Kalachakra: the Four Creative-Energy Drops and the Winds of Karma

The Kalachakra Presentation of the Four Creative-Energy Drops and the Winds of Karma, Together with an Analysis of Their Relation with Our Everyday Experience

Alexander Berzin, September-October 2012

Part One: The Four Creative-Energy Drops and the Mental Holograms to Which They Give Rise

Introduction

As a Buddhist practice, Kalachakra fits within the context of the four noble truths and its practice is a method for attaining a true stopping of suffering. As Tsongkhapa emphasizes, basing himself on Shantideva’s assertion, you must identify the target in order to shoot an arrow into its center. Similarly, we need to identify the target (true suffering and its true causes) in order to shoot the arrow (a true pathway mind) and hit the central point of these causes so as to achieve a true stopping of them and of the sufferings that they bring about. Therefore, it is important to understand the Kalachakra presentation of the second noble truth: the true causes of suffering.

I shall base my presentation and analysis exclusively on the Gelug Prasangika assertions as found in the following texts:

  • Gyeltsabjey (rGyal-tshab rJe Dar-ma rin-chen). The Way to Practice the Two Stages of Glorious Kalachakra: Quickly Entering the Path to Great Bliss (dPal-dus-kyi-‘khor-lo’i rim-pa-gnyis ji-ltar nyams-su-len-pa’i-tshul bde-ba chen-po’i lam-du myur-du ‘jug-pa).

  • Gyeltsabjey, Synopsis of the Six-Branch Yoga of Glorious Kalachakra (dPal-dus-kyi-‘khor-lo’i rnal-‘byor yan-lag-drug bsdus-pa).

  • Gyamawa (rGya-ma-ba Shes-rab rgyal-mtshan). The Complete Stage of Glorious Kalachakra: What the Omniscient Kaydrubjey Said, Compiled into Notes by Gyamawa, (dPal-dus-kyi-‘khor-lo’i rdzogs-rim mkhas-grub thams-cad mkhyen-pa’i gsung rgya-ma-bas zin-bris mdzad-pa).

  • Kaydrub Norzang-gyatso (mKhas-grub Nor-bzang rgya-mtsho). An Adornment for The Stainless Light,” Clarifying the External, Internal and Alternative [Kalachakras] (Phyi-nang-gzhan-gsum gsal-bar byed-pa dri-med ‘od-kyi rgyan).

  • Dalai Lama II (rGyal-ba dGe-‘dun rgya-mtsho). Extensive Explanation of “Chorus of Names [of Manjushri],” A Great Sun Illuminating the Very Nature of Reality of Vajra Yoga, (mTshan yang-dag-par brjod-pa’i rgya-cher bshad-pa rdo-rje’i rnal-‘byor-gyi de-kho-na-nyid snang-bar byed-pa’i nyi-ma chen-po).

  • Detri (sDe-khri ‘Jam-dbyangs thub-bstan nyi-ma). A Presentation of the Generation Stage of Glorious Kalachakra: The Oral Tradition of Manjushri (dPal dus-kyi ‘khor-lo’i bskyed-rim-gyi rnam-bzhag ‘jam-dpal zhal-lung).

  • Drongtsey Yongdzin (‘Brong-rtse Yongs-‘dzin Blo-bzang tshul-khrims). The Path of the Two Stages of Glorious Kalachakra: Steps Leading to a Unified Pair (dPal dus-kyi ‘khor-lo’i rim-gnyis-kyi lam zung-mjug bgrod-pa’i them-skas-pa).

  • Tsongkhapa (rJe Tsong-kha-pa Blo-bzang grags-pa). A Lamp for Clarifying [Nagarjuna’s] “The Five Stages [of the Guhyasamaja Complete Stage]” (Rim-lnga gsal-sgron).

This analysis is an initial exploration of some of the more complex issues in the Kalachakra system. Many of the conclusions reached in it are merely tentative and leave open many further questions. It is hoped that this exercise in analysis will not only be illustrative for how one approaches fathoming this most advanced tantra system, but will also invite further analysis by those more qualified and experienced than myself.

The Four Noble Truths

General Presentation

True Suffering or Problems

There are three types of true sufferings:

  • the suffering of suffering (unhappiness),

  • the suffering of change (tainted ordinary happiness),

  • the all-pervasive suffering (khyab-par ‘du-byed-kyi sdug-bsngal) of uncontrollably recurring rebirth (samsara) with the five aggregate factors that make up each moment of the experience of these rebirths and that serve as the basis for the first two types of suffering.

True Causes

The true cause of all sufferings is unawareness (ma-rigs-pa, Skt. avidya; ignorance) of how we, others and all phenomena exist, namely grasping for an impossibly existing “soul” of persons or of all phenomena (gang-zag-gi bdag-‘dzin and chos-kyi bdag-‘dzin). That would be a “soul” (bdag, Skt. atman) inside things that by its own power establishes the existence of the person or phenomenon and, in a sense, “animates” a body or an object, making it be alive or exist.

Grasping” (‘dzin-pa, Skt. graha) has two meanings:

  • cognizing an appearance of something as if it had truly established existence and believing that this manner of appearances corresponds to the item’s actual manner of existing,

  • merely cognizing an appearance of truly established existence.

Grasping” in the first sense of the term brings on the sufferings of samsara. “Grasping” in its second sense prevents omniscience.

Based on that unawareness and grasping in the first sense of the term, disturbing emotions and attitudes (nyon-mongs, Skt. klesha) arise. The disturbing emotions bring on and accompany karma.

  • In general, karma refers to the compulsive aspect of our acting, speaking and thinking.

  • Despite the fact that the Tibetan word for “karma,” “lay” (las), is the colloquial word for “actions,” karma does not refer to actions themselves; otherwise the absurd conclusion would follow that all we needed to do was to stop doing anything and we would be free of suffering.

The karmic aftermath of this compulsive behavior brings about uncontrollably recurring rebirth via the mechanism of the twelve links of dependent arising. The tainted (zag-bcas; contaminated) body and mind of each samsaric rebirth serve as the bases for experiencing the sufferings of unhappiness and of tainted ordinary happiness during that rebirth.

  • In general, a “tainted” phenomenon is one that derives from a disturbing emotion or attitude and which perpetuates further disturbing emotions or attitudes.

[See: Tainted and Untainted Phenomena.]

True Stoppings

In general, a true stopping refers to the total removal of the emotional obscurations (nyon-sgrib, Skt. kleshavarana) that prevent liberation, namely the total eradication of (1) unawareness, (2) grasping for impossible ways of existing and (3) disturbing emotions, together with the tendencies (sa-bon, Skt. bija; seeds) for these three.

  • Liberation from samsaric rebirth also entails the total eradication of karma, as well as the total eradication of both negative and positive karmic force (karmic potentials) (bsod-nams, Skt.punya, “merit” and sdig-pa, Skt. papa, “sin”) and negative and positive karmic tendencies.

In a Mahayana context, a true stopping refers in addition to the total removal of the cognitive obscurations (shes-sgrib, Skt. jneyavarana) that prevent omniscience, namely the constant habits (bag-chags, Skt. vasana) of the disturbing emotions and of grasping for truly established existence.

  • The omniscient state of a Buddha also entails the true stopping of all the karmic obscurations (las-sgrib), referring to not just the total eradication of the karmic potentials and tendencies, but also to the total eradication of the constant habits of karma.

  • The general Buddhist explanation does not discuss the karmic obscurations separately from the emotional and cognitive ones. However, if one has attained a true stopping of the cognitive obscurations, it is pervasive that one has also achieved a true stopping of the karmic obscurations.

[See: The Gelug Prasangika Presentation of the Two Sets of Obscurations.]

True Pathway Minds

In general, the true pathway mind that, like a path, leads to the true stoppings is the deep awareness (ye-shes, Skt. jnana) of the sixteen aspects of the four noble truths.

  • Deep awareness,” here, refers to nonconceptual cognition made with a joined pair (zung-‘brel) of shamatha (zhi-gnas, a stilled and settle state of mind) and vipashyana (lhag-mthong, an exceptionally perceptive state of mind).

[See: The Sixteen Aspects and Sixteen Distorted Ways of Embracing the Four Noble Truths. See also: General Presentation of Shamatha and Vipashyana.]

More specifically, the true pathway mind is nonconceptual cognition of voidness (emptiness) done with a joined pair of shamatha and vipashyana and empowered by either (1) the determination to be free (renunciation), for attaining liberation, or (2) by both this determination and a bodhichitta aim, for attaining enlightenment.

The Kalachakra Presentation

True Suffering or Problems

Kalachakra asserts true sufferings in the same way as the general presentation does, with the emphasis on the all-pervasive suffering of uncontrollably recurring rebirth. The Kalachakra texts, however, provide more detail about this all-pervasive suffering by explaining it on both external and internal levels of “cycles of time.”

  • The external level refers to the uncontrollably recurring cycles of the universe, the motion of the heavenly bodies in it, and the calendar. This is called “external Kalachakra (external cycles of time).”

  • The internal level refers to the uncontrollably recurring cycles of the body, the motion of the energy-winds in it, and the aging process. This is called “internal Kalachakra (internal cycles of time).”

Here, we shall focus exclusively on the internal level.

True Causes

The obtaining cause (nyer-len-gyi rgyu) of uncontrollably recurring rebirth is karma generated under the influence of the unawareness of grasping for an impossibly existing soul of persons. This unawareness is the same as the unawareness that is generally asserted as the first link of the twelve links of dependent arising.

  • An obtaining cause is that from which one obtains the item as its successor and thus which ceases to exist when its successor arises, like a seed for a sprout or uncooked dough for a loaf of bread.

The simultaneously acting condition (lhan-cig byed-pa’i rkyen) for uncontrollably recurring rebirth is the coursing (rgyu-ba) each day of 21,600 winds of karma (las-rlung) through the energy-channels (rtsa, Skt. nadi) of the subtle body. These winds of karma correspond to the 21,600 breaths that we take per day.

  • Simultaneously acting conditions are items that must exist prior to the arising of something and which assist in making the arising happen, but which do not transform into what arises, like water and fertilizer for the arising of a sprout.

The 21,600 winds of karma course each day through the main right and left side-channels (ro-ma and rkyang-ma) and pass through the two sets of subtle creative-energy drops of the four occasions (gnas-skabs rigs-bzhi skyed-pa’i thig-le). These two sets of four drops are in the main chakras (rtsa-‘khor, subtle energy-nodes) of the subtle body.

  • The drops (thig-le, Skt. bindu) are in the center of the central channel (dhu-ti) at these chakras. The right and left side-channels loop around the central channel at each of the chakras, and so in some way the winds pass through the drops at the cross-points where the side-channels embrace the central one like two arms embracing a body.

Correlating to the 21,600 winds of karma each day, there are 21,600 breaths each day. The words for “winds” (or “energy-winds”) and “breath” are the same – in Tibetan “lung” (rlung), in Sanskrit “prana” – and so we may understand these 21,600 breaths to be either a grosser level of the 21,600 winds of karma or the carriers of the winds of karma.

There are twelve shifts (‘pho-ba) of the breath each day. With each shift, the energy-winds/breaths switch from passing through one of the two side-channels and corresponding nostril during one shift to passing through the other side-channel and nostril during the next. During the transition from one shift to the next, 56 ¼ deep awareness winds/breaths (ye-shes-kyi rlung) pass through the central channel and both nostrils, making 675 deep awareness winds/breaths in a day.

Each day, the 675 deep awareness winds/breaths of that day destroy one pair of the 72,000 channels of the subtle body, one on the left side and one on the right. In that way, with the passage of time, at the end of 100 years, this cycle of twelve shifts per day destroys all 72,000 channels and that brings death from aging. In this way, time plus throwing karma (‘phen-byed-kyi las) activated at the time of death bring about uncontrollably recurring rebirth.

In short, then, Kalachakra explains the true causes of suffering, specifically the true causes of uncontrollably recurring rebirth, as karma and the aging process perpetrated by the shifts of the energy-winds/breaths.

True Stopping

As with the general Buddhist explanation, a true stopping of karma so that it never arises again means eliminating forever that which activates the karmic aftermath (karmic potentials and karmic tendencies) on our mental continuums. What activates them are the eighth and ninth links of dependent arising: craving (sred-pa, Skt. trshna) and an obtainer emotion or attitude (nyer-len, Skt.upadana).

  • Craving is a thirst (the literal translation of the Sanskrit term “trshna”) directed at feelings of unhappiness, happiness or neutral feelings. As when being very thirsty, (1) we crave to be parted from unhappiness; (2) once we have a sip of happiness, we crave not to be parted from it, but to have more; and (3) when we have temporarily satisfied our thirst, we crave for our neutral feeling to continue.

