Cultivating Insight into the Nature of Things as They Are

THE BUDDHA TAUGHT THAT HOW THINGS APPEAR to be and how things actually are is quite different. Our failure to distinguish these two truths gives rise to all sorts of mistaken thoughts and conflicting emotions. In the same way that to attain enlightenment it is necessary to train in establishing loving-kindness and compassion, it is also necessary to cultivate a proper understanding of the view, so that practice designed to prepare us for and introduce us to direct insight into the nature of mind can come to fruition.


Teachings on the view have been given by many distinguished Kagyu masters. Excerpts from some of these teachings follow.

The Experience of Shunyata: Realizing the True Nature of the Mind

By Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche

THE DILIGENT PRACTITIONER OF DHARMA is always mindful of the transience of life, for we have no idea what is going to happen in the future or when we will die. By contemplating how or when death will come, we learn to appreciate the impermanence of life, and to develop a sense of renunciation. In this way, we become less involved in mundane attachments.

It is like planning a move from one geographical location to another. A wise person cultivates an attitude that accepts the idea, then plans the change skillfully, doing important chores ahead of time, so that at his new house everything will be ready and waiting. Once he arrives, he will be less concerned about the home he has left and more able to concentrate on settling down.

In the same way, realizing how short and temporary this life is allows us to devote more energy to practicing the Dharma. This is a more fruitful undertaking than being obsessed with material pleasures, for a time is going to come when none of these possessions can be claimed. Indeed, a time will come when we cannot take along even one strand of hair.

Our friends may be willing to help us now, but in the future, not they, or any possessions or wealth will have a chance to help us. Our position as Dharma practitioners is very rare, for even famous and rich people may not have the opportunity that we have. Because our lives are limited, we should regard the Dharma and the spiritual master as very, very precious.

The connection between the spiritual master and the disciple cannot be stressed enough. The Buddhas and bodhisattvas of the past related to the Dharma first as ordinary sentient beings, and only through proper guidance did they integrate the teachings and achieve enlightenment. From this point, they went on to indestructible omniscience and eternal bliss. Such a state of mind, and the ability to benefit others, comes only from a proper relationship with the master. It is essential to relate to the master in a sincere and genuine way, for he guides us to the proper understanding of the experiences that come with practice. This practice takes a long time to perfect, and we cannot expect fruition to come about in a day or two, or even a few years.

The nature of the mind can be explained in three points: how we perceive, how we relate to these perceptions, and the nature of phenomena. Perceptions, projections, and phenomena are all inseparable elements of the mind. Without the mind we have nothing to perceive and no way to relate to what is happening. All shapes, even nightmarish forms, are there because of the mind. If there was no mind, there would be no form. Because a blind man cannot see, for him, there is no color. We perceive colors when our eye consciousness is working, and with this consciousness we distinguish and label the different colors. In terms of ultimate reality, there is no difference between color and mind, or between the labels we give a color and the mind.

In the same way, sound is not an entity separate from the mind that hears it, and the ear consciousness reflects the inseparable quality of sound and mind. Likewise, the quality of each sense perception is embodied as a sense consciousness--sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch. Although sense experiences and their labels are not separate in terms of ultimate reality, we fail to take this perspective, placing what we sense and that which is sensing into different categories. If we acknowledge that there are no perceptions without the mind, we can understand that phenomena, too, are dependent on mind.

Perceived objects do not exist independently and do not have a permanent quality of their own, and labels are just reference points that we devise to support the existence of our thoughts or perceptions. Labels such as good/bad, happy/sad, long/short, and hot/cold are created by the mind, and do not in themselves hold any inherent truth. Because everything is a function of the mind, phenomena are not things in themselves, but are what the mind is and how the mind relates to them. Acknowledging that phenomena are mental projections, we can achieve greater renunciation for there really is no point in getting attached to a situation that is not what it seems to be. Going further, we can actually look into our own mind and examine it. This is a fluid situation. We have identified the quality of knowing, but we cannot locate or label that quality. We cannot give our consciousness a fixed shape or color, for the nature of mind itself is insubstantial. That which identifies, relates to, and labels other things does not itself possess a fixed identity. This step-by-step method--examining the perceiver in relation to the perceived--can help us to realize the unborn and insubstantial quality of all things. We are working toward unfolding the nature of everything, which is sunyata or emptiness.

Sunyata is not a vacuum or a state of nothingness. Indeed, an enlightened yogi sees the same things we do. At the same time, he or she appreciates the insubstantial and changing quality of everything, and understands that projections and perceptions can cause no harm or trouble. We, on the other hand, regard our projections as something substantial, and we believe that they support and sustain us. We think they are real; indeed, for us this is total reality. We fixate on our perceived reality and become attached to it. That is how we become trapped in our own projections.

To go beyond intellectual understanding to a spontaneous experience of sunyata is to experience the nature of the mind as dharmakaya. This state manifests as an all-pervading quality of space. When a practitioner merges his mind with the dharmakaya, he or she continues to experience everything as before, but also sees the transience of all things. He knows at that point that his mind is insubstantial and non-compounded.

The state of mind in which we see phenomena, yet perceive it without grasping, is called "the mind of great bliss." Although we do not categorize or focus attention on any fixed thing, we see everything that dawns in the consciousness distinctly, without mistaking one for the other. Such is clarity, and if we see clearly, we can sustain a blissful state without effort. In our lineage this is called "giving birth to the experience of mahamudra." As this awareness dawns, the quality of mind itself manifests as unborn and uncompounded.

We construct our own confusion if we hold on to a fixed reality and label phenomena as entities separate from ourselves. In doing this, we inevitably crave some things and reject others, and this is bewildering. Thus, the boundary between enlightened beings and sentient beings lies not in what is seen (because enlightened beings see things too), but in the way they are seen. From the perspective of enlightened mind, everything is Buddhanature, everything is sunyata, and everything is insubstantial. To realize this involves a letting go, the letting go that is enlightenment. Those of us caught up in confusion, imprison ourselves by holding onto a fixed system of dualities.

For example, when adults see a rainbow in the sky, they know what it is and understand that it is insubstantial. When a child sees a rainbow for the first time, he wants to catch it and make it his own. This is like the difference between enlightened beings and ordinary sentient beings. Realized beings, when they see anything, understand it as a reflection of the mind, and they get neither bored with it nor excited about it. Ordinary beings, thinking that what they see is real and permanent, run off with their perceptions and compulsively try to possess this and reject that. This is how confusion piles up. One of the highest experiences is to understand that reality is not fixed.

It is also like this with dreams. Enlightened beings have dreams much like ours. Within our framework of habitual patterns, some dreams frighten us, and others please us. For a yogi, however, the dream experience is different. He recognizes that a dream is occurring, and he knows that it is insubstantial. He can catch the dream and play with it, doing whatever he wants to do with it. Unlike us, he recognizes that a dream does not have a fixed quality, and he can experience its fluid openness and space without becoming frightened or excited.

Day-to-day life is like a dream, for we react to waking experiences as we do to dreams, with the same patterns or habits. Everything seems complete and real; some experiences make us sad and some make us happy. An enlightened being, however, has let go of everything, and regards all phenomena as insubstantial. Therefore, no one is hurt, nothing triggers excitement, and there is no cause for fear.

The bardo experience can be encountered in the same way. Usually, we cannot see clearly at the time of the bardo because we have built such heavy habitual patterns, and our projections seem so concrete. We play a game of duality, including conflicts between ourselves and others, so we fight the bardo experience, and everything frightens and bewilders us. Yet, for an enlightened being who realizes the sunyata nature of all things, even in the bardo, whatever appearances may come, there is space, openness, and movement.

The experience of sunyata is the essence of enlightenment. It is also the basis for bodhicitta, the motivation to benefit all sentient beings. This is because realizing insubstantiality--the sunyata nature of all things--makes the difference between sanity and insanity. A sane person sympathizes with the suffering of an insane person. He or she thinks, "I wish something better could happen to him," and in this way her bodhicitta grows. Likewise, a realized person sees that those who have not recognized sunyata clutch and hold onto fixed ideas, and knowing that this will lead the other person to further suffering, he or she wants to do all they can to help. Because a person with the experience of sunyata knows what the sunyata experience means to them, they know how much it would mean to others.

Just having had the experience of sunyata brings benefit to others because now spaciousness is always present. We are no longer limited to doing only this much or that much, and because there are no limitations, there is also great ability and willingness. When there is no substantial blockage to our true nature, the experience of sunyata is immaculate. Without at least a beginning experience of sunyata, true compassion is not even possible. We will only be able to care genuinely when things go wrong for our own loved ones. This becomes a sort of possessive compassion. It is limited and discriminatory, and it is not the compassion of the bodhisattvas.

The bodhicitta generated by bodhisattvas is directed toward all beings equally. Only with such non-discriminating motivation can there be the ability to benefit others. Great ability, or skillful means, extends everywhere because we have transcended a fixed state of reality and overcome all barriers. Regardless of the situation and regardless of which people are involved, we will have the ability to help.

Learning about compassion is important, but it is the actual doing of practice that enables us to realize the profundity of the teachings and to integrate them into daily life. We are not talking about practicing for a couple of months or a few years, but doing it constantly and continually until we have great experiences. This is important because the greater our experience of sunyata, the greater and more spontaneous will be our ability to benefit all beings.

At the point where we experience sunyata, practice becomes easy. When the sky is cloudy, the sun is obscured, but as the clouds evaporate, the sun's rays appear and become more and more radiant. Likewise, the more we let go of ego, the greater is the space created in the environment. Some people believe that persons who have realized sunyata become detached and aloof. This is not at all true. Indeed, with the experience of sunyata we become even more affectionate, respectful, and helpful toward others. We feel closer to everyone because the wish for them to attain enlightenment is also growing. Thus the greater our experience of sunyata, the greater our concern for all beings.

