His Eminence the Third Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche,
Karma Lodrö Chökyi Senge
The Sacred View
Seminar presented in 1986 at Karma Triyana Dharmachakra, Woodstock, N.Y.
This article is dedicated
in memory of our precious Root Guru, His Eminence the Third Jamgon Kongtrul,
Karma Lodrö Chökyi Senge (1954-1992),
to the long life of His Holiness Gyalwa Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje,
His Eminence the Fourth Jamgon Kongtrul, Lodrö Chökyi Nyima,
and all wonderful Lamas and Khenpos of the Karma Kagyü Lineage.
May their enlightened activities flourish and benefit countless sentient beings.
The subject of this seminar is the sacred view. I want to explain how confusion is seen from the vast and profound perspective of Buddhist knowledge or pristine wisdom-awareness. Apprehending purely – i.e., seeing confusion as wisdom – isn’t a fabricated imposition that one merely accepts or adopts. Experiencing confusion as enlightenment means ascertaining ourselves as we really are. When Buddha Shakyamuni turned the Wheel of Dharma the third time, he clearly showed that all beings without exception are endowed with the sacred and pure Buddha nature, tathagatagarbha in Sanskrit.
How do we eliminate our emotional afflictions so that our inherent Buddha nature can manifest purely and clearly? We need to win a correct understanding of the view and then engage in the purification practices so that our impure way of seeing things is transformed and becomes pure. Without knowing what impurity means, a change cannot occur, though. Therefore we first need to distinguish between a pure and impure view of reality.
What is an impure view? Believing that phenomena truly exist, i.e., that things have a fixed essence. Our assumptions about our experiences of inner and outer phenomena are based on our emotional afflictions that obstruct us from having a pure view of reality. When will all stains of false notions cease? How can we become free of stained suppositions? Can we flee? Can we discard them? If we think that we can flee or simply discard them, we would be entertaining more false assumptions.
An impure view has to do with the mind, which is by nature free of afflictions and therefore is stainless. Due to the incidental afflictions that obscure and conceal our stainless mind, we perpetuate emotions that become habits and are incidental obstacles. The term “incidental” refers to any emotion or thought that is not the mind’s true nature. Confusion doesn’t permanently exist since incidental obscurations are transitory and not one’s mind’s true nature. We are confused as long as we experience the obstacles that arise due to clinging to apprehended objects as though they exist permanently or as though they don’t exist at all. Both cases mean having an impure view. In short, impure view means believing in eternalism or nihilism.
The Buddha taught that the impure view can be experienced as a pure view, i.e., confusion can be experienced as pristine wisdom-awareness. What does this mean? Pristine wisdom-awareness means ascertaining the true nature of things; it is freedom from the two extreme suppositions that concrete and abstract phenomena exist forever or not at all. Clinging to either view is the fundamental mistake and is incidental to the true nature of reality, the true nature of being, which is non-referential and thus beyond all false beliefs and mental fabrications.
We apprehend the world in and around us impurely and don’t apprehend its true nature. Realization of pristine wisdom-awareness means ascertaining the true nature of being, free of mistaken views; it means having the sacred view. We now understand why it’s possible to experience phenomena purely, why confusion can be experienced as pristine wisdom-awareness. An intellectual understanding doesn’t suffice, though. Realization of the true and pure nature of reality is attained at fruition. Lord Buddha taught the path of practice to experience the pure view at fruition, thereby making it real in our lives. The path of Buddhism consists of two aspects: learning the Sutras and engaging in the skilful means of the Tantras.
Buddhism consists of the lesser and greater vehicles; both are based on the understanding that impure perception can be overcome. The approach in the lesser vehicle of the Hinayana teaches how to attain the sacred view by disciplining one’s body and speech, which are the gates to one’s actions. The approach in the greater vehicle of Mahayana teaches how to attain the sacred view by generating and cultivating Bodhicitta, ‘the mind of enlightenment,’ i.e., loving kindness and compassion. It is the wish to benefit all living beings and to eliminate their suffering. Bodhicitta is based on pure apperception, which means perceiving and ascertaining that all things lack independent existence and therefore do not exist as supposed. Since daily experiences are integrated in one’s practice, the methods to achieve Buddhahood in Mahayana are a faster means than the approach taught in Hinayana. Tantrayana is the fastest vehicle to Buddhahood.
