“At the ‘understanding’ of one’s hidden afflictions,
There is nothing other than ‘primordial awareness’
If you practice meaningfully, it is like that
Sounds of empty words are of trivial value.”
–Excerpt from Je Milarepa’s Ten Paramitas Song (tr. Adele Tomlin)
“It is just like you have a crystal ball and all the qualities are included within it, but as long as it is covered up you cannot really see its brilliance. However, once it is it is uncovered and opened up, you can see the sky and everything reflected within it and that is when you recognize the nature of your own mind. That is called the perfection of wisdom. Then all the qualities already inherent in your mind will reveal themselves. So, the only difference is ripened or unripened.”
“So, we might know all of that, we might know that the universe and all beings are empty and there is no self and there’s no other and so on, but in our own personal mind, if we still cannot let go of dualistic grasping ,then all of this is not much benefit.”
–8th Garchen Rinpoche teaching on Heart Sutra (July 2022)
As many of you who follow my work and website will know, I am a big fan of the Heart Sutra. In fact, my first book was on a commentary on the Heart Sutra by Jonang and Shangpa Kagyu master, Jetsun Tāranātha, see here. So, it was a pleasure to see and hear HE 8th Garchen Rinpoche teach on the Heart Sutra a few days ago in a teaching requested by the Drikung Dharma Surya Centre. The teaching was broadcast on Zoom, but is now available on YouTube here. As the DDSC said in their email:
“Even though the Heart Sutra teachings lasted 1 hour and a half, it is our fervent prayer that this precious teaching stays in everyone’s heart and mind and continues to last life after life until each one of us attains enlightenment for the benefit of all others.”
To help with that aim, I have typed up the transcript of this teaching for those who may not have had time to listen to it, or who are hard of hearing or who simply would like to study it again. It is published in full below but also available as a pdf here: Heart Sutra teaching Garchen Rinpoche July 2022.
As I said in my recent video introduction, I may give a small course or teaching on Tāranātha’s Commentary on the Heart Sutra in which Tāranātha claims that the Heart Sutra is a teaching on the Empty of Other (Zhentong) view, that even though all conditioned phenomena are empty of an inherent self or existence, the nature of mind or reality is not empty of itself (Rangtong) . It is full of the qualities of Buddha Nature such as wisdom, love, compassion and so on.
In his teaching, Garchen Rinpoche also referred to the Perfection of Wisdom (Prajñāpāramitā) as being the ultimate nature of mind, that of primordial awareness (ye-she in Tibetan)[i]. He referred to Milarepa’s Song on the Ten Paramitas throughout the teaching, citing the quote above here. I previously translated this song, which can be read about and downloaded in full here. Rinpoche also refers to a book by Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche on the Songs of Milarepa.
Prajñāpāramitā (the perfection of wisdom) then is nothing other than realising the primordial awareness (Buddha Nature) inherent in all our minds. The vast, ever-present ocean, or sunlight that has frosted over and become cold with concepts and dualistic thinking of self and other. As Rinpoche advises us: ‘if we let our thoughts be, without grasping or pushing away, then we enter into the space-like realm of primordial awareness.’
May this be of benefit in helping us open our hearts and revealing the ever-present warm sunny heart within!
Written and compiled by Adele Tomlin, 20th July 2022.
HEART SUTRA TEACHING TRANSCRIPT (JULY 16, 2022)
BY 8th GARCHEN RINPOCHE
“Today, I am going to give a teaching on the Heart Sutra as it was a request and so in general then the Heart Sutra speaks of the perfection of wisdom and the meaning of the perfection of wisdom is very profound and vast. Now, we only have a short time to speak about the Heart Sutra although its essence is so vast. So, it is more like a transmission because the essence itself is extremely profound. Also, I am lacking the required learning and I will just explain it in a few words according to all your requests. Then for a more elaborate explanation you have Khenpo who can explain that to you. So, there is a lot of meaning to the Heart Sutra and I am saying that I do not know so much. On the other hand, it is not that I do not know the meaning of the Heart Sutra because all that the perfection of wisdom really speaks about is the nature of the mind.
Milarepa had said that aside from realizing the natural state of the mind there is no other perfection of wisdom than that. So, we are only speaking about the nature of mind when we speak about the perfection of wisdom and we should understand it to be the nature of mahamudra. So, it is nothing else but the nature of our mind. If you really understand the nature of your own mind that is called the perfection of wisdom.
