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Developing the Mind Based on Buddha-Nature

Alexander Berzin
Moscow, Russia, June 2010

Session Three: Conceptual and Nonconceptual Cognition

Unedited Transcript
Listen to the audio version of this page (0:40 hours)

I think it might be good at this point, having spoken about the basic Buddha-nature factors and the mental factors that in one way can help us to broaden our idea of mental factors – that having done that, that now, perhaps, if you have some questions we can take them.

Does a Buddha Only Have Pleasant Contacting Awareness?

But first I’d like to answer a question that was asked during the break, which is a very good question. It was asked: if a Buddha has these ever-functioning mental factors, then does a Buddha only have pleasant contacting awareness? The answer is yes, but we need to understand that when a Buddha sees or knows of someone who is suffering very badly, it isn’t that a Buddha is, “Oh, I’m so happy” and sees it joyfully. It’s not nice for a Buddha to see this. I mean, a Buddha doesn’t find it nice to see others suffering.

But again we have to go back to what I explained is the actual meaning of this word that I’ve been translating as “pleasant”: it comes to the mind. Meaning it comes easily and comfortably to the mind. When many of us see people who are intensely suffering – like someone who is bleeding on the street from an accident, or an old senile person with Alzheimer’s disease – that doesn’t come easily or nicely to our minds. We don’t want to deal with it. We want to shut it out and run away; it’s too difficult to deal with. Whereas, for a Buddha, when he sees someone like this it comes easily to the mind, in the sense that, yes, he wants to be involved and wants to help. It’s not that he feels delighted and happy. We see that there’s a difference here. In general, a Buddha’s happy all the time, but he’s not happy that you’re suffering (if you can make that difference in Russian). Okay?

Question on Impossible Ways of Existing

So what questions do you have?

Question: Yesterday we discussed the impossible ways of existence of our mind and the voidness. Could you please explain how these two things correspond to each other?

Alex: Voidness is the absence of a real referent to these impossible ways of existing. I often use a very simple example – Do you have here, in Russia, Father Christmas or Santa Claus?

Participant: Yes. We call it Father Frost. Grandfather Frost.

Alex: Grandfather Frost. And do you have a special costume that people wear?

Participant: Yes.

Alex: Okay. So Grandfather Frost. You see people on the street (maybe they have it here as well) who are dressed as Grandfather Frost. And it appears as though they really are Grandfather Frost, but that’s a deceptive appearance because, although it looks like Grandfather Frost, it doesn’t correspond to anything real because there isn’t a real Grandfather Frost. But you still have a man standing there. It’s not as though there’s nothing. So we’re not denying that there is a man standing there who looks like Grandfather Frost. But he is devoid of existing in the way that he appears. This is impossible. There is no Grandfather Frost. So it is impossible that he really is Grandfather Frost. So that’s what voidness is all about. That absence of a real referent to something which is just impossible. What it corresponds to doesn’t exist at all.

So you might appear as the most wonderful person in the world – or the most terrible person in the world – to me. So that’s the mental hologram that’s there. I consider you, and it seems as though you are established like that by – the technical term is it’s self-established like that by the power of what you are. In other words, there is something wrong with you that by its own power makes you a terrible person. Or there is something wonderful about you that makes it – by its own power makes you wonderful. Independent of everything, you are terrible or you are wonderful. That’s it. So, independent of causes and conditions, and your whole history, and your family, and all these things, and independent of my concepts of what a terrible person is and what a wonderful person is. So what’s impossible is that just because of something inside of you – from your own side, by its own power, independent of absolutely everything – makes you wonderful, inherently wonderful, or terrible. That doesn’t correspond to anything real. So you are devoid of existing in that impossible way.

But, because of the habit of confusion, my mental activity when I perceive you, when I look at you, makes you appear like that: like you’re the most wonderful person or you’re the most horrible person. And it’s deceptive, and I’m confused, and so I believe the appearance – that it corresponds to reality. And on the basis of that – you appear to be wonderful and I really think you’re fantastic, then I’m so attached, have such longing desire for you; or I think you’re horrible, and I have this disturbing attitude of really disliking you, and repulsion – on the basis of that, we can act in very destructive ways.

