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APPLICATION

From Chinese Buddhist Encyclopedia
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by Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche



BUDDHIST PRACTICE INVOLVES THREE STEPS known as intellectual understanding, experience and realization. Intellectual understanding occurs when, for instance, we hear that emptiness, meaning empty cognizance, is our nature. The mental idea we get of this is called “understanding.” In the case of

experience, we are told how to recognize emptiness so that we can see exactly how this empty cognizance is. We have a taste of it, maybe no more than a glimpse, but, nevertheless, an experience of what is called “recognizing mind essence.” That is what the word “experience” means in this context. When this glimpse is followed by training in repeatedly recognizing the nature of mind and avoiding being carried away by thoughts, we gradually grow more and more

used to this experience. In this case, by recognizing the empty nature we are disengaging from its expression, the stream of deluded thinking. Each time the expression dissolves back into the state of awareness, progress is made, and realization finally occurs. Ultimate realization is when delusion has totally collapsed and there is no re-occurrence of discursive thought whatsoever. Thoughts are like clouds and can vanish just as clouds naturally disperse

into space. The expression, meaning thoughts, are like clouds, while rigpa is like sunlit space. I use the metaphor of sunlit space to illustrate that space and awareness are indivisible. You do not accomplish or create the sunlit sky. We cannot push the clouds away, but we can allow the clouds of thought to gradually dissolve until finally all the clouds have vanished. When it becomes easier to recognize, and when recognition is self-sustained, that can be

called “realization.” Ultimate realization occurs when there is no trace of the cloud layers whatsoever. It is not as if we need to decide, “I hate these thoughts. I only want the awakened state! I have to be enlightened!” This kind of grasping and pushing will never give way to enlightenment. By simply allowing the expression of thought activity to naturally subside, again and again, the moments of genuine

rigpa automatically and naturally begin to last longer. When there are no thoughts whatsoever, then you are a buddha. At that point the thought-free state is effortless, as well as the ability to benefit all beings. But until that time it does not help to think that you are a buddha. We need to become used to this natural dissolving of thought through training, like learning something by heart. Having become accustomed to it; the thoughtfree state becomes automatic. Listening to this explanation is merely getting the idea. We intellectually comprehend that emptiness is empty yet cognizant and that these two aspects are indivisible. It is like going to a buffet where we don’t actually taste anything, but only receive a guided tour or explanation of the different dishes: “This is Indian food, that is Chinese food. Over there is French cuisine.” Without eating anything your knowledge of the food is only

intellectual understanding. Once you finally put the food in your mouth, that is experience. When your stomach is full, that is realization. Realization is the total and permanent collapse of confusion. Empty cognizance is our nature. We cannot separate one aspect of it from the other. Empty means “not made out of anything whatsoever’; our nature has always been this way. Yet, while being empty, it has the capacity to cognize, to experience, to perceive. It’s

not so difficult to comprehend this; to get the theory that this empty cognizance is buddha nature, self-existing wakefulness. But to leave it at that is the same as looking at the buffet and not eating anything. Being told about buddha nature but never really making it our personal experience will not help anything. It’s like staying hungry. Once we put the food in our mouth, we discover what the food tastes like. This illustrates the dividing line between

idea and experience. In the same way, if we have correct understanding, the moment we apply what our master teaches, we recognize our nature. That there is no entity whatsoever to be seen is called “emptiness.” The ability to know that mind essence is empty is called “cognizance.” If it were only blank, bare space, what or who would know that it is “blank” or “empty” or “nothing’? There would be no knowing. These two aspects, empty and cognizant,

are indivisible. This becomes obvious to us the very moment that we look; it is no longer hidden. Then it is not just an intellectual idea of how emptiness is; it becomes a part of our experience. At that moment, meditation training can truly begin. We call this training “meditation,” but it is not an act of meditating in the common sense of the word. There is no emptying the mind essence by trying to maintain an artificially imposed vacant state. Why? Because

