The Healthy Mind Interviews: Volume III
HMV: What is the function of the mind?
LTC: Oh yes.
HMV: And when those clouds disappear, then the rigpa that is always there appears.
Annotation: One of the most basic tenets, if not the most basic tenet, of Buddhism is that the human mind exists in two fundamentally different states. The mind can be either egocentric or it can be egoless. These two states of mind are known by many different names in the Buddhist literature, and two of them are samsara and nirvana, respectively.
As socialized beings, most of us have an ego. Buddhism says, of course, that a person's attachment to their sense of identity, or ego, is the cause of all psychological suffering. It also says that the mind without an ego is a mind that does not suffer. It is a happy, healthy and compassionate mind. In keeping with this fundamental analysis, the goal/non-goal of Buddhist practice is to cultivate an egoless mind.
The empirical study of the stream of consciousness suggests that the defining difference between these two types of mind is that each of them has a different mode of self awareness. The egocentric, or dual, mind is a mind that has dual awareness of itself, and the egoless mind is a mind that has nondual awareness of itself.3
Lopon is saying here, that rigpa, the nondual awareness that is and knows the egoless mind, is always present within us, but that our ability to know rigpa and be egoless is blocked and obscured by the thoughts and emotions created by the ego.
is present in everyone, but no one realizes it.”
It should be mentioned at least once that even though samsaric mind and nirvana are very different, they are also one and the same.5 HMV: I'd like to take a moment now to compare the functions of rigpa and dual mind. You have said that the dual mind grasps phenomena, and that it does so for the purpose of knowing and understanding them.
LTC: Yes. When you have an ego, it has many good functions.
LTC: Oh yes!
HMV: Does it help a person know and understand things?
HMV: In the West, we say that one of the primary functions of the mind is to give meaning to a person's sensory experience. Here's an example of what I mean by that: Suppose I am crossing a street and all of a sudden I look up and see that a truck is speeding towards me out of control. My mind might create a thought that says, “That truck is going to hit me. Get out of the way.” That thought is a meaning. It gives meaning to the sensory experience of seeing the truck.
Another example of a meaning would be this: right now, as I sit here listening to you talk, single thoughts are appearing in my mind, from time to time, that tell me what I want to say in response to the things you are saying. These thoughts are created by my mind to give meaning to my experience of listening to you.
LTC: Oh yes.
HMV: And is that the function of a thought?
HMV: Like a mandala.6
HMV: In what form do these meanings appear?
LTC: They appear as rigpa itself.
HMV: Can a predual appearance create meaning?
LTC: Yes. They will do more work than a computer.
HMV: Thank you very much.
Annotation: The human mind is a system that has four essential functions: (1) the construction of sensory experience (2) the creation of constructs that give meaning to that sensory experience (3) the expression of those meanings as behavior and (4) the regulation of how those meanings are expressed. In this passage, Lopon agrees with the notion that the mind does, in fact, give meaning to its experience. He says that it is not only the dual mind that gives meaning to experience, and that the nondual mind does as well. The dual mind does so by fashioning dual meanings, and the nondual mind does so by creating nondual meanings.
Finally, Lopon says that these dual and nondual meanings both appear in the stream of consciousness, but that they do so as different kinds of phenomena. The dual meanings are familiar to us, and they appear as thoughts, emotions and the recurring patterns of ego thought.8 Nondual meanings appear in a number of less familiar forms. In this passage Lopon mentions a first type of meaning that is not dual: the gzhi- nang, or predual appearance. This entire volume is going to be an exploration of the different types of nondual meaning that appear in the egoless mind.
HMV: I'd like to circle back for a moment and talk about dual mind once again. I think we've agreed that the dual mind creates meanings, and that those meanings appear as thoughts in the stream of consciousness.
LTC: Oh yes.
HMV: When thoughts appear, would it be fair to say that there is, in the dual mind, a watcher? That in the dual mind there is both a stream of thoughts and a watcher, or awareness, that knows and is aware of those thoughts?
HMV: Does the watcher ever accept, reject and/or follow thoughts?
LTC: Many more thoughts will come as a result.
LTC: It will dissolve and disappear.
HMV: Is there any other set of events that will make a thought dissolve?
LTC: Oh yes. There is a second way. A thought will dissolve when you realize its emptiness, which is the nature of mind. When you realize the emptiness of a thought, then all of your thoughts will cease from the root, or bagchags.12 HMV: Are you are saying that the mind can realize the emptiness of its thoughts? Is it possible to realize the emptiness of thoughts as they appear?
LTC: Oh yes. And when you do, your thoughts will stop appearing. It is also possible to stop your thoughts without understanding their emptiness, but then the thoughts will come back. If you don't realize the emptiness of a thought, then its root will remain in the storehouse consciousness of your mind,13 and at any time the thoughts can arise again.
HMV: It sounds as though you are saying that when awareness realizes the emptiness of a thought it causes two things to happen: (1) it allows the thoughts to dissolve and cease appearing and (2) it causes the root that is the source of those thoughts to dissolve and cease functioning.
LTC: Oh yes. Then the five wisdoms15 will appear.
LTC: Oh yes.
Annotation: Lopon is saying unequivocally, here, that it is possible to realize the emptiness of thoughts and, in so doing, allow them to transform themselves into the five primordial wisdoms of the egoless mind. In the process of making this point, Lopon goes on to say that realizing the emptiness of thoughts is the definitive method for bringing about the cessation of the habitual patterns of ego thought, or bagchags. What's a bagchags?
Most of us have noisy minds in the sense that a rush of thoughts and emotions is almost constantly coming and going within our minds. Buddhist and DzogChen mind science have long recognized the existence of these thoughts, and it sees them as being recurring, or habitual, patterns of ego thought, or “bagchags,” in Tibetan. The function of these recurring cycles of thought is to create stories that help the ego believe that it has the identity it thinks it has.
The egocentric mind lives in the narratives created by the bag-chags, and it is in this sense that the phenomena of the world and mind are one and the same. The problem with living inside these ego narratives is that they make you unhappy. They block a person's ability to know and be their self, and they create existential ruts in a person's life.
