The Nature of Appearances: Madhyamaka & Highest Tantra

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We have been speaking about appearances in conceptual and non-conceptual cognition. We got the basic mechanism with the Sautrantika presentation and in the Chittamatra variation on it we had just a few things that were different, specifically concerning the natal sources of the various components within the mental hologram. And we saw that – with the Sautrantika – basically what we need to do to help us to overcome our problems and suffering and so on is to at least differentiate between, putting it in simple language, our projections and objective reality.

In Chittamatra, we started to analyze the voidness of all phenomena. And by realizing that in certain ways we take or grasp these appearances to exist in impossible ways, that it causes us problems, so we needed to understand the voidness or absence of certain impossible ways in which these mental appearances exist.

Appearances Are Like an Illusion According to Chittamatra

We often hear that we need to understand, in addition to an absence of impossible ways of existing, that subsequent to that we need to understand that appearances are like an illusion. That often is called the “post-meditation period.” That’s a terrible way of translating. “Post-meditation wisdom” is even worse. First of all, what’s translated as the word “post” means actually “subsequent.” And it is subsequent to a total absorption on voidness; it comes after that, it can only come directly after that. Having realized that there’s no such thing as these impossible ways of existing, then subsequent to that, what we attain (rjes-thob) or realize – and it could be either while we’re still meditating or outside of meditation – is that what appears, in other words these mental holograms that we have been speaking about, are like an illusion. That means that they’re not the same as an illusion – this is Gelugpa understanding – because although they appear to exist or imply an impossible way of existing, they don’t. It is only an appearance like that, so it’s like an illusion. It appears to exist in a way in which it doesn’t exist.

It’s very clear in Shantideva’s text Engaging in Bodhisattva Behavior (Skt. Bodhicharyavatara) that an illusion is not the same as real life. Killing someone in a dream or in an illusion is not the same as killing someone in real life. So we have to be quite careful here in our understanding.

From a Chittamatra point of view, if we speak just very generally in terms of coarse voidness and when we understand that, what is like an illusion is that what appears to us in a mental hologram appears as though it’s coming from some external source, that the image of it is coming from some external source that somehow establishes itself outside, before any cognition of it.

This understanding can help us in many, many ways. For instance, you appear to me like the most attractive person in the world or the biggest idiot in the world. It appears, though, that you are like that independent of me seeing you that way, as if you existed that way externally before I came along and looked at you and labeled you that way. And that obviously is false.

This whole projection of a hologram through which I cognize you, with which I see you or think about you, there’s something really wrong about it that is making it appear as though you exist externally like that, as though you exist in that way, as the most beautiful person or the most horrible person, externally to a perception of you like that – a mental hologram, a projection of someone like that. So, even though it appears that way to me, I don’t believe in it. I don’t believe that it has the implied object of it, that what it implies is something that actually exists, that’s real.

There’s something wrong with this whole karmic tendency that is coming up again and again to perceive you in that way; so we have to do something about that. Part of that whole package of you appearing as the most beautiful or wonderful person in the universe is attraction and then desire and attachment, or anger and dislike and hatred of you that appears to be the most terrible person in the universe.

Classification Schemes with Categories

If we go on to the Madhyamaka view, we have Svatantrika and Prasangika within Madhyamaka. And within Svatantrika we have the Yogachara-Svatantrika and the Sautrantika-Svatantrika.

These are classifications that basically the Tibetans invented. Tibetans are very good at organizing the material that came sort of in a chaotic manner from India over a long period of time. They’re useful classifications, but we shouldn’t think that all Tibetan schools and all Tibetan masters through history have used these same categories. Here we’re back to categories, to classify the various Indian writers, the Indian masters, and their texts. But it’s actually a very good example because the different Tibetan schools and different Tibetan masters will specify different defining characteristics for each of these schools. So that is a good illustration of: where do these defining characteristics exist? Do they exist on the side of the category or on the side of the mind that makes up the category, that labels the category?

