Meditation on Mind and the 4 Aspects of True Stoppings

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Mind Is Nonstatic

Let’s go on to the close placement of mindfulness or mental glue now holding onto or focusing on the mind, meaning specifically primary consciousness – the five types of sense consciousness (eye, ear, nose, tongue and body consciousness) and mental consciousness. The way that we consider the mind is with an understanding in general that it is nonstatic. It changes from moment to moment. That’s referring to the fact that we are aware of things moment to moment. What our various types of primary consciousnesses focus on is changing, whether visual, hearing, smelling, tasting, feeling a physical sensation or the mental consciousness in thinking, dreaming, imagining, and so on. The object is changing from moment to moment, so consciousness is likewise changing from moment to moment. When you hear in Kagyu and Nyingma teachings that the mind is permanent, they are using that word “permanent” to mean eternal, with no beginning and no end, and that mind’s nature never changes and is unaffected by anything. They are not contradicting the fact that the mind has a different object in each moment. It’s just looking at two different meanings of the words “permanent” and “impermanent.”

Consciousness changes from moment to moment and the mental factors that are accompanying each moment are changing from moment to moment. Primary consciousness is aware of simply the essential nature of its object – like it’s being a sight, a sound, a smell, a taste, a physical sensation or a mental object. Mental factors assist the consciousness, like attention, concentration, or intention, or they color the cognition with a positive or negative emotion. There are so many mental factors. There are fifty-one that are listed in Asanga’s presentation of abhidharma. There are more than that; fifty-one are just the more prominent ones.

What is Mind?

What are we actually talking about when we are talking about mind? This is the important point. To answer this, we need to look at the conventional nature of mind. When we talk about mind, we are not talking about a thing or a tool that “me” uses as in using my mind to figure something out. We’re talking about mental activity. It’s subjective, individual mental activity, which occurs, of course, on a physical basis. In our case as humans, it is on the basis of a brain and nervous system and all of that. But we are not talking about the physical basis of it. Nor are we talking about the electrical or chemical energy that’s involved or anything like that. We’re talking about the activity itself.

What is that activity? It’s a subjective activity. It’s not the activity of a machine. It’s individually experienced. That mental activity is described by three words that are usually translated as “mere” which means only, and “clarity” and “awareness.” But, again, don’t think of clarity as a thing and awareness as a thing. We have to look at the definitions.

“Clarity” means giving rise to some mental aspect. I like to describe that mental aspect as a mental hologram. It is the arising of a metal hologram. From a Western point of view that makes sense. If we are seeing something, then photons come to the retina and that gets translated into electric impulses and chemical impulses through the neural system and somehow there’s a mental hologram and that is what is seen.

“Awareness,” the second aspect, means some cognitive engagement. That arising of a mental hologram is in fact what seeing is. They are not two separate functions. It is not that first a mental hologram arises and then you see it. If first a mental hologram arose before you became aware of it, how would you notice it in order to see it? The arising of the hologram and the seeing are the same. It is the same thing with hearing, smelling, tasting, feeling a physical sensation, and thinking. It’s not that a thought arises and then you think it. The arising of the thought is the thinking of the thought.

The word “mere” means that only that is happening and that there isn’t some separate “me” that is making it happen, controlling it, or out of control, or watching it. Also, “mere” excludes mind being a machine that the “me” is using to produce a mental hologram with a cognitive engagement. And it certainly isn’t that the hologram was sitting inside a box in our head and pops out. Mind is just mental activity. It goes on from moment to moment to moment with different objects. For example, there is a mental hologram of the wall, the column, the cushion, the floor, the rug, this person, and that person. We’re seeing this body or that body.

That mental activity is what is happening in each moment and this is the main point here. Regardless of the object, the content of the mental hologram, the mental activity is the same. Also, please remember, mental holograms are not just mental holograms of visual images. They can be mental holograms of a sound, of music going on in our heads, or a voice going on in our heads, or a smell, or a taste, or a physical sensation, or an abstract thought. These are also mental holograms. A lot of our thoughts are with words or images, but sometimes they are also abstract, like thinking one plus one is two.

