The Gelug-Kagyu Tradition of Mahamudra
H. H. the Dalai Lama and Berzin, Alexander. The Gelug/Kagyü Tradition of Mahamudra. Ithaca, Snow Lion, 1997
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Part IV: A Discourse on The Autocommentary to "A Root Text for Mahamudra"
Dharamsala, India, March 1982
translated by Alexander Berzin
Once we have gained conviction in the lack of true and inherent identity on the basis of our own "self," we turn to the basis of other persons or individuals and then to the massive network of all other phenomena. We examine voidness itself and all pure or impure phenomena. When we investigate and search, we cannot find any of them. None of them can be established as a true and inherent reality. Everything is simply what can be dependently labeled. We need to know this well. When we see this devoid nature with respect to all phenomena, from forms of physical phenomena up to an omniscient mind – namely, this total lack of anything being established as a true and inherent reality – then as it says in a sutra, "This not finding is the supreme finding. This not seeing is the best seeing."
As part of this process, we now take mind as the basis for voidness – in other words, as the basis that is devoid of existing in any fantasized and impossible way. We scrutinize and analyze mind with a correct view to gain a decisive understanding of its devoid nature. Recognizing mind's devoid nature, while settled single-pointedly on its conventional nature through the previous guidelines, is very important because, in so doing, we gather together many special features that ripen into the clear light realizations discussed in tantra.
The commonplace nature of mind as a basis for voidness is that it is not established as being any form of physical phenomenon. It is immaterial and has no form. It is a bare absence, like an open space, that can be neither contacted nor touched. Furthermore, mind's uncontrived or primordial nature is something not obstructed by conceptual thoughts. It allows for an aspect of any object to arise as something known. Through the power of regarding and relying on an aspect of some external object, it allows for a corresponding aspect to arise within. Likewise, without obstruction, mind emanates, projects, or gives rise to various objects it cognizes. When an object, cognitive sensors and consciousness meet together, it allows for an aspect of the object to arise and be known without obstruction. Its nature is mere clarity and awareness. It cannot be extinguished like the dousing of a flame, but is an awareness and clarity that has continuity with no beginning or end. It obstructs neither liberation nor enlightenment.
When mind gives rise to a cognition of clarity and awareness, having these defining characteristics and appearing to our reflexive pure awareness, we inspect and scrutinize its factors and parts – its basis for labeling. Mind is something that is labeled by relying on its numerous factors and parts. But when our mind gives rise to an appearance of mind, it gives rise to an appearance of it as if it were something existing through its own power, by virtue of itself, not dependent on anything other than itself, not needing to rely on any circumstances or conditions in order to establish its existence. The apprehension of it as existing in the manner in which mind fabricates an appearance of it is the apprehension of true and inherent existence focused on mind. The implied object of this apprehension of true and inherent existence – a mind that is actually established as existing as some true and solid reality – is what must be refuted and nullified.
Shantideva has explained how to refute and nullify it in Engaging in Bodhisattva Behavior. A collection and a continuum are labeled on the basis of the gathering of many parts. Because mind is something that is labeled on top of numerous former and later moments, it is like the examples of a rosary and an army that Shantideva has cited. On the basis of the gathering together of many things, we have a rosary and give it that conventional name. But if we untie it and sift through its parts, we cannot find anything that we can say, "This is the rosary." Its impromptu manner of appearance is that it is a rosary. Even though we can distinguish the rosary beads and the rosary string, our mind still gives rise to an appearance of it as though there were a substantial rosary existing without being totally dependent on them. If, however, we dismantle its parts, we cannot find such a rosary. The same is true of armies and forests. They are only what can be labeled on the basis of the gathering of a large number of constituent members. This is easy to understand.
Like these examples, mind or consciousness is labeled on the basis of a continuum of moments. Because it is labeled on the basis of a collection of instances, it cannot be established as existing as something that does not dependent on all its moments. Our mind is merely fabricating an appearance of it as though it could be established as existing through its own power, by virtue of itself. We need to prove, through scriptural authority and lines of reasoning, that this manner of appearance-making and appearance is false, not true. The First Panchen Lama thus identifies the task in his root text.
Many masters and texts of scriptural authority have confirmed that the omniscient Buddhas have never seen in the past, do not see at present and will never see in the future a truly and inherently findable mind. Marpa, for example, studied in India with many great teachers, such as Naropa and Maitripa. Since the latter had been most instrumental for his gaining a correct view of reality, Marpa has written in one of his Songs of Meditation Experience, "I went to the banks of the River Ganges in the East. There, through the kindness of the great Maitripa, I was able to gain realization of the basic nature of reality which is unborn." As he achieved this through the yogic methods of anuttarayoga tantra, he gained decisive understanding of the devoid nature of primordial mind. His song continues, "My mind flared in voidness." Because of the special features of understanding voidness, not simply of any phenomenon, but of simultaneously arising, primordial clear light mind as its basis, his subtlest clear light mind with this decisive understanding flared, like a brilliant torch, making enlightenment as easy to see and recognize as seeing one's mother. This is similar to Jamyang-zheypa's statement, "The methods of anuttarayoga tantra are able to bring about the attainment of the three Buddha-bodies like seeing one's mother."
