Tantra: A Union of Method and Wisdom


We were speaking about gaining conviction in the efficiency of the tantra path, so that we can engage in it with our full hearts. In order to gain that conviction it’s necessary to understand why tantra is more efficient than sutra and how it actually works, so that we would want to become involved with it and engage in its practice. We were analyzing this in a four-part scheme and we were speaking about it in terms of the four classes of tantra in general. The four-part scheme was that the path is closer to the resultant stage. The second point is that within that path, there’s a closer union of method and discriminating awareness, or method and wisdom. For the discriminating awareness of voidness – the third point is that – there’s a special basis for that voidness, and the fourth point is that there’s a special level of mental activity for focusing on that voidness.

We covered the first point, which was that the path that we practice is closer to the resultant stage, so that it’s more efficient for reaching that resultant stage. What we do is we imagine now that we are already at that resultant point, which is very much connected with bodhichitta, because with bodhichitta we are aiming at our future attainment of enlightenment further down in our mental continuums. Here we are imagining that we’re there already, so this entails very much the understanding of voidness and mental labeling. We are labeling the conventional “me” on the entire mental continuum as an appropriate basis for labeling, and that would include the point of that mental continuum when all the obscurations will be removed, that resultant state, that state that we are aiming for with bodhichitta to benefit everyone.

That means that when we understand this in terms of mental labeling, we also understand that that’s just a conventional “me” – what that label “me” refers to on this basis – and that conventional “me” is devoid of existing as a truly inherently existent me separate from the aggregates and so on, ruling over them, and something findable inside me that makes me uniquely me. This helps us to avoid any extremes of, basically, insanity – of thinking that we actually are a Buddha now, like imagining that we’re Jesus Christ, or we’re Napoleon or Cleopatra.

This point of the path being closer to the result is manifest in terms of imagining that we have a purified body, in other words, we’re appearing in the form of a Buddha-figure, with our speech being that of mantras. The pure environment is the second point, which is that everything around us is this mandala environment. The mandala refers to the palace and also the grounds around it, which can be very extensive to the size of the universe. (3) Our way of experiencing things is with a joy that is not mixed with confusion – that’s sometimes called “uncontaminated” joy; “contaminated” I find not a very nice word, so “untainted” is what I usually use – a joy which is untainted by grasping for true existence. The fourth point is that we are able to act in the way that a Buddha acts – with enlightening influence – quieting down others and their difficulties and discomfort; and we’re able to stimulate them, we’re able to bring everybody under control in the sense of being able to work together; and we’re able to forcefully stop dangerous situations. We’re able to do that just by our very presence, our way of being.

In the tantra practice, we imagine all of this simultaneously. We are this Buddha-figure, and reciting the mantra, and in this environment of a mandala, and experience the offerings with joy, giving joy to others, feeling joy ourselves in experiencing them, and also with lights going out to others, not only making offerings, but influencing them in these four positive ways that help others. All of this is, as I said, not a lie. It’s not self-deception, because we know that we’re not there yet, but this is a valid basis for labeling “me” nevertheless. That was the first point, what we covered this morning.

In Tantra, a Closer Union of Method and Discriminating Awareness

Now let’s go on to the second point, which is that within that pathway of practice we have a closer union of method and discriminating awareness. As we said in the beginning of this discussion, what we want to do in our practice, of course, as Mahayana practice, is to achieve the body and mind of a Buddha – if we put it in short – and the body and mind of a Buddha are inseparable. If one is the case, also the other is the case. You can’t just have a mind. You can’t just have a body. You can’t just have mental activity. You can’t just have a physical basis for that mental activity that is supporting it, the energy of it. The two are talking about really the same phenomenon from different points of view.

The practices of method and discriminating awareness, or wisdom, are intended for these two aspects here. In other words, method is intended as the main cause that is going to give rise to the body side, the appearance side, because with the body you help others and so on – that’s the method side – and the discriminating awareness, or wisdom side is going to be the principal cause for the mind. Because on a resultant level we want to have body and mind together inseparably, not just one at a time, then similarly, if we can practice method and wisdom, or method and discriminating awareness, together in one moment of mental activity and continue that, maintain that, that will be a much more efficient way of bringing about the result – that we’ll have body and mind together in each moment.

