The role that the winds of karma play with regard to the mental holograms of the four occasions is much more difficult to ascertain. Let us explore two hypotheses and, in the manner of Indian and Tibetan commentaries, raise objections that might arise to each of them. The hypotheses concern the nature of these mental holograms:
- The mental holograms are basis-level devoid-forms,
- The mental holograms are composed of subtle particles.
Although it is premature to reach any conclusion from this analysis, perhaps the methodology employed in the following exploration of this question will be instructive of how to analyze the more complex and obtuse aspects of the Dharma.
The Definition of Devoid-Forms
The first hypothesis concerning the role played by the winds of karma incorporates a distinctive feature of the Kalachakra teachings, namely devoid-forms (stong-gzugs, Skt. shunyatabimba). Devoid-forms arise at the times of the basis (our ordinary lives), path (the complete stage of Kalachakra practice) and result (Buddhahood).
Kedrub Je and Kedrub Norzang Gyatso’s Explanations
Citing a passage from Buton’s Great Commentary (‘Grel-chen) on Stainless Light, Kedrub Norzang Gyatso explains that the clear-light mind has a bareness (stong-sang) as its appearance aspect (rnam-pa, mental hologram), and that devoid-forms are the various forms that this bareness takes.
Kedrub Je and Kedrub Norzang Gyatso then both explain that devoid-forms are called “devoid” (stong, Skt. shunyata) because they are an absence that is devoid of particles (rtul phra-rab). They are appearances of the bareness of the clear-light mind, arising like magic-mirror images (pra-phab-pa, Skt. pratimurti). The clear-light mind and devoid-forms are likened to the sun and sunrays.
The word “form” (gzugs, Skt. bimba) in the term “devoid-form” needs clarification:
- The Tibetan translators used the Tibetan word “gzugs” to translate both the Sanskrit words “rupa” and “bimba.”
- “Rupa” is the most general term for all forms of physical phenomena: sights, sounds, smells, tastes, physical sensations and subtle forms that can only be known by mental consciousness. “Rupa” is also used for a subcategory of all forms of physical phenomena, namely for sights.
- “Bimba,” on the other hand, which is the Sanskrit word for “form” in the term “devoid-form,” is another subcategory of forms of physical phenomena. It means an image, a shadow, or a reflection in a mirror. It also has the connotation of something comparable to something else.
- “Pratimurti,” as the analogy for devoid-forms, is a subcategory of “bimba” (image). It refers to figures that appear on their own, such as images that appear in divination mirrors used in Indian and Tibetan cultures for prognostication.
The texts use the Tibetan adverb “rang-gi ngang-gis” (Skt. svarasa) to explain how the devoid-forms arise in the clear-light mind, meaning how they arise with clear-light mental activity. The Tibetan term is one of the many that mean “naturally,” but the original Sanskrit word gives the special connotation.
“Svarasa” literally means the “natural flavor” of something, not only foods and beverages, but also poetry and music. Thus, devoid-forms arise with clear-light mental activity as an intrinsic property of it, like the flavor of a poem, a piece of music or a savory dish, with the implication that, as a flavor, it is something to be experienced.
- The Sanskrit word “rasa” can also have the meaning of “pleasurable.” Thus it is fitting that the Kalachakra couple that arises as a pathway-level devoid-form is the basis for experiencing unchanging bliss.
Devoid-forms arising with clear-light mental activity as its natural flavor also accords well with the assertion that clear-light mind is the similar-family cause (rigs-‘dra’i rgyu) of devoid-forms.
- Similar-family causes are items in the same category of phenomena as their results and which serve as models for them.
- On the pathway-level, clear-light mind is the similar family-cause of both devoid-form Kalachakra couples and unchanging blissful awareness of voidness experienced with their union.
Gyaltsab Je’s Explanation
Gyaltshab Je explains that devoid-forms are the forms of conventional (kun-rdzob) phenomena’s voidness of self-established existence. Thus, in terms of Gyaltsab Je’s formulation, it would be better to call them “voidness-forms.” They are “beyond particles” in the sense that they are beyond being the forms of conventional phenomena’s apparent nature.
- The apparent nature of particles is that they have truly established existence.
- The form that this apparent nature would take, then, would be the form of truly established existence.
- Voidness-forms are beyond being that kind of form. They are forms of the voidness of true existence and not forms of true existence itself.
- Thus, being both functional phenomena (dngos-po) (which are conventionally true phenomena) as well as the flavor of voidness (deepest true phenomena), Gyaltshab Je asserts voidness-forms as being the common locus (gzhi-mthun) of voidness and functional phenomena. In other words, voidness-forms are examples of both voidnesses of true existence and functional phenomena.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s Opinion
His Holiness the Dalai Lama prefers Kedrub Je and Kedrub Norzang Gyatso’s definition, for a variety of reasons too complex to go into. Here, then, we shall follow His Holiness’s lead and take devoid-forms to be the reflexive appearance of the bareness of the clear-light mind, rather than the reflexive appearance of the voidness of conventional phenomena.
Kedrub Norzang Gyatso and Detri further explain that the bareness of the clear-light mind has the same appearance as that which appears with non-conceptual cognition of voidness. However, that does not mean that devoid-forms are the reflexive appearance of the voidness of the clear-light mind or the reflexive appearance of the voidness cognized by the clear-light mind.