The transcendental qualities of the great yogis are beyond belief. Once in Tibet, a great yogi was doing an intensive ritual practice and a robber crept up behind him with a knife. As the yogi played his drums and ritual objects, the robber cut off his head, which dropped to the ground. Nonchalantly, the yogi picked up his head, put it back on, and continued the ritual. The robber stared speechless until the yogi had finished, and then said: "Oh, I wanted to kill you so much! I really wanted to get rid of you." The yogi replied, "Well, will my death make you happy? If it will, I'll die right here. My prayer for you is that there may come a time when I will cut the neck of your ego." With that, he fell dead. This is an example of a total letting go.

Of course, we do not actually want to drop dead, but the point is that the yogi acted effortlessly and spontaneously, and created for the future a connection between himself and the robber. In a later life, this robber became his disciple, and through this connection and his own prayers, he was helped toward liberation.

Most of us have had dreams of effortless action. As you dream of a fire, for example, you jump into it, then realize that it is only a dream, and you are not burned. Or perhaps a huge beast lunges at you, yet nothing happens. It is like that for enlightened ones: being attacked is like being in a dream. Similarly, you may dream of finding a precious object, and your first instinct is: "Oh, wow! I've got a precious jewel!" But on second thought, you realize that this is just your dream, so you just play with the jewel and then let it go. This is what seems to happen to diligent practitioners.

It is important to learn how to recognize sunyata so that we can realize that every perception is relative to our mind, and that the nature of labels, of phenomena--in reality the nature of all things--is insubstantial. We never reach a point where we can say that the mind is going in this direction, is located here, or comes from there--or for that matter that it has any particular color or shape at all. Understanding this, we can let go of our confusion, letting go of our ego and conflicting emotions as well. We can transcend our bewilderment and reach Buddhahood.

A Buddha works so that others, too, may recognize sunyata, and may themselves become Buddhas. The main point is that someone who understands sunyata acts with naturally arising compassion for the liberation of all those who are suffering.When we build a house, we start by clearing away dirt, not by placing the completed building on bare ground. Digging the foundation is a part of the building process. In the same way, purification of defilements is part of the process of enlightenment, and it is necessary for our ultimate realization of sunyata. In helping you recognize the true nature of your mind, the teacher does not place a new mind in you, but just helps you to recognize how things really are.

This is the profound instruction of the Kagyu lineage. It is a path of unbroken teaching because it is the same path that the great masters have followed. The teachings are not presented to you in a neat package ostentatiously wrapped, and just hearing about the Dharma is not enough. Methods such as visualizing deities, reciting mantras, and so forth provide the skill to purify all accumulated neuroses, and they engender the virtues that cut through obscurations. Dharma practices are the tools that we need to break through to the experience of sunyata.


This teaching was given by Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche at Karma Triyana Dharmachakra. It was translated by Chojor Radha and edited by Sally Clay. It originally appeared in Densal, Vol. 11, Number 2.

The Three Kayas: The Bodies of the Buddha

By Traleg Rinpoche

THE FRUITION OF BUDDHIST PRACTICE is the realization of the three kayas--Dharmakaya, Sambhogakaya, and Nirmanakaya. These are the three bodies of Buddha's being or enlightenment. Dharmakaya corresponds with one's mind, Sambhogakaya with one's speech, and Nirmanakaya with one's body. Dharmakaya is the formless body. It is an undifferentiated state of being which we cannot talk about in terms of either confusion or enlightenment.

The Dharmakaya is something that is always present; it is rediscovered rather than created anew. Because it is atemporal and ahistorical, we cannot attribute change or transformation to it. Because it is passive and indeterminate in nature, Dharmakaya cannot manifest as a medium for one to work for the benefit of others, but it does give rise to the deterministic aspects of Sambhogakaya and Nirmanakaya.

Like the Dharmakaya, the Sambhogakaya is always present. It has to do with mental powers, with the ability of one's mind to manifest in relation to the five wisdoms. In tantric practice, all deities are manifestations of Sambhogakaya because they embody the five different types of wisdom. The Sambhogakaya is connected with communication, both on the verbal and nonverbal levels, and it is also associated with the idea of relating, so that speech here means not just the capacity to use words but the ability to communicate on all levels. Both the Sambhogakaya and Dharmakaya aspects are already embodied within each sentient being, and fruition is a matter of coming to that realization.

Nirmanakaya is the physical aspect of an enlightened being, the medium through which communication and relating can be carried out. It can be said to be new or different, because it is only on the physical level that one can become transformed. In Tibetan the purified body, called ku, is the manifestation of the fully transformed body free from the influence of deeply set and inculcated karmic residues.

Our ordinary physical body is called lu. It is the product of karmic traces and dispositions, and it is lacking in spontaneity and creativity. Through the purification of one's body, speech, and mind, the physical body ceases to be a locus for undesirable negative tendencies, excessive desires, and obsessions, and instead becomes the Nirmanakaya, a medium with extraordinary power to work with and benefit others.

The idea of three bodies should not mislead us into thinking that there are three different entities. Dharmakaya and Sambhogakaya do not refer to entities so much as existential states of being, and only the Nirmanakaya body is created anew in physical form. Actually the three kayas are two bodies--the formless body and the body of form. Both the Sambhogakaya and Nirmanakaya are normally called the form bodies of the Buddha, while Dharmakaya is formless.

Dharmakaya is basically the embodiment of what is called twofold purity. In its primordial purity, Dharmakaya is completely empty and open, and it has never been corrupted by emotional conflicts or conceptual confusions. The second aspect, the temporary aspect of the twofold purity of the Dharmakaya, appears as the result of working with one's emotions on the path, when a practitioner begins to become cleansed.

When one embarks on the path by purifying oneself in this way, then one can also manifest in Sambhogakaya form. In tantric practice it is one's own Sambhogakaya energy that one is trying to invoke, and tantric teachings should be understood as being present within the mind itself, in Sambhogakaya form. But Sambhogakaya is not something that can be perceived by ordinary beings, for one needs to have a purified mind both to perceive it and to communicate it.

A person may manifest all kinds of mental powers, but if the audience is limited in its capacity and the people subject to all kinds of illusions, then they will not be able to appreciate the manifestation of Sambhogakaya. The Buddhas always communicate through the Nirmanakaya aspect, expressing themselves verbally and mentally, because they can best work for the benefit of others through such physical means.

However, the three kayas are not completely independent of each other. They are always interrelated, and when they unfold fully, they are inseparable from each other. The Nirmanakaya and the Sambhogakaya basically manifest out of Dharmakaya; in other words, both of the form aspects of the Buddha's being are dependent on the formless body. The Dharmakaya is the origin or field on which the other two are grounded.

When we call the Sambhogakaya a "form body," we do not mean physical form but instead form in the sense of manifesting and being determinate, as opposed to Dharmakaya, which is formless because it is not determinate. The Sambhogakaya is determinate because, although it is not physical, it does manifest in varieties of ways. If Sambhogakaya is fully realized, then one can receive different teachings and meanings from many natural sources, such as sound, sight, and so on.

Sambhogakaya in turn gives rise to Nirmanakaya, which is realized through the physical body, and embodies both the Sambhogakaya and the Dharmakaya aspects. Nirmanakaya is physical in its essence and is historically situated, so that when we talk about Buddha Shakyamuni attaining enlightenment in Bodh Gaya, giving teachings in Varanasi, and eventually attaining paranirvana in Kushinagar, we are describing his Nirmanakaya aspect.

Because the Buddha's Sambhogakaya and Dharmakaya aspects are not historically situated, we cannot attribute any kind of temporality to them. The Sambhogakaya teachings are not a personal matter, and in some sense they cannot even be said to be Buddhist. The Sambhogakaya has embodied its meanings right from the beginning, before the time of the Buddha. It embodies them now, and it will embody them again in the future, for the auspicious coincidence of time is never ceasing.

The iconographical figure of the Vajradhara in thangkas and elsewhere symbolizes the Sambhogakaya aspect in its primordial sense. Vajradhara means "holder of the vajra scepter," and the vajra signifies the perennial truthfulness of reality that is not subjected to change and that does not need to be updated. Like the vajra, truth cannot be relativized and made into something that is conditional. It is a reality that is perennially true. As the symbol of Sambhogakaya, Vajradhara is an ahistorical phenomenon and is perceptible only to people with extraordinarily lucid and perceptive minds.

It is said that the Sambhogakaya manifests not in any kind of spatial or physical location but in a place that is not really a place; a place of nowhere called Akanishtha, or wok ngun in Tibetan. Wok mi means "not underneath," suggesting that Akanishtha, because it is a field of nowhere, is all encompassing. Ultimately wok-ngun refers to emptiness, or sunyata.

The teacher who manifests Sambhogakaya in the place called Akanishtha is the Nirmanakaya Vajradhara, and he embodies not the ordinary teachings of the three yanas, but the most essential teachings of supreme Tantrayana that are always meaningful regardless of the historical situation. The audience to this level of teachings would be only realized advanced beings.

At the same time, from the point of view of the Nirmanakaya, we can say that the Buddha was born in such and such a place, and he went through such and such a practice, and when eventually he attained nirvana, he introduced the three yanas and other teachings. In that context the audience would include beings of varying capacities, dispositions, and inclinations.

The Sambhogakaya is called long cho dzok pai ku in Tibetan. Long cho means to make use of, to indulge. Because ku denotes purification of being in the Nirmanakaya, long cho dzok pai ku means "to make use of the transformed body. " The Sambhogakaya is called this because it is always immersed in a state of unceasing bliss. We can make the distinction between Sambhogakaya and Nirmanakaya from the outside, but in terms of the experience of the Buddha himself, we cannot talk about the Sambhogakaya manifesting first and Nirmanakaya afterwards. Ultimately we cannot talk in terms of one aspect of the kayas being superior and the other inferior.