mind essence is already empty. Similarly, we do not need to make this empty essence cognizant; it is already cognizant. All you have to do is leave it as it is. In fact, there is nothing whatsoever to do, so we cannot even call this an act of meditating. There is an initial recognition, and from then on we do not have to be clever about it or try to improve it in any way whatsoever. Just let it be as it naturally is — that is what is called meditation, or

more accurately “nonmeditation.” What is crucial is not to be distracted for even a single instant. Once recognition has taken place, undistracted nonmeditation is the key point of practice. “Distracted” means that once the attention wavers and loses itself, thoughts and emotions can take place: “I want to do such and such. I’m hungry. I want to go to that place. I wonder what I should say to this person; this is what I will say.” Distraction is the

return of all these kinds of thoughts, in which the continuity of nondual awareness is lost. The training is simply to recognize again. Once recognition takes place, there is nothing more to do; simply allow mind essence to be. That is how the cloud-covers gradually dissolve. The ultimate state is totally free from any obscuration, like the short moment of recognition. However, in the latter there is still the tendency for the obscurations to return. The

state of realization, complete enlightenment, means that no cloud-cover can ever return; its causes are utterly and permanently eliminated. When the clouds vanish, what else can cover the sun? That is the final or ultimate realization — when there is only brilliant, pure sunshine throughout space without any cloud-cover whatsoever. In other words, everything that needed to be removed has been removed and everything that needed to be actualized is already

present. The empty sky and the brilliant sunshine are not of our making. They have always been there and are fully actualized when the cloudcover is eliminated. Whatever had to be abandoned has, at this time, been abandoned. Whatever had to be realized, has been realized. So, what is left? Ultimate realization, which is the third point, is achieved through repeating the short moment of recognition many times. When the recognition lasts continuously

throughout the day we have reached the level of a bodhisattva. When it lasts uninterruptedly, day and night, we have attained buddhahood. Here is another way to illustrate the differences between intellectual understanding, experience and realization. Imagine that you run around town saying, “All things are the unity of empty cognizance.” Let’s say you shout that loud and clear in the marketplace. Some people will think, “This person is crazy. How can all

things be the unity of empty cognizance? That’s complete nonsense! He’s crazy!” But another person will think, “No, this is not nonsense. He’s talking about how the mind is. There are no things separate from the perceiver, the mind itself. Mind is the unity of empty cognizance. Therefore, all things are the unity of empty cognizance. He is right!” This is the difference between having and not having the correct understanding. “All things” in Sanskrit is

sarva dharma. Sarva means all, myriad, manifold and dharma means appearances, phenomena, the perceived — all the contents of our experience, such as sights, sounds, smells, tastes, textures and so forth. Now, an ordinary person cannot possibly understand how all these things that are supposed to be “out there” can be empty cognizance. It does not make any sense. So he will naturally wonder what that madman in the marketplace was babbling about; this is a

normal response. But a person who has some degree of understanding will say, “Things don’t know themselves. There is nothing other than the mind that knows things. Things exist because of being perceived by a perceiving mind. This mind is empty and cognizant, therefore, all things are the unity of empty cognizance.” Such comprehension is correct, yet it is still only intellectual

understanding. The second step, experience, is something more personal and not solely an idea. You have not merely heard that mind essence is empty and cognizant; rather, you recognize this empty essence in actuality when it’s pointed out by the master and again whenever you remember. This sense of being awake and empty — that is experience. At the moment of experience, what is recognized is not something new. Empty cognizance has always been present. It is

often called “self-existing wakefulness,” rangjung yeshe. It is not created by the mere recognition of it, or through the pointing-out instruction. It is your nature itself, your natural face. What a master does is simply tell you how to look. He merely points it out; we recognize and experience it. But some people refuse to understand this. They think, “First I must get rid of my nasty old dualistic mind. I must discard it so that the amazing buddha mind can

come down from above, like a beautiful god dissolving into me. Then, I’m sure, something spectacular will happen. That’s what recognizing buddha nature is, not just seeing nothing.” In this way, some people simply refuse to recognize their nature. They think, “How can this ordinary state of mind be anything special? There must be something wonderful that will happen at some time — maybe not now, but in the future.” If one lies waiting for some fabulous vision

