Posted by: Soh

by James M. Corrigan

Taken from Awareness Is Unlike A Mirror

Filed under Prose
DSCN0053.JPG – Version 2
The allegory of a mirror is often used to help individuals understand what awareness truly is like. It is said that, like a mirror, awareness reflects all manner of things and yet is never affected by what appears.
Unfortunately, there is a grave problem with this allegory that instills a very false understanding of awareness in those that take this allegory to heart. A mirror reflects what is before it, but it also reverses that image. Perhaps we should focus more on the reversal aspect than we do on the reflectivity in that allegory because describing awareness as being like a mirror conveys a completely opposite understanding of awareness from what is necessarily true.
Awareness is not reflective. That would imply a dualism. Instead of its reflectivity, it is its “unaffectedness” that is being focused on in this allegory; but that is contrary to our actual experience and leads to a proliferation of reified “minds” used as explanatory devices to get around the initial error of holding that awareness is unaffected by what appears “in the mirror.” This whole concept of “mind” is a fundamental error.
Awareness is essentially cognizance, not reflectivity. “Essentially” means that this cognizance is the characteristic of awareness that makes it awareness.
Unlike awareness, a mirror is not cognizant of what is appearing in it. The opposite of “cognizant” would be “ignorant,” “oblivious,” and even “unaffected by” and that latter antonym is exactly what this allegory wants to convey, and is touted for conveying—thus this allegory illustrates the very opposite of awareness’s essential character and confuses all that hear it and try to make sense of what is being said!
Awareness is affected by what it cognizes; unlike a mirror that is “unaffected by” its reflections because it is not cognizant of them, awareness is cognizance in essence.
We are told that awareness is unaffected by what appears in it in a misleading effort to convey an important point about what is more properly called “pure presence” and this leads me to the first proof that awareness is affected by what appears:
Pure presence is directly known once cognizance of the now—the now of pure presence—is recognized. This is called “Breakthrough” and the knowledge it brings is called Rigpa. In Dzogchen—the highest teaching in Buddhism—it is pointed out that once we become aware of the now as nothing other than pure presence we are liberated. What is liberated? The cognizant aspect of our nature—awareness—is liberated from absorption in the appearances. Which appearances? Primarily the self we have an emotional (egoic) attachment to (our thoughts, feelings, emotions, sensations, perceptions).
This shows that awareness is affected by what appears. How is awareness affected? Three ways: by remaining attentive in approval; by turning away in disapproval; and not paying attention either way when neither approval or disapproval arises. These three affective responses guide what can appear next as the natural display.
The second proof that it is affected is more subtle, relying on a clarification of exactly how awareness arises.
Awareness is not something other than the “presencing” (i.e. naturing) of appearances. It is not a thing. It is not part of a thing. It is not an “aspect” of a process.
Fortunately, the very word itself, with its “-ness” suffix, signals that it is a conceptual abstraction of some characteristic of something, and that is completely wrong in structure—a dead-giveaway that confusion reigns. First, there is no entity to have an aspect, and second, because abstracting awareness away, making it a thing-in-itself (which is the linguistic meaning of “-ness”) completely obfuscates that it is not only the essential character of a  process, it is the only character of the process, thus it is the process—not some aspect of it. This is why when awareness is said to be the “ground” of all that arises a subtle erroneous understanding arises because it is confusing “knowing” for the unknowable.
Effectively, abstracting awareness removes the natural process (from itself), confusing us into thinking that something substantive has been uncovered.
In regard to pure presence, awareness is the wakeful activity of presencing, which is pointed out to us—our first pointing out instruction—as the “knowing” of appearances. This very subtle dualism starts the confusion, which snowballs as we go forward.
Pure presence is not something to be known in a positive sense, and is only recognized via this naturing or presencing of appearances now—the evidence of the reality of presence. Why? Because the essence of pure presence is emptiness—which does not entail awareness in the sense that is meant when used in conjunction with the appearances—what after all would there be cognizance of? Thus the “purity” that is pointed to is the “unknowable” ground state, since nothing positive can be said (or known) about it. But which we may suddenly recognize is the now of all appearances. Appearances are ephemeral and are void of any entity; however, they are evidential—evidence that we can recognize when we suddenly notice the “clearing” of the now (of pure presence) that is the venue of appearing.
“Now” is never affected by what appears. Awareness is always affected by what is appearing because this is the very essence of cognizance, and thus the very essence of the process of naturing (or more literally, awareness is the cognizing of appearances now, limiting and guiding the possibility of what can arise “next,” and this is the sum total of the process).
To conflate awareness with pure presence is a mental crutch, conflating ideas with the unknowable. Expressing “facts” about that to which no facts apply. When recognized, the now is known to be pure presence. But pure presence is not a thing—there is no nature entity—so what could be stained by what appears as cognized?
Thus, the problem is that in making awareness some thing, subtly separating it from the naturing of all appearances, we find the need to prove that it is unaffected by what it cognizes. Yet we know that the essence of this naturing is cognizance; cognizance is not the “nature of the naturing of appearances.” Such a construction is mentation gone wild.
In reality there is no entity; nor are there any entities in the appearances that arise, and these—appearances and reality—are not two things, so why do we make awareness into something that must be kept clean? Perhaps it is only a lack of direct recognition that creates the confusion.
Posted by: Soh

