Developing the Other Four Types of Buddha Wisdom


We ended the last session with an exercise in which we practiced enhancing our mirror-like deep awareness. It’s important to remember that this type of deep awareness is not like a mirror or a still camera; it’s more like a video camera. We’re taking in information that’s constantly changing. It’s not only visual information, but it’s also audio and other information as well. Like the video camera, our mirror-like deep awareness takes in all the current information without commenting or judging. In order to develop this mirror-like deep awareness further, we need to have interest and be able to pay attention with a quiet mind and a caring attitude. If we’re using this deep awareness in an interaction with others, we pay attention to their facial expression, body language and tone of voice.

In order to be successful in enhancing this type of mirror-like deep awareness, we obviously need to have a great deal of practice. This might have become obvious when practicing the exercise for the first time. It’s not so easy, particularly because we tend to have a great deal of comments and judgments in our way of regarding others. However, we don’t actually need a meditation group in order to practice this. This exercise can be done all the time, whenever we’re having a conversation with somebody, whenever we’re with somebody or whenever we’re in a store.

Each of our sensory gateways or sensory channels takes in all the information of that sense, regardless of our level of attention; however, the point is that we can further improve and learn more and more from each of them. This ability is demonstrated when we lose one of our senses. If we’re blind, for example, then our sense of hearing becomes far more developed and it seems that we get much more information from our hearing than we might have had before. If we lose our hearing, it seems as though we get more information from our sight. Like this, it’s just a matter of training the present mirror-like awareness so that, with increased attention, care and a quiet mind, we notice more and more.


You mentioned that all of these perceptions happen simultaneously. Is this referring only to a mental level? Physiologically we know, for example, that seeing involves wavelengths and different colors and brightness that come to our eyes; or, for example, that hearing requires some time before the sound that comes in travels to the brain or whatever. Physiologically, every sensory stimulus takes some time to get to the brain and then we sense them. Therefore, is it physiologically or just mentally that it all happens simultaneously?

I imagine you are referring not only to the different senses, but also to all the various mental factors and different types of deep awareness that are involved. Are they simultaneous or not?

That’s a problem with translation; it’s hard to find words in another language that have the same definition and connotation as the original. In Tibetan, when we say simultaneous, it means, literally, “at one time.” The question then concerns how “one time” is being defined? In this context, “one time” is defined as one phase of time. Within one small section of time, they are all occurring. If we were to divide that tiny period into microseconds, we might find some aspects occur one after another in succession; further, several are occurring exactly simultaneously, and others are not. Still, they go together to form one tiny unit of time. We always need to look a little bit more closely at the definitions.

It’s not that these cognitive aspects are happening in completely different phases; they go together. In other words, we are talking about a small unit of time, the smallest unit that we can perceive. For instance, if that unit is defined in terms of the time of a finger snap, then we might not be able to perceive the tiny microseconds that make up the sequence that produces a finger snap. We would say that it all happens at once because it’s difficult for us to perceive; actually, one could certainly divide it into microseconds.

However, hearing, seeing, smelling, feeling a physical sensation – these are all literally occurring at the same time. There are some Buddhist theories proposing that they alternate very quickly, and others that say they’re occurring all at the same time. It’s just a matter of how much attention we pay to each of them. Certainly, we know this from our experience. While we are talking to somebody, if we have all our senses, we see them and hear them at the same time.

What kinds of influence or effect can our making judgments and comments in our mind, karmically speaking, have in our relationship to the Dharma, and our progress regarding our Dharma involvement?

When we look at judgments that we might make or various attitudes that we might verbalize in our minds while we are seeing people or reading or things like that, they certainly can have a karmic result. These are mental actions. For instance, if we think with a distorted, antagonistic attitude while listening to some teachings or reading some Dharma book – in other words, with thoughts like, “This is really stupid” and “How ridiculous!” and so on – such an attitude certainly has karmic effects.