- Thus, it follows from Kedrub Je and Kedrub Norzang Gyatso’s explanations that devoid-forms arise with clear-light mental activity whether or not that mental activity has non-conceptual cognition of voidness. Moreover, as we shall see, devoid-forms arise even when clear-light mind is not fully manifest.
Statement of the First Hypothesis Concerning the Role Played by the Winds of Karma in the Arising of the Mental Holograms of the Four Occasions
In this first hypothesis concerning the role that the winds of karma play, the appearances of the mental holograms at the four occasions are basis-level devoid-forms. As such, all these holograms are appearances of the bareness of the subtlest clear-light mind underlying the conceptual and non-conceptual mental consciousness during these occasions. These mental holograms appear to be truly existent and the winds of karma would simply be the mount of the mental consciousness that cognizes them during these occasions. The mental holograms appear to be truly existent because of the stains of the cognitive obscurations infecting the creative-energy-drops of the four occasions.
In detail, then, according to this hypothesis:
- The mental holograms of impure sense objects that arise and appear in conceptual cognition when awake are examples of basis-level devoid-forms,
- The mental holograms of sense objects that arise and appear in non-conceptual and conceptual mental cognition in dreams are also basis level devoid-forms.
- The mental holograms of deceptive speech that appear in conceptual cognition are something like basis-level indestructible sounds (the communicative aspect of the clear-light mind).
- The mental holograms of darkness in non-conceptual mental cognition when in deep dreamless sleep are the basis-level appearances of darkness during the clear light of sleep. These mental holograms are also a type of devoid-form.
- The mental holograms of bliss during experiences of the blissful, extremely subtle conceptual mental cognition of orgasmic emission are the basis-level of clear-light mind’s innate feature of bliss discussed in Sakya commentaries.
- Note that these four features correspond to the Kagyu mahamudra description of clear-light mind having the features of appearance, appearance-making (communication), bareness, and bliss.
In order to evaluate whether the mental holograms of the four occasions are fit to include in the set of basis-level devoid-forms, we need to investigate the features that characterize basis-level devoid-forms. We can learn their characteristic features by contrasting basis-level devoid-forms with pathway-level ones to discover what they share in common and what is unique to each of them.
The Definition of Pathway-Level Devoid-Forms
Pathway-level devoid-forms are the devoid-forms that arise during the various branches of the Kalachakra complete stage. They start to appear when, through the force of yoga (rnal-‘byor), (1) the energy-winds that enable sensory cognition are “immobilized” (rengs-pa), (2) essential points on the subtle body are tapped (lus-la gnad-du bsnun-pa),and (3) the ten energy-winds are made, one by one, to enter, abide and dissolve (zhugs-gnas-thim) in the central-channel.
- “Yoga,” here, refers to meditation with the joined pair of shamatha and vipashyana.
- We can understand “yoga” in this way because actual complete stage practice requires, as one of its starting qualifications, the attainment of an applying pathway mind (sbyor-lam, path of preparation). One of the features of this second of the five pathway minds (lam-lnga) is that it has achieved the joined pair of shamatha and vipashyana.
- With the subtle yoga (rnal-‘byor phra-mo) of the generation stage (bskyed-rim) of anuttarayoga tantra practice, such as Kalachakra, the joined pair of shamatha and vipashyana is attained through visualizing, with perfect concentration, a tiny drop with a full Kalachakra mandala, complete with all 722 deities, inside it at the upper end of the central channel. One then visualizes this drop multiplying into two such drops, two into four, and so on – with each drop containing within it a full Kalachakra mandala, complete with all the deities – and then drawing them back, in order.
- “Essential points on the subtle body” include the upper and lower ends of the central channel and the points on the branch channels of the six main chakras where these branch channels enter the central channel. By focusing at these essential points, it is possible, through the power of yoga, to “tap” them, in the sense of making it possible for the energy-winds to enter the central channel through these points.
The Different Types of Pathway-Level Devoid-Forms
Pathway devoid-forms may be (1) definitional devoid-forms (mtshan-nyid-pa), (2) facsimile devoid-forms (stong-gzugs rjes-mthun-pa), or (3) devoid-forms that are “not even to the slightest extent” facsimile ones (stong-gzugs rje-mthun-pa cung-zad-kyang med).
Definitional Pathway Devoid-Forms
Definitional pathway devoid-forms arise only with the last two branches of the six-branch Kalachakra complete stage – subsequent mindfulness (rjes-dran, Skt. anusmrti) and total absorption (ting-nge-‘dzin, Skt. samadhi). Kedrub Norzang Gytaso refers to definitional devoid-forms as “devoid-forms that are established in actuality (stong-gzugs dngos-gnas-la grub-pa).” This is because, with these two branches of practice, one experiences unchanging blissful awareness of voidness from the union of a devoid-form Kalachakra couple that arises at the navel chakra.
Only on the sixth branch, however, does this unchanging blissful awareness of voidness bring about the true stopping of the obscurations of the four occasions. This is because on the fifth branch, the unchanging blissful awareness of voidness is conceptual, while on the sixth branch it is non-conceptual.
