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Developing the Mind Based on Buddha-Nature

Alexander Berzin
Moscow, Russia, June 2010

Session Two: Primary Consciousness and Mental Factors

Unedited Transcript
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Mind as Mental Activity

Yesterday we started our discussion of how to develop our mind and all our various aspects of ourselves on the basis of Buddha-nature. We saw that Buddha-nature is referring to the various – what’s known as the family traits, the traits or features of everybody who belongs to the family of those who can become a Buddha. And so that refers to everybody. We all have these aspects of Buddha-nature. We all can become Buddhas. When we refer to everybody, that means all limited beings (sems-can) – that’s usually called all “sentient” beings – and that’s referring to those who have limited minds and limited bodies, so not referring to Buddhas.

When we spoke about mind, we’re talking about mental activity, which entails rational thought and sense perception, emotions, etc. And its main characteristic is subjective experience of things, with some sort of feeling of happy or unhappy about what one experiences, and acting under the influence of intentions. The actual activity itself is described from two points of view: it’s the arising of some mental hologram and a cognitive engagement. So a hologram of some object, and knowing, in some way, the object – that’s just two sides of one activity – without some separate “me,” separate from this whole thing, watching it, or controlling it, or making it happen. There’s also an energy side, physical side, to this mental activity. And that energy goes out, communicates, and it manifests in various appearances – either the physical body that’s the basis for this, or appearances like sights and sounds of various things that we perceive: the appearances of the mental holograms.

All of this, this mental activity and all these aspects of it, are limited (for us) in the sense that they’re not functioning at their fullest level, and this is because they are – the term is “tainted” (zag-bcas; contaminated). So, mixed or stained with – the most fundamental thing is unawareness of reality or confusion about it (ignorance). Not only is it confused about reality but, even more fundamentally, it makes appearances of things, these holograms, that don’t quite correspond to how things exist. Like everything changes from moment to moment, but it makes an appearance that things don’t change, that they’re permanent, for example. Like imagining that we can be eternally young. And there’s confusion about that because the mind makes it appear like that to us, but we’re confused and we believe that it’s true. And therefore we have disturbing emotions (emotional afflictions). On the basis of that, we act in all sorts of impulsive ways that builds up karma that just causes more and more problems. But, nevertheless, although we are limited in that way, and our bodies are limited in that way, our minds are limited in that way – nevertheless, all these obscurations, these stains, are “fleeting” (is the term). Which means that they can be removed; they’re not part of the essential nature of that mental activity. This is because they’re not present in every single moment and it’s possible to actually get rid of them.

When we talk about these Buddha-nature factors, what we’re talking about are the factors which are part of the actual essential nature of this mental continuum, not part of these fleeting stains. So we need to recognize that we have these basic factors, despite the fact that they – in our present state – they’re not purified yet, of these limitations. But it is possible, through various methods, to be able to first partially purify them and then fully purify them, so that we achieve what’s called a true stopping, true cessation, of all of these stains and limitations. And if we get a true stopping of believing that these deceptive appearances refer to reality – we stop believing that – we’ll get a true stopping of the disturbing emotions and of karma as well. And with that state, we are a liberated being. We’re liberated from samsara, uncontrollably recurring rebirth, and we’re known as an arhat, a liberated being. And if we can achieve a true stopping of this deceptive appearance-making, our mental activity producing these deceptive appearances – we [already] don’t believe that they refer to reality – but if we can get that mental activity to stop doing that, which is possible, then we are an enlightened Buddha.

The deceptive appearance, on one level, is that everything exists isolated from everything else, as if it was encapsulated in plastic or with a solid line around it, just establishing itself right there where it seems to be sitting in front of our eyes, unrelated to causes, conditions, etc. And when we stop believing that and when our minds, our mental activity, no longer projects this deceptive appearance, then we perceive, as a Buddha, the interconnection and interrelatedness of absolutely everything. This is what it means to be omniscient, to have an omniscient mind. We see everything interconnected, so we know what all the causes are for somebody’s condition or what will be the effects of anything that we teach them, etc.

