11 Sep 2012
Teaching: Alan discusses causality and the relationship between cause and effect within the context of mindfulness of the mind. According to the Sautantrika, both cause and effect are considered real. According to William James, the relationship (relata) is also considered real. In order to perceive any causal relationship, you need to observe phenomena with a wide angle over time and connect the dots.
When experiencing pleasure, enquire whether it is stimulus driven or not. Genuine happiness (sukkha) arises from the substrate when unimpeded. There are five obscurations which obscure the natural qualities of the substrate: 1) sensual craving, 2) ill will, 3) laxity/dullness, excitation/anxiety, 5) debilitating doubt.
Unlike the 5 senses, there is no physical faculty corresponding to mental consciousness. In other words, mental consciousness arises from mental consciousness. All appearances arise from and manifest within the space of the mind (alaya).
Meditation: mindfulness of the mind. Direct mindfulness to the space of the mind and the objective appearances and subjective responses therein. Identify whether pleasure or displeasure is stimulus driven. Observe closely and recognize coherent patterns. Distinguish between thoughts and emotions you generated versus those that arose spontaneously. Identify cooperative conditions and substantial cause for the discursive thought or mental image. If caught up in rumination, return to the shamatha practice of settling the mind.
Q1. Please comment on the substrate, substrate consciousness, lucid dreaming, and the death process.
Meditation starts at 46:07
O Laso, so today we return to vipashyana by way of the close application of mindfulness to the mind, so it’s really like, in a way, what seems like moving into a new neighborhood and checking out the neighborhood. The closest most intimate neighborhood, neighborhood of your own mind and we do so not only by simply attending closely from moment to moment getting a lot of snapshots so to speak, with bare attention which is certainly very, very valuable but we also look for the patterns, the connections, the casual sequences because if one wants to understand anything, you would want to not only understand what it is but what does it do and how does it interrelate with its context that which precedes it, that which follows it, that which is in its environment.
(1:43) If you take things in isolation and just take a little snapshots all by itself, well your understanding will be limited, so you might get it’s impermanent nature, okay, it’s arising pup- pup- pup-pup – staccato, but so much of what’s going on you won’t get if you’re just focusing moment to moment in a whole series like staccato strobe light, little flashes of bare attention. It’s the connections and William James made a very important point – I’m just jumping outside of Buddhism for a moment, but to something that I think is very important – William James made this point, and when you consider from your own experience whether this is true - when you have two things that are related, cause and effect for example, the cause if we go Sauntrantika - the cause is real you can perceive it, it has casual efficacy, it does things; likewise anything that is a result is itself also a cause. So anything that is a cause is also a result, anything that is a result is also a cause of something else. So we have two real things - the cause and the effect, the seed and the sprout, the emotion and then the behavior that is aroused by the emotion and so on. (2:08)
But William James’ point, which I think is really interesting for a radical empiricist, and that’s the kind of person he was, he says that it’s not only the relata - the elements that are interrelated - but the relationships themselves are real, not just that which is related, but the relationships themselves are real. Now, in ordinary language that seems perfectly obvious; is a marital relationship real, and who in his right mind can say – oh no that’s just an abstraction? It’s crazy, or a parent child, or sibling relationships, are they real or not? Oh, come on, what’s more real than that? So, I think he’s got something there which would suggest, but now it gets quite subtle – if we’re going to follow this out, - ( in Tibetan then Alan explains -) What I was saying here, in the Sautrantika, a relationship is not permanent, it’s not unchanging therefore it’s changing, being changing its real, being real it lends itself to direct perception, or one can say measurement. But now, exactly how is it that you directly perceive a relationship? I mean to perceive the relata, that’s easy, there is the seed, there is the sprout, there is the emotion, there is the behavior, there is a mental affliction, there is an emotion and so forth. But how do you perceive, not imagine or infer, how do you perceive a relationship?
(4:46) What I would suggest here is that you may perceive the relata, the elements that are related, the individual cause, the effect, that cause, that effect, this primary cause, that cooperative condition; you may get those with snapshots with a little strobe, with a flash, a momentary gatcha. But if you want to see the relationship, it’s as if getting the individual components that are related, you can get those with the telephoto, but if you want to see the relationship you have to go to wide angle; and that is let your awareness smear, smear across time. So you are not just getting little pop- pop- pop- pop- unrelated dots you are literally connecting the dots but not just with imagination because relationships are real whether or not you can conceptually designate them. Sprout give rise to, or seed give rise to sprout wherever you think about them, they do. And so now, to smear them, now this is an interesting point, just so many interesting things here – it really is true, but in Buddhism for example it is said - how long does it take for certain mental event to take place? How long does it take – well ( Alan speaks in Tibetan ) the very briefest duration of let’s say- a pulse of cognition? And that’s one sixty fifth of a finger snap, and I checked with finger snap experts and they say that a finger snap is about one tenth of a second, one sixty hundred and fiftieth of a second, that would be the shortest pulse of cognition, but for anyone unless you are an incredible highly advanced yogi, you’ll not ascertain anything in one sixty hundred and fiftieth of a second, and neuroscientist and cognitive psychology bear that out, it’s too short.
(06:23) You have to have a cluster of them, but then let’s say, if you have about twenty milliseconds, about thirty milliseconds, or let’s say 20 milliseconds, one fiftieth of a second, that’s right on the edge of being able to ascertain something really simply like RED, that’s very basic, red as opposite to blue. Can you get it or not? And that would entail giving you a flash and then masking it. That’s how they do it, they give you a flash and they mask it so that you don’t have the reverberation effect, which is then something different. Let’s say 20 milliseconds, one fiftieth of a second - that may be, right on the edge, long enough for a cluster of those very brief pulses of cognition to cluster together and be able to provide the knowledge that was RED.