Moreover, on the fifth branch, the definitional devoid-form couple arises only during total absorption on space-like voidness done with clear-light mental activity experiencing unchanging blissful awareness of voidness. Only on the sixth branch does the devoid-form Kalachakra couple with its stacked bodhichitta drops remain stable in the central channel after total absorption on space-like voidness. The couple and drops remain manifest and stable during periods of subsequent realization on illusion-like voidness, during periods of meditation on other facets of the path, and even while not meditating at all.
Facsimile Pathway Devoid-Forms
Facsimile pathway devoid-forms arise from the second through the fourth branches of the Kalachakra complete stage.
- The second branch is called “mental constancy” (bsam-gtan, Skt. dhyana).
- The third branch is called “breath-control” (srog-rtsol, Skt. pranayama).
- The fourth branch is called “holding” (‘dzin-pa, Skt.dharana).
According to Kedrub Norzang Gyatso, facsimile devoid-forms are “devoid-forms that merely appear to the face of the mind (stong-gzugs yid-ngor snang-ba-tsam).” In other words, they merely appear to the mind, and although one holds the pride (nga-rgyal) of being the devoid-form Kalachakra couple, one does not yet experience unchanging blissful awareness of voidness from their union.
- One holds the pride of being a deity by labeling the conventional “me” on the basis of the form of the deity.
Not-Even-Facsimile Pathway Devoid-Forms
The devoid-forms that arise and appear at the first of the six branches, individual collecting (sor-sdud, Skt. pratyahara), are “not even to the slightest extent” facsimile pathway devoid-forms. They are the variety of devoid-forms that arise after having immobilized the winds of the senses, all the way up to the arising of a devoid-form Kalachakra couple in the central channel, but one has not yet shifted one’s pride (nga-rgyal) of the deity to the pride of being this couple. Let us refer to these as “not-even-facsimile” pathway devoid-forms.
The Pervasions between the Arising of Pathway Devoid-Forms, Total Absorption on Voidness, and Blissful Awareness
The only types of pathway devoid-forms that arise during total absorption on space-like voidness are the definitional ones. This occurs only with fifth-branch and sixth-branch Kalachakra complete stage practice, which are the only branches on which the total absorption on voidness is done with unchanging blissful awareness. Recall that unchanging blissful awareness is generated by the union of the definitional devoid-form couple.
- On the fifth branch, this total absorption on voidness is conceptual; and on the sixth branch it is non-conceptual.
During third- and fourth-branch practices, facsimile devoid-forms do not arise during total absorption on space-like voidness, which is only conceptual on these branches. The total absorptions on space-like voidness experienced during these two branches, however, are experienced with greatly blissful awareness (bde-ba chen-po). Such blissful awareness is generated by having gained control of the winds on the first two branches of Kalachakra complete stage practice, then having caused tummo (inner heat) to flare in the central channel, and having melted the white bodhichitta source at the forehead chakra.
The facsimile devoid-forms that arise during second-branch practice and the not-even-facsimile devoid-forms that arise during first-branch practice also do not arise during conceptual total absorption on space-like voidness. The total absorption on space-like voidness during these two branches of complete stage practice, however, is not experienced with greatly blissful awareness.
- Nevertheless, because the total absorptions on space-like voidness during the first two branches are experienced with a joined pair of shamatha and vipashyana, they are each experienced with the physical and mental blisses that characterize each of the two levels of a sense of fitness (shin-sbyangs) that accompanies shamatha and vipashyana respectively.
Kedrub Je explains that merely total absorption on voidness is not a similar-family cause for a Dharmakaya. Only total absorption on voidness with a greatly blissful awareness (bde-ba chen-po) is a similar-family cause for a Dharmakaya.
Thus, pathway devoid-forms do not necessarily arise during total absorption on space-like voidness and do not necessarily arise with a greatly blissful mind. The mental holograms of the four occasions share these two characteristics of pathway devoid-forms, although the mental holograms of the fourth occasion are experienced with the ordinary bliss of emission. The mental holograms of the other three occasions, however, are not experienced with a blissful mind, although cognition of the mental holograms during the awake and dream states could be experienced with ordinary feelings (tshor-ba) of happiness.
Pathway Devoid-Forms Always Appear to Have Truly Established Existence
Devoid-forms are conventional truths (kun-rdzob bden-pa, relative truths). In simple language, conventional truths of phenomena are their appearances.
Kedrub Je explains that devoid-forms are referred to as voidness “having an aspect” (rnam-bcas) because to the face (ngo) of the mind that has non-conceptual cognition of voidness (de-nyid, the real nature of everything), devoid-forms appear having a discordant appearance (gnyis-snang, appearance of duality).
- Figuratively speaking, ways of knowing can be described as having a “face” (ngo) directed at their involved objects (‘jug-yul).
- A discordant appearance of something is an appearance of it as if existing in a manner that does not accord with how it actually exists. In other words, the manner of appearance is discordant or “dual” with its manner of existence.
- Thus, devoid-forms, even when cognized with non-conceptual cognition, appear to be truly existent.
Of the two-phases of non-conceptual cognition of voidness (total absorption on space-like voidness and subsequent realization of illusion-like voidness), I presume that Kedub Je is referring here to how devoid-forms appear when cognized by non-conceptual subsequent realization of illusion-like voidness. I base this presumption on the following analysis:
During non-conceptual total absorption on space-like voidness, appearances of truly established existence are not cognized even implicitly.
