[ 1 ] Gently Whispered
Oral Teachings By The Very Venerable
Foreword by His Eminence the XIIth Tai Situpa [ 2 ] [ 3 ] GENTLY WHISPERED Oral Teachings by the Very 'Venerable Kalu Rinpoche [ 4 ] Dorje Chang, surrounded by the founding fathers of the Karma Kagyu lineage: Tilopa, Naropa, Marpa Lotsawa, Milarepa, Gampopa, and Dusum Khyenpa (the First Gyalwa Karmapa) (Traditional Tibetan painting with cloth framing by unknown artist, mid-20th century.) [ 5 ] GENTLY
Oral Teachings by the very venerable Kalu Rinpoche Foreword by His Eminence the Xllth Tai Situpa
Compiled, edited and annotated by Elizabeth Selandia, o.M.D., C.A.
BARRYTOWN STATION H.ILL [ 6 ] Copyright© 1994, Elizabeth Selandia, o.M.o., C.A. Photographs by J.G. Sherab Ebin are provided by the exclusive license with the editor solely for usage in this book, and may not be used in any other manner without his written permission. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission of the publisher except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews. Cover: Kalu Rinpoche leading an assembly of pilgrims in prayer in early 1984 in one of the meditation caves located nearby Bodh-Gaya, India (Photograph by J.G. Sherab Ebin) Published by Station Hill Press, Inc., Barrytown, New York 12507.
Cover and book design by Susan Quasha, assisted by Vicki Hickman. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Karma-rati-byuti-kun-khyab-phrin-las, Khenpo Kalu. Gently whispered: Oral teachings by the Very Venerable Kalu Rinpoche : foreword by His Eminence the Xllth Tai Situpa I compiled, edited, and annotated by Elizabeth Selandia. p. em. Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN 0-88268-153-2 : 1. Spiritual life-Buddhism. 2. Buddhism-China-Tibet-Doctrines. I. Selandia, Elizabeth. II. Title. BQ7775.K38 1994 294.3'42-dc20 93-42823 CIP Manufactured in the United States of America [ 7 ] Dedicated to the impeccable perpetuation of the glorious Kagyu lineage and to the success of its leaders and followers in accomplishing their commitment to bring all sentient beings to the state of enlightened awareness. [ 8 ] Kalu Rinpoche copying a text while seated in his room at the monastery in Sonada, India, in early 1970 (Photography by J.G. Sherab Ebin) [ 9 ] CONTENTS
Foreword by H.E. the Xllth Tai Situpa Preface Introduction
I First Reflections
vii xi xvii 1
Introduction to the Nature of the Mind 2 Changing Tides and Times
Examination of Alaya and Karma 3 Clear Dawning
Explanation of the Vow of Refuge 4 Gathering Clouds
Resolution of Emotional Subjectivity 5 Eye of the Storm
Teachings on the Bardos of Death and Dying 6 Distant Shores
Introduction to the Vajrayana Practices 7 Rainbow Skies
Insight into the Mantrayana Practices 8 Lingering Sunset
Commentary on the Bodhisattva Vows 9 Brilliant Moon
Elucidation of the Mahamudra I 0 Cloud Mountains
Challenges of Samaya and Dharma
161 [ 10 ] Appendix A: Open Letters to Disciples and Friends of The Lord of Refuge, Khyab Je Kalu Rinpoche 181 From Bokar Tulku Rinpoche, Lama Gyaltsen., and Khenpo Lodro Donyo, 15 May 1989 Concerning the last moments of Kalu Rinpoche and the religious activities following From H.E. the Xllth Tai Situpa Concerning the passing of Kalu Rinpoche
Appendix B: Chenrezig Sadhana Prayers and Practice of Yidam Chenrezig
With commentary adapted from Kalu Rinpoche's teachings
A Vajra Melody Imploring the Swift Return of the Lord of Refuge, Khyab ]e Kalu Rinpoche As translated from the illustrated letter of H.E. Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche
Appendix C: Glossary of Vajrayana Terminology Bibliography Index Afterword & Prayer for the Continuation of the Kagyu Tradition
227 264 267
291 [ 11 ] • SHERAB LING •
P. 0. SANSAL OIST. ICAN$11A H.
-sTITU 11 Of •uDDHIST STUDIU
The Very Venerable Kalu Rinpoche is one of the most outstanding teachers of Tibetan Buddhism whose meditative experience and profound wisdom are appreciated by all that come in contact with him. It is most appropriate. at this time, that the opportunity to have his valuable Dharma teachings translated into English makes the study of the Buddha Dharma more accessible to a larger group of practitioners and students of religion and philosophy. I am very pleased for the time and effort that has been dedicated to this work. I would like to thank the editors and publisher for the many hours of time they have spent to bring about this book. May this teaching bring happiness to all of those who will read and study this work. With my humble and sincere dedication for your well-being.
It was supposed to be the summertime, but, far away from my California homeland, I was weathering the force of the monsoon, feeling swallowed by dense cloud banks that wholly neglected my presence inside them and that retreated only sometimes in the chill of nights made darker by the distant lightning. The promise of precious initiations into vajrayana had brought me to the monastery known as Samdup Tarjee Choling, which is located in the Himalayas, an hour's drive down the hill from Darjeeling. Gathered together were more than a thousand followers of Tibetan Buddhism who had come to receive the transmission of Rinchen Terdzod, one of the five great treasuries compiled by Jamgon Kongtrul the Great. Together we were to spend six months packed into a shrine room decorated with beautiful murals of deities important to the practice of vajrayana, watching the lineage holders of the Karma Kagyu receive the initiations directly from the vajra master, Kalu Rinpoche. We all awaited the moment that these tulkus (recognized reincarnated teachers and mahasiddhas) would wind their way through the crowd to bestow the blessing of the day's teachings upon all present. As I watched Kalu Rinpoche seated for hours on end while he recited the teachings and initiations contained in the collection, I found it easy to admire him for his unending diligence in perpetuation of the Dharma. Truly, in all my travels in search of sacred and occult teachings, I have never met another person quite like him. His tireless efforts to bring benefit to all beings made a [ 14 ] strong impression upon me. Needless to say, I hold him in the highest regard, for it is he who has demonstrated to me my potential for enlightenment in this precious human existence. It was here that a desire arose within me to enable Kalu Rinpoche' s teachings to reach a wider range of audiences by offering my skills in communication so that readers might better explore his teachings. And it was here that his quiet whispers and gentle voice encouraged me to firmly believe that faith in the vajrayana, devotion to a genuine lineage, and confidence in the teachings of the Buddha would eventually enlighten anyone who desired such solace. Drawn from many sources of notes and lectures, from many different translators' versions of Rinpoche' s teachings, and from many impromptu talks he has given, this book is an attempt to give a thorough presentation of Kalu Rinpoche' s teachings on the important topics of the four veils of obscuration, the bodhisattva vows, the practice of Chenrezig, and the vehicles known as the three yanas. This work has been compiled topic by topic, and, as a result, no one translator is wholly responsible for any one chapter. Further, the chapters are compiled from teachings given over a period of more than two decades, from the late sixties (before Rinpoche had begun his world travels) through the mideighties, and the locations where these teachings were given are so widespread as to be worldwide. The material has been arranged so as to allow the reader to gain a gradual insight into the intricacies of approach and structure of the Tibetan tradition of Buddhadharma. It is, therefore, suggested that the chapters be read in sequence. The first three chapters contain many foundational thoughts, and while these might seem somewhat perplexing to the beginner, they are required for a thorough understanding of the material in the chapters that follow. It should be noted that Rinpoche tended to repeat various ideas, and to continually refer to ideas already presented by giving brief recollection to those thoughts. At first I considered that these continual references detracted from a smooth flowing, polished style of communication. But, as the process of compilation continued, I came to realize that many of the repeated explanaxii [ 15 ] tions were not simply rhetorical; rather, they were being given from varying viewpoints. The best example of this insight is reflected in Rinpoche' s varying descriptive renditions of the qualities of the nature of mind, which he discusses at varying lengths in three different chapters. Each discussion is flavored with one of the concepts inherent to the differing approaches of the hinayana, the mahayana, and the vajrayana, and, thus, each rendition gives a fresh insight into the most perplexing problem facing the sentient being longing for liberation, namely, what is the true nature of mind? To assist the reader unfamiliar with Tibetan Buddhism, the technical terms, foreign language terms, and religious terminology are indicated by italics upon first occurrence of mention. Diacritic marking of Sanskrit words is found only in the glossary. Further details specific to the glossary will be found at the beginning of Appendix C. Permission was granted by His Eminence the Xllth Tai Situpa for the inclusion of a detailed explanation of the visualization and prayers contained in the sadhana of the Yidam Chenrezig. Since devotional practice to this yidam was publicly encouraged by Lord Buddha in the Surangama Sutra, the yidam practice is considered to be immediately employable by anyone interested, with no special permission or initiation required. Additionally, a prayer for the swift rebirth of Kalu Rinpoche written by His Eminence Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche has been included in this section in response to his personal request to me. Details concerning the sadhana and