Samsara and Nirvana
In our previous lecture, we discussed a very important subject in all Asian religions and mystical traditions, and that is a philosophical concept called bhavachakra. This philosophical concept forms the foundation for understanding all Asian mysticism. But, unfortunately in the West, this part of the philosophy has been very poorly taught. People know this aspect of Eastern philosophy and religion as the Wheel of Samsara, but this is inaccurate. If that were an accurate translation it would be called samsarachakra, but it is not. It is called bhavachakra.
Bhava (भाव) is a Sanskrit word that means “becoming.” It implies activity, movement, something with potential for change. Samsara (संसार), on the other hand, means “cycle, cyclic, repetitious, life, course, going, wandering,” which does not imply the possibility of dramatic change, but implies repetition of the same thing with maybe minor variations, but which is nonetheless a repetition.
It is important to have this distinction in mind, because the bhavachakra or the Wheel of Becoming is a conceptual illustration of ourselves, of our own mind. This is the other area where this teaching has been poorly understood in the West. Students of Asian philosophy and religion wrongly interpret the wheel as something only external, something literal, something physical, and perhaps something that applies to other dimensions that are outside of us – dimensions that we may abide within or transmigrate through, but only with the distinction between myself and place / location, and this is wrong. This is an incorrect understanding of bhavachakra. The truth is that this wheel provides a conceptual basis for understanding our own mind, and it is our own mind that determines where we reside in the universe. This is the critical difference. It is our own mind that determines our experience of life. So, to understand that, we will deepen the topics that we explored in the previous lecture. We will go into the study or analysis of samsara and nirvana.
In order to understand ourselves better, and in order to understand the bhavachakra with some degree of accuracy, the first thing to grasp is that Buddhist philosophy describes two truths. In synthesis, we can really say that there is one truth. We can say that there is an ultimate truth, the fountain from which everything that is, that was, or that will be has flowed. But that single truth is not understood or perceived by any of us. We perceive something, and from our point of view there are certain “realities,” but they are only relative, not absolute. So these are the two truths:
- Ultimate truth
- Relative or conventional truth
In order to help us understand what this means, and to approach the perception of that single ultimate truth, in philosophy we talk about these two truths as a way for us to bridge the gap. It is quite simple to understand what this means.
In this type of teaching, which we call Gnostic, what we are seeking is truth, not as a concept or as a philosophy, but as an experience, something that we ourselves have known. That is what Gnosis means: to know because one has experienced it, not just because we heard it, or read it in a book, but because it is something that we have touched, tasted, seen, felt, lived through. This is Gnosis. So that ultimate truth is Gnosis itself, and in other traditions it is called jhana (Sanskrit). In Tibetan, it is called rigpa. In Greek, noia, Gnosis. “Knowledge” is a superficial English translation of this word Gnosis, but it does not convey the accurate meaning because, in English, we think knowledge is anything you get out of a book, put it in your intellect, and then you think you “know” something. Or, somebody told you about A, B, and C, so now you think you “know” A, B, and C, but this is a delusion. It is comparable to the person who has read many books about New York, and can tell you everything there is to know about New York, and is convinced he is an authority on New York, but has never been there. That person is a fool. When it comes to religion, we are all like that. We all think we know about religion, spirituality, God, etc. but we really do not know anything. We have many beliefs and ideas, but no experience of divinity.
It is important to have this type of sincerity, to really fundamentally analyze what we know as true, if we are ever to approach the truth itself, because if we think we know something, we will not seek to know its reality. We need to first recognize we do not know, otherwise we will remain ignorant. The term ignorance means to “not know.” So we are all in a state of ignorance, because we do not know God, Buddha, Atman. We have theories and beliefs, but we really do not know. We do not have Gnosis.
Divinity is the ultimate truth, Gnosis, and in other philosophical terms we can call it shunyata (Sanskrit), Brahma, Adi Buddha, Samantabhadra, the Absolute, the Ain Soph, the Emptiness, the Illuminating Void, the Clear Light. All of these terms describe the fundamental basis of everything that does exist, and in that fundamental basis is in the state of non-existence. The Absolute simply is. It does not depend on anything for its existence. This is why this ultimate truth is so hard to grasp, because it is something beyond the capacity of the intellect to understand.
The Absolute, the Void, is the pure state of becoming, a state of archetypes in which there is not but there will be. There is no measure. There is no height, width, or depth. There is no concept, no thought. There is no feeling, no emotion. There is no “I”, no self, but there is something. There is joy. There is love. There is brilliant understanding, cognizance, and wisdom. This state of existence, or non-existence, is the true nature of all things, but we do not see it. We are buried under layers and layers and layers of habitual tendencies that cloud our perception and prevent us from seeing the nature of the ultimate truth. What we perceive is conventional truth, relative truth.
The term conventional truth describes everything that we perceive in our current state (asleep). We can say that the physical world "exists," so this is conventionally or relatively true. It is relative because the physical world does not exist permanently or independently. Similarly, our body exists in a relative sense, but it is not lasting or independent. So, it is "relatively real."
Most importantly, we have this mistaken perception about ourselves. We believe our sense of self is real and lasting, but it is neither. We are very far from knowing our true identity. but which does not have independent existence.
We mistakenly believe that what we perceive is real and lasting, but nothing is. Everything we see in our current state of consciousness is impermanent and interdependent—not independent. Nothing exists on its own. Everything that depends on causes and conditions is considered "relatively real."
So here are the two truths: the ultimate truth, which is the Ain Soph, which is Samantabhadra, the Adi-Buddha, the emptiness, the Void. That is the ultimate truth. We do not see it. We only see the relative truth, that which we perceive here and now with our five senses and our mind.
These two truths are very important to understand, because we mistakenly assume that what we perceive is real and is the extent of reality. We are wrong. It is easy to prove even in superficial ways. If you really question what you perceive, what you think, if you really analyze yourself, you can quickly see that what you “see” is a lie, and that what you think, feel, and believe is not true, and is an illusion.
The Tree of Life
This is why we study the Tree of Life. This image or graphic merely symbolizes these two truths. Obviously, this graphic looks quite complex when we are not well versed in its intricacies, but really it is quite simple. It does map external worlds and dimensions, but that is not our primary interest. Studying the external worlds does not lead us to freedom from suffering. Only studying ourselves can do that, so we need to study this graphic in relation with our own mind.
The two truths are depicted here. Everything from the sephirah Kether downwards represents degrees of relative truth. The ultimate truth, the reality itself, is the Absolute, the emptiness, which is shown at the top of the graphic.
There is a misconception that is very easy to have about this type of teaching and about this type of philosophy, and in particular regarding graphics like this. We, without realizing it, interpret this type of teaching in the same way we have interpreted our traditional religions, assuming that this graphic represents worlds that are outside of us, and that heaven, or the lands of perfection, are somehow “above” us. So we always raise our hands and point to the sky, and the graphic appears to show it that way, as though somehow the Absolute is “up there.” This is a wrong understanding. It is “up there,” but not only up there. The truth is that this diagram is just an illustration of something that you need to work with with your imagination in order to understand.
The Onion as an Example
This graphic disarranges and pulls apart an onion, and that onion is you. The outer skin, the paper of that onion, is everything that you can see about yourself right now. What you see about yourself now is the most superficial and fragile part of the onion. You can barely touch it and it will tear. That is your personality and your body. They are very weak, very unreliable, just like onion skin. An onion skin is impermanent, and moreover, it is inedible. You cannot rely on it, you cannot use it, and it will not nourish you. It has its place, but it is limited in its usefulness. The onion skin protects what is inside. So, our “onion skin” is the sephirah Malkuth, which means “the kingdom.” It relates to our physicality.
All the other Sephiroth represented on this graphic are the layers of the onion, many layers inside.
This graphic is a simplified representation of the truth. It is simplified for our mind because our mind cannot comprehend the reality, even if it is relative, we cannot because our minds are weak. In order to really understand the truth, we need to use the consciousness.