(7:19 )Right, but now they give an interesting one - how long does it take to doubt something? To doubt means to vacillate between two extremes, yes or no, maybe, maybe not. You can’t doubt and think maybe yes, maybe yes, maybe yes, because then you’re pretty much stuck on yes, which is not doubting it’s just yes, yes yes. So it has to be weighing, alternating between two possibilities, right? For example, will my mind ever be quiet, will rumination ever settle down? Bla, bla bla bla bla – you won’t get it that way. So, how long does it take for a doubt to occur, for uncertainty to occur? Well, it’s going to be a heck of a lot longer than one fiftieth of a second because you’re going to have to weigh two possibilities and be comparing them. So, there’s a cluster, so that would imply in order to end doubt, of course exists, therefore it’s perceivable, but not in 20 milliseconds it’s not because your telephoto is too intense.
(8:19) It’s too narrow a time to be able to pick up, to ascertain doubt. It has to be longer, like a half second maybe, a quarter of a second, oh there I was doubting because I went – yes, maybe not, yes, maybe not – and that takes a little while. So you have to have wide angle in terms of time, a wide angle to say, oh yeah, there was a flip-flop there.
(8:46) Having said that, now we look causality. Because as we’re closely applying mindfulness to the mind we should be very interested in causality – what’s causing what here, right? And this is just a fundamental issue underlying all of the Buddhadharma, and that is fundamentally it is just so much boils down to causality. If you just look at the framework for the whole teaching for 25 hundred years, it starts with an effect – suffering. Okay, there’s the effect, we all care about it, so you’ve caught my attention, I don’t want to suffer. Whether I’m a groundhog, a gopher, a locust, human being, yep, don’t want to suffer, yep got that one, but then the suffering just arises because God made it happen or it just happens randomly, what have you? Or are there patterns, is there some orderliness there, in the generation of suffering?
Second Noble Truth – here are not the mere catalysts, oh I’m feeling bad today because it’s cloudy; as if it’s cloudy everybody has to feel bad, that’s not a cause. That’s certainly not a substantial cause of feeling bad, that’s a cooperative condition for you, but not for you, because you like rain and you don’t. And so all those cooperative conditions they are say okay, let’s set that one aside, now what’s really important? Because a raining day may make you unhappy, maybe not, but what always gets you? What always gut punches you, delivers the goods, for really providing misery? Suffering. And all it’s waiting for is cooperative conditions, and boom it always delivers the goods. And then the Buddha in his brilliance said, well how about three prime suspects? The most wanted list in the FBI of samsara – delusion, craving and hostility. I mean check it out, trace your suffering and see if you can’t always find that mafia of mental afflictions, they’re always behind it, whether explicitly or implicitly, just trace it back – ah you again, you again, you are definitely on my hit list, public enemy, we have to bring you to justice.
(10;54) They and all their derivatives, all the derivative mental afflictions, jealousy, arrogance, and so forth and so on, primary, secondary mental afflictions, but it always traces back to three and among three it always comes back to one – delusion. And that’s rooted in unknowing. So, for us to perceive the causal relationships, not just be figuring them out, but actually perceive them, then we have to have something with a wide angle lens – that is not going in just moment by moment, staccato moment of this- this- this, but a broader spectrum, a more panoramic spectrum that is able, and the technical term is – working memory. That is to be able to hold something in mind and to be able to see within it, to be able to work with it, understand it, so to see one event and then another event arising. Now, the mere fact that one event precedes another event, does that necessarily imply that the earlier one caused the latter one? No way. No, obviously not, this is the wellspring of so much superstition, I brought my rabbits foot and I had a terrific game, I hit a whole bunch of balls in the game oh man that rabbits foot, that’s what did it, I always have to remember it, or this old pair of dirty socks, I wear this one when I win my tennis match, boy, these are my lucky sox; you know, this runs through all of sports, your dirty socks, a special pair of underwear, a little bracelet, the girlfriends ring you put in your pocket, whatever it is, you say oh but that caused it because it preceded it and then that happened. So there’s the dumbbell approach to causality, if it preceded it, it must have caused it. I kind of like that though, because you know, the end of the age is coming on Dec 21st of this year; and I’ve just said that – and now you just watch, I have said the end of the age is coming and now just watch , on December 21st I will have caused it, right, because I said it first? I mean the silliness abounds and is the root of so much superstition, a tremendous amount of superstition.
(13:31) Of just thinking if A precedes B then A must have caused B. But if you’re closely applying mindfulness with discerning intelligence then you can see, A preceded B but not casual related, but A precede B – ah, causal related. And then it gets more interesting still, because if you see it only once, how would you know? How would you know? But if you perceive it multiple times then a data base starts to grow.
So this is not answering a whole lot of questions, I think it is raising some really important ones.
(14:11) So when we closely apply mindfulness with discerning intelligence, with Prajna - wisdom or intelligence, then we are looking for the interrelationships, this is absolutely core to the Satipatthana, it is core to the Four Noble Truths, you just start with the effect and you look for the cause, not all those cooperative conditions they’re endless; but what are the causes. Then you look for an effect – the achievement of liberation – that’s an effect. And then you go for the cause, path to that achievement. So it’s all causality, start to finish. Four Noble Truths – all about causality. And then, we find this, I think it’s implicit or thinly veiled in the Satipatthana Sutta, when the Buddha says – for each of the four, starting with the body – closely attend to or contemplate, the factors of origination and the factors of dissolution; this, the probing, ontological analysis into causality, how things emerge, how they dissolve, when do they become themselves?
(15:11) When exactly is it, when is the first moment of a sprout? When a seed is germinated, a seed germinates right – then after some time you’ve got a sprout. Exactly when does that happen? And then you have the sprout, eventually it’s going to die, it’s going to get burnt, dried up, but one way or the other it’s not going to remain a sprout forever, so when exactly does it stop being a sprout? In other words it’s sprout-ness is finite, it has a beginning and an end, and that goes for seeds and for pretty much everything else, but exactly, what was that demarcation when we can say – now it exists – now it’s a sprout – now it’s no longer a sprout – so closely, with an ontological probe that is looking right into the very nature of existence of causes and the emergence –how does it emerge? If you do that deeply enough, you ride into the king of all syllogisms – Nagarjuna. You’re up to your neck in Nagarjuna.