We shouldn’t think that somebody makes up a category. A category is not organically built by something; it’s a metaphysical entity that we use in our thinking. But the process of defining it and so on, that is an organic process. A category itself is static, it’s not like it grows as a plant or that you build it like a computer. We learn categories as in a baby learning the category of what is food and what’s not food. But the category of “food” itself is not something that is made.

That’s actually an interesting point. Where did the category “computer” come from? Or is it merely something that is labeled onto a collection of individual items, so it is derived from it in terms of a label, but it’s not created by the individual items that make up the category? Obviously if we had a lot of time we could explore these things in terms of: is it a similar process to the process of making the category “computer,” the process that occurred to making the category of “good” or “bad,” or “yellow” or “orange,” or “dog” and “wolf?”

The Buddhists would differentiate between what’s called the “attainment of a category” from the category itself. There’s a whole bunch of animals and if you think of all the different types of animals that are included in the category “dog,” it’s really quite extraordinary that somebody came up with a category that includes all of them, the big dogs with hair and the little dogs with no hair and so on. You look at all of them and the derivation can be based on a process, but the category itself of “dog,” that itself doesn’t do anything. Somebody comes along and looks at all these creatures and says, “We’re going to call them all... we’re going to derive from this a category.” So derivation arises from causes and conditions. But when all of a sudden you have the start of a category, now the category starts, then it’s static. So the attainment (thob-pa), the starting comes about from a certain process, but not the category itself.


Now we have Svatantrika, and within Svatantrika, the Yogacharas will agree with the Chittamatras that there are no external phenomena, the way that we have defined that. And the Sautrantika-Svatantrikas and the Prasangikas will assert that there are external phenomena. It’s referring to a natal source of the image of a physical phenomenon in a mental hologram, that its existence can be established prior to the actual cognition of it. Yogachara-Svatantrika agrees with the Chittamatra on this point, that there are no external natal sources of these images.

Now, what is the main point of Madhyamaka in general is that the existence of something is established in terms of what a mental label or concept or word for something refers to. However, Svatantrika says that the existence is established not only by it being the referent of what a word or concept refers to, but also that it is established by the appropriate defining characteristics on the side of the object.

A classic example is that there has to be something on the side of a king that makes them a king in combination with being labeled a king, otherwise a peasant could be called “king.” Obviously there were some political reasons behind this because this is the classic example that’s always given.

The Svatantrikas will agree with Sautrantika and Chittamatra that the referent “thing” of a name or concept for something can be found on the side of the object. It’s findable. So with all the objects, their existence is established by their self-nature, from their own side. And their existence is established by the defining characteristics in connection with mental labeling, not by itself.

If you think about this, if we look at the Sautrantika-Svatantrika, the ones that assert external existence, there’s a big difference here between the way that this manner of establishing existence is explained here in Sautrantika-Svatantrika and the way that a similar issue was discussed in Sautrantika.

Remember, in Sautrantika when we were talking about metaphysical entities, these categories, their existence could only be established within the context of when somebody was actually conceptually thinking about them. The category doesn’t exist somewhere out there up in Plato’s cave or in the sky or something like that by itself, outside of the context of somebody thinking with the category.

We have a very subtle difference which is made here in the Sautrantika-Svatantrika, which is that you can only establish the existence of something in the context of what a name or label for it refers to on the basis of the defining characteristics. That’s how you establish it. That doesn’t mean that it only exists when somebody is labeling it. That’s a big, big difference. Chittamatra was saying something similar, that you can only establish the existence of something when it is being perceived or cognized or thought about. Here we’re saying something quite different.

Here we have the place where there’s very, very frequent misunderstanding. When we talk about mental labeling and things existing in terms of mental labeling, what we mean is – and I cannot repeat it enough times – its existence is established by mental labeling; it’s not created by mental labeling. The only thing that establishes that there is a dog is that there’s a word for dog and it’s what the word or concept “dog” means. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t dogs existing before somebody comes along and says, “Oh, dog.” What is a dog? A dog is what the word “dog” refers to.

