Saturday, July 31, 2004

Wicked People and Buddhist View - 2

Hi, since my reply to you I've thought of something else that might be useful to add.

A lot of people seem to experience things as getting more difficult once they start out on the spiritual path. It seems as though they are more surrounded my difficult people, that their mental states are getting worse, and that they experience more obstacles in life.

Oftentimes, the reason why that appears to be that way is because once we enter the path, we become more aware. We cultivate awareness and sensitivity to our own mental states, and to our relationships with other people and the world. And in doing so, we become more aware of the suffering nature of things. Things are not as we wish them to be .... and in experiencing things more clearly, we can often suffer more.

However, as we develop more compassion and develop our view, and our realisations, that increase in suffering will lesson ....

so again, hang in there, keep on doing the right thing, and things will resolve in a positive direction :-)

Exorcism, Black Magic, Voodoo and Buddhism - 4

In response to the statement that 'Yes, of course i exist. I am made up of molecules. And blood flows through my veins.'


When you say 'of course' .. why is that? ... What do the teachings say about this? What do the dharma teachings say about whether you exist, and in what way? Whether the early Hinayana teachings, Mahayana, or Vajrayana, they all seem to point in the same direction with this. It seems to me that understanding this, and realising for oneself is the key to resolving the difficulties you experience with spirits, and indeed all other difficulties too :-) I wonder if you can see where I am leading?

Perhaps using Feng Shui or other methods to clean the room of evil spirits would be the best method?


Thank you for sharing your reflections on this. Perhaps I could add another approach?

Sometimes one can look at peace as being the absence of that which we don't like, or find attractive, or acceptable. And so we try to attain peace by changing the conditions in our lives so that we are surrounded by more conducive and attractive things and conditions and experiences. And then we hope to be more at peace. But much of the Buddha's teachings are directed at finding peace in another way.

They point at opening and accepting how things are, and not trying to change things in order to make things a certain way, in order to be happy. So if we can truly open to things, however they are, whether they are things we like or dislike, find pleasant or unpleasant, then we can be at peace with them. And at peace with ourselves, so to speak. So, however the world is, at any time, we are at peace, as we have stopped trying to change the world (or ourselves) in order to find peace and happiness, and we've arrived at the peace that was right under our nose. We have just let go of the struggle with life, trying to make it a certain way, and opened out into what always has been. Letting go itself can be the door to peace, a peace that is not dependent on conditions being a certain way. People or other beings can be however they wish to be, and we can still be at peace.

I hope these reflections may be in some way helpful to you ....

best wishes to you

Wicked People and Buddhist View - 1

Hi, I just wanted to add one thing to your very beautiful email, which detailed why people act the way that they do, and the various ways in which you can work with the situation you find yourself in.

The teachings say that what we experience is the result of our past actions. To that end, when you ask why you experience what you do, and whether it is a reflection of one's own mind, I guess you could say that it is in particular a reflection of your own past mind. By which I mean that your mind in the past, whether in this life, or previous lives, has acted in many ways which have resulted in the situations you now find yourself in.

So in that way, they are not the result of what currently are, more to do with your past. In that way, they are not a reason to blame yourself for what you find yourself in, despite all your good intentions and actions now. Furthermore, utlimately these things are not real, they are merely appearances to your mind, the play of mind itself. So speaking relatively, as we focus on doing good actions now, our experience of the world will gradually change. And speaking ultimately, all dharmas are 'same taste', all the play of luminous emptiness, without 'good' or 'bad.

There are many ways to 'handle' our experience, as your email outlined, and to which I've added slightly to. The trick seems to be to find the angles which work for you, and just keep on 'doing the right thing' .....

very best wishes to you in the Dharma, and wishing your obstacles and difficulties dissolve before you .....

Exorcism, Black Magic, Voodoo and Buddhism - 3

In response to the point that the western, scientific point of view is ignorant and impotent to deal with demonic possession.. they don't even acknowledge that such a thing could happen.


My own experience in both the East and the West is that certain experiences respond better to exorcism, and certain ones respond better to some sort of psychiatric treatment. Neither seems to me to be the correct approach and the other the incorrect one, just different in view and methods, and therefore more or less effective in different circumstances. And a further method of dealing with some of these situations is with spiritual practice, which can also resolve the situation in approapriate ways.

very best wishes to you in the Dharma,

Exorcism, Black Magic, Voodoo and Buddhism - 2

In response to the question - how and in what way in Chod is the body offered to the demons? And how do they feast upon them?


There is a limit to what I can say in reponse to this, as the sadhana itself is covered by samaya, so you would need the empowerments to practice Chod, and then you would receive the instructions which would clear up your questions. However, I can talk in very general terms, and hope that that will suffice.

Well, in Chod practice the body (and other dharmas) are offered in terms of visualisation, or imagination, if you prefer that term. By which I mean that in the course of the sadhana one visualises giving away your own body in order to satisfy all the beings that you are karmically connected with. In the process, one works with one's attachment to your body, which is a very deep seated attachment. And, one works with one's attachment to a sense of self, which is even more fundamental. In practicing these acts of compassion and generosity (mentally giving one's body to be devoured by those who wish to devour it), one develops on the path. Of course, one also maintains a view of emptiness throughout.

