An Oral Commentary on Milarepa’s Song, The Three Nails by t.k.
given at Tsogyelgar, Ann Arbor, Michigan - Wednesday, May 30, 2007
Part One: A friend, the other day, sent me this beautiful poem of Milarepa’s translated by a student of Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso, and I thought I would talk about it with all of you tonight. First, I’ll read the poem. It’s called “The Three Nails,” sung at Tiger Cave Lion Fortress, in Yolmo. Translation Jim Scott, Marpa Foundation
Bless me to naturally rest in the view, mediation, and conduct you have lived.
The nails to be driven related to view are three.
The nails to be driven in meditation are three.
The nails to be driven related to conduct are three.
The nails to be driven in terms of result are three.
To describe the nails that go with view, the three.
They are life’s appearances are a factor of mind.
And luminosity is not mind’s native space.
In that, there is no discrimination at all.
To describe the nails of meditation, the three.
All thoughts in being Dharmakaya are free.
Awareness is luminous in its depths it is bliss.
And resting without contrivance it is equipoise.
To describe the nails of conduct, there are three.
The ten wholesome deeds are the natural expression of conduct.
The ten unwholesome are naturally pure in their ground.
And luminous emptiness creates no strategies.
To describe the nails that go with result, the three.
Nirvana is nothing imported from somewhere else.
Samsara is nothing deported to somewhere else.
I’ve discovered, for sure, mind is Buddha, your mind.
Now, with all these nails there is one to be driven home.
This nail is the nail of pure being’s emptiness.
A genuine lama knows how to drive it home.
If you analyze too much, you won’t get it in.
Co-emergent realization drives it home.
These tools providing some teaching are meant to be shared.
They occurred to the mind of the yogi who put them to song.
May they gladden the hearts of your son and daughter disciples.
Okay, now, before we start in on this beautiful poem which covers so much territory of the outer, inner, and secret teachings in such a few lines, I think it’s probably worthwhile to say a thing or two about the difference between two styles and levels of teaching within the Vajrayana tradition. There are those teachings, which serve a specific function at a particular stage of the path. They are not meant to be explanations or poetic attempts to describe the absolute truth. Instead, they are meant to describe the view and the meditation practices which go with a particular stage. And then as one moves from that stage to a more subtle stage, that view and that set of practices may be outgrown and left behind—very much as there are stages and understandings in life for a little child and those stages drop away as the child moves from infancy to childhood to adolescence to adulthood. These teachings are called provisional teachings because they’re provisional to the particular stage of the path.
In spiritual life, then, it’s important to understand that authentic realization is not a question of the collection of information. Information, in and of itself, does not bring transformation. The practice of the methods of the path bring a transformation in the level of the being, which then allows for the understanding of a higher level of information. Simple accumulation of bits and pieces of facts, knowledge, or information can, in fact, hinder transformation by creating false impressions of knowing something when all you have is an understanding of the words, but no integration of the meaning of the words. There are many examples throughout the teachings, because this is a common problem, in both the East and West.
A beautiful parable about it is the story of Naropa, who was one of the premier scholars at the great learning institution of Nalanda in ancient India, a Buddhist university of the highest caliber, and Naropa was one of its greatest academics. And one night as he sat in his room surrounded by his texts and his copies of various sadhanas and tantras, pouring over them, studying them, an old haggish looking woman appeared in the sky before him and she said, “Naropa, do you understand the words or do you actually understand the meaning as well?”
And in a moment of honesty, which is somewhat rare for academics, Naropa said, “I understand the words only, not the meanings. I haven’t realized the meanings.”
And the old hag turned into a beautiful, beautiful dakini and praised Naropa for his honesty and then said, “Then take all of these texts and go and throw them over the side of the cliff and go in search of a guru who can give you the practices, the methods of inner Vajrayana, which can bring about realization. You need the ingredient now, which would allow you to digest these teachings so that they become who and what you are.”
And Naropa did this. Such an act of bravery and courage, on his side, to leave behind his old life, which had actually become a fetter, an obstacle, to his realization. He went in search for twelve years and went through many different trials before finding Tilopa, who was his guru.
Every level of spiritual realization, of authentic embodiment of spiritual knowledge, requires an equal change in the level of being. There are stages through which the consciousness becomes refined and an ever-increasing subtle discriminative consciousness is created, which can assimilate new information related to new levels of the path. If you don’t assimilate the stages of the path into your being, then at the next level you are missing one of the foundational ingredients, or aspects, which is needed to follow the methods of the next level of the path. This progressive refinement of consciousness is the very point of spiritual teaching and then at the highest point, or level, of spiritual realization, the dualistic consciousness itself dissolves into a wisdom-awareness. But for this to happen, the consciousness must have become extremely, extraordinarily subtle and filled with bliss. This refined, discriminative, subtle consciousness, pervaded by a bliss free from hope and fear, grasping, and aversion, is what is created—it’s the unique mixture created by the Vajrayana path and it’s the jumping-off place for the realization of a wisdom-awareness which goes beyond all dualities.
So, the provisional teachings are those which accord with a certain level, or stage, of insight. But they don’t try to express truth at the highest level, nor are they giving the practices associated with the most subtle—the levels that would equate in our path with Mahamudra or Dzogchen. The teachings that do that, and this poem would be included within those, are called definitive teachings, that are explained at the most subtle levels of the teaching and the realization so that you can sever the final strands of deluded consciousness and allow the sunlight of wisdom-awareness to shine freely. In the methods of the path in the Nyingma lineage, divided into nine yanas or vehicles, and they go progressively between and through these subtle stages. So, for instance, the Mahayoga level of the path removes the gross obscurations about ordinary existence. And then the Completion phase with attributes, and the Completion phase in general, removes the subtle obstacle of duality itself, where the co-emergent wisdom-bliss is realized. And then the Great Completion, or Ati Yoga Dzogchen teachings, teaches one to go beyond all conceptualizing and contrivance and rest in that wisdom-awareness. Each of these is a stage which builds on the understanding, the view, and the realization of the stage before it.
The definitive teachings then are extraordinarily hard to understand because they are pushing words and language to the very limit. They are twisting and stretching language beyond its ordinary purpose because they are opening up to a wisdom-realization of the non-dual state, which can’t be spoken about. Except, at the same time, there is a communicative thrust to awareness within the state of realization, in the fully enlightened state, because the energy, ‘thugjé,’ the energy of awareness, is a compassionate responsiveness. When realization encounters confused and deluded beings who are suffering, it is compelled to communicate the Dharma, and this communication can take the form of mind-to-mind transmission, symbolic transmission, or transmission through words, according to the needs of the beings who are being taught. So, if the needs of beings taught are within language, then that is how the beings that are being taught understand, then the one who is teaching must use language and they must stretch the language.
There was an Indian teacher named Meher Baba who once said, “If I speak only in my language, then there will only be silence and you won’t understand. And if I speak only in your language there will be nothing worth saying, so I have to stretch language somehow so I can express what I want to say in words which you can understand.”
The mystery of truth is so profound that it doesn’t even fall to the side of is or is not. Buddha’s realization—and this is what Milarepa’s getting at in this last line of the next to last verse when he says, “Of all these nails, the one to be driven home it’s the nail of pure being’s emptiness.” Buddha’s realization goes beyond being-ness itself. Often people who attain a tremendous level of spiritual realization will realize the level of pure consciousness and being-ness, the I am, which is infinite and pervasive and blissful, but they become stuck at this level of the archetypal self. The ultimate archetype of the self, the I am, is characterized, for instance, in the Old Testament, as God himself. God says to Moses, “I am that I am.” But Buddha’s teaching goes even beyond this into a mystery beyond being and non-being that doesn’t fall to the side of is or is not. In true, authentic, full realization—the fully enlightened state—the realization is something so mysterious that it’s beyond being-ness, beyond is. You can’t say things are or that they are not. It cannot be described by language or concept at all, including even the word being. It can’t even be said to be experienced, because there would be a subjective entity experiencing and an objective experience of realization being had and there would be the dualism of subject and object.
It reminds me then of the words of the great mystic, Meister Eckhart, who said, “The mystery of God is so great that you can be it, but you cannot know it.” Here it’s said that it is beyond being. You can’t know it. You are it. But really to explain it, you would have to take the verb ‘to be’ out of language. And as it is said in the Upanishads, and Nagarjuna, and the modern philosopher Wittgenstein have all explained that if you take the verb ‘to be’ out of language, then the whole house of cards falls down. So, wisdom-realization, then, is only had in a state where there can be no conceptual elaboration, but out of compassion the realized one will often use language, stretching language much as poetry does, past its limits.
So, the definitive teachings are very subtle and bridge the gap between language and the utter silence of full enlightenment. There, teaching is designed to guide one through the highest wisdom practices that explain the view and the methods which reach full enlightenment and bring you to the state where no word can describe, but it’s not a mere nothingness. Non-duality is a mystery in which the nothingness state is non-dual from all appearance.
Milarepa sang a lot of different songs. There are collections of them in many books. Some were provisional and some were definitive. For instance, he sang songs about the practice of Generation Phase, which is a provisional teaching and the practice of Completion Phase with characteristics, such as the Six Yogas.
In this, “The Three Nails,” Milarepa’s speaking of an extremely high level of realization in practice. He’s speaking from and to mind’s true nature. What I mean when I say speaking from it and to it is that when a siddha stretches language to its limit, the siddha’s words are not a mere intellectual conceit. It’s not that Milarepa simply has some philosophical idea, which he thinks would be nice to share with others. Milarepa’s speaking from the realization—he is the meaning of these words and so his words are siddhi. His words are power. The words themselves contain the power of transmission. And here he’s speaking from and to mind’s true nature. Why do I say he’s speaking to mind’s true nature? Because he’s speaking to you and you find yourself in a confused, deluded state. But he’s speaking to the buddha-nature inherent within you.
Maybe the best way to understand this is Bodhidharma’s statement that, “Buddha’s only liberate Buddhas. Buddhas cannot liberate sentient beings.” And Bodhidharma goes on to say in another place, “No buddha has ever liberated a sentient being.” Why is this? Because sentient beings can’t be liberated because sentient beings don’t actually exist. They are merely an illusion or a trick, like with smoke and mirrors, in your own mind—a self-referencing trick, perhaps. But, a buddha liberates you by seeing and speaking to the buddha-nature, which is complete and whole, already in you. That’s what’s happening in definitive teachings. Milarepa’s hoping that the resonance of buddha-nature in him will trigger a sympathetic resonance in you, like two tuning forks both pitched to middle-C. You tap one and bring it near to the other. The untapped one will begin to resonate with what’s called a sympathetic resonance. Milarepa’s giving definitive teachings in the hope that the buddha-nature in you, which is seemingly dormant, will begin to resonate, and the resonance of it, which is like a luminous wisdom light, like a sunlight of wisdom—clear light sunshine of wisdom—will disperse and dissolve the mist of endarkening ignorance. So, Milarepa is a buddha speaking to the buddha in you, so that Buddha can liberate Buddha.
