Kalachakra: Winds of Karma & Mental Holograms
The Relevance of the Topic
What I am hoping you will understand and appreciate through this explanation is the relevance of this topic. We’re not talking about something really esoteric and not related to anything. Because as I pointed out yesterday and I must underline again, the Kalachakra system is so complex and so beautiful in its complexity that it’s very easy to get dazzled and seduced by that and lose the perspective of it being a method for overcoming suffering and forget how it works. Don’t get lost in the beauty of the detail.
I’m reminded of a line in the Seven Point Mind Training (Blo-sbyong don-bdun-ma). I don’t remember the exact words, but it’s basically “Don’t make a god into a mara.” Don’t make a god fall to a demon. In other words, we have this magnificent system – so it’s like a deity – it will bring us to enlightenment. And we make it into a mara (bdud, demonic force), into a distraction, because of the dazzling beauty of it – so it’s like Mara making this fantastic display – that then we just get lost in it, and we make it into something that just increases our attachment, attachment to beauty. That’s a real mara.
Now, the next part of my analysis has to do with the process of causality. The question is: Where are these mental holograms coming from? And why are they in the form that they’re in? How does it work? Now, the question then becomes: Why would we want to analyze this? And this is because we want to understand… Let me say it differently. We want to overcome grasping for true existence – that’s the main, main purpose here – in order to reach enlightenment, so that’s the bodhichitta aim (bodhichitta motivation, I should say) to help everybody.
Given that aim, these appearances – these deceptive appearances of the mental hologram – they seem to establish themselves just there, like the voice in my head, that this just happened by itself; it seems as though it’s truly established. That’s at a very simple level. I’m not really going into any sophisticated level here of what truly established existence means. But basically there’s some sort of power on the side of these words, these mental words, that is establishing the thing by itself, independent of anything else. “You don’t love me anymore.”
There it is, that mental hologram.
Now, in order to deconstruct that appearance of true existence… Before we get to the level of deconstructing it in terms of mental labeling and so on, let’s just speak on the level of deconstructing it in terms of cause and effect. We’re confused about causality. If you look at the presentation of the four noble truths, there are various inverted or incorrect ways of looking at each of these four, and then we can join that together with Shantideva’s analysis, for example, of the voidness of causality.
So it is not that the cause is already sitting in our head. In other words, it’s not that these thoughts or these mental words, these mental holograms, are somehow sitting in our unconscious – to use a Western way of conceptualizing – and just ready to jump out, to pop out. This is not so farfetched if you think about it. I have this memory that is sitting there in my memory, this image that’s sitting in my imagination, and I have no control; sometimes it just pops out. Like a tune that you can’t get rid of, it’s just sitting somewhere in my head and just pops out; it already exists. I won’t go into the whole logic of the refutation of these, but this is not what is happening. It’s not that the cause is existing already in the seed or whatever just waiting to pop out. Literally what it’s saying is that the cause is not the same as the result.
And it’s not coming from a discordant cause of something completely unrelated, like the Devil is working and sending this to me. “The Devil, Satan, is sending these thoughts into my head. I must beat myself in order to chase out the Devil.” People have these thoughts, don’t they, these misconceptions.
And it’s not that the result is nonexistent, totally nonexistent. How could a nothing become a something? A nothing can’t become a something. A true nothing will always stay a true nothing. Just as an aside, that is what you really have to analyze in terms of the whole issue of abortion. Is there a period when this being is totally nonexistent, and then all of a sudden it becomes existent? How could a nonexistent thing become an existent thing? That’s how it applies in the analysis of abortion.
So as you see, each moment of our experience is made up of five aggregates (phung-po lnga). You have to understand what the five aggregates are really referring to. It’s not that there are five boxes sitting somewhere, that there’s truly existent aggregates. It’s just a useful classification scheme. And each moment of our experience is not some sort of solid partless thing, but it is made up of many different parts. All of these parts are changing at a different rate, and each of them is coming from its own various sources or causes.
So there is always some mental hologram form.
There’s always a consciousness of it. We’re talking about mental consciousness.
