This weekend we are going to be talking about happiness and its role in sutra and tantra practice. There are of course many different ways to approach the topic, but what I propose to do first this evening, as a way of introduction, is to talk about where happiness and working on happiness fit into the Buddhist path. After all, we are approaching this from a Buddhist point of view, so I think it is quite important to see how exactly it fits into the framework of the entire teachings. Then tomorrow we shall go specifically into the discussion of the nature of happiness and the various ways that we can strengthen and use it as a pathway mind leading to liberation and enlightenment.
I propose to speak about this on a fairly sophisticated level, because I think that the topic warrants this type of treatment out of respect for the Buddhist teachings. We don’t really want to trivialize the issue of happiness and make it into a “Don’t worry; be happy” type of seminar. So although some people might find the level of sophistication a little bit complicated, don’t let that ruin your happiness! I think it can give us a lot of encouragement to see, on the one hand, how serious this topic of happiness is and, on the other, to have a realistic attitude about the topic. In this way, we won’t have some sort of vague idea about happiness and where it comes from. It’s not that happiness comes from being lucky, for instance, as if the gods smile on someone and that gives the person happiness. We sometimes have that idea unconsciously as an inheritance from ancient Roman thinking. In other words, if the goddess Fortuna smiles on us, then, as a result, we will have the good fortune – which comes from the word Fortuna – to be happy. That’s not the way it works.
So, let’s take a look now at the place that happiness and working to strengthen happiness has in Buddhism.
The Place of Happiness in the Context of Buddhism
Any time that we want to discuss the teachings of Buddha, I think it is extremely important to put it in the framework of how Buddha himself presented his teachings, in other words the four noble truths. These are the four facts about life that anybody who sees reality nonconceptually, in other words any arya, would confirm are true.
Very briefly, the first truth is that life contains suffering. In other words, life is difficult. We all experience three types of suffering:
- The first is gross suffering, the suffering of suffering, which would be pain and unhappiness.
- Then we have the suffering of change, which is happiness tainted with confusion. We experience ordinary forms of happiness, such as when going for a walk in a beautiful park; but if this were true happiness, the longer we walk, the greater our happiness would become. But after a few hours, the happiness we felt while walking turns to pain and unhappiness, and we want to stop and rest. The confusion here is that when we experience ordinary happiness, we think that it is going to last, so we grasp at it. But of course it doesn’t last and then we get frustrated and unhappy. Tainted happiness, then, entails the suffering that it changes into unhappiness.
- Then, we have what is called the “all-pervasively affecting suffering,” which refers to all the aggregate factors of our experience – the so-called “five aggregates” of our body, mind, emotions, and so on, which derive from confusion, are mixed with confusion, and perpetuate confusion in this and future lives. These aggregate factors are the basis for experiencing the first two types of suffering. In this sense, they all-pervasively affect every moment of our experience, making each moment contain one or the other of the first two types of suffering.
We all experience these three types of suffering, which are what characterizes samsara, uncontrollably recurring situations and uncontrollably recurring rebirth with problems. If we want to formulate this point in terms of happiness, the first noble truth is that there is a lot of unhappiness. In fact, in our experience of life, things are so confusing that we tend to perpetuate our unhappiness.
The second noble truth is that this unhappiness doesn’t come because the goddess Fortuna has not smiled on us, but it comes from a more appropriate cause. The cause is our confusion about behavior and its results and about reality – how we, others, and everything around us exist. Underlying this confusion is a deeper level cause of our problems, namely the fact that our minds make things appear in a confusing manner, so that we believe that this manner corresponds to reality. For instance, when we close our eyes, it appears as though everybody else has stopped existing and we are the only ones that exist. The fact that we have a voice going on in our heads makes it appear even more strongly that there is some solid “me” inside our heads that exists all by itself, independently of anything. We then believe that this is true, that it corresponds to reality. That misbelief is our confusion, our unawareness, our ignorance. And as a result, we feel lonely. We think, “I’m all alone, poor me; nobody understands me,” and so on, and we become unhappy.
In summary, then, the first noble truth is that we have suffering and unhappiness in life. The second truth is that they come from a cause, our confusion, and the fact that our minds make things appear in a confusing way and we believe it to be true.
The third noble truth refers to the true stopping, what is usually called “true cessation,” of the suffering and its causes. In order to stop the suffering from endlessly recurring, we have to rid ourselves of its causes. And, what is very crucial here is that it is possible to rid ourselves completely of all levels of its causes. If we rid ourselves of the confusion that is causing our suffering, then we gain liberation from samsara. If, in addition, we rid ourselves of the habits of confusion that cause our minds to make things appear in a confusing way, then in addition to liberation, we gain enlightenment. Then, as Buddhas, we are omniscient and all-loving, and thus have the ability to know the best ways of helping each being individually.
The fourth noble truth is the true pathway of mind – what is usually translated as the “true path” – that we need to gain in order to bring about that true stopping of suffering and its causes. More fully, it is a pathway of mind or understanding that will bring about this stopping and also the pathway of mind or state of mind in which that stopping has been achieved.