There’s a beautiful piece from the Prajnaparamita sutra that speaks of this also. When Buddha says, I believe it’s to Sabuti, “Oh Sabuti, does the world-honored one, the Buddha, have a notion of being a Buddha who liberates sentient beings?” And so Sabuti says, “No, oh world-honored one. It is precisely because the Buddha has no concept of a buddha and no concept of sentient beings, no concept of liberating, that the world-honored one is a buddha who can liberate sentient beings.” It’s the intention-less non-dual nature of compassion, which is the radiance of the mind of a buddha, which liberates sentient beings.
So, here Milarepa, the Mahasiddha, is speaking to the buddha-nature in you from the very highest perspective. It says in the title that it was sung in Yolmo, at this particular cave in Yolmo, Nepal. The place where Milarepa sang this is one of the hidden, secret places of Guru Rinpoche. These days Chatral Rinpoche has built a retreat center in this region because just as a buddha, the incarnation of a buddha, the manifestation of a buddha, through birth or realization, is the intrusion, the resonance, the full on pure resonance of buddha-nature in the midst of ordinary appearances, as a being, as a seeming being—so there are seeming places of geography which resonate with the power of liberation as well. All over the world, there are particular places that resonate with wisdom and this is one of them, the Yolmo region of Nepal. This particular cave, which is a hidden place of Guru Rinpoche, and much the same way as Ramana Maharishi said that Arunachala Mountain was Shiva, this particular region and this particular cave are the resonance of buddha-nature. And then this place attracts realized beings who bring the power, the buddha-field created by their realization, to strengthen and enhance the quality of that geographical location. There are also, for instance, the twenty-four places of sacred geography in the inner tantras. And so, the resonance of Milarepa’s realization and the resonance of the sacredness of this particular place of geography come together to form an extremely pure circumstance where the five certainties necessary for the transmission of Secret Mantrayana come together.
Alright, so now let’s go into the first verse that gives instruction, the verse on the view. In Nyingmapa style practice, in the secret inner Tantras style of practice, one follows a particular line, which is view, meditation, conduct, and the realization (the fruit). The view, which describes the ground, or the base of the path, is necessary because it’s important to know what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, and what the view from what you’re doing it is. It’s much like geometry. There are particular axioms in geometry which are the base of the practice of the theorems of geometry. If you understand and know the axioms correctly, then you can accomplish the working of the theorems to get particular results. Now the axioms may or may not ultimately be true. For instance, the axioms of Euclidean geometry work, but there are now more advanced non-Euclidean geometry with a different set of axioms. So, the axioms work. They’re much like provisional teachings that work in the context of a specific set of methods of geometry. In the same way, each level of the path has its own particular view.
The view of the Sutric path is one of refuge and renunciation. The view of the Mahayana path is one of compassion and the practice of the Six Perfections. The view of Inner Tantra is one of intrinsic buddha-nature, which is always, already present as the actual condition of your existence and the practice of Kyerim and Dzogrim (Generation and Completion Phases). Those are the first three. So, Milarepa, here, is talking about the fourth. The fourth level of view is the level of uncontrived wisdom of buddha-nature at its extreme, and Milarepa’s view is extraordinarily subtle and profound, the view of Secret Mantrayana at its highest level, and can only be accomplished if you engage the series of practices in a correct fashion. But still, even before you’ve accomplished the highest level of view, because that’s the purpose of the path, it’s still good to study the highest view without enshrining your understanding of the words as realization. They should be used to understand what, how, and why you’re doing what you do, and inspire you to that practice without becoming a pretense of having already realized their meaning. This happens in so much neo-Dzogchen and neo-Advaita these days.
So, the high view is like the base, or the ground, and the base in Secret Mantrayana is always, exactly identical to the result. One of the ways you can tell if a teaching is authentic Secret Mantrayana, or Inner Tantra, is that the view of the base, or ground of the path, the view of the path, will also be identical to what is explained in the result of the path, because we are the resultant path. We take what is the result, the buddha-nature, also as the ground. In between we purify what obscures the realization or the making real of the view. We have to make it real in the continuum of body, speech, and mind. That’s what realization means. We have the understanding of it, and we understand then that there are obstacles to living that view fully, then the methods of the path purify the obstacles to realization of that view and the result is the actual realization of the view. The only differences between sentient beings and buddhas is one of the recognition of what was always already present. There is no difference in their status. There’s nothing they have, which an ordinary being doesn’t have, because all which is created or owned in that fashion, is lost. Enlightenment, the fully enlightened state, must be something that was already present at the start for it to be of any value whatsoever.
So, Milarepa says about the view—his first line is that life’s appearances are mind, are a factor of mind. Then he says that mind is natural, luminous, and then finally, in the next line, that it’s beyond any sort of discrimination, categorization, or concept. So, all life’s appearances are being a factor of mind. In this mind, luminosity is natural, native, and in that there is no discrimination at all. So, to understand what he means by all appearances are a factor of mind, there are two different ways, one according to the outer provisional teachings and one according to the inner definitive teachings. All appearances, as a factor of mind, can be understood according, for instance, to the Eight Consciousness Theory.
Though, perhaps some of you don’t know the Eight Consciousnesses. They are a way of describing how appearances are mind only and so this teaching is in accord with the Cittamatra school, the mind-only school. And they described it by creating a map of what are called the Eight Consciousnesses. The eight consciousnesses contain what is called the ‘alaya-vijnana,’ the storehouse consciousness. In Tibetan it’s called the kunzhi. So, the eighth consciousness is the storehouse consciousness in which all the impressions, the karmic impressions of all time, of all beings, are stored. It’s the deep of mind where every impression and every imprint of all lives of all beings—somewhat akin to Carl Jung’s collective unconscious. So, the eighth consciousness is this alaya-vijnana, the storehouse consciousness. The seventh consciousness is the afflicted mind, which is the sense of self, itself. The first root karmic impression is the sense that there is a self at all. The sixth consciousness are the mental events, in which that afflicted self has to describe the sensory impressions, which are the other five consciousnesses—the five senses, or five sense consciousnesses. The sixth consciousness, which are all the mental events, the seventh consciousness, which is the ego—the root fixation on a sense of self, and the eighth consciousness, which are the storehouse consciousness.
Now, Dzogchen view, the definitive teachings of Dzogchen view, go far beyond this and it has to be understood that in the outer aspects of Buddhism up to and through, for instance, the Madhyamika teachings, there are only the eight consciousnesses, and when the seventh and eighth consciousness are purified completely of all of their content, then there is the nothing-ness of nirvana. There’s the complete extinction, which is the nothing-ness of nirvana. The mind is then free from the habit-patterns (karma is simply habit-patterns) of consciousness all together. But in Dzogchen Mahamudra’s more sublime, subtle, and profound view, there also is a wisdom-awareness. In the outer teaching, there is only a consciousness. There’s the all-basis consciousness. But in Dzogchen teachings, there is also something called the all-basis wisdom and it has a different understanding of how appearances arise.
But, let’s go over, for a second, a bit more about how appearances arise from the Eight Consciousness Theory. In Dzogchen, for instance, you understand that the essence of mind is an empty spaciousness, utterly pure, ‘kadak,’ primordially pure but that it has a radiant, luminous clarity as one of its aspects. This radiance is always moving as the luminous clarity of wisdom-awareness. In the Eight Consciousness Theory, there’s a natural movement to mind also. It’s simply inherent and intrinsic that mind moves and mind’s movement stirs. We kind of think of the alaya-vijnana, the storehouse consciousness, as an ocean in which all of these impressions are kept and they’re all sunk down to the bottom, but mind’s movement stirs the storehouse consciousness. It stirs up the impressions, which then begin to flow within patterns much the same way that when it rains in the desert, the rain forms patterns, arroyos, little channels, which the rain runs in and the channels become deeper and deeper and more fixed. So, when mind stirs the storehouse of impressions, the impressions begin to flow through the channels, which are karmic habit patterns. And then all of appearances are simply the patterning according to these habits of all the possible combinations of the most infinite number of imprints in consciousness.
The human realm, with its beings, is nothing more than a particular configurational pattern of the habit-tendencies in the alaya-vijnana, in the storehouse consciousness. So, the mind’s movement stirs this, and the first stirring is the sense of self. What is stirred up first is the sense of self. And then the sense of self moves through a habitual pattern, which it has for lifetime after lifetime. Consciousness moves in this habitual pattern and the pattern clothes itself for us in the five senses of the human being and it actually clothes itself in the human realm. So, it clothes itself as a particular being in a particular realm. Now, if you’re understanding this description, then you understand that appearances are mind only and that whatever appearances arise, arise according to the particular habits of a type of being—god realm beings, hell realm beings, animal beings, human beings. Now all beings are simply a psychic phenomenon. All beings’ realms are a psychic phenomenon.
There was a great, famous lama who was asked, not so long ago, “Do you truly believe that the realms—god realms and hell realms—exist as discreet places? And he said, “No, no,” that science really didn’t really allow this, that we had to understand that these realms were psychological. They were kind of psychic events. What’s funny about this, is that then scientists are quite happy. He’s not just a provincial fellow who believes in these superstitions. But he didn’t mention that we believe, in our understanding of Buddha-dharma, that this human realm is also simply a psychological phenomenon. All phenomena are mind only. So, yes, the hell realms and god realms don’t exist in some concrete way, somewhere in outer space, but neither does this human realm. It doesn’t exist in a concrete, self-existing reality like it seems to materialist nihilists. It exists only as a factor of mind.
“All appearances,” Milarepa says, “are a factor of mind.” And this is how this can be understood, according to Cittamatra, according to the outer view. And then one of the fundamental practices, which is realized in its most subtle form in the Madhyamika teachings (Nagarjuna’s teachings) is the practice of cutting analytically through the sense of a solid reality or a self-existence to these appearances, so we understand. And when we understand that all of them are empty and only interdependently arisen, then we rest the meditation on emptiness, meaning resting in that non-conceptual, non-elaboration of that understanding.
Now, in Dzoghchen and Mahamudra, there is another more subtle and profound way of understanding that all appearances are a factor of mind. In the second turning, through Madhyamika, Nagarjuna, Prajnaparamita, these provisional descriptions bring us, if we practice them fully and well, they bring us to a state of non-conceptual, no elaboration of this nothingness. But in Vajrayana it’s realized. The Mahasiddhas realized that nothingness is not a mere nothingness. It’s not just something that’s completely empty. It’s a no-thing-ness, a pregnant no-thing-ness and that it is a spaciousness—an infinite, empty purity that is suffused and pervaded by a luminous clarity. And the term pervaded here—if you imagine that you put a cloth in water, for instance, then it becomes wet and the water pervades the cloth. But, it’s beyond that. It’s not the way that the wetness pervades the cloth, but the way that wetness pervades the drops of water themselves—completely and utterly non-dual. This luminous clarity that pervades the empty expanse is the great secret of Inner Tantra. And, according to this, the wisdom-awareness, the buddha-nature, which is a wisdom-awareness—the combination of the unity of this empty purity and spontaneous luminous clarity gives birth to all appearances as the ‘rolpatsal.’ Rolpatsal is a Tibetan term; ‘rolpa’ means playful and ‘tsal’ means the energy, creative potency of awareness.
