As a Buddhist practice, Kalachakra fits within the context of the four noble truths and its practice is a method for attaining a true stopping of suffering. As Tsongkhapa emphasizes, basing himself on Shantideva’s assertion, you must identify the target in order to shoot an arrow into its center. Similarly, we need to identify the target (true suffering and its true causes) in order to shoot the arrow (a true pathway mind) and hit the central point of these causes so as to achieve a true stopping of them and of the sufferings that they bring about. Therefore, it is important to understand the Kalachakra presentation of the second noble truth: the true causes of suffering.
I shall base my presentation and analysis exclusively on the Gelug Prasangika assertions as found in the following texts:
- Gyaltsab Je (rGyal-tshab rJe Dar-ma rin-chen). The Way to Practice the Two Stages of Glorious Kalachakra: Quickly Entering the Path to Great Bliss (dPal-dus-kyi-‘khor-lo’i rim-pa-gnyis ji-ltar nyams-su-len-pa’i-tshul bde-ba chen-po’i lam-du myur-du ‘jug-pa).
- Gyaltsab Je, Synopsis of the Six-Branch Yoga of Glorious Kalachakra (dPal-dus-kyi-‘khor-lo’i rnal-‘byor yan-lag-drug bsdus-pa).
- Gyamawa (rGya-ma-ba Shes-rab rgyal-mtshan). The Complete Stage of Glorious Kalachakra: What the Omniscient Kedrub Je Said, Compiled into Notes by Gyamawa, (dPal-dus-kyi-‘khor-lo’i rdzogs-rim mkhas-grub thams-cad mkhyen-pa’i gsung rgya-ma-bas zin-bris mdzad-pa).
- Kedrub Norzang Gyatso (mKhas-grub Nor-bzang rgya-mtsho). An Adornment for “The Stainless Light,” Clarifying the External, Internal and Alternative Kalachakras (Phyi-nang-gzhan-gsum gsal-bar byed-pa dri-med 'od-kyi rgyan).
- Dalai Lama II (rGyal-ba dGe-‘dun rgya-mtsho). Extensive Explanation of “Chorus of Names of Manjushri,” A Great Sun Illuminating the Very Nature of Reality of Vajra Yoga, (mTshan yang-dag-par brjod-pa’i rgya-cher bshad-pa rdo-rje’i rnal-‘byor-gyi de-kho-na-nyid snang-bar byed-pa’i nyi-ma chen-po).
- Detri (sDe-khri 'Jam-dbyangs thub-bstan nyi-ma). A Presentation of the Generation Stage of Glorious Kalachakra: The Oral Tradition of Manjushri (dPal dus-kyi 'khor-lo'i bskyed-rim-gyi rnam-bzhag 'jam-dpal zhal-lung).
- Drongtse Yongdzin ('Brong-rtse Yongs-'dzin Blo-bzang tshul-khrims). The Path of the Two Stages of Glorious Kalachakra: Steps Leading to a Unified Pair (dPal dus-kyi 'khor-lo'i rim-gnyis-kyi lam zung-mjug bgrod-pa'i them-skas-pa).
- Tsongkhapa (rJe Tsong-kha-pa Blo-bzang grags-pa). A Lamp for Clarifying Nagarjuna’s “The Five Stages of the Guhyasamaja Complete Stage” (Rim-lnga gsal-sgron).
This analysis is an initial exploration of some of the more complex issues in the Kalachakra system. Many of the conclusions reached in it are merely tentative and leave open many further questions. It is hoped that this exercise in analysis will not only be illustrative for how one approaches fathoming this most advanced tantra system, but will also invite further analysis by those more qualified and experienced than myself.
The Four Noble Truths
General Presentation True Suffering or Problems
There are three types of true sufferings:
- the suffering of suffering (unhappiness),
- the suffering of change (tainted ordinary happiness),
- the all-pervasive suffering (khyab-par ‘du-byed-kyi sdug-bsngal) of uncontrollably recurring rebirth (samsara) with the five aggregate factors that make up each moment of the experience of these rebirths and that serve as the basis for the first two types of suffering.
The true cause of all sufferings is unawareness (ma-rigs-pa, Skt. avidya; ignorance) of how we, others and all phenomena exist, namely grasping for an impossibly existing “soul” of persons or of all phenomena (gang-zag-gi bdag-‘dzin and chos-kyi bdag-‘dzin). That would be a “soul” (bdag, Skt. atman) inside things that by its own power establishes the existence of the person or phenomenon and, in a sense, “animates” a body or an object, making it be alive or exist.
