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Developing the Mind Based on Buddha-Nature

Alexander Berzin
Moscow, Russia, June 2010

Session Four: Working with the Buddha-Nature Factors

Unedited Transcript
Listen to the audio version of this page (0:47 hours)

Today we have our fourth session. We’ve been speaking about Buddha-nature and how, on the basis of this, we can develop ourselves, develop our minds. And although we could develop our minds and our abilities to just improve our ordinary samsaric life – in this lifetime, in future lifetimes – and we could improve to the point where we gain liberation, but here we’re emphasizing how we can improve ourselves in order to achieve the enlightened state of a Buddha.

And we spoke about the actual Buddha-nature factors, and we saw that there are many of these. They’re called the family-traits or the features – of everybody, since everybody belongs to the family of those who could become a Buddha. And, among those factors, we saw that we can include the nature of the mind itself. Remember, we’ve been talking about mental activity. And we speak in terms of the conventional nature of mental activity, that it’s giving rise to various mental holograms of objects, and that is what it means to cognize them. It’s a cognitive engagement without some separate “me” doing it or watching it.

And we also looked at the deepest nature of this mental activity, which is its voidness, its lack of existing in any sort of impossible way. So this mental activity doesn’t just exist isolated by itself, frozen in some sort of situation of being inadequate, but as it goes on from moment to moment to moment, then it can be involved with many, many different things – give rise to many different types of mental holograms and be cognitively engaged with them in many, many different ways.

This mental activity has with it many features. It has primary consciousness, we saw, and many mental factors that go together with it. And among these mental factors there are some which are just part of the mechanism, in a sense, of how we engage with objects: Urges; so we could have urges toward something constructive. And intention; we could have intention to be of some benefit. Attention; we could pay very strict attention. We could be mindful and hold onto these constructive things. We could have mental stability with them. We can distinguish between what something is and what it isn’t; and with discriminating awareness we can gain more certainty about that, which leads us to understanding things.

These are part of the mechanism that we all have with our mental activity. So we can use this; we need to use these tools. Remember, this discriminating awareness in other systems is referred to as our intelligence. In fact, that’s one of the – the most important factor of having a precious human rebirth, or a human rebirth in general, is that we have intelligence, more intelligence than animals. We can use it; it’s important to use it.

And we saw that there are all sorts of constructive mental factors that we all have, a sort of innate feature of this mental activity. So these are part of the good qualities, we would say, of our mental activity. It’s also an aspect of these family-traits, these Buddha factors – Buddha-nature. So: perseverance, and equilibrium, and patience, etc. There’s a huge list, besides just the standard eleven that we find in Asanga’s presentation – love, compassion, etc. So, on the basis of working with these more mechanical features and the constructive features of our mental activity, then we can engage in constructive activity. Because, together with this mental activity, we have energy. That energy goes out. We have, associated with that energy, grosser levels, like our body and the actual physical things that we do.

So we can find a qualified spiritual teacher. We still live in an age where there are such beings. It might not be very easy to find, but we need to exert great effort to find one that suits us, that we have some connection with: someone who inspires us and who has the proper motivation and the proper skill to be able to lead us. This is very important because these features that we have can be uplifted – in the sense that what can give us more and more strength to be able to work on the spiritual path – and that inspiration from the Buddhas and their teachings comes to us through the teachers. So, relying on the spiritual teacher, we can listen to the teachings, receive them, learn them, and then think about them in order to understand them, and to become convinced that they are valid and there are things that we can actually apply to ourselves, and we can then engage in meditating on them.

