His Holiness The Drikung Kyabgön, Chetsang Rinpoche: Vipashyana, analyzing the nature of mind.
Notes and questions by Dr. Luciano Villa and Eng. Alessandro Tenzin Villa within the project “Free Dharma Teachings” for the benefit of all sentient beings.
Question: What is the process of cultivating vipashyana, or the perfect insight?
His Holiness The Drikung Kyabgön, Chetsang Rinpoche. Next is the process of cultivating vipashyana, or the perfect insight that leads us to a knowledge of ultimate reality by focusing on and analysing mind itself. This is part of what is one in the three-year retreat. In order to practice this, one looks at mind itself. In order to focus on mind, one needs mental quiescence so that the mind is controlled and focused one-pointedly; not distracted by various conceptions. It is also very helpful to be in a proper place. This is the importance of retreat, where one is free from everyday distractions and can focus on the nature of mind in a calm and open way Dharma Lord Gampopa taught that the way we should approach vipashyana meditation is to look at mind itself and analyse it, trying to understand what it is, what its defining characteristics are, and so forth. He spoke of different ways investigating mind:
First of all, what is the substance, the entity of mind?
Second, what is its nature?
Third, what are its defining characteristics?
Of these, first is the essential substance of mind. When we look at mind, the first essential substance, or entity we find is clarity. We find that mind itself is free of conceptualization. Next we look at the nature of mind. Dharma Lord Gampopa said, “The nature of mind is free from the three attributes of generation, annihilation, and abiding.” Third, the defining characteristic of its aspect, its appearance, is that it arises at all times. Whether in samsara or nirvana, there is always the arising of mind.
The essence of mind is somewhat difficult to explain, so we look at it from the negative point of view, that is, what mind is not. First of all, we see that it is not something which arises or ceases or abides. It is free of these three things. From beginningless time, there is no arising, no cessation and no abiding in terms of staying in one place, not moving, or not changing. It is completely free of all three of these.
It is also free of being a thing or a substance composed of particles. The essential entity or substance, of mind is not something that can be defiled or stained by grasping at subject and object. It is completely free of the stains from those activities. Further, when we look at the essential substance of mind, we find that no matter how much we search for it, no matter how much we analyse it, there is no thing there to be found. There is no entity that we can come up with by searching, evaluating, and analysing. No matter how much we seek for its essential substance, we cannot find it. The searcher, the one who does the search for the essential substance of mind, cannot find it Therefore it is said that the essential substance of mind itself is emptiness.
Mind is that which cannot be isolated or located or defined through logical analysis. All phenomena exist conventionally, but when subjected to an analysis which seeks to find their essential substance, one cannot be found. That is their ultimate reality.
So here we have the distinction between conventional reality and ultimate reality All phenomena, including mind, exist conventionally but when we search for what they actually are we find nothing. That is their emptiness, or ultimate reality. The nature of mind, then, is not different in this sense from the nature of all phenomena in samsara and nirvana. That is, when all phenomena are subjected to conclusive analysis of their essential substance, nothing is found. Therefore, they are said to be ”empty” or to lack inherent identifiability or inherent substance. If even one thing were found to possess an inherent nature, then this could establish a basis for other things to possess an inherent nature or identifiability but this is not the case. Therefore, the emptiness of all things is the same; all things in samsara and nirvana—all phenomena—are empty of this inherent nature. This is what Aryadeva said in his Mudhyamika Shadashadika: “The substance of one thing is the substance of all things. The emptiness of one thing is the same as the emptiness of all things.” This means that the lack of inherent nature is all-pervasive, just as the basic nature of all things is their emptiness. That is their ultimate reality.
No distinction can be made between those things which have inherent existence and those which do not because there is nothing whatsoever which possesses inherent existence.
This ultimate nature of all phenomena is what is realized through the practice of vipashyana, the cultivation of perfect insight. This refers to perfect insight into the nature of reality generated by looking at mind itself. One analyses mind and all phenomena by seeking for their essential substance, their true nature and their defining characteristics, and by doing so, one finds that they are empty of these things. From that, one becomes released from these illusions. However, it is very important that this not be merely an intellectual exercise of learning to say that all things lack inherent existence. That is very easy to do, but it does not help. It is necessary that this realization become an immediate one from the deepest place of mind. We are to look at the way mind responds to phenomena. It responds not according to intellectual understanding, but according to the way it really sees things, the way it understands things in the deepest way.