These four noble truths are the most basic teachings of Buddha.
When we talk about how to generate a true pathway of mind that will lead to liberation and enlightenment, the great Kagyu master Gampopa has said that Buddha-nature is the cause, a precious human rebirth is the basis, and inspiration from a spiritual mentor is the supporting condition. Therefore, we need to understand Buddha-nature.
“Buddha-nature” refers to a network of factors that allow us to achieve the Enlightening Bodies of a Buddha. The “Bodies” of a Buddha is just a literal translation. “Bodies” refer to corpuses or large groups of features and qualities that a Buddha has and which function as networks. A Buddha can appear in a network of various forms and can communicate in a network of various languages and manners. The mind of a Buddha is a network of complete understanding of everything, full and impartial love for everyone, the full ability to help everybody, and so on.
What are these factors that allow each of us to become a Buddha? There are three basic kinds.
First we have the evolving factors. These are the basic networks that we all have innately within us that can transform or evolve to become some of the Bodies of a Buddha. Even those beings that are currently reborn as earthworms have them. Two of these basic networks are usually translated as “the collection of merit” and “the collection of wisdom,” but I think that these are misleading translations. They are not like collections of stamps. Rather, they refer to networks of systems that we all have, like everyone’s body has a respiratory system or a digestive system, which is a network of various organs.
Also, Buddhism is not speaking here about “merit,” as if there were an amassing of points and when we accumulate enough merit points, we get a “merit badge” or win a prize. “Merit” refers to the positive force or potential built up by constructive mental, verbal, and physical actions. “Wisdom” is also not the appropriate term, since the technical term here refers to the awareness of reality gained through the most basic factors with which everyone’s mind works, regardless of their present life form. Earthworms have this as well, but it’s a bit odd to say that earthworms have wisdom. Even to say that in an earthworm rebirth, we still have wisdom sounds a bit odd. For these reasons, I prefer to speak of the evolving Buddha-nature factors of a network of positive force and a network of deep awareness.
Each of these two networks becomes strengthened by strengthening the network of fundamental good qualities and potentials that we also all have. For example, we all have the basic factors of warmth, kindness, and affection. Utilizing them, we act constructively by helping others and, in this way, build up our network of positive force. In addition, everybody has the ability to cognize things: everybody is able to take in information, organize it into categories, understand what things are, and so on. Utilizing these factors, we can focus on and understand reality and, in this way, build up our network of deep awareness.
These networks of good qualities, positive force, and deep awareness can evolve in the sense that now they are clouded over with what are called “fleeting stains.” They are not working at their top levels of efficiency. But if we can get rid of these stains that are tainting and blocking them. And if we can strengthen the items within these networks, then these networks will work at their top level of efficiency. Their top level of efficiency is functioning as the enlightening networks of a Buddha – the “Bodies” of a Buddha. Specifically, a network of positive force transforms into a network of gross and subtle forms in which a Buddha can manifest and the different ways that a Buddha can communicate. A network of deep awareness transforms into a network of a Buddha’s mind and heart with all of their good qualities.
The second factor within this network that we call “Buddha-nature” is the fact that our mental continuums, our mind-streams, can be affected by inspiration – usually translated as “blessings.” In other words, our mental continuums and the networks of good qualities, positive force, and deep awareness that are on them can be uplifted to a higher level of functioning through the positive influence of others.
The third type of Buddha-nature is called the “abiding factor.” This refers to the manner in which this entire network of Buddha-nature factors exists – namely, its voidness or emptiness. “Voidness” refers to an absence of impossible ways of existing. In other words, this network of Buddha-nature factors does not exist in impossible ways. An impossible way would be that it is always going to function at low efficiency; it is never going to improve. That is impossible. It is impossible that these networks cannot be affected in such a way that they can work at top efficiency. The absence of those impossible ways of existing is what accounts for or allows for the process of evolution so that these basis networks will eventually be able to function as the enlightening networks of a Buddha. That absence is what makes it possible. That is voidness or emptiness – the absence of impossible ways of existing. That absence of impossible ways of existing is also true about these networks when they are functioning on the Buddha-level. On that level, this absence is known as the Nature Body of a Buddha, according to the Gelug explanation.
Some non-Gelug Tibetan traditions include the conventional nature of the mind, not just its deepest nature as an abiding Buddha-nature factor.
Basis, Pathway, and Resultant Levels of Functioning
The sub-networks that make up the evolving Buddha-nature factors – the networks of good qualities, positive force, and deep awareness – can function on three levels. The three levels are like different quantum levels of energy, if we may borrow an analogy from physics used to delineate different levels of energy that an electron can vibrate on..
- First is the basis level, in other words the innate level, which is just their ordinary level when we are not trying to do something to strengthen or improve these netrworks.
