Who Are You and Where Can You Be Found?

By Lama Thubten Yeshe
Cumbria, England, 1977 (Archive #123)

Excerpted from Lama’s commentary on the yoga method of Divine Wisdom Manjushri, Manjushri Institute, Ulverston, Cumbria, England, August 1977. Edited from the Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive by Nicholas Ribush. Printed in the June 2001 issue of Mandala Magazine.

Lama Yeshe wearing a ceremonial crown of the five dhyani buddhas, Kopan Monastery, Nepal, 1976.

One of the essential practices of tantra is that of deity yoga. When we practice tantra, we have to arise as the deity we’re practicing. In order to do this properly, we need to experience a certain degree of non-duality. If we don’t, we’ll think that our arising as the deity is the same as arising as a flower or a wall. It will make no sense. In fact, there’s incredible sense in arising as the deity and there’s a vast difference between arising as a flower and arising as a deity.

It’s essential to dissolve the normal ego projection of the physical nervous system body; to absorb the image that our conception of ego instinctively feels—that I’m somewhere around here; Thubten Yeshe is somewhere here. Where is Thubten Yeshe? My ego’s instinctive interpretation is that I’m here, somewhere in my body. Check for yourself. See what comes up in your mind when you think of your name. The huge mountain of your self will arise. Then check exactly where that mountain of “me” can be found. Where are you? Somewhere around your body. Are you in your chest, in your head?

You feel this instinctively. You don’t have to study philosophy to learn it; you don’t have to go to school; you parents didn’t teach you. You’ve known this since before you were born. Buddhism describes two kinds of ego identity: kun-tag and lhen-kye. The one I’m talking about is lhen-kye, the simultaneously born one; the one that exists simply because you exist. It was born with you; it needs no outside influence for its existence. Like the smell that comes with a pine tree, they’re one. The pine tree doesn’t grow first and then the smell comes later. They come together. It’s the same with the innate sense of ego; it comes at conception.

Kun-tag means the sense of self that’s philosophically acquired. It’s something that you learn through outside influence from teachers, friends, books and so forth. This is the intellectually derived ego. Can you imagine? You can even acquire an ego through reading. This one is easier to remove, of course, because it’s more superficial. It’s a gross conception. The simultaneously born sense of self is much, much harder to get rid of.

This instinctive conception of ego is really convinced that around my body is where you’ll find Thubten Yeshe. Someone looks at me and asks, “Are you Thubten Yeshe?” “Yes,” I reply, “I’m Thubten Yeshe.” Where is Thubten Yeshe? Around here. Instinctively, I feel I’m right here. But I’m not the only one who feels like this. Check up for yourself. It’s very interesting.

Until I was six years old, I was not Thubten Yeshe. That name was given to me when I became a monk at Sera Monastery. Before that time, nobody knew me as Thubten Yeshe. They thought I was Döndrub Dorje. The names Thubten Yeshe and Döndrub Dorje are different; different superstitions give different kinds of name. I feel my name is me, but actually, it isn’t. Neither the names Thubten Yeshe nor Döndrub Dorje are me. But the moment I was given the name Thubten Yeshe, Thubten Yeshe came into existence. Before I was given the name, he didn’t exist; nobody looked at me and thought, “There’s Thubten Yeshe.” I didn’t even think it myself. Thubten Yeshe did not exist.

But when one superstitious conception named this bubble, my body—“Your name is Thubten Yeshe"—my superstition took it: “Yes, Thubten Yeshe is me.” It’s an interdependent relationship. One superstition gives the name Thubten Yeshe to this bubble of relativity and my ego starts to feel that Thubten Yeshe really does exist somewhere in the area of my body.

The reality, however, is that Thubten Yeshe is merely the dry words applied to the bubble-like phenomenon of these five aggregates. These things come together and that’s it: Thubten Yeshe, the name on the bubble. It’s a very superficial view. The ego’s instinctive feeling that Thubten Yeshe exists somewhere around here is very superficial.

You can see that the relative reality of Thubten Yeshe is simply the name that’s been given to this bubble of energy. That’s all Thubten Yeshe is. That’s why the great philosopher and yogi Nagarjuna and the great yogi Lama Tsongkhapa both said that all phenomena exist merely in name. As a result, some early Western Buddhist scholars decided that Nagarjuna was a nihilist. That’s a conclusion that could be reached only by someone who doesn’t practice and spends all his time dealing in concepts and words.

