Kalachakra: The Dream and Deep Sleep Creative Drops


This morning we spoke about the four noble truths in general, and then we presented what Kalachakra adds to this. The main thing that we were emphasizing was a little bit more extensive explanation of the true causes of samsara. And we went through the explanation of karma as the true cause of suffering. This was explained in common with the general presentation of the four noble truths. So karma in connection with the disturbing emotions and unawareness of reality and the twelve links of dependent arising – all of that was in common with the general explanation. And all coming ultimately from our unawareness or ignorance of how we all exist and everything exists. But the emphasis here was on karma.

When we have a mention of karma like that, karma is including the whole entire karmic process of the compulsiveness of our behavior and the aftermath of that, the potentials and tendencies. In addition, the Kalachakra presentation explained about the coursing of the winds through the channels of the body and how, in a very complex fashion, the coursing of these winds wears away the channels gradually, step by step, so that through the process of aging, eventually the lifespan ends.

Then we looked more deeply at what’s involved with the moving of these winds in the body. We saw that this was referring to the movement of the so-called winds of karma (las-rlung) and how they pass through four creative drops during the course of a day. These drops are involved with the production of various mental holograms, which obviously are going to be involved with causing us suffering.

So we first examined what arises on the basis of the drop of the occasion when we’re awake (sad-pa’i gnas-skabs skyed-pa’i thig-le), the so-called body drop (lus-kyi thig-le). This was referring to the mental holograms that arise in our conceptual thought. So this is referring to what appears when we think or imagine or remember something. It’s very interesting how we often seem to think of these mental holograms only in terms of some sort of internal visual image. But we can also remember sounds. You certainly remember music, don’t you, or think of music. And we can also remember smells. We can remember tastes. We can remember physical sensations, like hot and cold. So all of that is involved here in terms of what arises on the basis of the awake drops. All of these are representations, mental holographic representations, of categories basically, object categories.

The Creative Aspects of the Four Creative-Energy Drops and the Mental Holograms to Which They Give Rise on the Basis Level

The Dream Drop

Now let’s go on with the speech (ngag-gi thig-le) or dream drop (rmi-lam-gyi gnas-skabs skyed-pa’i thig-le). This gives rise to two things: The first is the appearance of confused speech (’khrul-pa’i ngag), and the second is the appearance of impure objects in dreams.

The Appearance of Confused (Deceptive) Speech

This word confused speech – it’s also the word for deceptive speech – we have to be a little bit careful. This isn’t distorted. We’re not talking about erroneous, false speech. It’s confusing: it gives an appearance that doesn’t correspond to reality. It’s confusing. We’re not talking about lying or saying something false.

This is very interesting because the texts don’t – or at least the texts and commentaries that I’ve read and studied – don’t explain what this is referring to. So this is what I mean when I say that we need to analyze and figure out what is this referring to. It has to be referring to something, and what it’s referring to has to be something significant that is involved with suffering, the cause of suffering. So one needs to analyze this. And this is what I like to try to teach people: how do you analyze? How do you try to figure out what this is referring to? That’s something very important to learn. We want to learn how to do this, how to analyze, because this is a clue, an indication of something that we need to work on to eliminate suffering in order to help others. So it’s not just an interesting question; it’s a vital question involved with how do I get out of suffering and how do I help others out of suffering.

As I indicated this morning, the way to approach it is with definitions. Unfortunately, that requires learning some Tibetan and Sanskrit. We don’t necessarily have to learn the entire language, but the technical terms in these languages are very, very helpful to learn, because what’s going to happen is that different translators will translate a term differently, so unless you know that they’re all translating the same term, you’ll think that they are talking about something quite different from each other. So you learn the term in Tibetan.

And then you learn the definition. And then you try to apply it with the awareness that sometimes terms will have different definitions in different contexts and that different authors in different textbooks will have slightly different definitions. But our languages as well – if you look in different dictionaries compiled by different people and different committees, the definitions in them also will sometimes be different. So even a definition is just conventionally existent; it’s a mental label. The definition doesn’t exist innately inside the word or inside a sound. People decide what it means. But in any case, let’s not go too far in the direction of the voidness of words and language.

