Emptiness of the Twelve Links and the Four Noble Truths

We have been going through the text of the Heart Sutra, which is presenting in a condensed fashion the teachings on Prajnaparamita, which is “far-reaching discriminating awareness of voidness.” And inspired by the Buddha, who is sitting in deep concentration, we have a question asked by Shariputra to Avalokiteshvara of how to conduct your behavior with far-reaching discriminating awareness of voidness. And Avalokiteshvara then explains – and what we’ve seen is that what Avalokiteshvara explains is that we need to deconstruct our everyday moment-to-moment experience as we are conducting our lives. And there are various schemes that we can use to deconstruct our experience. And one scheme, the most common scheme, is the five aggregate factors that make up each moment of our experience, but then there’s also the scheme of the twelve cognitive stimulators and the eighteen cognitive sources. We went through what all of these schemes are, all the parts of them, yesterday. And what we learned from deconstructing to this level is that none of the parts or causes that are involved in what we experience from moment to moment have a self-establishing nature.

So if we’re looking at the parts that make up our experiences, these five aggregates, there are various objects of cognition, there are various sensors that are involved, and various types of consciousness. There’s distinguishing things within sense fields, there’s feeling some level of happiness, and then there’s all these other factors of attention, and concentration, and interest, and the positive and negative emotions. And we see that all of these different factors that make up each moment of what we experience are changing all the time, and they are changing at different speeds, and none of these factors remains static. They are all changing all the time. So that gives us a beginning of deconstructing the solidity of our experience.

And we also saw that part of these aggregate factors is the conventional “me,” and this conventional “me” is not something that can exist separately from these aggregates. It’s not something which is static and which flies off into some other group of aggregates, but it’s something which can be imputed on the basis of these aggregates – almost in a way of organizing it and putting them all together. In other words, if we want to refer to what’s happening, we could say “Me! I’m experiencing all of this!”

But even within this context of “me” being part of these aggregates imputed upon them, this “me” is obviously changing from moment to moment because what it’s imputed on is changing from moment to moment. “Me” is not a static phenomenon like voidness that can be imputed on all of this, but voidness is just a fact about how these things exist. “Me” is not a fact; it’s just a way of putting it together.

So we have to see that what can be imputed on these aggregates, there are going to be some things that are non-static, like “me,” or time, age – these sorts of things; and other things that can be imputed on them that remain static, like certain facts about how they exist, or voidness. And this conventional “me,” as part of these aggregates, cannot be known without simultaneously cognizing their basis. In other words, I can’t just hear “you” on the telephone. I have to hear a voice, and on the basis of the voice I hear “you” – I can’t know the “you” separately, by itself.

It’s not like voidness, which in one respect voidness also can’t be known separately from a basis. You know, “form – voidness; voidness – form”; so they come together in one package, but voidness is slightly different here. For focusing on voidness – you can’t focus on voidness separately from the focusing one moment before on the basis on the aggregates. Then – unlike “me,” that in order to focus on the “me” the basis, the aggregates, have to be cognized at the same time – with voidness, first you cognize the aggregates and then you can cognize the voidness (the total absence of it appearing in any impossible way).

That’s an important point in terms of how you meditate on voidness. First you need to cognize the basis for voidness, which are the five aggregates. That’s why Avalokiteshvara is pointing out you have to know the five aggregates and recognize how they are appearing in an impossible way. They appear as though each of them – although we might be aware that they are changing all the time, nevertheless they seem to be establishing themselves as if each little part is encapsulated in plastic. This object, this level of happiness, this emotion – it seems as though they are just little pieces that are fitting together like in a jigsaw puzzle, and each one is an individually wrapped piece. It doesn’t appear to us, you know: well, the object that we are encountering, our encountering it is ripening from this type of karma; the emotion that we’re feeling is coming from this sort of tendency that we’ve built up for that type of emotion; and the feeling a level of happiness is ripening from another type of karmic factor of destructive or constructive behavior. Each piece is ripening and coming from something else with an enormous amount of causes and conditions behind it. And, as Tsongkhapa points out, you need to first recognize clearly the object to be refuted and then refute it. So when we focus on voidness, you first have to have the appearance of the five aggregates. So it means you have to have deconstructed your experience already into five aggregates and then recognize this is garbage, how it’s appearing: there’s nothing behind it, that its actual way of existing is not at all the way that it appears. So, no such thing as a referent thing that corresponds to how it is appearing; and then you focus just on voidness.