The quotation from Marpa continues, "As I saw the nature of the actual primordial state parted from all mental fabrication ..." This can refer to the fact that the devoid nature of mind is parted from all mentally fabricated modes of existence. Or it can mean that he saw the deepest, ultimate nature of simultaneously arising, primordial clear light mind that is parted from the mental fabricating of all conceptual levels of mind. Having made manifest primordial clear light mind in this fashion, the quotation concludes, "...I directly met with the three Buddha-bodies like with my mother. From then on, I cut off my mental fabricating." This indicates a very potent method, then, for liberating ourselves from samsara.
The next quotation in the autocommentary is by Pagmo-drupa. This guiding light Kagyu master has explained that the root of samsara or nirvana is mind in the sense that subtlest clear light mind that we come to through the methods of anuttarayoga tantra is the source of all impure or pure appearance-making of samsara or nirvana. Mind itself cannot be established as existing as something inherently findable by nature. Mind itself exists simply inasmuch as it can be mentally labeled dependently. Primordially, from its depths, it is devoid and pure. Because mind, primordially from its depths, is stilled of existing as a solid reality, it has never arisen as something truly and inherently existent. Thus, primordially from its depths, it is stilled of all mentally fabricated, extreme modes of existence. All great masters have concluded, then, that the most important point when we practice anuttarayoga tantra is to come to the simultaneously arising, primordial clear light mind and, on its basis, to meditate on its own devoid nature.
Reaffirming Conviction in Voidness by Merely Seeing the Appearances to Which Mind Dependently Gives Rise
In his promise to compose this section, the First Panchen Lama said he would explain in accordance with personal guideline instructions of his extremely kind root guru, Sanggyay-yeshey, who was both well learned and an accomplished practitioner. In the root text, therefore, he now quotes a verse indicating the correct view from his guru's Songs of Meditation Experience, "When, no matter what has cognitively dawned, you are fully aware of it as (having its existence established merely by its being) what can be cognitively held by a conceptual thought, the deepest sphere of reality is dawning without need to rely on anything else. To immerse your awareness in the state of (this) dawning and totally absorb single-pointedly, oh, my goodness!”
Those with considerable familiarity with a correct view of voidness have a great deal of experience in scrutinizing and analyzing things with a correct view. Through the power of their experience, no matter what phenomena their mind gives rise to an occurrence or appearance of – within the categories of apprehending minds and objects apprehended – they are fully aware that these are simply what can be apprehended or labeled by conceptual thought. By the force of this deep awareness, a decisive understanding of the devoid nature of phenomena dawns in their mind without need to rely on any other line of reasoning.
In A Lamp to Clarify the Meaning of the Generation Stage of Guhyasamaja, Kaydrub Norzang-gyatso has explained something quite similar with respect to those who have completed their training in scrutinizing and analyzing with a correct view and, as a result, see voidness with their conviction in it coming from understanding that things are devoid because of their arising dependently. For such well-trained persons, their understanding of dependent arising induces further conviction in voidness and their understanding of voidness induces further conviction in dependent arising. They need not rely on any other line of reasoning.
For example, consider the case of cross-eyed persons who, due to their affliction, see two moons, although they do not exist in reality. They can understand that there is no such thing as two moons simply for the reason that it is merely their mind that is making two moons appear. They need not rely on any other line of reasoning to realize the total absence or voidness of the moon existing as a double moon. Like this example, consider the case of someone who understands very well that all phenomena lack inherent, findable existence simply for the reason that they are established as existing as what they are dependently on mental labeling, and who understand as well that it is totally reasonable that things arise as what they are dependently on mental labeling simply because they lack findable existence with an inherent identity established by virtue of themselves. When the mind of such a person gives rise to the appearance of things as if they existed as what they are from their own side – not as what can only be designated as existing as such merely by virtue of conceptual thought – the appearance itself induces conviction that what mind is producing an appearance of does not exist inherently and findably.
Sanggyay-yeshey's verse has the same meaning as what Kaydrub Norzang-gyatso has explained. When, no matter what our mind gives rise to an appearance of, their appearance induces in us realization that although they appear to us as if existing from their own side, they exist simply as what can be labeled by a conceptual thought, then we need not rely on any other line of reasoning. Although there are many lines of reasoning to refute inherent, findable existence, such as "neither one nor many," "arising from neither self nor other," and so on, we have no need to rely on any of them. The elimination or cessation of the mental fabrication and fabricating of inherent, findable existence naturally dawns, or occurs within the state of that realization. In other words, from merely seeing non-fallacious dependent arising, our mind's aim at the implied object of the apprehension of true and inherent existence naturally stills down and stops. When our mind gives rise to a vivid cognitive dawning of this elimination and absence of mental fabrication and fabricating, if we absorb our awareness into total concentration on this, we find it extremely wondrous.
Tsongkhapa has made a similar point in The Three Principal Aspects of the Path, in which he has written, ""When [total absorption and subsequently attained deep awareness] are joined together and do not merely alternate, so that from merely seeing non-fallacious dependent arising, your decisive understanding [of voidness] eradicates your manner of apprehension of objects [as truly and inherently existent], you have successfully completed scrutinizing with a correct view."