So anyway, deceptive speech, what is that? If you look at how that word is used in other contexts, deceptive (’khrul-pa) means, as I explained very briefly before, that the appearance doesn’t correspond to the way it exists, so it deceives us. Now, this drop, this speech drop, from another point of view is also the dream drop. That implies that we’re talking about something rather subtle. We’re not just talking about our regular normal speech. This word deceptive is also mostly used with conceptual processes, conceptual thinking.

Now, this is my analysis. It may not be correct. It’s not that I read this in a text, but it makes quite a lot of sense to me:

We have two types of categories. I mean, there are many different kinds of categories, but one classification is into object categories (don-spyi) and audio categories (sgra-spyi). And object categories, that same term is used for meaning categories, so the meaning of words, of sounds, communicative sounds. So what do sounds mean? They mean various objects, various things.

So what is an audio category? We have an audio category of the sound of words. Think about this. It’s very interesting. If I say the word mother, for example. Okay, I can say it with my voice, you can say it with your voice, it could be said in so many different voices, different volumes, different pronunciation, and all of these are really quite distinct sounds, aren’t they? And we put all of those different sounds into the box of the sound of the word mother. Think about that. That’s true, isn’t it? They’re quite different sounds, one voice saying the word and another voice or a computer saying it, and yet you know that it’s the same word. Those are audio categories.

The same process is involved with how conceptual thought, verbal conceptual thought, works. We have a category of a word, then a conceptual isolator (nothing but this word), and then a mental hologram (a representation of the sound of that word). And voila, what do we have? You have the voice that goes on in your head when you think verbally.

That voice going on in our head when we think verbally is deceptive because not only does it appear truly existent – that there it is, the word just arises in our head and we have no control over it, it’s just there by itself, this voice – but it appears as though it’s the voice of a truly existent “me” inside talking. This voice gives the appearance that it is the voice of this truly existent “me.” That’s the author of the voice, the one who’s talking and worrying verbally – what should I do? what do other people think of me? what’s going to happen? – this internal voice. That is the troublemaker.

That is my educated guess of what deceptive speech is referring to here. It fits into the entire presentation in Kalachakra. Otherwise what is the speech drop talking ab­­­out? So it’s referring to this really deceptive mental hologram of a voice in our head. Do you follow that? Digest that for a moment. I find that very profound. Where’s that voice coming from? Kalachakra tells us.

The Appearance of Impure Objects in Dreams

The second thing that this speech or dream drop gives rise to is, obviously, dreams. And specifically the text says impure objects that appear in dreams. So all of these things that arise from these drops on the basis level are impure. That means that they appear to have truly established existence, and of course we believe in it.

When we study the topic called lorig (blo-rig), ways of knowing – which I believe you’ve started to study here – in that topic there’s a mention of dreams. What it says is that dreams are an example of nonconceptual mental cognition. Well, one has to think what does that actually mean. Does that mean that everything in a dream is non-conceptual?

Digression on Translation Terminology

No. I have to point this out, and I’m sorry if I do this as a digression, but since you are going to study lorig, I cannot control myself. So compulsively, compulsively wanting to be good and explain to you: I noticed that you used the word direct, and this is used by so many translators in so many languages. There are so many very, very fine distinctions that are made in the Buddhist analysis of how the mind works, and one has to be very, very precise to find words for each of the distinctions that are being made and not mix the words for one distinction to refer to another distinction.

Direct and indirect, that distinction has to do with whether our perception involves a mental hologram as an intermediary or not. According to the Vaibhashika – that’s one school of Indian Buddhist philosophy – they don’t assert mental holograms. So for them sense perception is direct: you actually see the object; it’s not that you see a mental hologram of the object. There’s no mental hologram in between, so it’s direct. Whereas everybody else says there’s a mental hologram, so it’s indirect. That means that there’s a time lag – if we think in Western terms – between when, let’s say, light is coming from an object and the mental hologram. What we perceive is only one microsecond later from the actual event.

