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Heart of the Great Perfection

Phase 1: Taking the Impure Mind as the Path

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Phase 1: Taking the Impure Mind as the Path

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2. The Discussion of the Contributing Conditions

For the satisfaction of the apparitional display of his circle of disciples,

the supreme teacher, Samantabhadra, Omnipresent Lord Vajra,

declared, “Listen!” to his circle of disciples, who were the nondual display of his own creative power.

THE TOPIC OF discussion is the request to explain the meaning of the tantra, for this is the condition that contributed to the emergence of the teaching. In this case, as a result of the natural sound of ultimate reality arousing the circle of disciples to make the request, the meaning of the tantra was ready to emerge in accordance with the minds of disciples of the future. For the satisfaction of his circle of disciples, who were an apparitional display of primordial consciousness, the self-appearing, supreme teacher who surpasses other buddhas, Samantabhadra, Omnipresent Lord, the great Vajradhara, declared, “Listen!” Having caught their attention, the teacher spoke to his emanated circle of disciples, who were the nondual display of his own creative power. Among common and uncommon teachings, these were the latter, for the minds of the teacher and of his circle of disciples were indivisible, which is to say that the teacher exhorted and taught himself, and not anyone else.

The four related aspects of the significance of this section are (a) the subject of this tantra, namely the pristine awareness that is present in the ground dharmakāya, (b) the significance of gaining realization by hearing and reflecting upon the words of this tantra, (c) the essential significance of gaining liberation either in this life or in the intermediate period57 by48 practicing the realized meaning [350] with unflagging enthusiasm, and (d) the interdependent relationship among these aspects. These four aspects are characteristics of an authentic tantra or treatise.

3. The Resultant Comprehension of the Actual Meaning of the Tantra

This section has three parts: (a) the path of cutting through to original purity, (b) the path of direct crossing over to spontaneous actualization, and (c) the manner in which the indivisible nature of the ground and the fruition is actualized.

a. The Path of Cutting Through to Original Purity

This section has three parts: (i) identifying the creator of all phenomena as the mind, (ii) establishing the mind as baseless and rootless, and (iii) how individuals with specific faculties may enter the path.

i. Identifying the Creator of All Phenomena as the Mind

Examine the body, speech, and mind, and among them recognize the one that is primary as the all-creating sovereign.

Here is the way to examine the agent, or sovereign, that creates all phenomena as the mind, which is primary among the body, speech, and mind. During the daytime, nighttime, and the intermediate period, due to the mind’s self-grasping, the body and speech appear to the mind. Over the course of a lifetime, it is the mind that experiences joy and sorrow. Finally, when the body and mind separate, the body remains as a corpse. When the speech disappears without a trace, the mind follows after karma and is the agent that wanders in saṃsāra. From one perspective, for those three reasons, among them recognize the mind as primary. From another perspective, none of those three is anything other than the mind; [351] therefore, by ascertaining them as the mind alone, among them recognize the mind as primary. The former perspective is determined in accordance with their conventional mode of appearances, while the latter perspective is determined in accordance with their conventional mode of existence.

To further explain the meaning of the latter perspective, Mahāpaṇḍita Nāropa’s treatise Synthesis of the View states:

All phenomena that appear and come into being

have no existence apart from the self-aware mind,

for it causes them to appear and be clear,

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just like the experience of your own awareness.

If they were not the mind,

they would be unrelated to the mind and would not appear at all.

Determine relative truth58 in that way.

To the deluded mind, the body and mind appear as if they were different, but in terms of their mode of existence, they directly appear to nonconceptual consciousness and are clearly experienced. This indicates that they exist not as something material but simply as the natural illumination of your own awareness, like consciousness that experiences joy and sorrow. If they were not the mind but were instead matter, like light and darkness, they could never interact with each other, so they could never appear at all. For these reasons, the body, speech, and all other appearing phenomena are established as the mind.

ii. Establishing the Mind as Baseless and Rootless

The shape and color of the all-creating sovereign,

as well as its origin, location, and destination, are objectless openness.