But you can’t focus on “me” in that same way without simultaneously the basis for “me” appearing. And that’s an important point, actually, also in meditation. It’s very easy to get into a rather unfortunate habit of disassociating yourself from what you are meditating on – in other words, getting this feeling of “me” being the observer sitting back, in the back of my head, and watching all these aggregates changing all the time, and focusing on their voidness as if there’s a “me” separate from that. So just as incorrect as this feeling that there’s some “me” sitting inside that is living inside my body, living inside my aggregates, that is the boss that is manipulating and controlling them, likewise false is this feeling of a “me” that is the observer sitting back in my head and meditating on all of this and seeing all of this and observing it.

So, the problem here – I mean one of the problems – is the term “detachment.” We need to be detached. Well what does detached actually mean? Does it mean a “me” separate from everything that’s not attached? Well, no it doesn’t mean that. It’s not as if there’s a “me” that could be separate from it, experience all this, and not feel anything. That’s pretty weird from a Buddhist point of view, although sometimes it feels like that, doesn’t it? So all there is is experiencing – mental activities going on from moment to moment to moment. We can refer to it as “me” and there can be a mental factor of detachment that is part of these aggregates, but there’s no separate “me” – either one that could leave the aggregates or one that stays inside the aggregates, and it’s imputed on them.

And just as we can analyze the parts of our everyday moment-to-moment experience, we can also analyze from the point of view of the cognitive stimulators, the cognitive sources. This is getting more into almost the causal thing – not so much causal, but as was asked and explained yesterday, cause means what things depend on, and so what does our cognition depend on? Well, from one point of view, we can say, well, there are cognitive objects and the cognitive sensors, and when you have a cognition it’s not that you have these two separately. They’re part of the whole causal package. They have to interact with each other. And the cognition depends on that. Our experience depends on that. And when you talk about the cognitive sources, you’re just adding the consciousness as well into that, and they’re all interdependent, interrelated to each other. So, again, we are deconstructing from another point of view what we experience from moment to moment.

Remember, when you analyze the aggregates you have all these parts, so you might get the impression that they’re parts like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, but when we start to analyze from the point of view of the cognitive stimulators and the cognitive sources – in other words, cognitive objects, sensors, and consciousness – well, nothing exists as a cognitive object independently of a cognitive sensor. It’s in relation to a sensor that something is an object, a cognitive object, and also in relation to a consciousness that it’s a cognitive object. It can’t be established as a cognitive object from its own side, by itself. So when we have these statements in the Heart Sutra of “no eye, no ear, no nose, etc.,” these aren’t just lists that are there for no particular purpose. In a very condensed form, they are indicating types of meditation that we do that help us to understand, and digest more fully, voidness. So none of these parts of our moment-to-moment experience are established from their own side, by something inside, by its own power – a “self-establishing nature,” it’s called. None of the causes (different causal components from the things that our experience relies on) has a self-establishing nature.

And then Avalokiteshvara goes on to speak about the twelve links of dependent arising. So none of the causes in the twelve links explain our samsaric existence – how it continues, so what’s driving it, what’s perpetuating it? So from that point of view as well, none of the components of these twelve links has a self-establishing nature. So we have in the text:

No unawareness, no elimination of unawareness, up to no aging and death, no elimination of aging and death.