That’s not so strange if you think about starlight. The event of a star exploding happened millions and millions of years before. I mean, the event occurred before we actually perceive the light. So there’s a time lag. And if we take that on a micro level, there’s also a micro gap, and that is what the word indirect in indirect perception (shugs-la shes-pa) is referring to in the texts. And then there’s lots of discussions about how that actually works. How do you know anything if we’re always one microsecond behind?

Then we have bare perception (mngon-sum), and that’s referring to whether or not there’s the presence of a category “mental hologram” on the audio and video is a slip of the tongue. So this is the difference between conceptual and non-conceptual. Non-conceptual – it’s naked, it’s bare, there’s no category. So still we have this distinction of direct and indirect. That’s a different distinction.

And then the Gelugpa version of Prasangika – you must be aware that the Gelugpa has its own special version of Prasangika that nobody else agrees with – they define something called straightforward cognition another translation for mngon-sum. Straightforward means not relying on a line of reasoning. So either it relies on a line of reasoning or it doesn’t. A line of reasoning, like where there’s smoke, there’s fire. Does it lean on logic, a line of reasoning? Or is it just straightforward? So that’s a different distinction.

So this is the problem: we use direct for all of these. So you have to find another term in French (I just made up the terms in English). So this is the challenge. If you use the same word for two quite different distinctions, then it’s confusing – that’s a very good example – it’s deceptive. Therefore definitions, definitions. Otherwise you don’t know what they’re talking about in the texts.

Do the Jonangpas have a different explanation of perception? I’m not familiar with their texts on perception, but I would guess that they follow the same type of presentation that you have in general of the non-Gelugpas. They seem to share one general explanation with just some very small refinements among them. And I would guess that because Jonangpa is coming from Sakya, it would follow the main Sakya assertion. But let’s not go into the distinctions in perception theory, because that really is a very full topic, the distinction between the Gelugpa and the non-Gelugpa versions. Big difference, especially concerning conceptual thought. And unless you really understand the presentation of conceptual thought and cognition in these non-Gelugpa schools, you get very, very confused about their presentation of meditation. To try to eliminate conceptual thought and so on – if you don’t know what they’re actually referring to by conceptual thought, your meditation very easily is wrong. And the explanation is equally as sophisticated and complex as you find in the Gelugpa. It’s just different. They all base themselves on these same Indian texts; they just interpret them differently.

The Appearance of Impure Objects in Dreams (continued)

Okay, so dreams. When we talk about non-conceptual cognition in dreams and about this being mental non-conceptual cognition, this is just referring to when it seems as though we are seeing images in our dreams or hearing the sound of people speaking, and so on. That is not with our eyes or our ears – that’s not eye consciousness or ear consciousness – that’s mental consciousness. So initially that is non-conceptual mental cognition. Remember, like pixels or colored shapes?

But of course we also then in dreams perceive things in boxes, with categories: dog, cat, my mother, friend, etc. It’s very interesting to examine your dreams (if you can remember your dreams). In the dream, is it just colored shapes or is it my mother? Obviously if you dream of your mother or your friend and you perceive it in terms of “This is my mother” – whether you actually say it or not doesn’t matter – it’s conceptual.

So we’re talking here about the impure objects that appear even non-conceptually in dreams. And so it’s still staying in the general area of mental cognition, mental consciousness. So even those appear to be truly existent, truly established existence.

Now, this gets very complex. I won’t go into the detail. During non-conceptual cognition – this is the Gelugpa explanation – you do not have a manifest (mngon-gyur) grasping for true existence. Grasping here is referring to not just perceiving this appearance but believing that it corresponds to reality. So we don’t manifestly believe that when it’s non-conceptual, whether it’s sensory or mental nonconceptual, but it is occurring subliminally (bag-la nyal) (in Western terms, maybe you think of that in terms of it occurring unconsciously). A subliminal level of conceptual cognition. Subliminal is actually quite the correct term. You’re watching a movie, and for one microsecond “Drink Coca-Cola” flashes on the screen. So it registers on your consciousness, but you’re not aware of it. That’s subliminal.