In Sutra, Method and Wisdom Have Two Different Ways of Apprehending Their Object

This is the issue here. How closely can we get these two practices linked? In other words, can we have them all in one moment of mental activity? In sutra, it’s not possible to do this. In sutra we take as our principal method compassion. We take as the principal discriminating awareness the discriminating awareness of voidness. The two of these are quite different types of mental activity or minds. If we want to specify a type of mental activity, a moment of mental activity, then we need to specify two things, Tsongkhapa says. We need to specify what is it focused on, in other words, what type of appearance-making is there – if we get into the definition of mental activity – what is it focused on, that appearance-making, the appearance that is the focal object, and how does it take it, how does it cognize it, which is the second aspect of the definition of mind or mental activity.

We need to know those two things. If we know those two things, then we can generate that type of mental activity, that moment of mind. Otherwise it’s very difficult. If we’re told to meditate on bodhichitta, what in the world is that? If we want to actually have single-minded concentration on bodhichitta, what is that state of mind? What is that mental activity that we would want to do in each moment? Well, what is it focused on? It’s focused on enlightenment, and it’s not enlightenment in general, not Buddha’s enlightenment, it’s my own enlightenment. So that’s what it’s focusing on, and how does it take it? It cognizes it with an intention, the intention to achieve it and the intention to benefit others by means of that. That specifies what it is that we’re trying to generate. Otherwise it’s too vague. It could just devolve into a “May everybody be happy” type of state of mind, which is not at all what bodhichitta is.

So, here the point being that one moment of mental activity can only have one way of apprehending or taking an object. It can’t be disharmonious. It can’t be two different ways of taking an object, cognitively taking, apprehending – it’s a difficult word to translate, but one way of approaching it – can’t have more than one in one moment. That is very relevant in terms of how can we put together method and wisdom in one moment of mental activity? If your primary method and your primary wisdom, your discriminating awareness, have two different ways of apprehending an object, then even if they’re focused on the same object, you can’t have the two simultaneously. That’s key to understanding this whole discussion.

Even if method and wisdom are focused on the same object, let’s say sentient beings – compassion: may they be happy; voidness: they are devoid of existing in impossible ways – even if they’re focused on the same object, you can’t have the two simultaneously in one moment of mental activity, because their way of apprehending that object is completely different. With compassion as method, the way of apprehending it when you’re focused on a sentient being and his or her suffering is, “May they be free of it,” “May this person be free of this suffering.” That is the way of apprehending it, that’s the dominant mental factor that is going to flavor the way of apprehending or taking that object while giving rise to an appearance of some sentient beings.

Whereas with voidness, not only are we not actually focusing on the conventional appearance of the sentient beings, what you’re focusing on is an absence, sort of like blank space, and the way of taking it is to understand that what that represents is the total absence of any impossible ways of existing for those sentient beings. Sentient beings don’t even appear, if we’re doing it properly – of course, that’s quite advanced if they don’t appear – in any case, that’s not our main focus, is not on their appearance, it’s focusing on the absence of impossible ways of existing for them. Those are quite different types of mental activities. Do you follow that? So you can’t have those two simultaneously. You can alternate them, but you can’t have them simultaneously. That’s the sutra approach.

In sutra, you’re alternating between trying to see things in a conventional way, dealing with the compassion or method side, and then trying to understand the ultimate way things exist on the deepest level. Is that the dichotomy or split you’re talking about?

Yes, that we practice one at a time – method and wisdom. We work with compassion, work with voidness. It’s not a dichotomy in the sense of a dualism, with a big division between the two, but what we want to do in sutra is to have each be held by the force of the other.

Is it the case that the more we develop compassion, the more we are able to see voidness, understand voidness, we gain that wisdom? And the more that we see voidness, the more compassionate we become?

