The Possibility of Going in a Safe Direction

Bringing About the Results That, at Present, Have Not Yet Happened

In our previous session, I mentioned that we have causal and resultant refuge, or safe direction. The causal one is taking, as the safe direction to go toward, the true stoppings and true pathway minds that the Buddhas and aryas have attained. Focusing on them acts as a cause for us to attain these ourselves. The resultant refuge is in the true stoppings and true pathway minds that we will attain ourselves, as the result of our practice.

What we need to understand is how to focus on our future attainment. What does it actually mean to do so? What we’re doing is aiming for something possible that has not happened yet, not something impossible that could never happen. Also, there’s a difference between aiming for something that doesn’t exist, and aiming for something that hasn’t happened yet. This is a distinction that is made in Buddhism, and it’s a bit subtle. 

What exists is defined as what can be validly known. Does yesterday exist? Well, we can think about it and remember it, but yesterday is no longer happening. Just because it’s not happening now, doesn’t mean that yesterday doesn’t exist, or that it never existed. 

What about tomorrow? Is there such a thing as tomorrow? Does it exist? Well, we can plan for it, but tomorrow hasn’t happened yet. Yes, there is such a thing as tomorrow; it exists, but it’s just not happening yet. It’s not going to come from nowhere, however, it’s going to come from today. Please think about this.


We are preparing for things that haven’t yet happened, such as our old age, our death, and so on all the time in our Buddhist practice. Although they’re not happening now, they will eventually happen. For instance, when we talk about bodhichitta, we’re aiming for our not-yet-happening enlightenment. Here, with resultant refuge, we’re speaking about the not-yet-happening true stoppings and true pathway minds that we can attain. Their attainment starts with our attainment of becoming an arya and continues all the way up to Buddhahood. Aiming for these not-yet-happening true stoppings and true pathway minds along the path of an arya that we have not yet attained prepares us for aiming, with bodhichitta, at our not-yet-happening enlightenment. It is like, when starting university, we aim to pass all the not-yet-happening courses up to our attainment of our not-yet-happening degree. None of these things have happened yet, but this is the direction we are going in – toward these not-yet-happening stages and the not-yet-happening final result.

In doing this, we’re aiming for something that exists, in the sense that we can validly aim for these stages and the result, just as we can focus on tomorrow, though it hasn’t yet happened. So, in putting the safe direction of refuge in our lives, it’s not like we’re aiming for something that doesn’t exist and which isn’t possible to eventually happen. It is possible, though not inevitable, that the not-yet-happening true stoppings and true pathway minds will give rise to presently-happening ones on our mental continuum once all the needed conditions are complete.

How do we even know that there’s going to be a tomorrow? What is it based on? Tomorrow is based on today. Today has the potential to give rise to tomorrow when the condition of the clock striking midnight occurs. The not-yet-happening tomorrow, then, is what we call in Buddhism an “imputation phenomenon” on the basis of that potential. An imputation phenomenon is something that is, literally, tied to a basis and can neither exist nor be known independently of that basis. The not-yet-happening tomorrow can neither exist nor be known separately from the potential of today to give rise to a presently-happening tomorrow. In simpler terms, there can’t be a tomorrow unless there is a today and, with a full rotation of the Earth, today can give rise to tomorrow. Think about that.


When we look at the mental continuum, there a sequence of what we experienced yesterday, today and what we will experience tomorrow. Based on what we are experiencing today, there are potentials for what we could experience tomorrow. Based on our reading a chapter in a book today, for instance, and our intention to read more tomorrow and finish the book, our not-yet-happening reading of the rest of the chapters and finishing the book are imputation phenomena on our potential to do that. Of course, many favorable conditions need to be present for our presently-happening reading of the rest of the book to arise. 

Also, just as tomorrow is not sitting inside today, waiting until the clock strikes midnight to pop out, likewise, what we will experience tomorrow is not sitting inside what we are experiencing today. The analogy is not accurate, however, because the only condition requiring for the present-happening of tomorrow is for the Earth to continue rotating. There is not much uncertainty about that taking place. There is much less certainty of what we will experience tomorrow – we could die tonight, for instance. But, if the circumstances are conducive, we can actualize the not-yet-happening achievements that we have, today, the potential and intention to attain.  

Our Buddha-Nature Factors: Our Networks of Positive Force and Deep Awareness

What potentials are we talking about in the case of refuge? We’re talking about the potentials of the Buddha-nature factors on our mental continuum to give rise to the Enlightening Bodies of a Buddha. The factors that have the potential to give rise to the Buddha Bodies are our so-called “two collections,” which I call the “two networks.” But they will only give rise to these Bodies when they are complete. These two are our networks of positive force and deep awareness. 