So, understanding voidness, deconstructing these deceptive appearances, is very, very essential for gaining liberation from this unawareness, these disturbing emotions, this karma, etc. Understanding that you appear like this to me because of all sorts of causes, circumstances, my conceptual process, etc., helps to not get caught up in believing the appearance. This is what’s unique about the Buddha’s teachings. You identify what’s the real confusion and what’s the real understanding, true understanding: true confusion, true cause of suffering, the true pathway to get out of that – p athway of thinking, understanding.


Okay, so now let’s get back to our main topic about Buddha-nature factors. What I’d like to speak about this afternoon is conceptual and nonconceptual cognition. Whether it’s conceptual or nonconceptual, the mental activity still has all these various primary consciousness and mental factors that we’ve been talking about. But there’s something further which is part of the cognition that can either be there or not there. So it has to do, here – what we’re analyzing here is the variable of… it’s another dimension of how the mental activity engages with an object, with a mental hologram. We saw that it can engage with it in terms of: by relying on the photosensitive cells of the eyes, it can relate to it in terms or seeing it; or sound sensitive cells of the ears, it can relate to it in terms of hearing it. And from the various tendencies of the disturbing emotions and the positive constructive emotions, it can relate to it with love, it can relate to it with hate, while seeing it or hearing it. And with more attention or less attention. With more happiness, less happiness. All these factors are there.

Now when we have a conceptual cognition of something, there is a filter through which we are engaging with the hologram; and when we are engaging cognitively with the object nonconceptually, it’s without a filter, to put it in the most simple terms. Now a Buddha has only nonconceptual cognition. However, to become a Buddha it’s necessary to rely on conceptual cognition because that is how our mental activity works. Nonconceptual cognition is something that we have only for nanoseconds at a time. It’s not something that we have all the time, not at all. But we need to work with conceptual cognition in order to be able to eventually overcome conceptual cognition.

So what is this filter that we’re talking about? I think the closest word that I can find in our Western way of thinking is “category” (spyi; universal). We had a whole presentation here a few years ago about mental appearances, and I used an example – which I think is quite a good example – which is “dog.” So we see something. What do we see? We see colored shapes. So that’s the main information that comes in through the visual channel. But in the Gelugpa presentation – and the non-Gelugpa schools of Tibetan Buddhism have a slightly different presentation – we also see a commonsense object: we see a dog. Colored shapes is not a dog – a dog isn’t just a colored shape. And the sound of barking – a dog isn’t just a sound. Nor is it a smell or a taste (you can eat a dog) or a physical sensation when you touch it with your hand. A dog has all of these features. So a dog with all this different sense information is what we would call the commonsense object dog. So, according to the Gelugpa explanation, we see both colored shapes and the conventional object – the dog. Out there, there aren’t just colored shapes walking around – they’re dogs. Anyway, one can get into quite an interesting philosophical discussion about this, but we will avoid that, refrain from that.

So, anyway, I see this colored shape and I see a dog. There’s a category “dog,” and in that category many, many individual types of animal fit in, don’t they? There are a dachshund, a terrier, a cocker spaniel, a Great Dane. There’s so many different kinds of dogs. But we see it and we know, we conceptualize – I mean, through a conceptual process we see it through this filter of “ dog.” Now if we didn’t use that filter “dog,” we’d have no idea what this is. And we use other filters as well – “animal.” And even from Western brain analysis there are different parts of the brain that are involved with these categories. And these categories can be of two types. One would be just a name or a word. One would be a meaning, the meaning of the word – what a “dog” is.