So, all appearances then are understood to be a factor of mind, but in a different sense—that all appearances are the radiant potency of an intrinsically pure and spontaneously luminous and radiant awareness. And when the self-glow of awareness, which is replete and filled, sealed with an auspiciousness and every kind of divine quality because it’s also not simply some kind of aloof and abstract luminous clarity. It is beyond the delusion of a separative sense of self, but it is full of the qualities of wisdom: knowingness, creativity, love, compassion, beauty, playfulness—all of these.
Perhaps it would help if we for a moment go into this description of the essence, nature, and energy of awareness according to Dzogchen view. The essence of awareness is a pure, vast spaciousness; it’s this empty purity. It’s sometimes called ‘kadak,’ which means primordially pure. It is primordially pure, and it is uncharacterizable by anything whatsoever. It has no quality, attribute, color, substance, form, shape, nor location. It is not touched by concept, language, time, nor space. It is free of all of these. It is a mystery so deep and profound that no word, no concept, and no intellectualization can touch on it at all. It is pure mystery. In ordinary human life, we have these categories of the known and the unknown. And the unknown is everything that is not known yet (e.g. whether there’s life on other planets) but could become knowable. But here, there is another category, which is the unknowable. There’s the known, the unknown, and the unknowable. The mystery of Dharmata is unknowable to the intellectual mind, to the separative self.
Here again, it’s exactly as Meister Eckhart said, “You can be it, but you cannot know it.” It’s a separate experience because you are it and it has no shape, color, attribute, nor substance quality. It has nothing by which it could be known. It can only be known by what, in one tradition, is called ‘neti, neti,’ not this, not that. Is it form? No. Does it have a self? No. Does it have a color? No. Does it have a location? No, neti, neti, not this, not that. It can only be described by describing what it is not. But it’s not a mere nothing-ness. It’s a pregnant no-thing-ness because it has this luminous, radiant clarity, which also partakes of the emptiness aspect. Spontaneous, uncaused, without any contrivance or cause, whatsoever. This uncaused luminous clarity pervades that—it’s ‘lhundrup,’ spontaneous. That’s the Tibetan word—lhundrup. Kadak and lhundrup describe the essence and the nature of awareness. And then ‘thugje’ means the energy of awareness—it also means responsiveness and compassion. It’s very important to understand all three terms. The energy of awareness from the marriage of the emptiness and the luminous clarity comes the ceaselessly, magically manifesting appearances as just a play. The luminous clarity is frolicking and gambling and cavorting throughout the empty spaciousness and combining with the clear light. Emptiness breaks open and the rainbow colors combine into infinite combinations of diversity in appearances and self-elaboration. ‘Self’ here means not a self, but simply without becoming something different than emptiness and clarity. It elaborates itself into what are called the six spaces of Kuntuzangpo. Kuntuzangpo, the all-good father, Kuntuzangmo, the all-good mother, the anthropomorphic, is the symbol of the wholeness of wholeness in Dzogchen and is symbolized by two naked male and female deities in an intimate embrace with no adornments. They’re the Dharmakaya, the Dharmata.
So, this is how, in Dzogchen, it’s understood that all appearances are a factor of mind and they don’t stray from the ground of awareness in any fashion. So, along the path, we really need to understand both of these explanations. If you understand both explanations, then your practice will be very strong. If you don’t use the ultimate explanation to try to downplay the relative circumstance that one finds oneself in . . . one must practice the path according to the level at which one can actually practice. Sometimes people will ask us what the best practice is, and the answer always is the practice which you can actually do. Dzogchen is not the best practice. Generation and Completion phases, these are not the best practices, though considered higher than Sutrayana. What is the highest practice? The one that you can practice and accomplish.
So, in the next line Milarepa says that mind’s nature is luminous and then that it cannot be realized through any sort of discrimination. So, here Milarepa is saying that mind’s reality is not something you can grasp with words or intellect, with thought. This is profoundly important. Do Kyhentsé Yeshé Dorjé, the Mahasiddha who was my previous incarnation in Golok, Tibet, he divided the path into the ground, the path, and the fruit (the realization). And once he said, “Madhyamika for ground, Mahamudra for path, Dzogchen for fruit.” This is beautiful because Madhyamika is the set of practices which cuts through any intellectual conceptualization. So, he’s saying that the ground of the path includes the understanding that intellectual contrivance by intellectuals and academic dilettantes cannot ever touch on truth. They’re left far behind. Rumi used to like to write, “In this tavern of love of wisdom-bliss, intellectuals can’t sit at our table. They try to make sense of everything, but this is beyond sense and non-sense.”
So, Milarepa is also saying that this is beyond the capacity of the intellect. Mind’s luminous clarity is not something you can touch on with your intellectual contrivances. It can only be realized through the practice of the methods, the methods, which refine consciousness until it finally becomes such a subtle, discriminatively pure, blissful consciousness that it can leap off—that it comes to the jumping off place. And I call it a jumping off place because then it leaves consciousness completely behind. Consciousness is refined until consciousness disappears altogether into a wisdom-awareness. Beingness, which is equivalent to consciousness, is refined. Consciousness and being-ness both are refined in the practices of Kyirim and Dzogrim (Generation and Completion Phases) until they become an infinitely pervasive, blissful singleness and one abides in the single body, in and as the single body of life, which is all appearance. And the single, blissful wisdom, which is utterly empty and in the fourth joy realized in Tummo and Karmamudra’s practices. The consciousness and the beingness dissolve altogether like a mist that dissolves in the morning sun of the mountains and disappears into space. And then consciousness and beingness disappear in a pure mystery, in a mystery of mind’s clear light emptiness, which cannot be touched on by intellectual propositions.
So, Milarepa, in this first verse on the view, he’s inspiring us. He’s saying all appearances are a factor of mind. Whether it’s understood according to the outer view of the Eight Consciousnesses or the subtle definitive view of Dzogchen and Mahamudra, that mind is simply the frolicking playfulness, the ‘rolpatsal,’ of intrinsic wisdom-awareness. If it’s not intrinsic wisdom-awareness, it’s just that the self-glow of awareness is mistaking itself for its cognizing aspect for a subjective entity and its own luminous playfulness as objective appearances. It’s forgotten an infinite potentiality of what can rise. What has arisen is forgetfulness of the true nature of appearance, of the appearance of objective entities and subjective selves. It’s not just that objects are empty of any reality and are just the playfulness of mind’s own luminous clarity. The subject, the subjective self, is also just empty. Never has there even been a shred of actual self or subjective, actually existent entity—never—from the start. There’s no question of getting rid of or killing off some self. This is very dramatic, spiritually, but it’s untrue because there’s never been a self. There’s simply a confusion about the manner in which the luminous clarity of emptiness arises as all appearance. And so, this is what Milarepa is telling us in the view—that all appearances are a factor of mind, that mind is luminous. It is a clear light-emptiness and that that can’t be touched on by intellectual propositions or contrivances. People reading Dzogchen books and sitting around parroting Dzogchen words as if words were equivalent to realization. You can read the menu, but if you never order the food you will actually starve to death while sitting in a restaurant. In same way, Milarepa then follows this verse with a verse on the methods of the practice. He says, “If you’ve understood the view, now realize the view. Make the view real by taking on the method of the practice.”
I was thinking about the story of Aristotle and Heraclitus. Heraclitus was a great mystic who lived during the times of Aristotle, but he was very enigmatic and somewhat trans-rational, and Aristotle was the father of modern logic, and an extreme rationalist. Needless to say, the two of them had certain misunderstandings. Anyway, one day Aristotle was walking down the beach and off in the distance he spied somebody running down to the edge of the water, running back onto the beach, down to the edge of the water and back onto the beach. And as he got closer he could see that it was Heraclitus and Heraclitus had in his hand a spoon, and he was running down to the ocean and he was getting a spoonful of water and he was running back up onto the beach and pouring the water into a little hole he had made in the sand. And he watched this for some time, amused. Heraclitus was known for his odd behavior, and so he just watched and after a bit of time he said, “Heraclitus, what are you doing and, even more so, why are you doing it?”
And Heraclitus said, “Oh, I’m going down to the ocean and filling my spoon with water and I’m putting into this little hole. And my goal is that I’m going to take all of the water out of the ocean and fill this hole with it until there’s nothing left in the ocean and my little hole is an ocean.”
And Aristotle laughed and said, “That’s absurd! The ocean is huge and vast and deep, and your little hole is tiny small, so it’s never going to fit. You can’t fit the huge, vast ocean in that little hole.”
Heraclitus laughed and said, “Well, I can see that won’t work, Aristotle, but how come you don’t see that the vast mystery of life is not going to be fit into the small hole you call reasoning and logic.” So, Heraclitus was known for giving teachings through demonstrations like this, and it was an excellent teaching.
I was thinking about this because I was thinking of Milarepa’s statement that there is no discriminating awareness, no logical intellectual way to understand the profound, vast nature of the view. And so, one has to practice because practice is the method whereby we develop the organ which is capable of realizing buddha nature. It is said in the view that buddha nature is there from the start. So, in some absolute existential sense there’s no difference between buddhas and sentient beings. Sometimes dilettantes or little spiritual faddists will use this sort of line: samsara and nirvana are the same; buddha nature is complete and whole from the start. So, they say, “Oh, well we don’t need to do anything. We don’t need to practice, yadda, yadda, yadda.” But the point is that human beings suffer and while they know that buddha nature is whole from the start—a few of them know it who study spiritual topics like this—they only know it intellectually; it doesn’t affect their suffering. It’s like someone who reads the menu but doesn’t order and eat the food. No matter how much you read the menu, it won’t satiate your hunger. You could starve to death reading a menu, sitting in a restaurant.
So, in the same way, just to blather and parrot words of Dharma, the words of the Buddha, won’t bring an end to suffering. Yes, sentient beings and buddhas are the same except for realization. Buddhas have realized the essence and nature of mind and this doesn’t mean just to have known the words, but they have realized it so that it pervades (as I said earlier, like wetness pervades water), it pervades the body, the speech, the mind, the embodiment, and enworldment of the beings who are called buddhas. Sometimes, you know, just like this, the hand is held up on one side, “This is buddhas,” and you just turn it around, “This is sentient beings.” It’s one hand but the view is slightly different.