So we saw that there are some – in terms of these factors, these Buddha-nature factors – there are some that are naturally abiding. In other words, they’re always there and they never change. There’s the fact that this mental activity doesn’t exist in impossible ways, it’s always the case. That’s its voidness. And the actual mental activity itself – giving rise to holograms, cognitively engaging – this mental activity, that also goes on forever. Of course it has a different object in each moment, but it’s something which is naturally abiding. It’s on that basis – that there’s always this giving rise to holograms and engagement with it, and this not existing in impossible ways – that it’s possible to purify away the junk, the obscurations that are there. They’re obscuring it, limiting it. This limiting – what type of holograms, the extent of the holograms that can arise, and it’s limiting what those holograms look like. These obscurations are limiting that, so it’s making deceptive appearances and it’s limiting our cognitive engagement with it – in other words, our understanding. Nevertheless, we have the basic activity of giving rise to holograms and some sort of knowing of it, even if it’s knowing something with confusion.

And we spoke about other factors that accompany this mental activity. So we have these networks we spoke about: positive force and deep awareness. The indication that we have some positive force is that we experience happiness sometimes. If we experience any happiness, even if it’s happiness that doesn’t last and never satisfies – nevertheless, that’s an indication that it has come from some positive force that we have. So no matter how miserable we are and how difficult our lives are, surely everybody has experienced at least a few moments of relative happiness in their entire lives. And here we’re talking about the human realm and the animal realm. And if we have some understanding of something – even though it might not be actually this deep awareness that comes from thinking about Dharma things – but if we have some sort of understanding, it gives some sort of hint that we have some deep awareness, this network of deep awareness.

So these are the things that we need to distinguish in ourselves in order to become convinced of these Buddha-nature factors. We try to recognize, distinguish: I do have some happiness sometimes. I am capable of understanding things, even if it’s just how to tie my shoes. And I have physical energy that manifests in doing things. The appearance of myself, the appearance of how things are. This energy goes out and I am able to communicate; I’m able to influence others, engage in activity. I have some positive good qualities: kindness – sometimes we’re kind, for example. And I know from my experience that all of these things can be uplifted, inspired, by some inspiring figure, whether it’s a Buddha, spiritual teachers, anybody. We are capable of being inspired, uplifted. You recognize… For instance, some people are inspired by music. Some people are inspired by a beautiful sunset. It makes you happier, it gives you more energy. It’s an indication that we can be inspired, that all these various factors of our mental activity can be uplifted. That’s also part of Buddha-nature.

So let’s take a few minutes to just try to recognize these things in ourselves and try to appreciate that we have all the working materials within ourselves – we don’t have to get them from somewhere else – some positive force, understanding, energy, etc. And realize that even though they’re limited now, it is possible for them to be uplifted through some sort of inspiration. So that it is possible for them to be uplifted, and developed, and evolved to the fullest extent in which they’re not limited at all. And this is because none of these exist – these limitations, etc., or the mental activity itself – none of them exist in some impossible way, like fixed, solid, and they can never be changed. So “I’m just a terrible person, and I’m stupid, and nothing can affect that” – that’s impossible. So let’s take a few minutes to reaffirm that in ourselves. It’s a very good practice to do to overcome times when we feel depressed and feel sorry for ourselves.


Okay. So this is a little bit of a taste of some of the basic meditations that we can do concerning these Buddha-nature factors, these family traits. And when we come across the term that these are the sources of being a Buddha, or the womb giving rise to a Buddha, we shouldn’t think that some Buddha is sitting inside it and is going to pop out. It’s just indicating that from which becoming a Buddha will be born, in a sense. In other words, what will give rise to our being a Buddha and the various Buddha bodies – we discussed that yesterday – the various aspects of a Buddha.

So today I’d like to go further, this morning, in our discussion, by looking at some of the features of this mental activity which are involved primarily with the side of cognitive engagement with things. Remember, mental activity is a twofold process, which is talking about the same activity just from two points of view: giving rise to a mental hologram of something, and a cognitive engagement with something. So we can understand that this is one process, with the example of thinking: The arising of a thought and the thinking of a thought are the same thing. It’s not that first there’s an arising of the thought and then you think it. It can’t be the arising of a sight and then you see it, because how would you ever see it if the seeing comes after? So the arising of a sight is the seeing of a sight. Okay?

Now we can start to analyze actually what’s going on with this mental activity, the cognitive side of it, because this will give us further indications of what we can work with in terms of – specifically, it will be good qualities. Because as a Buddha we’ll also have mental activity; the only difference is that it’s not limited in any way – no obscurations.