(16:06) And that is, to realize emptiness by way of pratitysamutpada; it’s really like the royal carriage, the most noble the most profound, the most celebrated way of realizing emptiness is really to closely inspect, ontologically probe into the very nature of causality itself. We will get to that during our second month, but I just wanted to make this connection here. Now for this first month we’re already working on the three Marks of Existence and not really going to emptiness, or emphasizing it, impermanence, dukkha and then non self, then as we are closely applying mindfulness to the mind, as we will do in just a few minutes now, what I would like to highlight is the following point. Yesterday we were looking primarily at the objective appearances, a bit easier, the easiest thing to observe for most people, the discursive thoughts, the chit-chat arising in the mind, the mental images – not that hard to observe. More difficult to observe, to clearly inspect, to closely apply mindfulness to – the subjective impulses, such as emotions. Well, when we were looking at vedhana (feelings), we are just looking at just the basic emotions of pleasant, unpleasant and neutral.
(17:19) Now that we’re closely applying mindfulness to the mind, then that refers to all the rest of the mental process, so it’s a great big umbrella term, and that is all the emotions.
But of course we can still attend to the emergence of pleasure, of displeasure, of boredom, of interest, of excitation, of dullness and so forth, these various states of consciousness.
(17:44) But the point I really want to emphasize and I think is pretty close to the last point is that as you experience some kind of pleasure arising – that is settling the mind and then focusing your mindfulness on the space of the mind, closely applying it to it, to the events arising therein, when you experience a feeling of pleasure or displeasure arising, to my mind one of the juiciest questions is- one of the most fruitful, transformative, meaningful questions that can be posed, to my mind, and that is - you experience pleasure for example, then ask a question -
Is this pleasure, stimulus driven? Is it a response to something pleasant, either something pleasant in the body or you heard something or very likely you remembered something or imagined something, but something comes to mind, some appearances comes to mind and you experience it as pleasant, therefore pleasure arises? And that’s nice, noting wrong with that, and we call that hedonic pleasure.
(18:49) So when pleasure arises, if it is hedonic pleasure recognize it as such, that’s really useful, really, really useful. And then as you look to perceive relationships look to see if you can identify what catalyzed it, the cooperative condition, a memory, a thought, a fantasy, whatever it is, see if you can identify the trigger, the cooperative condition that nudged, that boost that emergence of a pleasant response that we experience as pleasure. So, hedonic, but some of you have already experienced, maybe all of you for that matter, maybe during this retreat or prior to this retreat, all of you I think have experienced another kind of pleasure - still feels good, is pleasant, it’s mental but when you look around for – who done it – that is what catalyzed it, what was the appearance, what am I responding to? What am I finding pleasant?
You don’t see anything. It’s not a pleasurable way of experiencing that, it’s a quality of well-being, of sukkah, that you’re bringing to whatever you experience.
(20:10) From brushing your teeth to taking a shower, to trimming your toenails, none of those are intrinsically pleasant, I mean they may be, they may not be, depends on your mood. But what’s the quality you’re bringing to them prior to being stimulated in a pleasant or unpleasant fashion? Sometimes it is sukkah, very possibly all of you have experienced that on some occasion, where there is simply a sense of wellbeing but it is not a response to something that happened to you, some appearance arising to the mind.
So we’re going to call that genuine happiness, it’s not ultimate; if it was ultimate we probably wouldn’t have experience it yet.
(20:50) But the Buddha said - find what truly brings you happiness and follow it, so before Joseph Campbell said - follow your bliss, Buddha said something very similar, a long time ago. Find what truly makes you happy and then trace it, like the hound dog picking up the scent, hey that is genuine happiness, it may not be immutable, it may not be ultimate, it may not have to do with pranas going into the central channel but this is the scent, and then say ok, let’s follow that one, see where that takes us.
So observe the occurrence of genuine happiness and observe the absence of any appearance serving as its cooperative condition, and see that it is more, more simply arising without being impeded, in other words observe what isn’t there- that’s not impeding; like if you start ruminating with some old resentment, oh that will definitely put a cork in your genuine happiness, that will just make it go right down.
(21:52) So in this regard, I find enormously useful something I’ve learned from the Theravada tradition, I’ve never seen it so clearly laid out in the Tibetan.
From Theravada, the nature of bhavanga which we call also the substrate consciousness is - bright shining mind- or mind of clear light, two translations of the same term, but it’s not referring to rigpa, buddha nature, it’s referring to substrate consciousness, but brightly shining and by nature pure. The same of the substrate consciousness let alone rigpa which doesn’t come in the Theravada or the Pali Canon, naturally pure and luminous, right. And then of course when we experience it by way of shamatha you find a third quality and that is oh, it’s also blissful.
What obscures it, why is it, if that is always there, the bhavanga, I would simply say substrate consciousness for sure, substrate consciousness is always there and its nature is bliss, luminosity and non-conceptuality, those are not add on-s that you get from someplace else, that’s the nature of substrate consciousness. So why aren’t we just walking around all day, blissful, luminous and non-conceptual until there is something to think about? And then we pick up, like picking up a tool, we pick up thinking – thank you very much, and when it’s done and we’re back to non-conceptual until we need to pick up thinking again. Why isn’t that the case, in other words why aren’t we naturally sane, because that’s sane, luminous, non-conceptual, when there’s nothing to think about and then blissfulness arising as a symptom of a well-balanced sane mind? Why are we not just already sane, what happened?
(23:40) And what happened were some little pesky critters called The Five Obscurations.
And they are obscuring this blissful, luminous and non-conceptual nature of our own minds, our own inheritance, because again, this is not something you get from Buddhism or anything else, not even from your parents, this is really yours, much closer than your body, you can start losing limbs and still being here, losing hair, losing your beard if you have the guts, you can lose all kinds of things, you can lose your memory, you can lose your intelligence, you can lose a lot of things, of course you can lose your mind but one thing you can’t lose is substrate consciousness, there is no way to lose that one, so if anything belongs to you, that might be a good candidate, but leaving that aside, there it is, that’s the keeper, that’s the one that continues on, the substrate consciousness.