Attachment is investigated in Sutrayana. A practitioner asks questions like, “Where does attachment come from? What is its cause? How can emotions be pacified and overcome?” A Tantrayana practitioner, on the other hand, asks, “How can afflictive emotions and habitual patterns and tendencies be used on the path?” Tantrayana teaches disciples to directly look at the nature of afflictive emotions instead of becoming involved with tedious, discursive investigations, and that is why it is a faster vehicle to Buddhahood.
I want you to be fully aware of the fact that many practitioners of the Buddhadharma have wrong ideas about Sutrayana; they think it is lower than the Mahayana tradition and merely teaches preliminary practices. Fostering false expectations, they think they can just jump into Tantrayana practices; they think they are ready and prepared just because they have been introduced to Tantra. I want you to know that thinking like this means creating an unjustified split between Sutra and Tantra, which is detrimental to spiritual progress. I don’t want you to loose ground during these teachings and therefore want to stress that cutting Tantra off from Sutra is a grave mistake. If one views Sutrayana as inferior, then one will never experience the pure view. By depriving oneself of the truths taught in Sutra, it’s impossible to realize the sacred view. I want you to understand that splitting both traditions apart is a big mistake.
In order to approach the pure view correctly, you must first understand what impure and pure mean. If you don’t totally understand what the pure view means, this seminar will be disappointing. You need to appreciate the pure view correctly to understand that the teachings aren’t secret. I don’t have anything you may think is secret to share with you. I want you to know that you must first know what the sacred view means before trying to approach it through practice. I explained the impure and pure view and that the Buddhadharma is directed towards attaining enlightenment. I also explained that the path consists of Sutra and Tantra, and I warned about splitting the one off from the other.
Since the correct view is logically deduced, the teachings of the Sutras are called “the analytical, causal approach.” The teachings of the Tantras are called “the approach that uses the result,” because realization of the view is accomplished through the practice of Bodhicitta on an everyday basis. Tantra is based on Bodhicitta, so Tantrayana teaches how to use the result instead of the cause from the start. Therefore, Sutrayana is called “the vehicle of characteristics” and Tantrayana is called “the fruition vehicle.” Tantra is also known as “profound,” which refers to the deep realization of the inseparability of emptiness and skilful means of compassion. Let me explain the definitions “causal” and “fruition” through example.
A fully mature bird can fly with two developed wings and land on any treetop. A baby bird can’t because its wings aren’t mature; if it tried, it would fail. In that way, Tantra teaches to fly to fruition. It teaches disciples to see confusion as pristine wisdom-awareness, i.e., the impure as pure, which doesn’t mean one’s ability to perceive vanishes, rather one apperceives reality without having to eliminate anything. At fruition, one apprehends the true nature of all appearances based on the enlightened view and relates with the environment as the pure Buddha fields and with all beings as its inhabitants. No alteration is needed; nothing needs to be changed, rather one sees the world as it is.
We have two false ideas about the sacred view that are detrimental to spiritual development. One obstacle is entertaining the notion that the environment needs to be changed into a glamorous setting with pleasant colors and rainbows – a fantasy world arranged as in a romantic dream. Another obstacle and detriment to enlightenment, i.e., awakening to one’s true potential, is entertaining the notion that Tantra means being in a sanctuary, where one needn’t study or engage in ethical behaviour. This is called “spiritual materialism.” Indulging in spiritual materialism is the biggest obstacle to spiritual maturation, which I earnestly want to warn you about.
An accomplished Dharma practitioner who has the sacred view sees the world as it really is, namely as a Buddha field, and he sees its inhabitants as enlightened beings. An advanced practitioner relates with living beings as yidams, ‘deities residing in the great mandala.’ Having the sacred view, he or she sees the Buddha nature present in every living being without exception. This isn’t a matter of blind faith, which can never be sacred or profound. Fruition is realization, and no realization can ever be a belief. Attainment of the sacred view is not accomplished through mental fabrications but through actualizing it.
Again, an advanced practitioner who has the sacred view recognizes and appreciates the world as an enlightened environment and its inhabitants as enlightened beings. The potential to experience the sacred view is brought to fruition by the view, meditation, and action, in other words, ground, path, and fruition. The ground is recognizing the inseparability of the relative and ultimate truths; the path is the gradual and unmistakable realization of the inseparability of skilful means and wisdom; fruition is realization of the inseparability of the three kayas, ‘bodies of pristine wisdom, i.e., the bodies of a buddha.’ Union of the kayas is the manifestation of the sacred view for the benefit of all living beings and is accomplished through the practice of Tantrayana.