If we understand this subtle difference, then we can understand that there can be externally existent phenomena coming from an external natal source. That will require quite a lot of thinking and analysis to digest that point. But it’s important not to overestimate our conceptual process, to say that it creates reality. If we believe that it corresponds to reality and what appears to us is impossible, then we’re in big trouble. Or when it is inaccurate that’s also a problem. But it isn’t like a schizophrenic that has some weird appearances of things and that really creates reality around you. It just seems like that to you, but that’s not actual external reality. What this has to do with our experience is, we shouldn’t overestimate the power of our mental holograms.

Now, we don’t have so much time to go into detail about how things exist and so on. This is a big topic. We’ve discussed this a little bit before as well. But here the point that I’m making is that even if it appears to me that you are the most beautiful person in the world or the most idiotic person in the world, that doesn’t make you or create the most beautiful person or the idiot before I came across you. My belief that this appearance of the most beautiful person or the most horrible person corresponds to reality, my belief in that can cause me to have all sorts of disturbing emotions and to act in all sorts of destructive ways, but it doesn’t make you that type of person. It’s just like an illusion, it appears like that.

But Svatantrika is saying, but there must be something on your side, some characteristics, that is the basis, findable on the side of you, for me thinking that you’re the most beautiful person or the most horrible person. It could be something about your behavior, something about what you look like, etc.


Prasangika says: no, there are no individual defining characteristics on the side of the object. Everything does have individuality, there are individual characteristics, but they’re not findable on the side of the object. In fact there’s nothing on the side of the object that establishes its existence from the side of the object. So you can’t establish its existence from a self-nature, it’s not self-establishing. It’s not established from its own side. It’s not established from individual defining characteristics findable on the side as the referent “thing” of what the word is referring to. You can’t find something out there that it’s referring to, that’s establishing itself.

This means that basically, from the side of my mind, I am making up the definition of what is really beautiful or what is really terrible. So I am mentally labeling not only the category, but I’m mentally labeling the definition of the category.

This is very important. We need to avoid imagining, when we say that there are external phenomena, that everything exists like a blank cassette or a blank canvas or just an undifferentiated electromagnetic field, or that individual objects are existing like blank cassettes or blank CDs and we can label anything onto it, that we can impute anything, we can call it anything and then it makes it that. Or that it is crowded with all these individual defining characteristics of water for humans, pus for ghosts, and nectar for gods, and a home for fish. Then everything becomes really very crowded with a lot of defining characteristics on its own side.

Because even this plastic coating that we’ve been speaking about that establishes the existence of something as an individual item, a validly knowable item, even that doesn’t exist on the side of the object. What is a validly knowable object? It is what the word “validly knowable object” refers to. So there are conventionally existent things, but there’s no line around them or a plastic coating around them that separates their atoms or their electromagnetic field from what’s around them.

Because there’s no plastic coating making it into an individual thing, therefore everything can interconnect, interact. If everything was encapsulated in plastic, nothing could interact with each other. But when we understand this, then it’s very important that we don’t negate the conventional truth of things, conventional reality. So, although things may appear to me with these mental holograms to exist in all sorts of crazy ways, nevertheless (1) they don’t exist that way and (2) that doesn’t mean that they don’t exist at all.

Within our mental hologram, appearances, we have to differentiate what’s correct, what’s incorrect and how does this imply the way that things exist and what things are. Everybody, except the Vaibhashikas, is saying: “Yes, we know the world, we know everything through mental holograms, but it’s like an illusion.” Well, but what does that mean? What is like an illusion; what aspect of it is like an illusion? This is important to understand these holograms, given the fact that there are holograms, even for a Buddha.

Two Aspects of Mental Activity in Relation to the Two Truths

One more point about Prasangika, Madhyamaka, in the Gelug version. When we talk about mind, which remember we’re talking about the mental activity of appearance-making and cognizing, there are two aspects to this. One aspect is the appearance-making of what something is. This is valid for cognizing the superficial or relative truth. And then there is the aspect that gives rise to the appearance of how something exists and this is the aspect that’s valid for cognizing the deepest truth of things. I repeat: there are two aspects. One is valid for cognizing the conventional truth and one for deepest truth. The one that’s valid for cognizing conventional truth gives rise to appearances of conventional truth and the one that’s valid for cognizing deepest truth gives rise to the appearance of how things exist, the deepest truth.

