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Lama Yeshe discusses the real meaning of Dharma and the nature of the mind in this discourse given at Chenrezig Institute, Eudlo, Australia, on September 8, 1979.
Lama Yeshe discusses the real meaning of Dharma and the nature of the mind in this discourse given at Chenrezig Institute, Eudlo, Australia, on September 8, 1979. Edited by Nicholas Ribush.

Now, supposedly all of you should be Dharma practitioners, including myself. But the question is to know what Dharma really is. Generally, the word Dharma has many meanings, many different connotations. We have philosophical explanations but we don't need to get involved in those. Practically, now, what we are involved in is practicing Dharma.

First of all, it is very difficult to understand what Dharma really means individually, for each of us. The reason is that, to some extent, we have to understand the relationship between Dharma and our mind or consciousness. So, in order to understand that, we should understand that the mind or consciousness has two characteristics. I am sure you have heard the philosophy of relative nature or character and absolute nature or character. And the relative character of the mind or consciousness is—and I am sure people who learned the mental factors from Geshe-la have some understanding, and for them this is easy—but, however, we explain that the relative characteristic of mind or psyche or consciousness is clarity and perception; the clear energy which has the ability to perceive reality, to allow the reflection of reality of all existence. That is what we call the mind. I want you to understand that our mind or consciousness is the clarity and clear perception which can take the reflection of the reality of existence, that is all. If you understand it in that way, the advantage is that when we talk about buddha potentiality then you can say, "Sure, we have buddha potential and we can reach the same level as the Buddha." We understand the relationship between the Buddha and ourselves.

Otherwise, most of the time, sentient beings, including Australians, have the tendency or dualistic attitude to think, "I am completely dirty and unclean, totally deluded and hopeless, and sinful, negative, wrong, worthless." Whether we are believers or non-believers, we human beings always have the tendency to identify ourselves in such a negative way; in other words limited, like a passport identity. Our ego gives each of us such a limited identity. The fact that we believe we are such narrow limited energy already begins to suffocate us. We are suffocating because we have a suffocating attitude.

You cannot make me limited; you cannot make me suffocate. My suffocation comes from my own limited neurotic thought. Do you think you can? You see, for that reason, each of us is responsible. I am responsible for my confusion; I am responsible for my happiness or liberation or whatever I think are good things. I am responsible. The Australian animal, the kangaroo, cannot make me satisfied.

Then maybe the question comes that if the mind is clean clear perception, why do we become confused, mixed up? And why do we become neurotic? Because our way of thinking is wrong, and we do not comprehend our own view of perception. So the perception of consciousness is here on your side, and reality is there on the other side, and the view is somewhere between the reality and the consciousness—the perception view is somewhere between here.

You see, we are too extreme. We are too obsessed with the object and grasp it in such a tight way, the conception is so tight. That is what we call confusion, not the perception itself; perception itself has the clarity to perceive garbage also. Its good side, its natural clarity, perceives the garbage view, but we don't look at that clarity perception, we can't see it. What we see is only unclear. So we do not even touch the relative nature or characteristic of the mind. Forget about the absolute!

Thinking that human beings are hopeless is wrong. My thinking that I am hopeless, always with problems is not true. From the Buddhist point of view that is not true. Thinking that my consciousness, my mind is absolutely hopeless is wrong. It is making a limitation which has nothing to do with my own reality.

Somehow, we think that we are clever. We think we are clever, but the true fact is that we make ourselves confused, we make ourselves dull by grasping at the hallucinated wrong view. That could also be Dharma, the philosophy of Dharma, the doctrine of Dharma. Let's say I ask each of you the question, what does Dharma mean, what are you doing, practicing. If I ask, for sure, if you answer what you feel in a really open way, all of you will answer differently. I bet you. That shows; actually, that shows. That signifies that each of you has a different view of what is Dharma and what isn't Dharma. Even just Dharma philosophy itself makes confusion, makes some kind of thinking, trying to say what is Dharma, what isn't Dharma: "This is not Dharma, this is not Dharma, this way yes, this way yes, this way is Dharma, you should not put this way because my Lama says or Buddha says." Before you contacted Dharma you were already so complicated, now when you take Dharma you become more complicated.

