Glimpses of Alaya
The character and style of translation meetings with the Vidyadhara were often fairly straightforward and businesslike. There was a job at hand, translating a dharma text, usually from Tibetan into English. So we all followed our teacher's lead and generally stayed on task, unless of course he leaned out into the wind a bit, which sometimes resulted in a gem of a conversation like the following. In the midst of digitizing and archiving our old tapes of translation meetings, Tingdzin ötro rediscovered this jewel, and we are happy to present it to you here.
The following discussion took place during a translation meeting on The Rain of Wisdom at the 1979 Vajradhatu Seminary. Present at the meeting were the Vidyadhara (VCTR), Robin Kornman (RK), Jud Levinson (JL), Larry Mermelstein (LM), John Rockwell (JR), and Scott Wellenbach (SW). This edited transcript represents only a fraction of the entire discussion, which will appear soon on the Nalanda Translation Committee's website under Translation Offerings.
According to the Tibetan understanding of the yogachara view, there are eight consciousnesses. The eighth, called the alaya-vijnana, is the basis for the other seven. The ati tradition presents an ultimate alaya (San.; "abode, receptacle"; Tib. künshi; "ground of all"), which is the basis of both samsara and nirvana. The Vidyadhara described this ultimate alaya and the split from it in this way:
This basic ground does not depend on relative situations at all. It is natural being which just is. Energies appear out of this basic ground and those energies are the source of the development of relative situations. Sparks of duality, intensity and sharpness, flashes of wisdom and knowledgeall sorts of things come out of the basic ground. So the basic ground is the source of confusion and also the source of liberation. . . . As for ego's type of ground, the eighth consciousness, this arises when the energy which flashes out of the basic ground brings about a sort of blinding effect, bewilderment. That bewilderment becomes the eighth consciousness, the basic ground for ego. (Garuda IV: The Foundations of Mindfulness; p. 58)
In addition to the alaya of the eighth consciousness and the alaya of the basic ground, the Vidyadhara here presents a third type of alaya, a knowing that is self-aware and self-luminous (Tib. shepa rang rik rang sel).
VCTR: So to speak.
VCTR: Yes. According to vajrayana, there is the dharmata itself, which you return to at the moment of your death. It is just dissolving. After the moment of death, there is the bardo of dharmata, which goes beyond the alaya, even beyond the brilliance. It is just a kind of blanknessdead. JL: So the vajrayana seems to say that there are three types of alaya: complete purity or dharmata, luminosity, and the alaya that gives birth to grasping.
VCTR: It is fickle.
RK: In shamatha practice, it seems that thoughts are being thrown out, and I am bubbling and throwing them out. There is no sense of complete peace, but there is a sense of being behind the thoughts as they come out. Is that the lower alaya?
VCTR: It could be seeing the lower alaya, though connected with the luminous aspect a little bit. If you are in the state of fickleness, you cannot see it because you are it. You begin to see it because you are beginning to be a little more steady; therefore you have a reference point. The reason you see the fickleness might be because the luminous aspect allows you to step back a little.
JL: Is the point of coemergence, or split, in that luminous alaya?
VCTR: No, the split is at the level of dharmata. When you reach the bardo of dharmata, you have a chance of either splitting downward or not. That is where coemergent ignorance and coemergent wisdom arise.
VCTR: Yes. But that point is slightly hopeless, because you are already in duality.
VCTR: Well, you at least glimpse it.
JL: At that point, there is not even luminosity.
VCTR: No. The separation takes place at the level of dharmata, which is dull.
RK: By "separation," do you mean coemergent wisdom?
VCTR: Or ignorance.
RK: Is the higher alaya also post-split?
LM: What is the term for the higher alaya?
VCTR: It is the "ultimate alaya" (Tib. tön-gyi künshi) or "perfectly pure ultimate alaya" (yangdak pe tön-gyi künshi). Out of that ultimate alaya, you could have a split. Finally, ultimate alaya is the atmosphere where the split can occur.
VCTR: You could say that. Ultimate alaya at least holds the potentialities of the whole thing. We could say that samsara came out of some kind of freedom. That is the basic logic of why anyone can attain enlightenment.
RK: You flash on phenomena evolving? VCTR: Yes.
VCTR: Not quite. You do not flash "on course." You just flash.
LM: It is like saturating yourself first, then you let go of that. VCTR: Yes. When you create pressure, then you can pop the balloon.
JL: Are you popping the balloon of your thoughts?
VCTR: You are popping your alaya.
JR: Then quite anything could come out [laughter].
SW: Does it come out as sacred?
VCTR: Absolutely, yes. You have sacred outlook.
RK: It is like you have a balloon full of water and a swimming pool. You drop the balloon into the swimming pool and then pop it.
LM: Or you swell up your balloon with whatever, then pop it by going out.
VCTR: Yes, very much so.
LM: Then that is what you are left with.
VCTR: That is the level where you can actually transcend karmic force. Once you slowly go downward toward the luminous mind, you are bound by karma. So you are helpless in some sense; you have been forced. That is where the seventh consciousness comes from.
JL: Once it is popped, you start coming back down again. You expand back in through phenomena.
VCTR: Sometimes you just pop and then come back, because you cannot sustain it. But if you pop it many times, you are able to sustain it more. The idea is to flash as much as you can so that you will finally be able to sustain it.
JL: Then you just dwell there.
VCTR: "Dwell" is not exactly the right word.
JL: How would you describe it?
VCTR: There is some level of awake and space, I suppose.
LM: So are we talking about the dharmakaya principle?
SW: It is like dharmadhatu?
RK: You cannot possibly hold it, so you drop it.
VCTR: You pop it.
RK: And you do not entertain any doubts about this process.
JL: Therefore it is outside of time.
JL: Therefore there is no karma.
LM: Since coemergence occurs before the luminous alaya, could the result or footprint of coemergence tie into the experience of that alaya? It comes after you have coemerged, but you notice it somewhat after the fact. There is some dropping of fixation, but it is not complete, since there is still some samsaric mind.
VCTR: You poke your head up, but it goes back because you are still pulled back by your karma.
RK: So you keep on poking your head up.
VCTR: That is right.
RK: The more pokes, the better.