“Grasping” (‘dzin-pa, Skt. graha) has two meanings:
- cognizing an appearance of something as if it had truly established existence and believing that this manner of appearances corresponds to the item’s actual manner of existing,
- merely cognizing an appearance of truly established existence.
“Grasping” in the first sense of the term brings on the sufferings of samsara. “Grasping” in its second sense prevents omniscience.
Based on that unawareness and grasping in the first sense of the term, disturbing emotions and attitudes (nyon-mongs, Skt. klesha) arise. The disturbing emotions bring on and accompany karma.
- In general, karma refers to the compulsive aspect of our acting, speaking and thinking.
- Despite the fact that the Tibetan word for “karma,” “lay” (las), is the colloquial word for “actions,” karma does not refer to actions themselves; otherwise the absurd conclusion would follow that all we needed to do was to stop doing anything and we would be free of suffering.
The karmic aftermath of this compulsive behavior brings about uncontrollably recurring rebirth via the mechanism of the twelve links of dependent arising. The tainted (zag-bcas; contaminated) body and mind of each samsaric rebirth serve as the bases for experiencing the sufferings of unhappiness and of tainted ordinary happiness during that rebirth.
- In general, a “tainted” phenomenon is one that derives from a disturbing emotion or attitude and which perpetuates further disturbing emotions or attitudes.
In general, a true stopping refers to the total removal of the emotional obscurations (nyon-sgrib, Skt. kleshavarana) that prevent liberation, namely the total eradication of (1) unawareness, (2) grasping for impossible ways of existing and (3) disturbing emotions, together with the tendencies (sa-bon, Skt. bija; seeds) for these three.
- Liberation from samsaric rebirth also entails the total eradication of karma, as well as the total eradication of both negative and positive karmic force (karmic potentials) (bsod-nams, Skt. punya, “merit” and sdig-pa, Skt. papa, “sin”) and negative and positive karmic tendencies.
In a Mahayana context, a true stopping refers in addition to the total removal of the cognitive obscurations (shes-sgrib, Skt. jneyavarana) that prevent omniscience, namely the constant habits (bag-chags, Skt. vasana) of the disturbing emotions and of grasping for truly established existence.
- The omniscient state of a Buddha also entails the true stopping of all the karmic obscurations (las-sgrib), referring to not just the total eradication of the karmic potentials and tendencies, but also to the total eradication of the constant habits of karma.
- The general Buddhist explanation does not discuss the karmic obscurations separately from the emotional and cognitive ones. However, if one has attained a true stopping of the cognitive obscurations, it is pervasive that one has also achieved a true stopping of the karmic obscurations.
True Pathway Minds
In general, the true pathway mind that, like a path, leads to the true stoppings is the deep awareness (ye-shes, Skt. jnana) of the sixteen aspects of the four noble truths.
- “Deep awareness,” here, refers to non-conceptual cognition made with a joined pair (zung-‘brel) of shamatha (zhi-gnas, a stilled and settle state of mind) and vipashyana (lhag-mthong, an exceptionally perceptive state of mind).
More specifically, the true pathway mind is non-conceptual cognition of voidness (emptiness) done with a joined pair of shamatha and vipashyana and empowered by either (1) the determination to be free (renunciation), for attaining liberation, or (2) by both this determination and a bodhichitta aim, for attaining enlightenment.
The Kalachakra Presentation True Suffering or Problems
Kalachakra asserts true sufferings in the same way as the general presentation does, with the emphasis on the all-pervasive suffering of uncontrollably recurring rebirth. The Kalachakra texts, however, provide more detail about this all-pervasive suffering by explaining it on both external and internal levels of “cycles of time.”
- The external level refers to the uncontrollably recurring cycles of the universe, the motion of the heavenly bodies in it, and the calendar. This is called “external Kalachakra (external cycles of time).”
- The internal level refers to the uncontrollably recurring cycles of the body, the motion of the energy-winds in it, and the aging process. This is called “internal Kalachakra (internal cycles of time).”
Here, we shall focus exclusively on the internal level.
The obtaining cause (nyer-len-gyi rgyu) of uncontrollably recurring rebirth is karma generated under the influence of the unawareness of grasping for an impossibly existing soul of persons. This unawareness is the same as the unawareness that is generally asserted as the first link of the twelve links of dependent arising.