The Sambhogakaya aspect is endowed with what are called the Five Auspicious Coincidences. First is the auspicious coincidence of the place, which is that the Sambhogakaya manifests in the place of Akanishtha. Second is the emergence of the teacher, in this case the Buddha in his Nirmanakaya aspect.

Third is the auspicious coincidence of the manifestation of the Sambhogakaya teachings as pure tantric manifestations. The teacher communicates these teachings not in terms of written scriptures but in terms of meaning. If practiced or realized, these essential teachings can deliver a person to the state of enlightenment in one lifetime.

The fourth auspicious coincidence is the convergence of a proper audience of bodhisattvas, dakas, and dakinis--those who are advanced on the path. Fifth is the auspicious coincidence of time. From the Sambhogakaya perspective, unlike the Nirmanakaya perspective, past, present, and future are simultaneously embodied in the teachings. For instance, in his Nirmanakaya aspect the Buddha taught the Four Noble Truths, the Eightfold Noble Path, and so on. Because we can say that these Buddhist teachings began at a specific time, we might also speculate about when Buddhism might cease to exist. But the Sambhogakaya teachings are ever present and therefore unceasing.

The manifestation of the teacher in the form of Sambhogakaya has certain qualities, called the Seven Limbs. The first limb is that the Sambhogakaya aspect is fully immersed in Mahayana teachings. The second is called the limb of coexistence, which means that because the Sambhogakaya is never corrupted, it manifests in conjunction with wisdom. Third is the limb of fullness, which means that the Sambhogakaya aspect is full of truth, completely steeped in truth.

The fourth limb is the limb of nonsubstantiality, because the manifestation of the Sambhogakaya is lacking in inherent existence. Next is the limb of infinite compassion, for the Sambhogakaya aspect is fully imbued with compassionate concerns and it directs its attention toward other sentient beings. The sixth is the limb of noncessation, which means that the resonating concern for other sentient beings is ever present and there fore unceasing.

The seventh and last quality is called the limb of perennial manifestation, which means that the Sambhogakaya cannot cease to be, but has manifested throughout the ages. There is no such thing as Sambhogakaya ceasing to exist in the way that the Nirmanakaya is withdrawn when the Buddha enters paranirvana.

When one embarks on the path and works for the benefit of others by engaging in bodhisattva deeds and generating loving kindness and compassion, then one is sowing seeds for the attainment of the Sambhogakaya and Nirmanakaya aspects of the form body of the Buddha. Concurrent with kind and compassionate action, one's insight and wisdom increase. These qualities are the ones that can manifest eventually as the full unfolding of the formless aspect of buddha being, the Dharmakaya.

The relationship among the three kayas is like the relationship of the sky to the clouds and the rain. The sky corresponds to Dharmakaya, the clouds to Sambhogakaya, and the rain to Nirmanakaya. Just as space, or the sky, is not a conditional product, so the Dharmakaya does not come about because of causes and conditions; it is indeterminate. However, Dharmakaya gives rise to manifestations of Sambhogakaya in the same way as space gives rise to cloud formations.

The Tibetan text Ngu Dun Du Pa says that the state of Dharmakaya precedes the ideas of both confusion and wisdom. Before any dualistic notions have arisen, before one has experienced anything, this unconditional state is spontaneously arisen. It is a neutral state because it is neither positive nor negative, yet at the same time there is a presence of self-awareness. Because the state of Dharmakaya has never been corrupted by emotional conflicts or conceptual confusions, one cannot talk about it in terms of either nirvana or samsara.

In another text, Yeshe Ting Dzog, it states that, before we had any idea of Buddhas or sentient beings, there was a state that was absolutely pure and uncorrupted, as well as cognizant or self-aware. This state--Dharmakaya--is the state of nondifferentiation, and it is the basis or matrix for any experience. Whether one is a buddha or a being thrown into the turmoil of a hell realm, the presence of the substratum or matrix of Dharmakaya is the same, and this undifferentiated state is the basic source for all of our conscious experiences.

But Dharmakaya is a state, not an entity. It is not a thing. It is not a product of causes and conditions, and it is permanent. But to say that it is permanent does not mean that it endures forever, because Dharmakaya is not an entity--it is nothing. It can be said to be permanent because it is unconditional like the sky. Yet this unconditional state gives rise to all conditional things--all the experiences of samsara and nirvana, confusion and wisdom, conceptual perplexities, emotional conflicts, and so on.

These various experiences of the mind are also related to the Sambhogakaya aspect which may manifest from the nondifferentiated state of Dharmakaya as visions or visitations. For example, the Sambhogakaya manifested to the great teacher Naropa one day while he was going for a walk. As he was strolling along, Naropa bumped into the ugliest looking woman he had ever seen. She said to him, "Eh, what do you know about Buddhism?" He replied "I know quite a lot because I am a professor at Nalanda University. At that the ugly woman started to sing and dance, and Naropa was a bit puzzled. Then she asked him, "Well, do you know the meaning of the teachings?" Naropa quickly replied, "Yes," but when he said this the woman started to cry. Then something clicked, and Naropa realized that so far all that he understood was purely intellectual and conceptual, and he had completely forgotten to tune into his more intuitive aspects.

Naropa's vision of the ugly woman was, in a sense, a symbolic calling from the Sambhogakaya, some kind of revelatory experience, and one can have varieties of such experiences in terms of Sambhogakaya. It is said that the Sambhogakaya communicates in symbolic language. It manifests in such a way that one understands it not through words, descriptions, and explanations, but through a more intuitive response to one's experiences.

Visions and dreams--all of these--are part of that whole symbolic language of Sambhogakaya manifestation. For this reason, working with one's mind in relation to visualizations, deities, utterance of mantras, and so on, are ways to invoke the Sambhogakaya energy. If one is successful with this, then one can have different kinds of visions.

The Sambhogakaya can be characterized by the eight types of power and enrichment, known as wang chuk gye. The first type is called kui wang chuk, which means the power and enrichment of the body. It is said that the power of the body becomes such that all things of samsaric and nirvanic nature become completely subdued and one is able to take full charge of them. Along with this power, one is enriched with many positive qualities.

The second is sung gi wang chuk, the power and enrichment of the verbal capacity or speech. In this case the capacity of speech or communication is such that all the essential verbal elements of both samsaric and nirvanic qualities become assimilated, and one is able to make full use of them. Thus one becomes enriched and empowered.

The third is called thuk gyi wang chuk. Here the power of the mind in relation to both samsara and nirvana becomes assimilated and integrated, and one becomes empowered and enriched with all the different possibilities of mental manifestation.

Fourth is zung thrul kyi wang chuk, or the power of miracle, whereby the person's capacity of expression is such that he or she is not confined by the three gates of body, speech, and mind, but is able to go beyond conventional modes of expression, thus being able to display his or her power in unusual ways.

Fifth is kun du wang chuk, the ever-going, ever moving empowerment and enrichment. One is constantly being impelled toward action, toward the intention to act and to accomplish things for the benefit of others. So in terms of doing, or acting, one becomes fully endowed with varieties of powers related to samsaric and nirvanic qualities.

The sixth one is called ne gyi wang chuk, the enrichment and empowerment of place. This means that the Sambhogakaya is situated in Akanishtha, which is basically the sphere of reality. One becomes enriched and empowered in this sense because Sambhogakaya is inseparably united with reality, and all the powers related with that can manifest.

Seventh is de pai wang chuk, the empowerment and enrichment of sensuality. This is connected with the idea that Sambhogakaya is inseparably in unison with its female counterpart, whether one calls that the mother of all Buddhas or the selfless one, Dag mema--or whether one calls it Vajravarahi or Vajrayogini. Whatever one might call it, the female counterpart is continuously in unison with the Sambhogakaya, and this experience continuously produces the great bliss of being in unison, which is the Mahamudra expression as well. Finally, one is empowered and enriched by the capacities to manifest prajna or sherab.

The eighth and last type is called chin de pai wang chuk which means the enrichment and empowerment to fulfill one's wishes. Sambhogakaya is intrinsically endowed with all the worldly and supramundane boons. A worldly boon, or loka siddha, is the capacity to work with one's extrasensory capacities, such as clairvoyance, clear audience, telepathy, and so forth. The loka siddhi are the supernormal powers of different spiritual realizations.

When one becomes empowered and enriched by these eight types of empowerment, as well as the seven limbs discussed earlier, one reaches the state called Vajradhara, or "the holder of the vajra." The vajra symbolizes eternal truth, and dhara, or holding, means that one's mental continuum of Sambhogakaya is never separated from the ever present capacity to be in tune with reality. For that reason Vajradhara is the symbolic representation of the Sambhogakaya.

Once the Sambhogakaya is realized, then through the means of Nirmanakaya, one can manifest in many ways to benefit other beings. The two form bodies of the Buddha--Nirmanakaya and Sambhogakaya--are both directed toward helping others, because when one gives birth to enlightenment, one is then automatically moved and impelled to work for the benefit of others.

In the interrelationship of the three kayas, we have seen that Dharmakaya is basically the source--the matrix or the ground--from which all our experiences manifest. The Sambhogakaya emerges out of the Dharmakaya and if one is able to tune into the Sambhogakaya, then one is able to manifest in Nirmanakaya form.

There are three different kinds of Nirmanakaya. Zoye tulku means Nirmanakaya of artifacts, such as statues and other sacred artifacts that manifest and are venerated as religious objects. Kye wai tulku means Nirmanakaya of birth and refers to highly evolved beings who continue to reincarnate in Nirmanakaya form for the benefit of others. This is why the tulkus are called tulkus. Finally, chul ku tulku in the Nirmanakaya of the absolute. This means that the person has fully realized Buddhahood, and has attained full enlightenment.