Something I wrote in Dharma Connection:

The sense of the Observer remains very strong even after direct realization of Awareness, in fact, it first becomes the Eternal Witness, then it collapses into a substantial nondualism where Awareness is the source, substratum and substance of all phenomena, in which while experience is non-dual, the view remains dualistic and 'inherent'. That has been the case for me after the I AM realization then the collapse into a single field.

For me, my breakthrough into the realization of Anatta consisted in challenging and investigating the notion that 'observer', 'awareness', or 'observing' had any reality besides pure perception -- sounds, colours, sensations, etc. Not to look for the observer but to challenge any sense of there being one. Then with the pointers of Bahiya Sutta, I realized that there is no 'awareness' besides manifestation, as in the seeing there's only the seen, and seeing IS the seen, in hearing there's only sound, hearing IS sound... consciousness is manifestation without background. After this, the non-duality of viewer and viewed had persisted effortlessly and no longer remains as some sort of temporary peak experience.
Then through Madhyamika investigation, we further realize how reified conventions are invalid from top to bottom in terms of cause and effect, origination and cessation. This realization is not about the direct intuitive experience of clarity or phenomena as in the case of the I AM realization and then the realization of non-dual and anatta, however, by realizing dependent designation and emptiness, no mistaken view or understanding will arise from the intuitive insight of Suchness either from direct pointing or gradual practices. Even the realization of anatta leading to direct experience of six entries without background, and the realization of the emptiness via dependent designation are different realizations.

But those who only go through Madhyamika investigation without directly realizing Clarity (the initial realization of Mind, aka the 'I AM realization') and then the breakthrough of anatta leading to the direct experience of Suchness in all six entries (as described in Bahiya Sutta, Kalaka Sutta, etc) will also be missing something. For that, a Koan, or self-inquiry will help lead to the direct taste of Spirit/Presence/Existence, or a sutta like Bahiya Sutta will lead to the direct realization of Clarity as phenomena free from the illusion of self/Self.

If we reify and cling to Clarity like the Vedantins, we fall into the extremes of eternalism, and we fail to realize what exactly Clarity is. By clinging to a Mirror, we fail to realize that there is no Mirror besides self-illuminating reflection which is completely alive without a background or reflector or Agent, the wholeness of sound when in hearing sound, the wholeness of scenery when in seeing. That 'I AM' is only one face of Presence or Awareness, the subtlest formless aspect of Mind, falsely reified into something absolute, changeless or into a background, and that same taste of Presence or Clarity is found in all senses and manifestation after anatta. But if we reify and cling to Phenomena, we too distant clarity from its empty nature. Therefore the different phases of insights are crucial and must be pointed out clearly.
Posted by: Soh
I was flipping through a newly translated Mahamudra book, and I love some of the passages I've read so far. Seems like a good book but only managed to flip through a few pages. The book is
The Royal Seal of Mahamudra: Volume One: A Guidebook for the Realization of Coemergence: 1 by Khamtrul Rinpoche III (Author), Gerardo Abboud (Translator)

 

Here's an excerpt on Self-Liberation:

...Similarly, regarding whatever is in the field of the tactile sense organ,
such things as fabrics that are soft or rough to the touch, this tactile
sensation itself is your own mind. Avoid slipping into grasping or rejecting.
Whether soft or rough, do not try to find the mind anywhere apart
from the softness or roughness itself, but rest at ease right there without
distraction. If a pleasant or an unpleasant feeling arises, recognize it
and rest mindfully.

Likewise all thoughts arising in the field of the mental sense organ—
right or wrong, good or bad, subtle or coarse—are also your own mind.
Avoid liking the right ones and spurning the wrong ones. No matter
what thought arises—good, bad, or neutral; subtle, tangible, or gross—
recognize its identity through awareness and sustain it naturally. If any
fixation arises, such as thinking of this and that in regard to thoughts
of right and wrong, that itself is a fixating thought. So identify that
grasping thought and rest on it at ease. In short, even when it is not the
case of good or bad thoughts but is one of stillness and movement, avoid
making choices. Do not taint with blocking or pursuing. If the mind is
still, relax on the identity of that stillness. When it is dispersed, let loose
in the identity of that dispersion. When still or when anything arises,
relax on that. Keep to the very identity of what occurs, and sustain its
continuity without clinging elsewhere to good or bad.