What is actually meant here by demon? Is it some kind of a beast? Or an evil spirit?


In the context of Chod practice, as I mentioned in my original post, demons are designated in two terms, both as seemingly 'externally' existing beings, and in terms of seemingly 'internal' mental states. In both cases the demons are to be pacified. Chod is used to exorcise places and people, to clear away harmful spirits and demons, and it is also used to develop realisation of the nature of mind.

Do evil spirits exist?


Forgive me for not answering directly, but could I ask you a question in turn? Do you exist? Perhaps you could share your response to this, as I believe it to be a useful basis from which to answer your question.


Of course there are people who are constantly wicked? But from Buddhist view how do they function?


Actions breed consequences. When a being commits an unskilful act, then the tendency to commit further unskilful acts becomes that little bit stronger. We are creatures of habit, as they say. It's rather like our actions cut a groove in a turning piece on a potters wheel ... each time the unskilful action is made, the groove is cut into the piece, making us more likely to follow that groove the next time a similar circumstance arises. Speaking relatively, the Dharma path consists of replacing our constantly unskilful actions or habits with skilful or positive habits and actions. Each time we do that we set in motion a chain of events that makes it that little bit easier to do further skilful actions. Until the point where we break through the chain of habits and realising the nature of mind, we no longer act from habit, nor create future habits (karma).

Is it true that your sister-in-law vomitted razor blades? I cannot believe it because how is such a thing possible?


Well, I wasn't personally there, but have no reason to doubt what my wife saw. When living in Malaysia, I had friends who regularly saw spirits and ghosts, as common-place as people where I live now see dogs or cats. People becoming possessed, either intentionally, or not was common-place too. My own experience is that the east is quite different from the west in a sense, that people view the world differently, and experience it differently. One's views and experience of the world is a product of ones karma and past experience. Coming to live in the UK now, I certainly experience the world here as being what used to be called 'Godless', a very much less animate and vibrant world, in terms of the inhabitance of the same space by beings of different types.

If you feel so inclined, I'd be very interested to hear your response to my question 'do you exist', and hope this will prove a useful basis for intestigating your experience futher. Asking questions about what exists is one of the key means to develop ones view and provide the basis for direct experience of the nature of mind.

very best wishes to you ....

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Exorcism, Black Magic, Voodoo and Buddhism - 1

In response to a question asking if anyone can explain exorcism from the Buddhist point of view? And also things like black magic and vodoo and stuff like that?



Exorcism - I guess this generally refers to the removal of some sort of 'spirit' or being which is either possessing another being, or is around a person or particular location. In either case, it is seen as an unwanted guest who there is a desire to remove.

There are a number of things here from a Buddhist point of view. One way to look at this is from that of the Chod practice, (which is my main practice, by the way, so I'm talking from personal experience here). If you are not familiar with this, it is a practice from the Tibetan siddhi Machig Labdron, which is based on the prajnaparamita sutras, and which aims to 'cut off' demons. These demons are seen as two-fold. Firstly, the sense of 'external' beings which it is desired to remove. And secondly, as mental defilements and obscurations which are desired to remove. To deal with the external demons case, which is more relevant to your email, here we work in terms of both Relative and Ultimate Bodhicitta. So, in terms of accepting the 'reality' of the appearance of the spirit or demon, our approach to them is one of relative Bodhicitta, in other words, of compassion. So rather than reacting with fear, or anger, or trying to push away the being, we open our hearts and use compassion. In Chod, we actually offer our bodies and other capacities to the demon to feast themselves on. So the key thing here at the relative level is that exorcism of the unwanted demon is through compassion and generosity for that being.

Ultimately, the approach is in terms of Ultimate Bodhicitta, which refers to the realisation of emptiness. So they key to a permanent solution to the problem of the unwanted demon is that of seeing the ultimate nature of the demon and the situation, in other words to realise its emptiness. This is the most thorough and final solution, as it were. So we can say that at a relative level we use compassion and generosity towards this being, whilst at an ultimate level, we realise the emptiness of the situation. As a result, in both cases, no harm comes to either ourselves, nor to the unwanted being.

Generally, if you live in a Buddhist countries, you will often find that a monk or lama is called in to clear a place or person of possession, usually through performing a ritual. It is said that the deeper the realisation of emptiness of the monk, then the more likely the result will be positive.

In terms of someone being possessed, and looking at it from a western psychological perspective, it is often said that what is called 'possession' in the east is a form of mental illness, or imbalance from a western perspective. Thus such things as schizophrenia get mentioned. The person is labelled as having visual or aural hallucinations. Sometimes this can happen as a result of incorrect meditation methods, perhaps without the correct guidance, where someone goes quite far down a particular path of meditation without the necessary balancing factors.