- An obtaining cause is that from which one obtains the item as its successor and thus which ceases to exist when its successor arises, like a seed for a sprout or uncooked dough for a loaf of bread.
The simultaneously acting condition (lhan-cig byed-pa’i rkyen) for uncontrollably recurring rebirth is the coursing (rgyu-ba) each day of 21,600 winds of karma (las-rlung) through the energy-channels (rtsa, Skt. nadi) of the subtle body. These winds of karma correspond to the 21,600 breaths that we take per day.
- Simultaneously acting conditions are items that must exist prior to the arising of something and which assist in making the arising happen, but which do not transform into what arises, like water and fertilizer for the arising of a sprout.
The 21,600 winds of karma course each day through the main right and left side-channels (ro-ma and rkyang-ma) and pass through the two sets of subtle creative-energy drops of the four occasions (gnas-skabs rigs-bzhi skyed-pa’i thig-le). These two sets of four drops are in the main chakras (rtsa-‘khor, subtle energy-nodes) of the subtle body.
- The drops (thig-le, Skt. bindu) are in the center of the central channel (dhu-ti) at these chakras. The right and left side-channels loop around the central channel at each of the chakras, and so in some way the winds pass through the drops at the cross-points where the side-channels embrace the central one like two arms embracing a body.
Correlating to the 21,600 winds of karma each day, there are 21,600 breaths each day. The words for “winds” (or “energy-winds”) and “breath” are the same – in Tibetan “lung” (rlung), in Sanskrit “prana” – and so we may understand these 21,600 breaths to be either a grosser level of the 21,600 winds of karma or the carriers of the winds of karma.
There are twelve shifts (‘pho-ba) of the breath each day. With each shift, the energy-winds/breaths switch from passing through one of the two side-channels and corresponding nostril during one shift to passing through the other side-channel and nostril during the next. During the transition from one shift to the next, 56 ¼ deep awareness winds/breaths (ye-shes-kyi rlung) pass through the central channel and both nostrils, making 675 deep awareness winds/breaths in a day.
Each day, the 675 deep awareness winds/breaths of that day destroy one pair of the 72,000 channels of the subtle body, one on the left side and one on the right. In that way, with the passage of time, at the end of 100 years, this cycle of twelve shifts per day destroys all 72,000 channels and that brings death from aging. In this way, time plus throwing karma (‘phen-byed-kyi las) activated at the time of death bring about uncontrollably recurring rebirth.
In short, then, Kalachakra explains the true causes of suffering, specifically the true causes of uncontrollably recurring rebirth, as karma and the aging process perpetrated by the shifts of the energy-winds/breaths.
As with the general Buddhist explanation, a true stopping of karma so that it never arises again means eliminating forever that which activates the karmic aftermath (karmic potentials and karmic tendencies) on our mental continuums. What activates them are the eighth and ninth links of dependent arising: craving (sred-pa, Skt. trshna) and an obtainer emotion or attitude (nyer-len, Skt. upadana).
- Craving is a thirst (the literal translation of the Sanskrit term “trshna”) directed at feelings of unhappiness, happiness or neutral feelings. As when being very thirsty, (1) we crave to be parted from unhappiness; (2) once we have a sip of happiness, we crave not to be parted from it, but to have more; and (3) when we have temporarily satisfied our thirst, we crave for our neutral feeling to continue.
- Obtainer emotions and attitudes are called “obtainers” because they are that from which we obtain a samsaric rebirth. (1) An obtainer emotion is desire directed at a sensory object. (2) There are five obtainer attitudes, but especially a deluded outlook toward a transitory network (‘jig-lta), which is the attitude with which we cast out a net of “me” or “mine” onto all or some aspects of our five aggregates, and accompany this with grasping for a truly existent “me” as identical to them or as their possessor.
A true stopping of the winds of karma means stopping them from coursing through the left and right side-channels during the course of the twelve shifts of the energy-winds/breaths per day. This is often referred to in the literature as a true stopping of the constant habits for the shifts (‘pho-ba’i bag-chags).
The Kalachakra system does not explain true stoppings in terms of the total eradication of the emotional and cognitive obscurations. Moreover, the members of the set of emotional obscurations and the members of the set of cognitive obscurations are not treated separately from each other. Rather, the members of both sets are included in the obscurations of the four classes of subtle creative-energy drops (thig-le’i rigs-bzhi sgrib-pa). The true stoppings, then, are most frequently explained in terms of the total eradication of these obscurations of the four drops. This manner of assertion derives from the explanation that these four creative-energy drops are the bases infected with the habits (bag-chags bsgo-ba’i gzhi).