So the process of meditation here enables us to take the superficial intellectual understanding and internalize it, make it so we actually realize things in this way. The only way that can be done is by doing it ourselves—personally taking all these steps to the realization of the nature of mind and all phenomena. This is done through a process of analysis in which we question all our assumption about conventional phenomena. We investigate and analyse conventional phenomena starting with mind and continue in this way until we destroy all of our preconceptions and look directly upon these objects themselves. When we realize their emptiness, it is our own realization and at that point it is of great benefit to us. Here, the text on the cultivation of perfect insight presents a dialectical question-and-answer between a challenger and a defender. The former continually challenges assumptions about the nature of mind by asking penetrating questions.
The answers, the defence, we must come up with ourselves. Our meditation, then, is to use these questions to focus on our deeply held assumptions of what mind is, who we are, and what reality is. By using them in this way we can penetrate this subject and come up with our own direct realization of the answers.
This analysis focuses in two different directions—on the subject and on the object. Subject in “focusing on the subject” refers to the one who is doing the analysis, the one who is doing the meditation, the one who is holding the assumptions, the one who is striving for the realization. By looking at and analysing the subject, one realizes what is called selflessness of the person. Object in ”focusing on the object” refers to all the things that the subject holds on to, the outer world. What is realized here is the selflessness of phenomena. These, then, are the two forms of selflessness. They are also called the two forms of emptiness, the emptiness of persons, and the emptiness of phenomena. Put another way this analysis is meant to determine the nature of mind itself and the nature of the mind’s contents. Contents refers to the objects: those things that are perceived or held by mind through the sense powers. By looking at them, we can determine the nature of the contents of mind. So, mind and its contents are the ultimate focus of this meditation. In order to focus attention on the nature of mind, one must first set oneself in the state of mental quiescence. Only after having calmed and clarified the mind and made it one pointed can one begin the practice of vipashyana. So, the first step here is to enter into a state of quiescence and then raise the questions, “What is it that is quiescent? What is it that is abiding? Is it the body or is it 1nind?” The body is very easy to observe, so it’s clear that this is not what we are concerned with here; rather it is with mind itself. If we conclude, “Well, it is mind which is quiescent now, mind which is abiding,” then these next questions naturally arise. If mind is staying still, if it’s quiescent, then it must have some form, some shape, some colour. There must be something there that we can find or identify If there is something there, then it must have a shape. Is it square, is it round, is it shaped like a pyramid? What is its size—large or small? What is its colour? These are all attributes of things which exist, so we must look for something like them. For something to exist, it must have some attribute which qualifies its existence, something that allows us to say that it exists. If there is something there, it must have a size, a shape, a colour; it must have some attribute.
If something exists, then it must have a location. So next we look for the location of mind. We ask the questions, and analyse whether it is inside the body or outside the body. Is it partly inside and partly outside? Where exactly does it exist? Where does it abide? Next, does it abide in the object? If we look and see a flower, is mind in the flower or is mind going out to the flower and coming back? When we hear a sound, is it mind going out grasping the sound? Is mind out where the sound is? Is mind part of the sense powers? Exactly where does the mind function?
If we decide that mind abides in the body somewhere, then we look for it in the body ls it in one specific place in the body or does it circulate around in the body like the blood? If we look at the different parts of the body like the internal organs or the limbs, we see that we have sensation, or awareness. Mind may seem to be in one place, but not always. Is it moving about? Is it in one certain organ of the body like the heart, kidney, or spleen, or is it in different organs, or in all of the parts of the body?
In this analytical meditation we must be very specific and precise, understanding that imprecision or just assuming something to be true is a source of great error. We have to really make a decision, really be very specific and very careful. Western science and medicine tend to assume that mind is located in the brain. If we accept that assumption and look at the brain itself, we see that it has many parts. Where does mind exist in these many parts? Does it exist in some and not others? In a specific one or in all of them? We analyse very minutely in this way.