to occur, one is simply molding the circumstances for some kind of demonic force to enter oneself. In terms of buddha-nature nothing very special is going to happen, because the real, true state is already present. It is not something new. Please understand that there are three steps: recognizing, training and attaining stability. The first of these steps, recognizing, is like acquiring the seed of a flower. Once it is in your hands and you acknowledge it to

be a flower, it can be planted and cultivated. When fully grown, flowers will bloom; but the seed needs the right conditions. However, we must first acknowledge that it is indeed a flower seed. In the same way, the naked awareness that has been pointed out by your master should be acknowledged as your nature. This recognition must be nurtured by the right conditions. To cultivate a seed, it must have warmth and

moisture and so on; then it will certainly grow. In the same way, after recognizing we must train in the natural state: the short moment of recognition needs to be repeated many times. As the support for this training, have devotion to enlightened beings and compassion for unenlightened beings. Devotion and compassion are a universal panacea, the single sufficient technique. A famous quote says, “In the moment of love, the nature of emptiness dawns

nakedly.” Both compassion and devotion are included in the “love” mentioned here. Training is simply short moments of recognition repeated many times and supported by devotion and compassion. In addition, there are practices called the development and completion stages. All these practices facilitate nondistraction. When you give water, warmth and protection to a sprouted seed, it will continue to grow. Repeatedly training in nondistraction is how to

progress in the practice of mind nature. Finally comes the stage of stability. When this moment of nondistraction lasts unceasingly, day and night, what will that be like? When the three poisons are obliterated and the qualities of wakefulness become fully manifest, will we be ordinary human beings or divine? A single candle-flame can set the whole of a mountainside ablaze. Imagine what it would be like when our present experience of the wide awake

moment free from thought becomes unceasing. Is there anything more divine than possessing all the wisdom qualities and being utterly free from the three poisons? We can deduce from this that training is needed. We must grow up, just like a new-born baby. The way for us to do this is through training. The infant born today and the adult 25 years later is essentially the same person, isn’t he? He is not someone else. Right now, our nature is the buddha

nature. When fully enlightened, it will also be the buddha nature. Our nature is unfabricated naturalness. It is this way by itself: like space, it does not need to be manufactured. Do we need to imagine or create the space in our room? It’s the same with buddha nature. But we do need to allow the experience of buddha nature to continue through unfabricated naturalness. Another example for our nature, which is

unfabricated naturalness, is the sun shining. In ordinary beings, this sunshine turns into conceptual thinking that obscures the sun. Beings are carried away by their thoughts. If we simply let it be as it naturally is, without trying to modify, there is no way to err, no way to stray from the view. It’s when we try to manufacture or do something that it becomes artificial. Check this out for yourself. Is the moment that you call your “nature” something

that you need to make and then maintain in a busy, contrived way? Or is it sufficient to leave it as it naturally is? This is something you should examine for yourself. If during your practice you start to think, “Well, this state is not exactly right, it needs to be a little different,” or “I guess this is it.” “Maybe this is not it!” or “Now I’ve got it!” “I just had it! Now it slipped away,” this is not what I mean by unfabricated naturalness. One sign of

having trained in rigpa, the awakened state, is simply that conceptual thinking, which is the opposite of rigpa, grows less and less. The gap between thoughts grows longer and occurs more and more frequently. The state of unfabricated awareness, what the tantras call the “continuous instant of nonfabrication,” becomes more and more prolonged. This continuity of rigpa is not something we have to deliberately maintain. It should occur spontaneously

through having grown more familiar with it. Once we become accustomed to the genuine state of unfabricated rigpa, it will automatically start to last longer and longer. What is meant by stability, then? First, to gain stability, we need to have recognized genuine rigpa. We should have clearly ascertained the true state. Through training, we should have gained some degree of stability in this so that we are no longer carried away by circumstances. These

conditions can be either positive or negative. Negative circumstances like difficulties, mishaps or illness, are much easier to recognize and not be overcome by. Thus, it is easier to practice during times of difficulty than it is when being successful. The worst obstacle for a practitioner is when crowds of followers begin to