Well, one could say that, in a sense, but one has to understand what that means. What that means is that the more compassionate we become, the more positive force we build up and so, as a result of that positive force or merit as it were, then that breaks down some of the mental blocks, the obscurations that would prevent us from understanding voidness. In that sense it is conducive for seeing voidness. On the other side, when we see that things don’t exist in impossible ways, when we understand that voidness, then we understand that everything is interdependent, dependent arising in the most general sense of everything being interdependent, and because we’re all interdependent, that would naturally lead to compassion for everyone, because we’re all interconnected. So in that sense, one would lead to the other.

This is the way that it would be explained in the Gelug tradition. That would be valid for any type of practice, sutra or tantra. There are other approaches: as you get down to the deeper and deeper levels, then there’s a sort of quality of mental activity that is naturally compassionate, but you have to understand what compassion means in that context. It’s not, “May everybody be free of suffering,” but used – more in Nyingma – as the responsiveness of mental activity to others. So it’s slightly different in a Zen sense. As you quiet down, and get to a basic zazen type of thing, then that understanding, which is more in line with traditional Chinese philosophy, then naturally one feels love and compassion. So there are several ways that that’s explained, but the Gelug way is the one that I explained initially.

As I was saying, in sutra, the way that we put together method and wisdom, compassion and discriminating awareness of voidness, is that each is held by the force of the other. It is a little bit like – I don’t know if this is correct in terms of physics, but – the “momentum” of our compassion meditation will carry on sort of as an underlying flavor while we do voidness meditation. So it’s not manifest. Similarly, our understanding of voidness, the meditation on that will carry on as a momentum underlying our meditation on compassion, although it won’t be actively manifest at the same time in one moment of mental activity. That’s about the best that we can do in sutra, and that is the way that we practice, and of course it’s effective and helpful, but in tantra we want to be able to bring the two together as best as we can in one moment of mental activity, so that it will be a more efficient cause for achieving the result of it, which is to have the body and mind of a Buddha – that’s the whole purpose.

Combining Method and Wisdom in Tantra

So if we speak about tantra in general, then rather than compassion as a method, we have the body of a Buddha-figure as a method. That doesn’t mean that we do not have compassion and bodhichitta as methods. That is there, but in addition we have an uncommon method. That uncommon method – not shared with sutra – is to imagine that we have the form of a Buddha-body, which obviously is a closer cause to having an actual body of a Buddha, with which we help others with our compassion, and love, and bodhichitta and so on. So this is method here. Wisdom, discriminating awareness, is the same – the understanding of voidness of all phenomena.

Here we can have method and wisdom in one moment of mental activity, but it’s important to understand what we mean by that. When you focus on voidness, there’s no appearance of true existence. Now unless we’re working in the highest class of tantra with the subtlest level of mind, of mental activity, then any time other than focusing on voidness, there’s going to be an appearance-making of true existence. So it’s not the case that we’re focusing on the appearance of ourselves as a Buddha-figure and focusing on the voidness of it simultaneously, because that Buddha-figure is going to have an appearance of true existence and voidness meditation is an absence of any appearances of true existence.

So that would be the same, whether we’re thinking of the voidness of our Buddha-figure body, or the voidness of the vase. So it’s not meant in that sense. Because, again, that would have to be the same way that sutra combines method and wisdom. One is held by the force of the other. What is meant by it is something which is much closer to what we’re talking about in the highest class of tantra, but here it’s taken in general for all classes of tantra, which is that moment of mental activity which is focused on voidness, well, that mental activity doesn’t exist disassociated from a body, a physical basis, does it? It can’t. So, what we are imagining here is that the body of the person focusing on voidness appears as the Buddha-figure, even though at that moment of total absorption on voidness that’s not our focal object. Do you follow? Did you get it?