Mind as the Gateway to Understanding True Stoppings

If we understand that even though the content is changing from moment to moment, which is the general understanding of mind in terms of the close placement of mindfulness, what we’re really dealing with is that conventional nature. It is not stained, to use the technical jargon; it’s not stained by the content regardless of any negative mental factors that might accompany it. The conventional nature doesn’t change. It depends, of course, on how you understand this word “not change.” It doesn’t degenerate or anything like that. Moment to moment mind changes, because the object is changing, but mind’s nature itself doesn’t change. It’s always the same. All it is, is an arising and an engagement, which are the same activity from two points of view, and there is no separate “me.”

This is what one focuses on in mahamudra meditation. It is on that conventional nature and then on the deepest nature, mind’s absence of existing in impossible ways – in other words, its voidness or emptiness. Not only is there no impossible “me” experiencing it; but, mental activity itself is devoid of existing in an impossible way. This is mahamudra meditation.

The close placement of mindfulness on the mind, on this conventional nature of mental activity, is the gateway to understanding true stoppings and how true stoppings are possible. The so-called “stains” are superficial, in the sense that the disturbing, negative emotions are not only changing all the time, but more importantly, they don’t affect or “contaminate” the nature of the consciousness that they accompany. Therefore, it’s possible to have a true stopping of all these superficial stains.

It can never be the case that the mental activity is not doing anything. Mental activity always has content, but instead of this uncontrollably recurring content that comes from unawareness and ignorance and all that, there can be a pure appearance of things. This would be without an appearance of impossible ways of existing and without disturbing mental factors. We would still have mental activity, with objects, feelings, concentration, compassion and so on, but in untainted forms. There would be a true stopping forever of ignorance, disturbing emotions and compulsive karmic behavior.

Meditation to Recognize and Focus on Mental Activity

Mind, as defined in Buddhism, is quite difficult to identify, because we tend to focus just on the content of our cognitions, rather than on the actual activity that is going on. But to apply the close placement of mindfulness on mind, on consciousness, we need to be able to identify and focus on the mind itself. We need to focus just on the mental activity itself, on the mental activity that is happening, as opposed to focusing on the content of what is happening. So, before we go on, why don’t we try to identify mental activity and stay focused on that with understanding. The understanding is that its nature is always staying the same, although the content is changing from moment to moment. In other words, the same thing is happening with different content from moment to moment. Let’s see if we can recognize it, because if we can’t recognize what we’re talking about, then trying to recognize the further characteristics of it doesn’t make terribly much sense. So, let’s try that for a minute or two.

So, as we’re sitting here, please keep your eyes open so that you are seeing. That is mental activity. You are also hearing. There seems to be a hum in the background of some machine. There’s also the physical sensation of the seat underneath you and your clothing. There are a lot of different things that are occurring in terms of mental activity.

It helps, of course, to not just stare at something, because then what is arising tends to stay the same. If you move your head around, then you see different things and notice that no matter what you are looking at, although the visual content is nonstatic, the mental activity remains the same.

It’s the same thing when you think anything, verbal thinking, especially when it is extraneous or what we can call “garbage thinking.” Try not to get caught up in the story line. All that is happening is mental activity.

As we’re doing this, for most of us I would imagine that it’s difficult to keep the voice in our head quiet. So, you are mentally saying something whether related or unrelated to the meditation. Try to notice and understand that it’s not some separate “me” that is talking. It’s just merely the arising of the mental hologram of a mental sound representing a voice and the cognitive engagement with it. It feels like there is a separate “me” talking, but there is no such thing.

When we imagine that there is a “me” that has its own defining characteristics, and that exists separately and appears separately from this content, and is not really affected by what’s going on – when we project that onto the conventional “me” – then we believe that it corresponds to reality. We experience it as if there were a separate “me” that is watching. But, that doesn’t correspond to reality. That is what we have to understand and not only understand, but refute. There is no such thing as this separate “me’; it’s impossible. This is the understanding of voidness. There is no such thing as the referent object – a little, independently existing “me” that is actually sitting in my head, to use a simple analogy, like a cartoon, watching what takes place on the screen. It is totally absent, because there never was such a thing. Nevertheless, it is me, not someone else, and not no one, who is meditating. That’s the conventional “me” – an imputation on all the components – the five aggregates – making up each moment of our experience.

