GLIMPSES OF ABHIDHARMA
Glimpses of Abhidharma
From a Seminar on Buddhist Psychology
The abhidharma is perhaps regarded as dry and scholarly, theoretical. We will see. In any case I would like to welcome those of you who are brave and willing to go into it. To a certain extent you are warriors. I have decided to present the abhidharma because f feel it is necessary in studying the Buddhist tradition to start from scratch, to begin at the beginning and present the pure, immaculate, genuine teaching. We have been doing that so far in terms of the practice of meditation and in terms of the theoretical understanding of the teaching as well. I feel it is important that the teachings be presented that way. The presentation of Eastern teachings in the West has been particularly haphazard. The teachers have something to say and they say it, but perhaps it does not reach the audience effectively, in such a way as to create the right situation for practice. These teachers have been trained and have practiced and received transmission in their own countries, but that was a different cultural situation in which a certain environment of discipline was taken for granted. They seem to presume that the same cultural background also exists in the West. But perhaps that is not the case. So for us in the
Many modern psychologists have found that the discoveries and explanations of the abhidharma coincide with their own recent discoveries and new ideas; as though the abhidharma, which was taught 2,500 years ago, had been redeveloped in the modern idiom. The abhidharma deals with the five skandhas. The skandhas represent the constant structure of human psychology as well as its pattern of evolution and the pattern of evolution of the world. The skandhas are also related to blockages of different types-spiritual ones, material ones, emotional ones. An understanding of the five skandhas shows that once we are tuned into the basic core of egohood, then anything- any experience, any inspiration- can be made into a further blockage or can become a way of freeing ourselves. Abhidharma is a very precise way of looking at mind. Any tendency of mind, even the subtlest suggestion of a tendency can be viewed with great precision- even something as slight as the irritation from having a fly perched on one's leg. That irritation, for example, might be classified ·as a
friendly one which merely tends to frighten the fly away or an aggressive one which moves to kill it. The abhidharma deals very precisely and impartially with our particular type of mind and it is tremendously helpful for us to see our mind that way. This does not mean being purely scholarly and intellectual. We can relate to little irritations like the one of the fly as just the sort of happening that makes up the human situation. We do not particularly make a big deal about it, but we see it precisely. This eventually becomes very helpful. It is helpful not only for pure meditation but also meditation in action. The whole approach of Buddhism is oriented towards dealing with everyday life situations rather than just meditating in order to
attain enlightenment. Throughout the three pitakas there is very little emphasis on enlightenment. The pitakas are handbooks of how to live in terms of the awakened state of mind, but very much on the kitchen-sink level. They are concerned with how to step out of our usual sleepwalking and deal really with actual situations. The abhidharma is a very important part of that general instruction. Our particular study here of the abhidharma, because of limitations of time and space and the patience of the audience, has to be something of a rough survey. Nevertheless, as a basic introduction, I think it will be extremely useful.
it is a basic idea among Buddhist scholars who emphasize mainly the scholarly side of the teaching that it is dangerous to begin meditating before you have mastered the theory. Then, once you have discovered everything intellectually, how to do it, what the idea is behind it, once you have gone through all the psychological images intellectually, then you do not really have to meditate because you know it all already. That approach goes along with the idea of Buddha as superscholar. Since the idea of awakened mind or enlightenment exists in the tradition, these scholars must have some view of it. They have no way of interpreting it other than as knowing everything. In their way of thinking the enlightened man is someone who knows geography, science, psychology,
history, philosophy, sociology and everything. They think that if someone has ten or twelve Ph.D.'s, he will probably attain enlightenment because he has all the answers. Then someone with one Ph.D. should have attained partial enlightenment, but as we know this does not happen at all. So being a superscholar is not the answer. The contemplative traditions of Buddhism, such as the Tibetan and Zen traditions, emphasize practice very strongly and see study as something that should go side by side with it. Here the idea of learning is that it is a process of new discovery, new scientific discovery, which is actual experience. There is a tremendous difference between putting something under a microscope, actually seeing it with your own eyes, and just purely
analyzing the topic. Anything can be analyzed, but if you have no experience of it there is no basis for analysis. So the idea in the contemplative tradition is that one should have some basic training in meditation practice, however primitive it may be, and then begin to work on the intellectual aspect. This way the teaching is treated as a confirmation of experience rather than purely as a bank of information.
R: I suppose the main tendency might be the tendency to make secure what we are doing. You see, on the whole practice is a sloppy job. You have to accept that you have been a fool and start with being al
We could begin by discussing the origin of all psychological problems, the origin of neurotic mind. This is a tendency to identify oneself with desires and conflicts related to a world outside. And the question is immediately there as to whether such conflicts actually exist externally or whether they are internal. This uncertainty solidifies the whole sense that a problem of some kind exists. What is real? What is not real? That is always our biggest problem. It is ego's problem. The abhidharma, its whole contents with all the details, is based on the point of view of egolessness. When we talk about egolessness, that does not mean simply the absence of ego itself. It means also the absence of the projections of ego. Egolessness comes more or less as a by-product of seeing the transitory, transparent nature of the world outside. Once we have dealt with the projections of ego and seen their transitory and transparent nature, then ego has no reference point, nothing to relate to. So the notions of inside and outside are interdependent-ego began and its projections began. Ego managed to maintain
pletely one with them; complete absorption takes place with sounds, smells, sights and so on. This approach is at the core of the mandala principle of the vajrayana teaching. At the same time, the great importance given to the six sense consciousnesses in the abhidharma has a similar concrete significance in its application to the practice of meditation and a person's way of relating to his experiences. Both levels of teaching put tremendous emphasis on direct relationship with the downto-earth aspect of experience.
RINPOCHE: The implication of the abhidharma teaching on the six senses for the practice of meditation is identifying yourself with sounds, touchable objects, feelings, breathing and so on. The only way to develop sound meditative technique is to take something ordinary and use that. Unless you take something simple, the whole state of mind of your meditation will be based on the conflict of what is real and what is not and your relationship to that. This brings all kinds of complications and one begins to interpret these complications as psychological problems, neurotic problems, and to develop a sort of paranoid frame of mind in which what is going on represents to one much more than is actually there. So the whole idea is to start by relating to nonduality on a practical level, to step out of these paranoid conflicts of who in us is controlling who. We chould just get into actual things, sights and sounds as they are. A basic part of the tradition of meditation is using the sense perceptions as a way of relating with the earth. They are sort of middlemen for dealing with the earth. They contain neither good nor bad, are connected with neither spirituality nor samsara, nor anything at all. They are just neutral.
Q: Ignorance seems to take on different values at different times, if I understand you. Could you explain that further?
R: Ignorance is an evolutionary process. It does not just happen
as one bulk, so to speak, but develops and grows like a plant. You have a seed and then manure; then the plant grows and finally blossoms. As we have said, the beginning of that ignorance is bewilderment, panic. It is the ultimate panic, which does not even contain fear. Being just pure panic, it transcends fear. It is something very meditative in that sense, almost spiritual-a spiritual absorption. It is that profound; it comes right from the depths of your very being. That ignorance is the seed of what you are. It is fundamental, neutral, without any concepts or ideas of any kind. Just pure panic, one hundred percent panic. From this, the cloudiness develops as an aftereffect. It is like when you get hit and then you get dizzy afterwards.
Q: When you speak of "things as they are," do you mean completely without projections? It is at least theoretically possible to experience things without projections, isn't it? The reason I ask is because if there is an overwhelming quality to experiencing things as they are, then that sense of overwhelmingness would be a projection, wouldn't it?
R: It is definitely possible to experience things without projections. But just things as they are would not be overwhelming. That is dualistic. There would be no quality of overwhelming because overwhelming means "who has got control over who." So the question of overwhelmingness does not arise at all. Seeing things as they are is very, very plain. Because it is so plain, it is colorful and precise. There is no game involved, therefore it is more precise, clearer. It does not need any relative supports; it does not call for any comparisons. That is why the individuality of things is then seen more precisely-because there is no need to compare anything to anything. You see the merit of each situation in its own right, as it . lS.
R: That is not so much the case with the abhidharma. I would say that is more true of working with the sunyata principle according to the middle way or madhyamika school of Buddhism. This is a philosophy which developed after the abhidharma. Another example would be the koan practices in the Rinzai tradition of Zen where the meditation involves trying to use a certain kind of logic which is apparently illogical. But it is a logic of its kind because it is illogical. Using the koan again and again exhausts the mind's habitual thinking and takes one off the road somehow. There is a sudden experience of the futility and childishness of trying to apply ordinary logic, and that is where the gap or satori comes. In that case it is using a kind of logic of nonduality dualistically in order to destroy dualism. On the other hand, the abhidharma merely presents some first idea of the pattern of duality. It is like a philosophy of meditation. By explaining the psychological pattern, it tells why meditation is valid.
R: I think that is too abstract. You cannot deal with them purely individually. It is like looking at a person: if you look at a person from the point of view of how fat or how thin he or she is, you still cannot fail to see also that person's head and toes and what clothes he or she is wearing. So in looking at experience from one perspective you see the rest as well. Once we experience one sense consciousness, then what gives that particular sense consciousness the quality of consciousness relates it to the others. Each sense consciousness, to a certain extent, contains the overall picture. It must be what it is in relation to some background; it must breathe some air to survive. It is like seeing a flower growing- when you see the flower, you also see the ground it is growing out of.
Q: Is everything we experience within the basic ignorance, within the eighth consciousness, including wisdom or higher states of meditation? are different types of attributes of form, so to speak, that are around it.
R: No, what you are talking about is what you might call "facade experience." Fundamental experience begins with relativity, with the notion of comparison, which means ego and its projections. You cannot experience anything without a somebody to experience it and that is the starting point. That somebody is an unknown person, but experiencing it feels good. That is ignorance and the ego.
Q: So the first step is naming and labeling in order to begin experiencing yourself.
R: Yes, yes- one's own position. The starting point of comparison.
Q: What is a skandha?