There is somebody meditating on voidness, isn’t there? That person has a body. It’s not just disassociated mental activity up in the sky. OK, so the body of the person who’s meditating on voidness, namely me, has an appearance. What is that appearance? It’s the appearance of a Buddha-figure. Are you focusing on it in that moment of mental activity? No, but you know that you have a body and an appearance, and that appearance is actually existing and present in that moment of mental activity, isn’t it?

So that’s a forerunner to the highest class of tantra explanation, anuttarayoga, which is that the subtlest energy of that mental activity, of that clear light mental activity, has the appearance, takes on the shape of the Buddha-figure, and because it’s clear light mental activity, you can have an appearance, but it’s not an appearance of true existence. Any other level of mind, if there’s an appearance, then it’s an appearance of true existence. For that clear light level it would be an appearance of a Buddha-figure as a dependently arising phenomenon, which could be simultaneous with an appearance of an absence of true existence. Do you follow?

So, it opens the door, in general tantra, to the anuttarayoga class of tantra.

[See: The Union of Method and Wisdom: Gelug and Non-Gelug]

So, what one does in the tantra practice, “OK, I’m meditating on voidness, absence of my ordinary aggregates, my ordinary body existing in impossible ways, and all phenomena existing in impossible ways,” and then there are many ways of meditating on voidness. As I was explaining before, in a tantra sadhana we don’t do analytic meditation, we need to have sufficient familiarity from previous analytical meditation on voidness, such that in the sadhana we only need to either recite some sort of verse, which is usually what’s done, or some Sanskrit mantras which clue us to the way of meditating on the voidness, the approach that we might take. In different sadhanas it’s going to be slightly different. It’s quite nice, quite neat the way that it’s done. Just to give you a little idea of the variety:

For instance, in Kalachakra what you would do is the voidness of all causes that could lead to enlightenment, the voidness of all the results that could follow, the voidness of the steps that lead to it, the whole process, and then the voidness of the three spheres that are involved, (1) the person meditating, (2) the object of meditation, and (3) the activity of the meditation and the person meditating – you do that in steps.

Or in Chakrasamvara, Heruka, the voidness of the aggregates, then the voidness of the “me” that’s imputed on the aggregates, then the non-conceptual level of that, then the clear light level of that. Or in Hevajra, the Sakya type of approach you would have, all appearances are from the mind, and then that comes in terms of karma affecting the mind, and then the voidness of the mind, and then the non-conceptual level of that, which in Sakya is referring to a clear light level. Or just a more simple, two step thing: the voidness of the aggregates and then the voidness of the “me” labeled on them. Or in Guhyasamaja: that things neither truly exist, totally nonexist, both or neither.

In each sadhana there will be a slightly different method of meditating on voidness. It’s all talking about the same voidness, but that’s one of the benefits of doing many different sadhanas in different styles. It gives us reinforcement in our understanding of voidness, because we’re focusing on it from the points of view of different lines of reasoning that we have familiarized ourselves with before.

So we focus on voidness – we’re speaking about tantra in general – but we know that, “I have the body of a Buddha-figure,” because we usually start out with that earlier in the sadhana anyway. So in that sense, we have method and wisdom together in one moment of mental activity. Then, after that, we arise in the form of the Buddha-figure and that can be done in many different ways. In each of the classes of tantra, there’s a slightly different way in which we do that step by step – in terms of the syllables, and insignia, and all these sort of things – and there are many, many levels of meaning to that. It’s not just an exercise in visualization. They represent something, different insights, either the five types of deep awareness, or different aspects of Buddha-nature, basically – that’s a very wonderful type of meditation – and then finally in the form of the Buddha-figure.

Unfortunately, most translations translate it as, “out of voidness I arise as this or that figure.” Thats' a very misleading translation. It’s not out of voidness. You haven’t come out of voidness when you’re no longer thinking in terms of voidness. It’s “Within the state of voidness, I arise as a Buddha-figure.” If you want to be even more precise, the word translated from Tibetan as "state" is the Sanskrit word that means "flavor" and the preposition "from" indicates the ablative case in sanskrit, which can also mean "because of." So, from the Sanskrit original, we can translate the phrase as "Because of the flavor of voidness, I arise as..."