What is the sacred view of the ground, the inseparability of the two truths? It is realizing the indivisibility of the ultimate truth of emptiness, which is the way things are, and the relative truth of phenomena, which is the way things appear. The essence of all things is empty of inherent existence; appearances manifest due to emptiness as luminous clarity. All things are empty of independent existence and therefore by nature aren’t stained. Again, since the nature of all things is empty of a fixed existence, they are free of stains. Transcending an impure view doesn’t mean nothing is left to apprehend when fruition has been attained since phenomena continue appearing clearly. So, the enlightened view means apprehending the indivisibility of the relative and ultimate truths.
As it is, one divides what one experiences and perceives into “self” and “other” and consequently splits the essence of appearances and experiences, which is emptiness, from its manifestations, which are clear luminosity. By separating the essence from clear manifestations, one’s sacred view is restricted and confined. In that case, one thinks impurity can be packed away and replaced by a newly acquired pure view and then one is free to do as one pleases. Conditioned by such subjective fancies, both notions pollute one’s view and cause it to become shallow and base.
One’s approach to the sacred view needs to fully relate to one’s situation, one’s present state of mind, which is deluded and distorted by afflictive emotions. Times aren’t distorted or degenerate, rather one’s state of mind is. One must approach the sacred view with respect and total knowledge of its meaning, otherwise one will have false notions. Spiritual materialism is very strong, especially when enforced by further wrong views that distort the path. People want to be number one and play the first role in their world without being aware of the dangerous consequences they are setting up for themselves and others. Genuine awareness and profound circumspection are indispensable when practicing the path correctly.
There are a number of enlightened masters in the Vajrayana tradition. They manifest the sacred view and thus show that what average individuals consider impure is actually pure. The sacred view is not separate from the impure view, so emotions are used on the path. Thinking great masters lead a non-ethical life is a delusion, too, and it is a breach. Having a wrong view of them is due to one’s wrong understanding and wrong ideas and it’s very wrong to criticize them. The sacred view begins the moment one takes on the responsibility of not engaging in spiritual materialism and not splitting the sacred from the world. One’s understanding of the sacred view starts the moment one stops judging. How can one judge a highly realized spiritual master, guide, helper, and supreme incarnation if one isn’t fully realized oneself? Criticizing spiritual masters, guides, and helpers on the path is very negative; it’s like trying to read a book in the dark. Instead of experiencing others as they really are, one covers them up with one’s immature opinions.
In the Kagyü Lineage, a number of highly realized masters presented and continue presenting the highest view by directly manifesting it to their students. For example, Shri Tilopa was a fisherman who in the eyes of deluded individuals earned his living by killing fish. Actually, Shri Tilopa’s livelihood was the manifestation of the sacred view for disciples who had reached advanced levels of realization. They recognized his immeasurable kindness and saw that he was a realized king, free of the harmful act of killing; they saw that he was demonstrating Buddha activity of bringing the dead back to life. Shri Tilopa brought dead fish back to life by merely snapping his fingers – a different kind of fishing, no doubt. Someone who has the sacred view apprehends things as they really are.
One must be very careful not to foster assumptions about people one hears about, knows, or associates with. One must also be very careful and aware of one’s thoughts about Tantrayana masters, and one shouldn’t proclaim one’s personal notions and ideas of the pure view to others. Also, it would be a serious obstacle to try to copy spiritual masters; one may not imitate spiritual teachers. Again, it would be very harmful for Buddhist practitioners to engage in negative activities by thinking they are free to imitate the masters. In fact, such behaviour shows that they haven’t the slightest understanding. I want you to know that it’s very important to realize the sacred view, which you can achieve by practicing the pure path. I also want to warn you about sidetracks that arise from misunderstandings of the profound teachings and that have nothing to do with the sacred view.
The topic of this seminar is a very profound and important theme. One needs to understand it correctly and be free of assumptions. One apprehends the world from the state of not being enlightened, i.e., in ignorance and in dependence on one’s habitual patterns and emotional afflictions. One doesn’t really experience the true nature of the world and appearances but only apprehends phenomena subjectively. One doesn’t naturally and spontaneously have the sacred view. Therefore one needs to refine one’s view by practicing the pure path so that one realizes the true nature of being.
