Three Principal Aspects of the Path (Part 1 of 2)

29 January 2010 - 1:44am Comments Off

Teachings on Je Tsongkhapa’s


Translated by
Lobsang Jordhen
& edited by
Jeremy Russell

His Holiness gave this teaching
at the request of a group of students from France
in the main temple at Thekchen Choling in the Autumn of 1989

1 2

Today I am going to explain the Three Principal Aspects of the Path. As usual, before beginning a teaching, we will do the three practices for cleaning our mental continuums and then we will recite the Heart Sutra. Now make the mandala offering.

Whatever teachings are being given both the listener and the teacher should have a pure motivation. Especially when you listen to a Mahayana teaching, you should firstly take refuge in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha to protect yourself from following the wrong path, and secondly you should generate an altruistic mind of enlightenment to differentiate yourself from followers of lower paths. Therefore we should visualize two points: firstly, taking refuge in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha for the benefit of all sentient beings, then generating the altruistic aspiration to enlightenment for the dale of all sentient beings. So with this motivation, we should recite the verse for taking refuge in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha three times, clearly visualizing that we are doing so for the benefit of all sentient beings.

After the Incomparable Buddha had attained enlightenment at Bodh Gaya, he taught the Four Noble Truths: true sufferings, the true causes of suffering, true cessations and true paths. This became the basis or foundation for all the later teachings he gave. Although the Buddha taught the Four Noble Truths during the first turning of the wheel of the doctrine, the meaning of true cessation was most explicitly taught during the second turning of the wheel of doctrine. At that time he taught the meaning of emptiness directly, and implicitly taught the stages of the path. In other words, while teaching emptiness directly, he taught the meaning of the two truths, conventional and ultimate truth, and the complete meaning of nirvana and cessation.

During the third turning of the wheel of doctrine, the Buddha taught the meaning of Buddha nature in the Tathagata Essence Sutra, that forms the basis for Maitreya’s Sublime Science, (Uttaratantra). He explained that sentient beings have a Buddha nature or an ability to become enlightened mainly in terms of the nature of the mind, which is empty of inherent existence and thus suitable to be transformed into enlightenment. It is very clearly explained in the Sublime Science that the mind is by nature very pure and free of defilement which makes it suitable for attaining enlightenment. This is because anything which lacks inherent existence is changeable, and subject to causes and conditions. As Nagarjuna says in his text called Fundamental Wisdom,

For whichever (system) emptiness is possible
For that all is possible.
For whichever (system) emptiness is not possible
For that nothing is possible.

The meaning of emptiness is being empty of inherent existence and that means being dependant on something else, being dependant on causes and other phenomena, it means that when those phenomena change, that particular thing will also change. If it were not dependant on something else and had inherent existence, then it would not be subject to change due to other conditions.

So, during the second turning of the wheel of doctrine, teaching that phenomena lack inherent existence, the Buddha taught clearly that phenomena can be made to change, because they are dependant on causes and conditions. Now although phenomena lack inherent existence, when they appear to us, we think that they exist inherently. Not only do phenomena appear as if they are inherently existent, but we also become attached to them and determined that they exist inherently. In this way we generate craving, desire, anger and so forth. When we encounter some pleasant or interesting object, we generate a lot of attachment and if we see something distasteful or unappealing, we get angry. Therefore problems like anger and attachment arise because of conceiving phenomena as inherently existent.

The conception of phenomena as inherently existent is a wrong consciousness mistaken towards its referent object, which provides the foundation for all delusions. However, if we generate an understanding that phenomena are not inherently existent, it will act as a counter-force to that wrong consciousness. This shows that the defilements of the mind can be removed. If the delusions which defile the mind are removable then the seeds or potencies left behind by these delusions can also be eliminated. The total purity of the nature of the mind, which is its lack of inherent existence, is taught very explicitly in the second turning of the wheel of the doctrine. During the third turning of the wheel, it is explained again not only from the ultimate, but also from the conventional point of view, that the ultimate nature of the mind is pure, and in its pure state it is only neutral and clear light.

For example, whoever we are, delusions do not manifest within us all the time. What is more, the same object towards which we sometimes generate anger, we sometime generate love, which ought not to be possible. This clearly shows that the real nature of the principal mind, the mind itself, is pure, but due to mental factors or the mind that accompany the principal mind, it sometimes appears to have a virtuous quality like love, and at others it appears in a deluded form like anger. That the nature of the principal mind is therefore neutral, but being dependent on its accompanying mind it may change from a virtuous to a non-virtuous mind.

So, the mind by nature is clear light and the defilements or delusions are temporary and adventitious. This indicates that if we practice and cultivate virtuous qualities, the mind can be transformed positively. On the other hand, if it encounters delusions then it will take on the form of delusions. Therefore all such qualities as the ten powers of the Buddha can also be attained because of this quality of the mind.