In fact, no matter what perception of good or bad arises in the six
sense fields—forms in the field of the eyes, sounds in the field of the
ears, smells in the field of the nose, tastes in the field of the tongue,
tactile sensations in the field of the body, or thoughts in the field of
the mind—don’t judge as good or bad, and don’t indulge in likes and
dislikes. Whatever appears, whatever arises, first identify it, then relax
and rest in that state, and finally let it be released by itself.

For us, who have been in beginningless samsara all our lives due to
very strong habits formed long ago, there is no way for thoughts of
passion and aggression not to arise; these thoughts will no doubt occur!
Determined not to slip into delusion, you must identify these thoughts
and let go directly on them. Rest in the state of knowing the nature of
the very thoughts of attachment and aversion.

Lord Gotsangpa said:

"In general, the apparent myriad of phenomena is one’s own
mind. Since phenomena and emptiness have never been
abiding as two separate entities, there is no need to restrain
cognizance within."

Also:

"When there is an appearance of a form in the field of the eyes,
that appearance of form itself is one’s mind; the apparent
form and emptiness are not two. By resting gently right on
the form without grasping, subject and object become naturally
liberated. The same applies to sounds, smells, tastes,
textures, as well as mental occurrences: by resting on the
occurrence itself, it becomes self-liberated. That is to say,
instead of meditating on cognizance, by meditating without
grasping right on the outer objects of the six sense perceptions,
the six senses arise as meditation and enhancement
will ensue."

Siddha Orgyenpa said:

"Static or mobile things of the outer world that may be seen,
including any possible inanimate object—such as earth,
stones, mountains, rocks, houses, and estates—or the diversity
of beings, both high and low, in the three spheres of
existence—such as gods and asuras, and those in the three
miserable realms—no matter what is perceived, none of these
things has even a single hair of existence as an outer entity.
They are the natural luminosity arising from the radiance of
one’s own mind.

At the time of practicing this, proceed as follows. When
inanimate things such as earth, stones, mountains, or rocks
appear, don’t go into the fixation of perceiver-and-perceived
in relation to the inanimate object. No matter how it appears,
relax loosely right on it. Avoid tainting it with hopes for good
experiences and fear of bad ones. No matter what appears,
apply the central practice on that itself. Uninterrupted by any
other thought, in that state rest loosely and at ease. Resting
in this way, you do not need to block appearances, try to
accomplish emptiness, or search elsewhere for an antidote. A
vivid union of the inanimate object and awareness is what is
called “using phenomena as the path,” “merging phenomena
and mind into one,” and “seeing the essence of indivisibility.”
By doing so you are capturing the key point of practice.
If you don’t know how to relax right on phenomena in this
way, but instead indulge by means of thought activity in a lot
of corrections intended to improve the situation, phenomena
will not arise as meditation.

Also when seeing any of the six kinds of beings—high or
low, good or evil, happy or sad—whoever it is, practice as in
the case of an inanimate object. Recognize whoever appears,
and in a state of nonmeditation, barely undistracted, rest
loose right on it. By this, phenomena and mind are indivisible.
Do not regard present appearances in terms of fault or
virtue. Avoid fabricating or modifying. Do not taint with the
intention to reject or accomplish. Take them as the practice
exactly as they are."

The method of resting should not be limited just to what we have
seen. Using the six sense perceptions as the path should be carried
out all the time as the main practice. Otherwise, although you may
somehow maintain composure during formal meditation, later when
encountering outer desirable objects of form, sound, smell, taste, or
touch, you will respond with a total lack of determination, enjoy the
sense pleasures in an ordinary way, and slip into delusion. If you turn
the wheel of passion and aggression or hope and fear, the training we
discussed will not show up when needed. You would then be neglecting
the great objective, so the crucial point and main purpose would be
absent. Rather, during the main practice of meditative composure, and
especially at all times, you should learn to use all perceptions as they
are in their own nature.