Then, we look at the mind’s movement. Mind seems to move, so where does it arise? Where does it stay for awhile? Where does it go next? We look at things like our thoughts and perceptions. Where do they come from, where are they located, where do they stay while they exist, and where do they go next? We can extend that questioning to mind itself.
Where does it arise in the body where does it stay, and where does it go at the time of death? Does it stay behind in the body, or does it go somewhere else? What is the nature of its existence in these different ways? We try to actually pin it down and define it. We must exert ourselves very methodically systematically examining all of these assumptions about the nature of the existence of mind.
Up to this point in our investigation of the nature of mind, we have been looking at where mind exists. In doing so, we focused somewhat outwardly, as if we were looking for an object which exists somewhere and were trying to find out where. Having exhausted that line of inquiry we next turn inward and look at the searcher.
So, we extend the search with a requirement, or demand, that the search prove fruitful, either positively or negatively.
That a determination be made is the key. When we make this search, we cannot just leave the investigation hanging but we require ourselves to come to a conclusion. If we find something, that is all well and good, but if we don’t, that’s fine too. However, one way or the other we must pursue the search until we make a determination.
Question: What is Kalpana?
His Holiness The Drikung Kyabgön, Chetsang Rinpoche.
In going about this search, various types of kalpana arise. The kalpana, again, are the whole range of conceptual thoughts which conceive of objects and subjects, or make any sort of dualistic assumptions. We have already seen these kalpana in the process of stabilizing meditation. When we try to focus one-pointedly on an object, sometimes these kalpana arise, that is, we start thinking about something, and some conception arises. So next we look at those kalpana and try to find out something about them. What are they like? What is their origin ? Where do they abide? Where do they go? What are their various characteristics? At this point we analyse them very minutely If they exist in fact (and they clearly exist in some way), from what do they arise? They seem to arise like sprouts suddenly coming forth out of the ground. So we look at the ground out of which they arose, which seems to be mind. So if they arose out of mind, are they the same as mind or are they different? Are they mind itself? Are they some content of mind? How do they arise? What are they made of? How do they relate to mind itself? There are certain possibilities here when we analyse mind and the kalpana. First of all, it seems reasonable to say that the thoughts, the kalpana, arise in mind. If they arise from mind, the next question is, do they arise simultaneously with mind? In other words are they of the very substance of mind? The analogy used here is the relationship between the sun and sunlight. Sunlight arises from the sun, and it seems to be of the same essence as the sun. However, the sun is there and the sunlight is here, so there is some question. If we say the kalpana relate to mind like sunlight relates to the sun, then they always go together. You don’t have sunlight without the sun, nor do you have sun without sunlight. They arise together, exist together; wherever there is one there is the other. In this sense, they are inseparable and arise at the same time. So, if we say that mind and kalpana are like that, then we are saying that wherever there are kalpana there is mind and wherever there is mind there are kalpana. In that way we analyse until we come to a conclusion, a determination. If that’s not quite right, then we try another possibility.
We say maybe the kalpana arise only in the presence of certain contributing conditions. Maybe they are not always found wherever there is mind. We can say this case is like a stick of incense and its smoke: mind being like the stick of incense and kalpana being like the smoke. Often they are found together, but they are not necessarily together. It takes a contributing condition for smoke to arise from the incense, and that contributing condition is fire. If you remove or extinguish the fire in the incense, then the smoke will no longer arise. Likewise, if the incense is exhausted, then no smoke arises, even if there is plenty of fire. In this case, the relationship between the two is dependent upon contributing conditions. So we analyse mind and see whether there is some type of contributing condition that causes the kalpana to arise from mind and without which they do not arise.
It is helpful to look at different analogies that illustrate the possible relationships between mind and its conceptual contents. Another example is a mirror and the reflections in the mirror, which are clearly of a different nature. The images are not inherent in the mirror, but they arise in the mirror whenever a contributing condition is there, the contributing condition being some visible object in the proximity of the mirror. If an object is there, then it will be reflected in the mirror; if it’s not, it won’t be reflected. In addition, even if that object is reflected in the mirror; the reflection is there only from one angle. If you move to another angle and look at that same mirror you won’t see that object reflected in it.