- “Habits,” here, is a general term that covers both the tendencies included in the emotional obscurations and the constant habits included in the cognitive obscurations.
- It also covers the constant habits of the twelve shifts of the energy-winds/breaths each day.
As in the general presentation of the four noble truths, karmic obscurations are not treated separately in the Kalachakra system. However, with the attainment of enlightenment, one would also attain a true stopping of the karmic obscurations as well. Thus it is reasonable to infer that the members of the set of karmic obscurations – the karmic potentials, karmic tendencies and constant karmic habits – are also included in the habits that infect the four creative-energy drops.
True Pathway Minds
The true pathway minds are 21,600 moments of unchanging blissful awareness (mi-gyur-ba’i bde-ba) with a clear-light mind having nonconceptual cognition of voidness. These moments of unchanging blissful awareness are based on the stacking of 21,600 drops of white and red bodhichittas (byang-sems dkar-po and byang-sems dmar-po) in the central channel of a devoid-form (stong-gzugs, Skt. shunyatabimba) Kalachakra figure that arises at the navel chakra. With each moment of unchanging blissful awareness, one white and one red bodhichitta drop are stacked and one karmic wind is eradicated.
“Unchanging blissful awareness" is the blissful awareness experienced from the union of the Kalachakra couple that arises in the central channel at the navel chakra. It is “unchanging” in the sense that the white and red bodhichitta drops stacked through this blissful awareness remain stable within the central channel of this Kalachakra devoid-form, whether we are in a state of total absorption (mnyam-bzhag, “meditative equipoise”) on space-like voidness or in a state of subsequent realization (rjes-thob, “post-meditation”) on illusion-like voidness. These stacked drops remain there, unchangingly, even when we are not meditating at all or when we are meditating on something other than voidness. The drops remain until the devoid-form, together with our gross and subtle bodies, disappears with the attainment of enlightenment.
White and red bodhichittas are types of creative-energy drops. The white is received from our fathers at the moment of conception, carried with their sperm, and the red from our mothers, carried with their ova. Ova are referred to as “specks of blood” (rdul).
- These two types of creative-energy drops are called “bodhichittas” because, based on advanced practices utilizing them, such as those found on the Kalachakra complete stage (rdzogs-rim), we can gain blissful non-conceptual cognition of deepest bodhichitta, namely voidness, with our clear-light mental activity and attain the aim of conventional bodhichitta, namely enlightenment. They are also known as the white source element (khams dkar-po) and red source element (khams dmar-po), since they are actually subtle elements and not gross sperm or ova.
These true pathway minds achieve a true stopping of the obscurations of the four classes of creative-energy drops in twelve stages, corresponding to the twelve shifts of the energy-winds/breaths each day. Therefore, in the Kalachakra system we cannot say for certain that we rid ourselves of the emotional and cognitive obscurations either consecutively as with the Prasangika assertion or simultaneously as with the Svatantrika assertion.
The Four Creative-Energy Drops
We can understand on another level how karma and the coursing of the winds of karma perpetuate samsara by investigating the role the four creative-energy drops play in the true causes of suffering:
- In the center of the chakras at the forehead and navel are the drops of awake-occasions (sad-pa'i gnas-skabs skyed-pa'i thig-le), also known as the body drops (lus-kyi thig-le).
- In the center of the chakras at the throat and pubic region are the drops of dream-occasions (rmi-lam-gyi gnas-skabs skyed-pa'i thig-le), also known as the speech drops (ngag-gi thig-le).
- In the center of the chakras at the heart and the center of head (the jewel) of the penis (or of the clitoris) are the drops of deep sleep occasions (gnyid-thug-gi gnas-skabs skyed-pa'i thig-le), also known as the mind drops (sems-kyi thig-le).
- In the center of the chakras at the navel and the tip of the head of the penis (or the tip of the clitoris) are the drops of the fourth occasion (bzhi-pa’i gnas-skabs skyed-pa'i thig-le), referring to the peak occasions of experiencing the ordinary bliss of emission (‘dzag-bde), in other words the bliss of orgasm. The fourth-occasion drops are also known as the deep awareness drops (ye-shes-kyi thig-le).
Note that there is just one creative-energy drop at the navel chakra, but with two aspects: an aspect of being a body drop and an aspect of being a deep awareness drop.