Meditation means to build up these various preventive measures – that’s what the word “dharma” means – these aspects that will help us to avoid suffering, avoid limitations. So we enhance these innate good qualities that we have, these Buddha-nature factors, by engaging ourselves in these Dharma practices over and over and over again so that the insight, the understanding, the transformation actually takes place, becomes integrated, part of us. So that, for example, our patience grows, and the limitations or obstacles that are preventing us from being patient get less and less and are eventually are eliminated. So it’s a two-fold process. Same thing with love, compassion, all these good qualities. And it’s possible to eliminate forever these limitations because of the basic purity of the mind. It’s not in its nature stained by these limitations, and these good qualities can be developed to the fullest point. That’s the whole idea of Buddha-nature factors. And on the basis of working with these positive qualities, these good qualities – love, compassion, etc. – we can act in constructive ways, which means act in a way that is motivated by these positive, constructive qualities, rather than motivated by disturbing emotions.

When we act in these constructive ways, it builds up some positive force: it starts with the action, and continues afterwards as part of our mental continuum. And if we engage in these constructive types of activity with an intention, the motivation that: “May this positive force that comes from it contribute to my enlightenment” – and the enlightenment of everybody, actually – and at the conclusion of whatever action, that constructive action we’re doing, we dedicate that positive force yet again toward our enlightenment and everyone’s enlightenment, then we build up a network of positive force which is going to build up toward enlightenment. And it builds up not just to our own enlightenment but, through our ability to help others achieve enlightenment, it builds up to everybody’s enlightenment, contributes to it.

And through listening, and thinking about, and meditating on the teachings concerning the four noble truths and all the various deep points of the Dharma, and using our discriminating awareness to become more and more clear and convinced of the teachings and understand them more deeply and deeply, it is going to enhance our deep awareness, which is also a certain aspect of Buddha-nature factors. And as a result of enhancing this deep awareness, we build up again a network of, in a sense, tendencies of this deep awareness. It’s not that we’re always conscious of it, but it builds up a – it’s almost like a force of this deep awareness, also on the mental continuum. So it’s cumulative, and it interacts and grows like a network.

And this mental continuum goes on moment to moment to moment to moment – mental activity one moment after another – and the terminology here is that we can impute on it a network of positive force and a network of deep awareness. It’s not something that you can actually find – having some sort of form or something like that – in each moment. But it’s something which can be – it’s very difficult to understand – to be labeled onto this, and has it, in a sense.

Let me give an analogy, so that perhaps we can understand it more easily, of what it means to have something imputed on a mental continuum. We have the mental continuum of this lifetime – from when I was born, until now – and it will continue until my death. And in each moment of that mental continuum, throughout my life, I can impute on it age, my age. And in each moment that age is changing; I’m getting older. But what is age? Can you find age somewhere in that moment-to-moment mental continuum? Does it have a shape? I mean, what is it? But it does have an age. So we can impute onto it, we can label onto it, we can – It’s hard to find another word for this. And it’s not just made up by somebody; it does have an age. So that’s something, obviously, we have to think about until we understand that – what it means to have something imputed on a continuum. But I think age is probably one of the easiest examples to work with.

So these networks of positive force and deep awareness are like that – that type of phenomenon, something imputed on a continuum. So we have these networks that we’re building up. And the one of positive force we’ve had with no beginning, because it’s what produces ordinary happiness and we’ve always had some type of happiness.

Now when we talk about these networks – these two networks: positive force and deep awareness – they can get stronger and stronger and stronger. Here we’re talking specifically about the ones that, because of the intention and the dedication, are acting, building up toward enlightenment. So what does that mean? A seed will grow and develop and eventually become a sprout, a plant. So there is an aspect, and we don’t here mean a physical aspect, but some aspect of this seed upon which we can impute that sprout which is not yet happened. There can be a sprout that will come, that will result from this seed, when the seed develops to a certain point. So, unless you burn the seed, or something like that, there is a sprout. It doesn’t exist now. It’s not happening now is more precise. That sprout which can happen is not happening now. But we can think of – and one can say that there is – a sprout that’s not yet happened, that can happen on the basis of this seed, when the seed develops far enough. So that sprout which is not yet happened is imputed on the aspect of the seed that will give rise to it.

So we have these networks: positive force and deep awareness. They’re like seeds. And they grow and grow and grow and grow. And the inspiration from the spiritual teacher is like the sunshine that helps it to grow. And the more we work with our good qualities, and the more we work with our discriminating awareness, and our ability to act, and to meditate, to help others, etc., these networks get stronger and stronger and stronger. They build up more and more. They reinforce each other.

