The Buddhist path can be described comprehensively according to two systems: the cause vehicle and the result vehicle. Where the first, which includes both the Hīnayāna and the general Mahāyāna, speaks of the five paths, the second, the Mantrayāna, speaks of the four yogas: one-pointedness, simplicity, one taste, and nonmeditation. The teaching of the four yogas focuses on the union of the development and completion stages.
Let stillness cut the momentum of moving thoughts;
Within movement see the very nature of stillness.
Where stillness and movement are one, maintain the natural mind;
In the experience of one-pointedness, recite the six-syllable mantra.
The mind has, in general, two aspects, stillness and movement. Sometimes, the mind is quiet and free from thoughts, like a calm pool; this is stillness. Eventually, thoughts are bound to arise in it; this is movement. In truth, however, although in a sense there is a movement of thoughts within the stillness, there is actually no difference between these two states—just as the nature of stillness is voidness, the nature of movement is also voidness. Stillness and movement are merely two names for the one mind.
Most of the time we are unaware of our state of mind and pay no attention to whether the mind is still or moving. While you are meditating, a thought might arise in your mind—the idea of going shopping, for instance. If you are aware of the thought and just let it dissolve by itself, then that is the end of it. But if you remain unaware of what is happening and let that thought grow and develop, it will lead on to a second thought, the thought of having a break from your practice, and in no time at all you will find yourself actually getting up and going out to the market. Soon many more thoughts and ideas will arise—how you are going to buy this, sell that, and so forth. By this point you will be a very long way away from the recitation of the maṇi.
It is completely natural that thoughts keep on arising. The point is not to try to stop them, which would be impossible anyway, but to liberate them. This is done by remaining in a state of simplicity, which lets thoughts arise and vanish again without stringing onto them any further thoughts. When you no longer perpetuate the movement of thoughts, they dissolve by themselves without leaving any trace. When you no longer spoil the state of stillness with mental fabrications, you can maintain the natural serenity of mind without any effort. Sometimes, let your thoughts flow, and watch the unchanging nature behind them. Sometimes, abruptly cutting the flow of thoughts, look at naked awareness.
Innumerable thoughts and memories, stirred up by the tendencies to which we have become habituated, arise in the mind. One after the other, each thought seems to vanish into the past, only to be replaced as the next, in its turn, becomes fleetingly present to the mind before itself giving way to future thoughts. Each thought tends to pick up the momentum of the one before it, so that the influence of a string of thoughts grows as time passes; this is called “the chain of delusion.” Just as what we call a rosary is in fact a string of single beads, so also what we usually call the mind is really a succession of momentary thoughts; a trickle of thoughts makes the stream of consciousness, the mind-stream, and the mind-stream leads on to the ocean of existence. Our belief that the mind is a real entity is a conclusion based on insufficient investigation. We believe a river we see today to be the same river we saw yesterday, but in reality a river never stays the same even for a second-the water that made up yesterday’s river will surely be part of the ocean by now. The same is true for the countless thoughts that run through our “mind” from morning to evening. Our mind-stream is just a succession of instantaneous thoughts; there is no separate entity that you can point out as being a mind.
Now, if we investigate the thought process according to the logic of the Madhyamaka, it becomes evident that past thoughts are already dead, like a corpse. Future thoughts have not yet been born. As to present thoughts, they cannot be said to have any properties such as location, color, or shape; they leave no traces; and indeed they are nowhere to be found. In fact, there could be no possible point of contact between past, present, and future thoughts; if there was any real continuity between, for instance, a past thought and a present thought, that would necessarily mean either that the past thought is present or that the present thought is past. If the past really could extend to the present in this way, it would also follow that the future must already be present. But nevertheless, ignorant of the true nature of thoughts, we maintain the habit of seeing them as being continuously linked, one after another; this is the root of delusion, and this is what allows us to be more and more dominated by our thoughts and emotions, until total confusion reigns.
It is of vital importance to be aware of the arising of thoughts and to still the waves of thoughts that assail you. Anger, for instance, is an extremely destructive tendency which spoils all the good qualities you may otherwise have. No one enjoys the company of an angry person. There is nothing inherently very frightening about the appearance of snakes, but because they are generally very aggressive, the mere sight of them inspires fear and loathing. Whether in a human or a snake, such a preponderance of anger is nothing more than the outcome of an unchecked accumulation of negative thoughts. If at the very moment an angry thought arises, you recognize it for what it is and understand how negative it is, your anger will calm down of its own accord and you will always be able to stay on good terms with everyone. On the other hand, if you let that first angry thought give rise to a second angry thought, in no time at all your anger will be completely out of control, and you will be ready even to risk your life to destroy your adversary.
Always remember, therefore, that a thought is merely the experience of many factors and fleeting circumstances coming together. Whether the thought is good or bad, it has no true existence. As soon as a thought arises, if you recognize its void nature, it will be powerless to produce a second thought, and the chain of delusion will cease there and then. As we have said, this does not mean that you should try to suppress the natural creativity of your mind, or that you should try to stop each thought with a particular antidote. It is enough simply to recognize the emptiness of thoughts and to then let them rest in the relaxed mind. The innate nature of mind, pristine and unchanging, will then remain vivid and stable.