For example, all the different kinds of consciousness have the same quality of understanding and knowing their object clearly, but when a particular consciousness encounters some obstacles it is not able to understand its object. Although my eye consciousness has the potential to see an object, if I cover it up it will be obstructed from seeing the object. Similarly, the consciousness may not be able to see the object because it is too far away. So the mind already has the potential to understand all phenomena, a quality that need not be strengthened, but it may be obstructed by other factors.

With the attainment of the higher qualities of a Buddha, like the ten powers, we attain a full state of consciousness able to see the object clearly and completely. This too can be attained merely by recognizing the real nature of the mind and removing the delusions and obstructions from it.

During the third turning of the wheel of doctrine, of the four noble truths initially taught during the first turning of the wheel, the meaning of the true path is explained very clearly by defining the meaning of tathagatagarbha, or Buddha nature. This makes possible the attainment of omniscience, the ultimate state of consciousness able to see phenomena and their ultimate mode of being.

Therefore, a complete explanation of the meaning of true cessation is given during the second turning of the wheel of the doctrine and a very detailed explanation of the true path is given during the third turning of the wheel. It explains the mind’s potential to know phenomena’s ultimate mode of existence and how omniscience can be achieved if you promote and develop that.

Now, when it comes to explaining the ultimate nature of the mind and its suitability for attaining enlightenment, we have the accounts of both sutra and tantra. These are differentiated by the detail of their explanation of the nature of the mind. The tantric teachings give a very clear explanation of the subtlest state of enlightenment within the highest class of tantra, that is Highest Yoga Tantra. The first three classes of the tantra form a foundation for that.

In essence, this is a brief explanation of the Buddha’s teaching, from the Four Noble Truths up to the highest class of tantric teaching. However, even if we have a clear understanding of the ultimate nature of the mind and the possibility of attaining enlightenment with it, if we do not practice and make effort to achieve that goal, then enlightenment will not be attainable. So while on the one hand it is important to know the ultimate nature of the mind, on the other, we should generate an intention to practice and realize this potential.

In teaching the first two Noble Truths the Buddha described the fault, the defects that must be given up and eliminated, that is true suffering and the true origin of suffering. In teaching the second pair of the Four Noble Truths, that is the true path and true cessation, the Buddha explained that there is a method, a path to get rid of these sufferings and delusions through which the complete cessation of those delusions can be attained. If there were no cure or method to eliminate suffering and attain a state of complete cessation and peace, it would not be necessary to discuss, think about or meditate on suffering, because it would merely engender pessimism and create more suffering for yourself. It would be better to remain bewildered and carefree. However, in fact we do have a chance, there is a path and method to get rid of suffering, so it is worthwhile to talk and think about suffering. This is the importance and encompassing quality of the Buddha’s teaching of the Four Noble Truths, for they provide the basis and foundation of all practices.

When we think about true suffering and the true origin of suffering, and we come to an understanding of these two truths, we will generate a wish to rid ourselves of the suffering and its causes. In other words, because we dislike true suffering and the true origin of suffering we will generate a wish to reject them. This is called the determination to be free.

When you carefully consider suffering, it is not only you who are under its power, for other sentient beings also suffer in the same way. Then you should think that as other sentient beings are suffering just like me, how marvelous it would be if they could eliminate suffering and it causes. Such a wish for other sentient being to eliminate the suffering and its causes is called compassion. When, induced by compassion, you decide that you will help them yourself to eliminate suffering and it causes, that is the special resolve or the mind that wishes actively to benefit other sentient beings.

Then, if you look carefully at how sentient beings can be benefited not just temporarily but ultimately, you will come to the conclusion that you will be able to benefit them completely if you help them attain enlightenment and to do that, you must attain enlightenment yourself. This compassionate mind wishing to attain Buddhahood in order to help all sentient beings attain enlightenment is called the mind of enlightenment.

It is feasible to get rid of suffering and attain the ultimate status of enlightenment because phenomena do not have independent or inherent existence. Therefore it is important to understand the nature of phenomena, their lack of inherent existence. This understanding of phenomena’s lack of inherent existence is called right view.

It is these three qualities: determination to be free, mind of enlightenment, and right or correct view which are treated here as the three principal paths. They are so-called because they provide the real motivation for attaining liberation from cyclic existence and form the framework for attaining enlightenment.

The principal means of attaining liberation from cyclic existence is the determination to be free and the principal means of attaining enlightenment is the mind of enlightenment. Both of these augmented by the right view or wisdom realizing emptiness.

Now I will begin to explain the text

The Homage

I pay homage to the foremost venerable lama.

