Gross, Subtle and Extremely Subtle Minds
To really understand the mind, you need to meditate. Without the practice of meditation, I don't think you can really learn completely about the mind because you need the experience, not just the words, to really understand it. The sutras and especially the tantras have clear, detailed explanations of the mind. Tantra especially explains the subtle consciousness, the subtle mind. However, you can really only understand this clearly through the practice an realization of tantric meditation. Without meditation, you cannot clearly see everything about the mind. To understand clearly through your own experience, you need to meditate.
In regard to the body, there are gross, subtle, and extremely subtle bodies. The gross body is what you see now; the subtle one is the chakras, drops, and so forth; the extremely subtle body is the subtle wind, which is not related to the breath; it is a different type of wind. There are also gross, subtle, and extremely subtle minds. The gross mind is the senses. The six root delusions and the twenty secondary delusions are the subtle mind.
One philosophical text Mind and Mental Factors (lo-rig, in Tibetan) is like a pocket dictionary, giving all the basic information about the gross and subtle minds. Mind and Mental Factors was usually studied in the monastic universities of Lhasa—Sera, Ganden, and Drepung—and in many other monasteries. It is a text for beginners, preparing them to understand clearly the later extensive philosophical subjects, such as the Middle Way (Madhyamaka) and the Wisdom Gone Beyond (Prajnaparamita) teachings. Mind and Mental Factors helps beginners understand the extensive teachings on the complete path to enlightenment and also what full enlightenment is, all the qualities of Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, and all the procedures necessary to develop the mind to full enlightenment.
Mind and Mental Factors talks about the principal consciousness and the fifty-one secondary thoughts, which function with the principal consciousness. The principal consciousness merely focuses on an object. On the basis of this focus, the secondary thoughts then perform different functions and are labeled according to the different functions there perform: attachment, anger, wisdom, memory, and so forth. Looking at something as beautiful and clinging to it is called "attachment." Let's take memory as an example. The principal consciousness focuses on an object; on the basis of this, memory has the particular function of remembering the object. If you have seen something in a shop, memory has the particular function of being able to recall that object.
We also have an extremely subtle mind, but it is not manifest because of the gross consciousnesses, all our superstitions. For the extremely subtle mind to become visible, the gross mental factors have to be stopped. The subtle consciousness can then manifest.
The Death Process
One of the times that this happens is during the death process. Human beings (and some animals), who have bodies constituted from the sperm of the father and the blood of the mother, go through twenty-five absorptions when they die. For example, the four elements of earth, water, fire, and air absorb. When the earth element absorbs at the time of death, the body feels as if it is sinking into the ground and the limbs feel very loose. The sign that the water element is absorbing is that there is no saliva. If the person is going to die within one or two hours, the mouth become very dry.
When the fire element absorbs, the heat inside the body also starts to absorb. For a person to have a good rebirth, to take the body of a happy migratory being, which means that of a deva or human, or to be born in a pure realm of Buddha, the last moment of consciousness has to be positive, or virtuous. Examples of positive minds are compassion for sentient beings, devotion to the guru, Buddha, Dharma, Sangha, or the wisdom realizing emptiness. It is important to die with a positive, or virtuous, attitude because it causes the consciousness to migrate to the human or deva realms, or to a pure realm.
In a person who dies with a positive attitude, the heat starts to absorb from the feet. First the feet start to get cold, and then the body heat gradually absorbs to the heart. In a person who dies with a non-virtuous thought, such as feeling angry with someone, or feeling attachment to the people around them or to their possessions, the heat starts to absorb from the head. You can judge the type of rebirth from the place the heat starts to absorb.
The heat finally absorbs to the heart. Even though the rest of the body may be very cold, if the heart area is still warm, the consciousness has not yet left the body. The person is midway through the process of death.
Four things absorb together. With the earth element, form absorbs, also mirror-like wisdom. Mirror-like wisdom is labeled according to the function of the eye sense; just as one small mirror can reflect many objects, the eye can see many objects at the same time. One of the Buddha's five wisdoms, mirror-like wisdom, is labeled on the ordinary function of the senses. When mirror-like wisdom is absorbed, the eye sense cannot see the forms of people and objects clearly. The eye sense itself also degenerates, and you also cannot open and close your eyes. If someone is very close to death, the sign that they will die within one or two hours is that their eyes stay open for a very long time without blinking.