- The presentation of two sets of these four creative-energy drops, one set above and one set below the navel chakra, fits in with the Kalachakra description of six main channels: the central, right and left channels above the navel chakra and the central, right and left channels below the navel chakra.
- The 21,600 energy-winds/breaths pass each day through the channels of the navel chakra and course up and down the subtle body through these two sets of main channels.
The essential nature (ngo-bo) of these creative-energy drops is subtle matter (bem-pa) that is in the shape of a ball, the size of a mustard seed, and which is a mixture of the white and red source elements, namely white and red bodhichittas. As subtle matter, they are intangible and completely translucent like space.
- These four creative-energy drops never move during our lifetime, although they disappear along with the rest of our gross and subtle bodies when we attain enlightenment.
- The body drop at the forehead is the basis that gives rise to the 21,600 drops of white bodhichitta that we aim to stack in the central channel of a devoid-form Kalachakra figure that arises at our navel, going from the bottom to the top.
- The body drop at the navel is the basis that gives rise to the 21,600 drops of red bodhichitta that we also aim to stack in the central channel of a devoid-form Kalachakra figure that arises at our navel, going from the top to the bottom.
The Creative Aspects of the Four Creative-Energy Drops and the Mental Holograms to Which They Give Rise on the Basis Level
Each of the four creative-energy drops has a facet (cha, part) that has the ability to give rise to a cognitive aspect (rnam-pa) of a nonstatic phenomenon. They give rise, in turn, to appearances of objects, sounds, non-conceptual states, and bliss. Let’s call them their “creative facets” and let’s call the appearances that they give rise to (these cognitive aspects) “mental holograms,” since they are all translucent and internal, within the body.
On the basis level, the four drops are infected (bsgos-pa) or tainted with the obscurations of the four drops. This means that they are infected with the tendencies and constant habits of the emotional and cognitive obscurations, as well as of the karmic obscurations. These “infections” imbue (sim-pa) them, like water into soft wood. In such a case, the creative facets of them give rise, in turn, to four types of appearance:
From the Awake-Occasion or Body Drops
According to Kedub Je, as recorded by his disciple Gyamawa, the awake-occasion drops give rise to the various appearances of impure objects (ma-dag-pa’i yul-snang) while we are awake.
- “Impure objects” refer to the appearances of objects as if they were truly existent.
- According to Gelug Prasangika, the objects that appear in both sense cognition (which is exclusively non-conceptual) and in both conceptual and non-conceptual mental cognition (excluding non-conceptual total absorption on voidness) appear as if they were truly existent.
Kedrub Norzang Gyatso’s Qualification
Kedrub Norzang Gyatso qualifies Kedrub Je’s statement, saying that the two awake-occasion drops have the ability to give rise to innumerable conceptual cognitions (rnam-rtog grangs-med) concerning ordinary objects (tha-mal-pa-rnams) when we awaken from sleep.
- Note that conceptual cognition is exclusively with mental consciousness and so the mental holograms of ordinary objects that appear in them would also appear only to mental consciousness.
In conceptual cognition, the appearing object (snang-yul) is a static category (spyi), in this case an object (or meaning) category (don-spyi), such as “dog.” The category “dog” has no appearance, since static phenomena have no form. The object category is mixed with a static conceptual isolate or distinguisher (ldog-pa, nothing other than a dog), isolating or distinguishing this category from all others, as if encasing it in plastic. This combination of category and conceptual isolate is then mixed with a mental representation (snang-ba) of a dog – a subtle appearance, like a mental hologram, that represents a dog when, for instance, we think of one, imagine one, or remember one, as well as when, upon seeing a dog, we fit it conceptually into the object category “dog.” Such representative mental holograms always appear to be truly existent. It is this type of mental hologram that the awake-occasion drops give rise to.
Mental Holograms That Arise during Sensory Cognition While Awake
Kedrub Norzang Gyatso’s qualification concerning what the creative facets of the awake-occasion drops give rise to does not explicitly include or exclude the mental holograms that are the representations of external objects that appear in conjunction with sensory cognition.
- Non-conceptual sensory cognition, such as seeing a dog, occurs as a valid cognition (tshad-ma) for just a micro-second. It is followed immediately by a micro-second during which it is a non-determining cognition (snang-la ma-nges-pa) of the dog.
- Non-determining nonconceptual sensory cognition of the object is followed by a micro-second of non-determining nonconceptual mental cognition of the dog.
- This is followed by conceptual mental cognition of the dog, with which we fit the object we see into the object category of what type of object it is, namely a “dog.”