Padampa Sanggyay has also spoken similarly in A Hundred Verses to the People of Dingri, "Within a state of voidness, the lance of awareness twirls around. A correct view of reality cannot be impeded by anything [ultimately] tangible or obstructive, O people of Dingri." No matter what phenomena our mind produces an appearance of at this point in our practice, we find that as soon as we scrutinize their nature, a decisive understanding of their voidness of an inherent, findable nature dawns in our mind, without need to rely on anything else. When this happens, our awareness of the devoid nature of reality neither obstructs nor can be obstructed.
When our mind is not well-trained, its making voidness arise as its object of cognition obstructs, or temporarily blocks, its appearance-making, and its appearance-making obstructs its making voidness arise. It cannot give rise to both simultaneously. When we have achieved a very deep understanding of appearance and voidness, however, mere appearance itself induces conviction in voidness by nature. In this situation, the lance of awareness of voidness twirls around and is not obstructed by appearance-making.
After we have meditated on a correct view in this way for our full period of total absorption, we arise from that state of absorbed concentration. We then conclude our meditation session by dedicating the positive force we have built up during our period of absorption on voidness toward the attainment of enlightenment for all.
The First Panchen Lama now discusses how to enhance our subsequently attained deep awareness after we have arisen from absorbed concentration on voidness. He suggests that, afterwards, we investigate very carefully how our mind makes the objects of any of our six networks of consciousness appear – sights, sounds and so forth. As a result of our thorough familiarity with a correct view, we experience our mind automatically giving rise, immediately upon closer inspection, to apprehension of a bare manner of existence totally different from their manner of appearance as if truly and inherently existent from their own side. We perceive their bare manner of existence, stripped of true and inherent existence. This is called "the essential point of a correct view – recognizing whatever dawns in your mind."
Except when we are totally absorbed on straightforward, nonconceptual perception of voidness, our mind gives rise to an appearance of things as if truly and inherently existent. But even if our mind makes everything appear to exist in this fantasized and impossible manner, conviction automatically arises in the fact that nothing exists in this manner that our mind is merely fabricating. This is what it means "to recognize whatever dawns in your mind."
The root text continues, In short, any object whatsoever that cognitively appears, such as your own mind and so on, make yourself certain about its manner of existence – don’t grasp at it (to exist in the manner that it appears) – and always sustain (that certainty).”No matter what apprehending mind and apprehended object our mind produces an occurrence or appearance of, including mind itself, we do not apprehend them to exist in the manner in which they appear to exist. Their actual mode of existence is that they are devoid of existing as truly and inherently findable. We keep firm to this by always apprehending everything with mindfulness of this fact. In other words, we further cultivate and enhance our conviction in voidness by always remembering it no matter what arises in our mind.
The First Panchen Lama continues, "When you cognize [one thing] like this, [you see] the nature of all phenomena of samsara or nirvana as being uniformly the same." When we cognize things in this above manner, we see that all phenomena included as samsara or nirvana are of one taste in the sphere of their total lack of inherently findable existence. When our mind gains total conviction in this, we see that the nature of everything is uniformly the same. When we are able to gain decisive understanding of voidness on the basis of one phenomenon, then because the void manner of existence everything is the same, we need not rely on many lines of reasoning in order to prove and establish voidness on the basis of other phenomena. We are able to cognize it easily.
Mind cannot give rise to the appearance of dependently arising phenomena in front of that aspect of it that decisively understands voidness. Appearances of phenomena with a devoid nature cannot hold their own before such a mind because if they were to arise before it, this aspect of mind would cease all appearance of them and apprehend merely their lack of inherent, findable existence – in the manner of a non-affirming nullification. Mind can give rise to appearances of conventional phenomena only before that aspect of it that can cognize the conventional truth of things. The appearances that it normally produces, however, are a mixture of pure ones, whose manner of appearance is as what can simply be labeled by names, and impure ones with a manner of appearance discordant to that.
When we have accustomed ourselves to voidness as the object of our total absorption, we experience our discordant appearance-making and its mental fabrications decreasing steadily. In the end, our mind simply produces an appearance of conventional phenomena existing in a manner contrary to their being seemingly truly and inherently existent. It gives rise simply to an appearance of them parted from all contrived, mentally fabricated, extreme and impossible modes of existence.
Milarepa has raised the following query. In light of deepest, ultimate truth, phenomena of samsara or nirvana do not exist. But if this were true on all levels and there were no such thing as beings with limited minds – if there were no sentient beings – then from whom did, do and will arise the Buddhas of the three times? It is impossible for there to be a result that has no cause. If this were not the case – if the functioning of cause and effect were not the case – then the entire presentation of order in the universe would fall apart and be invalid. Having formulated the doubt, Milarepa has then reassured that there are no such faults. In light of conventional truth, all things of samsara or nirvana do exist.
Gungtangzang has written, "When a correct view searches for and scrutinizes an inherently findable self-nature and does not find one, it nullifies it." In other words, a correct view scrutinizes closely the impression we have of a seemingly findable self-nature on the side of the various phenomena our mind produces an appearance of. A correct view is not satisfied merely with how mind normally makes things appear, it scrutinizes the apparent mode of existence of the phenomena that mind gives rise to an appearance of. When it does so, it cannot find what it is searching for.