There’s always some feeling of happy or unhappy (tshor-ba) that’s going on with it.
There’s always a distinguishing (’du-shes). You have to distinguish that it’s this and not that. On that basis, you have the feeling.
And you have all sorts of other mental factors that are accompanying it. That includes ethically neutral ones, like concentration, attention, these sort of things. And there are also disturbing emotions that could come with this. There can also be positive emotions, like love and compassion. All of these things are going on at the same time. And of course there’s grasping for true existence, confusion, and all this. That can accompany it as well. And all of these different parts are coming from their own different causes.
So there’s nothing solid about this moment of experience at all. This helps us to deconstruct this grasping for it as a solid thing, the thought “You don’t love me.” It’s just a verbal hologram that in my confusion is representing the whole relationship, and unfortunately I’m believing that it corresponds to reality. And I don’t understand that the hologram itself is coming from some place, my belief in it is coming from another source, my unhappiness is coming from yet another source, the attention I pay to it is coming from another source, and of course the whole interaction and relation with the other person that it’s based on is coming from millions of causes. So what’s solid about it? Nothing.
So although the analysis that follows is rather complex – I am a little bit apologetic about it – actually it doesn’t matter whether you follow it or not, because the main point is to just appreciate the fact that all these different parts are coming from so many different individual causes and that everything is complex and interrelated. So long as you understand that, that’s enough. You don’t have to know technically that it’s this type of cause and that type of cause, although it can be analyzed. So again don’t get dazzled by the incredibly sophisticated discussion of causality that you have in Buddhism and forget we’re applying it for a practical purpose – to help us overcome suffering. It’s not just “Oh, formidable!” as you would say in French – “It’s so fantastic!” – that’s not the reaction that we want to have, the response we want to have.
We were discussing the importance of understanding the causal process that is involved with these mental holograms in order to deconstruct the appearance of true existence and our belief in it (that it corresponds to reality). So what I’d like to present is my analysis of the role that these drops and the karmic winds play in all of this. But again I need to emphasize that this is my own analysis. It’s like an educated guess, and it leaves open many more questions for analysis. You don’t find this type of information in the commentaries. But as I explained before, the way that we analyze is to use all the tools that we’ve learned from extensive study of the Dharma and apply them. So let us jump into this.
The Role of the Creative-Energy Drops
You see, in the Buddhist presentation of causality, there are many different types of causes and many different types of conditions and many different types of result, so it’s quite complex. We study this in abhidharma. In Vasubandhu’s presentation in Abhidharmakosha, we have six different types of causes, four different types of condition, and four different types of result (each of these can also have subdivisions). In Asanga’s presentation in his Abhidharmasamuccaya, he gives twenty different types of causes.
So what it turns out to be is that something could function as several different types of causes for different things. It can serve as one type of cause for something and a different type of cause for something else. So this way, as I said, it’s not just one cause gives one result. It’s not “You said this, and therefore you don’t love me anymore” – one cause, one result, sort of like two balls connected with a stick.
It’s very interesting. We hear, for example, that only a Buddha knows all the causes and all the results of everything. I mean, that’s one of the reasons why we want to obtain omniscience, the state of a Buddha. And also it’s said that karma is the most difficult thing to understand in its full detail. The reason for that is basically there are an enormous number of different beings and beginningless time, so that means that everybody has had a beginningless number of rebirths and beginninglessly built up different causes for what they experience. In each life, everybody has experienced every moment of their life; and during every moment of their life, they’ve done various things, and they’ve interacted with many other beings during each lifetime. And all of that has effects.
So why do I have a certain set of disturbing emotions? Well, there’s the effect of everybody that I’ve met, the effect of my parents, and then the effect of their parents on them, and then all the previous lives of everybody. It’s unbelievable. And it’s not just in terms of generations but also in terms of previous lives of everybody. And what we do toward somebody has not only an effect on that person, but then that effect on that person affects all their other interactions with others, and so it spreads out. And if you think of rebirth going on and on and on and on, the effects of it are enormous. So to know all the details of cause and effect, we have to become an omniscient Buddha to know everything, which depends on getting our mind to stop projecting appearances of truly established existence.