Buddhist and DzogChen mind science both take the theoretical position that each of these patterns of recurring thought is caused by a structural root, if you will, that is stored in the unconscious mind. In Tibetan mind science, these roots, or unconscious fixed ideas, are called subtle bagchags, and the thoughts, themselves, are called gross bagchags.16
Lopon Tegchoke is saying here that there are two ways to abandon, or stop living in, a recurring pattern of ego thought, or gross bagchags. One way is to simply stop following, or believing, the stories they tell. This is actually a profound thing to do, but Lopon says here that this is only a temporary solution. The thoughts will return.
The second approach is to dig a bagchags out by its roots. Lopon says that this is done by realizing the emptiness of the appearing thoughts. This causes both the dissolution of the subtle bagchags and the cessation of the thoughts themselves. Abandoning habitual patterns of ego thought is an essential aspect of the process of developing an egoless, or nondual, mind.17
HMV: I would like to go back, for a moment, to the idea that both dual mind and rigpa give meaning to experience. We've already established that meanings created by the dual mind can appear to the watcher as thoughts. When rigpa creates a meaning, when rigpa gives meaning to an experience of the external world, in what form does that meaning appear within the mind?
LTC: It is very much the same, but we can only express the clarity of rigpa with analogies. We can not express it in words. It is like a mirror looking at space. And the space itself is emptiness. This is the way in which rigpa enters into clarity. That clarity is emptiness too. Then we can't use words. When rigpa knows rigpa, it is just like the experience of space.
HMV: What is rang-dang?
LTC: Yes. It can provide both meaning and intention.
LTC: Only as rays.
LTC: If it shines like rays, then it is rays.
HMV: Does self illumination give nondual meaning to experience? Are they nondual appearances that give meaning to a person's experience in the same way that thoughts are dual appearances that give dual meaning to experience?
LTC: They are gzhi-nang, or predual appearances.
LTC: Oh yes.
HMV: Thank you very much.
Annotation: Empirically, there are three different categories of meaning that appear within the mind. There are dual, predual and nondual meanings. The status of a given meaning is determined by the kind of awareness that the mind has of that meaning.
For example, a dual meaning is a meaning of which the mind has dual, or conceptual, awareness. A thought is an oft cited example of a dual meaning. A nondual meaning is a meaning of which the mind has nondual awareness. It is a meaning that the mind knows exactly as it is.19 As we will be seeing, the primordial wisdom that knows phenomena, or day- khona-nyid togpai yeshe, is an example of a nondual meaning.
In addition, there are also meanings that are neither dual nor nondual. In an interview that will be published as part of a second volume of interviews with Lopon Tegchoke, Lopon takes the position that a gzhi- nang is a primordial predual appearance. Here is an excerpt from that interview:
HMV: When we talked about meanings before, you said that there are both dual meanings and nondual meanings.
HMV: Thoughts, for example, are dual meanings.
LTC: Ah yes.
LTC: Oh yes.
HMV: And emotions.
HMV: You have also said that there are nondual meanings.
LTC: When you understand that a meaning is nondual, then it is nondual. But both are thoughts. When there is dual grasping, that thought will not dissolve. When you have nondual awareness of the thought, then it dissolves.
LTC: Oh yes. (Laughter) It's like muddy water. The mud disappears by itself.
LTC: In the first instant, there is a dual meaning, and it arises from there. HMV: It sounded to me like you were saying something different a few moments ago. It seemed as though you were saying that the original meaning is not dual in the first place, but that it becomes dual because it is grasped by the watcher. If this is true, how can it be dual before it is grasped?
HMV: What is it then?
LTC: At that time, both dual and nondual are not there.
HMV: I understand, but there is an appearance.
HMV: What type of appearance is it? LTC: Dual, nondual; both are not there. HMV: That's true. I understand. (Laughter all around) If I might venture a guess, it looks to me like this appearance that is neither dual nor nondual is a gzhi-nang, or predual appearance.
LTC: Yes. (Laughter) You are truly in Longchenpa's lineage.21
Lopon is agreeing, here, with the notion that there are appearances, or meanings, within the mind that are neither dual nor nondual. He is saying here that DzogChen mind science has recognized the existence of these predual appearances, and that it refers to them as “gzhi-nang.” A predual appearance is neither dual - in that it has not yet been conceptually grasped by awareness, nor nondual - in that it has not yet dissolved into rigpa.
A predual appearance is primordial in the sense that it is the first meaning that the mind attributes to a given experience, and for that reason the term gzhi-nang will be rendered in two different ways in this book: as both “predual appearance” and “primordial meaning.” The import of realizing that there are predual appearances, and of recognizing them as they arise, is that it reinforces the notion of leaving the mind in its natural state. If you leave a gzhi-nang, or for that matter any meaning, in its natural state, it will be spontaneously transformed into nondual mind.
LTC: Oh yes.
LTC: When you grasp a predual appearance as an “other” - as something that is separate from you, you create a duality - the duality of self and other. Now the act of grasping is actually a thought. The thought appears, it creates a self, and once a self has been created, you become attached to that self. That attachment is desire. Then anger towards the “other” begins.
HMV: It sounds like you are saying two things. One, when you grasp a predual appearance with a thought, you create a concept of your self. Two, once you create this concept of self, you automatically become attached to that concept. LTC: Yes. Even though the predual appearance was selfless to begin with, by grasping it with a thought, you create a self, or identity.
Annotation: In this last passage, Lopon Tegchoke is presenting the very heart of the DzogChen theory of the gzhi-nang, or predual appearance. This theory says, in essence, that two very different possible fates await each and every predual appearance that appears within the mind. Awareness can and does respond to a predual appearance in two different ways, and the type of response that it makes will determine an appearance's fate. If awareness responds to a predual appearance by attributing a concept of self to it, that appearance will become dual mind. If, on the other hand, awareness does not attribute a concept of self to a predual appearance, that appearance will become nondual primordial wisdom. Once again, the message is clear. Leave your mind in its natural state.
HMV: And that, in turn, creates the emotions.
LTC: Yes. Now the defining attribute of the emotions is that they make you unhappy. They create problems. In the end, thoughts and emotions will both give rise to suffering and problems. If you think too much, you will get tired. If you refrain from thinking too much, you will be happy and contented.
HMV: In the west we think of thoughts and emotions as being two different things. We think of them as being different in the sense that they have very different ways of appearing in the mind. We see a thought, as we have already discussed, as being an appearance of either words or images in the mind.