So when we see a dog, for the first nanosecond we have just without this filter. But almost instantly after that – you couldn’t recognize the time interval – you know it through the filter “a dog,” and you know what a dog is. So we have a mental hologram of not only a colored shape, but a mental hologram of a dog that we call “dog.” And if we just think of a dog, without seeing it, each one of us will have a different mental hologram that represents what a dog looks like, but we’re all thinking through the filter “dog.” But how else could you think of a dog?

Conceptual Cognition in Animals and Babies

You had a question?

Question: So the first part of the question is: If I cognize a dog without conceptions, does it mean that a dog is cognizing me without conceptions as well? The second part of the question is if small children, babies, have some sort of nonconceptual cognition.

Alex: Okay, the first question: If we’re looking at the dog nonconceptually – then we’re just talking now about the tiny nanosecond when we’re doing that – does the dog look at us nonconceptually also for a nanosecond? A dog certainly has categories with which it perceives things. It might not have words, but it certainly has categories of meaning. Category of food. Category of a human being, as opposed to a cat. Category of my master. Category of my territory, so you better not come into it – and so it barks.

Participant: Friend. Enemies.

Alex: Friend. Enemies. That’s categories.

Then the second one was: do babies have nonconceptual cognition before speaking? No. I mean, they have it for nanoseconds. A baby might not know words for things, but a baby certainly has a concept of mother, certainly a concept of hot, cold, hungry, not hungry. It might not know, if it sees some object – like this object in my hand, what I consider a watch, a baby could put this into quite a different category: It could be in the category of something that you put in your mouth, like the mother’s breast. Or when it’s a little bit older, it could put it in the category of a toy, even before it has words. So we shouldn’t idealize being an infant. Of course, as we get educated, we learn more and more categories of things, but there’s nothing wrong with that. They’re helpful. Without them you couldn’t communicate, you wouldn’t have language. We wouldn’t be able to put things together and see that the various things belong in categories of something in common. But what we have to understand is the voidness involved here:

Audio Categories (sgra-spyi) and Meaning Categories (don-spyi)

The category “dog,” the mental label of “dog” – is there something on the side of this animal that by its own power makes it a dog? And, upon analysis, we would say no. Right? It is a dog because of convention. A group of people got together and they decided that all of these different animals are going to fit into the category of dog. And they took some meaningless sounds. And said these meaningless sounds, if you say it, is going to be the word that we’re going to use for this category. Sounds by themselves don’t mean anything. We can say, “Oh, but wait a second, all these animals have certain genetic features in the chromosomes, etc. that are in common, so that is what makes it a dog.” And we would say “no, from a Buddhist point of view, no.” There is a group of people who decided that if these certain factors genetically are the same that that is a dog. So it was again decided by convention, by the mind.

But then the question is: Well, but is it a dog? Well, what is it? If I don’t call it a dog, is it still a dog? Well, yeah. Of course. It could be called by many different names. But what’s confusing is to think that with this category and this object, that somehow things fit into boxes of categories, that the entire world is made up of boxes. The box of this category, that category, and things belong in this box. Or they could belong, maybe, in a few boxes. Language and these categories give the impression, the appearance, that things exist really in these boxes of good, bad, red, orange, yellow, etc. But there aren’t boxes existing out there somewhere. People have decided on definitions of what is good, what is bad, what part of the spectrum is yellow, what part is orange. And some of these are accepted universally; some just by a group of people that say it with one language; and some are private, just your own idea.

Question: You said that small children do have categories, but it seems to be contradictory because small children are not able to come to some sort of convention – to gather in a group and decide which categories we define in this way or in that way.

Alex: Well, let’s use the example of “mother.” Does a child have the category of mother? It doesn’t have the word, but does it perceive this woman in terms of the category of mother, and this other woman not in that category? And it does. Now we don’t have to make up the categories ourselves. I mean, there is the general category “mother.” Quite universal. So now it becomes a very interesting question. How does the infant know its mother? Mother is defined as the one that gives birth to you, but the baby, the infant, might use a certain sense of smell, like an animal does. It’s not so simple to say how does the baby identify the mother. The baby has this category “ mother,” and it didn’t have to make it up.