- During each of these phases, a mental hologram of the dog appears to either the sensory or mental consciousness, and in both cases the mental hologram appears to be truly existent.
Sensory cognition entails its own set of energy-winds, specified in the texts as a separate set from the set of the winds of karma. They include the five energy-winds of the five different types of sensory objects (sights, sounds, and so on) and the five energy-winds of the five different types of sensory cognitive sensors (the photosensitive cells of the eyes, the sound-sensitive cells of the ear, and so on). These sensory winds are involved with the appearance of the mental hologram of the dog during the non-conceptual sensory phases (and perhaps also during the non-conceptual mental phase) of the above sequence of cognitions that occur when seeing a dog.
During the conceptual phase of the above sequence, the mental hologram representing the object category “dog” is mixed with the mental hologram of the dog that we see. The awake-occasion drops and the winds of karma are involved with the mental hologram here that represents the object category “dog.” It is difficult to ascertain, however, whether both, just one or neither of the two are also involved with the mental hologram of the dog that we see through the mental hologram representing the object category “dog.” It is also difficult to ascertain the role, if any, that the sensory winds might play regarding the mental hologram representing the object category “dog” in this conceptual cognition that follows in sequence upon seeing a dog and identifying it as a “dog.”
For simplicity of argument, let us proceed with our analysis on the basis of discussing, as the appearances that arise on the basis of the awake-occasion drops, just the mental holograms representing object categories that appear during conceptual cognition. Let us also assume, for simplicity sake, that the sensory winds are not involved with these mental holograms.
From the Dream-Occasion or Speech Drops
Concerning the speech or dream drop, two things are included here:
The Appearance of Confused (Deceptive) Speech
It is unclear what the appearance of confused speech (‘khrul-pa’i ngag) is referring to. My hypothesis is that it is the mental representation of the sounds of speech that appear in verbal thinking (conceptual mental cognition) or when mentally labeling something, for instance a dog that we see with the label “dog.” In both these cases, the appearing object is an audio category (sgra-spyi) of a sound (the sound of a word no matter what volume or voice with which it is spoken), together with a conceptual isolate and a mental representation of the sound of that word. It is deceptive in that the mental-hologram sounds appear to be truly existent and to be the voice of a truly existent person speaking inside us.
- Deaf people mentally represent words and concepts either with a mental picture of the written word or, more often, with a dynamical mental hologram of a hand sign and facial gesture, frequently accompanied by a mental hologram of the physical sensation of making the sign and gesture. It is unclear if these non-audio mental representations would be included as the appearances of confused speech.
The Appearance of Impure Objects in Dreams
The objects that appear in dreams appear also only to mental consciousness, and this is referring to non-conceptual mental cognition of them. Of course, there is also conceptual cognition in dreams. In either case, the mental holograms in dreams appear to be truly existent.
- Conceptual cognition of the dream holograms has manifest (mngon-gyur-ba) grasping for the appearance of true existence to correspond with the actual way in which the holograms exist.
- Although nonconceptual mental cognition of the dream holograms lacks this manifest grasping, it is accompanied by an underlying conceptual cognition that does grasp for true existence, but only subliminally (bag-la nyal).
From the Deep-Sleep Occasion or Mind Drops
Here the appearance is that which arises to non-conceptual mental consciousness in deep sleep when, as Kedrub Je describes, there is no appearance-making (mi-gsal-ba) of mental holograms of sense objects, either non-conceptually or conceptually. At this occasion, there is just the appearance of the mental hologram of a darkness (mun-pa); and, as Kedrub Norzang Gyatso describes, the mental cognition of it is without mindfulness (dran-med).
Mindfulness (dran-pa, Skt. smrti) is the mental factor that holds on to a cognized object and prevents the loss of the mental hold on it, somewhat like a “mental glue.” It prevents the mental activity from forgetting the object and allows for recalling or remembering it later.
It is difficult to know what “without mindfulness” refers to in this context. What is it that the mental glue of mindfulness is not holding on to, but has loosened and let go its mental hold on? In the practice of the nine mixings (bsre-ba dgu) in anuttaratantra, there is the mixing of deep sleep with Dharmakaya and clear-light mind. Perhaps this gives us a clue.
During the dissolution process of the grosser levels of mind into clear light subtlest level, as explained in the Guhyasamaja system, an extremely subtle level of conceptual cognition called the “threshold true appearance-making conceptual mind” (nyer-thob, black near-attainement) occurs just prior to the clear light subtlest level. With threshold conceptual cognition, a black darkness appears, similar to what appears in deep dreamless sleep. Moreover, the darkness appears to be truly existent and the threshold mind grasps at it to correspond to the actual way in which it exists.