Lord Buddha presented skilful means that enable his disciples to recognize and realize the true nature of reality. He taught both Sutrayana and Tantrayana. Sutrayana is referred to as “the causal vehicle,” and Tantrayana “the fruition vehicle,” so practicing Sutrayana is the cause of fruition, where one experiences freedom from suffering. The habitual patterns and tendencies, which are based on ignorance, are the cause of suffering, so ignorance is the primary cause and suffering is the result. Sutrayana is the causal vehicle because it teaches disciples to investigate the cause of suffering, which is ignorance, to then become free of the result, which is suffering. That is the reason it is called “the causal vehicle.” It isn’t possible to experience total freedom from suffering until the root of suffering has been relinquished. Tantrayana teaches fruition while on the path, so disciples are free of suffering and pain while practicing the path. Anger and aggression, for example, cause suffering. Nobody is happy when they are angry and it’s also a painful experience. One is entangled in anger and aggression due to ignorance, the main cause of suffering. Vajrayana teaches disciples to directly deal with the nature of the result, for example, the nature of anger and aggression that cause suffering. By realizing the nature of anger and aggression, a practitioner is liberated from anger, aggression, and suffering.
Transforming ignorance and suffering into pristine wisdom-awareness doesn’t imply exchanging one thing for another. In this context, transformation means seeing the nature of emotional afflictions the moment they arise. The essence of all afflictions is emptiness of inherent existence, so the nature of aggression is the same as the nature of great compassion. Again, transformation doesn’t mean one’s emotions are replaced by a wholesome quality, rather it means integrating one’s insight in all experiences instead of reacting by clinging to them.
Sutrayana and Tantrayana have the same ground to appreciate and actualize the sacred view. They differ regarding the path or means to bring fruition about. Sutrayana is concerned about unravelling the cause of suffering and pain, which, as said, is ignorance. Tantrayana is concerned about directly dealing with the experience of an afflictive emotion or the experience of suffering the moment it arises. One only experiences suffering while unenlightened. The same experience can be dealt with from an enlightened view, which means apprehending the essence of suffering and thus being free of duality, i.e., free of clinging to suffering and freedom from suffering. This is why Vajrayana is faster than Sutrayana, because practitioners focus their attention on the pure view. Vajrayana teaches devotees to directly see and experience the sacred result, the enlightened view. To realize the enlightened view, a Vajrayana practitioner needs to engage in the very profound creation and completion stage practices of the four classes of Tantra, the highest being Anuttarayoga Tantra.
The Buddha’s teachings are vast and profound because they elucidate the unconditioned, stainless nature of all appearances and experiences. Relatively, appearances arise and whatever arises is impermanent and thus changes and deteriorates. All things in and around are conditioned and thus cease again. We experience this process and our experiences also change – they continually arise and cease again. Realization of the sacred view is based on understanding the law of interdependence. Furthermore, the Buddha taught about the undistorted, stainless nature of all things, which isn’t a mental contrivance or imagination. The visualized yidams of the creation and completion stages of practice aren’t created entities with solid existence. Nobody invented the truth of creation and cessation, but Lord Buddha realized and explained it. He warned his disciples about accepting his teachings on blind faith but asked them to investigate and ascertain the truth of interdependence if they wanted to pursue the path to liberation for the benefit of all sentient beings.
There are many cosmologies of the world. Some people claim it was created by a god, or by gods, and so forth. Many people have strange notions about Vajrayana, running along the same line of false beliefs. I want you to know that phenomena arise and cease due to their insubstantial essence and not on account of an invented philosophy. Lord Buddha did not create a philosophy that we must believe. He showed us the means to realize the truth of reality, and Vajrayana is the path he presented so that we can achieve realization quite fast.
Since this is a very important subject, I speak about it again and again and from different angles. I know that the participants of this seminar have received Tantric instructions and are interested in it. I think a basic understanding is necessary, though. Tantra is very profound, exceeding the Sutras immensely, which doesn’t mean that the Sutras are inferior. I spoke about the common ground of Sutrayana and Vajrayana, but the practices to attain enlightenment differ.
Devotees often have a symptomatic approach. They think if people have a mala around their neck or wrist, then they are Vajrayana practitioners. They think that pictures of deities or drums and cymbals point to Tantra. They think merely placing a torma on their shrine makes them Tantric practitioners. This is not so. Should only the implements used in Tantric practice denote Vajrayana for you, then, honestly speaking, you haven’t understood.