LTC: Yes. It's the same for us.
HMV: It is also true that thoughts and emotions often appear in tandem. For example, in a recurring pattern of ego thoughts, thoughts and emotions appear in tandem, and they appear over and over again.
LTC: Oh yes.
LTC: Oh yes. (Shared laughter)
LTC: Yes. I'd like to give you an example of a habitual pattern . HMV: Of a subtle pattern or a gross pattern?
LTC: Both. If a scent, let's say saffron, were to be poured inside this cup, there would be a duality. Once the scent has been poured into the cup, it will remain attached to the cup. That's a recurring pattern of ego thinking.
LTC: It is both; because the scent will keep coming and coming.
HMV: Thank you. Now I'd like to ask you about one more type of inner appearance - the momentary experiences of egoless mind, or nyams. Is a momentary experience of the egoless mind a dual or nondual inner appearance?24
HMV: Very interesting. How can it be both?
LTC: Yes. If one does not understand the dharma, then they are dual. If one truly understands the dharma, the true nature, then the experiences of egoless mind can be nondual. If you truly understand the dharma, at the moment that you first experience egoless mind, you understand that it is just an appearance; that it has no true existence at all. Then there is no possibility of subject and object.
HMV: Let's take an example. Suppose I'm in the midst of a joyous experience of the egoless mind, and that in the midst of that joy, I begin to think, “Oh what a good practitioner I am. This is an advanced experience.” Would that be an example of thinking that a nyams is real?
LTC: Yes. Yes. (Emphatic)
LTC: It will not dissolve. It will actually flourish.
LTC: There is no difference. (Shared laughter)
HMV: Thank you very much.
Annotation: When I took up this line of questioning with Lopon Tegchoke, I was entirely expecting him to say that every “nyams” is a moment of nondual experience. However, it turns out that Lopon brings additional distinctions to his use of the term.
Nyams is a technical term in DzogChen mind science, and it is usually translated into English as “experience.” The term “experience” does not quite rise, however, to the task of expressing the significance of a nyams.
For one, the three nyams are temporary experiences of the egoless mind, and as such they are thought of as being advanced meditative experiences.28 In keeping with this point of view, Lopon Tegchoke says that having these experiences is actually essential to the development of an egoless mind. However, in addition to being seen as an element of progress, the momentary experiences of the egoless mind are also seen as being a potential snare. Precisely because the nyams are positive experiences, meditators are apt to hold onto them and turn them into a form of ego. It is this danger that leads Lopon Tegchoke to make the distinction between dual and nondual experiences of the egoless mind.
A dual nyams is an experience of egoless mind that is turned into ego when it is seen as an accomplishment. A nondual nyams is an egoless experience that remains egoless because it is seen as a delusion and left in its nondual, or natural, state. As Lopon says above, a nondual nyams is the same thing as a realization.
LTC: When you say nondual, what do you mean?
HMV: Well, let's talk about that.
HMV: What I talk about nondual appearances, what interests me most, are the nondual inner appearances. And for me, Lopon, a nondual appearance is, for one, an appearance that has not been grasped. It is an appearance that has not been accepted, rejected or followed.
HMV: Two, it is an appearance that has dissolved.
LTC: Oh yes.
LTC: Yes. That's acceptable.
LTC: It has to come.
HMV: How does it come?
LTC: There are two ways of thinking about this. First of all, in nondual awareness, an outer appearance will have no attributes, or characteristics. When that attribute is not there, that flower will not arise in your mind.
HMV: In other words, no grasping.
LTC: Timeless awareness is the awareness that actually knows the empty appearances; the nature. When timeless awareness realizes the emptiness of an appearance, then it dissolves into and becomes rigpa.
LTC: There are two kinds of yeshe, or timeless awareness. There is one kind of yeshe that is primordially there. It is always present. Then there is another kind of yeshe that appears when you see an object without any delusion. That is also yeshe.
HMV: What is the term for the primordial yeshe?
Annotation: A literal translation of “day-khona-nyid togpai yeshe” would be “the primordial wisdom that knows the suchness of phenomena.” It is a moment of nondual awareness that knows the suchness of one specific phenomenon. To know the suchness of a phenomenon is to know that phenomenon as it is; to know it without projecting any dual constructs onto it.
In this volume, “day-khona-nyid togpai yeshe” will be translated into English as the less cumbersome “primordial wisdom.”32 It is wisdom in the sense that it is a cognition that has timeless and truthful content. It is primordial in the sense that it is knowledge that has always been, and will always be, present within you. It is knowledge, as we will be seeing, that is part of the mandala that is the ground of a human being's existence and mind.
LTC: It would be a deluded mind.
LTC: Yes. Those are deluded minds.
HMV: Thank you.
LTC: Yes. That's true.
HMV: Thank you.34
“There is naturally occurring timeless awareness that ...
and that does not take sense objects as its reference point.
and takes those objects as its reference point.”
HMV: There are times when countless thoughts are running through my mind. At other times, there are long interludes in which there are but a few thoughts coming and going. During these periods of relative quiet, I become increasingly aware of the appearance of single thoughts in my mind that appear and then instantly dissolve and disappear just like that (I snap my fingers).
LTC: At that time, you are on the path.
HMV: It has been my experience, that four different kinds of transformation can and consistently do occur immediately after a single thought dissolves like that. Sometimes, for example, a feeling of joy will arise after the thought dissolves. Sometimes the feeling of compassion will appear. Sometimes there will be a temporary cessation of all inner appearances; a single thought will dissolve and then nothing new will arise for a period of time.
HMV: The fourth thing that can and does happen after a single thought dissolves, is that a large insight of one kind or another will immediately arise in my mind. It might be an understanding of the nature of mind, or perhaps an understanding of rigpa. It could be any number of things.
LTC: That insight is primordial wisdom, or togpai yeshe. It is enlightened mind. HMV: Do you mean that it would be enlightened mind if those insights were present all of the time, as opposed to coming and going for moments at a time?
LTC: Yes. The enlightened mind is a permanent chain of nondual moments. If you are in dharmakaya,36 there are no thoughts. It is like the permanent nature of the sky. There is a permanent stream of nondual moments.