The title and homage – the Great Mother Perfection of Wisdom
So, it begins with its name of the perfection of wisdom that is inexpressible and inconceivable, or it is beyond words and thoughts. That is the meaning of mahamudra, it cannot be expressed in words or thoughts and we always mention that. It is the actual nature of the mind. The title of the Heart Sutra begins with the unborn perfection of wisdom, the unborn unobstructed, essence of the space realm of self-aware primordial wisdom mother. Actually the entire meaning of the text is contained within these words.
There is the space realm, the perfection of wisdom is like space, the nature of your mind is like space. Then the primordial wisdom mother of the victors of the three times and that is the prajnaparamita, she is the mother of all the buddhas of the three times. The mother of all buddhas and the mother of all sentient beings, so that is why she is referred to as the great mother. The mother beyond birth and unobstructed, called the great Prajnaparamita mother she is the basis of samsara and nirvana. That basis is the mind, the mind is what has created all of samsara and nirvana. So, she is the mother of all beings and of all the buddhas. when you realize the nature of your mind that is Buddha and nothing else there is no other Buddha. If you do not realize the nature of the mind then for the time being the mind is just like water that has frozen into ice, so you wander in samsara but still the same mind is the basis of both samsara and nirvana.
So, the text begins with this homage ‘I prostrate to the primordial wisdom mother of the victors of the three times and of all sentient beings.” So, she is the mother of all sentient beings and Buddhas and actually in reality there are no real sentient beings. What we call samsara does not actually exist because all sentient beings possess the essence of Buddhahood. It is just they are like water that has frozen into ice, but there are no existing sentient beings. So, the text begins with this homage which is a praise to the great Mother.
So, the entire meaning of the Heart Sutra is really contained in the opening title of the text and it is the meaning of mahamudra. So, it is the nature of mind or mahamudra is the essence of the space realm. It’s not something that can be expressed by words or thoughts. So, it is the space realm of self-aware primordial wisdom, which means that when you see the nature of your own mind really as it is, then you will understand the nature of all of samsara and nirvana. Actually, that is shown by just these few words the entire meaning of the Heart Sutra is included in these words. So, whenever you realize the nature of your mind then you have attained the perfection of wisdom.
All sentients beings have Buddha Nature
The Buddha himself had said all sentient beings are actually Buddhas. Also, Milarepa said that when you realize the nature of the mind you realize that all beings are actually Buddhas. That is when the ordinary consciousness becomes primordial wisdom and until we know that, if we do not really understand that, we will have doubts about this, about this fact of that all sentient beings are Buddhas. They will not be able to immediately understand that. So, you only really understand that when you realize the nature of your own mind, Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche had put together some songs of Milarepa where that is explained. Also, it is said that within the vastness of primordial awareness is the boundless palace of the three realms, and in the centre of this boundless palace dwells the Buddha essence, the Buddha nature. So, that is an introduction to one’s true nature. All sentient beings possess a mind and therefore, within them in the depths of their being, there is Buddha essence, Buddha nature. That is why when you understand that, you can understand, you can trust that all sentient beings really are Buddhas. So, the perfection of wisdom is when you realize the nature of your mind in an authentic way, really as it is. So, whenever you realize that you have attained the perfection of wisdom. Everything is really contained within just this one line here, in the opening that says ‘it is the space realm of self-aware primordial wisdom’.
The space realm of primordial awareness and ripe and unripe minds
So, this realm of self-aware primordial awareness, what is this realm? So, for example, America we all see this as our country, and then within that you have your own environment, your surroundings, your own house, your worldly affairs and so on. That is, one’s own sphere of existence or one’s own realm. So, what about the realm of primordial awareness? How does that arise and appear? It is when you realize the nature of the mind. In the Thirty-Seven Bodhisattva Practices it says appearances are one’s own mind. Also, it is said, first you must resolve that appearances are mind and then that mind itself is emptiness. When you realize that and you understand the nature of your mind, then the Sambhogakaya pure lands and the pure forms will begin to manifest. So, when your perception becomes pure, then your surroundings arise as a pure land and pure forms, pure beings. As long as our perception is impure, due to dualistic grasping, the mind is in an immature or unripe state, so that’s the only difference.
For example, it is just like a piece of fruit that is ripe or unripe. If it is unripe then you can’t eat it, you also can’t sell it, it’s basically a waste. Or it is just like the seed of a flower when the seed of a flower ripens then all the perfect qualities of the flower will mature and become manifest. So, when we first take refuge in the three jewels and then enter the path of skilful means, then we attain enlightenment, which is just like the seed of a flower ripening into a flower, then all the perfect qualities of enlightenment will manifest. For as long as the seed does not ripen, if it remains in an unripe state, it is like a spoiled seed. However, the only difference is ripe or unripe, that is the only difference between Buddha and sentient beings.
