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Home > Fundamentals of Tibetan Buddhism > Level 2: Lam-rim (Graded Stage) Material > Self-Transformation through the Lam-rim Graded Stages > Session Seven: The Purity of the Mental Continuum and the Advanced Scope

Self-Transformation through the Lam-rim Graded Stages

Alexander Berzin
Morelia, Mexico, October 2008

Session Seven: The Purity of the Mental Continuum and the Advanced Scope

Unedited Transcript
Listen to the audio version of this page (0:39 hours)

In order to sincerely aim with the intermediate scope motivation for liberation from uncontrollably recurring samsara, it is necessary to be convinced that it is possible to attain this. Similarly on the advanced scope it's necessary, when we're aiming for enlightenment, to be convinced that it's possible to attain that as well. So since we don't have so much time, let me discuss these two issues together.  

We established that each of us has an individual mental continuum with no beginning and no end. So we're going to have rebirth. And with no beginning, that mental continuum has been mixed with unawareness or, in simple language, confusion. So this is unawareness of behavioral cause and effects – that unhappiness comes from destructive behavior; happiness comes from constructive behavior – and unawareness of reality: how we exist, everybody else exists, all things exist. Based on that unawareness, then we have disturbing emotions, disturbing attitudes; and based on these disturbing emotions, then we act in destructive ways or constructive ways mixed with confusion and this leaves karmic aftermath on our mental continuum, these types of behavior. And we've seen that this karmic aftermath includes tendencies and positive and negative karmic force and nonrevealing forms and habits.

Although we didn't cover this, and I don't want to go into depth because we don't have time, then the way that these, this karmic aftermath, is carried on the mental continuum, on the deepest level we have to look at the clear light mind and the subtlest energy wind that is the flip side of that clear light mind. So the karmic tendencies, the karmic forces or potentials, karmic potentials and the habits are all – they're neither a form of physical phenomenon nor a way of being aware of something – they are simply imputed on a basis. The gross basis for it would be the continuum of the clear light mind and the subtle basis of imputation would be the "me" or "I" or self that is imputed on the continuum of the clear light mind.

As I said, I'm just going to throw out this information. We don't have time to explore it in depth. But we can understand that these things that are merely imputed here are abstract. It's like we drink coffee; drank coffee the day before yesterday, yesterday, today and so as a way of putting it together, organizing that, we could say there's a tendency to drink coffee. Because a tendency is not something physical, it's not something – a way of being aware of something, it's just a way of what could be imputed on it on this sequence of similar events. And the nonrevealing form would be mixed in a sense with the subtlest energy winds so it's transmitted from lifetime to lifetime, from moment to moment in this vehicle. The unawareness, and the disturbing emotions, and the disturbing attitudes have tendencies and habits as well.

Now, well. Let's just speak in terms of tendencies, let's make it simple. Tendencies versus habits. And let's speak in terms of the disturbing emotions. The tendency of a disturbing emotion will give rise to another manifestation or instance of that disturbing emotion, for instance anger. It only happens sometimes, we're not angry all the time. Now as I said, the disturbing emotions are based on unawareness of – let's just speak in terms of how we exist – or in simpler language, unawareness of reality. That's going to underly both destructive and constructive behavior. And underlying destructive behavior in addition is the unawareness of cause and effect. So now, this unawareness of reality is based on the fact that our mind makes an appearance of things existing in an impossible way and we have what's called "grasping" for truly established existence, which means that we both perceive that impossible way of existing and believe that it actually corresponds to reality. And when we believe that it corresponds to reality, then we act upon that misconception. We get disturbing emotions and from that we actually physically, or verbally, or mentally act on it. So the tendencies of disturbing emotions, the tendencies of unawareness give rise to that – well, let's say it the other way around. The habits of our unawareness cause the mind to make these appearances of impossible ways of existence, truly established existence, and the tendencies cause us to believe in them and then the disturbing emotions arise.

There are two categories here: One is called emotional obscurations and one is called the cognitive obscurations. Emotional obscurations are these disturbing emotions and the tendencies that give rise to them. And the cognitive obscurations are the habits of our unawareness. When we get rid of the emotional obscurations, we achieve liberation. When, in addition we get rid of the cognitive obscurations, we achieve the omniscient state of a Buddha.

Now, pardon me but I have to go a little bit quickly. But there's a tremendous amount of material on my web site concerning voidness and much of that was, part of that certainly was, taught here. You have tapes and so on.