So, Milarepa writes this next verse about the methods by which we can realize, or make real, the teachings that were just given in the view. He says, “To describe the nails of meditation, the three, all thoughts in being Dharmakaya are free. Awareness is luminous, in its depths it is bliss and resting without contrivance is equipoise.” So, there’s three but there’s really four here because awareness is luminous, (comma) in its depths, it is bliss. It is one divided into two aspects. And so, now let’s look at the methods that Milarepa gives for realizing view and these are very subtle methods. The further you go on the tantric path and especially as you enter the stages of Mahamudra or Dzogchen then the methods become more and more subtle, more and more simple, more and more diaphanous. The word in Tibetan is ‘zangtal.’ They become transparent and translucent until it seems there is almost no method at all because consciousness has been refined to a point that simply very subtle shifts in stance and embodiment in view can bring about the changes. So, in Ngondrö one is doing intense, difficult, hard work. There’s the body and all of these aspects involved, and it’s much more concrete. In Generation Phase this becomes more subtle, but Generation Phase is still a contrived practice using mind’s constructs and Generation Phase is designed then to remove the gross obscurations. As I’ve said so many times before, what is the gross obscuration? The gross obscuration is that there is anything ordinary. The grossest level of delusion is this notion that there is an ordinary world or ordinary beings. So, the Generation Phase of the tantric deity yoga removes that misapprehension. And then the Completion Phase removes the subtle obscuration, which is the dualizing moment when bliss-emptiness and awareness-appearance are mistaken as two. And in Dzogchen and Mahamudra, when we simply rest the essential openness with the luminous clarity, non-dually, this is very subtle. It requires very little activity.
So, let’s go over these lines of Milarepa’s. When you understand these three things, the three points, that all conceptualizing, all thought is Dharmakaya. Awareness is utterly luminous and it’s deep, the deep of awareness, is bliss itself and that there’s no contrivance whatsoever and this non-contrivance is perfect stability, perfect equanimity, then your practice will be utterly stable. Now, it’s possible to understand the first one, “All thought is free as Dharmakaya,” from two different points of view and we’ll just look very briefly at how that is. It could be understood from the level of provisional teachings by understanding Buddha’s teachings on emptiness and interdependent origination. If you study, for instance, Nagarjuna, especially his “In Praise of Dharmadatu” and his “Karikas,” then you come to a subtle and refined understanding that everything is empty, and therefore, its essence is Dharmakaya and that everything has an equality to it. And so, what is that equality? The equality of chocolate and vanilla is not that they both taste the same, but that they are both empty and the emptiness is equal, and that equality when rested in, is luminous. So, if you study Nagarjuna, if you study Prajnaparamita, then you can come to understand the way in which everything is already freed as Dharmakaya.
But, Milarepa is talking about practice here, the methods of practice. And so, I think it’s best for us, in our Dzogchen tradition, to look at these three lines from the point of view of Longdé practice. In Dzogchen, there are three fundamental lines of teaching: Semdé, Longdé, and Menakdé. Semdé is said to be like the body, in terms of Dzogchen teachings. Longdé is like the heart and Menakdé, which are the Nyingthig teachings, these are like the heart-blood, the heart-essence teachings. Semdé is also said to be the series of teachings related to mind. Longdé are the series of teachings related to space, and Menakdé are the pith, direct instruction teachings. Each of these styles of teachings, within the context of Dzogpachenpo, refine the mind into more and more subtle realization of non-duality.
According to Dzogchen view then, all-appearance—and this is something—all appearance is the ‘rolpatsal,’ the playful creative potency of awareness that we spoke about in the first part of this talk. The playful potency, as I was saying, is the way in which appearances arise as the display of the radiance of awareness. This is related then to Kuntuzangpo of the luminous rays. Kuntuzangpo and Kuntuzangmo, the Ati buddhas, are the symbol of the totality or wholeness of wholeness. And the Semdé teachings connect with Kuntuzanpo. The Longdé teachings connect with Kuntuzangmo’s Samantabadri, who is the essential womb of space itself. And then the Menakdé teachings, the Nyingthig teachings, connect with the non-dual unity of Kuntuzangpo and Kuntuzangmo.
According to Longdé all appearance is simply an ornament of space. Each of these series becomes more and more refined. So, in Semdé there’s a certain amount of possibility for slipping into intellectual contrivance about these rays that move out, that become all appearance. We can then contemplate the way in which resting in the womb space, the rays move out and manifest as this and that. In Longdé, this is refined into the contemplation of space itself and the way in which the appearances simply, spontaneously appear as ornaments of space. They simply float there in space the way ornaments or jewelry, for instance, float on the body. The necklace is simply resting on the neck and the earrings are hanging from the ears. It’s important, then, to understand that appearances spontaneously ornamenting space in this fashion are inseparable from Kuntuzangmo and perfectly pervaded by Kuntuzangmo. Kuntuzangpo, the all-good father, is the rays of wisdom and Kuntuzangmo, Samantabadri, the all-good mother, is the womb-space, the great expanse of perfect wisdom and her empty, vast purity pervades everything. And, as I said before, not the way water pervades cloth but the way that water is pervaded by wetness.
So, you see, all thoughts are simply Dharmakaya. All appearance is Dharmakaya. All appearance is the great expanse of emptiness, itself. In this level of view, there’s no fight with thought, no problem with appearance. There’s simply instant recognition of thought the way that one recognizes one’s own face in a mirror. One recognizes the what and how and why and where of thought, conceptuality, or any appearance. What is it? It’s the ornament of the great expanse made from the great expanse. How is it? It’s simply the spontaneous play arising as ornament. Why is it? It is because awareness is, by its nature, endlessly creative self-presencing beauty and radiance. And, where is it? It’s exactly in the great space of awareness itself. Made from awareness, by awareness, for awareness as play and wonderment.
Sometimes in understanding the way in which appearances can also be great emptiness in Dzogchen teachings, people become confused and Longchengpa explains this in his commentary on Guhyagarbha Tantra when he’s talking about the red and white drops and how they relate to the mandala, which fixates and the mandala of that which is grasped. The mandala which fixates is mind’s cognizing aspect, which seems like a subjective entity. The subjective self fixates on external appearances. And the mandala, which is to be grasped are all the appearances which mind might grasp to. It’s said then that the mandala which fixates is equivalent to the white drop, which is the male aspect within the subtle body’s tiglés. Tiglés are bindu teachings. And all appearances are the red drop, which equates with the female aspect. Sometimes in the beginning, when people are first receiving teachings on the tsalung tigle, they learn that when the bindu, the tiglé, or drops, are divided up in this way, they become confused because the red drop represents all appearance, and yet female-ness is great emptiness. It seems that it might make more sense if the red drop represented the seeming emptiness of mind’s subjective aspect and the white drop were all appearances. Longchengpa goes on to explain that the reason this is, is that appearances are nothing other than great emptiness in their essence and, therefore, can be and are represented by the red drop.
And one can reference all the way back to Second Turning’s teachings of Prajnaparamita where it says, “Here O Shariputra, form is emptiness and emptiness is form. Form is not other than emptiness and emptiness is not other than form.” So, in this consideration, in Prajnaparamita’s teachings on form and emptiness’ singularity, to Longchengpa’s teachings on the tsalung tiglé system as it would be practiced in the Six Yogas, to Dzogchen’s teachings on Longdé and again and again we are receiving instruction on the way in which form and emptiness are non-dual and that all appearances are Dharmakaya. And included with all appearances are thoughts. So, in meditation what is practiced is the understanding that thoughts are already free in Dharmakaya. They’re already free now—not just in Dharmakaya, but as Dharmakaya. All thoughts in being Dharmakaya are free.
So then in our meditative practice, if we rest within this understanding from having received direct introduction from the guru’s own mind-stream, embodying Dzogchen realization is directly introduced to us and then the practice is to rest there. In Garab Dorjé’s Hitting the Essence in Three Words, the first is direct introduction. The guru introduces us through wordless direct introduction, through symbols, or through words into the essence, nature, and energy of mind and not as an intellectual conceit but as a direct realization. And the second is to remove and clarify any doubts about this. And then the third is to not stray from that.
So, Milarepa here, as the technique or method of meditation, is saying the first is to recognize that all thoughts are free as Dharmakaya. And then when thought arises, nothing whatsoever is done with them. There is not the slightest duality in which there is a doer and a thought, to which something is done. And that doesn’t mean then that just that we accept the proliferation of thoughts and we are an ordinary person pretending to be a Dzogchengpa, calling all our identification with thought Dzogchen. This is not what it is saying. Because if we can rest in this fashion, in the direct cognition that all thoughts are free as Dharmakaya, then thoughts cease. In the same way that when we talk about the luminous aspect, the five sense fields are rested in the essence of awareness and they dissolve into luminosity. Thought immediately dissolves. Thought arises as a factor of the dualizing force of mind. And so, when thought is recognized as Dharmakaya, then it comes to rest in its own nature. Thought is liberated on the spot. And so often you hear this phrase, “Things are liberated. Appearances are liberated on the spot. Thoughts are liberated on the spot.” And it’s amusing because people listen to these Dzogchen teachings, but they listen only intellectually, but they don’t really practice, so they don’t ask the questions, which should naturally arise. On what spot? Thoughts are liberated on what spot? Well, the spot is what I mentioned earlier—the essence, nature, and energy of awareness. Longchengpa puts it beautifully when he says, “When the self-luminous glow of awareness mistakes itself for a cognizing subject and its luminosity as objects, that’s the spot where the dualizing force arises.”
In the Completion Phase practices of the Six Yogas, first in Tummo, and then in Karmamudra its refined, and one comes to the place where the wisdom of bliss-emptiness is realized. This is the force of the dualizing moment. And then the subtle most aspect, which is prior to any energy at all, is the point where awareness appearance are dualized. And this is the place where the self-luminous glow of awareness mistakes itself for a subjective entity and objective experiential objects. And so, the spot on which one liberates thought or appearance is this place. And when the thoughts or appearances are liberated, they cease to exist in the conventional sense. There are no thoughts. There is no thinker. There are no appearances. First, thinking, thinker, and appearances are purified from the gross delusion during Generation Phase so that it’s understood that there are no ordinary appearances. But here the five-aggregate house of cards falls down and there is something more mysterious than perceiver, perceived objects, and the act of perception. There is a singularity of awareness-appearance. So, when thoughts are rested as Dharmakaya, the binding force of thought simply dissolves instantly and completely. Thinking, to a large extent, simply ceases. Some residual movement of the physical karmic body remains, and thoughts arise now and then, but are instantaneously recognized as free in and as Dharmakaya. Their binding force ceases.
