massage in order to help them with their health, that’s constructive. And a constructive action is one which is relatively free of these disturbing emotions.

Now, how do we understand the relationship between unhappiness and behavior based on disturbing emotions and the relationship between happiness and behavior which is relatively free of those? This is a very interesting question. And it’s a very crucial question because this is what Buddha’s talking about. He’s talking about how to get rid of unhappiness and suffering, and he says you have to get rid of the causes of it. So here we have the Buddhist analysis of the causes, and again I think that we can understand this on a physical level and also on an experiential level.

Now, when you’re experiencing anger, for example, are you at ease? Is your energy at ease? It’s not at ease, is it? The energy is disturbed. Are you happy while experiencing anger? I don’t think anybody would say they’re happy while experiencing anger or any of the other disturbing emotions. If you really look at and observe your energy when you’re feeling very greedy, you’re not calm; you’re not at ease. When you’re very attached and you’re missing somebody so terribly, you’re not at ease. The energy is very disturbed. Whereas if our minds are relatively calm, and we don’t feel anger or greed or selfishness or these things, and we’re just trying to be kind and so on, the energy is much more smooth, isn’t it? It’s very helpful to observe this because then you can become a little bit more convinced of it. When you’re upset about something, your heart is going faster; you’re upset. So upset means your energy, your emotions, and your whole state of mind is upset. It’s not calm. You’re tense, stressed.

So if we think how compulsiveness, the building up of habits, has something to do with building up neural connections – if we think like that, if that makes some sense, I think that also (I don’t know if this is scientifically correct) there’s a pathway, a neural pathway, that’s built up of a disturbed energy type of pathway. And on the other side: if we build up these neural connections of acting in a more positive way, even though it might lead to compulsiveness (a compulsive perfectionist, this type of thing), nevertheless it could be more calm, the energy not so disturbed. I’m simplifying. I’m leaving out certain points. You could try to be a perfectionist on the basis of egoism – “I’ve got to be the best,” and so on – then it’s a different type of disturbed energy. But I think that these patterns of disturbed energy or of more calm energy are probably the physical basis of happier or unhappier states of mind in connection with the neural connections, the pathways, the habits that we build up. So I think there is some physical basis that we can speak about.

And we’re talking about long-term effects here, not just immediate effects. You could be bothered by a mosquito, you’re really annoyed, you’re really angry, and you smack it and kill it and you feel happy: “Ah, I got that bastard!” type of feeling. So we’re not talking about what you might immediately experience from a disturbed state of mind and destructive behavior, but we’re talking about long-term effects when we talk about karma in Buddhism. In fact we speak in terms of many lives.

So this is the relative truth, that basically everything arises dependent on causes and conditions, including our general state of mind (not only what we feel like doing but also are we happy or unhappy). All right? So this is one aspect of reality – the line here calls it the foundation – the way in which everything exists, functions, works.

Deepest Truth

Now, we’ve got two truths. So the second truth is on a deeper level, and it’s saying that although things might appear to exist and function in impossible ways because of our projections, that impossible way in which they appear to exist doesn’t correspond to reality. That is referred to by the technical term voidness, which is not an easy term. It’s saying basically that things don’t exist in impossible ways. How could they? So a reality that corresponds to something impossible that we project, that’s absent. No such thing.

So a simple example, classic example. A child thinks that there’s a monster under the bed. Actually there’s a cat under the bed, but the child projects onto the cat that it’s a monster. And because the child believes that there actually is a monster under the bed, the child is very frightened, so it has an effect. But that’s impossible. There’s no such thing as monsters. So voidness is an absence. It means an absence of a real monster that corresponds to the child’s fantasy. But take away the projection and there’s a cat under the bed; it’s not that there’s nothing.

So we imagine, out of habit, that things exist in the way that they actually appear to us. We’re only aware of what’s right in front of our eyes or what we’re actually feeling at the moment. So I’m feeling unhappy now, and it appears as though that just arose by itself – no cause, not related to anything else, I’m just unhappy; I don’t know why. I feel bored. I feel blah. I’m unhappy. And it doesn’t seem to be related to what we’re doing or the people that we’re with. Just all of a sudden I feel blah; I feel unhappy (it doesn’t have to be dramatic; it can be low level). So how does it appear? It appears as though there’s no cause. But that’s impossible. That doesn’t correspond to reality. So that’s the deepest truth. All right?

The conventional truth is that everything is arising, including my unhappiness or happiness, from cause and effect. That’s the reality, but it doesn’t appear like that to me. And the deepest truth is that how it appears to me doesn’t correspond to reality; it’s a projection of something impossible. And this really is very, very profound if you think about it.