When we talk about the conventional appearance of what something is, there can be either an accurate appearance-making or an inaccurate appearance-making. This you can determine from the point of view of other minds. It cannot be established from the side of the object. Nothing can be established from the side of the object in Prasangika. It can be verified with relation to mind.

I see something and I perceive it as a dog, as a pet. That has to fit in with the convention of the group that I belong to. There has to be the category of “dogs as pets,” not just “dogs as food.” So it’s validated by there being a convention. Well, convention is with the mind. So we could establish that this is correct if there’s a convention and also if it’s not contradicted by other aspects of mind that are valid for perceiving conventional truth. So we ask other people in our community, “Is this a dog or is this a cockroach?” And if everybody agrees that “It’s not a cockroach, it’s a dog. That is a house pet,” then it’s not contradicted. If everybody else says, “This is a cockroach,” then there was something wrong with our cognition of it as a dog.

Now, when we talk about the aspect of the mind that gives rise to how something exists, then we have also two aspects here, two possibilities. And here what is accurate would be that everything exists in terms of name or mental labeling alone. In other words, they are merely what words and concepts refer to. That’s called “dependently arising.” They are dependently arising phenomena. And what is incorrect is an appearance of them as existing – what’s called truly established existence – truly established from their own side.

According to Gelug Prasangika, our mind makes appearances of things existing in this impossible way, as if they’re established from their own side, both in conceptual and non-conceptual cognition. So, our mental hologram gives this appearance, in terms of how it exists: that its existence could be established from its own side in general, and it could be established as this or that from its own side. How do things actually exist? They exist dependently arising in terms of mental labeling. That’s correct. That’s the deepest truth about things. They exist devoid of existence established from their own side.

When we perceive something as if its existence were established from its own side, let’s just make it easier to say as if its existence is truly established, then that blocks being able to perceive that it’s not truly established from its own side. So every time that we perceive anything, if at the same time our mind is producing an appearance of truly established existence, there’s no way that we can perceive the actual appearance of what it is and its voidness: that it’s not established truly; that it is dependently arising.

So as long as there’s an appearance of truly established existence, there’s no way that we can perceive the two truths about something simultaneously, the two true facts about something: its appearance of what it is and its voidness of existing as truly established. If we could get our mind to stop projecting truly established existence, then it would be possible to have the two truths simultaneously: its voidness or absence of existing truly, so its dependent arising, and what it is. So we have to get the mind to stop producing this wrong appearance of how things exist.

The Clear Light Mind According to Anuttarayoga Tantra

Now we get into the realm of anuttarayoga tantra, the highest class of tantra, and its explanations. Here we have a distinction of three levels of mental activity. We have the gross level, it arises on the basis of the physical sensors of our sense organs and it is the level that’s responsible for our sense perception, non-conceptual sense perception. It has a gross physical basis, so it’s a gross consciousness.

Then there is mental consciousness. Mental consciousness can be either conceptual or non-conceptual. It is what we would call the subtle consciousness. And it doesn’t depend on a gross physical sensor, sensorial cells. It just relies on what we would call the “winds,” the subtle energies of the subtle body. Now, that was just a very rough explanation. One can get much subtler in terms of the discussion of the energy-winds, but let’s not go there.

And the subtlest level of mental activity is what’s known as the “clear light mind.” And that relies on the subtlest energy-wind. It is this level that has unbroken continuity with no beginning and no end, through death, life after life, and also continuing in Buddhahood. In a sense, it’s responsible for a continuity of mental activity. All the other levels, subtle levels etc., are dependent on having some sort of a grosser body, even if it’s a very subtle body.

We’re not talking about a body of a Buddha; we’re talking about a body of a limited being, what’s called a “sentient being.” This word translated as “sentient” of “sentient being” actually has the connotation of being limited. There are two terms here, semchen (sems-can), something with a limited mind – a Buddha isn’t like that – or a luchen (lus-can), something with a limited body – a Buddha is also not like that. And what is the limitation? The limitation is because of the limited hardware – if we can borrow the analogy from a computer – the limited hardware of an ordinary body, even if it’s a very subtle one, that is limited and so it causes the consciousness or the mental activity that’s based on it also to be limited, limited in the sense that it always gives rise to an appearance of truly established existence.