Black magic - is talked of a different from white magic, the former being magic used for 'bad' or 'evil' purposes. So what is magic? Generally I'd say it's the ability to make things happen in physical world, through using mental and usually ritual activity. The example can be given of Milarepa, who was able to bring down hail, and also cause a house to be brought down through his ritual and visualisation actions. In this case, a particular being was invoked to lend its power to the action desired. In Kabbalistic magic which I have personal experience of, again you invoke a powerful being in order to make things happen. In a sense, the key here is that through magic the commonly accepted seeming 'rules' of the physical universe no longer seem to apply. So they break the rules of accepted science.

Voodoo generally involves gaining control over another person, again through some ritual and mental actions. In Buddhist countries, spells can be quite popular. For example in Thailand, my wife's sister had a spell placed on her, and she then vomited razor blades.

So how are black magic and voodoo explained from a Buddhist point of view? Well, all things interconnected. The web of causes and conditions are infinite, so things that happen in one location can affect those in another remote location. Similarly, things in the mental realm can affect the physical realm. The ability to affect the physical realm, and other beings would seem to be connected to Siddhi powers, those things which are by-products of meditation practice. As you progress in your practice, then the way things are starts to change for you, and you are no longer limited by you perspective to affecting things how you used to. You gain the ability to make things happen which someone with lesser realisation cannot make happen. These abilities are always seen as a by-product, not something to be activily pursued, and once gained, always to be used with Bodhicitta, for other beings' welfare.

I hope these thoughts are of help to you?

Best wishes in the Dharma

Friday, July 23, 2004

Buddhist Pure Lands and God Realms

In response to an email describing how their daughter is Christian, and reflecting on how to relate to her.


Many thanks for your kind words, and for sharing so much of your personal experience and situation. I'm afraid I can't really do justice to your email at this time, but wished to send a response that at least touched on some of the points you raise.

The pure land notion in Buddha Dharma is quite a complex one in terms of origins and development, having developed in a number of ways in both China and Japan, and then again in the Tibetan sphere of Dharma. My own experience of pure land traditions is largely from Chinese Pure Land, which I used to practice many years back.

To point to what may be the key difference between a Pure Land and an abode of the gods, or a heaven - Essentially, one is seen as being still in the influence of karma, and the other isn't. When you go to a heaven realm as a god, you still are within Samsara, and act in such ways to either create good or bad karma. And necessarily you will still be reborn into anothe realm when the karma that took you to that rebirth runs out.

However, in a pure land it is impossible to create bad karma. It is said that you are freed from the cycle of birth and death so that you can concentrate single-mindedly on attaining Enlightenment. It is taught that there you will not have any negative experiences, nor create bad karma. So if you like, from there, the only way is up! Once in a pure land, the only 'place' to go to is Nirvana, so to speak.

In the deva realm, you are largely surrounded by other devas (gods), whereas in a pure land, you are surrounded by Buddhas and Bodhisattvas who guide you constantly in the Dharma.

To turn to your other points, I would say that it is taught that all beings go through the stages you describe between death and birth, but it's important to remember that how beings experience that would be dependent on their karma and merit. So they may experience that in an entirely different way. All things are empty, and the play of appearances is dependent arising so all that you experience is the result of your previous actions, and not fixed or a certain way in that sense for all beings.

It's wonderful you are able to communicate so well with your daughter about such things, and that she is receptive to your path too. Communicating across religious paths is something quite prominent in my personal and family life too, so I have empathy there with you. A delicate process, challenging to be sure. For myself I feel it important to not try to make everything either harmonise, or not to look necessarily for the 'differences' and indeed to be patient with seeming differences, but to just allow things to be as they are, to be a play of experiences and arisings, and allow things to take a course without too much forcing of them in particular directions. Everyone has their own way through these things, seeking to help others and to not create bad karma themselves, or to encourage others to do so either.

Could you tell me more about the Dzogchen book, I'm intrigued! Is it in English?

best wishes to you in the Dharma

Image - Machig Labdron - The Chod of Mahamudra

'Posted

Thursday, July 22, 2004

Eden, Mind and Karma

A question asking that Christians will get to Eden because that is what their mind knows. So does that mean that i can visit Eden too if i meditate on it?


Hi, to address your question indirectly

- when ***** says:
"Because the only world we know is what the mind knows. There's really nothing out there that is not also in here"

- this alludes to the teaching that what we experience is ultimately all mind. There are many aspects and implications to this. For example, it points to us never being able to experience anything 'out there'. Our only knowledge or experience in within mind. Our experience is of arisings in mind, which may or may not accurately reflect anything which we imagine to be 'out there', but we have absolutely no direct knowledge whatsoever of what may be 'out there'. This is extremely profound and far reaching.

Cutting away the idea that there is somehow an objective reality out there, and recognising that all perceptions, and our entire experience is mind made obviously cuts away the idea that there is a heaven, eden or any other paradise (including pure lands!) which exist 'outthere', which we can therefore 'go to' when we die, or before.