This is the spontaneous actualization of the essential nature of the path of cutting through. [352]

By examining in that way whether the mind that is the all-creating sovereign of the body, speech, and mind — or of all phenomena — is really existent or really nonexistent, the mind is found to have no basis or root, so it is not established as having any shape or color. The five elements and five [sensory] objects appear like objects of the mind, and your own body appears as its base. But if all these are investigated from an ultimate perspective, they are found to be like space, not truly established as either one thing or many. Ascertaining the origin, location, and destination [of the mind] as objectless openness is the spontaneous actualization of the essential nature of the path of cutting through. This is not something freshly achieved, but is simply the knowledge of the mode of being of the nature of existence.

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iii. How Individuals with Specific Faculties May Enter the Path

This section has two parts: (A') how individuals of superior faculties enter the path and (B') how individuals of middling and inferior faculties enter the path.

A' How Individuals of Superior Faculties Enter the Path

Simultaneous individuals enter the path with no basis and no root.

Others should come to rest in space,

and within three weeks they will certainly awaken and enter the path.

Simply by determining the ultimate nature of the mind as having no basis and no root, individuals with superior faculties, who are of the simultaneous class,59 identify the vast, unimpeded consciousness that remains after discerning wisdom has naturally vanished. Since this is primordial consciousness, which transcends the mind, they enter the authentic path. [353]

B' How Individuals of Middling and Inferior Faculties Enter the Path

This section has two parts: (1') how individuals of middling faculties enter the path and (2') how individuals of inferior faculties enter the path.

1' How Individuals of Middling Faculties Enter the Path

The first of these two kinds of individuals, namely, others who do not have the fortune to identify primordial consciousness in that way, should retire to a solitary place, practice guru yoga, and take the four empowerments.60 Then they should meditate on the domain of space,61 a pebble, a stick, or such things as a Buddha image or seed syllable, or at their heart they may visualize51 a radiant orb of five-colored light. By sustaining their attention and resting in meditative equipoise, within three weeks they will see with the eye of wisdom the primordial nature of existence. Then they will certainly awaken and enter the path of the Great Perfection.

2' How Individuals of Inferior Faculties Enter the Path

This section has two parts: (a') taking aspects of the mind as the path and (b') taking the essential nature as the path.

a' Taking Aspects of the Mind as the Path

This section has three parts: (i') the teaching, (ii') the explanation, and (iii') the synthesis.

i' The Teaching

Those of the class with inferior faculties

identify stillness and movement,

and by taking the mind as the path, they are led to the absolute space of pristine awareness.

Those of the class with inferior faculties, not having the fortune to identify [primordial consciousness] in that way, first recognize the difference between stillness with respect to consciousness and the movement of thoughts. And, by first taking the aspects of the mind as the path, finally they are led to the absolute space of pristine awareness.

ii' The Elaborate Explanation of How This Occurs

This section has four parts: (A") mindfulness of the essential nature of the path, [354] (B") specific meditative experiences to be purified, (C") the essential nature of that which is to be abandoned and its remedy, and (D") how never to be separated from the experience of the pith instructions.

A'' Mindfulness of the Essential Nature of the Path

First is single-pointed unification of the two.

Then by resting without observing, its natural power manifests.

Abide loosely without mindfulness in a vacuous, wide-open clarity.

And resting in a luminous vacuity is called self-illuminating mindfulness.

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According to the teachings, there are four types of mindfulness of the essential nature of the path. The first entails distinguishing between stillness and movement, and by the power of familiarizing yourself with their different appearances, there is single-pointed mindfulness of the unification of the two. Then, even while resting without strenuously observing them like before, as its natural power manifests, there is manifest mindfulness. Abiding loosely without mindfulness in a vacuous, wide-open clarity, a spacious vacuity, constitutes lying down on a bed that is devoid of mindfulness, which is the substrate.62 Once coarse mindfulness has subsided, resting in a luminous vacuity is called self-illuminating mindfulness, or the substrate consciousness.