In very simple language, the appearance of true existence of things seems to give an appearance of things encapsulated in plastic, so everything is sort of encapsulated in itself and not related to anything else. If we could get the mind to stop projecting these lines around things or coating everything with plastic, we would see the interconnectedness of everything throughout all of time. That’s what omniscience is all about. Things don’t exist unrelated to everything else and don’t even appear to be, so everything appears interrelated all at once. And this is very interesting.
Again part of the problem is our limited hardware, to use the analogy of the computer again. Limited hardware. Come on, we have a brain that is aging, as we saw with Kalachakra, and it’s like – pardon the dualistic flavor of this – it’s like looking through a periscope in a submarine. Right? We can only look out of these holes in the front of the head. And we have to sleep and these sorts of things. So it’s very limited because of the hardware – we can’t know everything, we can’t be awake all the time, we can’t see everything (you can only see what’s in front of your eyes). That’s why you have to get rid of, eventually, rebirth with this type of limited hardware.
A Buddha has this clear-light mental activity and just the energy of that, without this type of limited body or brain. But you have to be very careful in that type of explanation not to think of this clear-light mind and its energy as some sort of atman, a soul, that goes inside a body, uses it, and then comes out and goes into another one. That’s the most basic refutation.
Let’s not go too far into our discussion here, then, of voidness. But in any case, the analysis of causality that we can make on the basis of these Kalachakra teachings will be limited, not like a Buddha understanding all the causes from infinite lifetimes. Okay?
1. One would be that they are the dominating condition (bdag-rkyen) that determines the essential nature (ngo-bo) of the occasion as being an occasion in which the consciousness is awake or dreaming or in deep sleep or in the blissful state.
Remember we discussed how when winds go through the sensory cells of the eye and so on, that determines or dominates what the experience is going to be. So it’s going to be a visual experience. That’s a dominating condition. It will dominate as a cause. The most dominant feature, the most major feature – the essential nature (ngo-bo) of what it is – is that it’s a visual experience or audio experience or smell experience. So like that, these drops are the dominating condition for the mental consciousness to be, in its essential nature – what it is – awake state or dream state or deep-sleep state or blissful state. So that’s a dominating condition.
2. Then the creative facet of the drops that are giving rise to something, they would be what’s called the natal source (rdzas) for the appearances that arise (so the natal source of the mental hologram).
Well, natal source is a technical term. That’s the way I’m translating a technical term. The examples for that would be like an oven for a loaf of bread. It’s the source from which something will be born, will arise. We’re not talking about the uncooked dough. We’re not talking about the water and flour and salt or whatever, the ingredients. We’re talking about the oven, the role that the oven plays in the causal process. So like the cooked bread comes out of the oven, likewise these mental holograms come out of the creative facet of the drop. However, it’s not that these holograms were sitting inside there already happening and waiting to pop out, so the oven analogy is not quite exact.
Another example of a natal source is the potter’s wheel for a clay pot. In other words, working with the clay and so on for the pot, the final clay pot will emerge from the wheel, in a sense. It will be born from this. But obviously the clay pot is not sitting inside the wheel. Okay? Try to get that image: the natal source of something. I don’t know if this analogy is correct, but let’s say it’s like a movie projector and the actual movie that appears.
So it both determines what it is – dominates what it is – and is the source out of which it arises. But the drops are not the natal source of the mental consciousness of these holograms. There’s another causal process that is giving rise to the consciousness of the holograms. That’s coming from the karmic tendencies.So this is not Chittamatra. Chittamatra would say that the mental consciousness and the hologram are both coming from the same oven, from the same natal source. Right? Kalachakra is giving us a little bit more detail of how they’re coming from different natal sources within your moment of experience. And in terms of the actual clay pot that you see, of course Gelug Prasangika would also say it has its own natal source not related to our mental continuum. But here we’re talking about the mental consciousness of the hologram. So even there, the hologram and the consciousness have different natal sources.