Of course, first, in the beginning you see good, fascinating, "Dharma, wow." It is kind of new, a new adventure, a new discovery in this Australian kangaroo land. But in fact, if you don't understand the relationship between your own mind and Dharma, Dharma also becomes the source of confusion. We do know, I have experienced with my students that many times they come crying, crying. Each place I go to—I am a tourist—they have the fantasy, the idea, "OK, Lama Yeshe's coming, now I will tell him all my problems," or "Oh, oh, I am so happy to see you," and they cry, cry, cry, cry. "I broke this, this makes me upset. I told you when I met you a couple of years ago that I will be a good meditator and now I am not meditating therefore I am completely upset." You see—what good is Dharma? Their meeting Dharma becomes the source of guilt and confusion, so what good is Dharma? I would like to know, what good is Dharma? Is that worthwhile or not worthwhile?

Actually, in truth, the Buddhist teaching is very simple, very simple. Mostly emphasized is knowing these two levels of truth of your own consciousness, and then making it more clear. Making it more clear sounds like it was first totally dirty. It is not necessary to think that way. Also it is not necessary to think that at first it was perfect. What we should understand clean clear is that our conceptualization, which daily interprets things as good or bad, is exaggerating and neurotic, and with it we build up a fantasy, some kind of house. This means we are never in touch with any reality—inner or outer—nor leave it as it is.

Good example, when you grow in Western society—we bring the child into life, into the world—when you are like fifteen or between fifteen and twenty, or twenty-five or thirty or something in that area, confusion starts; more confusion, more neurosis. I want you to understand why. You check it out. The Buddhist teachings show you what life is, your lifestyle. You check out each age, how you were confused; you check out for what reason you were confused. It was because you had the fantasy attitude of grasping a certain reality. You think that is real reality, solid, you have some kind of notion of indestructibility. You think, you believe that way, which is unrealistic.

Especially check out your up and down. Each day, how many times are you up and down, each day how many times do you say good or bad? It is like you believe that you can bring a piece of ice to Queensland, here, and sit on it saying, "Now I want to stay here for a whole year." How can you stay there? The temperature is too high, so the ice is going to melt. But still you believe, you hang on as if that can happen. Such a polluted ambition. That's the same thing that we have. I definitely say that Western life, the confused Western life, is unbelievably up and down, up and down; more than primitive country life like in Nepal and India. You can see why this up and down disturbs all your life, makes you unstable. Why? Because you hang on to the unrealistic idea that you hold in such a concrete way. There is no way you can hold, no way you can hold.

It's the same thing with relationships that human beings have with each other in the West. A good example, human relationships with each other. It is also like the fantasy with the ice. You put such a piece of ice here and say, "This is fantastic, I want it permanently." But the nature of ice is to melt, so disappointment is certain. That is why there is one time disappointment, broken heart, two times disappointment, broken heart. You know what broken heart means? I am not sure what broken heart means; I need an interpreter! Broken heart, broken heart, shaking your heart, crying. Each time you cry, cry, down, down, dissatisfaction each time. So you make it, build up, build up disappointment. And each time your heart is broken you get more insecure, more insecure, more insecure. That is the source of the confusion. And also we do not rely on each other. Each time you break with human beings, "He did this, she did this," you distrust this, you distrust that, you distrust this. Then you distrust everything.

Perhaps you people think, "Primitive country people hang on and have some satisfaction, but we change, we often change, so we become advanced." That is not true. That is garbage thinking. I am not saying only the relative point of view; the point is that in your mind, first you think that it is concrete, it is lasting, you determine that, and the next second it disappears. That one, that is the point of suffering. I am not saying you do this, this is wrong, this side. But the conception, always thinking this way, this way, this way; that is painful, that is really painful. That has nothing to do with advanced modern ways of thinking. That makes you more split rather than the complete modern man.

Now, the point is that, remember, the human consciousness, the human mind has a relative nature which is clean, clear energy and has the ability to reflect all existence. Therefore, if we contemplate on our own relative characteristic or consciousness, which is the clean clear energy, it automatically eliminates the concepts which make us irritated, trouble us. So, we say the human being is profound. I am sure that Lama Zopa explained the precious human rebirth. The reason it is precious is because it has profound potential, profound quality. Even you can say pure quality, pure quality. The sense of this is that the relative character of the human consciousness is not totally mixed up with negativity or sin. That's all I am saying, that relatively thinking that the human being is negative and sinful is wrong.