This line is the author’s expression of respect before composing the text. I will explain the meaning of some of the words here. The term lama denotes not only a position of status and power in the mundane sense, but rather indicates someone who is truly kind and possesses immense qualities. The Tibetan word Jey or foremost here signifies someone who cares less about the immediate or sensual pleasures of this world, this life cyclic existence than for the next life. It refers to someone who is more concerned about other sentient beings’ long term benefit over many lives to come. The Tibetan word tsun, meaning venerable or disciplined, refers to the lama because he has understood that, however pleasing or attractive they might be, the pleasures and attractions of cyclic existence are worthless. He has seen the lack of any lasting value among worldly phenomena, and has turned his mind towards the longer lasting happiness of future live. In other words, the lama is one who has disciplined his mind and is not hankering after the delights of this world but aspires for the attainment of liberation. The word lama actually means supreme, indicating one who has greater care for other sentient beings than for himself and neglects his own interests for their sake.

‘I pay homage’ implies bowing down. You bow down to the lama on seeing his quality of concern for other sentient beings and their happiness at the cost of his own. In paying respect to this quality in the lama, by bowing down to him, you make an aspiration to attain such qualities yourself.

The Promise to Compose the Text

I will explain, as well as I can,
The essence of all the teachings of the Conqueror,
The path praised by the Conqueror’s Children,
The entrance for the fortunate desiring liberation.

The first line expresses the author’s promise to compose the text. The second implies the determination to be free, because all the Buddha’s teachings are aimed towards liberation. It is from this point of view, the aimed of attaining liberation, that we should be able to see faults in the attractions of cyclic existence and generate a wish to renounce them. This is actually imperative if we wish to achieve liberation. So this line implies renunciation of cyclic existence.

The words ‘Conqueror’s Children’ in the third line have three connotations. They refer to those born from the Buddha’s body, speech, or mind. Rahula was his physical son. The offspring of his speech refers to the Hearers and Solitary Buddhas. But in this context the ‘Conqueror’s Children’ refers to those born from the mind of the Buddha, those who have generated the mind of enlightenment. You become a Bodhisattva or child of the Buddha only if you have this altruistic aspiration for enlightenment. Bodhisattvas are called offspring of the Buddha’s mind, because they are born from qualities found in the mindstream of the Buddha.

The last line of the verse implies right view, as the attainment of liberation is dependent on whether you have realized emptiness. So, these three lines summarise the meaning of the determination to be free, the mind of enlightenment, and view of emptiness that are explained in this text

Exhorting the Disciples to Listen

Those who are not attached to the joys of cyclic existence
Strive to make meaning of this leisure and opportunity,
Rely on the path pleasing to the Conqueror;
Those fortunate ones, listen with a clear mind.

Most of us here have sufficient resources so we do not have to work very much to obtain food, clothing and so forth. But it is clear that in this life merely having something to wear and something to eat is not enough. We want something else. We still yearn for something more. This clearly illustrates that unless pleasure and happiness are brought about through transforming the mind, it is not possible to achieve lasting happiness through external means, however favourable the external conditions may be. Happiness and discomfort are very much dependent on our mental attitude. So it is important that we should bring about some internal transformation of the mind. Since lasting happiness can only be attained in this way it is important to rely on the power of the mind and to discover the mind’s ultimate nature.

There are many diverse teachings in different religious traditions on how to bring about such transformation. The Buddha’s teaching, which we are discussing here, contains a clear, detailed and systematic explanation.

We do more or less qualify as ‘fortunate one’ as referred to in this verse, because we are trying to reduce our attachment, we are trying to make meaningful use of this precious life as a free and fortunate human being, and we are relying on the teachings of the Buddha. So, this line tells us to pay attention to the teaching that the author is going to impart.

Need to Generate the Determination to Be Free

Without a pure determination to be free, there is no means to achieve peace
Due to fixation upon the pleasurable effects of the ocean of existence.
Embodied beings are thoroughly bound by craving for existence,
Therefore, in the beginning seek a determination to be free.

Here we begin the actual body of the text, the actual teaching it contains. This verse explains the necessity of generating a determination to be free or a mind seeking release from cyclic existence. Seeing the faults and short-comings of cyclic existence and generating a very strong wish to abandon it and attain liberation is called a determination to be free. As long as you are unable to see the worthlessness of the pleasures of cyclic existence, but continue to see some meaning or attraction in them and cling to them, you will neither be able to turn your mind towards liberation and nor will you realize how you are bound.

So the first line of this verse says that unless you have a pure determination to free yourself from the ocean of cyclic existence, your attempts to achieve peace will be in vain. It is our fascination with cyclic existence due to cravings and attachment, that binds us within it. Therefore, if we really seek the peace of liberation, the right course to adopt is to generate the determination to be free, to recognize the faults of cyclic existence and reject them. The biography of Buddha himself can provide us with a clear understanding of the meaning of the determination to be free for our own practice.