The Role of the Winds of Karma
Okay, so this is not so difficult to figure out, the role of the drops. What’s much more difficult is the role of the winds of karma here. There are two possibilities, and we need to analyze which one makes most sense. One possibility accords with the general Kalachakra presentation, and the other explanation would be in accordance with the Guhyasamaja way of explaining things. Now, both could be correct and valid, just analyzing it from a different perspective. Like the example that a liquid is water to humans, pus to ghosts, and nectar to gods, which is a very complex thing – which I will not analyze for you – and all of those are valid for each of those classes of beings. But anyway, we could have several different explanations of the same phenomenon. And as is explained in the commentaries, it’s not that out of the Kalachakra and the Guhyasamaja explanations, one is better than the other. But depending on (pardon the general word) karma, each of us will have different subtle energy systems and so on for which one system of practice and one system of how the subtle energies work will be more appropriate; and for someone else, it will be the other one. So in any case, two possibilities.
The Kalachakra way of explaining it – or at least what seems to correspond or fit with the Kalachakra way of explaining it – would be that the subtle winds of karma are the mount of the mental consciousness of the four occasions.
Remember, I explained earlier this morning that when we talk about mental activity, we can explain or describe the mental activity from the point of view of individual subjective experience, or we could describe it from the point of view of the energy that’s involved, the subtle winds. You’ll come across these terms, so let me introduce them: the winds and the consciousness share the same essential nature (ngo-bo gcig, one by nature), which means that they are both referring to the same event, but their conceptual isolates are different (ldog-pa tha-dad). Nothing other than the wind or nothing other than the consciousness – those are different, but the energy and the consciousness are referring to basically the same event, so they’re inseparable. They are inseparable. That’s something that you are going to come across, this terminology of sharing the same essential nature but different conceptual isolates. So if you hear “they’re the same, only different,” then you’ll understand. Okay.
So the winds of karma would be – the term that’s always used is the mount, like a horse, but that’s not really so accurate. You could just say that the winds of karma are the energy aspect of mental consciousness. And remember we spoke about three different levels of mental activity and the subtlest level being the clear-light mind. The clear-light level is the subtlest level, and that’s going on all the time, underlying grosser levels (mental consciousness and sense consciousness). Then we would analyze and we would say that the mental holograms that arise are features of this subtlest clear-light mind underlying the mental consciousness that the karmic winds are the support for.
To use a simple image, the mental consciousness is riding on the horse of the winds of karma, and the clear-light mind is like the road – of course they’re on a different piece of the road every moment that they’re riding – and the mental holograms are some feature of the road that are rising up (sometimes the road goes up a hill, sometimes it’s rough, like that). That’s a very rough picture, but it gives you the general idea of how this explanation works. Mental Holograms as Basis-Level Devoid-Forms
So from the awake drop, these mental holograms, what appears while you’re thinking or remembering or imagining – my guess (this is a guess, purely a guess) is that these are the basis-level devoid-forms that are asserted in Kalachakra. Devoid-forms (stong-gzugs).
Now we have to explain a little bit about them. It’s always very puzzling, and it’s not really explained in the literature so much, what the basis-level devoid-forms are. Sometimes the only hint that you get is that it’s sort of the dazzling images when you look up at a light, the dazzling light that you see; that’s the basis-level devoid-forms. But you never really get a detailed explanation, and the lamas when you ask say, “Well, it’s not clear in the text what it’s referring to.” So this is my guess. I could be wrong.
Now, the image that’s used for a devoid-form is the appearance in a magic mirror. It’s not a reflection – it’s not that it’s reflecting anything – it’s just appearing in the mirror. You know, “Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?” You must have that in French. So it’s not a reflection; it’s just appearing in the mirror. The Tibetans have that – a mirror, and then somebody sees visions appearing in the mirror. It’s a way of doing prognostication, a prediction of what will happen. So that’s the image that’s used to describe these devoid-forms. It’s an appearance aspect of the clear-light mind.