The Two Phases of Meditation on Voidness

There are two phases to the focus on voidness. There is (1) the total absorption on voidness – Jeffrey Hopkins calls that “meditative equipoise on voidness” – in which the total absorption on voidness, an absence of impossible ways of existing, so an absence of true and inherent existence – if we’re doing this with Prasangika understanding – so no appearance of true existence, so no appearance, if we’re working with grosser levels of mind than clear light level and if we’re doing it in Gelug style. So that’s like space, like an absence of an appearance.

There are many other meanings to it being like space, but here let’s just leave it on the simplest level. Then, there’s what is poorly translated, misleadingly translated as the “post-meditation” period. It’s certainly not the post-meditation period. It’s referring to (2) the subsequent realization. Subsequent realization while you’re still meditating. It’s not that you’ve stopped meditating. It’s subsequent realization when you’re not totally absorbed on this absence, and when again there’s the appearance-making of true existence, which is going to happen automatically when there are these grosser levels of mind, of mental activity involved. During this subsequent realization phase, you have just implicit apprehension of voidness, which means vodiness doesn't actually appear. So we can understand "because of the flavor of voidness" to imply that the appearance that arises of oneself as a Buddha-figure is "within the flavor of voidness" – within the implicigt apprehension of voidness.

The subsequent realization is that the appearance of oneself as a Buddha-figure is like an illusion, that that appearance of true existence appears to be truly existent. That mode of existence that appears seems to correspond to the way things exist, but that’s not true. It’s not, so we don’t believe it. Nevertheless, things function – that’s very important in this understanding of things being like an illusion. In spite of the fact that it doesn’t exist the way that it appears, nevertheless it functions. That is the whole clue to things being like an illusion. That is the real clue.

Shantideva emphasizes that in his ninth chapter of Engaging in Bodhisattva Behavior, Skt. Bodhicharyavatara. If you can understand one example and everybody accepts that example – all the schools of Buddhist tenets accept that everything is like an illusion – if you can understand it on a simple level, and are able to accept that and deal with that – that this chair is actually made of atoms and an energy field. It only appears to be a solid object. It’s not really. So it’s like an illusion, but it appears to be solid. In actuality, on the deepest level, it’s a collection of atoms and energy, and in spite of that, I can sit on it and it will hold me. The collection of atoms that constitutes my body is not going to fall through it, which is incredibly far-out if you think about that. How is it that this collection of atoms is something that can perform the function of holding something on top of it – and I can sit on it. It’s like an illusion.

If you can accept that it is like an illusion, and nevertheless functions, if you understand it on that level, then that opens the way to understanding it on more sophisticated levels what the illusion is and how, even though things lack inherent existence and are like an illusion, nevertheless they still can function. That is the whole clue to studying the tenets, going deeper and deeper.

That is what we focus on – things being like an illusion, nevertheless functioning – in our subsequent realization phase of meditation after the total absorption, what is usually called “post-meditation.” Now you see a little bit why post-meditation is a bit misleading. We still have an understanding of voidness, but we’re not totally absorbed in it. Within that type of understanding of voidness, we arise as a Buddha-figure, and we are understanding the voidness of that Buddha-figure, but understanding it only in terms of the subsequent realization aspect of it, which you can do with any object, actually. So it’s nothing special at that moment. It’s still with the force of that total absorption that we had before, on the actual absence of impossible ways of existing.

This is the way we put method and wisdom together in one moment of mental activity in tantra in general, and of course, there’s still the force of compassion, and bodhichitta, and all these things. That’s there, the same as it was always. OK? That’s the general presentation. One can get far more specific, the different college textbooks have slight variations here. Take a moment and digest this. What I explained about method and discriminating awareness in one moment of mental activity in tantra in general, the way that you will hear that when it’s explained usually, is that “the mind that understands voidness appears as the Buddha-figure.” That’s the way that it’s usually said in short. I just explained that in a more full way.