He was born a prince in a wealthy family, was well educated, had a wife and son and enjoyed all imaginable worldly pleasures. Yet, despite all the alluring pleasure available to him, when he came across examples of the sufferings of birth, sickness, old age and death, he was provoked by the sight of other’s suffering. He discovered for himself that, no matter how attractive external comforts may be, so long as you have a physical body like ours, which is the short-lived product of contaminated action and delusion, then such attractive external pleasures are illusory. Understanding this, he tried to find a path to liberation from suffering and renounced all worldly pleasures, including his wife and son. Through gradually increasing his determination to be free in this way he was able to attain not only liberation, but also enlightenment.

Therefore it is taught that we need to develop a determination to be free. Merely renouncing the comforts of cyclic existence and checking attachment and craving towards it is not enough. We must cut the stream of births. Rebirth comes about due to craving and desire, and we must cut its continuity through the practice of meditation. Hence, the Buddha entered into deep meditative stabilization for six years. Finally by means of a union of calm abiding and special insight he attained the power to overcome the hindrances presented by the aggregates and external evil forces. He eliminated the very source of disturbing emotions and because they were extinguished he also overcame death. In this way he conquered all four evil forces or hindrances. As followers of the Buddha, we too should try to see faults in the alluring attractions of cyclic existence. Then without attachment towards them generate concentration and focus on the view of selflessness – understanding the real nature of phenomena.

Now, should you wonder how to practice this determination to be free, how to generate a mind that wishes to renounce cyclic existence, the next verse says:

Contemplating how freedom and fortune are difficult to find
And that in life there is no time to waste, blocks the attraction to
captivating appearances of this life.
Repeatedly contemplating action’s infallible effects
And the sufferings of cyclic existence, blocks the
captivating appearance of future lives.

This verse explains how to check attachment first to this life and then towards future lives. In order to cut attachment towards the pleasures of this life, it is important to think about the preciousness of this human life, how it is difficult to find and the many qualities it provides. If we think clearly about those points, we will be able to extract meaning from having attained a human birth. Life as a human being is precious because with it we attain a status, quality and intelligence, which is absent in all other animals, even in all other sentient beings. We have the power to achieve great benefit and destruction. If we were to just while away our time and waste this precious potential in silly and meaningless activities, it would be a great loss.

Therefore, it is important that we recognise our capacity, our qualities and supreme intelligence which other sentient beings do not possess. If we can identify these things, we will be able to appreciate and use them. The power of the human brain and human intelligence is marvelous. It is capable of planning ahead and can engage in deep and extensive thought, as other sentient beings cannot. Since we have such a powerful brain or intelligence, it is very important that we recognise the strength and character of this awareness. We should then steer it in the right directions, so that it can contribute significantly to peace and harmony in the world and within all sentient beings.

Let us take the example of nuclear energy. There is great a power within a nuclear particle, but if we use that power wrongly or mishandle it, it can be very destructive. Nowadays we have nuclear missiles and other weapons the very names of which make us afraid, because they are so destructive. They can cause mass destruction in a fraction of time. On the other hand, if we put nuclear power to use in a constructive way, it can be of great service to humanity and sentient beings at large. Similarly, since human beings have such capacity and power, it is very important that they use it for the benefit of all sentient beings. Properly employed human ingenuity can be a great source of benefit and happiness, but if misused it can bring great misery and destruction.

It is from the point of view of this keen intelligence that we should think about the significance of our precious human life. However, it is also important to understand that the life of a free and fortunate human being is not only meaningful and difficult to find, but it is also short-lived.

The next two lines say that if we think repeatedly about the infallible connection between causes, our actions, and the sufferings of cyclic existence, we will be able to cut our attachment to the next life. At present we engage in many levels of activity to obtain clothing, food and a good name. In addition, our experiences in the latter part of our lives are dependent on the actions that we have performed in the earlier part. This actually is the meaning of actions and results. Although it is not the subtlest interpretation, when we talk about actions and results, action includes any of the things we do in order to obtain any kind of happiness or pleasure. The results are the effects that we achieve thereby. Therefore, in the first part of our lives we engage in certain kinds of activity that we think will lead to some kind of happiness or success in the future. Similarly, we engage in certain kinds of action in this life so that we may be able to achieve a good result in our next life. In other words, our experiences in the latter part of our lives are dependent on the actions we have performed in the earlier part of our lives and our experiences in future live, whether pleasant or unpleasant, are dependent on the actions that we have committed in former lives.