So, when the mind matures then the various pure lands, the surroundings will manifest as a pure land. In Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso’s collection of Milarepa songs he also makes a reference to the Buddha nature and that endows all sentient beings in the six realms of samsara. Then he says there that when you understand this, when you understand Buddha nature, wherever you go is a boundless palace, whomever you meet is a yidam deity, whatever is done is done within the sphere of dharmata. This is how you will then see perceive everything when you see the nature of the mind when the mind has matured.
When the mind is still in an immature, unripened state, then temporarily due to being confused, the six realms of samsara will manifest. However, when the Buddha said all beings are actually Buddhas, he also said beings are obscured by adventitious stains. So, there are obscurations and these obscurations are the five main afflictive emotions. These make us perceive the five aggregates in a confused way and that leads to the manifestation of these six realms of samsara. This is similar to water having frozen into ice temporarily. As long as we have an impure samsaric perception all we can perceive is just suffering and misery. As long as the ice has not melted, all we can experience is suffering. That is the realm of self-grasping, which are the six realms of samsara. Then there is the space realm of primordial wisdom and that is experienced when the mind has matured. Then you experience the realm of primordial wisdom. For example, Miling Trichen had said just the moment before he passed into nirvana, that all appearances are the deity, all sound is the mantra and all rising thoughts the play of of primordial awareness of dharmata. All appearances, or forms arise as the form of primordial awareness. Then he passed away and this is how these great sacred beings and masters are seeing things. All forms as the deity, all sounds as the mantra and all thoughts as primordial wisdom. It is just like you have a crystal ball and all the qualities are included within it, but as long as it is covered up you cannot really see its brilliance. However, once it is it is uncovered and opened up, you can see the sky and everything reflected within it and that is when you recognize the nature of your own mind. That is called the perfection of wisdom. Then all the qualities already inherent in your mind will reveal themselves. So, the only difference is ripened or unripened.
In the Samanthabhadra prayer it says ‘when you recognize the nature of your mind you are a Buddha, not recognizing it you are a sentient being wandering in samsara’. So that is temporarily you are like a block of ice. If you are a Buddha then you move through the realm of primordial wisdom. So whenever you see the nature of the mind you will see the pure lands. Actually, a lot of profound meaning again is included within these few words.
The place of the teaching and students
So, the scene of the teaching was at the time when the Buddha was alive and he was staying in Vulture’s Peak in Raj Gir and he was together with an assembly of monks and an assembly of bodhisattvas. The Buddha had a manifold retinue: there was the sangha consisting of Gelong monks, the Bodhisattva sangha. There are different sangha divisions. We also speak about the four classes of sangha but in brief, we can say the Hearer or Sravaka sangha and the Bodhisattva sangha. The Hearers or Sravaka Sangha are called hearers because they listen to the Buddha’s teachings and they are able to understand the meaning of all these words, so they are called hearers or sravakas. Then there were the Bodhisattvas that are the Bodhisattva sangha. The Bodhisattvas were those who had completely cleared away all dualistic grasping and so they dwelt within a state of non-duality. There were different Bodhisattvas surrounding the buddhas, mainly there were the eight close bodhisattva sons of the Buddha for example they were Manjushri, Vajrapani, Avalokiteshvara and so forth. Here it is Avalokiteshvara answering a question of Shariputra. Avalokiteshvara was a bodhisattva who had already realized non-duality, so his mind was really non-dual with the mind of the Buddha. So, the Buddha dwelt in a state of samadhi while he explained to Shariputra the perfection of wisdom.
The first question from Shariptutra and the Buddha’s reponse, via Avalokiteshvara
So, Shariputra then asks Avalokiteshvara: ‘how should a son a noble son or a noble daughter train, who wishes to engage in the profound activities of the perfection of wisdom?’ So that was the question put forth and Avalokiteshvara then responded that a noble son or daughter who wishes to engage in the profound activities of the perfection of wisdom should consider thus. Then he explains the empty nature of the five aggregates and so forth.
So, the first point being made at the very beginning is that it’s not just noble sons who can recognize the perfection of wisdom but also noble daughters. Meaning that everyone can realize the perfection of wisdom because everyone possesses Buddha nature. So, within the Bodhisattva assembly there is no distinction between daughters and sons.