To use the six sense perceptions as the path has many purposes. The
initial effect is that you will cease to slip under the influence of the six
senses thus giving them free rein, and phenomena will no longer negatively
affect your meditation; later, phenomena will arise as ornaments;
and finally, there will be no duality between phenomena and mind, and
you will have arrived at the expanse of the great pervasiveness of the
dharmakaya.
Posted by: Soh
12/12/15, 8:23:45 PM: Soh: Sitting on a boat, the boat moving, the vibration and bodily sensation and sound are one formation

12/12/15, 8:23:51 PM: Soh: Suddenly was reminded of

12/12/15, 8:25:52 PM: Soh: https://vimeo.com/36466564

12/12/15, 8:25:58 PM: Soh: They have this app on ipad

12/12/15, 8:26:09 PM: Soh: Seems like total exertion. Lol

12/12/15, 8:28:39 PM: Soh: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pCHFAsXYHGA

12/12/15, 8:28:51 PM: Soh: Interactive Van Gogh painting

12/12/15, 8:33:06 PM: Soh: Like the whole world of solid objects interacting with other breaks down into a seamless inter exertion

12/12/15, 8:33:25 PM: Soh: Or a seamless flow

12/12/15, 8:45:32 PM: Soh: Now on a boat ride back to Bali from Lombok. Hearing the sound of the Indonesian tv when eyes closed... Conventional mind says "it's from the tv". But it's not right to say that the sound is from something other than itself as if tv and sound are separate... It's total exertion. Nor does it arise from itself or without causes and conditions. These ways of arising are impossible ways of arising... In truth what dependently arise is nonarising as they are not arising in the impossible ways of entities interacting and producing each other

12/12/15, 8:47:25 PM: Thusness: Yeah like energy frequencies

12/12/15, 8:55:03 PM: Thusness: Yes...if u going through mmk, u keep investigating until the mind is so familiar that essence view of understanding interconnection, causes and effect, origination , abiding and cessation r not possible but yet u cannot say there is no causes and conditions then ur mind sees how invalid these views r...it then releases itself from these grasping of something is arising, abiding and ceasing or something is interacting ...

12/12/15, 8:56:32 PM: Thusness: Yet this total exertion as in the drawing is like every moment activities after anatta...

12/12/15, 9:01:00 PM: Thusness: Similarly when one dissolve the sense of self into oneness, u will realize he has no fear of death when the center is gone.

12/12/15, 9:01:32 PM: Thusness: Loving life and fearing death has a lot to do with essence view and experience.

12/12/15, 9:05:20 PM: Thusness: This sense of total exertion arises also when I read books and suddenly the entire entire body-mind become in tune with the pointing essence of the ancient masters as if the past and the present r at intermingled ...

12/12/15, 9:06:53 PM: Thusness: Or watching and reading our body system...the sense of self and body disappears into a river stream  of circulation without boundaries

12/12/15, 9:08:48 PM: Thusness: When u r constantly in anatta and total exertion...u will feel that cannot b said to b "u" or "not u"

12/12/15, 9:10:23 PM: Thusness: like for example if u visualize and project an experience ... There is no separation and somehow u know it works ... But as separate entity, there will b doubt...

12/12/15, 9:11:52 PM: Thusness: Or for example like when u bowl, the entire flow or movement is doing the work and there isn't the doubt..only when there is the self then there is the doubt...
Posted by: Soh
  • Taken from Dharma Connection

  • David Vardy
  • David Vardy Fluidity, Illusion-like spaciousness, follows the realization that only pure functioning is what's happening. Knowing this verbing without object or subject eliminates the tendency towards reification. Singular functioning without agent, when realized with absolute conviction, is literally mind blowing. There are no longer 'things' which last, no source, no background. The ground has literally dropped out along with any question of how this might be happening or not happening. The brilliance of suchness lies in the fact it doesn't last.
  • John Tan
  • John Tan Hi David,

    Not only that it does not last and is insubstantial but it is non-arisen.


    Anatta sees through the self (background) and with that freedom from the layer that obscures, everything becomes magnificently clear and real.

    However when we attempt to further deconstruct the foreground appearance, for example, looking clearly at a red flower, where is this "redness" of the flower?

    Outside? Inside? My consciousness or Soh's consciousness or dog's consciousness?

    So clear, vivid and undeniable yet was never truly there. How does what that was "never truly there" disappear?

    Likewise for sound. Hit a bell - Tingsss..non-dually clear and undeniable. Where is this crystal clear sound? Outside? Inside? Soh's consciousness, Albert's consciousness, dog's consciousness? No one sentient being hears the same "tingsss"...

    Look at everything around...so vivid and lurid...touch anything...so solid and undeniable...when seen with DO, every intrinsic characteristic can never be found despite being fully present!

    Same applies to sensations, colors, shapes, scent, sound, thoughts...all experiences r like that...empty and non-arising.