In one of Maitreya's texts is an example of how the potential of the human consciousness is clean clear; how it has never been of negative character and will never be of negative character either. It is like the nature of the sky—the sky nature is always clear, it hasn't got the character of clouds and will not have. This example is so clear. The cloud character and the space character are different. It's the same thing that our consciousness has clean clear nature. But when we are caught by the ego's wrong conception way of thinking, the concepts that identify that-this, that is what is wrong. But I am not saying that that is always wrong, the that-this thinking. But most of the time our thinking that-this has nothing to do with reality, it's only a superficial fantasy.

My point is, that any time, no matter how much you are confused or fearful or in a suffering situation, if you look into the clarity of your consciousness, your mind—it is always there, always there. This is the human beauty: the human being has the ability, the human consciousness has the ability to perceive things—good or bad, whatever it is—and also to use the wisdom which discriminates what is worthwhile and what is not worthwhile. Good or bad, impure or pure, we can discriminate—that is the human beauty. Don't think that human beings are hopeless; that's not true. You are not a good meditator therefore, "I am hopeless," that is also wrong. "I cannot sit like this for one hour, therefore I am not a meditator." Again, your limited judgment. We do. Who in Buddhism said that you can only sit this way to become enlightened, who said that? Where is that man? That's why the human beauty, human profundity, is always existent, always existent. Even though intellectually you make yourself too limited, it is always existent.

You should not think, "Buddhism makes me good or bad. But now I have many things to count by, this is good or this is bad." As long as the relative mind is moving, concepts moving, day and night, twenty-four hours, the karma, or good-bad is existent. It is like, if I ask you Western people when we produced television, "Is television a fantastic vehicle?" When it first came out everybody said, "Wow, yes, fantastic." But now maybe some hippies say television is horrible, because there are too many garbage reflections. Similarly with our consciousness; it is kind of like a clean clear screen: it has the ability to reflect phenomena. So you look at this one. Here you have real television; your consciousness is television, so we should look at it, we should contemplate on that clarity, and penetrate. So in that way we can discover tranquility and peace.

When we say “Dharma,” Dharma is our consciousness, part of our mind. Dharma book is not Dharma. Dharma teacher is not necessarily Dharma. Dharma philosophy is not Dharma. Dharma doctrine is not Dharma. Dharma is the action of part of our wisdom energy which has the power to eliminate one thing in particular, the concepts of delusion. In other words, it becomes the antidote or solution to particular delusions and dissatisfaction. Then it is worthwhile; that is the reason the Dharma is worthwhile. That's the reason that we say Dharma is holy, Dharma is worthwhile. Otherwise if you understand wrongly, Dharma is not worthwhile, Dharma becomes a problem. You know—we already talked before how Dharma becomes a problem. So developing comprehension of the relative mind or relative consciousness is the source of developing comprehension of the absolute character of the mind.

Also, that relative mind is an interdependent, composite gathering, interdependent gathering of energy; not one absolute thing. When we say, "I am deluded," you cannot blame this side, “The perception side is bad, I want to smash.” Also you cannot blame the object side, “That is bad, I want to smash.” Let's say, when you have some dirt on your face, you look in the mirror—"Wow! I am dirty, ugly. Oooh!" You cannot blame the mirror, nor can you blame your face, “I want to cut this off.” So what, what? The thing is that the gathering makes this phenomenon, isn't it?

So the same thing, no matter how much we think "I am bad" or "I am terrible," the conception thinking these things, if you check it out it is a composite gathering. Many factors gather, and then we say that, "That is this, that, this." If you know all of these things, each part gathers to make the relative phenomena, you can understand that there is no concrete relative phenomenon inherently existent. Then you can see. All relative phenomena are superficial, impermanent, momentary, set up in such a way; then we say that, this, that, this, that, this, including ourselves.

You see, actually, it has never occurred to our conception of ego, it has never dreamed, that the entire relative character of the I is composite energy, many parts of energy have gathered to become a bubble or some kind of cloud. As a matter of fact, our body is like a cloud—one bunch of clouds come, one bunch of energy comes—this is the body. Each day when you wash some part of the energy goes from the skin; each time you breathe some kind of energy goes out here with the breath. Then you eat and again some kind of energy goes inside. I think you know these kind of things better than I, maybe.