So there are many, many levels of impossible ways of existence: many levels of subtlety to that, that our mind makes appear. And on the deepest level, most subtle level, it's an appearance of what's called "truly established existence." And in the different Indian Buddhist tenet systems, truly established existence is defined differently. So here we're going to look at the Prasangika definition of it as understood by the Gelug tradition.

What are we talking about here? We are talking about what establishes the existence of something. We're not talking about the way of existing; we're talking about what establishes the existence of something. This is subtle and different. That's not an easy word, "establish." What proves that something exists. So a very simplistic thing that would demonstrate that something exists: We have – in the earlier tenet systems – would be that it performs a function. It does something that, because it does something, that establishes that it exists. That proves or demonstrates that it exists. That's in the lower tenet systems.

Now, when we speak about this truly established existence, what that means is an appearance that there is something on the side of the object that establishes that it exists. That establishes its existence either by its own power or in conjunction with other factors of conceptual mental labeling.

So let's take an example so that we can understand this: When we understand voidness, what we're understanding is an absence of an actual referent to these impossible ways of existing. There is no such thing. It's not referring to anything real. For example we could say, "I have a big house" or "I have a strong body." This is perhaps a better example. Now, what appears to us, the way that our mind makes it appear, is that there is something on the side of the body that makes it strong. Without depending on anything else. "I am strong, healthy." Of course, all the causes for that don't appear to us – that being strong arises dependently on good health, and good diet, and exercise, and so on. They don't seem to arise from that. They seem to be real. Strong body. You see yourself in the mirror. Strong body.

But if it existed, if being strong was established on the side of the body, then it should be strong in any situation, even in comparison to other things. But actually, being strong in relation to the body of a baby, it's is strong. In relation to the body of an adult male gorilla, it's not strong. It's weak. So being strong arises dependently on other factors. So what does it arise dependently on? It's not only dependently on diet and exercise, not only dependent on relative to other things that we're comparing it to, but also dependently on the word and concept of "strong."

We're just doing things every day, aren't we? And so somehow we point out different factors of what we're doing every day and on the basis of that, we have a concept of "strong." And then there are some meaningless sounds that cave people, or whatever that started our language, put together and represented that concept with the sound and so we've got a word: “strong.” So what established that the body is strong? The only thing you could say that establishes it is merely "mental laboring," it's called. Being strong is merely what the word and concept of being “strong” refers to imputed on the basis. But there's nothing on the side of the basis that establishes that you are strong. Nothing findable.

So we could say, "But, aren't there defining characteristics of being strong: we're able to lift a hundred kilos and so on? Isn't that a defining characteristic of 'strong,' on the side of the object?” No. Because that defining characteristic was also made up by people and a mind that thought up the concept of "strong," and they made up the definition, put it in a dictionary, and there you have "strong." But it's totally mentally constructed. But when we think – However, our mind makes this appearance as if, there, you just see the body and it's strong. "I just did 100 push-ups. I'm strong." As if it's existing all by itself, as strong.

Now, based on that appearance and believing it, that it refers to something real, then we exaggerate the quality of it and then we get attachment, we get pride and arrogance. We look at somebody else who we consider stronger and we get jealous. "Today I wasn't able to do a hundred push-ups. I could only do fifty." I get angry. So, like this, we get all the disturbing emotions based on believing in this appearance of what's impossible. But it doesn't mean that, conventionally, there's no such thing as strong. Conventionally, in terms of our names and concepts and so on, I'm strong. It's not a problem. We're not saying that nothing exists. And strong, conventionally, dependent on the word and the concept and the comparison to the baby and so on. But nothing on the side of "strong" establishes that I am strong. Nothing on the side of the basis for imputation or on what's being imputed, neither conventionally nor ultimately.

So obviously this is a topic that has to be gone into much more deeply. I'm just trying to explain it quickly. But the more we think about it and think about logically how it's impossible, if there was something on the side of the object that made me strong – I should be strong regardless of any sickness, regardless of old age, regardless of anything – when we use logic and so on, we see this is ridiculous.

So when we focus on voidness, what we're focusing on is "no such thing"; it's a total absence of an actual referent, a referent object of this appearance of a truly established existence. It's not referring to anything real – massive. It never was there. Another term for that is that there's no such thing as a "backing support" of this appearance of something impossible. There's nothing backing it in terms of what it's referring to. Like when there's a shadow of someone on a window shade, there's a backing support of an actual person behind there that's casting the shadow. So here in this case, although there's an appearance of a truly established existence like the shadow, there's nothing behind it that is supporting it from its own side.

