Kalachakra: Levels of Mental Activity & Winds of Karma


Today we are continuing our discussion of Kalachakra, and particularly we’re looking at the Kalachakra explanation for the causes of our suffering in the context of the presentation of the four noble truths. That means that we’re looking at how Kalachakra explains the all-pervasive suffering in particular, which is our uncontrollably recurring rebirth – that’s what samsara actually means – so that we continue to be born with a so-called tainted body and mind, feeling, etc., all the aggregates. They are tainted in the sense that they arise from unawareness or confusion about reality, they contain with them that confusion, and they perpetuate more. So because of that unawareness, then of course we have all sorts of disturbing emotions, and these bring about and accompany the compulsiveness of our behavior, which is what karma is referring to.

We saw that in the Kalachakra presentation, it said that the obtaining cause (nyer-len-gyi rgyu) from which you get this rebirth is karma (like from a seed, you get a sprout). And karma here is referring to the whole syndrome of karma, not just the compulsive aspect of our behavior but also the karmic aftermath, so the potentials and tendencies and the whole process of how they’re activated and perpetuate more rebirth and eventually more karma.

And the condition that is acting simultaneously with this (lhan-cig byed-pa’i rkyen) is the flow of the winds of karma (las-rlung) each day in the right and left side-channels (ro-ma and rkyang-ma). And what we saw that this refers to are the breaths within that that go through the central channel (dhu-ti) and destroy various energy channels each day, and that describes the whole process of aging.

Now, we looked a little bit more deeply at the role of the four creative-energy drops (gnas-skabs rigs-bzhi skyed-pa’i thig-le) in this whole process of causing our samsara. Because these karmic winds that are described here pass through these four drops at each of the so-called four occasions of our life. And these occasions are when we are awake, when we are asleep and dreaming, when we are asleep in deep sleep with no dreams, and when we are experiencing the bliss of orgasm. And we also saw that these four drops are associated with four different aspects of ourselves, of each rebirth – specifically human rebirth – that is body, speech, mind, and what’s particular in human rebirth is this deep awareness.

We then looked at what’s called the creative aspect of these four drops, and we saw that each of them in turn is involved in some way with the production of mental holograms. And these are mental holograms that are perceived just with mental consciousness. We’re not talking about the holograms that are perceived with sense consciousness.

General Presentation of Mental Activity

When we speak about consciousness, there are three levels of consciousness, and what we’re talking about here is basically mental activity.

Definition of Mind

You need to be aware of the definition of mind in Buddhism. It is described with three words:

1. The first word is usually translated as clarity (gsal), but we explained yesterday that that doesn’t mean being in focus. It is not referring to some light in our head, or something like that, that illuminates things in that literal sense of a light. Right? A light is illuminating something that’s sitting there already. It’s not like that. But rather this word clarity means to give rise to (shar-ba, the arising of) a mental hologram.

2. And then the second word is usually translated as awareness (rig). That means some sort of cognitive engagement with a mental hologram. So it’s a cognitive engagement (‘jug-pa). That means either knowing it, being confused about it, inferring it, indecisively knowing it – all sorts of different ways of knowing it. You’ll study all these different ways of knowing in lorig (blo-rig, ways of knowing).

And these are not consecutive actions. It’s the same action described from two points of view. For example, in thinking, it’s not that first a thought arises and then you think it, is it? The arising of the thought and the thinking of the thought is the same thing, same action.

3. And then the third word in the definition is merely or only (tsam). That means that this is all that’s happening, nothing else. Which means that there is no separate “me” that is observing this or who is controlling it and making it happen and that there is no separate machine called the “mind” that the “me” is pushing the buttons on and making it happen, despite the colloquial expressions that we have, at least in English, like “Use your mind.” Do you say that in French? “Stop being so stupid. Use your mind.” That gives the impression that there’s a “me” separate from a machine called the “mind” and now I’m going to use it to understand something. So that is completely impossible. That’s a fantasy. That’s what this word only excludes.

Three Levels of Mental Activity

So this is mental activity. This is what it is doing. There’s the arising and perception – in terms of cognition, in terms of a mental hologram – and no separate “me” from this. Perception is the same as the creation of the hologram, and this can occur on three levels.

Gross Mental Activity

We have gross mental activity. That is with the senses – eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and body. This is relying on basically something physical in our body, a gross physical aspect of our body, in order for it to arise, like the light-sensitive cells of the eyes. We’re not talking about the organ of the eye. We’re talking about the light-sensitive cells, the photosensitive cells, of the eye, of the retina. When we hear the term (dbang-po, cognitive sensors), it’s usually translated as sense powers. That’s quite misleading. We’re not talking about some sort of power. We’re talking about these cells, the light-sensitive cells of the eyes, the sound-sensitive cells of the ears, the taste-sensitive of the tongue, the smell-sensitive of the nose, the physical-sensation sensitive of the body. That’s gross mental activity.

