As mindfulness, meditation, yoga, visualization and the huge spectrum of spiritual practices becomes more integrated into our European/American culture, the important questions in life emerge in a new light, the understanding that all aspects of life are experienced as states of mind. I feel these questions must be addressed by us all: Where do we come from? How did it all happen? What is the Buddhist version of Genesis? Evolution or devolution? Can we take charge of our destiny or is everything predetermined? How does meditation practice directly affect the realms we experience? Where are we heading in the future, after death? What is freedom? Here is a little excerpt from the many oral teachings of Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche.
Erik Pema Kunsang (editor).
At the beginning, when this universe was formed, phenomena perceived by sentient beings became coarser and coarser. Phenomena began first with the samsaric realm called Neither Presence Nor Absence of Conception. From there we strayed into the three realms of samsara where we wandered due to clinging to the apparent aspect. First the four limitless perceptions of the formless realms appeared, then the seventeen worlds of the form realm. Next came the six worlds of the gods in the desire realms, and finally all the six classes of beings.
As expressed by the early masters, “Coemergent mind is dharmakaya; coemergent appearance is the light of dharmakaya.” Here appearance refers to undistorted, pure phenomena. Distorted phenomena have become increasingly gross. The four realms of infinite perception are formless; the form in the seventeen god realms is a form of light. Becoming grosser, bodily forms are made of flesh and blood in the six worlds of the desire realm.
The external distorted phenomena are the four major elements of earth, water, fire and wind. In between, we have the flesh and blood, bones, body heat, breath, the aggregates and sense factors. Nonetheless, all phenomena, since the very beginning, lack concrete existence. In last night’s dream we experienced joy and sorrow, countries and places, houses and castles, and the like. We can dream of all these things, but upon waking, what was dreamt no longer exists. Right now all phenomena definitely exist due to the power of confusion.
However upon attaining stability in nondual knowing, we are no longer confused; and so, as a sign of the primordial nonexistence of all phenomena, we can traverse freely through them. If all phenomena existed primordially, the buddhas would have to annihilate them in order to traverse through them; but they do not need to. Phenomena possess not even an atom of concrete existence, though we feel they do due to our distorted ways of experiencing. To a hell being with conceptual thoughts, for example, hell seems to have a material existence. When free from conceptual thoughts, there is no real hell.
A master like Padmasambhava could traverse freely through rocks and mountains because of his stability in primordial purity, in self-existing wakefulness. Padmasambhava had amazing miraculous powers, such as the ability to fly through the sky, traverse freely through solid matter, or be unimpeded in expounding all the sutras and treatises as well as the meaning of the tantras. These are other reasons why there are such great blessings in connecting to his instructions and advice.
In the future, when we have purified all the veils, we will possess all the enlightened qualities and attain the state of unsurpassable enlightenment. Before that, we do not experience the domain of full enlightenment. It would be wonderful if all beings could experience enlightenment. It is said when you attain it nothing is impure, neither sights nor sounds nor states of mind, not even a mote of dust. An accomplished yogi perceives everything as the continuity of pure wakefulness; the entire external world is a celestial palace and the inhabitants have the nature of dakas and dakinis.
Our immediate perception is simply distorted. When the distortion is cleared, everything within one’s personal experience is seen as purity. Ordinary beings cannot perceive this purity, but by becoming a realizeed yogi yourself, you will see this basic purity. This is the difference between personal perception and the perception of others: you can see other beings as pure because they are already pure; but due to their veils, they themselves don’t perceive this purity. For an accomplished yogi, everything within and without is the purity of enlightened body, speech, mind, qualities and activities, and such a yogi perceives the great equality of samsara and nirvana.
Enlightenment is like awakening from sleep. The thinking mind creates all the perceptions and phenomena of daily life, just as whatever you experience at night is created by sleep. When awakening from sleep, the dream disappears, likewise nothing remains of this present confusion when the distorted experience and thinking are completely cleared away. The manifestations of phenomena are merely the display of rainbow light. When there is no manifestation, there is just the space of primordial purity.
The mundane experience of phenomena is called distorted perception, the confused perception of sentient beings. In the experience of someone who has pure perception, a house will be a celestial palace. In the celestial palace, there is no experience of earth, water, fire, or wind. Everything is rainbow light. How amazing! The houses are houses of rainbow light. You cannot say they do not exist, because they have manifest qualities. You cannot say they do exist, because there is no sense of concrete earth, fire, water, or wind. This reveals their primordial nonexistence.
Your basic knowing must return to its inner space. Having gotten lost in the progressive straying into samsara, nondual knowing must retrace its steps and return to primordial purity. The dualistic phenomena of worlds and beings possess not even the tip of a hair’s worth of concrete existence. Primordial purity has no concreteness. All the phenomena of samsara and nirvana manifest from the space of primordial purity. The various phenomena of the waking state are all perceived within the framework of the thinking mind. When you are grounded in wakeful knowing free from concepts, samsaric phenomena are like a movie projector that has fallen apart. You can create the Third World War in a film, but when the movie stops, so does the war.
