Meditation on Phenomena and the 4 Aspects of True Paths

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The Fourth Noble Truth — True Pathway Minds

The fourth close placement of mindfulness is on phenomena in terms of the four aspects of the fourth noble truth. “Phenomena” in this context refers to the mental factors and specifically the factor of discriminating awareness. The discriminating awareness, here, discriminates between what is to be rejected, namely the impossible ways of “me” existing, and what is to be accepted, namely the absence or voidness of those impossible “me”s.

We focus on that discriminating awareness in terms of a true path, which means a true pathway mind leading to liberation and enlightenment. The general close placement of mindfulness on this discriminating awareness is that it lacks an impossible “me.” There’s no impossible “me” that has that discriminating awareness and is using it like a tool to deconstruct unreality.

The First Aspect of Close Placement of Mindfulness on Phenomena: Discriminating Awareness Is a Pathway Mind

We’re not talking here about discriminating awareness all by itself. Remember, to bring about the attainment of a true stopping, discriminating awareness has to have a force behind it. The force is that of joined shamatha and vipashyana and at least a zillion eons of positive force. A zillion is just a countless number, a ten with sixty zeros after it. It’s the largest finite number; so, an awful lot of positive force. It’s only when that discriminating awareness has that tremendous amount of positive force plus joined shamatha and vipashyana, plus an unlabored determination to be free, and if it’s Mahayana, an unlabored determination to be free plus unlabored bodhichitta, implying also unlabored compassion and unlabored love – only then does that discriminating awareness, when it accompanies a non-conceptual cognition, serve as a pathway mind for leaving the state of being an ordinary being and achieving a state of an arya and onwards. “Onwards” means going from having a seeing pathway mind, through all ten stages of an accustoming pathway mind or so-called path of meditation, all the way to a state of mind requiring no further training as an arhat or a Buddha.

So, discriminating awareness networked with all those other mental factors in a non-conceptual cognition has the necessary force and power to bring about the attainment of true stoppings. We’re not talking about just a university professor having a correct understanding of voidness with no Buddhist motivation whatsoever and not great concentration. But, with all those additional factors, then non-conceptual discriminating awareness is a pathway mind that actually brings about true stoppings. This eliminates the distorted view that there is no such thing as a pathway mind leading to liberation.

The Second Aspect of Close Placement of Mindfulness on Phenomena: Discriminating Awareness Is an Appropriate Means

The second aspect is that the discriminating awareness as a true pathway mind is the appropriate means. It’s the appropriate means for getting rid forever of the obscurations preventing liberation and enlightenment. It’s targeted correctly at true suffering and true causes. It’s mutually exclusive with the distorted ways of taking them as well as mutually exclusive with unawareness.

More specifically, what is discriminating awareness is mutually exclusive with is the true origins of suffering, tracing that back to unawareness. So, it’s the appropriate means for stopping uncontrollably recurring rebirth. We’ve understood how that works with the twelve links of dependent arising. In addition, discriminating awareness is mutually exclusive with these distorted ways of understanding true suffering and true origins. Now, all these aspects network together.

We need to understand how getting rid of unawareness, that first link, gets rid of the rest of the eleven links in order to understand how it’s an appropriate means for attaining true stoppings. Again, we go back to the twelve links and how important that is.

This gets rid of the distorted view that meditating on the lack of an impossible “me” is inappropriate for gaining liberation. That’s a very interesting point, because some people might think to just quiet down and get to a natural state of the mind, that this alone brings complete correct understanding of everything. But, unless you have refuted your belief in the impossible “me,” you haven’t attained liberation. Therefore, this discriminating awareness is the appropriate means for gaining liberation and enlightenment; not just simply going down to this most subtle level.

Going down to the subtlest level of mental activity gives you the most appropriate mind. If you have shamatha, vipashyana, non-conceptual cognition, unlabored bodhichitta with unlabored determination to be free, and the positive force and everything, then if in addition you have the subtlest mind, then you really have the best tool. But, it’s still a tool. The subtlest mind still has to have correct discriminating awareness.

The Third Aspect of Close Placement of Mindfulness on Phenomena: Discriminating Awareness Is a Means for Actual Attainments

The third aspect of discriminating awareness being a true pathway mind is that it is a means for actualization. It’s a means for actualizing correct non-conceptual realizations in order to actualize the state of an arya, with the goal of either liberation or enlightenment. This is because, as you progress further beyond merely a seeing pathway of mind, discriminating awareness has more and more positive force behind it, so that it can get rid of more and more degrees of automatically arising unawareness. It’s a means to actualize each of the progressive stages where you are actualizing more and more true stoppings on your mental continuum.

