The Five Buddha-Family Traits: General Anuttarayoga Tantra

The Five Systems of Five Buddha-Families 

We’ve seen that when we speak about the five Buddha-families, if we look at it from the dimension of what will develop into all the aspects of a Buddha, we have this one set of five: mental activity, good qualities, verbal expression, physical expression and influence – or body, speech, mind, qualities and activity – depending on how we want to phrase them. Obviously, we have all of these as a Buddha as well. Each of these five can be divided into the five Buddha-families: there are five different styles of mental activity; five different styles of verbal expression; five different styles of physical expression – referring to the five elements; five different types of activity – the way that we influence others; five different types of good qualities. These can be classified into these Buddha-families, and this is where the variation comes. How do we define these five variants, let’s say of mental activity? Which family do we put them in? Again, there are several different systems. 

Just for your reference, let me mention the five systems that I’m familiar with. As I said, there may be more. 

  • There’s the general anuttarayoga tantra system (anuttarayoga is the highest class of tantra). Within that, there’s the variant that we find in the Gelug system (the Gelugpa system) and the variant that we find in the non-Gelugpa systems: that’s Kagyu, Nyingma and Sakya. The usual difference is in terms of what’s called the mirror-like awareness and the awareness of reality or dharmadhatu awareness; these are reversed: in these two systems, where one has the mirror, the other has the reality awareness and vice versa, as they’re defined slightly differently in accordance with their whole approach to voidness meditation.
  • Then, there is the system that we find specifically in the Karma Kagyu tradition, which most people in the West know by the Tibetan name “namshe yeshe” (rnam-shes ye-shes). This is a system in connection with mahamudra meditation, which is speaking about deep awareness, general awareness and specific awareness. It’s another system from the Karma Kagyu mahamudra approach. There seem to be two variations here within that system, just as we had two variations in the general anuttarayoga, and the variation is exactly concerning the same point: one system has the mirror-like awareness, the other has reality awareness, and vice versa – these two are exchanged. What are these two systems? Within Karma Kagyu, one is a system that we find in, for instance, the Great Jamgon Kongtrul’s commentaries, and the other one is the one that we find in Trungpa’s interpretation. I have no idea what his source is, where he gets his interpretation, or where he switches reality and mirror-like awareness, but he has that variation. That’s what we find in Maitri space awareness.
  • Then, there’s the fifth system, the Kalachakra system, which is yet again something different. It wouldn’t surprise me if within the Kalachakra system as well, we find the two different types of commentaries that will again switch the mirror-like and the reality awarenesses; that wouldn’t surprise me.

The two variations are quite interesting. If you’d like to know where it comes from, why the mirror-like and reality awarenesses are interchanged, it has to do with a mandala and who is the central figure in the mandala: is it Vairochana or Akshobhya? The earlier tantras that were translated into Tibetan tended to emphasize Vairochana in the center, and the ones that came later tended to emphasize Akshobhya in the center. It’s from this that we get this variation. 

Anyway, this is the situation. I’m not saying that one system is better than the other, just as we can’t say that Chinese medicine is better or worse than Ayurvedic medicine. They are just other systems, and each has a whole system built around them. It’s important to at least be aware of that, then we’re not confused. At least I find this for myself – and I would hope that other people would find it as well – that when we know the source of the system, we can be a little bit calmer about the whole thing – that it’s not just that somebody made up this, and somebody made up that, and it’s arbitrary and so on, but that each of these five or six systems, or however many more systems there might be, actually comes from a certain tradition, a certain viewpoint, and has a whole development. Then, there’s a tradition, and we can accept that there are different traditions. 

Basis, Path and Resultant Ways of Describing the Five Types of Deep Awareness 

Let’s start to work with some of the fivefold divisions of these five basic aspects: body, speech, mind, qualities and activity. Obviously, we won’t have time to go through all of this, but just some representative ones. We start with the five in terms of the mind or mental activity. These are five different ways in which we are aware of things. Let’s start with the way that these five are defined in the general anuttarayoga tantra system. Let’s work with the Gelug variation of that, then we know what we’re working with. This is what I explain in my book Developing Balanced Sensitivity. The exercise that is in there is based on this particular system of these five types of what is called “deep awareness.” 

