Six Yogas of Naropa: The Subtle Body, Voidness and Dependent Arising

Three Divisions of the Complete Stage

After the generation stage, we go on to the complete stage practices. This is explained in three divisions:

  • The basis, or basic situation that we are dealing with
  • The path to follow
  • The result that is manifest.

The Basis

The first of these is the basis. This is divided into the discussions of the body, the mind, and the body and mind together. 

The Body

In terms of the body, there is the rough body, the subtle body, and the subtlest body. The rough body is what is found in our ordinary aggregates, for instance, our form aggregate. 

As for the subtle body, we have five types of sensory consciousnesses; the subtle energy-wind associated with each of these sensory consciousnesses is the subtle body. Even subtler than that, there are 80 different types of extremely subtle indicative conceptual consciousnesses, and the energy-wind associated with these is an even subtler body. An even subtler body than that is when all grosser levels of consciousness have ceased, and the subtlest level of consciousness becomes manifest. The energy-wind associated with that subtlest level of consciousness would be the subtlest body. That type of consciousness associated with that subtlest body, the subtlest energy-wind, would be the subtlest consciousness.

Subtle Creative Energy-Drops and the Presentation of the Energy-Winds

As for the presentation of the subtle creative energy-drops (thig-le), there is one called the “indestructible creative energy-drop” (mi-shig-pa’i thig-le), which we have as long as we are alive. 

In the course of a day, we have 21,000 breaths. This can be divided into various periods of the day during which the breath goes primarily through one nostril or the other. This is a very extensive subject that we should study more carefully by receiving teachings on the complete stage. However, there is no time to go into detail now.

There is also a presentation of the energy-winds, with the five major energy-winds and the five branch or secondary energy-winds. The five primary energy-winds are the downward-voiding, the ascending, the fire-accompanying, the life-supporting, and the diffusive energy-winds. Each of these is associated with one of the five Buddha families and, likewise, each has a color associated with it. 

For instance, the downward-voiding energy-wind is associated with the Buddha-family of Ratnasambhava. It is yellow in color and controls the retention and excretion of urine, feces, and so forth, through the lower orifices. The ascending energy-wind is associated with the Buddha-family of Amitabha. It is red in color, is associated with the fire element and deals with the functions of swallowing and things coming in and out of the mouth. Again, there isn’t time to give a full presentation of all this material, but I will explain one example.

We need to collect these ten energy-winds, the five major and five branch energy-winds, within us and cause them to dissolve. This is done at the navel chakra. This is the way the rest of the text will present the material. The text will talk about methods to make this happen at the navel chakra. Of all the energy-winds, the one that is most difficult to dissolve is the diffusive energy-wind. 

The five branch energy-winds are those associated with the sense consciousnesses, such as the eye or the ear consciousness. When we are able to cause the five branch energy-winds to dissolve, we gain the various types of extrasensory perception, such as that of sight, hearing, and so on. This is a result of dissolving the branch energy-winds associated with the senses.

Alternative Presentation 

Another way of presenting this material is in terms of the energy-winds that course around the subtle body, the energy-channels that abide in the subtle body, and bodhichitta, which refers to the creative energy-drops that are caused to move and be led around within the subtle body. 

In terms of the energy-winds that course around the subtle body, there is the presentation of the five major and five branch energy-winds. For the energy channels that abide or are situated in the subtle body, there is the presentation of the 72,000 energy-channels of the subtle body.

There are three major energy-channels, nadi in Sanskrit and tsa (rtsa) in Tibetan: the central channel or avadhuti, uma (dbu-ma) in Tibetan, the major right channel or rasana, roma (ro-ma) in Tibetan, and the major left channel or lalana, kyang-ma (rkyang-ma) in Tibetan. In addition to these three major energy-channels, there is a fourth channel that is parallel to the central one and is slightly behind the spine, called the “parted from demonic forces” channel (sdud-bral-ma). 

At the time of birth, there are these four major channels: the central, right, left, and the one slightly behind. In addition, in the four directions there are four more channels: the thrice-circling channel (gsum-skor-ma) in the east, the desire channel (‘dod-ma) in the south, the house channel (khrim-ma) in the west, and the fiery wench channel (gtum-mo) in the north. These four are the channels in the four cardinal directions at the heart. These eight are the eight major energy-channels that first develop at the heart (snying-gar thog-mar chags-pa’i rtsa-brgyad).