It is said that a fully enlightened being is automatically impelled to work for the benefit of others. But how does this come about? It is said that a buddha has overcome all dualistic notions, such as the distinction between the object of compassion and the agent who practices compassion, yet if he or she sees sentient beings as objects of compassion, is he not still subjected to dualistic notions? There really is no contradiction here, because although the buddha is aware of sentient beings as objects of compassion, this awareness does not give rise to conceptual proliferation, and therefore compassion is not generated from dualistic thoughts.

Nirmanakaya and Sambhogakaya manifest in a compassionate way through four major modes. The first mode is called the "ever present manifestation of compassion," which means that compassion is inherent in the realization of the Sambhogakaya. This compassion has always been here, and because it is ever present, it is inexhaustible at the Sambhogakaya level. So even if the buddha passes into paranirvana--even if the Nirmanakaya stops manifesting for a while--the manifestation of compassion does not cease on the Sambhogakaya level.

For instance, in the sutra it is said that, from the Sambhogakaya point of view, Buddhas do not pass into paranirvana and dharmas do not cease to be propounded. The teachings continue to be embodied in the Sambhogakaya experience. The Nirmanakaya form manifests and dissolves in order to benefit sentient beings who are subject to laziness, but on the Sambhogakaya level, there is no such coming into being or going out of existence. Compassion is ever present.

The second mode is called rang zhin gyi shug gyi kye wai thug je, which means "compassion which manifests spontaneously, without being elicited." The way in which this compassion manifests can be expressed by the phrase "resonating concern." Within a particular situation, compassion arises automatically without any judgment or conceptual interpretation. It manifests if there is a need for it, like the sun illuminating the darkness, or the moon being reflected in the water. In this way also compassion is ever present, and it manifests spontaneously.

The third mode is called yul den te ne thug je che wa or "compassion of meeting the appropriate object." This means that those able to respond to the Sambhogakaya manifestation receive that benefit, and those can who respond to the Nirmanakaya aspect get that particular benefit. The object of compassion and the kind of compassion received are congruent or correspond with each other. The compassion of the Sambhogakaya and the compassion of the Nirmanakaya each manifest in appropriate ways, depending on the type of beings present. Thus, different beings with different dispositions and predilections can receive compassion no matter what, depending on their levels of understanding and evolution.

The fourth mode is called the "manifestation of compassion that has been elicited." Sol wa de pa basically means "requested of," and it is said that this compassion has two aspects: eliciting the compassionate response in a general way, and eliciting it in a more specific way. Eliciting the compassionate response in a general way means that when the Sambhogakaya manifests in emptiness, then all of a sudden a being becomes moved with compassion. The more specific way occurs in actual situations in this particular world. For instance, when the Buddha attained enlightenment, he did not automatically start to teach, but he was requested to teach and work for the benefit of others. It is said that if one requests compassion from the lama or yidam, them one receives compassion manifesting in a specific way.

These four modes of compassion manifest in relation to both Sambhogakaya and Nirmanakaya; their by-product is the manifestation of compassion in the public arena through the medium of Nirmanakaya. This in turn takes the form of teachings given by enlightened beings, because it is said that the ultimate compassionate act is to impart teachings. From a Buddhist point of view, teachings have two aspects: One is called ka, which is the teaching that Buddha, for example, gave from his own mouth. The other aspect is ten gyur, which consists of commentaries based upon the Buddha's own teachings.

Further, the teachings called ka, or the Buddha's own utterances, have three aspects: The first, shal nay sum pe ka, are the teachings given by the Buddha himself. The second, jin gyi lap pe ka, are teachings given with the Buddha's blessing and in his presence. When the Buddha encouraged or inspired someone else, such as Avalokiteshvara, to act as his mouthpiece, such a teaching had the same authority as if it were given by the Buddha, and such teachings are also called ka . Finally, we have je su nang we ka, which means teachings that are bequeathed to later generations. These teachings were not presented while Buddha was alive, but were invoked and, in a sense, rediscovered and given a new impetus for another generation by the Buddha himself.

Now the ten gyur, or the commentaries, are teachings that are embodied, and they all have two aspects: One is the doctrinal aspect, and the other is the experiential aspect, and these two must correspond. In other words, if one has studied and learned something intellectually, those teachings must correspond with inner experiences. As far as the teachings themselves are concerned, there is not one single thing that we can call the standard presentation of Buddhism, because the Buddha, in his infinite wisdom and compassion, and through his exercise of skillful means, was able to devise many methods and many interpretations.

The teachings that come to be known as the Dharma or Buddhism cannot be encapsulated within one particular format. There are many levels of interpretation and many levels of understanding. As Nagarjuna says, "The Dharma of the Buddha is immense, like the ocean. Depending on the aptitudes of beings, it is expounded in various ways. It can speak of existence or nonexistence; eternity or impermanence; happiness or suffering; the self or not self." He goes on to say, "Such are the manifold and diverse teachings."

The point that Nagarjuna is making is that in the early Hinayana teachings, which were the first turning of the wheel of Dharma, the Buddha negated the existence of a permanent, substantial self, but he did not go into an elaborate discussion of emptiness. In the second turning of the wheel of Dharma, the teachings on the emptiness of phenomena were introduced, along with the idea of the nonsubstantiality or emptiness of the personality of self. Then in the third turning of the wheel of Dharma, the idea of tathagatagarbha or Buddhanature was introduced. According to this doctrine, even if there is no such thing as self, ego, or soul, nonetheless there is an element of incorruptible spiritual principle called tathagatagarbha, or Buddhanature, that cannot be vitiated and that cannot yield to passions and other confusions.

In this way different levels of teachings were given, including the tantras, that may seem to contradict each other and may even seem to be in direct opposition to each other's propositions. But it is said that teachings are presented in different way because they have to reach the widest possible number of people. For the most people to benefit, the teachings must be presented in various ways appropriate to various aptitudes, dispositions, and intellectual levels. This is why the Buddha's teachings can be understood on many different levels.

In the Mahayana, to separate the essence of the teachings from what is peripheral or superficial to them, a distinction is made between interpretive teachings and definitive teachings. The interpretive teachings are called drang don. Drang means to liberate others. Such teachings should not necessarily be taken literally, but they do have their own function. For example, there are all kinds far fetched, incredible stories told in the sutras and elsewhere about the miraculous activities of bodhisattvas. These are interpretive teachings be cause they are told in order to inspire people. Teachings such as these should be taken only interpretively, not definitively.

From the Mahayana point of view, the definitive teachings are the ones concerned with emptiness, and all discourses on emptiness should be taken ultimately. But there is a problem here. Among the different schools of Buddhism there is no agreement as to what is really interpretive, and what is really definitive. In Tibetan Buddhism, for example, the Kagyu and Nyingma lineages regard the tathagatagarbha teachings presented in the third turning of the wheel of the Dharma as ultimate teachings. However, the Gelugpas say that the teachings on Buddhanature cannot be taken as definitive because tathagatagarbha theory is given so that people will not "freak out" if they are told they do not have a substantial ego. The Gelugpas introduce the idea of tathagatagarbha, but they say that it has only interpretive and not definitive meaning.

In any case, all the varieties of teachings, as complex as they may be, are given in order to alleviate people's neurosis, and it is said that there are 84,000 different types of teachings corresponding to 84,000 neuroses. However one may interpret them, the teachings are given to alleviate suffering and emotional conflicts.

In contrast to the Sambhogakaya activity of communication through symbols, the Nirmanakaya form presents teachings in nonsymbolic language that uses the literal meaning of words. In this way many people can benefit from it. The fulfillment of the Nirmanakaya is that it manifests in order to impart teachings that can be followed and studied.


This teaching was given by the Ven. Ninth Traleg Kyabgon Rinpoche in November 1989 at Karma Triyana Dharmachakra, Woodstock, New York, and edited for Densal by Sally Clay.

The Two Truths

 By Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche

RINPOCHE FIRST URGES EVERYONE to give rise to the enlightened mind, love, and compassion, and apply ourselves to listening to the teachings, reflecting upon their meaning, and meditating on them. The purpose of these actions is to achieve the enlightened state, and that is for the purpose of benefiting all sentient beings, in numbers as vast as the sky.

In the Buddha's tradition, the concept, or the presentation, of the two truths is very important. For that reason, in this first weekend course Rinpoche will give the presentation of the two truths through the various traditions of the Dharma. The two truths are the conventional truth and the ultimate truth. The conventional truth is the mode in which things appear, and the ultimate truth is the mode of being, or the way things really are.

When we hold on to the mode of appearance of things, the conventional truth, as having some kind of true existence, then the various kinds of sufferings arise, and the various disturbing emotions. So conditioned existence or samsara arises from holding onto the way things appear as being real, as being true, as having some kind of innate existence. So then, realizing the mode of the way things are, realizing the ultimate truth, pacifies or dispels all of the various disturbing emotions; from that one gains nirvana. Briefly, then, attaching to the mode of appearance as having true existence--this is the confused mind or the bewildered mind. Therefore, it is necessary to reverse that bewildered mind and to realize the nature of things as they are.

Whatever phenomenon there is to be known, that phenomenon can be known in terms of the conventional truth, or it can be known in terms of the ultimate truth, but only in terms of these two truths and not in terms of any other truths. Because of the importance of knowing that phenomena have their existence in terms of these two truths, the Buddha said that all phenomena whatsoever can be known through these two truths, ultimate and conventional, and not in any other way.

In order to understand these two truths, the ultimate and the conventional, they have to be approached through the different Buddhist traditions. It is difficult to understand them without approaching them in that way.