So, the Dzogchengpa is not bound or convicted by the implications of any thought whatsoever. So, this is important to understand that the meditation—and one may or may not be able to do this meditation and that will depend entirely on whether one’s mind-stream has been ripened by the stages of the path. What is terrible is when someone hears these words, and understands the words, and pretends to themselves that they can do this meditation. And because the meditation is so sublime, ethereal, and translucent, it’s very easy to pretend. “Oh, I am just recognizing all thoughts as Dharmakaya.” And in that thought, the notion ‘Dharmakaya’ is simply a thought that has not been liberated in Dharmakaya. And the notion ‘I’ is a thought that is not liberated in Dharmakaya. Otherwise there is no thought or sensation in body, speech, or mind, which could be called ‘I.’ The movement of the sensation is liberated.
So, this is the first nail of the mediation—that when thought is recognized as always, already free in Dharmakaya, then the second aspect of the meditation of Longdé can be practiced. So, in Longdé, fundamentally, meditation is done according to four symbols. And the symbols are: (1) the five gates of the sense powers not stopped—vivid luminosity, (2) unmoving transparency within non-thought, (3) binding the downward voiding wind in contaminated bliss, and (4) the inseparability (to rest at ease free from any direction beyond the touch of thought). When Milarepa says, “Practice is involved with seeing directly, knowing directly, beyond intellect, that mind is Dharmakaya realizing this.” This equates to what is traditionally the second symbol in Longdé, the unmoving non-thought. Dharmakaya is unmoving. And how is it that Dharmakaya, which is pervaded by this luminous clarity, this radiance, is also unmoving? How can that be understood?
Maybe the best thing here is to tell you a little story about the great Zen swordsman, Miyamoto Musashi, and his teacher Takuan. Takuan used to give advice in swordsmanship to various different practitioners of the art. Miyamoto Musashi was in a duel over years with a clan and Takuan gave advice to both sides in this duel. And his fundamental advice was that the mind which stops is the mind which brings about death in combat. So that at any point in which your mind stops is the point in which you die. Even before the swords are drawn, if your mind stops with the notion of an opponent, or when the sword is drawn by your opponent, if your mind stops with the idea, the concept of their sword, or if it stops with the feeling concept of fear, at that moment you have slashed your own life vein and your blood is spilling on the ground. Even if the battle hasn’t actually started yet. So, the mind which never stops, the mind which never dualizes in the midst of combat, is the mind which can move effortlessly and spontaneously through all the motions of combat. Death in combat only comes about at the moment mind stops.
Now, how is that to be understood as being synonymous with the unmoving non-thought of Longdé? You’ll have to remember that mind’s essence is a spacious emptiness and it’s pervaded by a luminous clarity. Instantaneously and ceaselessly the radiance extends past the boundary or edges of infinity. This is similar to the Tibetan tradition of Dzogchen where the example given is the garuda. The little baby garuda breaks out of its shell fully grown and in a single instant crosses the expanse of space itself. In the same way, faster than time, and in a greater extent than space, the radiant, luminous clarity of mind pervades all possibility of space. And so, it is simultaneously radiant and unmoving because there is nowhere left for it to move. The unmoving non-thought is simply the fact that the radiant clarity has already moved across space to its infinite extent and there is nowhere left for it to go, yet it is always crossing that space simultaneously. The Buddhist deity Achala, a powerful and wrathful deity, whose name means unmoving like a mountain, is the representation of this manner in which the radiance is unmovable because it has already moved across the extent of space.
So, the mind which never stops means the mind which is not interrupted in its infinite radiance. When mind’s radiant movement across infinity is interrupted, it’s interrupted by the formation of a conception, of a thought, of an idea, of an intellectual proposition. Otherwise, mind’s radiance has the direct, gnostic capability of immediate cognition, what Mipham calls, “Knowing one liberates all.” The “knowing of the one” is the knowing of everything and the direct non-perception of mind’s radiance without there being a one who knows, or an intellectual proposition, or idea that is known. It’s important to understand the way in which the mind’s radiant aspect and the unmoving non-thought are one and the same. So, un-enlightenment is the interruption of infinite radiance of natural great awareness. Delusion is the point where mind stops, and the radiance is blocked and stagnates. Then radiance is no longer unmovable, in its true sense, and has become temporarily stopped, blocked, stagnated.
Ego, which is a collection of conceptual propositions plus self-referencing as one of those propositions, is nothing more than the stagnation of radiance. In the same way, in a river sometimes a branch or a tree will fall on the edge and create a small pool to the side. The water enters this pool and swirls around and becomes stuck there and all the trash and garbage of the river gets swept into that pool and becomes a stagnating, stinking, festering scum. In the same way ego, as the blockage and stagnation of mind’s infinite radiance, collects all the garbage of memory and stored experience, all the hurts and resentments, and all the hopes, which are grasped after, and the fears which are avoided. When mind is unmovable because it is radiant to infinity it is what in Tibetan is called the ‘zangtal,’ the unmoving radiant transparency, subtle beyond subtle, profound beyond profound. This is such great beauty. This is the proper understanding of the luminosity aspect. So, when thoughts are freed as Dharmakaya and thoughts come to rest then this quality of ‘zangtal’ is the resting state of the unmoving mind.
And so, then when Milarepa says that awareness is luminous and in its depths it is bliss, this is the resting state. And now the practice of luminosity is enhanced by the second aspect that Milarepa is talking about, which is also then the first of the four symbols—luminosity. How is luminosity practiced in Longdé? How is the first symbol of Longdé practiced? It’s practiced by allowing the sense fields—here now the five sense fields because mind is already rested by thoughts being recognized as Dharmakaya—the five sense fields are left completely open and active. When we train the mind to have a subtle purity and an unmoving discipline, then we integrate the five physical senses: sight, touch, sound, taste, and smell. The five senses are simply left as they are, functioning. The sense gates are open, completely open, in the expanse of Kuntuzangmo and Samantabadri. Kuntuzangmo, the great expanse, is the sphere in which Longdé is practiced.
So, what does that mean that they are left as they are—left open? It means not forming any concepts whatsoever regarding the sense fields. The sense activities themselves are instantaneous. When the sense faculty meets the sense object and the sense field is there, if no sense consciousness arises in terms of conceptuality, grasping hold of the seeming sense cognition, then the sense itself dissolves into its own ground, is liberated on the spot. And what is the spot? The self-luminous glow. So, in this way, the luminous aspect of awareness is tremendously enhanced and strengthened by the activity of the sense fields. The sense fields, rather than seeming to create a duality between the apprehender and the object which is apprehended, instead of creating a duality between the subject who sees and the object which is seen, when no concept of subject or object is allowed to arise or no concept about object arises, then all senses are immediately, even as they arise, liberated into their own ground, which is the luminous emptiness.
In the progressive stages of inner Tantra, one is prepared to do this through, first, in Generation Phase, meditating on all appearances as the wisdom mandala of the deity and then on the inner aspect of the Generation Phase, meditating on the body mandala in which the sense faculties, sense objects, and sense fields are known as Bodhisattvas in union. We meditate upon them as Bodhisattvas in union. Now here without any anthropomorphic symbology at all, without contriving them as Bodhisattvas with particular forms and colors and shapes, we simply allow them to rest in their natural state. And what is important here is to understand—in the same way as mind is liberated as Dharmakaya—that when the sense fields are laid to rest in their ground in Longdé’s practice of Dzogchen, then this luminosity is not neutral. It’s completely and perfectly divine. It is brilliant wonderment and bliss beyond any imagining.
If one practices Dzogchen without the proper foundation in Ngondrö and Generation Phase and Completion Phase, then one’s Dzogchen practice tends to become a kind of dry, aloof, untouchability. One may really become an asshole Dzogchengpa in that fashion, filled with the conceit of conceptual enlightenment. If you are actually practicing Dzogchen, then mind becomes utterly pure and radiant and one recognizes all of appearance as divine wonderment, unbearable in its blissful quality. When there is no concept to solidify and make the sense perception rigid and false, then its immediate moment enhances and always points to the true nature of perception, which is the luminosity of awareness. This is called ‘rangbop’ in Tibetan. ‘Rang’ meaning the self-nature of awareness, ‘bop’ to settle in. And so, this is what Milarepa is saying in the line that says, “Awareness is luminous, in its depths it is bliss.”
And this brings up then the next symbol within Longdé, the practice of bliss. Each of these is the further enhancement of recognizing and resting in awareness’s inherent intrinsic quality of luminosity, bliss, and emptiness. All of these three: awareness, luminosity, and bliss are actually one. They are only again divided up for the purpose of discussion, like essence, nature, and energy. Awareness, luminosity, and bliss. You cannot say that you’re a Dzogchengpa resting in the nature of awareness unless your life is suffused and pervaded profoundly by an inherent, natural, luminous blissfulness from which emerges the ten wholesome deeds. The all-goodness of Kuntuzangpo—this Milarepa touches on then in the next verse, the verse pertaining to the conduct. So, in Longdé, when we have begun to recognize the way in which the thoughts are freed as Dharmakaya, the sense fields are active but resting in bliss. These are done through meditations in certain postures. This is where, for instance, the ‘gomtag,’ the meditation belt, is used. The gomtag places pressure on particular subtle channels and nerves in the body, allowing for meditations in certain postures with certain gazes, and then mind comes to rest in this fashion. And then there are very subtle practices, which bind the downward-moving wind. This is the Tummo or Chandali of Dzogchen—just the most subtle binding of the downward wind causes suddenly ripples of bliss to pervade the body, to pervade the awareness to the extent of space.
When we are discovering that awareness is luminous and blissful and we rest in that state, we discover that awareness, luminosity, and bliss are a singularity and non-dual. That’s what I was expressing earlier—that there are three only in name, but not in reality. And when we rest in the deep, we’re practicing the postures and the gazes of Longdé, and mind authentically comes to rest: thoughts freed as Dharmakaya, sense fields open and active, dissolving into luminosity, the downward wind bound, and bliss pervading. When we recognize and rest in this as singular and inseparable, this is the fourth symbol of Longdé and the last of the lines in Milarepa’s verse on meditation, “Resting without contrivance is equipoise.” This inseparability of awareness, luminosity, and bliss is uncontrived. It’s just the spontaneous way things are in their reality. And when that reality is undistorted by duality or confusion or delusion then this inseparability is present. It’s simply the self-presencing of awareness and it is unshakable and unmovable as mentioned earlier. And this is what Milarepa calls ‘equipoise,’ equanimity without contrivance. Resting without contrivance is equipoise.
So, what exactly is meant by contrivance? Contrivance is mind’s forming any proposition about appearance or meditation. This is why in Longdé, the key point turns out to be the meditation on non-meditation. There can be no contriving of meditation by mind or thought. If there is any thought about meditation in meditation’s practice, this is not the meditation of non-meditation, which is the result of Longdé. Non-contrivance is very important for Dzogchengpas. It is the essence of Dzogchen. In essence, it’s simply put, that non-contrivance means that the realization of Dzogchen is not intellectual but pervades the whole of the body-mind world as the natural resting stance of awareness-appearance, spontaneous with no need for thought—equipoise and equanimity. An outer version then would be cultivated in various considerations. But here in Dzogchen’s uncontrived equipoise, it’s simply the spontaneous result of mind resting and dissolving in its own ground. When appearances are liberated on the spot, in their own ground, no matter what arises, then you don’t stray from resting in the luminous awareness, which is blissful, unmoving, and undisturbed because it’s beyond the reach and the touch of contrivance— ‘shardröl.’