Let’s say you yell at me. We have a wonderful relationship, but all of a sudden you yell at me; you’re angry with me. And how does it appear to me? It appears to me as “Argh, you’re angry! You don’t love me anymore,” and we really become very, very upset. Because that’s all that appears to us, is this person yelling at me. But that doesn’t correspond to reality. That yelling at me didn’t arise from nothing, unrelated to everything else. What happens is that we lose sight of the entire relationship that I have with this person, all the other times that I’m with this person, all the rest of the interaction. The only thing that appears and that seems to exist is their yelling at me. But that isn’t the only thing; you forget there’s the whole context, the whole big picture. Also I’m not the only one in this person’s life. This person who yelled at me has a life besides me, and they maybe went to work and something terrible happened in work, or maybe they had something with their parents, or… They’re being influenced by everybody else that they’ve interacted with. It’s not just me. So that’s the deepest truth – voidness – that what we project is impossible, doesn’t correspond to reality. An actual reality corresponding to that is absent, totally absent, never existed, impossible, no such thing. The word for voidness is the same word as zero in Sanskrit.

Because things don’t exist isolated from everything else, then cause and effect works. Right? You can only have a cause if there’s an effect. If there’s no effect, how can there be a cause? It’s only a cause relative to the fact that there’s an effect, and there’s only an effect relative to the fact that there’s a cause. So because things don’t exist isolated – or like I sometimes explain it, encapsulated in plastic – things interact, and cause and effect works.

So the verse says that these two truths – on one hand the relative truth that everything functions by cause and effect, and the deepest truth that things don’t exist in the impossible way of being isolated from each other – they support each other, these two truths. And the verse says that this is the foundation. This is the way in which everything abides. “Abides” – it’s a word that means it’s how things are situated, how they remain, how they work, how they function. It has all these connotations. And foundation means that it’s the foundation for what comes next. It’s on the basis of the two truths, seeing reality, that Buddha then understood the four truths.

So that’s a basic explanation of the first line of this verse. And as I said, it’s very deep in terms of what it’s talking about. It’s not talking about something so easy. Therefore I think, before we have some time for questions, why don’t we take a minute or so to just think about what we’ve been discussing.

If we accept that the physical world works on the basis of cause and effect – that I kick the ball and therefore the ball moves, and it isn’t that the ball moves for no cause at all, totally unrelated to anything, so that’s impossible (that doesn’t correspond to reality) – is there any reason why cause and effect like that, these two truths, shouldn’t also apply to my states of mind, my behavior, how I feel, happy and unhappy? This is the thing to analyze within oneself. Is there any reason why this should not be the case? And if it’s not the case, then how does it work? Why do I feel happy sometimes? Why do I feel unhappy sometimes? Why am I compulsive like this or compulsive like that? Am I happy with no explanation, or what? We may not know the causes. I mean, that comes in the four truths. But this is reality, just the fact that there is a cause, and it’s impossible that things arise from no cause or from an irrelevant cause or from just one cause.

I’ll give a very easy example of what’s wrong. You go to the football game, and your team loses. “Well, the team lost because I was there.” Obviously that’s an irrelevant cause, and it’s impossible, but somebody with very low self-esteem could think like that. I’m thinking of someone who did actually think like that.

Okay, so let’s take a minute to think about these two truths. What actually is reality?

Questions and Answers

Rebirth

Participant: Is it possible to prove that there are past and future lives just by means of logic, without theology and so on?

Alex: There are proofs about past and future lives. It has to do with first of all recognizing what is actually being discussed with past and future lives. What that’s talking about is a continuum of mental activity, an individual stream of continuity of mental activity, in which one moment of that mental activity – or experiencing is another way of saying it – arises dependently from the moment before and follows in a causal type of sequence (like I experience eating, and then I experience being full).

So the question really is: Can this stream of continuity have a beginning or an end, an absolute beginning from nothing and then an end in which it becomes a nothing? Just like matter and energy can neither be created nor destroyed but only transformed, similarly individual streams of mental activity can neither be created nor destroyed. If you follow physics in terms of matter and energy, then if you have that law of conservation of matter and energy, it doesn’t make any sense that before the Big Bang there was nothing. So scientists are starting to think in terms of “Well, there must have been universes and things before.” So no beginning. Because if there was nothing before, how does a nothing become a something? That’s logically very difficult. If something is really a nothing, how could it ever become a something, and how can a something become a nothing? And then there are all sorts of discussions: Can your mental activity come from another source, an external source, like your body comes from the body of your parents? Does the mental activity come from the mental activity of the parents? Well, that would be very difficult to demonstrate.

So these are some of the logical arguments that are used for past and future lives. It has to do with continuums, continuities. And the continuity is maintained simply by cause and effect; there’s nothing solid that continues from moment to moment unchanging. So if you think about that, every cell in your body has changed from when you were a baby until now, and yet you look at a baby picture of yours and you say, “That’s me.” Come on, everything has changed, so how can you say, “That’s me”? It’s based on cause and effect, a sequence from that until now.

Participant: My materialist friend, she says that when I’m born, then my mind is also born. It is in the brain, right? And when I die, my brain will disappear, and my mind will also disappear. How do we convince this kind of person?

Alex: Well, first of all: In terms of the brain, when did the brain develop in the fetus? At which point did it start? You see, Buddhism is not denying that there’s a physical basis for me and a physical basis for experiencing things. It’s not denying that. Of course there’s the brain, there’s the neural activity, and all of that. When it starts is another question, in terms of one particular lifetime. But Buddhism certainly accepts that there’s a physical basis. There’s no contradiction with science there.