So this is speaking about the twelve links. There will be no need for me to start listing them all starting from unawareness, affecting impulses, consciousness, etc. This is a very sophisticated scheme for explaining the whole process of samsaric rebirth. It’s talking about how we build up from our unawareness – we act in various manners that are influenced by, based on, that unawareness – that builds up various karmic legacies, tendencies, habits etc. And how they are transmitted from one lifetime to another, and then how they are activated and how they generate further samsaric rebirth. And the reversal sequence – when it says “no elimination of unawareness, no elimination of aging and death,” aging and death is the twelfth of the links – then if we get rid of the first link; then the second link, which would depend on it, we would get rid of that; the third, which depends on the second, it would get eliminated; and in this way, although the twelve links aren’t exactly a linear process, nevertheless we would get rid of the whole samsaric rebirth process.

We already saw, Avalokiteshvara pointed out earlier in the text, no arising, no stopping – so it isn’t as though samsara or suffering is some sort of truly existent thing, wrapped in plastic, that all of a sudden arises and then all of a sudden stops. I mean, how could it do that? If it’s being established by itself, by something within itself, then it couldn’t depend on any other condition to arise – it would have to be there all the time. So it could never arise and, likewise, it could never cease, because it’s always just generating itself. It’s not based on anything else: it’s self-establishing, independent. And if it was truly nothing and then truly something, as we said before, how could it go from a truly nothing to a truly something? So with these twelve links we go into a more subtle analysis of arising and ceasing. So it’s not like a big package: Here’s samsara! And then blam, it’s there! And boom, then it’s away! It’s not like that. It arises with a sequence of twelve types of links, and to get rid of it there’s also a sequence of twelve reversal links – the reversal sequence of the twelve links.

But now this helps us to understand, well, how is cause and effect related here? If these links all – you know, one relies upon the other – and they are related in some type of causal sequence (although it’s a very complex causal sequence), then we have to understand that each of these links are not existing by themselves, establishing themselves. If we think of any of two links, there is something that is being relied on by something else and there’s something else which is relying on. So something being relied upon and something that’s relying on it – they’re only established in relation to each other. Something can’t be established by itself as a thing that is being relied on by something else. It’s only established as something that something else relies upon dependently by the force of the other thing that’s relying on it. That’s terribly complex English, I’m sorry.

It’s like, how can you have lower stories of a building independently of upper stories of a building? Something can’t be upper stories of a building totally by itself, independently of there being lower stories of a building. I think that makes it a little bit more understandable. So, lower stories are something that is being relied upon by the upper stories, and the upper stories are things that rely upon the lower stories; and they are only established in this reliance, or causal type of relationship, dependently on other things – not by establishing themselves in this relationship by themselves, by their own power.

This is very profound the more that you think about it. Something exists as a cause only dependently on there being a result. Nothing can be a cause just by itself, independently of there being a result. It’s established as a cause by the power of there being a result, even though the result doesn’t exist at the same time as the cause. So, actually, I mean that’s the way you get rid of samsara – is by eliminating the possibility of there being a result of the karmic tendencies. The karmic tendencies have to be activated by various conditions – these are craving, and a certain type of what are called “obtainer attitudes” – there’s no need to go into detail.

Certain disturbing emotions are going to activate the karmic tendencies – these are conditions. So you get rid of the unawareness, which is the cause for these disturbing emotions that are the conditions for activating karmic tendencies. And when there are no more conditions for activating a karmic tendency, that means there can never be a result of these karmic tendencies as a cause. And if there can no longer be a result of the karmic tendency, then the karmic tendencies no longer exist as causes – because they can only exist as a cause if there can be a result, because they’re established as a cause dependently on a result.

Obviously, that needs a great deal of contemplation and digesting to understand that, and to work with it, but this is the way that we get rid of karma. It’s not as though you go into your mind and you dig out this karmic tendency and throw it out the window. It’s a very sophisticated procedure and it can only work on the basis of voidness: that none of these components, whether generating samsaric rebirth and suffering, or getting rid of it, exists by their own power independently of the whole process.