Buddha Shakyamuni and the realized masters of the past taught Vajrayana, which isn’t a collection of exotic ideas. What then is Vajrayana? Working with appearances as they arise and being aware of how and what they really are. What are the means to experience the truth of reality in Vajrayana? The profound and skilful methods show that the moment one perceives a phenomenon, one instantaneously clings to it as real. Clinging to things causes one’s mental fixations that the objects perceived are sold and real. One then imputes inherent existence to conditioned appearances that one perceived by means of conceptual fabrications and clings to those concepts in an attempt to affirm and validate one’s own existence, one’s self. This is one’s relationship to oneself and phenomena or the world of appearances. One clings to one’s thoughts and ideas and categorizes according to one’s habits, which is one’s present situation. For example, one apprehends the glass on the table and clings to it as solid and real. The analytical approach is to negate the glass by investigating and discovering that it lacks inherent, true existence, and in that way one relinquishes clinging to it as a real existent. It is a very profound approach and stands all logical reasoning.
As it is, one is entrenched in one’s mental fixations about experiences and phenomena. Even though one has understood the teachings intellectually, one feels uneasy when hearing that the glass, for example, is devoid of inherent existence, therefore isn’t real but only exists in dependence on other things, and so forth. One doesn’t experience the world and things in this way because one feels and believes that the glass really exists. Thus one experiences a conflict between one’s intellectual understanding of lack of inherent existence, i.e., emptiness, and one’s everyday experiences that are determined by habitual patterns. As a result, one either accepts or rejects experiences and appearances.
The Vajrayana teachings say that one can’t merely believe that things don’t exist of their own accord. People see things from the viewpoint of eternalism or nihilism and can’t easily realize that the nature of all things is beyond existence and non-existence, but Vajrayana disciples aren’t forced to believe that things are empty of inherent existence. Instead of remaining preoccupied with investigating whether things exist or don’t exist, they learn to engage in the skilful means of the creation and completion stages of meditating the deities and their respective mandala. In this way, they overcome erroneous notions and thoughts. The objects of visualization in Vajrayana meditation practices are representations of enlightened qualities. In practice, one focuses one’s attention on an unfamiliar yidam deity that is quite different from the ordinary objects one normally focuses one’s attention on. Due to shifting one’s attention on an object of meditation that seems unrealistic, one’s tendency to cling changes and eventually loses its force. One’s experience of being a pure deity while practicing meditation transforms the way one is accustomed to seeing oneself, too. Not being uptight about the visualized deity, one’s tense habitual fixations loosen and diminish. Furthermore, since they are created in one’s mind, the visualized deities aren’t as vivid as objects that one usually perceives. In the completion stage of practice, the meditation deity dissolves and then one’s imagination dissolves into emptiness.
The purpose of the creation stage of Vajrayana practice is to become free of one’s usual and ordinary way of experiencing oneself and seeing other beings and things. The purpose of the completion stage of Vajrayana practice is to cut through clinging to appearances and experiences. These practices combine the relative and absolute truths and lead to total apprehension of the inseparability of emptiness and appearances - just as a flower and its scent. All yidam deities are devoid of true existence. Visualizing them is an easy and skilful means to diminish and eventually relinquish one’s habit of clinging to one’s thoughts that things that exist don’t exist. The completion stage of each visualization practice is an easy and skill means to diminish and eventually eradicate one’s habit of clinging to thoughts and ideas that things that appear are real.
The Vajrayana teachings are the most profound teachings in Buddhism. The Mahamudra Lineage of these instructions is called “the path to liberation.” But a practitioner must approach Mahamudra with a well-founded understanding of the sacred view to be able to directly see every appearance and experience with pristine wisdom-awareness.
Mahamudra is the most direct means to realize omniscience because disciples learn to experience their Root Lama as the Buddha. When accomplishing Mahamudra, they see their Lama as the embodiment of the 1,004 Buddhas, in other words, as the manifestation of the omniscience of all Buddhas of the three times. A sincere practitioner must cultivate his or her mind and become open for the sacred view that makes it possible to see the Lama in that way. There are two means to do this: cultivating genuine devotion for one’s Root Lama and developing heart-felt love and compassion for all sentient beings. These two factors, which are the ground of fruition, are the means to attain the sacred view.
I explained that Vajrayana practice consists of the creation and completion stage practices. The creation stage is visualizing the deity and the completion stage is dissolving it into its natural state. These practices are not a matter of wishful thinking but are based on the fundamental true nature of appearances. Emptiness is the true nature of all things that incessantly arise and cease again. Everything arises out of emptiness and, without interruption, is empty of inherent existence and therefore ceases again.