    So when background self is negated, foreground appearances become magnificently real, it does not become illusion-like.

    What is the actual taste of negating "A" from the "(inherent) existence" of A?

    Only when foreground appearances r negated of it's existence, then experience becomes illusion-like...it cannot be otherwise. For everything clearly appears but when seen with the eyes of dependent arising, it is never truly there...it is just illusion-like (not that it wants to b named that way) :P

    Seeing dependent arising is amazing!
    Whatever appears is non-arisen; indestructible by being not real and phenomena links without being "connected".
    Everything simply turns magic!

    Good night!
  • David Vardy
  • David Vardy Beautifully said John. Thank you.
  • Neony Karby
  • Neony Karby "phenomena links without being "connected"."
    Please elaborate a little on this John Tan , as 'disjointed' is a word often used and smells a little of what you say here.
    Great thread.
  • Lisa Kahale
  • Lisa Kahale So perfect. Thanks for re-posting this, Soh Wei Yu.
  • Soh Wei Yu
  • Soh Wei Yu Hi Neony Karby I had a related conversation with John Tan last month:

    John Tan

    12/3, 12:55am
    John Tan

    Is this current thought free from the previous thought? Does the previous thought meet the current thought? Is this present thought completely free or completely determined by previous thought? U can understand "conditionality" by observing this, the nature of thoughts and nature of experience. Conditionality is neither determinism nor free will...it is the middle path, the "cause and effect" of Buddhism.
    John Tan
    12/3, 12:59am
    John Tan

    So don't look elsewhere, look directly into ur experience.
    Soh Wei Yu
    12/3, 1:20am
    Soh Wei Yu

    What is cause and effect with inherency? --> u mean without
    John Tan
    12/3, 1:20am
    John Tan

    Yeah

    If we continue to look for the carrying medium between 2 moment of thoughts, profound insight of anatta will not arise and non-locality will not dawn. Our mode of perception will be obscured by the inherent way of understanding things.
    Soh Wei Yu
    12/3, 1:29am
    Soh Wei Yu

    oic..

    its like listening to music... the previous note never 'caused' the current note... yet without the previous note the current note will not be played. its conditioned arising but without causal agent

    is that right?
    John Tan
    12/3, 1:38am
    John Tan

    Yes. Look into ur experience. It is directly pointing at the nature of experience.

    John Tan
    12/3, 10:45am
    John Tan

    When listening to music, the beautiful music is form from the flowing notes but each note when hit is already gone. How is the music heard? It is said that "music" is a convention designated in dependence on it parts -- the flowing notes. The "music" is empty and non-arising. The notes never really "meet" each other, nvr caused each other yet the current note depends on the previous to be played. So "conditionality" but not a causal agent having the inherent power to effect. What is this telling u abt designation, emptiness, conditionality and dependent arising? They r telling u the nature of experience, the nature of mind.
  • John Tan
  • John Tan Hi Neony,

    It is a practice that I do to integrate dependent arising (conceptual) and non-dual appearance (non-conceptual) to deepen my understanding of the nature of mind/experience. Just a casual blah out of a spur of interest.


    There is something special about seeing dependent arising and applying it to subject, object, action or connection between them…when analyzed, the object of investigation always disappear like a mystical cloud. A sense of wonder never fail to arise whenever what that is so intimately felt to exist when sought cannot be found.

    If we examine “the link” whether conventionally, conceptually or non-conceptually, it always turn fuzzy and blur….

    Like looking at the relationship of a father and son…no physical connection found but the bond is tight and “real”…

    Like long and short…light and darkness…linked but where exactly is the connection…

    Like previous thought and current thought…like sound that is heard by hitting a bell…

    If we examine layer by layer from non-conceptual hearing of a sound and its causal dependencies to the conventional relationship of a father and son…it is always like that…no true concrete solid connection can be established or found yet it is undeniably “linked”.

    We may think what has the mystical arising of sound and its causal dependencies or “tableness” dependent on its parts got to do with the relationship of a father and son…but if we look closely...it is actually the same taste.

    We go through again and again until the taste of dependent arising pervades one’s entire experience much like how dualistic and inherent mode of cognition invaded our mind stream. Eventually one begins to intuit the cause of grasping, contrivance and all artificialities is directly related to the seeing of essence in a very subtle way. Purge of seeing essence in subject, object, actions and connections, mind releases itself and experience turns magic, spontaneous and natural.

    Just a casual sharing. Thanks!
Posted by: Soh
Thusness told me, "Very good video...should put in our website...so many things to learn from what he said."