But Buddhism is talking about personal, experiential, subjective, individual experiencing. Experiencing is different from the physical basis. So you could talk about one event – like feeling an emotion – you could describe that from a physical point of view, or you could describe the same event from an experiential point of view. They’re not contradictory; they’re just describing the event from two different points of view. And that experiential aspect is supported by some very, very subtle energy in addition to the grosser level of the brain and the nervous system and so on. So when we speak about the continuity from past lives to this life and this life to future lives, this is what is continuing. So there is some physical basis to it, an energy level of it.

So how to demonstrate that when the brain is dead, there’s still further experiencing? This is quite difficult, obviously. There have been many cases, even investigated scientifically, with people who have achieved a very high level of realization in the Tibetan tradition, that when they are dead – when any doctor would say they’re dead – they stay in meditation, their body doesn’t get stiff, they don’t fall over or anything like that. They stay in meditation. It can be up to two weeks or more. And then when their meditation is finished, then the body drops. Several of these happen a year. Now, of course it’s difficult to go to somebody who’s dying and say, “Let me put these electrodes on your brain, and now die for me so that I can measure what’s happening.” But there’s some indication that obviously there is an experiential aspect that’s going on on a much more subtle level even after the brain has stopped functioning and the nervous system has stopped functioning.

So Buddhism would say that the gross mental activity is no longer happening when the body is dead, when the brain is dead. So you’re no longer seeing or hearing or thinking conceptually. That’s finished. But in that very, very subtle state, called the clear-light mind, one is just focused on reality nonconceptually, just straightforwardly.

Experiencing True Reality

Participant: Is it possible to experience this true nature of reality, this true reality, where we don’t have any false conceptions? Is it possible to perceive it directly, or is it something impossible?

Alex: No, no, it is possible – this is what comes next in this presentation – that because there is reality, and although things don’t appear the way that they actually exist, it is possible to get rid of what’s causing that distortion. So this is the basic question. This mental activity with which we perceive things and know things, is it by its very nature something that will distort reality? Or is it possible that it can function without that distortion, without that projection? So that’s why reality is the foundation, the basis.

Now, on that basis we understand – what will come tomorrow – when it’s distorted, that causes problems and suffering and unhappiness, and that it is possible to get rid of all that distortion and then no more problems. So once you understand that, then you understand that that goal is attainable, that the mind is capable of that. So then you have this direction, this refuge, and now you can aim for it while being convinced that it actually is possible to attain. All built on the fact that there is reality and it is possible to perceive it.

But it requires a very, very long training to familiarize ourselves with reality, to cut through the mental blocks. So then you have meditation. Meditation is to familiarize ourselves with it, build up a more beneficial habit, so that when you meet somebody you become accustomed to seeing them not just in the way that they actually appear in front of your eyes, but you are fully aware that they were a baby, and they had a childhood, and all the things and all the influences, and they will probably become older – to see the whole big context, see everything interrelated. But you have to train yourself to do that. Not necessarily that you see it, but you understand it, you understand everything about the person – their whole past, what their potentials are – because it’s all interrelated. In the beginning of course you don’t know the details, but that doesn’t matter. Just to be aware that there is all the past and all the influences on this person and that there will be a future, that already opens you up very, very much to the reality.

If you see a baby, you don’t just see the baby as a baby: here’s a potential adult, and everything that I do now is going to affect how this baby becomes an adult. You look at the whole picture. Reality.

Anything else? Well, if not, then thank you very much.

You have a question? You see, now I could say that because I said “Thank you very much,” that caused you to ask a question, which obviously is ridiculous.

Participant: It seems quite a funny situation. Our mind creates projections, and it itself suffers from these projections. Why does our mind need to make everything so complicated?

Alex: You see, it’s influenced by many things. One of the things is our hardware (if you think in terms of the analogy of a computer): you can only see through these two holes in the front of your face; you can’t see behind your head. So the hardware is limiting. And also things are very confusing. The classic example is a voice going on in our head, which is the author of worry: “Oh, what should I do now? What are people thinking of me?” etc., etc. And so it feels like there’s a little me sitting inside our head, which is absurd. There’s no little me. If you dissect the brain, you can’t find some little me sitting there worrying, talking all the time. But it feels like that. All that’s happening is that the brain is firing in a certain way, that there are certain audio impact types of things, and that’s all that’s happening. No separate me sitting inside talking. So it’s confusing – these are called deceptive appearances – that’s because of this hardware. But the hardware isn’t the deepest cause. It’s basically because of beginningless habit. It’s just because we’re so accustomed to that. There’s no beginning. It just perpetuates.

And this is what we’re going to be dealing with tomorrow, how this whole mechanism of suffering perpetuates and how do you get out of it. The first step is to stop believing in all the garbage that our mind projects. And you stop believing it when you really are convinced that it doesn’t correspond to reality: there is no little me sitting in my head.

Dare I say “Thank you very much,” or will that cause another question? Well then, thank you very much, and hopefully may whatever understanding we’ve gained from this go deeper and deeper and make some positive impression that will be of benefit to us all.