Now, when we focus on voidness and are totally absorbed – that's a technical term in terms of perfect concentration – so when we're totally absorbed on voidness – on "no such thing," what we're focusing on is "no such thing" – then at that time the mind is not making an appearance of truly established existence and is not believing in it. We're talking about when this is occurring nonconceptually. When it's conceptual, it's mixed with the category of voidness. I won't go into detail about what that means. That's very complex. There's a whole weekend course on that on my web site, if you're interested. In audio. A new audio.

So there's no appearance of truly established existence and there's, of course, then no believing in it. So, now, we have the mental continuum. And that mental continuum has been, the word is, "stained" or "tainted" by certain stains, by these emotional obscurations and cognitive obscurations. No beginning. Every moment. Except at the time of the clear light of death and when we are totally absorbed on voidness. This is one of the characteristics of the subtlest clear light mind. Although it may have the habits and tendencies of unawareness imputed on it, but nevertheless it, itself, is more subtle than all of this and it does not produce an appearance of truly established existence and it certainly doesn't believe in it and doesn't have any disturbing emotions and is also nonconceptual.

Now the question is: Can these stains of emotional and cognitive obscurations be removed? Are they part of the essential nature of the clear light mind or are they what we would call "fleeting stains"? And if they were part of the nature of the mind, the defining characteristics of mind, of mental activity, they should be present every single moment. However, they are not. There are occasions, like I've just said, total absorption on voidness and clear light mind of death, when they are not. That demonstrates that they are not part of the nature of the mind.

Now remember, when we get rid of the emotional obscurations, that's liberation; when we get rid of the cognitive ones, that's the omniscient state of a Buddha. Remember that these disturbing emotions cause samsaric rebirth as described in the twelve links. And when our mind makes appearances of truly established existence, it makes things appear totally independently and unrelated to each other. Because of that, we don't see the interconnectedness of everything, particularly in terms of cause and effect, so we're not omniscient. We don't know how best to help everybody: what are the causes for their problems and what would be the result of anything we teach.

So, the question is, then: “If these are fleeting stains, they're not part of the essential nature or defining characteristics of the mind, clear light mind, can they be stopped forever?” Forever, remember this is true stopping – third noble truth. True stopping is they are gone forever. Because tendencies and habits can be imputed on the clear light mind and on the mind that is totally absorbed on voidness, which is why after we arise from these states then these things recur. So how do we get rid of them so that they don't recur? Is it possible? Now we have to go back to understand the nature of tendencies and habits.

Tendencies and habits are imputed on a sequence of similar events. We can only say that there is a presently happening, a presently occurring tendency on my mental continuum only if there can be future recurrences of what it is that's been repeated. If there can be no more future occurrences, then all we can say is that there was a previous, a past tendency or habit. But not presently. Do you understand that? I have a tendency of writing with my right hand. That is a presently happening tendency. It's presently occurring. It's presently there because I can still write with my right hand, in the future. So then I lose my right hand in an accident. Do I still have the habit of writing with my right hand? No. I had a habit of writing with my right hand, but I can't write with my right hand anymore because I don't have one. So it's only past tendency or habit, not a present one. So if we can prevent any future recurrence of appearance-making of true existence and believing in it, then the tendency and habits are finished, forever. They're not going to come back.

So the more we can stay absorbed on voidness, nonconceptually, in which there is no appearance of true existence, there is not grasping for it, the weaker and weaker the tendencies and habits become. Remember, the unawareness of all the disturbing emotions are based on believing that this garbage, this appearance, refers to something real and we are experiencing more, and more, and more that it doesn't refer to something real. The more and more we stay absorbed on voidness, eventually we will stop believing that this appearance refers to something real. So that tendency will get weaker, and weaker, and weaker and eventually will finish, in which case we got rid of the emotional obscurations we've attained liberation. Because it's this unawareness that initially brings about these karmic actions that lead to karmic aftermath and it's the disturbing emotions that activate the karmic aftermath to produce a future rebirth. It's all described in the twelve links.

So when there is nothing to activate the karmic aftermath – these tendencies and so on of our karma; nothing to activate it and there's nothing that's planting more karmic aftermath – then samsaric rebirth is finished forever. And if we can stay focused on voidness forever, which is what we would do as a Buddha, totally absorbed on voidness forever, then there would be no more appearance of truly established existence. Our mind would not produce that and we would be omniscient, because we would then be able to perceive the interconnectedness of everything. So this is how we establish the existence and the possibility of liberation and enlightenment.