In addition, there are the eight major energy-channels of the heart. First come the four energy-channels in the four cardinal directions that we mentioned just now. A second energy-channel branches from each of them and goes in the four intermediate directions. These eight  energy-channels – four in the cardinal directions and four in the intermediate directions – are known as the “eight major energy-channels of the heart chakra” (snying-gar rtsa-brgyad).

There is a difference, then, between the eight energy-channels that first develop at the heart and the eight major energy-channels of the heart. The four energy-channels of the four cardinal directions are included in both lists. The central, right, and left energy-channels, and the one slightly behind the central one are among the eight energy-channels that first develop at the heart; however, they are not among the eight major energy-channels of the heart. The four energy-channels of the intermediate directions are among the eight major energy-channels of the heart but not among the eight energy-channels that first develop at the heart. 

Each of the eight major energy-channels of the heart, the four in the cardinal directions and the four intermediate directions, has three branches that come from it, making 24 energy-channels. The three, respectively, are the energy-channels where the energy-winds fall, where the creative energy-drops of white bodhichitta fall, and where the creative energy-drops of red bodhichitta fall. Each of these 24 is divided into three energy-channels – respectively of the body family, speech family, and mind family, making 72. From each of these 72 come 1000 channels and that is how the 72,000 energy-channels are derived. Of these 72,000, there are120 main ones – namely, the 32 energy-channels at the crown chakra, the 16 at the throat chakra, the 8 at the heart chakra, and the 64 at the navel chakra. This is a little bit of the presentation of the energy-channels in the body. 

If we get into the presentation of the energy-winds, then it really gets complicated. There are also the creative energy-drops that are led around the body. Whenever there is a presentation of the basic situation of the subtle body, it involves a presentation of the energy-winds, the energy-channels, and the creative-energy drops. This, then, is the presentation of the rough, subtle, and subtlest body, and of the rough, subtle, and subtlest consciousness. 

The body and mind are said to be inseparable, meaning they are two individual items that are always together; they can never be separated. When this statement is made, we should understand “body” as referring to the subtle energy-winds. Wherever the subtle energy-winds are, consciousness is there; and wherever consciousness is, there are the subtle energy-winds. There is no separating the two. 

Each of these has a different function, however. It is because each has a different function that we can speak of the difference between them. Otherwise, there is no way of knowing what the difference is. The consciousness has the function of becoming aware of or knowing an object. If we speak of an apple and an eye consciousness that sees it, the eye consciousness is the conscious factor that is aware of this object, the apple, but it is the energy-wind that actually goes to the object to allow for the conscious experience of the object. The energy-winds themselves are not aware of the object and the consciousness by itself cannot go to the object.

For instance, imagine there are two people. One has good legs and no sight; the other has good sight but no legs. If there is an apple on the other side of the room, the person with the eyes can see it but cannot get over there to get it. As for the person with legs but no eyes, if we told him the apple was over there, he could go there but he would be unable to actually locate the apple. However, if the blind person with the legs carried the legless person with good eyes on his shoulders, then the two of them could go together and get the apple. This is an example to be able to understand how the energy-wind and consciousness are always together. They always come together in one package. This is the meaning of “having the same essential nature (ngo-bo gcig).”

The Crucial Understanding of Voidness

It is necessary to have, in addition to bodhichitta, a correct understanding and realization of voidness. If we do not have this understanding of voidness in addition to bodhichitta, we will be unable to achieve liberation, let alone enlightenment. When we speak of voidness, it is not that we are negating something that did exist at some time; we are negating something that never existed at all. To repeat, we are not saying there is an absence of something that does exist. We are saying that there is an absence of something that never existed at all, but which we believe to truly exist. 

When we study and practice to be able to get a correct understanding of voidness, it is necessary to rely on the correct view of Madhyamika, the middle way, as it is explained and taught in the classic texts by Nagarjuna, Aryadeva, and Chandrakirti. The Madhyamika presentation of voidness is extremely essential, and you should study this with the excellent geshes and masters that are with you here and the ones that will come in the future. It is extremely important when studying and practicing these hidden measures of tantra. If we try to do this without the basis of a correct understanding of the Madhyamika view, it does not matter how profound and precious the tantric instructions are, it will be extremely difficult to ever get any realizations or get anywhere without a foundation of the correct understanding of the Madhyamika view. 

