(Also see: Dzogchen, Rigpa and Dependent Origination)

From Dharma Overground, Dharma Dan (Daniel M. Ingram):

Dear Mark,

Thanks for your descriptions and analysis. They are interesting and relevant.

I think of it this way, from a very high but still vipassana point of view, as you are framing this question in a vipassana context:

First, the breath is nice, but at that level of manifesting sensations, some other points of view are helpful:

Assume something really simple about sensations and awareness: they are exactly the same. In fact, make it more simple: there are sensations, and this includes all sensations that make up space, thought, image, body, anything you can imagine being mind, and all qualities that are experienced, meaning the sum total of the world.

In this very simple framework, rigpa is all sensations, but there can be this subtle attachment and lack of investigation when high terms are used that we want there to be this super-rigpa, this awareness that is other. You mention that you feel there is a larger awareness, an awareness that is not just there the limits of your senses. I would claim otherwise: that the whole sensate universe by definition can't arise without the quality of awareness by definition, and so some very subtle sensations are tricking you into thinking they are bigger than the rest of the sensate field and are actually the awareness that is aware of other sensations.

Awareness is simply manifestation. All sensations are simply present.

Thus, be wary of anything that wants to be a super-awareness, a rigpa that is larger than everything else, as it can't be, by definition. Investigate at the level of bare sensate experience just what arises and see that it can't possibly be different from awareness, as this is actually an extraneous concept and there are actually just sensations as the first and final basis of reality.

As you like the Tibetan stuff, and to quote Padmasambhava in the root text of the book The Light of Wisdom:

"The mind that observes is also devoid of an ego or self-entity.
It is neither seen as something different from the aggregates
Nor as identical with these five aggregates.
If the first were true, there would exist some other substance.

This is not the case, so were the second true,
That would contradict a permanent self, since the aggregates are impermanent.
Therefore, based on the five aggregates,
The self is a mere imputation based on the power of the ego-clinging.

As to that which imputes, the past thought has vanished and is nonexistent.
The future thought has not occurred, and the present thought does not withstand scrutiny."
I really found this little block of tight philosophy helpful. It is also very vipassana at its core, but it is no surprise the wisdom traditions converge.

Thus, if you want to crack the nut, notice that everything is 5 aggregates, including everything you think is super-awareness, and be less concerned with what every little type of consciousness is than with just perceiving them directly and noticing the gaps that section off this from that, such as rigpa from thought stream, or awareness from sensations, as these are golden chains.



Aight, I'll jump in.

I do use the word "emptiness" loosely to refer to both Fruition and seeing things as they are, and this probably needs some revision. I fall into the same basic trap as the original dudes did with Nirvana, where they used it both to describe Fruition and to describe Arahatship. It is the same basic categorical ambiguity. The relationship between these is an age-old question, and is basically just one of categorization.

As to seeing "emptiness" in real-time, this is what anagamis do particularly well, especially those who have been them for a while, and what is means is that they can notice that sensations are just where they are, doing just what they do, on their own, not observed, not as object, but simply as manifesting transience. This comes as much from having clearly penetrated and understood the sensations that seemed to make up "subject" as it does about anything to do with "object". However, there are still processes that are somewhat artificially dualistic, distorted, subject-objecty, or however you want to put it.

As to primordial awareness, it actually becomes something of an extraneous concept at the end, as finally there is "in the seeing just the seen, in the hearing just the heard, in the feeling just the felt, etc.", and things being that simple, that direct, that untangled, is what makes the difference, and you can call it what you like.

Fruition is when reality vanishes in very specifically complete way and and then reappears. Primordial awareness is realized when one realizes there is no such thing as primordial awareness that is different from the field of transient manifestation, though there are various aspects of that understanding that can become the focus of attention, which is to say present themselves, and various linguistic ways to talk about this, some of which are clearly more ambiguous than others. 