So, one could then think that by way of this analogy, if the Absolute is at the top of the graphic, then that must be the center of the onion. Yet, this is not so. Inside the atoms of every layer of the onion is the Emptiness: the Absolute. Even inside the skin, the paper around the onion, the Absolute is in that, too. The Absolute is not just in the very center of the onion. It is fundamental ground of the onion itself. Everything about that onion is derived from space, empty. If you take a very powerful scientific tool and you look very closely and you zoom in and zoom into that onion, you will see the skin, you will see the fibers. Go deeper and deeper you will see all the minerals and elements, and when you go deeper and deeper, you will reach empty space. You will reach the atoms between which and within which is nothing. It is empty. That is like the Absolute. Yet, when we are talking about the Absolute, we are not talking about a lack of something. “Space” or “void” implies a lack of something, but that is not what the Absolute is. Rather, the Absolute is the very fabric of existence. It is in the heart, in every layer, in the skin. It is around it, it is within it. It is everything that gives the possibility of an onion to be. Each layer of the onion exists because of the space, because of the other layers, because of the atoms, molecules, fluids, and—significantly—because of the constant process of death, birth, and sacrifice: the ability for things to change. Each thing is sustained because other things died, were sacrificed, in order to give life. So, the existence of this cycle of things, and the space it happens within, is bhava, “becoming.” That onion is in a constant process of change. It is not stagnant, it is constantly changing. We are like that. This graphic represents that.
The Tree of Life is illustrated with the Absolute at the top just as an illustration, but in reality it is completely inaccurate, because every Sephirah is the Absolute condensed at its level, manifested and particularized at its level, and within it is the Emptiness. Physically speaking, your physical body is like this. Physically, just with the relation with the matter and energy of the body, if you look deep enough, you will find nothing. Really, the body is empty. There is nothing there, but we think it is real. Most importantly, every manifested thing arises, sustains briefly, then passes away. That is, everything is impermanent, and depends upon other things in order to exist. Thus, another way of explaining Emptiness is to talk about Dependent Origination.
Emptiness is not an empty space. Emptiness means “lacking inherent existence.” That is, everything depends on everything else.
In the first degree of understanding the two truths is to understand that all things have this emptiness in their very make-up, their very nature. But this is only the beginning of understanding what these two truths mean. This is just the conceptual basis of it. It goes deeper. This is why Nagarjuna, the great Buddhist teacher, stated:
“Those who do not understand emptiness will fail to achieve liberation. Thus, ignorant beings wander helplessly in the prison of the six cyclic existences.”
We explained those six realms in the previous lecture: the realms of the Gods, demi-gods, the humans, the animals, the hungry ghosts, and those in hell. Those realms are outside of us, but are also psychological, inside of us. We are a bhavachakra. Those realms represent aspects of our own psyche. We are in the wilderness—even the Bible stated this. Once we abused the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, we went into the wilderness to suffer. We are now suffering. We are wandering helplessly in the prison of our mind. That prison is not the physical world, it is not the physical body, it is the mind. That is the prison that causes us to suffer, and we are trapped in that prison because of our ignorance. We are ignorant beings. Remember, this term ignorance does not refer to book study, or having learned in a school. It is to lack knowledge of the truth, to lack experience of reality. To ignore, to lack knowledge.
This is so because we do not understand emptiness, and thus we will fail to achieve liberation. This is a simple fact. This is why we see so few beings achieving liberation from suffering. If you really contemplate this, it is heartbreaking. This is not just philosophical or conceptual. This has to do with the exact experience in this moment of every being that exists everywhere, and this is part of our delusion. We study these teachings, we read, we study the scriptures, we hear the lectures, we consider ourselves to be a spiritual person making our efforts, but really, our efforts are all about ourselves: we are fundamentally selfish, ignorant. Even in our so-called spiritual life, we are really thinking only about ourselves. We purusing spiritual studies and practice, we tend towards building a philosophical point of view or spiritual point of view that is saturated with a sense of self, with what “I” want, with what “I” need, with what "I" know, with “me”, and this is why we suffer. It is wrong view. It causes suffering for ourselves and others.
Millions of people study Buddhism and the teachings about the Emptiness, yet how many of them have achieved liberation? Remember" liberation does not happen in the future. Liberation is an experience of consciousness, right now. If we are not liberating ourselves now, we never will. It is important to have a conceptual understanding of the teachings, because this clarifies the path we must walk. But the conceptual understanding is not liberation itself. Many people fail to realize this. Many believe that having a concept is the same as having the experience. This is a delusion. In fact, if we are not yet liberated, then we suffer from this delusion in our own way, and it is highly likely that we are unaware of it. That is why we are still trapped in cyclical existence: we do not see the causes of our suffering.
Let us contemplate this for a moment:
“...ignorant beings wander helplessly in the prison of the six cyclic existences.”
I know I said that we primarily need to study this in relation with ourselves. But in order to do that effectively, we need to comprehend our place in the scheme of things. This ignorance that we suffer from is the lack of perception of reality, and it begins because we incorrectly perceive ourselves. We think we know who we are and what we are, but we do not. We cannot even remember that we are in the physical body. We forget that. We are constantly daydreaming. We are never here and now, present, actively engaged with all of the sensations that flow in through our five senses, and through our consciousness, and the intellect, and the heart. We are rarely actively perceiving those things, those impressions. This shows our ignorance. Moreover, what we do perceive we always relate to selfishly. “What am I getting from it? What am I not getting from it?” Anything we perceive we relate to in this way, and this is fundamentally wrong. It is a cause of suffering. We explained all this in the previous lecture.
Furthermore, in this mode of perception we are making the subtle assumption that we are an individual and that we will be like this, and that we are a permanent being, we will not die. We are wrong. We will die. We do not know when, we do not know how. We think this body will last. It will not. We think our name, our face, our reputation will last. They will not.
We forget everyone else that exists because we are so focused on ourselves. We think we are the center of the universe. Every thought we have, every feeling we have, is really self-centered. Even when we are doing something for someone else, we only do it insomuch that it does not inconvenience us, or we perceive that we will gain something that we want from doing it. We are selfish, self-centered, deluded, ignorant of the truth.
What is the truth? It is that absolutely everything in us down to the smallest possible particle is dependent on other things. Nothing about us exists independently. We have the delusion of independence, but it is a lie. Not a single speck of dust in us is independent.
Everything we eat, drink, wear, perceive, and even think, believe, and feel, is dependent. Yet, we do not recognize this. We believe we are independent, individual, isolated.
Let us consider this for a moment before we go on, because this is very important. The reality is the truth. If we analyze our self-perception in light of this concept of the two truths, we need to understand something. Firstly, the universe is huge. Become aware in this moment of your stature in relation with the planet... with the solar system... with the universe.
Now look at how you have been seeing yourself up till now today: in the cage of your mind, thinking. unaware of anything else. Realize you have been in this cage of your mind, distracted, thinking and thinking and thinking, without any real awareness of anything outside of that. First recognize that, because we all do it.
Reflect for a moment that you have always done that and that fundamentally it has never improved your life.
Furthermore, 97% of everything that you thought today is a thought you already had. 97% of what you have felt, what you have wondered about or imagined or daydreamed or wished for, you already thought about or felt or daydreamed about maybe earlier today, maybe yesterday, maybe the day before.
97% of everything you experienced, psychologically, is a repetition. Personally, I find this very distressing, but I cannot deny it because it is a fact. And if it is a fact, it shows that the direction that I have been going is not changing. This is also distressing. Yet, we need to see the truth.
In our tradition, we speak sincerely about our spiritual work, our psychological work. We need to look at things in this sort of stark truth. So let us put that in perspective.
If with this awareness we then suddenly realize, “Wait a minute, why do I need to be thinking all the time, feeling all the time, if I am just repeating myself all the time? Maybe there is another way?” And there is, and this is the nature of the path. There is a way. That is why we need to understand what bhavachakra means. There is a way to stop the cycle of repeating and repeating and repeating. The way is simply to become aware. But this awareness is not what we currently know as awareness. The awareness that cuts through samsara, circling, is something profound. When the circling pattern of perception is severed, nirvana, "cessation," is revealed.
“Enveloped by the darkness of many thoughts,
Overcome by madness as if struck by lightning,
Stained by impurity such as lust and the like,
All of which are difficult to prevent—
Such a mind is indeed samsara,” said Vajadhara.
“One achieves liberation by realizing
The mind’s nature is lucid clarity.
He who is unstained by lust and the like,
Who is without any duality of subject and object,
This superior enlightened mind
Is defined as supreme nirvana.” - The Samputa
You see, that ultimate truth, the Absolute, the Void, is pure awareness, unconditioned. It is cognizance, beyond even the level of what we would call a God. We call it the Absolute because it is the ultimate root of everything, even the Gods, even universes, and that is inside of us, not outside. That level of mind is inside of you, not outside of you, and you will not find it tomorrow, and you will not find it in the past. You can only find it right now, in the moment. The only way to find it is to disengage from the cycle, which is a psychological process. To disengage yourself from the wheel of repetition, which is inside of you, your mind, your heart, your body.