The difference between the ordinary retinue and the bodhisattva retinue is that the bodhisattva knew were those who had actualized the five certainties of a Sambhogakaya. So there is the certainty of the place and that is the dharmadhatu realm of Akanishta. Then there is the certainty of time, that is the ever-turning wheel of time. Then there is the certainty of the teacher that is Avalokiteshvara then there is the certainty of the dharma which is the Mahayana teachings. Then there is the certainty of the retinue which is the Bodhisattvas on the higher levels. So, for example those eight close Bodhisattva sons who were all indivisible from the Buddha himself, only temporarily appeared in the form of the retinue of disciples in order to tame sentient beings. That is because sentient beings have different mental capacities: higher, middling and lower. Therefore, there are different methods of teaching, or taming them. However, although there is a temporary difference when it comes to their Buddha nature they are all one and the same.
The empty nature of the five aggregates
So, in any case Shariputra asked the question: ‘so how should one understand the perfection of wisdom?’ Then, Avalokiteshvara continued in his answer on explaining the empty nature of the first five psycho-physical aggregates. He says that the five aggregates are devoid of self-nature.
In the Chakrasamvara practice,, for example it is also said that on the outer level there are the five aggregates, on the inner level are the five afflictive emotions, and when the afflictive emotions become liberated they ripen into the five kinds of wisdom or mature into the five Buddha families. For as long as one is unripe, one is like this unripe piece of fruit that we mentioned before. So regarding the five aggregates those ignorant beings who have not realized the nature of their mind, immature sentient beings grasp at their body. They hold on to their body and perceive it as that’s me and my body. So this self-grasping is like a magnet that pulls all the different parts together that then create this perception of a me, an existing I. So that there seems to be this some solidly existing entity that is an I so we call ourselves this me and there’s this sound that is this verb says ‘this is me’. That is a sign of self-grasping. So, self-grasping is like this magnet that attracts and pulls together the different aggregates and actually none of them inherently exist. It is just like a pile of sand for example, it is here today it seems to be really there, but tomorrow it’s already gone. So an aggregate is something that consists of many parts and although it seems like it is this one solid entity, this one solid being, actually that cannot be found. This is what Avalokiteshvara explains here ultimately we come back to the mind, we can’t find the self in our body and then when we look at the mind, the mind is also non-dual primordial awareness. Actually, the more we try to find the I, there is nothing to be found, nothing to be attained. Realizing that is the perfection of wisdom. So Avalokiteshvara explains the empty nature of these five aggregates and how everything is empty. How there are no eyes, no ears, no nose, no tongue and so on. Now we think that all these sense perceptions are real and each sense door has its own kind of perception or sensation it experiences, but ultimately it all is one mind. So, it is the consciousness that is moving around through the different sense doors in the body, like a monkey and exiting through the different doors, perceiving different things but it is one consciousness. However, it is not perceived that way as long as the mind is like a piece of ice.
Then, Avalokiteshvara explains each of the aggregates, for example, the aggregate of feeling and so forth. Then, sights, sounds, smells, tastes, touches, we think that these really exist and so yet they do not actually exist. But when we say all of these do not exist, you might think that’s kind of a stupid thing to say because ‘I do have eyes, I do have ears, I do have a mouth, how can you say it does not exist?’ For example, if I am ringing this bell, you think that ‘yes, there is the sound’. So, this feeling arises but now a moment later where has the sound gone? You cannot get the sound, you cannot find the sound. So that is the empty nature of all sense perceptions. What this is saying is that we should neither think it exists or is there, nor should we think that it is not there. It is something that cannot be labelled in any way or identified, so do not grasp it as being either existing or non-existing. The moment we grasp at the existence of things we begin to attach to pleasant things and have an aversion against unpleasant things. So do not become attached and have no aversion, just stay in the pure state of your mind, no matter what sense perception arises. The moment you become attached, you are placing an imprint in the mind, when aversion arises you are placing an imprint into the mind, and the subtle counterpart to attachment and aversion are hope and fear. These all place imprints into the mind and as it is said in the Samantabhadra prayer, gradually those imprints grow stronger and thicker so we keep placing imprints in to our mind and then like a rainbow they will reflect, they will project as our experience.