LTC: Yes. Initially, primordial wisdom lasts for a very short while. Gradually, as you go on practicing, the primordial wisdom, the gap, increases. At the same time, the deluded minds will decrease. When you reach Buddhahood, then the deluded appearances will cease altogether.
HMV: Then only the kayas37 and timeless awareness will appear.
LTC: Yes. (Emphatic) When the recurring patterns of ego thought are no longer being created, then the delusions of the samsaric mind will, over time, gradually subside. And then the primordial wisdom will increase.
Annotation: Lopon has already said that the mind creates predual meanings, or gzhi-nangs. Here he goes on to say that: (1) the mind also creates nondual meanings and (2) that the phenomenon of primordial wisdom, which was briefly touched upon earlier, is one specific type of nondual meaning. He describes the experience of primordial wisdom as being an experience in which a moment of insight arises immediately after the spontaneous dissolution of a single thought.
Lopon then goes on to say three very interesting and empirical things about the completely egoless, or enlightened, mind. One, the egoless mind is a permanent stream of nondual moments of primordial wisdom. Two, dual meanings cease to appear in the egoless mind. Three, only the kayas and primordial wisdoms appear in the fully realized egoless mind.
LTC: Yes. That's correct. You have thought it out very well.
LTC: That is prevented by the delusions created by the recurring patterns of ego thought. The power of these recurring patterns is very strong, and they prevent you from staying in a longer stream of primordial wisdom.
LTC: On the path, you have yet to see the essence of nondual awareness, or rigpa, face to face. You still believe you have a self. The sole responsibility of primordial wisdom is to destroy that ignorance of having a self conception.39 HMV: Ahh.
HMV: Let's try an example. I think of myself as having many different identities, or self concepts, to which I am attached. For example, I see myself as a doctor. I see myself as a mountaineer. I see myself as a person that has a big heart. And so forth. Now when you say that the ignorance of self conception decreases with the realization of primordial wisdom, are you saying that in a moment of primordial wisdom that a person abandons one of their identities?
LTC: Oh yes. (Emphatic)
HMV: So let's say, for the sake of discussion, that I carry around a hundred different identities. Are you saying that as a result of having an experience of primordial wisdom, that I will let one of those identities go; that in my heart, I will really let one of my identities go.
LTC: Oh yes.
HMV: And then there are ninety-nine more to go.
LTC: Oh yes. It's like this. When you go into the mountains, when you are at the base camp, at that time you are a doctor. Now when you climb the first step, you abandon the doctor at the base. When you climb another step, you get farther away from being that doctor. As you go higher and higher up the mountain, the doctor you abandoned at the base camp is left farther and farther behind. As primordial wisdom increases, your conceptions of self are left behind.
HMV: Thank you very much.
“Primordial wisdom is the complete knowledge of every aspect
of phenomena (both ultimate and relative).”
In fact, when the ultimate truth is apprehended
in one taste with the relative, and when at the same time
dual appearance subsides, no division can be made between
the ultimate and the relative; they are of one taste.
HMV: Does that mean that there are five different kinds of insight?
HMV: What is the difference between the five different wisdoms?
HMV: Like KuntuZangpo.43
LTC: Yes. The second type of primordial wisdom is mirror like wisdom. When an object appears within your mind, and there is no grasping, that is mirror like wisdom. The appearance is there, but awareness does not grasp it. There is no grasping.
LTC: Oh yes. When you know the egoless suchness of those appearances, there is no difference between them. There is no duality between heaven and hell. There is no difference between purity and impurity. This realization of the sameness of all phenomena is the third kind of primordial wisdom. It is called equanimity wisdom.
HMV: What does it mean to say that all appearances are the same?
LTC: All the appearances are the same in the sense that they do not make any difference. “Within the scope of awareness - awakened mind - everything is equal in being unborn, unceasing, and not abiding in any finite way.”
HMV: Thank you.
LTC: The fourth primordial wisdom is seeing a material object just as it is. Whatever material object appears - cup, tape recorder, laptop - if you see it just as it is, that is called discriminating wisdom.
HMV: And the fifth wisdom?
LTC: The fifth primordial wisdom is, like all of the other wisdoms, an egoless mind that realizes suchness. It is the wisdom that is able to accomplish the dharmakaya for your self and to accomplish the desires of other beings as well.
LTC: Yes. That is why it's called all accomplishing wisdom.
HMV: Thank you.
LTC: Yes. The second one is called mirror like wisdom.
LTC: Yes. They are different names for the same thing.
LTC: Yes. Yes. It is intention.
HMV: Thank you. It seems to me that we can now say that there are two fundamental kinds of meanings that appear in the mind. There are egocentric, or dual, meanings, and there are egoless, or nondual, meanings.46
LTC: Yes. Yes.
LTC: Oh yes.
HMV: Thank you very much.
HMV: A few moments ago, you said that primordial wisdom appears when rigpa recognizes a predual appearance, or gzhi-nang, as a self appearance. LTC: A predual appearance has two aspects.47 One is awareness and the other is the appearance, itself. When the awareness grasps the appearance as an “other,” duality is created. Then the thoughts come. When the awareness recognizes the appearance as a self appearance, then there is no duality. Then the appearance dissolves.
Annotation: Buddhism has, over the course of its history, developed four different elemental techniques for transforming egocentric mind into egoless mind. Each of the fundamental vehicles of Buddhism - Hinayana, Mahayana, Vajrayana and DzogChen - centers its practice around a characteristic transformative technique that defines that vehicle.48
The defining transformative technique of DzogChen is self liberation. From the perspective of DzogChen, the techniques of the first three vehicles define an egoless state of mind, and then use meditation to attempt to cultivate that state of mind.
DzogChen meditations, in contrast, do not attempt to cultivate a predefined state of egoless mind. They operate on the premise that if you leave the mind in its natural state, it will spontaneously transform itself into egoless mind - like a snake spontaneously slipping out of its own knots. This is self liberation.
Self liberation is the spontaneous and effortless transformation of the egocentric mind into egoless mind. It is not something that you can make happen through effort. Self liberation will only occur of its own volition when awareness is truly like a space that allows the mind to remain in its natural state.
HMV: And then it becomes primordial wisdom.