These actions are done by either body, speech or mind and so are termed physical, verbal and mental actions. From this point of view of the result that they produced, they can be termed as wholesome, unwholesome or neutral actions. Wholesome actions give rise to pleasant results, unwholesome actions give rise to unpleasant results and neutral actions lead to a feeling of equanimity. Then there are actions that will definitely give rise to a result and those that will not. For example when an action comes into being, it is first motivated, there is an intention, then it is actually implemented and finally it is brought to a conclusion.

Now, when the intention, action and conclusion are all very strong, it is definitely that the action will give rise to a result, whether good or bad. On the other hand, if the intention is very strong but you do not put it into effect, or if at the end instead of thinking that you have completed the deed, you regret what you have done, then that particular action may not produce an effect at that time. If these three aspects intention, application and conclusion, are not present the action is classified as indefinite. From the point of view of the basis experiencing the result, there are actions that give fruit in this very life, actions that give fruit in the immediate next life and actions whose fruits will be experienced in many lives after the next.

Then there are two levels of action which can be classified as projecting and completing actions. Projecting actions are those actions which are responsible for projecting us into a particular life through birth as a human being, animal or other state of being. Completing actions are those that determine the quality of whatever life you are born into. For example, despite being a human being you may be perpetually poor. Right from birth, your sense faculties may be damaged or your limbs crippled. On the other hand, your complexion may be radiant and you may have natural strength. Even born as an animal you might, like a pet dog, have comfortable home. These kinds of qualities or defects that you inherit right from birth, that are additional to the actualization of a particular birth, are the result of completing actions. So actions can be termed as projecting or completing according to their function. It is possible that although the projecting action is wholesome, the completing action is non virtuous, and that although the completing action is unwholesome, the projecting action is virtuous.

Whether a particular action is positive, like faith in the Buddha, or negative, like attachment, if in its own terms it is pure, it can be seen as completely white and virtuous or completely black and unwholesome. If the preparation, application and conclusion of a particular action are totally virtuous then that action can be seen as a virtuous action. But if it results from impure conclusion, in other words, if it is a mixture of both positive and negative qualities, then it can be called a mixed action.

It is the ‘I’, or the person, who accumulates an action and experiences its results. Although these different levels of actions, are product of the thinking of particular sentient beings, they are not produced by a creator of the world. There is someone who creates the action, because when we talk about action, the word itself clearly implies that there is an actor or agent who performs that action, but it is not an external agent.

How does an action give rise to a result? For example, when I snap my fingers, immediately I stop the action is complete, leaving behind a result. If you ask, what that result is, it is the mere disintegration of the action, and the disintegration of an action goes on continuously. So, when we talk about the result of a particular action, it is a mere disintegration, or part of the disintegration, or the cessation of that particular action. To clarify the point it is a kind of potency left behind by the disintegration of that action, which is responsible for bringing forth many other conditioned phenomena.

If you wonder where the imprint of that potency of the disintegration or cessation of that particular action is left, the answer is on the continuum of the consciousness existing during the immediate moment of the cessation of the action. There are occasions when the consciousness is alert and awake and there are occasions when the consciousness is latent, for example when we are in deep sleep, or when we faint. Therefore, the consciousness is not a wholly reliable place to deposit such a potency. Sometimes it is very subtle and sometimes it is very coarse, so the consciousness provides only a temporary basis for such imprints.

Hence, if we seek an ultimate explanation, it is the mere ‘I’, or the person, which carries the potency of a particular action. This explanation is based on the ultimate explanations of the highest school, that is the Middle Way Consequentialist School. I used the word ‘mere I’ to clarify that the ‘I’ or the person has only nominal not inherent existence. It is only designated and does not exist by itself. It is not something that you can point at with your finger. The word ‘mere’ indicates an ‘I’ which is merely designated by name and thought and negates a self-supporting or independent ‘I’. The negation of an inherent existence or self-supporting ‘I’ does not mean that the ‘I’ does not exist at all, it has a nominal existence. This mere ‘I’ or person becomes the basis on which the imprint or potency of an action is left. In general, the ‘I’ is designated to the collection of the physical and mental aggregates.

When we talk about the physical body and the consciousness, which is the basis of designation of the ‘I’, with reference to a human being, it is principally the consciousness which becomes the basis of designation of the term ‘I’. The consciousness has many levels, some of them coarse and some of them subtle. The physical body of a human being can also be divided into many parts, such as the eye, the ear, and so forth. These physical parts again become the basis for the designation of consciousness. For example, the eye consciousness is designated to see, the ear consciousness to the ear and so forth. But if you try to find the subtlest basis of designation of consciousness, it seems that the nerves and pathways of the brain are actually the basis of designation of mental consciousness. Then there is also talk of the bases of the sense powers and these are supposed to be very subtle. It is not clear whether such bases of the sense faculties can be found in the brain or somewhere else. It will be an interesting object of research.