Various signs will happen when we apply the teachings to our own situation, and it is good to discern the true signs of progress in practice. For example, having meditated upon a yidam deity, one should have a vision of it. There are also general signs of the completion stage such as seeing lights, smoke, a mirage, and so forth. We can actually perceive these signs of blessings with our eyes. Then there are also the meditation experiences known as nyam, which are neither actual nor dreamlike, but somewhere in between. We can have experiences of bliss or emptiness. We might think, “Today my mind is really amazing, naked and unchanging, free from duality, free from attachment to the experiences of bliss, clarity and nonthought. What incredible nondual knowing!” Such a feeling is just a passing experience, but it is a sign of practice nonetheless.
Not all signs of practice are good ones; some are pleasant and some are unpleasant. Sometimes we find it impossible to meditate, very difficult to sit; we feel depressed or angry, such states belong to the unpleasant types. These two kinds of experience, pleasant and unpleasant, are both signs of practice. But no matter what happens, all these experiences are merely clouds within the sky of primordial purity. Sometimes the sky is clouded; sometimes it is cloudless. Whether the sun shines from a cloudless sky adorned with rainbows, whether it rains, storms, or snows, these are all mere experiences.
However, among the signs of practice, there are two stages: experience and realization. The true sign of practice is that your mind is free from clinging, naturally and without any difficulty. Another good sign, and one of the important achievements, is when your mind feels at such ease that it is full of devotion, faith and compassion, like the sky suffused with the warmth of sunlight. However, true achievement is to remain unaffected by the experiences of bliss, clarity and nonthought, while being free from the two hindrances to meditation: dullness and agitation. Dullness means to not really know whether your mind is clear; in fact, your mind is obscured. There are three types of dullness: feeling dull, drowsy, or obscured. There are also three types of agitation: feeling scattered, agitated or absentminded.
In short, even the slightest clinging can harm our practice. Cutting through thoughts should be automatic, but if we don’t notice that we are obscured and instead become oblivious, or if we become agitated, the mind finds it impossible to be quiet and we feel we cannot cut through thoughts. Once free from dullness and agitation, the view is unobscured. How long nondual mind lasts depends on how accustomed we have become to it.
The perfect method for becoming quickly accustomed to the unfabricated state of knowing is to have devotion to enlightened beings and compassion for unenlightened beings. Then, as it is said, “in the moment of love, the empty essence dawns nakedly.”1 Devotion and compassion are both love. Body, speech and mind can feel overwhelmed with love, and if you then look inwardly, it is like a sun unobscured by clouds. This is how past Kagyü and Nyingma practitioners could attain enlightenment without being learned. With little theoretical understanding, they were able to gain experience, the great adornment of nondual knowing. This experience should be without dualistic clinging since experience with clinging has no benefit.
Attaining enlightenment depends on trust and devotion toward the Three Jewels, and compassion toward our mother sentient beings. The nature of emptiness can nakedly manifest when we have these. This is the supreme path of unity devoid of errors. Buddhism’s special quality is unity untainted by the two extremes of eternalism and nihilism. A fall into either of these views is a limitation that will impede progress on the correct path. Taking the view of unity, that the nature of mind is both empty and cognizant, the cognizance clears away the extreme of nihilism and the emptiness clears away the extreme of eternalism. This unity is empty cognizance suffused with knowing. Without this unity, one person will say that mind is eternal; another will claim that it is void. Straying into such errors, the externalist and nihilist views create the dualistic experience of a perceiver and an object perceived.
Devotion and compassion are the greatest techniques, the most eminent means. They are a hundred times better than meditating on deities and reciting mantras. In the Great Perfection teachings, we generally say that only unfabricated, natural compassion and devotion are important, but we must begin by contriving trust and compassion. Though devotion and compassion are already present within nondual knowing, your own essence, in the beginning you need to fabricate feelings of devotion and compassion because natural, unfabricated devotion or uncontrived compassion do not unfold immediately. However, as you become increasingly stable in nondual knowing, you will naturally feel compassion toward all beings, thinking, “Sentient beings are unaware of this most precious nature, which is like buddhahood in the palm of one’s hand!” Devotion is accompanied by thoughts like “How fantastic to be able to cut through the very base and root of confusion. It is incredible, this perfection of all virtues, this exhaustion of all faults. Nothing is superior to this nondual knowing!” Thus you gain trust.
If we know how to do so, then simply meditating on emptiness is completely sufficient unto itself; but if you haven’t truly recognized the correct emptiness, then only through compassion can you be guided to emptiness. For the best result you need both emptiness and compassion, which is called emptiness suffused with compassion. True devotion and compassion are like the summer warmth that melts the ice of winter. Looking into the essence of devotion, you meet naked knowing directly. That is why devotion is so precious and important. Emptiness without compassion is never taught to be the true path of enlightenment. Water will always be wet. Without understanding emptiness, not a single sentient being will attain enlightenment. Once you truly realize emptiness, you will naturally have compassion and think, “How wonderful it would be if all sentient beings could realize this!”
Part of this essay is extracted from Treasures from Juniper Ridge.
Photo of Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche by Noah Gordon.
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