Whilst we are not enlightened, our perceptions take place in the 6 consciousnesses, and are necessarily 'ignorant'. The sixth consciousness, (deluded) mind overlays its conceptual understandingon all the perceptions that arise from our other 5 senses. As such, we 'see' our experience through the 'glasses' of our 6th consciousness. As this consciousness makes sense of perceptions in accordance with our karma, it understands or decodes them on the basis of that karma. This means that we quite literally see things in terms of our past experience. The example is often given of most humans most of the time seeing water as something refreshing to drink, whereas the same thing would be seen by a preta as molten lava, the devas as nectar etc.

We do not directly 'see' the perception, we actually 'see' the conceptual overlay. This is why the quality of 'clarity' is so important in Mahamudra. The relation between the conceptual overlay (which is determined by karma) and the perception from the 5 other consciousnesses is said to be like looking at pebbles through the
running water of the stream.

So, coming back to your question, as to whether we can visit Eden etc - well, perhaps and no. No in the sense outlined above that there is no objective Eden existing 'out there'. But perhaps in the sense that all that you experience is mind, is arisings in mind, then if the experience of visiting Eden arises in your mind, then you areactually there! Eden experienced in the mind, or a Pure Land, or a Buddha figure, or a chocolate bar, or pain, or a thought, or anything else are all the same in this respect - they are just arisings in the mind, which are ultimately empty, without substance, like a dream, like a rainbow, but which nevertheless do seem to appear to the mind, and which we do seem to experience.

It follows that if you meditate on Eden or anything else which you conceive to be a place, then you will likely experience 'being there', for what it's worth.

On that note I would like to add in parting that one of my teachers from some years back came from a Christian background, and was a someone who experienced very deep states of Shamata. He had many visions in the course of his dhyana experiences, and the vast majority of them were of angels, even though his practice was on Padmasambhava. His karma 'made sense' of his experience in terms of what he had previously acted and known, as so this is how these experiences appeared to him.

For us I'd venture to suggest it matters less what the experience is, from the point of view of 'content', much of the time, but rather matters more in terms of its 'form'. In other words, don't get caught up in the story in your mind, but see it for what it is - empty arisings, the play of mind, just appearances which cannot ultimately be grasped.

don't know if that in any way addresses your question, Svetlana?

As a final note, I'd wish to respond to Baldo's assertion that "There's really nothing out there that is not also in here" by suggesting that there is no way we can possibly know that. We can come to the recognition that all that we experience is mind and within mind, but we cannot possibly know if there is anything 'out there' which is also not in our minds. Practically, if it isn't in our mind, it doesn't exist, but that's not quite the same thing :-)

best wishes

Thursday, July 15, 2004

A Beautiful Guru Student Relationship Metaphor - 1

Today I came across a rather beautiful metaphor for roles in the
guru-student relationship.

The teacher is the mirror in which you see your own face. The mirror
shows you your face, and the guru therefore helps you see the nature
of your mind. So you are able to see the nature of your mind because
it shines in the mirror of the guru. Of course the mirror won't come
to see you, you have to go and stand in front of the mirror yourself.

Then, the part which I found especially resonant …. In order to see
yourself, you also need the light. And in this metaphor, the light is
devotion. When you've put yourself in front of the mirror, and the
light is present, then it's impossible not to see your face. At that
point, you have the choice to clean the mirror or leave it dirty
course.

The metaphor of the guru being a mirror is something I'd come across
before, but the addition to it of devotion being like a light was
quite new for me, and profoundly illuminating!

I was then led to reflect on the third sloka of the Dorje Chang Thung
prayer with the benefit of this metaphor:

MO GU GOM GYI GO WOR SUNG PA SHIN.
As is taught, devotion is the head of meditation;

MEN NGAG TER GO JE PEI LA MA LA.
the lama opens the door to the profound oral teachings.

GYUN DU SOL WA DEB PEI GOM CHEN LA.
To the meditator who always turns to him,

CHO MIN MO GU KYE WAR JIN GYI LOB.
grant your blessing that uncontrived devotion be born within.


With best wishes in the Dharma

A Beautiful Guru Student Relationship Metaphor - 3

Isn't Light a metaphor for Wisdom, rather than Devotion?


I thought it was interesting to reflect on why devotion was likened to the light in this metaphor. Common metaphors for devotion are in terms of energy to empower something, in terms of receptivity, or openness to the teachings.

So why is devotion likened to light here?

In the metaphor, one brings oneself into relation with the guru, so one stands before the mirror which allows us to see ourselves. It seems that the metaphor is saying that you can be with the guru as much as you want, but without devotion you will not learn anything, not develop realisation - you can stand in front of the mirror as long as you like, but without light you will not see your reflection.

So, devotion is what enables the relationship to work, as a skilful means or method of the path. So why is that? Why does devotion enable this you to see yourself, and enable the guru-student relationship to work.

Perhaps it's because without devotion, all you see in the mirror of the guru are the reflections of your own ignorance, your own egoistic projections. Without devotion, when you view the guru, you can judge the guru in wordly terms - I like this, I don't like that about him/her, and then you don't see yourself, you don't see into the nature of your mind at all. You just keep perpetuating your ignorant misperceptions.

But with devotion, with an openess to the wisdom of the guru, then one can lay aside one's ego to a degree, and the light of devotion can penetrate the darkness of ignorance, and allow the mirror to really function. So in the relationship with the guru, you start to see yourself as you really are, rather than just the judgements and projections of ignorance.