Let us take an example, in order to generate an eye consciousness many conditions or causes are necessary. The dominant cause is an undefective eye sense power. Having a particular form within its focus becomes the objective condition. However, despite the presence of such conditions it is not definite that an eye consciousness will arise. This indicates that a third condition, the immediately preceding condition, which is a consciousness, is required in addition to the external objective condition and internal dominant condition of a sense power. Therefore, in order for the eye sense consciousness to arise all three conditions are necessary.

As an example to elucidate this point, there are occasionally cases of people who after a long illness become so physically weak that their heartbeat and all physical functions stop. Entering into such a deep coma that no physical activity or function can be perceived, the doctor declares them clinically dead. However, sometimes after a few minutes or even hours, despite the apparent lack of physical activity, the person starts breathing again, the heart starts beating, and physical functions are regained. This revival, despite the previous cessation of all functions, shows the unavoidable presence of a mental condition that immediately preceded it. When that immediate preceding condition, a consciousness, is present the person can come back to life again. Similarly, in the case of a sense consciousness, the mere presence of the dominant condition and the objective condition is not sufficient to generate a particular consciousness.

According to the Buddhist view, when we talk about the various levels of consciousness of a particular human being which are designated to the various parts of his body then we are referring to the coarser levels of consciousnesses of a person. These consciousnesses are called consciousnesses of a human being because they are dependent on particular parts of a human body. Therefore, when a human being dies, all the coarser levels of consciousness that are dependent on the physical body also seem to disappear, but it is interesting to note that their arising entities of consciousness does not come about merely due to the presence of the physical body. They are produced as entities of clarity and awareness such as eye consciousness, ear consciousness and so forth, in dependence on conditions other than the body. There is a fundamental cause that generates these consciousnesses as entities of clarity and awareness and according to the various conditions it encounters consciousnesses cognizing form, sound and so forth arise. This shows that there is a consciousness independent of the coarser physical body, but when it encounters coarser conditions, it appears in the form of coarser consciousness.

Consciousness has a much subtler nature and if you examine that subtler nature, then the real, substantial cause of that consciousness can only be another continuum of consciousness which preceded it, irrespective of whether there is a physical body or not. Therefore, there is plainly a kind of innate natural mind, which is totally pure and clear. When this pure state of the mind comes into contact with different levels of physical body, consciousness also manifest itself more or less coarsely, depending upon what particular physical body it is being designated to. But if you examine the real nature of the mind, it has an existence independent of the coarser levels of the physical body.

Such a pure, natural state of mind, which exists independently of the physical body, is called the primordial clear light or the primordial consciousness – a consciousness which has always been present. Compared to this, coarser consciousnesses are adventitious, because they are sometimes present and at other times absent. This primordial innate clear light consciousness, this pure state of the mind, is termed a sentient being and this is the main criterion that differentiates sentient beings form other living things and other phenomena. No doubt a person or ‘I’ is attributed to the total aggregate of the physical body and the consciousness, but it is the primordial innate clear light that is the exclusive basis of designation of a person, and not the physical body, but since they lack this kind of innate subtle consciousness they are not referred to as persons. Whatever your shape, form or outer aspect, anyone who possesses a continuity of consciousness and has feelings, perception and so on is referred to as a person. Therefore different texts explain that the ‘I’ or the person has been attributed to the continuity or stream of consciousness.

Although specific consciousnesses vary according to different occasions and coarser levels of consciousness are dependent upon various physical bodies, the subtlest level of consciousness, the mere entity of clarity and awareness, the primordial innate clear light consciousness, is dependent of the physical body. The nature of consciousness has no beginning. If you try to trace the origin of consciousness, you can go further and further back but you will not reach a point at which you can say, this is where this consciousness came into being. Therefore it is a kind of natural law that consciousness came into existence from beginningless time.

This is also a more realistic explanation, because if you accept a beginning of consciousness, you either have to assert a creator of consciousness or you have to say that consciousness arises without any cause. This is preposterous, out of concern for which consciousness has been explained as beginningless. If you ask why it is beginningless, we can only say that it is a natural law. If we observe carefully, there are so many things in this world whose continuity can be traced from beginningless time. But if you ask, what is their real and ultimate origin, you can find no answer. This is simply their nature. If you ask why physical forms appear in the entity of form, it is simply due to their nature. If we say that this comes about without cause or form unrelated causes, why can it not occur causelessly now, when it could previously occur without cause?

Therefore according to the Buddhist view, whether there is a beginning to consciousness, the answer is that the continuum of consciousness is beginningless, the origin of the ‘I’ or the persons is beginningless and birth is beginningless. And if you ask whether these things have an end, again the answer is negative if you are thinking about the mere continuum of consciousness or the mere continuum of a person. But there is an end to the impure state of mind, the impure state of a person and there is also a limit to birth, because normally when we talk about birth, we are referring to something which has been produced through contaminated action and delusion.