Could you say that the mind that meditates on voidness is compassion, and in that way combine method and wisdom?

Well, mind of compassion – we’re talking about a mental activity, the mental activity of being compassionate toward an object. Its way of taking the object is – this sentient being and the suffering it’s focusing on – “May you be free of it.” To say that type of mind is now meditating on voidness – well, not really. You would have to say that that compassion is not manifest at that time. It could only be a legacy of it at that time. It couldn’t be manifest.

Now if you say, that mental activity meditating on voidness has a body that is its basis, now even though the appearance of that body is not manifest at that time, the body is manifest. The body is there, it’s not that the body has disappeared, so it is in the same moment both manifest. And it couldn’t be in terms of our ordinary body, because our ordinary body is not what becomes a Buddha-body, the form of a Buddha-figure, this sort of nirvanic level. Body in general? Well, you can speak of that in terms of Buddha-nature, but it’s not our usual aggregates, it’s not the samsaric appearance of it. So I don’t think it’s a trick. So what can you have manifest in the same moment?

What’s the difference here between the highest yoga tantra and the three lower classes of tantra in terms of this simultaneity of method and wisdom.

Here we’re just saying that that person’s body appears as a Buddha-figure, the body that supports that mental activity that’s focusing on voidness. In anuttarayoga tantra we are speaking about the subtlest level of mental activity. That subtlest level of mental activity has as its energy basis subtlest energy. The subtlest energy is appearing in the form of the Buddha-figure. OK, you would say, even though it’s not explained like that in general tantra, that’s also the case. Yes, that is also the case. The point, however, is that you can’t have the appearance of that subtlest body in the three lower classes of tantra when you’re meditating on voidness, when you’re absorbed on voidness, because the absorption on voidness is with a grosser level of mental activity, what’s called bare yogic perception; it’s not with clear light mental activity.

Any grosser level of mind, if it gives rise to an appearance can only give rise to an appearance of true existence. It cannot give rise to an appearance of non-true existence, or dependent arising. It’s only the clear light level that can give rise to an appearance of dependent arising, and because that is an appearance that doesn’t have true existence, then that level can also focus on the absence of true existence simultaneously. If you can get focus on the two truths before Buddhahood, you can get that on the arya stage in the highest class of tantra, it’s just you can’t sustain it – as a Buddha you can sustain it forever – and it’s not omniscient, so there are still some limitations there, but at least you can get the two truths simultaneously. Non-Gelug is completely different on these points. This is Gelug, this is Tsongkhapa.

Is the clear light level the only level of mind that can perceive dependent arising?

Remember, mental activity, one aspect of it is appearance-making, giving rise to an appearance. So only the clear light level can give rise to an appearance that is not an appearance of true existence. All the other levels are limited, periscope vision, it’s limited, it appears as truly existent things, inherently existent.

OK, so in general tantra, when you have the body and mind simultaneously, still in the three lower classes you’re not focusing on the appearance of a body, although the body is there. In the highest class of tantra, you focus on the appearance of the body as well, while simultaneously being totally absorbed on voidness. So that’s special. We always have the same four-point analysis here, for anuttarayoga tantra as well. OK?

Obviously these are things that we need to chew on. If you haven’t heard this before, well, it’s the first time. You’re not going to understand anything completely the first time. That’s normal. The thing is to work on it, think about it. Hearing, contemplating, and meditating. Hear it first, then you have to chew on it – contemplating – then you can meditate, focus on it single-pointedly.

From our study of science, wouldn’t we be able to know conceptually that the chair is actually a collection of atoms and force fields? And if we were a botanist, we’d know about all the plants and biological processes, and if we were a physicist we’d know about all the forces and so on that allow the chair to hold something? Wouldn’t this be equivalent to a conceptual understanding of voidness, and that the real difference in terms of our Buddhist understanding concerns the non-conceptual cognition of it?