The outer sign that the earth element has absorbed is that the color of the body degenerates; its radiance is lost, and the body appears thinner. After these four things have happened, the person sees the inner sign of the vision like a mirage.
When the water element absorbs, again four things happen. The aggregate of feeling, the wisdom of equanimity, and sounds are absorbed. The dying person no long hears external sounds. You have to speak loudly when the dying person nears this stage because it becomes more and more difficult for them to hear. The inner sound (the internal whrr whrr that you hear when close your ears) also disappears. After these four things have absorbed, the person sees the inner sign of the vision like smoke.
After this, the fire element absorbs. When the fire element absorbs, you cannot digest food. Along with it, the aggregate of discrimination absorbs, and the discerning wisdom, which is labeled according to the function of the senses. The person can no longer recognize people. The nose sense also absorbs, and as it starts to absorb, the dying person cannot smell, and their exhalation is strong, their inhalation weak.
After these things have happened, the dying person experiences the inner sign of the vision like many fire-sparks (like burning dry grass in a fire) or many fireflies.
After this, the wind element absorbs. At this time external breathing stops completely. Again, four things absorb along with the wind element. The compounded aggregates absorb, and you no longer remember how to do your work. The wisdom of accomplishment is absorbed, and you no longer remember the meaning of anything. Even if you could hear a name, you could not remember its meaning; you have lost this capacity. In our daily life, we normally remember the meaning of something and then decide to do something. At this time, we cannot think of the meaning of anything.
Along with this, the tongue becomes shortened and blue. The root of the tongue turning blue is a sign of imminent death. If the dying person tries to speak - to leave a will for his family, for example - you cannot hear clearly what he is saying.
At this time the tongue sense is absorbed, and one cannot experience tastes, such as sweet, hot, and so forth. The body sense is also absorbed, so one cannot feel rough, soft, cold, and so forth.
After all these have absorbed, one experiences the inner sign of the vision like a flame. This is not like an actual flame itself, more like the light around a flame. This vision is like the light around a brass container with a candle inside.
After this come the appearance of the white path, the appearance of the increasing path, the appearance of the near-attainment dark path, and then the clear light. It is only with the clear light that the extremely subtle mind becomes visible.
First the appearance of the white path happens when the white seed touches the central channel as it comes down through it from the crown chakra. When everything is covered with snow and the moon rises, the moonlight is reflected from the snow so that the whole sky becomes kind of white. This is similar to the appearance of the white path.
When the red drop received from the mother, which is at the navel, touches the central channel as it shoots up through it, the dying person experiences the appearance of the red vision of the increasing path. This is like the color of copper or the color you see in the sky when the sun rises or sets.
These two drops then meet at the heart, which means in the center of the chest. When we get angry, the anger doesn't normally come from the brain; you feel anger somewhere here, in the middle of your chest. Desire also doesn't come from the brain, nor do pride, jealousy, and the other emotions. You don't feel any of them in the brain.
Anyway, the two drops meet in the central channel at the heart. Inside the central channel here, there's a drop, the size of a bean and half red, half white. The red half is received from the mother and the white half from the father. When the two drops meet at the heart, the person sees the appearance of the dark near-attainment path. At the beginning of this darkness, the dying person has some awareness and recognizes an appearance of darkness; later they become unconscious.
When the two drops that have met at the heart split apart, the clear light appears. This is the extremely subtle mind, which appears only after all the gross consciousnesses have absorbed. As soon as the red and white drops opens, the subtle consciousness leaves from there and immediately becomes the consciousness of the intermediate state being. The subtle wind, the vehicle of the extremely subtle consciousness, becomes the condition for the intermediate state being's mind and the subtle consciousness becomes the condition for the intermediate state being's body.
If the person is going to be born in one of the hells, their consciousness leaves through the anus. If they're going to be born as an animal, it comes out through the sexual organ. If the person is going to be born as a hungry ghost, or spirit, the consciousness leaves from the mouth. If the person is going to be born as a human being, the consciousness leaves from the eyes. The consciousness can also leave from the navel, ears, nose, and so forth. I think the consciousness can also leave from midway between the eyebrows. Perhaps that is for the form realm. If the consciousness leaves from the crown, the person will be reborn in the formless realm or in a pure realm of Buddha.