What is the ultimate perfection that a practitioner attains at fruition? Experiencing the inseparability of the skilful means of compassion and pristine wisdom-awareness. In Anuttarayoga Tantra, it is realization of ultimate Bodhicitta.
In this seminar I dealt highest Vajrayana teachings. Whatever practice you may be doing – whether Sutrayana or Tantrayana – is done to experience the essence of all teachings, which is enlightened mind. Realization of the sacred view depends on Bodhicitta, so whatever practice you are doing and during all walks of life, you must generate and cultivate Bodhicitta. Without understanding and cultivating Bodhicitta, you can only imagine that you have achieved the sacred view while in truth you haven’t. To be honest and straightforward with you, becoming involved with spirituality presents many sidetracks. Spiritual materialism can be very fascinating and it was just as modern in the past as it is nowadays.
Nobody can ever prove that a living being lacks compassion. Compassion, which all living beings have, is evidence that they can attain omniscience. Nevertheless, someone who lacks genuine Bodicitta, yet thinks he is progressing by imitating yogic practices and by making false claims is on the wrong track. Therefore, be very careful and please do not make an imposture of yourself. The sacred view isn’t a superficial appearance. It is direct perception of the genuine and true. – Thank you very much.
Questions & Answers
Question: “How do we cultivate the pure view or see our present impure view as pure?” Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche: Having the impure view means not seeing that all things lack inherent existence. The pure view inherently abides within all living beings, which we need to learn to appreciate and acknowledge. The means to bring about this understanding is taught in the Sutras and Tantras - the teachings on ethical behaviour, on mind training, and so forth. Integrating whatever instructions you have received with the correct understanding is the means to experience the sacred view.
Question: “How are samsara and nirvana the same?” JKR: Your question on how samsara and nirvana are identical is either logically deduced, or is based on the teachings you have received, or is a belief. Implying that samsara and nirvana are the same or separate means seeing them confused; separating them is seeing them is samsara. We see samsara as separate from nirvana due to our confused view. In truth, they are non-differentiate.
Question: “How do the emotions and habitual patterns and tendencies arise so that we experience them?” JKR: From the fundamental misconception of reality. Disturbing emotions arise due to believing either in eternalism or nihilism. You needn’t proclaim them as your philosophy or religion, because they are your fundamental misconception and bring disturbing emotions. One considers emotions negatively because one has failed to recognize their true nature. If one experiences the true nature of one’s emotions, they are self-liberated.
Question: “What is the difference between the analytical approach to pure perception and the approach of the sacred view?” JKR: A practitioner first needs to learn what pure cognition means. He can’t immediately experience it without an intellectual understanding and then couldn’t practice it in daily situations. A beginner needs to develop understanding, because he can’t possibly experience the world and its inhabitants purely. The sacred view isn’t a belief one is forced to accept and base one’s life on. One needs to learn to differentiate the false from the true. In relating with realized teachers, one needs to be very careful and not judge them form one’s level of understanding. Should one see faults in realized masers and judge them, one would be very mistaken.
Question: “How can one maintain a pure view when others behave badly?” JKR: When you see somebody’s faults, you don’t make conclusions about the situation. Opinionatedness harms the practitioner. Furthermore, non-discursive analysis means being free of attachment and aversion, which also pertains to faults you might see in others. An earnest practitioner asks whether a fault he or she sees relates to that individual or whether it relates to his or her own ideas by asking if it is an own fault reflected in that person. Due to attachment and aversion, one judges that others do not live up to one’s expectations. This isn’t the other person’s fault. One isn’t biased if one analyses correctly. Having investigated the situation, a practitioner sees others’ faults as nothing but own mental fixations, which are always biased and judgemental.