The traditions can be divided into the Vehicle of the Hearers, or the Shravakayana, and the Great Vehicle, or the Mahayana. In the Vehicle of the Hearers, there is the division into the way of positing the two truths in terms of the Vaibhashika school and the way of positing the two truths in terms of the Sautrantika school. And in the Great Vehicle, or Mahayana, there is first the way of positing the two truths in the terms of the Cittamatra, or Mind-Only school, and then the way of positing these truths in the Madhyamaka tradition. In the Madhyamaka tradition, further there is the Svatantrika approach to positing these two truths, and the Prasangika approach of positing them. Then there is also the empty-of-other approach. It is better to use the Tibetan word for this, which is zhen-tong. "Zhen" means "other," and "tong" means "empty." Literally it means "empty of other. " In English it is a little awkward, so we will just say zhen-tong. And finally, besides the zhen-tong approach, there is the mantra approach to positing the two truths.

Rinpoche will begin by positing the two truths according to the Vaibhashika school. The following quote is taken from the text The All-Pervasiveness of All-Encompassing Knowledge, written by the first Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche, Lodro Thaye. It is sometimes known as The Treasury of Knowledge.

In the tradition of the Vaibhashika, the conventional truth is the coarse object of continuum consciousness, which can be broken down. The partless, which cannot be rejected, is the ultimate truth.

That is the root verse.

Conventional truth refers either to something that can be broken down or destroyed physically (with regard to physical objects), or (with regard to the mind) to the continuum of consciousness that through analysis can be broken down. From the point of view of physical objects, the ultimate truth is the very small, partless atoms or particles that cannot be broken down any further. And in the terms of the mind, the smallest moment of consciousness would be the ultimate truth. So, briefly then the relative or conventional truth is the coarse object or the continuum of consciousness, and the ultimate truth is the atomic unbreakable particles and the smallest moment of consciousness.

An example of the conventional truth, according to the Vaibhashikas, is the vase and the flowers. The reason they are conventional is because they can both be destroyed. The cup can be broken and the flowers can be taken apart. Once the cup is broken or the flowers are taken apart, then the idea, the concept of cup or the concept of flowers, will not arise. So that is the conventional level.

Considering the same cup and flowers from the ultimate view they have an ultimate nature because they are physically made up, according to the Vaibhashika view, of atomic particles that are partless, that cannot be divided any further, and so they are beyond being able to be destroyed.

As regards consciousness, the consciousness, for example, that arises from the moment we awaken until we sleep, that continuum of consciousness is called the conventional level. It is called the conventional level because if it is investigated and divided up, then it cannot be established as being existent any longer; since it has been divided. If one investigates that continuum of consciousness, then one sees that the past moment of consciousness has ceased to exist, the future moment of consciousness has not yet arisen, and the present moment of consciousness is fleeting. If one looks at it closer and closer at each momentary instant, the continuum cannot be established as being ultimate; ultimately speaking there is no continuum.

To summarize again, gross objects are the conventional level, and the continuum of consciousness is the conventional level. The smallest indivisible particle is the ultimate level, and the smallest instant of consciousness is the ultimate level or ultimate truth.

What is meant by indivisible, according to Vaibhashika tradition, are the smallest, subtlest particles, which cannot be divided into, for example, a northern part, a southern part, a top part, or a bottom part. Since they cannot be divided like that, they are said to be ultimate. If they could be divided into those parts, then they would not be the smallest parts.

Since these particles are small and indivisible, they cannot be destroyed. Since they cannot be destroyed, since they can not be broken down any further, these small parts are said to possess a particular energy, or power.

The aggregation of these small indivisible particles constitutes the coarse objects. If you take the gross object and destroy it, what is left over are the smallest indivisible particles.

From the point of view of consciousness, consciousness cannot be destroyed in the same way that an object can be destroyed. With consciousness, one analyzes it into the consciousness that was, the consciousness that is yet to be, and the present consciousness. And with the present consciousness, one investigates it down to the subtlest moment or instant, beyond which it cannot be divided any further, and that is the ultimate truth.

This smallest moment in the Buddhist tradition is said to be the time it takes a finger to snap, divided by 64. That is what is said to be the smallest instant in time; in the Buddhist tradition that is called the limit of time. Through one's analysis, through one's intelligence, one could say that the moment could be divided into hundreds, into thousands, into millions. Of course, that is possible. But in terms of the arising of thoughts, the thought arises in these 64 divisions of a finger snap.

If you take an arrow or a bullet and you shoot it through 100 flower petals, it seems to go through instantaneously; one cannot break down the movement through 100 flower petals. But if one analyzes it, one sees that is has to go through the first flower petal before it goes through the second flower petal, and so forth.

Rinpoche says that previously the scientific position was that the ultimate truth was small atomic particles that could not be divided. He says that he thinks this is very similar, not exactly the same perhaps, but very similar to the Vaibhashika school.

What is called "Buddha," or in Tibetan "sang-gye," is the exhaustion of all confusions and bewilderment and the shining forth of the five wisdoms. What is called "samsara" is confused or bewildered appearances. The exhaustion of these confused, bewildered appearances, along with the habitual tendencies or karmic dispositions, is what is "Buddha."

In the traditions of the Vehicle of the Hearers and the Vehicle of the Self-Realizers, the goal is to attain the state of an arhat, or "foe destroyer." This is enlightenment or nirvana, but not the ultimate nirvana. It is only the exhaustion of the grosser veils, not the complete exhaustion or pacification of the very fine, subtle confusions. So it is not ultimate enlightenment. Until one achieves the ultimate state of a buddha, one has not achieved the ultimate nirvana.

When one attains the complete state of a buddha, the complete state of enlightenment, then there is a great benefit for other sentient beings. The reason for this is that when one has exhausted all of one's own confusions, one is able to really and truly work for the benefit of other beings.

For the benefit of all sentient beings, the Buddha taught the inexpressible or inconceivable Dharma, the limitless Dharma, the endless Dharma. He said that there is the way things appear--the conventional truth--and the mode of being of things--the ultimate truth. Other than these ways, there is no third truth, no other way.

The difference in the way of positing or expressing these two truths is the first main division between the Vehicle of the Hearers and the Great Vehicle, the Mahayana. In the Vehicle of the Hearers, you have the Vaibhashikas' way of positing the two truths, and the way of positing the two truths in terms of the Sautrantikas; and then, in the Great Vehicle, the way of positing these two truths in terms of the Mind-Only approach, and the way of positing these two truths in terms of the Madhyamaka approach. Then there is the Mantrayana or the Vajrayana (Diamond Vehicle) approach to positing these two truths.

So there are many ways of positing the two truths. Rinpoche is basing his teachings upon the teachings of the first Kongtrul Rinpoche, Lodro Thaye, who discussed this matter in the book The Treasury of Knowledge. This book is composed of the root text, which is called "The All-Pervasive Knowledge," and the commentary, which is called "The Ocean of Limitless Knowledge." If one were to ask why it is called "The All-Pervasive Knowledge," it is because it is describing or speaking about all phenomena--that is, all phenomena of both nirvana and conditioned existence. And it is describing or speaking about the way in which things are, their mode of being or the nature of all phenomena.

The reason why the commentary is called "The Ocean of Limitless Knowledge" is that the knowledge of the Dharma that is being expressed is said to be without limit and without end. It is said to be like an ocean because the oceans of the world are very, very vast and very, very deep. The reason for studying "The Ocean of Limitless Knowledge" is that if in the path stage on the way to Buddhahood, one does not study "The Ocean of Limitless Knowledge," then at the fruition stage one won't obtain a Buddha's pristine awareness of omniscience or all-knowing.

This text by Kongtrul Rinpoche, composed of the root text, "The All-Pervasive Knowledge," and the commentary, "The Ocean of Limitless Knowledge," is divided into 40 chapters. This presentation of the two truths is one of those 40 chapters. This particular chapter deals with the Buddha's three turnings of the wheel of Dharma, and with the two truths. It also deals with the links of interdependent origination, but in this particular section that Rinpoche is teaching, it is only dealing with the two truths, not the three turnings of the wheel or interdependent origination.

Yesterday Rinpoche briefly explained the way of positing the two truths in the Vaibhashika tradition and in the Sautrantika tradition. Today he will begin by briefly explaining how the two truths are posited in the Cittamatra or Mind-Only tradition.

First there is the root text from the "All-Pervasive Knowledge," and it goes like this: "The tradition of the Mind Only school posits a dualistic appearance depending on objects and object perceivers. The ultimate truth is the nature of the consciousness of there not being two." In the commentary to this, "The Ocean of Limitless Knowledge," there is an explanation concerning this root verse, and Rinpoche is going to extract the essence of that and give a brief presentation or explanation.

In this tradition, what is said to be conventional truth is the dualistic appearance of the outer, "held" object and the inner, "holding" entity, or the perceiving mind. So these two, holder and held, grasper and grasped, apprehender and apprehended, constitute the conventional level or the conventional truth. The mind that is beyond that, that is free from that, that sees both as being simply mind, that is the ultimate truth or the ultimate level.

In this tradition, the dualistic appearance of holder and held, the consciousness that makes this division or separation, the thoughts or conceptualizations that make this distinction, need to be exhausted. For the purpose of exhausting this dualistic clinging, one needs to realize that the essence or nature is empty of these two.

So the dualistic appearance, the seeming appearing of grasper and grasped, has no true existence, no reality, no truth. It is simply confusion, bewilderment, artificiality. One needs to understand that it is all of these things, that this seeming dualism does not exist, has no true reality.

This dualistic appearance is like a dream. For the purpose of resolving this seeming duality, this appearing as two (grasper and grasped), it is necessary to realize the nature of the ultimate truth. If one does not understand that this dualism is bewilderment and confusion, one will not be able to realize its nature as being that of the ultimate truth.

The best example to illustrate how these two truths function is the example of the dream. When we are dreaming, there appears to be a duality between the appearances in the dream and the perception of these appearances. However, this seeming duality is only conventional, only artificial; it has no true existence or true reality. This appearance of two, perceiver and perceived, is simply the bewilderment or the confusion of the mind. Both of these, holder and held, are simply the mind itself, simply the clear cognition of the mind itself, the luminous knowing of the mind itself.