And just as the seed will eventually give rise to the sprout, and when it gives rise to the sprout the seed will no longer exist, and the whole physical form will change into that of a sprout rather than a seed – similarly, these networks can give rise to our enlightenment, our enlightened stage. And that is not yet happening, though, just like the sprout is not yet happening at the time of the seed, but it can happen if more and more positive force, more and more deep awareness, more and more inspiration from the guru is fed into the system. And when that enlightenment will actually be happening – when we’ve attained that enlightenment, we would say – then just as the physical basis of the sprout has changed completely from the physical basis of the seed, similarly our bodies will change completely. They will give rise to a body of light, in a sense. And connected with that mental continuum will no longer be this type of body that we have which is subject to sickness and limitations and so on. So it’s not so easy to understand what we mean here by the result arising from the cause. It’s not sort of a gradual transformation. It’s complex. I don’t think there’s really time to go into it. But it is something that we need to quite understand. It’s like a full change.

Participant: Instant?

Alex: Well, in a sense. In other words, what I’m saying here is that it’s not that there is an enlightened being sitting inside these networks, like a sprout sitting inside of the seed, just waiting to pop out. It’s not like that. So we have to understand the whole process of how Buddhahood actually arises. So it’s a little bit complex. I point this out because when you read texts concerning Buddha-nature – like there’s one text called Uttaratantra, which is the Furthest Everlasting Continuum, by Asanga (you might hear it referred to by its Tibetan name, Gyu-lama (rGyud bla-ma), a very important text, and it’s taught very, very frequently – we hear analogies of these Buddha-nature features of being like a treasure in a vase, or a treasure buried under the earth, and so on. We have to be careful not to misunderstand this by thinking that there’s actually a Buddha sitting inside me, although it might sound like that literally.

There are two ways of describing this. One is that we have all these potentials; these Buddha-nature factors are potentials that we have. And so the emphasis is on working on these potentials to get them greater and greater. Of course, you have to purify away the limitations at the same time, but that’s not the emphasis. On the other hand, you can talk about this enlightened state which is not yet happened, which can be imputed on the potentials. So that’s a full enlightenment that can be imputed there. But the important point, which is sometimes not always clear in the texts, is that it’s not yet happening.

So in this presentation, this style of presentation, the main emphasis is on purifying away the limitations, so that the not-yet-happening enlightenment will no longer be the case and there will be a presently-happening enlightenment. So, of course, you have to build up the good qualities as well, but the emphasis is more on the purification – this is in one presentation. Or the other presentation is the emphasis is on building up the qualities. So the two ways of working with these Buddha-nature factors are, on the one hand, building up, on the other hand, purifying. But don’t be misled into thinking that that not-yet-happening enlightenment is like the treasure inside the vase and it’s actually happening now. Don’t fool yourself into thinking, “Oh I’m enlightened. I just have to realize it.”

Now why am I mentioning all of this? I’m mentioning this because when we understand Buddha-nature and these Buddha-nature factors, and we understand them in terms of these networks and qualities and features that we all have – that mental activity has – and we understand that on the basis of these networks which are imputed on the mental continuum, there is an aspect of this potential that will – “ripen” is the technical term – that will ripen into an enlightenment. But what we can impute on it now is a not-yet-happening enlightenment. And it’s my individual enlightenment. It’s not your enlightenment. It’s my enlightenment, not Buddha Shakyamuni’s enlightenment. Right? Because it’s part of my mental continuum and I can also label “me” on that continuum.