If we just talk about the clear light mind itself, that clear light mental activity, this clear light activity not only does not have the disturbing emotions and unawareness and belief in these appearances of impossible ways of existing, not only does it not believe in that or is not disturbed by it, it doesn’t even produce them. This becomes very interesting as you analyze here. It’s only the clear light mind that is capable of perceiving the two truths simultaneously – an appearance of what something is and the way that it exists, as dependently arising.

That aspect of appearance-making, if we talk about what it’s made of, if somebody asks what is that mental hologram made of, the aspect of the mental hologram of what it is, what it appears to be, that – you’d have to say – is made from this subtlest energy-wind of the clear light mind. Whereas the false appearance of how things exist, of an impossible way of existing, that what it’s made of, are the grosser energy-winds that are the support of these grosser levels of mental activity.

This is the Gelugpa version and it’s concerning this point that then, and I won’t go into it, we get slightly different variations on this. How we classify what’s going on here gives us the “inseparable samsara and nirvana” of Sakya; we get the whole Karma Kagyu mahamudra presentation; we get the dzogchen presentation – these different ways of explaining here in terms of appearances from clear light mind. It’s all concerning this particular issue of what are the appearances made of. So they’re discussing: is the appearance of what something is and of how it exists, does it come together in one package, or are they from separate things and so on. This is where the differences come about.

Appearance-Making from the Clear Light Mind

We are looking then just at the Gelug explanation. And we have a sequence, which is explained in all the Tibetan traditions, but now we’ll give the Gelugpa version of it, of what’s called a dissolution process and a re-emergence process of the grosser levels of mental activity into and out of clear light mind.

In the anuttarayoga tantra system that derives from the Guhyasamaja Tantra we have an explanation of seven stages, with the clear light mind being the eighth, seven stages down, seven stages up. In Kalachakra this is described in a ten stage process. All the anuttarayoga tantras other than Kalachakra accept the presentation in Guhyasamaja. The presentation coming from Guhyasamaja, all that is true in the Chakrasamvara system, the Yamantaka system, all these other systems. The only system that explains it differently is Kalachakra.

These levels are associated with making appearances, so we can’t say that they are really associated with making the external objects. Although you could have a Chittamatra explanation of anuttarayoga tantra and a Svatantrika explanation, from the Gelugpa point of view the only one that will really bring you all the way to enlightenment is the Prasangika understanding. So let’s just stick to the Prasangika understanding.

I should inform you before I go into this explanation that the way that I’m explaining it is merely my own understanding of it. Whether that is totally correct or not, I can’t swear to you. I’m not like a Buddha that I can touch the ground and ask the ground to bear witness to the fact that I have a correct understanding. But I’ve been thinking about this for a very, very long time and trying to put many, many different pieces together, so this is what I’ve come up with.

Non-Gelugpa has these seven stages involved with making an appearance of what something is and how it exists together. It’s mixed together in a package. Gelugpa doesn’t explain it that way, because the clear light mind can give rise to an appearance of what something is as dependently arising. And when it does that it is not making that appearance in terms of these grosser levels of energy-wind and consciousness. So what you would have to say is that underlying the process of the mental construction of an appearance of true existence through these seven stages, underlying it is a basic appearance of what something is.

In other words, the clear light mind – this is my understanding – clear light mind, the subtlest energy-wind gives rise to an appearance of what something is. On top of that, from these grosser levels, it superimposes on that the appearance of truly established existence. Because when you get rid of that, then you can see the appearance of what something is as dependently arising. The clear light mind, if that’s responsible for the appearance of what something is, colored shapes, then that level is responsible for that aspect of our mental holograms, whether we are a limited being or a Buddha.