Except for searching for an inherently findable self-nature, however, a correct view has no wish to search for the various phenomena of the conventional level that it neither inspects nor scrutinizes. Of course, it searches for an inherently findable self-nature on the basis of these conventional phenomena, not elsewhere. But because it searches merely for this inherently findable self-nature that we feel these phenomena have, when it cannot find one, it refutes, nullifies and, in a sense, eliminates such a self-nature – although such a self-nature never actually existed there at all. Conventional phenomena, such as mind, from their depths have always been pure of an inherently findable self-nature.
If there were such a thing as an inherently findable self-nature, then when a correct view searched for one, it should find it. But when it searches for one, intent on finding it, and does not find it, it nullifies its existence. In this sense, logic, reason and close scrutiny undermine and nullify inherently findable existence. Inherently findable existence, then, means existence by virtue of an inherently findable self-nature. Because all phenomena lack an inherently findable self-nature – as proven by a correct view that searches for one with logic, reason and scrutiny – all phenomena lack true, inherently findable existence.
The quotation of Gungtangzang continues, "But, when it does not find it, it does not nullify the basis for labeling. It sees something left over, existing simply through names." When a correct view does not find an inherently findable self-nature, this means it does not find a self-nature, or characteristic mark, or defining characteristic ultimately and truly existing as findable on the side of the object rendering that object what it appears to be. It does not locate, or come in contact with a findable characteristic mark on the side of the basis for labeling that object which allows for it to be correctly labeled as what it correctly appears to be. It does not, however, in any way invalidate or nullify this basis for labeling that is the place for affixing the convention of the object's name whereby the object being labeled exists, dependently, by virtue simply of names and mental labeling, as what it conventionally and validly is. Thus, with a mind validly seeing conventional phenomena – not with that aspect of mind that sees only deepest truths – we come to know and see leftover the object being labeled existing simply by virtue of names – existing as what its name refers to, dependent on this basis for labeling.
On the basis of existence and identity by virtue simply of labeling with names, we can establish, in an undisturbed and undisturbing manner, in accordance with our experience, what is a fault or a good quality, what is to be rejected or accepted, and the benefits of engaging in productive and constructive actions. Thus we are left with the presentation of cause and effect, operating in an orderly fashion on the basis of existence by virtue simply of names.
This conclusion is corroborated by Chandrakirti in A Supplement to [Nagarjuna's "Root Verses on] the Middle Way," "Thus, although we cannot establish them, in any of the seven-fold ways, on the very deepest or even worldly level, yet when we do not scrutinize in these ways, [we are left with the fact that] what things come from and what is here on the worldly level is what can be labeled dependently on its own parts." In other words, when we search with logic and reason, either on the deepest, ultimate level or on the conventional level, for phenomena existing in the manner in which the mind produces an appearance of them – which would have to be in one of the seven-fold ways, such as being inherently findable as the same as or different from their basis for labeling, and so forth – we cannot find them. But when we do not scrutinize, then on their basis for labeling, under the power of networks of circumstances and conditions, there exist phenomena that actually bring benefit or harm.
Thus all knowable phenomena exist, but exist merely inasmuch as they can be labeled by names. They cannot be found to exist in the manner in which mind normally gives rise to an appearance of them. The autocommentary illustrates this with the example of universals and particulars from the presentation of metaphysics. Suppose in a hall we have four pillars. We can say there is a universal pervasive with all these pillars, which is just "pillar" itself. Although we can mentally label the universal "pillar" on the basis of these four pillars, yet if we search the four for a findable basis with the defining characteristic making it the universal pillar that renders each individual pillar a pillar, we cannot find anything corresponding to this universal pillar. None of the individual pillars, nor their collection is the universal pillar. Nor can a universal pillar be found established as existing on its own, separate from any particular pillar.
Universal and particular pillars, however, do conventionally exist. Dependent on the existence of the universal, "pillar," as a convention, different kinds and instances of particular pillars exist as pillars. Likewise, because different kinds and instances of pillars exist, the universal, "pillar," does exist. A basis for sub-division into particulars and individual particulars sub-divided both exist. But they exist merely dependently on each other – not independently on their own – simply as what can be labeled by conceptual thought and names.
The same is true of all conventional phenomena. Because they are merely what can be labeled by conceptual minds and names on a basis for labeling, they exist as what they conventionally are by virtue simply of mental labeling. Their existence as "this" of "that" is established merely by the fact that they can be mentally labeled "this" or "that." There is no findable self-nature inherently on their own side, or on the side of their basis for labeling, establishing their true existence either through its own power alone or in conjunction with mental labeling. All phenomena are totally devoid of such a self-nature. Thus, we say in simple words, "the deepest nature of all phenomena is voidness."
The autocommentary now raises a possible qualm. Some people say it is improper to refute and nullify the existence of whatever our mind produces an appearance of. As this is the case, then the object to be refuted that logic, reason and scrutiny refute must be something separate, more gross than what our mind makes appear. If we were to refute and nullify what our mind makes appear, we would fall to nihilism.
In answer to this qualm, the First Panchen Lama explains that, on the one hand, any appearance the mind of ordinary beings produces in their cognitions is nothing but an appearance of true and inherent existence – and true and inherent existence is the actual object to be refuted. After all, it is said that the cognition of ordinary beings is pervasive with deceptive cognition. If it is a cognition of an ordinary being, it is necessarily a deceptive cognition producing an appearance in it of seemingly true and inherent existence. The necessity for saying this is that otherwise appearances of true and inherent existence would still be left unrefuted had we scrutinized the manner of existence of phenomena with merely the above criterion that affirms the existence of anything mind gives rise to an appearance of. Furthermore, if we say that the impossible manner of existence that we need to refute as our object to be refuted must be a separate fantasized one, other than true and inherent existence – one that leaves intact the appearance of solid phenomena and mind's appearance-making of them – we have come to a similar position as that of the svatantrika-madhyamaka system of tenets.