One of the points in this presentation is that if we talk about Buddha-nature, in order to really understand it, we have to be able to not only identify it in ourselves, but a worm has to have this as well. If we can understand it on the level that a worm also has it, then it really is Buddha-nature, right? It’s something that everybody has, not just human beings. Obviously, if a worm has it, there’s no reason to feel low self-esteem about ourselves because we have it too, and compared to a worm, we probably have it a little bit more well-developed than the worm. That’s why I say it’s important to be able to also identify it in a worm. This particular presentation is quite easy to recognize in a worm. That’s why I like it very much. 

We can always speak about these Buddha-nature aspects in terms of the basis situation. They’re what everybody has, including a worm: the path aspect is the one in which they are developed as a spiritual pathway to enlightenment, and then, the resultant level concerns what a Buddha has. Some systems emphasize much more the basis presentation of this, so we can identify with a worm. Other systems of presenting these Buddha-nature factors are speaking much more on the pathway level of when they’re actually developed – it would be very difficult to identify these in a worm; we identify them much more in what a practitioner is experiencing. That’s the way it’s being described. Although we could find the basis level of it, that’s not really how it’s being described. It’s being presented from the point of view of the path. Then, other presentations are presenting Buddha-families from the point of view of the result. These are the ones that are talking about Buddha-families in terms of the iconography of mandalas: the colors, the Buddha figures and what they look like. That’s hard to relate to a worm, isn’t it? There are many different presentations depending on what point of view we’re describing the Buddha-families from: the basis, path and result. 

What I’d like to do in this course is not only present a taste in terms of experience of what we’re talking about with these Buddha-families, but also give the structure for being able to then work with other presentations of them that we might find in books, what other teachers teach, and so on. Otherwise, this is such a bewildering topic that it is very easy to get quite lost and confused. 

In terms of the mental activity we have, although they are sometimes called “Buddha-wisdom,” that’s not a particularly appropriate word for describing what a worm has; for instance, it’s hard to say that a worm has five types of wisdom. This is why I simply call it awareness, and it is deep awareness because it is very fundamental. To call it a Buddha-wisdom is describing it from the point of view of the result. With the Buddha, it’s wisdom; but with a worm, it’s awkward to call it wisdom. See how this basis, path and result very much influences the way it’s described and the vocabulary that’s used. In terms of our awareness, our mental activity, let me first describe these five. Then, we can work with them. 

Mirror-Like (or Camera-Like) Awareness 

First, we have what’s called “mirror-like awareness.” A mirror is the image that is used – we have to think in terms of when Buddha taught. In our modern times, “camera” would be a little bit more appropriate because, with this awareness, what we do is just take in information. The word “mirror” is a bit misleading because it reflects, although it takes the information and reflects it, we’re not talking about the reflecting aspect here. We’re talking like a camera; it just takes in information. 

We’re not limiting our discussion here just to sight, such as taking in visual information like a camera does, but also the microphone, taking in sound information; we can extend it to all the senses, to the mind as well, in terms of taking in all the information about all the different aspects of feeling that we have, for example. There’s smell, taste, physical sensation, and the mental faculty as well, because we can take in all the information, which could be very complex information about how we feel at the moment. There’s unhappiness, there’s also a little bit of annoyance, and there’s also a little bit of impatience. There are many, many different aspects of the information that is there in terms of, “How do I feel?” The term “mirror-like,” or “camera-like” means that this deep awareness takes in just the information. 

To take in from the five senses and not the mind? 

No, the mind is another dimension of this. It’s just the information, the camera. Just taking a picture of what emotional thing we are feeling now. There are many, many different pieces of information that are all occurring at one moment. 

But the feeling is occurring in the mind? 

Yes. We’re not talking just about physical sensations or feelings: cold, hot and pain – these types of things. Those, of course, a worm has as well. A worm sees, hears, feels, etc. We’re also talking about taking in the information about our feelings of happiness and unhappiness and our emotional feelings. It’s just taking in information. We may not pay attention to everything, but the information is coming in. 

