Further Questions about Nonrevealing Forms and Positive Potential

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The Connection between Karmic Aftermath and Karmic Results

What connects the different kinds of karmic aftermath and the karmic results?

This is an issue that is much debated and each of the Indian Buddhist tenet systems has a different explanation. All the tenet systems assert that the karmic aftermath that are karmic potential, the network of positive potential, karmic tendencies, and constant karmic habits – although only the Mahayana tenet systems assert constant karmic habits – are imputation phenomena on a basis. They agree that the continuum of that basis is what maintains the continuum of the karmic aftermath until they finish giving rise to their karmic results, even into future lifetimes. They differ, however, as to what serves as that basis. Vaibhashika asserts it to be the five aggregates. Sautrantika and Svatantrika assert it to be mental consciousness. Chittamatra asserts it to be foundation consciousness, alayavijnana

Prasangika asserts it to be the conventional “me,” which itself is an imputation phenomenon on the five aggregates in every moment, including during death existence. This bypasses the issue of what type of consciousness serves as this basis, since those tenet systems that assert some type of consciousness as the basis assert that that consciousness is also the basis containing the defining characteristic mark of the self. Prasangika refutes that the self has any findable defining characteristic mark. 

Only Vaibhashika and Madhyamaka assert nonrevealing forms, and only Madhyamaka asserts that some of them, such as bodhisattva vows, continue into future lives. During this present lifetime, the bodhisattva vows continue with the continuum of the mental consciousness as part of the aggregate of forms. But what about during death existence?

As I might have mentioned before, on the plane of formless beings, the so-called “formless realm,” there is still extremely subtle form, just not the gross forms of the plane of desirable objects (the desire realm) and not the subtle forms of the plane of ethereal forms (the form realm). Nonrevealing forms are a type of these subtlest forms, since they are not made of gross or subtle elements, and they are present during death existence. Thus, there is continuity of the bodhisattva vows into one’s next rebirth.

Analysis of Nonrevealing Forms and Anuttarayoga Tantra 

How do these nonrevealing forms fit in with anuttarayoga tantra? 

Among forms of physical phenomena, there are various types of forms that can only be known by mental consciousness, such as dream objects. Some of these objects, for instance particles (the Buddhist equivalent of atoms), are made of subtle elements, and some are not made of elements. In all classes of tantra, we visualize ourselves in the form of a Buddha-figure such as Chenrezig, Tara, Kalachakra, or Yamantaka; there are hundreds of them. When we do this with conceptual mental cognition, these figures are made of subtle energy-wind, which is the support of conceptual consciousness. In anuttarayoga tantra, on the advanced levels of the complete stage, we are able to generate these Buddha-figures out of the subtlest life-supporting energy-wind, which is the support of the clear light mind. 

Nonrevealing forms are not made of elements, whether gross or subtle. However, in terms of anuttarayoga tantra, they are made of subtlest life-supporting energy-wind. They are not like the devoid forms discussed in Kalachakra, which are like images arising in the magic mirror of the clear light mind. This is because devoid forms also arise naturally on the basis level, whereas nonrevealing forms are something that only arise simultaneously with revealing forms when revealing forms are generated with a strong motivation.   

The Varying Strength and Ripening of Karma Aftermath and Results

This question has three parts. The first part is if animals produce new karma, especially carnivore animals that kill all their lives. Clearly if all these actions create new karma, it would be quite terrible, or is this just an exhaustion of karma from previous lives? The second part refers to small children and babies who can’t control themselves and have strong emotions such as anger; if they can’t control themselves because they are babies, does it mean that they accumulate the same karma with the same intensity as adults? The third part of the question is basically the same but involves people with psychiatric disorders that can’t control themselves; do their actions have the same karmic weight and results as with healthy people?

There are many factors that affect the strength of the karmic potentials and the intensity of the results that ripen from them. For example, the more one repeats an action without applying opponent forces, the stronger the karmic results are going to be. If one applies opponent forces like regret and promises not to repeat the action, then the potential gets weaker.

Actually, there is a list of 13 different variables that affect the strength of the ripening of karmic potentials. They include, for example, how often we repeat the action and the frequency with which we repeat it. However, one of the more relevant factors in relation to your question is the strength of the disturbing emotion or positive emotion that brings on and accompanies an action. 

Remember what we are talking about is what ripens from the karmic aftermath. This includes liking to repeat a certain action, which means being instinctively drawn to repeating a certain action. If we are born as a carnivorous animal, we kill out of instinct. A lion doesn’t think over and decide if it should kill a prey, it will only kill when it is hungry, whereas a cat will torture a mouse even if it’s not hungry. Again, the hardware of the type of body and brain and the instincts that go with them are going to affect what the animal does. 