the commentary will be found at the beginning of Appendix B. The direct concern and special interest of His Eminence the Xllth Tai Situ in seeing this book reach the public has been most beneficial. Devoting some of his valuable time to the several questions this work presented, he has willingly and openly helped this project reach maturation, indulging the many perplexing considerations of syntax, contracts, and karmic consequences. His blessing to this endeavor is gratefully and most respectfully acknowledged. Several devoted students with an interest in seeing Rinpoche' s teachings reach many peoples and nations have diligently xiii [ 16 ] applied themselves to the mastery of either the English language (being Tibetan speaking originally) or the Tibetan language (being of other linguistic backgrounds), and without their translations, Rinpoche' s words, while pleasant in their sound, would have no meaning to populations lacking the understanding of the Tibetan language. The indebtedness to all who have assisted in the task of translation during Rinpoche's world tours is incalculable. Specifically, in relation to this collection of teachings, Richard Barron (Chokyi Nyima), J.G. Sherab Ebin, and Jeremy Morrell are gratefully acknowledged for their remarkable translations of Rinpoche's wisdom. To assure that this compilation of Kalu Rinpoche's teachings has remained true to the Buddhadharma, I requested a few of the original translators (both those who were responsible for a major share of the translation represented in this work and those who have frequently translated for Rinpoche over many years) to read the final draft to make sure that the transmission was not lost. Their extensive training in Dharma helped confirm that this effort of compilation of translations has made the step from Tibetan into English with accuracy. Still, it was with a joyous relief in seeing a goal accomplished that I received the following secretarial note accompanying the foreword written by His Eminence Tai Situpa Rinpoche. "I am writing to you on behalf of His Eminence Tai Situpa. Thank you for your letter and the main body of the text for Gently Whispered by Kalu Rinpoche. Tai Situ Rinpoche was very pleased with all of your efforts and is most happy to send you his foreword for the book. It is composed in the form of a open letter to all those who read the book and has his seal impressed upon it. He would like his foreword to appear as you receive it on his stationery. Rinpoche sends you his blessings and best wishes." It is with gratitude that the following are acknowledged for personally giving me access to various materials additional to my notes for use in this edited and annotated compilation of Rinpoche' s teachings: the translators Richard Barron (Chokyi Nyima), J.G. Sherab Ebin, and Jeremy Morrell; Tsering Lhamo, Tsewang Jurmay, and Tinley Drupa. Additional thanks are due to Phillip Shaw and xiv [ 17 ] Michael Dergosits of Limbach & Limbach of San Francisco for their generous help. Several people close to the Dharma read the draft and made valuable suggestions according to their expertise. Diane Thygersen added to the contextual perspectives necessary for communicating the Dharma "in a strange land," Wendy Jester provided invaluable support and editorial assistance, and J. G. Sherab Ebin contributed greatly with his ability to communicate in Buddhist Dharma languages as well as his understanding of the historical circumstances in which Buddhism came to both Tibet and the Western world. Coneming the help received in the physical manifestation of this book, J. G. Sherab Ebin has also made several additional and invaluable contributions. His photographs, taken both recently and many years ago when he lived with Rinpoche in India, have added greatly to the visual format. His understanding of computer installation and software implementation has enabled me to move from archaic parchment copying to illuminating state of the art productions. And, most importantly, his pure devotion to Rinpoche has definitely served as a continual inspiration to me in making Gently Whispered become a reality. Michael Ingerman has generously provided the much needed technical support, and Peter Ingerman performed the painstaking task of sorting the text and editing that data to provide the framework upon which the index is based. Many others have been of great personal assistance in questions of grammar, approach, and proper phrasing of polite respect, etc. Rather than my naming some and not others, may they all be gratefully acknowledged for their contribution that has enabled this teaching to reach the general public. Undoubtedly, this work would not have been possible had it not been for the dauntless efforts of the Very Venerable I<alu Rinpoche. In his bringing the Dharma to the West, in his opening the door of compassionate, loving kindness to all those unaware of the true nature of the mind, and in his lending encouragement to those countless sentient beings anywhere and everywhere along his path, he continually demonstrated the bodhisattva ideal. His willingness to bring immediate and lasting benefit to all with whom he comes in contact, both near and far, has definitely XV [ 18 ] demonstrated his interest in the welfare of sentient beings as a continual and genuine concern. When I started this book in an effort to help bring this truly wonderful teacher's insights into enlightened awareness to a widening audience, I<alu Rinpoche was still pursuing an active schedule that included world travel to administer to the several centers and three-year retreats he had founded. Some years later, while I was still deeply working on the final draft, I learned from His Eminence the Xllth Tai Situpa that Kalu Rinpoche had passed quietly into his final meditation late one May afternoon in 1989 at his Sonada monastery. Two weeks later I received a personal letter from Kalu Rinpoche's secretary in which he requested that I share with everyone an enclosed open letter concerning the events surrounding Rinpoche's passing. That open letter, plus a letter from His Eminence the Xllth Tai Situpa in which he writes concerning Kalu Rinpoche's passing, form Appendix A. It is my prayer that the effort that has been put into making this book possible has its truest reward in your own personal realization of I<alu Rinpoche' s fondest aspiration: "enlightenment for all sentient beings, our mothers, limitless as space." Elizabeth Selandia, O.M.D., C.A. San Simeon 16 March 1992
xvi [ 19 ] INTRODUCTION
I am very happy to be able to share with you the Buddha's teachings known as Dharma. Your interest in these teachings is a positive sign of the power of a great accumulation of virtuous activity gathered in previous lifetimes coming to fruition at this moment. This is very wonderful, and my greetings to you! I am an old man of eighty-four years now, the first fifty-two of which were spent completely isolated from the rest of the world in the land of Tibet. Several of those years I spent studying and practicing the Dharma and principles of vajrayana in solitary retreat. Since I have left Tibet, I have traveled worldwide to bring the truth of these teachings to all sentient beings ready and capable of receiving them. I welcome you and pray that a continuous rain of benefit comes to you for taking the time and effort to understand that upon which I am discoursing.
For many centuries, the Dharma of the Buddha has been preserved in the snowy, mountainous land of Tibet, where all the pith instructions, traditions of practice, and resultant realizations were widespread. Although this Dharma is often called Tibetan Buddhism, it is not originally Tibetan, for it comes directly from the Lord Buddha Shakyamuni. Once a noble prince, Lord Shakyamuni became the historical Buddha of our time when he attained enlightenment in the place called Bodh-Gaya in northcentral India. Through his activities during his lifetime and his teachings during the historical occasions of turning the wheel of Dharma, all the vast array of Dharma teachings (numbering [ 20 ] eighty-four thousand collections in all) came into existence. This Dharma was originally widespread in the land of India and was later faithfully translated into the Tibetan language by erudite scholars who had endured great hardship to gain these teachings. These translators thus allowed the Dharma to survive in the impenetrable mountains of Tibet long after Buddhism was all but destroyed in the Indian subcontinent.
By virtue of the power and blessings of this faithfully preserved tradition of Buddhadharma in Tibet, a great number of practitioners have become realized saints and siddhas. They are said to be so numerous that they equal the number of stars in the sky. The efforts and practice that brought realization of the true nature of the mind has allowed this tradition, which is quite profound, to become very advanced.
In Tibet, the teachings of the Dharma include five disciplines, known as the five great branches of learning. These branches incorporate the very important and extensive studies of medicine, astrology, and art, which were brought together as a single unified doctrine. Thus, in our tradition, the basic spiritual teachings of the Buddha also have the enrichment of these other approaches. The branches of learning to which I refer are known as the outer branches of learning, and the many Tibetan traditions present different formats of these outer forms. The basic Dharma taught by the Buddha comprises the inner branch of learning. Within these five great branches of learning are subdivisions called the five lesser subdivisions, which incorporate the traditions of astrology, debate, poetry composition, language, linguistics, and philosophy. Thus, there are ten branches, both the greater and the lesser, which form the whole of Buddhadharma as taught in the Tibetan tradition. Both the inner and outer form comprise what is commonly referred to as Tibetan Buddhism.