When saying that these things are empty, it means that they do not inherently exist and so all the sounds and the sights and so on that you perceive you think are really there, like a shape, a body is really there, but where is the body really? Later, after we have died the body will be just discarded, or it will be burned, then where is the body? You should investigate yourself in this way until you cannot find an I, a self. Then finally you are left with nothing but the mind. Then you think that is what you are, you are the mind and so this perception of me all comes down to this self-grasping. This belief in the existence of an I is the perception of ordinary consciousness. So, everything comes down to your consciousness and that is the final thing to look at then, when you look at the essence of your consciousness it becomes just like space. Within space, it neither exists, nor does it not exist and the way it is resolved according to the scriptures, for example, is through the view of the Middle Way Madhyamika.
Realising the space-like nature of mind
According to the path of experience and practice, this view is resolved through the practices of Mahamudra or Dzogchen so on, it is given different names, but all it is about is just the nature of your mind. When you understand the nature of your mind you see its space-like nature. This is explained in the Samanthabadra prayer: ‘space is beyond birth and death it does not arise and it is not it does not cease to be’. This is to realize just that and that is the space-like nature of the mind. So you should let it all be and let be this these thoughts of a true existence of things, but also let be these thoughts of things do not really exist. Do not attach and have no aversion just lets the mind be natural and you will see the nature of the mind. The moment you begin to develop thoughts of something exists or you think that that is how it is or that is not how it is, attachment and aversion arise. You are already placing an imprint into the mind. This is a method not to place an imprint into your mind.
Then, later in the text it says ‘for the bodhisattvas there is no attainment and there is no non-attainment.’ Thus, if you say that ‘I have attained bodhicitta’, you have attained nothing, a bodhisattva has attained nothing, there is no attainment. Basically, that bodhisattva has lost self-clinging, has lost the I so there is no attainment. However, it is not that there is no attainment either by having lost the I, they have attained emptiness or selflessness, so there is in fact great attainment. Although there is nothing whatsoever that is gained, or attained. So, I do not gain anything, but what is gained is the space-like nature of the mind; that is gained when you realize the true nature of the mind. As mentioned before, you must resolve first that appearances are the mind and then that mind itself is emptiness but then when you realize mind is emptiness there is no need to think that it is empty or to think that it is not. Be free without any thought, without any grasping in your mind, so this is the way according to the practice lineage of blessings. In this way, you attain that which is unattainable when you realize mahamudra everything is in fact attained. So, these words are important. For Bodhisattvas, there is no attainment and there is no non-attainment and that is because they have attained the perfection of wisdom.
Being fearless, immortal and free of karmic imprints
Then it says after that so ‘having completely gone beyond falsity they have reached the end, nirvana because there is no obstruction to the mind, there is no fear.’ Why is there no fear? Because they have realized that the mind transcends both birth and death. They have realized that they cannot die.
In the Vajrakilaya practice it says ‘may the demon of the lord of death be overcome through realizing the immortality of the mind.’ It is just the body that is bound to birth and death but the mind never dies and is never born. Therefore, Lord Jigten Sumgon also says that what wanders in the ocean of samsara is the body. Thus, it is the body that wanders in the ocean of samsara and it is because we have accumulated karmic imprints that we create this physical form temporarily. So, it is just like having frozen into ice and we have created karmic imprints and so these lead to the existence of a body. The more we separate ourselves from the dualistic grasping of self and other, the more we are purifying these karmic imprints. So, the more we purify karmic imprints, the more we liberate ourselves.
On the other hand, the more we grasp to the dualistic existence of self and other, the more imprints we are accumulating. Then these imprints are just like taking a film, like filming something with a camera or with a phone for example. So, what you are filming is all the various things that you do and think of, it is like creating this film. Then all of what you do and think of then leaves this imprint. Then the film is stored on the camera, or on your phone and then it can be replayed and it is projected as your experience. So, whatever has been filmed, whatever picture you have taken, that is what will manifest. So, the six afflictive emotions they create the perception of the six realms of samsara. These imprints continue to manifest the more we accumulate them. When we realize the nature of the mind then these imprints become purified. Therefore, we need to understand how we place imprints in the mind, the imprints are placed into the mind through self-grasping because there is this perception of me and this is ultimately what creates all these imprints in the mind. Therefore, the antidote to that is mainly the altruistic mind. In the thirty-seven practices it also says ‘all suffering without exception comes from wishing for one’s own happiness. The perfect Buddhas arise from the altruistic mind’. When you cultivate an altruistic mind, that becomes like a washing machine that cleanses the mind of all these imprints and all these impurities.