LTC: Oh yes, and then there is one more step. The primordial wisdom dissolves within itself, and then primordial rigpa, or rangjung yeshe, appears. The primordial wisdom dissolves into rigpa and rigpa appears.
LTC: That is all correct.
HMV: Thank you. It seems, then, that you are saying that rigpa actually has two functions. One of its functions is to allow thoughts and emotions to self liberate and become nondual mind - primordial wisdom and rigpa.
LTC: Oh yes.
HMV: Is this the main function of rigpa?
LTC: Yes. That is its main function.
HMV: Would it be correct to say that rigpa has a second function: the prevention of the formation of ego? It seems to me that by allowing thoughts and emotions to become primordial wisdom, rigpa performs a second function: it prevents the formation of ego.
HMV: There seems to be one important difference, though, between recognizing a flower as a self appearance and recognizing a thought as a self appearance. The difference being that when I see a thought as a self appearance it dissolves. But when I see a flower as a self appearance, it doesn't dissolve.
Annotation: The kaya doctrine is a key doctrine in the history of Buddhist ideas. In its essence, the kaya doctrine says that a Buddha has more than one aspect, and each of those aspects is called, in Sanskrit, a kaya. In English translation, this is usually taken to mean that a Buddha has more than one body, or personality.
There have been, in the history of Buddhist thought, many different formulations of the kaya doctrine. Different schools of Buddhist thought defined and numbered the kayas in different ways. Originally there were two kayas, then there were three kayas and there is also a doctrine of five kayas. In the coming chapter, Lopon Tegchoke, like the DzogChen tradition itself, defines the kayas empirically. He defines them as being the three different aspects of rigpa, or egoless awareness.
HMV: I'd like to return, now, to the other transformations that occur with the dissolution of single thought.
HMV: My experience, once again, is that in addition to the appearance of primordial wisdom, there are three other transformations that can and do occur after the dissolution on a single thought. Cessation is one of them, and it is the transformation in which thoughts cease to appear for a while. A single thought will dissolve, and then there will be, for a period of time, a cessation of all inner appearances.
LTC: It depends on whether or not primordial wisdom arises. If primordial wisdom appears, then it is dharmakaya. If there is no primordial wisdom, if there is simply nothing after the thought dissolves, then it is kungzhi.
LTC: When all of the thoughts dissolve, then compassion comes. The bliss comes in the same way. If the bliss is permanent, it is the sambhogakaya.51 But when it comes and goes, it is a momentary experience of the egoless mind, or nyams. HMV: Would the same be true for that state of mind in which there is a cessation of thoughts? If the state of no thoughts is permanent, then it is the dharmakaya, but if it is not, then it is a momentary experience of egolessness.
LTC: Oh yes. (Emphatic)
LTC: Clarity nyams.
HMV: Thank you. Now I'd like to ask you about one more kind of experience. Sometimes, my thoughts slow down and almost cease to be a presence in my mind for extended periods of time, and when that happens, a feeling of joy arises within me that can remain present for a good long time.
LTC: Yes. That can happen.
LTC: Hm. That is clarity nyams.
casting stones in the dark.”
LTC: Yes. They are the same.
LTC: Yes. Given that there are these two types of thought, when thoughts appear, it is very important to understand what kind of thought it is. You have to decide whether that thought is a negative thought or a perfect thought. Given that some thoughts are perfect, you don't abandon all of your thoughts. You hold onto the perfect thoughts. However, when negative thoughts appear, you have to abandon everything.
HMV: And at the same time, it sounds like you are saying that one should actually hold onto the perfect thoughts, the primordial wisdom. LTC: Oh yes. That is very important. The ultimate, in DzogChen, is to abandon all thoughts - negative and perfect. Abandoning all of your thoughts is the ultimate goal. It is the ultimate intention of the Buddha. As a result, some people think that the thoughtless state is the ultimate state. These people look sane, but if you look carefully, they are not sane.
Alas! The animal like contemplators
stop the perceptions and remain without any thoughts They call this the absolute nature and become proud. By gaining experience in that state of concentration They will be born in the animal realm.” Longchenpa 54
When we stay without thoughts, it's like living with your eyes closed. On the path, primordial wisdom is very important. If you have primordial wisdom, that will lead you to the enlightened state. However, when you reach enlightenment, there is no need to abandon primordial wisdom. It will go away all by itself. It's easy. This is very important. So when it is said that the Buddha has no thoughts and that we should be like him, some people take that to mean that we should stop thinking. But when you stay without any thoughts, it is like being drunk or anesthetized.
HMV: Buddhism is not an anesthetic.
LTC: It is not that. (Shared Laughter)
Annotation: Sometimes it seems as though there is a contradiction in the Buddhist tradition about the desirability of cultivating a state of mind in which there are no thoughts. On the one hand, the Buddhist literature is full of passages that seem to value and encourage the cultivation of a state of mind in which thoughts cease to appear.
Lopon Tegchoke disentangles this seeming contradiction by making two points here. First, he seems to be saying that there is a distinction to be made between: (1) abandoning thoughts and (2) cultivating the cessation of thoughts. They are two entirely different things. To abandon your thoughts is to cease believing in the self sustaining narratives of your ego. To actively pursue the cultivation of a thoughtless state of mind is to create another form of ego.
Secondly, Lopon says that it is, in fact, necessary to completely abandon the dual thoughts of the ego on the path to developing an egoless mind. But he also says that it is not necessary to abandon the nondual thoughts that are primordial wisdom. He says that while you in the process of developing an egoless mind, it is actually helpful to hold onto nondual primordial wisdom. At the same time, he says that once the mind is completely egoless, or enlightened, that it is not at all necessary to make an active effort to abandon nondual thoughts. This, he says, will happen naturally by itself. “Abandon the malady of striving. The Cuckoo of Awareness 55
HMV: Think deeply about what? The insights?
HMV: There are different levels of vipassana meditation, and is it not true that you analyze different things on the different levels?
LTC: Oh yes.
HMV: Thank you. Now I'd like to pursue this notion of holding onto primordial wisdom a bit further by discussing a portion of my own experience. I recently did a long meditation retreat in Ladakh, and during that retreat I began to have lots of small and medium sized insights, or moments of primordial wisdom. As time passed, it became evident that these insights were pieces of a much larger picture.