Therefore, the ego mind, the conception of ego, has never understood this relative notion of what I am, who I am, this relative way of constructing reality. It seems sort of indestructible. "I am, therefore you cannot say I am bad. I am always good." Actually, when you say "I am good," you try to prove "I am good," that means you believe you are bad. I tell you, psychologically, inside you believe you are bad. Superficially you try to prove it by saying, "I am good, I am good, I am good." That's wrong—your mind is psychologically sick. You don't accept the relative truth.

When you begin questioning that, the view and the concepts of your ego mind, then the possibility of opening, of understanding the absolute quality or characteristic of consciousness begins. If you just leave it, if you never question, in other words if you believe that your concepts and your concrete view are true, then there is no way for you to enter discovering the absolute quality of consciousness or mind.

Especially, I think that Western scientific education has developed that a great deal—that the whole thing, myself and the whole thing, object, is some kind of concrete existence. That is wrong. I want you to understand that the Western scientific way of thinking, philosophy, has basically built up the concrete dualistic entity. I want you to understand that, instead of being proud. Education gives us the tendency to hang on to this basic way of existence, to hold the world as concrete: concrete Australia, concrete Australian beings. So, we suffocate easily. Maybe you freak out now. "Now this man is making a revolution for us! Wait a minute!"

Teachings on the Heart Sutra, a Perfection of Wisdom text.
Khensur Rinpoche Geshe Jampa Tegchok gave this commentary on the Heart Sutra to Saraswati Buddhist Group, Somerset, England on August 17 -20, 2007. The commentary is edited by Andy Wistreich.

You can read the Heart Sutra,a Perfection of Wisdom text on the LYWA website, and also find many Heart Sutra resources on the FPMT website.

You may also download this teaching as a pdf.

Commentary on the Heart Sutra
1:  Introduction to the Heart Sutra
2:  Dependent Arising and Emptiness
3:  How Things Exist
4:  The Mere ‘I’
5:  Meditation on Emptiness
6:  Liberation from Cyclic Existence

"Dependent arising"1, "empty" and "the middle way"  all have the same basic meaning involving the same kinds of thought processes. Just as the word "middle" normally means the middle between right and left, likewise dependent arising is said to be the middle way or the middle, with the connotation of being between two extremes. The path of the middle which goes through the central way is the one free of two extremes. These two are the nihilistic and the permanent/eternalist extremes. If something were inherently or self-existent, existing in and of itself by its own nature, this would be the permanent extreme because the permanent or eternalist extreme basically means inherent existence.

That things (phenomena) exist means they have their own particular function to accomplish or perform. Within this context of things being able to perform a function, refuge exists. We assert that there is refuge, and also that karma (action) and its results exist. Although everything which exists can perform actions or functions, there is nothing which is inherently existent or self-existent.

Therefore one should distinguish between statements that things exist and that they inherently exist. They exist but they do not inherently exist - they are not self-existent. If they were self-existent, existing by their own nature, existing inherently or intrinsically (these are different ways of expressing the same point) they could exist completely independent of any action they perform, and of any other phenomenon. However, we know things exist and the way they exist because they can perform actions. They each have specific actions and functions they perform - that is the level on which they exist.

If things were self-existent, they would exist independent of the capacity to perform any action or function. Therefore there is a big difference between saying things exist and that they are self-existent. To repeat, things do exist, but they are not self-existent - they do not exist inherently.

We must distinguish between existing and being self-existent. These are complete opposites because existing means coming into being through depending on various other factors. However, something self-existent would be completely independent of anything else.

We must also distinguish between not existing inherently and not existing at all. Things are not inherently existent - they do not exist inherently - but that is very different from not existing at all. One should recognise that things are existent without being self-existent. When realising things are not self-existent, one should not think they do not exist at all.

Dependent Arising, Empty and Emptiness

How are dependent arising and empty connected? They come to the same thing and have the same import. Therefore one should understand something as empty, in such a way as to see it as dependent. Moreover, one should understand something as dependent, in such a way as to see it as empty.

When something is empty, what does "empty" mean? It does not mean empty of existing - not existing at all. "Empty" means empty of self-existence which means being independent of anything else. Thus it means dependent. An empty thing exists depending on various other factors.