So because of the beginninglessness of birth, later experiences of suffering and pleasure are connected to actions performed earlier. The different kinds of deluded actions or virtuous actions that a person accumulates in different lives are connected to results in different lives. For example if you commit some virtuous or negative actions in this life, then you will have to experience their results later on. Similarly, you may have committed some virtuous or unwholesome actions in a past life, whose result you will have to experience in that very life, or in this life. If you have not accumulated such actions, then you will never experience their effects. On the other hand, if you have accumulated a particular action then generally speaking you will never escape the result: sooner or later it will bear fruit. Similarly if one has accumulated a positive action the result will be definitely positive. Those kinds of actions are called definite actions, but there are also actions whose result is not very definite, because the proper conditions or situations were not present. Furthermore there are actions, which seem of minor importance, but whose results multiply rapidly depending upon the circumstances, situation and conditions. So, there are many kinds of action: definite action, indefinite action, actions that multiply greatly, as well as the fact that the results of actions not done will not be encountered and that actions once done will not dissipate.

Usually, all our daily actions arise from some wish or desire. For example, if you wish to go somewhere, then you actually set out and go; if you wish to eat something, then you look for something to eat and eat it. Desire can be classified into two types, one which is negative and another which is logical and creative. For example, the wish to attain liberation from cyclic existence results in a reasonable undertaking, therefore it is a sound and logical desire. On the other hand, to generate attachment towards a particular object, such that you wish to obtain or achieve something, is an impure desire and usually arises from misconception of phenomena as existing independently or inherently. Most of the work that we do in cyclic existence, and the desires that we generate, are the result of this kind of illogical reasoning.

Familiarising our minds with positive qualities and trying to achieve goals like liberation are logical desires. Still, it is possible that in particular cases an individual’s wish to attain liberation is assisted by the conception of true existence. However, every wish for worldly perfection is based on the ignorance that conceives of true existence. On these grounds it is better to classify desire in two ways, one the result of correct reasoning and the other the result of incorrect reasoning.

The result of desire based on the conception of true existence is cyclic existence. Still there is another kind of desire based on sound reasoning that does not project cyclic existence, but aspires to attain the supreme attainment and qualities of the Buddha, the Doctrine, the Spiritual Community and Nirvana, the state beyond suffering. There is a wish and desire to attain them.

If we did not classify desire into two types as mentioned above, we might think that desiring liberation was improper, that desiring religious practice was improper and that even wishing for happiness was also improper. No doubt there are different modes of desiring your own happiness, but what is clear is that so long as we have attachment and a conception of a truly existent self those actions characteristic of cyclic existence will continue to be created.

Generally speaking, once an action has been accumulated the result has to be experienced. Therefore, although we may be enjoying the delights of cyclic existence just now and intense sufferings are not manifest, since we are not free from the actions’ shackles and snares we have no security and no guarantee of lasting happiness. This is the perspective, from which this particular text says,

If you think repeatedly about the infallible law of actions and results
And the sufferings of cyclic existence,
You will be able to stop attachment to the next life.

By understanding the infallible law of actions and results you will be able to see that unless you completely purify your actions, whatever kind of apparent enjoyment and pleasure you find in cyclic existence will be unreliable. Having understood this, you will not be confused by the pleasures of cyclic existence and will be able to curb your attachment to the next life.

As a human being in cyclic existence we normally encounter four kinds of sufferings: the suffering of birth, old age, sickness, and death. Right from birth, we are faced with sufferings; our life begins with suffering. At the same time the process of ageing begin and we stat to encounter different degrees of sickness. Even when we are healthy we encounter a lot of disturbances and confusion. Finally, the chapter of our life is closed with the sufferings of death.

When we talk about someone who is in cyclic existence, we are referring to a sentient being who is uncontrollably under the sway of contaminated actions and delusions. Because we are overpowered by contaminated actions and delusions, we repeatedly have to take birth in a cycle, therefore it is called cyclic existence. Of the two, contaminated actions and delusions, it is delusions which are mainly responsible for casting us into cyclic existence. When we are free of delusions we attain liberation. Delusions are states of mind which, when they arise within our mental continuums, leave us disturbed, confused and unhappy. Therefore, those states of mind which delude or afflict us are called delusions or afflictive emotions. They are the negative qualities which makes us unhappy when they arise within us. It is these internal disturbances and not external conditions that really make us suffer.