Primary Consciousness

Now when we cognitively engage with something… “Cognitively engage” (‘jug-pa) means to see, hear, smell, taste, feel a physical sensation, to know something, to be confused about it – that’s a cognitive engagement – to think something, to feel some emotion. All of these are mental activity. And in each moment there are many parts to what we are actually experiencing. So we have what’s known as primary consciousness (rnam-shes) and mental factors (sems-byung; subsidiary awarenesses). Primary consciousness is what is aware of the essential nature (ngo-bo) of the object. It’s that part of the mental activity that’s actually generating the hologram, and it is affecting what type of hologram it’s going to be. Is it a hologram of a sight? Is it a hologram of a sound? Is it a hologram of a smell? Of a taste? Of a physical sensation? Of a thought? So that’s the essential nature of the hologram. The essential nature is: what type of information is it?

If you think in terms of the analogy of a computer: A computer processes all sorts of information. It’s in digital form, electric impulses, but some information is visual, some information is audio. So the primary consciousness is what is aware of: is it visual information, or audio information, or smell information, etc.? That is there in every moment, because in each moment we’re going to be having mental activity dealing with one sense or another sense, or the mental sphere. Actually there are different opinions, but in each moment we can either have many of these things going on – we see and hear at the same time – or another description is that they alternate in nanoseconds, very, very tiny periods. That’s just talking about what type of hologram is going to be arising, this primary consciousness, and it’s aware of it in terms of what kind of hologram or information it is: sight, sound, etc.

Subsidiary Awarenesses

Then there’s a whole cluster of mental factors that accompany this primary consciousness, and these mental factors are given in various lists by the different Indian schools of Buddhism. So, for instance, the Theravada tradition lists fifty-two. The Abhidharmakosha (that’s from the Vaibhashika school) has forty-six. Asanga, representing the Chittamatra school in Mahayana, has a list of fifty-one. The Bon tradition – it’s not exactly Buddhist, but very similar – has also a list of fifty-one, but they’re a different set of fifty-one. So each of the Buddhist traditions in India, in their abhidharma teachings, has a different list with a different number – a different way of classifying them. Welcome to the world of Buddhism!

In the list by Asanga, the list of fifty-one that the Tibetans primarily follow, there are many mental factors that are not included in the fifty-one. For example: generosity, ethical discipline, patience, love, compassion. None of these are on the list of fifty-one. So what does that mean? That means that these fifty-one are just representative of an enormous number of mental factors and there are many, many more than just what we find in these lists. So, fine. No problem. And when we see and look how do these mental factors that accompany each moment of the primary consciousness – how do they fit together with the primary consciousness – then the cluster of mental factors in the primary consciousness share five things in common. I call them the five congruent features (mtshungs-ldan lnga). That’s a big word. It just means the things that they share in common.

If we look at the five things – again, in different texts and different traditions there will be a slightly different listing of five, but they’re not really contradictory, they’re just looking at more aspects or organizing them differently. If we look at the list in Vasubandhu’s text – Abhidharmakosha (Treasure-House of Special Topics of Knowledge) – then these factors of primary consciousness share the same reliance (rten). They both rely on, for instance, the cognitive sensors (dbang-po) of the eyes – so the rods and cones of the eye – or the sound sensitive cells of the ear. They’re all focused at the same focal object (dmigs-yul). They are all also involved with the same mental hologram (rnam-pa) of what it’s aimed at, of the focal object. They are all occurring simultaneously, at the same time (dus). They all have the same natal source (rdzas), it’s said, which means that they come from… Natal source is referring to some sort of – literally the word is a “seed” (sa-bon, Skt. bija) in the mental continuum, some sort of tendency to have a certain type of experience.

According to Vasubandhu, although the various features and factors might come from different seeds or tendencies – like a tendency to be angry, a tendency to be happy, etc. – nevertheless, they fit together harmoniously. And Asanga, in another version, another variant of this, says they all come from one seed but, again, they all fit together harmoniously. So we have a nice package of various factors and a primary consciousness involved in each moment of our mental activity. They fit together nicely.