Dzogchen is very direct. There is so much mental speculation, consideration, and intellectual contrivance about Dzogchen these days. People read Dzogchen books. They consider the words and then they parrot the words back as if this had any use. As if this could bring an end to suffering. But one should follow the path in its correct form by receiving teachings on Ngondrö, going into retreat and accomplishing the Ngondrö, not in seven years or ten years but in six months. Then receiving teachings on Generation Phase, and go into retreat and practice until accomplishment—and not the accomplishment of just a certain number of mantras or a certain amount of time—these are mechanical accomplishments. But accomplishing the essence is the destruction of ordinary view. Then receiving teachings on Completion Phase’s Six Yogas and practicing until the realization of the singularity of bliss-emptiness and appearance-emptiness. And next receive the teachings on Dzogchen’s profound view and subtle practices. Then go into retreat and practice until accomplishment. This produces realized beings. The methods of Dharma practiced purely and correctly, duplicate the experiment and produce the same results—just as if you boil water at sea level it will always boil at the same temperature. If you follow correctly the sublime wisdom beings’ instructions, following the path purely, it will produce the same result. So, it’s important to read carefully and understand. For that we need to take breaks, now and then, so that we can refresh mind and relax it from its concentration. Go walk around outdoors in the sunshine, chant Guru Mantra, sing prayers until mind becomes refreshed. Sit and let mind’s thoughts relax as Dharmakaya and the sense fields dissolve in luminosity.
Now before we begin with the next verse, Milarepa’s verse concerning conduct according to secret Mantrayana, let’s take a moment to relax your mind in being, and then to call forth from yourself a profound determination to comprehend the teachings. But then to go further than this, to contemplate them, to really chew on them, and then to meditate on them; to really practice the methods whereby you can realize their meaning and not simply settle for an intellectual understanding of the words. Don’t just read the menu. Order and eat the food. So, make this determination so that you can accomplish the two aims: the aim for yourself with the fully enlightened state and the aim for others—to become a compassionate refuge for all beings. This is what bodhicitta is: to make the determination to listen, to contemplate, to practice the methods and meditations, and attain realization for the sake of all beings. So, let a luminous cloud of bodhicitta well up within you.
Before we go into the verse on conduct, I thought I would tell you a little story. This story comes from the Sufi tradition. Long ago when earth was first created, just a few beings were on it, the archetypal gods and goddesses lived up in the heavens and sometimes they would come down to earth and play. And one day the archetypal Goddess of Ugliness went to the Goddess of Beauty and said, “Hey, let’s go down to earth and have a little picnic. I’ve packed a picnic basket. I thought it would be nice to sit in the sunshine amongst the flowers, maybe go for a swim, and have a small meal. And so, the Goddess of Beauty said, “Of course, this sounds wonderful.” They went down to earth and they were sitting and talking and enjoying the butterflies and the birds and the blue sky and they ate a small meal.
They were sitting by the side of a pond and the Goddess of Ugliness said to Beauty, “Let’s go skinny-dipping. It is so beautiful and nobody’s here. There are almost no people on this planet. There’s no one here, so let’s just throw off these clothes and go for a swim.” The Goddess of Beauty was slightly hesitant because she was very modest and shy, but she agreed. It sounded like it might be fun, and they were hot from the sun and could enjoy some time in the cooling water. So, they strip off their clothes and dive into the water and were swimming around and at one point the Goddess of Beauty was floating on her back and enjoying the little shapes that the clouds made in the blue sky and she didn’t notice that Ugliness, who’s a little bit tricky had crept out of the pond. She went out of the pond and she put on Beauty’s clothing and ran off through the fields. Well, when the Goddess of Beauty broke free from her reverie and she noticed that Ugliness was gone. She got out of the pond and she looked around and she couldn’t find the Goddess of Ugliness, nor could she find her own clothes. And she wasn’t about to chase after her naked. Who knows who she might encounter? Her modesty wouldn’t allow that. So, all that was left for her to do was to put on Ugliness’s clothing and so she put on the Goddess of Ugliness’s clothing and went chasing after. So, ever since this time, human beings have become easily confused of what is ugliness and what is beauty because Ugliness is dressed as Beauty, and Beauty is dressed as Ugliness.
This is a good little story to tell before we go into the question of conduct. If the question of conduct is rightly understood then the most profound, sublime, and beautiful expression and display of activity will come from the depths of authentic meditation. But if they are wrongly understood and conduct is mistaken, then ugliness and beauty will be confused. Then the Tantrica or Dzogchengpa, thinking that they are displaying beauty, will only display ugliness.
Therefore, there are stories in our Tantric tradition of someone becoming a Rudra, the ultimate demon of ego in our tradition. Because we don’t understand the view, then practice the meditation to the point of attaining magical powers and then we try to enhance that attainment through conduct, then all we will be doing is dressing up ego as the ultimate tyrant by displaying ego in this fashion.
In our Tantric Buddhist tradition, we follow this series: view, meditation, conduct, result. First, we imbibe the view. We understand how and why and what we are going to practice. And we need to imbibe this, to hear this from the lips of someone who has actually embodied the result. If they are teaching Dzogchen, then they need to have embodied the result of wisdom and its radiant compassion as the nature of mind. If they are teaching Generation Phase, then they need to have at least have truly practiced and embodied the result of Generation Phase. Then we go into meditation to remove the obstacles to clearly recognizing buddha nature.
So then conduct has two aspects. One aspect is that conduct tests our realization. It is in the post-meditation phases, when we go out into the world and engage in activity with other beings and other circumstances, we test whether our meditative realization has any stability. What is the use of a meditative realization if it does not grow beyond the confines of the meditative session? The seed is planted in the view. The plant grows and flowers in meditation and that must come first. Then the fragrance of that flower spreads across all activity.
The second aspect of conduct is to enhance the realization. We test and strengthen to enhance the realization through the conduct. So, conduct is a little bit like a concert piano player who practices and practices. When the actual event comes, the spontaneous flow of their playing is strong and without hesitation. An excellent and beautiful example of this is my favorite piano player, Keith Jarrett. Sometimes in his periods between tours he will practice ten or twelve hours a day—day after day after day after day. This intensive and diligent practice is what allows him then to go on tour and for his improvisational style simply to flow without any hesitation whatsoever. The Tantric and Dzogchengpa practices diligently so that in realization spontaneity can flow forth. Without practice, there is no authentic spontaneity. But if we practice and never come to the point of spontaneity, what is the point of our practice?
So, we come to discover the experience of realization in meditation and then we take it into activity. Too often, people without the meditative stability try to take what they have into activity. It doesn’t work. People ask often during teachings, “How do I integrate into activity?” There’s so much neo-Dzogchen bullshit taking place. And here I’m meaning bullshit in its philosophical sense.
There’s a professor from Harvard who wrote a small book called On Bullshitting. He looks at what is bullshit. Bullshit is not like a lie. A lie attempts to deceive you about the facts. I’m not saying neo-Dzogchen teachers aren’t teaching the words, parroting the words and the facts of Dzogchen’s theory correctly. They often are. What bullshit does is deceive you about the intent. The trouble is that these beings haven’t realized stable nature, essence, and qualities in mind itself, and so their teachings don’t have what it takes to liberate beings. So, beings come to all kinds of shabby, cruddy understandings about Dzogchen. And they try to practice Dzogchen without any base or foundation and so they’re always asking how to integrate into every activity. But they haven’t even understood the view yet, let alone practiced it in meditation and realized the view. And without realizing the view, there is nothing to integrate into activity.
If someone simply decides, “I’m going to play improvisational jazz. Improv jazz is just improv. There’s nothing I need to do. I’m just going to sit down and start playing.” It will be horrible! The results will be horrible and unpleasant for themselves and intolerable to those around them. It is the same with Dzogchen. Dzogchengpas who don’t truly understand the view and practice the stages to the point of magical attainment have nothing to integrate. So, it’s not even a concern at that point. It’s a concern when, as Milarepa explains in the progression of these verses, when you have the view, then the mediation to the point of realization, and then the conduct, which tests and enhances.
So, before we enter even talking about what is the conduct according to Dzogchen, the uncontrived spontaneous conduct, it’s worthwhile to understanding that each level of Buddhist practice has its own conduct. And amongst each of these the higher level of conduct, the higher level of teaching, the more profound teaching can understand the lower level but not visa-versa. The profound conduct encompasses and holds all the lower levels of conduct within it. But the lower level of conduct cannot do the same.
So, earlier I wrote about how each level of practice is more about a change of being than simply a collection of information. A change in the level of being is required to truly understand the next level of information being given at the next level of the teaching. If you haven’t understood the view well, then you won’t be able to practice Generation Phase. If you don’t understand, embrace, and embody the realizations of Generation Phase, then your practice of Completion Phase (for instance with characteristics—the Completion Phase of the Six Yogas) will be shabby and won’t amount to much besides enhancement of the ego. If you don’t understand the wisdom of bliss-emptiness and their singularity and the Fourth Joy of Completion Phase practices, then you won’t actually be able to rest in the nature of awareness in Dzogchen and practice it. So, at each level, the realization of the previous level, which is a change in the quality of one’s being and the refinement of consciousness itself, allows for the information of the next level to truly make sense. So, the lower, which has not had the change in being yet can hear the words of the higher, but it may not fit with more narrow visional level of the teaching. So, the lower can even have a negative reaction to the higher teaching. The higher will understand the lower the same way if you stand at the top of a mountain you can look down and see how all the paths leading up the mountain interrelate. But if one path goes to the right and another path goes to the left, and someone going on the path to the left who has been taught that this path leads to the top and this is the way, so you have to go and turn left first to go around and up the mountain. And if they see someone going to the right they’ll think, “Ugh, this person has gone wrong. This person has gone on the wrong path.” But that is only because their view is still provisional and narrow. The provisional teaching of each lower stage is necessary according to that stage and the practitioners of that stage need to have faith and feel assured in what they’re doing.