For example, we have been looking at each other around this circle. We have seen what clothing each person is wearing, and we may not be able to remember that, but that information has come in. That’s a factor of attention: how much attention we pay to that information the camera took in. All these mental factors are there. Anyway, the information, that’s the mirror-like or camera-like awareness.

Equalizing, Individualizing and Accomplishing Awarenesses 

Then, there’s the equalizing awareness. Equalizing means to simply consider several things at the same time, to put them together. To look at, let’s say these three persons opposite me, to put them equally together, to consider them together. A worm does that as well. Then, there’s the individualizing awareness. With the equalizing, we can obviously only put a few things or a lot of things together. The individualizing is just focusing on one thing and the individuality of that thing as an individual. Then, there’s the accomplishing awareness, which is the awareness to relate to an object in some way: to do something with it or toward it – to relate. 

Dharmadhatu Awareness 

There’s what is called in Sanskrit “dharmadhatu awareness.” Dharmadhatu means the sphere of reality; for short, I call it “reality awareness.” It has two aspects: the awareness of the conventional reality of things – that we all have – and then the awareness of the deepest reality of things, which is a little bit more difficult. Usually, the awareness of the conventional reality of things accompanies the other four. 

This reality awareness would be what something is. We take in information like the camera, and that goes together with what it is. This is a table; this is a floor; this is food; this is a rock. If we think in terms of a worm, the worm might not have the word “rock” or “food,” but the worm has the concept of rock or food. Concepts don’t have to be verbal; the worm knows what it is. So, we take in the information and we know what it is. 

Further, equalizing is considering several things at the same time, which may or may not be present at the moment, and putting them together. Well, how do they fit together? This is food. A worm sees a colored shape and puts it together with other colored shapes that it saw before, knows that it is food, and puts it together into categories; it sees the patterns. Equalizing just puts things together into a category, and the conventional reality (the reality awareness) is what category it is. It is all food. 

These three forms that I see, these colored shapes on the other side of the room, are three women. I’m putting them together, and what category do they fit in? The reality awareness is, what is the category? They are all equally women. It’s how we process information. We don’t just take in information; we have to process that information. We do that in terms of putting things together into categories: into universals, in a sense, and we see the patterns. I mean everybody has that; it’s a matter of how much we extend it to see everybody equally as wanting to be happy and not wanting to suffer so that we can equally have compassion toward everybody. Obviously, this can be developed, but that basic ability to put things together – consider several things together, and then to see what they have in common, that’s the reality awareness. We all have that. A worm has that as well. Otherwise, how in the world would a worm be able to eat if it couldn’t recognize food? 

Then, individualizing awareness just specifies one individual thing, and the conventional reality awareness is what are the special features of this one thing. I can put these three people together, with equalizing, into the category of men, but I can also know their individuality, as in this is Hans-Harald, this is Matthias, this is Kes, etc. We know the individuality, not only that they come together, but we also know the individual identity of things. The individualizing sees it as an individual, and then the reality awareness asks, “What is it? Which one in this category is it?” 

Doesn’t dharmadhatu awareness refer to all-encompassing awareness? 

It depends on how we translate it, as either all-encompassing awareness or reality awareness. It also depends on how we define this awareness and what system we’re using. In the system I’m using we would define and translate it as reality awareness. It makes more sense. All-encompassing is in another system. As I said, these different types of awareness can be defined differently in each of these five systems. In each system, we can identify the five within us as defined in that system. However, it’s important to just work with one system at a time; otherwise, we fall completely into confusion. 

The accomplishing awareness is to relate. There is the basic awareness to relate to something, and then conventional reality awareness is how to relate. How do we relate to this particular individual? I would speak in a certain way to an adult; I would speak in another way to a child; I would speak in another way to a dog. It’s based on the individuality and, although there is the awareness to relate, through conventional reality awareness we would know how to relate and in what manner to relate. 

Obviously, a Buddha has this fully developed, so a Buddha is able to know the individuality of every single sentient being and how best to teach and lead that being. This is the relating awareness: how to lead that being to enlightenment. The worm takes in the information of this colored shape, knows that it’s food, puts it in that category, focuses on this individual piece of food, and knows it’s over there and what to do with it; it knows to eat it and how to relate to this thing. The way to relate to it is to eat it, as opposed to fighting it, making love to it, or whatever. A worm has all of those. 