Similarly, our mental comments while interacting with someone we judge to be a really horrible person, our rival or enemy for instance, also will have a karmic effect. While we’re listening to them, we are thinking of what we can say or do to really hurt them. Such thinking is the destructive mental action of thinking with malice and it certainly has negative karmic consequences as well. Likewise, if we judge someone to be very sexy and attractive and all we think while we’re interacting with them is how to seduce them, that covetous thinking, obviously, will also have karmic effects. Another example is if we are only thinking about how we can sell them something. This type of covetous thinking has karmic effects, doesn’t it?

Is there a difference between making comments about ourselves and about others? Also, can making comments to ourselves about ourselves help us in any way?

Regarding making comments to ourselves about ourselves, we haven’t gotten to this yet, but I plan to address it when we discuss how to apply these five types of deep awareness to ourselves. But, basically, we need to care about ourselves as well. After all, we are human beings, like everybody else, and we have feelings too. The attitude that we have toward ourselves and how we treat ourselves is going to affect our experience of life, just as it would affect somebody else’s.

If we make negative comments and negative judgments about ourselves while we are interacting with others, and if we keep convincing ourselves that, “Oh, I’m such a loser,” or “This other person is not going to like me,” and so on, that certainly would affect our interaction with the person. Our negative attitudes build up and strengthen a habit of low self-esteem and lack of confidence.

Now, it’s true that we need to be self-aware of how we are speaking and acting in order to correct our faulty behavior. But scolding ourselves after saying something stupid, like saying in our heads, “That was stupid. I’m such an idiot,” might not necessarily be the best strategy. We need to recognize what we said was stupid and, best, without scolding ourselves, is simply to decide to stop speaking that way. Sometimes it’s helpful to say to ourselves “stop,” particularly before we’re going to say something stupid, but after we’ve said something stupid, scolding ourselves doesn’t really help. It just makes us feel bad.

We need to let a stupid thing just pass. If appropriate, we could apologize to the other person, saying, “I’m sorry, that was a stupid thing to say.” But if we make a big deal out of it and dwell on it, not only do we just feel very guilty, but it also really hinders our continuing interaction with others in our life. This point is very important, actually. If we make a mistake or somebody else makes a mistake, we acknowledge it, apologize, try not to repeat it, and then move on. Let it go. Don’t make a big deal out of it. It’s like if we’re dancing with somebody and we accidentally step on their foot. We say, “I’m sorry,” and then continue dancing. However, if we apologize for five or ten minutes, it just becomes ridiculous.

Now, on the other hand, if we congratulate ourselves in our heads, “Wow, you really said that well. I really did very well; how smart I am,” that tends to create a great amount of arrogance and pride. There’s nothing special about doing well or making mistakes. That’s life; it goes up and down. But if we make a big deal out of something going well, then it’s like when we are with somebody and we say, “Aren’t we having such a good time!” This completely ruins the whole situation, doesn’t it?

There’s something different from this example, which is called “rejoicing.” We can rejoice at the positive things that we’ve done, but that’s not the same as dwelling on it, making a big deal about it or talking about it in our heads.

Now, let’s move on to the next type of deep awareness.  

Equalizing Deep Awareness

As we’ve mentioned, with equalizing awareness we group things together in accord with something they share in common. For example, if we’re with several people, we can put them and us together in terms of some type of behavior that we all share. However, we tend to be very limited in this ability. For instance, from one point of view, we are limited in terms of how many people we put together into a group. For example, if we put people together into the group of those that we would like to help, we might not put everybody into that group.

From another point of view, the type of way in which we see others as equal might be limited. We might see them as equal only in certain regards but not in others. This, of course, brings in reality deep awareness as well. For example, we might be in a store and we have to wait in a long line at the checkout counter. We might be able to regard everybody on the line as being equally on the line, but we might be limited in terms of seeing the equality of everybody being in a hurry, how they would rather not wait in line, and how they would like to quickly get to their turn. Because of this limitation, we get impatient and annoyed with the people ahead of us.