Well, that's how devotion being likened to light in the metaphor makes sense to me. It's interesting how different people see different things in the metaphor, as your own reflections make clear. It's as though the metaphor also acts as a mirror reflecting back our own understanding to us, each differently.

very best wishes in the Dharma

A Beautiful Guru Student Relationship Metaphor - 2

In response to a reply saying that 'The dust does not come from teacher - it means it comes from you; which means the mirror itself - more exactly its ability to reflect, is part of your mind, not something "outer".


Absolutely! The guru is the mirror with which you are able to see your mind. His or her being and actions provide the means with which you can see clearly your mind. And of course, in a sense, the guru is your mind - the guru's appearance arises in your mind. The guru can only arise in the context of your mind. In that sense, the guru's mind and your own are inseperable. There is no guru outside of your mind.

Nevertheless, in terms of skilful means, I think the metaphor is pointing out that the interaction with a guru can be a much more powerful means of development than relying on your own efforts alone. That's the key to Vajrayana method.

In that sense, "approaching the mirror" is not really a physical amovement, but more like turning your devotion towards Teacher ...


Yes indeed, but perhaps more accurately to say that the process is one of turning your awareness towards the guru. At this stage of the metaphor, the turning towards the guru (turning towards the mirror) is that of bringing awareness to the relationship with the guru.

we always have devotion to some cause, or causes, or to something we think, or do, or desire - that is how we got caught into karmic circle. but we can use this quality of our mind - devotion - and turn towards our true nature directly...what do you think ?


That's a really nice observation:-)

And it's interesting that the root of devotion is the same root that entangles us in samsara - that of desire. In a sense, the same energy, directed towards different objects. The same attractedness, or fascination.

But perhaps devotion differs in one respect from other manifestations of desire? Desire is a wanting to possess something, to bring it into oneself, in a desire to gain lasting happiness. But devotion is in one sense a giving. It's love turned towards an object which is somehow higher or more realised than oneself. And that sort of love has quite a nature of giving, rather than taking ....


Is the "Dorje Chang Thung" prayer the proper name for what I know as the short invocation of blessing of Mahamudra Lineage?


Dorje Chang Thung is the traditional Tibetan name for the prayer. It's taught in two ways. Firstly as a devotional song, which is a beautiful supplication to our lineage fathers. But it's also used as a meditation, which goes through the four key stages with its four main sections. These four section correspond to the Four Ordinary
Foundations (Four thoughts which turn the mind), the Four Special Foundations (Ngondro), Shamata, and Vipassana. As such, it's a complete path, and the meditation on it can be profound indeed.

best wishes to you

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Mantras, Relative and Ultimate Truth - 6

Hi, many thanks for your considered response. I certainly agree with you on the role of words in teachings as skilful means which are used like fingers pointing to the moon - in order to get us to directly perceive that which cannot be captured by words alone.

However, I would take issue with an analysis of someone's explanation of a teaching, which attempts to point to the contradictions or even wrong views contained in an explanation - with the comparison with a rather pointless process of analysis for analysis sake.

All Buddhist traditions including the Kagyu lineage have employed reason as a tool to support the practice of meditation. All Buddhist paths function in terms of the Three Wisdoms of Listening (Reading/Study), Refection (incl analysis) and Wisdom (direct
perception).

We all have views, and those views act as glasses which stand between 'us' and our 'seeing', as it were. We percieve through our views, in a manner of speaking. So to check up on those views, and see if they are views which are in accordance with those which the noble ones use to communicate their realisations would appear to be a most worthwhile endevour. Cutting short the second of the wisdoms (reflection and analysis) prematurely will surely only result in continuing to look in the wrong direction whilst meditating ..... will it not? Views can be refined from two directions, hand in hand - from the point of view of direct perception, from meditation experience, and from the point of view of reflection on the teachings and analysis of ones conceptual understanding. One without the other would be a real tough way to try to proceed!

So whilst concurring with your wonderful description of the various means which can induce awakening, I'd wish to caution against potentially undervaluing the role of reflection and analysis as an important tool for the Kagyu practitioner.

with very best wishes to you in the Dharma

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Mantras, Relative and Ultimate Truth - 5

As I'm substantially in agreement with you, with only differing emphasis (due to perhaps wishing to emphasise a different aspect of view and method), then I'll only briefly comment on a couple of points .....

So my point here was that in fact there is not much difference between saying specifically "my body" or generally "body". In the former case it refers to one particular body, in the latter - it simply means "mine or his or hers or anyone's" - so instead of one experience it refers to many (so to say). But quantity doesn't change the quality here - we still implicitly refer to realtive experiences (even in general form), and thus still operate on realtive level.