Rinpoche says that this is the brief explanation of this particular view, of the Cittamatra, in terms of the two truths.

Then, we move on to the Madhyamaka approach and the two truths in relation to the Madhyamaka approach. First, the Madhyamaka is divided into what is called empty-of-self and empty-of-other. The Tibetan for "empty of self" is "rang-tong." "Rang" means "self," and "tong" means "empty," so literally it means "self-empty." "Zhen" means "other," and "tong" means "empty," so the meaning is "other-empty." The rang tong approach says that all phenomena of conditioned existence and nirvana are empty of having any self essence or self-nature. The zhen-tong or empty-of-other approach says that the nature of the mind, the Buddhanature, is endowed with spontaneous qualities, but is empty of any adventitious, fleeting, passing stains on that nature.

In the rang tong or empty-of-self approach, you have the two schools of the Svatantrika and Prasangika. The Svatantrikas make assertions about the nature of reality or the true nature; the Prasangikas do not make any ultimate assertions themselves.

The Svatantrikas refute the idea of there being existence, true existence, and they assert non-true existence. They refute the idea that things have their own nature, and they assert emptiness. The Prasangikas refute the idea that things have true existence, that things have any nature of their own. They do not, however, assert emptiness. They do not assert nonexistence. The do not assert even freedom from elaboration, because in their tradition the ultimate level is completely beyond being something that can be asserted.

The root text says that in the tradition of the Svatantrikas, appearances exist as the conventional truth like a magical illusion. The ultimate truth is nonexistent like the sky. So in the Svatantrika tradition the conventional truth is said to be the appearances that arise owing to the coming together of causes and conditions. They are said to exist in the same way that appearances in a dream or appearances of a magical illusion exist. On the ultimate level, things are said not to have any nature of their own, to be nothing whatsoever, nothing at all, to be empty in the same way that the sky is empty.

All of the sensory experiences, such as the experiences of form, sound, smell, taste, and touch are caused by the coming together of causes and conditions. These conventional appearances are like the sensations or experiences in dreams. Form, sound, smell, taste, and touch then have no real essence of their own. They are the results of causes and conditions, like a dream, having no essence of their own, empty of having self-essence. This is the ultimate truth, the unmistaken truth. This is the reality or the real truth, that they are empty of any self nature, of any self-mode of being.

In the same way, then, all feelings of happiness and all feelings of suffering simply exist in a conventional way, like these same feelings of happiness and suffering in a dream. They are existing merely conventionally. They have no self-essence or nature of their own. They simply come together as a result of causes and conditions.

If one investigates and examines these feelings of happiness and suffering with one's eye of wisdom, one will come to see that ultimately they have no existence, no nature of their own. They are completely empty, nothing whatsoever, in the same way that the sky is completely empty. Like the experiences of suffering and happiness that arise in a dream, except for being simply the coming together of causes and conditions, except for being artificiality, except for being confusion, they themselves have no nature, have no essence, are empty.

In the tradition of the Svatantrikas, it is necessary to understand and realize that things have no self-essence, no nature of their own, for the purpose of exhausting the clinging to things as being real.

Moving on then to the explanation of the two truths in terms of the tradition of the Prasangikas, the root text says that the conventional truth is what is imputed by thought, the expressions of the world. The ultimate truth is free from elaboration, beyond thought and expression. The commentary briefly says that basically, in this tradition of the Prasangikas, what is conventional truth is anything that is imputed by thought, by the mind. What is ultimate truth, then, is that which is completely beyond any elaborations or fabrications, any thought, any expression.

In this tradition there are basically three different kinds of processes: the process of no analysis, the process of a little analysis, and the process of fine analysis. If one does not apply one's reasoning, one's analytical wisdom, to trying to ascertain what the ultimate truth is, then this is called the process of no analysis. If one uses one's analytical abilities to do this, then this is the process of a little analysis: and if one does this in a very, very complete manner, then this is the process of fine analysis.

What is the process of no analysis? In it, samsara is said to be of the nature of suffering, and karma (cause and effect) is said to function in such a way that when virtuous actions are committed, then virtuous fruits are reaped, and when nonvirtuous actions are committed, then nonvirtuous fruits are reaped.

In the process of a little analysis, one is able to say that on one hand is the conventional truth and on the other hand is the ultimate truth. When one is able to make this differentiation, this is the process of a little analysis.

In what is called the process of fine analysis, there is no longer a differentiation between conventional truth and absolute or ultimate truth. One is beyond making this differentiation, one is completely beyond all expressions, beyond all speech in terms of describing this. When one is free from all fabrications or elaborations of thought, free from all fabrications of the mind, this is the process of fine analysis.

Briefly, in the Prasangika approach, all of the fabrications of the mind and all of the objects that result from these fabrications of the mind are relative, the conventional truth. For the purpose of exhausting or pacifying this relative perception of truth, it is necessary to realize and to understand the meaning of the state of the ultimate truth, the state that is free from conceptualization, fabrication, elaboration.

What is this fabrication or elaboration of the mind? It is to say, for example, that this is existence or this is nonexistence; or to say that this is both existence and nonexistence; or to say that this is neither existence nor nonexistence. All of those are fabrications, elaborations. Where one has the thought of a perceiver and of a perceived, this is a fabrication. All of this is the conceptual level. For the purpose of pacifying or exhausting these elaborations, it is necessary to realize this, free from elaborations or fabrications.

One can reflect again and again and take to heart these brief explanations of the meaning of these different approaches to the two truths.

To summarize, the tradition of the Mind-Only posits apprehender and apprehended, dualistic appearance, object and object perceiver. The ultimate truth is the nature of consciousness of not being two. In the tradition of the Svatantrikas, appearances exist as the conventional truth, like a magic illusion. The ultimate truth is nonexistent like the sky. In the tradition of the Prasangikas, the conventional truth is what is imputed by thought, the expressions of the world. The ultimate truth is free from elaborations, beyond thought and expression.


This teaching of Venerable Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche was given in two parts at Karma Triyana Dharmachakra in August of 1987. It was translated by Zopa David Labinger. Part I was transcribed and edited by Krista Schwimmer. Part II was transcribed by Ani Lhadron and edited by Andy Weaver.

The Heart of the Buddhist View


By Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche

RINPOCHE ASKS EVERYONE TO ENGENDER the enlightened attitude, the wish and effort to attain the perfect state of Buddhahood in order to benefit beings in numbers vast as space. Toward that end one resolves to listen to, reflect upon, and meditate on the teachings energetically. One who has realized selflessness and perfected love and compassion for others is a buddha. The reason it is possible for everyone to attain Buddhahood is that within the minds of all sentient beings is potentially present the Buddhanature which is the seed of enlightenment. This Buddhanature is the union of clarity and emptiness. The difference between a buddha and a sentient being is that in a sentient being, the Buddhanature is obscured by accidental stains, while in a buddha the accidental stains have been purified or removed. The purpose of Dharma practice is to purify these stains so that the Buddhanature will manifest and one will attain enlightenment.

There are three aspects of the Buddhanature: basis, path and fruition. The basis aspect is the presence of the Buddhanature in the minds of all sentient beings, which is comparable to gold present in ore, butter potentially present in milk, or sesame oil potentially present in the seed. If the gold ore is not refined one will not obtain the pure gold, if the milk is not churned one will not obtain butter, and if the sesame seed is not pounded one will not produce sesame oil. In the same way, even though the Buddhanature is present in the minds of all beings, if the accidental stains are not removed, Buddhahood will not be attained. Therefore one should make an effort to purify the accidental stains. Since we all possess the Buddhanature, there is no need to doubt that one can attain Buddhahood.

The path aspect of the Buddhanature is the situation in which one has removed gross obscurations and is gradually refining one's realization and purifying more subtle stains. The moment one directly realizes the Buddhanature, the basis aspect turns into the path. This is comparable to the process of refining the ore, churning the milk, or pounding the sesame seed. The fruition aspect of the Buddhanature is the situation in which all accidental stains along with predispositions have been removed. This corresponds to having obtained the pure gold, the butter, and the sesame oil.

There are signs that the Buddhanature is potentially present within the minds of all. Maitreya, in a text called The Changeless Nature (Skt. Uttaratantra. Tib; Gyu Lama) has said that the fact that we become wearied with conditioned existence and desire to liberate ourselves from suffering is an indication that the Buddhanature is potentially present within us. This very desire arises because of the Buddhanature. Everyone should make a personal investigation and obtain a personal conviction about this statement.

Within Buddhism there are three main approaches, one in which knowledge or wisdom is emphasized, another in which devotion is emphasized, and a third in which both are practiced together. The Mahayana tradition emphasized the development of wisdom. A follower of this tradition should gain a personal knowledge of the teachings given by the Buddha and by great followers of the Buddha, great scholars, and then should arrive at a personal understanding through analysis and investigation. A wise person wishing to buy either gold or diamonds would first examine their quality and test whether they are real. In the same way someone desiring to follow the Buddha's teachings should investigate the teachings and follow them based upon personal conviction and knowledge.

In Buddhism it is taught that reality has two levels, a conventional and an absolute level. The absolute level is the true nature of things. The conventional level refers to the way in which the world or phenomena manifest. Confused sentient beings conceive of phenomena as truly existent. By virtue of such conceptualization, they are prevented from experiencing the true nature of these manifestations. This is comparable to the dream state. Whatever one dreams about, whether it is attractive or repulsive, as long as one does not recognize that one is dreaming, one believes in it and experiences it as real, and the true state of affairs is obscured by this process of conceptualization. Likewise the true nature of existence is not realized because we conceive of the world as real. In order to understand the conventional and the absolute levels, it is necessary to investigate. Still we cannot realize the two levels by means of our personal knowledge alone, but we must rely on the teachings of the Buddha who realized them directly. Some of the methods for investigating the two levels are similar to scientific research, but analysis of the true nature of mind is something particular to the Buddhist tradition.