Knowing something to be empty leads one to recognise that it exists as a dependent arising. The opposite is also true. Knowing something to be dependent, one knows it depends upon various other factors and is not independent. Independent meaning self-existent, and not independent meaning not self-existent, one knows something dependent to be empty of self-existence and therefore "empty". This demonstrates that "empty", "dependent arising" and "the middle way free of the two extremes" come to the same thing, are synonymous, having the same meaning or import.

Everything which exists is empty - of self-existence - but not everything is emptiness. There is a difference between "empty" and "emptiness", because emptiness is the quality of a thing's being empty, or the characteristic that an object has of being empty. Everything which exists is empty, but not everything is that quality of being empty, so not everything which exists is emptiness. One must distinguish between empty and emptiness.

Emptiness is the ultimate way of being of phenomena and is described as an exclusive negation.2 It is neither a positive phenomenon nor an implicative negation.3 It is a negation, and out of the two types of negation it is an exclusive negation. Not everything which exists is this exclusive negation, emptiness, but everything which exists is empty.

There is a difference between being empty and being emptiness. There are two types of truth, namely conventional truth and ultimate truth. Emptiness means ultimate truth, and not everything which exists is ultimate truth. Everything which exists is empty because of being empty of self-existence. Not everything is emptiness because not everything is an ultimate truth. There are also conventional truths.

Some texts seem to use the words "empty" and "emptiness" indistinguishably, suggesting that there is little difference between them. However, there is very definitely a distinction between them because emptiness is ultimate truth, and empty is not ultimate truth. Not everything which is empty has to be an ultimate truth, but everything which is emptiness has to be an ultimate truth. Although absolutely everything which exists is empty, it is not the case that everything which exists is emptiness, because emptiness is an ultimate phenomenon and not everything which exists is an ultimate phenomenon.

Just as dependent arising and empty are synonymous, also the appearances of dependent arising and empty are synonymous. "Dependent arising appearance" and "the appearance of dependent arising" mean conventionally existent. All that exists, exists conventionally and is also empty. Thus all that exists and appears is both a dependent arising and also empty. Things exist and appear but are also empty, so although they exist, things are not self-existent, but are empty of self-existence.

First is the idea of conventional phenomena appearing to be and being dependent and second the idea of them as empty and free from assertions. When these two ideas seem different and separate, one has not yet understood Buddha's teaching of emptiness. On the other hand if one recognises that things both appear to be and are dependent, and that they are simultaneously empty, knowing these two without any conflict, one has correctly understood the definitive teaching of the Buddha.

Everything is both empty and dependent. Distinguishing between empty and emptiness, one should maintain the knowledge of everything's being simultaneously empty and dependent.

When recognising something as dependent, can one eliminate the sense of it existing in either of the two extremes? In other words, can thinking of things being dependent eliminate the two extremes? It is not hard to see how dependent arising eliminates the extreme of non-existence (the nihilistic extreme). All four Buddhist philosophical systems4 accept that. However, does recognising a thing as dependent, a dependent arising, also eliminate the permanent or eternalistic extreme, which is the extreme of things being self-existent?

When thinking how something is dependent does that bring to mind an idea of its being self-existent or does it bring to mind how in order to exist the thing depends on the coming together of various different factors? Reflection on how something is dependent certainly stops one from thinking it does not exist at all, but on the other hand does it stop you from thinking the thing is self-existent?

Recognising something as dependent implies that it is not self-existent and therefore stops both extremes It stops the extremes both of thinking a thing does not exist at all and of thinking it is self-existent. This insight into how the understanding of dependent arising can eliminate both extremes is one of the unique and very difficult to understand points of the Consequentialist system.

Furthermore, recognising a thing's being empty stops the extreme of believing it to be self-existent, which is the permanent or eternalistic extreme. When recognising something as empty, one recognises that it is empty of self-existence. That self-existence means existence independent of anything else.

Thinking something is empty of self-existence, involves thinking that it is not independent. This is seen through recognising that it is dependent. So something's being empty means it depends, and therefore exists dependently. "Empty" stops both extremes. Thinking of something as empty stops both extremes in your mind, and thinking of it as a dependent arising also stops both extremes.