  • Obtainer emotions and attitudes are called “obtainers” because they are that from which we obtain a samsaric rebirth. (1) An obtainer emotion is desire directed at a sensory object. (2) There are five obtainer attitudes, but especially a deluded outlook toward a transitory network (‘jig-lta), which is the attitude with which we cast out a net of “me” or “mine” onto all or some aspects of our five aggregates, and accompany this with grasping for a truly existent “me” as identical to them or as their possessor.

[See: The Twelve Links of Dependent Arising, Day Three.]

A true stopping of the winds of karma means stopping them from coursing through the left and right side-channels during the course of the twelve shifts of the energy-winds/breaths per day. This is often referred to in the literature as a true stopping of the constant habits for the shifts (‘pho-ba’i bag-chags).

The Kalachakra system does not explain true stoppings in terms of the total eradication of the emotional and cognitive obscurations. Moreover, the members of the set of emotional obscurations and the members of the set of cognitive obscurations are not treated separately from each other. Rather, the members of both sets are included in the obscurations of the four classes of subtle creative-energy drops (thig-le’i rigs-bzhi sgrib-pa). The true stoppings, then, are most frequently explained in terms of the total eradication of these obscurations of the four drops. This manner of assertion derives from the explanation that these four creative-energy drops are the bases infected with the habits (bag-chags bsgo-ba’i gzhi).

  • Habits,” here, is a general term that covers both the tendencies included in the emotional obscurations and the constant habits included in the cognitive obscurations.

  • It also covers the constant habits of the twelve shifts of the energy-winds/breaths each day.

As in the general presentation of the four noble truths, karmic obscurations are not treated separately in the Kalachakra system. However, with the attainment of enlightenment, one would also attain a true stopping of the karmic obscurations as well. Thus it is reasonable to infer that the members of the set of karmic obscurations – the karmic potentials, karmic tendencies and constant karmic habits – are also included in the habits that infect the four creative-energy drops.

True Pathway Minds

The true pathway minds are 21,600 moments of unchanging blissful awareness (mi-gyur-ba’i bde-ba) with a clear-light mind having nonconceptual cognition of voidness. These moments of unchanging blissful awareness are based on the stacking of 21,600 drops of white and red bodhichittas (byang-sems dkar-po and byang-sems dmar-po) in the central channel of a devoid-form (stong-gzugs, Skt. shunyatabimba) Kalachakra figure that arises at the navel chakra. With each moment of unchanging blissful awareness, one white and one red bodhichitta drop are stacked and one karmic wind is eradicated.

Unchanging blissful awareness” is the blissful awareness experienced from the union of the Kalachakra couple that arises in the central channel at the navel chakra. It is “unchanging” in the sense that the white and red bodhichitta drops stacked through this blissful awareness remain stable within the central channel of this Kalachakra devoid-form, whether we are in a state of total absorption (mnyam-bzhag, “meditative equipoise”) on space-like voidness or in a state of subsequent realization (rjes-thob, “post-meditation”) on illusion-like voidness. These stacked drops remain there, unchangingly, even when we are not meditating at all or when we are meditating on something other than voidness. The drops remain until the devoid-form, together with our gross and subtle bodies, disappears with the attainment of enlightenment.

White and red bodhichittas are types of creative-energy drops. The white is received from our fathers at the moment of conception, carried with their sperm, and the red from our mothers, carried with their ova. Ova are referred to as “specks of blood” (rdul).

  • These two types of creative-energy drops are called “bodhichittas” because, based on advanced practices utilizing them, such as those found on the Kalachakra complete stage (rdzogs-rim), we can gain blissful nonconceptual cognition of deepest bodhichitta, namely voidness, with our clear-light mental activity and attain the aim of conventional bodhichitta, namely enlightenment. They are also known as the white source element (khams dkar-po) and red source element (khams dmar-po), since they are actually subtle elements and not gross sperm or ova.

[See: Making Sense of Tantra, chapter 10.]

These true pathway minds achieve a true stopping of the obscurations of the four classes of creative-energy drops in twelve stages, corresponding to the twelve shifts of the energy-winds/breaths each day. Therefore, in the Kalachakra system we cannot say for certain that we rid ourselves of the emotional and cognitive obscurations either consecutively as with the Prasangika assertion or simultaneously as with the Svatantrika assertion.

The Four Creative-Energy Drops

We can understand on another level how karma and the coursing of the winds of karma perpetuate samsara by investigating the role the four creative-energy drops play in the true causes of suffering:

  1. In the center of the chakras at the forehead and navel are the drops of awake-occasions (sad-pa’i gnas-skabs skyed-pa’i thig-le), also known as the body drops (lus-kyi thig-le).

  2. In the center of the chakras at the throat and pubic region are the drops of dream-occasions (rmi-lam-gyi gnas-skabs skyed-pa’i thig-le), also known as the speech drops (ngag-gi thig-le).

  3. In the center of the chakras at the heart and the center of head (the jewel) of the penis (or of the clitoris) are the drops of deep sleep occasions (gnyid-thug-gi gnas-skabs skyed-pa’i thig-le), also known as the mind drops (sems-kyi thig-le).

  4. In the center of the chakras at the navel and the tip of the head of the penis (or the tip of the clitoris) are the drops of the fourth occasion (bzhi-pa’i gnas-skabs skyed-pa’i thig-le), referring to the peak occasions of experiencing the ordinary bliss of emission (‘dzag-bde), in other words the bliss of orgasm. The fourth-occasion drops are also known as the deep awareness drops (ye-shes-kyi thig-le).

Note that there is just one creative-energy drop at the navel chakra, but with two aspects: an aspect of being a body drop and an aspect of being a deep awareness drop.

  • The presentation of two sets of these four creative-energy drops, one set above and one set below the navel chakra, fits in with the Kalachakra description of six main channels: the central, right and left channels above the navel chakra and the central, right and left channels below the navel chakra.

  • The 21,600 energy-winds/breaths pass each day through the channels of the navel chakra and course up and down the subtle body through these two sets of main channels.

The essential nature (ngo-bo) of these creative-energy drops is subtle matter (bem-pa) that is in the shape of a ball, the size of a mustard seed, and which is a mixture of the white and red source elements, namely white and red bodhichittas. As subtle matter, they are intangible and completely translucent like space.

  • These four creative-energy drops never move during our lifetime, although they disappear along with the rest of our gross and subtle bodies when we attain enlightenment.

  • The body drop at the forehead is the basis that gives rise to the 21,600 drops of white bodhichitta that we aim to stack in the central channel of a devoid-form Kalachakra figure that arises at our navel, going from the bottom to the top.

  • The body drop at the navel is the basis that gives rise to the 21,600 drops of red bodhichitta that we also aim to stack in the central channel of a devoid-form Kalachakra figure that arises at our navel, going from the top to the bottom.

The Creative Aspects of the Four Creative-Energy Drops and the Mental Holograms to Which They Give Rise on the Basis Level

Each of the four creative-energy drops has a facet (cha, part) that has the ability to give rise to a cognitive aspect (rnam-pa) of a nonstatic phenomenon. They give rise, in turn, to appearances of objects, sounds, nonconceptual states, and bliss. Let’s call them their “creative facets” and let’s call the appearances that they give rise to (these cognitive aspects) “mental holograms,” since they are all translucent and internal, within the body.

On the basis level, the four drops are infected (bsgos-pa) or tainted with the obscurations of the four drops. This means that they are infected with the tendencies and constant habits of the emotional and cognitive obscurations, as well as of the karmic obscurations. These “infections” imbue (sim-pa) them, like water into soft wood. In such a case, the creative facets of them give rise, in turn, to four types of appearance:

From the Awake-Occasion or Body Drops

According to Kaydubjey, as recorded by his disciple Gyamawa, the awake-occasion drops give rise to the various appearances of impure objects (ma-dag-pa’i yul-snang) while we are awake.

  • Impure objects” refer to the appearances of objects as if they were truly existent.

  • According to Gelug Prasangika, the objects that appear in both sense cognition (which is exclusively nonconceptual) and in both conceptual and nonconceptual mental cognition (excluding nonconceptual total absorption on voidness) appear as if they were truly existent.

Kaydrub Norzang-gyatso’s Qualification

Kaydrub Norzang-gyatso qualifies Kaydrubjey’s statement, saying that the two awake-occasion drops have the ability to give rise to innumerable conceptual cognitions (rnam-rtog grangs-med) concerning ordinary objects (tha-mal-pa-rnams) when we awaken from sleep.

  • Note that conceptual cognition is exclusively with mental consciousness and so the mental holograms of ordinary objects that appear in them would also appear only to mental consciousness.

In conceptual cognition, the appearing object (snang-yul) is a static category (spyi), in this case an object (or meaning) category (don-spyi), such as “dog.” The category “dog” has no appearance, since static phenomena have no form. The object category is mixed with a static conceptual isolate or distinguisher (ldog-pa, nothing other than a dog), isolating or distinguishing this category from all others, as if encasing it in plastic. This combination of category and conceptual isolate is then mixed with a mental representation (snang-ba) of a dog – a subtle appearance, like a mental hologram, that represents a dog when, for instance, we think of one, imagine one, or remember one, as well as when, upon seeing a dog, we fit it conceptually into the object category “dog.” Such representative mental holograms always appear to be truly existent. It is this type of mental hologram that the awake-occasion drops give rise to.

[See: The Nature of Mental Appearances: Gelug Explanation, Session Three.]

Mental Holograms That Arise during Sensory Cognition While Awake

Kaydrub Norzang-gyatso’s qualification concerning what the creative facets of the awake-occasion drops give rise to does not explicitly include or exclude the mental holograms that are the representations of external objects that appear in conjunction with sensory cognition.

  • Nonconceptual sensory cognition, such as seeing a dog, occurs as a valid cognition (tshad-ma) for just a micro-second. It is followed immediately by a micro-second during which it is a nondetermining cognition (snang-la ma-nges-pa) of the dog.

  • Nondetermining nonconceptual sensory cognition of the object is followed by a micro-second of nondetermining nonconceptual mental cognition of the dog.

  • This is followed by conceptual mental cognition of the dog, with which we fit the object we see into the object category of what type of object it is, namely a “dog.”

  • During each of these phases, a mental hologram of the dog appears to either the sensory or mental consciousness, and in both cases the mental hologram appears to be truly existent.

[See: Seven Ways to Cognize Objects, Session Two.]

Sensory cognition entails its own set of energy-winds, specified in the texts as a separate set from the set of the winds of karma. They include the five energy-winds of the five different types of sensory objects (sights, sounds, and so on) and the five energy-winds of the five different types of sensory cognitive sensors (the photosensitive cells of the eyes, the sound-sensitive cells of the ear, and so on). These sensory winds are involved with the appearance of the mental hologram of the dog during the nonconceptual sensory phases (and perhaps also during the nonconceptual mental phase) of the above sequence of cognitions that occur when seeing a dog.

During the conceptual phase of the above sequence, the mental hologram representing the object category “dog” is mixed with the mental hologram of the dog that we see. The awake-occasion drops and the winds of karma are involved with the mental hologram here that represents the object category “dog.” It is difficult to ascertain, however, whether both, just one or neither of the two are also involved with the mental hologram of the dog that we see through the mental hologram representing the object category “dog.” It is also difficult to ascertain the role, if any, that the sensory winds might play regarding the mental hologram representing the object category “dog” in this conceptual cognition that follows in sequence upon seeing a dog and identifying it as a “dog.”

[See: Fine Analysis of Objects of Cognition: Gelug Presentation.]

For simplicity of argument, let us proceed with our analysis on the basis of discussing, as the appearances that arise on the basis of the awake-occasion drops, just the mental holograms representing object categories that appear during conceptual cognition. Let us also assume, for simplicity sake, that the sensory winds are not involved with these mental holograms.

From the Dream-Occasion or Speech Drops

Concerning the speech or dream drop, two things are included here:

The Appearance of Confused (Deceptive) Speech

It is unclear what the appearance of confused speech (‘khrul-pa’i ngag) is referring to. My hypothesis is that it is the mental representation of the sounds of speech that appear in verbal thinking (conceptual mental cognition) or when mentally labeling something, for instance a dog that we see with the label “dog.” In both these cases, the appearing object is an audio category (sgra-spyi) of a sound (the sound of a word no matter what volume or voice with which it is spoken), together with a conceptual isolate and a mental representation of the sound of that word. It is deceptive in that the mental-hologram sounds appear to be truly existent and to be the voice of a truly existent person speaking inside us.