The Five Ever-Functioning Subsidiary Awarenesses

Now what are these mental factors? What are the most important ones here? If we follow Asanga’s version, which the Tibetans tend to favor, in terms of what are the fifty-one – what are these mental factors? – we have five that are ever functioning (kun-’gro). They’re functioning all the time. This is relevant to our discussion of the Buddha-nature factors because these are features, mental factors, features of our mental activity that we have now in a limited form, but we will continue to have this in a purified form as a Buddha. So we recognize that we have this mechanism of these mental factors that we can work with, even though they might be limited now. But the fact that we have them, that the mental activity works this way, is very, very significant. I’ll give it in a slightly different order from the way that it appears in the text, so that perhaps it’s a little bit more easy to understand. So we have, these are the five:

First of all, an urge (sems-pa, Skt. cetana). An urge causes the mental activity to face in the direction of an object, a focal object, or go in its direction. Obviously, we have that in every moment. That brings the mental activity in the direction of – and obviously the body as well, if you’re going to turn and look at something else – it brings it in the direction, and our mental activity goes out in that direction toward an object.

Then there is distinguishing (’du-shes, Skt. samjna). And so it takes a special feature of the object, of the appearing object – so, the hologram – and it gives some significance to it, some conventional significance to it. In other words, within a sense field it distinguishes between, for instance, light and dark. I mean, we’re seeing a huge amount of information, and in order to deal with it we need to distinguish one little piece from everything else. That’s distinguishing. (It’s usually called “recognition,” but recognition is a misleading translation. Recognition implies comparing it to what we knew before and knowing what it is; this doesn’t necessarily mean knowing what it is.) This works both conceptually and nonconceptually, and this afternoon we’ll discuss that and explain that more fully.

Then there is paying attention (yid-la byed-pa, Skt. manasi), which also can be translated as “taking to mind.” It engages the mental activity with an object in a certain way. So it can engage it in – like in terms of how much attention you pay to it: does it pay a lot of attention or not so much attention? And also it deals with how you take it to mind. Do you take it to mind – in other words, you consider it – in a way that accords with reality or which doesn’t?

I pay attention to this cup of water. When I’m looking at you, this cup of water is in my field of vision. I’m not really clearly distinguishing it because I’m paying attention to you. But now, with an urge to look more closely at the cup of water, I distinguish that and I pay attention to it. And I can consider it mine or I consider it yours. If it’s mine, that’s correct. If I consider it yours, then that’s incorrect. So, how we consider it.

Then there’s contacting awareness (reg-pa, Skt. sparsha). I mean, all of these are an awareness, a way of knowing something. And with this, we differentiate the object as being pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral. So the way that the type of awareness that is contacting this object, that this mental factor is pleasant. Contacting this – the awareness that I have, that is how I’m contacting, how I’m connecting with this object; it’s as something pleasant. If I think in terms of the pain in my back, the contacting awareness of that is an unpleasant contacting awareness. So, everything that we engage with, we experience it, in a sense (“contacting” is the word, but it’s a difficult word to find another word for), but we’re coming in contact with it in a pleasant way, or an unpleasant way, or a neutral way. It’s going on all the time.

What does pleasant mean? We have to look at the Tibetan word, which I’m translating as “pleasant” because I can’t find a better word. The word literally means it “comes to mind” (yid-du’ong-ba, Skt. manapa). So it comes to your mind easily. It’s comfortable. “Unpleasant” is it doesn’t come to your mind (yid-du ma-’ong-ba, Skt. amanapa). So it doesn’t come to your mind easily. It’s unpleasant. My teacher, Serkong Rinpoche, always emphasized you really need to look very, very closely at the words. He used the image of a cow. You can milk from the words a lot of meaning. So that’s what it means, that the contacting of it, it comes easily to mind. It comes to your mind easily. Or it doesn’t come easily to your mind: you sort of don’t really want it, you don’t want to perceive that – like the pain in my back.

And the type of contacting awareness that we have is going to be the basis for the fifth of these ever-functioning mental factors, which is feeling (tshor-ba, Skt. vedana) some level of happiness. When we hear the word “feeling” in a Buddhist context, it’s only referring to this: feeling some level of happy or unhappy, somewhere on the spectrum. So, on the basis of pleasant contacting awareness – it comes easily to mind – we feel happy. Happiness is: we would like it to continue. And, on the basis of unpleasant contacting awareness – it doesn’t come easily to the mind, we basically want to get rid of it – we feel unhappiness. “Unhappiness” is the same word as “suffering” (mi-bde-ba, Skt. duhkha). Unhappiness is: I don’t want to continue this; I want to be parted from this.