Threshold subtlest conceptual cognition has two phases, one phase with mindfulness and one without. Threshold cognition with mindfulness during sleep is still included in dream consciousness. Therefore, if we remember an appearance of darkness when we awake, it was from dreaming about darkness. Threshold cognition without mindfulness during sleep is included in what is known as the “clear light of sleep.” In this context, “with or without mindfulness” refers to the presence or absence of a mental hold on the appearance of a truly existent darkness. Without the mental hold on the darkness, we cannot remember the appearance of the darkness later when we awaken.
- Tsongkhapa explains that “threshold subtlest conceptual cognition without mindfulness” does not lack mindfulness altogether. Because it can still be accompanied by the mindfulness utilized with concentration, Guhyasamaja complete stage practice entails meditation on voidness with this extremely subtle level of mind.
Even though the mind in deep dreamless sleep has no mindfulness of the mental hologram of darkness that appears, that hologram of darkness still appears to it to be truly existent. But, since deep sleep awareness is non-conceptual, this awareness itself does not manifestly grasp at the appearance of a truly existent darkness to correspond to how it actually exists. Rather, an underlying subtle conceptual cognition subliminally grasps for its true existence, most likely threshold subtlest conceptual cognition.
From the Fourth-Occasion Drops or Deep Awareness Drops
What arises from the fourth-occasion drops on the basis level is the bliss of emission, namely the bliss experienced the exact moment before the explosive release of energy-wind with orgasm in either a man or a woman.
The first question is: is this bliss something experienced with both tactile and mental consciousness, or could it be referring to something that is experienced only with mental consciousness, maybe accompanied by or maybe preceded by tactile consciousness? To answer this question, we need to analyze as follows.
- The bliss of emission is accompanied by a drawing in of the energy-wind, although that is followed by an explosive release of the energy-wind, as with sneezing.
- Yawning, falling asleep, fainting and dying also have a drawing in of the energy-wind as occurs with having an orgasm and sneezing. In all these case, with the drawing in of the energy-wind, the mind becomes increasingly more subtle. In the end, only subtle conceptual mental cognition occurs as the mind approaches the non-conceptual clear light level. This suggests that orgasmic bliss is experienced by a subtle conceptual mental cognition.
- The creative facet of the navel drop gives rise both to (1) the mental holograms that appear to mental consciousness in conceptual mental cognition while awake, as well as to (2) the bliss of orgasmic emission. This also suggests that the bliss of orgasmic emission is referring only to conceptual mental cognition, albeit a very subtle type.
If this fourth occasion is one of subtle conceptual mental cognition, the next question is: does this bliss of orgasm refer (1) only to the mental factor of a feeling (tshor-ba) of bliss (a way of being aware of something) while awake, or does it refer to (2) the subtle form (mental hologram) of a blissful physical sensation (reg-bya) that appears to and is cognized only by subtle conceptual mental consciousness when awake? Or (3) does the bliss of orgasm refer to a mental hologram of something else? Again, let us analyze:
- According to the Kalachakra presentation, the human body has six source elements (khams-drug): earth, water, fire, wind, space, and deep awareness (ye-shes).
- The source elements of earth, water, fire and wind each have a quality of physical sensation, meaning that each has a physical sensation associated with it that can be cognized with either sensory or mental consciousness.
- Therefore, any mental hologram of a physical sensation would be one that could arise through an awake-occasion drop.
- If the bliss of orgasm here is referring to a mental hologram, it is probably a mental hologram of the sixth type of elemental source, deep awareness. This is suggested by the fact that the drop at the navel is called either the drop of the fourth occasion (referring to orgasmic bliss) or the deep awareness drop.
- Although the drop at the navel also has an aspect of being an awake-occasion drop, there would be no special reason for the assertion of a fourth occasion if the mental hologram that arises in it were no different from the type of mental hologram that arises merely on the basis of the awake-occasion drop.
There is also the issue of the bliss of orgasmic emission experienced in dreams. Further analysis is needed to determine how that affects the above analysis.
What the Four Creative-Energy Drops Give Rise to on the Pathway and Resultant Levels
The above discussion concerned the basis-level presentation of the four creative-energy drops.