  • Deaf people mentally represent words and concepts either with a mental picture of the written word or, more often, with a dynamical mental hologram of a hand sign and facial gesture, frequently accompanied by a mental hologram of the physical sensation of making the sign and gesture. It is unclear if these non-audio mental representations would be included as the appearances of confused speech.

The Appearance of Impure Objects in Dreams

The objects that appear in dreams appear also only to mental consciousness, and this is referring to nonconceptual mental cognition of them. Of course, there is also conceptual cognition in dreams. In either case, the mental holograms in dreams appear to be truly existent.

  • Conceptual cognition of the dream holograms has manifest (mngon-gyur-ba) grasping for the appearance of true existence to correspond with the actual way in which the holograms exist.

  • Although nonconceptual mental cognition of the dream holograms lacks this manifest grasping, it is accompanied by an underlying conceptual cognition that does grasp for true existence, but only subliminally (bag-la nyal).

[See: Relationships with Objects. See also: Dormant Grasping for True Existence According to Gelug Madhyamaka.]

From the Deep-Sleep Occasion or Mind Drops

Here the appearance is that which arises to nonconceptual mental consciousness in deep sleep when, as Kaydrubjey describes, there is no appearance-making (mi-gsal-ba) of mental holograms of sense objects, either nonconceptually or conceptually. At this occasion, there is just the appearance of the mental hologram of a darkness (mun-pa); and, as Kaydrub Norzang-gyatso describes, the mental cognition of it is without mindfulness (dran-med).

Mindfulness (dran-pa, Skt. smrti) is the mental factor that holds on to a cognized object and prevents the loss of the mental hold on it, somewhat like a “mental glue.” It prevents the mental activity from forgetting the object and allows for recalling or remembering it later.

It is difficult to know what “without mindfulness” refers to in this context. What is it that the mental glue of mindfulness is not holding on to, but has loosened and let go its mental hold on? In the practice of the nine mixings (bsre-ba dgu) in anuttaratantra, there is the mixing of deep sleep with Dharmakaya and clear-light mind. Perhaps this gives us a clue.

During the dissolution process of the grosser levels of mind into clear light subtlest level, as explained in the Guhyasamaja system, an extremely subtle level of conceptual cognition called the “threshold true appearance-making conceptual mind” (nyer-thob, black near-attainement) occurs just prior to the clear light subtlest level. With threshold conceptual cognition, a black darkness appears, similar to what appears in deep dreamless sleep. Moreover, the darkness appears to be truly existent and the threshold mind grasps at it to correspond to the actual way in which it exists.

Threshold subtlest conceptual cognition has two phases, one phase with mindfulness and one without. Threshold cognition with mindfulness during sleep is still included in dream consciousness. Therefore, if we remember an appearance of darkness when we awake, it was from dreaming about darkness. Threshold cognition without mindfulness during sleep is included in what is known as the “clear light of sleep.” In this context, “with or without mindfulness” refers to the presence or absence of a mental hold on the appearance of a truly existent darkness. Without the mental hold on the darkness, we cannot remember the appearance of the darkness later when we awaken.

  • Tsongkhapa explains that “threshold subtlest conceptual cognition without mindfulness” does not lack mindfulness altogether. Because it can still be accompanied by the mindfulness utilized with concentration, Guhyasamaja complete stage practice entails meditation on voidness with this extremely subtle level of mind.

Even though the mind in deep dreamless sleep has no mindfulness of the mental hologram of darkness that appears, that hologram of darkness still appears to it to be truly existent. But, since deep sleep awareness is nonconceptual, this awareness itself does not manifestly grasp at the appearance of a truly existent darkness to correspond to how it actually exists. Rather, an underlying subtle conceptual cognition subliminally grasps for its true existence, most likely threshold subtlest conceptual cognition.

From the Fourth-Occasion Drops or Deep Awareness Drops

What arises from the fourth-occasion drops on the basis level is the bliss of emission, namely the bliss experienced the exact moment before the explosive release of energy-wind with orgasm in either a man or a woman.

The first question is: is this bliss something experienced with both tactile and mental consciousness, or could it be referring to something that is experienced only with mental consciousness, maybe accompanied by or maybe preceded by tactile consciousness? To answer this question, we need to analyze as follows.

  • The bliss of emission is accompanied by a drawing in of the energy-wind, although that is followed by an explosive release of the energy-wind, as with sneezing.

  • Yawning, falling asleep, fainting and dying also have a drawing in of the energy-wind as occurs with having an orgasm and sneezing. In all these case, with the drawing in of the energy-wind, the mind becomes increasingly more subtle. In the end, only subtle conceptual mental cognition occurs as the mind approaches the nonconceptual clear light level. This suggests that orgasmic bliss is experienced by a subtle conceptual mental cognition.

  • The creative facet of the navel drop gives rise both to (1) the mental holograms that appear to mental consciousness in conceptual mental cognition while awake, as well as to (2) the bliss of orgasmic emission. This also suggests that the bliss of orgasmic emission is referring only to conceptual mental cognition, albeit a very subtle type.

If this fourth occasion is one of subtle conceptual mental cognition, the next question is: does this bliss of orgasm refer (1) only to the mental factor of a feeling (tshor-ba) of bliss (a way of being aware of something) while awake, or does it refer to (2) the subtle form (mental hologram) of a blissful physical sensation (reg-bya) that appears to and is cognized only by subtle conceptual mental consciousness when awake? Or (3) does the bliss of orgasm refer to a mental hologram of something else? Again, let us analyze:

  • According to the Kalachakra presentation, the human body has six source elements (khams-drug): earth, water, fire, wind, space, and deep awareness (ye-shes).

  • The source elements of earth, water, fire and wind each have a quality of physical sensation, meaning that each has a physical sensation associated with it that can be cognized with either sensory or mental consciousness.

  • Therefore, any mental hologram of a physical sensation would be one that could arise through an awake-occasion drop.

  • If the bliss of orgasm here is referring to a mental hologram, it is probably a mental hologram of the sixth type of elemental source, deep awareness. This is suggested by the fact that the drop at the navel is called either the drop of the fourth occasion (referring to orgasmic bliss) or the deep awareness drop.

  • Although the drop at the navel also has an aspect of being an awake-occasion drop, there would be no special reason for the assertion of a fourth occasion if the mental hologram that arises in it were no different from the type of mental hologram that arises merely on the basis of the awake-occasion drop.

There is also the issue of the bliss of orgasmic emission experienced in dreams. Further analysis is needed to determine how that affects the above analysis.

What the Four Creative-Energy Drops Give Rise to on the Pathway and Resultant Levels

The above discussion concerned the basis-level presentation of the four creative-energy drops.

On the pathway level, referring to certain steps of the complete stage (rdzogs-rim) of Kalachakra practice, if some of these subtle winds of karma stop going through and imbuing the four creative-energy drops, but are made instead to enter, abide and dissolve (zhugs-gnas-thim) in the central channel, then the creative facets of the drops are involved with the arising of:

  • devoid-forms (stong-gzugs),

  • indestructible sound (gzhom-med-kyi sgra),

  • nonconceptual deep awareness,

  • unchanging blissful awareness.

On the resultant level, if all these winds of karma are stopped completely, through their total dissolution at the heart chakra in the central channel, then the creative facets of the four drops are involved with the arising of the four Corpuses of a Buddha (four Buddha Bodies) and disappear in the process:

  • Corpus of Emanations (sprul-sku, Skt. Nirmanakaya),

  • Corpus of Full Use (longs-spyod rdzogs-pa’i sku, Skt. Sambhogakaya), referring to both a Buddha’s enlightening speech and a Buddha’s subtle appearances to highly realized (arya) bodhisattvas,

  • Corpus of Deep Awareness Encompassing Everything (ye-shes chos-sku, Skt. Jnana-dharmakaya),

  • Corpus of Great Bliss (bde-ba chen-po’i sku, Skt. Mahasukhakaya) or Corpus of Essential Nature (ngo-bo-nyid sku, Skt. Svabhavakaya), referring to the blissful awareness nature of a Corpus of Deep Awareness Encompassing Everything.

Let’s focus our further analysis on the basis level.

Premises for the Further Analysis of the Basis Level

Let’s suppose that the Kalachakra presentation of the creative-energy drops of the four occasions is:

  • dealing with the mental holograms that arise exclusively with either conceptual or nonconceptual mental cognition based on these four drops, and

  • which appear to be truly existent and

  • are accompanied, either manifestly or subliminally, by grasping for this manner of their appearance to correspond to their actual manner of existence.

If that is the case, then what role do the creative-energy drops and the karmic winds play in the arising of these mental holograms and the grasping for true existence in relation to them? This is an important question to ask since the appearance-making of these mental holograms as seemingly truly existent and our grasping for them actually to correspond to the way things exist bring on disturbing emotions and the compulsiveness of karma and perpetuate our suffering. Think, for example, of the anger we develop when we remember the harsh words someone has spoken to us, or the barrage of words in our heads when we worry about something.

Any adequate answer to this question needs to be framed in terms of the complex Buddhist presentation of causality. Understanding the causal nexus responsible for the arising of the various components of our cognitions of these mental holograms leads us to understand the voidness of causality. Understanding the voidness of their causality enables us to deconstruct the appearance of true existence of these mental holograms and rid ourselves of our grasping for their appearance to correspond with how these mental holograms actually exist. When we attain a true stopping of this grasping, we rid ourselves forever of disturbing emotions and attitudes. Most relevantly, we rid ourselves of the disturbing emotions and attitudes that activate the karmic aftermath that bring about the throwing karma for our further samsaric rebirth with all its attendant suffering. Thus, through understanding the voidness of causality, we can attain a true stopping of the sufferings that derive from our unawareness of how these sufferings arise and exist.

The following are my tentative, preliminary conclusions concerning this causal nexus, based on various texts and teachings and on logic. They leave open many questions and need further analysis.

[See: Causes, Conditions, and Results.]

The Role of the Creative-Energy Drops

On the basis-level, the four creative-energy drops give rise to these four types of appearances in two senses.

The Dominating Condition

The creative drops themselves are the dominating condition (bdag-rkyen) that determines the essential nature (ngo-bo) of the occasion as being an occasion in which the consciousness of these appearances is in the awake state, dream state, deep sleep state, or blissful state. This is like the cognitive sensors (dbang-po) being the dominating condition that determines the essential nature of the consciousness being visual, audio, and so on.

The Natal Source

The creative facet of the drops that give rise to something is the natal source (rdzas) for the appearances (mental holograms) that arise during the four occasions, like an oven is the natal source of bread or a potter’s wheel is the natal source of a clay pot.

  • The four drops are not the natal source of the mental consciousness and accompanying mental factors that cognize these appearances of mental holograms during these occasions.

  • Karmic tendencies (sa-bon, karmic seeds) labeled on the conventional “me” that is labeled on the winds of karma are the natal source of the mental consciousness and accompanying mental factors.

  • Kalachakra is not a Chittamatra system, according to which, in a moment of cognition, both the mental hologram and the consciousness of it, with its accompanying mental factors, all come from the same natal source – the same karmic tendency or seed.

[See: The Gelug Chittamatra Assertion of No External Phenomena.]

Part Two: The Role of the Winds of Karma If the Mental Holograms of the Four Occasions Are Basis-Level Devoid-Forms

The role that the winds of karma play with regard to the mental holograms of the four occasions is much more difficult to ascertain. Let us explore two hypotheses and, in the manner of Indian and Tibetan commentaries, raise objections that might arise to each of them. The hypotheses concern the nature of these mental holograms:

  1. The mental holograms are basis-level devoid-forms,

  2. The mental holograms are composed of subtle particles.

Although it is premature to reach any conclusion from this analysis, perhaps the methodology employed in the following exploration of this question will be instructive of how to analyze the more complex and obtuse aspects of the Dharma.

The Definition of Devoid-Forms

The first hypothesis concerning the role played by the winds of karma incorporates a distinctive feature of the Kalachakra teachings, namely devoid-forms (stong-gzugs, Skt. shunyatabimba). Devoid-forms arise at the times of the basis (our ordinary lives), path (the complete stage of Kalachakra practice) and result (Buddhahood).

Kaydrubjey and Kaydrub Norzang-gyatso’s Explanations

Citing a passage from Buton’s Great Commentary (‘Grel-chen) on Stainless Light, Kaydrub Norzang-gyatso explains that the clear-light mind has a bareness (stong-sang) as its appearance aspect (rnam-pa, mental hologram), and that devoid-forms are the various forms that this bareness takes.