So when we understand all of this and are convinced that this is in fact true – this is fact – then we have the perfect basis for bodhichitta. Because what is bodhichitta focused on? It’s our own individual enlightenment which is not yet happening, but which can happen on the basis of these Buddha-nature factors, specifically these networks, these two networks: positive force and deep awareness. And moved by love and compassion, which are good basic qualities that the mental continuum has. And then using another part of the mechanism that we have, which is intention, then the intention is to achieve that not-yet-happening enlightenment – in other words, to bring about a presently-happening enlightenment. And my intention is to help others as much as possible now – because that builds up more and more positive force – out of loving compassion, so that my intention is when I achieve that presently-happening enlightenment, I will benefit others and help others as fully as possible, because at that point I won’t have any limitations. In other words, the mental activity won’t have any limitations because it is basically pure, fundamentally. It’s not that originally it was pure and then there was a fall, like Adam and Eve leaving paradise. It’s not like that. So we can develop this bodhichitta, and that becomes another Buddha-nature factor. But it’s something which can be attained for the first time; it’s not that we had it with no beginning.

Understanding Buddha-nature, and understanding all these factors, and all the aspects of the mind – these mental factors – and all these things, this is an enormous topic. Well, I’ve taken up more than half of the morning with this more general explanation, but what we’ll discuss later this morning and probably this afternoon as well: these different ways of knowing things. These are topics that, in the monasteries, the monks and nuns study for many, many years. They’re very full topics. So here, of course, we are condensing these topics into just a few hours, which is not very easy to deliver and not very easy to receive. So it is unreasonable to expect that we can cover all the material or that you can digest all this material. But, as an introduction, you get an idea of what’s involved here in the process of working toward enlightenment, and that’s what Buddhism is about. And overcoming suffering. And even if we can’t retain the details, we know – or hopefully at the end of this we know – that, well, yes, it’s possible. And if I really studied a lot, I would understand it more deeply, with all the details, because, in fact, there are a lot of details. It’s not just something very superficial.

We also discussed, yesterday, the difference between conceptual and nonconceptual cognition. This is important to understand because – as part of the process of building up specifically this network of deep awareness, of the four noble truths, of voidness, etc. – the process is one of first having a conceptual cognition and then eventually a nonconceptual cognition. So we have to work through conceptual because, as we saw, that’s the way that our mental activity works. So even though we are aiming for, in Buddhahood, the state in which we have just nonconceptual cognition with – as I mentioned briefly yesterday – the subtlest level of mental activity, we’re not there yet. And in our present situation, our mental activity works with these – I’m a little bit hesitant to use the word “concepts” but, anyway, it works conceptually. But “concepts,” at least in English, doesn’t quite have the meaning that we’re talking about here. That’s why I tried to explain it a little bit more yesterday. A concept sounds like an idea that you just sort of made up. That might not be accurate. We’re not talking about that. What we’re talking about is categories. And we think we understand things through categories.

And categories can be categories of – audio categories, I call them. So, audio category. So that no matter who pronounces a word, in whatever accent, and whatever volume, we understand it in the category of a particular word with a particular meaning. Otherwise, it’s impossible. Whether a man’s voice, a woman’s voice, a child’s voice, computer generated voice, we understand it through a category, an audio category.

And the same thing with a meaning category. Meaning category – the word is also “object category.” It has two meanings to it, the same word. The word that I’m translating here can be translated in two different ways according to the context. It’s both a meaning category and an object category. We see various animals and we understand them in terms of the category “dog.” Well, we’re not just thinking here now of an audio category. We’re thinking in terms of the meaning of the word “dog” and the object dog – it’s a dog. Because words have meanings and they refer to things. Usually. At least many words do. The word “in” doesn’t refer to a thing. Anyway, let’s not get into language theory here; that also is a very complex topic.

So the point is that we hear about voidness, the absence of impossible ways of existing. They don’t refer to anything real. So we can have an audio category, the word “voidness.” No matter who says it, we understand that they’re talking about voidness. And, of course, we could have no idea of what it means. So either we associate zero meaning categories with it, or we could associate with it an incorrect meaning category. So when we hear the word, we could associate with it a wrong meaning category. Or, slowly, we can replace that wrong meaning category with the correct meaning category.