So let us do that. Right now.
A Pause to Reflect
Be aware of being in the body.
We begin always with observing ourselves; we are the subject of our observation. So we observe ourselves, we become aware of being here and now. We also observe what is around us, our environment, we look at objects. We just look to see what is there: To not make assumptions, to not project anything, to not label anything, but merely to look. To look and recognize everything you can perceive right now, without adding anything, without taking anything away. Just look. Listen. Feel.
Be sensitive and receptive to all the information that is coming in through your senses, five physical senses and the mind, consciousness. Be receptive to all of that information, all at the same time, without thinking, reacting, analyzing, comparing, judging, evaluating. It is as simple as that! Sounds easy? For us it is not, because the mind is very habitual. The mind wants to keep repeating thinking and feeling and wondering and questioning and doubting, and when it does that, disengage. Let it do whatever it is doing, do not let it take you. It is like a current of a river, let it flow past. It is as if you are just watching a cloud in the sky, but instead of watching a cloud, you are watching the room that you are in, and you are watching your mind. You see that everything is slowly changing, or quickly changing, but you do not need to get involved or get distracted. You simply watch.
This simple awareness, uncontrived, unconditioned, is the only gateway to liberation from suffering. There is no other door. That door is here, being here and now. Observing, always. That is the door to being free from suffering. That is the door to real knowledge: awareness, consciousness, cognizance.
So starting with that fundamental point of view, let us also be aware of everything in our environment. For this, you may need to start using a little bit of your imagination. Expand your awareness out. Become aware of everything you can, not only yourself in whatever posture you have, however you feel, intellectually or emotionally or physically. Begin to expand out and perceive everything that you can perceive: the reality, the room you are in, the sounds you hear, the things you see, what you feel on your body. Expand that awareness.
This is the purpose of these teachings. It is to expand our awareness. To break free of that condition of only being aware of our selfish habits, and to begin to become aware of what is actually happening, inside and outside, but mostly inside. Now, with a little bit of imagination, expand that awareness further to, let us say, a city block. You, more or less, must have some idea of where you are and what is in the area. So expand that awareness out to what you saw before you arrived where you are. Let us say you came to a classroom or a room in your house. What is in the environment outside of that? Be aware of yourself in relation to that. There is a lot going on in that space, a hundred meters from you in a circle, all the way around you. What is there? What is going on? Where are you? How important are you in that perspective? Less important than when you were only focused on yourself. So let us expand that further. Imagine the city that you are in. Imagine all the people, all the animals, all the plants, the insects, the microbes, everything. Expand that further to the country, to the millions of people, all of whom are not aware of you at all, and do not care about you at all. They only care about their own desires, their own sufferings, and their own cravings. They are ignorant. They are suffering.
Now become aware that this whole planet is like that. Billions of humanoids, who are in that state now that you were just in a few minutes ago, but now you are trying to break free of by expanding your awareness. But the other 6 or 7 billion people are not. Be aware of that. Be aware that you are only one amongst an immense crowd, no different from anyone else. No better, no worse. Expand that more. This planet is not that big, there are other planets here. There are other solar systems. There are other galaxies. Do you feel small? Can you conceptualize for a moment how many beings exist? The mind breaks with the effort. It is too immense, and we are too insignificant and we do not like to think that. We want to feel important. We want to feel as though we are the center of the universe, but the fact is, we are not. We are only one of an uncountable number of beings. Many of them more developed than us, many less developed than us. Very few have escaped the wheel, but it is possible.
This exercise should bring up a sense of awe, and also a powerful feeling of compassion for the uncountable, suffering beings. We should feel love.
If this simple exercise brought a new sense of awareness or feeling, then remember: if a moment of mere awareness can change how you feel, imagine what is possible if you sustain that awareness!
Discouragement and Timeliness
This type of practice or exercise should not lead you to feel discouraged. It should lead you to start to become aware of the truth, that is, to put your ego in perspective. If you feel overwhelmed or discouraged, realize that your situation is not hopeless, because the method to escape the wheel is now available to this humanity freely like it never has been before. So, even though we are insects in the scheme of things (no offense intended, but we really are just insects), we actually now on this planet for the first time in our history have access to protected teachings that were never available. Even just a few decades ago, anyone who revealed it would have been killed. This is extraordinary. It is the first time in the history of this planet for the teachings to be available like this. We have access to so many teachings from so many important masters, that we must take advantage. Right now is our opportunity, and it will not last.
It is important to reflect on this, because we are still trapped in samsara. Expanding our awareness and expanding our understanding does not free us from liberation. It only gives us perspective of where we are. Freedom from suffering, to be liberated, requires that we cut the cycle, that samsara stops. Nirvana means that: cessation. We explained this in the previous lecture. Nirvana is not just a place, it is a state of being, a state of being that you have to experience to understand. You can believe in nirvana as much as you want, but it means nothing unless you are experiencing nirvana right now, because to abide in nirvana, your consciousness must vibrate at that level. We are here in the world now because this is the level of our psychology. We are here stuck with everybody else because this is where we belong. I know we all want to be free and we all like to think that “we are great beings from the past who just by accident got stuck here with all these animals, but really we are better and we deserve to be in heaven, there was some kind of calculation mistake, or somebody overlooked something or maybe we are just paying a little bit of karma that we owe and soon we will be back up there in heaven with our friends.” You are lying to yourself. That is a delusion. We are where we are because we deserve it, because that is our level.
Our life is a reflection of our psychology. To live in nirvana, you must be psychologically in that level. We can achieve it now.
Padmasambhava, who brought Tantra into Tibet stated:
“Samara is your mind’s deluded form.”
This is a very direct statement by a very great master, a very well developed bodhisattva, truly an incredible being. “Samsara is your mind’s deluded form.” Thus, samsara is not outside of you. It is you, until you change.
He said in another scripture:
“Samsara, ‘circling’, is to spin from one place to another. Nirvana is to have cut through this circling.”
Let me emphasize again that the place he is referring to is not physical, it is psychological. Where are you psychologically right now, in your life? What is your level of being? To change that, you have to cut through your habitual behaviors in your mind. If you do not change your psychological tendencies, you will not escape samsara, you will not be liberated. It does not matter what you believe, it does not matter how much money you give to a church, or how faithful you are to your teacher, or how many books you memorized and studied, or how great a lecturer you are, or how much you do for humanity. If you do not cut your psychological tendencies, you will remain in samsara. No exceptions. This is just how nature works. This is why in the Gospels it states:
“Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin.” - John 8
This is pointing out the cyclical nature of our behaviors. When we perform wrong action, we become enslaved to it, it develops a habit. That is samsara.
“The world is led by the mind.
The mind does not see itself;
Good or bad action is caused by the mind.
It revolves like a fire wheel,
Moves like waves,
Burns like a forest fire,
Widens like a great river.” - Ratnamegha-sutra
So, this is the wheel, the bhavachakra, and the previous lecture we described the center, two rings, and also the six realms around them. The outer ring has twelve stages which are called nidānas in Sanskrit. Nidāna means cause, foundation, source or origin. It was explained in that lecture that the axis of the wheel is represented as three animals, which are very deep in their implications and meanings in our psychology. That is the Law of Three, the Trinity, the power of creation, which unfortunately in us has become the power of destruction. It is the axle of the wheel of our suffering, and again, this is not outside of us, it is inside of us.
Those three animals represent ignorance, craving, and aversion, and because of the motion of those forces in our psyche, cause and effect are enacted or empowered because of our ignorance, because of our craving, because of our aversion we cause harmful effects, which is that second wheel. Good and bad, but nonetheless deluded. Sometimes we do good things, sometimes we do bad things, sometimes we do things that are, more or less, neutral. But, nonetheless, since they emerge from the state of fundamental ignorance about reality, particularly our inner reality, we bind ourselves to this wheel.
So, Buddhism explains that process as these twelve stages, nidānas, causes, which originate from that central core in our mind, in our perception, in wrong transformations of what we perceive. I am not going to take the time to explain those twelve stages. They are very well explained in many Buddhist texts. You can study them, and I recommend it; they are very useful. They are particularly useful if you meditate because they point out very subtle interactions that happen in us psychologically that when you become aware of them, it gives a tool to cut through the cycle. Today I want to focus on one. Really, it is the foundation of the cycle.