True Stoppings

That’s why analysis is very important. If we are familiar with cognition theory in Buddhism, how the mind works, how the mental factors work, how conceptual cognition works and all of that, then we can actually deconstruct our confusing experience and see where the problem is. If we can understand where the fault lies in our understanding of what is going on, then we can correct it. If we can’t do the analysis, then we can’t possible do the deconstruction. Then all we can do is apply a temporary method of either temporarily suppressing our disturbing emotions or ignoring them. Neither of these strategies brings about a true stopping of them so that they never recur again.

This is the whole point of the discussion of true stoppings. It is only when we deconstruct everything and understand what is going on that then we see what the problem is. Then we understand that the nature of the mind, the conventional and deepest as well, is not stained. It’s pure by nature, and because it’s not stained, then although we have all the content of what is going on mixed with unawareness and confusion and brought on by unawareness and confusion and all of that; nevertheless, that’s merely the content. The content is not part of the nature of the mind.

That means that, in terms of the conventional nature of the mind, we can have a true stopping – a total absence – as an imputation on it. When we have something present and then it’s absent, we can see that it’s no longer there. We can see an absence, but since that thing that was present could return, the absence is only temporary, so it is a nonstatic absence. But what about the absence of something that was never there? The absence of something that was never there is something that never changes. It’s a static imputation, an everlasting absence, one with no beginning and no end. It was never there and it was never a part of the conventional nature.

A true stopping is an everlasting stopping that occurs through the power of obliterating opponent forces. An opponent force can temporarily suppress something. An example is focusing on love to oppose anger toward something or someone. But, that doesn’t obliterate the anger. It doesn’t get rid of it completely, forever. It just gets rid of it temporarily. But we want to apply an obliterating opponent to get rid of the true origins of suffering forever. If we can do that, we attain a true stopping of the true causes. But since the nature of the mind was never stained by the true causes, then the absence that is the true stopping comes down to that same unstained nature. What we need to understand, then, is that the nature of the mind is an appropriate basis for the imputation of a true stopping by an obliterating force.

What are we getting rid of? We are getting rid of these fleeting stains because they are not an intrinsic part of the conventional nature of the mind. We’ve gotten rid of, for example, anger and unawareness, or what we were talking about specifically in terms of what activates throwing karma, the thirsting and obtainer disturbing attitudes. We’re getting rid of those by obliterating them so they can never occur again. The nature of the mind is an appropriate basis for that because in its nature it doesn’t have them. It can be free of them and free of them forever, because they were never part of it intrinsically; they were never there by nature.

If you think about it, unawareness – not knowing how the self, “me,” exists, or knowing it in an inverted way – may occur in each moment of mental activity. Thus, there are tendencies of that unawareness as imputations on the mental continuum. There’s no beginning to them as well. We need to understand that this unawareness and its tendencies are, nevertheless, not part of the intrinsic nature of the mind, the conventional nature of the mind, even though they are there in every moment with no beginning. Our unawareness has not been created by some all-mighty creator. It’s not that once we were in paradise and then we lost it; once we knew and then we forgot it. It’s not anything like that.

Why is unawareness, incorrect understanding, something that can be removed forever? It’s because there is another mental factor called “correct discriminating awareness” that can arise on the mental continuum and which is mutually exclusive with and the opposite of unawareness. The two being opposite and mutually exclusive means that we can’t know and not know how the self exists simultaneously. We can’t know in a correct way and know in an incorrect way simultaneously. Mutually exclusive means that we can’t have something that is both. We either know it correctly or we don’t. They are exact opposites of each other; alright? The two can’t occur simultaneously.