So, sometimes hearing a higher teaching, which from the lower perspective seems contradictory, it can cause confusion, but from the higher view the two are seen to be complimentary. Therefore, for a long time the inner teachings of Tantra and Dzogchen were kept secret so that they wouldn’t be disturbing to people following Mahayana or Sutra’s paths. But now all of these have been splayed and sold to the highest bidder on bookshelves in spiritual bookstores or in weekend workshops. Why? Well, really, in the end, because lamas need money and the only way to get money is to sell the higher teachings. If someone who thinks they’re going to receive a more secret teaching than anyone else has received yet, such as Nyinthig teachings or Lama Yeshe teachings, then they’re ready to pay for them. So, lamas have not really made sure that each person receiving them had the proper foundation, and so tremendous confusion has arisen. Now it seems important to simply speak freely and openly about the whole path and then also to discuss these issues as they arise. So, listening to higher teachings of higher conduct, this confusion can arise because the lower conduct person does not know what the higher conduct person is doing and how it relates to the path.
There’s a beautiful story about the great siddha Nityananda of Ganeshpuri (not the Nithyananda whom you may find during internet searches), who was once walking down the road and he saw a person who had fallen asleep drunk and passed out, laying under a tree. He saw a venomous spider crawl into the man’s mouth and disappear down his throat into his stomach. He knew the passed-out man could die as a result of ingesting this venomous spider, so he shook the fellow. He shook him and shook him and made him wake up and there was no time to explain. There was no time to take him to a hospital and pump his stomach. So, nearby there was a mango tree and there were unripe, indigestible mangos next to it. And he started taking these mangos and ripping out pieces of the pulp and shoving them in the man’s mouth and forcing him to eat them. The man, of course, completely freaked out. He didn’t know who this half naked, wandering person was and why they were forcing him to eat disgusting, unripe, or sometimes overripe and rotted bits of mango. But there was nothing he could do because Nityananda had overpowered him. And so, after a few moments of several bits of this being shoved in his mouth and then Nityananda would hold his nose until he swallowed them. After a few minutes he began vomiting, which was the natural result. And when he vomited up the rotten and unripe mango, he also vomited up the spider, which he could see in and amongst it and then he understood what was going on. So, Nityananda’s behavior, which was arising from awareness and compassion was completely not understandable to the person whose unconsciousness had made them unaware of what was taking place. This is very much like the different levels of conduct.
Let’s go over the different levels of conduct for a moment. Tantric Buddhism divides the types of conduct into four levels. At the level of Sutra, the conduct is according to renunciation and it’s in harmony with the views and teachings of the monastic path. In Mahayana, the conduct is in accord with compassion and the teachings of the Mahayana path. In Prajnaparamita, it’s in accord with the teachings of compassion and the Six Perfections. In inner Tantra, the conduct is according to passion and reflects the pure view as it’s taught in the Tantras. And in Dzogchen, the conduct is in accordance with non-contrivance—the utterly uncontrived conduct, and it’s taught in accord with the explanations of primordial purity, ‘kadak,’ and spontaneity, ‘lhundrup,’ the two aspects of the highest view. So, these are the first, second, third, and fourth conduct. The third and fourth conduct are what have, in general, been kept more or less secret because they can be tremendously confusing. And if somebody hears about them and tries to live these styles of conduct, then it can cause harm to themselves and others. But already the stories of these conducts are spread far and wide, and we live in a culture in which a misunderstanding of spontaneity and uncontrived behaviors and hedonistic behaviors are already rampant, so there’s not much worry about that. If one doesn’t have though a deep understanding of Tantra and Vajrayana samaya, then the very profound and great third conduct, according to Tantra, the conduct of passion, is very confusing. It can be especially confusing because it won’t be practiced with skillful means and wisdom. It will end up being confusing to monastic practitioners who happen to witness it. Also, if you haven’t embodied the view deeply enough—if your practice isn’t strong enough and you are merely mimicking this level of practice, then things go terribly wrong and you tend to become a truly tyrannical ego.
I remember, a few years back, I was meeting with some Buddhist friends and amongst them was a disciple of Namkai Norbu, who is a teacher of Dzogchen. And somebody in the group asked him something related to do with compassion. And he said, “I’ve gone beyond compassion. I practice uncontrived conduct,” as if somehow these were against each other. As we get farther into Milarepa’s explanation of conduct, you will see that it is not possible to embody the uncontrived Dzogchen conduct without it also being compassion’s conduct. So, when someone says this sort of thing, they’re just the grossest of the ego. They are using Dzogchen’s beautiful terminology and view as if they could use that to somehow clothe their ego in. But it doesn’t work because they, themselves, will experience suffering. Also, no matter how careful you wrap a giant dog shit in brocade it will still stink. And it is not just Westerners who have this confused view.
I had a friend, a Tibetan Rinpoche, who came to visit us from the Golok region, and we went on a trip. And on our way, we stopped to stay at a hotel overnight and we each had our own separate room, and, in the morning, he came out very excited because in the night, one way or another, he happened to discover cable porn. And he had watched a movie, which involved two women having sex and he was describing this very excitedly to me. And he said, “Oh, Rinpoche, this is really Dzogchen!” But of course, it wasn’t really Dzogchen. It was just fucking. There was nothing Dzogchen about it whatsoever, but perhaps he was confused because in Tibet there are beautiful and sublime stories.
For instance, Trungpa Rinpoche’s guru had taught he and a couple of other people very carefully, step-by-step, through the stages of the path and then when Trungpa Rinpoche was fifteen or sixteen, his guru came to him one day and said that the Chinese are attacking and we have very little time left. Trungpa Rinpoche’s guru said, “I have little time to teach you any longer and so we’re going to have to speed up the process. Tomorrow we begin with your inner Tantric teachings.”
So, the next morning the two young men, who had led perfectly pure monastic lives to this point, and they had viewed their own guru, I think perhaps in was Gangshar Rinpoche, as a perfect monk upholding every single facet of the Buddhist sublime monastic path. So, the next morning a couple of these young men are sitting outside the room. Suddenly the door flies open and there is their teacher, the perfect monk, standing naked with two naked females, one on either side of him and in his hand was a skull cup and he comes out. And in the skull cup was human shit. He puts a small amount of shit on each person’s tongue as a way of blessing. Now, it’s hard to even imagine in our jaded, cynical culture what this would do—how this would shatter the mind. These little boys, now young men, were raised in the monastic tradition and had their vision of their perfect monastic guru. And suddenly he is, not in any false way, but actually and fully, living the pure view of inner Tantra and displaying it openly with these two these two naked women and the skull cup and seeing human excrement as a sublime offering. The whole house of cards of the conceptual framework must have collapsed, because of the great faith and little doubt necessary to actually be taught Tantra’s great Third Conduct was present. Trungpa Rinpoche could then receive the teachings of inner Tantra and of Dzogchen in a manner that he was able to imbibe them purely.
To understand the way in which the view and the vows of samaya and the behavior, the conduct, of Sutrayana, Mahayana, and Vajrayana can all be held perfectly, one could study the sublime text called Perfect Conduct by Dudjom Rinpoche (it’s been translated into English). In there, he explains each level of vows and the way in which the Tantric vows, the great third vow, conduct vows, hold all of the vows in the purest fashion altogether.
So, before we go into Milarepa’s view and conduct, I just wanted to talk a little bit about this so that you have some sense of the fact that conduct is different according to each level of the path. And Milarepa is talking here about the most profound and sublime fourth conduct. So, what he says is, “To describe the nails of conduct, there are three. The ten wholesome deeds or natural expression of conduct. The ten unwholesome are naturally pure in their ground and luminous emptiness has no strategies.” The wholesome deeds, the kinds of good conduct, are: compassionate caring, generosity, contentment, truthfulness, kindly speech, meaningful speech, harmonious speech, generous thoughts, compassionate thoughts, and clear thoughts. Those are the ten wholesome acts. And the ten unwholesome deeds, the ten things one ought to abandon are: killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, duplicity, harsh speech, lying, irresponsible speech, greed, anger, and foolishness—silliness in relationship to dharma. Personally, I find the way in which these are listed in the Flower Adornment Sutra to be tremendously beautiful, and here in a Mahayana sutra, the pure view of Mahamudra and Dzogchen is displayed. Because it says that it’s describing the activities of a Bodhisattva and what it says is that these ten wholesome deeds are just the very nature of a Bodhisattva. A Bodhisattva doesn’t have to contrive these, they are simply their nature. So, really what that silly Dzogchengpa, who was claiming to have gone beyond compassion and contrived conduct, if he had any realization and was not just an idiot, what he would have said is that compassion is the natural conduct of everything I do. If he actually had any realization, what he should have done is said he had no realization. But if he had realization, what he would have said, in terms of compassion, is compassion is the natural conduct of one who abides in realization. So, with regard to unwholesome deeds, The Flower Adornment Sutra expresses, for instance, “Killing by nature, the Bodhisattva naturally leaves all killing far behind.”
So, if your mind is patterned by delusion, then you must work to transform bad habits into good habits in order to go beyond all habits. This is a beautiful statement of Dungse Thinley Norbu Rinpoche’s, from White Sail. I think it’s in the chapter on “Cleaning Deviations.” The essence of the path is that you go beyond unvirtuous habit to virtuous habit, so that you can go beyond all habit. In Dzogchen, you go beyond all habits. But if you haven’t gone from unvirtuous habits to virtuous habits, you won’t have the freedom—the free energy and attention necessary to go beyond all habits and you’ll try to clothe your bad habits in the language of spontaneity.
So, unvirtuous habits, unvirtuous activity bind the mind and the spirit. They create a closed loop. Therefore, you have to go beyond bad habits. Unvirtuous, bad habits are closed down. You can see this very easily in your own life when you’re in a negative, bad, cruddy mood. Your mood becomes a closed loop for everything you experience. It enhances that mood, that closed loop. Then your conduct becomes the enhancement of that mood, an enhancement of that loop. And as the loop becomes more and more closed, the suffering created by the activity of that drives you forward to seek escape from that bad situation—the bad mood, the closed loop. But because mind has been conditioned by it, it’s conditioned in such a way that it actually sees an exit sign up in front of it. And it runs towards the exit and throws open the door and runs through, but it doesn’t realize that the exit of a closed loop is simply the entry back into the same loop.
In ordinary life, the way you can see this most clearly is with addiction. In the beginning, if someone takes an addictive substance it gives them some kind of pleasure. They don’t see the suffering inherent in the cycle and they go on grasping more and more aggressively to the pleasure they get from the substance. They get less and less pleasure as the aggression becomes stronger and stronger, until finally they aren’t even getting any pleasure. They’re just trying to avoid the pain of not having what they’re addicted to, and it becomes a completely closed loop where they have to drink or use drugs to feel good at all. And they’ve destroyed the natural endorphin system of the body and the natural relational systems, which bring about happiness. And so, their only happiness, which is now nothing more than the avoidance of pain, is from their substance and it keeps going around and around and around and around again.