The deepest reality awareness is that things don’t exist permanently, solidly in this category and in that category. It’s more open. This allows for our flexibility to be able to deal with situations in different ways as they develop. “This person I relate to in this way, and that’s the only way, permanently.” Well, if we’re like that with our child, and we continue to act in that way when the child is grown up, we’re in big trouble. Obviously, this deepest reality awareness allows us to be flexible and to relate in different ways as the child develops – or in a personal relationship with somebody – to relate in different ways in accordance with the circumstance, because we see that it is open, that they don’t exist in just one way. That’s the deepest reality awareness. It accounts for flexibility. Or in a relationship, as the mood changes – or even in a conversation, as the mood changes, as the conversation develops, we need to be flexible; for example, we need to change our tone of voice or change the way that we’re doing things. It’s this awareness (deepest reality awareness) that allows us to be flexible. If there’s a problem with that, we have a lot of difficulty in relating to others, don’t we? 

These are five types of basic awareness. We all have them, and it’s how our mental activity works. If we can recognize them, then we can work with them. We can see they can be adjusted and evolved. It’s very important here. 


Someone raised a question about dualism when we’re working with these evolving factors, trying to make them grow, and so on. What’s important is that we try not to do this from the point of view of there being a separate “me,” separate from these five types of awareness or whatever. It’s not like there is an observer who has observed what’s going on, and then the controller is adjusting the knobs and the buttons on the apparatus. It’s not like that. If we experience it like that, there is a great deal of self-alienation, and there are big problems with that. 

In some Buddhist systems, we call that dualism, duality, a feeling of duality. This requires working with this whole understanding that mental activity is occurring all the time without there being any separate “me” that is making it occur. It just occurs. Although we can say “me,” “it’s my mental activity,” and so on, that’s just a way of referring to it. Although it may feel as though there’s a solid separate “me,” that’s not really the way that the situation exists. To really work with these five Buddha-families, we need to do this within the context of this Buddhist understanding of how the self exists; otherwise, it can be a very artificial, alienated type of practice of this super-controller “me.” “Now, I have to do this to myself.” It is as though there is a “me” who is the controller and “myself,” who is like the victim or the patient that we are controlling. That’s very neurotic. Because one side of us is the judge, the other side is the criminal. There is guilt, paranoia and all this stuff that makes it very neurotic. This is very essential to remember when working with all these systems. 

Obviously, it requires quite a bit of training and understanding to be able to work with this – it’s just mental activity – and to be able to have adjustments without there being the viewpoint of there being a separate “me” making the adjustments. That’s quite delicate and difficult to do. We shouldn’t fool ourselves into thinking that’s easy. However, if we are sensitive to this danger that’s there, then we can watch out for it. When we start to go on the trip of the judge, having paranoia, guilt, and all of that, we can say, “Hey, this is really not actually what is going on. This is based on confusion.” At least being aware of that danger is helpful, even if we are not able to reach the state yet in which the danger doesn’t arise. 

It’s not that we’re stupid, although it may feel like that. It naturally feels as though there is a separate “me.” That’s what makes what we call in Buddhism “samsara” so terrible. It naturally feels like there is a solid separate “me.” It’s because there is this voice in our head saying, “Oh my god, what should I do now? Oh, I’ll do this. I’ll change the facial expression.” The voice is going on in our head, so it gives the feeling as though there is some separate “me” somewhere. Who knows where – maybe sitting in the back of our head – separate from the whole thing and is observing and controlling. That’s just a vision out of a Walt Disney cartoon. It’s not reality. 

Sensitivity Training 

We’ve been speaking about one of the systems of the five Buddha-families in terms of mental activity or mind. In this system of the five types of deep awareness, we saw that the mirror-like awareness is taking in information like the camera. Then, equalizing is putting several things together so that we can process that information, seeing the patterns or the categories. Then, there is seeing the individuality of the situation or person, relating; and then being aware of the conventional reality of what things are and the openness of flexibility that things may be conventionally like this now, but can be open to change. 