We explained these three animals represent craving and aversion, and the dynamic that happens between them. They are really only able to function because of the first, which is ignorance. If you can cut ignorance, you can cut the movement of the entire wheel.
The first nidāna on the Tibetan versions of these graphics is represented as a blind man. So this graphic shows you one painting of that blind man. That blind man represents us, psychologically, how we are as a consciousness, stumbling through our lives without any awareness of reality, not seeing the truth, not seeing the steps in front of us, but instead, fully and completely distracted by a wrong perception of everything.
In Sanskrit, ignorance is avidya. In Tibetan, marigpa. In Greek, agnoia (ἄγνοια). All of these mean the same thing: to “not know”. This is not a knowing of books, a knowing of philosophy, a knowing of a religion. It is a “not knowing” through perception. It is not seeing, and not cognizing.
You see, it needs to be understood like this because most of us have studied religion or philosophy in some way. Most of us have some sense of what ethics are. I do not mean morality, I mean ethics. Nonetheless, even having those concepts or beliefs, we do not know them because we always contradict them, especially when we feel we will gain something that we desire. A simple example is an addict “knows” that their addiction is harmful. They have been told, they have heard it, they even have observed in their lives how their addiction is hurting them. But they do not stop because they do not have Gnosis of it. They do not have real knowledge. If they really knew, they would never touch that addiction; they will not even be tempted. There will be no temptation at all. No desire, no craving, no curiosity. So if we talk about alcohol, for example, or cigarettes, an addict may know that it is harmful and may go through a terrible mental conflict about it (or not), but still succumb to the craving and justify it in many different ways to themselves and to others. Someone who has cognizance (conscious knowledge) of the damage that the addiction is causing will not even have an atom of attraction to that element, to the cigarette or the drink. They will have no interest in it. That cigarette or that drink could just be a piece of paper or a rock. It would be that meaningless.
This is important because all of us are addicts, and not just substances outside of the body. We are addicts to our habits, psychologically. All of us are addicted to pride, each of us in our own way. We are addicted to feeling better than others. We are addicted to praise. Some of us are addicted to being blamed and cursed and rejected. Some of us are addicted to feeling like an outcast or feeling like a martyr, while others are addicted to feeling like a hero. Some are addicted to feeling left out, some to being included. Some are addicted to being ignored, and some are addicted to getting attention. We have to find our psychological addictions. We are addicted to pride, to lust, to envy, to gluttony, to greed, to laziness.
This is why we suffer. This is why we are in a state of ignorance. We have our awareness so bottled up and conditioned; we have no knowledge of anything outside of the addictions. We are constantly caught in a stream of harmful thinking, repetitive, cyclic, psychological factors. Worrying, wondering, remembering, imagining, desiring, avoiding. Never here and now, simply being. We are always trying to modify our external environment in order to satisfy an unquenchable internal craving, and we will never succeed. We never have, we never will. We have to cut the cycle. We cut it by being here and now by acquiring knowledge, by renouncing the mind, the desires, the thoughts, the feelings.
In one of the Tantras it says:
“Ignorance gives rise to external form. Purged of ignorance, samsara becomes nirvana.” - Hevajra-tantra
This is a very powerful statement and deserves to be reflected on. “Ignorance gives rise to external form”. This alone is so far beyond our ability to understand because we are so habitual in our method of perception. We cannot even conceive of what this means. Our ignorance is so deeply layered that this makes no sense. We are so habitual in our assumption that what we perceive physically is real. We do not actually understand that what we perceive physically is an illusion. An illusion. We perceive life and think it is real. We perceive our thoughts, which are more subtle, and we think they are real too, and our emotions, and sensations in the body.
“The reflection of form in a mirror is an image without substance. [...] The perception of external phenomena as reality is caused by diverse thoughts rooted in the psychic residue of past lives. This is the transitory mind. It creates all forms. What appears to be external reality is actually nonexistent [like the images in a mirror]. The seeming self within the body experiencing the senses is only the mind...” - Lankavatara-sutra
We ignore the two truths. We do not remember that form is emptiness and emptiness is form. This is the essential for us of the Prajnaparamita, the scripture that explains the nature of the Absolute.
"Shariputra, any noble son or noble daughter who so wishes to engage in the practice of the profound perfection of wisdom should clearly see this way: they should see perfectly that even the five aggregates are empty of intrinsic existence. Form is emptiness, emptiness is form; emptiness is not other than form, form too is not other than emptiness. Likewise, feelings, perceptions, mental formations, and consciousness are all empty. Therefore, Shariputra, all phenomena are emptiness; they are without defining characteristics; they are not born, they do not cease; they are not defiled, they are not undefiled; they are not deficient, and they are not complete.” - Prajnaparamita Sutra
Form and emptiness, these are the two truths, which are really one truth. When we understand this, when we perceive it, when we see it, when we experience it; that is nirvana. It is the perception of reality. It is to cut through the cycle, the habit, the tendencies. This structure of the Wheel of Becoming illustrates how form and emptiness interact, that everything that becomes is in itself empty.
So, one way to present this teaching, and one way that it is often taught (a very useful way), is to understand that the teaching of the twelve nidānas is also called dependent origination. A simpler term is, simply, interdependence. That teaching essentially explains: What is the cause of everything? What is the source or origin of everything? Where is it to be found? All of us assume that this question is addressed at physical matter: Where did the rocks come from? Where did the plants come from, the animals, everything else? That is how we read the Bible, too. We think “God created everything in six days and he rested on seventh day and that is all.” This literal interpretation is nonsense. What Genesis explains is the origin of existence, the origin of ourselves, the origin of what we see, of what we experience, but the scripture is not literal, it is symbolic.
To comprehend the two truths is to understand that everything in the relative truth is interdependent. I explained that the ultimate truth is the Absolute. It is more than just a void or a space, it is cognizance, it is Gnosis, it is wisdom, it is the origin and root of the Divine. It is selfless. Everything that emerges or that is in existence came from that. So everything that exists only exists because of that. Furthermore, everything that exists outside of that is impermanent, cannot be relied on, will decay, will pass away.
So, let us look at that in terms of ourselves, to understand how this affects us practically, in terms of our suffering, in terms of our lives. What does it mean? It means look at yourself. Look at how you perceive, what you are experiencing, what you see, what you sense. In everything that is perceptible to you, can you find anything permanent? Anything that is independent? Anything that does not rely on something else?
Well, we assume that our body is real and that it lasts and that it is permanent, but we are mistaken. The body is impermanent; everything about it is unreliable, uncertain.
What about the personality? Because we all believe we are such and such a person with this name and this experience and these tastes and this knowledge, and we are really good at these things and we can really help people with this and that, and we have a lot of confidence in something that is an illusion, something that we will throw away the moment the body is dead. That name and face that we are attached to is only one of thousands that we had, but we do not remember. We are in a state of complete ignorance about who we really are. The personality we have, the name that we have, is dependent on particular causes and conditions in our life that have since changed, gone away. Everything that created this personality is no longer there as it was, and the personality itself has changed continually, and it will die.
So who is that person that we think we are? What about all those thoughts and feelings that we think are our identity? What happened to them? Are they still there? Are we real? Do we have a fundamental existence beyond the assumption that we are real? We think our thoughts are real, but we do not know where they come from or where they go. We think that our thinking is our identity, but we cannot even control our thinking, and we think that our emotions are our identity, our reality, but we cannot control our emotions either.
Moreover, our thoughts and feelings, even though we ourselves cannot control them, somebody outside of us can control them very easily. We are very easy to manipulate. You do not believe me? Remember when you were standing in line and you ordered something and the person was not bringing it for a long time and you were getting really upset? That is weakness: impatience, anger, pride. Even a child can make you angry, can manipulate you to get what it wants. It knows your buttons. It knows that all it has to do is cry and make a lot of noise, and you will do anything to make it stop. You will give him the keys to the car even though he is only 5 years old… “just shut up!” That is how easy we are to manipulate.
Moreover, any advertisement that we see, any TV show that we see, is a subtle but very powerful influence that causes us to modify our behavior all the time.
What about this so-called “individuality” that we worship today? We all think we have our own style, our own flavor, and our own ways of doing things. We think that we are distinct and individual and we stand out from the crowd, when in fact every single detail about ourselves we took from someone else. Everything. Those who think they dress different just copied someone else. Moreover, their desire to be different depends on the person they are comparing themselves to. So they are not independent. They are dependent on the one they do not want to be like.