This limitation isn’t only in terms of putting others together into a group or having, theoretically, an equal regard toward others, including ourselves. If we’re with a group of people, do we pay equal attention to everybody? If we’re a teacher in a classroom, do we pay equal attention to every student or just to our favorites? If it’s only to our favorites, this is a fault in our equalizing deep awareness.

If we develop this equalizing deep awareness more and more, to the point at which we are a Buddha, we would have equal regard for everybody. We would put everybody together as wanting to always be happy and never unhappy and have equal love and compassion toward everybody. We would understand that everybody is equally devoid of impossible ways of existing, and so on. We wouldn’t leave out anyone, ignore anyone or forget about anyone, including that little bug underneath the rock.

This is the level of deep awareness that we are aiming for, the resultant level of this equalizing deep awareness. With training, we can strengthen our basis level of it so that we can eventually develop it to the level of a Buddha. When we are in a group, we could try to have equal regard, equal attention, and so on, toward everyone. We don’t have to specify in which ways everybody is equal – that’s going a step further – we just do the very basics of regarding everyone equally.

Let’s practice with our group here. Just as a point of interest, this equalizing awareness is the most important factor for describing what defines a really very intelligent person. It’s the ability to see patterns and new patterns, to put more and more things together and discover their equality. If we think of someone like Einstein, for example, he was able to come up with a mathematical formula that described something that nobody was ever able to organize before. What is that factor that is so intelligent about him? It is the ability to have this very strong equalizing deep awareness. Such people come up with new psychological and social theories as well. Overall, that’s equalizing deep awareness – being able to put things together and see the pattern of what they share in common.

In this exercise for developing equalizing deep awareness, we begin, of course, with the basic foundation of a quiet mind and caring attitude. Then, we look around the circle and observe as many people as are in our field of vision as being equal. We don’t have to specify the ways in which they’re equal – like they’re all women, all human beings, all Mexican, or that they all want to be happy and don’t want to be unhappy. We don’t have to go that far, but just regard them as equal.

This equalizing awareness could be based on the visual information of seeing people, but it can also be based on the audio information if we’re participating in a discussion with several people. We have equal regard for everyone speaking, and we’re not just listening to the ones we like. After all, we’re just hearing the sound of voices, and sounds are all just equally sounds. Likewise, the people making the sounds when they speak are all just equally people talking.

Let’s begin the exercise:

  • To begin, while looking down, we quiet down by focusing on the breath. Obviously, when we’re interacting with people, we can’t call a time-out while we focus on our breath, like in a football game; however, for the purposes of an exercise it’s helpful.
  • With a quiet mind and caring attitude, we look around the circle.
  • With the two or three people that are in our field of vision – or if we’re listening to a group of people, the two or three voices that we hear – we try to regard them as equal. Obviously, it’s more effective if we have a very diverse group, but we’ll do whatever we can now.
  • We can remember our example from the March of the Penguins, the hundred thousand penguins on the ice. If we were to look at them, we would see them as all equal, wouldn’t we? Likewise, view all these humans we see in the circle as equal. Just as with penguins, to our eye they all look exactly the same, and to our ear they all sound exactly the same. No one penguin is special, but if we could take any of those penguins home, we could love and care for them equally, couldn’t we? To the penguins, perhaps all humans look the same.
  • In this manner, we could have equal love and care for anybody. We could help anybody. What difference does it make? We’re all the same.
  • Then, we look down, focus on the breath, and let the experience settle.

This type of equalizing deep awareness is something that we can very easily practice when we are in a crowded store, a movie theater, a bus, a train or an airplane – any sort of area where there are a lot of people. For example, when we are stuck in traffic, think that everybody is equally stuck in traffic; everybody equally would like not to be there.

Individualizing Deep Awareness

With individualizing deep awareness, we are aware of one person or one object as distinguished from other objects within a group. This is often quite limited on a basis level. For instance, we go to a restaurant and a person comes to wait on us at our table, and we just see this person as yet another waiter or waitress. We just see them as part of a group, and we are not really being aware of them as an individual person. However, this is not just another waiter. This is a human being who has a family, a life, and all these things like we have. This is an individual person, not just a waiter.