- Then there is the pathway level, when we have strengthened these networks to the point at which they can actually start to reorganize themselves and function on a more efficient level. This occurs when we start to rid these networks of the stains and obscurations that have been preventing them from working on a more efficient level. Specifically, when some non-conceptual cognition of voidness is added to our evolving Buddha-nature system as part of our network of deep awareness, this brings about a certain amount of true stoppings of the confusion and stains that have been preventing this system from functioning more efficiently. With this non-conceptual cognition, our network of deep awareness includes its first true pathway minds – in other words, its first examples of the fourth noble truth – and our mental continuums contain their first true stoppings of suffering and the causes for suffering – in other words, its first examples of third noble truths.
- The third level is the resultant level, when the total elevation or full strengthening of these evolving networks has been reached with the non-conceptual simultaneous cognition of voidness and appearances at all times – in other words, constant simultaneous non-conceptual cognition of the two truths about everything. At this point, we gain the true stopping of all suffering and its causes; we become a fully enlightened Buddha; and these networks transform and function as the Enlightening Bodies of a Buddha.
The evolving Buddha-nature factors, then – this system of networks or good qualities, positive force, and deep awareness – are the cause for achieving true stoppings and true pathway minds. This is because, when they are strengthened to a certain level, they function as the “obtaining causes” for obtaining the true stoppings and true pathway minds that lead to liberation and enlightenment. An “obtaining cause” is the cause that transforms into its result.
The condition for bringing about this transformation is inspiration and the fact that the evolving Buddha-nature factors can be positively influenced to grow stronger by inspiration.
There are three things that can give us the inspiration that can uplift us to make this type of transformation. The first source of inspiration is the Triple Gem or Three Jewels of Refuge: the Buddhas, the Dharma, and the Sangha. The Dharma Gem refers to the states in which suffering and the causes for suffering have been removed forever and these evolving Buddha-nature networks have been activated and energized to the point at which they can bring about these states of removal. In other words, the Dharma Gem refers to the third and fourth noble truths on the mental continuums of individuals, and that inspires us. We also get inspiration from the Buddhas – those who have attained on their mental continuums a full set of third and fourth noble truths – the total stopping of all suffering and its causes, and the total set of enlightened and enlightening pathways of mind. And we also get inspiration from the Sangha. The Sangha are those practitioners who have already attained on their mental continuums some portion of third and fourth noble truths – some true stoppings and true pathway minds.
Please keep in mind this subtle point: The third and fourth noble truths are equivalent to each other. When you gain a portion of non-conceptual understanding of voidness, this attainment is equivalent to the attainment of the corresponding portion of true stopping of the corresponding portion of a true cause for suffering. The two attainments are equivalent and simultaneous. It is not that first you get a true pathway mind and then you get a true stopping. Gaining a portion of true pathways of mind means gaining the corresponding portion of true stoppings. Gaining a portion of true stoppings means gaining the corresponding portion of true pathways of mind with non-conceptual cognition of voidness.
So we can gain inspiration from the Buddhas, the Dharma and the Sangha for the uplifting transformation of our evolving Buddha-nature networks. Likewise, we get inspiration for this transformation from other suffering sentient beings – those with limited minds. They inspire us to develop compassion and to work on ourselves to be able to benefit them as much as is possible. Because of them, we develop a bodhichitta aim to attain enlightenment in order to benefit them as much as is possible. And we also gain inspiration from our spiritual mentors, by seeing them as living examples of what we are striving for. The combination of these three sources of inspiration is what will, in a sense, add the boost of energy necessary for moving us to strengthen these network systems. The fact that these networks do not exist in impossible ways allows for the transformation to occur.
I think that this formulation – the four noble truths, Buddha-nature, inspiration, the Buddha Bodies and so on – is really important to try to understand. If we have this as our basic framework of understanding, then we can make sense out of everything in Buddhism. Here, in particular, we can understand more properly the role that happiness plays in the Buddhist training.
The Good Qualities That Will Strengthen Our Networks of Positive Force and Deep Awareness
Let us look a little bit more closely at the network of good qualities that we all have and which we need to strengthen in order to have our networks of positive force and deep awareness jump to higher levels and function as the enlightening networks of the Bodies of a Buddha.
One such quality is the mind’s innate affection – the fact that everyone’s mind or heart has a certain level of affection or warmth, either as a potential or in manifest form. Evidence that this is so comes from the fact that anybody who holds a baby in his or her lap – whether a human baby, a puppy, a kitten, or whatever – naturally feels affection and warmth for the baby.
Another quality is the mind’s ability to give rise to cognitive appearances. For example, we all have imagination. We know this from the fact that, for instance, if we are very thirsty, we can imagine a glass of orange juice or something like that. We are all able to do that. We have the ability to make images or appearances from our minds.
The next quality is innate joy. Now we get to our topic, since this is where happiness fits into this whole Buddhist context. We all have the ability to feel happiness. We know that because, if we are lying in a nice warm comfortable bed in the morning, we all feel some level of happiness. Or if we walk in a beautiful park on a lovely spring day – we all know what it’s like to feel happy. We all know what that feels like. Feeling happy is possible because everyone’s mind has an innate quality of joy.