I would entirely agree that when the 'confused' mind refers to 'body' or 'my body' then it tends to grasping its experience and reifying it, or views it as a concrete existing object. It mistakes the luminous aspect of mind for really existing objects which exist 'out there', and so is dealing with the relative aspect of existence. It is mistaking the nature of that existence, but doing so at a relative level. But, I would wish to add that as a Dharma practitioner we have the potential to view things in a variety of ways, dependent upon our experience and realisations. And therefore when one refers to 'body' it is quite possible that one may 'see' either the relative aspect - its appearance, or the ultimate aspect - its emptiness. And one may see either of those to a greater or lesser degree, again dependent on realisation. So perhaps I actually largely mistake the nature of the 'body' that arises to my mind, but there is also a certain looseness to that mistaken apprehension, due to my having some small realisation of the nature of things.

Generally of course, this preliminary realisation is more of the nature of 'conceptual', even when the practitioner is very much concerned with direct seeing, and not wishing to practice in a conceptual way - but perhaps that is the subject of another discussion, and another time?

So to summarise - yes, confused mind will mistake the relative aspect of 'body' but a less confused mind may see either the relative or ultimate aspect of 'body'.

I also see it this way. Yet maps are defined by their usefulness - I think that is what you are saying too - and usefulness is not something abstract, it always related to very concrete situation. Which sitation is of course, of relative nature - because it is concrete :-) In that sense, any finger, pointing to direction is of relative nature; what matters though, what direction it points to.


I entirely agree with you, but again to add one point, that one way in which the Dharma, and the Mahamudra teachings are so 'useful' is that they are generally useful in a sense. By that I mean that a particular teaching, such as that of the Two Truths which I have been emphasising, is useful in *all* situations, regardless of what one is experiencing - whether it is seeing a hot dog or doing a sadhana. Whatever one experiences can be seen for what it is. So I'd just wish to add that 'yes, usefulness is always related to a concrete situation, but the teachings are broadly applicable in *all* situations, anytime, anywhere.

In my understnading - in order to point out ultimate truth, finger should point to mind's awareness, one which is aware - not to the objects it is aware of.


Here I'd like to ask a question - is there a difference? Whether ones is 'looking at' mind or its contents, do they not have the same nature? And, perhaps more interestingly, for most of us most of the time, what is 'mind' incontrast to 'an object of mind'? (Here I don't mean ultimately, I mean in our 'common' experience). This seems to me to point to something very important, and sometimes confused - which I don't wish to directly point out - I wonder if whatI'm pointing to is apparent?

Thus, words have to refer to some commonly shared experiences.


To potentially shared experiences - in the sense that the words that have been passed to us from the lineage gurus point towards a shared experience, and nudge us in the direction of how to view experience and work with it. Their words may not have a shared experience in us right now .... but potentially may do ......

In other words- what I meant is, from point of personal, "secret" experience, "ultimate" can refer to sonmething which is not an abstraction; but on the level of communication, it can be used only as abstraction.


Yes indeed! And abstractions can be useful, as fingers pointing to the moon, as you say :-) Being careful not to mistake the finger for the moon, as the teaching says, but still needing a finger in order to see the moon in the first place.

I see it this way. Roughly speaking, all Buddhist mediations have two steps: first, when you want to get something and you focus on what you want to get - and second, when you already got it. First is often refered as Shamatha, second - as Vipassiana. In Vajrayana, Shamatha becomes what is known as Kye Rim, phase of Creation, and Vipassiana - what is known as Dzog Rim, phase of Compeltion.

My own understnading - that first phase implies use of method, while second phase - use of insight. I am not a qualified master of these practices however, so please feel free to correct me if I am wrong :-)


Whilst there are different emphasis and focus to the two stages of deity practice, which you refer to above, I don't think its necessary to seperate them out into one method and the other insight. I suspect the situation is rather more open and mixed than that .....

In other words - in first phase, you work with breathing, energy system, imaginary forms - whatever is at hand in order to focus your mind on "what you want to get". In the second phase, when you already "get it" - you simply abide in this state and use insight to see its nature (again my own understanding based on my very limited knowledge and experience)


Though of course by 'simply abiding in that state' one isn't using anything, or doing anything, whether insight or anything else, otherwise one wouldn't be 'simply abiding' at all!!!!!

But yes, the broad dynamics of deity practice are as you say :-)

Actually, in 9 Karmapa book - "Mahmudra, Eliminating The Darkness of Ignorance", Karmapa mentions that one can apply Mahamudra during phase of Creation as well - seeing the empty nature of forms, used during this phase (and for all I know, properly, one has to dissolve everything in space and then visualization appears out of space), so "continuity" of ultimate view is presrved here of course. But, formally speaking, that teaching is different from Mantra itself, again it is more like instruction how to use Mantra. The ultimate aspect of Mantras comes as experience, as result of applying these instructions.


I follow what you said of Mahamudra above, but don't follow what you said from "formally speaking ..." I'm guessing here that you are saying that there is a different emphasis in Mahamudra approach to a general Vajrayana approach?