Kaydrubjey and Kaydrub Norzang-gyatso then both explain that devoid-forms are called “devoid” (stong, Skt. shunyata) because they are an absence that is devoid of particles (rtul phra-rab). They are appearances of the bareness of the clear-light mind, arising like magic-mirror images (pra-phab-pa, Skt. pratimurti). The clear-light mind and devoid-forms are likened to the sun and sunrays.

The word “form” (gzugs, Skt. bimba) in the term “devoid-form” needs clarification:

  • The Tibetan translators used the Tibetan word “gzugs” to translate both the Sanskrit words “rupa” and “bimba.”

  • Rupa” is the most general term for all forms of physical phenomena: sights, sounds, smells, tastes, physical sensations and subtle forms that can only be known by mental consciousness. “Rupa” is also used for a subcategory of all forms of physical phenomena, namely for sights.

  • Bimba,” on the other hand, which is the Sanskrit word for “form” in the term “devoid-form,” is another subcategory of forms of physical phenomena. It means an image, a shadow, or a reflection in a mirror. It also has the connotation of something comparable to something else.

  • Pratimurti,” as the analogy for devoid-forms, is a subcategory of “bimba” (image). It refers to figures that appear on their own, such as images that appear in divination mirrors used in Indian and Tibetan cultures for prognostication.

The texts use the Tibetan adverb “rang-gi ngang-gis” (Skt. svarasa) to explain how the devoid-forms arise in the clear-light mind, meaning how they arise with clear-light mental activity. The Tibetan term is one of the many that mean “naturally,” but the original Sanskrit word gives the special connotation.

Svarasa” literally means the “natural flavor” of something, not only foods and beverages, but also poetry and music. Thus, devoid-forms arise with clear-light mental activity as an intrinsic property of it, like the flavor of a poem, a piece of music or a savory dish, with the implication that, as a flavor, it is something to be experienced.

  • The Sanskrit word “rasa” can also have the meaning of “pleasurable.” Thus it is fitting that the Kalachakra couple that arises as a pathway-level devoid-form is the basis for experiencing unchanging bliss.

Devoid-forms arising with clear-light mental activity as its natural flavor also accords well with the assertion that clear-light mind is the similar-family cause (rigs-‘dra’i rgyu) of devoid-forms.

  • Similar-family causes are items in the same category of phenomena as their results and which serve as models for them.

  • On the pathway-level, clear-light mind is the similar family-cause of both devoid-form Kalachakra couples and unchanging blissful awareness of voidness experienced with their union.

Gyeltsabjey’s Explanation

Gyeltshabjey explains that devoid-forms are the forms of conventional (kun-rdzob) phenomena’s voidness of self-established existence. Thus, in terms of Gyeltsabjey’s formulation, it would be better to call them “voidness-forms.” They are “beyond particles” in the sense that they are beyond being the forms of conventional phenomena’s apparent nature.

  • The apparent nature of particles is that they have truly established existence.

  • The form that this apparent nature would take, then, would be the form of truly established existence.

  • Voidness-forms are beyond being that kind of form. They are forms of the voidness of true existence and not forms of true existence itself.

  • Thus, being both functional phenomena (dngos-po) (which are conventionally true phenomena) as well as the flavor of voidness (deepest true phenomena), Gyaltshabjey asserts voidness-forms as being the common locus (gzhi-mthun) of voidness and functional phenomena. In other words, voidness-forms are examples of both voidnesses of true existence and functional phenomena.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s Opinion

His Holiness the Dalai Lama prefers Kaydrubjey and Kaydrub Norzang-gyatso’s definition, for a variety of reasons too complex to go into. Here, then, we shall follow His Holiness’s lead and take devoid-forms to be the reflexive appearance of the bareness of the clear-light mind, rather than the reflexive appearance of the voidness of conventional phenomena.

Kaydrub Norzang-gyatso and Detri further explain that the bareness of the clear-light mind has the same appearance as that which appears with nonconceptual cognition of voidness. However, that does not mean that devoid-forms are the reflexive appearance of the voidness of the clear-light mind or the reflexive appearance of the voidness cognized by the clear-light mind.

  • Thus, it follows from Kaydrubjey and Kaydrub Norzang-gyatso’s explanations that devoid-forms arise with clear-light mental activity whether or not that mental activity has nonconceptual cognition of voidness. Moreover, as we shall see, devoid-forms arise even when clear-light mind is not fully manifest.

Statement of the First Hypothesis Concerning the Role Played by the Winds of Karma in the Arising of the Mental Holograms of the Four Occasions

In this first hypothesis concerning the role that the winds of karma play, the appearances of the mental holograms at the four occasions are basis-level devoid-forms. As such, all these holograms are appearances of the bareness of the subtlest clear-light mind underlying the conceptual and nonconceptual mental consciousness during these occasions. These mental holograms appear to be truly existent and the winds of karma would simply be the mount of the mental consciousness that cognizes them during these occasions. The mental holograms appear to be truly existent because of the stains of the cognitive obscurations infecting the creative-energy-drops of the four occasions.

In detail, then, according to this hypothesis:

  • The mental holograms of impure sense objects that arise and appear in conceptual cognition when awake are examples of basis-level devoid-forms,

  • The mental holograms of sense objects that arise and appear in nonconceptual and conceptual mental cognition in dreams are also basis level devoid-forms.

  • The mental holograms of deceptive speech that appear in conceptual cognition are something like basis-level indestructible sounds (the communicative aspect of the clear-light mind).

  • The mental holograms of darkness in nonconceptual mental cognition when in deep dreamless sleep are the basis-level appearances of darkness during the clear light of sleep. These mental holograms are also a type of devoid-form.

  • The mental holograms of bliss during experiences of the blissful, extremely subtle conceptual mental cognition of orgasmic emission are the basis-level of clear-light mind’s innate feature of bliss discussed in Sakya commentaries.

  • Note that these four features correspond to the Kagyu mahamudra description of clear-light mind having the features of appearance, appearance-making (communication), bareness, and bliss.

In order to evaluate whether the mental holograms of the four occasions are fit to include in the set of basis-level devoid-forms, we need to investigate the features that characterize basis-level devoid-forms. We can learn their characteristic features by contrasting basis-level devoid-forms with pathway-level ones to discover what they share in common and what is unique to each of them.

The Definition of Pathway-Level Devoid-Forms

Pathway-level devoid-forms are the devoid-forms that arise during the various branches of the Kalachakra complete stage. They start to appear when, through the force of yoga (rnal-‘byor), (1) the energy-winds that enable sensory cognition are “immobilized” (rengs-pa), (2) essential points on the subtle body are tapped (lus-la gnad-du bsnun-pa),and (3) the ten energy-winds are made, one by one, to enter, abide and dissolve (zhugs-gnas-thim) in the central-channel.

  • Yoga,” here, refers to meditation with the joined pair of shamatha and vipashyana.

  • We can understand “yoga” in this way because actual complete stage practice requires, as one of its starting qualifications, the attainment of an applying pathway mind (sbyor-lam, path of preparation). One of the features of this second of the five pathway minds (lam-lnga) is that it has achieved the joined pair of shamatha and vipashyana.

  • With the subtle yoga (rnal-‘byor phra-mo) of the generation stage (bskyed-rim) of anuttarayoga tantra practice, such as Kalachakra, the joined pair of shamatha and vipashyana is attained through visualizing, with perfect concentration, a tiny drop with a full Kalachakra mandala, complete with all 722 deities, inside it at the upper end of the central channel. One then visualizes this drop multiplying into two such drops, two into four, and so on – with each drop containing within it a full Kalachakra mandala, complete with all the deities – and then drawing them back, in order.

  • Essential points on the subtle body” include the upper and lower ends of the central channel and the points on the branch channels of the six main chakras where these branch channels enter the central channel. By focusing at these essential points, it is possible, through the power of yoga, to “tap” them, in the sense of making it possible for the energy-winds to enter the central channel through these points.

The Different Types of Pathway-Level Devoid-Forms

Pathway devoid-forms may be (1) definitional devoid-forms (mtshan-nyid-pa), (2) facsimile devoid-forms (stong-gzugs rjes-mthun-pa), or (3) devoid-forms that are “not even to the slightest extent” facsimile ones (stong-gzugs rje-mthun-pa cung-zad-kyang med).

Definitional Pathway Devoid-Forms

Definitional pathway devoid-forms arise only with the last two branches of the six-branch Kalachakra complete stage – subsequent mindfulness (rjes-dran, Skt. anusmrti) and total absorption (ting-nge-‘dzin, Skt. samadhi). Kaydrub Norzang-gytaso refers to definitional devoid-forms as “devoid-forms that are established in actuality (stong-gzugs dngos-gnas-la grub-pa).” This is because, with these two branches of practice, one experiences unchanging blissful awareness of voidness from the union of a devoid-form Kalachakra couple that arises at the navel chakra.

Only on the sixth branch, however, does this unchanging blissful awareness of voidness bring about the true stopping of the obscurations of the four occasions. This is because on the fifth branch, the unchanging blissful awareness of voidness is conceptual, while on the sixth branch it is nonconceptual.

Moreover, on the fifth branch, the definitional devoid-form couple arises only during total absorption on space-like voidness done with clear-light mental activity experiencing unchanging blissful awareness of voidness. Only on the sixth branch does the devoid-form Kalachakra couple with its stacked bodhichitta drops remain stable in the central channel after total absorption on space-like voidness. The couple and drops remain manifest and stable during periods of subsequent realization on illusion-like voidness, during periods of meditation on other facets of the path, and even while not meditating at all.

Facsimile Pathway Devoid-Forms

Facsimile pathway devoid-forms arise from the second through the fourth branches of the Kalachakra complete stage.

  • The second branch is called “mental constancy” (bsam-gtan, Skt. dhyana).

  • The third branch is called “breath-control” (srog-rtsol, Skt. pranayama).

  • The fourth branch is called “holding” (‘dzin-pa, Skt.dharana).

According to Kaydrub Norzang-gyatso, facsimile devoid-forms are “devoid-forms that merely appear to the face of the mind (stong-gzugs yid-ngor snang-ba-tsam).” In other words, they merely appear to the mind, and although one holds the pride (nga-rgyal) of being the devoid-form Kalachakra couple, one does not yet experience unchanging blissful awareness of voidness from their union.

  • One holds the pride of being a deity by labeling the conventional “me” on the basis of the form of the deity.

Not-Even-Facsimile Pathway Devoid-Forms

The devoid-forms that arise and appear at the first of the six branches, individual collecting (sor-sdud, Skt. pratyahara), are “not even to the slightest extent” facsimile pathway devoid-forms. They are the variety of devoid-forms that arise after having immobilized the winds of the senses, all the way up to the arising of a devoid-form Kalachakra couple in the central channel, but one has not yet shifted one’s pride (nga-rgyal) of the deity to the pride of being this couple. Let us refer to these as “not-even-facsimile” pathway devoid-forms.

The Pervasions between the Arising of Pathway Devoid-Forms, Total Absorption on Voidness, and Blissful Awareness

The only types of pathway devoid-forms that arise during total absorption on space-like voidness are the definitional ones. This occurs only with fifth-branch and sixth-branch Kalachakra complete stage practice, which are the only branches on which the total absorption on voidness is done with unchanging blissful awareness. Recall that unchanging blissful awareness is generated by the union of the definitional devoid-form couple.

  • On the fifth branch, this total absorption on voidness is conceptual; and on the sixth branch it is nonconceptual.

During third- and fourth-branch practices, facsimile devoid-forms do not arise during total absorption on space-like voidness, which is only conceptual on these branches. The total absorptions on space-like voidness experienced during these two branches, however, are experienced with greatly blissful awareness (bde-ba chen-po). Such blissful awareness is generated by having gained control of the winds on the first two branches of Kalachakra complete stage practice, then having caused tummo (inner heat) to flare in the central channel, and having melted the white bodhichitta source at the forehead chakra.

The facsimile devoid-forms that arise during second-branch practice and the not-even-facsimile devoid-forms that arise during first-branch practice also do not arise during conceptual total absorption on space-like voidness. The total absorption on space-like voidness during these two branches of complete stage practice, however, is not experienced with greatly blissful awareness.

  • Nevertheless, because the total absorptions on space-like voidness during the first two branches are experienced with a joined pair of shamatha and vipashyana, they are each experienced with the physical and mental blisses that characterize each of the two levels of a sense of fitness (shin-sbyangs) that accompanies shamatha and vipashyana respectively.