This is what occurs when you’re asleep, by the way. You have subliminal cognition of, for instance, sounds or physical sensations. Otherwise there’s no way you would ever hear the alarm clock. If your consciousness was totally turned off, you’d never hear the alarm clock. So the sound is registering, in a sense, on the ear consciousness, but myself as a person, I’m not aware of it.

Okay. So the whole point here is that whether it’s conceptual or non-conceptual, there’s still grasping for true existence.

So this is the dream drop.

The Winds of Karma and the Various Mental Holograms

Remember we’re talking about these drops giving rise to mental holograms that are known by the mind, by mental cognition. Right? Only known to the mind, we would say. So we’re talking either about the mental holograms of imagination, remembering, thinking, the mental hologram of the voice in our head, and the mental hologram of the various images and sounds, and so on, that arise in dreams. So you get an idea of the class of phenomenon that we’re talking about, this range of mental hologram. What they are going to have in common has to be somehow these winds of karma. And that’s really what this is all about: This whole range of different types of mental hologram, how is that somehow related to winds of karma? Is it related to karma itself? What’s going on? This is what we are investigating. Because on the subtle level, the interior level – this inner Kalachakra – it’s believing in the true existence of all these mental holograms, believing that they correspond to reality, that is the cause of our disturbing emotions coming up and so on.

You have to always keep the context; otherwise it’s just really fascinating information. That’s why I pointed out the danger in the very beginning: We could become too fascinated, too seduced, by the beauty of this sophisticated explanation and lose sight that it is part of a whole process of getting out of suffering. You have to remember it’s all like an illusion. One could say that very easily, but what that actually means is rather profound.

The Deep-Sleep Drop

Now the third and fourth drops. These are more difficult, more subtle to analyze. On the basis of the mind drop or the drop of deep dreamless sleep, we have non-conceptual mental cognition. Interesting. You just have to look at the words of the text. Instead of giving the translation, the interpreter looks at the text. Now Alex points this out.

Ah, here’s an example of this disturbing attitude in which you throw out the net of “me” and “mine.” “You just have to look at the words of the text” could have two meanings. I could be talking in general (“You have to look in terms of the Kalachakra text”), or you can think I’m talking to you personally (“He’s talking to me and saying I should look at this text in front of me”). It’s a perfect example. It’s not that it’s confusing – I might have been speaking to you, and that might have been my meaning. But throwing out that net of “me” and “mine,” you think “Where’s the place? What should I do?” etc. There, suffering. That’s what you have to train yourself to be able to do, is to recognize what the Dharma is talking about in our everyday experience. And you can only do that if you know all the definitions, you know what all these mental factors are referring to, and then you have the mechanism to be able to identify it in everyday experience. Then you know what it is that you have to work on to get rid of.

So we have two words here that are describing the mental consciousness in deep sleep with no dreams. This is what we use to investigate these two words. One word: non-conceptual. Second word: if you just look at the word literally, it says not clear (mi-gsal-ba). That’s how it’s usually translated, not clear. So you take that to mean the Western term not clear, which means out of focus. Like you are looking through the camera, and it’s not clear. We have to adjust the focus, and then it’s in focus; it’s clear. And then you analyze. Does that make any sense in this context? No, it doesn’t. Now, again this comes from studying a lot of literature in Tibetan, unfortunately. But those who have studied can explain these terms. And that term is used for making appearances. It’s the appearance-making function of the mind. It’s a quality of the mind. It’s discussed quite extensively in mahamudra texts. It’s that aspect of the mind that makes the appearance of things. So clear in the sense that something appears, not clear in the sense of being in focus, not fuzzy.

Now you analyze further. Could that mean literally that there is no appearance-making whatsoever? If it did, the absurd conclusion would follow – this is how Buddhist logic is formulated – the absurd conclusion would follow that the mind in deep sleep no longer has the defining characteristics of mind. Because one of the functions of the mind is that it gives rise to appearances. Mahamudra always talks about inseparability of mind and appearance. One of the characteristics is that the mind is always making appearances. It’s always making mental holograms in some form or another.