While in the West, I have noticed Westerners who are very educated and developed in their own particular academic traditions. I feel that many outer traditions with which I have become acquainted are quite similar, either in content or approach, to those taught in the traditions of the five lesser branches of learning in Buddhadharma. In the great libraries and universities of this modern world, several different philosophical discourses are xviii [ 21 ] available that are identical in many points with the Buddha's doctrine, and I often feel that these are the same, as though the Buddha himself had taught them.
Buddhadharma is now establishing itself in the West and a process of integration and adaptation has begun. Similar processes of adaptation were made centuries ago in several Asian countries. While traveling, I have observed the practice of Buddhadharma in a number of countries, such as Japan, Thailand, Burma, Sri Lanka, and so on. Each of these Buddhist societies has emphasized and focused on specific aspects of the Buddhadharma, aspects which have become very developed and which are widely practiced within their countries. For example, in Japan the Buddhist tradition relies heavily upon the Prajna Paramita Sutra, which teaches the nature of emptiness. The Japanese have developed their practice along that perspective of approach. In China and Taiwan, Buddhism has focused on the pure land sutras, which inspire devotion and reverence to Buddha Amitabha. Although the characters or letters of Japanese and Chinese texts appear somewhat different from Tibetan, I can see from the practice and application of their meaning that, regardless of the language used, the teachings are identical.
Time and time again, I have seen that all the different Dharmas that were preserved in Tibet have appeared in different forms throughout the world. I have observed that, in particular, the Christian and Islamic traditions [of charity) have developed one whole aspect of Buddhadharma and put this widely into practice. I see how wonderful it is that the Buddhadharma has spread throughout the world in many different ways, with various aspects of it being understood and developed through practice, whether it is called Buddhadharma or not. I have great faith in all these traditions and regard this as the flourishing of Buddhadharma.
Those of you who have a great interest and enthusiasm for learning the nature of Dharma and who are trying to understand its meaning by practicing meditation and visualization techniques are definitely doing so because of past karmic endeavors. The result of your previous lifetimes' practice of the ten virtuous actions has created a very powerful development of positive karmic xix [ 22 ] trends, as evidenced by both your presently having a precious human existence and your interest in Dharma. This is a theme I will return to many times throughout my discourse, as the fruition of these positive trends and habitual patterns that you established in previous lifetimes is indeed very wonderful. In the same way as the waters of the world flow into rivers which flow into the great oceans, all the teachings of the Buddha were widely spread throughout India, yet they were preserved in whole in the land of the old sea, Tibet. Thus, Buddhists who were so fortunate as to study and practice in Tibet were able to practice the entire doctrine, the whole sea of Buddha's teachings, without having to be limited to any one particular aspect. Therefore, you who are interested in following the practice as taught by the Tibetan lamas will be able to understand the entire meaning of the Buddhadharma. By bringing the entire meaning of Buddhadharma into your practice, you will be able to attain your goal of realizing complete liberation from samsaric suffering very quickly. Kalu Rinpoche Los Angeles 29 December 1988
XX [ 23 ] fiRST REFLECTIONS Introduction to the Nature of the Mind
Three kinds of mentally projected phenomena are constantly experienced by sentient beings because they believe that these projections are real. One projection is quite familiar. It is called the fully ripened body, or fully ripened corporeal existence, referring not only to· the physical form, but also to the whole world in which sentient beings take rebirth. This world of corporeal existence, which is experienced as a whole environment (with landscape, mountains, etc.), is called fully ripened because it is the ripening of karmic accumulation that gives rise to such an experience. Another projection is that which is perceived as the dreamer within the dream. During the dream, one believes one has a body that actually experiences the various episodes conceptualized while in the dream state. This dream body is the result of the constant and endless tendency of believing in a self. In believing, "I am," and in constantly clinging to external appearance as being something other than self, one clings to duality. The dream body, or the body of habitual tendency, is but a second type of mental manifestation. Third, there is the mental body that arises after death. One's familiar form, or body of karmic fruition, is composed of five elements which, at the time of death, dissolve into one another. Finally, the residue of this dissolution again dissolves into a base [ 24 ] GENTLY WHISPERED
consciousness which then falls into a kind of oblivion where there is no cognition. This state is like a very thick, heavy sleep, which usually lasts about three days, after which the consciousness re-arises and immediately projects a vast array of illusory images. These mental projections have a haunting similarity to the way one is in one's dream and waking states. Such projections are, however, very different in that the appearances occur instantaneously and will arise and disappear immediately and very rapidly. Additionally, there is the tendency of the disembodied being that is experiencing this display to believe that it is something real. This, of course, furthers the habitual clinging to a duality of self and other, which complicates the after-death experience. Because the mind is caught into a misbelief of self and other during these illusory, bewildering appearances, such nonrecognition causes the experience of a great deal of fear and suffering. All three bodies are continually manifesting in samsara because of this misconception; in the death bardo, or the interval (bardo) between dying and being reborn, this habitual misconception eventually compels one to experience rebirth again. However, bardo appearances, just like corporeal and dream appearances, are completely illusory. They have no foundation in absolute reality. It is this tendency of clinging to self and other that is inferred when the mental body is mentioned. To liberate themselves from these delusions of misguided projection that are the source of suffering, the Lord Buddha Shakyamuni and many other realized beings have recognized the true r:tature of mind as having the quality of empty, unimpeded clarity. All sentient beings, without exception, have this same mind. This itself is the seed of buddhahood, the actual buddha nature that is inherent in all sentient beings. However, the ignorance of clinging to a self has obscured this inherent nature, for by clinging to a self, one necessarily defines an other, and therefore one clings to duality. This duality results in the obscuration of emotional reactions and the obscuration of karmic accumulation. This clinging, and these resultant obscurations, is the difference between samsaric existence and enlightened awareness. According to the teachings of the Lord Buddha, the obscurations that keep us from true liberation are considered to be four in [ 25 ] FIRST REFLECTIONS
number. First, in the same way as one is unaware of one's facial image without a reflective surface demonstrating it, so the mind also does not see itself and is thus fundamentally ignorant in that it is not directly aware of its own nature. Second, through this ignorance, the mind develops habitual tendencies of dualistic relativeness of a self and an other. Third, unaware in its ignorance and force of habits while confronted by these dualistic projections, the reaction of the mind is that of emotional affliction, producing bewilderment, aversion, and/ or attachment. Fourth, this emotional confusion produces accumulative karmic results that manifest in physical, verbal, and mental reactions which, in turn, further the karmic consequences of ignorance. Despite its having become deluded, this same mind has yet another quality. In its empty, clear, and unimpeded awareness, it has a primordial (or base) wisdom. This primordial wisdom, and the primordial consciousness, are indivisibly mixed together, resulting in the state of sentient beings. Yet, occasionally, in just the same way that the weather produces openings in a thickly clouded sky allowing shafts of sunlight to shine forth, the primordial wisdom (or buddha nature) will somehow shine through the veil of ignorance. At that moment, no matter on what level of existence, sentient beings will experience some kind of feeling of compassion, of faith, or of some altruistic motive. This feeling motivates sentient beings to perform virtuous acts. Such virtuous actions will cause a higher rebirth, which will allow for more opportunity with which to mature Buddhadharma. All of you who are coming in contact with this discourse have accumulated a great deal of positive karmic trends throughout many previous lifetimes. In these lifetimes, you have definitely developed faith in the Three jewels-Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. You previously established a connection that is ripening in this lifetime. It is evident that this is true because you are someone who is naturally inclined to acts of virtue and you have an interest in the Dharma. This is a very great attainment. That is what is meant by the precious human existence, which is a special type of human existence that has a number of specific conditions. It is extremely difficult to obtain, due to the propensity of the ignorant to cling to ignorance. Thus, by doing that which continues to [ 26 ] GENTLY WIDSPERED ~