So after presenting the voidness of the twelve links – in both the progressive sequence of how it generates samsaric rebirth, and the reversal sequence of how one gets out – then Avalokiteshvara goes on to an even more basic level of causality here, in terms of samsara, by speaking of the four noble truths and that none of them have a self-establishing nature. So he says:

Likewise, no suffering, cause, stopping, and pathway mind.

So, the four noble truths. No suffering. We have various levels of suffering: suffering of suffering, that’s gross pain and unhappiness; the suffering of change, which is our tainted happiness. So both of these are generated by karma – the unhappiness and pain by destructive behavior and negative force from that karmic force; tainted happiness from constructive behavior and positive karmic force that comes from that. And then the all-pervasive suffering, which is what is explained with the twelve links – the whole perpetuation of the basis of these so-called “tainted aggregates,” tainted by unawareness, generated by unawareness, that are the base foundation or basis with which we experience the first two types of suffering. And the true causes of these sufferings, the perpetuation of samsara is – this is just summarizing what we had in the twelve links – and so we have the various types of karmic tendencies. These karmic tendencies – we go a little bit deeper – they are activated by disturbing emotions, and the disturbing emotions are based on unawareness, so we get down to unawareness. So these first two truths of the four noble truths describe the progressive sequence of the twelve links of dependent arising, the true causes of samsaric rebirth, and then the suffering of samsaric rebirth – so true causes as the cause and true suffering as the result.

Now, stopping, true stopping – the third noble truth – is referring to the state of being parted forever from these various disturbing emotions and their habits. And this is done in a progressive manner: that you get rid of some level of these disturbing emotions, and then eventually you get rid of those that are doctrinally based – based on having been taught some system that gave you incorrect information, imprecise information – and then getting rid of automatically arising disturbing emotions and unawareness, and then eventually getting rid of the habits of these. And that state of being parted, our mental continuum being parted, from these “obscurations,” they’re called… The disturbing emotions and unawareness are the emotional obscurations; the habits are the cognitive obscurations, since they make the appearance of truly established existence. With the disturbing emotions, we believe in that appearance: that it corresponds to something real, etc.) … These partings are forever, so they’re static. It never changes. Once you’re free of it, you’re free.

So that state of being unstained is not something which is created by anything. It’s not created by our meditation on voidness, but it has always been the case in terms of the pure nature of the mind. The nature of the mind is not stained by this unawareness or these disturbing emotions that come from it. So, basically, we “uncover” this unstained nature of the mind (which never was tainted or stained by any of this stuff). And once we get rid of the causes that are obscuring this nature – well, this nature was there all the time anyway! So it’s a static fact. And what will bring about the attainment of this true stopping – it doesn’t bring about the stopping itself; the mind has always been free of this garbage – but what will bring about the attainment of the mind coming back to this, the “attainment of these true stoppings” is the way it’s phrased, will be a true pathway mind, so the non-conceptual cognition of voidness.

So when we talk about the cause and resultant relationship of the second two noble truths, we’re talking about the true pathway mind – and it’s not true path, it’s not something you can walk on – it’s talking about the mental state, your understanding. This acts as a cause for the attainment of the third noble truth, not the third noble truth itself, so this is what’s described by the reversal sequence of the twelve links. So, again, we have the voidness of cause and effect here with the four noble truths.

So, again, in our everyday experience we need to understand this. We deconstruct what’s happening, from the point of view of how we’re perpetuating our samsaric existence, with these five aggregates in terms of these twelve links. We can understand it in a more condensed form in terms of the first two noble truths. And we can see how to get out of it, also dependent on the reversal sequence of the twelve links and the second two noble truths. And then it all will work only because they are devoid of self-establishing nature.

Then if we speak in terms of a resultant state of a Buddha, there’s

No deep awareness, no attainment, no non-attainment.

This is how Avalokiteshvara explains it. Deep awareness (ye-shes) is referring to the deep awareness of the two truths. Although we work with it one at a time through awareness of conventional truth, of deepest truth, voidness, consecutively up until the attainment of enlightenment; then with enlightenment we are able to get the two simultaneously – that, as well, is not established by itself, by its own power. You can’t have awareness without there being content, even if it’s deep awareness. So it has to be awareness of something, not that the awareness and the object of awareness exist separately by themselves – they exist in relation to each other.