You have something very similar in dzogchen. Sometimes in the texts they will use the word devoid-forms of rigpa, pure awareness. Clear-light mind can either be with the habits of grasping to true existence and all these various habits and tendencies either imputed on it or not. When you’re still not a Buddha, the habits and tendencies are imputable on the conventional “me” imputed on the clear-light mind. Did that come out straight? What are the habits and tendencies imputed on or designated on? It’s the “me” designated on the clear-light mind. Actually they’re designated on the “me” that’s designated on the clear-light mind. So when these tendencies and habits are still imputable on the clear-light mind, that’s not rigpa. Rigpa is that clear-light mind unstained by these habits and tendencies, so it’s a subdivision of clear-light mind, just in case you were wondering what the difference is between clear-light mind and rigpa. That’s important to know. You have clear-light mind, and it’s either stained or it’s not stained. Not stained, that’s rigpa. Stained by the karmic tendencies, by the habits of grasping for true existence, etc., etc.
However, in Kalachakra we are speaking about a devoid-form being devoid of atoms, of particles. This is the explanation in Gelugpa of what devoid (stong) means in devoid-forms. So it’s not a form of voidness. It’s forms that are devoid of being made of particles. So when we talk about these mental holograms, they’re not made of the gross particles. If they are devoid-forms, if they are basis devoid-forms, they would not be made of particles, so they wouldn’t actually be made of the subtle wind, the winds of karma; they would be this basis level, what we normally experience of devoid-forms. As I say, I may be wrong. This is a guess. I’m perfectly honest about that. It’s a guess.
Alex: Yes. The particles in Kalachakra are not the same as the particles in abhidharma. This is His Holiness’s explanation. He says that the abhidharma type of particles are all on the same level of grossness as the earth particles in Kalachakra. Abhidharma particles are all made of eight subparticles – earth, water, fire, wind, sight, smell, taste, and physical sensation, not sound. And whichever of these eight is strongest, it will then be that type of particle – it will be an earth particle or a water one, for example. But they are gross. All of them contain all of these eight subparticles.
The particles in Kalachakra have various qualities, and it also has the quality of sound, unlike the abhidharma. So the earth particle has all the different qualities. That’s why His Holiness says that the abhidharma particles are equivalent to that level. And then water particles have less qualities, so it’s more subtle. Fire particles have even less qualities. Wind particles have even less qualities. It’s more subtle. And then there’s space particles in Kalachakra; those have only the quality of sound. So the wind particles of Kalachakra, which presumably are what make up the winds of karma, are more subtle than the atoms and the particles described in abhidharma.
Well, then the question arises: If something is devoid of particles, is it devoid of all abhidharma particles (but could still be the more subtle Kalachakra particles), or is it devoid of Kalachakra particles? You see where you start to question.
So if we say that there’s these basis-level aspects or features of clear-light mind, then parallel to these are the type of holograms of the four drops. So they would be parallel. So the mental hologram from the awake drop would be basis-level devoid-forms. When awake, the appearances – the mental holograms – when you imagine, when you remember, would be basis-level devoid-forms. That’s the aspect or the feature of clear-light mind to give rise to mental holograms like appearances in a magic mirror. The mental holograms in dreams would also be basis-level devoid-forms. And the mental holograms of deceptive speech, the voice in our head.
Again, by parallel, this is my guess, that there would be a basis-level indestructible sounds. This is discussed in Kalachakra, that there’s an indestructible sound that travels with subtlest clear-light mind from one lifetime to another. You have this in mahamudra as well. It’s the communicative aspect of the clear-light mind.
The mental hologram of darkness. That would also be a type of devoid-form, in a sense. And the mental hologram of bliss – this deep-awareness thing – I think that this could be corresponding to what is discussed in Sakya of an innate blissful aspect of the clear-light mind. And this would be consistent with what you have in the mahamudra system, in which the description of the clear-light mind has these four features – appearance, appearance-making (which is communication), bareness, and bliss.