Another quality is innate energy. Evidence for that is the fact that if there is an emergency, we all can get up. Even if we are paralyzed, there can at least be a movement of energy inside us that we would want to get up.
Another one is the innate ability to understand things. We all know how to tie our shoes, for example. When you tie your shoes, you have the understanding at that time of how to tie them. It doesn’t have to be a sophisticated understanding. We all have some understanding. Even a cow or a chicken understands where the barn door is and how to walk through it. The cow or the chicken doesn’t smack into the wall, does it, when it wants to enter the barn?
Also everyone has innate concentration. We know that we have some ability to concentrate because anytime that you write a word, you concentrate. Otherwise, you can’t write.
We need to note that all these elements within our network of good qualities are ethically neutral, unspecified phenomena. Buddha did not specify them to be either constructive or destructive. They can accompany constructive, destructive, or ethically neutral states of mind and actions and, in each case, they take on the ethical status of that state of mind or action. In other words, we can experience happiness while helping someone, while hurting someone, or while walking down the street.
What we want to do is to harness the various good qualities that we all have and use them for engaging in constructive acts. Then these good qualities become constructive and can help us to achieve enlightenment. In this sense, we can refer to these good qualities as evolving Buddha-nature factors, although, strictly speaking, that assertion is open to debate.
The Evolving Buddha-Nature Networks as an Open Organic System
The evolving Buddha-nature networks of our good qualities, positive force, and deep awareness constitute, in a certain sense, an open organic system. An “open system” is one in which things come in and things go out, and an “organic” one is one that is alive. For example, information, experience, and so on come into our Buddha-nature system and physical, verbal, and mental behavior comes out. It is not simply that food comes into our bodies and waste comes out. Let me give another example. We gain more and more concentration as we practice meditation, and so, in a sense, concentration comes into our network system. As a result, our innate quality and potential to concentrate becomes greater, and our system then produces more moments of concentration “going out.” This process is like a feedback loop.
The system of evolving Buddha-nature networks follows all the laws of organic systems, in the way that we understand them in Western science. For instance, systems analysis teaches us that in an open organic system of networks functioning with feedback loops, when you strengthen the elements within that system, the system eventually reaches a critical mass. When it reaches such a point, the system automatically jumps to a different “quantum level” and reorganizes itself so that it functions on a different level. It undergoes what is often called a “phase transition.”
In inorganic systems, this reorganization is quite obvious. When the heat energy that enters a system of water reaches a certain critical point, the water undergoes a phase transition and reorganizes itself into steam. At another critical level of heat energy, the water undergoes another phase transition and reorganizes itself into ice. An example in an organic system is the case of someone who loses an arm. In such a case, the organic system of the brain, the rest of the body, and the person’s way of doing things reorganizes itself so that the person can do things with the other arm.
A similar thing happens with the open organic system of our evolving Buddha-nature networks. When we introduce into the system enough strengthening so that we achieve for the first time, for example, non-conceptual cognition of voidness with our innate quality of understanding, the system reaches a critical mass. The entire system then undergoes a phase transition. It reorganizes itself and, rather than functioning as the system of an ordinary being, it now functions as the system of networks of an arya – a highly realized being. The reorganization involves gaining not only a portion of true pathway minds, but also a portion of true stoppings, so that the system is rid of something. In this case, the system becomes rid of doctrinally based confusion – confusion based on learning and accepting a non-Buddhist Indian philosophical system. It is also rid of the disturbing emotions and attitudes that arise from this doctrinally based confusion.
Reaching this level of critical mass does not come about from strengthening just one element in this system of networks. The system of evolving Buddha-nature networks is itself a huge, complex network of a large number of interrelated elements that all affect each other. We have to strengthen a great many of these elements in order to reach this critical mass – for instance, compassion, concentration, understanding, and so on.
With a further strengthening of the system, we get to the point at which it reaches another critical mass and reorganizes itself so that we become an arhat – a liberated being. At this point, the system is rid of automatically arising confusion and the disturbing emotions and attitudes that automatically arise based on it. We become either a Hinayana arhat or, if we are practicing with a Mahayana pathway of mind, an eighth-level bodhisattva. Now the networks are functioning on an arhat level, without any uncontrollably recurring suffering – in other words, free of samsara. When we strengthen the system even more, to its maximum level, so that the system is rid of the habits of confusion, then the whole system reaches the supreme critical mass level and reorganizes itself so that we become a Buddha. It stops giving rise to confusing appearances of impossible ways of existing and transforms into an enlightening network of Buddha-Bodies.