increase your virtuous accumulation, you can continue to attain a precious human existence and to experience rebirth in higher states of existence, which encourage the flourishing of the Dharma. With such an opportunity, you can liberate yourself from the ocean of samsaric suffering and place yourself in the state of buddhahood. Now that you have this golden opportunity, it would be a shame to waste it or to lose it! The opportunity of attaining a precious human existence is quite rare. It is often compared to the incalculable chance that a blind sea tortoise, which rises to the surface once every hundred years, would be snared by a single golden yoke afloat on an ocean as vast as space. You might wonder how it is possible for beings in the lower realms to attain a precious human existence when it is not possible for them to understand the Dharma. As well, you might wonder how it is they can ever escape from these lower realms. Since they cannot hear the teachings and are thus unable to put them into practice to free themselves, how is it they are not stuck there forever? I will develop this topic for fuller understanding in a later chapter, but for now I will give a brief answer. Even though sentient beings experience the lower realms as hell denizens, hungry ghosts, and animals, all of which lack the capabilities of understanding the meaning of the Dharma, they can form a connection with the sound of spoken Dharma and with the visible forms of Buddhadharma. These demonstrations of its truth will eventually lead to a rebirth in a higher state of existence in the human realm. Also, the mind of those experiencing the lower realms might feel a kind of virtuous impulse which, at some later stage, will ripen into rebirth in the human realm. Then, as a human being, it is possible to acquire the merit that will allow a rebirth in a precious human existence. It is therefore possible that you can bring great benefit to all sentient beings through your prayers and good actions. You can be of direct benefit by having contact with beings in the animal realms, especially those that have close contact with the human realm, and you can help these beings progress to a higher rebirth. For example, if you were to explain the Dharma to an animal, or even to groups of animals, the blessing of your action would result in their experiencing a rebirth in a higher realm at some [ 27 ] FIRST REFLEcnONS ~
future time, although at the time of your explanation, they would have no understanding of what you had said. You can also speed up their progress by showing them a form or image of the Buddhadharma, or by reciting the sound of sacred mantra into their ear. And, of course, by doing these virtuous actions you increase your own positive karmic accumulation which helps assure you of future precious human existences. There is a wonderful and simple illustration recorded in the sutras. Before the era of our historical Buddha, Lord Shakyamuni, there was that of the third Buddha of the present kalpa, namely, Buddha Kashyapa. In that epic of time past, there was a shrine, or a stupa, which is considered sacred to the Buddhist tradition in that it has many special symbolic meanings. On a leaf hanging from a branch of a tree growing near this stu pa were seven insects. During a strong gust of wind, the leaf broke loose and sailed through the air, taking the seven insects with it. As the wind carried the leaf and the insects around the stupa several times, the insects performed the highly meritorious action of circumambulation of a holy place. By this karmic connection, the seven insects were reborn in a celestial realm in their next lifetime. Yet another example from times past is that of a land tortoise who enjoyed drying off in the sun after a morning of wallowing in the mud of the shore hidden in the shade by the tall tree. The tortoise's sunning spot was on the opposite side of the nearby stupa, which had a crack in its base. Longing for the warmth of the sun, the land tortoise walked daily to his sunning spot, using the stupa as his landmark to guide him there. As his eyesight was not the best, the landmark would all too soon become the stumbling block, causing the tortoise to rub his mud laiden body against the stupa's base. Over time, this caused the mud he had carried to fill in this crack. By the virtue of such a positive karmic action, the land tortoise was reborn in one of the gods' realms. These are not contrived tales to delight an audience; these were taught by the Buddha and were recorded in the Buddhist sutras. All sentient beings have body, speech, and mind. And, although we think of them all as being important, body and speech are like servants of the mind. Continuing the thought further, they are wholly the manifestations of the mind. Therefore, knowing the [ 28 ] GENTLY WHISPERED ~
nature of the mind is important. Let me take a moment to illustrate how the speech and the body are like servants of the mind. If the mind has a wish to go, the body will move; if the mind has a wish to remain, the body will be still. If the mind has the wish to communicate pleasantly, the speech will convey pleasant sounds; if the mind has the wish to communicate unpleasantly, the speech will reflect this. In order to benefit all sentient beings, the Lord Buddha Shakyamuni taught the great vastness of the Dharma which is extremely profound. It is said that his reason for doing this was solely to enable sentient beings to realize the nature of mind. Hence the entire corpus of Dharma teachings, numbering eightyfour thousand collections, was given essentially to benefit the mind. I would now like to clarify what is meant by nature of the mind with an illustration based upon your own experience in a meditative setting. To begin with, completely abandon any preoccupation with things past and any preoccupation with things yet to come. Rest the mind without any distraction, for just a few moments, allowing clarity to become the mind's most apparent quality. Now in this clarity, call to mind cities that are not too far away and not too close (such as New York or Los Angeles), and actually see them with your mind. Were the mind something substantial, something real and existent with the quality of noninterdependence, then, before the mind could visualize a distant city, it would have to cross many mountains, rivers, plains, and so forth. However, because the mind is emptiness - insubstantial and interdependent - it is able to call to mind a distant city (like New York) without any arduous effort. Now, taking our example of these cities further, try calling to mind the vision of New York and Los Angeles simultaneously. If the mind was substantial, something tangible, and self-existent, then in order to see both places the mind would need to cover the distance between New York and Los Angeles, which is many hours by airplane, many months by walking. Fortunately, the mind's insubstantial nature (which is emptiness) allows us to be able to see New York City and Los Angeles in the same instant. Continuing further in this illustration, consider that the entire [ 29 ] FIRST REFLECTIONS ~
sky, or the whole of space, is infinite. Now, let the mind become vast like space. Completely embrace the whole of space, completely fill the whole of space. Let it be so vast. The ability to mix the mind indivisibly with space is also due to the mind's essential nature of emptiness. Emptiness means being completely devoid of any descriptive characteristics, such as size, shape, color, or location. The sky is completely vast, having no limit; and space, like sky, has no boundaries, no periphery, and no limit. Mind, itself, can experience itself as being inseparable and indistinguishable from space itself. This awareness is recognizable during meditation. However, who recognized this awareness? What is this awareness? What size does it have? What color is it? What can you say about it? Take a moment to consider this. Consider that if formlessness or emptiness itself were the mind, then we would conclude that the whole of space, or the emptiness of this room, or wherever any emptiness existed, would be mind. This is not the case because the emptiness, which is mind, also has clarity. The very ability of being able to call to mind the view of New York or Los Angeles, or ,whatever, demonstrates this aspect of clarity. Were there no such clarity or luminosity, it would be equivalent to the complete absence of sun, moon, stars, or any kind of light. This, however, is not our situation; our experience of emptiness demonstrates luminosity and clarity. Were emptiness and luminosity (or clarity) the mind, then, when the sun is shining in the sky, this empty space and light of the sun would be mind. But this is not our experience, because not only does the mind demonstrate emptiness and luminosity, it also has awareness, or consciousness. This awareness is demonstrated in the ability to recognize that when you call New York to mind, you know, "This is New York City." This actual recognition is awareness, or consciousness. Furthermore, this awareness is the same awareness that is able to determine that the mind is empty and has clarity. This fusion of emptiness, clarity, and awareness is what is meant by mind, what has been termed mind. Although the indivisibility of these three qualities of mind has been variously labeled mind, consciousness, awareness, and intellect, whatever name is given, mind is nevertheless the union [ 30 ] GENfLY WffiSPERED ~
of emptiness, clarity, and awareness. This is the mind that experiences pleasure; this is the mind that experiences pain. It is the mind that gives rise to thought and notices thought. It is the mind that experiences all phenomenal existence. There is nothing other than that. The Lord Buddha taught that, from beginningless time, sentient beings have taken innumerable, uncountable rebirths, and it is this emptiness, clarity, and awareness that has taken these rebirths, time after time. This is undoubtedly true. Until the realization of enlightenment, in which the mind's true nature is recognized, this emptiness, clarity, and awareness will continue to take rebirth. There is no need to have any doubt that the mind is insubstantial in its empty, clear awareness. This truth can clearly be illustrated. Consider, for instance, when a child is conceived, nobody actually sees this emptiness, clarity, and unimpededness enter the womb. There is no way that the mother or father can say that a mind of such-and-such a shape or size or substance just entered the womb and has now come into being. There is no form to be seen or measured to demonstrate that a mind has entered the womb at that time. Right now we all have mind, but we cann<¥ find it. We cannot say that our mind has a particular shape or any particular size or some particular location. The reason we cannot find it and/or define it in this manner is because it simply does not have any characteristics of shape or size, etc. Likewise, when an individual dies, no one actually sees the mind leave the dead person's body. No matter how many people, whether in the hundreds, thousands, or millions, examine a dying or dead person with microscopes, telescopes, or whatever instruments, they are unable to see anything leaving the body. They cannot say that the corpse's mind has gone in any specific direction, neither "up there" nor "out here." This is because the mind is devoid of any form. The fact that nobody can see what another person is thinking is evidence, in and of itself, that the mind is empty. This evening we have a large gathering of people. The lights are on and everybody present can see very clearly. In this room everybody is thinking a great deal and, although there is a vast array of mental discursiveness, nobody can see anybody else's discursive thought. [ 31 ] FIRST REFLECilONS