When we talk about this resultant state and the deep awareness that characterizes this resultant state, it’s not as though: there it is on the top of the building, the penthouse, and it’s existing by itself, and we have to get there! So he says there’s no attainment. It’s not as though you have this truly existent climb and then you’re there. It’s not like that. But it’s not that there’s no non-attainment – it’s not that you haven’t attained anything. I mean, conventionally there is an attainment. Another way of understanding “no non-attainment” is non-attainment would be the voidness of the attainment, and then the voidness of the voidness of non-attainment. So this gets into, you know, voidness itself is not some sort of thing that – a fact that just establishes itself. It’s a fact about something. So there’s always a basis for voidness: what is it that is devoid of an impossible way of existing?

Avalokiteshvara continues:

Because it’s like that, Shariputra, through there being no attainment of bodhisattvas, he (or she) lives relying on far-reaching discriminating awareness, with no mental obscuration.

So there’s no truly existent attainment that you’re working toward. And there’s no big horrible monster – this mental obscuration – that is blocking enlightenment: if it existed by its own power there would be no way of getting rid of it. And so the bodhisattva relies on this far-reaching discriminating awareness (in other words, living with this, applying this, etc.), and is able to get rid of the mental obscuration because there’s no truly existent mental obscuration; and isn’t able to attain enlightenment because there’s no truly existent attainment or truly existent thing to attain.

Then the Sanskrit adds one phrase which is not in the Tibetan. “Because of there being no mental obscuration” is what the Sanskrit adds, so :

Because of there being no mental obscuration, there is no fear,

So there’s no monster obscuration sitting there. Your mental continuum has some disturbing emotions and some unawareness and so on, and habits and tendencies etc., so because there’s nothing solidly sitting there, there’s nothing to be afraid of. When we talk about fear, fear is based on a sense of – there’s this solid “me” that’s over here, independently of what I’m afraid of, and I’m helpless, there’s nothing that I can do. So then we experience this fear. But when we realize that these obscurations are there dependent on causes and conditions, and that if we change the causes and conditions and get rid of them, and there’s no mental obscuration etc., then there’s nothing to be afraid of. It’s just a matter of doing it, and we gain the confidence that we are able to do it because we see that it is possible. There’s nothing substantially, what should we say, “preventing” our enlightenment.

So Avalokiteshvara continues:

gone beyond what’s reversed,

What’s reversed is our ignorance, our unawareness, in which we understand how things exist in a reverse way; but the mental obscurations, the things that are preventing our enlightenment, do not exist in this reversed way. The reversed way would be with truly established existence; the way of existence has gone beyond that. It’s not in this crazy way, this impossible way.

Avalokiteshvara continues:

thus nirvana release, complete to the end.

This is speaking about natural nirvana, which is the voidness of the mind itself. So the condition that allows for enlightenment is the voidness of the mind itself, that none of these mental obscurations have truly established existence. The mind itself doesn’t have truly established existence. There’s nothing just solidly there that you have to attain, etc. And it’s complete to the end, which means that there’s no focal support. We’ve been speaking about focal support, there’s not even the subtlest thing on the side of the mind, or the obscurations, or anything there, that is holding it up and allowing it to generate itself and establish itself by its own power.

Then Avalokiteshvara continues:

In fact, it’s by relying on far-reaching discriminating awareness that all Buddhas arrayed throughout the three times are full manifest Buddhas in peerless and perfect full Buddhahood.

Again, how do Buddhas become Buddhas? One attains that through relying on this far-reaching discriminating awareness, this understanding of voidness, backed by bodhichitta motivation. And it’s only by understanding the voidness of this causal sequence – of how there’s far-reaching discrimination, how this understanding of voidness opposes the unawareness – that the whole process can occur. Unawareness is saying that things exist in an impossible way. And the understanding of voidness is saying that this is crazy, it’s not referring to anything real – it’s not corresponding to anything real, I should say – so this is the exact opposite of impossible, not impossible.