The former two kinds of mindfulness [single-pointed mindfulness and manifest mindfulness] directly perceive whatever creative displays arise, while during the latter two [the absence of mindfulness and self-illuminating mindfulness], apart from abiding solely in dependence upon a subtle mode of apprehension, all radiant appearances and creative displays of thoughts cease, so there is only nonconceptuality. These kinds of mindfulness are aroused by the path, and since they descend to the two types of substrate,63 they are called the substrates of descent. [355] Some teachers regard the first as the “one taste” and the second as “freedom from conceptual elaboration.”64 53 Others claim it is ethically neutral, but whatever they call it, you have arrived at the essential nature of the mind.65

B'' Specific Meditative Experiences to Be Purified

For everyone the various experiences of bliss, vacuity, and luminosity

become objects of craving and attachment;

and meditative experiences of illnesses and discomfort in the body, speech, and mind

sporadically arise over time.

Occasionally on this path, due to being bound by the coarse and subtle grasping of mindfulness, there certainly arise various experiences for everyone, such as bliss like the warmth of a fire, luminosity like the breaking of the dawn, and vacuity, or nonconceptuality, like an ocean unmoved by waves. However, if you don’t know that these deceptive meditative experiences are not to be believed or trusted, and if you fixate on them as the highest virtues such that they become objects of craving and attachment, they will become nothing more than causes of rebirth in the three realms of mundane existence. Therefore, even if you cultivate them for a long time, you will not rise above saṃsāra. Moreover, from your guru’s teachings, you must thoroughly understand how outer upheavals of apparitions of gods and demons, inner upheavals of physical illnesses, and secret upheavals of various joys and sorrows and so on sporadically arise over time as various meditative experiences of illnesses and discomfort in the body, speech, and mind. [356]

C'' Recognizing the Essential Nature of That Which Is to Be Abandoned and Its Direct Remedy as the Foremost Path

This section has two parts: (1") recognizing the essential nature of that which is to be abandoned and (2") presenting the direct remedy as the foremost path.

1'' Recognizing the Essential Nature of That Which Is to Be Abandoned

Whenever you proudly hope for good things and cling to them,

and fear bad things and reify inflictors of harm,

you have stumbled upon a dangerous juncture that can lead you astray.

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Whenever you have fallen under the influence of proudly hoping for and clinging to things that seem to be good, such as material gain, respect, and renown, and fearing things that seem to be bad, such as misconduct, abuse, and slander by your enemies — this makes for misery and suffering. In short, insofar as you reify all gods and inflictors of harm and all joys and sorrows, you have stumbled upon a dangerous, obstructive juncture that can lead you astray. Thinking “I will be unable to ascend to the supreme city of great liberation,” take this to heart. Whatever good and bad experiences, joys and sorrows, and so on arise, there is no need to counteract them, for mere appearances cannot bind you, as Ācārya Āryadeva wrote:

These are mere appearances and are not to be blocked.

Instead, stop reifying them.

The real root of the thing to be terminated is the mind that reifies appearances. Outwardly, everything that appears as demons, malevolent spirits, and deceptive māras arises from nothing other than this root. [357] Consequently, without subduing it, you can subdue all the outward demons and malevolent spirits one by one, yet never subdue them all.

2'' Presenting the Direct Remedy as the Foremost Path

The general synthesis that is the sole, vital point of the path

is ascertaining all experiences of pleasure, pain, and indifference

as false impressions of unreal meditative experiences.

By releasing them, without blocking or embracing them,

you bring an end to deviations and losses, and this is the one eye of wisdom.

The general synthesis that is the remedy for all that is to be abandoned and the sole, vital point of all paths is ascertaining that even though all good and bad experiences of pleasure, pain, and indifference appear, they are unreal, delusive appearances, nothing more than false impressions of unreal meditative experiences. By releasing them as being of one taste, without blocking the bad or embracing the good, adverse circumstances will arise as the path and obstructive conditions will arise as aids. In so doing, you bring an end to the adversities of deviations, losses, and mistakes. The felicity of the wisdom of unmistakenly seeing the profound meaning of the nature of existence is indispensable for entering the path, so this is like the one eye. A more elaborate explanation will be presented below on how55 everything that appears consists of delusive appearances that are not established as real.