This non-seeing of the mind's true nature occurs because the mind has no form, no shape, etc.; also, non-recognition occurs as a result of the obscuration of ignorance. Such non-recognition causes one to constantly take rebirth, time and time again. The Lord Buddha has said that because of the non-recognition, sentient beings not only do not recognize the mind's true nature, they also do not perceive the law of karma (the law of cause and effect) and they continue to create and accumulate karmic causes for future rebirths without being aware in any way of the effects of their actions. If you recognize that mind is emptiness, clarity, and unobstructed awareness, then you should recognize that the you that performs an action, that accumulates karma through action, is emptiness, clarity, and unobstructed awareness; and the you that experiences some consequence as a result of that action is also emptiness, clarity, and unobstructed awareness. Additionally, the way that cause is carried to effect is also by means of the empty, clear, and unobstructed awareness. If you can see that, and fully understand that, you will attain the state of buddhahood. In that state, you will be completely free from any further karmic fruition, as buddhahood is completely beyond any further reaping of past action. And, this freedom is still emptiness, clarity, and unobstructed awareness. The nature of karma and the true nature of the mind are essentially the same. However, what is recognized and experienced by sentient ~eings is the karmic cause and effect of ignorance, while what is experienced by a buddha, who has completely gone beyond the cause and effect of action, has no karmic fruition. This is why enlightenment is called true liberation. One characteristic of sentient existence is that the veil of ignorance limits the experience of sentient beings to the samsaric realm then being experienced. As a result, there are many who may believe that there is no such thing as a hell realm experience. Many think that it is impossible that such a realm of suffering exists. Further, this disbelief carries over and becomes an unbelief in the existence of the hungry ghost realm or the gods' realms. People tend to believe only in the human and animal realms because everything they can see is of those realms. However, to [ 32 ] GENTLY WI-nSPERED
exemplify the limits of this perception, let us consider not only the teachings of the Lord Buddha, but also those of such teachers as the third Gyalwa Karmapa, who repeatedly emphasized the illusory nature of all appearance and all the realms. Let us consider the situation of the dream. While dreaming, one conjures up all kinds of seemingly real experiences, and one can seemingly experience a great deal of happiness and/ or suffering. All the various emotions and experiences of the dream appear to be real. Yet, although one believes the experience to be something completely real and existent during the dream, it is obvious that this belief is delusional. As insubstantial, arising mental projections, dreams have no reality whatsoever. One recognizes this when one awakens from the dream. Compare this example of the dream to the perception of the six realms of samsara. Sentient beings continually experience one or more of these realms, rebirth after rebirth. Not all of these realms appear to the five human senses, yet this does not validate their lack of existence. In one sense they do exist, in that these are the realms in which the deluded nature of the mind reincarnates. Bound by the ignorance of delusion, sentient beings experience these realms, in one lifetime after another, believing their illusory experience to be real. However great the delusion of sentient beings, this does not ultimately substantiate these realms to be anything more than mere mental projections. From the viewpoint of absolute reality, the six realms of samsara are completely without independent reality. In a very poetic verse, the Buddha Shakyamuni questioned who made all the hot iron pavement, with its incessant flames and burning fire, in the hell realm. Was there any blacksmith who made that iron pavement? Was there any store of wood that caused the continuous fire? No, it is caused by karmic fruition, by the individual karmic accumulation, which results from misconceived clinging to the illusion of self and other as being substantial. If we are to avoid the suffering of continual reincarnation, we must apply ourselves to practice and recognize, to a degree at least, that the mind's true nature is emptiness, clarity, and unimpeded awareness. Then can we begin to understand and recognize the truth concerning the way in which phenomena are [ 33 ] FIRST REFLECTIONS
experienced in the realms of samsara. If one does not have the understanding of mind's true nature, then this truth is really difficult to grasp or understand, and one continues to suffer from this delusion of conceptual reality. All sentient beings have body, speech, and mind, foolishly clinging to these three facets as being the illusory self. If one practices negative actions, then the fruition of these actions takes place in one of the lower realms through the gates of body, speech, and mind. If one practices virtuous action, or positive karmic trends, then it is these same gates that experience the result as rebirth in the superior states of the three higher realms. Also, it is practicing the path of Buddhadharma with body, speech, and mind that allows one to recognize the enlightened nature of body, speech, and mind, for it is these same three gates that are bound in samsara and that are also liberated through enlightenment. In recognizing that the development and experience of all sentient beings are not concurrent or universal, nor even necessarily similar, the Lord Buddha taught broad overviews, termed the triyanas, to help open these three gates to liberation. If one wishes to construct a three-story building, then one must start with the ground floor, continue by adding the next story, then the third, until one has completed the building. If one wishes to practice and understand the full meaning of the Buddhadharma, one can utilize the three yanas - the hinayana, the mahayana, and the vajrayana. By practicing the tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, one can utilize these three vehicles in unison. One of these three yanas, namely the hinayana, deals with controlling personal behavior and emotionality through the rejection, abandonment, and avoidance of erroneous and mistaken behavior. Erroneous behavior of the body is killing, stealing, or harming others, specifically through sexual misconduct; mistaken behavior of the speech is lying, causing disharmony and/ or discord; and so on. One must completely spurn and abandon such behavior. Refusal to practice any form of harmful behavior towards others helps one to maintain the discipline of meditative absorption while employing the practices we term in Tibetan zhinay (Skt.: shamatha), which stills the mind, and lhatong (Skt.: vipashyana), which observes the mind's nature. Thus, the whole [ 34 ] GENTLY WI-ITSPERED
principle of the hinayana doctrine lies in the abandonment of all harmful actions, and in the maintenance of meditative absorption. No doubt you have seen that many Tibetan lamas wear robes of maroon and saffron colors, which are similar to the robes that the Lord Buddha once wore. These robes are a sign of their having taken special ordinations. Householders, persons who have a responsibility to their families, will seek less restrictive ordination, which, in Tibetan, are referred to as genyen. Depending upon his or her circumstances and the desire to follow ordination, the householder's vows can number three, four, or five. The basic three vows forsake killing, stealing, and lying. Additionally, one can vow abstinence from intoxicating substances, and/ or abstinence from sexual activity. The novice monk and nun take vows that are thirty-six in number, which include the basic genyen vows. Beyond this level exists the ordinations of the fullyordained monk and nun, which number in the several hundreds. Both the novice and the full ordinations are based upon the hinayana approach of practice; a person demonstrates they are observing these ordinations by the wearing of robes. One's Dharma practice should be based in the hinayana (regardless of whether or not one wishes to take special vows to demonstrate one's practice of the hinayana vehicle), as this is the basis of all practice. It is perfectly alright if one chooses not to be ordained as a monk or nun, because one accomplishes this path not by wearing robes, but by completely abandoning the ten negative actions and by instilling virtuous, wholesome behavior through the practice of the ten virtuous actions of body, speech, and mind. One does this with an understanding of karmic consequences and by knowing why it is better to lead a life based on positive rather than negative action. One actively employs this vehicle as an outer discipline, which equates to having constructed the foundation for one's house. Or, in the case of the three story building, one has completed the lower story. However, even if one were to perfect this practice, the complete realization of buddhahood would still be very distant. One needs to construct the second story of our illustrative dwelling, which in this case is the path of the mahayana. [ 35 ] FIRST REFLECTIONS
With a foundation of hinayana purity derived by completely abandoning any harmful activity, one begins upon the path of the mahayana, which is the path of unifying emptiness and compassion. Let us again consider the meaning of emptiness. All sentient beings have mind and all identify with this mind. So, one thinks, "I am this mind," and one thinks, "I am," thereby contributing to the formulations of a variety of likes and dislikes, of aversions and attractions to different phenomena. Although it has absolutely no self whatsoever, this mind has an incidental clinging to a self as being something or someone real. Observing the true nature of mind and discovering that it is devoid of any descriptive characteristics (such as size, shape, color, or location) is to recognize that mind, in essence, is emptiness. In the hinayana practice, little emphasis is placed upon the recognition of the emptiness of all phenomena; instead, this view of emptiness is attained by seeing the emptiness of personality. It is simply not enough to recognize the emptiness of personality, however, or to recognize that mind itself is empty and devoid of any substantiality. One needs to recognize the void nature of all phenomena, and in so doing, one proceeds to enter the path of the mahayana. The Prajna Paramita Sutra, or the Perfection of Wisdom Sutra, is the primary source of the teaching on emptiness in Buddhadharma. Basically, this sutra points o1,1t that mind is emptiness in categorically stating that "there is no form; there is no feeling; there is no sensation; there is no taste; there is no touch." In presenting the teaching that all these things are actually empty, this sutra is regarded as the core of elucidation on this topic. Its concept is the basis of the meditative practice that has developed in several schools, most notably in the Buddhist orders in Japan. Emphasis is placed on recognizing the emptiness of form, the emptiness of sound, the emptiness of feeling, the emptiness of smell, and so on. In short, all sensory appearances are recognized as being empty. This realization is achieved by seeing that the mind itself, that all appearances perceived and/ or experienced by the mind, are, in fact, mental projections. They are the mind's play; as mind itself is insubstantial, so too are these projections. [ 36 ] GENTLY WHISPERED