Right, but you cannot use "lack of inherent existence" as method. If you could - you did not need Mantras, everything will do, because ultimately - everything is lacking inherent existence. I believe, that mistake is called eternalism...some peopel think, that since they already have inherent Buddha nature, they don't need to do anything, just recognioze the fact mentally and don't give a damn about anything else, since it is empty anyway


I suspect that 'eternalism' commonly refers to mistakenly apprehending experience as having solidity, as having inherent existence, as being really existent (as against nihilism being the view that they don't exist at all). In that case, I think you are pointing more at the view of nihilism which leads to the view that nothing really matters, and I don't have to practice, or do anything, as it's all the same, and none of it really exists? Nihilism leads to a 'do nothing' scenario, eternalism leads to over involvement, with things that we ascribe too much importance and existence too ....

You know, frankly I see it as just different words - Dharmakaya, Sambhogakaya, Nirmanakaya ... it is just for our own use .... And that part you may call Svabhavikakaya.


Yes, I'm fully in agreement with all you said of the Four Kayas ...

Now, can you really speak of absolute and relative nature of all 4 different aspects of this water ? These are just different angles, different conceptual views, which you created yourself.


Well yes, in the sense that I mentioned .... with you have implied above .... I was emphasising the method of how one relates to experience in terms of the two truths ... that whatever arises, whether a hot dog, or a sambhogakaya form, all of it can be viewed as having a relative and ultimate aspect, appearance and form ... and ... .as you so rightly say, if I may paraphrase ... those are always 'inseperable' ....

Once again many thanks for continuing this discussion, and best wishes in your practice too!

It has been a joy talking to you too, thank you.
I hope not the last time :-)

Best and many |KARMAPA CHENNO|,


Many thanks to you too. Your considered replies have provided much food for reflection the last few days, and been very fruitful in that respect. Thank you again for continuing to look deeply at this matter ....

best wishes

Sunday, July 11, 2004

Mantras, Relative and Ultimate Truth - 4

I must confess that I didn't see what you were getting at in your first mail. It's a very interesting distinction. Can I comment on it using a conventional Kagyu approach, and see where it leads?

When we put a possessive adverb like "my", "our", etc. in front obviously (or maybe, not so obviously, sorry :-) we *relate* some thing to us, so it becomes literally a relative-level view: "our body", "our mind", etc. On the other hand, when we leave out the possessive, we refer to something not related to anything else in particular, and thus on the absolute-level, such as: "mind", "body", "form", etc.


Putting a possessive adverb onto something gives us what? ... it gives us a concept ... the concept of 'my something'. And, all concepts are necessarily of the realm of relative truth. Why? because the 'thing' that the concept points to has no ultimate existence, no concept actually points to a thing which exists in an inherent manner. But what of the concept itself (not the thing it is pointing to or designating)? The concept is indeed relative in the sense that all concepts are necessarily relative - as they arise in the mind, their appearance is a relative truth, or of relative reality. But, as in our previous post, that concept itself has an ultimate nature, or ultimate nature. What is that? It is its emptiness, its lack of inherent existence.

So, concepts have both relative and ultimate existence, and the 'thing' that concepts point to have only ultimate existence. Is this correct? So it's good to be clear when you talk of the adding of possessive pronouns to things equalling a relative view, then there are a number of aspects here, some of which are relative, and some are ultimate.

What about the view that talking about the thing itself, and not relating it to a possessor, of me, mine etc? You mention that that view is ultimate reality, if I understand that correctly? Whilst it's true that it's not 'related' to anything, does the thing such as 'body' truly exist? So is it ultimately existent? Surely not. Mind, body, etc has both relative and ultimate reality, in terms of it's appearance to the mind, and it's emptiness of inherent existence. When you look, body cannot ultimately be found, anywhere, ever. But, and it's a big but, it does appear to the mind, and in that sense, it has a relative existence or reality, one which is dependent on conditions - dependent origination.

And once again, the view of relating to something as 'me' or 'mine' .... there's another sense in which we can analyse or view this. All notions of 'me' or 'mine' are necessarily empty of inherent existence - they is no ultimate basis for a 'me' .... but the concept of 'me' arises to the mind dependent on conditions ... .so it has a relative existence or reality.

Hmm .... a lot of reflections there ..... I wonder what your view is?

very best wishes in the Dharma

Mantras, Relative and Ultimate Truth - 3

Ah! one more reflection regarding visualisations and mantras *operating* at a relative level ... something which I think if very important from a point of view of practice ...

In my limited understanding, both visualizations and mantras do operate on relative level.


When you say 'they operate' it sounds like 'they' are doing the 'operating' at a certain level, in this case the relative. But, when we use visualisation and mantra in creation stage practice, from the perspective of the person doing the practice, and for a moment think in terms of us operating in the practice - then within our awareness and during our practice, we are able to develop both an inferential understanding (conceptual) and a direct intuitive understanding or both the relative and ultimate existence of all that arise during our practice. In other words, as we visualise and recite mantras, we are aware of their relative existence - their appearance to the mind, and aware of their ultimate existence - their lack of inherent existence. Depending on your focus and intent, either relative or ultimate can be brought to the fore during creation stage practice, in terms of awareness. But, creation stage practice has a particular focus on working with the luminous aspect of mind, and therefore its relative existence ....

Hope this proves a fruitful reflection?