It’s important to remember that the pure isn’t situated on one side and the impure on the other side and at some point are blended to make a whole; this is a very materialistic understanding. Pure and impure aren’t objects that are mixed together to create a new color or texture. The nature of all things is pure. Having the sacred view means being free of concepts about pure and impure. We communicate through language by using words and try to describe the inexpressible, which isn’t the experiential level and isn’t the means to establish the deep meaning of the teachings. The essence of all phenomena is emptiness. Ascertaining emptiness is the sacred view. The ultimate, sacred view is cognition beyond notions of any kinds. When one apprehends phenomena, though, one doesn’t relate to their essence due to one’s habit of immediately designating a subject in contrast to objects one perceives. Having an impure view means not relating to the essence of things as they truly are, namely empty of substantial existence and free of distortions. One apprehends distortedly, but appearances in themselves aren’t distorted. Phenomena one thinks are pure or impure are by nature free of duality. Longing for purity or thinking one is free to do as one pleases have nothing to do with the sacred view. Merely believing in what one thinks is pure is also a mistake. Believing in an exclusive sphere that one calls “sacred” and thinks is outside the present moment is being biased; it is a defiled emotion, a mental fixation that a misled student clings to.
Question: “What are emotions?” JKR: Mind’s habitual patterns and tendencies. All emotions are associated with the five main mind poisons, summarized in the three – attachment, aggression, and ignorance. On account of these three, one automatically has five and thus other mental defilements. Sadness, loneliness, and all other feelings are related to attachment. Secondary emotions cannot arise without the basic mental afflictions. One experiences emotions while in confusion. One doesn’t become an inanimate being when emotions are overcome. A practitioner of the Dharma learns to recognize emotions out of a non-dual, unconfused state. As a beginner, one expresses one’s emotions due to clinging to duality. Having an impure view, one experiences the five mind poisons. When one has the pure view, one experiences the five poisons as the five wisdoms.
Question: “Does Buddha have emotions?” JKR: An enlightened being is not deprived of feelings. The quality of his or her feelings is not the same as that of unenlightened beings, though. Our emotions are based on our habitual mental patterns and tendencies; they are tainted habits. An enlightened being is free of expectations, hopes, fears, and doubts. We feel anger and contempt on account of our habits and thus actually experience them. We feel so many disturbing emotions because we have hopes and fears. A Buddha has emotions without having hopes and fears. A being free of hopes and fears doesn’t splash emotions around. At the moment, I think you assume the Buddhas have feelings somewhat different than your own, which is short of the correct understanding of what a Buddha experiences. A Buddha is beyond emotionality and non-emotionality.
Question: “Can you explain the inseparability of the student’s mind with the Lama’s?” JKR: Your question is good because it relates to the teachings. The sacred view is the actual experience of one’s mind’s inseparability with one’s Lama’s vajra mind. The experience that your mind and that of your Lama are inseparable is the sacred view and doesn’t imply having mixed the two into one. The genuine experience of this inseparability does not mean blending extremes. Since one sees everything in a materialistic way, one should be very cautious. Experiencing the Lama’s vajra mind inseparable with yours is based on fully knowing the vajra mind. The Lama’s mind is the inseparability of emptiness and bliss, which is the vajra mind. If you don’t understand your Lama’s mind, you can’t catch on. You must first understand his mind and then begin to relate with him by appreciating and recognizing mind as such – this is the correct practice. In these teachings, I mentioned that Buddhism does not mean fabricating beliefs about blending two things together to make a whole. Inseparability is experiential and is not conceptual.
Question: “How do we approach Dharma practice in Vajrayana?” JKR: It’s understood that an advanced Vajrayana practitioner is called “Holder of the Three Vajras.” The outer vajra is the discipline as taught in the Hinayana. The inner vajra is Bodhicitta as taught in Mahayana. The secret vajra is the samaya, ‘the commitment.’ A sincere practitioner of Vajrayana upholds the three vajras without mistake and without interruptions. Should a practitioner not generate and develop the vajra of Bodhicitta, he or she could not engage in Tantra. For example, we see the world with two eyes. Without Bodhicitta, Vajrayana practice would resemble seeing the world with only one eye. The third vajra enables us to see reality even more clearly.
Question: “Is the sacred view ultimate?” JKR: Yes. Not seeing the true nature of all things as emptiness, we experience the world in confusion. Ultimate truth is what the term “sacred” refers to and is experiential. Words may describe the true view, but you need to realize the meaning. If you think it is something other than impure, you have fabricated the view. The sacred view means being free of all mental contrivances, i.e., free of such notions as “pure” and “impure.” When it is taught that we actually can experience impurities as purities, we need to cultivate the pure in order to actually experience the impure as sacred. How do we do this? We can only practice the path in reliance on our capacities.