Do you see the interdependence? And these are really superficial examples. We are not even looking into the depths of the mind yet. These are just related to Malkuth, the skin of the onion.
We are not free. We have this illusion of individuality, thinking “I am myself. I do not need anyone. I am my own man or my own woman. I am going to go my own way.” This is a profound state of ignorance. Not a single being on this planet is independent, and if you want to prove it, do not depend on anyone else for anything. You will have to raise and grow and make your own food, your own clothes, your own water. You will have no electricity. You will not have an iPhone. You will not have a car. You will not have shoes, unless you make them. You can live that way if you want, but you will not like it. It will be very difficult. So: independence is an illusion.
Everything about us is dependent on everyone else, and dependent on the nature of our experience in the world. We are very vulnerable and very foolish. A micron difference in the chemical constitution of our atmosphere would cause all of us to be dead, or the chemical composition of the water supply, or the position of the planet in relation with the sun or the moon. We would be dead, we would not be here. There is such a delicate balance to everything. This is especially true in relation with our own psyche.
All of these things are important, and I am presenting them to you in order for you to start to cultivate this sense of self-doubt, or skepticism about your mind and about your perception.
The way to walk in Gnosis is to question what you perceive, to not believe it, to cut through it, to be awake, to be aware. To develop real knowledge is to see the reality, not make assumptions. Not believe or disbelieve, but see, to look, to be. No longer trying to change everything externally, instead only trying to change our perception because that simple singular action breaks the entire Wheel of Becoming.
You see, liberation is not acquired through making great external effort. It is actually acquired through being completely effortless, but by being awake. It requires no effort to be liberated. What it requires is knowledge, perception.
This is why it is stated:
“There is no ease within samsara’s realms;
ease is found in the awakened state.
“Through effort this awakened state is never gained;
it is not achieved with effort, but by letting be and never striving.” - Padmasambhava
Observe your mind. Observe your body. Notice that from day to day, from moment to moment, how much tension you have physically. Why? If you sincerely observe yourself and analyze yourself, you will find that your physical tension is only a reflection of your mental tension, emotional tension, and those come from a psychological conflict between “what is” and “what you want.” Let me give you a secret: they will never match. They will never ever match. This is an illusion, a carrot that is dangling in front of the donkey that it keeps walking after, but never catches. The donkey is too stupid to realize it and so are we. That carrot is what the ego puts there and what society puts there to keep us enslaved. It is that next thing that we want, a physical thing or a psychological thing: a title, an achievement, a status, some praise, some condition that we believe will give us happiness. They never do. Some say this is the state of being a human being; it is to never be satisfied. It is true. To be a being in our level is that: never satisfied.
I have observed very poor people and very wealthy people, and every range between. I have been all over the world. I have met enough people now to have a sense that there is no satisfaction to be found in physical things or in society, because I have seen the wealthiest who are much more dissatisfied than the poor. I have observed a man, very wealthy, with power in the world, sit at a table in an expensive restaurant and order six entrees because he was bored with the food. That cost of that meal could have fed an entire family in another place for many months. He spent hundreds and hundreds of dollars just to taste each one to see if any of them were interesting to him. They were not. He ate nothing. He tasted each one and walked away, wasted it, because his craving could never be satisfied. That man has found no ease in samsara. With all his power and wealth, he has found nothing.
Ease is found in the awakened state.
“Through effort this awakened state is never gained;
it is not achieved with effort, but by letting be and never striving.”
This has to be understood correctly. It does not mean that you should become like a log who sits and does nothing. What it means is that your attention should be still, observant, never grasping, craving, or avoiding. Never attempting to modify what is perceived, but only to perceive it with perfection, to see it with accuracy, to see it clearly. This can only be done if we are not in a state of craving or aversion, and if we are clearing ourselves of our fundamental ignorance, our perception.
In other words, we need right view, the way of seeing from inside that is very expansive, that is not trying to modify our perception, but just to see. It does not mean we should be inactive. Quite the contrary! Once you see what is really happening, you will need to be very active. If someone is being injured, help them. If you have a job to do, do your job. If you have responsibilities, care for them. Be a good person. Emulate those who you would like to become, like the great masters. Serve humanity. Study the teachings. Be sincere. Be honest. Saturate yourself with the beauties of the teachings we have access to. Walk away from everything that is negative and is harmful.
All of that takes effort. To practice takes effort. To serve humanity takes enormous effort, but to awaken is effortless. To awaken is to let be and not strive. It is to be here and now, relaxed, observing always. Be here and now, relaxed.
The way to see if you are successful in this is if you have ever noticed or observed in yourself tension – physical tension, emotional tension, mental tension. That tension reveals a conflict between a desire and the truth, relative or Absolute. We have tension because we want things to be different. We either do not want something we have or we want something we do not have, and because that is the way it is, we are not happy, we are not satisfied. We have tension. We are ignorant. We are asleep.
The awakened state is gained through acceptance. That term, acceptance, implies an absence of pride, an absence of desire, to just accept.
There are many things that you cannot change. You cannot change other people, so why do you talk bad about them? Why do we always look for the faults in others? Why do we always complain about everything? The complaints do no good. They only spread negativity. Our gossip does no good. It only causes harm. Instead, we should accept, and where we see places to make a change, do it virtuously, with humility, with diligence, for the good of others, not ourselves.
The next passage of this scripture states:
“By aversion, samsara is not left behind; It is freed within itself by letting be.”
Aversion is the psychological tendency to try to distance ourselves from things that we do not want. For example, in these types of teachings we explain about hell, but nobody likes to hear that. So, oftentimes, when the lectures are coming up about hell, people stop coming. Or a book comes out about hell and, “Yeah… I’ll read that one later. I really do not want to know about that. That will not apply to me because, of course, I’m going to heaven.”
Aversion is more subtle than that, though. When we have to deal with a person who contradicts our desire or our sense of self, we would prefer to avoid them. The truth is that situation is a great opportunity for us to overcome our pride, but it takes courage and a great deal of awareness to not avoid, but instead, to face the reality, take care of our responsibilities, accept it for what it is, and learn.
So, a great antidote that you can apply to everything is to learn to expand your view, being here and now, being perceptive of all things, and remember all beings have the same divinity inside that we do. No difference. That person that you want to avoid also has divinity inside. Why would you want to avoid that? Is it because they are giving you a little discomfort? Why do you have discomfort? Is it because of pride, resentment, anger, or envy? This is often the case. The person that we do not want to be around, actually we do not want to be around them because we are envious of them or resentful towards them. We do not want to deal with our feelings or our emotions, we prefer to avoid it.
“A general Gnostic rule in the Gnostic esoteric work is that when we do have a point of contention with another person, we can be certain that this is the very thing against which we must work on within ourselves. Whatever it is that we criticize so much in others is some- thing which lies on the dark side of ourselves, and which we neither know nor want to recognize.” - Samael Aun Weor, The Great Rebellion
Thus, we are caught in cyclic behavior. We are in samsara— and the way to free it? Accept it. Acceptance does not come through craving, avoidance or ignorance. It comes through knowledge. Seeing it for what it is, accepting it for what it is. Comprehending it. With acceptance, we stop trying to change external phenomena, and instead work on remaining aware. This does not mean that you should accept it when a crime is being committed or someone is being harmed, or to just accept that you have no food on your table—no. You have to take care of your duties. What we mean by acceptance is something psychological: to stop the cycle of craving and aversion in your mind, which is rooted in fundamental ignorance of the truth.
“Your attempts to cure your miseries have brought no ease; you are at ease by loosely letting be.”
Our attempts to cure our miseries are also a process of craving and aversion. All the advertisements tell us that if we had a certain car, a certain wardrobe, we would be very happy. It is not true. I offer no apologies to all the car companies, because the advertisements are a lie.
Our attempts to cure our miseries come through everything that we do, not only all day, but all night in our dreams. The state of ignorance that we suffer within is so deep and so conditioned that we do not realize that we are constantly trying to overcome misery through external things.
This is the fundamental state of ignorance that will never resolve itself unless we comprehend it, unless we “loosely let be.”
For this, one must stop making effort on frivolous things, frivolous activities, and instead devote time and energy to actions that benefit ourselves and humanity. One person can make an incredible difference, simply by doing that.
“You find no happiness from craving; only when you have let go of craving.”