R: Skandluz means "heap." It is a collection, pile. That means it is not an independent definite object like a brick, but a collection of a lot of little details and aspects of psychological inclinations of different types. For instance, the second skandha, feeling, is not solid, not one feeling. It contains all sorts of feelings. The third skandha, perception, is the same-it is a collection. So ego is made out of a lot of particles rather than being one fixed thing that keeps going on.
Q: You say that the six sense consciousnesses are in the first skandha, the skandha of form. In the ordinary understanding, when one speaks of the senses one is already talking about perception; and yet perception is the third skandha.
to the six sense consciousnesses. But it is a very random way of relating because you no longer have any sense of direction, you do not know how to proceed. If sight comes first or sound or smell- it just happens to you. You are just insensate, just crawling along. The seventh consciousness is more intelligent than the eighth, than the basic ignorance, but you are still only sleepwalking, almost awake but not quite.
R: Yes, it has actually been described that way. It is the subconscious feeling of a possible way of relating with the senses, but you have not quite worked it out properly yet. It happens in the midst of very precisely defined situations as well. It does not have to be a dreamy state at all. In those cases it is almost like the impact of the first bewilderment is coming to life again. But it still has a certain tinge of the dreamy quality and a potential of the six sense consciousnesses in it. It is a sort of no-man's land that you go through.
Q: Is this state characterized by a sense of tension between opposites, such as when for a minute you are confused between sweet and bitter? You are vacillating back and forth between the two and then you realize that the taste is just what it is?
R: That sounds like when you have already gotten to the sense consciousnesses. But at the beginning you are not sure, you are just feeling around it. The seventh consciousness is like putting something in your mouth; chewing and tasting is on the level of the six senses.
feeling. Feeling, in the sense of the second skandha, cannot function independent of them. Feeling in this sense is something much more fundamental than just pure sensation. All kinds of concepts develop on the basis of feel· ing's basic dualism. Fundamentally it is of the nature of positive and negative, but feeling also has the third possibility of indifference. The positivity and negativity of feeling is elaborated in terms of the mind/body situation. Feeling solidifies itself in terms of these two fields of experience. Feeling relates to mind as emotions and to body as clusters of instincts, things,
thingness. Understanding of the mind/body pattern of feeling is very important in connection with meditation. We can meditate either intellectually or intuitively. Meditation on the intellectual level is involved with the mind side of mind/ body; it is very imaginary. Intuitive meditation engages the body level of feeling, particular bodily sensations- pleasurable sensations, pain in the legs, hot and cold temperatures in the room and so on. Mind is the emotional, imaginary or dream quality. And body, in this case, is also a quality of mind. That is, we do not, in feeling, experience body as it is. We experience our version of body. The fundamental point of view of ego based on comparative criteria, the definite separation between this and that, is
already operational at this point. That basic twist is already there with the first skandha, form. The unobstructed space of things as they are is already distorted by the time we get to feeling. We cannot help anyway working along with this situation as naive people confronted by what has happened already. Still, looked at from a very basic point of view, the whole involvement of feeling is very childish. In fact, when we really see it, we see it is
fundamentally deceptive. When we talk about feeling, we usually think in terms of feeling towards someone else: you fall in love with someone, you are angry with someone. In that imagery the other person is all-important and you are insignificant. On the other hand: you feel slighted or you want to be loved. In that case you are all-important and the others are insignificant. Feeling plays that introvert-extrovert game of making itself important by reflecting off of "other." But in reality all that is very
Suppose suddenly we get sick and feel pain in our body. The body is a thing made out of all kinds of things; therefore pain in us makes us feel a relationship with actual reality rather than imagining anything beyond it. Of course in this kind of situation there is always the likelihood that somebody will come sit by our bed and read us prayers of how beautiful the beyond would be if we could only get out of this shameful, raw physical situation.
Talking about the beauties of heaven and spirituality, the person hopes to get us drunk on it and get our mind off the bodily situation of pain. But that does not work. Once we are into the world of imagination in which we can imagine how beautiful beyond-the-body could be, we are also connecting up with the imagination of how terrible the pain could become. We are lost in the world of wishful thinking or unwanted thoughts. Somehow relating directly with the body aspect of feeling goes much more in the direction of what is.
QUESTION: I really don't understand. In the beginning you said that feeling could only function independently if it had concepts to work with, to relate itself to. Then right after that, when you mentioned mind and body, I thought right away that these are the concepts it's relating itself to in order to be independent. Is that true?
RINPOCHE: Well, the feeling happens with the concept, but as it happens that whole movement becomes bewildering and the concept does not apply any more. Actually pain and pleasure, apart from the second skandha, just happen. They have nothing to do with concepts or criteria at all. Pain or pleasure does not have to be a comparative thing. There could be independent pain, independent pleasure. We can afford to experience pain and pleasure without feeling. Many people might feel this is extremely demonic, that if there are no strings attached, if feeling does not have to be connected to concepts, you might be experiencing that through destroying or hurting people. But this fear on the part of people of the demonic aspect of themselves comes from being afraid of an unknown situation. They are afraid of that space because they have not seen the other aspect of it that is without hope or fear. Once
can take place. You are sitting down to meditate and you say to yourself, "I'm going to do it for twenty hours starting right now; and whatever physical pain comes up is fine. It will be part of it. Okay, let it come through. Let it happen all along. That will be okay." And each time when pain comes you feel that you are overcoming the possessiveness of ego by feeling that particular pain. But in actual fact, by the time you finish your twenty hours of meditation, your ego has been strengthened because you feel that you worked so hard and you faced so much. You have been doublecrossed by ego.
R: The question is whether or not we see that there is no point in playing the game of feeling which is the second skandha. If we see that, we are not concerned by that or this any more. We go along very boldly, in a very stubborn way- we just sail along. We have our own plough, our own tank, and we are going to drive right along. Whether we are confronted by a house, a shop or a supermarket, we are going to drive right on through. The whole point seems to be whether or not we have that bold attitude of being what we are and are willing to disregard the duality of that and this. We accept our negative side and the fact we are a fool. Okay- that's fine. We use it as part of the meditational process. Nevertheless we are going to go on and on and on and on being ashamed or being proud of it. But we are just going to go on and on and on.
R: There seem to be, on one hand, pleasurable and painful feelings and, on the other hand, bodily and mental type feelings. The bodily feelings seem to be very complicated in a sense or very subtle, because
it is very difficult to relate with a particular bodily pleasure or pain. This is because so much imagination is involved. To put it in terms of a very simple metaphor, the mind aspect of feeling is like being high on . marijuana or LSD; and the body aspect is like being high on alcohol. The first is highly imaginary, the second is rather earthy but at the same time emotional. So it's like two kinds of intoxication- high on chemicals, high on yeast. Feeling has all kinds of variations- more than four. Pain, pleasure, or indifference could be friend or enemy, mental or physical. You see, all human experience is high on something. Whether we regard ourselves as sober or not, we are constantly drunk, drunk on one thing or another, drunk on imagination or drunk on conflicts on the bodily level. Otherwise we could not survive. So we could say that this idea of feeling is different kinds of intoxication. You are intoxicated with good and bad: intoxicated with good, godliness, spirituality, pleasure; intoxicated with bad, evil, destruction, pain. You are intoxicated in imagination- all sorts of imaginations are going on. You are intoxicated in the body in that you are irritated by that and this and
therefore you would like to get revenge by imposing yourself on something, laying your trip on something. The whole thing, all of experience, is being intoxicated on something. That is a very important and revealing aspect of this question of feeling, of this second stage in the development of the skandhas. The first skandha is ignorance, bewilderment, confusion and vague name and form. In the second one, already having some vague concept of where you stand, you would like to lay trips on something. This is what the feeling that happens-good and bad, body and mind-is about.
R: If it's based on something, some concept or wishful thinking. You see, every feeling of that sort must have a target in terms of this and that, of this in relation to that. This where I begin and that where I want to get to. l'\s long as feelings are involved with this and that, that is duality. In other words, in relating to this and that, you have no way at all of relating with yourself. You have lost yourself altogether because
the two extremes have something continuing underneath as a common link, a common thread that runs between happiness and sadness of body and mind. Perception is based on that which is manifested by form and feeling and that which is not manifested by them. These are the two basic qualities in perception. In the first case, something is manifested via the six sense organs. You perceive something and you relate to it; you hold onto certain senses and their perceptions, and then from there you relate with that content. That is the first touching and feeling process. Feeling is like a radiation
radiating out. Within that radiation, perception takes place as the radiation begins to function as definite details of that and this. In this case "feeling" is not quite our ordinary notion of feeling. It is not the feeling we take so seriously as, for instance, when we say, "He hurt my feelings." This kind of feeling that we take so seriously belongs to the fourth and fifth skandhas of concept and consciousness. Here, in the case of the second skandha, it is the immediate, impulsive type of feeling of jumping to certain conclusions and trying to attach oneself to them. Perception could be called another type of feeling, the deepened feeling of experiencing that which is manifested and that which is not manifested in terms of the solid bodily situation. You see, the whole idea of the manifested or the nonmanifested here comes from freezing space in our way of dealing with situations. Primordial
consciousness flashes out, the unconscious flashes out, which creates tremendous open space. Within that space, ignorance and energy develop as we discussed before. Immediately, then, when ego begins to take up its position through the action of the skandhas, there is a natural automatic tendency to relate to that open space as overcrowded. Ego tries to possess that open space, that awakened state, by overcrowding it. But it can't overcrowd it with a
lot of stuff, because there isn't e~ough stuff at that point; ego is not yet fully developed with all its resources of imagination. It is still the first impulsive situation of ego's development, so in order to crowd that space, one tries to freeze the whole space into a solid block. It's like water freezing into ice. The space itself is regarded as a solid thing of ego. In other words the principle of sunyata
comes from tathagatagarbha, buddha · nature, the basic intelligence. It is the basic intelligence which begins to show this bravery. On the whole, any notion of exploring or taking a chance in relating with one's ego and projections is regarded as inspired by the enlightened mind. That is because you are not trying to hold on, to continue something, to prove something, but you are looking at other .possibilities. That in itself is a very brave attitude and
a very spacious one, because your mind is completely charged with curiosity and interest and space and questions. It . is a sort of wandering process and is very hopeful and very positive in this particular connection. This absolute nothingness is the last stage of development of perception. On the whole, the relationship-between perception and the previous skandhas is that form creates the ego and ignorance and basic things, and feeling brings the spiky
quality or sharpness within that, of something trying to maintain itself. The perception comes as extending ego's territory and trying to define its position even much more. There is in perception a lot of referring back to the central headquarters of ego, and then extending and exploring further and further always in relation back to it. This establishment of territory in relation to a central reference point seems to be the general pattern of the development of ego.