However, when a lion hunts, kills and eats an antelope, one could really question how much anger the lion has toward that antelope. In actually killing it, there has to be some sort of aggression there; however, the causal motivation would not be anger. It would be hunger. It’s still a destructive action because there is ignorance and naivety about karmic cause and effect. A lion killing its prey is part of samsara and it will perpetuate the samsara of that being born as a lion. Nonetheless, the karmic result of a lion killing an antelope is weaker than that of a human being who murders out of anger and has the discriminating awareness to know not do that.

Of the disturbing emotions, anger is the strongest, then attachment and desire, and the least strong is naivety or ignorance. One of these three poisonous attitudes is usually there. A baby or toddler, when it says, “I hate you,” and hits out at the mother or father has some anger, but it’s not deeply rooted like an adult would have. What is very strong there is that the baby doesn’t know any better. It doesn’t know the difference between, as we would say in the West, right and wrong. There is a lack of understanding there, and the child’s actions are less heavy than an adult with strong anger and the ability to discriminate and exercise self-control. Even though the toddler is too young to exercise self-control, yet when they hit other children out of anger, it is still destructive.

Another factor that is involved is the amount of suffering that is caused to another person. When a mother says it’s time for bed to a two-year-old, and the two-year-old says, “I don’t want to go to bed; I hate you,” the mother doesn’t really get hurt or feel that her child hates her. It is different than an adult or a partner saying, “I hate you.” 

In the case of a psychotic criminal, even our legal system differentiates such a person from a sane criminal and punishes them less severely. In any case, an animal rebirth is pretty terrible. This is because if we are born as a carnivorous animal, we continue to build up stronger and stronger negative potential by continuing to kill. This karmic tendency and potential to instinctively be drawn to killing is very difficult for an animal to exhaust because the animal continues to kill, and this reinforces the strength of that potential and tendency. 

Facsimile Bodhichitta and Unlabored Bodhichitta

My question is about the two types of positive potential. One is built with labored bodhichitta, which is just a facsimile and not the real bodhichitta. But when we have bodhichitta without effort, it becomes enlightenment-building potential. Does the first type somehow bring us to the second one?

Facsimile bodhichitta helps us to build up positive potential and, since we are dedicating it to enlightenment, it’s going to contribute to being able to develop the unlabored bodhichitta. So yes, labored bodhichitta helps us to build up to unlabored bodhichitta. 

I want to clarify something that is a possible misunderstanding that people might have regarding what we need in order to attain the first of the five pathway minds, the building-up pathway of mind – what is usually called “the path of accumulation.” A pathway of mind is a mental state having a certain level of development with which it can now operate. To attain a building-up pathway mind as a bodhisattva, we need to attain this unlabored bodhichitta. We need to be able to develop or generate bodhichitta without having to rely on a line of reasoning – the seven-part cause and effect one or equalizing and exchanging self with others. We’ve gone through them enough times and built up enough positive potential and dedicated it to enlightenment so that bodhichitta comes automatically.

All the praise of the benefits of bodhichitta that we find, like in the first chapter of Shantideva’s Engaging in Bodhisattva Behavior, Bodhicharyavatara, are referring to unlabored bodhichitta. As soon as we develop that, it’s fantastic. It doesn’t mean that it’s not good to develop the facsimile, we have to have that first. But the real benefits come from the unlabored one.

In addition, we also need a certain build-up of deep awareness of voidness to attain unlabored bodhichitta. In Buddhism we always talk about method and wisdom. Therefore, we also need a build-up of discriminating awareness of voidness. However, it’s going to be conceptual before and at the stage of a building-up pathway of mind because that’s all that we are able to have at this point. 

What is the topic that we need to understand with each of the five pathway minds? For both Hinayana and Mahayana, it’s the four noble truths and the sixteen aspects of the four noble truths and, on top of that, the voidness of the person who experiences the four noble truths. In Mahayana, this also includes understanding the voidness of the four noble truths themselves and the voidness of the mind that experiences them. 

This is very important. In both Hinayana and Mahayana, we need to understand the voidness of the person who is experiencing suffering; the person who has the ignorance and anger and so on; the person who will have the true stopping of these troublemakers; and the person who will have the understanding that will bring it about. We have to understand the voidness of “me” doing and experiencing all of this.

In terms of who is to blame for karma, our topic, it’s the “me” who experiences the results of karma – the first noble truth – the “me” who experiences suffering. The “me” who experiences the causes of karmic actions, that’s the “me” who experiences the second noble truth, the causes of suffering. This is the larger context that what we are discussing fits into. 