Some learned proponents of this system assert that things, such as forms of physical phenomena and so forth, exist by virtue of unmistaken minds being able to give rise to an appearance of them that can be mentally labeled as what they are. Chandrakirti has refuted this position soundly as having an object of refutation that is under-pervasive. He has explained that it is insufficient to refute and nullify merely true, unimputed existence – a peculiar manner of existence that still allows for existence established from the side of an object of cognition, since such an object is merely devoid of not existing by virtue of an unmistaken mind being able to give rise to an appearance of it that can be mentally labeled to be what it conventionally is. The refutation and nullification of such an incomplete object to be refuted as this does not refute and nullify existence established through an inherently findable characteristic mark on the side of the basis for labeling this object of cognition which allows for it to be unmistakenly labeled as what an unmistaken, though deceived, mind makes it appear conventionally to be. Such an insufficient refutation and nullification leaves behind inherently findable characteristic marks, or defining characteristics, or self-natures, as what establish the conventional truth. What is being refuted is not subtle enough and thus this svatantrika-madhyamaka position does not assert the most subtle correct view of reality. Those who would raise the above qualm should think carefully, the First Panchen Lama advises, about Chandrakirti's uncommon, special manner of asserting the subtlest object to be refuted.
When we refute and nullify inherently findable defining characteristic marks establishing the existence of conventional phenomena, either within or independent of the context of mental labeling, we are still left with the basis upon which this refutation and nullification is made. In the place of the nullification of such defining characteristic marks supposedly establishing the conventional truth from the side of objects, we are left with the ground for the nullifcation – the orderly presentation of non-fallacious, dependently arising phenomena that exist by virtue simply of what can be mentally labeled with names, without such defining characteristic marks.
Thus the prasangika-madhyamaka position is very subtle and extremely difficult to understand and realize. If we cannot adeptly correlate (1) the basis upon which the nullification of an inherently findable self-nature as the object to be refuted is made and is the case, with (2) the non-fallacious operation of dependent arising that brings benefit and harm, then even if we speak of a bare, total absence that is the nullification of inherently findable existence, we have not reached the actual absence that is voidness. When a mind of decisive understanding and realization gives rise to the actual, authentic total absence that is voidness, it needs to give rise to a total absence of existence established by inherently findable self-natures such that this absence serves as sufficient basis not only for dependently arising phenomena to function to bring happiness or downfalls, but also for mind to be able to give rise to an appearance of them.
In other words, we need to have voidness dawn in our mind in the meaning of dependent arising – in both functional and cognitive contexts. Thus when we prove or establish the side of voidness through one of the sets of lines of reasoning of the madhyamaka middle way, even if we gain some level of understanding of voidness, if we cannot adeptly correlate voidness of true, inherent, findable existence with its being the foundation for the non-fallacious dependent arising of the unmistaken functioning of conventional phenomena and mind's unmistakably giving rise to appearances of them, it will not do. Thus, the ground for the refutation and nullification is both appearance and voidness being the case.
Among the many reasons that induce conviction in voidness, the line of reasoning of dependent arising is the most devastating and important. When we say that phenomena are not established as existing from their own side because they arise dependently, with their existence established by their reliance simply on factors other than themselves – in other words, when we say that objects, that exist inasmuch as their existence is established by their reliance on serving as a basis for their functioning, do not exist with an inherently findable self-nature, precisely because their existence is established simply by their being related to factors other than themselves – we are making a very potent statement. Therefore, dependent arising, as the "king of lines of reasoning," is called "that which eliminates the two extreme, impossible modes of existence, both at once."
"Relying on factors other than itself" and "not relying on anything other than itself" are mutually exclusive categories. Not only that, they are explicitly mutually exclusive, which means they form a dichotomy. Anything that exists must either rely on factors other than itself or not rely on any such factors. There is no third possibility. It is impossible for something to both rely and not rely on factors other than itself. For any phenomenon, either external or internal, to exist, it must rely on causes and conditions, or on what can label it. The fact that it must rely on the basis of something other than itself in order to establish both its functional and cognitive existence completely cancels and eliminates the only alternative possibility. This would be that it does not rely on anything other than itself to establish its own existence, but does so through its own power – for example, by virtue of its inherently findable self-nature or defining characteristic mark.
There are many songs of meditation experience by various masters in praise of dependent arising. Just by looking at the word, "dependent arising," for example, we can explain the entire manner of existence of conventional phenomenon. "Dependent" means that something depends or relies on factors other than itself. Because, when we say something relies on factors other than itself, we understand that it is severed from any possibility of having a nature of existing under its own power without relying on anything other than itself, the word "dependent" signifies a devoid nature and eliminates the extreme of true, inherent existence. "Arising" also implies that something exists by relying on factors other than itself. Through the power of conditions and circumstances, something has arisen, or is established as existing, or has come to be. This eliminates the extreme that it does not exist at all. Since it eliminates the extreme of total nonexistence, the word "arising" allows us to understand the orderly presentation of the dependently arising manner of the universe. Therefore, because simply by virtue of the term, "dependent arising," we can understand fully both truths, there is a manner for eliminating the two extreme, impossible modes of existence simply through understanding one term.