We need to have certainty of voidness, which will then induce a consciousness that correctly understands voidness and takes on an appearance of a Buddha-figure deity. Therefore, if we do not have this correct understanding, there is no way to proceed properly. We need to understand the presentations of both the conventional, superficial truth and the deepest truths. It is from the point of view of the deepest truth that there is no such thing as truly established, self-established existence. It is within this context that we understand the statement that there is no sight, sound, smell, and so on.

There are so many quotations from Milarepa and others that all come down to the understanding that, on the mundane level, there are conventional things, there is that reality; however, in deepest truth, there is nothing inherently findable. We speak of voidness as a total absence of all impossible ways of existence. The deepest impossible way of existing that is devoid of anything corresponding to it is self-established existence – the existence of something established by something inherent and findable inside it. This is totally impossible and does not correspond to anything. 

If we have a good mind, are very intelligent and have a very attractive body and someone came along and were to ask us to sell our body or mind to them, we would grasp to our own mind as being “mine.” We would strongly think, “You can’t have it.” If we are about to fall over the edge of a cliff, we have a state of mind that grasps greatly onto our bodies, thinking, “I’m about to fall.” In such dramatic occasions as these, the idea of a strongly existing “me” comes about. It’s necessary to recognize this conception of a solid “me” that we grasp onto so strongly when it arises in these dramatic situations.

If we want to catch a thief, we have to recognize who the thief is. When we have this strong feeling of a “me,” examine where it is, where we could find it within us. Is the “me” in the head, the hands, or the feet? Is it inside them? Where is it, the “me” we felt so strongly when someone was going to deprive us of our body or mind, or the “me” that was about the fall over the cliff? When we examine in this manner, we discover that we cannot find it anywhere.

Refuting the Existence of a “Me” as Being Established by Something Findable on the Side of the Aggregates as Its Basis 

On the basis of the five aggregate factors of our experience, there is no such thing as a truly established, self-established, findable “me.”  Although such a “me” does not exist, it is under the force of grasping at things as if such a “me” does exist that disturbing emotions and attitudes arise. On the basis of this, we act compulsively and build up karmic potentials, from which all our problems derive.

For instance, if we are in a dark room, the sun is setting and there is a striped rope on the floor and we see it, we might mistakenly think that it is a snake and become completely frightened. In Tibet, we have the custom of piling rocks on top of a mountain. Sometimes we can look at a pile of rocks on a mountain from a distance and misconceive it to be a person. A snake cannot be established as existing on the basis of the striped rope. The thing to refute would be a truly existent snake being established there. That is the thing to be negated or refuted. Likewise, when we grasp for a self-established “me” to truly exist, what is to be refuted is a self-established “me” that is truly established by something findable on the side of the aggregates. 

Grasping for a self-established “me,” self-preoccupation, and ego-grasping are various terms that all refer to grasping for there to be such a self-established “me,” truly established by something findable on the side of the aggregates as its basis. The absence of such a “me,” established as existing by the power of something findable on the side of the aggregates, is what is referred to as the lack of a truly established identity of a person, or the identitylessness or selflessness of the person. If we do not recognize this very well, we will harm our understanding of deepest truth by still imagining and projecting that there is still something findable on the side of the aggregates establishing the existence of “me.” 

On the other hand, voidness does not mean that nothing whatsoever exists. It is not refuting everything. It is saying that, as in the example of the rope, there is nothing findable on the side of the rope that establishes it as truly existing as a snake. The rope is merely a basis on which a snake is being projected and falsely mentally labelled as if there were something findable there, on the side of the rope, on which the snake could be validly labelled. Similarly, there is nothing findable on the side of the five aggegates that establishes them as truly existing as a self-established “me.” The aggregates are merely a basis on which a self-established “me” is being projected and falsely mentally labelled as if there were something findable there, on the side of the aggregates, on which a self-established “me” could be validly labelled. 

Therefore, when we analyze and try to find a self-established person, “me,” and something findable on the side of the aggregates on which it is being validly labelled, we cannot find such things. However, that does not mean that a person, “me,” does not exist at all. Without there being anything findable either on the side of me or on the side of the aggregates, a “me” exists as what the concept and word “me,” labelled on an individual continuum of five aggregates, refers to. To deny and refute that would harm our understanding of conventional, superficial truth and we would fall do an extreme of nihilism. 