So it depends not only on the presence of the object but on the angle of viewing, one’s perspective.
So perhaps mind and kalpana are like that – the kalpana only appear in mind when some object, some stimulation, is in some proximity of mind. And even then, the kalpana only appear in mind from a certain perspective. If you look at mind in the same moment from a different perspective, perhaps the kalpana would not even appear.
Yet another example is that of the moon being reflected in water. When the moon is shining in the sky and you have a pool of water, you can see a reflection of the moon in that water. The reflection is like kalpana. If you take ten or twelve bowls, and fill them all with water, then you will see that one moon reflected ten or twelve times, depending upon the number of pools of water you have and where you’re standing.
So the question is, are mind and the kalpana like that? Can you have one stimulus and many kalpana? Here, the water is like mind—if you have several pools of water then you can have many images of the moon simultaneously If you have one stimulus or object, can many kalpana arise simultaneously? This would be like having some object and there arising in mind the thought that “Oh, this is beautiful” and other thoughts arising from that very same stimulus such as, “This is good,” “This is large,” and so forth.
All the different types of concepts which can arise with regard to a stimulus—certainly they can arise in mind, but can they like the moon being reflected in multiple pools of water, arise simultaneously? That is a key question. Is the function of mind like the pools of water, which can contain discrete images? This doesn’t seem to be the case. Usually if we feel that something is good, then that concept, that kalpana, pulls our attention. Immediately we can say “Oh no, it’s bad,”
but that is subsequent, not simultaneous. The theory that the mind has many thoughts at once is problematic.
Another analogy which serves as a basis for analysis is that mind and the kalpana are related like a mother and child; the mother represents mind and the child is the kalpana. So we could say that the kalpana are born to mind like a child is born to a mother. If the relationship is like that, then we can look at various possibilities. Once the child is born, the mother and child can both exist together. Once the kalpana are produced by mind, can they exist together? What if the child dies and the mother lives? Can the mind continue while the kalpana are cut off or lost? There is another possibility: that the child lives and the mother dies. In this case, you would have no more mind, but the kalpana would continue. This is another possibility that must be analysed and tested for validity.
Next it should be determined how the mind and kalpana relate in terms of their movement. If they are the same thing, are they the same in essence? There appears to be a difference.
Is this appearance of difference a true one or is it not?
This must be determined. In other words, does mind project the kalpana? Are they something produced and projected outward? Or, on the other hand, do the kalpana really arise from something out there and come into mind? Are the kalpana a function of mind, like an activity in which mind engages? These things should be determined very clearly to understand the nature of mind and its contents.
This, then, is the first of four categories of investigation, that is, looking at mind in terms of the kalpana, the thought patterns that arise in mind, what they are, and how they interrelate with one another.
Question: What are the obiects of awareness?
His Holiness The Drikung Kyabgön, Chetsang Rinpoche.
In this practice, we focus on what are generally assumed to be external objects in the environment. These are like the types of objects that were used in the beginning stages to cultivate mental quiescence. They could be any object of mind, anything which we perceive, any object which we take to be existent in our environment. For instance, we could take a glass of water on the table and ask, Is this a projection of my mind? Does it exist externally? What is the relationship between this glass and my mind? Are they of the same essence or are they of different essences? These questions must be pursued until one gains a clear, direct realization that answers the questions and removes all doubt. Here we ask very difficult questions about the relationship between mind and these objects. First of all, if the object and mind are of the same essence, then what is the function or the mechanism which makes it seem to be extremal? Is it projected out of mind? Does it exist within mind and is projected so as to appear outside? ls the nature of mind outside, so that the projection is inward and we only think that mind is in here perceiving something out there? If it is not of the same essence of mind and exists as a free, independent entity external to mind, then what is the mechanism which allows it to appear in mind or arise as an object of mind? This investigation becomes very subtle when we look into the nature of the possibilities of external objects appearing to mind. Is this a case of projection from one side, projection from the other side, or a case of no projection, and if so, how is the contact possible?