LTC: Yes. Yes. (Emphatic)
HMV: The small and medium sized insights began to fit together and form a larger picture. And the larger picture felt like it was a portrayal of how the egoless mind would see both itself and the world. I'm just guessing, but it seemed to me that maybe I saw perhaps twenty percent of that larger picture. When you talk about holding onto primordial wisdom, would that be the same thing as holding onto this larger picture created by the insights of primordial wisdom?
HMV: Is holding onto and living in that larger picture a useful thing to do on the path?
LTC: Oh yes. It's like walking towards the state of enlightenment. A small dose of medicine is able to control a disease that attacks you. The momentary arising of primordial wisdom is able to stop suffering and the habitual patterns of ego thought; and as you have more primordial wisdom, you move you gradually closer and closer towards the state of enlightenment. A small lamp is able to illuminate a large space. Likewise, a small moment of yeshe will dissolve a lot of delusion. This is the truth of moving towards enlightenment.
HMV: Suppose a person realized a hundred percent of that larger picture? Would that one hundred percent be the mandala of rigpa? Would that whole larger picture of how life looks to an egoless mind be the mandala of rigpa?
LTC: They are the same. There is no need to question the realization of that larger picture. When a slight moment of primordial wisdom is born within you, within your mindstream, then your entire body is a mandala.
LTC: You have said that you see the larger picture created by the smaller togpai yeshe as being a mandala.
LTC: What do you mean by saying that the larger picture is a mandala?
HMV: The first and most honest thing to say is that I have a theory about mandala that is just a personal theory. My small experiences with primordial wisdom have led me to the conclusion that every person has inside of them a big picture, a mandala if you will, that is a description of their mind and the universe in which they live. My experience has been that nondual awareness, or rigpa, has access to this larger picture, but that the dual awareness of ego does not have access to that picture. That's what I mean by mandala.
HMV: Thank you.
HMV: Thank you very much.
Annotation: Lopon is saying here that the momentary insights of primordial wisdom are pieces of a larger picture of the universe that resides within the mind; that they are pieces of the mandala that is known by rigpa.
HMV: I'd like to try and understand, now, the relationship of mandala to both rigpa and primordial wisdom. I'd like to begin by reading you a series of three quotations about mandala and then ask you some questions about them. The first two quotations come from Longchenpa and the third one comes from you: “Rigpa's manifestations are the actuality, or appearances, of the mandala.”
LTC: Yes. (Emphatic)
HMV: This third quotation, once again, comes from you:
Lopon Tegchoke 58
HMV: Once again, I am trying to understand the relationship between rigpa, primordial wisdom and mandala. When a person has a moment of insight, a moment of primordial wisdom, is that insight a portion of a mandala?
HMV: Oh. What does rigpa know?
LTC: Yes. That is mandala.
HMV: Thank you.
HMV: Would it be correct, then, to say that if enlightenment is a stream of nondual moments, that in every nondual moment the egoless mind realizes a moment of primordial wisdom or kaya that has, as its source, a mandala?
LTC: Yes. (Emphatic and with Joy)
HMV: And what is the difference?
LTC: They are the same mandala, but the explanation is different, more profound.
LTC: The qualities of the dharmakaya, sambhogakaya and nirmanakaya, are accomplished by, are expressions of, Buddha Nature. All of these qualities are present within rigpa. That is the mandala. That is the mandala at the ground, or gzhi. It is the foundation mandala.
Annotation: Lopon says a number of interesting things about mandala in this passage. He starts off by saying that the fully realized egoless mind is aware of at least two kinds of nondual inner appearances: the kayas and primordial wisdom. Then, he goes on to say that the source of these nondual appearances is always a mandala - a picture of the universe. Finally, it appears that he is taking the position that there is, in the human mind, a mandala that is the foundation, or source, from which the appearances of the nondual mind arise.59
Given that awareness is pure by nature,
Its essence as emptiness is dharmakaya,
Its nature as lucidity is sambhogakaya,
And the way in which its innate responsiveness
arises is nirmanakaya.
This great, undiminishing treasure
Is the utterly lucid mandala
That abides as the ground of being.
HMV: So they are not delusions.
LTC: Primordial wisdom is aware that the self does not exist; it is egoless. It is, for example, aware that this flower here does not really exist. Imagine, for a moment, that you are sitting before a realized lama, and the lama says that the reason you are in samsara is because of your thoughts. Then you begin to think about your thoughts, and you begin to wonder what makes thoughts appear in your stream of consciousness.
You ask the lama, “How do I recognize thoughts?” The lama says that holding onto the constituents of your body as permanent, is one kind of thought. Seeing the impure body as pure is another kind of thought. Seeing your body as a body of bliss, even though it is a source of suffering, is another kind of thought. Even though the body you have is not you, you think that it is you. This is another kind of thought.
When you sit down by your self and analyze what the lama has said, you come to the conclusion that your body is actually impermanent. That even though you have been thinking all along that it is permanent, it is not permanent. You realize that you have been mistaken.
After analyzing further, you also realize that your body is impure. All along, you have been thinking that your body is pure, but now you realize that you have been mistaken. After analyzing further, you also realize that your body does not provide you bliss.61 It is impermanent, and since it is impermanent, it is the cause of suffering. Because it is impermanent, it is definite that it will suffer. It is the source of suffering, yet you have been thinking all along that it is the source of bliss. But now you realize, once again, that you have been mistaken.
All along, you have been thinking of your body as an “I.” When you say “I,” it means that you are holding onto it as your own. Once you think that way, you have an ego. When you think about it carefully, you realize that you really do not have authority over your body. Every day, moment by moment, it changes. If it is mine, or if it is I, then this change will not take place.
When I fall sick, then I suffer. When I face the heat, then I suffer. There is no difference between my body and your body. I can say my body is mine, but actually, I have no control over it. So when you ask the meaning of a thought, you are holding onto an idea that does not really exist in reality. Even
though you have been holding onto your body as permanent, now you come to the conclusion that this is only a mere thought. There is no purity within the body, but you have been thinking it is a pure, and this is also a thought. There is no bliss within the body, yet you have been thinking your body is a source of bliss. That is also a thought. Within the body there is no “I.” All along, you have been thinking it is an “I,” but that is also a thought.