"I like this video a lot.  This is the attitude you should have..."I don't want to mislead anyone in the world"... so don't bullshit and over claim anything.." "...You cannot think into knowing because u need to go deeply into your body... You need to feel your body in a different way.  Then you can experience differently with your Anatta insights... ...You cannot talk about (demarcating) this is health, this is spiritual. For a spiritual person it is all integrated."


Posted by: Soh
Kyle Dixon wrote in Dharma Connection:

"I put together a brief overview, composed of some entries I've written before that are tethered together with new writing. It is a lot, but hopefully it sort of paints a picture of the differences between these two views:

In Dzogchen we are working wi
th our own mind, and our mind is personal, it is our own as opposed to someone else's. My mind is not your mind, and vice versa. And each of our mind's has its own noetic capacity, or "awareness", which are distinct and separate. This model is quite different from Advaita Vedanta, for example, which proposes a single transpersonal awareness. So whereas the awareness of Vedanta is a global and all-encompassing, ontological principle, the species of awareness proposed by Dzogchen (and other Buddhist tenet systems in general) is relegated to an individuated mind-continuum.

And this is the major difference. Advaita is saying there is a single, ontological continuum that subsumes all minds, collectively, and all phenomena. This is like saying that all fires have the very same continuum of heat, akin to a singular field of heat that alone exists and extends through every instance of fire. That is why their model is "transpersonal", because their ultimate is not expressed in distinct minds, but rather every instance of allegedly personal consciousness is actually part of a single overarching continuum.

However that is not the Buddhist view works. In Buddhism, each mind has its own nature. Each and every nature is the same in that they share the same generic characteristic, but those natures are not the "same" as in a single, all-encompassing, ontological field. They are simply identical in that they all share the same characteristic. Just two candles are not actually sharing the same heat that extends through space between them. The candle flames simply share a characteristic of "heat", yet each instance of heat is distinct and separate, belonging to the specific flame in question. This is the same for the nature of our mind.

Differences like this used to confuse me and I didn't really understand how Dzogchen could eventually get to a free and liberating place while founding its praxis on what appeared to be a limited view of individual minds and so on. But interestingly enough it does in fact allow for that apparent separation to collapse or fall away, it just does it in a different manner than Advaita does.

One of the most vital principles to understand in this respect is one that is a prominent tenet of Mahayana, and that is the "two-truths", which are (i) relative truth (and also conventional truth), and (ii) ultimate truth. These ideas that are found in Madhyamaka and so on will be important to understand when approaching Dzogchen. Why are they important? Because in Buddhism and Dzogpachenpo minds are not held to be real, they are merely conventional, and this is very important to understand, because this conventional status is what allows for one's mind to be unique and distinct, while at the same time ultimately being devoid of subtantiality.

Conventional truth is essentially going to be the world of plain old everyday things. We can say that "conventions" in the context we are concerned with here is the working idea of a person, place, thing, etc. Other examples of conventions that Greg Goode has pointed out before are "Gestures, customs, ethics, esthetic tastes, norms and standards, rules, laws, fashion, language as a whole. Teachings and traditions, etc." But in general a conventional "truth" is going to be defined as "something can be tacitly accepted as long as it is not critically investigated, that is characterized by arising and decay, and that has causal effectivity." Or at least that is how an Indian scholar named Śāntarakṣita defines "conventional truth". I find it to be an apt definition.

So in that way conventional truth is going to be something (even everyday things) that appear to function smoothly, but if closely investigated will be revealed as false (and Buddhism does say that everything is ultimately false, so to speak).

Conventional truth is then contrasted with "ultimate truth", which is the emptiness of a given convention. So a car is a convention, and the emptiness of the car is the ultimate truth of the car. The cat is a convention, and the emptiness of the cat is the ultimate truth of the cat.

Conventional truth is also a subdivision of what is called "relative truth", and relative truth is the way things appear to a mind that confuses things to be real. When we perceive a person, place or thing and mistake those things to be truly real, having originated (birth) at a certain point in time, and susceptible to decay or destruction (death), this is relative truth.

Now, you may have heard that Dzogchen does not employ the two-truths model, and it is true Dzogchen does not. But a general understanding of relative and ultimate truth is important because in Dzogchen, relative truth becomes what is called "ma rig pa" or "ignorance", and ultimate truth becomes what is called "rig pa" or "knowledge".
Why are rigpa and marigpa important? This dichotomy is really carries the entire view of Dzogchen, and this goes back to the idea of relative and ultimate truths. As noted above, we have our own mind, and we take our mind to be truly established and real, we believe our mind to belong to us, an existent entity, and therefore we also believe that our mind exists as well (which means it can cease to exist).