So, there can be a state in which there is no unawareness and when you have correct discriminating awareness – namely, when you have non-conceptual cognition of voidness. Remember the definition of discriminating awareness. Based on distinguishing a certain characteristic feature of something – that it’s this and not that – discriminating awareness adds absolute certainty to that with no wavering and no maybe about it. When we are absolutely certain that it’s definitely this and not that, then that’s discriminating awareness. Because unawareness can be replaced by its mutually exclusive opposite, correct discriminating awareness, unawareness is not part of the conventional nature of mental activity.

Discriminating awareness can be with conceptual cognition, where we put what we cognize into the mental box of a category, or it can be non-conceptual, not putting it in a box of this and not that. The box of this and the box of not that are mutually exclusive, like you are Theo and you are not Theo. Those are mutually exclusive. You can also say you are Theo and you are not Alfredo. In any case I could have the box, the category of Theo, in which I think of you throughout your entire life and no matter what you do, I fit you in that box and not in the box of not Theo or not Alfredo. Or, I could cognize non-conceptually simply the fact that you are Theo and not Alfredo.

Just to clarify, in sense perception you distinguish non-conceptually something as this and not that, and that can be with the certainty of discriminating awareness. But a micro-second later, you put what you perceived in a box. But, that’s not necessary. It’s not part of the intrinsic nature of the mind to be conceptual and to have categories. If it were, then you could never have mental activity without categories. But you do have mental activity without them. The first micro-second of seeing is without categories, as is non-conceptual cognition of voidness.

Fleeting Stains Can be Removed Forever from Mental Activity

So, there is a way of cognizing that is mutually exclusive with confusion or unawareness and which can replace unawareness, because there are moments when that discriminating awareness is present and the unawareness is not present. An example is in non-conceptual total absorption on the total absence of an impossible “me,” and because there can be moments of such cognition, that demonstrates that unawareness is not an intrinsic part of mental activity.

But, in terms of the conventional nature itself – that simultaneous arising and mental engaging – is there anything that is the mutually exclusive, exact opposite of that which could occur and still be cognitive activity? There isn’t. What is mutually exclusive is no arising and no cognitive activity. But if there’s no arising and no cognitive activity, then it’s not mental activity; whereas, if there is no arising of an impossible “me” and belief in that, there is still mental activity. Therefore, mental activity itself is not stained by that unawareness or that ignorance.

The same is true in terms of the conventional “me” – although mental activity still occurs despite there being an absence of an impossible “me” as an imputation on it as its basis, mental activity could not occur if there were no conventional “me” as an imputation on it as its basis. Mental activity has to be the mental activity of someone; it can’t be the mental activity of no one. Because of that, mental activity is not stained by the conventional “me,” and because the impossible “me” never existed, you can’t say that mental activity was ever stained by an impossible “me,” not even fleetingly. But, unawareness – the belief that the impossible “me” corresponds to reality – is something that has been staining the mind, but it is fleeting and can be removed. It can be removed forever so that it never returns and, in doing so, it still leaves mental activity intact and functioning.

Non-Conceptual Cognition of Voidness and the Attainment of True Stoppings

As we’ve seen, conceptual cognition is through a category. Such cognition always gives the appearance that whatever is thought of through the box, like thinking of “me” or “you,” truly fits in that box and that things from their own side fit in boxes, which is an impossible way of existing. Mental boxes and categories are merely mental constructs. Focusing on the absence of an impossible “me” conceptually still has the appearance of an impossible “me” that is doing the meditation and putting that absence in a mental box. So, such meditation will not bring the attainment of a true stopping. Only non-conceptual cognition of voidness, in which there is no appearance of an impossible “me,” can bring the attainment of a true stopping. When you focus on voidness non-conceptually, you’re not putting that absence into the box of voidness.

Then the next question is, how does the cognition of voidness become non-conceptual? It becomes non-conceptual because the meditation has behind it the force of a zillion eon’s worth of positive force and deep awareness, the two so called “collections of merit and wisdom.” Those are built up because you are absolutely motivated to achieve a true stopping. It’s not just that you want to help others. You want to achieve a true stopping – the determination to be free – and you want everybody else to achieve a true stopping of all of this. That’s compassion.