When a person is dying, it is very important, first of all, not to create a situation that disturbs their mind, not making them angry, for example.
If the person has faith in guru, Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, you have many opportunities to help them, by reminding them of their practices. However, even if they don't have faith in Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha, you can explain to them that many other people are suffering and dying; that they are not the only person in the country, in the world, that is dying. So many others are dying on that same day, and everyone has to go through this experience. Help the person to think in a broad way, instead of thinking only of himself. The self-cherishing mind that thinks only of itself brings all the worry, fear, attachment, anger. By explaining how much other people are suffering, you try to help the dying person to generate compassion for others. When they think of the numberless others who are dying, some of whom are suffering more than they are, they will feel less worry and fear about their own problems.
The best way to help someone who doesn't any particular faith is to try to transform their mind into compassion and loving kindness. Help the person to think, "I'm going to dedicate my experience of death to all sentient beings. I'm will experience this suffering on behalf of all sentient beings. To allow them to be free from the fear and suffering of death, I will experience all their problems by myself. I am going to experience my death on behalf of all the numberless sentient beings who are experiencing the suffering of death."
The person takes upon himself the sufferings of death of all other beings and experiences their deaths for them. "How wonderful it would be if I could experience this for other sentient beings, so that they could be free from these sufferings."
What makes death terrifying? The mind. There is no terrifying death from its own side; the terrifying death is made up by your own mind. You have made death terrifying. The consciousness leaving the body is called "death"; one labels death on that. What makes death so difficult, so full of worry and fear, is desire clinging to this life. Clinging to our body, possessions, family, and friends makes death difficult.
You can help a dying person very much by talking to them. If the dying person can hear and you can communicate with them, the most important thing is to help them not to cling. It's natural to experience death. After you become an Arya bodhisattva, the Mahayana practitioner with the wisdom directly perceiving emptiness, even though you have not yet reached enlightenment, you don't experience rebirth, disease, old age, and death. Also, when you become an arhat, which means you have achieved liberation, you do not experience these things.
Otherwise, until you reach either of these levels, you have to go through the suffering cycle of death and rebirth under the control of karma and delusions. There is no point in disliking something that you have to experience, that you have to go through. It is better to transform your mind into liking rather than disliking the situation, because your dislike doesn't stop the experiencing of it.
The most important thing is to help others (and even yourself) to control desire. At the time of death, if you meditate on the shortcomings of desire, you see that clinging to your body, possessions, family and friends has no meaning. It only harms you, causing you to die with a non-virtuous thought, which then makes the consciousness reincarnate, according to the heaviness of the negative karma, in a suffering realm as an animal, preta or hell being. If you are born in one of these realms, you have no opportunity to practice Dharma, to practice meditation and develop your mind, and no opportunity to benefit other sentient beings. You are overwhelmed by suffering.
Even as human beings, we have so much intelligence and potential; we can understand things and think of their meaning. But this alone doesn't mean that we are always able to keep our mind positive, or virtuous. It doesn't mean that our mind is always compassionate or patient towards all beings, or aware of the reality of things, or even aware of ourself and our actions. Even a human being, who has so much potential, finds it very difficult to control the mind, to stop dissatisfaction, anger, jealousy, and so forth. Negative thoughts arise constantly. It is extremely difficult to keep a pure attitude to life, one that is without ego, self-cherishing, desire. This is how it is with a human body. Now, what if our consciousness migrates to a suffering realm? What if we are reborn as an animal, a preta, a hell being? First of all, these beings are overwhelmed by incredible, unbearable suffering. Even the animals we have around us, such as cats and dogs, cannot express what they like and what they don't like. As human beings, we can express our likes and dislikes. We can fight for our human rights, but an animal cannot fight for its animal rights. When an animal has a problem, it cannot go to its union and go on strike. It cannot come out into the streets.
Nowadays in Nepal this is happening a lot. I think the Nepalese people have learned very well from the West. If a taxi driver is killed, all the taxi drivers stop driving for one or two days. If somebody working in a restaurant has a problem, all the people stop working. In that case, I have been telling people, when one human being is killed, all human beings should complain and go on strike.