And neutral contacting awareness. We feel neutral about it – neither want to continue it nor to discontinue it. We feel neutral looking at the wall. Although eventually, after we’ve been looking at the wall long enough, we will want to turn our minds away. So there is an urge to turn the mind away to look at something because the contacting awareness of looking at the wall is no longer pleasant. We feel a little bit unhappy about it, so we’re dissatisfied, so you turn your head and you look at something else.

So, as a Buddha, we’re still going to have these five all the time. The urges will be there to engage with everything. Buddha engages with everybody simultaneously and distinguishes everybody individually – is able to pay attention to everybody equally. And the contacting awareness is always super pleasant, and the feeling of happiness is super happiness. So the fact that we have these ever-functioning mental factors is going us to enable us, when we’ve purified all the limitations, to have these function in the fully pure way as a Buddha.

The Five Ascertaining Subsidiary Awarenesses

Then we have another five, which are called the five ascertaining factors (yul-nges lnga). They ascertain in the sense that they help us to become more certain about an object.

So we have intention (’dun-pa, Skt. chanda). The intention is the wish to obtain an object, or to achieve a goal, or to do something with it. It can be to meet with what we’ve previously met with, not to be parted with what we’re presently being aware of, or it can be keen interest to engage with something in the future. So Buddha has the intention to benefit everybody. I mean, we have intention all the time. I’m looking at this cup of water, paying attention to it, etc., and there’s the intention: What am I going to do with it? I’m going to pick it up and drink it. So, obviously, because we have intention we would like to make it pure and have a pure intention to benefit everybody – no matter what we’re doing, may it be of benefit to everyone.

The next one is called firm conviction (mos-pa, Skt. adhimukti). And this is focusing on some sort of fact – that we have validly become certain that it’s this and not that – and it makes our belief firm so that it won’t be swayed. So it can either be the firm conviction, or we can describe this in terms of the spectrum of how convinced are you of something. So, as a Buddha, when we have understood reality, we have to be firmly convinced of that. Nothing is going to sway us. We have to be firmly convinced when we are helping somebody, teaching them something, showing them something, that this is the best thing to teach them, this is the most appropriate one. Now sometimes we’re convinced of things, sometimes we’re not.

Next one is mindfulness (dran-pa, Skt. smrti). This is a difficult word to translate. It is the mental factor of holding onto an object and not lose it, not let go, not forget it. This is a factor that we work with a great deal in concentration meditation. Hold onto the object of focus and not let go. That is the main activity in any sort of concentration meditation. It’s like a mental glue. And obviously it could be strong or weak. And it is the same word that is translated as “to remember.” When you remember you’re holding onto something similar to what we experienced in the past. So when we talk about memory in Buddhism, we’re not talking about the activity of “I remember it” – so you store the information in some sort of box, or bringing it back out of the box and recollecting it. We’re not talking about that activity. We’re talking about when you’re actually actively holding onto it and remembering it.

I don’t know if it works in Russian, but in English when you think in terms of remembering something: “This happened, now I’m going to remember it.” – so you put it in a box in your mind, in your memory box. “And now I remember it.” – so it comes back out of the box and now I’m actively remembering it, so I’m holding onto it. But, from the Buddhist analysis, there isn’t some box called “memory” sitting in our head that we throw things in then take it back out. But we’re just talking about that active thing of: when you hold onto something similar to the past, that’s remembering. So here “mindfulness” is the same word. It’s just to hold on and not let go. So a Buddha remains mindful and holds on absolutely fully to the needs of everybody and when it’s going to be appropriate to help them, and so on. So always one hundred percent mindful of everything.

Then the next one is mentally fixating (ting-nge-’dzin, Skt. samadhi). That’s sometimes translated as “concentration.” When we’re talking about mindfulness, we’re talking about holding onto the object and not letting go. From another point of view, this mentally fixating (or concentrating) is just staying on the object. This is keeping you staying on the object, and mindfulness is holding on and not letting go. These are just two aspects of what’s going on. So a Buddha, of course, has perfect concentration – mentally fixating, always abides, the attention stays there, mindfulness – it doesn’t leave the situation of everybody and how to help them and what’s appropriate and what’s not appropriate.