Q: Could you go over nonmanifestation again?
R: It has to do with fear. It is based en the fear of not having a solid situation anymore. Solidified space is hope. It is hopeful in that you manage to solidify the space as something to hang onto. In nonmanifestation, you have found nothing, and there is complete despair and giving up hope. But that is in itself a doublecross of ego, because giving up hope is in itself clinging to something.
R: That is what you think. There are people who have managed to do without it. After all, all this information about this pattern of the five skandhas comes from the point of view of those who have seen it from above, from an aerial view. It is not necessary to go through these complicated patterns of skandhas. It would be extremely simple not to go through them any more. You do not have to keep giving birth to the whole process. You can just perceive and go along with that perception, whatever arises.
Q: Is that kind of perception you were just talking about outside the ego's confine?
Q: Inspiration for what?
R: For that. Itself.
Q: It seems that there are hints of tantric teachings in all of this.
R: Of course, yes; if it were without connection to the earlier teachings tantra would be a solitary planet. Actually some of the details of tantric iconography are developed from abhidharma. Different colors and feeling~ of this particular consciousness, that particular emotion, are manifested in a particular deity wearing such-and-such a costume, of certain particular colors, holding certain particular sceptres in his hand. Those details
R: Yes, that is what happens. Actually a great deal of the tantric symbolism, the mandala, for example, is based on the terminology of the abhidharma. It runs right through. The abhidharma is a way of seeing; the psychology that it describes is not just a lump sum, a theoretical generality. There is individuality in every aspect of human emotion, human psychology. It is very rich. Each aspect of mind has its own individuality, and as you go along further and further, deeper and deeper, you begin to see these individual aspects as really living forces. At that point you also lose ego, because you no longer have to label experiencing as one big lump sum of "me" and "mine" and "I" anymore. That has become useless, absurd.
Q: Does one identify with these details? Is there a technique of identification happening?
R: Well, if you identify with all these details going on in personal experience, that is very much a shortcut. You don't have to look for outside answers, because answers are there already. It happens on a personal level.
Q: What is the process when you say '1identify with something"? Say I'm sawing a piece of wood, and I remember to identify with that, is it somehow like putting my mind on my hand? How does this fit in with the skandhas? Is that like connecting the.sixth or the seventh or the eighth type of consciousness with the visual consciousness?
R: You are quite right to raise that question. It is quite dangerous actually when we talk about identifying. You could identify outwardly with things as they are, so there is no center, but just fringe everywhere,
R: Nothing is built up that way. Breathing is just breathing happening there. It has nothing to do with my breathing, so that I should have to breathe specially. Q: Becoming one with the wood, is that becoming intoxicated?
R: We could say that, yes. Once you are in the experience there is some logical pattern to follow, which becomes a sort of perpetually creative process; you begin to see the colorfulness, the vividness of things.
Q: Could you explain the relationship between fear and identification?
R: Well, identification is surrendering and not referring back; not checking back with central headquarters but just going on with what is there. Fear is referring back to yourself and making sure that your relationship with what is happening is quite secure. If you don't check up on yourself, you might have to panic. Suddenly you stop identifying because you fear something is wrong-you begin to lose your grip. This is because in identifying, the carpet of security is pulled out from under your feet.
Q: Rinpoche, you said that nonmanifestation is based on fear, whereas it seems to me that the quality of fear is a more solid thing than hope. I see something more spacious about hope than fear. I don't understand how nonmanifestation is based on fear.
R: Well, nonmanifestation is based on fear in the sense that it becomes despair. Fear projects a situation in which there is nothing to hang onto and you have lost every contact, every connection; so you are dwelling on that-which is despair. It is creating another type of ground to hang onto, dwelling on fear, enjoying fear or sadness as an occupation.
R: They cannot exist outside the actual body and the actual mind, but they can exist outside our version of the body and our version of the mind. That is the most difficult thing of all- we say "body" and we say "mind," but we have our own interp . retation of them, our own concept of them, which constantly separates us from the reality of the body and mind, the bodyness, mindness, the thingness of things as they are. This thingness of things as they are is what is called "emptiness," sunyata, the actual isness quality of things. Things could be without us; they could remain pure and perfect as they are. But we put our own version over them,.and we then amalgamate them all together. It is like dressing up dolls. We have the naked bodies and then we put on military costumes or monks robes or an ordinary tie and suit. We dress them up. Then suddenly we find that they are alive. And we try to run away from them because they begin to chase us. We end up being haunted by our own desires and perceptions, because we put so much onto them. Finally our own creation liecomes destructive to us.
Q: I really didn't understand what you said about freezing space . . . R: The basic ground is open ground, but you do not want to accept that. You want to solidify it to make it tangible, safe ground to walk on. So by freezing space, I mean solidifying that open space. There could be the experience of pain and pleasure as naked pain and naked pleasure without any problem of fixing them in relation to anything. We do not have to conquer our projections and our mind at all. We do not have to control anything. Things as they are can remain independent. Once situations are left open and fresh and naked, experience can become very flowing, real, living. PERCEPTION 37 Copyrighted material
. L ooking at the general picture of psychology as we get involved with more and more complex patterns of the skandhas, it becomes clear that it is a pattern of duality developing stronger and stronger. The general tendency of ego is uncertain at the beginning how to establish its link with the world, its identity, its individuality. As it gradually develops more certainty, it finds new ways of evolving; it becomes more and more brave and daring in
stepping out and exploring new areas of possible territory or new ways of interpreting and appropriating the world available around it. So it is a pattern of a kind of stubborn bravery making itself more complicated patterns. The fourth skandha, samskara, is a continuation of this pattern. It could be called "intellect." Samskara is intellect in the sense of being intelligence which enables the ego to gather further territory, further substance, more things. Samskara does not seem to have any good exact literal translation or equivalent term. The basic literal meaning has the sense of a gathering or accumulation, meaning specifically a tendency to accumulate a collection of mental states as territory. These mental states are
also physical; they are mind/body states. So samskara has quite a lot of varieties of different types of classifications of mental patterns. But this is not just a series of names in a list; the patterns are related to each other in an evolutionary pattern they form together as well. The various aspects of samskara are mind/body patterns that have different emotional qualities to them. There are fifty-one general types of these. I do not think we have to go to great lengths here to cover all the types in detail, but let me try to give you some rough idea of them. There are certain samskaric patterns or
attitudes associated with virtue or religion or goodness, which we could say are the expression of basic intelligence, buddha nature; but they also are appropriated by ego and so help constitute its natural tendency of spiritual materialism. There are eleven of these types of good attitudes or tendencies among which are surrendering or faith, awareness, discipline, equanimity, absence of passion, absence of anger, absence of ignorance, humbleness or shyness, a tendency of nonviolence, a tendency of energy or effort or bravery: An important point here is that nobody had to invent these religious or
spiritual ideas, but they are a natural part of human psychology. There is a natural sort of gentleness, absence of aggression and passion, a hardworkingness and a nonviolence; and these tendencies develop as part of samskara. Altogether the general nature of this particular group of samskaric tendencies is absence of aggression. They are a sort of dharma mind. By dharma we generally mean passionlessness in the sense of nongrasping or nonclinging. That which has a context of passion is nondharma. So these tendencies are characterized by an absence of speed or aggression. These thoughts
are generally considerate thoughts. They contain a certain amount of conscience. They do not just exist arbitrarily, but they have some reason to be. For one thing there is the absence of aggression, openness, and for another thing this kind of mind/body pattern carries a high degree of awareness of the situations outside oneself. In other words, there is an absence of ego in the superficial sense; in the ordinary sense they are not egocentric. But this is not a question of the fundamental ego; such thoughts are not necessarily egoless. This depends on the user of the thoughts. However, the general quality of them re
Then there are four types of neutral thoughts; sleep or slothfulness, intellectual speculation, remorse and knowing. These are neutral in that they can fit in with different patterns, the virtuous or the evil ones. Theoretical intellectual speculation is obviously neutral in that it functions in the service of either kind of tendency. Remorse is in a sense a questioning process that further clarifies a situation: you have done something wrong and feel doubtful about it, which leads you on a kind of a process of rediscovery. That is neutral in that that process of discovery could function in relation to either the
considerate or egocentric patterns. Knowing is a neutral state because when you learn something you have a sudden open attitude to it at that moment, before you get into the next double take, that is, before ego appropriates it as territory. There is that momentary open feeling of acceptance of whatever you heard, whatever you understood. Sleep or slothfulness is of course also neutral, since it also contains that kind of possibility of belonging to an open or egocentric context. Now all these kinds of thoughts are further classified according to the instinctive behavior connected with them, how you project them to the world outside. That is done on the basis either of hatred or desire. Hatred in this case is a natural kind of aggression, and desire is
a natural kind of longing. All these thoughts are motivated either by instinctive hatred or desire. Even apparently good thoughts, compassion, for instance, on the level of ego, would have an underlying sense of hatred or of passion. It depends on whether the thought process is originally based on speed or on a kind of starvation, which is the need to grasp something, to absorb oneself in something. In addition, some thought patterns have ignorance as underlying motivation. The study of the samskara skandha can teach us that all the phenomena of human psychology, whatever types of thought patterns
occur, all have these good and bad and indifferent qualities. Therefore we cannot really define one thought pattern as being the only right kindthere is no such thing as absolute aggression or absolute passion or absolute ignorance. All of them have the slight tendency of the other types. The whole idea is that therefore one cannot just condemn one type and totally accept another, even if it is the spiritual virtuous type of thoughts.