So what’s obscuring it? Five obscurations that obscure, that make invisible to us - which means to take out of the realm of experience for us, on the top side so to speak, monkeying about in the coarse mind, makes the natural luminosity, bliss and non-conceptuality of the substrate consciousness invisible, unknown and therefore widely refuted; because why should I accept something that I’ve never seen and don’t know anybody else who’s seen it, then why should I assume it exists? That’s not an unintelligent position, limited, but not unintelligent. And so, the metaphors I think, I find pretty useful, so what’s one that just obscures, blanks out like putting a concrete lid on these the bliss, luminosity, non-conceptuality of substrate consciousness?
(25:17) Sensual craving, that’ll do it. Because here is bliss here, (Alan points to his heart chakra) here’s where bliss is, and then I think, I’ve got no bliss, who can make me blissful? Who’s going to make me happy, what’s going to make me happy, where shall I move, what kind of job shall I get, what kind of an education shall I get, what friends? And clearly that’s going to obscure what I already have because I’m looking exactly in the opposite direction. What I need to do is unveil here instead of going never mind veils, I can fix this. I can fix this, I just need somebody, you know, I need better food, better sex, better place to live, nicer car and so forth, that will do it, in other words just give a lot of cooperative conditions, who does need a primary cause? Why don’t we just snuff that one out and just add sugar on top of a concrete lid. So it is said that this fixation on the bounties of the desire realm, because it’s not just sensual craving, it’s not just sex and food and so forth, it’s much broader than that. It’s all the fixations on the three jewels of the material world, remember the three jewels of the material world that many, many people take refuge in - money, power and fame or status. Look at modern education, look at business, look at politics, look at sports, look pretty much in any direction you like and see where are people really pinning their hopes,
(26:53) money and all that money can buy, that’s a lot, but money can’t buy power, I was about to say that you can’t buy the American Presidency, I think that leaves an open question that we will know in a couple of months. But generally speaking you can’t simply buy political power or buy others kinds of power, you have to be somewhat more crafty or clever or something. And likewise you can’t simply buy status – the nouveau riche for example, aspiring, aspiring and then Aristotle saying - aspiring but not achieving - you are not where we are, your money is too recent, we’re dead broke but at least we have good blood. So status money can’t buy, you have to get there some other way.
(27:35) So there we are, I think that’s pretty much the three jewels of mundane world, wealth and everything that wealth can purchase, power and everything you can do with it, and then status and everything you can do with status, prestige, reputation, fame, that’s a lot, and for many people that pretty much defines – “that’s the good life”. If you can just be wealthy, powerful and famous and it would be really helpful to be good looking too, then you can be really happy. And it’s so wonderful that we have the entertainment industry, that all you have to do is look and see: “not true, not true”.
(28:19) So there it is, the fixation on that, the metaphor is- if the clear and luminous pure blissful nature of your own awareness when unveiled, if it is likened to a crystal clear pool of water, the sun just beaming through it, that’s a nice metaphor, a limpid, transparent, luminously well lit, pool of water, clear, crystal clear. Then the fixation on hedonic wellbeing, hedonic pleasure is like throwing a handful of dye into the water and then all you see is the dye. You don’t see the qualities of the water, it’s no longer transparent, it’s not luminous, it’s not pure, you can’t see through it, you just see dye, right. So that’s one way of obscuring the clear and luminous nature of your mind, by throwing in the dye – oh if I could only be more wealthy – more people would love me, I’d have more respect, then there it is, it’s totally obscured. There’s one.
2) Ill will.
(29:14) Ill will, that really works. If you’d really like to totally obscure the natural luminosity and bliss of your own mind, ill will is a real killer. It really does the work. And this analogy here, keeping with the analogy of the clear pool of water - boiling water. The water is clear, that is it’s not polluted but you can’t see through it because what you can see is just the bubbling, ill will, malice, malevolence, enmity, totally obscures the actual transparence, limpid, blissful nature of the mind. That’s the second one.
3) Laxity and dullness.
(29:47) Laxity and dullness is likened to moss that covers the surface, so it’s right there on the surface, it’s quite thin but then you can’t see through it. So, likewise we all know it, we all know what laxity and dullness are like, you just can’t see into the depths of the mind, because you’re caught on the surface level of just that – laxity and dullness.
4) Excitation and anxiety.
(30:20) Excitation and I will say anxiety. Excitation and anxiety is like a pool of water where the surface is rippled by wind, you’re just getting a lot of wave action on the surface, you can’t see through it. You can’t see into the depths of the water all you’re seeing is the waves. We all know that, right, and it’s exactly what it’s to think about when your mind is caught up in rumination, distraction, agitation, anxiety, guilt and so forth, it’s all on the surface, it’s all there on the vibration, all the perturbations on the surface of the mind and you can’t see beyond it because they get you in their grip and they throttle you like a terrier throttles a rat. You’ve ever been the rat? It’s really unpleasant.
5) Debilitating doubt.
(31:24) The final one is debilitating doubt. For example, how is has your week gone? Oh, ups and downs, sometimes kind of good, sometimes kind of bad, sometimes I might get really depressed, but sometimes I was inspired, sometimes this and sometimes that. I think that could achieve shamatha but probably not, etc. You know it’s not like I totally, immutably, inherently suck at meditation and therefore I am spending the next five weeks on the beach. Now that’s a decision, that’s coming to some definite certainty – I am absolutely irredeemably hopeless as a meditator; it was a total mistake to come to the mind center, but the beach is waiting and I’ll certainly be happier there than I am here. That’s at least a decision, right? Or – the beach is just a beach, it’s just sand and salt water, if you want sand and salt water, get a bucket of sand and a pool of salt and go home and just knock yourself out. If that’s really what you wanted, sand and salt water, sit in your bath tub with a bucket of sand and have some fun, you know, if that’s really your source of pleasure then your bucket of sand and salt water should you know, just make your day. Might even throw in a plastic ducky, if you really want some bliss you know. So that’s the thing about afflictive uncertainty, it just doesn’t let us rest. Wobbly, wobbly, so that’s said to be like turbid water, where there’s just a lot of silt, muck, grunge in the water and so once again, you just can’t see through it.