On the pathway level, referring to certain steps of the complete stage (rdzogs-rim) of Kalachakra practice, if some of these subtle winds of karma stop going through and imbuing the four creative-energy drops, but are made instead to enter, abide and dissolve (zhugs-gnas-thim) in the central channel, then the creative facets of the drops are involved with the arising of:
- devoid-forms (stong-gzugs),
- indestructible sound (gzhom-med-kyi sgra),
- non-conceptual deep awareness,
- unchanging blissful awareness.
On the resultant level, if all these winds of karma are stopped completely, through their total dissolution at the heart chakra in the central channel, then the creative facets of the four drops are involved with the arising of the four Corpuses of a Buddha (four Buddha Bodies) and disappear in the process:
- Corpus of Emanations (sprul-sku, Skt. Nirmanakaya),
- Corpus of Full Use (longs-spyod rdzogs-pa’i sku, Skt. Sambhogakaya), referring to both a Buddha’s enlightening speech and a Buddha’s subtle appearances to highly realized (arya) bodhisattvas,
- Corpus of Deep Awareness Encompassing Everything (ye-shes chos-sku, Skt. Jnana-dharmakaya),
- Corpus of Great Bliss (bde-ba chen-po’i sku, Skt. Mahasukhakaya) or Corpus of Essential Nature (ngo-bo-nyid sku, Skt. Svabhavakaya), referring to the blissful awareness nature of a Corpus of Deep Awareness Encompassing Everything.
Let’s focus our further analysis on the basis level.
Premises for the Further Analysis of the Basis Level
Let’s suppose that the Kalachakra presentation of the creative-energy drops of the four occasions is:
- dealing with the mental holograms that arise exclusively with either conceptual or non-conceptual mental cognition based on these four drops, and
- which appear to be truly existent and
- are accompanied, either manifestly or subliminally, by grasping for this manner of their appearance to correspond to their actual manner of existence.
If that is the case, then what role do the creative-energy drops and the karmic winds play in the arising of these mental holograms and the grasping for true existence in relation to them? This is an important question to ask since the appearance-making of these mental holograms as seemingly truly existent and our grasping for them actually to correspond to the way things exist bring on disturbing emotions and the compulsiveness of karma and perpetuate our suffering. Think, for example, of the anger we develop when we remember the harsh words someone has spoken to us, or the barrage of words in our heads when we worry about something.
Any adequate answer to this question needs to be framed in terms of the complex Buddhist presentation of causality. Understanding the causal nexus responsible for the arising of the various components of our cognitions of these mental holograms leads us to understand the voidness of causality. Understanding the voidness of their causality enables us to deconstruct the appearance of true existence of these mental holograms and rid ourselves of our grasping for their appearance to correspond with how these mental holograms actually exist. When we attain a true stopping of this grasping, we rid ourselves forever of disturbing emotions and attitudes. Most relevantly, we rid ourselves of the disturbing emotions and attitudes that activate the karmic aftermath that bring about the throwing karma for our further samsaric rebirth with all its attendant suffering. Thus, through understanding the voidness of causality, we can attain a true stopping of the sufferings that derive from our unawareness of how these sufferings arise and exist.
The following are my tentative, preliminary conclusions concerning this causal nexus, based on various texts and teachings and on logic. They leave open many questions and need further analysis.
The Role of the Creative-Energy Drops
On the basis-level, the four creative-energy drops give rise to these four types of appearances in two senses.
The Dominating Condition
The creative drops themselves are the dominating condition (bdag-rkyen) that determines the essential nature (ngo-bo) of the occasion as being an occasion in which the consciousness of these appearances is in the awake state, dream state, deep sleep state, or blissful state. This is like the cognitive sensors (dbang-po) being the dominating condition that determines the essential nature of the consciousness being visual, audio, and so on.
The Natal Source
The creative facet of the drops that give rise to something is the natal source (rdzas) for the appearances (mental holograms) that arise during the four occasions, like an oven is the natal source of bread or a potter’s wheel is the natal source of a clay pot.
- The four drops are not the natal source of the mental consciousness and accompanying mental factors that cognize these appearances of mental holograms during these occasions.
- Karmic tendencies (sa-bon, karmic seeds) labeled on the conventional “me” that is labeled on the winds of karma are the natal source of the mental consciousness and accompanying mental factors.
- Kalachakra is not a Chittamatra system, according to which, in a moment of cognition, both the mental hologram and the consciousness of it, with its accompanying mental factors, all come from the same natal source – the same karmic tendency or seed.