They are questionable as all the other kinds of thoughts are questionable. That is a very important point- nothing is really to be condemned or accepted. On a larger scale, the whole pattern of the five skandhas is also neutral, rather than belonging particularly to samsara or particularly to nirvana. But one thing is quite certain and constant about the five skandhas- they manufacture karmic chain reactions all the time. That is always, unquestionably the case. The karmic pattern cannot exist by itself, of course, since karma is not some other kind of entity that exists independently. Karma is a creative
process which brings results, which in turn sow seeds of further results. It is like an echo process. You shout and your voice bounces back on you as well as being transmitted to the next wall, and it goes on and on. And the skandhas could be said to be the horse of karma. The speed of karma is based on the five skandhas. The natural, sort of chemical cause-and-effect pattern remains within karma, but the speed that the cause-and-effect process requires in order to function is the skandhas. Perhaps we should have some discussion.
R: Well, that is easily possible if there is underlying nonego intonation. That is why they are called "good," because they are not acts of egomania in the literal, ordinary sense.
Q: Then does it make any difference? That is, is it worthwhile trying to be a good boy?
R: I don't think so, necessarily. Although these are said to be the good or virtuous ones, at the same time such thoughts-patience or nonviolence or whatever- cannot happen by themselves. They have to have the tinges of passion or aggression, as I said, or also ignorance. They cannot constitute the basic energy that has to go along with them for them to occur. So there is no such thing as one hundred percent good in any case. The tendencies are sort of lighter and heavier rather than good and bad.
R: They do, yes.
Q: Is the thread that connects them perception, feeling or both? R: Quite likely it is form, the basic continuity, ignorance which makes it all possible for the others to continue. Q: I am confused about speed. There is a speed of the ego being driven, going faster and faster, and there is also a speed of universal energy, or something like that. There is an evil speed but is there also another speed?
R: Well, I'm trying to use the word speed as a sort of driving aggression. But that is not purely pejorative. This has a positive aspect as well, because any kind of aggression, any kind of movement that there is, always has neutral energy that goes along with it. So speed is pure force, neutral force, which could be used for different purposes. The buddha-wisdom of the accomplishment of all actions could
R: Yes. That is actually a certain kind of common sense developed by the establishment of ego. By this time ego is so well established, it has developed its own regulations and rules. This becomes a kind of common sense. You see, as long as you are involved with the ego game, all these flashes of different types of thoughts and concepts are not in· dependent ones at all. They are purely dependent on central headquarters. You always have to report back to yourself in order to define the ground. That is the watcher. And the watcher has a watcher as well.
R: We have been speaking about two quite different kinds of doubt. One kind is one of the six types of egocentric thoughts. This is ego's tendency to have doubt in terms of the motivation of passion and. anger and ignorance. It is a fear of losing ground, bewilderment rather than doubt in the intelligent sense. We fear we may not be able to survive to implement our ambition properly in the perspective of our egohood. It is more a fear of losing ground than doubt. The intelligent doubt we were talking of earlier on is a general sense that there is something wrong all the way through; a sort of seed of doubt which runs right through the whole five-skandha process. It is the quality of inquisitiveness, questioning mind, which is the seed of the awakened state of mind. This is doubt or intelligence which is not protecting anything. It is purely questioning rather than trying to serve either the ego or nonego state. It is purely a process of critical view which goes on all the time.
Q: I'm trying to relate this to inner experience. Associations pre· sent themselves and many other things, you know, when one is sitting quietly. And then a thought happens and there is belief in it, and then remembrances, and then an impulse arises that this that I am believing is not necessarily so. It may or may not be. I think what I'm trying to ask is- is this still within the pattern of attachment, or is this in the di
R: I think so, yes. The reason why all these different types of thoughts and ideas are being introduced, in fact, is so you can see your psychological picture in its fullest perspective; so that you do not try to regard one kind of thought pattern as good or another as bad; so that instead you regard everything directly and simply.
Q: I have an image going in my mind that the skandhas represent energy which has gone astray from the awakened state of mind and has taken on various forms. Lost from its origin, it has taken on various forms. And it seems that spiritual understanding would return this lost energy to its origin in some way. But also I have another image from when you pointed out that ignorance or form was the thread that holds all the skandhas together. Then I had the thought that it is simply a question of not operating ignorance- if you'rejust completely still and unconcerned it will all just blow away. And the two images give me two different attitudes. Do you know what I mean?
R: Well, I don't see any difficulties there. Ignorance is the binding factor for all the skandhas in their minute detail, but ignorance cannot exist by itself without relative situations, and the relative situation of ignorance is the awakened state of mind, intelligence, which makes ignorance survive or die. In other words, we could say that the awakened state of mind is the thread also, in the same way as ignorance. It runs right through the skandhas.
Q: But it wouldn't be awakened if it was doing that.
R: It would. Ignorance feels the other, the awakened, aspect of the polarity; therefore it does what it does. There is some subtle relationship ignorance is making with the basic intelligence of buddha nature. So ignorance in this case is not stupid, it is intelligent. The term for ignorance in Tibetan, marigpa, means "not seeing, not perceiving." your point of view rather than seeing what really is happening there.
R: Yes. In a sudden glimpse of awareness, or in the meditation state, one sees the ups and downs of the five skandhas taking place and dissolving and beginning to develop again. The whole idea of medita· tion is to develop what is called the "wisdom eye," prajnaparamita, transcendental knowledge. It is knowledge, information, at the beginning, when you are watching yourself and beginning to discover yourself, your psychological pattern. And suddenly, strangely, that watching process begins to become an experiencing process, and it is, in a sense, already under control. That does not mean to say that the development of the five skandhas would stop taking place. The skandhas happen continuously until they are transmuted into what are called the "five tathagathas," the five types of awakened being. You see, at the beginning, we have to develop a very sharp, precise mind to see what we are. There is no other way of sharpening our intelligence. Pure intellectual speculation would not sharpen it at all, because there you have to introduce so much stuff that blunts, that overclouds. The only way to do it is just to leave intelligence as it is with the help of some technique. Then the intelligence begins to learn h ow to relax and wait and allow what takes place to reflect in it. The learning process becomes a reflection rather than creating things. So waiting and letting what arises reflect on the intelligence is the meditation practice. It is like letting a pond settle down so the true reflection can be seen. There are already so many mental activities going on constantly. Adding further mental activities does not sharpen the intelligence. The only way is just to let it develop, grow.
accommodated. Still the same rhythm goes on, but that rhythm now becomes a creative movement. The rhythm of events goes on, but you appreciate that that rhythm can happen on space, on open ground, and this brings back the message of meditation happening. So you do not have to force yourself to remember; you do not have to try to maintain your awareness all the time. Once you are open to the challenges of the moment, somehow, as you go along, the situation flashes back the awareness to you. So a perpetually creative process develops and a highly precise one as well . .
Q: If the situation doesn't flash back that awareness, then you forget it?
R: Well, you disown whatever comes up. If you try to keep up and maintain something, then it does not work. It becomes your product. You are solidifying space again.
Q: Getting back to that transitional moment in karma where it picks up impetus. Do I understand that as you advance in your meditation you notice this happening, and by noticing it you can prevent it from happening and control the situation? Once you notice what leads to the karma, do the steps become much easier to deal with?
R: Well, that is rather tricky. Theoretically you might know the whole thing, but once you have the idea in mind that what you are doing is trying to escape from karma, to step out of it, then you are already doublecrossed. The probability then is that you are automatically not in the right state of mind. That is why it is important in meditation practice that at the time of practice everything is just based on a simple technique, but with no aim or object at all, none whatsoever. You give up everything and go along with the practice entirely and fully.
Q: Yes, but in daily situations I think it's helpful to deliberately notice things happening.
R: You see, in daily situations if you have a certain understanding of the continuous quality of the meditation experience happening all the time, then, without trying to meditate deliberately, you automatically know the daily situation, because the daily situation comes to you as a reminder, rather than your trying to go to it. It becomes a perpetual creative process.
R: I suppose you could say there is ego creation and true creation. I think here again it is a question of whether or not the notion of competitive achievement, of an ideal or a goal is present. With ego's notion of creation you have a concept that you want to achieve something, and you try to match your situation with your idea of the actual achievement. You compare the dream and the actual reality. That is not the ultimate creative process but a one-way creation which can wear out. You build a thing and it is finished; you have no further place to go. It is a very limited inspiration. Whereas in the other approach without aim and object, without a goal in mind, each situation acts as an end in itself. You go along with that situation and that situation
brings another, it opens another possibility. So you go along and along. That is like the experience of the bodhisattva developing through the bhumis or stages of development. When one bhumi is accomplished, he goes on to the next. Without ambition he goes on and on. He has no desire for enlightenment, but one situation leads to another until he finds himself enlightened one day. This is because he relates to things on their own merits rather than in terms of a goal of his own. So the ambition type of a creation is that of ego. The alternative is to have natural appreciation of creation itself rather than being fascinated by what you are doing. If you tune into the actual creativity itself, the delight of it, it becomes an inexhaustible source of creativity.