And then we have discriminating awareness (shes-rab, Skt. prajna). Sometimes translated as “wisdom,” but that really is an inadequate way of translating it. So it discriminates. It focuses on an object of analysis and it differentiates the strong points from the weak points – the good qualities from the faults. Differentiates what’s appropriate, what’s inappropriate. Is it correct? Is it incorrect? This is obviously something which can be either with faults – so we’re discriminating incorrectly – or it could be absolutely correct. The Buddha, absolutely correct, and is able to discriminate everything correctly, all the different aspects of things. And it helps us to overcome indecisiveness: Would this be good to do or not good to do? Should I do this, should I do that? In other versions of this, this is referred to as “intelligence.” Intelligence means the ability to discriminate or differentiate between what’s correct, what’s incorrect, what’s appropriate to do, what’s inappropriate to do. To put it into simple words, we can figure out what to do in a situation and what’s correct. That’s intelligence. This is discriminating awareness.

So we have all of these features in our mental activity. According to Vasubandhu, in his version, all ten of these are there all the time. According to Asanga – another Indian text, the one that we’ve been following, this classification scheme – these ascertaining ones (this last five) are just there with constructive states of mind; so he defines them a little bit more specifically.

So, again, we can do certain types of meditation in which we try to distinguish these various mental factors, these ten. Here perhaps we can use the Western word to “recognize” them, because “recognize” implies comparing it to something that we have heard about or experienced before – now we have heard about these things, so we can recognize them, perhaps. And again, as we did with the basic Buddha-nature factors, to appreciate that we have these things; they’re there every moment; and although they might be limited, it’s possible to get rid of these limitations so that they’ll function fully as a Buddha, as a Buddha-mind. And also realize that it’s possible to change the levels of these things. When we speak about these mental factors, they cover a whole spectrum – like from not paying any attention at all to paying complete attention. Or feeling completely unhappy, all the way to feeling completely happy. Well, usually it’s somewhere not so strong. Or intention. Intention has a lot to do with interest. So how much interest, or what do you intend to do with something. I’m interested, I intend to do something. Or I’m not interested and I don’t intend to do anything. So the level of interest that we have in things – the level of intention of what we’re going to do with it – covers a huge spectrum. It’s very interesting because all of these network together and come together. They fit harmoniously.

I’m distinguishing the pain in my back. There is an urge to be aware of this pain. And I’m distinguishing it. And it’s an unpleasant contacting awareness. And the more that I pay attention to it, the more unpleasant I am experiencing it, right? This is with the consciousness of a physical sensation. The physical sensation is one of pain. So it’s accompanied by all these factors: it’s an unpleasant contacting awareness, I’m paying a lot of attention to it, and I experience it with unhappiness, and so I really would like to be rid of it. And so I have the intention to somehow get a medical treatment, acupuncture, or change my posture, or sit with a certain type of seat that will relieve it. Am I firmly convinced that this treatment is going to help and get rid of it? Well, not really, but there’s some level of conviction, otherwise I wouldn’t do it. And because the pain is intense, I’m mindful of it, I’m holding onto it – stupid me – I’m holding onto it and my attention stays fixed on it, so it’s abiding, and I’m discriminating it as something which is really not good to continue. I really have to do something about it. Or distinguishing that there really is a problem here, discriminating that.

So, you see, all of these factors are fitting harmoniously together in one moment of mental activity. And what’s quite interesting is that this doesn’t exist in some impossible way – remember, voidness – as some solid thing, fixed, and it’s going to last forever, because each of these factors is changing at a different rate. The combination is constantly changing each moment. So it’s still unpleasant, I still would like to get rid of it, but I’m paying less attention to it because I’m teaching now. So the intention is not to do something with it now, but to do something about it in the future.

All these factors are changing all the time and at a different rate. There’s nothing solid about any moment of mental activity at all. So it’s very important when we are in a mood – a negative mood, a bad mood – to be able to analyze all the different parts of it and see that all of these are changing and it’s possible to change it. I don’t have to pay attention to the pain in my back. I can pay attention to something else, even if it’s just watching television or listening to music. We are capable of controlling these various factors. That’s another mental factor which is, in a sense, willpower, discipline.

And there’s no “me” separate from this, sitting in my head somewhere, saying, “Okay, now I’m going to change what I pay attention to,“ and then pressing a button. These things are changing just on the basis of habit – what we’ve built up through meditation or what we’ve built up through habit in our life, applying willpower or applying different intention, etc. If we ask, who’s doing this? Well, of course, me. Who’s experiencing this? Me. It’s not somebody else. But that “me” is not some solid little person sitting behind the control board in our head, either watching what’s going on or pressing the buttons that are controlling it, and living inside there like living in a house, and then when I die it’s going to move into another body and mind – into another house. Although it feels like that, unfortunately, because there’s this voice going on in our head, so we think this little me is sitting in there talking. So that’s what’s deceptive. That’s what we have to stop believing, even though it feels like that, it seems like that.