So, you’ve built up such an unbelievable amount of positive force dedicated to liberation and enlightenment that the deep awareness networked with that positive force can obliterate forever the unawareness or at least a portion of that unawareness – first the doctrinally based portion and then, in stages, different degrees of the automatically arising portion. This is very difficult to understand. How can you have a true stopping of a certain portion of ignorance, but not a true stopping of the whole thing?

How True Stoppings Are Attained in Stages and Not All at Once

When you have non-conceptual total absorption on voidness, just that total absence of an impossible “me” manifestly appears and is explicitly known. An absence appears, looking like nothing, but you know it’s not nothing. The absence of an apple on the table and the absence of a banana on the table look exactly the same. What do you see when you see that there’s no apple on the table? You see nothing on the table. But, you know this is the absence of an apple and it’s not the absence of a banana or the absence of an elephant. So, although nothing appears, you know what it is an absence of, otherwise it is useless blank-minded meditation. When you are totally focused on that absence of an impossible “me,” then the basis of the imputation – the continuum of mental activity or consciousness, with its conventional nature, to make it simple – and the appearance of that basis don’t arise. The only thing that is arising is this absence, which appears like a nothing.

Then comes the subsequent realization phase of that non-conceptual meditation on voidness, which is usually translated as “post meditation,” but it doesn’t mean that you are not meditating anymore. The term can be used loosely for times between sessions when you are not formally meditating, but there is another word for that. You are still in non-conceptual meditation on voidness and that subsequent realization only occurs immediately after that total absorption on voidness. It is when you are no longer totally absorbed on voidness itself, but now the basis on which voidness is an imputed phenomenon appears explicitly. Now you are focused non-conceptually on the mental activity in terms of its conventional nature. It appears as though there is an impossible “me” separate from this meditation object and meditating on it – first a composite of a coarse and a subtle “impossible “me” and then just the appearance of a subtle impossible “me.” Implicitly, however, you realize the voidness of that “me” – first that the coarse manner of impossible existence as a static, partless, independently existent “me” doesn’t correspond to reality, and then that the subtle impossible manner as a “me” knowable separately from a mind and body doesn’t correspond either. “Implicit” means that this absence doesn’t actually appear. You don’t actually “see” an absence in your mind’s “eye,” but you know it implicitly and non-conceptually.

The question really is whether that subsequent realization phase lasts only while still in non-conceptual meditation on voidness, or does it continue even when not meditating. In other words, do we maintain implicit cognition of voidness all the time, once we have non-conceptually cognized the total absence of an impossible “me?” The true stopping of a portion of unawareness – a portion of the true cause of suffering – is present all the time. That portion of unawareness never stained the conventional nature of mental activity, it only obscured it as a fleeting stain. But what about the discriminating awareness? Is it like unlabored bodhichitta, that as Shantideva said, is there all the time, whether we are meditating or not? Is the determining factor of its being present all the time simply having a strong enough store of the two networks: positive force and deep awareness? Is attaining a true stopping of the automatically arising portions of unawareness only dependent on building up the second and third zillion eons of positive force? These are questions that we need to explore in analytical meditation.

Weakening the Momentum behind the Mind Giving Rise to an Appearance Representing the Impossible “Me”

This is why that positive force is so essential. The mind that understands that this appearance of an impossible “me” that the mind automatically gives rise to is utter garbage – that understanding and conviction need to be really strong, and have to be aimed with the intent for that ignorance and false appearance-making to never recur again. You have to be absolutely convinced that the false appearance does not correspond to reality – there is a total absence, a voidness, of a referent thing backing up that appearance. And that understanding has to have a tremendous amount of positive force behind it and be aimed at getting rid of the misunderstanding so that it doesn’t recur. At least implicitly, you need to keep understanding it. The more that you focus in total absorption that there is no such thing and explicitly it appears as a total absence of a real referent thing to this, the more you break the continuity. You break the strength behind the appearance-making and false belief.