Individualizing deep awareness forms the basis for having respect for another person. Without it, we really don’t respect someone as an individual person, do we? If we’re working in a store, it’s not just another customer; it’s an individual. If we’re working as a doctor, it’s not just another patient; it’s an individual. If we receive an e-mail from someone, it’s not just another e-mail, but it’s an individual person’s e-mail and we need to respect it. On the basis of this individualizing deep awareness, together with the equalizing and mirror-like deep awareness, we can make the appropriate response.

On the resultant level, we would be able, as a Buddha, to see and respect the individuality of everybody. A Buddha has equal love, compassion and concern for everyone. In addition, a Buddha teaches each person as an individual, in accordance with what level they can understand, their backgrounds, etc.

Let’s go back to our circles and we’ll practice this with each other.

  • Again, we begin by looking down at the floor, and quieting down by focusing on the breath.
  • With a quiet mind and caring attitude, we look around the circle at each person and try to see and respect each of them as an individual.
  • Although we have equal regard for everyone, we individualize them with respect. This would work equally as well with listening. It’s not just another phone call, another voice, or another text message. Instead, with individualizing awareness, we would respect each message and phone call – each voice that we hear – with a regard for the individual. We don’t need to know who the individual is; however, we need to respect each person whether we’re responding to a voice or seeing someone.
  • Then we look down, focus on the breath and let the experience settle.

Did you find that you were able to do this? Did you get a general idea of what we’re talking about here?

Should you use some characteristic features of the person in order to individualize them, or should this be independent of any characteristic feature from the side of the person?

This question introduces a deep philosophical discussion about the existence of distinctive characteristic features on the side of a person – these are the features that allow us to distinguish one person from another. Are they findable on the side of a person and do they have the power to establish the existence of that person as a unique individual? The Gelug Prasangika answer to both these questions is “no.”

A person, you or me, is something, nonstatic: as a person, we are growing and changing all the time. But, as a person, we are neither a physical phenomenon nor a way of being aware of something. A person is what Buddhist technical jargon calls an “imputation phenomenon,” something that cannot exist or be known separately from a basis. The basis of imputation, in the case of a person – is an individual continuum of a set of constantly changing five aggregate factors. These are the factors that make up each moment of our experience: a body, mind, emotions and so on.  

Further, a person can only be known with its basis or some part of its basis simultaneously also appearing and being known. To see a person, we must also see some part of their body. We can’t just see a person. But, when we investigate, we cannot find the “person” somewhere on the side of the body. Nevertheless, there is a person and we can see him or her.

Likewise, individualizing characteristic marks are imputation phenomena that can only be known simultaneously with their basis, the person, also appearing and being known. But the defining characteristic mark of a person that allows us to distinguish between one person and another can neither be found on the side of the person nor on the side of the person’s body that we see when we see the person.

Admittedly, that’s not easy to understand. Nevertheless, this Prasangika viewpoint isn’t just a clever metaphysical distinction; it implies quite a different way of relating to people. If there were some specific, findable, identifying characteristic on the side of the person that makes them an individual, then we would always be looking to find what makes this person so unique or what makes them so special. On the other hand, if we view the defining characteristic as merely an imputation phenomenon and that it cannot be found on the side of persons, then there’s nothing findable that’s special about anyone. It doesn’t matter who we’re seeing or interacting with, we can have an equal attitude toward everyone.

Your question illustrates a very important point here. We are often studying all these very subtle distinctions in metaphysical systems within Buddhism with all these tenet systems. We might wonder what relevance this has on anything. Maybe it just trains our intellect. Actually, the consequences of each view in terms of our attitude toward others and how we relate toward them is very significant. We just have to take our studies further to the next step, which is their practical application in our lives. The crucial point to consider is, if we actually thought in terms of this specific metaphysical view, how would it affect how we interrelate with others?