In sensitivity training, we have some exercises for recognizing and cultivating these five. Before we get into the exercise, let me give some idea of how it would apply to our daily life. For instance, we are in a relationship with somebody and we come home, and we see our partner. First, we need to take in the information of how they look, their expression. Are they sad or looking very tired? Often, we just ignore that. We need to take in the information when they speak: the tone of voice, the emotion behind it. We take in all the information. It’s the mirror or camera-like awareness. Then, we have to process it, so we see how it fits into the patterns of this person’s previous behavior. We may think that perhaps they are upset with us, or whatever. We have to see how what we see and hear fits into the pattern of this person’s behavior. This is equalizing, putting it together with other things we know about the person. We see what pattern it fits into, but it’s not just, “Oh, they’re upset again.” We have to respect the individuality of this particular situation and see what makes this particular situation individual. It’s not just yet another time. 

Remember, all of these types of awareness will come together here with the reality awareness of what is it, what is the information, what is the pattern, and what is the individuality of the situation. Then, we put together the awareness to relate to the person with how to relate, which is what to actually do in response to this situation when we understand the information, the pattern and the individuality. It’s not just the awareness to relate, but with conventional reality awareness of how to relate, what to do. Then, there is the deepest reality awareness, which is, although they may be like this now, they’re not stuck in this particular situation as if it were stuck in concrete. This allows us the openness to be flexible, take in new information, as our interaction and conversation proceeds, and how we fit it into other categories, respond and are flexible in our interaction during the period of time while we’re with the person. This is very important. 

For example, a friend of mine tries to explain certain things to me or convince me of a certain point of view, advice about my work. He explains, and I understand and agree, but then he goes on for the next ten or fifteen minutes, continuing to try to convince me of a decision that I already said, “Yes, I agree.” Still, he goes on and on, repeating. That’s a lack of this flexibility. It’s like really getting stuck at one point in the interaction. That’s very boring, a lack of flexibility. 

These five are very crucial elements or factors that we work with to develop proper balanced sensitivity to others. As a Buddha, they would be fully developed to their highest degree. A Buddha has them fully. If we notice in our interaction that we are lacking in one or more of these areas, then we really haven’t taken in the information. If we come in and start talking to the other person, then we haven’t really taken the time to take in the information that they may be busy. Very often, we walk in and start laying our whole trip on somebody, and we don’t even pay attention to the fact that they are busy or upset. We need to know which area of these five we have to try to increase. The point is that these five are always there. It’s just that they may not be functioning very fully, but they are always there. A worm has them as well. 

Let’s do an exercise. In sensitivity training, we do lots of exercises with many steps, but we will do just one here concerning these five types of deep awareness. Let’s sit in a circle looking at each other. We will try to recognize these five types of deep awareness, one at a time, while we look at each other around the circle. We may know some people in the circle, and we may not know other people in the circle, that’s not a problem. First, just take in the information, being the camera. In sensitivity training, we are always doing exercises on the basis of the two “legs” that go on in all the exercises. One is the quiet mind, not making comments about what we observe, thinking about something else, telling little stories, worrying, or all these mental stories or movies that might go on. We need to quiet the mind. 

The other is the caring attitude, which is taking the other person seriously: you’re a human being, and you have feelings just as I do. The way that I interact with you, the way that I speak and the way that I act are going to affect your feelings and mood, just as the way you interact with me is going to affect my feelings; in this way, we take the other person seriously, our behavior and our actions seriously. That’s the caring attitude, because as we look at each other around the circle, it’s not that we’re just looking at people on the television, but these are real people here. They all have feelings just as I do. That’s important; otherwise, it becomes very cold. Although we don’t have time to do a whole big training in this, at least be aware of that. Let’s try to not be like a distant observer looking at animals in the zoo.

Exercise: Camera-Like Awareness 

First, we quiet down by focusing on the breath. If we can quiet down, then we can turn our energy to whatever exercise we are doing, whether it’s meditation or whatever it might be. We will look around the circle at each person. If there is eye contact, then sometimes people seem to get stuck in that and get a little bit mesmerized by that contact, and maybe start to feel a little self-conscious. If it happens that there is eye contact, don’t engage in it, but just go on. Eye contact isn’t the point here. That’s something else, so just go on. What we want to do here is to just be the camera, just take in the information about each person. 