I think that even on that conceptual level there’s a huge difference. I wouldn’t say at all that the science understanding here is the full Buddhist understanding, because what is necessary for the understanding of voidness – as Tsongkhapa points out, coming from Shantideva – is that one needs to be able to focus on the target in order to be able to hit it with an arrow. So you have to be able to identify the object that is being nullified or refuted. What is it that’s totally absent? For that, we need to correctly identify that object of refutation, that object to be nullified, and we work in levels of deeper and deeper sophistication until eventually we understand what true inherent existence means, and the understanding of voidness is the understanding that there’s no such thing, this is impossible.

And dependent arising, it’s only in the Hinayana sense that dependent arising means arising dependently on causes and conditions, the atoms and all those sort of things. Prasangika understanding of dependent arising is extending to all phenomena. The Hinayana understanding only extends to nonstatic phenomena, not so-called permanent phenomena, static phenomena. So you need a Prasangika understanding that extends to everything – things arise dependently in terms of mental labeling. What is everything? You can only specify things in terms of what the words for them refer to. What’s a table? Well, there are all these atoms and all the causes that went into it. What is a table? All you can say is that there’s this word or concept “table.” It’s what the word or concept “table” refers to on the basis of all this stuff as a basis for labeling. It’s like an illusion. It appears to be some sort of solid entity, but it doesn’t exist that way. Even “table” is a conceptual category. It’s not that something can only be exclusively a table and fit into that box, that category, and not be anything else. It’s a home for a termite.

So the understanding of voidness is much more profound than what we get here from the scientific understanding – the scientific understanding, of course, is a start, but that’s not really the understanding of voidness – it is the total absence, total nullification, no such thing, of the object to be nullified, this impossible way of existing – whether we’re talking conceptually or non-conceptually.

If one really understood voidness, then would the chair no longer hold us? We’d fall to the floor, because it would no longer be an illusion?

No, there is the conventional truth. It exists, like an illusion. This is the thing, nevertheless, in spite of the voidness, it functions. In spite of being like an illusion, nevertheless it functions. That is what one really has to be able to accept and work with – otherwise you’re lost into nihilism – and not freak out at that. That’s perfectly sane. Of course, things function like that. Somebody yells at me, and that’s just vibrations of air and sounds and they’re only saying one vowel or one consonant at a time anyway. I’m only hearing one vowel or one consonant at a time anyway. It’s a mental construct putting it together into words, which arbitrarily have been assigned meanings. There is nothing inherent in the actual sound “idiot.” It’s just a convention that that means something – they’re total mental constructs, like an illusion. But nevertheless, you have to respond, you don’t just sit there and grin like an idiot – then you really are an idiot.

Like an illusion doesn’t mean that it is an illusion, but one has to understand that, because some of the Buddhist schools will say it is an illusion. So one has to really understand what is meant when it’s said that it’s like an illusion. What is the similarity and what is the difference? And that’s going to be emphasized either in one tradition or another tradition. The point of it being like an illusion, but not an illusion – like an illusion, it appears to exist in a way in which it doesn’t exist. Its manner of appearance doesn’t correspond to the manner of existence – in technical jargon – but it functions, more than an illusion functions.

An illusion can scare you. So now you have to get into valid cognition. If I perceive a monster under my bed and it scares the daylights out of me, well, that functioned, didn’t it? It is an illusion that there’s a monster under my bed, but it certainly functioned to scare me, so how did it function? Through a nonvalid way of knowing it. Whereas a rat under my bed might scare me, but then it’s like an illusion. I did correctly perceive that there was a rat under my bed. So it’s different. One has to be more specific.

There are general presentations, and then one gets to more specific presentations, more precise. It could be more precise than what I presented, certainly – far more precise. There is a difference between what we call awake state and dreaming state, so they’re not the same. The awake state is like an illusion, it’s not an illusion, it’s not a dream, it’s not the same as a dream, but in the dream you can certainly get angry and build up negative karma. You can get scared. You couldn’t get actually physically injured in the dream though. There are certain differences. Certain things function and certain things don’t function.