Perhaps at this point there is a sense of being bombarded with the classifications of the abhidharma-the process of the development of the skandhas and the various aspects of form, feeling, perception and samskara. At this point I think it would be good to talk about the practice of meditation very practically and how it fits in with the psychological development we have been talking about. Meditation is a way of scientifically looking at our basic situation and seeing what is important in dealing with it. But maybe we think we do not have to deal with anything at all. Maybe we should just let everything happen and
abandon the idea of meditating. That is another possibility, of course, a very tempting one. But the reason for getting into meditation is a very tempting one as well. If we get into meditation we begin to see our psychological situation very precisely and directly. I think a fundamental problem that we all have is that we are very critical of ourselves to the point where we are even our own enemies. Meditation is a way of making up that quarrel, of accepting ourselves, of making friends with ourselves. We may find we are not
fancy touristic vehicle. There is no point dreaming about trying to get some exotic landrover or fantastic helicopter. It is a very pleasant thing, to begin with, to just walk. The Buddhist tradition brings us the discoveries of the great teachers who have gone through this process in the past. It recommends to us straightforward meditation techniques, such as annapannasati, identification with breathing, and certain types of mindfulness practices. These practices are valid for our actual psychological situation. They are not millionaire's games. We cannot afford to get into exotic visualizations,
magical practices, conjuring tricks of any kind. These are rich man's games-fancy landrovers, helicopters and jets. We have to work with what resources we have, we have to begin small, in an ordinary and simple way. Our actual present situation of what we are is our steppingstone. And we start from a simple technique such as walking or breathing. This is by no means expensive. It is a natural thing. We can breathe and walk- we have to breathe anyway; we have to walk anyway. That seems to be the starting point of meditation. The relationship of meditation in this sense to the skandhas is quite interesting. The more we get into the gross, undisguised basic elements of what we really are, the more we relate to the skandhas. We cannot relate with the skandhas with
masks on or dressed up in commentaries. We can only relate with the skandhas as they are in their naked and rugged state. We are meditating in a way which emphasizes form and the eight types of consciousness because we are trying to bypass the ignoring aspect of ignorance, which is the fundamental pain or the fundamental duality. We are trying to relate with the available bodily situation of breathing or walking. Doing this is very direct and very natural. The pain and pleasure of feeling need not be involved in breathing and walking. Those activities are just a simple source of ultimate natural beauty. And as
far as perception is concerned, breathing and walking do not have to involve us in comparative criteria or relative notions of any kind, in logic, or any mind games at all. It is just simply breathing, walking, identifying with the simple process of being. And on the level of samskara, breathing and walking do not require us to associate with any type of thoughts. We do not have to connect our you are doing or whether you are playing games. It is quite simple.
Q: You mention meditation as being a way of making friends with oneself, it seems to me more like making enemies with oneself, in that it seems to be a more painful process than the usual process of making friends. I wonder if you could clarify that a little bit.
R: That painful experience is very good because that is the beginning of making friends with yourself. If you are really going to make a long-term friendship with somebody, probably the first thing that hits you about that person are the things that you do not like. That is the starting point that provides a foundation for your friendship. It is a really solid foundation, because having included those things you will not be perturbed later by whatever may happen with that friend. Since you know all the negative aspects and do not have to hide from that side of the relationship, you are now completely open to find the other side, the positive side, as well. That is a very good way to start making friends with oneself or anybody else for that matter. Otherwise you feel cheated when you discover the faults later on.
R: That's a big question. The five skandhas are a process of five stages of psychological development and meditation does not contain that development. Meditation is just dealing with the situation that exists before that development took place or just continuing to deal with that basic situation while this development is taking place. In other words, meditation means getting simple rather than getting involved with the five stages. These five stages become insignificant or just purely external. That means that you are getting to the basic quality of the five skandhas rather than trying to follow their implications as we ordinarily do in a sort of hunting process, as though we were going to reach some valuable conclusion. It is getting to the ba.sic point of the process without getting involved in the sidetracks. Still, of course, the discovery of five types of processes there
in a state of enlightenment. You do not want to push those out at all. You do not have to go into a process of going deeper. Rather, at the beginning when you are dealing with form, a certain funny thing goes on between awakeness and confusion. There is a certain funny moment. That is where you strike first, whether you are using the breathing or the walking. Whatever your technique may be, that is your starting point. And meditation happens right there. You do not have to go through a process at all. The process just happens by itself. But the important point is the precision and sudden quality of that flash, a kind of first questioning created between sanity and insanity. That first moment of black and white, dullness and sharpness, is the starting point from where you relate with your breathing or your walking. You do not have to slow down at all. Meditation has nothing to do with working with the metabolism of the ego in that sense.
R: Yes. The idea is- just flash. That is why it is important for a person to be free from his meditation as a concept, free from the idea "I am going to meditate," the sense of a ritual of any kind. You see if a person is able to relate with his practice of meditation directly and simply on an everyday level, a sane level, then there is a possibility of perceiving the five skandhas as empty. Otherwise once you take the wrong starting point of working on the skandhas one by one systematically, then the five skandhas develop a system as well.
R: Once you have a good aerial photograph of the whole area, that means that you have all the details in it as well. It is the same thing. Otherwise it cannot be called an aerial view. It is just a blurry picture.
The fifth skandha is consciousness. This involves a certain amount of explanation, since we already used the word "consciousness" at the beginning of the seminar in relation to the skandha of form as containing the eight types of consciousness. The consciousness of the fifth skandha is different from what we talked about before. Consciousness in the sense of the fifth skandha contains the final details of the process of the skandhas; the subtle fulfillment of the process. Consciousness in the first skandha is a sort of basic psychological background where the potentials of consciousness are present as eight
types. Here, with the fifth skandha, we are talking about the fruition of those potentials. This is also described as eight types of consciousness, exactly the same categories in the same pattern as in the first skandha. Another point that needs to be made clear here is the distinction between "mind" and "consciousness." In the Buddhist tradition, mind is purely that which perceives. It does not require brainwork; it is simple perception, just on the level of the nervous system. This simple instinctive function is called "mind." The Sanskrit term is citta,
which literally means "heart," but it also means "essence," that basic essence of mind which contains the faculty of perception. This kind of perception called mind- reacting to hot and cold, favorable and unfavorable and so on-is very direct, simple and subtle at the same time. Consciousness, on the other hand, is articulated and intelligent. It is the finally developed state of being that contains all the previous elements. It contains all of the fundamental subtleties of "mind," the instinctive aspects on the level of feeling and it also includes thought patterns. It includes any kind of thinking
process. But here the thinking process is on a subconscious level, whether it be discursive, pictorial or instinctive. Consciousness is that sort of fundamental creepy quality that runs behind the actual living thoughts, behind the samskaras. The explicit thoughts, the samskaras, are the actual grown-up thoughts, so to speak; whereas the thoughts produced by consciousness are the undergrowth of those thoughts. They act as a kind of padding. The whole
pattern of psychology works in such a way that it is impossible for the explicit thoughts-virtuous thoughts or evil thoughts or neutral ones-to be suspended in nowhere, without any context whatsoever. The subconscious thoughts make the context that is necessary for the explicit ones. They constitute the sort of padding or background texture which permits the process to function in such a way that the next appropriate thoughts in the explicit sequence
can come through. They are in a sense a kind of kindling. So, you see, the whole pattern is now very efficiently set up. Now even if the second skandha of feeling does not operate quite completely, or if perception does not function quite properly, consciousness with its subconscious gossip can supply the missing element and keep the whole process in action. It acts as sort of an ignition. It starts up on a particular theme and then sends its message back to the other skandhas so as to activate the skandhic process, to get the whole mechanism go mg. So consciousness constitutes an immediately available source of occupation for the momentum of the skandhas to feed on. And, as we discussed before, meditation provides almost the only occasion for that momentum to stop. That is exactly where meditation plays its
very important role. Meditation provides some gap in the movement of samskara-type thoughts and even in the fabric of consciousness-type thoughts. It provides a gap which contains no kindling twigs. That gap creates a sort of chaos in the psychological process, chaos in the mechanism of building up karmic situations. That chaos helps to see what is underneath all these thought patterns, both of the explicit and subconscious types. It begins to reveal what is underneath. What is underneath may not necessarily be particularly appealing. We might theorize that, according to the Buddhist teachings, what
ought to be underneath is, of course, enlightened mind. But that is not quite so. At this point what is underneath is the collection of hidden suppressed thoughts. This layer is like the cloudy mind we talked about earlier on, but this time on the fifth skandha level. This is another bank of collected memories that have been placed there. Any kind of thing that you wanted to ignore, did not want to encourage or are ashamed of yourself about is put into this bank of confusion-the cloudy mind. The cloudy mind acts as a container for these collections. Ashamed thoughts, irrelevant thoughts, all sorts of unwanted material has been put aside there. And meditation provides the situation which brings these thoughts up because meditation goes right through the
thought pattern and touches the ground of cloudy mind. In this way the bank is broken open, the container is broken open. Because of this the probability is that the beginning practitioner of meditation will have to go through all sorts of emotional and aggressive thoughts. Particularly those thoughts that one does not want to see or hear any more come first. In meditation, consciousness acts as a starting point. One cannot meditate without consciousness. At
the beginning one has to practice meditation purely on a thought level, a daydream level. It is only a pretense of meditation; one is pretending to meditate. But consciousness is being transformed by this pretense, by the suggestion that you are practicing meditation. In this way, the subconscious network, as well as consciousness itself, is gradually broken through. The speed of consciousness itself is slowed down and then one gets through to underneath. So consciousness in the sense of the fifth skandha can be said
to have two aspects- the subconscious aspect and the active aspect of the six senses and cloudy mind in action. This actualized functioning of cloudy mind is on another level altogether from the cloudy mind of the first skandha which was purely embryonic. Maybe we should have discussion.
RINPOCHE: Memory is connected with putting things into the cloudy mind. It is an active process in which consciousness picks certain themes and classifies them into particular connections and then sends that over to the cloudy mind, puts it in the bank of cloudy mind along with the collection of wanted and unwanted thoughts that already exists there. What is in the cloudy mind is not only thoughts you dislike and have suppressed, but also content that you would like to play back again in the future for whatever purposes. It could be technical information, experiential material, pain and pleasure, hysterical things. Whatever-it is, it is picked up by consciousness and put into that bank of cloudy mind.
R: It is just mind, but mind cannot survive without relating to something, without relating that to this. Mind does not mean anything if there is no context of relativity. So that context of relativity which must be maintained in order to survive, that process of maintaining its consistent pattern is uncertainty, is confusion. The process of maintaining a sense of relativity is what confusion is. Because in order to keep something for future purposes or in order to hide from seeing it, we have to put it into a no man's land, an unresolved space. We have to put it away from the current focus of clarity. That is the cloudy mind, which does not have particularly sharp delineations of this in relation to that, but is just generally confusion.
a masterpiece is irrelevant. The masterpiece. the perfect work of art. comes as a by-product of this process of identifying with what you are doing. You should not be too much concerned with producing a masterpiece.