Now, that mind which understands voidness, needs to have a certain strength to it. We could understand voidness just as an intellectual exercise in our class in university and that doesn't have very much force to it, that understanding. In fact, it could lead to a lot of arrogance. But if that understanding has the force of renunciation behind it, then it has enough energy to be able to get rid of the tendencies of the disturbing emotions and the disturbing emotions themselves. Why? Because we are renouncing the result of the disturbing emotions and the tendencies for them. We are renouncing samsaric rebirth. That is what we are determined to be free of and we are willing to give up it's causes. That's what we are renouncing is the third form of suffering: the all-pervasive suffering of these aggregates. I mean anybody can renounce – I don't want to have pain anymore. That's no big accomplishment. An animal could have that as well. And many other religions renounce our worldly happiness to go to some paradise. That's not specifically Buddhist here. So what we're renouncing is this third type of suffering which is – that's samsara. That's the basis of samsara. So very important. Remember our description of what is an arhat. We're not renouncing the fact that we will continue to appear and benefit others, and learn and so on, and be with teachers, and eat, etc. We're not renouncing that. We are renouncing all of that happening under the force of karma and disturbing emotions, and being associated with karma and disturbing emotions, and building up more.

What characterizes samsara? It goes up and down. Sometimes I feel good. Sometimes I don't feel good. Sometimes I feel happy. Sometimes I feel unhappy. And it goes up and down and we have no way of predicting how we're going to feel in the next moment. And even when we're feeling good, we have to be parted from it, we're not satisfied – "I don't feel good enough." etc., etc. This is the samsaric situation that we are renouncing. So we're not renouncing existing. We're not renouncing life.

Now of course mental blocks appear, "Well, if my life doesn't have this up and down and so on, then my life will be empty, it will be boring. The up and downs make it exciting, and so on." Well, analyze that a little bit more deeply. We still have aggregates that make up our – each moment of our experience. We still have feelings, but they are not disturbing feelings. As we said, we have nondisturbing happiness and equanimity. And it's not that we have no emotions whatsoever. We don't have disturbing emotions. We have love, we have compassion, we have generosity, we have patience, we have affection, and so on.

So, these are the things that we work with to really become someone of an intermediate scope. So unless we really are confident that it is possible that the mental continuum, my mental continuum, not only goes on forever, but it is not stained in its nature by the emotional obscurations – I'm convinced of that and that it's possible to stop them forever. And I have a correct identification of what it is I'm renouncing and what it is that's going to result from it as being an arhat – when all of that is clear and we're confident about it, then we are going on the road of actually becoming someone of intermediate scope. A lot more detail we could give about the intermediate scope, but we don't have time. Let's go on to the advanced.

So, when we have the understanding of voidness which is combined with the force of a mind that is with renunciation: it's determined to be free from the uncontrollably recurring existence, the third type of suffering and all the things that are part of that, and therefore determined to achieve liberation and arhat, and plus the prayers to be liberated – so that intention, then that gives the force of the mind to bring about liberation. But when we have the force of bodhichitta aim as the force of the mind that understands voidness, then it's able to stay focused on voidness forever and to get rid of the cognitive obscurations as well.

Why? First of all, I have a mental continuum, no beginning, no end and it's not stained by these two obscurations. So does everybody else. That's the first thing we have to realize. Therefore on the basis of that, equanimity toward everybody. So although my mind makes it appear, when I see a mental continuum that because of its karma is now connected with the body of an insect, that doesn't mean that this mental continuum from its own side is established as an insect mental continuum. There's no such thing as an insect mental continuum, or a male or a female, or a human, or a Mexican, or whatever. And my mental continuum is – we need to make this point – that the mental continuum itself is devoid of existing in impossible ways, existing all by itself with big walls around it independently. This is ridiculous. All our mental continuums have interacted with each other and been influenced by each other in terms of what we experience.

Then we factor in beginningless time and, as a consequence of that, we have all some time not only helped each other, but been each other's mother and father, etc. And everybody wants to be happy, nobody wants to be unhappy: that's the basic principle for every mental continuum. And so we're all equal on that basis. Plus, we're all interconnected with each other and we all have basically what we would call Buddha-nature, which means the basic purity of the mental continuum, which will allow for the fact that you can become, all of us, can become enlightened, not just me. And so we are convinced that everybody can achieve liberation and enlightenment. If we are aiming to help everybody achieve liberation and enlightenment, we need to believe that it's possible for them to actually achieve that, don't we? And when we understand the voidness of the mental continuum, or the clear light mind or however we want to formulate it, then we understand that it is possible to influence and help others. That causal relationship is possible between mental continuums, without exaggerating what's possible or denying what is possible, based on actually understanding cause and effect.