(33:12) So I find those 5 metaphors very useful, and then the task here is to identify when genuine happiness comes up, it’s coming you know on a relative level, it’s coming from that place, I mean ultimate ok, it’s coming from rigpa but rigpa is a little bit beyond of our scope for the time being I am going to assume, but this substrate consciousness is not that far away, you just tap into every time you fall asleep, how far away could it be?
Of course when you’re deep asleep it’s veiled by laxity and dullness so then you don’t get all the blissful element but at least it’s restful. So this genuine happiness on a relative level, it’s just coming from that dimension of consciousness and it gets un-obscured a little bit and then some ray of clarity, some ray of bliss, some ray of non-conceptuality beams out and you say – ah, that’s my inheritance. And then the five obscurations like a cloud layer come and obscure it again. So genuine happiness, it’s substantial cause, its primary cause is nowhere else than your own substrate consciousness, not going to be anywhere else, because that’s the very nature of bliss. So to un-obscure it is the task, not to try to add on more stuff and somehow concoct bliss with a bunch of cooperative conditions, that’s called hedonic pleasure, all very well but then after while of course it tapers off, the novelty wears off, no longer interesting, whereas here’s a well spring, it doesn’t get boring, it doesn’t get tired.
(34:11) Then the final point is while we have genuine happiness and hedonic, and also as you are closely inspecting your mind, look for and again I find this so fascinating, if unhappiness, boredom, restlessness, grumpiness, tiredness, just something, anything, some unpleasant feeling of any flavor arises while you’re meditating, it may never happen again, but should it happen, ( laughter) then check it out. Is it hedonic unhappiness? Is it your knees, it is your back? Are you just feeling heavy in the body? Is it your mind? Is it the fact that you are restless or is there something arising in your mind that you are experiencing in an unpleasant way? In other words, are you getting some unpleasant stimulation? Mentally, sensorally, tactically, whatever, but it is something making you unhappy, restless and so forth, that whole bandwidth. If so, good, let’s call it hedonic unhappiness, okay then you see it. But then is there such a thing as genuine unhappiness? And I think we’ve already experienced that, we’ve all had that experience on many occasions.
(35:50) And Tsongkhapa makes this point, come back to Tsongkhapa once again. He said - insofar as the mind is dominated by mental afflictions, that is just habitual, that is just your normal state, you are caught up in one or another. You are just like basically going around getting into a bit of attachment and then a bit of anger and then more delusion and then a bit more attachment, and then anger, and a bit of arrogance and jealousy and so forth, if that’s basically the swimming pool that you’re swimming in, then even when you have no stimulation, even when nothing’s happening to you, in other words you can be in Lama Yeshe’s dark room or you can be in solitary confinement or you could be in a hospital bed all by yourself not even in any pain, but just by yourself in a room or in a meditation cave up in the mountains, but with really nothing unpleasant happening to you, you can be richly unhappy, and it can have some staying power. In other words you can really slip into some chronic depression there. And they say – what’s making you depressed? I mean, you’ve got enough food, you’ve got a toilet, you’ve got four walls to look at, what’s your problem, I mean there’s nothing bad happening to you? And it doesn’t even have to be bad things happening to you in your mind, that is I think the subtle point he is getting at, you don’t even have to think unhappy thoughts, that is that just when the mind is conditioned by, dominated by mental afflictions whether or not there’s talking rumination going on in the mind, you can feel bad anyway; even without being negatively stimulated by something happening to you or in your mind, you can just feel bad already, right? That’s interesting, and that’s genuine unhappiness. That’s what I call genuine unhappiness, it’s not stimulus driven. Your mind is imbalanced, your mind is not well and this is a symptom of a not well mind. As Pascal said - the problem with modern man is our inability to sit quietly in our chambers because sitting quietly in our chambers, with nothing bad happening to us, becomes unbearable.
(37.55) So what do we do in modernity? Say well, the hell with sitting quietly in our chambers let’s get out and do something; at least work, at least be productive. So if you’re Germanic or Scandinavian, Northern European - then let’s get out and do something, let’s get some work done. And if you’re from Spain, Portugal, Italy, you say, let’s have some good food and relax, let’s party. But either way, whether it’s going to work to occupy your mind or whether you are going to play to occupy your mind, and racking up your debts in the meantime, either way it’s an escape. It’s to occupy yourself, at least I am being productive, I may be a miserable person but at least I overcome it by being productive, and I maybe a miserable person but look at my shirts, look at my food and look at my car. One of the boyfriends of my stepdaughter, chick-mobile, chick magnet, that’s what he called it – chick magnet. The Italians make chick-magnets like nobody on the planet. I mean a Maserati, Lamborghini, Ferrari, let alone the cheaper ones, and if that’s not a chick-magnet, I don’t know what is. Porches are very good machines, but a Lamborghini?
(39:25) I may have a lot of mental afflictions but nevertheless look at my car. So look for genuine unhappiness and trace it to its root. And instead of trying to cover it over, instead of trying to anesthetize it by hedonic stimulation, unveiled it. And then unveil the veil and see if there’s something beneath the mental afflictions. And that’s where the really good news is. Isn’t it fascinating? I think it’s utterly fascinating, I don’t think there’s anything more fascinating this unexplored massive territory, this wilderness of the mind, waiting to be explored. So, let’s do it.
(40:18) A student talks.