So what it means, then, in this context – what it has to mean – is that the mind is not giving rise to sense objects. In other words, you don’t have sensory cognition. Right? And it’s not giving rise to what seems like sense objects that appear only to mental cognition. So we don’t have a voice going on in our head, and we don’t have images of my mother or my dog. The only thing that appears, and this it says in the text, is a darkness (mun-pa), and therefore the darkness must be a mental hologram of the darkness.

And it says the cognition of this darkness is without mindfulness (dran-med). Mindfulness (dran-pa). This is a very important word to know the definition of. I don’t know about in French, but in English most people use the word mindfulness just to mean paying attention. That is a different mental factor. That’s the factor of attention (yid-la byed-pa). That’s not the factor of mindfulness. In any case, I don’t know what term you use in French. Full consciousness? That doesn’t mean anything either. So you have to know what it means.

First of all, it is the same word that’s used for remembering. The same word. So remembering, and here we’re not referring to the process of storing something in your memory: “Try to remember that.” We’re not talking about that aspect, but we are referring to recalling something. When you remember what your mother looks like, this mindfulness, this mental factor, is like the mental glue with which you hold on and don’t let go; it prevents you from losing it, from forgetting. So we’re not talking about having a good memory, but we’re talking about what’s going on at the actual moment when you are recalling something. It’s the mental glue that holds on.

So now we have to investigate. It says there’s no mindfulness here. So what is it that that mental glue of mindfulness is not holding on to during deep sleep when you’re not dreaming? Let’s not use the word attention. Let’s use the word mental glue. What’s this talking about, that the mental glue is not holding on to something during deep sleep? So now we have to bring in many more pieces of the puzzle, the Dharma puzzle, to figure this out.

In the general presentation of anuttarayoga tantra, specifically Guhyasamaja, there’s the practice of what’s called the nine mixings (bsre-ba dgu). And in that there’s the mixing of deep sleep with Dharmakaya and clear-light mind. This is the only other context that I have ever come across in which they talk about deep sleep with no dreams. So I have to go to those teachings and see is there something in there that gives a clue about what Kalachakra is talking about. This is why His Holiness and all the texts always say that the larger your power of hearing – of studying, of learning – the Buddhist literature, the texts, the more able you are to understand the Dharma. You can put things together and figure out what in the world is it talking about.

So deep sleep and clear-light mind and Dharmakaya are somehow put together. We also know that in the description in anuttarayoga tantra of the dissolution of the mind and the energies into clear light, the most subtle level right before clear light is called near-attainment cognition (nyer-thob). Right? Because you’ve nearly attained clear light. That’s also known as the black appearance. And a black darkness appears, similar to what appears in deep dreamless sleep. So this is great because now we have some other angle on what’s going on in deep sleep.

What do we know about this black near-attainment cognition? First of all, it’s conceptual, but it is the most subtle level of conceptual mind. So what we have to realize is that there are many levels of conceptual cognition. Remember we said that during non-conceptual cognition, you don’t have manifest grasping for true existence; you have subliminal. Subliminally you have this very, very subtle conceptual cognition going on. It’s not the same conceptual cognition as thinking of the category dog. It’s a much more subtle level. So even in non-conceptual deep sleep, there still is a very, very subtle conceptual level that’s grasping for the true existence of that darkness.

And it’s even better, because near attainment has two phases: with mindfulness and without mindfulness. So here we have some more information of what this variable is referring to. If we look at one of the Guhyasamaja commentaries – actually one of Tsongkhapa’s commentaries on this – it says the mindfulness that we’re talking about here that’s either present or not present is the mindfulness, the mental glue, of the mind itself, of the perception itself. It’s not that you lose the mental glue in terms of concentration.