The Mutual Benefits of Supplementing the Understanding of Dzogchen and Tsongkhapa's Presentation of Voidness with Each Other
We find the most clear, precise and detailed explanation of how voidness means dependent arising, and dependent arising means voidness in the writings of Tsongkhapa. Such clarity and depth of precision are, in fact, the uncommon feature of his great works. The great dzogchen texts and masters always speak about all phenomena "being primordially, from their depths, primally pure," "being, by nature, primally pure," "being stilled of solid reality," "being primordially, from their depths, devoid." For those who practice dzogchen, however, it is of no benefit to have merely a presumptive understanding of the expression "being, by nature, primally pure," or merely an idea of it that consists of the sound of the expression itself, but without any meaning. We must correctly and totally understand the meaning of "primally pure." For this, we must understand fully, with precision, depth, clarity and detail, the manner of voidness that is the primordial voidness, with respect to all phenomena, of an inherently findable nature from their depths, as we have just explained. This being so, if, as dzogchen practitioners, we supplement our efforts to come to an accurate understanding of the meaning of "primally pure" with Tsongkhapa's explanation of all phenomena being devoid of an inherently findable self-nature, we find it very applicable and extremely beneficial.
Thus some great dzogchen masters from Kham, southeastern Tibet, have said that for gaining proper practice of the stage called "breakthrough to pure awareness," we need to have a sound understanding of the prasangika view. Likewise, some Gelug masters have said that to gain a proper understanding of clear light mind – especially of the coarse and subtle primordial minds – it is very helpful to study the dzogchen texts.
The autocommentary continues by drawing a fine, but important distinction. The visual consciousness that apprehends a sight is a conventional mind that validly cognizes conventional sights – in other words, it is a "valid cognizer" of sights. It validly cognizes the appearance of the sight to which it gives rise as being just that – the appearance of a sight. Furthermore, it also validly cognizes the appearance of a sight existing as if with an inherently findable self-nature as being just that, the appearance of a sight as if with an inherently findable self-nature. If a mind is valid, it is pervasive that it validly cognizes the appearance to which it gives rise. But, this conventionally valid visual consciousness is not valid for establishing the existence of this inherently findable self-nature. It is valid for cognizing the mode of appearance it produces, but deceptive for cognizing the mode of existence of that which it produces an appearance of. We need to understand this correctly and precisely.
When Gelug practitioners assert valid cognition of conventional phenomena by conventionally valid minds, this does not throw them to the extreme of eternalism. This assertion gives us one thing to think about, while the equally Gelug assertion that the total lack of existence by means of an inherently findable self-nature also applies to conventional phenomena gives us something further to think about. While asserting valid cognition of conventional phenomena by conventionally valid minds, the Gelug system at the same time asserts that all minds are deceived and deceptive other than those that straightforwardly and nonconceptually cognize voidness during an arya's total absorption.
The autocommentary now cites several quotations stressing the importance of neither over- nor under-refuting what is to be refuted and nullified. Their essence is as follows. Some people think that if we refute and nullify our conventionally existent person, we fall to the extreme of nihilism. Taking our conventionally existent person to be an actual person who exists, in the way our mind gives rise to an appearance of it, as someone solid, able to stand on his or her feet and hold its own, they put such a person aside and do not deconstruct it. They then posit another type of imaginary person separate from this that they conjure with their mind and decisively refute and nullify that such a person, as a basis for voidness, is established as existing truly and inherently. The extensiveness of the range and scope of their refutation is not large enough, and so they fall to a view of eternalism.
Gungtangzang has explained, in one of his Thousands of Songs of Meditative Experience, that if we do not try to poke, with a correct view of voidness, the appearances to which our mind conventionally gives rise, we cannot come to an accurate understanding of the madhyamaka view. In other words, we must involve or engage our understanding of voidness with whatever appearances our mind normally produces of things in each moment, now, and try to dislodge them. We do this by seeing that the mode of existence mind makes appear and implies actually to exist does not exist at all. If we set that fact aside, leaving these appearances stand as referring to something real, and engage our understanding of voidness with something else, we cannot come to an accurate understanding of the madhyamaka view. If we have gained an accurate understanding of the madhyamaka view that is exactly to the point, we must experience that it has unsettled and dislodged the appearances to which our mind normally gives rise.
In another of his Thousands of Songs of Meditative Experience, Gungtangzang has explained how to understand the words, "appearance" and "voidness." "Appearance" means "appearance-making" – mind's giving rise to appearances of things that can be labeled what they conventionally are by relying simply on factors other than themselves, namely conceptual minds and names. "Voidness" means devoid of existing in fantasized, impossible ways, for instance things existing as what they are by means of an inherent, findable nature. These do not contradict each other, but rather come to the same point. The fact that the existence of the phenomena mind produces an appearance of and their identity as "this" or "that" are established and proven simply by the fact that they can be labeled as "this" or "that" by the conventions of conceptual minds and words means that their existence is not established or proven from their own side by means of some inherently findable self-nature or characteristic mark making them exist and making they be what they conventionally are. The fact that all phenomena are devoid of existing in fantasized, impossible manners – for instance as constituting a solid reality with the existence of everything established independently from the side of each thing – means that everything exists in the only possible alternative fashion, namely as things the existence of which is established by relying on factors other than themselves.