This is the true path praised by the jinas for realizing the meaning of inactivity and nonexertion, but for this to occur, you must first familiarize yourself with [358] the union of śamatha entailing a meditative object and vipaśyanā entailing investigation and analysis. Novices should practice śamatha from the phase of single-pointedness until the experience of conscious awareness, as well as vipaśyanā, which is implicitly taught here, without letting them become disunited from each other. So here they are taught sequentially.

D'' How Never to Be Separated from the Experience of the Pith Instructions

Those who have become distant from sublime spiritual mentors

should cherish the five topics as the sublimity of the path.

If you strive too hard in practicing single-pointedness,

the power of your mind will decline; and with stagnant mindfulness,

although your body is human, your mind becomes that of an animal.

Some people may stray into delirium;

so devote yourself to a spiritual mentor, without ever being separated from him.

Those who have become distant from sublime spiritual mentors who reveal the path may not know how to distinguish between what is and is not the path or how to cut through their uncertainties and false assumptions. So the previously presented five topics of stillness and movement and the four kinds of mindfulness66 are the sublimity of the path. You should know that they are indispensable when first venturing into practice, and you must cherish this knowledge by gaining the firm certainty of sound understanding.

Some regard the practice that is merely preliminary as being the ultimate nature of existence and strive only in the practice of single-pointedness. Or, without knowing how to apply the appropriate degree of effort in accordance with the state of their own mindstreams, like blocking a water canal, they regard the mere single-pointed awareness of stopping thoughts as the56 [359] highest view and meditation. Then, if they strive much too hard in the practice, the functioning of the channels and elements — for those people who are dominant in the water element or earth element — causes the analytical power of their minds to decline. Their mindfulness then becomes stagnant, and though their body is human, their mind becomes that of an animal by becoming stupid and turgid. With this in mind, Mañjughoṣa Sakya Paṇchen wrote:

Striving only in meditation, without study,

leads to taking rebirth as an animal.

Some people with a fire constitution or with an air constitution67 may stray off the path as their minds become muddled due to delirium, fainting, and so on. So cut through your false assumptions by devoting yourself to a sublime spiritual mentor who knows how to teach the essential points of this path correctly, without ever being separated from him. Even if you lack such good fortune [of meeting a qualified spiritual mentor], it is indispensable that you, without falling into indolence, properly seek out and familiarize yourself with the pith instructions of the vidyādharas of the past who have achieved siddhis by way of this path.

iii' The Synthesis

In short, even if you strive diligently in this phase of these practices for a long time,

taking the mind as the path

does not bring you even a hair’s breadth closer to the paths

of liberation and omniscience,

and your life will certainly have been spent in vain!

So understand this, you fortunate people.

In short, [360] these practices, from śamatha to luminous, cognizant57 consciousness and the substrate consciousness, as taught previously, constitute the phase of taking the aspects of the mind as the path. But as long as it is divorced from the vipaśyanā of knowing the nature of existence, this does not bring you even a hair’s breadth closer to the path of liberation from the suffering of mundane existence and the path of omniscience that liberates from the two extremes.68 Thus, even if you strive diligently in these practices for a long time, this does nothing more than perpetuate saṃsāra. So understand how your life will certainly have been spent in vain! With these words he offered compassionate advice to fortunate people who are following this path.

However, whether or not you have identified pristine awareness within yourself, you who become muddled due to distraction and sloth should first mount your discursive mind, which is like a cripple, onto your vital energy,69 which is like a blind, wild steed. By tethering [your mind] with meditative experience and sustained attention so that you can meditate uninterruptedly, eventually all coarse and subtle obsessive thoughts will seem to be purified — and uncontrived, primordially present consciousness will manifest. When you alight upon the great nonmeditation of pristine awareness, [361] it is easy to connect with the guru’s introduction to pristine awareness. Given how very important it is for disciples not to stray onto false paths, this needs to be clearly taught, as was implied in the preceding passage.

This concludes the synthesis of this phase, revealed in the Sharp Vajra of Conscious Awareness Tantra.

 

  57.   Tib. bar do. In contexts such as this, the “intermediate period” refers to the interval between death and one’s next rebirth, which includes two of the six transitional phases, namely the transitional phase of ultimate reality and the transitional phase of becoming.