To be reborn as an animal would be unbearable. It would be extremely difficult to practice Dharma, to transform the mind into a positive attitude. There is no way to explain anything to an animal, no way to make them understand what virtue means, what the cause of happiness or the cause of suffering means. There is no way we can make them understand. Even though you can train a parrot to recite the mantra OM MANI PADME HUM, it is just imitating the words. There is no way to make it understand the meaning.
The root of the entire suffering of samsara is the ignorance not knowing the nature of the I and phenomena, the aggregates, body and mind, and so forth.
So, what is the reality, or ultimate nature, of the I? What is the I? When someone enters a room, what makes them decide that this is a table, this a clock, this a vase, this a glass? What makes the person decide on these labels? There must be a reason. There has to be some reason before the person gives the label "table," "clock," "vase," or "glass." So, what is the reason that makes him decide on these labels?
When the person comes through the door, they see these things and label them. Take this table, for example. First they see this material object that is used to put things on and they use that as a reason to make up the name "table." What the person first sees, the object performing this function, is the basis of table; it is not the table. If they first see the table, before they see the basis of the table, what reason would they have for deciding to label "table"? There would be none. Do you understand?
It is similar with the clock. First they see this object that performs the particular function of telling the time and that makes them decide to give it the name "clock. And it is the same with all the rest of these objects. The person sees the base first; then, according to the particular function of the base, they give it a label. The label comes second.
Now, the top and the legs are the parts of the table, so they're not table; they're the basis of table. Each separate piece is a part of the table, but it's not table. Each piece is the basis of table. Even the whole thing is not the table; it's the basis of table.
So, none of these pieces is table. Nothing that you can point to here is table, not even the whole thing is table. So, where is the table? If you search on this base, you cannot find the table anywhere. That is the analysis of the ultimate nature of the table. What is the table? Meditating on this makes the ultimate nature of the table very clear.
Even though nothing of this - neither the parts nor the whole thing - is table, it doesn't mean that there's no table. There is a table. You cannot find table anywhere; there is no table on this base, but there is a table in this house. There are a lot of tables in London and there are also a few tables in this house. Why do we say there is a table in this house? For no other reason than that this base, the object that performs the function of lifting things up, is here. That is all. Because of that, we believe there is a table here.
Table is an idea. We don't say "the table is in my mind," but it's an idea, a concept. Just like the table, money is an idea, a concept. And so are friend, enemy, and stranger. Through meditating in the same way, we should analyze the enemy, the person we get angry with, and the friend, the person we cling to so much. Because these relationships bring so many problems in our life, we should use the same analysis to meditate on their ultimate nature.
There is a table in this house. What is the table? When you check, you cannot find it anywhere; nothing of this is table, and even the whole thing is not table. So, what is the table? The table is nothing other than what is being merely imputed. There's no table other than that. Any table that is something other than that doesn't exist; you cannot find it in this house. You cannot find a table that is not merely labeled by the mind anywhere on this earth. That table exists nowhere. You cannot find anywhere a table that has an existence from its own side. You cannot use such a table, because it doesn't exist. The table you can use is the table that is merely imputed by the mind.
What is this table that is merely labeled, that does not have any existence from its own side? It is nothing other than what your mind has merely imputed. So, what the table is in reality is very subtle. The way the table exists is extremely subtle. It is not this concrete object here. Nothing of this is table. With this analysis, what the table is and how it exists becomes extremely subtle. It exists in mere name.
By having this base, this object that can support things, you believe, "I have a table." You see, table is a concept; it is merely imputed. Therefore, there's no table from its own side at all; there's no real table from its own side. A real table from its own side is completely empty; table exists in mere name. The real table appearing from its own side is completely empty, and that is the ultimate nature of the table.
If you really analyze what the table is, it's almost as if it's non-existent. It's not completely non-existent, but it's as if it does not exist. The table is not non-existent because you can use it to put things on, you can break it, you can move it. But all this is a concept. It's not that the table is in the mind, but the mind labels "table" and believes in its label.
It is exactly the same with the I and the aggregates, the association of body and mind. None of the aggregates is the I:the body is not the I; the mind is not the I; even the whole group of the aggregates is not the I. None of these is the I; they are the basis of the I. Just like the example of the table, the I is nowhere, neither inside nor outside. The I exists nowhere. Nothing of this is I; there's no I inside or outside, but there is I in this room.