Of the two aspects of meditation practice, tranquility and insight tranquility provides the foundation upon which insight, or vast perspective, can open out on the nature of mind and thus enable you to liberate your negative emotions. If the foundation, tranquility, is unsound, insight will be unstable too, and your deluded thoughts will be difficult to control. It is therefore essential to develop the yoga of one-pointedness, remaining in unwavering awareness.
By examining relative truth, establish absolute truth;
Within absolute truth, see how relative truth arises.
Where the two truths are inseparable, beyond intellect, is the state of simplicity;
In the view free of all elaboration, recite the six-syllable mantra.
In conventional, relative truth, we might accept that the phenomenal world can be broken down into indivisible particles; but the logic of the Madhyamaka shows that such particles could never have any independent or permanent existence. This being so, how can we say that material objects truly exist? Similarly, although we can try to dissect the mind into indivisible instants of consciousness, we find that these, too, must ultimately be devoid of any tangible existence.
To recognize the continuity and all-pervasiveness of this void nature, this absence of any true existence, is to recognize absolute truth. This is the natural state of mind, untouched by any obscuration, in which all phenomena are seen as the Buddhas see them, as dreams or magical illusions. Here, thoughts do not give rise to negative emotions or the accumulation of karma, favorable circumstances engender neither pride nor attachment, and adverse circumstances are quickly transformed into the path of enlightenment—for example, an encounter with someone who irritates you, instead of causing anger, helps you to generate compassion and becomes a chance to recognize the absolute truth which is inseparable from the bodhichitta. If you are unable to give up your attachment to things, it is simply because you fail to recognize their void nature. Once you have realized this void nature, you will no longer feel proud of dreamlike success or depressed by dreamlike failure.
Some people find themselves surrounded by beauty, comfort, natural abundance, and safety, whereas others may have to live in harsh, barren, impoverished, and dangerous environments. Now, this is the result neither of chance nor of some grand design. To have been born in a pleasant place is the result of generosity, helpfulness, and virtue in former lives, while adverse living conditions are the consequence of harm brought to others in previous lives by attacking them, imprisoning them, and so forth. Phenomena are not the work of a creator; they are simply what manifests as the combined result of many causes and circumstances. In the same way that, as the result of sunlight shining through rain, a rainbow appears in the sky, so also, as the result of a great number of actions in your past lives, in this life you are either happy, healthy, prosperous, and loved by all or unhappy, poor, beset by sickness, and despised. Indeed, every detail of the universe and the beings it contains is nothing more than the result of many interdependent factors momentarily coming together; this is why all phenomena are so impermanent and undergo such constant change.
So when you examine anything deeply, you always arrive at voidness, and only voidness; voidness is the ultimate nature of everything. As beginners who may be on the path of accumulation or the path of union, we ordinary beings have not had the actual realization of voidness. We know that smoke indicates the presence of fire but is not the fire itself; nevertheless, by following the smoke we can find the fire. Likewise, it is important to understand that the view of voidness is not the same as the actual experience of voidness; but by following the view and becoming familiar with it, we will arrive at the actual realization of voidness itself, free from any concepts or theories. This is the ultimate understanding of the Madhyamaka, the inseparability of the two truths, the union of appearances and voidness.
The void nature of all phenomena is the absolute truth, and the way they appear is relative truth. By examining relative truth you will come to realize absolute truth, since absolute truth is the ultimate nature of everything. If the whole world—all its continents, all its mountains and forests—were to be destroyed and to completely disappear, only all-pervading empty space would be left. Something quite similar happens when you truly realize what relative phenomena are, that they do not exist as solid entities: nothing remains but all-pervading voidness. But as long as you still believe in the solid, tangible existence of relative truth, you will never be able to realize absolute truth. Once you realize absolute truth, you will see what appears within it—the whole, infinite display of relative phenomena—as no more than an illusion or a dream, to which you will feel no attachment. To realize that appearance and voidness are one is what is called simplicity, or freedom from all conceptual limitations, freedom from all elaboration.
The two truths are not two distinct entities, like the horns of a cow; they are simply the “appearing” and “void” aspects of the natural state. Having first understood the view intellectually, develop first-hand experience and confidence in the oneness of appearance and voidness. This realization of the inseparability of the two truths is a profound experience, completely beyond any intellectual concept. This is the yoga of simplicity. Maintaining this view, recite the six-syllable mantra.
From appearances, cut away the clinging of mind;
From mind, demolish the lair of fictitious appearances;
Where mind and appearances are one is infinite openness;
In the realization of one taste, recite the six-syllable mantra.
The way objective phenomena appear to us subjectively is a function of the mind. Things seem to us either pure or impure, good or bad, attractive or repellent, depending solely on the way our own minds perceive them. As Shāntideva said, speaking of the hell realms:
Who made this ground of blazing iron?