Question: Do you mean inborn?

Alex: Inborn. In fact, it’s good that you brought that up. There are different levels of conceptual cognition. Different levels of category. There’s the whole mass – it’s called the mass of personal, individual categories. Like, for instance, when we remember something, or remember somebody that we met. This is a personal category that we use – my friend John. But then there is a list of eighty – b ut, mind you, there could be many more when we have these lists – of impersonal categories that everybody is born with. But, again, some will be more active in certain life forms than in others, depending on what we’re born in. So, for instance, the category of “to suck” that an infant would have – baby animal or any mammal would have – you don’t have to teach that animal. Just when it’s born it will automatically crawl up the mother and go to the tit and drink. So there’s a concept – an impersonal, innate concept – of “to suck,” to kiss – I mean there’s a whole long list of them, as a way to show affection. So these are very subtle.

They’re also involved with things like a category of attachment or desire. In the sense that if I exaggerate the good qualities of something, then I have this category or concept that somehow I want to get it to me or hold onto it. So that’s a concept, that’s a category, that we apply to many, many different things. Or with hostility, to get it away. That also there’s how do you express these various emotions; it’s something which is quite common in various life forms. So these are these subtle impersonal concepts or categories.

So when we have conceptual cognition of something, it is through the filter of a category. Now it is deceptive because we mix the category with the appearing object – or the involved object, I should say. I’m going to discuss this just in general; I’m not going to get too technical here. So it is deceptive. You think, “Well, it really is a dog from its own side,” for example. Conventionally it is a dog. It does have the characteristics of a dog, but these characteristics were agreed upon by people. But it does have these characteristics. But the characteristics, by their own power, don’t make it a dog. It also has the characteristics of an animal. It also has the characteristics of food; you can eat a dog. But these characteristics, by their own power, don’t make it an animal or a food. It’s by the power of the mind that has the mental construct of these things. And the concept – the category – of a dog doesn’t create it as a dog, doesn’t make it a dog. It just establishes that it is a dog rather than a table. But it doesn’t make it a dog. So there’s a difference here. This word “establish” (sgrub) is not an easy word; it’s sort of like “prove” that it’s a dog.

Anyway, I didn’t really want to get into too much detail here. Let me continue with the presentation and then we’ll have questions afterwards.

If we’re going to understand something, first it is with a conceptual cognition. This is just the way that the mind works. Otherwise, we don’t know what anything is. If we want to understand voidness, or impermanence, or family, or anything, it has to be conceptually to start with – through a category. That’s the way the mind works. It’s deceptive because it appears as though things actually fit in boxes, and the universe is divided into actual boxes of these categories, which it’s not. So eventually we have to not cognize things – not know things – mixed with these categories. But that’s not so easy, to know how we do that and still know what something is.

Participant: Maybe like a constellation. Because we see a constellation and a star but, in fact, it is independent stars.

Alex: The question is: is it like seeing constellations in the sky? That, of course, is a mental construct. So eventually we see individual stars. I think that’s a slightly different type of category, of a constellation of stars, because that’s quite arbitrary, isn’t it? I mean, in terms of seeing the patterns. But I think that’s different from the category of dog. You’re connecting points. Well, you could connect points of stars in many different ways.

I mean, it starts to get very, very complicated because also you have categories which are collections. There’s the individual items, like trees, and then there’s the collection which is the forest. So there’s individual stars; there’s the collection which are the constellations. Where do you draw the boundary, etc.? So that gets into the whole further discussion. That has to do with location, as opposed to having to do with defining characteristics. Where do you draw the dividing line between a dog and a wolf? In any case, this is an enormous topic that you can’t just cover in two hours.

[See: Fine Analysis of Objects of Cognition: Gelug Presentation.]

There are many different types of conceptual cognition through a category. There are some that accord with fact and some that don’t accord with fact. There are various criteria that we can use to ascertain does it accord with fact or not. Is this object in front of me a table or a dog? If I think that it’s a dog, well, that doesn’t accord with fact – nobody would agree.