  58.   Tib. kun rdzob bden pa; Skt. saṃvṛtisatya. Lit. “totally obscurational truth,” such provisional, conventional truths appear in a manner contrary to their mode of existence and thereby obscure the nature of ultimate truth (Tib. don dam bden pa; Skt. paramārthasatya).

  59.   Tib. gcig car ba’i rigs can. In this context, this refers to the class of individuals who receive teachings on the Great Perfection and simultaneously gain realization of the view.

  60.   The four empowerments are (1) the vase, or water, empowerment, (2) the secret, or crown, empowerment, (3) the wisdom–primordial-consciousness, or vajra, empowerment, and (4) the word, or bell, empowerment.

  61.   Sera Khandro in Garland for the Delight of the Fortunate says, “As for external space, all phenomena included in the vast outer physical worlds; the multitudes of inner, animate sentient inhabitants; the well-displayed intervening appearances of the five senses; your own body, aggregates, elements, and sense bases; and all the appearances and mindsets of ordinary sentient beings are external space.” See GD 87.

  62.   Tib. kun gzhi; Skt. ālaya. The vacuous space of the mind as it is directly perceived by the substrate consciousness (Tib. kun gzhi rnam shes; Skt. ālayavijñāna).

  63.   The two types of substrate are the actual substrate (corresponding to the absence of mindfulness) and the temporarily luminous substrate (corresponding to self-illuminating mindfulness). The former is a mindless vacuity, like the sky at dusk, covered over by darkness, while the latter makes it possible for thoughts to appear, just as a polished mirror reflects a face. By letting the temporarily luminous substrate consciousness rest in the pristine nature of emptiness, the assemblies of roving thoughts cease, causing a radiant vacuity to appear. This corresponds to the second type of substrate.

  64.   Here the “first” refers to the experience of the actual substrate, and the “second” refers to the temporarily luminous substrate. The four sequential yogas of the Mahāmudrā tradition are single-pointedness, freedom from conceptual elaboration, one taste, and nonmeditation. The dissolution of the coarse mind into the substrate consciousness, culminating in the experience of self-illuminating mindfulness, signifies the achievement of śamatha, or the threshold (Tib. nyer bsdogs; Skt. sāmantaka) of the first dhyāna. But some teachers mistake this for the much deeper realizations of pristine awareness that occur in the third and second yogas of Mahāmudrā. For a detailed explanation of how the four yogas of Mahāmudrā relate to the stages of practice of Dzokchen, see chapters 10 and 11 of Karma Chagmé, Naked Awareness: Practical Teachings on the Union of Mahāmudrā and Dzog­chen, commentary by Gyatrul Rinpoche, trans. B. Alan Wallace (Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion Publications, 2000).

  65.   These two sentences compare with VE 47.

  66.   These five topics are the ability to recognize the difference between stillness with respect to consciousness and the movement of thoughts, followed by the four kinds of mindfulness: single-pointed mindfulness, manifest mindfulness, the absence of mindfulness, and self-illuminating mindfulness.

  67.   People with a fire constitution characteristically have the capacity to initiate projects and carry them through to completion. They have intuition and enthusiasm, make inspired undertakings, and take joy in their work and accomplishments; but they are easily agitated, irritable, impetuous, unstable, restless, intolerant, garrulous, and prone to insomnia. People with an air constitution characteristically have the ability to change negative situations into positive ones, and they have curiosity and flexibility of intellect; but they have little stability or contentment, they are fickle, jittery, unfocused, anxious, flighty, and emotionally unstable, and they have difficulty accepting things as they are.

  68.   In this context the two extremes are the extreme of mundane existence, or saṃsāra, and of peace, or nirvāṇa.

  69.   The Tibetan term here is rlung, which may refer to the vital energies or to the air element. Within the body, the air element primarily refers to the breath, and one way of your mind riding the steed of the vital energies on the pathways of the channels is the practice of vase breathing. Alternatively, this passage may be interpreted as referring simply to mindfulness of breathing, which is an especially effective method for cultivating sustained attention, leading to the subsiding of all coarse and subtle obsessive thoughts.

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