In the second approach, in which devotion is emphasized, the student exclusively follows the instructions of his or her teacher, without analyzing. This mainly applies to an individual who had meditated extensively in former lives, and therefore can very easily apply himself or herself with devotion, has very few doubts about the teachings given, and does not need to investigate. An example is the close disciples of Milarepa, who were prophesied by Dorje Palmo. There are many great Kagyu siddhas of the past who followed this devotional approach, which is particularly important at the Vajrayana level.

But ultimately the approaches of knowledge and devotion must be unified. A follower of the approach of knowledge will gain through investigation a very firm conviction regarding the conventional and absolute levels, and will see that the teachings of the Buddha are correct and valid, and then faith and devotion will naturally arise. The great Indian scholar Dharmakirti put forth various reasons why the Buddha is a perfect being in a text dealing with valid cognition. He began by establishing that the teachings of the Buddha act as a remedy for disturbing emotions and suffering, and for that reason the one who gave those teachings, namely the Buddha, must be a perfect teacher. Then a follower of the devotional approach, because of great devotion toward the Buddha and his teachings, can easily practice meditation, and therefore realization will arise, leading naturally to wisdom. So on a temporary level we have persons following the approach of either knowledge or devotion, but ultimately the two must be unified, in order to realize the true nature of the mind and attain Buddhahood.

A person wishing to follow the Buddhist tradition, in Rinpoche's opinion, should begin with the approach of knowledge, then proceed to the approach of devotion, and finally unify the two. Following the approach of wisdom, one should first gain knowledge of the Buddhist view, then develop a firm conviction of the validity of this view, after which one practices meditation. Through the practice of meditation one comes to realize the true nature of mind.

Another quality needed in the practice of Dharma is skillful means. If one possesses skillful means, then what ever one does, one is able to apply meditation to the activity, and therefore will have no difficulties in one's practice. Milarepa said in one of his songs that any activity is meditation--eating, sleeping, walking around, and so forth. The ability to apply meditation in any activity depends on developing knowledge.

Regarding the ultimate level of existence, there are different philosophical tenets, the main ones being the Mind Only school and the Madhyamaka or Middle Way school. The Buddha stated when teaching the view of the Mind Only (or Cittamatra) school, addressing his students the bodhisattvas, that the three world spheres are only a projection of the mind. These three spheres are the realm of desire, of form, and of no form. The Buddha then said that there is no external creator of these realms, and they have not arisen from no cause at all, and he thus refuted two misconceptions about phenomena. The three realms constitute samsara or conditioned existence, and since they themselves are only projections of the mind, the suffering experienced in samsara is also nothing but a mental projection. Because of our attaching great importance to these sufferings, or our believing them to be real and solid, the suffering itself increases. For example, if we dream that we are in a vast forest full of poisonous snakes, by not being aware that we are only dreaming, the suffering from this event would greatly increase because we believe that what we dream of is real and solid. There is a gradual increase of the suffering as one concept after another is developed. First there is only the visual perception of the snakes, then one creates the concept, "Oh, there is a poisonous snake in front of me, " then one develops fear of being bitten, and on top of this, one is in a deep forest and can see no way to escape. This everyone can relate to personally.

In the waking state, just as in the dream, one's suffering increases owing to the tendency to conceptualize what is experienced. In the dream there are no truly existent external conditions that can cause the suffering one experiences; it is exclusively produced by one's mind. The same applies to the waking state. There are no truly existent external causes and conditions that can induce suffering, it is induced only by our minds.

Suffering is nothing but a feeling, a conceptual creation, void of inherent existence, not true or real. Concepts, when their true nature is experienced, are nothing but an open, relaxed, and spacious state of mind. The true nature of mind being inseparable from emptiness and clarity, feeling or concepts such as suffering do not apply. It is because of conceptual clinging that we experience suffering in the dream as well as in the waking state. Various types of sufferings have been described in the Buddhist tradition, such as the hell realms, the hungry ghost realms, and so forth. All these types of suffering are nothing but deceptive appearances created by a confused mind.

In Buddhism the usual process is to introduce a beginner to the idea that conditioned existence is suffering in order to help that person develop the desire to free himself or herself from conditioned existence. At that level of the teachings, suffering is taught as though truly existent. Once the student has developed the desire to free himself or herself from samsara, the view is presented that suffering is nothing but a mental creation.

In the second school, the Madhyamaka tradition, it is taught that mind itself is not truly existent; it is empty or void. The two main subdivisions of the Madhyamaka tradition are called rang-tong, and shen-tong, which are translated as "void of self" and "void of other." In the void-of self or rang-tong approach, the main teaching is that all internal and external phenomena are void of an essence of a self-entity, and thus it is called void of self. In the void of-other or shen-tong tradition it is taught that the true nature of mind is synonymous with the Buddhanature, and is empty of accidental stains only; it is not empty of enlightening qualities, so it is empty of something foreign to or other than itself. The tenets of these two schools are extensive, and much debate had gone on between the scholars of these two schools.

Then in the Vajrayana tradition suffering itself is said to be bliss. The reason for this statement is that in this tradition the true nature of mind, spoken of as the union of bliss and emptiness, so that when the true nature of mind has been realized, suffering will be experienced as bliss. The great Tibetan yogi Milarepa expressed this in a song to his students which he gave in a place called Yolmo Kangra in Nepal, saying, "I am happy and at ease since I experienced suffering as bliss."

We can relate these different explanations of suffering to the example of the dream state. If we dream that we are bitten by a poisonous snake, then not recognizing that it is only a dream, we experience great suffering. If one recognizes that one is dreaming, at that point one realizes that what is taking place is nothing but a mental creation. If one is able to apply analysis in the dream when being bitten by the snake, then one analyzes the nature of oneself, the snake, and the event, and realizes that all three elements lack inherent existence, are void or empty of reality, and as a result one will realize emptiness as presented in the Madhyamaka school. Then in Vajrayana, a yogi or yogini skilled in dream yoga is able to transform the appearance of his or her body in the dream into the form of a meditational deity, and as a result, suffering will be transformed into bliss .

We have begun with the Sutrayana and then proceeded to the Tantrayana, and in Rinpoche's opinion this approach facilitates a proper development. This concludes the teaching in which Rinpoche has explained the Buddhanature, then the three approaches (of knowledge, of devotion, and the two together), and then the different ways of viewing suffering. We will now meditate a little together. You should think about the meaning of the teaching given. By means of such analytical meditation as one reflects upon the different enumerations given, one gradually develops wisdom. In addition one develops samadhi as one concentrates on the different parts of the teaching.


This article was transcribed and edited from a talk by Ven. Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche in Albany. It was translated by Ann Elizabeth Eselius and edited by Laura Roth.

The Mahamudra Prayer

By Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche

THE SUBJECT OF OUR TEACHING is the Mahamudra prayer. However, since we have only four opportunities to meet to discuss the Mahamudra prayer, we really don't have sufficient time for an elaborate and detailed teaching. Therefore, I feel that it might be most beneficial to extract the main points from the prayer and share that within our limited time of four days, so that it can be of some value to you.

Generally speaking, you all know that Buddhism is condensed into three vehicles, known as the three yanas, or that sometimes the teachings of Buddhadharma are taught according to four different aspects of the practices. Whether the teachings are presented one way or the other, what is to be conveyed is the understanding of truth, the ultimate nature of Dharmata. Since this is the aim of all the teachings, each tradition tries to define the ultimate nature of Dharmata. Some are very direct, giving a full and complete description of it, while other traditions, unable to convey its full meaning, convey only a fraction of the ultimate Dharmata. So, in this manner, different traditions vary in their abilities to convey this understanding of truth, though all seek to do so.

With the idea being to convey this ultimate nature, Mahamudra does indeed convey the ultimate nature of Dharmata. Again, it must be understood that, when we talk about the three vehicles, they are dependent upon one another. One cannot possibly understand the highest point without starting from the lesser vehicle. In short, regardless of which vehicle one practices or studies, the only goal is to realize, to manifest and to bring to fruition the true Dharmata. But the approach or presentation of each vehicle may be different. Just because the presentation is different, one should not assume that they are not dependent upon each other. It seems that some people are attached to the more elevated names, such as Mahamudra, the Great Symbol, or Maha Ati, the Great Perfection. But even if one is practicing Hinayana or Mahayana practice, the entire goal is to actually realize the ultimate Dharmata.

So the main point here is to realize the nature of mind, or that ultimate state of Dharmata; that is the whole point here. Again, in different vehicles it is approached differently because of different methods of arriving at this state of realization. There are many methods or techniques, but all traditions begin with the basic method of shamatha practice or sitting meditation. From this practice one builds concentration, and then comes to realize and to experience the nature of mind. Using this method, when one has developed concentration (or, as it is sometimes known, the awareness of the fullness of the mind) it is the development of this concentration that leads one to realize the nature of mind.

But our real subject tonight is the Mahamudra teaching. The whole idea of the Mahamudra teaching is very profound. To give you the etymological definition, Mahamudra in Tibetan is chak-gya chenpo--chak-gya meaning mudra or symbol and chenpo meaning great. A mudra is a symbol of a characteristic, like the seal of a powerful king, for example. When a powerful king makes a rule and puts his seal on the rule, everyone is subject to follow that rule; no one can escape the rule, because the king has put his seal on it. Similarly, no sentient being is beyond Dharmata, or the nature of mind; all sentient beings are subject to it. Therefore, it is like the seal of a great king in that sentient beings cannot escape from the nature of mind, Dharmata.

What I'm really trying to convey here with this example is that not only all beings but all phenomena are within the scope of clarity, emptiness, and luminosity, not beyond them. So, having explained the idea of "mudra," why is there then the word "maha," meaning "great"? In general language, the word implies that a person or thing is greater than someone or something else that is inferior. Similarly, this very nature of the mind being supreme, being the highest or ultimate, it is hence called the "mahamudra" or "great symbol."