In Dzogchen and Buddhism in general, this notion that our mind is truly substantial and conditioned (capable of existing and not-existing) is called "ignorance" or "marigpa". The perception of a real and enduring entity that abides in time and exists separately from an objective universe that is truly established is held to be delusion. And because it is delusion, Dzogchen states that this is not the way things really are. The true nature of our mind is that it is unborn, primordial, free from the extremes of existence and non-existence, unsullied and perfect. However we do not recognize this, and because we don't recognize this we mistake our minds to be a subjective cognitive capacity that is the foundation for a conditioned entity that was born and will eventually die, and this is the root of suffering.

That misconception of a conditioned mind that acts as the foundation for a truly existent, individual entity is "marigpa", and the point of Dzogchen, is to recognize the true nature of that mind. When we recognize the nature of our mind, then we are no longer ignorant of the way things really are, and instead we have a direct, experiential knowledge of "the way things really are". That knowledge is called "rig pa".

As a general term in Tibetan, rig pa means "knowing", "intelligence" etc.

However in the context of Dzogchen, rig pa is the opposite of "ma rig pa" which is "ignorance", specifically an ignorance of our nature. So as the opposite of "ignorance", rig pa means something like knowledge, a knowledge of your nature. However it is not an intellectual or conceptual knowledge, but rather an experiential knowledge.

For example, if you have tasted chocolate then you have a direct knowledge of its experiential nature, the flavor of sweetness or bitterness etc., you know that taste and would be able to identify it again even if you were blindfolded and it was placed in your mouth, you have a knowledge of that taste.

So rig pa is an experiential knowledge like that, it is a direct knowledge of the nature of your mind.
Rig pa is synonymous with "shes rab" which in Sanskrit is prajñā.
Why is recognition of the nature of mind important? And why does it not entail the recognition of an ontological and unconditioned absolute like Advaita Vedanta?

This sort of gets into the whole "cause and condition" side of this equation, where the p
erception of real entities (persons, places, things, etc.) is caused by a certain type of ignorance. And that being the case, the very cognition of real entities (or what is called "conditioned phenomena" such as an internal, personal self, or external, impersonal objects) quite literally arises because of that ignorance and is therefore fundamentally no different than that ignorance. And in this sense, when one realizes that said apparently real entities are actually empty of inherency, that realization or epiphany is really just a cessation of cause [ignorance] for the arising of the perception of those entities. Meaning; it is simply a cessation of ignorance.

In that way there is either the presence of ignorance, and the results of ignorance, or the cessation of ignorance and the results of that cessation, but an underlying, substantial nature (like we would find in Vedanta) is not part of that process.

So in Dzogchen for example, it is said that there is one basis [which is essentially the emptiness of phenomena] and two paths: (i) ignorance [marigpa] of that emptiness, and (ii) knowledge [rigpa] of that emptiness.

Those two paths lead in opposite directions, one (marigpa) leading to suffering and samsara, and the second (rigpa) leads to liberation and nirvana. And both are based on either the recognition, or non-recognition that phenomena are empty and lack substantiality.

The "nature" of phenomena, as in their "ultimate" nature is simply that they are non-arisen and thus unconditioned. This means that so-called "ultimate truth" is nothing more than a name that is attributed to the cessation of cause for the arising of the misconception of conditioned entities. It is not some "thing" or "principle" that is "of itself" or "indivisible" like in Advaita Vedanta. This is why the Mahāyāna goes to great lengths to show how emptiness is also empty, and this is why emptiness and dependent origination are called "profound". Emptiness is empty, because if the conditioned was not established to begin with, then the so-called unconditioned is simply a designation that is implemented conventionally from the standpoint of the relative to demonstrate that the conditioned is actually a misconception. Entities that are misconceptions have never actually arisen, as they are merely figments of ignorance. And so when ignorance ceases, the misperception of conditioned entities also ceases, and thus one recognizes that those so-called conditioned entities were unreal from the very beginning. That realization of non-arising is precisely a recognition of the ultimate nature of those alleged entities that are cognized from the standpoint of the relative. Since those conditioned entities are not established, their "unconditioned" nature is simply pointing to the potentiality to recognize that they are unreal, and in this way, the so-called "ultimate" is nothing more than the cessation of the misconception of conditioned, relative entities. This means that said ultimate is not something real in-and-of-itself.

For example: if we were to see a mirage in the desert that looked like water and were ignorant of the fact that the appearance (of water) is merely a mirage, we may mistakenly think that water to be real. Someone who knows it is a mirage may say, "no, the ultimate nature of that water is that it is an illusion, it is a mirage and isn't real." And so we would then know (at least inferentially) that the water is merely an insubstantial appearance. When we directly discover that "ultimate mirage nature" then we too will directly and experientially know that the water is "essenceless". But initially, for the sake of communicating that essenceless nature, one may state that there is an "essential nature" which is not being recognized so that others know not to take the appearance at face value, as something real.