On top of that there is a projection of the appearance of a false manner of existence. And what is responsible for that are these grosser levels of mind that ride on, that use, these grosser levels of subtle energy. Within the subtle energy, there are grosser subtle energies that are involved in the holograms of what you see and subtler subtle energies that are involved with the hologram of what you think. That’s why I said I didn’t want to go into all the different divisions within the subtle energies, that’s complicated.

Which to present first? I think it’s easier to present this sequence in terms of the emerging sequence going from the most subtle to the grosser level. And here we have to introduce different levels of conceptual cognition.

Remember we had personal conceptual experience – what we’ve been talking about. And I would say, using very lightly Western terminology, this would be conscious personal conceptual cognition. We have our own personal idea of what is beautiful and so on and that’s fairly conscious to us. Then there are what are called the eighty preconscious primitive conceptual cognitions (rang-bzhin kun-rtog brgad-cu) it’s called in Tibetan. It’s very, very difficult to understand, so this is my personal understanding of it.

That first level, the personal conscious ones are involved with words. So humans have that and you have to be taught language and so on. These eighty are more primitive; animals have them. It is a category, in a sense, that comes from some sort of habit or something like that. It’s sort of the mechanism of how mind works for limited beings that gives, let’s say, a category of “kissing” or “embracing” or “sucking” for a mammal. And so how does an animal know how to do that? There is a concept of that, there is a category of that; you don’t have to be taught that. So it’s something which is, I call that, “preconscious.”

Or “anger” or “desire.” “I’m going to show affection,” so there’s a concept of how you show affection through kissing or through embracing. “I’m going to feed,” so there’s a concept of how you feed, that you suck a nipple of a mother. Or “I’m going to show anger,” so there’s a certain category of how you show anger. Your face becomes like this and your voice becomes loud or you growl as a dog, or something like that. So there’s a category, it’s like, “This is the way,” and each time that you do it might be slightly different, but there’s a general concept of how you do it. This is what I think it’s talking about when we look at the list of the eighty. So that’s this preconscious primitive conceptual cognition.

And then we have the completely unconscious subtlest appearance-making conceptual cognition. This is what is making the appearance of true existence and it’s a very, very subtle conceptual mind. It’s the most subtle conceptual mind; it’s there unconsciously. It’s operating all the time. Even in our grosser levels of non-conceptual cognition, still underlying it there’s this subtlest conceptual mental activity going on. Because it’s giving rise to an appearance of true existence, the implied object of which – actual true existence – doesn’t exist.

There are three levels of it. These three levels are usually translated as “black appearance, red appearance, white appearance.” That doesn’t give us very much information. That has to do with when you are just at this level and you’ve blocked off every other level, what actually seems to appear, what it looks like. And that has to do with the subtle energy drops, called the white drop and the red drop. We don’t have time to go into that, but there’s a reason why it’s white and red and black. Going down, the white drop comes to the heart and there’s the white appearance; when the red drop comes down to the heart, the red appearance; when the two join together, black appearance.

But there’s another level that we can look at this, in terms of appearance-making. Not just appearance, but the activity of appearance-making. Remember, we’re talking about mental activity. Now we have to look at the Tibetan names for this. This gives us a clue of what it means. The black one is referred to as nyertob (nyer-thob), it is “nearly attained.” What that means is it’s like a threshold. If we think of consciousness as coming out of clear light mind, this is the threshold level. It’s the threshold where you’re starting to now make the appearance of true existence.

This has two phases, one with mindfulness and one without mindfulness. What is mindfulness? Mindfulness is a mental glue. First we have no mindfulness, so there’s no mental glue to sort of hold on to an appearance of true existence and then there is the next phase, there is now the mental glue that would cause an appearance of true existence to cohere and would hold on to it.

The next phase, the red appearance, in Tibetan that’s cheypa (mched-pa), I call that light diffusion. The actual Tibetan word means that there’s a diffusion “going out” literally “increasing”, so if we use light in terms of what is creating an appearance of true existence from this threshold, now there’s a light diffusion coming out to make an appearance of true existence.