Then we pointed out there’s some that apply names, there’s some that apply meanings of names. It could be a category of a name. There can be a category of a meaning. A baby doesn’t know the name “ mother,” but it has a meaning. A baby has a category of what physical sensations are comfortable and which ones are not comfortable. In terms of hunger – I mean, it doesn’t have the word “hunger,” but it certainly puts a certain number of physical sensations into this category of “not comfortable” and it cries.

Then there’s some that apply a label and a basis for the label. So this is the label “dog,” and this thing is an appropriate basis for being called a dog. We have a category of a label and a category of a basis for a labeling. So I have a category of dog, and then I have a category of the group of animals that are appropriate for being the basis for being labeled a dog.

Then we have categories that interpolate – that means to add something that wasn’t there – that adds or interpolates extraneous meanings. I see you, and I’m aware of your good qualities, and I exaggerate it. So I add onto it that it’s the most wonderful, fantastic thing, and you don’t have any faults, and so on. So that’s adding things that are not there.

And there are having categories or concepts that involve obscure objects. Someone tells us that there’s a man standing behind the house. We don’t see the man, but we know through a category of a man – we can be aware of, well, yeah, there’s a man behind the house. That’s through a category. It’s conceptual.

So we have categories and conceptual cognition of what things are and of how they exist. Gelugpa makes a distinction here. Each of these two can be accurate or inaccurate. So, what it is: a dog or a table? That could either be accurate or inaccurate. How it exists as a dog or a table can be either accurate or inaccurate. Right? It exists isolated by itself, in a bubble, establishing itself as a dog or a table. That’s impossible. That’s inaccurate. But it is a dog or a table dependent on convention, and labels, and causes and conditions, etc. – that’s accurate.

We’ll discuss this tomorrow, what’s called inferential cognition. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. So you see smoke over there, and you know through a category – fire – that there’s fire there. That, we need. And then what we know after making that inference – that, yes, there is a fire over there – that’s also through this category; conceptual.

Now when we remember something, when you’re mindful of something that previously occurred, that’s through a category. The category of the argument that we had. And then you have some hologram that represents it. Or I think, “My mother,” remember my mother. Well there’s a category – my mother – and at different times I can have different holograms that represent my mother when I think of my mother or remember my mother. I think you get the idea, that everybody’s mind works like this. All mental activity works like that. Same thing: a conceptual cognition with a category of imagining something that has not yet happened. Like what I’m going to eat tonight. Right? We can think of that. And the category of “not yet eaten meal,” what I’m going to eat. Right? And then we can have different things that represent it.

Okay, so we have conceptual cognition and it’s very useful. It allows us to function and allows us to communicate. There’s nothing wrong with it, so long as it is accurate conventionally in terms of what things are. The problem with it, and why a Buddha doesn’t have it, is that it gives the deceptive appearance that things exist in boxes of these categories. That is going to come with it automatically. You are always going to be inaccurate in terms of how things exist, the appearance of how things exist.

When a Buddha sees nonconceptually a dog – I mean it’s a dog; it’s not a table. And a Buddha knows that it’s a dog. A Buddha sees a dog and knows that it’s a dog. A Buddha would know that it could be called by many, many different names. So when a Buddha communicates, a Buddha could communicate with every name that it could possibly be called, so everybody could understand. But for the Buddha, the Buddha doesn’t see it through this category which gives the impression or appearance that things exist in boxes. This is a very subtle difference here. Buddha knows that it’s a dog. Buddha knows what a dog is. But when a Buddha sees this animal, a Buddha doesn’t think of it in terms of a category – like a box – of dog or what a dog is. Otherwise, if this weren’t the case – if a Buddha didn’t know that it was a dog and know what names people call it – he couldn’t possibly communicate with anybody. A Buddha couldn’t. So it’s very important to understand that nonconceptual cognition doesn’t mean that we don’t understand anything, and we don’t know what anything is, because we have no concepts, and that everything then is just in some big undifferentiated One. Things still retain their individual identity. It’s just how a Buddha perceives things: nonconceptually with understanding.