Kaydrubjey explains that merely total absorption on voidness is not a similar-family cause for a Dharmakaya. Only total absorption on voidness with a greatly blissful awareness (bde-ba chen-po) is a similar-family cause for a Dharmakaya.

Thus, pathway devoid-forms do not necessarily arise during total absorption on space-like voidness and do not necessarily arise with a greatly blissful mind. The mental holograms of the four occasions share these two characteristics of pathway devoid-forms, although the mental holograms of the fourth occasion are experienced with the ordinary bliss of emission. The mental holograms of the other three occasions, however, are not experienced with a blissful mind, although cognition of the mental holograms during the awake and dream states could be experienced with ordinary feelings (tshor-ba) of happiness.

Pathway Devoid-Forms Always Appear to Have Truly Established Existence

Devoid-forms are conventional truths (kun-rdzob bden-pa, relative truths). In simple language, conventional truths of phenomena are their appearances.

General Assertion

Kaydrubjey explains that devoid-forms are referred to as voidness “having an aspect” (rnam-bcas) because to the face (ngo) of the mind that has nonconceptual cognition of voidness (de-nyid, the real nature of everything), devoid-forms appear having a discordant appearance (gnyis-snang, appearance of duality).

  • Figuratively speaking, ways of knowing can be described as having a “face” (ngo) directed at their involved objects (‘jug-yul).

  • A discordant appearance of something is an appearance of it as if existing in a manner that does not accord with how it actually exists. In other words, the manner of appearance is discordant or “dual” with its manner of existence.

  • Thus, devoid-forms, even when cognized with nonconceptual cognition, appear to be truly existent.

Of the two-phases of nonconceptual cognition of voidness (total absorption on space-like voidness and subsequent realization of illusion-like voidness), I presume that Kaydubjey is referring here to how devoid-forms appear when cognized by nonconceptual subsequent realization of illusion-like voidness. I base this presumption on the following analysis:

Sixth-Branch Practice

During nonconceptual total absorption on space-like voidness, appearances of truly established existence are not cognized even implicitly.

  • The involved objects of implicit apprehension (shugs-la rtogs-pa) are accurately and decisively cognized, but without arising and appearing to the mind that implicitly apprehends them.

[See: Cognition of the Two Truths in the Gelug Sautrantika, Chittamatra, Svatantrika, and Prasangika Systems.]

Nevertheless, definitional devoid-forms arise with sixth-branch practice during nonconceptual total absorption on space-like voidness done with clear-light unchanging blissful awareness. Thus, although definitional devoid-forms arise to the clear-light mind totally absorbed nonconceptually on space-like voidness at this time, they are not involved objects apprehended by that mind, either explicitly or implicitly.

Kaydubjey asserts this point as follows:

Concerning the definitional devoid-forms actualized with the pathway minds still needing training (the seeing and accustoming pathway minds), there are no devoid-forms (cognized) by those (nonconceptual) total absorptions on voidness – whether on the face of their decisiveness (nges-ngo) (about voidness) or on the face of what appears (snang-ngo) (to those total absorptions on voidness). Nevertheless, it isn’t the case that devoid-forms are absent at that time. For example, although the form of the person with a seeing pathway mind does not (arise) to the face of the (nonconceptual) total absorption (on voidness) of his (or her) seeing pathway mind, nevertheless it cannot be that that (meditator) does not have a form.”

During periods of sixth-branch meditation with nonconceptual subsequent realization of illusion-like voidness, the devoid-form couple is cognized explicitly and nonconceptually. At such times, this couple appears on the face of this second type of nonconceptual cognition of voidness as having the discordant appearance of truly existence. Implicitly, one cognizes its voidness. At other times while one is at this sixth-branch stage, the devoid-form couple will still be arising and, if one focuses on it, it still appears to be truly existent.

Fifth-Branch Practice

With fifth-branch practice, one has conceptual total absorption on space-like voidness with unchanging blissful awareness. In such meditation, an appearance of true existence is projected onto the voidness of true existence that is explicitly cognized, and the category “voidness of true existence” is implicitly cognized. The basis for voidness is not cognized at all, even implicitly. Thus, although a definitional devoid-form Kalachakra couple arises during this conceptual total absorption on space-like voidness, this devoid-form is not cognized by this total absorption.

During the subsequent attainment phase of fifth-branch practice, the definitional devoid-form that arose during total absorption no longer arises. Any devoid-forms that arise outside the context of subsequent attainment meditation, both while on the fifth-branch stage or on any of the stages of the preceding four branches, will appear to be truly existent.

Summary

In summary:

  • pathway devoid-forms always appear to be truly existent to the minds that cognize them;

  • they are not cognized during either conceptual or nonconceptual total absorption on voidness.

Note that the term “aspect” (rnam) in the term for devoid-form: “voidness having an aspect” is the same term that I have been translating as “mental hologram” in the context of the appearances of the four occasions.

  • Thus, like pathway devoid-forms, the mental holograms of the four occasions always appear to be truly existent.

  • Total absorption on space-like voidness and the immediately following subsequent realization of illusion-like voidness can be conducted with a joined pair of shamatha and vipashyana even within the context of sutra practice. As with pathway devoid-forms, the mental holograms of the four occasions are not cognized during conceptual cognition of space-like voidness attained with this joined pair, let alone during such conceptual cognition of voidness attained with mental cognition lacking such a joined pair.

Different Aspects in Which Pathway Devoid-Forms Appear

There are two different sets of aspects in which pathway devoid-forms appear:

  • The central channel at the heart chakra has eight side-channels around it. When the winds that course through each of those eight channels and then the winds that course through the central channel above and below the heart chakra progressively are made to stop (‘gag) (equivalent to being made to dissolve, thim), ten special signs (rtags khyad-par-can) arise in sequence, one with each wind that is stopped. These ten special signs, beginning with a smoke-like appearance (du-ba), are one set of aspects in which devoid-forms appear. At the end of this sequence, there arises a devoid-form in the aspect of a Kalachakra couple in union.

  • The other set of aspects in which devoid-forms can appear is in any aspect of the five types of sensory objects – sights, sounds, smells, tastes, or physical sensations. The texts usually cite the examples of the forms of vases, cotton balls (ras-yug), and tufts of wool (snam-bu).

During the first two branches of Kalachakra complete stage practice, both sets of devoid-forms can appear. Either the first set (smoke, and so on) arises with certainty (nges-can), or both sets arise without certainty (nges-med).

  • Kaydrubjey explains that “with certainty” refers to certainty of their appearing in the sequential order of dissolution. “Without certainty” means they arise in any order.

On the pathway level, the devoid-forms arise together with the stains of the obscurations and they are unable to perform any functions. The devoid-forms at the time of the result, when we have become Buddhas, are parted from all obscurations and are able to perform functions.

Kaydrub Norzang-gyatso explains that the pathway devoid-form Kalachakra couple is the basis for actualization (sgrub-gzhi) of ourselves as a Corpus of Enlightening Forms (Form Body) of Kalachakra. The pathway devoid-forms of smoke and so on, and especially the pathway devoid-forms of vases, tufts of wool, and so on that appear at the conclusion of the ten signs are the basis for actualization of the boundless devoid-forms of the three planes of existence (three realms) cognized by our minds as a Dharmakaya Corpus Encompassing Everything.

  • It is unclear whether the implication here is that pathway devoid-forms in the forms of vases, tufts of wool and so on appear with all six branches of Kalachakra complete stage practice.

  • It is also unclear whether they only appear at the conclusion of the ten signs of dissolution, or whether only the ones that appear at the conclusion of the ten signs are the basis for actualization of the pure devoid-forms of the three planes of existence.

The Three Stages of Not-Even-Facsimile Pathway Devoid-Forms

Kaydrubjey delineates three stages in which the not-even-facsimile pathway devoid-forms arise during first-branch practice once one has tapped the upper end of the central channel by focusing on the awake-occasion drop through the opening there. Let me quote:

  • From when the (ten) energy-winds at the gateways of the senses are immobilized up until they have not yet started to be made to enter the central channel, the various devoid-form signs such as smoke or cotton balls arise outside the body, in the space of the meditator’s room and so on, without any certainty of their order.” Presumably, however, only the meditator himself or herself can cognize them; these forms are not sitting in the room, like the meditator’s cushion, visible to anyone who enters. Kaydrub Norzang-gyatso explains that although these are devoid-forms, they are not the actual signs of this first-branch practice.

  • From when the (ten) energy-winds are made to enter the central channel up until the energy-winds have started to be made to stop their coursing, the various devoid-form signs appear within the body, but not yet within the central channel. These appear also without any certainty of their order.”

  • Starting from when the (ten) winds have been made to stop their coursing, only the ten special devoid-form signs arise – the four night signs (mtshan-rtags bzhi) and six day signs (nyin-rtags-drug) – and these are with certainty of their order.”

  • With each of these three stages, the devoid-forms that arise are progressively clearer and more stable.

Kaydrubjey specifies that the ten energy-winds that are stopped from coursing at the heart chakra here are the four element winds (‘byung-po bzhi’i rlung) and six aggregate winds (phung-po drug-gi rlung), correlated to the life-supporting wind (srog-‘dzin-gyi rlung), downward-voiding wind (thur-sel-gyi rlung), and so on. His Holiness the Dalai Lama questions this and postulates that the ten energy-winds stopped here from coursing at the heart chakra are the ten energy-winds involved with sensory cognition (the five energy-winds of the sensory objects and the five energy-winds of the physical sensors).

Kaydub Norzang-gyatso writes that the devoid-forms that arise during this first branch of complete stage practice can be cognized with valid nonconceptual sensory cognition through the eye-sensors (mig-gi dbang-po). He clarifies that, however, by explaining that they are cognized by either the extrasensory flesh eye (sha’i spyan) or the extrasensory divine eye (lha’i spyan) and that these two types of extrasensory eyes are attained when the winds enter the central channel.

  • These two types of extrasensory eyes are attained as a side-product of the attainment of a stilled and settled state of shamatha, already achieved when one begins complete stage practice.

  • The devoid-forms cognized by these extrasensory eyes, then, are not objects cognizable by ordinary visual cognition, especially because through first-branch practice, one has immobilized the energy-winds of the senses.

  • Thus, although Vasubandhu in A Treasure-House of Special Topics of Knowledge (Chos mngon-pa’i mdzod, Skt. Abhidharmakosha) asserts that advanced awareness (mngon-shes; extrasensory cognition) may be with sensory consciousness, Asanga’s position is more appropriate here. In An Anthology of Special Topics of Knowledge (Chos mngon-pa kun-las btus-pa, Skt. Abhidharmasamuccaya), Asanga explains that advanced awareness occurs with a mental consciousness that relies on special powers of the eye-sensors.

Pathway devoid-forms, then, like the mental holograms that appear on the four occasions, are forms that are included merely among the cognitive stimulators that are all validly knowable phenomena (chos-kyi skye-mched-kyi gzugs). They are not included among the cognitive stimulators that are sights (gzugs-kyi skye-mched), which are visible with ordinary visual cognition.

  • Moreover, Kaydrubjey asserts that the devoid-forms experienced here are appearances arising to mental consciousness of the five types of sensory objects.

  • Kaydrub Norzang-gyatso elaborates, explaining that during this first branch of complete stage practice, one not only experiences devoid-forms with extrasensory flesh-eyes, but also devoid-sounds (equivalent to indestructible sounds) with extrasensory flesh-ears, devoid-smells with an extrasensory flesh-nose, devoid-tastes with an extrasensory flesh-tongue, and devoid-physical sensations with an extrasensory flesh-body.

[See: The Aggregate of Forms of Physical Phenomena.]

The Basis for Actualization of Pathway Devoid-Forms

The Second Dalai Lama has stated emphatically that, unlike the impure and pure illusory bodies (sgyu-lus) in the Guhysamaja system, the basis for actualization of all three types of pathway devoid-forms is not the subtlest life-supporting energy-wind (srog-‘dzin-gyi rlung shin-tu phra-mo) that is the mount of the clear-light mind. He writes:

Concerning in particular the basis for actualization of devoid-forms, (consider) the appearance of a father and mother Kalachakra in the middle of a black hairline at the end of the ten (night and day) signs of dissolution that arise at the (first) branch (of the Kalachakra complete stage), individual collecting. (The texts) say that one places divine pride (on that devoid-form couple) on the (second) branch, mental stability, and that the (definitional) devoid-forms are actualized from this getting increasingly better. Because of that (statement, then if the definitional devoid-forms are actualized from the subtlest life-supporting wind), it would come down to being no different from (asserting that) either (1) this father and mother (facsimile) devoid-form explained at the occasion of individual collecting is (also) actualized from (subtlest) life-sustaining wind, or (2) even if it is not first actualized like that, it would have to be actualized at the occasion of the path from something like this. Please show me scriptural quotes that make this clear, together with the logic that would lead us to conclude (like this)!”