I recommend that you analyze that within your life. Now, the mind naturally says, “Well… I crave to eat that certain food that I really like and I am pretty satisfied when I eat it. So, I am not sure if that part of the scripture is right.” Well, relatively speaking, that could be true, but what about tomorrow? What about next week when that craving is coming up again and you repeat the cycle? Thus, that happiness you found was conditional, dependent. It was not independent, not permanent. It is very insubstantial and short lived.
Those who are addicted to profit feel very happy when they acquire a big profit, feel very proud, very satisfied… until the next day when somebody else gets even more. Envy emerges and their pride is hurt and now they have to go out and get even more profit. Or, profits begin to decline, and the person feels fear, anxiety, despair... Even when the profits rise, the person feels attachment, possessiveness, pride, resentment towards others, jealousy, and—of course—the desire for even more profit. The animal mind is never satisfied. Never contented. Never at ease. Never awake.
Beings who are subject to these conditions – ignorance, craving, and aversion – constantly repeat, not only from day to day but from lifetime to lifetime, from aeon to aeon… suffering, repeating, never free.
So, the Dalai Lama explained that:
“Samsara – our conditioned existence in the perpetual cycle of habitual tendencies – and nirvana, genuine freedom from such an existence, are nothing but different manifestations of a basic continuum. So this continuity of consciousness is always present. This is the meaning of tantra.” - 14th Dalai Lama
Some of you might be surprised to hear that this is the meaning of Tantra, because a lot of mischievous, and very foolish people, have confused humanity and presented Tantra as sexual indulgence, and the people who are doing that are demons. They are completely divorced from reality. They have no concept of what Tantra is. They are black magicians, devils, who are intentionally or unintentionally misleading humanity and originating enormous suffering. They are committing a very, very serious crime against humanity.
The word Tantra literally means “flow, continuum, thread.” Something that moves.
Samsara and nirvana are conditions of movement. Bhavachakra illustrates that movement. A bhavachakra can be a condition of samsara or a condition of nirvana. The difference is, simply, our state of being. That is the only difference. That is why Padmasambhava taught that the only difference between samsara and nirvana is attention.
“Samsara and Nirvana have no difference than that between the moment of being unaware and aware, since we are not deluded by perception but by fixation. Liberation naturally occurs when we recognize that fixated thoughts are only mind grasping at its own empty manifestations.” - Padmasambhava, Liberation Through Seeing With Naked Awareness
The Dalai Lama stated that samsara and nirvana “are nothing but different manifestations of basic continuum.” That continuum is Tantra itself, the flow of energy in all things. Tantra is also the science to realize that, to comprehend that, to experience that. So you can take this word “Tantra” and put the word “Gnosis.” It is the same thing: knowledge, experience, perception.
The one who follows the guidance of white tantra utlizes sanctity, charity and chastity to harness the flow (tantra) of all things, and transmute all experience into a higher level of Being. This is very difficult, but is the path to complete liberation. Truly, this is a process of using willpower to invert the descending flow of energy in nature. That is symbolized in the lifestory of the Buddha when he places Sujata's ricebowl into the river and it flows upstream.
The rest of the world allows the flow (tantra) of mechancial nature to take them down, deeper into the bondage of mechanical circling (samsara). Some accelerate that flow (tantra) by harnessing the flow (tantra) of desire, amplifying it, indulging in it, in order to move faster downwards. That is very easy, and leads to having powers, but also more karma. We do not teach that method here. We follow the guidance of the Buddhas, who encourage us to swim against the flow.
The Dalai Lama continues:
“According to Buddhist practice, there are three stages or steps. The initial stage is to reduce attachment towards life. The second stage is the elimination of desire and attachment to this samsara. Then in the third stage, self-cherishing is eliminated.” - 14th Dalai Lama
These three stages are different faces of the same thing. The path that the Buddha taught, he explained quite simply… someone asked him, “What do you teach?” He said, “I teach about suffering and how to end it.” So these three stages are that: the comprehension of suffering and how to end it.
“The initial stage is to reduce attachment towards life.” Some people who do not have understanding of this type of philosophy become offended by this statement or think that it means that one should go live in a cave and ignore humanity and suffering and separate oneself from everything. That is not the meaning. It is actually quite the opposite. This attachment is that craving of the three poisons. Attachment is grasping. It is a form of ignorance, and by “life” here is meant the deluded state of being: materialism, personality, ego. To reduce attachment towards illusion.
It is only when you really start to comprehend through your own perception what your life is and is not that you can start to comprehend the way you have been living life, which is really a way of deep attachment to many impermanent factors. Then you start to realize, “Well, wait a minute… why would I attach myself to all these things that are impermanent and unreliable? When I die, I am not going to take any of it. None of these people who praise me will go with me when I am dead, and none of the ones that hate me will be there when I am dead… none of my possessions, none of my books, nothing.” Why be attached? Better to be at ease. Observant. Cognizant. Awake. Active in life. Fulfilling our responsibilities. Serving others. Abiding by the ethics that are required in order to be freed from suffering, but inside, having the right view. Understanding interdependence. Understanding impermanence. To be attached is to be foolish, since it is reality that nothing lasts.
“The initial stage is to reduce attachment towards life.” This is difficult, and this only is the first stage. As an example, if you have children, how hard is it to be not attached to your children? If you are married, how hard is to be detached from your spouse, but still loving and responsible? To not be attached, to not be grasping, to not be controlling, but instead to have acceptance. To be at ease. What about with your job? With your income? It is very difficult to not be attached to things that you feel emotionally or mentally invested into, precisely because you have so much attachment. That is why when those things are taken away from you, you suffer. When your child dies, when your spouse leaves, when you get fired, when the IRS or the government comes and takes all of your possessions, you go through terrible suffering. Why? Not because of the things or the people outside of you, but because of your attachment towards them. The suffering is from inside.
If you had Gnosis, cognizance, that point of view of being at ease, acceptance, when the spouse dies you will feel pain, no doubt, but you will not be in an extreme state of misery because there would be no attachment. There would be understanding. You will comprehend it. You will not suffer in the same way, but experience a higher state of being than one who is attached.
This initial stage is very difficult, especially for us because we live in the world, in society, which at every instant is encouraging attachment, is pounding us with the influence to be attached – to attach yourself to certain politics, to certain fashion, to certain music, to certain types of language, certain activities. Society is driving this home all the time… to attach yourselves, to be conditioned by whatever it is they are selling you. It is an illusion that we willingly cloak ourselves in.
But someone who practices really seriously, continually from moment to moment, in meditation to reduce attachment, outside and inside, can then move to the second stage, which is elimination of desire.
“The second stage is the elimination of desire and attachment to this samsara.” So this is deeper. Even if you eliminate the attachment to something, you will still have the roots of that attachment inside. By “desire”, here it is meant craving and aversion. Aversion is a desire. We want to avoid being embarrassed. That is a desire of the ego, of pride.
“In the third stage, self-cherishing is eliminated.” This is, of course, the most difficult. Self-cherishing is not merely the thought: “I am a good person, I love myself…” I know society is very much encouraging this sort of “love yourself” psychology. This is also very harmful. It is a way of justifying our mistakes and covering over the poisons that are killing us. Poisons that are killing humanity are our very self-cherishing. And when we go into this pomp psychology of “love yourself”, “accept yourself”, “encourage yourself”, this is a very, very deceptive illusion that deepens ignorance. We need to contradict ignorance. We need to bring knowledge.
Self-cherishing is the very root problem here. Self-cherishing is ignorance. We need to love purity, divinity, not our degenerated mind. That must die so that our purity can be freed.
So in these three stages, we see the three poisons: ignorance, craving, and aversion.
To synthesize this, learn to be present. This sounds like a simple thing, and I know everyone has heard it probably for years, but the simple truth is, there is only one difference between all of us and the Buddha, a master, and that is a simple difference. We do not know who we are. A Buddha knows the nature of their mind. A Buddha sees the reality, we do not. We have all these fancy and sophisticated ideas that a Buddha has gone through all of these empowerments and initiations and has achieved all these steps along the path, and all that is true. But, the fundamental fact, the fundamental differentiation between ourselves and a Buddha is perception.
“If you are asked what is the difference between the mind of the truly perfected Buddha and the mind of sentient beings of the three realms, it is nothing other than the difference between realizing and not realizing the nature of mind.” - Padmasambhava, Advice on How to Practice the Profound Instructions
A Buddha is awake, that is the meaning of the word. We are not, and to awaken requires that we are awake, nothing else. To be. To be here and now, to see the truth. That is, to be in nirvana (cessation), not hypnotized by the circling mind.