So, you can’t have the two simultaneously, obviously – so then which one is stronger? And when we believe in the impossible way – well, first of all, it’s not backed by logic, it’s not reasonable, and it just produces suffering. Whereas, when you understand that impossible is impossible – that there’s no such thing – then that is backed by logic, it gets rid of suffering etc. So this is stronger, but it’s not as though deep awareness is something solidly by itself and this unawareness is solidly by itself. All of these are dependent on causes and conditions, etc. So one has to understand how, based on the understanding of voidness, the understanding of voidness itself can get rid of the unawareness.

That’s not so easy. An analogy that is often used is light and darkness. When you turn on the light in a dark room – well, is it that the light now comes into the room and the darkness sees it and is afraid of it, and then the darkness goes off somewhere? It’s not that the darkness goes and hides under the bed and waits until you turn the light off and then comes back out. The arising of the light and the ceasing of the darkness are simultaneous. And it’s not as though they are two solid things like two sides of a weighing scale where one goes up and the other goes down. So one has to think about how light and darkness work, and that gives a little bit of an analogous clue as to how awareness gets rid of unawareness.

Avalokiteshvara goes on.

Because it’s like that, far-reaching discriminating awareness is the great mind-protecting mantra, the mind-protecting mantra of great knowledge, the mind-protecting mantra that’s unsurpassed, the mind-protecting mantra equal to the unequaled, the mind-protecting mantra completely stilling all suffering.

The Sanskrit version has the word great, the Tiubetan omits it. When the word mantra is used here, it’s not used with any connotation of tantra, of tantra practice, but rather it means something that protects the mind. That’s why I’ve translated it here as mind-protecting mantra. “Man,” the first syllable, is an abbreviation of manas, the Sanskrit word for mind. And “tra” comes from the root which means to protect (the name Tara is likewise derived from this verbal root). So mantra means something that protects the mind. So, the understanding of voidness held by bodhichitta, far-reaching discriminating awareness, is the best thing, it’s the mantra, it’s the great one – so, Mahayana – it’s the great one that protects the mind from suffering.

It's the mind-protecting mantra of great knowledge. Great knowledge is referring to the fact that it eliminates the three poisonous attitudes of longing or desire, anger or aversion, and naivety. It’s the mind-protecting mantra that is unsurpassed. – there’s no better method for overcoming the extremes of samsara or nirvana. The extreme of samsara is just staying in uncontrollably recurring rebirth, over and over and over again, with all the suffering. And the extreme of nirvana is to just stay in the apathetic – the state of apathy of being released from just your own suffering.

This comes back to one of the questions that was asked before. We see voidness, we understand voidness, does that automatically bring compassion? And, from one point of view, you could say when we see the interdependence of everybody and what we’re all experiencing, then to think just in terms of my own release, my own state of being free from suffering – well, it doesn’t exist by itself. I don’t exist in isolation from everybody else, so to just think of myself isolated from everybody else doesn’t make sense in terms of voidness. So, from that point of view, one can be lead to compassion and thinking of others. So the mind-protecting mantra equal to the unequaled. The unequaled is the state of a Buddha, a fully-enlightened Buddha, and it’s equal to that because it’s what will bring one to that state. And the mind-protecting mantra completely stilling all suffering – all suffering for now and all suffering for the future, because it eliminates all the causes for continuing samsaric rebirth.

The text goes on.

Because of its being not deceitful, it’s to be known as the truth.

Not deceitful means that it doesn’t deny conventional truth. If it denied conventional truth by saying nothing exists in an impossible way, if it denied that anything exists at all, that would be deceitful. That’s not the truth. The truth is that we have two truths about anything. There’s conventional truth in terms what it is and how it appears. And there’s deepest truth: that it is devoid of existing in any impossible way.

Avalokiteshvara goes on.