Q: I'm confused about mindfulness and awareness. ls it that in doing everyday things. simple things. you practice mindfulness? And at the point where you forget what you are doing and go off into daydreaming. is that the point where you should start practicing awareness?
R: In mindfulness practice there is very definite precision; every move. every minute detail is noticed. In the case of awareness practice you have the general outline of what you are doing. which covers the details as well. naturally. In practicing awareness in everyday life. at a certain point the wandering mind itself. the daydreaming mind itself. turns itself into awareness and reminds you. If you are completely one with the idea of awareness as being intimate. it is a true practice. That is. as long as your relationship to the idea of awareness is a very simple one and as long as your awareness
practice is connected with sitting practice. In a proper practice of awareness. the complete proper relationship is that awareness comes towards you rather than you going towards it. In other words. if awareness is not possessed or owned. then it happens. Whereas if you try to possess and own awareness. if you relate to it as "my awareness." then it runs away from you. In order to understand this. you need to have the actual experience of it. rather than just reading the menu.
Q: I am very involved with music and for me art can only have a sense if it makes a complete statement of a certain very clear quality. In this connection I have been very much struck by the quality that emanates from certain ceramic lohans that can be seen in Western museums. I would like to find a way to begin to approach a statement of that sort in my own life. Everything else seems so trivial.
requirement for skillful communication. To communicate skillfully a person must be aware of interpersonal distance-a sense of whether he should reach out or whether he should wait. That kind of distance becomes very distorted so that communication is handled unskillfully; and there is frustration about that blindness. This brings on aggression and the demand for pain. This type is the egocentric, the egomaniac. Its main characteristic is the basic confusion of
losing the sense of distance and this is connected with cloudy mind on the primeval level, as the background of all the skandhas. The confusion here is at the level where the original criteria separating this from that developed, at the level of the first development of duality. That is where distance first develops, the distance between me and that, that and me. Because one becomes completely overwhelmed, involved, self-centered into so much here, one loses the distance. That is the extreme of egocentricity.
Q: Is that accessible to cure?
R: I think both types can definitely be cured. But you see it is really tricky to cure problems like that. It depends very much on what sort of method you use. There are a number of methods which are seemingly good, but it turns out that the method itself can be turned into fuel. The process of cure itself becomes fuel for the disorder to live on. Somehow, the analysis method and the encounter-group-type method do not seem to be particularly the way. If you put a person in an encounter group, at the beginning the person might see things and do things completely honestly, in an open way; but then at a certain
point the person begins to pick up the style of the other people taking part in the group and it becomes another kind of language. Quite probably, the person picks up a whole new style just for his participation in encounter groups. Very frighteningly, it becomes the ultimate kind of deception: the person is expressing everything, saying everything out, but at the same time there is a basic deception which is never expressed at all. There is a certain danger in any purely analytic method. Somehow the word does not help very much at all. The word is actually the
ly and then suddenly becoming sensitive. I'm still forced to see it somehow as a dualistic relationship, even when the five skandhas become five tathagathas. I mean the relationship of, say, a compassionate individual to those with whom he is relating. R: It has to remain a dualistic relationship still. Nothing is wrong with that at all. But in the case of compassion the process does not become centralized. You see, duality in the ultimate sense consists of wisdom and compassion; the two poles are necessary. If your five skandhas develop into the five tathagatha principles, you still have duality, but you are not baffled by it at all. It is a natural function. When we talk about nonduality we mean it in contrast to the bewilderment by duality that is the ordinary case.
R: Would not be connected, that is right. That is what is meant by cutting the karmic chain. The chain of karma is the five skandhas. And even after the links have been cut, the skandhas continue running, the process keeps running through. Actually the skandhas are not really linked; it is more that they are pushed one against the other. By meditating you are slowing down the process. When it has slowed down, the skandhas are no longer pushed against one another. There is space there, already there.
R: Memory becomes a sort of inspiration to each of them in their skillful activity. There is skillful activity because you do not have to refer back to memory any more. You see, memory is a very cowardly way of dealing with a situation. Since you are not in direct contact with the present situation, you have to refer back to what used to be. And
Q: Well, during the gradual process that still goes on, what is it that becomes attractive about meditation, that replaces the ambition? People still want to sit down and meditate even if they are almost enlightened.
R: You start with ambition and then meditation begins to seep into your system, so to speak. Gradually your system begins to require meditation. It is sort of an addiction, sort of an infiltration of your system begins to happen. That is what happens with bodhisattvas. They take a vow not to attain enlightenment, but they find one day that they have attained enlightenment anyhow because the practice has thoroughly infiltrated their system. Their behavior has become the complete embodiment of the dharma.
Q: In getting beyond duality, beyond criteria, there is still relativity and still form. There is still some kind of distinction between this and that. Wouldn't there then still be preference, say, for bliss, understanding, clarity? Or does it get to the point where it no longer makes any difference whether the forms are heavenly or demonic?
R: There is a stage at which all these sort of heavy-handed dualities dissolve. There is a very, very heavy-handed and solid duality in which without that, this cannot survive; because of this, that happens to be. You reach the stage of losing this sort of concept. And then you are conscious that you have lost that, got beyond it: you feel freer but at the same time you feel that you have gained something. But this is not quite final. You still have the memory
that you have relinquished that heavy duality, that you used to have such ideas but you have lost them now. But a person gets beyond even that. One reaches a point where even the sense of the absence of duality no longer applies. The whole thing becomes very natural and obvious. On that level, a person really begins to perceive things as they are. A sort of transparent experience of duality begins to develop in which things are really precise without depending on each other. There is no sense of comparison, just precision. Black is black and white is white.
Q: I'm a little confused about the distinction between panoramic awareness which does not have the definite quality of mindfulness, and a kind of blurry state which comes up. I'm talking about the kind of blurry state in which one leaves tools all around, leaves one thing half finished to start another, etc. That seems to be the kind of dreamy state that frequently comes up just after one has finished meditation. It just does not seem to matter where you put your tools. Is panoramic awareness that kind of a blurry thing?
R: The panoramic awareness of meditation in action contains textures. Textures are part of its scope. You see things in the right shape, in their own right shape, their own right situation- which is a kind of precision, sharpness. That sharpness and precision comes from experiencing the distance, proper distance, that we were talking about earlier on. You feel immediately the right skillful and active relationship with things or people. You experience them as they are, completely-so the tools belong to the toolshed. They are not knives and forks or anything else. You would not use the toilet to bathe and the
basin to defecate. A sense of the proper relationship of things is included in your panoramic vision. You just would not do things the wrong way around. In the case of the blurry state, this is cloudy mind on the instinctive level. One is so much wrapped up in oneself that there is no chance for panoramic vision at all. There is nothing to be panoramic about. One is totally wrapped up in one's own little world. Others see you moving very slowly, very gently, saying very little, doing very mysterious things-but still that could hardly be described as a contemplative state of mind. It is more what has been described in the scriptures as a drunken elephant.
We have run out of scheduled subjects to talk about, and that in itself might be an interesting point to work on. The idea that applies here is what is known in Tibetan as tendrel [brten 'brei]. Tendrelliterally means "coincidence" or "chance." This is something which very much underlies the functioning of the psychological movements described in the abhidharma. Tendrel is also the Tibetan translation of the Sanskrit nidana. The twelve nidanas are the twelve
conditions in the chain reaction process of causation. The nidanas, like the skandhas, begin from ignorance and include feeling, perception, samskara and consciousness. The twelve nidanas are ignorance, samskara, consciousness, name and form, sense perception, touch or contact, feeling, craving, grasping, intercourse, birth, old age and death. The process of coincidence, the coming together of situations that happens through the nidanas, can be described as auspicious. We are familiar with the idea of an "auspicious occasion." Such and such thing happened, such and such people met, and all this combined so that such and such a fortunate event took place. This idea of auspicious
ness is usually either regarded as just a form of speech or associated with superstition. It involves a sense of power. The word for "auspicious" as it relates with this notion of "coincidence" or tendrel is, in Tibetan, tashi [bkra.shis] ; in Sanskrit, mangalam. Auspiciousness is an aspect of coincidence, of this meeting together of conditions. The movement of ignorance and feelings and perceptions, and so on, is an auspicious one, in a sense, an appropriate one; because all of these twelve causal links are related to each other continuously, infallibly. In other words, there is no mistake about what is
happening. Everything is right and appropriate at that very moment. That is what mangalam is, or tashi- a blessing. The Tibetan word tashi is composed of ta which means bright and shi which means fitting or good, appropriate. So it means "precisely fitting to the situation." An example of this is our being here together. We all took a chance coming here. Nobody knew what this particular seminar was going to turn out to be like, but everybody did take that chance, made that commitment, and here we are. All the necessary conditions came together. From this point of view, confusion, wandering in the samsaric
realm of pain and misery, is not a punishment, not a mistake, but it is fitting, appropriate. It is an absolutely ideal situation. Of course, we could come to this conclusion by a kind of indirect reasoning based on a long-term view, saying that because of the samsaric situation we have an opportunity to study nirvana and liberation: without samsara there would be no nirvana, therefore samsara is an ideal situation. But our thinking need not take this long way
around. If we really look directly, fundamentally, we can say that we need not have either samsara or nirvana. That is quite true. We need not have either. The whole situation need not exist. But it happens to be the case; so it is fitting. This is not particularly an attitude of optimism. It is an attitude of pessimism and optimism together: the situation is fitting in that it is right and it is fitting in that it is wrong, both at the same time. The two poles are constantly present. "Right" is in its own way a healthy situation because it happens to be there. And "wrong" is also, in its own way, a healthy situation because it happens to be there. So the
whole process of this journey of involvement with the situation at the present moment is a lonely journey. Nobody can save you, help you. You yourself have to develop an appreciation and understanding of the process of chain reaction that happens. Looking at it in terms of the twelve nidanas is one way of seeing that. There is the story of a certain arhat who is born into the particular karmic circumstances of a country without either teacher or teachings.