The basis for actualization of definitional pathway devoid-forms is the blissful deep awareness of the actual clear-light mind totally absorbed nonconceptually on space-like voidness. This basis for actualization is attained newly, for the first time, at the fifth branch of Kalachakra complete stage practice and not before. Thus, the Second Dalai Lama emphatically asserts, in agreement with previous commentaries on Kalachakra, that there is no basis-level basis for actualizing the Corpus of Forms (gzugs-sku, Skt. Rupakaya; Form Bodies) of a Buddha.

The basis for actualization of facsimile and not-even-facsimile pathway devoid-forms, on the other hand, is the awake-occasion drops, which are present on the basis-level. Serkong Rinpoche has explained that since the not-even-facsimile, facsimile and definitional pathway devoid-forms constitute a continuum, we can likewise understand that the source or basis for this continuum (rgyun-gzhi) is the awake-occasion drop.

The basis for actualization of the mental holograms of the awake-occasion is also the awake-occasion drop.

The Minimal Defining Features That Characterize Pathway Devoid-Forms

On the first stage of the first-branch of Kalachakra complete stage practice, not-yet-facsimile pathway devoid-forms arise:

  • without total absorption on space-like voidness,

  • without the energy-winds actually entering, abiding, and dissolving in the central channel,

  • without cognition of them with greatly blissful awareness,

  • without their remaining at the upper end of the central channel where they first arise, or their even remaining within the body.

The defining features that these not-yet-facsimile devoid-forms do have are:

  • being forms taken by the bareness that is the appearance aspect of the clear-light mind and which arise like mirror-images in the clear-light mind,

  • arising as the “flavor” of clear-light mind,

  • appearing in the aspect of either a Kalachakra couple in union or various appearances such as the ten signs of smoke and so on, or as vases, tufts of wool, etc.

  • having the awake-occasion drop as their basis for actualization,

  • arising when the ten winds of sensory cognition have been immobilized and the upper end of the central channel has been tapped,

  • being forms that are included merely among the cognitive stimulators that are all validly knowable phenomena, and thus not objects cognizable by ordinary visual cognition,

  • arising through the force of the yoga of the joined pair of shamatha and vipashyana.

Generation-Stage Forms

On the generation stage (bskyed-rim) of Kalachakra practice, prior to complete stage practice, one meditates on voidness through the four gateways to liberation (rnam-thar sgo-bzhi) and imagines generating a greatly blissful deep awareness inseparable from voidness.

[See: Voidness Meditation in Kalachakra Practice.]

One then imagines that the winds of karma enter, abide in and dissolve in the central channel and that, through the dissolution process, one manifests the clear-light level of mind generated as a blissful deep awareness of space-like voidness. His Holiness the Dalai Lama has explained that on the Kalachakra generation stage, one imagines that one has the form of a devoid-form couple, but during the conceptual focus on space-like voidness, one does not focus on this form. It does not appear to the mind focused on space-like voidness.

As a subsequent realization of illusion-like voidness, one then further visualizes (mos-pa, imagines) that oneself as the Kalachakra couple and one’s environment as the Kalachakra mandala appear, like magic-mirror images, from the flavor of the bareness of that clear-light mind focused now on voidness with unchanging blissful awareness.

  • The term “mos-pa,” translated here as “imagine,” has much stronger connotations than merely to imagine something.

  • According to Asanga’s Anthology of Special Topics of Knowledge, “mos-pa,” when used to translate the Sanskrit term “adhimukti,” means firm conviction in something that one has validly ascertained with discriminating awareness (shes-rab) to be like this and not like that. Thus, when imagining these generation-stage forms, one has firm conviction concerning their appearance.

  • According to Vasubandhu’s Treasure-House of Special Topics of Knowledge, “mos-pa,” translating the Sanskrit term “adhimoksha,” means “high regard,” namely regarding the object of focus as having good qualities. When visualizing the mandala and figures in it, one regards them as having all good qualities.

  • Mos-pa/adhimoksha” also has the connotation of a firm aspiration or resolve to attain a goal for which one has high regard. In this case, the goals are the pathway devoid-forms of a Kalachakra couple, vases, tufts of wool, and so on, and the resultant devoid-forms of a Buddha’s Corpus of Enlightening Forms and the pure objects cognized by the omniscient mind a Buddha’s Corpus Encompassing Everything.

  • Note that visualization is done with mental cognition, not sensory cognition. Nevertheless, one can have both mental and sensory cognition simultaneously, with each having a different object. Just as one can think various extraneous thoughts while looking at something, meditators still see the room they are in and the pages of the sadhana they are reciting while simultaneously visualizing what the sadhana is describing. The level of attention that accompanies each of these two cognitions may differ, but they are still occurring simultaneously.

I have not seen a textual reference in which the forms that arise through mos-pa during the generation stage (let us call them “visualized generation-stage forms”) are called devoid-forms, whether basis-level or pathway-level ones. These visualized forms are described merely as that which ripens (smin-pa) into the definitional pathway devoid-forms, but not as their basis for actualization.

  • These visualized forms “ripen” in the sense that repeated visualization of them builds up a beneficial habit and a positive potential that develop and grow to the point at which they produce their result: the arising of pathway devoid-forms.

  • It is not that the visualized generation-stage devoid-forms themselves ripen into pathway complete-stage devoid-forms, like an unripe fruit ripening into a ripe one.

Nevertheless, it seems reasonable for the visualized generation-stage forms to be considered among the appearances that arise during the awake-occasion. As such, what they have in common with first-stage not-yet-facsimile pathway devoid-forms are:

  • having as their basis for actualization the awake-occasion drop,

  • being forms that are included merely among the cognitive stimulators that are all validly knowable phenomena, and thus not objects cognizable by ordinary visual cognition,

  • appearing in the forms of both a Kalachakra couple and other aspects, such as vases,

  • having an appearance of truly established existence.

Although visualized generation-stage forms are imagined to arise with conceptual focus on space-like voidness, imagined to be attained with the greatly blissful awareness of the clear-light mind after an imagined ten-step process of dissolution of the energy-winds, these features do not qualify them to be devoid-forms. This is because, as we have seen, (1) focus on space-like voidness, (2) greatly blissful awareness, and (3) cognition by clear-light mind are not characteristic features of all devoid-forms. First-stage not-even-facsimile pathway devoid-forms lack these features.

However, unlike first-stage not-yet-facsimile pathway devoid-forms, visualized generation-stage forms:

  • do not arise from focusing on the awake-occasion drop at the upper end of the central channel, despite having the awake-occasion drop as their basis for actualization,

  • consequently, are not attained from tapping an essential point of the central channel,

  • do not arise through totally immobilizing the sensory winds, although one does not utilize the sensory winds to visualize them,

  • are not attained through the power of the yoga of a joined pair of shamatha and vipashyana, nor necessarily cognized with such a joined pair,

The questions then arise, however, in regard to these visualized generation-stage forms:

  • Although these forms are imagined, with firm conviction, to arise with the flavor (ngang) of blissful clear-light cognition of voidness, are they in fact at least actually arising like magic-mirror images from the basis-level clear-light mind as the flavor of that mind?

  • If these forms are, in fact, arising from the basis-level clear-light mind, does this qualify them to be considered basis-level devoid-forms?

To answer these questions, we need to examine the phenomena actually considered to be basis-level devoid-forms.

Basis-Level Devoid-Forms

Kaydrub Norzang-gyatso explains that basis-level devoid-forms are devoid-forms that arise not through the power of yoga, but that arise naturally. He does not specify, however, the characteristic features that distinguish them as devoid-forms. Nevertheless, he joins all previous commentators in emphatically asserting that there is nothing at the basis-level that functions as the basis for actualization of a Buddha’s Corpus of Enlightening Forms. Thus, basis-level devoid-forms certainly cannot be the basis for actualization of pathway or resultant-level devoid-forms, nor can they even be what will ripen into these devoid-forms.

The examples of basis-level devoid-forms that Kaydrub Norzang-gyatso cites are the various appearances that spontaneously and effortlessly arise with the clear-light of death at the conclusion of the natural dissolution process of the energy-winds. They arise, he explains,

as the natural flavor of the clear-light mind, when the winds that course through the right and left side-channels having been stopped and made to abide in and dissolve in the central channel, and consequently all the fleeting conceptual cognitions having appearances of objects (glo-bur yul-snang-gi rtog-pa) have been stopped. At such a time, these various devoid-forms arise, like magic-mirror images, in the natural clear-light mind having an appearance aspect of a space-like void (stong-pa nam-mkha’ lta-bu) that is parted from all extremes of mental fabrication (spros-pa, Skt. prapanca).”

Note that the appearance of the clear-light mind of death is that of a space-light void or bareness like that which arises when nonconceptually totally absorbed on space-like voidness, devoid of the mental fabrications of true existence, total nonexistence, both or neither.

  • This does not imply that the clear-light of death has nonconceptual cognition of space-like voidness.

  • Nor does it imply that the basis-level devoid-forms that arise with the clear-light of death appear to lack truly established existence.

  • In fact, it is unclear whether these devoid-forms are actually cognized by the clear-light mind of death at all, or whether they merely arise in the clear-light mind, but are not actually cognized by that clear-light mind, as in the case of definitional pathway-level devoid-forms that arise during sixth-branch total absorption on voidness, The clear-light mind of death, although not naturally having nonconceptual cognition of voidness, nevertheless does not make appearances of truly established existence.

The various forms in which these death-time basis-level devoid-forms may arise can include both Kalachakra couples (if one has accustomed oneself to meditation on them while alive) and any other form (vases, tufts of wool, and so on).

  • Note that the appearances of smoke, and so on, in the dissolution process leading up to the clear light of death are not included here as basis-level devoid-forms, although on the pathway-level these appearances are included.

The characteristic features, then, that basis-level devoid-forms at the time of death share in common with not-yet-facsimile pathway devoid-forms are:

  • arising when the energy-winds of the senses have been totally immobilized (whether that has occurred naturally or through the power of yoga),

  • arising when the vital points of the subtle body have been tapped, so that the energy-winds can enter the central channel (again, whether that has occurred naturally or through the power of yoga),

  • arising as the natural flavor of the clear-light mind,

  • being forms that are included merely among the cognitive stimulators that are all validly knowable phenomena, and thus not objects cognizable by ordinary visual cognition.

The features that they do not share in common are:

  • having the awake-occasion drop as their basis for actualization,

  • arising through the force of the yoga of the joined pair of shamatha and vipashyana.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama has cited another example of basis-level devoid-forms, namely those that arise when a child, for fun, looks at the sun and then looks away. I have been unable to find the textual reference for this. I imagine that the devoid-forms such a child cognizes are similar to the dots of light that arise in our cognition after having our photos taken with a flash camera.

  • Note that bimba, the Sanskrit word for “form” in the expression “devoid-form,” is also used for the round disc of the sun or the moon. The example of the after-image of the sun as an example of a basis-level devoid-form could have been chosen as a play on the two connotations of the word “bimba”: image and disc.

  • It is unclear whether the cognition of these after-images are with sensory cognition or with mental consciousness, and if with mental consciousness, whether nonconceptual or conceptual.

  • It is unclear even if these cognitions are distorted or not.

His Holiness agrees that it is much more difficult to ascertain what characteristic features these after-images share in common with other basis-level devoid-forms, let alone with pathway devoid-forms.

  • Even if we presume that these after-images are cognized with mental cognition and not sensory cognition, the fact of these images being forms included merely among the cognitive stimulators that are all validly knowable phenomena cannot, by itself, qualify them as devoid-forms.

  • If it did qualify them, then the absurd conclusion would follow that all forms included merely among the cognitive stimulators that are all validly knowable phenomena are devoid-forms.

  • Then it would absurdly follow that forms of physical phenomena existing in actual situations (mngon-par skabs yod-pa’i gzugs), such as astronomical distances between stars and microscopic distances between atoms, would also be devoid-forms, because they can only be cognized by mental consciousness and they are not made up of particles.

The basis-level after-image devoid-forms do not even share the other characteristic features that basis-level clear-light-of-death devoid-forms and not-even-facsimile pathway devoid-forms have in common.