There’s mindfulness, mental glue, involved in concentration so that you hold on with mental glue to the object that you’re focused on. And Tsongkhapa says it’s not this mindfulness that you lose. If you did, then you would have mental wandering, and you would not be able to do the meditations that are done in this state of near attainment, because in the advanced meditations, we are using these very subtle states of mind as the level of mind for meditating on voidness and so on. So at least in meditation, it’s not that we lose the mental glue for concentration, but we lose the mental glue on the mind itself.

What does that mean? Now we have to go look it up in cognition theory. And it says that one of the functions of the consciousness is that it allows you to remember something. The mental glue. It allows you to remember. In non-Prasangika you have a separate mental factor that’s aware of itself, reflexive awareness (rang-rig). But according to Prasangika, the consciousness itself implicitly knows itself – it has implicit cognition – but because the consciousness is not truly existent, then you don’t have all the contradictions that would follow from something being aware of itself, like a sword cutting itself. But in any case, we’re not discussing voidness this weekend, at least not very much. The point is that this mental factor of the mental glue is the factor that’s responsible for the fact that you can remember.

Now we throw this ingredient into the cake that we’re cooking of trying to understand what in the world this deep-sleep drop is doing when you are in deep sleep and the mind on a very subtle level is producing a mental hologram of darkness. When you wake up, do you remember perceiving a darkness when you had deep sleep? You might remember the dreams, but do you remember the darkness when you weren’t dreaming? Do you? No. That’s what this is explaining. Without mindfulness is explaining that. That’s what it’s saying. So it’s non-conceptual and it’s mental, so there are no images like in dreams or anything like that, but there is still the appearance of a mental hologram of the darkness, but you don’t remember it.

And what’s even more fantastic that confirms this is that in the presentation of these nine mixings when the boundary is drawn between clear-light mind and the grosser levels, it says the near attainment without mindfulness is included in the clear-light experience. In other words, the boundary between deep-sleep experience and dream is when you have the near attainment, the black appearance, with mindfulness. So the boundary is within the near-attainment experience. When it’s with mindfulness, that’s over on the dream side already; you can remember a darkness. And when it’s without mindfulness, when you can’t remember the darkness, it’s already on that clear-light side. So in the meditation instructions, it says the longer you can stay in near attainment without mindfulness, the better your clear-light experience will be, the stronger it will be. In other words, you are not holding on to the image that is appearing. You have to give up holding on to that image and remembering the mind. You have to be totally detached to go into the clear-light level.

So all of these various pieces of the puzzle lead us to the conclusion of what’s going on with deep sleep, what the appearance is that’s arising from this mind drop or the deep-sleep drop, what the mental hologram is. In other words, now we have added another type of mental hologram into this larger picture that we’re having of what is arising from these drops because of the movement of the winds. We’re still talking about mental holograms that appear only to the mind, and they all appear to be truly existent, and either manifestly or subliminally we believe that appearance corresponds to reality.

So we’ve added to the mental images – the mental holograms, I should say – of when we are imagining or remembering, the mental hologram of the voice in our head, and the mental holograms of our dreams. We’ve added even the mental hologram of darkness that arises when we’re in deep sleep that we don’t even remember.

So let’s take a break, and then we will discuss what arises from the fourth drop.

But I think that the point, one of the many points, that I’m trying to illustrate – I’ve repeated this now several times – is analysis. Try to figure out what the texts are talking about. It’s not just idle chatter. There’s something very profound being discussed in the texts, but we have to figure it out ourselves. Commentaries help, but then you have to put them all together.

And where does the energy for all of this come from? Besides bodhichitta and all of that, what’s more fundamental? Refuge. Refuge. It is meaningful. It is not without meaning. If you truly have confidence that everything that Buddha taught, the Dharma, is intended for us to be able to get out of suffering and help others get out of suffering, if you are fully, fully convinced of that so that’s really your refuge, then you have to try to figure out what every word of the Buddhist teachings mean. They have to mean something, and it has to mean something significant for us to get out of suffering. It’s not just intellectual, very pretty, nice. So please don’t trivialize refuge. It really is important. And don’t leave it on some superficial level of wearing a red string and reciting a few words. Refuge itself is very profound.