(42:06) Teaching continues - There is a point for those interested in Buddhist philosophy, psychology, that is empirical, it’s not just metaphysical, and that is when we’re looking at the eighteen elements, remember those? The five sensory domains, excuse me, the six domains of consciousness, or domains, the six faculties and then the six modes of consciousness, the sense faculty for mental consciousness is also mental consciousness; it’s not brain, and it’s the only one out of the six, and it is called “Indriya”, or faculties, in dependence upon which consciousness arises. So for all of the other five, for the five sense faculties they are physical, they are inside the head or tactile throughout the body and so forth. But when it comes to the faculty in dependence upon which mind arises, contrary to the belief of almost every living neuro scientist, not every single one but almost all of them, the faculty in dependence upon which consciousness arises is not physical, is not brain it is itself consciousness, mental consciousness. And so once again when I look at the mana Indra it’s called in Sanskrit, manaindra, the faculty of the mind, the faculty in dependence upon which mind or manas emerges, I mean come right back to the same thing, substrate consciousness.
(43:12) Because that’s it, if we look at the first moment that a person for example John, here is John, finite in duration, you’ve not been around forever, you will not be around forever, so there was, without pretending to know, whether that’s at conception when the egg and sperm were unified whether it was that moment or for a minute later, or a week later, I won’t pretend to know, I don’t know but certainly from the time let’s say that the egg and sperm were united, from that time, and then there’s a point when you’re dead, between those two points, there must have been, there had to be just logically, there had to be – a first moment of John’s consciousness, this particular consciousness, he’s a man, a human being so you, as this person, did not exist prior to the fertilization of your mother’s egg, that’s obvious, whether it occurred at that moment, possibly, but we’ll leave that as an open question, but sometime from that point until now, there had to be a first moment, in which your mind, human mind, there had to be a first moment, because you do have a mind now and it wasn’t there a second before the fertilization of the egg so there had to be a first moment of the emergence of your mind. And that’s manas, your mind and that had to arise in dependence upon a faculty and so what was the immediately preceding cause for the very first moment of the emergence of your mind? Well the materialists would say, neurons, ok, prove it.
(45:00) And the Buddhist would say- not neurons, there are cooperative conditions that in dependence upon which it arose, preceding moment of substrate consciousness which was not human, but that’s why I say substrate consciousness, bhavanga, subtle continual of mental consciousness is like a stem consciousness, like we have a stem cell that can turn into various types of cells, bones, bone marrow, blood, neurons and so forth and so on waiting to get in the right environment to take on that particular configuration, likewise your substrate consciousness is a stem consciousness waiting to become configured, depending on the kind of brain, the type of physical organism and so forth whether it is a dog, a cow or human being. And then it has its first moment and out of substrate consciousness arises the first moment of your human mind; because you have a human mind, and it had to have a first moment and it had to come from some place, so either a bunch of neurons got together and made nothing transform into something, or else they transformed into it, not very likely, or they act as cooperative conditions to catalyze your substrate consciousness to emerge as your human mind. Quite interesting.
Okay, enough talk, now let’s actually look at the specimen, look the phenomenon, because you have a privileged access, it’s your mind, you may as well know it, because it won’t be around forever, your mind, John’s mind, it’s got book ends, it had a beginning, we don’t know exactly when, we know when in principal, but you have to kiss that mind goodbye, so before you have to kiss it goodbye, give it a big hug, get to know it.
Now release the agitation of the mind, the conceptualization, the turbulence, let your awareness descend into the non-conceptual space of your body right down to the earth element. Settle your body in its natural state, your respiration in its natural rhythm and calm the conceptual turbulence of your mind for a little while with mindfulness of breathing.
(52:50) And direct the full force of mindfulness to the space of the mind, to the objective appearances that arise within that domain, but also to your subjective responses, subjective impulses, and you may take a special interest in the arising of pleasure and displeasure and apply discerning intelligence to distinguish if you can, the pleasure and the displeasure that are stimulus driven, as opposed to the sense of well-being that arises simply because your mind is balanced, relatively un-obscured; or the genuine unhappiness that arises because your mind is afflicted, observe closely and connect the dots of individual moments of experience with the casual relationships that link those moments into coherent patterns.
(56:06) When you find that you’ve simply been caught up in rumination, return to the shamatha practice of settling the mind in its natural state, let your awareness find its own ground, its own place, in stillness. Recognize the distinction between that stillness and the movements of the mind, and when you feel ready then venture forth once again the closely inspect, the movements of the mind, the emergences of the mind and the relationships from moment to moment.
(59:40) If you are not yet familiar enough with the shamatha practice of settling the mind in its natural state, you can always return for a while to mindfulness of breathing. Establish your base camp, place to rest, place to compose your attention and then when you are ready, closely apply your mindfulness once again to the space of the mind and events arising within it.
(1:04:19) With discerning intelligence note the differences between grasped and un-grasped thoughts and images, those for which you feel you are the agent - that you did it, they belong to you and those that you sense that you simply witnessed but you didn’t do them, you didn’t intend them, and then apply that same discerning intelligence to the more subjective impulses, desires for example. Where you the agent of the desire, did you intend it, did you identify it, is it really yours or is the desire simply something that arose and you witnessed but without identifying with it?
(1:06:41) And finally as you closely apply mindfulness to these objective appearances within the domain of the mind such as discursive thoughts and mental images, carefully inspect the manner in which they arise. Can you identify the cooperative conditions, it could be an emotion it could be a sound, a tactile sensation? And then can you identify the substantial cause, that which actually transformed into the discursive thought or mental image? As the Buddha counseled - contemplate the factors of origination.
Two Questions for the Geshe-
Among the 12 links of dependent origination, the first one is the link of ignorance, avidya. The second one is the link of compositional factors, the third one is of course the link of consciousness, and then we have more coming after that, obviously. Here’s my question for the Geshe – what’s the distinction between that third link, consciousness and the bavangha? Are they the same, or are they qualitatively somehow very different? Okay, that’s one interesting one.