The Two Truths

What we hear, smell, taste, touch and wear are examples of conventional truths. For an example of emptiness analyse the person, to seek a self-existing person in the aggregates - the form, feeling, discrimination, the conditioned phenomena and the consciousness aggregates. Investigate, searching for a self-existing person in each of those aggregates. At a certain point having looked everywhere and not having found it, there is an empty appearance, almost a feeling of having lost that self-existing person. What is then appearing to our mind is the emptiness of the person, which is an example of ultimate truth.

Having recognised that things appear to one as if self-existent the mind investigates whether or not what appears to be self-existent is genuinely so. The mind which analyses and searches for a self-existent thing eventually realises there is no such thing. This is called a valid mind experiencing ultimates or engaging in an ultimate analysis. That valid mind finally realises emptiness, the object found by a valid mind engaging in an ultimate analysis or experiencing ultimates.

Visual forms, sounds, tastes and so on, are not objects found by a mind performing an ultimate analysis, but they are objects found by a mind engaging in a conventional analysis. For example, the visual consciousness that realises (sees) visual form is a valid mind; the nose consciousness that smells various odours, so realising those odours is also a valid mind. These are examples of valid minds experiencing conventionalities.

Ultimate truth is not found by a valid mind experiencing conventionalities but is generally defined as the object found by a valid mind experiencing ultimates. This mind is a valid mind experiencing ultimates with respect to this object. Moreover, just as in general, things like emptiness are the objects realised by a valid mind performing an ultimate analysis, conventional phenomena or truths such as smells, tastes and so forth are objects found by a valid mind performing a conventional analysis.

Student: I have always thought that all phenomena are like coins with two sides, with conventional reality on one side and ultimate reality on the other. But am I mistaken, does emptiness not apply to all phenomena?

Khensur Rinpoche: One may say that a thing's empty and dependent aspects are like two sides of a coin. However emptiness is something else. It is correct to think of the two truths as being like two sides of one coin, because you are thinking of how the thing is empty rather than how it is emptiness.

Conventional phenomena do not exist as they appear, whereas ultimate phenomena do. This statement requires one to identify to what they are appearing. To which type of mind do conventional phenomena not exist as they appear? To which type of mind do ultimate phenomena exist as they appear?

Two types of valid mind are being discussed here. To one of them conventional phenomena do not exist as they appear and to the other ultimate phenomena do exist as they appear.

The mind to which conventional phenomena do not exist as they appear is the valid main mind5 realising them. For example for visual form, it means visual (eye) consciousness, the valid main mind6 realising visual form. Visual consciousness is a valid mind experiencing conventionalities. That valid mind experiencing conventionalities is the main mind realising visual form. Visual form does not exist in the way it appears to that valid mind since it appears to be self-existent but is not. Therefore although that is a valid mind, visual form does not exist as it appears to it. It is the same with other conventional phenomena like smells, tastes, sounds and so on.

What appear to visual consciousness and what it realises are shapes and colours. Shapes and colours appear to visual consciousness as self-existent, whereas they are not. They are dependent, existing only through dependence, and not at all self-existent. In this sense, shapes and forms do not exist the way they appear to the valid mind realising them.

There is a difference between sense consciousnesses - visual consciousness realising visual form, shapes and colours and so on; ear consciousness realising sounds, and so forth - and the innate I-grasping mind. The innate I-grasping mind is a type of true-grasping or self-grasping mind that grasps or apprehends the "I" in one's own continuum as being self-existent. There is a difference between the inborn I-grasping mind which thinks of and believes the "I" to be self-existent or inherently existent, and the mind which thinks, “I'm coming, I'm going, I'm doing this, I'm doing that”, which are minds realising the conventionally existing "I." Those minds thinking, “I'm coming, I'm going, I must do this and I must do that,” are conventional minds and are not true-grasping, so are certainly not the innate I-grasping mind.