So already from this factor, this great compassion here is aimed at absolutely everybody based on understanding that all can achieve liberation and enlightenment, equally, and therefore it is appropriate for us to work for that. So we can see and we see interconnection of everything, maybe not so clearly but at least we understand the principle, now you start to understand how that the force of that is so vast that it can act as a cause for actually achieving the omniscient mind of a Buddha and that has that level of vastness.

So bodhichitta aim now is based on that compassion and taking responsibility to bring everybody to enlightenment. "Exceptional resolve" is what it's called. Based on that, induced by that, then – and realizing that only if we become a Buddha will we be able to help them fully because we get rid of these, not just the emotional but the cognitive obscurations as well, then we are focused on our not-yet-happening enlightenment. We don't want to use the word “future” because then we get confused here. The Buddhist concepts are very different from the Western concepts of past, present, and future. So let's not confuse it. I have a huge article on that on my web site. "Not yet happened." So we're talking about our own individual enlightenment, which is referring to the third and fourth noble truths: the true stopping of the two obscurations and the true pathway minds that have not yet happened on our mental continuum. But which can happen.

When we talk about "future" in a Western context, it sounds as though the future is happening somewhere out there. If we could go faster than the speed of light, we will catch up with the future and travel to the future. That's totally not the Buddhist understanding. In Buddhism, we talk about the no-longer-happening, presently-happening, and not-yet-happening. So only if something is possible can we speak of it not yet happening. But my enlightenment is not happening now. But it can happen on the basis of the purity of the mental continuum and the causes that are built up there, like the network of positive force and the deep awareness, the so-called accumulation of merit and wisdom. The not yet happening enlightenment is imputed on its cause and on the basis which is the purity of the mind.

That's what we're focusing on: our own individual not yet happening, third and fourth noble truths, enlightenment. And we're convinced that it's possible because we have already demonstrated that the true stoppings are possible – of the emotional and cognitive obscurations. They are fleeting stains. They are not part of the nature of the mind. So we are aiming, then, with bodhichitta, to have an enormous, vast, vast scope of mind. This is Mahayana, the vast vehicle of mind. It's not just vehicle, we're not talking about an automobile. We're talking about a vehicle of mind that will bring us somewhere. Bring us to enlightenment. But it's enormous because we are thinking in terms of all beings, all mental continuums and the interconnectedness of all of them and the total purity of our own individual mental continuum and of everybody's mental continuum, and it's just vast. And that gives the force, for the understanding of voidness, to be able to cut through the habits of unawareness as well. In other words, we are able to then stay in this total absorption on voidness forever.

[So we have the intermediate scope and the advanced scope. We want to transform ourselves into persons that have this scope in an unlabored fashion all the time.] Intermediate scope: no matter what we encounter in our samsaric existence, we see as a form of suffering. What does that mean? Does that mean that we don't enjoy ourselves anymore and we're really grim all the time? No. We are not fooled by what we see. We see that this is – I mean even just on a superficial level – that it has arisen based on causes and conditions and that it's going to change, it's not going to last. And whatever happiness we have, it's going to change and we're not going to have enough, etc. And so we just enjoy what's happening without having problems with it. I mean, fine, I enjoy this meal. It's going to be finished. I'm going to be hungry afterwards. That's what I want to get rid of. But meanwhile, I have to eat. So while I'm eating, I'll enjoy it but not make a big thing out of enjoying it. And “ Marvelioso at how wonderful it is” – none of that, just calm. We don't exaggerate anything.

So on a practical level what does this mean? What type of attitude do we have? Let's say in our interactions with people – some people we are very attracted to and desire, others we are angry with, and so on. Even if we are not able to apply the understanding of voidness, we can apply more temporary antidotes. Very, very helpful. Visualization. So we try to imagine that we have x-ray vision and whether we're looking at the skeleton – imagine the skeleton of the person – I find much more effective peeling off the skin, as Shantideva suggests, and imagining this person or animal or whatever just in terms of the muscles and the intestines and the stomach and the lungs, etc., and thinking this person, no matter how attractive they are or no matter how repulsive and how angry I am with how they're behaving, that they are under the influence of disturbing emotions and so on. They're going to have a pain in their back and they're going to have this and that. It diffuses this attraction and this repulsion and anger which is really based just on the superficial appearance. Very, very helpful, if one can start to really visualize like that all the time.