And the next one, where I’m going to go here is –I was just translating one very brief section of a text that I translated in its entirety, called Buddhahood without Meditation, which was already translated, but I’ve now translated the big commentary to it, it’s pretty much finished, we’re just polishing it. In this text, Dudjom Lingpa makes a reference to something that is referred to many, many times in the Indian and Tibetan tradition, and that is – of illusionists. These are not like a David Copperfield or a modern illusionists that are doing it primarily with really good technology, according to Buddhist and Hindu lore, they’re not just doing that by trickery, it’s not just a trick they’re using two things, no three things. What the illusionist is using here in order to create an optical illusion, a magical illusion, but an optical illusion, is number one a substance, some kind of a magical substance, and that’s my question for the Geshe. I have always heard about this substance, okay, what kind of substance? LSD? I don’t think so, what kind of substance, it’s not a drug? But do they have any idea, what are they referring to when they say the name, it could be any kind of physical substance at all, I’d be quite curious.
Geshe responds – usually they are referring to a wooden object of the size of a pebble. That is actually what they are empowering.
Alan - So it could be any old thing, they are empowering it with the Samadhi and the mantra?
Geshe responds – Exactly.
Alan- That’s good to know, thank you, that actually makes sense, that’s interesting, okay good, that’s one down, that’s very helpful, I didn’t know that, thank you, excellent, okay. You are released.
And now where I’m going with this – and he might find it interesting later, maybe he already knows, but I found it quite interesting.
It kind of caught my attention, and this is from Dudjom Lingpa’s Mind Treasure on Dzogchen – it’s called – Buddhahood without meditation. (Alan gives the Tibetan name for it) And he is referring to this, but it pertains to our practice here, in I think a very interesting way and we have questions but not a lot, and I think this is really worth the time and then you can decide after I’ve finished.
And that is, Dudjom Lingpa, it’s in his presentation on nature of emptiness, but then he gives an analogy – for example the analogy for an optical illusion could be created by an illusionist who uses a physical substance; well now we know that’s innocuous, it’s not some high tech Indian something, it’s just a piece of wood, but just kind of a platform, a basis, a mantra, that’s going to have some power to it because it’s not just fee-fi-fo-fum, there’s going to be something sophisticated about the mantra, that I am certain of, and then Samadhi.
Okay, that’s the laser technology. And it’s a good metaphor, it’s a good metaphor because holographic images are created by lasers; so of course it’s just a metaphor, but I think it’s a very good one. Very, very finely honed, sharply focused, refined light of consciousness. That’s Samadhi. So you bring these two together, but what he’s talking about here, why refer to it right now, is he is talking about the primary cause, or substantial cause, and then the cooperative conditions for what’s bringing about that illusion.
(1:15:45) It’s clearly an effect, so what’s the primary cause and what’s the cooperative conditions? Okay, the cooperative conditions that do not transform into it, but without which it doesn’t happen, in other words they are cooperative they’re the triggers, cooperative conditions, okay you have the substance, that’s kind of innocuous, a piece of wood. The mantra, that’s going to be high tech, the Samadhi, that’s very high tech. And then the other cooperative condition that’s necessary is the mind of the observer who is looking in the right direction. If you don’t have a spectator, and the illusionist himself has his eyes closed, and nobody’s around, there is no illusion. It doesn’t stand all by itself, and he is not creating this for his own fun, the illusion was actually a performance. People would do that, so he is creating it for an audience, or at least for one other person. So you have to have the other persons’ mind, which is looking in the right direction and then sees it, and then the substance, and the mantra and then the illusionists’ Samadhi. Those are all cooperative conditions. So all of those are helping something become an illusion. What is it?
And this is what caught my attention – what is the primary cause that actually transforms into the illusion? Not the stick or piece of wood, not the mantra, not other people’s minds and not the yogi’s Samadhi; could be but it’s not. Any guesses? The something else is the cause, the primary cause. Bear in mind your substrate consciousness isn’t even the cause, the substantial cause of your dreams. It illuminates the dreams. What he says is the most interesting and it’s right in front of you what he says is – space. He doesn’t go for primordial space, he doesn’t go wooo wooo woo, he just says – space. There’s a piece of wood, there’s a mantra, there’s Samadhi and the minds of the observers and there’s space. So he’s not going all metaphysical and weird on us, he just says – space is the cause. And there is only one way to interpret that and that is it’s space itself transforming into the illusion, because otherwise it would just be one more cooperative condition. The mantra doesn’t transform into it, the substance, the minds of the observers doesn’t, the yogi’s Samadhi doesn’t transform into the illusion, his Samadhi is his mind-stream it’s not going to transform into something that someone else can see. He actually said that it’s the space that is the cause, the primary cause. And now let’s pursue it a little bit.
(01:21:06) We know there are two types of space at least, I won’t limit it to that, there are more than that but just for the time being, we know there is physical space, that’s what physicists measure, that’s what’s expanding, from the time of the big bang space time is expanding that’s why all the galaxies and stars are moving away from each other, why the universe is getting larger, so there’s such a thing as physical space, and physical space is there whether you blink or not. Just like the atoms in this eyeglass carrier are there whether you are looking at it, whether you’re touching it, it kind of doesn’t matter, they are there, dependent upon our perception. And likewise space is there, whether we are looking at it or not, space is there, right, so what do you think? Physical space that physicists study, that’s expanding, we know a lot about it, what do you think, do you think its physical space transforming into the illusion? Who is going to be bold? Yes or no, no - kind of in a manner of speaking – that’s what philosophers often do – in a manner of speaking one might consider that this is a viable possibility – that means – I’m covered. If I’m right I get a little wedge, but if I’m wrong –of course I didn’t really mean it.
Someone says – mental space, physical space is wrong.