gather and say, “You are so wonderful; you’re such a great practitioner. You are very special. Please give us teachings. Please guide us.” Starting to have a great following causes the most difficult kind of obstacle because, unless one is the foremost type of practitioner, one will think, “Hey, maybe I am special. Maybe there is something to what they say.” Only the foremost type of practitioner will not be carried away by such “positive” conditions. When we

reach the point of being carried away by neither positive or negative circumstances, we have gained some stability. There are signs of accomplishment, such as having good health and long life or becoming famous and influential, but these belong to the superficial type of accomplishment. The true, unmistaken signs of accomplishment as established by the masters of the lineage, are to possess compassion, devotion and an acute sense of impermanence. Combined with

this, thoughts grow less and less and the genuine awakened state lasts for increasingly longer periods. All doubts or uncertainties concerning the view of rigpa should be cleared up. When we are free of doubts, there is nothing to clear up. Doubt is the obstacle that obstructs the view. If there is no obstacle, there is also nothing to clear away. Jigmey Lingpa said, “When you do not lose the innate stability of awareness even if you [are questioned by] a hundred great masters or a thousand scholars, then no doubt remains to clear up.” At some point along the path to enlightenment, daytime delusion vanishes. Eventually, even at night-time one does not fall back into the pattern of deluded thinking. All phenomena and conceptual states dissolve back into the primordially pure state of dharmata. This is the dharmakaya itself, from which the two rupakayas, sambhogakaya and nirmanakaya, spontaneously

manifest for the welfare of sentient beings, infinitely and endlessly. But, until that happens, there is still training to be undergone. We need to gradually dispense with conceptual thinking. It would be best, of course, if we could simply cut right through at this moment and never again become involved with thoughts. But are we able to throw them away? In the moment of unfabricated awareness thoughts do not have the

power to remain, because that instant is totally free from the duality of perceiver and perceived. In the flame of nondual awareness, the hair of conceptual thinking cannot remain: just as a single hair cannot remain in a flame, a thought cannot possibly remain in the recognition of the awakened state. What we call sem, dualistic mind, is always involved in upholding the concepts of perceiver and perceived. Rigpa, however, is by nature devoid of

duality. The whole basis for the continuance of conceptual thinking is duality. If the concepts of perceiver and perceived are not kept up, duality crumbles, and there is no way conceptual thinking can continue. Our conceptual thinking is like a sneak-thief who can only rob by stealth. Try this; in broad daylight in a gathering of many people invite the thief in to steal whatever he wants. The thief will be unable to pilfer anything. The bottom line

is to try, as much as possible, to retain the innate stability of nondual awareness, of that continuous instant of nonfabrication. Do not create or construct anything whatsoever; simply allow the moment of rigpa to reoccur repeatedly. If you train in this with utmost diligence, you can fully achieve the state of enlightenment after no more than a few years. Even if you are not that caliber of practitioner and practice moderately, you will at the very

least be able to die without regret. It’s not hard to gain some intellectual understanding of the Dharma; as they say, talk is cheap. Anyone can talk about it. One can easily say, “The awakened state is amazing. It is endowed with all perfect qualities, totally free from any faults. In fact, nothing can ever harm the state of rigpa. It is totally untainted.” Or it is very easy to say, “Everything is illusion. The whole world is merely an illusion. Nothing has

any independent or true existence. It’s all magical trickery.” We can deliver these words from our mouths, but this is not enough to destroy the state of confusion, to make our delusion fall apart. To do this, we need the genuine experience. Experience here, means to recognize the essence that is like space. In the moment of rigpa, any deluded state is seen as baseless, illusory and rootless. The false nature of thought becomes totally obvious, in a very

immediate and personal way that is not just an idea that we have heard. At that moment we directly touch the truth of those statements. By attaining stability in this direct experience, the great masters of the Kagyü lineage could make statements like, “The rock here is totally transparent. Everything is the magical trickery of illusion.” Due to their level of realization, these masters could pass through solid rock, drill themselves into the ground,