Then after thinking about all of this over and over, it occurs to you that maybe you've been mad. What is primordial wisdom? When you say impermanent you understand as impermanent. Impurity you understand as impurity. Suffering you understand as suffering. Non existence of “I” you understand as non existence of “I.” That is called togpai yeshe. That is called primordial wisdom.
1 firstname.lastname@example.org For the last twenty years I have been interviewing Tibetan lamas about their experiences of their own mind in meditation for the purpose of developing an empirically valid theory of the nature of the healthy human mind. Vajra Books of Kathmandu is publishing a series of twelve volumes that collect and annotate these interviews. Each volume contains interviews that were done with one lama. This is the third volume, and it contains interviews with a most excellent lama named Lopon Tekchog. Lopon Tekchog is the head teacher at Dodrupchen Rinpoche's monastery in Gangtok, Sikkim. He also teaches at his own retreat center at Thimpu in his native Bhutan.
2 The Tibetan term “rigpa” is a pivotal and oft used term in the DzogChen literature. Empirically, rigpa is the awareness that is nondual, or egoless, mind. Rigpa is and has nondual awareness of all phenomena. In this book, the term rigpa will appear in two different ways. Sometimes it will appear as the unchanged Tibetan term “rigpa,” and at other times, depending upon context, it will be translated into English as “nondual awareness.” Please see Volume II of The Healthy Mind Series for several discussions of the nature of rigpa.
3 Please see the section entitled “The Two Modes of “Self Awareness” in the second volume of the Healthy Mind Series for a systematic sketch of the differences between the egoless and egocentric modes of self awareness.
4 Naturally Arising Awareness is a seminal DzogChen text. It is one of the seventeen root tantras, or texts, of the Mengagde category of DzogChen texts. As quoted in, Barron, Richard. 2001. A Treasure Trove of Scriptural Transmission. Junction City, California: Padma Publishing, pg. 9.
6 In Tucci's words, a mandala “is, above all, a map of the cosmos.” (Tucci, Guiseppe. 1961. The Theory and Practice of Mandala. London: Rider and Company, pg. 23.) A mandala is a sacred image that is thought of as being a visual depiction of the universe. In the religions of South and Central Asia, mandalas are used in both the practice of meditation and the performance of liturgy. The mandala can also be seen as a structure, if you will, within the mind, and this theoretical aspect of the mandala will be explored in the second section of this book - the section that carries the title “Mandala.”
- 7 “Gzhi-nang” is a technical term in DzogChen mind science. It is usually translated into English as “appearance of the ground” or “appearance of the base.” In this volume, gzhi-nang will be rendered into English in two different non-literal ways: “predual appearance” and “primordial meaning.” Please see the annotation that starts at the bottom of page 8 for a discussion of the nature of a gzhi-nang.
- 8 “Recurring patterns of ego thought” is a non-literal translation of the Tibetan term “bagchags.” Please see the annotation that begins on page 6 for a discussion of the nature of bagchags.
- 9 This is just a quick footnote about emptiness for those of you who are entirely new to Buddhist thought. Emptiness is the central idea of Buddhism. In a sense, the goal/non-goal of the Buddhist path is to realize the emptiness of your own mind, and, as a result, the emptiness of all phenomena. At its simplest, to know the emptiness of your mind is to know your self as you really are.
11 By definition, grasping is any response that the watcher makes to an inner appearance that attributes a concept of self to that appearance. There are three elemental forms of grasping: accepting, rejecting and/or following. Whenever you grasp an inner appearance, as Lopon Tegchoke will be saying later on, you create and become attached to a concept of your self.
- 13 “Storehouse consciousness of your mind” is a non-literal translation of the Tibetan term “kungzhi.” The Tibetan term kungzhi, in my experience, is used in two different ways. It can be used to refer to either a structure in the mind, if you will, or to a specific state of mind. Here, Lopon is using the
term kungzhi to refer to a structure. There are six systematic theories of the mind in the history of Buddhism. One of them is the Yogacaran model. Yogacaran theory posits that the mind is composed of eight different kinds of consciousness: visual, auditory, etc. The Tibetan term for the eighth type of consciousness in this model is “kungzhi.” Kungzhi is said to be, in Yogacaran theory, the structure within which the subtle bagchags are stored; thus the translation as storehouse consciousness. See footnote # 47 for a discussion of the term kungzhi when it is used to refer to a state of mind.
- 14 “Self liberation” is a technical term in DzogChen, and it is a method by which egocentric mind spontaneously transforms itself into egoless mind. Please see the annotation on self liberation on page 21.
16 The notion of the unconscious mind is, of course, a western idea, and the term does not appear, per se, in the Buddhist tradition. There are, however, phenomena that have been recognized by Buddhist mind science that appear, for all intents and purposes, to be unconscious phenomena. The subtle and gross bagchags are two of them. 17 See Volume II of The Healthy Mind Series, pp 56-60, for additional discussion of the nature of bagchags.
20 A distinction is made, in DzogChen, between “path rigpa” and “fruition rigpa.” Path rigpa is temporary nondual awareness that comes and goes on the path, and fruition rigpa is permanent nondual awareness, or enlightened mind.
- 21 Lopon is saying here that this is a correct understanding of Longchenpa's definitive writings on the nature of the gzhi-nang. Longchenpa was a fourteenth century practitioner and scholar of DzogChen and is regarded by all as a seminal figure in the history of DzogChen. He wrote at length about the pivotal nature of the predual appearance, or gzhi-nang. See, for example, pages 293-294 of Tulku Thondup Rinpoche's book Buddha Mind. Ithaca: Snow Lion Publications.
22 Ibid, pg.58.
23 Once again, the term inner appearance is being used throughout this volume to refer to all of the different types of phenomena - dual, nondual and predual - that appear within the stream of consciousness. Some terms, for example the word emotion, refer to only dual appearances. Other terms refer to only nondual appearances. But the term inner appearances, which is a translation of the Tibetan term nang gyi nangwa, is used here to refer to both dual and nondual appearances, and to predual appearances as well.
24 The Tibetan term “nyams” is another technical term in DzogChen mind science. Empirically , a nyams is a momentary experience of the egoless mind, and there are three different types of nyams. They will be discussed at length in the passages and annotation that follow. Please also see Khenpo Nyima Wangyal's somewhat different approach to understanding the nyams in Volume I of The Healthy Mind Interviews.