We know that we have some amount of positive force on our mental continuums, because all our experiences of ordinary happiness have ripened from the positive force built up by our previously committed constructive actions. If we’ve ever experienced happiness in our lives, it’s because we had on our mental continuums some positive force with the potential to give rise to it. We also have some deep awareness on our mental continuums, since our understanding of even things like knowing how to tie our shoes has come from the potential of that deep awareness.

Where are these Buddha-nature factors, these two networks? They are on our mental continuum; they are part of it. Their not-yet-happening results are imputation phenomena on the basis of their potentials: the apparent Buddha Gem of the Form Bodies will arise from the potential of the network of positive force; and the deepest Buddha Gem of the true pathway minds of a Deep Awareness Dharmakaya will arise from the potential of the network of deep awareness. The attainment of these will take place when these networks have been built up to the full. The voidness of our minds is the abiding Buddha-nature factor that remains as the true stoppings that are the Essential Nature Dharmakaya, the second aspect of the deepest Buddha Gem.

These factors are now giving rise to only small effects – some episodes of ordinary happiness and of ordinary understanding. When we were born as a chicken, for example, these effects were even smaller. But, when these networks are complete, they will give rise to our Buddha Bodies.

Building Up the Two Networks

We were discussing before how we might gain an intellectual understanding of some Dharma point, which would be on the deep awareness side, but it won’t make that emotional change within us unless we build up the emotional side with positive force by opening up our minds and developing love, compassion, and so on. When we say that we need to build up these two networks together, in very rough language, we’re referring here to the intellectual side and the emotional side of understanding. 

We know that it is possible to build up things like more love and understanding, because of what we were discussing previously about neuroplasticity. The mind and brain are flexible. By building up both love and understanding together, we provide the conditions whereby our not-yet-happening attainment of true pathway minds and true stoppings will give rise to presently-happening ones on the basis of the potentials of these two networks. But the arising of this attainment will happen only when these two networks are strong enough.

It's quite abstract but think back to when we were five years old, and we were thinking, “I can’t wait till grow up, I’m going to be so tall,” and so on. Our grown-up body and mind are imputation phenomena on the basis of our presently-happening five-year-old body and mind. Being grown up is not yet happening, but, as a child, we were longing for that. 

Being all grown up, however, doesn’t happen overnight. We need to pass through stages, from being a child, to a teenager, to an adult. Likewise, in terms of wanting to grow up to be a Buddha, we are now like little children. Becoming an arya is like becoming a teenager and becoming an adult is like becoming a Buddha. These stages are not yet happening, but these not-yet-happening stages are valid imputation phenomena on the basis of the potentials of their causes that we have now on our mental continuum in the form of these two networks.

As a child, we have the working materials that will enable us to become an adult; we have a body and a mind. So, step by step, with the right conditions, they will both grow, but we have to provide the causes for it to happen. For example, to live till adulthood we have to eat, sleep and take care of our health. Likewise, to become an arya and to go on to become a Buddha, we have to work on strengthening the causes now. In the case of growing up to become an adult, we’re going to become an adult anyway, if we live long enough, whereas it’s not inevitable that we’re going to become a Buddha. We have to put in the work. We don’t just sit back and wait long enough, and then we’ll be enlightened. 

We need to understand how we then build up these two networks. For building up our network of positive force, we will need a great deal of effort. Remember the whole discussion we had, that our negative habits have been occurring since beginningless time. This means our constructive habits are very weak. So, we have to build up a tremendous amount of positive force to overcome their negative force. The texts say we need to build it up over the course of three zillion eons. This enormous amount of time indicates what a monumental task it is to overcome these negative tendencies, so don’t think it’s easy. Don’t think it’s going to happen overnight. It requires the type of perseverance and courage with which we strongly feel, “I don’t care how hard it is and how long it will take, I’m going to do it.”

To build up this positive force most effectively, we need first to turn away from our focus on just this lifetime and concentrate on securing our attainment of future lifetimes that will be conducive to continuing to build up more positive force. Then, we need to turn our emphasis on gaining these better future lifetimes to gaining liberation from uncontrollably recurring rebirth with all the limitations and sufferings inevitably involved with any type of samsaric rebirth we take. Then we need to turn from working toward only our own liberation to working on bringing happiness and liberation to everyone. 

The Importance of the Intention and Dedication

The type of positive force and what it can ripen into depends on our intention to start with and dedication afterwards.  Meditating on love, making connections and being kind to others, for example, if done just to make more friends, may enable us to make more friends. But if our aim is to overcome our selfishness, so that we can really help others and become a Buddha and we dedicate to our attainment of enlightenment the positive force built up by that, this positive force will contribute to that. This is the direction we want to go in – to build up more positive force that will act as a cause for actualizing the true pathway minds and true stoppings that, at present, are not yet happening. 

In addition, we need to build up more and more deep awareness of voidness, because this deep awareness is what will actually transform into true pathway minds that bring about true stoppings. Our network of positive force gives that network of deep awareness the strength to eliminate the subtlest obscurations preventing our enlightenment. 