So although this is a guess of how these mental holograms could fit into a Kalachakra-style explanation, it is based on analogy in various systems within the Buddhist teachings. That would be a Kalachakra explanation of how the winds of karma are involved. They’re merely the mount of the subtle consciousness through which the clear-light mind is giving rise to these various mental holograms as part of its own innate features. We’re still not talking about why it takes the form that it takes. We’re just talking about where it’s coming from. And it’s coming through the creative drops. This is the underlying basis, that it is appearing through the creative drops, carried by the wind.
The Guhyasamaja Explanation
Alternatively, a Guhyasamaja explanation – we’ll do this very briefly – would be that the winds of karma are the simultaneously arising causes (lhan-cig 'byung-ba'i rgyu). Simultaneously arising causes. It’s not the same as simultaneously acting conditions. These are different terms. A simultaneously acting condition, you remember, was the water and the fertilizer and sunlight for the plant. But with simultaneously arising causes, the causes are arising at the same time as the result. And that’s referring to the elements that make up something. So the elements of your body make up your body, but those elements exist at the same time as the body. They make up the body. That is a simultaneously arising cause. This is the type of cause that is actually speaking about the material thing that makes up something.
So the Guhyasamaja way of explaining would be to suppose that these karmic winds are the material out of which these holograms are made. But the problem with this explanation is that in Guhyasamaja a different set of winds are described as what makes up the mental holograms.
Remember we spoke about the universally-occurring type of conceptual cognition. It’s the winds of those, according to Kalachakra, that actually make up the mental hologram. And in some of the Kalachakra commentaries it mentions both, so in the same sentence it has both the winds of karma and the winds of these universally-occurring conceptual minds, and one’s going through the right channel, one’s going through the left channel, this type of explanation. So just because it has the same terminology, is it talking about the same thing as in Guhyasamaja? What’s going on? So because of that problem that arises if the role of the winds of karma is that they are the material thing out of which the holograms are made, it makes one think that maybe it’s more this Kalachakra-style explanation that I gave first.
You have two possibilities. One possibility, the Guhyasamaja one, has some problems with it. Therefore it adds more weight to thinking that it’s the first type of explanation. In the Buddhist systems, there are only two possibilities of explanation of what are these mental holograms. What are they made of? Either they are made up of particles – and according to Kalachakra, if they are wind particles they’re more subtle than the gross atoms of abhidharma – or it’s just the appearances, like in a magic mirror, of the clear-light mind. What else could it be? This is the standard way of analyzing anything in Buddhist logic. So you see are there any contradictions in one or the other position. And the Guhyasamaja style has some problems there, so it makes you think, with indecisive wavering, more going toward the side of the Kalachakra style of explanation.
So I’m just presenting to you how you analyze. This is, I think, the lesson of this part of our lecture. How do you analyze? How do you figure things out? This is how you figure things out using the Buddhist methods of logic. And these are only tentative results, a report of my analysis so far. It may be wrong, as I said. But I think it’s not just interesting; it also is very helpful to know what are these holograms made of, because they seem so solid.
Participant: There’s a mixing here of terms coming from different sources. So a mirror is coming from one type of system, a hologram is a more modern way of thinking of things, and virtual, illusion, and so on – all of these have different connotations, and can we really mix them together in one explanation without causing confusion?
Alex: One has to deconstruct an explanation and see that the different elements of the explanation are coming from different sources; it doesn’t necessarily have to be one solid thing. I use mental hologram because the literal translation of the term that is used in Tibetan and Sanskrit just means “aspect” (rnam-pa). What in the world does an aspect mean in this connotation, and is that a more helpful translation?
And just as you can have on a two-dimensional mirror either a reflection of something else (so it’s produced from another source) or, like a magic mirror, just something appearing – so that’s two dimensional – just translate that into three dimensions. We don’t live in a two-dimensional world. So if we have a three-dimensional space or whatever you want to call it – I’m sorry, I’m very much into Star Trek, so it’s like the holodeck – then you have the arising of a hologram in the holodeck either coming from projectors or, like on a magic mirror, it just arises. And the whole point of the voidness discussion of these is that it is like an illusion. An illusion appears to be concretely real, and its appearance is deceptive; it doesn’t correspond to reality.