In far-reaching discriminating awareness, the mind-protecting mantra has been proclaimed. ‘Tadyatha, (om) gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi svaha. The actual nature: gone, gone, gone beyond, gone far-beyond, purified state, so be it.’

That’s the translation of the mantra. OM, by the way, is there in the Sanskrit. It seems to be omitted in the Tibetan, and so various Tibetan lineages and traditions will either have the OM or not have the OM. There are often small variances in mantras, so we shouldn’t be too surprised.

So in far-reaching discriminating awareness, within the context of this understanding of voidness with bodhichitta, then we have the whole procedure of how we become enlightened and that is described by gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi. So when we talk about a path to enlightenment, we’re talking about pathway – I use this term “pathway minds”; it’s a terrible term to try to translate into other languages, but we’re not talking about a road that you walk on. We’re talking about different levels of mind that will act as a path which will eventually lead to enlightenment. And there are stages, progressive stages, of levels of mind that we attain, and that’s classified in five stages: five pathway minds. So tadyatha, it’s the actual nature, this is referring to voidness – so within the state of understanding of voidness then we have to progress in this following way. And OM is a syllable that is made of three parts – “ah,” “oo,” and “mm” – and that signifies body, speech and mind; so it has to be integrated at all levels of ourselves.

Gate gate are these first two levels of pathway mind in which we’re not yet an arya; we’ve not yet had non-conceptual cognition of voidness. And the first of these “gate” is what I call the “building-up pathway mind.” It’s usually translated as the “path of accumulation.” And what we’re doing is, first of all, you achieve this state of mind, this level of mind, when you have unlabored bodhichitta. (We’re talking about the Mahayana path here.) So when you have unlabored bodhichitta, that means that you are able to have bodhichitta, conventional bodhichitta, your mind focused on your not-yet-attained enlightenment with the intention to achieve it in order to benefit others. This is supported by love and compassion, and the understanding that it’s possible to achieve it, and with an understanding of how to achieve it. And it’s unlabored in the sense that we don’t have to go through a procedure of the steps of meditation to build up to it: everybody’s been my mother, etc., but we just have it all the time as our deepest intention. You don’t even have to be conscious – so even when you are asleep, as Shantideva says, it builds up positive force because this is the whole direction of one’s life; it’s so fully integrated.

And what are we building up with this pathway mind? We’re building up to have combined shamatha and vipashyana focused on voidness. “Shamatha” is a stilled and settled state of mind; it’s with perfect concentration, stilled of all distraction, all flightiness, all dullness, and settled on an object. And in addition to that, perfect absorbed concentration has a sense of fitness – an exhilarating physical and mental sense of fitness that one is able to focus on anything for as long as you want. And vipashyana adds to shamatha – you can’t have a state of vipashyana without having already shamatha – it adds to it a second sense of fitness, of the mind being fit to be able to analyze and discriminate and discern and understand anything.

Now even before attaining or building-up pathway mind you could have achieved shamatha. You could have achieved even the combined state of shamatha and vipashyana focused on something other than voidness. Here, however, with the building-up pathway of mind – if we haven’t developed it before, we develop combined shamatha and vipashyana on voidness. If we’ve already developed it, this combined shamatha and vipashyana, now we’re practicing to focus it on voidness.

But when we have achieved this combined shamatha and vipashyana focused on voidness, it will initially be with a conceptual cognition of voidness – so it’s through the category of voidness – and once we achieve that then we have an “applying pathway mind.” So it’s a mental state in which we apply that combined shamatha and vipashyana focused on voidness conceptually, we apply it over and over and over again until we actually attain a nonconceptual cognition of voidness with this combined shamatha and vipashyana. An applying pathway mind is usually translated as “path of preparation.”

When we have attained this nonconceptual combined shamatha and vipashyana focused on voidness, then we have a “seeing pathway of mind,” the so-called “path of seeing,” and with that we become an arya, a so-called “noble being,” a highly realized being. So we have “gone beyond,” we’ve gone beyond the state of being an ordinary being. And with this seeing pathway mind we get rid of the doctrinally-based unawareness and disturbing emotions. In other words, that confusion or unawareness that we learned from a non-Buddhist Indian system of philosophy, and the disturbing emotions that would be based on that like pride, and attachment to this view, and anger with anybody that disagrees, etc.