Now, the reality awareness usually comes in here. I know that a person is tired, or looks stressed, or this or that, but we don’t need to actually verbalize that. When we meet with somebody, a live situation, we need to be able to take in all the information and know what that information is, but we don’t actually categorize it all in terms of how the person is dressed, how they keep themselves, how they hold themselves, the expression on their face, all these sorts of things. We need to be able to just take in the information and what it is, without being like a radio announcer, announcing it all. That’s what we mean by the quiet mind. 

Let’s do that in terms of being the camera. Go at your own speed around the circle. Don’t feel compelled that you actually have to look at everybody. Don’t go too slowly so that you only look at one person in five minutes, or too fast. When we’re really very highly developed, then we can do this very quickly. My teacher Serkong Rinpoche, for example, at a big teaching with His Holiness the Dalai Lama, sat next to His Holiness and was always looking down, but occasionally he would look up at the audience for just a few seconds and then look back down. Later he would say to me, “This one was asleep, that one wasn’t paying attention, this one was doing this and that one was doing that.” To be able to see everything in just a few seconds like that, snap! The way we normally look is like a child at the zoo: “Ooh!” We have to stare at something with our mouth open and look at it for a long time before we actually are able to understand what we see. That can be speeded up and developed. Again, quiet down for a moment and, camera! 


Exercise: Equalizing Awareness 

This time what we’ll do as we look around the circle is to look at two or three people together. From our distance here, we can see two or three people together quite easily. Try to see them together, equally. Let’s try to do that in terms of all these three are human beings and have feelings just as we do. They want to be liked and not disliked, just as we do. They’re all equal in that respect. Put them together without having to verbalize it. Quiet for a moment. Then, see the groups as people as equal, with respect. 


Then, we look down, let the experience settle and focus on the breath. 

Exercise: Individualizing Awareness 

The people that we’re seeing are not just a flock of sheep, in which we can’t tell the difference between any of them; they’re all sheep, but each one is an individual. It’s not necessary to know the name of anybody here, but the next part of the exercise is that we look at each person as an individual with their own history, personality, circumstances and so on. It entails respect for the person as an individual, because if we are going to relate to somebody, it’s unhelpful to have a standard way to deal with every sheep. We should relate in terms of the individuality of the person, custom-made to what is the situation of the person. Let’s quiet down first and then look around the circle at each person as an individual, using individualizing awareness. 


Exercise: Accomplishing Awareness 

The next one is the accomplishing awareness: the awareness to relate. Here we look at each person with the awareness to relate to the person. In other words, in terms of the information, the pattern, the quality, that they want to be liked, not disliked. This is an individual, so based on all of this, then this is the awareness to relate in a way that would be appropriate to all this, which we know from the other type of awarenesses. This is a rather subtle type of awareness here. Because we may not know what an appropriate way to relate to the person would be if we don’t know the other person very well. But just on the basis of whatever information that we might be able to gather, we would relate as best as we can. 

Let’s say we work in a store and a customer comes to us, and we can see this person is tired, in a hurry, friendly and so on. One would relate to the person in an appropriate way based on that. It is obvious that we are able to do this. In terms of if the customer is an adult, a small child or a very elderly person, obviously, we adjust the way that we relate. We don’t speak to the eight-year-old child the way we speak to an adult. 

Here, when we look around the circle, what we try to have is the awareness, the intention, or the wish of relating to this person in an appropriate way. What we experience here is a little bit like our energy going out to the person in a way to actually meet this person, not just meet another sheep and so on, but to this person as an individual. This is the awareness we are having here. We may not know exactly what that interaction is going to be, but it’s very important to go that step: to put energy out and be open to meet you and interact with you. That’s this relating awareness. Based on however much we know of the other types of awareness, we have some idea how to relate. Again, we start by quieting down, and focusing on the breath. Then, we look around the circle with the awareness: relate! 