- The involved objects of implicit apprehension (shugs-la rtogs-pa) are accurately and decisively cognized, but without arising and appearing to the mind that implicitly apprehends them.
Nevertheless, definitional devoid-forms arise with sixth-branch practice during non-conceptual total absorption on space-like voidness done with clear-light unchanging blissful awareness. Thus, although definitional devoid-forms arise to the clear-light mind totally absorbed non-conceptually on space-like voidness at this time, they are not involved objects apprehended by that mind, either explicitly or implicitly.
Kaydubjey asserts this point as follows:
Concerning the definitional devoid-forms actualized with the pathway minds still needing training (the seeing and accustoming pathway minds), there are no devoid-forms (cognized) by those (non-conceptual) total absorptions on voidness – whether on the face of their decisiveness (nges-ngo) (about voidness) or on the face of what appears (snang-ngo) (to those total absorptions on voidness). Nevertheless, it isn’t the case that devoid-forms are absent at that time. For example, although the form of the person with a seeing pathway mind does not (arise) to the face of the (non-conceptual) total absorption (on voidness) of his (or her) seeing pathway mind, nevertheless it cannot be that that (meditator) does not have a form.
During periods of sixth-branch meditation with non-conceptual subsequent realization of illusion-like voidness, the devoid-form couple is cognized explicitly and non-conceptually. At such times, this couple appears on the face of this second type of non-conceptual cognition of voidness as having the discordant appearance of truly existence. Implicitly, one cognizes its voidness. At other times while one is at this sixth-branch stage, the devoid-form couple will still be arising and, if one focuses on it, it still appears to be truly existent.
With fifth-branch practice, one has conceptual total absorption on space-like voidness with unchanging blissful awareness. In such meditation, an appearance of true existence is projected onto the voidness of true existence that is explicitly cognized, and the category “voidness of true existence” is implicitly cognized. The basis for voidness is not cognized at all, even implicitly. Thus, although a definitional devoid-form Kalachakra couple arises during this conceptual total absorption on space-like voidness, this devoid-form is not cognized by this total absorption.
During the subsequent attainment phase of fifth-branch practice, the definitional devoid-form that arose during total absorption no longer arises. Any devoid-forms that arise outside the context of subsequent attainment meditation, both while on the fifth-branch stage or on any of the stages of the preceding four branches, will appear to be truly existent.
- pathway devoid-forms always appear to be truly existent to the minds that cognize them;
- they are not cognized during either conceptual or non-conceptual total absorption on voidness.
Note that the term “aspect” (rnam) in the term for devoid-form: “voidness having an aspect” is the same term that I have been translating as “mental hologram” in the context of the appearances of the four occasions.
- Thus, like pathway devoid-forms, the mental holograms of the four occasions always appear to be truly existent.
- Total absorption on space-like voidness and the immediately following subsequent realization of illusion-like voidness can be conducted with a joined pair of shamatha and vipashyana even within the context of sutra practice. As with pathway devoid-forms, the mental holograms of the four occasions are not cognized during conceptual cognition of space-like voidness attained with this joined pair, let alone during such conceptual cognition of voidness attained with mental cognition lacking such a joined pair.
Different Aspects in Which Pathway Devoid-Forms Appear
There are two different sets of aspects in which pathway devoid-forms appear:
- The central channel at the heart chakra has eight side-channels around it. When the winds that course through each of those eight channels and then the winds that course through the central channel above and below the heart chakra progressively are made to stop (‘gag) (equivalent to being made to dissolve, thim), ten special signs (rtags khyad-par-can) arise in sequence, one with each wind that is stopped. These ten special signs, beginning with a smoke-like appearance (du-ba), are one set of aspects in which devoid-forms appear. At the end of this sequence, there arises a devoid-form in the aspect of a Kalachakra couple in union.
- The other set of aspects in which devoid-forms can appear is in any aspect of the five types of sensory objects – sights, sounds, smells, tastes, or physical sensations. The texts usually cite the examples of the forms of vases, cotton balls (ras-yug), and tufts of wool (snam-bu).
During the first two branches of Kalachakra complete stage practice, both sets of devoid-forms can appear. Either the first set (smoke, and so on) arises with certainty (nges-can), or both sets arise without certainty (nges-med).
- Kedrub Je explains that “with certainty” refers to certainty of their appearing in the sequential order of dissolution. “Without certainty” means they arise in any order.
On the pathway level, the devoid-forms arise together with the stains of the obscurations and they are unable to perform any functions. The devoid-forms at the time of the result, when we have become Buddhas, are parted from all obscurations and are able to perform functions.
Kedrub Norzang Gyatso explains that the pathway devoid-form Kalachakra couple is the basis for actualization (sgrub-gzhi) of ourselves as a Corpus of Enlightening Forms (Form Body) of Kalachakra. The pathway devoid-forms of smoke and so on, and especially the pathway devoid-forms of vases, tufts of wool, and so on that appear at the conclusion of the ten signs are the basis for actualization of the boundless devoid-forms of the three planes of existence (three realms) cognized by our minds as a Dharmakaya Corpus Encompassing Everything.