As he grows up he develops questions about life. He takes long walks and at one point comes upon a charnel ground and finds an old piece of human bone. Picking it up and examining it, he questions where this bone comes from. The bone comes, obviously, from death. Where does death come from? Death comes from illness, old age. And he goes on in his reasoning, back and back-old age comes from birth and birth comes from intercourse and intercourse from
feeling, touching, grasping and so on. He goes back, back, back. Finally he finds that the whole source and basic root is ignorance. He arrives at that conclusion just by looking at the bone and reasoning back. It is a kind of auspicious coincidence, a karmically auspicious chain reaction-you find a certain bone and you happen to sit down and look at it and think about it. This is an intellectual approach, it could be said, and also an intuitive one.
It is not particularly extraordinary. Anyone could do it. Anyone could go back, step by step, finding some source for the previous conclusion, some ob. v1ous answer. A lot of us are in a situation similar to that of this arhat-our present situation is that of having a certain dissatisfaction and wanting to find out more about it. A certain curiosity and dissatisfaction, curiosity and pain and pleasure and the knowledge that we have come across in our lives,
have brought us here together. Having arrived at this point of being here, you question your result. Not only do you look back by way of an intellectual researching process, you also practice and experience what you are thinking about. Having experienced what you are thinking about, all life situations become much clearer, precise and obvious, at this present moment, right here. So this concept of auspicious coincidence, tendrel, is extremely interesting and important. If a person realizes that a whole chain reaction
speak, that we had right from the beginning. Our particular individual style with its particular energies runs through all the processes of psychological evolution- the five skandhas, the twelve nidanas and so on. But this is not a hangup at all. It is our wealth. We each are a particular type of person with a particular type of mania; and that is good.
Q: Could you speak a little more about the commitment to the present situation you were talking about, and particularly how to distinguish that from the ego's commitment to e:,tend itself?
R: Somehow the ego's commitment to extend itself has no direction. The ego's movement is not a flowing one. It is simply trying to maintain its own house. Since ego's commitment involves purely this maintenance sort of mentality, there is really no sense of journey involved at all. In the case of the commitment to the present situation, there is a movement or journey. The sense of journey consists in the fact that, from the point of view of this commitment, every situation contains a unique drama.
Q: Are you saying that one no longer finds everything familiar?
R: Situations need not be familiar. Ego's commitment tends to rely on a sense of familiarity or feeling that nothing is happening. A person might sit down to meditate and feel that nothing is happening even though he is extremely agitated. He has pain in his back, pain in his neck and flies are buzzing all around. He is extremely agitated and yet he feels that nothing is happening. But it is possible to experience every moment as having individuality in it. Once you are in a situation, you go along with the unique patterns of it, its particular textures and so on. This is quite different from ego's commitment to maintaining itself as a solid thing. Ego would find acknowledging the unique individuality of every situation extremely threatening. But relating that way to each situation as it is is a path. There is a great deal of movement in it. You are constantly facing a drama of some kind.
R: The commentary without being given special value is okay. It is just chatter. That is okay. Let it be that way. You should not interfere with that energy that is going through.
R: There is nothing the matter with the idea of choice. In dealing with a situation, the choice is there already. The choice consists of two aspects of the situation that are happening at the same time; those two aspects provide a basis for your making a relationship with either of the alternatives. The way to work with that is, in making that choice, not to go according to your sense of comfort but go according to straightforwardness. If there are two choices, one is ahead of you, right in front of you, and the other choice is slightly off-center. There may be ten or twelve hundred choices, but there is one choice waiting for you on the road. The rest of them are waiting on the side, as sidetracks. It seems that the journey straight ahead is scarier, more
frightening. Therefore the other choices waiting on the side become more attractive, like restaurants and drive-in movies on the side of the road. The choice has to be straightforward, based on common sense, basic sanity. Actually, it is transcendental common sense. One could misunderstand what I have been saying. If I say that by going along with the present situation the future becomes quite clear, that could be misunderstood in the sense that
everything is marked out for you. It could be misunderstood in the sense of there being divine guidance. You could think that everything has been prepared for you so you can immediately find your place, as in the saying, "The swan is in the lake and the vulture is in the graveyard." This is not quite the case. Relating with the present moment is quite difficult and painful in many cases. Although it is straightforward, a straight road, it is quite
a painful one. It is like the bardo experience mentioned in the Tibetan Book of the Dead. You have a brilliant light coming at you with the image of a certain tathagatha peering at you from within it. And on the side there is a less brilliant, less irritating light. The light from the side is much more beautiful because it is less glaring, only a reflection of the tathagatha. So there are two choices. Should we go into the irritating one or should we just turn off on one of the sidetracks. This symbolism from the Tibetan Book of the Dead is very profound for our actual, everyday life situation. It does not
have to refer only to after death experience. Perhaps the after-death experience just typifies the kind of situation in which choices are most enlightening or stimulating and most immediate. In our ordinary life situation we have to open ourselves and investigate and see and then make a commitment. Without choice, there would be no leap and no moment of letting go at all. Because of choice, therefore, there is a moment of leap and letting go happens. So it seems that it is not particularly comforting and blissful and easy. On the other hand it could be inspiring. That much at least could be said.
Q: You seem to be talking about the discovery of wisdom. Could you say more about that?
R: The discovery of wisdom has nothing to do with the centralized quality of ego. It is not actually a discovery at all because you cannot see that you are discovering. You become part of wisdom. You transcend the transcendental knowledge of prajna and you reach to the level of the jnana, real wisdom. This is actually very disappointing because we would like to watch ourselves being enlightened. But that is impossible. That rewarding experience of confirmation, that finally you have made it, here you are, is impossible. That would never happen.
Q: When you make choices you don't seem to have to think about it, but something spontaneous leaps up and makes the choice before you think about it. Before you can choose something else makes the choice for you.
R: It all depends on how much of a big deal you make out of the choice itself. If you do not make a big deal about the choice, you cannot be conned or seduced by anything on the sidetrack. By the time those seductions arise you are going on anyway. So you go ahead, you go straight.
Q: Is this straightforward choice the same as intuition?
Q: In this context of making choices where does "crazy wisdom" come in?
R: Crazy wisdom is the sort of basic impetus behind the whole process of working with the situation. In order to make a decision which is straightforward but not particularly pleasurable, one has to have some power behind one. That is the element of crazy wisdom, that basic power behind the situation. But this does not mean that you should just find the most painful alternative and make your decisions according to that. The tendency here does not have to be suicidal, masochistic. You would not get into that either.
Q: Again in relation to choice, I was thinking about the forms of divination that you mention in Born in Tibet. Is a technique of divination used in a situation where there is a vagueness about going straight ahead?
R: Divination is generally used when you are somewhat trapped by the situation. You really have no alternative but you are too cowardly to commit yourself to your actual intuition of the straightforwardness. So you turn to the pretense of divination. And what happens in divination is that, even though you may be highly biased in your view of the situation, you pretend not to be. You step out of the situation altogether and then you open your mind and allow yourself to make a deci
been given any impression of the value of it. Therefore we have to go through the whole evaluation process. We have to start from the bottom and then come up. That could be called a useless game from the point of view of enlightenment itself, but from the point of view of the unpeeling, the unmasking process, it is necessary. It is a game, the practice is a game, but one has to go through it. There is a story of a mother and child living together. And thchilasks the mother, "Where is my father? " And the mother says, "He is a wonderful person, but you cannot find him." The child gets very curious about his father
and the mother keeps telling him stories about how wonderful his father is. The child's expectations get more and more built up until finally the situatioreaches a point where the mother has actually to take him to see the father. So the mother takes her son out the front door of the house and the two go up into the mountains. They climb steep slopes and cross streams and labor over all kinds of obstacles. Finally they reach a ridge from where they can look down. They look down and see a valley with a house in it. The mother says, "That house down there is where your father lives." Then they climb
down to the house and enter at the back door. In the room, they find a man and the mother tells her son, "This is your father." After the tremendous effort of the journey, climbing and walking a long way, the child is tremendously excited and very pleased to find his wonderful father. Then the child discovers a door on the other side of the room that leads into the very same house where he had always lived with his mother. The mother could have taken her son directly through the door to see the father, but the child would not have appreciated him unless they had made this journey. If the mother just took the
child from one room to the other, it would not have been anything.
PRACTICE AND INTELLECT
I t seems that in this seminar we have been able only to undertake a simplified synopsis of abhidharma and to provide some impression of the fundamental principles underlying the abhidharma descriptions. To study abhidharma in detail would require a lot more time. Still I think we have gotten an idea of the general outlines of abhidharma as a sort of psychological map. I think our exchange has been quite rich and I hope this seminar will sow the seed of further study on this material. The main thing that we have been trying to do is to make the study of this particular subject experiential. Some attempt
has been made towards an approach that would permit a practitioner to become a scholar and a scholar to become a practitioner. This can be done if we work closely enough with our basic psychology and with our basic process of intellectual understanding. So our approach has been quite unique. No perfect scholar would study this way and no perfect practitioner would look at the subject as we have. On the other hand, an open scholar and an open practitioner might both find it quite appropriate.