Nirvana is a state of consciousness. Nirvana is a state of liberation. It begins here and now, through being here and now, awake, and freeing ourselves from psychological cages.
Learn to self-analyze, to discriminate what you perceive. Learn to question. We talk in this tradition of about self-remembering and self-observation. We talk about an exercise called S.O.L., which I explained earlier in this lecture. Subject, object, and location. These are good exercises and important teachings. But they really boil to down to a very simple thing: be here and now. Question what you are seeing. Do not assume, and reach out. Expand your awareness.
I am putting it this way because there are enormous forces pressing down on us. To truly awaken requires that that awakening be persistent, that it be sustained, and that you carve out a space in your psyche where that presence is cultivated and energized.
That is why we teach so many practices and techniques, and we teach about the transmutation of energy. We teach about how to work with matter and energy, as an individual, as a couple. We teach Tantra, how to work with the continuum of forces that flow through us, to harness those forces, and to direct them for good, for our development, and for the benefit of others. This is not conceptual. Self-observation, self-remembering, to be here and now, is not conceptual. It is experiential, only you can do it. In other words, no one can awaken you, no master can awaken you. Everyone is praying to their masters, to the saints, to the prophets: “Please help me with this and that, please come, please do this and that.” They will help you, but they cannot awaken you. Only you can awaken yourself. Only you can become a Buddha through that cognizance of being here and now. This is how you cut through the cycle. Being here and now. Cognizant. Observing the habitual tendencies – physically, emotionally, intellectually. Cutting them, learning to see the interdependence of all the phenomenon that have confused you in the past. This is a simple, simple thing. Not easy to do though.
This effort is not really an effort, and that is the other place that people get confused. It requires energy. So in the beginning because we have no energy, we have wasted our energy, and we have thrown it away on frivolous things, we are now drained of vitality. So when we begin this, we are not really able to sustain it, so it feels tiring and we forget. In this sense, we can say that it takes effort. We have to remember, we have to save energy, we have to do practices to accumulate and transform energy – that takes effort. But to be awake does not. If you have a cat or a baby, or different kinds of animals and you have observed them, you can see that they are awake. They are not making effort. A Buddha is awake and makes no effort, they are just awake. To be awake is to see and to be aware of seeing. But do not let that become something mechanical where you develop certain habits that you call self-observation, and let me tell you, every single student falls into that. Watch for it. Watch for how when you try to take on these teachings and practice them, you are just starting to cultivate new habits, habits that you call self-observation or presence or watchfulness. Those are not real presence or watchfulness.
To be truly awake is to see as though you have never seen. It is to have no projection, no interpretation, no labeling.
“The master Padmasambhava, whose realization is equal to the truly and completely awakened Samantabhadra, who possessed in his mind all the teachings on the view and meditation and never strayed from the true meaning, was asked by Lady Tsogyal of Kharchen, about all the key points for resolving the realization of descending with the view from above.
“The Lady of Kharchen asked the Lotus Master: From where do all that appears and exists, the phenomena of samsara and nirvana, first arise?
“The master replied: All that appears and exists, the phenomena of samsara and nirvana, arise from the solidified habitual tendencies of labeling. There are three types of labeling: mental labels, cognitive labels, and verbalized labels. Mental labels make thoughts move; cognitive labels build up habitual tendencies; and verbalized labels manifest the manifold objects. It would therefore be better if you stop labeling.” - Descending with the View from Above
Padmasambhava explained that ignorance is characterized by the tendency to label. By that he explained that everything that we perceive, we conceptualize. We label it. We do not see it for what it is, we see our label. We see a person and we immediately take that perception and interpret it and put a bunch of labels on that perception, and we think we have seen the person, but in reality, we only saw the projection of our mind, not the person.
Anyone have this experience where you met a person, made all these assumptions about them, and a little bit later on you find out that you were completely wrong? I hope you have had that experience; it is an important one. We are all doing that all the time. We judge appearances and we assume the appearances are true, yet they are not. They are illusions.
Everything we perceive in this level of existence is illusion. We do not see the ultimate truth, we only see a relative truth. We see a truth of things that are interdependent, impermanent, and unreliable. We have to learn to see past that, to learn to see that what we see is not real, not true.
Some scriptures states, “We have to see life as though it were a dream.” Then when we start to see life as though it were a dream, we can then start to see the reality poking through the dream. But this does not happen because we have the concept in our minds, “Oh life is a dream, I heard a poem about that once…” That does not do it. We are talking about Gnosis here, perception, something that you actually see, that you actually experience. If you have not actually, physically, through your cognizance, through your perception, seen through the veil, then you are not seeing the truth. And that experience is possible for anyone to have. It is only a matter of awakening.
This is why I explained how there are two truths, and why those truths are important to understand. The Absolute is inside of you, the reality is inside. Any person, at any level, at any place, at any time, who learns to be awake can see and experience the nature of the Absolute. Right here and now, in the physical body.
There are no limits to that perception but those that are self-imposed. The problem is we do not want to remove them. We ignore them. We do not even see them. We think that what we see is real, we think that how we see is real, we think that the perceiver as its perceived is real, and it is all lies. If this sounds abstract to you, meditate, because you will experience it.
Someone who seriously meditates, seriously works with the tension and expanding awareness, will have the experience of realizing they are not an individual. They will experience that they are everyone. They will experience the fundamental nature of mind, which is the Absolute itself, which is selfless. And that experience can be terrifying because we are so accustomed to being in the cage of the ego that the experience of not feeling that cage is much like the prisoner who has been in prisoner his whole life, but when the door is opened, he will not leave because he is scared of the sunlight. Freedom actually terrifies us.
The relative truth, which is all we have experienced and all we know, is a state of conditioned suffering.
The Absolute truth is complete freedom, and to experience that and to know that is not a matter of time or effort or certain practices. It is only a matter of awakening and cutting through the veil.
So, in your practice, work with your attention all the time. Being here and now, relaxing, accepting, expanding awareness, and using your energy in a beneficial way. Study the teachings, and this combination of forces will lead you.
Question & Answers
Audience: What is the best way to serve humanity?
Instructor: It is to find how your Being must express itself. So you have to ask your Being. You have to ask inside of yourself. You have to find that within. No one can tell you – no instructor, no book, no teaching. That is something only you can resolve as you walk the steps of your own particular path.
In the beginning when you do not know what that is and you are seeking ways to serve, find ways in your life, it does not have to be dramatic, just adopt a new attitude. Turn your current situation into service for others. Take your current situation as an opportunity to help others. Use your job, family, social interactions, as service for others. So instead of living your life to feed your own sense of what you want, need, and expect, learn to live your life with a great deal of awareness of the suffering of others, with great kindness. Perform every action with cognizance of the suffering of other people. Take yourself out of the equation, and you will perform service, and you may be surprised at the effects.
Audience: You said, well it was written, everything that exists outside of the Absolute will decay. How is there anything outside of the Absolute? Is it all manifestations, even the impurities of a certain level… [ unintelligible ]
Instructor: Yes. The scripture said that everything that is outside of the Absolute will decay, and this is explained and it is understandable when you understand the two truths. Everything is one with the Absolute. Form is emptiness and emptiness is form. But everything that has manifested is relative, meaning it is not impermanent, it is not eternal. It is all impermanent. So thus, the subject change and decay – even the Gods, even the heavens.
That has to be understood in context, because from the level where we are now, that is pretty subtle. The level we are at now, we can pretty much say definitively that absolutely everything that we experience will decay. So let us start there, and later on when we become gods then we can re-analyze that scripture and see if it actually holds up.
Audience: Is there a particular mantra, rune, or practice to gain strength in the consciousness?
Instructor: Well, pretty much all of them, any mantra, any practice done cognizantly will help you to acquire strength. Why is this so? Because when you use a muscle, you strengthen it. To be aware, to be present, in and of itself, strengthens the ability to be present. In the same way, to be distracted, to fantasize and daydream, strengthens your ability to fantasize and daydream. It is very simple.
What you do feeds itself. If you are indulging in concerns about your image and how others perceive you, you strengthen that concern. If, on the other hand, you are attempting to see the reality of those circumstances and not be influenced by your concern about your image, but instead only concerned with being true to yourself in terms of your Being and doing what is best for everyone, then you strengthen naturally, your cognizance. Very simple, this is merely cause and effect. What you do has an effect. As you act, you strengthen the action.