Question: “How can we practice to actually see the pure?” JKR: It depends on the individual, on the level of practice he or she has accomplished. Beginners have difficulties looking at disturbing emotions in order to realize their true nature; they can’t easily understand the conceptual layout and therefore need to study. A practitioner first needs to perfect the Hinayana; he needs to train his mind and practice by learning about the sacred view. Gradually he enters the Vajra Vehicle and begins looking into the nature of confusion. In order to directly focus one’s mind on the result, one first needs to know what cause and fruition really mean.
Question: “Why is the nature of aggression compassion?” JKR: The nature of aggression is emptiness and isn’t a solid existent. Compassion arises due to emptiness, therefore compassion and emptiness are inseparable. For this reason, the nature of aggression is compassion. A practitioner needs to know about the purpose of visualization practices. All yidam practices are a means to purify deceptive cognition. Both phases of yidam practice are the means to do this. If you think a wrathful yidam is a solid entity, you will encounter tremendous difficulties. It’s evident that phenomena arise and cease. You practice ascertaining this. All yidams arise out of emptiness as compassion and dissolve into emptiness again - the union of the creation and completion stages of practice. If you take the yidam literally, you are in trouble when you try to relate to compassion. The compassionate yidams are depicted as wrathful and symbolize the essence of aggression, which doesn’t mean they are aggressive. When you feel aggressive and live it out, it appears. The nature of aggression is emptiness. What appears is not aggressive. Dou you understand?
Question: “What is the meaning of the different meditations? What experiences impurities as sacred?” JKR: Our mind. Our mind experiences enlightenment. Before one can differentiate the pure from the impure, one needs to purify one’s view of reality. The mind is covered up by confusion and therefore can’t differentiate. One must first tame one’s restless mind and achieve calmness. Then the mind becomes clear and steady, the purpose of basic meditation practices. Based upon the mind’s clarity, awareness, and stability, one becomes more sensitive and open for the sacred view.
Question: “How is it possible to experience the union of samsara and nirvana?” JKR: You need to understand that samsara isn’t a philosophy. Samsara isn’t necessary but surrounds you. I recommend practice. It’s good to recognize samsara for what it is, since it is there. You know it isn’t a place you can leave. Samsara and nirvana don’t truly existent. You need to experience the indivisibility, though. If you don’t practice, you divide them. Experience depends upon practice. One’s practice needs to reach the state where there is no separation between meditation and post-meditation, a state where mind is not deluded and separated from nirvana. This is why I say that practice is all that matters. Same student: “The question concerns the meantime.” JKR: Practice in the meantime and do not divide and be biased. Don’t let practice and daily concerns be an issue. Are you saying you just want to practice? Same student: “Is that what Rinpoche suggests?” JKR: If that’s what you want. Special caves have been prepared by Jetsün Milarepa in the Himalayas. On my last visit to Tibet, I reserved a few for North Americans – just kidding. To get to the point: You shouldn’t separate samsara from nirvana. Instead, become mindful of how to slowly expand your practice, allowing space for experiences to occur. – Thank you very much.
Through this goodness may omniscience be attained
And thereby may every enemy (mental defilement) be overcome.
May beings be liberated from the ocean of samsara
That is troubled by waves of birth, old age, sickness, and death.
By this virtue may I quickly attain the state of Guru Buddha and then
Lead every being without exception to that very state!
May precious and supreme Bodhicitta that has not been generated now be so,
And may precious Bodhicitta that has already been never decline, but continuously increase!
May the life of the Glorious Lama remain steadfast and firm.
May peace and happiness fully arise for beings as limitless in number as space is vast in its extent.
Having accumulated merit and purified negativities,
May I and all living beings without exception swiftly establish the levels and grounds of Buddhahood.
Photo of His Eminence posted on the website and courtesy of Karma Triyana Dharmachakra, Woodstock, N.Y. Photo of H.E. the Fourth Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche at the 26 th Kagyü Mönlam in 2009 courtesy of Kagyü Mönlam Chenmo. Special thanks to Ngödrub Burkhar for his simultaneous translation of Tibetan into English. An edited transcript of the seminar was made in 1990 and edited again in 2009 for the archives of the Jamgon Kongtrul Labrang at the Great Pullahari Monastery in Kathmandu and for the Download Project of Khenpo Karma Namgyal at Karma Lekshey Ling Institute in Kathmandu by Gaby Hollmann, solely responsible for all mistakes. Photo of two lotuses taken and graciously offered by Lena Fong. Copyright Jamgon Kongtrul Labrang at the Great Pullahari Monastery, Nepal, 2009. All rights reserved. Distributed for personal use only.