walk on water, fly through the air and so forth. This was not because they had developed some special powers through their practice or because they were very strong or stubborn but simply because everything is unreal from the very outset. Because of realizing the insubstantial nature of things, as it is, practitioners have been able to manifest such signs of accomplishment. Otherwise, we can study the teachings and say pithy things like, “There is nothing

to worry about in the bardo. Everything that then occurs is an illusion; there is nothing real about it.” But when we eventually arrive in the bardo states, we will be completely embroiled in the raging river of our fear. Let me reiterate the three steps, intellectual understanding, experience and realization. Intellectual understanding is, for instance, to have heard about the awakened state. Theory, is, of course, important, and we should

definitely know the intent of the teachings. However, we should not leave it with that. We need to incorporate all three: theory, experience and realization. Then there is recognizing, training and attaining stability. Of these three, “recognizing” is like identifying the authentic seed of a beautiful flower. “Training” is like planting the seed in fertile soil, applying water, and so on — not leaving the seed lying on bare stone. The seed

needs the right circumstances to grow in. By applying these skillful means, nothing whatsoever can prevent the plant from growing. Likewise, we need to train in, to develop the strength of the recognition of mind nature. After applying water and creating positive nurturing conditions, the plant will certainly grow taller and taller. Eventually, it will fully blossom with beautiful


brightly colored flowers, because this potential was inherent to the seed. But this does not happen all at once. In the same way, we hear about the amazingly great qualities of buddhahood, such as the fourfold fearlessness, the eighteen unique qualities of the buddhas, the ten powers, the ten strengths and so forth. We then wonder, “Where are those qualities? How come they are not apparent in a moment’s experience of the awakened state? What is wrong?” It

can be understood in the following way. Within a few seconds” glimpse of the state of rigpa, these qualities are not experienced the same as when recognition has been stabilized. Although inherently present in our nature, these qualities do not have time to be fully manifest. Just as the seed is the u

nmistaken element for the fully blossomed flower, so the moment of recognizing the awakened state is definitely the basis for buddhahood itself. If the flower-seed is planted and nurtured, it will without question grow. But do not expect the moment of rigpa to be an amazing or spectacular experience. Actually, there is one aspect of the awakened state that is truly amazing — the fact that conceptual thinking and the three poisons are totally absent. If

we look around, apart from rigpa, what can really bring an end to thought, the very creator of samsara? We can drop a million nuclear bombs on this world and blow everything into smithereens. If that stops conceptual thinking and delusion, let’s do it! But it doesn’t. It would be fantastic if we could simply blow up all the confused samsaric realms and end them permanently, but unfortunately that’s not possible. Is there anything in this world that stops

deluded thinking? Nothing other than the moment of recognizing the awakened state can truly cut through the stream of deluded thinking. That’s quite amazing. Do not expect the actual moment of rigpa to be something dramatic; but, this particular quality of it is something truly amazing! In the past,

masters like Kyungpo Naljor, Tilopa and Naropa visited Uddiyana and described the visions they had there of Vajra Yogini’s pure realm, which is full of terrifying charnel grounds and frightening eternal fires and so on. More recently a group of normal people went there, and returned saying all they saw were some big

boulders and a small pond of water. “We didn’t see anything; it’s just a normal place,” they told a master named Gendün Chöpel, who died a few decades ago. In response, he said, “While you don’t even see the unchanging nature of mind which is inseparable from yourself, how can you ever have visions of deities

through sadhana practice?” In other words, if you are unable to see what you already continuously possess, how can you expect to perceive Vajra Yogini’s pure land? Sentient beings are never apart from this unchanging, innate nature of mind for even an instant, yet they do not see it. Just as the nature of fire is heat and the nature of water is moisture, the nature of our mind is rigpa, nondual awareness. While we are never apart from this, we still do not

recognize it. How then can we expect to have any special visions? We must first be well-established in dharmata; then it is possible to see the divine city of Vajra Yogini. If we did not have the buddha nature, who could be blamed for not noticing it. But, just as water is always wet and fire is always hot, the nature of our mind is always awareness wisdom. We cannot be separated from our intrinsic nature.




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