What I’m leading to are the different ways of knowing things. Eventually, we get thinking about it and working with inference and logic, and so on, and through our experience we can have a correct meaning category of voidness. Accurate. Eventually, through a great deal of, again, building up more and more deep awareness, a network of deep awareness – we’ve been thinking about it, working on it – and positive force. Remember, the deep awareness isn’t going to work by itself; you need positive force as well. So, as a result of this, we can replace our inaccurate meaning category with a more accurate one and, eventually, we’ll get hundred percent accurate meaning category.

So now we’re meditating on voidness conceptually, accurately, but it’s through the filter of the category “voidness.” And we’re not just talking about the audio category; we’re talking about the meaning category and the object category – voidness as a thing. And of course, as we saw, when you meditate or think through a category, like “dog,” there’s some mental representation of a dog. Likewise, there’s a mental representation of a total absence, which would be just blank – empty space.

So we’re sidetracked here into worrying about the mental representation, right? The main point here is not that we have to get rid of a mental representation. The main point is the category. That’s what’s causing the obscuration, the deception. So what’s happening? I’m meditating over and over again on voidness, this absence. Meditation: it means I work myself up to an understanding. So I generate the understanding, and then I just focus on it, and try to discern it, and then let it settle. Eventually, I don’t have to work through a line of reasoning to be able to just instantly generate that understanding. That takes an awful lot of time before we can get to that stage.

Every time that I focus on voidness is slightly different, in terms of my experience. Even if we say, “Well it’s the same thing: voidness is voidness.” But there’s the voidness of my body, and my body is changing all the time. That’s why, in more advanced practice, we meditate on the voidness of one of these meditational figures, these yidams, because they don’t change and grow old like our physical body does, so you have a more stable object, a more stable basis for voidness. The voidness stays the same; the basis of the voidness is more stable with these Buddha-figures, these yidams. Nevertheless, every experience or session that we have, focusing on voidness, is going to be slightly different because the mind is going to be slightly different. It’s another moment. Remember, we had this mechanism, so there will be a little bit more attention, a little bit less attention; a little bit more abiding, a little bit less abiding. It’s going to be slightly different. The mental activity, remember, is this composite, this network of so many different factors.

Now, through the filter of the category, the meaning category “voidness,” each experience is experienced through the mental activities working through the filter of the meaning category, which is voidness, the category of voidness. So, we don’t have to say the mental word “voidness” each time that we’re meditating on voidness. And from our Western point of view we’re not even so necessarily conscious of the category – it’s the meaning category. However, we understand that I’m meditating on voidness – each time I’m meditating on voidness – that’s a category. There’s a meaning category, like every time I see these different animals, I’m seeing a dog. So every meditation experience focusing on voidness, I’m focusing on voidness.

Here’s the deception. Here’s the confusion. Because we are confusing the category, the static category of voidness, with each slightly different experience. So this is the limitation of the conceptual cognition. It’s accurate, but there’s something slightly deceptive there. I’m meditating on voidness. This category of voidness is – it’s a category, so it’s always the same. It’s static. Of course it’s complicated because voidness itself is static; it’s just a fact about something. But this analysis works as well in terms of meditating on impermanence or meditating on anything. And of course we understand it: today I’m going to meditate on voidness, and every day I’m going to meditate on voidness. It’s a category.

So, nonconceptual cognition of voidness – what’s that like? One just is meditating, focusing, on the voidness of some particular basis. Whether it’s the meditational deity, whether it’s me, whether it’s the mandala, whether it’s an apple in front of me, it doesn’t matter. Of course we understand voidness. There’s the deep awareness, there’s understanding there – don’t think that there’s no understanding – but it is without a category. So what does that mean? Now we’re not talking on such a gross level of thinking self-consciously, “Now I’m meditating on voidness.” That’s a very superficial level of what we’re talking about. It’s just that one doesn’t have to label – one doesn’t have to understand this – in terms of a general category, the voidness. One just perceives voidness and understands it. Perceives it, and doesn’t understand it in terms of, well, the category of voidness – one just perceives it and knows it. That can only come from tremendous familiarity with the category of voidness.