I think this is the point. Unawareness has a momentum behind it that has been building up since beginningless time. One moment brings the next moment and the next moment and the next moment of it. There’s a strong momentum. You break that momentum by having periods in which you are focusing on “no such thing” as the impossible “me,” so there is no belief that this deceptive appearance corresponds to anything real. But it’s not just that the deceptive appearance appears and implicitly we know it’s not corresponding to anything real. You focus on the total absence of a real referent thing corresponding to it, and during that non-conceptual total absorption there isn’t even the arising of that false appearance. You have broken the momentum of the unawareness by having broken the momentum of the appearance-making of that garbage. Therefore, it weakens the momentum behind it continuing to appear and our continuing to believe in it.

I think that this is the whole point of how in stages you weaken that grasping for an impossible “me.” You weaken the perception, the giving rise to this appearance of something like a cartoon representing the impossible “me.” If something is actually impossible and doesn’t exist, it can’t appear. Only something representing it can appear.

Disturbing Emotions Are Fleeting and Can be Obliterated Forever

Any disturbing emotion, based on belief in an impossible “me,” and especially any thirsting and obtainer disturbing emotion that arise are non-static and fleeting, and so the mind that contains them is also nonstatic. The nonstaticness of the mind was part of the general understanding the close placement of mindfulness on the mind or mental activity. It is constantly changing. But the nonstaticness of the fleeting disturbing emotions and the nonstaticness of mental activity are not the same. Both mental activity and the disturbing emotions are nonstatic in the sense that both change from moment to moment. Both have no beginning, but only the disturbing emotions – the fleeting stains – can have an end. Disturbing emotions can have a true stopping, but not mental activity. Disturbing emotions, however, are not nonstatic in the sense of subtle impermanence: they are not drawing closer to their end in each moment as the result of their having been created. They are beginningless and were never created. Of course, a specific episode of a disturbing emotion is non-static in the sense that it is going to end. But, that is not the attainment of a true stopping of it.

For example, you buy a computer and it’s inevitable that it’s going to break and crash. It’s built into the system like with your body. It’s like a bottle of milk; it has an expiration date on it; but with our body we don’t know when that expiration date is. Still, it comes with an expiration date; it is going to expire like the milk and fall apart. Every day it’s getting closer to that day when it goes bad, but you don’t know when it’s going to happen. It’s a very interesting and quite accurate analogy.

The disturbing emotions are not like that in terms of their being non-static, that eventually they are going to fall apart by themselves and be finished. Thirsting has no beginning and it has as its basis the mental continuum. It’s a part of a mental continuum and, as such, it arises only occasionally, but it’s not something that can end when the basis ends. It’s not like the voidness of something. The voidness of the table doesn’t change from moment to moment, but that voidness of the table is no longer existent when the table doesn’t exist. So, it’s not that there will be a true stopping of the disturbing emotions when there is no longer a mental continuum as its basis. That’s because there can be no end to a mental continuum. There is nothing that is the exact opposite of a mental continuum that could bring about a true stopping of a mental continuum so that there would no longer be a basis for the disturbing emotions and, in this way, would bring about a true stopping of the disturbing emotions. But since there is an exact opposite of unawareness – the discriminating awareness of voidness – that can replace and obliterate unawareness and the thirsting that derives from it, the disturbing emotions are just fleeting stains and it is possible to attain a true stopping of them.

With all of this as background, now we’re ready to look at the close placement of mindfulness on the mind – meaning on the conventional nature of mental activity, specifically the conventional nature of mental consciousness – in terms of the third noble truth, true stoppings.

The First Aspect of Close Placement of Mindfulness on the Mind: The Nature of Mind as a Stopping

The first aspect of the noble truth of true stopping is that it is a stopping. The conventional nature of the mind, or mental activity, was never stained by the fleeting stains of the true causes of suffering. This conventional nature naturally had a true stopping of these fleeting stains. Because of that fact, liberation from the fleeting stains and the suffering they bring is possible. This eliminates the distorted view that there is no such thing as liberation. This is the incorrect view asserted by the Charvaka School of non-Buddhist Indian tenets. They claim there is no such thing as liberation. So, when we are able to recognize and understand the conventional nature of the mind, we will be convinced that true stoppings and liberation are possible.