  • It is not that the energy-winds of the senses have been totally immobilized before these devoid-forms arise, although perhaps the energy-winds of the eyes have been stunned by looking at the sun or the flash of a camera.

  • We can perhaps conjecture that these after-image devoid-forms are not cognized with ordinary sensory cognition. This feature is, however, shared in common with visualized generation-stage forms.

  • It is also not that they are arising when the vital points of the subtle body have been tapped, so that the energy-winds can enter the central channel.

What basis-level after-image devoid-void forms do share in common with not-even-facsimile pathway devoid-forms, though not with basis-level clear-light-of-death devoid-forms is:

  • Having the awake-occasion drop as their basis for actualization, although the basis-level after-image devoid-void forms do not arise by focusing on this drop.

Thus, it is difficult to set a common feature shared exclusively by both types of basis-level devoid-forms and not-even-facsimile devoid-forms and which characterize them all as devoid-forms and nothing else.

One could try to make the case that (1) since 675 deep awareness winds enter and pass through the central channel each day and (2) since second- and third-stage not-even-facsimile pathway devoid-forms, as well as facsimile and definitional pathway devoid-forms, all arise once the ten energy-winds have been made to enter the central channel, therefore the mental holograms of the four occasions are basis-level devoid-forms arising when these 675 deep awareness breaths are occurring. This is not a valid line of reasoning, however, because if it were, then the absurd conclusion would follow that the mental holograms of the four occasions could only arise twelve times a day, in between the twelve shifts of the breath, and each time they would only last for 56 ¼ breaths.

Conclusion

The facts that (1) the basis for actualization for the mental holograms that arise while awake is the awake-occasion drop and (2) the mental holograms are forms included merely among the cognitive stimulators that are all validly knowable phenomena and thus they are not made of particles are not sufficient characteristic features to specify these mental holograms as being basis-level devoid-forms arising, like mirror-images, in the clear-light mind.

If the awake-occasion mental holograms cannot be considered basis-level devoid-forms, then it is difficult to argue that the mental holograms of the other three occasions (dream, deep sleep, and the fourth occasion) are basis-level devoid-forms.

Thus, although the winds of karma may be the mount of the mental consciousness that cognizes the mental holograms of the four occasions – although one would need to give valid lines of reasoning to demonstrate this – we cannot convincingly argue that the mental holograms they are involved with are merely forms that are devoid of being made of particles and which arise in the clear-light mind like images in a magic-mirror.

  • It is unlikely that the winds of karma are the mounts of the mental consciousness that cognize any of the three types of pathway devoid-forms (definitional, facsimile, and not-even facsimile) or even visualized generation-stage forms. This is because the minds that cognize these forms have either labored or unlabored bodhichitta. Thus, the positive forces (bsod-nams, Skt. punya) built up from such cognition are enlightenment-builders and are not involved with the karmic process.

  • Thus, even if it is correct that the winds of karma are the mounts of the mental holograms of the four occasions, that still does not qualify those mental holograms to be devoid-forms, because it is unlikely that these winds are the mounts of pathway devoid-forms.

[See: The Two Enlightenment-Building Networks (The Two Collections).]

Part Three: The Role Played by the Winds of Karma If the Mental Holograms of the Four Occasions Are Made of Subtle Particles

The second hypothesis concerning the role that the winds of karma play regarding the mental holograms of the four occasions is that the subtle particles of the winds of karma make up the holograms. This hypothesis derives from the following analysis:

Logical Pervasions

If the mental holograms of the four occasions are not basis-level devoid-forms, then what are they? One way to derive possible alternative explanations is from examining the pervasion between the set of forms made of particles and the set of forms known only by mental cognition:

  • There are forms that are made of particles, but not known only by mental cognition, such as a table. Tables are made of particles and can be known by both sensory and mental cognition.

  • There are forms that are not made of particles, but known only by mental cognition, such as astronomical distances, the microscopic distances between particles, and both pathway-level devoid forms and the basis-level clear-light-of-death devoid forms.

  • As for forms that are both not made of particles and not known only by mental cognition, if the mental holograms that arise in sensory cognition were basis-level devoid-forms, they would be members of this set. They would not be made of particles, but would be knowable by both sensory and mental cognition. But if there are logical inconsistencies in asserting the mental holograms of the four occasions as being basis-level devoid-forms knowable only by mental cognition, there would also be similar inconsistencies in asserting that the mental holograms that arise in sensory cognition are basis-level devoid-forms. So it would seem that this set has no members.

  • The set of forms that are made of particles and are knowable only by mental cognition is also a null set. There seem to be no forms that would be members of this set.

In light of these four possibilities, are there any ways to fit the mental holograms of the four occasions into any of them?

Dzogchen Style Explanation

One possibility is that the mental holograms of the four occasions are not basis-level devoid-forms as defined in the Kalachakra system, but rather are basis-level devoid-forms as defined in the dzogchen (great completeness) system. Then, they would fit as members of the set of forms that are not made of particles and are known only by mental cognition.

This explanation is suggested, for instance, by the following verse (61) from Longchenpa’s A Precious Garland for the Four Themes (of Gampopa):

In the mandala of the sphere of the basis, which is a womb containing a Blissfully Gone One, all phenomena, which are its reflexive appearances, are mere appearances of your own limited mind. They are deceptions, not true phenomena – devoid forms that are (just) clarity and appearance itself.

[See: A Precious Garland for the Four Themes (of Gampopa).]

According to the dzogchen presentation, basis-level devoid-forms are the reflexive appearances of the limited mind (sems); whereas pure devoid-forms are the reflexive appearances of pure awareness (rig-pa) – equivalent to the primordially unstained state of the clear-light mind. Limited awareness occurs when our pure awareness does not “recognize its own face,” in other words when it does not recognize its own void nature.

In this dzogchen system, the mental holograms that arise with sensory cognition are basis-level dzogchen devoid-forms. They would be members of the set of forms that are not made of particles and are not known only by mental cognition. They can also be known by sensory cognition.

Such dzogchen-style explanation, however, does not fit comfortably with the Gelug-style presentation of Kalachakra. Is there a more Gelug-style possible alternative explanation?

Suggestions from the Guhyasamaja System

One such possibility would be to assert that there are gross particles and subtle particles. As Kalachakra devoid-forms, which are not made of either gross or subtle particles, the mental holograms of the four occasions do not fit in the category of forms that are not made of particles and are known only by mental cognition. However, suppose we redefine the parameter of “not being made of particles” as “not being made of gross particles.” If the mental holograms of the four occasions were not made of gross particles, but rather were made of subtle particles, then they would fit in the set of forms that are not made of gross particles and are known only by mental cognition.

Such an approach to understanding what makes up the mental holograms of the four occasions accords with the explanations found in the Gelug Guhyasamaja system. Let us examine this anuttarayoga tantra system.

In the eight-step dissolution process outlined in the Gelug presentation of the Guhyasamaja system, the consciousness withdraws from the gross particles of the four elements during the first four stages.

  • These are the gross particles asserted in the abhidharma system.

  • According to abhidharma, there are eight types of both gross particles and subparticles – earth, water, fire, wind, form, odor, taste and tactile sensation, so leaving out sound. Each gross particle is made up of all eight types of subparticles. Within each gross particle, whichever of the eight subparticles dominates determines what type of gross particle it is.

Next in the dissolution process, the entire set of winds of the eighty universally-occurring types of subtle conceptual minds (kun-rtog brgyad-cu) dissolve. This is not counted as one of the eight steps.

  • Tsongkhapa explains that these winds are made of the “subtle source elements” (khams phra-mo), also referred to as the “five light-rays of the subtle source elements” (khams phra-ba’i ‘od-zer lnga).

  • These are not made of particles, but as forms of physical phenomena, they could be analogous to some sort of electromagnetic energy, though perhaps not the same as visible light.

Next, the three light appearance-making subtlest conceptual minds (snang-ba gsum), which merely make appearances of true existence, dissolve in turn:

  • the light appearance-making conceptual mind (snang-ba, white appearance),

  • the sheer light appearance-making conceptual mind (mched-pa, red increase),

  • the threshold appearance-making conceptual mind (nyer-thob, black near attainment).

This is followed by the clear-light nonconceptual mind, which does not make appearances of true existence.

I have not found a reference explaining whether or not the energy-winds of these last four minds in the eight-step dissolution sequence are also made of subtle source elements or what they are made of.

[See: Introduction to the Guhyasamaja System of Anuttarayoga Tantra.]

Citing one of the Guhyasamaja explanatory tantras, Vajra Garland (rDo-rje ‘phreng-ba), Tsongkhapa explains that our universally-occurring types of subtle conceptual minds give rise to the disturbing emotions and attitudes, and by them karma is built up, and from that we experience uncontrollably recurring samsaric rebirth.

It can be argued that the five light-rays of subtle source elements that constitute the winds of these eighty subtle conceptual minds are the simultaneously arising causes (lhan-cig ‘byung-ba’i rgyu) for the mental holograms that we experience in cognition.

  • Simultaneously arising causes are causes that arise simultaneously with their results, like the constituent elements of material objects and the material objects consisting of them.

If we transpose this Guhyasamaja-style analysis to the Kalachakara system, then since the mental holograms of the four occasions are not basis-level devoid-forms and are not the reflexive appearance of the limited, tainted mind, then it is possible that they also have energy-wind as their simultaneously arising cause. A possible candidate for that energy-wind would be the winds of karma.

Kalachakra Presentation of Particles

According to Kalachakra, there are five types of particles – earth, water, fire, wind and space. Each type of particle is subtler than the previous one. The five are:

  • Earth particles, with five qualities of odor, form, taste, tactile sensation, and sound. His Holiness the Dalai Lama explains that the eight gross particles asserted in abhidharma are probably included here.

  • Water particles, with four qualities, leaving out odor. So water particles have form, taste, tactile sensation and sound.

  • Fire particles, with three qualities, leaving out odor and form. So fire particles have taste, tactile sensation of heat, and sound.

  • Wind particles, with two qualities, leaving out odor, form and taste. So wind particles have just tactile sensation and sound.

  • Space particles, with only one quality, sound.

[See: Buddhist Cosmology: A Comparison of the Abhidharma and Kalachakra Explanations.]

Presumably, because Kalachakra always presents an analogy between the external and internal worlds, there are both external particles making up the environment and internal ones making up our gross and subtle bodies.

  • Thus, since wind particles have only two qualities: physical sensation and sound, if we are very sensitive, we can be aware of the subtle physical sensation of the coursing of the winds in our subtle body. In a sense, it is like being aware of our subtle energy, as when we sense our nervous energy.

The winds of karma would fall in the category of internal winds comprising subtle wind particles. If the winds of karma are the simultaneously arising causes for the mental holograms of the four occasions – if they are, in a sense, the type of subtle matter/energy that makes up these holograms – we may ask whether the winds of karma might have any feature similar to the five light-rays of subtle source elements that could account for the diversity of appearances of these holograms.

There are 21,600 karmic winds each day – twelve shifts of 1800 each. For each of the twelve shifts, all 1800 winds (minus 56 ¼ deep awareness winds) are passing through one of the twelve great shift channels at the navel chakra. The great shift channel through which they course alternates each shift. First 1743 ¾ karmic winds all course through one great shift channel on the left side of the body (and so through the left side-channel) and then the next set of 1743 ¾ karmic winds course through one great shift channel on the right side (and so through the right side-channel). 56 ¼ deep awareness winds pass through the central channel at the cusp when each great shift occurs.

Each set of 1743 ¼ winds is, in sequence, one of the five types of element winds – space winds, wind winds, fire winds, water winds, and earth winds. Further, each of the twelve great shift channels at the navel chakra has coming out of it five minor shift channels – one in the center and four around it. During a great shift of 1800 breaths, 360 breaths at a time all pass through each of the minor shift channels (minus 11 ¼ deep awareness breaths) in turn. Consequently there are space-space winds, space-wind winds, space-fire winds, and so on passing through the right and left side-channels. Thus, there are twenty-five of these types of karmic winds, making twenty-six all together when we add the deep awareness winds that course through the central channel.

Could this variety of karmic winds be responsible for the diversity in the appearances of the holograms of the four occasions?

Objections

One objection to this hypothesis is that each of the twenty-six types of karmic winds courses only at set times each day. However, there do not seem to be set times in a set pattern when specific types of mental holographic appearances arise.

The second objection is more of a doubt. The Kalachakra literature also mentions the energy-winds of the universally-occurring subtle conceptual minds, although it does not specify that there are eighty of them, nor have I found reference to five light-rays of subtle source elements in conjunction with them. When the winds of karma are coursing through one of the two side-channels, the winds of the universally-occurring subtle conceptual minds are coursing through the other side-channel.