It’s not necessary to have achieved shamatha in order to achieve a building-up pathway of mind, not at all. All we need is unlabored bodhichitta. We may have achieved shamatha beforehand focused on the breath or whatever, but we don’t have to have that. What we are building up with that building-up pathway of mind is shamatha focused on the voidness of the person experiencing the four noble truths and, being Mahayana, also focused on the voidness of the four noble truths themselves and on the voidness of the mind experiencing them. And, as I said, our focus on voidness at this stage will be conceptual.

We need to get our priorities straight here in terms of what we really need. We need unlabored bodhichitta and a conceptual understanding of the four noble truths and the voidnesses that are involved. This doesn’t have to be with shamatha, perfect concentration, to gain that building-up pathway of mind. We work on that after.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama says that every day the majority of the meditation that he does is analytical meditation. We could start to wonder, why in the world does someone at that level have to do analytical meditation every day. My theory is that we have a vast store of listening to teachings, and what we are constantly trying to do is put more and more of the pieces together in more ways. That’s one aspect of the ongoing process of the analytical meditation and then there is familiarizing oneself with it repeatedly. 

Whatever level of concentration that we have, we use it in analytical meditation. Of course, we need a minimal level of good concentration. What affects our ability to concentrate is primarily interest. If we are really interested in something, we can concentrate. Look at a child with attention deficit disorder, and, for example, how well they are able to concentrate on a video game. This is because they are interested in it. 

If we are really interested in the Dharma because we see the benefits, we will be able to concentrate, at least to some level, to get some type of insight. The concentration doesn’t have to be perfect to get insight and to make gradual changes in our behavior and understanding. To get perfect concentration is wonderful. There isn’t anything wrong or fault with that; however, what really makes change is our understanding and our bodhichitta motivation.

What kind of actions do we have to avoid if we don’t want to lose our path of Dharma and want to keep our interest in study and practice? What do we need to avoid? 

Let’s put that the other way around. What do we need to develop? We need to develop decisiveness that the teachings are correct, that they are of benefit, and that we will be able to actually understand and apply them. We want to avoid thinking that the teachings are stupid and incorrect, that they are of no benefit whatsoever and, even if they are of benefit, that we can’t possibly understand them or attain anything.

Undedicated Positive Karmic Potential Brings Worldly Happiness

Can the results of our practice go to fulfilling usual samsaric wishes?

Yes, positive karmic potential that is not dedicated to liberation or enlightenment will ripen into worldly happiness and things going well from a worldly point of view. This is certainly preferable. Happiness is a state of mind that is much more conducive for being able to make further progress on the path than being miserable and unhappy. 

We need to have a certain amount of suffering and not too much happiness, but a precious human rebirth is much better for practicing the Dharma than rebirth as a fly. In the lam-rim, the graded stages of the path, what does someone with an initial level of motivation do? They try to avoid acting destructively and building up negative potentials, and they try instead to build up positive potentials to continue having precious human rebirths so they can go further on the path. That’s the initial scope and we need that. This is not something that we stop doing as a basis because we are going to need that precious human rebirth all the way to liberation and enlightenment.

We can divide each of the stages of lam-rim motivation into the three stages. We can want to get a precious human rebirth in order to enjoy the pleasures of samsara. We can want a precious human rebirth in order to have a basis for attaining liberation. Or we can wish for a precious human rebirth in order to have a basis for attaining enlightenment. Like that, the initial scope motivation can be divided into these three. 

Karmic Potential That Doesn’t Ripen in This Lifetime  

If we are in a situation in this life that although we try, we cannot conceive a child, does it mean that we don’t have the karmic potential for having a child?  

To say that we don’t have the karmic potential to be able to conceive a child in this lifetime doesn’t mean that we don’t have the karmic potential to give birth to a child in some future lifetime. There’s no end to rebirth until enlightenment. However, to be more precise, we need the karmic potential to be born with a body that is capable of conceiving a child. Whether we go on to have a child with such a body is affected by many other factors.

Once a karmic potential has already ripened in the form of taking a rebirth body and let’s say we are born blind, there is nothing that can be done to make us not blind in that body. It has already ripened. If our rebirth body is one that is infertile, then there’s nothing that can be done to change that. Of course, there are cases when we think we are infertile, but medical treatment can enable us to conceive. We might have the karmic potential for that. But it might also be the case that such treatments won’t work because we just don’t have the potential to become fertile in this lifetime. If a karmic potential hasn’t ripened yet, then we can apply various other forces to create the circumstances in which it could ripen. However, if it has already ripened, it’s finished.