The conventional existence of everything, then, can only be established dependently on mental labelling alone. Therefore, when we understand voidness correctly, the total absence of impossible ways of establishing the existence of anything, we understand dependent arising; and when we understand dependent arising correctly, we understand voidness.

Signs of Understanding that Voidness Means Dependent Arising

The Kadampa Geshe Chengawa (dGe-bshes sPyan-lnga-ba Tshul-khrims ‘bar) had a disciple, Geshe Jayulwa (dGe-bshes Bya-yul-ba gZhon-nu ‘od), who was completely and wholeheartedly committed to his spiritual master in the exact proper manner. One day, when he was sweeping the room, he almost fell down the stairs. It was at that time he understood the actual manner in which the “me” exists. He understood voidness. 

Another account is given of affirming conventional reality. When the great master Tsongkhapa was teaching on voidness, one of his closest disciples, the great master Jetsun Sherab Senge (rJe-btsun rGyud Shes-rab seng-ge), was in attendance. When Tsongkhapa said there was no findable, self-established person “me,” Jetsun Sherab Senge grabbed hold of his own collar tightly. Tsongkhapa saw this and was very pleased. He said, “This person in the audience has now reaffirmed the conventional existence of superficial truth.” He had become frightened that he did not exist at all and that was why he grabbed his collar. By doing so, Tsongkhapa said that he had reaffirmed conventional existence.

Another example is at the time of the Buddha when King Bimbisara went to make an offering of a robe to Manjushri. When he went to do this, Manjushri kept shrinking back. In this manner, by seeing that, every time he went to offer the robe, Manjushri kept getting smaller, contracting, he realized voidness. 

The Voidness of the Three Circles

Whether in connection with the view, meditation or behavior, we need to understand everything we do in terms of the voidness of the three circles involved – ourselves, the object of our activity, and the activity itself. None of them are self-established. We should practice without viewing the existence of any of the three circles involved as being established by something inherently findable on its own side. 

For instance, when doing tantric meditations of deity practices, there are three things involved: the Buddha-figure we are meditating upon, the act of meditating, and the one who is meditating. None of these is self-established by something from its own side making it exist all on its own independently of the other two circles. There cannot be a Buddha-figure deity that is meditated on if there is no meditation, or if there is no meditator. Likewise, there is no one meditating upon a Buddha-figure deity, if there is no deity to meditate upon. However, to most people, it seems as though this is not the case. It seems as though there is some Buddha-figure deity out there, somewhere, existing as some self-established entity that we are now trying to meditate upon. 

When we make offerings, we think there are the offerings that exist by themselves, that there is some object out there that we make offerings to, and there is another isolated factor of the action we are doing of making those offerings to that outside object. However, this is not at all the case. An object to which offerings are being made only exists as such relative to the offerings being made to it and someone making the offerings. All of these are interdependent. When we are engaging in our deity practice of meditating on these Buddha-figures, it is absolutely essential that we approach this without our consciousness being aimed at any of the components involved as existing self-established by the power of something findable on its own side. We must understand all three circles of the activity we are engaged in to exist relative to and interdependent upon each other. 

The Creative Energy-Drops of the Four Occasions 

To continue our discussion of body and mind, there are two times for practice to be done: during our waking state and during the time when we are asleep. The text also discusses the creative energy-drops of the four occasions – being awake, dreaming, being in deep sleep, and the fourth occasion. This comes from the teachings of Kalachakra, the cycles of time. These creative energy-drops are located at the heart, navel, throat, and mid-forehead chakras. 

When we are awake, all the energy-winds of the upper part of the body collect at the drop at the forehead chakra and the energy-winds of the lower part of the body collect at the drop at the navel chakra. When we fall asleep and dream, the upper energy-winds collect at the drop at the throat chakra and the lower winds collect at the drop at the pubic region chakra. When we are in deep sleep, the upper winds collect at the drop at the heart chakra and the lower winds collect at the chakra at jewel of our organ. At the time of the fourth occasion, the occasion of being in union, the upper energy-winds collect at the navel chakra and the lower winds at the tip of the jewel of our organ. 

If I were to go into further detail, it would get extremely complicated. However, in short, a yogi who is trying to master this type of practice is concerned with gaining control of the power of the various energy-winds within the body and gaining the experience of inducing the blisses by making the energies descend and ascend through the channels. In this practice, the main one of these four chakras into which we are trying to penetrate and activate is the center of the navel chakra in order to induce tummo, the inner heat. Literally, tummo means the “fiery wench.”