Looking at abhidharma this way, nothing is terribly abstract. A lot of the ideas might be abstract if isolated as ideas; but actually they are not abstract because they have real bearing on our personal experience. The psychology of one's own being shows the operation of the five skandhas and the whole pattern that they are part of. Most studies of abhidharma tend to regard the five skandhas as separate entities. As we have seen, this is not the case; rather they
constitute an overall pattern of natural growth or evolution. This fact alone could bring a lot of understanding. Without seeing that the five are part of an overall pattern that has been clearly understood, one might want to ask, "Why five skandhas? Why not ten? Why not one?" If five was just a random number, if the basic approach was arbitrary, there would be no end to the colleCtions and classifications that we could concoct. But the way of looking at abhidharma that we have attempted makes it possible to see that the idea of five stages is not just random. It makes it possible to see that there is a
general pattern which has five fundamental aspects. Of course, it is not absolutely necessary to talk about five aspects in order to see that evolutionary pattern. The understanding of that pattern is also reflected in a number of other sets of classifications that we .have not had a chance to discuss. The fundamental point of abhidharma is to see the overall psychological pattern rather than, necessarily, the five thises and the ten thats. This kind of primary insight can be achieved by combining the approaches of the scholar and the practitioner. There is an immense wealth of teachings that, hopefully in
the future, we will be able to study in this manner. It is not necessary to look at the subject matter in just a simpleminded, emotional way; nor in just a cold analytical way. Scholarship and direct insight can work together. Teaching in this way is, in a sense, more of a matter of stimulating interest than purely conveying information. And therefore it applies to students no matter what stage of sophistication they have achieved. That is why it is said, "The dharma is good at the beginning, the dharma is good in the middle and the dharma is good at the end." Each presentation of the dharma has its own unique qualities, for advanced students as well as beginners. One thing continues right through the stages, which is what is called "the secret doctrine." The secret
had to memorize about six pages. The following day someone would be chosen by lottery to present what he had heard the day before, with the commentary and everything. And he would be asked questions about what he had heard the day before. There was no way of getting out of it. At the beginning it was quite a good discipline. But at a certain stage the whole thing became very monotonous. It felt like we were being programmed into this structure of scholarly learning. We couldn't hear things anymore; we just memorized the words. We could even discuss the subject from an intellectual point of view, but we didn't
really understand it. We couldn't properly hear ourselves, let alone what other people were saying. Usually such a course would take about six months. We would learn the abhidharma text itself and the Indian commentary, and then the Tibetan commentary on that commentary. There were also various theses written on particular abhidharma subjects from the point of view of the Gelugpas, the Kagyiipas, the Sakyapas, the Nyingmapas and so on. So we would try to bring everything together. But it was just too much material. Somehow it had the hypnotic effect of hearing something over and over and over. The teachings
echoed in our heads continuously; we even dreamt about it. When we would get up in the morning certain quotations would pop into our heads. Finally the six months course of study was finished. We were told that we had learned abhidharma but we thought we really had not heard anything. We were just happy to get rid of the whole thing so we could relax, go off for a summer holiday or something. But somehow we couldn't really take a complete vacation; the discipline kept coming back to us constantly. We realized afterwards that we were really involved with the teaching. Whatever we were doing, talking to people, walking in the mountains, riding a horse, or camping on the mountainside, abhidharma would come back constantly to haunt us like a ghost. Then we would begin to understand a few things, maybe just one or two ideas at the beginning, but as we got into it more and more we began to get curious about the whole thing. Just out of curiosity we would open the book and read a few little pas~ages. And they began to mean something. The point is that certain things may be out of your reach. But
if you have the discipline to listen to them, at a certain moment they become appropriate to you. They come back to you automatically, by themselves, rather than by your attempt to really tune into them and work on them.
Q: What you just touched on is something I have not been clear about for a long time, namely, using a form of conditioning in the service of becoming free of conditioning. My thinking has been that all it does is just stuff one up with more material, whereas I am really interested in being free of conditioning.
R: I suppose that's largely dependent on the type of conditioning involved. For instance the intense indoctrination taking place in China is very impressive at the moment because you can see what they have achieved by it. But as soon as you step out of China, the whole thing becomes irrelevant; the conditioning doesn't apply once you step out of that environment. Whereas certain ideas that do apply to you personally may not be particularly obvious at the time. But even if you step out of the learning situation, they are still applicable, even more so. In meditation practice you start by putting yourself into a conditioning process. But by doing that, the conditioning itself wears out. The process of conditioning begins to develop seeds, but the conditioning itself goes away. Then the seeds begin to ferment.
Q: Don't you get a little high on this fermentation?
R: You always get high.
R: The idea of a spiritual advisor is more the pious attitude of trying to be good and spiritual all the time. Whereas in this case you have no idea of what you should be doing, you just go along doing your ordinary things. The ideas just pop up. Of course if you begin to hold onto them, it could tum into a spiritual advisor. We are talking about ideas breaking through spontaneously, which is quite different from the deliberate spiritual advisor of ego.
Q: Then should one's approach to the abhidharma scriptures be more like reading a novel rather than studying something so that you can use it in a particular way later? Should we approach it in a way which is more free of purpose, something like a chess game or a puzzle, and forget about trying to apply it to our meditation?
R: Yes and no. You can go too far. Finally you may find that you are not reading at all, because not reading is more appealing or yo'u are sick of the whole boring subject. You have to have some discipline of applying your mind to it. You should think in terms of how you could apply it to yourself. But if you become too ambitious, trying to digest every little detail, you can't do it. The idea is to try to feel the general outline of the whole thing rather than being too faithful to every sentence, every word. That kind of attitude has become a big problem in the study of Buddhism. If you are too involved with details, you might lose the perspective as a whole. But if you are able to feel the whole pattern, the outline of the whole thing, you will find it much more applicable to your life. And once that has happened, the details begin to come up by themselves- spontaneously. For instance, if you have a basic understanding of the development of the five skandhas, you have a feeling for the whole process, so the details cease to become isolated, disconnected facts. Instead they are just part of that map.
Q: Is there a point, if you learn these things more or less by rote, where they become a part of your feelings and your conceptions?
R: There seem to be two ways to approach it: the highly disciplined way of taking in everything without choice, or trying to work along with your interest. But, if you take the second approach, that interest should bear on the overall context, so that you don't get carried away by fascination for one particular aspect of the subject.
Q: Supposing that one is quite willing to give up any idea of choice and to take in anything that might eventually become a part of oneself.
R: Well that suits one type of personality. It's the kind of conditioning process that we have been talking about, like meditation. Whether you like it or not, you go on meditating. It may not be particularly pleasurable, in fact it could be extremely boring. Memorizing or reading doesn't have to be directed only towards apparently profound or highfalutin subjects. It could be very ordinary and simple. From that simplicity you can learn a great deal. There was
a tradition in Tibet that certain teachers were expert on particular short writings of various great teachers. Every year a camp was set up and these teachings were presented very simply. Hundreds of people attended these summer study groups although the same thing was said every year in exactly the same way. But each year they went a little bit further in their understanding. Not only the students but the teachers themselves found that each year it was as though they had never read those particular sentences before.
Q: When you said that the reading is to be applied to our meditation, you didn't mean thinking about it during meditation, did you? R: No, but by providing some sense of space and openness meditation is good preparation for reading. If you allow yourself some gap or space to rest by sitting down and doing absolutely nothing, you recover from your speed. Then you are in the right state of being to read and absorb more. Q: When we first start noticing some of the things we have learned about in abhidharma in our own psychological processes, how can we see the interconnectedness of these processes and not just get hung up on identifying them: "Aha, I see this! It talks about it in the abhidharma."
R: If you recognize something on the spot that way, it is automatically interconnected. That inspiration is based on the cause-and-effect pattern that is part of the whole. But I think the main point is that one shouldn't get carried away with pride about finding something in your being that matches the abhidharma. The point is not to fit things into some system or to prove anything to yourself, but to see the pattern as it is. You just recognize it and go on. It is not a big deal.
R: They take place every moment. The twelve types of chain reaction have to take place in order to bring daily experience into action. They form a pattern. They are not independent; each of them depends on the previous one as well as the next one. But that whole development could happen in one fraction of a second. The abhidharma compares the twelve nidanas to a stack of paper. You could put a needle through it in one second. If that process were divided so that you could consider the point at which the needle penetrated the first piece of paper, then the next, then the next, there would be twelve of them. And those twelve could be divided into three parts each-touching, penetrating, coming through and touching the next one. This process, which constitutes ego mind, can be divided endlessly, which is why ego as a solid thing does not exist. It cannot be found in any part of this process. Things happen very momentarily, and there is no solid independent thing such as me and mine.
Q: Does that mean that each moment is one of these cycles of twelve?
Q: Let's say I was able to see each step in the process
R: You wouldn't be able to see each step in the process. It would be impossible.
Q: What could you see?
Q: You mean you could perceive it by being part of it?
R: Yes, you could be. part of it, and you could feel it that way.
Q: What is the thread of continuity between those twelve steps?
R: The body is the connection. The mind-body, rather than the physical body, that is, the central headquarters of ego. You report back to your mind-body, your nest. If you ask a person, "How do you know that you are what you are? "the only simple way of explaining it is because, "I see myself in the mirror. I am what I am. I have a body." But, if you try to go beyond that and find some further principle to base it on you would not find anything. That's why the
Heart Sutra says "There is no eye, no ear, no nose, no tongue, no body ... " Your eye is just an eye, it's not your eye; your nose is just a nose, but it's not your nose. Nobody is you. Through the whole system of your body, every part has its own name, its own place. It is made out of a lot of things, but there is no such thing as you. So one begins to transcend the mind-body, one's version of the body as a solid thing, by seeing the individuality of each particle in the body. But you do not have to destroy the body. You learn through the body.
R: We are not exactly transcending the notion of a body altogether, but we are trying to step out of the tendency towards nesting in the body, that tremendous security notion we have that the body is a fortified place and that you can go back to your fort. Even if we get beyond that, continuity does not seem to be a big problem. We still have to have some basis for dealing with other people because, having got beyond ego, we develop compassion and a
sense of compassionate communication. In order to communicate with other people there has to be somebody who is communicating, and that kind of continuity goes on. That has nothing to do with ego at all. Ego is the imagination of a centralized nest that gives secure protection. You are frightened of the world outside of your projections so you just go back into your sitting room and make yourself comfortable. There is a general misconception about Buddhism in
relation to this point. People wonder who, if there is no ego, is attaining enlightenment, who is performing all one's actions? If you have no ego, how can you eat, how can you sleep? In that case ego is misunderstood to be the physical body, rather than what it is- a paranoid insurance policy, the fortified nest of ego. You being can continue without your being defensive about yourself. In fact you become more invincible if you are not defending yourself. Well, this seems to be the end of this particular seminar on abhidharma. But it could be the beginning of our learning process. So we will end our seminar and our seminar will continue.