- It is unclear whether the implication here is that pathway devoid-forms in the forms of vases, tufts of wool and so on appear with all six branches of Kalachakra complete stage practice.
- It is also unclear whether they only appear at the conclusion of the ten signs of dissolution, or whether only the ones that appear at the conclusion of the ten signs are the basis for actualization of the pure devoid-forms of the three planes of existence.
The Three Stages of Not-Even-Facsimile Pathway Devoid-Forms
Kedrub Je delineates three stages in which the not-even-facsimile pathway devoid-forms arise during first-branch practice once one has tapped the upper end of the central channel by focusing on the awake-occasion drop through the opening there. Let me quote:
- “From when the (ten) energy-winds at the gateways of the senses are immobilized up until they have not yet started to be made to enter the central channel, the various devoid-form signs such as smoke or cotton balls arise outside the body, in the space of the meditator’s room and so on, without any certainty of their order.” Presumably, however, only the meditator himself or herself can cognize them; these forms are not sitting in the room, like the meditator’s cushion, visible to anyone who enters. Kedrub Norzang Gyatso explains that although these are devoid-forms, they are not the actual signs of this first-branch practice.
- “From when the (ten) energy-winds are made to enter the central channel up until the energy-winds have started to be made to stop their coursing, the various devoid-form signs appear within the body, but not yet within the central channel. These appear also without any certainty of their order.”
- “Starting from when the (ten) winds have been made to stop their coursing, only the ten special devoid-form signs arise – the four night signs (mtshan-rtags bzhi) and six day signs (nyin-rtags-drug) – and these are with certainty of their order.”
- With each of these three stages, the devoid-forms that arise are progressively clearer and more stable.
Kedrub Je specifies that the ten energy-winds that are stopped from coursing at the heart chakra here are the four element winds (‘byung-po bzhi’i rlung) and six aggregate winds (phung-po drug-gi rlung), correlated to the life-supporting wind (srog-‘dzin-gyi rlung), downward-voiding wind (thur-sel-gyi rlung), and so on. His Holiness the Dalai Lama questions this and postulates that the ten energy-winds stopped here from coursing at the heart chakra are the ten energy-winds involved with sensory cognition (the five energy-winds of the sensory objects and the five energy-winds of the physical sensors).
Kedrub Norzang Gyatso writes that the devoid-forms that arise during this first branch of complete stage practice can be cognized with valid non-conceptual sensory cognition through the eye-sensors (mig-gi dbang-po). He clarifies that, however, by explaining that they are cognized by either the extrasensory flesh eye (sha’i spyan) or the extrasensory divine eye (lha’i spyan) and that these two types of extrasensory eyes are attained when the winds enter the central channel.
- These two types of extrasensory eyes are attained as a side-product of the attainment of a stilled and settled state of shamatha, already achieved when one begins complete stage practice.
- The devoid-forms cognized by these extrasensory eyes, then, are not objects cognizable by ordinary visual cognition, especially because through first-branch practice, one has immobilized the energy-winds of the senses.
- Thus, although Vasubandhu in A Treasure-House of Special Topics of Knowledge (Chos mngon-pa’i mdzod, Skt. Abhidharmakosha) asserts that advanced awareness (mngon-shes; extrasensory cognition) may be with sensory consciousness, Asanga’s position is more appropriate here. In An Anthology of Special Topics of Knowledge (Chos mngon-pa kun-las btus-pa, Skt. Abhidharmasamuccaya), Asanga explains that advanced awareness occurs with a mental consciousness that relies on special powers of the eye-sensors.
Pathway devoid-forms, then, like the mental holograms that appear on the four occasions, are forms that are included merely among the cognitive stimulators that are all validly knowable phenomena (chos-kyi skye-mched-kyi gzugs). They are not included among the cognitive stimulators that are sights (gzugs-kyi skye-mched), which are visible with ordinary visual cognition.
- Moreover, Kedrub Je asserts that the devoid-forms experienced here are appearances arising to mental consciousness of the five types of sensory objects.
- Kedrub Norzang Gyatso elaborates, explaining that during this first branch of complete stage practice, one not only experiences devoid-forms with extrasensory flesh-eyes, but also devoid-sounds (equivalent to indestructible sounds) with extrasensory flesh-ears, devoid-smells with an extrasensory flesh-nose, devoid-tastes with an extrasensory flesh-tongue, and devoid-physical sensations with an extrasensory flesh-body.
The Basis for Actualization of Pathway Devoid-Forms
The Second Dalai Lama has stated emphatically that, unlike the impure and pure illusory bodies (sgyu-lus) in the Guhysamaja system, the basis for actualization of all three types of pathway devoid-forms is not the subtlest life-supporting energy-wind (srog-‘dzin-gyi rlung shin-tu phra-mo) that is the mount of the clear-light mind. He writes:
Concerning in particular the basis for actualization of devoid-forms, (consider) the appearance of a father and mother Kalachakra in the middle of a black hairline at the end of the ten (night and day) signs of dissolution that arise at the (first) branch (of the Kalachakra complete stage), individual collecting. (The texts) say that one places divine pride (on that devoid-form couple) on the (second) branch, mental stability, and that the (definitional) devoid-forms are actualized from this getting increasingly better. Because of that (statement, then if the definitional devoid-forms are actualized from the subtlest life-supporting wind), it would come down to being no different from (asserting that) either (1) this father and mother (facsimile) devoid-form explained at the occasion of individual collecting is (also) actualized from (subtlest) life-sustaining wind, or (2) even if it is not first actualized like that, it would have to be actualized at the occasion of the path from something like this. Please show me scriptural quotes that make this clear, together with the logic that would lead us to conclude (like this)!