The Vedantin view is different in that it says the mirage would have an actual essence, that is truly established, and that said essence is all-encompassing, and your true identity. It is a vastly different view.

This means the assumptions behind phenomena not being different than their unconditioned nature in Advaita is that all phenomena are actually in truth, perversions of an established unconditioned existent, and that essence is truly substantiated, real, and singular. Not to mention that it is transpersonal. This is directly in conflict with Dzogchen and other Buddhist systems.

In Dzogchen, dharmas or conditioned entities are byproducts of afflicted action, primarily the action of grasping which is predicated upon ignorance. This means that conditioned entities are byproducts of delusion, and their apparent existence is maintained by clinging and habitual karmic tendencies.

When that ignorance is severed, and karmic propensities are exhausted, the individual simply recognizes that phenomena have never arisen in the first place. But, this means that the so-called "unconditioned" nature of that phenomena is not real, because this would mean that figments of ignorance somehow possess a substantial essence. This is impossible, because something that has never been real to begin with cannot possess a real essence or unconditioned nature. So this means that realization in Dzogchen and in Buddhism is simply a cessation, and specifically a cessation of cause for the arising of affliction.

The delusion of conditioned entities arises with ignorance, and the cessation of ignorance means that one recognzes that conditioned entities never arose in the first place, which for the sake of communication is described as recognizing that the "conditioned" is in fact "unconditioned". But that "unconditioned" nature is only valid in relation to the initial ignorance that mistook appearances to be "conditioned", it is not something that exists by itself like it does in Advaita.

This is why adepts such as Nāgārjuna state:

"Since arising, abiding and perishing are not established,
the conditioned is not established;
since the conditioned is never established,
how can the unconditioned be established?"

To add, the Mahāprajñāpāramitā-śāstra states:

"Outside of the saṃskṛtas [conditioned dharmas], there are no asaṃskṛta [unconditioned dharmas], and the true nature [bhūtalakṣaṇa] of the saṃskṛta is exactly asaṃskṛta. The saṃskṛtas being empty, etc. the asaṃskṛtas themselves are also empty, for the two things are not different. Besides, some people, hearing about the defects of the saṃskṛtadharmas, become attached [abhiniveśante] to the asaṃskṛtadharmas and, as a result of this attachment, develop fetters."

Going on to say that the person who rejects the saṃskṛtas is attached to the asaṃskṛtas by attributing to them the characteristics of non-production [anutpāda], and by the very fact of this attachment those asaṃskṛtas are immediately transformed into saṃskṛtas. Which, as I have pointed out before; is equivalent to the act of turning dharmatā (the unconditioned nature of phenomena) into a dharmin (a conditioned phenomenon) by considering it to be a separate, existent, unconditioned, free-standing nature. It should instead be understood that the very non-arising of conditioned dharmas [saṃskṛtadharmas] is the unconditioned [saṃskṛta] dharmatā. It is an epistemic realization which dispels ignorance by severing the causes and conditions for invalid cognition... not an ontological essence that exists on its own (that is what Vedanta teaches).
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Thusness commented:

Kyle wrote quite well, you better save it again. The conventional truth however can be explained with more vivid examples as in how it provides functional validity in daily usage but when those referents referred by the conventions when investigated with ultimate analysis are realized to be empty.

The problem is the mind is so hypnotized that even if you read a thousand times about how conventions when sought and investigated are empty, the mind just can't understand and is unable to break-through.

Next one must differentiate correctly the difference between realizing the NATURE of mind and phenomena as empty and non-arising and having direct experiential taste of phenomena itself.  It is not just a direct non-dual and non-conceptual experience of mind and phenomena. The former is about realizing whatever (phenomenon) that appears to arise has never truly arisen other than a confused mind ascribing true existence to an appearing mirage and trapping itself in the extremes of samsaric existence. As for the latter, you will almost end up having a substantial view that all phenomena originate from Awareness and is Awareness. Awareness is primordial and non-dual.

Lastly, in my opinion, over-emphasis of the nature of mind/phenomena can still lead one to err towards the ultimate. To understand emptiness and non-arising, we must understand from the view of dependent arising. That is, emphasis should not be just about the nature of mind and phenomena as empty and non-arising but rather in realizing whatever dependently originates (dependent arising) is empty and non-arising (does not originate, abide and cease but only mistaken to be so) then we will not neglect causes and conditions and the conventional.