Monday, December 02, 2013

Consciousness Only / Yogacara / Emptiness

A lot of what we seek as spiritual explorers can be satisfied with an understanding of the nature of consciousness. I gather that this is why we question the nature of mind and reality. We seek a level of understanding beyond the mundane. For many of us this becomes a thirst and hunger for esoteric knowledge or jnana (as it is known in Sanskrit).

One of the challenges to realize a deep understanding of the nature of consciousness is to heighten our awareness beyond our senses and beyond our mental and conceptual activity. This is required because reality can be treated as consciousness-only. Reality is perception and mental activity. Once we achieve an awareness not bound by perception and mental activity, we clearly see both the nature of reality and the nature of consciousness. To fully realize this nature we need jnana's perception.

In Tibetan Buddhism, jnana refers to pure awareness that is free of conceptual encumbrances. The Uttaratantra Shastra is a profound teaching on Buddha-nature attributed by the Tibetans to Maitreya, the future Buddha. To realize our Buddha-nature is to gain enlightenment and achieve awareness of the true nature of reality, or Tathatā.



From the Uttaratantra by Maitreya, a treatise on Buddha-Essence -
The Sangha - The Third Vajra Point - The Salutation
I bow down to those whose mind is no longer obscured,
the deeply realized who have jnana's perception,
awareness of the total purity present in limitless beings.
As the true nature of mind is lucid clarity,
they see the defilements to be without essence
and truly realize ultimate no-self -- 
peace within all beings. Thus they know
the all-pervading presence of perfect Buddhahood
in each and every one of them.

This salutation to the enlightened Sangha also reveals what might be called the web-like nature of universal love, "truly realize ultimate no-self peace within all beings." It is wonderful how the text provides a definition of unconditional love.

I have studied the nature of mind, consciousness, compassion, love and emptiness since I was a teenager. However, my milestone achievement was when I took the empowerment for the Progressive Stages of Mediation on Emptiness from Khenpo Tsultrum Gyamtso Rinpoche at KTD Monastery in Woodstock, NY. This is in my experience the most profound path of wisdom leading directly to peace, love, happiness and enlightenment.
In this teaching Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche presents the main schools of Buddhist philosophy with their progressively more subtle and refined views of reality. However, it is not just a teaching on the view but a presentation providing the student the means to realize it through meditation practice. The idea of a series of meditation practices on a particular aspect of the Buddha's teachings is that by beginning with one's first rather coarse commonsense understanding, one progresses through increasingly subtle and more refined stages until one arrives at complete and perfect understanding. Each stage in the process prepares the mind for the next in so far as each step is fully integrated into one's understanding through the meditation process.

Here is another book that is worthy of investigation, but only for the truly dedicated:
The Three Texts on Consciousness Only is a commentary on the Indian Buddhist monk Vasubandhu's Triṃśikā-vijñaptimātratā (Thirty Verses on Consciousness Only) and gives an exposition of the Yogācāra (Mind-Only) school of Mahāyāna Buddhism. The Triṃśikā-vijñaptimātratā was composed in the 4th century CE and became one of the core texts for the Yogācāra school.

In Progressive Stages of Meditation on Emptiness Stage 5, Emptiness-Of-Other (Shengtong Approach) is the same as the Yogacara Mind-Only school as explained in Three Texts on Consciousness Only. In this way, a study of both texts take the seeker on a deep dive into the heart of the Buddhist understanding of the nature of consciousness and the nature of reality.

Please keep in mind that ultimately, it is our attainment of a direct experience of emptiness through the diligent practice of meditation that provides us with jnana's perception. One must put down the books and spend regular intervals of time in meditation to gain progress.

Here is an excerpt from Three Texts on Consciousness Only, Chapter 1: Demonstration of Consciousness Only.

... the ultimate reality that is revealed by emptiness (sunyata)
and absence of self exists, does not exist, both exists and does not
exist, and neither exists nor does not exist. It demolishes the processes
of thought and language and is neither the same as dharmas,
nor different from them, etc. It is the true principle of dharmas,
hence it is called the "true nature of dharmas." It is called "space"
because it is free of all impediments. It is called "cessation resulting
from discrimination" because through the power of discrimination
it ends various impurities and one understands thoroughly.
Or, as a result of being revealed by the absence of conditions, it is
called "cessation resulting from the absence of conditions." Feelings
of pleasure and pain are removed, so it is called "immovable."
It is called "cessation of thought and feeling" (samjna-vedita-nirodha)
because thought and feeling are not active. These five unconditioned
dharmas are provisionally established on the basis of ultimate reality.
But "ultimate reality" itself is merely a provisionally granted name.
To refute the idea that it does not exist, it is said to exist.
To refute the idea that it does exist, it is said to be empty.
But it must not be thought to be empty and illusory, so it is
said to be real. Because this principle is not false or erroneous, it is
said to be the ultimate nature of everything. It is also called the 
"ultimate nature of everything" because it is not the same as the
real, eternal dharma called "ultimate nature of everything" apart
from form, mind, etc., of other schools. Thus none of the above
unconditioned dharmas really exists.

Dharmas grasped by non-Buddhist schools and other schools
of Buddhism do not really exist apart from mind and mental
activities, because they are grasped in the same way that mind and
mental activities are grasped by mind itself. The apprehension
that grasps them does not have them as objects, because it grasps,
like the apprehension that takes as an object this same intellect.
Also, because mind and its activities arise in mutual dependence,
they do not really exist, just as magical illusions do not. In order to
refute the false attachment to a really existing realm exterior to
mind and its activities, we teach that there is nothing but
consciousness (vijñaptimātratā). But if one believes that consciousness
only really exists, this is no different from attachment to external
objects, and it remains attachment to dharmas.

This is one page from this 450 page book. Definitely not light reading, however from this one page you can perhaps obtain a glimpse of jnana's perception of the true nature of reality, dharmatā, suchness, thusness, or Tathatā.

Thusly and Lovingly,
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