Subtle Mental Activity

Then we have subtle mental activity, and that is what we call mental consciousness (yid-kyi rnam-shes). That can be either conceptual or non-conceptual.

Conceptual or non-conceptual, the variable here is whether or not there is a cognition through the medium of a category. A category is like putting things in a box. When you perceive things as if they were in the box of a category, then it gives the appearance of truly existing in that box. So if you perceive somebody in the category of father, then they’re not in the other box, the category of son or the category of a nice person or whatever. They’re truly in just one box. And conceptual thought, it’s very useful because it allows us to deal with things and understand things, and it’s very helpful for communicating, for language. But it has this deceptive aspect of it because it has with it this appearance of true existence and there’s also a belief in it. The belief in it at least up until the stage where we’re an arhat.

This conceptual cognition also has various levels of subtlety:

  • We have categories that are quite individual in each lifetime. For instance, several centuries ago, people certainly didn’t have the category computer. I have categories like members of my family that you don’t know, so that’s quite individual to me. Or when I remember things that happened to me in my lifetime, it is with a category of a certain event that is personal to me (you don’t remember that). So these are personal. We would call them personal concepts, but we’re talking here about the mental activity.
  • Then there’s universally occurring conceptual activity (rang-bzhin kun-rtog brgyad-cu, preconscious primitive conceptual cognition). This is discussed in the Guhyasamaja literature. I don’t want to go into great detail about it. But there are certain categories, like the category of those that are involved in instinctive behavior that we find even in animals, like the instinct to suck milk from the mother. That tiny little baby, an infant animal, has that, the conceptual framework, each time that it’s hungry to go and suck the milk from the mother. That’s a universally occurring thing. There’s a list of eighty of them.
  • Then there’s the even more subtle conceptual thought, the subtlest, which is involved in just the most basic mechanism of making an appearance of true existence. Yesterday when we spoke about near-attainment mental activity, that’s in this subtlest level of conceptual mental activity.

Clear-Light Mental Activity

The subtlest level of mental activity is called the clear-light mental activity. That is so subtle that you don’t have with it either the appearance-making of true existence, because that was with subtlest conceptual activity. And it doesn’t have grasping for that truly existing manner of appearance, the appearance of true existence, because that is occurring manifestly just with conceptual thought. And it doesn’t have disturbing emotions either, because those are occurring on either the subtle or the gross levels of mental activity. The disturbing emotions are occurring either on the mental consciousness or sense consciousness.

That’s the general presentation of mental activity.

Mental Activity in the Kalachakra System

If we speak about another way of looking at mental activity, from one point of view it is subjective experiencing of things through mental holograms. Experiencing (myong-ba), this is a synonym used for mind. We experience happiness. We experience seeing somebody. It’s experiencing things. I experience being here in this room.

So when we talk about mind, we’re talking about subjective experiencing of things, but that activity can be described from a physical point of view of what’s going on on a physical level:

  • For gross mental activity, something is occurring on the basis of the body, physical body.
  • For mental activity, there’s a more subtle energy-system of the body.
  • And for the clear-light activity, there’s the subtlest energy, energy wind.

But what is common for both the sense cognition and mental cognition – in other words, all the other levels besides clear-light mind – is that there is a movement of grosser energy winds through the body, different levels of energy winds through the body. So there are certain energies that are involved with sense consciousness, and there are certain energy winds that are involved with mental consciousness, mental activity. That’s these subtle energy winds. They’re more subtle for the mental activity than for the sense activity. And they’re flowing through the body.

When we are talking about these energy winds, especially the ones with mental cognition, they’re flowing through the subtle channels. And also for sense cognition, it’s through the subtle channels. But with the sense cognition, it’s involved with gross aspects of the body, like the light-sensitive cells of the eyes. But with mental consciousness, it is just involved with aspects of the subtle body.

And if you’re very sensitive, you can feel nervous energy when you are thinking, especially when you are worried (it’s even more nervous, more disharmonious, and so on). You can feel that. And especially when you are experiencing a disturbing emotion, then the energy is most disturbed. When we’re really filled with jealousy or longing desire or anger, the energy is very, very turbulent.

So all of this is involved with our discussion here in Kalachakra of the coursing or the flowing of these winds of karma through the subtle channels. These winds of karma must be the support of mental activity, and they are involved with what we were calling subtle mental activity, so mental, through mind consciousness. And being mental activity, there is a mental hologram that is involved. And this is what we were discussing yesterday, the type of mental holograms that are involved.