This is why in the Lamrim, the teachings that Tsongkhapa gave, he explained very clearly that the effects of every action are stronger than the action itself. This implies that when you do something, there is a great release of energy, an expression of energy. That energy is directly related to the action itself. So, we can look at an example and say, if you look at a child who has never experienced anything in relation with sexuality, but then they see an image of something lustful, something pornographic, immediately, an entire new realm of life has opened up, for good or bad, and that perception strengthens the urge to perceive more of those types of images. So, if that child continues to look at those things, they will strengthen that tendency and it will become an addiction.
Similarly, when you work to awaken consciousness, when you really experience the feeling of expanding your awareness and you feel the ease of it, the blissfulness of really being awake, you thereby strengthen the consciousness, and you strengthen your cognizance of the teaching, and you will naturally feel inclined to experience that again. This gives us inspiration to keep going.
We work with many different techniques and practices – mantras, runic postures, meditation techniques, prayers – and all of them are important, and all of them are useful and good, but they are useless if we do not do them attentively. If we do them distractedly, we are wasting our time. We may say “I meditate for an hour everyday”, but if in that hour you are just thinking and thinking and thinking the whole time, you are not meditating, you are thinking. To meditate is to be attentive and present, not distracted. Thoughts may come, they may not. The mere experience of genuine meditation strengthens itself.
This is why I am explaining it this way. You can use all the mantras and prayers you want, they can support your attentiveness, but if you do not have attentiveness in the first place, they will not do anything. You must first be attentive here and now, then those techniques can help you. At the same time, it means that you can awaken without them. To be awake does not require a mantra, it does not require a technique or practice. It requires being awake. A mantra cannot awaken you if you are willingly asleep.
Audience: In an old lecture, you said that the solar bodies in the Tibetan tradition are considered illusory bodies so at a certain level they are also an illusion.
Instructor: That is right. The reason they are explained in that way is to make sure that the practitioners understand that the two truths apply even when we are having spiritual experiences, even when we are developing through stages of initiation. Having an astral body is important and good, and we need it, just so with the mental body and causal body – we need them in order to channel the energies necessary to pulverize the roots of our psyche, but those bodies are not permanent, they are not our self, they are interdependent. They are illusory in the same way that the physical body is illusory, but the timescale of those solar entities are different. Atman, Chesed, our inner Buddha, is also interdependent. That is, he is dependent on something else, he is not independently existing, he exists because of his inner Buddha, and that inner Buddha only exists because of the Absolute. So everything outside of the Absolute is impermanent, interdependent, illusory, and that is why we call all of nature which is depicted in this wheel, we call of this Maya. That is name of the Divine Mother. That names means “not that”, meaning that all of that, the Divine Mother’s space from which everything emerges out of her womb, everything is not that, it comes from that but it is impermanent.
Audience: So like the Hebrew letter Hei (ה), we are that.
Instructor: That is the letter Hei (ה), everything comes out and everything goes back.
Audience: It is and it is not.
Instructor: That is right. The thing that is important to understand about that is how that applies to us here and now. It is a very important understanding to develop from the beginning. It is why it is emphasized so much in Buddhist philosophy, and it is why I am emphasizing it so much in the way we are teaching here. Many people in the Gnostic tradition fail to grasp this essential point. As soon as they have some experience of having the astral body or having an experience with a certain master, they develop an enormous pride and attachment and they think that experience is real, yet it is not.
There is a very beautiful story explained in one of the ancient scriptures of Tantra that relates how Padmasambhava developed and became awakened. In one stage he was studying with his master in India practicing the technique that I explained to you today. The technique is a technique of Mahamudra, also called Dzogchen. It is called the methodless method. You simply sit, you do nothing but observe the mind and observe everything and maintain that observance. It sounds easy, but it is the highest practice, the hardest technique of all of them. To do it properly requires training. So he was doing this exercise for a long time, and at certain point he had all these experiences – he was seeing the Gods, he was seeing the divinities, he was seeing himself as a rainbow body, all these different beautiful experiences. He went to his master and said, “I had all these experiences.” The master said, “You are wrong. Look how much pride that brought up. Look at how much craving that brought up. Go back and meditate.” You find the same story in the tradition of Milarepa working with his students, especially Gampopa, where the students have all these experiences and think “Master, was this a good experience or a bad experience?” and the master says, “It was neither good nor bad. Meditate more.” Experiences are just illusions, images. So what? We are still bound to suffering. Experiences do not change anything fundamentally. Yet, we easily become seduced by them.
So this is why we need to study these types of teachings: to grasp and understand that even though you may have cultivated and created the solar bodies, they are not yours, they are not your identity, they belong to God. We are still insects, and even if your Being is a great master, you are still the one who betrayed him – a sinner, a fornicator, an adulterer. We are nothing. We should not fall victim to craving and aversion, to illusion. We have to cut through all appearances, to learn to simply be, and in that simple being, we can then accurately reflect the expression of God and the world. But as long as there is an atom of pride, we corrupt it. A mere atom corrupts, and we have many. So we have to be very, very strict in how we understand these teachings.
Audience: To me, it sounded like a preparation for dream yoga… [ unintelligible ]
Instructor: Well, in fact, the material that I was studying to prepare for this lecture is part of a cycle of Tantras that are taught in certain Tibetan Buddhist traditions, which are, in fact, preparations for dream yoga and beyond. In this tradition we put a lot of emphasis on awakening consciousness physically and in the dream state. The problem is that at different points along that process we can become attached, and that is why the emphasis is so important to cut through appearances and not be deceived by anything that we see.
The purpose of studying dream yoga is not so that we can be awake in the dream world and feel great about ourselves and feel like we have power, but many people pursue it in that way. If you pursue it that way, you can accomplish it, you can be awake in the astral plane, you can have experiences in the astral world, awake. But if you attach yourself to that, you indulge yourself in that, you will become a black magician, a witch, a sorcerer, and there are many like that. We do not teach that.
The way we teach it is to use that experience to cut through appearances on a deeper level. Even when awakened in the astral plane, it is still a relative level of existence that is deeply illusory. The physical world is very illusory, even though we perceive it as concrete because of the conditioning of our psyche. If we start to awaken, we start to perceive that this physical world is not real, and that experience is made more vibrant when you awaken in the astral plane and you realize that the astral world (dream world, fifth dimension) is much more real than the physical world; I realize that sounds strange, but truly, it is much more real; that is partly why we do not awaken when dreaming, because it seems to be so real. After an experience of seeing this, then you reflect, “I thought the physical world was real, but it is really not.” It is very illusory. It is very deceptive. So like that, as you go deeper into different levels of the psyche, not only can you have those experiences but the dangers of becoming attached and confused are there, and that is because of the nature of our psyche. It is challenging.
Audience: What is the role of the Archons in our moment to moment illusion?
Instructor: The Archons, as expressed in the Gnostic scriptures, represent forces of nature, specifically in relation with the cause and effect dynamics of matter and energy. Those forces are active in us because of our own behavior. So, if we want to conquer and overcome the Archons, we have to change our behavior. We have to modify the causes and effects.
Audience: What do you do when you become awake in a dream?
Instructor: Pray to your divinity in whatever form appeals to your heart. Call out with your heart and ask for help and guidance, and ask to be shown what you really need to understand, what you really need to know. That is the best possible use of that experience. Do not fall into the mistake of many students who awaken in that world and say, “Ah, now I can go find out what is really going on in my neighbor’s house!” or “I can go and investigate that student or instructor, or I can go find out… etc.” Do not waste your time. Awakened experiences are very precious. Treat them as such. They are gifts given to us by our divinity. We need to accept them that way and treat them that way. So when you have awakened experiences, whether in this world or in the internal worlds, treat it as though it was handed to you in the hands of your Divine Mother. How would you treat that? As something very precious. So accept it that way and use it that way. She will help you.
The instructors who teach the lectures and courses are volunteers from a wide variety of backgrounds. Each has years of experience teaching and working with the practices and exercises that awaken the consciousness. Since the goal of dharma, yoga, or gnosis is to follow our inner Being, and to focus on divinity not terrestrial personalities, the lecturers remain anonymous, and do not broadcast their names, faces, or personal information. They do not have spiritual titles or names, do not accept followers, and live their lives anonymously like any other person in society.