This is the very interesting and exciting challenge of studying these different tenet systems. It’s not just to pass an exam and to be able to answer questions. The point is once we can understand a significant portion of any of the Buddhist tenet systems, we can go to the next step and investigate to see what would it be like to actually view the world in this way, and how it would affect our interactions with others and our attitudes toward ourselves. This type of investigation is the really exciting part of these studies. It’s important not to ignore that aspect and just leave our studies at some intellectual level.

Accomplishing Deep Awareness

The next one, accomplishing deep awareness, is the awareness with which we relate to someone. It is the deep awareness to do something with them or to them in response to what we perceive with mirror-like, equalizing and individualizing deep awareness.

How do we relate to someone? This is accomplished on the basis of taking in the information from mirror-like deep awareness, putting it together with other information, with equalizing deep awareness, into a group sharing a common feature or pattern, and respecting the individuality of the person with individualizing deep awareness. Based on these three types of deep awareness, then with accomplishing deep awareness we are aware to respond. Reality deep awareness, added to these, informs us as to how to respond.

We all have this ability to respond and to know how to respond, at least to some degree. For example, if we meet a baby, we know to interact with the baby in a certain way. If it’s an adult, we don’t speak to the adult in the same way as we speak to the baby, and certainly not in the same way as we speak to a dog. If it’s a policeman or a government official, we also would speak differently. We’re able to relate to each person appropriately.

Individualizing deep awareness is very important here. With equalizing awareness, we put together from speaking with other children that we’re speaking to a child; however, we recognize that each child is different. It’s not that with every child we speak in a set way. It’s not that with every person who is upset we can look on our computer and find solution number 233, which is how to deal with upset people, and therefore we always use that one when someone’s upset. It doesn’t work like this.

We need to customize our response in terms of individualizing deep awareness, and this entails using accomplishing deep awareness, the deep awareness with which we relate. What’s really important to emphasize with this deep awareness is having the willingness to relate to each person in accordance with what would be appropriate for that person. Again, it requires interest and a caring and quiet mind, doesn’t it? When we have this accomplishing deep awareness, it feels as though our energy is going out to each person in an appropriate way.

When this deep awareness is on the level of a Buddha, it enables a Buddha to teach and relate to everybody in an appropriate way. That’s how a Buddha teaches with so-called skillful means. When we talk about skillful means, this is not the most helpful translation because the emphasis is placed on the methods and not on the mental factor of being skillful in using appropriate methods, which is what it actually means.

Let’s practice accomplishing deep awareness:

  • Once again, let’s arrange the chairs in a circle, starting first by looking down at the floor, focusing on the breath and quieting down.
  • Having quieted down, then we look around the circle with a caring attitude and the willingness to relate to each person in an appropriate way. We might not know what that appropriate way is – that’s something we gain with reality deep awareness, which we’ll look at next – but that willingness to relate is the most important thing, isn’t it? Then, as we interact with the person, we figure out how.
  • Then, we look down and focus on the breath and let things settle.

We notice with the great lamas that they are different with each person they meet individually. With some students they have to be very gentle; with some, they have to be very strict; with some, very friendly and with others very formal. With each one, they are responding in an appropriate way. What’s quite remarkable is how readily able they are to instantly change from one way of interacting to another.

We are capable of doing this too. When we drive our car, for example, the situation is constantly changing and we respond accordingly, in terms of the traffic. However, the willingness has to be there to respond to whatever’s happening in an appropriate way. If we respond to everything by just beeping our horn loudly and driving as fast as we can, that doesn’t work.

Reality Deep Awareness

The last type of deep awareness is reality deep awareness. With this type of awareness, it’s most useful to work on the fact that things are constantly changing. What is the implication of this? It’s a level of openness.