The basis for actualization of definitional pathway devoid-forms is the blissful deep awareness of the actual clear-light mind totally absorbed non-conceptually on space-like voidness. This basis for actualization is attained newly, for the first time, at the fifth branch of Kalachakra complete stage practice and not before. Thus, the Second Dalai Lama emphatically asserts, in agreement with previous commentaries on Kalachakra, that there is no basis-level basis for actualizing the Corpus of Forms (gzugs-sku, Skt. Rupakaya; Form Bodies) of a Buddha.
The basis for actualization of facsimile and not-even-facsimile pathway devoid-forms, on the other hand, is the awake-occasion drops, which are present on the basis-level. Serkong Rinpoche has explained that since the not-even-facsimile, facsimile and definitional pathway devoid-forms constitute a continuum, we can likewise understand that the source or basis for this continuum (rgyun-gzhi) is the awake-occasion drop.
The basis for actualization of the mental holograms of the awake-occasion is also the awake-occasion drop.
The Minimal Defining Features That Characterize Pathway Devoid-Forms
On the first stage of the first-branch of Kalachakra complete stage practice, not-yet-facsimile pathway devoid-forms arise:
- without total absorption on space-like voidness,
- without the energy-winds actually entering, abiding, and dissolving in the central channel,
- without cognition of them with greatly blissful awareness,
- without their remaining at the upper end of the central channel where they first arise, or their even remaining within the body.
The defining features that these not-yet-facsimile devoid-forms do have are:
- being forms taken by the bareness that is the appearance aspect of the clear-light mind and which arise like mirror-images in the clear-light mind,
- arising as the “flavor” of clear-light mind,
- appearing in the aspect of either a Kalachakra couple in union or various appearances such as the ten signs of smoke and so on, or as vases, tufts of wool, etc.
- having the awake-occasion drop as their basis for actualization,
- arising when the ten winds of sensory cognition have been immobilized and the upper end of the central channel has been tapped,
- being forms that are included merely among the cognitive stimulators that are all validly knowable phenomena, and thus not objects cognizable by ordinary visual cognition,
- arising through the force of the yoga of the joined pair of shamatha and vipashyana.
On the generation stage (bskyed-rim) of Kalachakra practice, prior to complete stage practice, one meditates on voidness through the four gateways to liberation (rnam-thar sgo-bzhi) and imagines generating a greatly blissful deep awareness inseparable from voidness.
One then imagines that the winds of karma enter, abide in and dissolve in the central channel and that, through the dissolution process, one manifests the clear-light level of mind generated as a blissful deep awareness of space-like voidness. His Holiness the Dalai Lama has explained that on the Kalachakra generation stage, one imagines that one has the form of a devoid-form couple, but during the conceptual focus on space-like voidness, one does not focus on this form. It does not appear to the mind focused on space-like voidness.
As a subsequent realization of illusion-like voidness, one then further visualizes (mos-pa, imagines) that oneself as the Kalachakra couple and one’s environment as the Kalachakra mandala appear, like magic-mirror images, from the flavor of the bareness of that clear-light mind focused now on voidness with unchanging blissful awareness.
- The term “mos-pa,” translated here as “imagine,” has much stronger connotations than merely to imagine something.
- According to Asanga’s Anthology of Special Topics of Knowledge, “mos-pa,” when used to translate the Sanskrit term “adhimukti,” means firm conviction in something that one has validly ascertained with discriminating awareness (shes-rab) to be like this and not like that. Thus, when imagining these generation-stage forms, one has firm conviction concerning their appearance.
- According to Vasubandhu’s Treasure-House of Special Topics of Knowledge, “mos-pa,” translating the Sanskrit term “adhimoksha,” means “high regard,” namely regarding the object of focus as having good qualities. When visualizing the mandala and figures in it, one regards them as having all good qualities.
- “Mos-pa/adhimoksha” also has the connotation of a firm aspiration or resolve to attain a goal for which one has high regard. In this case, the goals are the pathway devoid-forms of a Kalachakra couple, vases, tufts of wool, and so on, and the resultant devoid-forms of a Buddha’s Corpus of Enlightening Forms and the pure objects cognized by the omniscient mind a Buddha’s Corpus Encompassing Everything.
- Note that visualization is done with mental cognition, not sensory cognition. Nevertheless, one can have both mental and sensory cognition simultaneously, with each having a different object. Just as one can think various extraneous thoughts while looking at something, meditators still see the room they are in and the pages of the sadhana they are reciting while simultaneously visualizing what the sadhana is describing. The level of attention that accompanies each of these two cognitions may differ, but they are still occurring simultaneously.