In short, appearance-making and appearances do not obstruct or impede voidness, and voidness does not obstruct or impede appearance-making and appearances. They indicate the same thing from two points of view. Thus, since the voidness or total absence of all fantasized, impossible ways of existing does not refute or nullify appearance-making and appearances, and vice versa, when our mind perceives both simultaneously, we are, as the root text says, “manifesting, at that time, the excellent pathway mind (that cognizes from the single viewpoint) of voidness and dependent arising being synonymous.”
The manner of apprehension of the total absence of true and inherent existence is equivalent to elimination or cessation of the manner of apprehension of true and inherent existence. Thus eventually mind, severed of its manner of apprehension of true and inherent existence, ceases its discordant appearance-making of phenomena as existing truly and inherently. Since mind's discordant appearance-making eventually ceases through its familiarity with understanding voidness, mind ceases to mix its appearance-making of phenomena as dependently arising with discordant appearance-making. In this way, the apprehension of voidness comes down to appearance-making of phenomena simply as what dependently arises.
Therefore, rather than blocking mind's unobscured appearance-making of dependently arising phenomena, mind's apprehension of voidness makes apprehension of this pure appearance-making unobscured. And because this appearance-making of dependently-arising phenomena is not mixed with discordant appearance-making of phenomena as truly and inherently existent, it does not obscure apprehension of voidness. Thus, not only do we understand that voidness and appearance-making of dependently arising phenomena do not obstruct or impede each other, but eventually the two do not obscure each other. So long as we are not able straightforwardly to make rise the cognitive dawning of both voidness and dependently arising appearances simultaneously like this, but only one at a time, in an alternating fashion, we have not yet come to full realization of the madhyamaka path.
Now voidness dawns faultlessly in our mind. This has been corroborated by Chandrakirti in A Supplement to (Nagarjuna's "Root Verses on) the Middle Way." Because voidness of inherently findable existence is reasonable, dependently arising, reliant existence is also reasonable. When it is the case that existence established by relying on factors other than itself is reasonable, then the coming of various results from the gathering of various causes – in other words, existence created through the power of circumstances – is also reasonable. Through conducive circumstances, results arise. When these circumstances cease, their result ceases. Thus, the absence of inherently findable existence is equivalent to existence established by reliance on circumstances. The fact of everything being devoid by nature makes the orderly presentation of how phenomena arise and cease totally reasonable. Likewise, order in the universe makes conviction in voidness also totally reasonable. With this understanding, voidness dawns faultlessly in our mind. As our guiding light, Nagarjuna, has said, "When you are able to understand the voidness of phenomena and at the same time see cause and effect as being completely reasonable, this is more wonderful than wonderful, more amazing than amazing."
In the autocommentary, the Panchen Lama now reviews the stages of pathway minds to enlightenment through the mahamudra methods. "When mounted on the horse of shamata, your mind attains absorbed concentration focused on voidness cultivated through mahamudra meditation and conjoined with the mental factor of an additional serenely joyous sense of physical and mental suppleness and fitness brought on merely by virtue of your close scrutiny, you have attained the heat stage of an applying pathway of mind." In other words, when we realize, through the mahamudra methods, a pathway mind of combined shamata and vipashyana – a mind that is both serenely stilled and settled as well as exceptionally perceptive – we have attained the first of the four stages of the second of the five pathway minds delineated by Maitreya. Its four stages are heat, peak, patience and the supreme measure.
Some masters of the Kagyu tradition, however, have divided the mahamudra path to enlightenment into simply four progressive pathway minds. The first is the stage of single-pointedness, when mind is single-pointedly settled on mind. It refers mostly to the meditative practices of shamata and covers the accumulating and applying pathways of mind, the first two in Maitreya's five-fold division. The second is the stage free from mental fabrication, when we reach the level of realization free from all mental fabricating. Attained with straightforward, nonconceptual perception of deepest truth, it corresponds to the third of the five pathway minds, that of seeing. The third stage in the four-fold division is the single taste, when we gain realization of appearance and mind being of a single taste. In terms of the stages of the anuttarayoga tantra path, this undoubtedly refers to attainment to the state of a unified pair. The fourth stage, that of no more meditation, is when we no longer meditate with even signs of true, inherent existence. According to Gotsangpa, the stage of the single-taste corresponds to the second through the seventh of the ten bodhisattva levels of mind, while that of no more meditation to the final three pure bodhisattva levels.
There are some differences of opinion, however, as to the exact correspondences. Zhang Yudragpa, for example, has said that the way in which those for whom everything happens at once progress to enlightenment does not correspond to the usual presentation of the paths and levels of mind of the sutra vehicle of far-reaching attitudes. Sakya Pandita has objected to this and questioned the authenticity of the mahamudra path of those for whom everything happens at once, because it does not correspond to the commonly accepted mahayana presentation of either the sutra or the anuttarayoga path to enlightenment.