So we're renouncing. I don't want to have this attraction; I don't want to have this repulsion. It just is causing me problems, causing unhappiness, suffering, difficult situations. And so I am determined to be free of that. To be free of that means I have to apply some opponent to oppose these. It's not just a nice wish, and do nothing. "Oh, maybe they'll go away if I pray hard enough."

Now looking deeper into the person and seeing the insides of them; well, it's true and it's there. It's not something which is a fantasy. But also their surface appearance is likewise there. We don't deny the surface appearance. And eventually we get to the point where we're not so much under the influence of desire and so on. And then we are able to just enjoy the beauty of somebody, the beauty of a flower or the beauty of a meal, and we're not disturbed by it. Because we understand the deeper level of it. And we start to see the beauty in far more things than we did before.

So intermediate scope, our focus then is renouncing these disturbing emotions and the whole samsaric situation that's brought on by them. That's our focus. But... the Dharma-lite version of it is thinking just in terms of this lifetime. So the real thing is thinking in terms of how, if wedon't get rid of these disturbing emotions, it's just going to perpetuate themselves forever with uncontrollably recurring rebirths – and we certainly don't want that! So that is what we are focusing on overcoming actually.

And when we become a person of advanced scope, then we are seeing, we are focusing not just on overcoming our disturbing emotions toward everybody and everything, but extending compassion – seeing that we're all in the same situation. We're all under the influence of karma and disturbing emotions. We're all having the up and down suffering of samsara. We all have the basis for that. And how terrible that is – just as our own situation was so terrible. And we are focusing on the fact that the no-longer-happening of their being my mother, their presently-happening being an insect, and their not-yet-happening being a Buddha, and we relate to them on all three levels on the basis of understanding the purity of the mind, etc. So, that's not an easy accomplishment. That's really not at all. If we're able to have that with everybody and how about having it simultaneously with everybody? [We're not just talking about those who have a presently happening human form.]

So these are some of the issues that we work with with the lam-rim material. There's no time to go into detail about all of the different aspects that we meditate on with each scope but what I've tried to present are some of the issues that need to be worked on. And certainly I've tried to work on them myself, with the aim of actually trying to transform myself into these type of persons. And it's not easy. And we shouldn't fool ourselves. It's easy to trivialize it.

And we've seen how each of these stages are built on the basis of and include the previous steps. We need to realize that our own mental continuum has no beginning and no end, so there's going to be more rebirths. So, don't just be focused on what's happening now, but think in terms of what's not yet happening. And if we don't do anything about it, it's just going to continue forever in this samsaric situation. And although it has been mixed with no beginning with the emotional obscurations, it's possible to remove them forever. So there's a not-yet-happening liberation that can be imputed on my mental continuum. And the same thing in terms of not being stained by nature by the cognitive obscurations. So I can look ahead to the not-yet-happening enlightenment on the basis of my mental continuum. And I understand the countless number of other mental continuums in exactly the same situation and the interconnectedness of all of us.

So we turn away from just our focus on this lifetime and think in terms of the future, in other words, what's coming next. And then we turn away from our focus on what's coming next just within the boundaries of samsara and look ahead to the state of liberation. And then we turn away from being focused on just that aspect of liberation and turn our attention to our not-yet-happening enlightenment. So each of these stages has a renunciation, a turning away from something. So we have renunciation here. We're focused on our not-yet-happening enlightenment, so it's bodhichitta. And all of this is possible because we understand the voidness of the mental continuum.

So these are the three principle aspects of these pathway minds, as Tsongkhapa emphasizes it: Renunciation, bodhichitta, and the understanding of voidness. And it's only on the basis of this that the tantra practice makes any sense and is possible. Our not-yet-happening enlightenment, we visualize that in terms of happening now, although we realize it's not happening now, in terms of the visualization of ourselves as a Buddha-figure. It's not yet happening now, but I'm representing what I'm aiming for on the basis of renouncing – turning away – from my ordinary samsaric existence and appearance – true existence – and all the disturbing emotions. So I'm turning away from that, renouncing that, based on the understanding of voidness. So, tantra practice is totally on the basis of these three principle aspects. Impossible without them. Not so much impossible, but highly dangerous without them. Because you have the danger of going crazy, basically. You know, "I'm Tara; I'm Cleopatra; I'm Mickey Mouse."

So we think whatever understanding, whatever positive force has come from this may it go deeper and deeper and act as a cause for not only us but everybody to achieve enlightenment for the benefit of everyone.