The main line from the Prajna Paramita Sutra describing this says, "Form is void, void is form; form is no other than void, voidness is no other than form." If someone were to say to you, "There is no sound, no form, no feeling; there is truly nothing real," then you might not believe that. You will reply that you have these definite, real experiences of these sensory sensations: you hear sound; you actually see form, etc. This term void does not imply nothingness, but, rather, it infers the interdependence and insubstantiality of all phenomena. In this sense, all phenomena are considered empty or void of any absolute reality. The dream is frequently used as an example of this. While in the dream state, one can dream up an entire experience with a total environment, and one can experience that as having form, feeling, sound, etc. The dream appears extremely real. Still, there is no reality whatsoever in the dream existence, for with the moment of awakening, it all completely vanishes. The dream experience is believed to be real during the time of the dream, yet it is obviously a projection of the mind. The aim of the practitioner is to recognize that the experience of present phenomena is also merely a projection that has no substantial being. Let me remind you that the basis of this discourse lies in the teachings of the Buddha Shakyamuni and the third Gyalwa Karmapa [Rangjung Dorje, 1284-1339]. Both taught that all phenomena are insubstantial, like a dream, like a reflection in a mirror, like an illusion, like a rainbow. In seeing that all appearance (not only one's mind and emotions) is luminous, unimpeded suchness, one recognizes that all external appearance, which is also arising from the mind, is only mental projection. The basis of the mahayana practice differs from the hinayana in that one does not practice abandonment, rejection, etc. Instead, in mahayana, one deals with one's behavior in a manner of transformation. For example, if the desire to harm another sentient being arises on the crest of a wave of great anger, then one immediately applies the antidote of compassion; the energy of the anger is thereby transformed into compassion. One does not deal with an emotion simply by cutting it off; rather, one uses compassion to transform it on the basis of its inherent insubstantiality. [ 37 ] FIRST REFLECTIONS
In their ignorance, sentient beings think all that they experience is real, and their misconception entails their experiencing a great deal of suffering. Ones sees that all sentient beings are experiencing the illusory manifestations of the three bodies (the fully ripened, the habitual tendency, and the mental bodies), and that they are completely locked in these illusions. Recognizing the habitual clinging of these three categories of sentient phenomena as being only illusory appearance, then one recognizes emptiness. By recognizing that one's delusion and habitual clinging cause suffering, an intense compassion can arise. The recognition of emptiness itself is referred to as wisdom, and the arising compassion is referred to by the term means. The path of recognizing the emptiness of these three categories of phenomena, and of developing compassion for all those experiencing such delusion, is the path of mahayana, and this path has its pinnacle in the union of means and wisdom. Having attained both great compassion and wisdom, one has then finished constructing the second floor of this three story building. The full attainment of buddhahood is still very distant, however, since one must still practice the six perfections (paramitas), (generosity, moral conduct, patience, diligence, meditative contemplation, and wisdom) for many lifetimes, for many kalpas, progressing slowly and steadily through the stages of bodhisattva development, until one finally attains buddhahood. This takes considerable effort and an unimaginable amount of time, yet practicing mahayana is very beneficial. During the great lapse of time before one attains buddhahood, one can benefit a great number of sentient beings, and, of course, oneself. But the only way to achieve rapid progress along the path to enlightenment is to practice vajrayana. In vajrayana, one goes one step further and does not apply any specific antidote of abandoning or of transforming. Instead, one merely recognizes the true nature of the mind. By recognizing the nature of action, emotion, and so on, there is instantaneous liberation. This is why the vajrayana path is very rapid and is a most powerful method. How does one apply this path of recognition? First, one recognizes that the body is the form of the deity. The form of the deity being the union of void and appearance, one [ 38 ] GENTLY WHISPERED
recognizes that this body has the clarity of the rainbow, has the unimpededness of the reflection of the moon in water, and has the insubstantialness of the reflection in a mirror. In this recognition, one has realized the nature of the body as being devoid of form. Second, one recognizes that all speech and all sound is the sound of mantra. In hearing all sound as being mantra, one recognizes that all sound is devoid of substance, insubstantial like an echo. Third, one recognizes the mind with all the thought, concepts, cognition, awareness, emotion, etc., as being similar to a wavering mirage in the distance that the deer, thinking it is water, come to drink. One recognizes that all mind, all cognition, is like a mirage which is vacant of consciousness. If one realizes the form void, the sound void, and the consciousness void, then one has completely liberated clinging. This is the basis of the path of the vajrayana. If one applies oneself to this path in the same way as Jetsiin Milarepa and many others, then one can attain complete enlightenment in this very lifetime. Even if one does not realize enlightenment in this lifetime, the blessings of the yidam and the power of the mantra enable one to realize liberation in the after-death bardo state. In either case, enlightenment transpires because one has developed and established a good habit in the practice of recognizing all phenomena as having the true nature of the form, mantra, and samadhi of the yidam. This habit can quickly instill one with the ability to realize all visual phenomena as form void, all sound as sound void, and all levels of the skandas as being inherently void of causal reality. In the bardo state after death, the mind is exactingly potent and extremely powerful. By applying the vajrayana method, one can instantly accomplish a deep state of meditation and thus gain liberation from suffering in the six realms of samsara. One can end the cycle of karmic rebirth and gain the threshold of mastery of the three yanas, thus enabling one to move in and out of substantial phenomena at will. To illustrate the way vajrayana accomplishment has been demonstrated by a great teacher, I will now tell you a story about Jetsiin Milarepa. [ 39 ] FIRST REFLECTIONS
One time Jetsiin Milarepa, the yogi saint of Tibet, was meditating in an isolated cave, absorbed in samadhi. Some extremely hungry hunters, who had been unsuccessful in their hunt, came to this cave. As they entered, they saw an emaciated Jetsiin Milarepa sitting there. Somewhat frightened, they inquired, "Are you a ghost or are you a man?" Jetsiin Milarepa replied quietly, "I am a man." "If you are a man, give us something to eat. We are all very hungry and our hunt is fruitless." "But I have nothing to offer you. I have nothing to eat. I am just sitting here absorbed in meditation," replied Milarepa. "Nonsense," they said, "you must be hiding some kind of food here somewhere. Give us some food!" They were extremely hungry and became very angry when Jetsiin Milarepa again replied that he had absolutely nothing to eat. The hunters decided to torment and abuse the great yogi Milarepa. Firing arrows at him, they were astounded to see that the arrows could not penetrate him. Some of the arrows were deflected straight upwards, some to the left, and some to the right. Some even deflected directly back at the hunters, who became even more infuriated. They then tried to topple him over and injure him by throwing rocks, but somehow Milarepa floated up into the air, like a very light piece of paper. When they threw water on him, the water miraculously vanished.lfrying with all their might to throw him into the river nearby, Jetsiin Milarepa foiled their efforts by floating in the space above them. No matter what they did to inflict harm, they were totally ineffectual. This illustrates Milarepa' s realization of form void. They had no success because his physical being was form void, his speech and melody were sound void. Additionally, their experience of his unperturbability during this incident demonstrated his being void of karmic fruition. If we have the diligence and the wisdom to apply the skillful means of vajrayana, then we too can realize liberation while we still have the opportunity of this precious human existence. If one has a precious human existence enabling one to understand mind's true nature, and if one's understanding is of the most excellent degree, the result will be the realization of the [ 40 ] GENTLY WHISPERED