Alan responds- you are right, there is no way it can be physical space. Physical space is physical, this illusion is not physical it has no physical attributes whatsoever. It’s not physical, so I am totally convinced you must be right, it’s not physical space transforming into that image, and therefore, what kind of space then would it be that is the primary cause that’s transforming, taking on the appearance of that illusion? It’s got to be Alaya. The space of the mind, and bear in mind that Dudjom Lingpa says elsewhere that all appearance, so now the appearance of eyeglass carrier, the appearance of the galaxies when you’re looking through a telescope and so forth, the appearance of elementary particles when you’re looking in a bubble chamber, and so forth, the appearances arise when you’re looking through a microscope, looking at an x-ray and so forth, all appearances, not only appearances to the five physical senses, appearances of dreams and images and so forth – all appearances, according to Dudjom Lingpa, Dzogchen, all appearances are arising from, and manifest in, Alaya – substrate. Not eyeglass carriers, they’re made of molecules. The appearance is emerging from the mind, the molecules emerge from other molecules, other configurations of mass energy, mass energy going back to the big bang. But the substrate did not emerge from the big bang; it’s not physical, didn’t arise from the physical, doesn’t transform into the physical. So, if that’s the case, it does bear a striking resemblance to this theme that I mentioned just briefly earlier of the within quantum field theory, of all configurations of mass energy. Now we’re back into main stream physics, quantum field theory, very main stream. And the central theme of that is that all configurations of mass energy, including eyeglass carriers, and suns and planets and particles and footballs and so forth, all configurations of mass energy are nothing other than configurations of empty space.
(01:24:33) That’s straight quantum field theory, interesting parallel. So I hope that was worth your while, it was worth my while, even if I was talking all by myself I’d say wow, that was interesting. And if you didn’t follow what I was saying then I was in fact talking all by myself.
Session of Questions and Answers:
Question- To the topics – substrate, substrate consciousness, lucid dreaming, please touch on all, including the process of death, dharmakaya and subtle consciousness.
Response – Okay, I’ve got 3 minutes for that, that shouldn’t be a problem. (laughter) Happily we will have time to return to these, the latter half of this week; that is the first three days including tomorrow primarily about javhana – activities, the stuff happening in the space of the mind. The latter half of this week primarily going to awareness itself and the substrate, and then we’ll recycle those.
But in brief I think that kind of covers it, the substrate is that vacuity, that empty domain, but not a sheer absence, but a space, the space of the mind, that is what appears to substrate consciousness, and appears quite vividly once you’ve achieved shamatha and you’ve slipped into the substrate consciousness without in any way obscuring the natural luminosity of the substrate consciousness. And it does get obscured when you’re falling asleep normally, when you’re dying normally, when you take an anesthetic normally; you’re slipping into the substrate consciousness but the lights go out as you’re going there, okay.
So lucid dreaming, we’ll return to this, one of the most interesting things, so lucid dreaming, it’s simply recognizing mental phenomena as mental phenomena while you’re sleeping, and then there is also of course the lucid dreamless sleep, which is also possible. That is to be in deep dreamless sleep and to know it simultaneously. Those are possible.
So the process of death, the end point of achieving shamatha is to tap into the same dimension of consciousness as the end point of the dying process, so in classic Indo-Tibetan teachings, when you’re going through the dying process, and it’s discussed in some detail, how the physical senses implode and the cognitive faculties dissolve, memory and so forth and so on, and then it’s all dissolving and mind is dissolving, dissolving – the coarse mind that arises in dependence upon – we would say nowadays the brain, and Buddhists would say in dependence upon the whole energy system within the body – prana system and the body as a whole; what’s happening there is that the coarse mind is dissolving into the subtle continuum of mental consciousness. And the point at which that mental dissolution is complete, at which now okay your coarse mind no longer exists, is after the white appearance, and then the red, chepa – red emergence, and then there’s the dark neurotainment, those are the just the straight, literal translations. But the dark neurotainment is just total black out, just poof, blackout. And so for a normal person they’ll hit that and it will basically be like just having fallen into deep, deep, non-lucid, dreamless sleep, just not knowing anything, just the sensation of experience, explicit experience. And from the Buddhist account of dying, that’s when you’re dead. You’re dying, dying, dying, then you get to that point, that dark neurotainment, where your coarse mind is dissolved into your subtle mind and now you’re dead. Or we call it in Dzogchen terminology – now your coarse mind has dissolved into substrate consciousness.
Now, I’ve checked with my principal Lama for Dzogchen, and asked him if one has achieved Shamatha, then what are your chances of being able to die lucidly, and when you come to that dark neurotainment, to be lucidly dead? To be resting in it and fully cognizant of – you’re resting in the substrate consciousness and you got there not by achieving shamatha, you got there by dying, but having first achieved shamatha, in other words having the possibility to go through the whole trajectory of dying lucidly, get to the end point of dying – dying, dying, dying, dead – and still be conscious. He said – oh yes, if you’ve achieved shamatha that prepares you very, very well for that. And then Dudjom Lingpa he comments on this, and as I recall it’s in the Vajra-essence, quite far into the text, he talks about this and he says – okay , how long can you stay dead? And unlike all the gravestones and tombs that say RIP ( rest in peace) like you’re going to stay dead for a really long time, and that’s why you should enjoy the flowers; and Dujom Lingpa says on the outside, about 6 hours. About 6 hours is as long as you get to stay dead, and then, so sorry, the time out is finished. The time out of samsara of just lights out, rest in peace, why so many people commit suicide, thinking that’s really going to last – big disappointment.
One of my favourite aphorisms and I coined it is – the only real downside to being dead is it doesn’t last. It just keeps on, then something else happens; and of course you’re there in the substrate, and then the bottom falls out – speaking very poetically, the bottom falls out of the substrate consciousness, you have a breakthrough experience, techug, it’s a natural techug experience, you break through the substrate consciousness and you get dished up to you – the clear light of death. And that’s rigpa. But if you haven’t already realized rigpa then that will be a very brief and unproductive experience, because it will be one, I think the best way I can talk about it would be – radical disorientation. Does not compute, does not compute; it will be very brief and then you move right on into the bardo. Okay, that’s a brief account. It’s good to have a mind, it’s much more interesting than not having one, so understand it while you have it, because the next one, you know if you’re born as a frog, it won’t be nearly as interesting and you probably won’t encounter the four applications of mindfulness as a frog. Even if you wanted to, it would be hard to find somebody that speaks your language to teach it.
Enjoy your dinner.
Transcribed by Rafael Carlos Giusti & Cheri Langston
Revised by Cheri Langston.
Final edition by Rafael Carlos Giusti