If I were to show up somewhere and suddenly announce, “You’re all merely names,” people would think I was crazy. But if you investigate in detail the manner in which we’re all merely names, it becomes extremely clear. Nihilists reject the very existence of interdependent phenomena but that’s not what Nagarjuna did. He simply explained that relative phenomena exist but that we should view them in a reasonable way. They come, they go; they grow; they die. They receive various names and in that way gain a degree of reality for the relative mind. But that mind does not see the deeper nature of phenomena; it does not perceive the totality of universal existence.

Phenomena have two natures: the conventional, or relative, and the absolute, or ultimate. Both qualities exist simultaneously in each and every phenomenon. What I’ve been talking about is the way that bubbles of relativity exist conventionally. A relative phenomenon comes into existence when, at any given time, the association of superstition and the conception of ego flavors an object in a particular way by giving it a name. That combination—the object, the superstition giving it a name and the name itself—is all that’s needed for a relative phenomenon to exist. When those things come together, there’s your Thubten Yeshe. He’s coming; he’s going; he’s talking. It’s all a bubble of relativity.

If right now you can see that Thubten Yeshe’s a bubble, that’s excellent. It helps a lot. And if you can relate your experience of seeing me as a bubble to other concrete objects you perceive, it will help even more. If you can see the heavy objects that shake your heart and make you crazy as relative bubbles, their vibration will not overwhelm you. Your heart will stop shaking and you’ll cool down and relax.

If I were to show you a scarecrow and ask if it was Thubten Yeshe, you’d probably say it wasn’t. Why not? “Because it’s made of wood.” You’d have a ready answer. You can apply exactly the same logic to the argument that this bubble of a body is not Thubten Yeshe either.

I believe very strongly that this is me because of the countless times from the time I was born up to now that my ego has imprinted the idea “this is me” on my consciousness. “Me. This is me. This bubble is me, me, me.” But this bubble itself is not Thubten Yeshe. We know it’s composed of the four elements. However, the earth element is not Thubten Yeshe; the water is not Thubten Yeshe; the fire is not Thubten Yeshe; the air is not Thubten Yeshe. The parts of the body are not Thubten Yeshe either. The skin is not Thubten Yeshe; the blood is not Thubten Yeshe; they bone is not Thubten Yeshe; the brain is not Thubten Yeshe. The ego is not Thubten Yeshe. Superstition is not Thubten Yeshe. The combination of all this is not Thubten Yeshe either--if it were, Thubten Yeshe would have existed before the name had been given. But before this combination was named Thubten Yeshe, nobody recognized it as Thubten Yeshe and I didn’t recognize it as Thubten Yeshe myself. Therefore, the combination of all these parts is not Thubten Yeshe.

If we call the scarecrow Thubten Yeshe and then analyze it to see exactly where Thubten Yeshe can be found, we can’t find Thubten Yeshe in any of the parts or on all the parts together. This is easy to understand. It’s exactly the same thing with the bubble of my aggregates. Neither any single constituent part nor the whole combination is Thubten Yeshe. We also know that the name alone is not Thubten Yeshe. So what and where is Thubten Yeshe? Thubten Yeshe is simply the combination of superstition flavoring an object with the words, “Thubten Yeshe.” That’s all that Thubten Yeshe is.

Beyond the name, there is no real Thubten Yeshe existing somewhere. But the simultaneously born ego doesn’t understand that Thubten Yeshe exists merely as an interdependent combination of parts. It believes that without question, around here, somewhere, there exists a real, independent, concrete Thubten Yeshe. This is the nature of the simultaneously born ego. Therefore, if we do not remove conceptions like, “Somewhere in this bubble, I’m Thubten Yeshe,” we cannot release the ego.

The conception of ego is an extreme mind. It holds very concretely the idea that somewhere within this bubble of the four-element combination body there exists a self-existent I. That is the misconception that we must release. If the ego mind assessed the situation reasonably and was comfortable and satisfied perceiving that superstition giving the name Thubten Yeshe to this interdependent, four-element bubble was enough for Thubten Yeshe to exist, that would be a different story. But it’s not satisfied with that. It cannot leave that alone. It wants to be special. It wants Thubten Yeshe to be concrete. It’s not satisfied with Thubten Yeshe being a mere name on a collection of parts. Therefore, it conceives an imaginary, unrealistic, exaggerated, concrete self-entity. The method we use to remove that conception is to transform our bubble of relativity into light.