Whence came these banks of fire?
All such things
Arise from the negative mind.
In fact, when your organs of sense encounter an object, the only part the object itself plays is to initiate the process of perception in your consciousness. From then on, as your mind reacts to the object, influenced by all your accumulated habits and past experiences, the whole process is entirely subjective. So, when your mind is full of anger, the whole world seems to be a hell realm. When your mind is peaceful, free from any clinging or fixation, and whatever you do is in accordance with the teachings, you experience everything as primordially pure. While a Buddha sees the hells as a paradise, deluded beings see a paradise as the hells.
Our perceptions are colored by delusions in the same way that the vision of a person with jaundice is colored by the bile in his eyes, making him see a white conch as yellow. It is clinging that makes the mind project its delusions onto appearances. As soon as the mind perceives something, it clings to that perception; then it appraises the object as being desirable, offensive, or neutral; finally, taking action on the basis of this distorted perception with desire, aversion, or indifference, it accumulates karma.
To cut through the mind’s clinging, it is important to understand that all appearances are void, like the water you might see in a mirage. Beautiful forms are of no benefit to the mind, nor can ugly forms harm it in any way. Sever the ties of hope and fear, attraction and repulsion, and remain in equanimity in the understanding that all phenomena are nothing more than projections of your own mind.
Once you recognize the true nature of mind, this whole fiction of relative appearances and your attachment to them will simply cave in. Good and bad, pure and impure, lose their compelling flavors and melt into one taste. You will reach the realization of Jetsun Milarepa, making no distinction between iron and gold. When Gampopa offered him gold and tea, Milarepa said: “I am an old man with no need for gold and no stove to boil tea.” Resting in this view, recite the six-syllable mantra.
In the nature of mind, the simplicity of void awareness, everything is freed;
Thoughts, the spontaneous creativity of awareness, are purified in their own sphere.
Mind and awareness are one in the single essence.
In the nonmeditation of Dharmakāya, recite the six-syllable mantra.
The ultimate nature of mind is primordial awareness, from which thoughts emanate like light radiating from the sun. Once this nature of mind is recognized, delusion vanishes like clouds dissolving in the sky. The nature of mind free from delusion is without birth, existence, or cessation. In the terminology of the Mantrayāna, it is called primordial continuous mind, or ever-present simplicity. It is also described in the sūtras; for example, the Prajñāpāramitā says:
Mind does not exist,
Its expression is clarity.
When you examine the still mind, the moving mind, and the mind that can recognize stillness and movement, however long you search for “mind” you will find nothing but voidness: mind has no form, no color, and no substance. This is the void aspect of the mind. Yet the mind can know things and perceive an infinite variety of phenomena. This is the clarity aspect of mind. The inseparability of these two aspects, voidness and clarity, is the primordial continuous mind.
At the moment, the natural clarity of your mind is obscured by delusions. But as this obscuration clears you will begin to uncover the radiance of awareness, until you reach the point where, just as a drawing on water disappears the moment it is made, your thoughts are liberated the moment they arise. To experience mind in this way is to encounter the very source of Buddhahood, the practice of the fourth empowerment. When the nature of mind is recognized it is called nirvāṇa; when it is obscured by delusion it is called saṃsāra. Yet neither saṃsāra nor nirvāṇa has ever departed from the continuum of the absolute. When realization of awareness reaches its full extent, the ramparts of delusion will have been breached and the citadel of Dharmakāya beyond meditation can be seized once and for all. Here there is no longer any distinction between meditation and postmeditation, and experience is effortlessly stabilized; this is nonmeditation. In the limitless expanse of Dharmakāya, recite the six-syllable mantra.
To summarize, the yoga of one-pointedness emphasizes taming the mind, and that of simplicity establishes insight. These two are united in the experience of one taste, and when this experience becomes unshakable, it is the yoga of nonmeditation.The four yogas of the Mantrayāna correspond to the five paths of the sūtra system. It is therefore important to keep the view, meditation, and action of both the sūtras and the tantras together. All the different levels of teaching have but one goal, to cut through the obscuring emotions; so they are in perfect agreement with each other. The many different streams of teachings, reflecting the needs of different students and the wisdom of different teachers, are really but a single river.
The peerless physician of Takpo, the holy Gampopa, first served a Kadampa master and practiced the Mahāyāna path. Later, at the feet of Jetsun Milarepa, he practiced the tantric systems of Mahāmudrā and of the inner heat and the rest of the six yogas of Nāropa, becoming one of the fathers of the Kagyu lineage. The great Kadampa teachers, famous for their practice of the sūtra system, also instructed their students in the completion phase of Mahāmudrā, and in the six yogas too, skillfully blending together all these practices. Never forget that the main point is not whether our practice belongs to the sūtras or tantras, or whether it is of this or that level, but that it serves as an effective antidote to attachment and the obscuring emotions.