The Second Aspect of Close Placement of Mindfulness on the Mind: The Nature of Mind as a Pacification

When the mental continuum on which the stains are fleeting is totally rid forever of a portion of true sufferings and true origins, it’s a state of ever-lasting pacification or peace. This word “pacification” or “peace” is the same word for the pacification of the disturbing emotions and attitudes.

The conventional nature of mental activity itself is not stained by the disturbing emotions. However, if those fleeting stains are just suppressed temporarily with an opponent, like meditating on love to overcome anger, or like meditation on the impurity of the body to counter attachment to the body, or any of these other methods that are used, then still the tendencies are there if you just apply one of these provisional opponents. The tendency is there so it will arise again. But, if the tendencies for them to arise have been gotten rid of totally by applying an obliterating opponent, and since the disturbing emotions can no longer arise without tendencies for them, then the true stopping is forever and not affected by anything.

So, you have to get rid of the tendency. To do that, you need to get rid of what will activate the tendency. If there is nothing that could activate a tendency, that tendency is no longer an imputation on the mental continuum. A tendency is only a cause dependent on there being a result. If there’s no result possible whatsoever, it’s no longer a cause. Even so, Tsongkhapa points out, in his Grand Presentation of the Graded Path, Lam-rim chen-mo, that even if we have a specific karmic tendency that has finished giving its result, it’s still continues as an imputation on the mental continuum. It’s not that it has been obliterated and is gone forever with a true stopping of it. It continues as an obscuration preventing and delaying liberation until it is obliterated with the non-conceptual cognition of voidness.

In addition, if you’ve purified your negative potentials and tendencies with Vajrasattva meditation done absolutely perfectly and correctly, which is almost impossible to do, but if you have done it with total understanding and total concentration and perfect everything 100,000 times, all your negative tendencies, these so-called karmic “seeds,” are “burned,” as they say, and will never give their result. So, you might think that they’re no longer a cause and so no longer imputations on your mental continuum. But Tsongkhapa says “no” and he doesn’t give a definitive answer of how, but gives various possibilities of how they still do. He says that most likely they slow down the attainment of the further paths to getting non-conceptual cognition of voidness. Their presence as burnt seeds on your mental continnum slows down that process. Just like when anger, it says, devastates positive potential, it doesn’t get rid of it completely; it just means that the results will ripen much more weakly and take a much longer time. He says that it’s most likely the same thing with the burnt seeds of the negative tendencies.

It’s only with an obliterating force, an obliterating opponent to the unawareness, that you attain a true stopping, and Vajrasattva practice is not that because it’s not applying a mutually exclusive exact opposite to unawareness. It’s not enough to just do Vajrasattva meditation and then you are liberated forever from all karma. You are not. You can build up more negative karmic potentials and tendencies. Successful Vajrasattva practice doesn’t prevent that from happening. The old burnt karmic tendencies are not going to ripen into suffering, but it will still make further progress more difficult. The example that is given is when you break your leg, it will heal and you can walk OK, but still it would be much better if you never broke your leg. It’s not going to work as perfectly as if you never broke your leg. That’s the example; you get a scar, in a sense.

By applying this obliterating opponent, discriminating awareness, the mind can be rid of the fleeting stains forever, so the mind can have a complete pacification of them with their true stopping. This eliminates the distorted view that certain specific tainted phenomena are liberation. This is referring to the deep meditative absorptions. This was a big belief in some of these non-Buddhist Indian systems, that you just go into these “dhyanas” or you go into these formless absorptions, “samadhi,” they call it, and then you are liberated. This is incorrect. Even in the deepest of those states, you still have thirsting for the neutral feeling that you experience not to degenerate. You still have disturbing emotions, but now in relation to what you are experiencing in one of these higher planes of existence.