The First Panchen Lama does not shy way from or deny these points of dispute and the debates that have arisen over them. But, after presenting all the difficulties clearly and acknowledging the importance of knowing about them, he gives very significant advice. He writes, "The actions of highly realized beings are completely beyond the understanding of ordinary beings, and the faults built up by negative thought and words about them are extremely heavy. Therefore, I, Lozang-chokyi-gyeltsen, appeal to everyone to leave aside the anger of partisan sectarianism. May everyone's mind give rise to pure appearances."
Thus, the First Panchen Lama stresses that, in the end, the essence of the teachings of each of the four Tibetan Buddhist traditions of Nyingma, Kagyu, Sakya and Gelug come to the same intended point. It is helpful to understand the differences among their presentations of the path to enlightenment. But, rather than letting that knowledge fan sectarian hatred, we should use it to enhance our respect and admiration for Buddha's wide range of skillful means. I am in full agreement.
Of the three major divisions of the outline of the text – the preliminary discussion, the actual explanation and the dedication – the root text now concludes with the dedication. "The speaker of these words has been the renuncient called Lozang-chokyi-gyeltsen, who has listened to much (teaching). By its positive force, may all wandering beings quickly become triumphant Buddhas through this pathway of mind, apart from which there is no second gateway to a state of serenity.”
Just as we have exerted great effort and attention to listen to and try to understand these mahamudra teachings, likewise we need to make a similar effort to apply them to our meditation practice and daily lives without simply forgetting about them. If we wish to engage in a separate, intensive practice of mahamudra, that is, of course, very excellent. But even if that is not possible, it is very beneficial to add a certain amount of mahamudra meditation to our daily practice, for example within the context of whatever tantric recitation or sadhana practice we might be doing each day. In an anuttarayoga sadhana, for example, we add it either at the beginning after we have dissolved our root guru into us at the end of the request to the lineage masters for inspiration, or when we have dissolved all appearances into voidness before arising as a Buddha-figure, or as a concluding step in the process of supplementing the sadhana with subtle generation stage practices of minute visualized drops multplying from and contracting back into the upper or lower end of the central energy-channel. At any of these points, we focus on the nature of mind and try to develop shamata on that basis.
As for our daily lives, no matter what type of difficult situation may arise, we try to see it as not having any true and inherent existence from its own side. Although conventionally it is true that the situation may be difficult, but if it were intrinsically difficult from its own side, there would be nothing we could do to remove or avoid the difficulty. On the other hand, when we see that the situation exists as difficult in reliance on the conceptual mind that can label it "difficult," then we see that the situation has arisen dependently on many factors. This allows us, in a dispassionate manner, to try to change and eliminate the causes and circumstances upon which the conventionally difficult situation depends for establishing its existence. In this way, we eliminate the problem.
But, as beginners, we may find such an advanced method beyond our current level of training. We strongly identify with the conventional level, firmly believing in the solidity of inherently findable benefit or harm that an inherently findable "me" can experience. But if our heart is dedicated with bodhichitta to helping others and achieving enlightenment in order to be able to accomplish that aim as fully as possible, we find that this helps us break through the self-imposed constrictions of our solid view of ourselves and of everything and everyone around us.
It is very helpful at all stages of our practice to implement lojong, the methods for cleansing our attitudes. For example, rather than looking at a difficult situation in which we are unhappy as very terrible and becoming further depressed about it, we cleanse ourselves of this negative attitude and look at the situation from a more positive point of view. If our life is going too smoothly and well, there is the possible danger of becoming so over-elated that we become smug, complacent and insensitive to the sufferings of others. If we are in the midst of facing difficult situations, however, we are much more sober. There is a far better opportunity to appreciate and sympathize with others facing similar situations, and we are more motivated to train ourselves with spiritual methods. If we are praised, we may become proud and not think about further improving ourselves, whereas if we are faulted and criticized, we are motivated to try to correct our mistakes and shortcomings. Therefore, lojong practice allows us to be happy when we might normally be unhappy because it provides methods for transforming our experience of difficult situations by cleansing our attitudes. For more detail on this topic, it is best to study Shantideva's Engaging in Bodhisattva Behavior, especially the chapters on patience and mental stability.
Then, if on top of this, we try, as best as we can, to apply some understanding of voidness to the difficult situations we encounter, we experience a further weakening of our disturbing emotions and attitudes, and eventually their elimination and extinction. For example, if we become angry with someone, for instance John, we try to recognize this anger as soon as our mind gives rise to it. We then inspect and scrutinize closely the appearance of this annoying John that our mind produces accompanied with anger. We try to locate a findable John who truly and inherently exists from his own side as a solid object against whom we direct our anger. Is John his body, his mind, his words? Inspecting and scrutinizing closely in this way helps us dissipate our anger. Our anger, after all, has arisen because of our mind's producing an appearance of John as if he were not only truly and inherently existent, but truly and inherently existent as an annoying person, and because of our mind's apprehension of him actually to exist in this impossible manner in which it makes him appear to exist. The more we undermine our belief in this appearance, the less our anger has any foundation upon which to stand. We must never be lax in our efforts to understand this and implement it in our daily lives.
Let us end by dedicating the positive force built up toward the attainment of enlightenment by everyone, for the benefit of all. By such methods as mahamudra, may everyone overcome all his or her sufferings, and attain all good qualities, so that we bring about deep and lasting happiness for all.
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