An important point to remember here is that although these quantum leaps occur with the reaching of certain levels of critical mass, and although smaller quantum leaps occur within these larger ones, nevertheless, day to day progress is always nonlinear. This is again consistent with organic systems analysis and corresponds to our everyday experience. Day to day, moment to moment, things in fact go up and down. We never experience a steady linear improvement with which each day gets better and better. It always goes up and down. This is very important for understanding the process of developing the progressively more advanced pathway minds leading to liberation and enlightenment.
Strengthening the System of Evolving Buddha-Nature Networks
The optimal way to bring about the transformation of these evolving Buddha-nature networks into Buddha-Bodies is to work on strengthening the networks of both positive force and deep awareness simultaneously. This is because the two are interconnected. That is why we speak in Buddhism about working on both the method side and the wisdom or deep awareness side of practice, and not just on one alone. Working on the method side strengthens the network of positive force, while working on the wisdom side strengthens the network of deep awareness.
At its peak level, the network of positive force transforms into and functions as the Enlightening Forms of a Buddha – the Form Bodies, Rupakaya in Sanskrit – and the network of deep awareness at its optimum level becomes what is called the “Deep Awareness Dharmakaya” or, more commonly, the “Wisdom Dharmakaya” of a Buddha – in other words, the enlightening network of a Buddha’s omniscient, all-loving mind. But this way of describing the process is not quite precise. In fact, we need to work on both networks, both the method and wisdom side, in order to achieve the strengthening of the system of these two networks as a whole. It isn’t possible to have just one system or network operating independently of the other. They are interconnected. Because of that, when a network of positive force is functioning as the obtaining cause for the Form Bodies of a Buddha, a network of deep awareness is necessary as the simultaneously acting condition. And when a network of deep awareness is functioning as the obtaining cause for the Deep Awareness Dharmakaya of a Buddha, a network of positive force is necessary as the simultaneously acting condition.
In other words, we need a holistic approach. For example, to achieve good health, we can’t just work on improving our digestive system; we have to also take into consideration that it is connected to the circulatory system, the nervous system, and so on. We need to do the same thing in Dharma practice with all these systems or networks.
Strengthening the Networks with the Sutra Methods
How do we strengthen the elements within this system of evolving Buddha-nature networks? With the sutra methods, focusing on the method side, we strengthen or work on the natural warmth of the heart. In other words, we work on love and compassion. And we work with the innate energy of the system to actually go out and help others as best as we can. When we strengthen these factors, this strengthens our network of positive force and that leads in the direction of having the actual Form Bodies of a Buddha that are the best for going out and helping others in a loving way. But note that, in sutra, we are only working with some of the elements within our network of good qualities that strengthen our network of positive force. Of course, we need also to strengthen the good qualities that contribute to the build-up of our network of deep awareness in order to be able to know how to help others correctly.
Which factors do we use on the sutra level to strengthen our network of deep awareness? We use the basis level of our five types of deep awareness.
- First of all, there is the mirror-like deep awareness, which enables us to be aware of information: we are all aware of information, sights, sounds, and so on.
- Then there is equalizing deep awareness, which enables us to organize that information into categories of equal things, so that we can process it.
- Next is individualizing deep awareness, which enables us to specify individual cases from general ones. Once we have organized information into general categories, we need to see the specificity of any event in order to deal with it as an individual case.
- This leads to accomplishing deep awareness, which is the actual awareness with which we relate to and deal with this information.
- And then there is the deep awareness of reality, which enables us to comprehend conventional reality correctly. With it, we know what things are, what categories they belong to equally with other things, what their individuality is, and how specifically to relate to them. We know what is going on around us and this enables us to deal with things with skillful means. We see how to help and what to do. In this way, the deep awareness of reality connects not only with the other four types of deep awareness, but also with the network elements of love and compassion.
The deep awareness of reality also enables us to see the deepest fact about everything – the voidness of each and every thing. With this deepest awareness, we see that nothing exists in impossible ways. So we work on strengthening that as well, with meditation on voidness, which we accompany with also working with all these sorts of methods on the sutra path, such as compassion and so on. We strengthen that deep awareness network so that it goes in the direction of becoming a Deep Awareness Dharmakaya, the mind of a Buddha, which is also a network. It is a network of not only the understanding of the relative or conventional, superficial truth and the deepest truth about everyone and everything, but also of total love and compassion equally for all limited beings. That aspect of a Deep Awareness Dharmakaya comes from also working on the side of our network of positive force. In addition, Deep Awareness Dharmakaya also has the strength and ability to help all others. That comes from actually moving our energy to help others, which is also on the side of the network of positive force. It is clear, then, that we need to work on and strengthen both networks together, because they interconnect and reinforce each other. A good example that indicates this interconnection is that strengthening our innate quality of concentration contributes to strengthening both networks – positive force and deep awareness.