mahamudra. Even if one does not gain this full level of understanding, the slightest understanding of the nature of mind can give one the ability to meditate with comfort and ease. In fact, even without an average degree of understanding, simply hearing and knowing a little bit about mind's true nature can be extremely beneficial. It enables one to apply oneself to all kinds of worldly activity that benefits many beings. We have now discussed several different methods (or vehicles) for obtaining buddhahood. But the best method of all is that which leads to the understanding of the meaning of the mahamudra. If the nature of the mind is recognized, one is a buddha. If it is not recognized, one is confused and is a sentient being. Although the basis of mahamudra is easy to understand, putting it into practice can be difficult because one clings to one's obscurations. Due to ignorance, the obscuration of knowledge causes habits of mental afflictions and/ or of emotionality to arise, which in tum give rise to karmic action. The presence of these four veils of obscuration that cloud our enlightened awareness is similar to the presence of clouds in the sky which prevent the sunlight from brightening the day. In the Hevajra Tantra it is said that sentient beings are buddhas, but, because of their obscurations they do not recognize this. If sentient beings can dispel these obscurations, they will become buddhas. There are two ways to do this. One way is comprised of four practices that are called the foundational practices in Tibetan Buddhism. These involve an accumulation of prostrations, refuge vows, purification mantras, mandala offerings, and supplications to the tsaway lama. Additionally, this way focuses upon bringing the visualization practice through the development and completion stages of vajrayana meditation. The other way was evolved in the hinayana traditions. It involves various methods of meditation that fall into two main categories: zhinay (shamatha), or tranquility meditation, comprised of methods with and without support; and lhatong (vipashyana), or insight meditation, which includes many different methods of meditative approach. Either way, these methods can lead to the realization of mahamudra, or true liberation. In either approach, it is important to meditate using zhinay, translated into English as tranquility. In defining the two Tibetan [ 41 ] FIRST REFLECI10NS
words that represent the concept of zhinay, we find the terms pacification and abiding. These refer to the pacifying of the mind of its mental afflictions or emotions, and through this the gaining of the ability to abide with the mind resting one-pointedly. It is considered that without some development of tranquility of mind, one will not be able to perform any other kind of meditation. This is the reason why zhinay is important. According to one tradition, one begins by meditating upon zhinay before one performs the foundational practices of Tibetan Buddhism, while another tradition says that one should begin by performing the foundational practices and there-after meditate upon tranquility and insight. The reasoning upon which both methods are based is equally correct, thus either method may provide results. The effectiveness of the first tradition lies in one beginning with mastering, or at least experiencing, tranquility before commencing the foundational practices; this procedure allows one to gain control over one's mind so that the objects of meditation appear very clearly. The other tradition states that one will not be able to perform zhinay properly without first dispelling one's obscurations through practices of purification, thus accumulating the merit and wisdom gained from the foundational practices. If one performs the zhinay practice after the foundational practices, then one will be able to perform excellent and effortless zhinay. Both viewpoints are correct. In introducing these approaches to recognizing the true nature of the mind, it is appropriate to encourage you to strive within your abilities to grasp these concepts and to apply them in your life. Knowing a little of the mind's nature can be very beneficial, even in a worldly sense. You can generally improve any meditation practice you use by recognizing that the intense clinging to a belief in a self (with its emotions, thoughts, etc.) as being something real make~ it almost impossible to meditate. If you wish to hold the mind in equipoise and meditate one-pointedly, such clinging prevents this from happening. Even if you wish to give rise to the very clear visualization of the yidam, this clinging also veils your view. If, however, you recognize and see mind's true nature as emptiness, clarity, and unimpeded awareness, then all meditation becomes easy. [ 42 ] Pausing in his meditation, Kalu Rinpoche patiently listens to the question posed by the photographer. (Photograph by J.G. Sherab Ebin) [ 43 ] CHANGING TiDES AND TiMES
Examination of Alaya and Karma
Throughout the world, there are many religions and spiritual traditions that make the assumption that there is something beyond death. On this basis, they form many teachings. Certainly, there would be no purpose in practicing or propagating their teachings if, in fact, the mind actually died with the body. Regardless of the particular dogma, propagation of their moral code hinges upon the asserted belief that what one does now can influence one's experience in the after-death state.
Indeed, in Buddhism the continuity of the mind is an important point. Mind is not something that comes into being at the beginning of the life of the physical body, nor is it something that ends with the physical body's death. Its continuity, from one state of existence to another, has a great influence on and definite connection with each successive state. In the sense that this empty, clear, and unimpeded nature of mind has always been experienced and always will be experienced, mind itself is eternal. There always will be mind, just as there always has been mind, and, continually, this mind experiences various states of confusion and suffering. This is what the Buddha termed samsara, or the cycle of conditioned rebirth, from one state of experience to another.
In samsara, that which is always being experienced is the content of the mind, rather than the nature of mind itself. Such [ 44 ] GENTLY WHISPERED ~
contents are derived from a fundamental confusion or ignorance that projects both the physical body and phenomenal experiences. Far from being permanent, the projections of mind are impermanent and unstable. These projections are always changing, falling apart, and being replaced by some new projection. For those of you who are longing for something else, it is important to understand that the mind, with its dynamic, empty, and unobstructed luminosity, contains not only the delusion of causal phenomena, but also the potential for liberation. In this empty, clear, and unimpeded nature of mind itself is the very potential or seed for obtaining enlightenment. This inherent quality is referred to as tathagatagarbha, or buddha nature. Each and every living being has buddha nature as part of its make-up because this is the inherent nature of its mind. This is true regardless of whatever realm, state, or situation of rebirth a being finds itself experiencing. Although there is no doubt that each being has tathagatagarbha, the mind expresses itself through a fundamental ignorance, in ways which generate more or less merit, and which are positive or negative in terms of the actions one commits physically, verbally, and mentally. As the mind is "no thing" in and of itself but is essentially empty, it should not be misconstrued to be something tangible, or something limited. It cannot be said that the mind was put together at one point and that it falls apart at some other point. Mind does not behave in that way. There always has been mind; there always will be mind. Because it is not something created at one point and destroyed at another, mind continually expresses itself through an infinite series of rebirths in the different states of samsara in a great many differing and particular ways. As long as fundamental ignorance remains in the mind, the sources of samsara will continue to exist. Samsara is endless in the sense that the mind will continue to experience its own projections and confusion again, and again, and again, in an endless cycle. This appears to be a rather grim perspective, unless, of course, a means for liberation exists. The situation, however, of a sentient being attaining enlightenment does not imply that this liberation should be interpreted as mind disappearing. It is not as though the mind comes to an end at this point of enlightenment. [ 45 ] CHANGING TIDES AND TIMES
Rather, the confusion in the mind comes to an end. Instead of eternally experiencing its own confusion, enlightened mind eternally experiences its own true nature as tathagatagarbha, wholly and without any confusion. In fact, the only reason we can say that samsara is a temporary state that can be ended, is that it is possible to eliminate this primal confusion. Quite literally, samsara is the experiencing of that confusion and, if this confusion is eliminated, then samsara has been eliminated. If, however, that confusion is not eliminated, then samsara remains an endless process. Consequently, it will never exhaust itself. The whole karmic process has been briefly summed up in a quote from the traditional teachings: "If you wish to understand what has taken place, look at your body; if you wish to see what will take place, look at your actions." This saying is an attempt to indicate that any particular state of rebirth and/ or the experiences that currently affect one are due to tendencies that were established at some previous time. Additionally, what the mind will experience in the future is currently being conditioned by how it is expressing itself now in physical, verbal, and mental action. Past, present, or future karmic tendencies are a continuing cycle that, once established, are continually reinforced. At this time, we all have the common quality of being human, as we share this collective experience of a human rebirth. This is an indication that we share a certain collective karma which has brought us to this particular nature of our experience, instead of to some other form of life experience in some other realm, or to some other human circumstances that proscribe interest in the Dharma. Due to our positive and meritorious physical, verbal, and mental actions, certain meritorious tendencies were reinforced in previous existences that have given us this current result. Such collective experience is easily demonstrable; however, there is another fact that we have to consider. The great variety of ways that human beings experience the human realm is due not to collective karma but to the individual aspects of karma. For example, in the human realm there are people who die very early, who experience continual poverty, who suffer from the inability to become prosperous, who fail to accomplish their aims, [ 46 ] GENTLY WHISPERED ~