Now, meditating further and further conceptually, you would think that that would just reinforce the habit of meditating conceptually. That’s why it says that you have to have, as a simultaneously acting condition, this positive force, this network of positive force. Because it’s the effect of this network of positive force which is also imputable on the mental activity that’s meditating on voidness. From the force of that, if you build up enough force – the first zillion eons of positive force, in the sutra explanation – then that focus on voidness will, in a sense, cease being conceptual, and you’ll have nonconceptual.

In our meditation, in our life, we see objects, we see – in English, the word “see” here means understand – we see, we understand voidness of it, without it being through the filter of, “Well, yes, that’s voidness. And yes, that’s appearance.” So we just know it by itself. We know that it could be in a category, but that’s beside the point. We know that voidness is established by mental labeling. There’s nothing on the side of voidness that makes it voidness, that establishes it as voidness. But at that time of nonconceptual cognition, we do not have to impute onto it a name or even a meaning; so we just perceive it, we cognize it, without any filter – “straightforwardly” is the term. Okay?

So why don’t we take a few moments to digest that?

[silence]

Let me give an example, since this whole thing is not so easy to digest. Category “dog.” We see a dog. Now we could see this animal through the filter of a category, “dog.” I understand it, the meaning of the word “dog.” So it’s the meaning of the word “dog” and an object: dog. So it’s a dog. And I could have all sorts of associations of dog – dogs bite – all sorts of associations. I’m mixing this dog, this individual beast in front of me – animal – with the whole category “dog,” and I understand it in terms of this category. So I’m mixing the characteristics of this whole category with this particular individual. Now, of course, this animal fits into the category of dog, so it has the characteristics of a dog as is defined by some convention that people decided upon. But we’re mixing being aware of both this individual and the whole category, and all the different things that go with dog, and then this poor, individual thing sitting there, wagging its tail.

Now if we no longer cognize this dog conceptually – if it was just nonconceptual – would it still be a dog? Yes, it’s still a dog. Whether we label it as “dog” or not, it could be labeled as a dog, correctly, because there’s a convention that we’ve all decided upon that it fits in the category of dog. And when I saw it nonconceptually, would I know that it was a dog? Yes. I would know it’s an individual dog, but I don’t have to think in terms of the whole category of dog. This is maybe an approximation, at least, of what I understand now. I’m sure that in a few years I’ll understand it differently. But that’s my understanding now of what it actually means to have a nonconceptual understanding of something. And it’s described in meditation texts as being – that perception, at that time when it’s nonconceptual, is more vivid.

Question:
When we perceive a dog nonconceptually, and we understand that it’s a dog, and we label it as a dog, do we label it as a dog in a conceptual way?

Alex: Mental labeling is a conceptual process. It’s applying a category: either an audio category or a meaning or object category.

Question: The question is: when we, with nonconceptual cognition, we perceive this dog, we understand that this is a dog, don’t we?

Alex: We can understand. We don’t necessarily understand.

Question: But does it mean that we label this dog with the label “dog”?

Alex: If we could understand it to be a dog nonconceptually? No, we wouldn’t be labeling it.

Now of course what’s very difficult, and I can’t pretend to understand it or explain it, is how a Buddha communicates and uses words without that being conceptual. And the only way that I can begin to understand that is to look at the qualities of enlightening speech, a Buddha’s speech. When a Buddha speaks, everybody understands it in their own language. Regardless of how far away they are, or how close, they can all hear it with appropriate volume. So then the question is: what actual sound is the Buddha making? Think about that.

[silence]

On which side is the language, and on which side is the volume? Is it on the side of the listener or on the side of Buddha speaking? It’s on the side of the listener. So the listener is hearing it through a category. Buddha is not speaking it through a category, whatever that means. It’s very interesting. We always hear and read that Buddha’s speech, Buddha’s mind, Buddha’s body – all these things are beyond words, beyond concepts. So what Buddha speaks, it’s not with concepts and it’s not saying a specific word in a specific language. So when you say beyond words, beyond speech, that doesn’t mean just, “Well, shut up and don’t ask: it’s something transcendent and you couldn’t possibly understand it.” It actually has a meaning.