Let us now look more closely at the Tibetan word for mudra, chak-gya. The word chak implies that whatever vehicle one is studying, even if one tries to reason everything out logically and intellectually, one will find that all phenomena have no true identity, but are rather of the nature of emptiness. This nature of being empty, without true identity, is conveyed here with the Tibetan term chak. (Let me mention that when we speak of any subject involving the idea of emptiness, there is often some misunderstanding. Emptiness here does not mean the absence of things or the denial of things. The word "emptiness" is simply used to express the idea that there is no true or concrete identity in existence; it is not a denial of existence.)

As I was saying, to understand the mind through logic and reason--through the practice of what is called reflecting upon the mind--one gets to a point where one cannot pinpoint it or put one's finger on past, present, or future thoughts. That is what we are trying to express; when one does the practice, one will come to a point of realizing that. So that is the sense of chak in the context of Mahamudra. Now gya, the second syllable, expresses the wisdom aspect of the mind, which all sentient beings possess by nature, and beyond which, as I mentioned before, they are not able to go. According to Gampopa, chak expresses the birthless nature of all phenomena, while the fact that no phenomena can exceed this nature is expressed in the second syllable gya. In short, Mahamudra can be described as the wisdom that is beyond grasping and clinging.

Now, one can present Mahamudra in different ways. For example, it can be presented as ground Mahamudra, path Mahamudra, and fruition Mahamudra. When it is explained in even more detail, it can be explained as the Four Yogas of Mahamudra, each of which has this threefold classification, thus yielding a twelve-fold Mahamudra. Explanation of this twelve-fold classification seems quite elaborate, but, generally speaking, the idea of ground Mahamudra is quite similar to the Madhyamaka explanation of relative and absolute truth. What ground Mahamudra refers to is the luminous energy aspect of the mind that is within every sentient being. Having understood the ground this way, one listens to and contemplates the teachings and then applies them in meditation. This is the path aspect of Mahamudra. Doing so, one becomes clearer about the whole idea of luminosity and the experience of meditation progresses. Having listened and contemplated, one gradually develops consistency in practice until one eventually reaches the point of understanding the vipasyana experience, which is learning to rest the mind in its natural state. In other words, through long, consistent effort, one is actually maturing and ripening the basic emptiness and luminosity of the mind.

Thus, the purpose of explaining the Mahamudra teachings is to help everyone understand and realize their own innate nature not something new or extra. In order to understand this innate nature, which has always been within, one listens to and contemplates the teachings and applies them through meditation, which brings about the realization that this quality has always been there; one is not acquiring something new.

What one needs to do in order to realize this luminous wisdom energy of the mind is to eliminate the obscurations, or kleshas, which one has been accumulating from beginningless time. Through eliminating these obscurations, one comes to the fruition of realizing the luminous wisdom mind. To eliminate or transform these kleshas is very difficult. Why? First of all, we have become familiar with these conflicting emotions since beginningless time. In a sense, these kleshas have been friends of ours for a very long time. Since they have been friends of ours for such a long time, it is very hard to abandon or give them up immediately. Therefore, tremendous training is required to transmute these kleshas.

Generally speaking, it is very difficult to separate the nature of the mind from the mind's own obscurations, because of how they bond together; it seems that there is really no separation between the two. In order to understand the difference, one needs to listen to many teachings. Getting the appropriate information is required. One needs to listen and contemplate, to get enough intellectual feedback, so to speak, to meditate upon that and, having really understood it, to eliminate the confusion once one has grasped the actual realization of wisdom itself. That is the ultimate perfection of realization, free from obscuration, which is known as fruition.

The degree to which one individual can understand a teaching depends on his or her depth of comprehension of this wisdom. Whether it is a Mahayana teaching or a Madhyamaka teaching, the aim is to express the ultimate nature of Mahamudra. If an individual lacks this depth of wisdom, then even if given the highest teaching the individual will not grasp the meaning. Therefore, it is said that there are no meaningless or senseless teachings of the Buddha. They all have meaning and all make sense, if we can only comprehend them.

This has been a very brief explanation of the word Mahamudra, or chak-gye chenpo in Tibetan. I have described how all the vehicles of Buddhism are aimed at expressing the ultimate nature of Dharmata. Having understood this, the most effective way to approach the realization of Mahamudra is to depend on one's practice and to perfect it, and in this way to progress to the actual realization of Mahamudra. I hope that gradually, in future meetings with you, I can give more detailed teachings on how to approach the path and fruition based upon the Mahamudra prayer.


Taken from a teaching given by Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche in August 1989 at Karma Triyana Dharmachakra in Woodstock, New York. 

Questions & Answers

Q: If there is no soul or ego or whatever you want to call it how can we understand the continuity of reincarnation?

H.E. Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche: There is no soul because there is no fixed concrete entity, but there is a consciousness that creates the cycle of birth and rebirth. After all, we cannot establish the self as having any basis in reality--it cannot be proven to exist. How can some thing that does not live in the world take on different lives? Therefore the only basis for this whole cycle, whatever basis there is for it, has to be discovered in consciousness. We should remember that whatever it is that says "I" is using a word for some thing that doesn't really exist. What does occur is that consciousness creates different situations and then "I" steps in and associates itself with the situations. The process of "I am reborn" or "I am a soul" gets started with the process of grasping onto or stepping into the cycle of consciousness. The teaching of Phowa gives a technique for the intentional removal of consciousness from the body at the point of death so it does not seek a negative rebirth. It is said that one should allow consciousness to transmigrate, but not the "I".

Q: Rinpoche, if ego clinging, grasping onto samsara, and desire are what cause us suffering, then what of our desire for a spiritual awakening? What part of us is desiring to go towards that? And you were talking about being in a human incarnation, that we have an ego, we all have egos and we'll always have an ego. It was a little disappointing to hear that. [laughter] On the path to awakening, what can one expect?

H.E. Tai Situ Rinpoche: You have brought up two things that are always a little painful. [laughter] I don't mean to be pessimistic or negative or anything, that is the last thing I would like to be. I didn't say human, but sentient beings, all sentient beings. The ego does not mean the ego pride only. Ego means "I." So long as we are in samsara we have the ego. That is the definition of samsara. It doesn't mean we have to have an ego, but we do have an ego; though ultimately we don't have an ego, relatively we have one. So maybe that will make you happy. Ultimately, you have never had an ego up to now. And you will never have one; even if you work very hard to get one, you will not manage to have an ego ultimately. So it is just relative.

Now, your first question, if I understood it correctly, is how we have the desire to be enlightened despite our ego-clinging. Okay, I think that is a paradox. Why we wish to be enlightened is because, on a relative level, we are not enlightened. Relatively we are not limitless, we have all kinds of limitations. Relatively we are in samsara, we have all kinds of sufferings. Therefore, we wish to be free from suffering, we wish to overcome all the limitations, and we wish to be unburdened from our bondage to samsara. So that is our aspiration and our inspiration, to be enlightened. It is a form of attachment. It is a desire, but a holy and sacred one. So that is how we begin.

But, of course, as long as we have the desire to be enlightened, we will not be enlightened. Therefore, you see, the definition of final realization is overcoming the desire for enlightenment. So until you are enlightened, you will have some desire for enlightenment, even if it is very slight, and you will have some ego, even if it is the most microscopic. You will have the last drop of it right up to the moment of enlightenment, so that your ego becomes thinner and thinner and is eventually transformed so that the last trace of it will vanish during the final realization. So it depends on the individual.

Q: Could you address the experiences Milarepa had of encountering demons when he came to a new cave? His songs make reference many times to this experience and to the pacification of the demons. In a literary work there are several levels of meaning, and perhaps you could explain how meditators should interpret stories of these experiences.

Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche: Sometimes a person may experience some obstacles in meditation. Actually, they cannot strictly be called obstacles. Whether what happens is an obstacle or a steppingstone for further realization depends on the meditator. There is not any event that under all circumstances is an obstacle. During your life, sometimes a test situation may arise because of your meditation. If you lack understanding and meditative insight, this test could become an obstacle. However if you have enough insight and understanding, the test could heighten your realization to a great extent. As an outcome of meditative experience, whatever appearances may arise can be transformed through meditative insight into a realization of the nature of all things as insubstantial, uncompounded, and only existing interdependently. Then we do not reject the appearances of existing things, but nevertheless none of these things hold the truth of independence or the truth of substantiality. They are just another play of illusion. If a person understands and relates in this way, whatever drama appears in meditation could be tremendously uplifting. On the other hand, when you are meditating you may get drawn into whatever arises out of your habitual and emotional conditioning. The appearance may just be your psychological patterns, but for you it is a spirit, it is demonic, and it is real. You will probably be afraid and try to defend yourself. That is not the strategy we adopt in the path of meditation, though. For instance, when Milarepa was in a particular cave and the so called demons appeared, roaring and thundering toward him, Milarepa said, "Your appearance is most wondrous, and your message is the message of my teacher." He worked with it in that way. The demon of your confusion does not cling to you; you cling to it. From that point of view, such an event becomes a kind of special treat and a technique that brings more enrichment than the ordinary process. What is really important is how a person is able to work with what happens, so strictly speaking, these neither are obstacles or are not obstacles.

Q: In the cycle of birth and rebirth, how do you explain karma following the consciousness?

H.E. Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche: The continuity of consciousness and the continuity of karma are identical. In the case of a tulku, for example, the force of positive karma accumulated in previous lifetimes causes a positive result in the present. If consciousness and karma were different things, then karma could go one place and the consciousness elsewhere, and the consciousness that created the karma would not be associated with its result. But because of their essential identity and mutual continuity, the consciousness that creates actions that have causal effects is the same consciousness that experiences the result of those actions.