As long as we have these evildoers residing within us happiness is impossible. So, if we really want to transform ourselves and achieve maximum happiness, we must identify these deluded states of mind and eliminate them. Enlightenment, the state of greatest happiness, cannot be actualized by any other means than by transforming our minds. Usually on an ordinary level, we think of delusions like attachment and anger as qualities that make life meaningful and colourful. We think that without attachment and anger our whole society or community would become colourless and without life. But if you think about it and weigh up the qualities and disadvantages of delusions like attachment and anger, you may find that in the short term they give you some relief and make your life colourful. But on closer scrutiny you will find that the fewer of these delusions we have, even though life may be less colourful, the more will be develop inner calm, inner strength and lasting happiness. Consequently, our mind will be happy, our physical health will improve and we will be able to engage successfully in virtuous activities.

Of course, you might feel that your life now is colourless, unattractive and without meaning. But if you think carefully and look for your own and other sentient beings’ long term benefit, you will notice that the more you control your delusions, the greater your peace of mind and physical well-being. In pursuit of physical health many people do various kinds of yoga exercises. No doubt this is very good for them, but if they were also to do some mental yoga that would be even better. In short, as long as your mind is disturbed and unsound, you will continue to encounter problems and sufferings. And as long as your mind is under control, disciplined and free from these faults, the more you will gain inner strength, clam, peace and stability, due to which you will be able to be more creative. From our own experience that we have more suffering when our minds are more disturbed by faults we can deduce that when our minds are completely clear our experience of happiness will be stable.

Up to this point we have been discussing the faults, sufferings and delusions of cyclic existence. On the one hand, we have to think about the faults and sufferings of cyclic existence and generate aversion to them and on the other we need to ascertain the possibility of attaining nirvana, the cessation of suffering – the complete elimination of delusions. If you were to ask – is there really a method by which we can attain liberation, or a method by which we can attain liberation, or a method by which we will be able to eliminate sufferings and delusions completely? It would be worthwhile asking whether nirvana or liberation actually exists.

Liberation or cessation is the nature of the mind on the occasion of the complete annihilation of defilements by their antidotes. When you think about the sufferings of cyclic existence and you weary of them, you look forward to nirvana, liberation, as an alternative. Let us say that we have a defiled and deluded mind. When the defilements of the previous moment of the continuum of this particular consciousness are completely eliminated, the very nature of that purified consciousness is liberation, nirvana or true cessation. In other words, the teachings say that the cyclic existence that we are presently experiencing is not eternal, because it has arisen from causes and conditions and they can be counteracted.

If you asked what the cause of cyclic existence is: it is ignorance, the conception of true existence. And what is the remedy for such ignorance? It is the wisdom realizing emptiness or wisdom realizing the real nature of phenomena. Now, these two qualities, ignorance, which is the cause of cyclic existence, and the wisdom realizing emptiness, which is the antidote to ignorance, cannot abide simultaneously in the continuum of one human being, because they are mutually exclusive. Although both observe the same object, their modes of apprehension are completely opposed to each other. Therefore, they cannot both abide in one person’s continuum with equal strength. As one is strengthened the other is weakened.

If you examine these two qualities carefully, you will find that whereas ignorance has no valid support or foundation, the wisdom realizing emptiness does. Any quality that had a valid foundation can be strengthened and developed limitlessly. On the other hand, because the conception of true existence lacks a valid foundation, when it encounters the wisdom realizing emptiness, a valid mind based on correct reasoning, it is weakened such that it can finally be eliminated altogether. So, ultimately, the wisdom realizing the nature of phenomena will be able to uproot ignorance, the source of cyclic existence.

If we examine how attachment and anger arise within us when our minds are calm and clear, in what way we crave the object, how it appears to us and how we generate a conception of true existence towards it, we will be able to see how these delusions arise within us. Although we may not gain a direct understanding, we can make some correct assumptions.

How are attachment and anger supported by the conception of true existence? When, for example, you are very angry we somebody, notice how at that time you see that person as completely obnoxious, completely unpleasant. Then later a friend tells you, no that person is not completely unpleasant because he has this and that quality. Just hearing these words, you change your mind and no longer see the person you were angry with as completely obnoxious or unpleasant. This clearly shows that right from the beginning, when you generate attachment, anger and forth, the mental tendency is to see that particular person or object not as merely pleasant or unpleasant, but as completely unpleasant or completely pleasant. If the person is pleasant you see him or her as completely attractive, one hundred percent attractive, and if you are angry with them, you see that person as completely unattractive. In other words, you see whatever quality they have as existing inherently or independently. Therefore, this mode of apprehending phenomena as existing inherently or truly provides a strong basis for the arising of delusions like attachment and anger.

From such explanations you can make an assumption that in general this quality, liberation or nirvana, does exist. It is a phenomenon. Not only does it exist, but it is something that you can achieve within your mental continuum. If you train yourself in the twin practices of thinking about the disadvantages and sufferings of cyclic existence, and the advantages of being able to get rid of these sufferings and the possibility of attaining liberation then you will be able to generate a determination to become completely free from cyclic existence.

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