Obviously, we have this while we’re driving. We have to be open to different curves on the road and the traffic conditions, and then we respond and change accordingly. Often, though, this type of deep awareness is very limited within us. For instance, many of us tend to treat our children, even as they get older, as if they were still twelve years old. Even though they’re twenty-four, we still treat them like a twelve-year old. This causes a lot of problems, doesn’t it? With reality deep awareness, we need to be aware of the changes in our child, to see that they are open to change, and then be open in our response to those changes.

During our interactions with anybody, it’s important to notice how their mood changes. We have to be aware that this person is subject to changes in mood, depending on the interaction and many other factors. Further, we also need to be open to changing in terms of how we respond to the changing situations. This level of openness is very important.

For example, I have a friend who advises me in various matters concerning my website. He will give a suggestion together with some reasons to convince me that this is a good direction to take. I tell him that I accept his advice and will do as he suggests; however, he will continue to try to convince me for another fifteen minutes. It doesn’t matter how often I say, “I accept what you say.” He doesn’t change. He’s not open to the fact that I’ve accepted the advice and continues to try to convince me.

We might find ourselves falling into that same syndrome: we’re explaining something to someone, and they understand it, and yet we continue to explain over and over again. Another example might be when we say to our hostess that we’ve had enough food and they continue to insist that we have more.

With reality deep awareness, we are open to changing situations, to changes in others as we interact, and we are flexible and open to changes in ourselves as well. If we were to perfect this, as a Buddha, we would instantaneously be fresh and open to change with each moment, and thus be able to respond appropriately.

One might object here and question if that just makes us into some sort of mirror. “Is that all that I am, just a mirror that is reflecting and responding to everybody? What about being myself? Don’t I need to be true to myself and always be myself to everybody?” This, of course, leads to a big discussion about the conventional “me” and how we exist, and what does it mean to be “myself.”

Is there a real “me” as a person that’s separate from all that we’re doing that we are being untrue to? Are we being a different “me” when we’re being kind from when we’re being strict with others? Is the conventional “me” just an imputation on how we respond in each moment of experience; is that “me?” Well, yes. In fact, there’s no separate “me” that we have to be true to that’s separate from this “me” that is an imputation on the aggregate factors of each moment of our experience. We need to relate all the various topics within Dharma to each other. All the pieces of the puzzle fit together in many ways.

Once again, let’s arrange the circle and look at each other with this reality deep awareness, this openness. It’s an attitude in which we are open to the reality of the other persons as they change, and open in terms of being flexible in how we respond.

  • We start as always by looking down and focusing on the breath.
  • Then we look around the circle with this attitude of openness – this reality deep awareness – with each person, while maintaining a quiet mind and caring attitude.
  • As we’re doing this, if we are successful with doing it, we become very relaxed. If we’re tense and thinking, “Oh, I don’t know what to do,” then we’re holding on to some sort of fixed idea. If we’re really open, we’re totally relaxed.
  • Then, once again, we look down, focus on the breath and let the experience settle.

All Five Types of Deep Awareness Networked Together

When we talk about these five types of deep awareness, they all need to work together. All five function together like a single attitude that we have toward others. We’ll explore more in the next session how they can also be directed toward ourselves. But when we have the state of mind of all five types of deep awareness together, although hard to describe in words, it becomes in itself an attitude and a way of being aware of others. With this multifaceted and comprehensive attitude, we approach the world by taking in all the information, having equal interest and regard toward everyone. In addition, we have respect for each individual and a willingness to respond in accordance with respect. We also have openness toward others and to the whole situation.

When we meet someone, then, of course we need to have a quiet, non-judgmental mind and a caring attitude. We’re open to take in all the information as it changes. We’re equally interested in the person and concerned about them as we would be with anyone else – which means we’re sincerely interested and concerned. We acknowledge and respect their individuality and respond accordingly. It all fits together as one state of mind really. This is the level of deep awareness that we’re aiming for in our training.

Remember, we already have the working basis for all of this because we all have a basis level of all of these five types of deep awareness. The more we train and practice, the more we will develop them further and further on the spiritual path toward Buddhahood. As a Buddha, we are able to network all five of them together perfectly.