Nothing of this is Lama Zopa: my body is not Lama Zopa, my mind is not Lama Zopa, even the whole group is not Lama Zopa. Nothing of this is Lama Zopa, but Lama Zopa is in London now, in this room. Lama Zopa is in this room. This is the basis of Lama Zopa; it is not Lama Zopa. Nothing of this is Lama Zopa, but Lama Zopa is in this room. Again, what Lama Zopa is is extremely subtle. It has nothing to do with what normally appears to us and what we believe is Lama Zopa.
The real table that appears to us and that we normally believe to be table has nothing to do with the reality of table. The table that we come to know through analysis has nothing to do with what we normally believe is the real table. What appears to us has nothing to do with the reality of the table, the table that actually exists. There is a big difference between the reality and what appears to us, what we believe.
It is the same with the I. Simply, it is nothing other than what is merely imputed in dependence upon these aggregates. The way the I exists is extremely subtle. It is so fine that it seems as if it is non-existent. It is not non-existent, however, because the I can abandon the cause of suffering, create the cause of happiness, and do many things to benefit others. It is not non-existent; it just seems as if it is.
We don't see the I as completely empty from its own side. We are not aware of this. The I exists only from the side of the mind, which labels it. There's no I from its own side; the I is completely empty of existing from its own side. This is the ultimate nature of the I.
Because we do not know the ultimate nature of the I, that the I is labeled on the aggregates, the imprint left on our consciousness projects the merely labeled I as truly existent. Like a movie or television, the imprint left on our consciousness by our past ignorance believing in true existence projects a truly existent appearance onto the merely imputed I. Why is the thought that grasps this I that appears to exist from its own side as really true ignorance? Because it is a wrong conception. What it apprehends the I to be doesn't exist. From this ignorance then comes desire, anger, karma, and all suffering: the sufferings of the three lower realms, of humans and devas, of the desire, form, and formless realms. All suffering, including death and rebirth, comes from there.
Ceasing the true sufferings of rebirth, old age, sickness, and death, the problems of humans and devas, the sufferings of the lower realms, ceasing all the sufferings shown in the drawing of the Wheel of Life depends on ceasing their cause, karma and the three poisonous minds. In the Wheel of Life, karma is signified by the white and black circles. The white circle represents positive karma; the black, negative karma, which is motivated by one of the poisonous minds, but basically by ignorance not knowing the nature of the I and the aggregates.
In conclusion, dependent arising. The I exists in dependence upon the base, the aggregates, and the thought that labels "I." By depending on these two, the base and the thought, the I exists. In the same way, by depending on the base that performs the function of supporting things and the thought that labels "table," the table exists. And the same thing applies to everything. By depending on the base, this particular shape that rings, bell exists. By depending on this base, vajra exists. Again, nothing of this is text, but the text exists on this by depending on the base that performs the function of allowing you to read it. Everything exists by depending on its base. You can find nothing on the base, but everything exists by depending on the base. This is important to know.
This is dependent arising, and it's extremely subtle. The way I've been talking about how the table and the I exist—the way they become so fine, it's almost as if they don't exist—is the Prasangika view. Because it is so subtle, it is very easy to fall into nihilism. By meditating on the meaning of dependent arising, however, you can realize emptiness unmistakenly. That everything exists in dependence on the base and the thought is subtle dependent arising.
There are different levels of dependent arising and of the object to be refuted, different levels of the wrong conception that is the root of samsara, according to the different schools. In reality the main root of samsara, as I have just described, is the ignorance believing that the I, even though it is labeled, has existence from its own side. This is the root of the whole samsara
Meditating on emptiness is extremely important. If you want to meditate on emptiness and don't know any other extensive meditations, meditate in the simple way I used with the table and the I. This causes you to see very clearly what the table or the I is. That then helps you to control your mind, your desire, anger, and other disturbing thoughts.
By developing the wisdom understanding emptiness, you can only achieve self-liberation, but with renunciation of samsara and bodhicitta, you can achieve enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings and lead all sentient beings to enlightenment. So I thought to mention just a little drop of what dependent arising means.