"Dependent arising" means arising in dependence on other things. [Return to text]

 This means that in its act of negation it excludes any positive implications. [Return to text]

Phenomena can be either positive or negative (e.g. "body" or "nobody"). Negations may be implicative or exclusive. An implicative negation would imply something in place of the negation. [Return to text]

The four Buddhist systems are the philosophical schools of the Vaibhashika (Particularists), Sautrantika (Sutra-followers), Cittamatra (Mind-only) and Madhyamaka (Middle Way). [Return to text]

Mind can be divided into main minds and mental factors. An example of a main mind is the visual consciousness. An example of a mental factor is feeling. So if you see something you like, you have a visual consciousness as a main mind and pleasure as a feeling.  [Return to text]

 Valid means that the visual consciousness has correctly ascertained its object, so if it is seeing a sunflower, it is not mistaking it for a lotus, as it is actually a sunflower that is being seen. [Return to text]


A teaching by Denma Lochö Rinpocheon on the conventional or surface level of truth and the ultimate truth given in Bodhgaya, India December 1995.
Denma Lochö Rinpoche, the ex-abbot of Namgyal, His Holiness the Dalai Lama's monastery in Dharamsala, India, taught for two weeks at Root Institute in Bodhgaya, India in December 1995. Here is an extract. Translated by Ven Gareth Sparham.

I have been asked to give a talk on the Two Truths: the conventional or surface level of truth and the ultimate truth. Looking at it one way it seems as if I've already finished my teaching because there are just these two words: conventional and ultimate, and that's finished! But in fact these two truths subsume within them all of Buddhism, so there is more to talk about than you'd find in a huge beak.

I ask all of you in this special place of Bodhgaya to bring up within you a special motivation. Every living creature, no matter who they are, are living creatures seeking happiness. At the same time they seek happiness, they are unaware of the cause of happiness, so call up this motivation: that to relieve them from their unhappiness, I must myself achieve all the wonderful qualities, all the excellence of an enlightened state, in order to teach them how to free themselves.

Living creatures, just like ourselves, are defined by seeking to avoid unpleasant, suffering situations, and seeking to place themselves in happy situations. Animals, from insects on up, have knowledge of methods to immediately remove suffering, they have this intelligence. The human being differs from the animal as they have the intelligence to take into account a much greater time span. They can begin to do things to alleviate states that they will otherwise experience a long time in the future—for example, getting a good education so we can find a job, make money, and live well in the future. At this point we are talking generally; spirituality hasn't entered into the discussion at all.

If one performs wholesome deeds, one's future will be in a happy state. If one has performed unwholesome deeds, one has set down the causes to find oneself in a state of woe. Spirituality then enters the thought process of a human being contemplating a future that goes beyond simple death.

Everything that the enlightened one spoke of leads back to the understanding of the two levels of truth. (This doesn't mean there is no third truth, for example the Four Noble Truths and so on, so you can have sub-divisions.) Since you have two levels of reality, you have to have something being sub-divided, or categorized in two categories.

So you can ask yourself, "What is being sub-divided?" and the answer is knowables or objects of knowledge (Tibetan: she-ja). Here, a knowable is simply something that is existing. To exist means to be knowable, and to be knowable means to exist.

For example, I could have the idea of antlers on a rabbit—it could come up in my mind. I could fabricate this awareness, and in that sense rabbit's antlers are something known but they certainly don't exist. [The problem] here is that when you equate things that exist and things that are known, they are known by [a valid] awareness but not by [just any] awareness. In other words I could get out of this difficulty by saying that, true, rabbit's antlers are known by [a particular person's] awareness, but this doesn't necessarily mean that they are known by awareness!

Ultimate truth, paramarthasatya, if you take the [Sanskrit] word apart is this: artha refers to that which is known; parama refers to that which knows its object, that is, the mind of a high spiritual being; satya means truth. It is truth because that which is known is true for that which knows its object, the mind of the high spiritual being, therefore, ultimate truth, an ultimate thing that is true.

So what about this other truth, the conventional, surface level of truth: how does one come to understand this second of the two truths if the ultimate reality is understood in this way? This is samvrtisatya. Samvrti is total covering up, and covering here means ordinary awareness covering that which is real. Here again satya is truth, but truth for an ordinary awareness. In other words, all the things that are true for ordinary minds like our own that are taken as real by them—are conventional truths, therefore, truth for an ordinary covering mind.

In the scholastic tradition we say that anything that is known will always be included in one of these two levels of reality. Anything not covered by these two levels is beyond the sphere of what is knowable. There is a deep logic here—that these two categories, the two truths, are an exhaustive description of all that there is.

Here is how it works. Truth and lie go together, don't they? If a person makes a statement that mirrors reality, then that statement is true. However, a statement not mirroring reality is a lie.