Because, remember, there are these other mental factors. Discriminating awareness – what it is, what it isn’t – differentiates, distinguishes what it is, what it isn’t. Just because it can differentiate between what it is and what it isn’t, doesn’t mean that it imagines that there are boxes existing – w hat it is, what it isn’t – and it’s thrown into this box and not into that box.

Levels of Awareness

So there are levels of mind, levels of awareness that we have. We can speak about the grossest level, that’s sense consciousness: seeing, hearing, etc. That by itself is nonconceptual – that’s not with categories – but it’s very gross. And there’s a subtle level, which is mental cognition, and that can be conceptual with categories or nonconceptual. For instance, we could in a dream – for also a nanosecond – what we would call “mentally see” something or “mentally hear” something before we have the conceptual cognition (in the dream) of what it is, of putting it into a category.

And we have the subtlest level of consciousness, subtlest level of mental activity, which is known as “clear light.” And that is more subtle than the level at which these conceptual cognitions can occur. That level is more subtle than any of the disturbing emotions or unawareness. That level doesn’t make deceptive appearances of impossible ways of existing. But that level doesn’t necessarily understand anything, because we have that at the moment of death as well. You don’t necessarily understand anything at the moment of death. But, nevertheless, it’s only this level that a Buddha has, and it’s only this level that is – what should we say – that we have underlying every single moment, and that when we’re talking about what will become a Buddha, we’re talking about this level. What will become the mind of a Buddha. We’re talking about that level. And because it doesn’t make appearances, mental holograms, of things existing in impossible ways, it doesn’t make mental holograms of categories. That’s a little bit inaccurate; we can’t say mental hologram of a category. But it doesn’t have filters with it of categories; it’s without any filters. So when we’re talking about Buddha-nature and what we want to achieve, that’s what we want to achieve: is the subtlest level, without these categories. However, to get there, you’re going to have to work with conceptual minds. There’s no other way.

Questions and Answers

So, now, what questions do you have?

Question: Is it possible to say that in this nonconceptual cognition we have these categories, but these categories are not solid in a sense? They appear and they disappear because everything is always changing?

Alex: No. Nonconceptual cognition by definition does not have categories as part of it. There are no filters. When we talk about these filters, these categories, it’s important to understand what type of phenomenon they are. Now this gets a little bit complicated. Not so easy. It is something which is static; it doesn’t change. We can replace one category with another category, but a category isn’t something that organically grows and changes over time. Alright? My understanding of voidness through a category of voidness – that meaning could be replaced by subsequent understandings, but it doesn’t organically change moment to moment. And, in and of itself, it does not have any physical form. Alright?

The category “dog” – the meaning of “dog” – doesn’t have, as part of the category, a picture of what a dog looks like. That’s a mental representation. That’s something else. And it’s not a way of being aware of something, like anger or seeing. The word that sometimes I use is that it’s some sort of “ abstraction” – but it’s not abstract in the sense of “vague,” it’s quite specific. So it’s either there or not there – either the filter’s there or not there – but we shouldn’t think of the filter as some piece of colored plastic that comes in and they – like a light that you would use in the theatre. They don’t use the word “filter” in Buddhist texts, they use the word “veil.”

There was one thing that I wanted to mention in terms of this mental factor of distinguishing. It can work either conceptually or nonconceptually. So we can distinguish that it’s in this category and not in that category – it has this meaning, and not in that meaning – so that’s conceptual. With words, when you hear language, it doesn’t matter what volume we hear it in or how the person pronounces the word, we put it into the category of this word, with this meaning, don’t we? The sound of you saying “dog” and me saying “dog” is quite different, but we understand it through the category of “Oh, you’re saying ‘dog.’” If we didn’t have that, we couldn’t understand anybody, could we?