If mind rests in its true nature, then it rests in the union of Kuntuzangpo and Kuntuzangmo, the all-good father and all-good mother—the great expanse of purity and spontaneous presence. If mind is truly rested in these, then all that arises from that will be wholesome. In the same way as when you’re in a very bad mood, if you do not work actively to transform the habits of activity arising from your bad mood, then you will enact your bad mood with other people. What comes from it will be anger and pettiness. You’ll lash out at those around you because of your irritation. But, if you’re in a happy mood, just even an ordinary happy mood, then you will want to share happiness with others. When you are in a terrible mood, you tend to want to share your terrible mood with others. If mind is rested in the Kuntuzangpo state, which is all good, then all that can arise from it is wholesome. If you plant corn you get corn. If you plant the Kuntuzangpo state—if you rest mind, as talked about in the previous verse of meditation, “Thoughts rise free as Dharmakaya, the sense fields rested into the luminosity of mind’s true nature,” then all that can arise from that is wholesome. All unwholesome deeds, all negativity arise from ego’s search for happiness but simultaneous confusion about what will actually bring happiness—like a moth that flies towards a flame thinking this going to bring happiness and burns to death—the ego’s desire for happiness combined with ego’s confusion causes activity to bring endlessly more unhappiness.
But when mind is rested in clear light wisdom-bliss and thoughts are free as Dharmakaya, then there is only the elaboration of an already state of happiness. Then nothing is needed for happiness, so there is no grasping or aversion. Nothing is needed for it, so you don’t have to grasp after happiness, and there is nothing that can truly damage or harm the joy, the unassailable fortress of joy, which is Kuntuzangpo’s state. It is a joy without the seeds of falling back; an unstained joy. And so, there is no fear and there is no avoidance. Even birth and death and all appearance aren’t needed in that state. And so, if appearance arises at all, it simply flows forth from awareness as the communicative thrust of awareness’ radiance, and from awareness’ responsive, inherent, natural compassion. So, if this natural radiant awareness encounters beings in suffering, then it will respond from its inherent compassion in whatever way is appropriate to help unravel the confusion and suffering of that being. And if there were no beings at all, then it would simply be the playful elaboration—the self-display of awareness’ radiance. This is true if mind is truly stable and rested in this state. And it’s also true that there’s a profound sense in this of no one acting at all. Then the ten wholesome deeds arise spontaneously without an actor, without someone doing them, because mind has gone to bliss and disappeared in the nothingness state and remains there. This happens even within the deeper level of Generation Phase when all the world is seen as the wisdom mandala. Perceiving is the deity. And then what is it, which perceives? Mind’s essence, which is shunyata; the nothingness state.
This is why when Buddha’s walking towards Angulimala and Angulimala wants him to stop and not approach him, he says to Buddha, “Stop! Stop walking towards me!”
And Buddha smiles and replies, “Angulimala, I stopped twenty-something years ago. In all that time I’ve never taken a step or spoken a word or engaged in activity. Angulimala, you are the one that needs to stop. I’ve already stopped.” This is because Buddha’s mind has gone to nothingness and therefore there is simply the spontaneous activity of compassion.
Now, what if there are some traces left as the Dzogchengpa is practicing at more and more sublime and refined levels, where there will be a period where mind is fundamentally rested in wisdom-bliss, but there is some trace of the motion of conceptuality left, perhaps connected to the karmic body, the physical embodiment itself? The brain has some residue of tendencies, which could give birth to conceptuality that becomes unwholesome deeds. It’s not then as false Dzogchengpas and neo-Dzogchengpas of east or west now seem to think, that the Dzogchengpa does unwholesome or ugly deeds, but they’re liberated because this is Dzogchen. That is untrue. Milarepa addresses this beautifully when he says, “The ten unwholesome deeds are naturally pure in their own ground.” That doesn’t mean that the Dzogchengpa can be an asshole while rationalizing their asshole-ness as Dzogchen’s spontaneous display. That’s not true. That is just a lie. Dzogchengpas who are covering up their unwholesome deeds in this fashion are simply false practitioners. They are Rudra, having turned ego into a tyrannical demonic tyrant over everything.
“The ten unwholesome deeds are naturally pure in their own ground.” What is their ground? It is the ground of awareness. If one is truly practicing Dzogchen, then if one of the ten unwholesome deeds arises, if, from the natural playful radiance of awareness combined with the traces of karmic tendencies left then unwholesome deed arises, because it always arises first as a conceptuality, then that will be self-liberated in the ground of awareness long, long before it would ever come to fruition as an action. Body and world follow mind. The practice of a Dzogchengpa is to rest. Any thought that arises immediately in the nature of mind is liberated on the spot—the spot we talked about earlier. It’s the self-luminous glow of awareness. And then as Milarepa said in the meditation section, “Thoughts are free in Dharmakaya.” And they don’t come to fruition as negative actions, which could cause harm to beings.
In Dzogchen, you don’t apply any remedy or antidote, but you see how things truly are and you let them dissolve in their own place, in their own ground, and in their own condition. And what is the ground? It is the ground of awareness. What is the condition? The luminous, empty nature of awareness. What is their place? Their place is the great expanse itself, which is an utter purity, ‘kadak,’ primordial purity. And so then instantaneously, as fast as it arises, the concept, which in an ordinary being would come to fruition as an unwholesome deed, is liberated in the great expanse. The thought becomes free as Dharmakaya.
If that view is too subtle, then one can’t really practice in that fashion and then needs to drop back and practice at the level which one can actually accomplish. Lots of times I say to students, “What is the best practice? The one you can actually do.” Very few people can practice Dzogchen purely. Mostly they just pretend, get all confused and knotted up in their pretense. If you can’t practice Dzogchen, then perhaps you can practice at the level of Completion Phase. If you can’t do that, you practice Generation Phase. If you can’t do that you practice Ngondrö. And if you can’t do that you practice the contemplation of the Pre-Preliminaries and Mahayana and The Six Perfections until you build a base, which allows you to move to the next level. Each level of the Buddhist path arises organically from the level preceding it. You can’t skip any steps at all.
So, if this level is too subtle, then it might be useful, in terms of unwholesome deeds, to do something. For instance, study Nagarjuna in his Mulamadhyamakakarika, chapter twenty-three, I believe. It’s an examination of mistakes. And by following Nagarjuna through his careful examination of how everything is empty, then he goes on to examine how mistakes can’t exist because the mistaken person can’t exist, because the person doesn’t exist and this allows you to let go of the uptightness that comes with the fear of making mistakes as you follow through Tantra’s practice, and all of the samayas that come with it. If you follow Nagarjuna carefully in his consideration of emptiness in the karikas, then you come to a point of no conceptual elaboration through the analytical consideration of emptiness. And then if you rest in that, that’s the non-conceptual elaboration state and this forms a good ground combined with Tantra’s Pre-Preliminaries, forming a basis upon which to practice authentically.
So, Dzogchen does not apply a remedy. Dzogchen doesn’t apply antidotes. This is what Milarepa is saying when he says in the last line that Dzogchen, the Mahamudra practice, it doesn’t create any kind of strategies. Luminous emptiness doesn’t create strategies. But that doesn’t mean it just allows whatever crappy karmic tendencies arise to come to fruition as negative activities. It doesn’t apply antidotes and remedies. It simply remains the third of Garab Dorjé’s Hitting the Essence in Three Words. It remains in the state of emptiness and luminosity and then the arising concept, which would become an unwholesome deed, is simply liberated on the spot. It disappears on the spot. This is very important to understand. If you’re truly practicing Dzogchen, then you don’t need to do anything except remain in the empty luminosity of mind’s own essence and nature because mind doesn’t create strategies or concepts about appearances or any thoughts at all. And every thought that arises is liberated as Dharmakaya and every sense impression is liberated into luminosity. Then only the ten wholesome deeds will come to fruition from that as the spontaneous appropriateness; the wisdom activity of Amogasiddhi, the Buddha of the Karma family according to the Five Buddha Family view.
Now, regarding what Milarepa says in this poem about fruition is very beautiful. He says that it’s not imported from somewhere else and nirvana is not imported from somewhere else and samsara is not deported. The fully enlightened state is not an immigration service. You don’t need a green card to apply for citizenship because buddha nature has been there all along. Buddha nature is not imported from somewhere. It’s doesn’t emigrate from somewhere else. It doesn’t have to get a green card to live in this world. It is the natural state and samsara is not an illegal alien who needs to be captured by Homeland Security and deported. What is samsara? It’s just confusion about the essence and nature of awareness. It’s just movement of conceptuality as delusion. And when the clear-light-sunshine of wisdom-bliss shines on the endarkening mist of delusion, then those warm rays dissolve the mist, and everything becomes clear as it truly is—Alli estamos anantanon—it’s just as it is. These are Buddha’s words. Milarepa says in the final verse on the result on the fruition, “I’ve discovered that mind is Buddha.” And then he says, “Your mind.” Because he doesn’t mean my mind in some egoic sense but all mind.
Conceptual mind of individuals is like the multiple peaks of a single iceberg. Multiple peaks stick above water. They look like separate entities but if you go to the depth the iceberg under the water is one giant entity with little peaks sticking out.
When you discover that your own mind is Buddha, you discover that all being’s minds, in their essence, in their truth, is Buddha. This is why when Buddha sat through the Four Long Watches of the Night, he opened his eyes in the early morning and on the horizon saw the morning star. He said, “How wondrous! How marvelous! All beings have been from the beginning buddhas.”
Then Milarepa goes on to say, this is very subtle in his last verses, “And only the blessings of a realized being can cause these words to come to fruition in you.” It is the meeting of the warmth of blessing and power of the guru—the enlightened mind of the guru with the disciple’s longing. Only these two coming together can bring about realization. Nothing else can bring about realization. You can’t attain realization through effort. It simply can’t be done.
In the Kagyu tradition, there is a beautiful prayer, which says, “You can’t attain realization. You can’t attain enlightenment. You can’t come to this. Only the guru can give it to you.” This is so true, only the guru. And the guru himself can give it to you, or herself, because they are already abiding in the always, already state of buddha-nature.
As Bodhidharma, the founder of Zen said, “Buddhas don’t liberate sentient beings. Buddhas only liberate buddhas.” Because if the buddha who is to liberate you sees any sentient beings at all then they’re not a buddha. They can’t liberate sentient beings. It is by them seeing you already as Buddha. When Milarepa says, “I’ve discovered for sure that mind is Buddha, your mind.” Then Milarepa is saying I am the buddha nature living, embodied, realized, which sees your buddha nature, which you don’t see yet. And through the sunshine brilliance of my realization of your buddha nature, I can cause you to see it. I can cause the self-reflected wisdom to become active in you so that you can see it. With this you can practice the method, with this blessing—the warmth and blessing of an authentically realized guru. Without that, then all of these words of this whole talk are simply the collecting of a bunch of rubbish. Just garbage wrapped in brocade and gold leaf and completely useless.
Transcribed by Rinpoche’s fortunate students. Any benefit received here is only because of the lama’s great blessing, and all mistakes are our own. Please forgive these errors. May all beings be happy!
t.k., Tsogyelgar, Traktung Khepa, Traktung Yeshe Dorje