In this discussion of all these various factors that we can work with to become a Buddha, you always have to remember that none of them exist in impossible ways. We have to remember the voidness of all of them. And because there isn’t some solid “me” separate from all of this, and “me” is just what we say is labeled onto all of it – that I’m doing it and nobody else is doing it – then because of that, if we can purify completely all the different aspects of this mental activity, get rid of all of its limitations, so it’s functioning at its optimal, perfect level, then we can still label “me” on top of that – for the reason it’s me, and that means I am a Buddha. It’s not that this little separate “me” sitting in my head now has a crown on it and is a Buddha, or it was sitting there and it was a Buddha all along but it never knew it. This is a myth. This is totally not referring to reality. So, very important to understand the reality of everything that is involved here. That is very crucial.

The Eleven Constructive Emotions

Now for some of these other mental factors, just very briefly. In this list from Asanga, this list of fifty-one mental factors, we have a list of eleven constructive mental factors (dge ba’i sems-byung bcu-gcig). And they don’t include love, and compassion, and patience, etc., as I said; so there are many more constructive ones than just these eleven. When we talk about good qualities as an aspect of these Buddha-nature factors – that we have good qualities that can be enhanced – we’re referring primarily to these, these constructive mental factors. So Buddha has these too. I’ll just give a few of them, not the whole list.

One is believing a fact to be true (dad-pa, Skt. shraddha). We have moral self-dignity (ngo-tsha, Skt. hri), that you care about yourself. With this you wouldn’t act destructively or stupidly. Have more regard for myself: so, self-dignity. Care for how our actions reflect on others (khrel-yod, Skt. apatrapya). If I act really horribly, what is everybody going to think of my family? If I’m a woman, what are they going to think of women? If I’m Russian, what are they going to think of Russians? Etc. These two, moral self-dignity and care for how our actions reflect on others, are some of the most significant defining features of a constructive state of mind.

We also have a certain level of a mental factor which is absence of attachment. We call that detachment (ma-chags-pa, Skt. alobha). Detachment doesn’t mean that we’re not connected to anybody; it’s just that attachment – this is mine and I don’t want to let go. And lack of anger; we call that imperturbability (zhe-sdang med-pa, Skt. advesha). There’s nothing that can disturb me, some mental factor of that – nothing will make me angry. So is that really strong or is that weak? But this is a constructive factor. And joyful perseverance (brtson-’grus, Skt. virya): to persevere, to continue working to help others. So, like this, there’s many, many of these factors. So these are the ones, the good qualities that we want to increase. Caring concern (bag-yod, Skt. apramada): we care about the effect of our actions on others; we’re careful, etc.

The Six Root Disturbing Emotions and Attitudes

Then we have the disturbing emotions (nyon-mongs, Skt. klesha). This is talking about the things that we want to get rid of. We have certain ones which are known as the root disturbing emotions. We have longing desire (’dod-chags, Skt. raga), right? You overestimate the good qualities of something, and longing desire: if you don’t have it, I’ve got to get it! Attachment: I have it and I don’t want to let go. And greed: no matter how much I have, I want more. Then we have anger (khong-khro, Skt. pratigha) or hostility (zhe-sdang, Skt. dvesha) of either something that we don’t have – I don’t want to have it – or angry with it, or we have it and want to get rid of it. And arrogance (nga-rgyal, Skt. mana): I’m so wonderful. Unawareness (ma-rig-pa, Skt. avidya): I’m just unaware of cause and effect, or unaware of reality. When it’s associated with some destructive state of mind, that’s called naivety (gti-mug). We have indecisive wavering (the-tshoms, Skt. vicikitsa): can’t decide; that really cripples us from being able to do anything, so it’s a disturbing emotion. In addition to these five, we have what’s known as – a sixth one – deluded outlooks (lta-ba nyon-mongs-can, Skt. drishti). And there’s a whole list of five of those. These are sort of attitudes we have about ourselves and about life. I won’t go into the list.