Therefore, that’s not a true stopping. Also, the mental continuum, regardless of whether it’s experiencing things on the plane of desirable objects, or on the plane of ethereal forms, these very subtle forms, or the plane of formless beings, there are still the disturbing emotions. They are different types, but there is still this feeling of “me” doing this deep meditation. So, the true stopping, the pure nature of the conventional mind is the pacification of all of that.

The Third Aspect of Close Placement of Mindfulness on the Mind: The Nature of Mind as a Superior State

When the mind on which stains are impermanent has true stoppings on it, it has then attained a superior state. It’s in a superior state that is immaculate, in that it’s parted forever from a portion of disturbing emotions and attitudes. In addition, it is blissful in that it is parted forever from the true sufferings brought on by that portion of disturbing emotions and attitudes.

This eliminates the distorted view that some specific suffering states are liberation. In other words, if we gain the body of a formless realm being, that is liberation. In these formless realms, you might not have the suffering of unhappiness or changing ordinary happiness, but you still have the all-pervasive suffering. Your rebirth in this state is going to come to an end. The state of true stoppings is superior to any of these deep absorptions.

The Fourth Aspect of Close Placement of Mindfulness on the Mind: The Nature of Mind as a Definite Emergence

The mind that has true stoppings as imputations on it has a definite emergence, it’s called. That means it has gotten out forever from samsara, because the true stoppings of the true causes of samsara last forever. So, the mind has a definite emergence from samsara.

This eliminates the distorted view that although there may be a depletion of suffering, still it is something that will recur. If the tendencies that give rise to the recurrence of uncontrollably recurring rebirth cannot ever be activated, since the tendencies for what activates them are rid from the mental continuum forever; then the all-pervasive suffering of samsaric rebirth can never recur.

Conviction that Liberation and Enlightenment Are Possible

That’s the presentation of the third noble truth in terms of the conventional nature of mental activity, the mind. It is a very difficult topic, but one that His Holiness the Dalai Lama emphasized repeatedly in Hamburg a couple of weeks ago. If you are not convinced that liberation and enlightenment are possible, then what in the world are you doing with any of the Buddhist practices that are aimed at liberation and enlightenment? Most of us don’t even understand what liberation and enlightenment actually mean, let alone how is it possible to attain. But, if you don’t know what it is and even if you know what it is, you don’t think it’s possible to attain it, then what are you doing? You are following a method that you think can’t bring about its result? This makes it very ineffective.

Are you using Buddhist methods as a form of therapy to improve this lifetime? That’s very good, but that’s not the real thing in terms of Buddhism. That’s something to really focus on; and to focus on the fact that liberation and enlightenment are possible requires understanding voidness. The impossible ways that our confused mind makes things appear to exist don’t correspond to anything real. There is no referent “thing,” findable by analysis, backing up that appearance. If you understand that, then you understand that the belief in it is fleeting, just a stain, and can be removed forever, because the nature of mental activity is pure. Then you can sincerely develop the determination to be free and bodhichitta, because you know that it is possible to attain the true stoppings of liberation and enlightenment.

This is the way that Nagarjuna explains it in his Praises to Bodhichitta. There are two ways of developing bodhichitta. One is to develop relative bodhichitta first, with which you aim for liberation and enlightenment; and then secondly you develop deepest bodhichitta focused on voidness and you become convinced that you can actually attain liberation and enlightenment. That approach is for those who are more emotionally inclined. It works based on meditating on how everybody has been my mother and the positive emotions that come from that insight. But, for those who are sharper in mind, there is the other way that is more stable and this is to become convinced that liberation and enlightenment are possible first and then become motivated to attain them. Then you are sure that it actually is possible to attain the goal and you can put your full heart into it. But then, to attain that goal, it is absolutely necessary to develop the emotional side, the warmth of love and compassion.

That’s a very interesting thing for those of us who might be more intellectually inclined to realize that it’s not going to happen unless we develop that warm emotional side as well. Otherwise you don’t care about anybody else and you can’t relate to anybody else.

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