On the sutra level, however, it is impossible to work on or strengthen the two sides, the method or positive force and the wisdom or deep awareness sides, simultaneously and explicitly, in one moment of mind. This is because the two elements that we are most prominently using on the sutra path to strengthen each of these networks – compassion and the understanding of voidness – cannot be put together in one moment of one state of mind. Compassion is aimed at the conventional or relative aspect of something, let’s say a suffering being. The understanding of voidness is aimed at the deepest way in which that being exists. So the two are focusing on different things and, in addition, they cognitively take their objects in different manners. Compassion focuses on its object – suffering – with the wish for it to be removed, for that suffering to be gone. The understanding of voidness focuses on an absence of impossible ways of existing and cognitively takes that object by completely cutting off those impossible ways of existing.
Thus, compassion and the understanding of voidness are two totally different states of mind aimed at different things and cognitively taking what they aim at in different ways. Because of that, we can’t have both of them simultaneously and explicitly in one moment of one state of mind. All we can do is to have the two consecutively. In other words, we have compassion and then, when we focus on voidness, our focus will have the flavor of compassion behind it; and when we focus on compassion, if we have had the understanding of voidness beforehand, our focus will have the flavor of that understanding with it. That is the sutra level. We need to progress to the general tantra level in order to bring method and wisdom into one moment of one state of mind so that we can strengthen both networks simultaneously.
[For a more detailed discussion, see: The Union of Method and Wisdom: Gelug and Non-Gelug]
Strengthening the Two Networks with the General Tantra Methods
To be able to strengthen both of these evolving networks of positive force and deep awareness simultaneously, we need to focus not just on compassion as the main quality that strengthens our network of positive force. We need to work on strengthening another element within our network of good qualities that can do the same. Of course, we continue strengthening compassion, concentration, and the energy of helping others, but now in tantra we broaden the scope of what we strengthen.
Remember, we spoke about another one of the innate good qualities that we all have – imagination, the ability of the mind to generate appearances. Using this ability, in tantra we imagine or visualize that we have the form of a Buddha-figure, such as Avalokiteshvara or Tara, and we imagine that, in this form, we help others, with compassion and skillful abilities. In this way, we strengthen more elements within our network of good qualities at the same time, and this will help us to practice method and wisdom simultaneously.
According to the Sakya teachings – one of the four traditions of Tibetan Buddhism – Buddha-figures (yidams, tantric deities) are a configuration of the energy in the body. They are another quantum level at which our energy appears and functions, and this quantum level exists within all beings. Let me say this in a different way. Our energy and appearance occur on not just one quantum level, but on two such levels. One quantum level is that of the ordinary appearances that we have as a human being, an animal, and so on. The other quantum level is that of a pure appearance as a Buddha-figure. Both quantum levels exist simultaneously. We have both as part of our Buddha-nature factors. This is what we are using here. We are activating and strengthening this quantum level of Buddha-figures by strengthening another aspect of our network of good qualities, namely the ability of the mind to give rise to cognitive appearances.
We know that our energy appears and operates, innately and automatically, in many different configurations because all of us appear in various forms in our dreams. Our dream appearance is an appearance of ourselves on quantum levels that are different from our ordinary awake level; they are different configurations of our energy.
What we do, then, in general tantra, is to focus our attention on strengthening, as method, this appearance-making element within our network of good qualities. We do this by imagining ourselves appearing as a Buddha-figure, compassionately helping others. Such visualization strengthens our network of positive force. With this as method, we can then simultaneously strengthen our deep awareness network by using, as wisdom, focus on the voidness of our appearance as a Buddha-figure. But the way in which we do these two simultaneously needs to be explained further.
Meditation on Combined Method and Wisdom in General Tantra
Non-conceptual meditation on voidness has two phases. The first is total absorption on space-like voidness, during which we explicitly cognize only voidness. “Explicit” means that only voidness appears to our minds, nothing else. Our minds do not simultaneously cognize the basis for that voidness – our appearance as a Buddha-figure – either explicitly or implicitly. However, the mind that is totally absorbed on voidness exists inseparably from a body; and, in this case, the appearance of that body is as a Buddha-figure. In this sense, our appearance as a Buddha-figure and focus on its voidness occur simultaneously in one moment of one state of mind.
The second phase of cognition of voidness is the subsequent attainment or subsequent realization phase – usually translated as the “post-meditation” phase. Now, our minds explicitly focus on the basis for voidness, namely our appearance as a Buddha-figure, which is like an illusion, and this is what appears to that mind. Simultaneously, that same mind implicitly cognizes the voidness of that illusion-like appearance, but without voidness itself appearing to the mind. This time, in one moment of one state of mind we simultaneously cognize both our appearance as a Buddha-figure and its voidness, although only our appearance as a Buddha-figure appears to our mind and we explicitly cognize only that.
So, in general tantra, in both the total absorption and subsequent attainment phases of our meditation on voidness, we have cognition of voidness and an appearance of ourselves as a Buddha-figure simultaneously in one moment of one state of mind, with only one way of explicitly taking an object. Although we could do the same with focus on the voidness of our ordinary appearance, our ordinary appearance is not something that will transform into the Enlightening Forms of a Buddha’s Body. Only our appearance as a Buddha-figure – even if only in our imaginations – will transform into those Enlightening Forms. So, by strengthening our mind’s appearance-making abilities and our deep awareness of voidness, we work on strengthening the two networks simultaneously.