Beware the seduction of the formless realms. They are very enticing. It is not that they do not convey something important, it is not that they don't write something very good and useful on the mind, and it is not that they don't provide some hints about things, but in the end they are conditioned. I actually highly recommend them to anagamis who are working on finishing things up, but not because they contain some truth that more ordinary mind states do not, as in the end, one has to find some aspect of things that is present at all times, in the most ordinary places and objects, something that was always true, something unconditioned, and, as all is transient, it ends up being something that is not bound up in the specific qualities.

The anagami is easily lead astray in various directions. They long for various artificial relationships between the ultimate and relative, with some of these being along the lines of:
-they want emptiness to be some transcendent superspace in which they rest untouched by phenomena
-they want emptiness to be something like the transcendence of the formless realms
-they want emptiness to be the complete disappearance of experience that somehow happens in realtime
-they want emptiness to be like some subtle other dimension that gives them a break from reality
-they want to go into Fruition and never come out
-they want emptiness to be some extra light or radiance or quality that gets added onto phenomena that somehow makes them better or more pleasant

These are all subtle or gross forms of aversion, desire, and ignorance. In the end, this is it, but there is some very real, straightforward, untangling of subject-object at its core that reveals why the dreams that the formless realms create and the paradoxical escape dreams that anagamis can fall into are not a realistic refuge, and also reveals something very simple about why the Buddha talked a lot about suffering.
2 Responses
  1. Matt Says:

    Padmasambhava says that the mind is neither the same nor different from the 5 aggregates, yet the advice is to take everything as the 5 aggregates.

  2. The Buddha, and Padmasambhava, and all other Buddhist teachers teaches that 'self', 'the mind that observes', etc, are merely a convention for the aggregates... there is nothing apart from those aggregates.

    It's like the word 'weather' is simply a convention for all the clouds, rain, wind, etc, yet how can you locate 'weather' as an entity within those ever-changing phenomena? You cannot pinpoint a drop of rain or a speck of cloud rolling by and say, 'oh, now I found/located this thing called weather!' Those phenomena arise and pass without abidance. 'Weather' simply cannot be located as an entity, as something independent, locatable, solid, abiding, inside the ever-changing stream of weatherly phenomena.

    You also cannot say that weather is separate from clouds, rain, wind, etc.

    In the end all you can say is... 'weather' is simply a label and convention for whatever manifests but there is no truly existing 'weather'.

    The same applies for 'self' or 'the mind that observes'... there are only thoughts, sensations, feelings, arising and passing... no 'self'/'mind' can be located anywhere, and yet we apply the label 'self' to the conglomerate of body-mind for convenience. Even now you cannot pin down a 'self'/'mind' anywhere that is independent, locatable, solid, abiding.

    Anyway what Padmasambhava taught is nothing new. All the masters have made the same statements with regards to the unfindability of an inherent self.

    The Buddha states:


    ..."What do you think: Do you regard the Tathagata as form-feeling-perception-fabrications-consciousness?"

    "No, lord."

    "Do you regard the Tathagata as that which is without form, without feeling, without perception, without fabrications, without consciousness?"

    "No, lord."

    "And so, Anuradha — when you can't pin down the Tathagata as a truth or reality even in the present life — is it proper for you to declare, 'Friends, the Tathagata — the supreme man, the superlative man, attainer of the superlative attainment — being described, is described otherwise than with these four positions: The Tathagata exists after death, does not exist after death, both does & does not exist after death, neither exists nor does not exist after death'?"

    "No, lord."...

    And Chandrakirti states:

    "A chariot is not asserted to be other than its parts,
    Nor non-other. It also does not possess them.
    It is not in the parts, nor are the parts in it.
    It is not the mere collection [of its parts], nor is it their shape.
    [The self and the aggregates are] similar."

    And Nagarjuna states:

    “The Tathagata is not the aggregates; nor is he other
    than the aggregates.
    The aggregates are not in him nor is he in them.
    The Tathagata does not possess the aggregates.
    What Tathagata is there?”