The ultimate level of reality is mirrored in the mind of awareness that knows it, in a way that is not lying. This necessarily brings out the situation that all conventional truths are lying to the awareness that knows them, about the way they appear. Similarly, ordinary things appearing to ordinary awareness must be said to be lying to that ordinary awareness. You are, by removing that truth, positively showing the truth of the awareness of the ultimate. That ultimate, appearing to an awareness that knows it is not lying to that awareness, is the suchness of things—the ultimate reality of things.

So you have one being necessitated by another in a see-saw-like fashion, and from that account you can extrapolate out to show that it is a statement that is exhaustive of all knowables, of all that exists.

In Buddhist systems of ideas, there are many interpretations of what exactly these two levels of truth are. They are set forth as the four Buddhist schools of philosophy.

In the most profound school, the Middle Way Consequentialist school, just what is emptiness or the ultimate? It is this: that in fact nobody or nothing, anywhere, has anything that inherently makes it what it is. Nothing has its own personal mark. Everything exists simply through language, through ideas.

The absence of something, the total absence, the total not-being, non-existence of anything that is not there through the power of language and thought is shunyata, emptiness, the ultimate truth.

When one talks of an ultimate truth, of emptiness, one has a focus; one is looking at objects and finding them to be totally empty. What one is looking at and finding to be empty is very important. The identification of things first becomes an important thing to do because the ultimate truth isn't something immediately apprehensible by our senses—we can't see it. We have to arrive at it through our thought processes, and in order to do this we have to use reasoning. This reasoning takes as its point of departure certain things or bases, so we must identify these in the first instance.

Let's start by trying to identify what are classically the most important of these bases, the five aggregates or skandas. In the Heart Sutra it says, "He looked and saw that the five aggregates are empty of inherent existence." So if you don't know what these five are, how can you look into the ultimate truth of them?

The five aggregates are: a great heap of physical things, a great heap of feelings, a great heap of discriminations, a great heap of created things (Sanskrit: samskara) and a great heap of awareness.

So then, one has heaps, aggregates, and these locate living creatures. Let's take the aggregate of physical things, which can be further broken down into the external objective physical things and the internal subjective physical things. Sights, sounds, smells, tastes and sensations are the external or objective physical things in this great heap of physical things, while the five senses are the subjective or internal physical things.

The second heap is that of feelings. What are feelings? They are the experiences one gets out of things: pleasant experiences, neutral experiences and unpleasant ones.

The next heap is discrimination, which is defined as that part of the mind that functions to identify particular things as what they are.

The fourth aggregate of created things has most of the non-associated created things. It's a catch-bag for everything not included in the other four heaps.

And what is the fifth heap? This is all our awarenesses or consciousness or thoughts. This is generally looked at as sense-based awareness coming from a thinking mind.

One can only focus on the reality of emptiness when one has seen the size, the dimensions, of what one is refuting or denying.

The Tibetan saint Tsongkhapa said, "Anything that is produced from conditions is never produced." You can unpack this apparent paradox in this way. What you are saying is that nothing is produced as something that is independent; nothing is produced as something that is there under its own power. That's what you are trying to demonstrate.

For example, a seedling isn't produced as something there under its own power, as something that is inherently what it is. Why? Because it is produced from causes and conditions. That's how you break down the meaning of the statement to formulate it as a reason for the hidden meaning, which is emptiness, to come clear to the mind.

Lama Tsongkhapa writes in his famous Praise to Dependent Arising, "What is more amazing, what better way of expressing a reality has ever been found? Namely that anything that depends on conditions is empty."

There are many different reasons a person can use to come to understand emptiness. But here we meet with the king of all reasonings—dependent arising—because being produced or arising dependently is the reason for everything's emptiness. Using this reason, one avoids the extreme of nihilism, because dependent arising shows something is there; nevertheless, because it is a reason that shows emptiness it also removes eternalism.

As the great Aryadeva said, "Anyone who gets a view into one reality gets a view into all realities." What he is saying is that if one plumbs the depths of reality of anything, one doesn't need to go through the whole process again with another object. Just bringing to the mind the reality you've seen in one object or person, and turning the mind to another, you will look at its reality as well.

That's why every one of our sadhanas without exception starts with the mantra that means "Om, this is purity, all Dharmas are pure, I am that purity." Before doing any sadhana one brings to mind this fact of the ultimate reality—of emptiness.