I have not seen a textual reference in which the forms that arise through mos-pa during the generation stage (let us call them “visualized generation-stage forms”) are called devoid-forms, whether basis-level or pathway-level ones. These visualized forms are described merely as that which ripens (smin-pa) into the definitional pathway devoid-forms, but not as their basis for actualization.
- These visualized forms “ripen” in the sense that repeated visualization of them builds up a beneficial habit and a positive potential that develop and grow to the point at which they produce their result: the arising of pathway devoid-forms.
- It is not that the visualized generation-stage devoid-forms themselves ripen into pathway complete-stage devoid-forms, like an unripe fruit ripening into a ripe one.
Nevertheless, it seems reasonable for the visualized generation-stage forms to be considered among the appearances that arise during the awake-occasion. As such, what they have in common with first-stage not-yet-facsimile pathway devoid-forms are:
- having as their basis for actualization the awake-occasion drop,
- being forms that are included merely among the cognitive stimulators that are all validly knowable phenomena, and thus not objects cognizable by ordinary visual cognition,
- appearing in the forms of both a Kalachakra couple and other aspects, such as vases,
- having an appearance of truly established existence.
Although visualized generation-stage forms are imagined to arise with conceptual focus on space-like voidness, imagined to be attained with the greatly blissful awareness of the clear-light mind after an imagined ten-step process of dissolution of the energy-winds, these features do not qualify them to be devoid-forms. This is because, as we have seen, (1) focus on space-like voidness, (2) greatly blissful awareness, and (3) cognition by clear-light mind are not characteristic features of all devoid-forms. First-stage not-even-facsimile pathway devoid-forms lack these features.
However, unlike first-stage not-yet-facsimile pathway devoid-forms, visualized generation-stage forms:
- do not arise from focusing on the awake-occasion drop at the upper end of the central channel, despite having the awake-occasion drop as their basis for actualization,
- consequently, are not attained from tapping an essential point of the central channel,
- do not arise through totally immobilizing the sensory winds, although one does not utilize the sensory winds to visualize them,
- are not attained through the power of the yoga of a joined pair of shamatha and vipashyana, nor necessarily cognized with such a joined pair,
The questions then arise, however, in regard to these visualized generation-stage forms:
- Although these forms are imagined, with firm conviction, to arise with the flavor (ngang) of blissful clear-light cognition of voidness, are they in fact at least actually arising like magic-mirror images from the basis-level clear-light mind as the flavor of that mind?
- If these forms are, in fact, arising from the basis-level clear-light mind, does this qualify them to be considered basis-level devoid-forms?
To answer these questions, we need to examine the phenomena actually considered to be basis-level devoid-forms.
Kedrub Norzang Gyatso explains that basis-level devoid-forms are devoid-forms that arise not through the power of yoga, but that arise naturally. He does not specify, however, the characteristic features that distinguish them as devoid-forms. Nevertheless, he joins all previous commentators in emphatically asserting that there is nothing at the basis-level that functions as the basis for actualization of a Buddha’s Corpus of Enlightening Forms. Thus, basis-level devoid-forms certainly cannot be the basis for actualization of pathway or resultant-level devoid-forms, nor can they even be what will ripen into these devoid-forms.
The examples of basis-level devoid-forms that Kedrub Norzang Gyatso cites are the various appearances that spontaneously and effortlessly arise with the clear-light of death at the conclusion of the natural dissolution process of the energy-winds. They arise, he explains,
As the natural flavor of the clear-light mind, when the winds that course through the right and left side-channels having been stopped and made to abide in and dissolve in the central channel, and consequently all the fleeting conceptual cognitions having appearances of objects (glo-bur yul-snang-gi rtog-pa) have been stopped. At such a time, these various devoid-forms arise, like magic-mirror images, in the natural clear-light mind having an appearance aspect of a space-like void (stong-pa nam-mkha’ lta-bu) that is parted from all extremes of mental fabrication (spros-pa, Skt. prapanca).
Note that the appearance of the clear-light mind of death is that of a space-light void or bareness like that which arises when non-conceptually totally absorbed on space-like voidness, devoid of the mental fabrications of true existence, total nonexistence, both or neither.
- This does not imply that the clear-light of death has non-conceptual cognition of space-like voidness.
- Nor does it imply that the basis-level devoid-forms that arise with the clear-light of death appear to lack truly established existence.
- In fact, it is unclear whether these devoid-forms are actually cognized by the clear-light mind of death at all, or whether they merely arise in the clear-light mind, but are not actually cognized by that clear-light mind, as in the case of definitional pathway-level devoid-forms that arise during sixth-branch total absorption on voidness, The clear-light mind of death, although not naturally having non-conceptual cognition of voidness, nevertheless does not make appearances of truly established existence.
The various forms in which these death-time basis-level devoid-forms may arise can include both Kalachakra couples (if one has accustomed oneself to meditation on them while alive) and any other form (vases, tufts of wool, and so on).
- Note that the appearances of smoke, and so on, in the dissolution process leading up to the clear light of death are not included here as basis-level devoid-forms, although on the pathway-level these appearances are included.