And once we have achieved a true stopping of these doctrinally-based disturbing emotions, this portion of the emotional obscurations, then we work with an “accustoming pathway of mind.” This is often called the “path of meditation,” in which we now accustom ourselves to this nonconceptual cognition of voidness, so that we rid ourselves of the automatically-arising disturbing emotions – and that’s the rest of the emotional obscurations plus the habits of all of this, which are the cognitive obscurations – until we achieve enlightenment and that is bodhi.

So we have parasamgate. So it’s gone far beyond, so we’re going beyond just getting rid of the doctrinally-based unawareness until we achieve the purified state of enlightenment, the pathway mind needing no further training. And then svaha, so be it. So may this happen, may we be able to do this. This is the way it is. And all of this – this sentence – is preceded by in far-reaching discriminating awareness, so within the context of understanding voidness of what’s called the “three circles that are involved”: the person who is meditating, what they’re meditating upon, and the meditation. Understanding the voidness of all three of these, that these are dependently arising on each other, that is the way that one precedes through developing these five pathway minds.

Then Avalokiteshvara concludes his explanation. He says,

O Shariputra, a bodhisattva great-minded mahasattva needs to train like that (for behavior that’s) in profound and far-reaching discriminating awareness.

The Sanskrit adds for behavior that’s, so it emphasizes the behavior. For some reason the Tibetan leaves that out, but the Sanskrit emphasizes the fact that this is how we conduct our life: in dealing with others, and so on, in terms of our understanding of voidness, profound and far-reaching.

Going on, the text says:

Then the Vanquishing Master Surpassing All arising from that absorbed concentration, gave his endorsement “excellent” to the bodhisattva great-minded mahasattva, the Arya Avalokiteshvara, “Excellent, excellent, my spiritual son with the family traits, it’s just like that. It’s just like that that he or she needs to conduct (his or her behavior) in profound and far-reaching discriminating awareness. It’s exactly as it’s been shown by you for the bodhisattvas, (arhats and Buddhas) to rejoice.”

The Vanquishing Master Surpassing All – that’s the Buddha. Arising from that absorbed concentration – remember he was absorbed with omniscient awareness on the two truths, all phenomena and their voidness. The Sanskrit version adds behavior and to rejoice. And the fact that the Sanskrit adds arhats and Buddhas here implies that even to achieve the liberation of an arhat, it’s necessary to have the same understanding of voidness. So Buddha affirms that the way that Avalokiteshvara explained was correct.

Then the sutra concludes:

When the Vanquishing Master Surpassing All had pronounced those words, the venerable Son of Sharadvati and the bodhisattva great-minded mahasattva, the Arya Avalokiteshvara, and the pair of assemblies of those endowed with all, as well as the world – gods, humans, anti-gods, and gandharva heavenly musicians – rejoicing, sang praises of what had been declared by the Vanquishing Master Surpassing All.

The pair of assemblies – remember we had both the lay bodhisattvas and the monastic assembly – the pair of assemblies of those endowed with all – so there we have all the Buddha-nature qualities. So everybody rejoiced in the positive force of this, rejoiced in the teaching of what is so helpful and correct, and so on. That even if you yourself hadn’t given the teaching, you built up a tremendous amount of positive force. So that’s indicated here. And that concludes the text.

So that brings us to the end of our discourse, of our meeting together. This is obviously a very very profound and deep teaching. It’s very condensed; condenses this enormous Prajnaparamita literature. And it’s something that we need to study more and more; and not just study, but as is emphasized throughout the text, we need to integrate it into our daily behavior.

Then we need to end with the dedication. Think whatever positive force, whatever understanding has build up from this, may it go deeper and deeper and act as a cause for us and all beings to reach enlightenment for the benefit of all.