But, this is not enough. We need to be able to strengthen these aspects of appearance and voidness simultaneously, with both being explicitly cognized by the same moment of one state of mind. In other words, we need to be able to focus explicitly and simultaneously on the two truths of our appearance as a Buddha-figure – its actual appearance and its voidness. Our rough levels of mind are incapable of doing this. So if we really want to strengthen the two networks simultaneously, we need to turn to the methods of the highest class of tantra, anuttarayoga tantra. Specifically, we need to use the subtlest level of mind, namely the clear light level, for gaining the non-conceptual cognition of the voidness of our appearance as a Buddha-figure.
The Clear Light Mind
There is a lot of discussion among the different schools of Tibetan Buddhism as to what kind of Buddha-nature factor the clear light mind is. Is it an abiding factor or an evolving factor? If we say that it is an evolving factor, then it would be part of our network of deep awareness and would be part of what evolves to become the Deep Awareness Dharmakaya of a Buddha. If we say it is an abiding factor, like voidness is, then it is what allows for the transformation and is not part of either of the two networks. Both ways of formulating it are just different ways of conceiving of the same process of becoming a Buddha.
In either case, in anuttarayoga tantra, we use non-conceptual cognition of voidness with a clear light mind as the wisdom side to strengthen the deep awareness network. The reason for this is because, with this subtlest level of mind, it is possible to focus explicitly and simultaneously on the relative or conventional truth of the appearance of ourselves as a Buddha-figure, as well as the deepest truth of that appearance, its voidness. This appearance, however, is not an impure appearance: one that would be confusing because, being impure, it would appear to exist in an impossible manner. But rather, it is a pure appearance as something that dependently arises from causes, conditions, and mental labeling.
So now the question arises, what do we use on the method side that can combine with this clear light cognition of voidness, simultaneously and explicitly, in one moment of one state of mind?
Now we are going to work on strengthening another element in our network of good qualities and this is innate joy. This is where happiness comes into the path and is used as a pathway of mind. The capacity or potential of the mind to experience things with happiness is what we want to strengthen. We want to strengthen it so that it becomes a blissful awareness – and, not only that it becomes a blissful awareness as a mental factor of an intense feeling of happiness that accompanies a moment of mind, but we want to strengthen it so that it becomes the primary consciousness of a moment of mind.
With that latter type of blissful awareness, we can then have that blissful awareness simultaneously and explicitly with a clear light mind that is non-conceptually totally absorbed on voidness. The reason for this is because the two are actually the same state of mind: the clear light mind totally absorbed non-conceptually on voidness is a blissful awareness totally absorbed non-conceptually on voidness.
Why is blissful awareness a method? Blissful awareness as a primary consciousness can only be attained on the level of a clear light mind with non-conceptual cognition of voidness. Although a clear light mind is automatically non-conceptual, it does not necessarily cognize voidness and is not necessarily a blissful awareness. For example, the clear light mind experienced at death is neither blissful nor does it cognize voidness. Only when a clear light mind nonconceptually cognizes voidness can it also be a blissful awareness.
However, when blissful awareness is a mental factor of a feeling of happiness, it can accompany levels of mind that are grosser than the clear light subtlest level. This is the case whether such minds have a conceptual or a non-conceptual cognition of voidness, and whether that cognition is total absorption on voidness or the subsequently attained realization. In all these cases, the feeling of happiness that accompanies these cognitions causes the mind cognizing voidness to become more and more subtle, depending on the intensity of the happiness. Thus, strengthening happiness, as an element in our network of good qualities and as an evolving Buddha-nature factor, and generating from it a blissful awareness of voidness is a method for accessing the clear light level of mind and generating it into a blissful clear light non-conceptual cognition of voidness. And then, as I mentioned, it is possible for this blissful clear light mind to have explicit cognition of voidness simultaneously with explicit cognition of a pure appearance of itself as a Buddha-figure.
Method, then, in anuttarayoga tantra, is not just conceptually imagining ourselves appearing as a Buddha-figure during subsequent realization of voidness. It’s also a blissful awareness as a feeling of happiness that accompanies and is thus simultaneous with both conceptual total absorption on space-like voidness and conceptual subsequent realization of illusion-like voidness. So, in anuttarayoga tantra, we need to work on strengthening both the happiness factor and the appearance-making factor within our network of good qualities, and use them both as methods. The appearance-making factor is method on the side of body and blissful awareness is method on the side of mind. And of course, in addition, we need to strengthen as well, within that network of good qualities, warmth or compassion, concentration, and the energy with which we go out and help others. And, on the wisdom side, we of course also keep on strengthening the five types of deep awareness and the awareness of voidness.