The Twenty Auxiliary Disturbing Emotions

Then we have twenty auxiliary disturbing emotions (nye-nyon, Skt. upaklesha). These are subdivisions of these six root ones: things like hatred (khro-ba, Skt. krodha), resentment (kun-tu’dzin-pa, Skt. upanaha), jealousy (phrag-dog, Skt. irshya), miserliness (ser-sna, Skt. matsarya), laziness (le-lo, Skt. kausidya), etc. There’s a whole list of twenty of them, and I’m sure there are many, many more than twenty. These are the things that we want to get rid of that are not going to be there as a Buddha. They’re not part of the basic mechanism of mental activity.

So it’s very important when we are following the Buddhist spiritual path to be able to analyze: what is going on now in my mental activity? This is the main Dharma activity. It says this in the Thirty-seven Bodhisattva Practices. Always examine the state of my mind. What’s going on? With mindfulness, hold onto understanding what’s going on, discriminating what’s going on. And alertness, being able to correct anything that’s out of order. Know what disturbing emotions are present, and there’s usually quite a cluster of different ones in any moment.

And each of the disturbing emotions or disturbing attitudes has various opponents that we can apply to overcome them. That’s what we learn in the Dharma. And so if we really are aware of all of this, then we apply: “Well, now I’m feeling anger and laziness. So I’m lazy to change anything there. So I have to apply the opponent for anger, and I have to apply the opponent for laziness that is preventing me from actually applying the opponent.”

So you analyze what’s going on, and you apply all the different opponents that you need, because everything can be changed. The opponent for anger is – that “I really don’t like this one, and I want to get rid of them, and even wish bad things for them” – is love, the wish for them to be happy. And patience, so you endure the difficult situation without freaking out. So these are the positive qualities. And we have methods for increasing each of them. You’ve got to learn the Dharma. How to increase love. And you just apply that. And do all of this without it being a dualistic type of thing of imagining that there’s a separate “me” from all of this that is controlling and doing all of this – you just do it. This is the actual practice of Dharma, not sitting and doing some ritual that you don’t understand – just going: “Blah blah blah” and ringing a bell. When we’re doing this as our actual practice – both in meditation and all the time during the day – then, on that basis, the ritual will help us to integrate all of these, to be able to do it simultaneously. But without this foundation of the basic Dharmic practice of working on ourselves, the ritual has hardly any effect at all.

The Four Changeable Subsidiary Awarenesses

Just for the sake of completeness, we also have four changeable types of mental factors (gzhan-’gyur bzhi), which can be used for positive things or negative things – be constructive or destructive – depending on how you apply it, motivation, etc. Sleep (gnyid, Skt. middha): either because we’re lazy and we don’t want to deal with things, or to refresh ourselves so that we can be of more help. Regret (’gyod-pa, Skt. kaukrtya): we can regret negative things that we did, or we could regret positive things we did. Then there’s gross detection (rtog-pa, Skt. vitarka) of the gross features of something, and subtle discernment (dpyod-pa, Skt. vicara) of the subtle features, the fine features of something, like proofreading a book. Gross detection: are all the pages there? Subtle discernment: are there any mistakes in the spelling of all the words? And that can be used for positive purposes or negative things.

So this is the basic presentation of the primary consciousness and mental factors. We can see that working with them is actually a way to help us in terms of working with the Buddha-nature factors. It’s not contradictory. It’s part of the whole picture. Primary consciousness – you’re going to have that as a Buddha; it works slightly differently, but let’s not get into the details, but a Buddha can see, and hear, etc. And these ever-functioning factors and the ascertaining factors, as a Buddha we’re going to have them. The constructive factors, as a Buddha we’re going to have them. And the disturbing factors, the destructive factors – the root ones and the auxiliary ones – as a Buddha we will get rid of them. So, you remember what we said yesterday: to work with our Buddha-nature factors, to become a Buddha, we have to enhance the positive features – so the ones that we’ve mentioned here – and purify and get rid of the shortcomings, the negative features. So the discussion of these mental factors gives us an idea of what it is that actually we want to increase and what it is that we want to get rid of.

That completes this lecture. Then this afternoon we’ll speak about conceptual and nonconceptual mental activity. As a Buddha we’ll only have nonconceptual mental activity, but we need to understand what that actually means. It’s not so simple.

We end with a short dedication. Whatever positive force, whatever understanding has come from this, may it go deeper and deeper and act as a cause for everyone to achieve the enlightenment of a Buddha, to realize their Buddha-natures and become fully enlightened beings for the benefit of all.