We attain the deep awareness of voidness, which means non-conceptual cognition of it, through the potential built up from a strong habit of meditating with a correct conceptual discriminating awareness of voidness. We develop our power of discriminating awareness through discriminating what is correct and incorrect in terms of the four noble truths. So, we need to train ourselves by discriminating between ordinary suffering and true suffering, ordinary causes of suffering and true causes of it, an ordinary stopping of suffering and a true stopping of it, and the understanding of an ordinary pathway of mind and the understanding of a true pathway mind. On the most basic level, we need to discriminate between what’s destructive and what’s constructive, in terms of our behavior.

Provisional and Ultimate Methods

For ridding ourselves of something detrimental, there are provisional and ultimate methods. In terms of ridding ourselves of disturbing emotions such as anger, provisional opponents are patience and love, while the ultimate opponent that will obliterate it so that it never recurs is non-conceptual cognition of voidness. Similarly, there are also provisional and ultimate levels of non-conceptual cognition of voidness, and we need to discriminate between them. The provisional ones are the assertions of voidness by the non-Prasangika Buddhist tenet systems, while the ultimate one is that of the Prasangika system. It discriminates on the deepest level between the impossible way in which all things appear to exist and the actual way in which they do exist. The deeper that understanding of voidness is and the stronger the positive force that accompanies it is, the more effective the combination will be in actualizing the not-yet-happening true stoppings.

The stages through which we progress as we build up a full set of true pathway minds and true stoppings occur somewhat like phase transitions. For example, when we put enough heat energy into ice, it undergoes a phase transition and turns into water. With an input of even more heat energy, the water will reach a certain point where it transitions into steam. We undergo similar phase transitions as we strengthen our networks of positive force and deep awareness more and more. We transition from being an ordinary person to an arya to an arhat and, finally, to a Buddha. 

To undergo any transition, we need to be convinced of the natural purity of our minds – that the confusion and disturbing emotions we have can ultimately be removed forever and our minds are capable of non-conceptually cognizing everything.  We start by at least understanding and becoming convinced about what we’ve been talking about – that we can forge new habits because of the neuroplasticity of the brain and the mind. Correct understanding can replace confusion, because it has the backing of logic, if, of course, we believe in logic and accept statistics. Correct understanding also has an experiential backing in that it brings about happiness, while confusion, on the other hand, brings about unhappiness. We need to add conviction to our correct understanding, so that we can replace our confusion with it.

Concluding Thoughts

One final thought to leave you with concerning the ability of the mind to become omniscient. It’s a wonderful explanation that a great physicist, Richard Feynman, gave. If we think about it, in the space in this room there is every possible electromagnetic signal that has ever existed – for example, the electromagnetic signal of every website, text message, radio and TV station, and the light from every star. Because of the presence of these electromagnetic signals, we can tune into and display at least some of them if we have the right digital device, like a computer or cell phone. But these devices can’t tune into and display every electromagnetic signal and certainly not to all of them at once. These devices are limited.

The limited cell phone we have in our hand is like our brain, which is likewise limited by our body and biology. All the information of the entire universe throughout time is available, but we have a limited device that can only tune into some of it and only to one thing at a time.  

The deepest level of our mind, the clear-light mind, is not limited by the samsaric body and brain of the lifeform we take with uncontrollably recurring rebirth. But with the Form Body of a Buddha, our clear-light minds will not be restricted by these limiting factors. It will be possible for our clear-light minds to be omniscient and non-conceptually cognize all the information of the entire universe, and all of it at once, because the clear-light mind is, by nature, pure of all limiting obscurations and, in fact, all that information is available everywhere. Because of that, the clear-light mind can tune into everything. It’s not working through something like a tiny little cell phone. I think this is the best argument that I’ve ever come across for the possibility of omniscience. It’s a wonderful explanation.

Once we are convinced that our minds are capable of attaining a full set of true pathway minds, true stoppings and omniscience, we can then really put our hearts into going in that direction. Even if we’re not fully convinced of the possibility of attaining this final goal, at least working to go in its direction is beneficial. All these attainments that are not yet happening are possible to make happen now on the basis of building up these networks of positive force and deep awareness, these Buddha-nature factors that are parts of our mental continuum, parts of our mind. Let this sink in for a moment.


If the negative karmic potential on our mental continuum has given rise to our rebirth with the body of a chicken, we’re really limited in what we can understand and the amount of positive force that we can build up. But as a human, although we’re still limited, it’s so much better. We can go much further. Let’s end on that thought.


We think that whatever understanding, whatever positive force that has come from this discussion, may it go deeper and deeper. May we truly be able to put the safe direction of refuge in our lives, as the basis for the entire path. And through this, on that basis, obtain enlightenment for the benefit of all.