25 In DzogChen, it is classically said that there are three types of nyams: there is a nyams in which there is a cessation of thoughts, a nyams that is an experience of joy and a nyams that is an experience of clarity. These terms are empirical terms in the sense that they actually describe the three different momentary experiences of the egoless mind.
26 This is an example of the paradoxical quality of delusion. The basic idea of the paradox is this: if you see an appearance as real, it becomes a delusion, but if you see an appearance as a delusion, it becomes real. This paradox comes up over and over again in Lopon Tegchoke's thought, and he will be discussing it at length in the second Healthy Mind Series volume of his interviews .
29 “Yeshe,” or timeless awareness, is one of many Tibetan synonyms for enlightened mind. Yeshe is most often translated into English as “primordial wisdom.” Richard Barron renders yeshe as “timeless awareness,” and I will be following this usage as I find it empirical. Please keep in mind, however, that there are several different kinds of yeshe, and that each of them has a different name.
30 A “chosnyid” is an empty appearance, and it is, as such, a nondual appearance; an appearance onto which egocentric concepts have not been projected. As an inner appearance, it is also a species of nondual meaning. Lopon Tegchoke will be discussing chosnyid at more length in his second volume of interviews .
31 To know the suchness of a phenomenon is to know that phenomenon as it is; to know it without projecting any constructs onto it. Nondual awareness knows the suchness, or emptiness, of a phenomenon. Dual awareness does not.
32 Occasionally, depending upon context, “day-khona-nyid togpai yeshe” will also appear as “togpai yeshe” - which is the term that Lopon Tegchoke actually used whenever we discussed this phenomenon. More often than not, however, it will be translated into English as “primordial wisdom.”
33 The next two lines of this passage were deleted as they contain a plethora of technical terms, but for those of you who know these terms, the remainder of this passage has been included here:
“When thugje is aware of rang-zhin, this is the same thing.” By way of explanation, thugje and rang-zhin are the names of two of the three defining aspects of gzhi. Gzhi is an idea that is unique in Buddhism to DzogChen, and it is usually translated into English as “ground” or “basis.” In Janet Gyatso's words, gzhi “is a ground that underlies and unites all phenomena.” But the term has many other shades of meaning, as well. Gyatso goes on to say, for example, that “the ground is aware.” “It is a naked ‘consciousness of the present.'” It is “self aware.” (Gyatso, Janet. Apparitions of the Self. Dehli: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers, pg. 200.)
To my eye, the theories of gzhi and gzhi-nang seem to empirically describe the structure, if you will, of a single moment of predual self awareness. Looked at in this light, the mind's awareness of itself, or gzhi, is actually the ground from which dual and nondual mind both arise. In this passage, Lopon Tegchoke is saying that rigpa's awareness of a gzhi-nang as a self appearance is equivalent to, and can also be described as, thugje's awareness of rang-zhin. They are two different ways of talking about the same thing.
36 Lopon is using the Sanskrit term “dharmakaya” empirically, here, to refer to a specific state of mind. Empirically, the dharmakaya is one of the three aspects of nondual egoless awareness. Doctrinally, the dharmakaya is one of the three bodies, or personalities, of the Buddha. Lopon will discuss the experience of the dharmakaya in several of the chapters that follow; including the chapter entitled “The Kayas.” Please see the annotation at the beginning of that chapter for a brief contextual discussion of the trikaya doctrine.
37 As the term is being used here, the kayas are three different aspects of rigpa, or nondual awareness. For an empirical discussion of the experience of the kayas, please see the chapter entitled “The Kayas.” For a brief discussion of the trikaya doctrine itself, please see the annotation at the beginning of that chapter.
38 “Following” is one of the three elemental forms of grasping. To “follow” a recurring stream of ego thoughts is to believe the content of those thoughts; to live in the content of the story that those thoughts are creating.
41 Traditionally, it is said that there are five different primordial wisdoms. These five primordial wisdoms are thought of as being five distinct attributes of the Buddha's mind; five different characteristics of the egoless mind. Here, I am asking Lopon if these five yeshe are the same as the insights of togpai yeshe, the primordial wisdom of which we have been talking.
43 There are many different Buddhas in the Buddhist tradition. Kuntu Zangpo is the primordial Buddha of the DzogChen tradition, and as such, he is the source of the DzogChen teachings. As a blue and naked Buddha, Kuntu Zangpo is a symbol of naked egoless awareness. He is a symbol of the DzogChen belief that the enlightened, or egoless, mind is the source of its teachings.
46 Predual meanings were not mentioned in this passage because this particular conversation took place before Lopon and I had managed to have a talk that established the existence of the predual meanings.
48 Even though it is true that each vehicle is defined by a core meditative technique, it is not at all unusual for practitioners in one vehicle to use techniques from other vehicles as well. See, for example, Jigme Lingpa's description of the daily routine he followed in his first three year meditation retreat. (Van Schaik, Sam. 2004. Approaching the Great Perfection. Boston: Wisdom Publications, pg. 102.)
50 Once again, the term “kungzhi” is used in two different ways. It can be used to refer to either a structure in the mind, or to a specific state of mind. Here, Lopon is using the term to refer to a state of mind. He says that the dharmakaya and kungzhi are two different states of mind in which thoughts have ceased to appear. It is important to be able to distinguish between them, and in the passage that follows, Lopon describes how that can be done.
3 Throughout this entire passage, Lopon will be using the term rnam-tog, or thought, to refer to both dual and nondual inner appearances. Usually, the term rnam-tog is used to refer to just dual inner appearances. **54 Tulku Thondup Rinpoche. 1989. Buddha Mind, Ithaca: Snow Lion Publications, 1989, pg. 323.
59 Two more points here: Lopon Tegchoke's second volume in The Healthy Mind Series will have much more to say about the place of the mandala in the human mind. Secondly, the mandala is also regarded as being the source of the dual mind. For example, “Ordinary consciousness and the vast range of nonconceptual timeless awareness arise naturally as nothing more than the display of the supreme mandala of the enlightened mind.” (Barron, Richard. 2001. A Treasure Trove of Scriptural Transmission. Junction City, California: Padma Publishing, pg. 16.)
60 Ibid, pg. 13.