Exercise: Reality Awareness 

Finally, we have the reality awareness, which is to see that the situation with the other person is open to change, and our own way of dealing with it is open to change. In other words, flexibility and openness. We’re open to whatever will develop in the interaction. We will respond accordingly with openness and flexibility. 

Please notice that in all five of these, what is fundamental here is an attitude of acceptance. We accept the other person the way they are in a non-judgmental way. We accept their individuality. It’s not that we’re judgmental and lay a whole trip on them. We accept how the interaction will unfold. This doesn’t mean to be passive so that we don’t do anything, but it is non-judgmental. “Open” means that we don’t have fixed ideas about the other person, and we don’t have fixed ideas about ourselves. Look around the circle with this type of awareness, this kind of mental activity, to be open. 

We quiet down and look around the circle with this openness awareness, reality awareness. They’re open; we’re open. They’re open to change; we’re open to being flexible in our interaction. 



Is there anything you would like to report back to the group in terms of what you learned, what you observed or any questions you might have?

I found that when we start this kind of exercise, in the beginning, I had a bit of hesitation: does this really work? In the second or third exercise, I find that it suddenly builds up and becomes real. It’s like you are putting bricks on top of each other, then suddenly it feels real. There’s a difference between hearing it and feeling it. 

With any exercise, it takes time to get into it the first time we do it. Of course, we have some hesitations and doubts. It takes a while. That’s natural. 

The business of relating to people sometimes worked very well and sometimes there was no idea at all – it didn’t work at all. I felt I was putting myself under stress if it didn’t work well. I felt bad because it was not working well. 

That actually is a good sign because it indicates to us an area that we need to work on. With certain types of people, we find that our energy goes out more easily to relate to them, and with other types of people or certain individuals, we might have some blocks. It shows us that these are the areas that we need to work on. However, because we’re able to relate to some people – our energy goes out – that reaffirms that we have the possibility to relate to everybody, because the basic mechanism is there. That’s the point of it being a Buddha-nature factor. 

Then, we apply the five types of awareness to this particular emotional block. By taking in the information, we try to see the pattern. What is the pattern here? For instance, we can more easily relate to women but not men, or older people and not younger people, or people that we find pretty and attractive than people that we don’t find attractive. We try to see what the pattern is and put it together. Then, in each specific situation that we’re in, it’s an individual case. We shouldn’t lock ourselves into this pattern. Then, we want to relate to this problem; we want to deal with it. How can I overcome this? That’s very important. We want to relate to this problem; we want to do something about it. To realize that during the process of dealing with it, we need to be open to being able to change or overcome this block. It’s the openness awareness. 

When we’re aware that we have these five types of awareness, these Buddha-nature factors, then we have great confidence that we have a mechanism to be able to deal with any problem or blocks that we have. Obviously, we need other factors as well, such as compassion for ourselves, and these sorts of things. They all fit together. This is the important point of Buddha-family work, Buddha-nature work. We have all the tools already within. It’s just a matter of recognizing them and knowing how to develop and apply them. We didn’t even know that we had these or that we could apply them. But as we saw, even the worm has these five. 

There’s the phenomenon that there are certain people you don’t want to relate to because you simply despise them, you don’t like them. For example, there’s a lady cleaning in my office, and I just don’t like to meet with her because she is so talkative. So, I avoid meeting her. Whenever I come to the office, this woman is there, even if she should not be there. I wonder if there is a purpose I see her,  in that I should learn something from the situation. 

As we were discussing in terms of rebirth from the Buddhist point of view, it’s not as though there’s some outside higher authority that’s dealing us lessons to learn, setting this woman there to challenge us. That’s a very paranoid way of viewing our life. However, it’s important to recognize that you are relating to this woman. The way that you are relating is by avoiding her. That mechanism is there. 

Is this a satisfactory way of relating to this woman? What is the effect of the exercise earlier today? What is the influence this has on the other person? Not only what influence does it have on the other person, but what influence does it have on me? It makes me very uptight. Is this how I want to continue to experience this woman because, obviously, if we don’t have the power to fire her, then we have to deal with her. We may not be so highly developed that we’re going to become best friends with this cleaning lady, but we can certainly be creative and flexible enough to relate in a different way, at least in a manner in which we are not upset by her. We have to non-judgmentally accept that this woman is very talkative. This is the way that she is. 