and who suffer from ill health. On a karmic level, all of these frustrations can be traced back to the negative karmic tendencies that were established in previous existences when the mind expressed itself in ways that led to some kind of unskillful action. Perhaps these beings killed many other sentient beings. This action, as complicated or uncomplicated as the circumstances might have been, will give a karmic reaction that will reappear in a retributive way in some future life. Persons who have behaved in such a manner will experience a shortness of life, either through illness or by being killed before their natural time of death. Or, it might be that in a previous time a person may have stolen or robbed a great deal of wealth from others and therefore will experience a resultant poverty in some future time. Basically, the law of karma describes all causal phenomena as the effective result of previous action, whether this result is positive or negative. Beyond the context of only this lifetime, we are able to trace both positive and negative karmic tendencies that were established in previous existences which directly lead to our present lifetime's experience. If strong positive karmic tendencies were developed through the practice of generosity or cherishing and guarding of life, etc., the result would lead to the experience of longevity, health, prosperity, and the ability to become successful and to obtain one's goals. Consequently, while we indeed share the common experience in being human, our experience of the human realm remains very much a personal one, being individual to each person. Many people, even those from various spiritual traditions, feel that there is no such thing as previous or future existences. Undoubtedly, they take this opinion because these former or future existences are not apparent and because this truth lacks an empirical basis for substantiation. Their disbelief is very understandable because neither the past nor the future is something that can be seen at the present moment. But then, the mind that experiences the past, the present, and the future cannot be seen either. If karmic fruition propagates this succession of rebirths and is something that originates and arises from the mind, it should not be surprising that it is as intangible as mind itself. Forget about previous and future existences; we do not even see [ 47 ] CHANGING TIDES AND TIMES
our mind right now! Mind is not some thing that we can take out and examine. It is not some thing we can pin down and say, "This exactly is the mind." In lacking this capability, it should not surprise us that we also lack the potential for validating or verifying the continuity of future or previous existences. Thus, even though we can only see this body right now, our blank memory of having had other bodies should not surprise us. Ultimately speaking, the physical body that we are experiencing at any particular point is only a projection of the mind and, as such, arises from tendencies in the mind, to be experienced by the mind. Take two people; if one of them goes to sleep and the other observes the sleeper, regardless of how incredible and complicated the dreams of the sleeper are, the other person cannot see them. The observer has no way of seeing what the other person is experiencing because it is intangible. It cannot be seen empirically, nor is it possible from the point of view of the observer to validate empirically any dream with any other sense faculty. This does not mean that the dreamer is not dreaming! For the dreamer, the dream (while lacking tangibility) is perfectly valid. Similarly, any attempt to validate the karmic process empirically is simply a waste of time. Although the dream arises from something intangible, this does not mean that the process of cause and effect does not work. Even though the physical senses do not enable one to validate the law of karma, one can see this truth through spiritual insight. As one's realization develops, one becomes directly aware of cause and effect, which gives an awareness of the process of rebirth. Ordinarily, one is accustomed to verifying the truth or the falsity of something before giving it credence. In the instance of karmic fruition, however, the lack of empirical verification should not be taken as either an indication or absolute proof of its non-existence. Rather, one needs to recognize that one is not necesr.arily consciously aware of it right now. Earlier we were discussing the concept of the empty, clear, and unimpeded nature of mind as being the inherent nature of one's self. Due to the several levels of confusion and distortion that take place in the mind, our present unliberated situation manifests. The first of these delusions is a simple lack of direct experience and awareness of the nature of mind. Rather than experiencing [ 48 ] GENTLY WHISPERED
the mind's nature in clear awareness, the experience is impregnated with the distortion of a not-knowing, or of an absence, on the most fundamental level, of awareness. This most subtle and most fundamental level of confusion is technically termed ignorance or unawareness. This distortion obscures the direct experience of emptiness of mind so that, rather than the mind directly experiencing its own intangibility, the mind experiences the self. This I, the subject which is taken to be something ultimately real, is, in fact, merely a distortion of the true experience of the emptiness of mind. In a similar manner, the direct experience of the luminosity of mind is distorted or frozen into the experience of being something other. This object, the frozen or distorted other-than-self, is taken to be ultimately real, but, in fact, is a clouding of this direct experience of the luminosity of mind. A dualistic split thereby develops that recognizes subject/object and self/other as seemingly being ultimately separate and independent. In our confusion, we habitually reinforce this dualistic framework. The picture is further complicated by the unobstructed quality of mind, that awareness which tends to arise only in certain limited ways. If, in this dualistic framework, there arises a positive relationship between subject and object, such experience is usually expressed in terms of an attraction or attachment of subject to object, thereby giving a perception of something good and attractive. When something is perceived as bad, or when the subject takes the object to be something threatening or repulsive, then there arises a negative emotion of aggression or aversion. Ultimately speaking, subject, object, and the emotional response that results are wholly the activity of the mind. It is the mind which conceives of the subject. It is the mind which conceives of the object. It is also the mind which conceives of the split between the two. Although it is the mind which initiates attraction or aversion, somehow this is not perceived by sentient beings. Instead, everything is treated as though it were very solid. Subject is here, object is there, and the relationship between the two is separate and distinct. We believe each is existent in and of itself; we also believe that they are totally independent of mind. This is the delusion caused by the fundamental stupidity (or dullness) of [ 49 ] CHANGING TIDES AND TIMES
the mind. Basic attachment, aversion, and the quality of stupidity are the three primary emotional responses of sentient beings; they are the source of all suffering. From these primary delusions spring secondary developments, causing things to become much more complex. Mere attachment can develop into avarice (or greed) and grasping. Stupidity develops into pride and self-aggrandizement. Aversion develops into envy, jealousy, etc. But it does not stop there. With these basic emotions, further developments and ramifications take place until there are literally thousands of emotional responses and emotional situations. To indicate the complexity of this level of confusion and distortion of the mind and emotions, the sutras speak of eighty-four thousand emotional and mental discursive situations. The resolution of these emotions is a topic we will address more at length further on; for now, let us continue to attempt to see the source that affects our emotional response. Because one has mental and emotional conflicts, one naturally acts in certain physical, verbal, and mental ways. Through such actions, which are again based upon dualistic confusion, one reinforces karmic tendencies, either positive or negative. Generally, however, one tends toward the negative because it is out of this confusion that further confusion reinforces itself. Any overtly negative actions, such as killing and stealing, reinforce this confusion, and these negative karmic patterns will produce even further suffering. This is the fourth level of obscuration which I mentioned when I began this discourse. Actually, the situations we are now experiencing can be described in whole by referring only to those four veils of mind's confusion: fundamental ignorance, dualistic clinging, emotionality, and karmic tendencies. In the Buddhist tradition, the empty, clear, and dynamic state of awareness (which is the fundamental nature of mind itself), is technically termed the alaya, meaning the origin (or source) of all experience and of all transcending or intrinsically pristine awareness. To use a metaphor, take the example of transparently clear, pure water, without any sediment or pollutants, into which a handful of earth or mud is thrown and stirred round until dark clouds of earth particles obscure the water's transparency. The water is still there but there is something that is hiding or mask- [ 50 ] GENTLY WHISPERED ~
ing that transparent clarity. In the same way, what we experience in samsara is rather like this clear water being obscured by pollution, as our inherent, ever-present buddha nature is masked by these four veils of obscuration. This situation of obscuration is also termed alaya. Alaya, then, is not only the fundamental or original state of consciousness, but it is also the discursive consciousness, the confused awareness from which arise all of the illusory or confused perceptions common among sentient beings. On the one hand, one.has the pure alaya, which is the inherent nature of mind itself as pristine awareness, this pure water. On the other hand, one has the practical situation of this impure alaya, which is the fundamental source of confusion and illusion due to the four different veils of confusion of the mind, this impure backwater. At this moment we are unenlightened sentient beings, which means that what we experience is an admixture of both the impure and pure alaya. Simultaneously, samsara is both the inherent (but obscured) buddha nature of mind and also the levels of confusion that result in this impure alaya, or the phenomenal world. Nirvana, however, is unobscured awareness having no confusion or karmic fruition to give rise to phenomenal causality. This concept of pure and impure alaya is important to comprehend. To use another metaphor, take the concept of the sun shining in a cloudless sky, an image of clarity and spaciousness, as the fundamental nature of mind. It is entirely possible that the sky can be obscured by clouds, fog, or mist, all of which can prevent the direct perception of the sun shining in the clear sky. Indeed, these clouds can also give rise to all kinds of other developments, such as lightning, thunder, hail, rain, or snow, which can completely obscure the sky's clear spaciousness. In the same way, these levels of ignorance and confusion of the mind give the result of all of the illusory projections that are ultimately unreal experiences which we, as unenlightened sentient beings, undergo in the belief that this is real. Because these delusions obscure true clarity, the result is sentient suffering and pain. In this case, the complication (such as the hail, the rain, and so forth, in our metaphor) is that pain, suffering, and confusion are experienced as a result of this mixture of the pure and the impure alaya.