But we could also have distinguishing on a nonconceptual level. Distinguishing between what something is and what something isn’t, without putting it into a box. Normally, for our nonconceptual cognition, we can distinguish light from dark, for example, without really knowing what light and dark is. But a Buddha is different. A Buddha can distinguish light from dark, and has discriminating awareness – understands what it is – without putting it into the box of a category. I’m not being totally accurate here, I’m sorry. Distinguishing awareness by itself doesn’t necessarily understand what something is. It’s just definite that it’s light and not dark. It’s this and not that. We’d have to go to the system of the five types of deep awareness, actually, in terms of the sphere of reality deep awareness – it’s with that, that a Buddha would know what it is.

Question: When in Buddhism we are speaking about different realms – for instance, hell realms or preta realms – how could we apply our understanding of voidness in order to understand these realms correctly? Does it mean that there’s not these realms where we have beings, where there are different kinds of sufferings because they were sinners in the past or because they performed destructive actions in the past? Does it mean that these realms don’t exist independently of some other causes and conditions? Or that they don’t exist at all? So how could we apply it?
Alex: Well, none of the realms exist independently. Everything exists arising dependently on causes, conditions, labels, etc, in general. When we talk about these different realms, what we’re talking about are the beings who are experiencing this – so the mental activity that is experiencing this – and the environment within which it is occurring. And they’re related. On a very subtle causal level, they’re related. It’s not irrelevant that a certain type of being, in a certain type of experience, is in a certain type of environment.

We had the mental factor of feeling a level of happiness or unhappiness. And we have, in terms of objects that we can know – ­we didn’t discuss this, but one will be a physical sensation, and that physical sensation could be pain or pleasure. So we have a certain – if you want to use the image – h ardware, like a computer. And the spectrum of pain-pleasure, the spectrum of unhappy-happy. These are huge spectrums, and with the hardware of a human body we can only perceive a certain part of that spectrum, say in the middle. But if we look at animals, some animals are able to experience slightly different parts of these spectrums because they have a different type of hardware (physical body).

So when we talk about these other realms – the hells, etc., or the god realms – it’s not inconceivable that there could be a hardware, a physical basis, that would be a basis that was capable of experiencing different, more extreme parts of the spectrum – of more pain and more unhappiness, for example – than what we have. Because we just fall unconscious at a certain point. Right? With our hardware and a certain level of pain, you fall unconscious. But with another type of hardware, you wouldn’t fall unconscious; you would be able to experience much, much more horrible pain, extreme pain. That’s reasonable. There’s no reason why that couldn’t be. And the mental activity that is experiencing this could also produce, in association with the pain and the unhappiness, certain images of an environment; it would experience an environment that is bringing this pain and unhappiness.

Then the question is: do these things exist only as holograms in the minds of these beings or are there actual places? And Buddhism would say, yes, there are actual places, but with the hardware that we have as a human we’re not able to perceive them. Just as with the hardware of a human that we have, we’re not able to perceive that amount of pain. That would be the Buddhist explanation. Similarly, the god realms with extreme pleasure and happiness.

Last question.

Question: Is it possible to say that the environment is changing depending on which categories and which disturbing emotions we have? So everything depends on our mind, on our conceptions, and on our disturbing emotions?

Alex: I wouldn’t say directly. If we have disturbing emotions and confusion about cause and effect, then we feel that we can pollute and use up resources, and so on, and it’ll have no effect – no damaging effect – and that will indirectly affect what the environment will become. Categories with which we think – concepts – will affect how we consider our environment. So today it’s quite hot. It’s hot; the sun is out. And one person could perceive this through the category of “ comfortable, nice environment.” And someone could perceive it through the category of “unbearably hot and uncomfortable.” So the way that we experience it will be quite different, depending on what category we perceive it through. So, like that.

Let’s end with a dedication. We think whatever understanding, whatever positive force has come from this, may it go deeper and deeper and act as a cause for reaching enlightenment for the benefit of all.