Mantras, Relative and Ultimate Truth - 2

In response to the notion that whenever we use words, we already operate on relative level :-) Words are just fingers pointing to experiential meaning in both cases.


I'd entirely agree with you in the sense that the word itself, i.e. the concept, can only be a relative truth, from the two truths perspective of Kagyu dharma. And as in my previous reply to *****, whether it is 'body' or 'my body' it makes no difference, as both are concepts. But, the concepts have both relative and ultimate existence - they appear to the mind, and they also have no inherent existence.

such a word as "ultimate" can relate only to an abstraction (or to another pointing finger).


I'm not sure I understand your meaning here, can I check? If you are saying that words such as 'ultimate' can only point to an abstraction, i.e. to a concept, then I'd disagree from a commonly understood Kagyu perspective. Of course it is true that all words are concepts, and that they therefore are only relative, and that ultimately there is nothing that can be said about the ultimate. Saying something is always false, or mistaking the finger for the moon. But, and again it's a big but, the Buddha has always used skilful means to point out the moon, he has always used concept to point towards that which cannot be named or described ..... as a skillful means. And if we wish to 'see' which direction to 'look', then we must use concepts and skilful means to get the 'direction'. So in that spirit Kagyu teachings employ a range of methods to help prepare the ground for a direct seeing of how things are. And one of the most useful of those maps is that of the two truths, which leads us to talk in terms of relative and ultimate truth.

Or perhaps you meant something else I didn't get when you said that 'ultimate always relates only to abstractions'?

About mantras - formally speaking, they relate to Sambhogakaya aspect (pure forms), which in my understanding is still relative, at least by its appearance and use in practice.


I'd like to present a different view here. There is indeed a symbolic correspondance made between mantra and Sambhogakaya, which rests on the Vajrayana view of the correspondance between body, speech and mind being the basis for Nirmanakaya, Sambhogakaya, and Dharmakaya, and that our actions of body, speech and mind form the basis for our developing the realisation of Nirmanakaya, Sambhogakaya, and Dharmakaya. But, that correspondance doesn't mean that mantras only have a relative existence, does it?

When you say a mantra, do you say it at a Sambhogakaya level? Only if you've achieved that realisation, right? Otherwise, it's said within the context of deluded mind. And, when saying the mantra, it has both a relative *and* an ultimate existence - it's appearance to the mind is its relative reality, and its ultimate nature is its lack of any inherent existence. When you watch the mantra as it's sound, or form appears to the mind, it does not have anything you can ultimately grasp, but, it certainly does appear to the mind, so it's both relative and ultimate.

Regarding Sambhogakaya as being relative - yes, it relates to appearance - the appearances that can only be perceived by highly developed beings, and so it can be said to be relative truth and grouped together with the nirmanakaya. And then the distinction is made with Dharmakaya, which pertains to ultimate truth, always. But, sambhogaka and nirmanakaya both have relative and ultimate existence, do they not? They appear to the mind (whether highly realised in the case of sambhogakaya, or less so in the case of nirmanakaya) and so have relative existence, but they also have ultimate existence, in that they lack inherent existence. So Sambhogakaya has both relative and ultimate existence, does it not?

So, in my limited understanding, both visualizations and mantras do operate on relative level.


Yes indeed, they are appearances in the mind, but they also have ultimate existence, as per the above. Certainly visualisations, in the sense of creation stage practices, work specifically with the luminosity aspect of the mind, and therefore with the arising with appearances, and are particularly angled at working on that aspect of the mind. Whereas the completion stage is more directed at working on the emptiness aspect of the mind. So visualisation and mantra in creation stage are more directed at the relative aspect of the mind.

I wonder if these different perspectives resonate with you?

Once again many thanks for continuing this discussion, and best wishes in your practice too!

Saturday, July 10, 2004

Mantras, Relative and Ultimate Truth - 1

Hi, can I take issue with you in the way you've described relative and ultimate reality? You seem to say that our bodies are at the level of relative reality and our
minds are at the level of ultimate reality, if I've understood your implication correctly?

Mantras provide a deep connection between relative conditioned "reality" (our bodies) and absolute unconditioned essence (mind) through the sound vibrations of their syllables.


Would it not be more accurate to say that both body and mind have relative and ultimate aspects? Our body appears to the mind, and at that 'level' it is relative reality. However, our body is empty of inherent existence, and at that level the body has an ultimate reality.

The same is true of the mind .... that which appears to the mind ... appearances - this is relative reality, whilst the mind and its contents also are empty of inherent existence, which is the ultimate reality or truth of their existence.

For that matter, it would also be true that mantras have relative and ultimate existence - their appearence to the mind is their relative existence or reality, whilst their emptiness is their ultimate reality.

Using this line of understanding, all compounded dharmas have this dual nature, which is that they have relative and ultimate reality or nature. It's not that some things are one, and other things are the other (ie, it's not that body is relative and mind is ultimate), more that depending on how you look at things (dharmas), you either see their relative or ultimate nature.

Thank you for your response on the translation of mantras - it is only on this aspect of your answer that I have some reservations :-)

best wishes to you in the Dharma