The characteristic features, then, that basis-level devoid-forms at the time of death share in common with not-yet-facsimile pathway devoid-forms are:
- arising when the energy-winds of the senses have been totally immobilized (whether that has occurred naturally or through the power of yoga),
- arising when the vital points of the subtle body have been tapped, so that the energy-winds can enter the central channel (again, whether that has occurred naturally or through the power of yoga),
- arising as the natural flavor of the clear-light mind,
- being forms that are included merely among the cognitive stimulators that are all validly knowable phenomena, and thus not objects cognizable by ordinary visual cognition.
The features that they do not share in common are:
- having the awake-occasion drop as their basis for actualization,
- arising through the force of the yoga of the joined pair of shamatha and vipashyana.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama has cited another example of basis-level devoid-forms, namely those that arise when a child, for fun, looks at the sun and then looks away. I have been unable to find the textual reference for this. I imagine that the devoid-forms such a child cognizes are similar to the dots of light that arise in our cognition after having our photos taken with a flash camera.
- Note that bimba, the Sanskrit word for “form” in the expression “devoid-form,” is also used for the round disc of the sun or the moon. The example of the after-image of the sun as an example of a basis-level devoid-form could have been chosen as a play on the two connotations of the word “bimba”: image and disc.
- It is unclear whether the cognition of these after-images are with sensory cognition or with mental consciousness, and if with mental consciousness, whether non-conceptual or conceptual.
- It is unclear even if these cognitions are distorted or not.
His Holiness agrees that it is much more difficult to ascertain what characteristic features these after-images share in common with other basis-level devoid-forms, let alone with pathway devoid-forms.
- Even if we presume that these after-images are cognized with mental cognition and not sensory cognition, the fact of these images being forms included merely among the cognitive stimulators that are all validly knowable phenomena cannot, by itself, qualify them as devoid-forms.
- If it did qualify them, then the absurd conclusion would follow that all forms included merely among the cognitive stimulators that are all validly knowable phenomena are devoid-forms.
- Then it would absurdly follow that forms of physical phenomena existing in actual situations (mngon-par skabs yod-pa'i gzugs), such as astronomical distances between stars and microscopic distances between atoms, would also be devoid-forms, because they can only be cognized by mental consciousness and they are not made up of particles.
The basis-level after-image devoid-forms do not even share the other characteristic features that basis-level clear-light-of-death devoid-forms and not-even-facsimile pathway devoid-forms have in common.
- It is not that the energy-winds of the senses have been totally immobilized before these devoid-forms arise, although perhaps the energy-winds of the eyes have been stunned by looking at the sun or the flash of a camera.
- We can perhaps conjecture that these after-image devoid-forms are not cognized with ordinary sensory cognition. This feature is, however, shared in common with visualized generation-stage forms.
- It is also not that they are arising when the vital points of the subtle body have been tapped, so that the energy-winds can enter the central channel.
What basis-level after-image devoid-void forms do share in common with not-even-facsimile pathway devoid-forms, though not with basis-level clear-light-of-death devoid-forms is:
- Having the awake-occasion drop as their basis for actualization, although the basis-level after-image devoid-void forms do not arise by focusing on this drop.
Thus, it is difficult to set a common feature shared exclusively by both types of basis-level devoid-forms and not-even-facsimile devoid-forms and which characterize them all as devoid-forms and nothing else.
One could try to make the case that (1) since 675 deep awareness winds enter and pass through the central channel each day and (2) since second- and third-stage not-even-facsimile pathway devoid-forms, as well as facsimile and definitional pathway devoid-forms, all arise once the ten energy-winds have been made to enter the central channel, therefore the mental holograms of the four occasions are basis-level devoid-forms arising when these 675 deep awareness breaths are occurring. This is not a valid line of reasoning, however, because if it were, then the absurd conclusion would follow that the mental holograms of the four occasions could only arise twelve times a day, in between the twelve shifts of the breath, and each time they would only last for 56 ¼ breaths.
The facts that (1) the basis for actualization for the mental holograms that arise while awake is the awake-occasion drop and (2) the mental holograms are forms included merely among the cognitive stimulators that are all validly knowable phenomena and thus they are not made of particles are not sufficient characteristic features to specify these mental holograms as being basis-level devoid-forms arising, like mirror-images, in the clear-light mind.
If the awake-occasion mental holograms cannot be considered basis-level devoid-forms, then it is difficult to argue that the mental holograms of the other three occasions (dream, deep sleep, and the fourth occasion) are basis-level devoid-forms.
Thus, although the winds of karma may be the mount of the mental consciousness that cognizes the mental holograms of the four occasions – although one would need to give valid lines of reasoning to demonstrate this – we cannot convincingly argue that the mental holograms they are involved with are merely forms that are devoid of being made of particles and which arise in the clear-light mind like images in a magic-mirror.
- It is unlikely that the winds of karma are the mounts of the mental consciousness that cognize any of the three types of pathway devoid-forms (definitional, facsimile, and not-even facsimile) or even visualized generation-stage forms. This is because the minds that cognize these forms have either labored or unlabored bodhichitta. Thus, the positive forces (bsod-nams, Skt. punya) built up from such cognition are enlightenment-builders and are not involved with the karmic process.
- Thus, even if it is correct that the winds of karma are the mounts of the mental holograms of the four occasions, that still does not qualify those mental holograms to be devoid-forms, because it is unlikely that these winds are the mounts of pathway devoid-forms.