We’re not talking on the level of the light-sensitive cells of the eye, sound-sensitive of the ears, etc. That level is bringing about the occasion of seeing things, the occasion of hearing things. We’re not talking about those occasions, because that’s involved with the gross body and gross consciousness, gross mental activity, which is sensorial and which is nonconceptual (there are no categories involved). But rather we’re talking about when these subtle energies are working through four drops – so aspects of the subtle body – rather than working through sensorial cells of the gross body. Have you followed me?

So if the winds go through, let’s say, the photosensitive cells of the eyes, then we get a hologram of a vision. Or if the winds go through the sound-sensitive cells of the ears, then we get an audio experience with a mental hologram of a sound (of somebody speaking or the sound of birds or whatever). But here in Kalachakra with these four drops, we’re talking about when the winds go through these creative drops. And depending on which drop it goes through, it will produce the mental holograms in four different classes.

Remember on a sense level, we can have a mental hologram in five different classes. You can have a mental hologram of a sight, a mental hologram of a sound, a mental hologram of a smell, a mental hologram of a taste, and a mental hologram of a tactile sensation or physical sensation. We shouldn’t say just tactile. It’s a physical sensation. It’s not only soft and hard, not only that. It also includes hot and cold. It also includes a physical sensation of motion. There are many different types of physical sensations.

So just as there are these different classes of mental holograms involved with sensory experiences, we have four classes of mental holograms involved with inner mental experiences:

  • So with the awake drop, when that’s involved with these energy winds, then we have the mental holograms that are involved with conceptual cognition when we’re awake. So that’s referring to the mental holograms that arise when we think of something, when we remember something, when we imagine something.
  • Then on the dream drop, this is the mental holograms that arise in dreams. And that drop at the throat is also, from another point of view, a speech drop, and it gives rise to the mental holograms of the voice in our head when we think verbally.
  • And then when the drop at the heart is involved, so the winds are passing through that, then we get the mental hologram of a darkness in deep sleep, but it’s that darkness that we don’t even remember, that we can’t remember.
  • Then at the time of the bliss of orgasm, when it reaches its peak, just before the energy explodes out, then there is a mental hologram of what’s called the elemental source (khams-drug) of deep awareness, whatever that might be. I have no idea what that really is. But that is going more, more subtle than just the darkness.

And all of these have an appearance of truly established existence. And because of our perceiving it and believing that it corresponds to reality, and so on, then we have the whole mechanism of suffering, samsara, etc. And if you really think about this, you realize that this is very true.

What’s going on when we are really worried? We’re thinking with all these verbal mental holograms, and there are images when we’re remembering difficult situations that happened with other people and so on. We represent the whole event with this mental hologram. It’s very interesting.

Remember how we described the process of conceptual cognition? We have a category. Let’s talk about a memory. Okay, so there’s the category of this meeting with my partner, my lover. And now there’s an isolator (ldog-pa), so it’s nothing but that. And now we have a mental hologram that represents that event, that meeting that we’re remembering. And in fact it could represent my relationship with this person. That could be the larger category, my relationship with this person. And now because of this one nasty thing that happened in this one event, this mental hologram of that particular moment, that particular event represents the entire relationship. And it truly exists like that – it feels as though that corresponds to reality – and “You don’t love me anymore.” That mental hologram can look visual. It could be the sound of words in which you just say this. There can be many different ways in which you could represent it. But we believe this, that this really is horrible now, and we forget everything else about the relationship. It’s just represented by this one thing, and it corresponds to reality. Then we get very upset, all sorts of disturbing emotions. And it activates karma, and so what happens is that compulsively we will say all sorts of terrible things to this person that will cause a lot of problems in the relationship. It’s perfect samsara, isn’t it?

So we’re not talking here about something terribly abstract and intellectual. We’re talking about what we actually experience. So what we want to get rid of is not only the believing in true existence, the grasping for true existence, but we want to get rid of this whole process of these mental holograms, the mental holograms that are arising on the basis of the winds of karma. So these are tainted.

We’re not talking about the mental holograms that will arise on our mental continuum when we are a Buddha, the mental holograms of our appearances in various forms as a Buddha. These are pure. So we’re not talking about the path or the resultant level. We’re just staying here on the basis level. But don’t think that all mental holograms are the problem. It’s just the ones that are mixed with an appearance of true existence and are based on these winds moving through the subtle energy system rather than all being dissolved at the heart chakra. Because the clear-light level of mental activity, being mental activity, involves of course the arising of holograms. That’s what’s involved with arising as a yidam (a Buddha-figure) and all these other things.