One way of relating to people is to set boundaries, to set limits, without feeling uptight, angry or guilty. It’s important not only with the cleaning lady but with so many people in our lives. That’s one way of relating that can be very beneficial to that other person. It’s certainly beneficial to us. Set the limits and boundaries, but remain flexible. We need to be flexible according to the situation, but we need to be able to say in a relaxed manner, “Excuse me, I need to get back to my work,” without feeling uptight about it, without rejecting the woman. Instead of saying something like, “Shut up and leave me alone!” very simply say, “Excuse me, I have to get back to my work.” 

Differences between the Gelugpa and non-Gelugpa Systems 

This is one system of these five types of deep awareness, the system that we find in the anuttarayoga tantra (the highest class of tantra) as explained in the Gelug system. Now, we can quickly look at the way that it’s explained in the highest class of tantra from the point of view of the non-Gelugpa systems, just to point out the variations. We won’t do a whole big exercise on it. We just want to get a little feeling of what the variation is. 

  • Here in the non-Gelug system in place of this first type of awareness – remember we have the camera or mirror-like awareness – here we have the reality awareness. The reality awareness actually involves very much of what we had before, but there in the Gelug system, it was called the mirror-awareness. Here in the non-Gelug system, we’re taking in the information as well as the conventional reality awareness that we had before. Take in the information, and it’s this and not that: for example, this is a man, not a woman; this is an old person, not a young person, etc.
  • Similarly, like before, we have the equalizing awareness: the pattern, putting it together, the individualizing and the relating types – that’s the same.
  • Finally, we have the mirror-like awareness, which is to open up and be like the mirror to take in all of that in the larger, larger context of everything. The context of an entire relation with this person, the context of our whole life, the context of everything about their life and the things they’re doing. We may not know all the details, but that doesn’t matter. The point is to be open to this person in this larger context. When we talk about openness here, it’s this huge expansiveness of seeing something in the context of everything. That would not be so easy to identify on the basis of the worm, as this is much more something that we would work with on the path.

Thus, this is another way of presenting these five, and this kind of presentation of the five can also be very helpful. In our relations with somebody, what is a little bit different here is this last one: this different type of openness, this whole context. This is very important in terms of seeing our relationship with somebody in the context of our whole life and all the other relationships we have; otherwise, we over-emphasize it or under-emphasize it so that it doesn’t fit into a balance with what is going on. That can apply this open, expansive view in terms of a relationship with this person by seeing it within the context of our relationships with everybody else in our life. 

It’s very interesting that when we want to be loved by a person, it doesn’t matter that other people love us, but it’s this person that we want to love us. It’s a very interesting phenomenon. The other people don’t really count. Also, in terms of a fight with somebody, a disagreement with somebody we’re in a relationship with, it’s very important to be able to be open to see that incident in the context of the whole relationship, instead of blowing it up and then identifying the entire relationship with this one little incident. See the whole picture, then this is just one particular incident, nothing more, nothing less. 

If we try to think about how does a worm have this, then we have to go back to the image of the mirror (this is called the mirror-like awareness in this system). Think about it. The mirror takes in the entire visual sense field, the whole thing. We may only pay attention to a little part of what we see, but actually, we see the entire visual field, don’t we? That’s this openness, seeing the whole context. 

Does the worm understand the concept of what a mirror is? 

No, not at all, but the worm sees an entire visual field. Even though the worm may only be focused on this colored shape, which is food in front of it, the worm actually does perceive the entire visual sense field. I assume that worms have eyes, but I don’t really know. It’s an analogy. We know a fly has eyes, and it sees the entire sense field, the whole context. We do have that ability to open up and see the entire context. It’s just a matter of broadening what is that larger context. Like this, we can’t say that one system is better than another system. It just gives us slightly more to work with. 

We’ll continue tomorrow with another system of deep awareness: the one that we find more in the system of namshe yeshe. These are different types of awareness that Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche works with within this Maitri space awareness. This is yet another way of looking at the five types of mental activity.