Again, we are talking about the sutra path as presented in Gelug traditions. But even in the other presentations like in Sakya or anuttarayoga tantra, where you get rid of doctrinally based and automatically arising unawareness simultaneously, you still have nine stages of getting rid of the cognitive obscurations. No Mahayana tradition can reject what is in the Prajnaparamita Sutras, so it’s just a different way of asserting what these sutras say. There are still stages for attaining enlightenment.

This is eliminating the distorted view that certain specific states of dhyana, mental stability alone, are pathway minds leading to liberation. These dhyana states of mind are beyond just shamatha, a stilled and settled state of mind with an exhilarating feeling and so on. There are deeper and deeper absorptions, the so-called four dhyanas or stages of mental stability in which the mind becomes more and more refined. Certain mental factors are no longer present, particularly certain feelings and so on. Nevertheless, with those states of mind you can also attain an arya level of mind. You have to have at least shamatha and vipashyana to attain an arya mind. You don’t have to have these higher or deeper states, but with them you could still attain arya levels of mind. But, the point here is that just to attain these deeper levels of absorption is not enough. Your state of mind still needs to have the discriminating awareness of voidness.

The Fourth Aspect of Close Placement of Mindfulness on Phenomena: Discriminating Awareness Is a Means for Definite Removals

The fourth aspect of discriminating awareness as a true pathway mind is that it is a means for definite removals. It is a means for definitely removing forever all obscurations, the emotional and cognitive ones preventing the attainment of arya states, arhatship, and enlightenment.

This gets rid of the distorted view that there is no such thing as a pathway mind that can bring about the non-recurrence of suffering. This is basically saying the same thing as with the other aspects, just with different words. With discriminating awareness, you can get rid of these fleeting stains because the conventional nature of the mind and the deepest nature – but usually here you focus on the conventional nature – has never been stained. The fleeting stains have never been an intrinsic part of mental activity, even though there has been unawareness and confusion with our mental activity with no beginning.


So, that is the presentation of the sixteen aspects of the four noble truths. Basically, in following the Buddhist path, we really want to get out of uncontrollably recurring rebirth. It’s not just that we want to get rid of being unhappy. That’s an important point. A lot of people approach the Buddhist methods and apply them simply because they want to avoid the suffering of unhappiness. They want to be happier in uncontrollably recurring rebirth. So, very good; that is the initial scope motivation. That’s not a problem. It’s not quite Dharma practice if it’s only within this lifetime, but working even just for more happiness in this lifetime can be a preliminary if you say that is the preliminary for working to benefit future lives and so on. You may not understand future lives and you may not believe in them yet, but you don’t dismiss their existence as being preposterous. You would like to understand it; but, first let’s improve this lifetime; fine. It’s what I call Dharma-lite. As His Holiness says, the methods for attaining happiness and peace of mind, even temporarily, are a part of Buddhist science that anybody can accept and anybody can benefit from. So, very good; you don’t need a more religious context that would then include future lives and rebirth. So, no problem.

But, if we are really talking about these four noble truths and the sixteen aspects, they need to be understood in terms of overcoming uncontrollably recurring rebirth. This means you need to believe in rebirth, which means be convinced, based on reason, that there is such a thing and you have to understand the twelve links of dependent arising and how it occurs. Then you understand that the body – this body or any body that I have – is true suffering because it is the basis for experiencing all the different types of suffering. This is true in terms of the feelings and the mind and the other mental factors. But, we focused primarily on the body here.

Then, with the feelings, it is how you respond to the feelings that is the cause for perpetuating and getting more and more of these bodies that are the basis for suffering. But, the mental continuum on which these disturbing emotions – the links of thirsting and obtainer disturbing attitudes – is, in its conventional and deepest natures, totally free of these fleeting stains and so it is possible to attain a true stopping of them.

How can they be removed forever? It is with a pathway mind. It is with discriminating awareness that there is no such thing. When that discriminating awareness has sufficient force from three zillion eons of positive force from unlabored renunciation and unlabored bodhichitta, plus the focus of non-conceptual joined shamatha and vipashyana, it can get rid of the tendencies of all these stains forever, so that they never arise again.

That is the meditation of four close placements of mindfulness in terms of the sixteen aspects of the four noble truths. It focuses on its objects with deeper and deeper familiarity, and stays more focused on them longer and longer, step by step throughout the process. The process goes from when we have that unlabored motivation all the way up to liberation and enlightenment. On all the stages of the five paths, encompassing the thirty-seven factors leading to a purified state, you do basically the same meditation but with more and more strength of positive force, intention, perseverance, and so on. It requires a tremendous amount of force, if you think in terms of physics, to overcome the momentum that is keeping something going. So, you need a very strong force to overcome the momentum of ignorance, which has been going with no beginning. But, through dependent arising, true stoppings and the attainment of liberation and enlightenment are possible through this practice of these four close placements of mindfulness. Thank you.