The Guhyasamaja literature does not contradict this. Tsongkhapa explains that there are two sets of eighty universally-occurring subtle conceptual minds, one set occurring during the daytime and the other occurring at night. The 160 subtle energy-winds of these subtle conceptual minds course through the right and left side-channels and thus pass around the six main chakras of our central channel.

  • Although the Guhyasamaja system does not present the creative-energy drops of the four occasions, it seems reasonable to assume that in the Kalachakra system, just as the karmic winds can pass through the creative-energy drops of the four occasions in the chakras, the winds of the universally-occurring subtle conceptual minds can do likewise.

If the winds of the universally-occurring subtle conceptual minds play a role in the Kalachakra system similar to the one they play in the Guhyasamaja system, then they would be the simultaneously arising causes of the mental holograms of the four occasions. If that is the case, then the winds of karma would not play that same role as these winds of the subtle conceptual minds play and would probably be merely the mount of the mental consciousness that cognizes these mental holograms.

On the other hand, if the winds of karma are the simultaneously arising causes of the mental holograms of the four occasions, then what role do the universally-occurring subtle conceptual minds play in the Kalachakra system?

These are questions that need further analysis.

Part Four: The Role Played by the Winds of Karma Simply As the Mounts of the Mental Consciousness That Occurs during Each of the Four Occasions

The Stains Infecting the Creative-Energy Drops

Let’s say the winds of karma are simply the mounts of the mental consciousness that occurs during each of the four occasions and analyze further.

On the basis level, the creative-energy drops are infected or tainted with the tendencies and habits of the emotional and cognitive obscurations, imbuing them like water into soft wood.

  • Among the emotional obscurations, the taints here refer to the tendencies of the disturbing emotions, which give rise intermittently to the disturbing emotions.

  • Among the cognitive obscurations, the taints here refer to the constant habits of grasping for true existence, which constantly give rise to appearances of true existence. Until the emotional obscurations are stopped, these taints also constantly give rise to grasping for the appearance of true existence to correspond to how things actually exist.

Both these intermittent tendencies and constant habits are noncongruent affecting variables (ldan-min ‘du-byed, neither forms of physical phenomena nor ways of being aware of something). They are merely imputed (designated) on a basis for imputation (gdags-gzhi).

The Kalachakra commentaries all agree that they cannot be imputed on the creative-energy drops themselves as their basis for imputation, since the drops are material substances. Unlike other noncongruent affecting variables, such as motion, which can be imputed on material substances, tendencies and habits can only be imputed on a mental continuum.

The commentaries explain that these tendencies and habits are imputed on the continuum of the subtlest consciousness that imbues the creative drops like water imbuing soft wood. Tsenzhab Serkong Rinpoche, however, pointed out that the natal place (skye-gnas) of clear light subtlest consciousness is located only in the center of the heart chakra and that this subtlest level of consciousness and its subtlest energy-wind remain there throughout our lives as the so-called “undissipating drop” (mi-shig-pa’i thig-le). Therefore, Tsenzhab Serkong Rinpoche asserted that what is imbuing the subtle drops must refer to just a subtler level of consciousness, not the subtlest level.

From one point of view, however, one could say that the clear light subtlest level of consciousness underlies every moment of cognition, so it would also underlie moments of subtle consciousness and thus it is still the clear light subtlest level of consciousness that is the basis for imputation for the tendencies and habits of the two obscurations.

  • More precisely, according to Gelug Prasangika, these tendencies and habits are imputed on the conventional “me” that can be imputed on the continuum of clear light subtlest mind.

  • For the sake of simplicity, however, let us say that the tendencies and habits of the two obscurations are imputed on the conventional “me” designated on subtle consciousness, namely some level of mental consciousness.

Since consciousness always has energy-wind as its mount, then it would be subtle energy-wind/subtle consciousness that imbues the drops and has the tendencies and habits of the two obscurations imputed on the conventional “me” labeled on them.

Since the nature of subtle energy-wind is that it is always moving through the subtle energy-channels, it seems unreasonable that there is a stationary subtle wind imbuing the drops and bearing the stains of the emotional and cognitive obscurations. My hypothesis is that the 21,600 winds of karma that are passing through these four drops are the subtle winds that imbue these drops and that bear the stains of the emotional and cognitive obscurations.

The way in which the winds of karma carry the tendencies and habits of the two obscurations would be that the conventional “me” with these tendencies and habits imputed on it is labeled on each of the 21,600 subtle wind/minds at the moment during which it is imbuing one of the creative-energy drops.

The Causal Role of the Stains

The intermittent tendencies of the disturbing emotions imputed on those karmic wind/minds are the obtaining cause for the disturbing emotions that accompany moments of experiencing these four occasions.

The constant habits of grasping for true existence are the obtaining cause for the constantly arising appearances of true existence and grasping for them to correspond to reality.

The Relation between Karma, the Appearances of the Four Occasions, and the Winds of Karma

Each moment of the four occasions is made up of five aggregate factors of experience (phung-po lnga):

  • a form of physical phenomenon that appears (in this case, the subtle form of a mental hologram that can only be cognized by mental consciousness),

  • a primary consciousness (in this case, mental consciousness) that cognizes the subtle form,

  • distinguishing (‘du-shes) a characteristic feature of the subtle form,

  • feeling a level of happiness (tshor-ba), and

  • other affecting variables (‘du-byed), such as intentions (‘dun-pa), karmic urges (sems-pa), disturbing emotions, constructive emotions, etc.

We have seen that the disturbing emotions arise from their specific tendencies as their obtaining causes. Similarly, the constructive emotions, such as love and compassion, arise from their specific tendencies as their obtaining causes.

The rest of the components of the five aggregates are unspecified (lung ma-bstan), which means that Buddha did not specify them to be either constructive or destructive. They are ethically neutral. All these unspecified factors arise as the results, in general, of positive and negative karmic forces (bsod-nams and sdig-pa), positive and negative karmic tendencies, and constant karmic habits.

Just as the tendencies and habits of the two obscurations are imputed on the conventional “me” imputed on the subtle consciousness/wind of the winds of karma, so too the karmic forces, tendencies and habits are also imputed on it.

There are three kinds of karmic result, one of which has two parts:

  • ripened results (rnam-smin-gyi ‘bras-bu), namely all these unspecified factors, including the content of the mental holograms that appear in the four occasions, the level of happiness or unhappiness that we feel while mentally cognizing them, the intention or wish to do something in relation to that appearance, and the compelling urge (the mental karma) that draws us into thinking to do or say something,

  • results that correspond to their cause in our behavior (byed-pa rgyu-mthun-gyi ‘bras-bu), referring to the intention or wish to do something in relation to these mental holograms,

  • results that correspond to their cause in our experience (myong-ba rgyu-mthun-gyi ‘bras-bu), referring to our experiencing the content of the mental holograms with mental consciousness,

  • dominating results (bdag-po’i ‘bras-bu), referring for instance to the environment that we experience as part of the content of the mental holograms.

[See once more: Causes, Conditions, and Results.]

The way in which these unspecified components of our aggregates derive from the karmic forces, tendencies and habits imputed on the conventional “me” imputed on the subtle consciousness/wind of the winds of karma is:

  • The negative and positive karmic forces are either destructive or constructive phenomena and so they are the ripening causes (rnam-smin-gyi rgyu) that give rise to the content of the mental holograms, levels of happiness, and so on, as unspecified (neutral) ripened results. This is like unripe fruit ripening into ripe fruit.

  • The positive and negative tendencies are unspecified as being either destructive or constructive. They are the obtaining causes for the mental holograms, like a seed for the fruit.

  • The two types of result that correspond to their cause and the dominating results come jointly from the karmic forces and karmic tendencies.

  • The constant karmic habits give rise to the mental consciousness in these occasions being limited in the sense of not being omniscient.

Conclusion

The drops of the four occasions and the mental holograms that arise with them as their basis for actualization are not included among the obscurations preventing either liberation or enlightenment. Although they automatically disappear and no longer occur once we reach enlightenment, they are not objects to be gotten rid of (spang-bya, objects to be abandoned) by applying direct opponents. If they were, then the absurd conclusion would follow that the facsimile pathway devoid-forms are obstacles to enlightenment, because they have as their basis for actualization the awake-occasion drops.

This line of reasoning is parallel to the line of reasoning that applies to conceptual cognition. We no longer have conceptual cognition when we are Buddhas, but conceptual cognition is not an obstacle to enlightenment; otherwise if it were an obstacle to enlightenment, then the absurd conclusion would follow that relative bodhichitta is an obscuration preventing enlightenment, because it is conceptual.

What is to be gotten rid of by applying opponents are the tendencies and habits of the two obscurations (emotional and cognitive), as well as the potentials, tendencies and habits of karma. As we have seen, these potentials, tendencies and habits are carried by the winds of karma in the manner of being imputed on the mental consciousness that is mounted on these winds. Because of these tendencies and habits, the mental holograms of the four occasions arise in the various aspects that they do and our cognition of them is accompanied by unawareness, grasping for their true existence, disturbing emotions and attitudes, and the compulsion to repeat our previous behavior influenced by unawareness and so on.

As we have also seen, it is difficult to ascertain what actually makes up these holograms. The hypotheses that these holograms are basis-level devoid-forms or that they are made up of the winds of karma as their simultaneously arising causes cannot be substantiated by either logic or scripture. The most promising candidates for being their simultaneously arising causes are the subtle energy-winds of the eighty universally-occurring types of subtle conceptual minds, although further analysis is required for reaching a conclusion about this hypothesis.

With nonconceptual cognition of voidness, we attain true stoppings of the factors that activate the various potentials, tendencies and habits carried by the winds of karma. Simultaneously, with unchanging clear-light blissful awareness of voidness and the stacking of 21,600 white and red bodhichitta drops in the central channel of a definitional devoid-form arisen at our navel chakras, we attain true stoppings of the coursing of the winds of karma. With the winds of karma no longer carrying these potentials, tendencies and habits, and no longer flowing through the creative-energy drops of the four occasions, the mental holograms of the four occasions no longer arise. With the attainment of enlightenment, the winds of karma and the creative-energy drops of the four occasions disappear like a rainbow as we arise with the Four Enlightening Corpuses of a Buddha.

Topics for Future Analysis: Physical and Verbal Karma

Note that since the four occasions are referring merely to the mental cognitions of these four occasions, the only karma that is involved here is mental karma. Mental karma is the mental factor of a mental urge that draws us into thinking about doing or saying something.

Physical and verbal karmas, as asserted by Gelug Prasangika, comprise both revealing forms (rnam-par rig-byed-kyi gzugs, Skt. vijnaptirupa) and nonrevealing forms (rnam-par rig-byed ma-yin-pa’i gzugs, Skt. avijnaptirupa).

  • The revealing form of a physical action is the compulsive shape (sbyibs) that the body takes while acting. The revealing form of a verbal action is the compulsive sound (sgra) that our voice takes when speaking. These revealing forms may be constructive, destructive or unspecified. They are knowable by either visual or audial cognition and they are “revealing” in the sense that they reveal the motivation behind them. They last only so long as the physical or verbal action lasts.

  • The nonrevealing form of a physical or verbal action is a subtle form not made of particles and is knowable only by mental cognition. They are caused by a strong constructive or destructive motivation and, consequently are themselves either constructive or destructive, but they are “nonrevealing” in that they do not reveal that motivation. They begin with the onset of the action as part of the mental continuum. They do not degenerate, but continue with the mental continuum after the action has ceased, so long as the intention remains to continue to repeat the action. They cease when the intention fully arises never to repeat the action again.

Although physical and verbal actions may occur while we are awake and mentally cognizing the mental holograms of the four occasions, any actions committed in the mental holograms of the awake and dream-occasions are merely mental actions. As mental actions, such as imagining or dreaming murdering someone or verbally teaching the Dharma to someone, they do not entail the revealing forms of physical or verbal karma.

The actions committed in the mental holograms while awake or dreaming, being merely mental, also do not entail nonrevealing forms. Nevertheless, the nonrevealing forms of physical and verbal actions we have committed previously or might be presently committing would be present with the mental continuum while mentally cognizing the mental holograms of the four occasions.

Although the winds of karma may be involved in some way with both the revealing and nonrevealing forms of the physical and verbal karma present during the four occasions, analysis of this is beyond the scope of the present article.

[See: The Two Enlightenment-Building Networks (The Two Collections).]

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