Vows, commitments and modern life:  Living the dream

We continue our discussion of the three difficulties.  The third difficulty is eradicating our delusions altogether by applying their antidotes.  The antidote to all delusions is the wisdom realizing emptiness.  In the discussion of the second difficulty, we said applying opponents to delusions is like two waves cancelling each other out leaving calm waters.  Applying the antidote is like realizing there are no waves, indeed there is no water.

First, it is useful to say a quick word on what is the wisdom realizing emptiness.  Normally, we look out at the world and we think there is something really there.  We are merely observing what is there, and our mind and sense of perception have no bearing whatsoever on bringing these things into existence.  As such, we think, “even if I change my mind about this thing, it actually changes nothing because the thing is still going to be there.”  So changing our mind might make us feel a bit better, but fundamentally it changes nothing.  We strive to realize an objective truth of things.  We recognize that everybody is biased and subjective in one way or another, so we try to strip away all of that bias, look at things from multiple points of view simultaneously in an effort to distill the fundamental objective essence of a thing.  In science, we strive to remove the influence of the observer on the thing we are trying to test so that we can look at the relationship in and of itself, independent of those observing it.

In reality, all of this is completely wrong.  In reality, there is nothing really there.  It is all a giant karmic light show, with no more reality to it than last night’s dream.  We look out the window and see other buildings, but what we are really seeing is the reflection of karma on the surface of our mind.  Right now, we are a dream person sitting at a dream computer reading dream words.  Everything is created by mind through the force of karma, and none of it is real.  We have never actually spoken with anyone, we have never actually gone anywhere, we have never really done anything.  Our body, mind and self are merely one wave amongst many on the ocean of our mind.  For some strange reason, we think we are just this one wave, and that this wave can somehow be separated from its underlying ocean.  The things we see are nothing more than mere karmic appearances of mind.  “Mere appearance” means other than the appearance itself, there is nothing actually there behind it.  It is a mere reflection, a hologram, a hallucinogenic specter.  “Karmic appearance” means the appearances themselves are generated through the force of our past karma.  Each appearance is like a karmic echo of our past actions that has come back to us.  She aspect of the wave is shaped by the force of the karmic seed that has ripened.  “Of mind” means the conventional nature of these appearance is mind itself.  “Nature” in a Dharma context roughly means “made of.”  So when we say an object is by nature mind, what we are really saying is the object is mind shaped in the aspect of the object.  Mind is like the playdough, karma shapes it, and in the end it resembles an object.  It is like the gold of the gold coin.  It is like the ocean of the wave.  The exact same reasoning aplies for the ultimate nature of the object.  The ultimate nature is emptiness.  The object is emptiness appearing in the aspect of the object.  In the end, though, there is nothing there other than mere appearance.  The only thing that is actually there is the appearance of something actually being there.  Besides this mere appearance, there is nothing.

While it is interesting and fun to philosophically consider such things, the practical question is how can we use this understanding as the antidote to our delusions?  Some examples can help illustrate this.  Imagine for example you suffer from attachment to what others think about you.  This is a very common worry in the modern world, and we generate a lot of anxiety and stress about it.  We actively try to change what others think, and if they think something bad about us, it makes us very unhappy.  The reality, however, is there is nobody there thinking anything about you!  There is the appearance of somebody there thinking something about you, but actually this is just a karmic echo of you having thought something about somebody else in the past.  If you want to change what others appear to think about you, then change what you think about others.  If you only think good things about others, then the karmic echos which will appear later will only be others thinking good things about you.  This is how everything works.

Another example is imagine you are afraid of something.  There is some thing that might happen or someone who is threatening you in some way.  So we are naturally afraid.  But in reality we are jumping at shadows.  The things of this world can’t hurt us anymore than the dinosaur in the movie can eat us.  There is nothing there, and neither are we.  There is nothing in the world of appearances that can even touch our essential clear light essence.  In reality, we abide completely beyond appearance but we don’t realize it.  Like somebody in a bad drug-induced hallucinogenic trip or a schizophrenic, we grasp at projections of our mind as being actually real.  So what is there to fear?  Nothing.

Nagarjuna says for whom emptiness is impossible, nothing is possible; and for whom emptiness is possible, everything is possible.  We abide in a world of suffering only because that is the world we have karmically created.  If we change our karma, we can change our world, not just for ourselves but for all of the being inhabiting our dream.  We currently mentally construct others as friend, enemy and stranger; but we can karmically reconstruct them as our kind mothers and indeed as emanations of Buddhas.  What are they really?  Nothing.  But their function changes dramatically depending on how we impute them.  If last night we dreamt of somebody in a wheelchair, who put them there?  We did.  They are a being of our dream, so we are responsible for everything.  In the same way, if we see in the world a car accident, who caused it?  We did.  These are two waves of karmic appearance we previously set in motion which have collided.   Thanks to emptiness, we have it within our power to completely karmically reconstruct our dream from a world of suffering into a pure land.  We have it within our power to deliver people from the contaminated aggregates we have trapped them in to the completely pure and blissful aggregates of an enlightened being.  For whom emptiness is possible, everything is possible.

Of all the objects it is important to realize the emptiness of, the emptiness of our own mind is the most important.  In particular, our main task is to realize the emptiness of our very subtle mind of great bliss.  Why?  All of our infinite previously accumulated contaminated karma is currently stored on our very subtle mind.  It is like a cosmic hard-drive which stores all of our karmic movies.  If we realize emptiness directly, then when a particular karmic movie appears even though it seems to be real we will not be fooled by it, nor sucked into it, and so no matter what appears it will have no power to harm us.  But the movie will still play.  Things will still appear to be there.  But if we realize the emptiness of our very subtle mind, we uproot the contaminated karma giving rise to the movie itself.  When we realize the emptiness of our very subtle mind, it doesn’t just purify individual contaminated karmic seeds, it uproots all of them simultaneously.  We can understand how this works by analogy.  If you have a wheel with a hub and spokes, if you shine a light inside any one spoke, it will illuminate that spoke.  But if you can place the light in the hub of the wheel, it will illuminate all of the spokes directly and simultaneously.  In the same way, by realizing the emptiness of any one individual object, we illuminate the truth of that object.  But by realizing the emptiness of the very subtle mind upon which all of our karma is equally planted, we illuminate the truth of all objects directly and simultaneously.  This is why Buddha said, “if you wish to attain enlightenment, realize your own mind.  Do not look for enlightenment elsewhere.”

2 thoughts on “Vows, commitments and modern life:  Living the dream

  1. The spoke analogy is an excellent one and is actually what we do whilst training in the paths of the channels.

    Even seeing the word ‘clear light mind’ or ‘very subtle mind’ should be a major cause for our celebration! I rejoice.

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