And then there is the white appearance, which is nangwa (snang-ba) in Tibetan literally, “appearing”. This is light congealing. The light has gone out, of a making of an appearance of true existence, and now it congeals into an appearance of true existence. Because an appearance of true existence is like an appearance of solidity, isn’t it? Concreteness. And then it is at this stage that the eighty primitive preconceptual conscious minds arise, after the white.

After that we have four more and so now there are subtle elements within the body. There’s the gross elements externally, there are the subtle elements in the body: wind, fire, water and earth.

First what appears is like a dot of light. And now the subtle winds – so the wind is getting grosser and grosser here – the subtlest energy wind connects with the internal wind element. The wind element of a body can be the support for this “dot experience,” or “a candle at the bottom of a well.” It’s described in many ways in terms of how it appears. Now we’re talking about how an appearance can congeal. So what is it going to congeal as? So the next step after the primitive conceptual minds arise is the appearance like a dot of light.

What’s happening is that now the subtle elements of the body can be the basis for these winds, what it congeals into, how it looks, and the quality of it, the quality of the appearance of solidity, of true existence. If we think of like a picture coming up on the screen of the computer, first there’s a dot of light. First it’s come out of the off-mode, the threshold, and then the electrons go all over the screen, so light diffusion, and then it is congealing, so now it has the ability to give rise to some sort of concrete form, and now it starts with a dot of light.

Remember what we’re talking about is not the appearance of what it looks like; we’re talking about the appearance of how it seems to exist. We’re talking about the formation of a quality of solid existence, true existence, even though we use the analogies of light.

Then, in addition to the subtle wind element, the subtle fire element can act as a support of this mental activity and then the appearance is like a diffusion of lots of dots of light, “like fireflies,” it says, “in the sky,” so now the dots of light are all over the screen.

On the next level the consciousness, the appearance-making of how it exists, is supported by the subtle liquid element of the body and now the appearance is “like smoke.” So it’s not quite solid yet, but it seems more solid, like smoke seems more solid than dots of light.

And then the earth element can support it as well and now it’s “like a mirage.” And after this we have a full-blown appearance of solidity of true existence to the appearance of what it is. What’s been underlying all of this, happening at the same time, but just on the basis of the clear light mind, is the appearance of what it is. We were talking about how it appears to exist. In our ordinary experience we can’t separate the two, but if we can stay with the clear light level, then this whole appearance-making of true existence does not occur.

What Kalachakra adds to this, with a slightly different sequence of ten steps, rather than these seven – if you include clear light mind, eight – is that there are four creative energy-drops. And these energy-winds that we’ve been talking about that make these appearances of true existence, they’re called “the winds of karma.”

So, if it’s a mental hologram when we’re awake, then – in terms of the “projection” – it projects through the creative drop of the awake situation. And if it’s an appearance during a dream, it’s through the creative drop of the dream occasion. And if it’s the mental hologram of when we’re in deep sleep with no dreams – a mental hologram of darkness etc. – it’s through the creative drop of deep sleep. And if it’s an experience of what’s called the fourth occasion, which has to do with experiences of great bliss and happiness, then it’s through this fourth drop. Remember, we’re also talking about an appearance of a feeling of happiness, we’re not just talking about an appearance of colored patches.

But remember, all these subtle winds that we’re talking about, and in Kalachakra these creative energy-drops of the four different occasions, all of that is part of a samsaric limited body. A Buddha does not have these. A Buddha doesn’t have this limited hardware with which mental activity functions. Everything from a Buddha’s side is just functioning on the basis of clear light mind and the subtlest energy-wind.

[See: Kalachakra: The Four Creative Drops & Mental Holograms.]

If we can stay with this clear light level without ever going back into the grosser levels, the clear light level does not give rise to these appearances of truly established existence because it requires a grosser body to do that. We’ll still have mental holograms, but the mental hologram will be of what something is and how it exists will be in terms of dependent arising. Then we can see the interconnectedness of absolutely everything, especially in terms of cause and effect. And then we know all the causes for this individual’s problems and what will be the effect of anything that I teach. And so we become a Buddha; this is what a Buddha does. So, that’s what we are aiming for.