Working with Subtlest Energy-Wind
One more point: When we talk about strengthening our innate factor of energy here in anuttarayoga tantra, we are not just talking about the grosser level of energy with which we help others, but about the subtlest level of energy. This level is called “the subtlest energy-wind” and it shares the same essential nature as the clear light mind. In other words, the subtlest energy-wind and the clear light mind occur inseparably in one package. When we look at the package from the point of view of its cognitive aspect, it is clear light. When we look at it from the point of view of its energy aspect, it is subtlest energy-wind.
It is out of this subtlest energy-wind that we generate what is called an “illusory body” in the same shape as that of the Buddha-figure we had previously been imagining. We are only able to do that on the second stage of anuttarayoga tantra practice, the complete stage. Merely imagining ourselves appearing as a Buddha-figure was what we do on the first stage of anuttarayoga, the generation stage, and anything that we imagine can, of course, only be cognized conceptually.
But, if we work with the subtlest energy-wind of the clear light mind and produce from it the form of an illusory body, then our blissful clear light mind totally absorbed non-conceptually on voidness can simultaneously also explicitly and non-conceptually cognize our appearance as this illusory body. This is because the clear light level of mind is not only naturally free of all conceptual cognition, but is also naturally free of confusion and the habits of confusion. The habits of confusion not only cause grosser levels of mind to make appearances of impossible ways of existing, but they also prevent grosser levels of mind to explicitly cognize the two truths of anything – its appearance and its voidness – simultaneously. However, using clear light mind to cognize our appearance as an illusory body does not make that body appear to exist in any impossible ways and thus that mind can simultaneously and explicitly also focus on the voidness of that appearance.
Like this, we can see that in anuttarayoga tantra, we are working simultaneously with strengthening many, many aspects – as many aspects as is possible – from our network of good qualities, so that we simultaneously strengthen our networks of positive force and deep awareness. That is what makes anuttarayoga tantra so advanced and difficult to practice. This is also why such practice is so effective in bringing about a very strong and quick strengthening of our entire system of networks so that it reaches the critical masses for making those quantum level leaps much more quickly and efficiently.
In summary, why do we want happiness and why do we want to increase our mind’s innate joy as part of the Buddhist path? It is not just because it’s the nature of limited beings that they seek to gain happiness and to avoid suffering. Such striving is also part of our nature: we all want to be happy and don’t want to be unhappy. But, it is not that, as part of the Buddhist path, we just want to go in that direction. It is not that we want to be happy, so let’s use Buddhist methods to try to gain as much happiness as possible. That is not the point. Rather, we use this fact that we all want to be happy and not to suffer and recognize that underlying it is the potential that we all have to be happy. That is there in everyone. We work on strengthening that element – joy or happiness – within our network of good qualities, but we don’t strengthen it all by itself. To do so would be linear, non-holistic thinking. We work on strengthening it within the context of strengthening all sorts of other elements within our network of good qualities, so that strengthened happiness acts as a cause for us to be able to access the clear light level of mind. So, we also strengthen our compassion, concentration, appearance-making, energy, and so on.
If we strengthen our mind’s innate joy within the context of strengthening all these other things, it leads to a true stopping of the first and second noble truths – suffering and the causes for suffering. This happens through our network of deep awareness, reinforced by our network of positive force, acting as the fourth noble truth – a true pathway mind for achieving a third noble truth – a true stopping. When these two networks of positive force and deep awareness are functioning as Buddha networks, we experience the resultant level of the third and fourth noble truths. On this stage, the resultant or highest, peak efficient level of the innate joy of the mind transforms into the blissful awareness of the mind of a Buddha. This blissful aspect of the omniscient, all-loving mind of a Buddha is called a Buddha’s “Body of Essential Nature” in the Kalachakra teachings.
If we understand all this, which may take quite a while to digest, we understand the place of happiness and joy in the Buddhist path and how we make this happiness into a pathway mind leading to liberation and enlightenment.
That is the introduction to the theme of happiness. As I warned at the beginning, I plan to approach this topic on a sophisticated level, because I think that it not only deserves that level of treatment, but also I think that you deserve a level of sophistication. Of course, understanding this level of sophistication requires listening to the tapes or reading a transcript again and again and thinking deeply about the material. But hopefully this presentation has provided a comprehensive structure for understanding various levels of Buddha’s sutra and tantra teachings and, specifically, a comprehensive structure for understanding how working with happiness fits into those teachings.
Tomorrow, we shall go into a fairly detailed discussion of what happiness is and how we work with it. First, we have to recognize what happiness is so that we know what we’re working with and then we need to look at how we actually work with it on various levels.
Although our discussion tomorrow will suggest ways in which we can work to increase our happiness now in this life, it is very important to see that side-benefit as just a stepping stone. It is a provisional goal on the way toward attaining liberation and enlightenment, which is the actual purpose for enhancing our happiness. We don’t try to enhance our innate joy just so that we’ll be happier in life, “la-dee-da.” We try to do so in order to gain liberation and enlightenment more easily, for the benefit of all.