Question: It is said that the glass of water – different beings in different realms cognize it differently. To the beings in the god realm it is like nectar, and to the beings in the human realm it is like water. For beings in the preta realm it is like pus, and for beings in the hells it is like hot metal. When Buddha perceives a glass of water, how does he perceive it, when we are speaking about nonconceptual perception of this glass of water – what it actually is?

Alex: Okay. A very important question. I’m sure that there are many different types of answers. I’ll just give the explanation that you get in Tsongkhapa’s texts, the Gelugpa version. Okay.

You can’t even say that there is an object in front of us that is like a blank cassette, and each of these beings are labeling onto it “water,” “pus,” etc. – “nectar” – with a solid sort of plastic coating around it, separating it from everything. Nevertheless, conventionally there’s an object and it has defining characteristics on its own side. So it has the defining characteristics of water, defining characteristics of – I mean first, it has defining characteristics of being a knowable object, not just part of an undifferentiated soup. A validly knowable object. And it has defining characteristics of water, and of pus, and of nectar. It does not have the defining characteristics of a dog.

Now there is a big difference (and this is not always so obvious), there is a big difference between [1] having defining characteristics – so, the defining characteristics exist – and [2] its being established as water, or as nectar, or pus, or as a validly knowable phenomenon, object: it’s being established by the power of those defining characteristics on its own side. This is the confusion that comes in translation, because “exist” and “established as” – very often what should be translated as “established as” is translated as “exist,” and that’s confusing.

What establishes it as water? Well, there’s a convention that if something has such-and-such defining characteristics, there’s a convention that it’s water. And we will decide what those defining characteristics are – the minds that make this convention – and we will consider that an object. So it is established as water purely by the power of the mental label, this convention that people have decided we’re going to call this “water.” And it actually functions like that for that group of people. And another group of beings are going to focus more on the defining characteristics of pus – on the side of the object. But they have a connection. What establishes it as pus is that we’re going to take these defining characteristics and we’re going to choose them – it’s a mental operation – and we’re going to make, out of that category, pus, and an object: pus. And, in fact, it does function like that for them. It would function like that for them even if they didn’t mentally label it. So when we talk about not being able to find anything on the side of the object, that doesn’t mean that we can’t find the object – that you can never find your keys.

So what is it talking about? From the deepest point of view, we can’t find an existence established by the power of the defining characteristics on the side of the object. That you can’t find, because there is no such thing. That’s its voidness. But not only can you not find existence established by defining characteristics on its own side, but even on the conventional – in terms of conventional truth – you can’t find an object, an appearance of an object, that is established by the power of the defining characteristics, despite the fact that on its side it has defining characteristics. Those defining characteristics cannot by their own power establish either the deepest truth – the existence of the thing – or its conventional truth: how it appears, what it appears to be.

So, of course, on a less deep level you could say, well, if you look for it, where are the defining characteristics? Is it in the genes? Well if you go deeper in the genes – I mean, if we’re talking about an animal – or the atoms, then you know, well, there are the sub-particles and the sub-sub-particles, and you can’t find anything. That is a gross level of not being able to find something. There are much deeper levels, like what I was just indicating.

[For a more detailed explanation, see: Brief Discussion of the Kalachakra Presentation of Cosmology.]

So let’s end here for the morning. And although we haven’t really spoken about these seven ways of knowing – we’ll deal with that this afternoon – but everything that I’ve explained is necessary for understanding these seven ways. And actually we have mostly covered the topic for the afternoon, which is how to work with the Buddha-nature factors.

Whatever positive force, whatever deep awareness has come from all of this, may it get stronger and stronger, go deeper and deeper, act as a cause to reach enlightenment for the benefit of all.

And now I think maybe we can understand a little bit what that means.