In the six realms of samsara, we experience only suffering and these sufferings are like the stains in our mind that need to be washed away through practice and the altruistic mind. In fact, the three lower realms we can see them just like a hospital, a necessary purification. When you are ill with the afflictive emotions, they must be healed, they have to be purified. When you understand however that these imprints in your mind, these afflictions, they do not inherently exist then you will no longer accumulate karma with attachment and aversion. If you do not accumulate karma, you will not place any imprints into your mind. If there are no more imprints in your mind then you become a Buddha and you will have perfected the view. The perfection of the ultimate view is to be in an ongoing state of meditation, which is called non-meditation. There is no deliberate meditation day and night. That is gained by cultivating mindfulness that recognizes all the subtle afflictions and thoughts in the mind and purifies all these feelings that arise.
When the mind becomes completely pure then you are a Buddha. When you realize non-duality and you will no longer have developed realistic thoughts and the mind becomes pure and that is when you realize that all appearances are nothing but your own mind. All perceptions are nothing but your own mind. So, you realize that self and other are one. My mind is just like a crystal and everything is reflected within it. When you realize the nature of the mind and there is no more thought of existence or non-existence you have attained a perfection of wisdom and you understand that everything arises from this nature of the mind, and everyone has this nature of the mind. This is the nature of the perfection of wisdom and these words are in accordance with the actual words of the Buddha and the scriptures.
The importance of direct experience
It is something that cannot be verbally expressed but it is something that can that can be understood through experience. I can say these words because and I have gained an understanding of the nature of the mind and we can gain an understanding of the nature of the mind. It is just more difficult to really gain stability in sustaining this realization of the nature of mind. For that, we need to get experience, we need to practice. Our practice must be infused with an actual experience. So, we can understand that this is the nature of things and there is no self and other and so on. We also need to actually experience that our ourselves each and every day in order to gain this stability.
So, each and every day you should recognize all the thoughts and the emotions, the feelings arising in your mind, have mindfulness and heedfulness. In the thirty-seven practices it also says:
‘at all times no matter what, look at the state of your mind and do not allow the mind to become polluted’.
So, if you find that a negative polluting thought has arisen in your mind, you must purify this thought through the water of altruism and an understanding of emptiness. Emptiness means to understand that self and other do not exist separately. So, the emptiness of the universe and also sentient beings is to understand that everything compounded is impermanent by nature and does not inherently exist. That is something you need to actually experience. So, we might know all of that, we might know that the universe and all beings are empty and there is no self and there is no other and so on, but in our own personal mind if we still cannot let go of dualistic grasping then all of this is of not much benefit. Ultimately, your own consciousness has to transform into primordial awareness (yeshe). This primordial awareness is like space, it has always been there since primordial time, it will always be there in the future and it is there now. It is that within the space expanse of primordial wisdom that all the Buddhas are one. So, when you realize the perfection of wisdom, then you have actualized primordial awareness, or the dualistic consciousness has become primordial wisdom. So consciousness again is the mind that perceives duality and it is your mind that sees self and other. It sees the outer various objects, it experiences happiness and suffering, it is aware of whatever happens and that is your ordinary consciousness. When you realize its true essence, then it becomes primordial awareness, and primordial awareness is the ultimate view that realizes that self and other do not exist.
The realm of primordial awareness
To summarize the meaning of the perfection of wisdom, the realm, or the sphere of primordial awareness is something that you can understand even on a smaller level, if you just engage in a little bit of practice you can understand the meaning of primordial awareness. What is it? It is just your ordinary, bare mind, your consciousness that is all it is. Milarepa when he gave a teaching on the ten paramitas, regarding the paramita of primordial awareness, he said that ‘aside from identifying or kind of exposing the falsehood of afflictive emotions, there is no other perfection of primordial awareness than that’. So, to expose the falsity of afflictive emotions through mindfulness, through clear awareness, when you look at the afflictive emotion with awareness then you will render these afflictions powerless. That is how gradually the dualistic consciousness transforms into primordial awareness. It is not that one day you suddenly have this experience of ‘now my consciousness has transformed into primordial awareness’ but it is an ongoing process of consciousness becoming primordial awareness. It does not happen all of a sudden one day, it grows .
Transforming the afflictions into primordial awareness
The Mahasiddha Naropa said to the wisdom dakini Niguma that, these words are very important, ‘that you have to nurture the little spark of mindfulness again and again until it becomes a vast fire of awareness .’ So, when we do not recognize that, when there is no mindfulness, then we will accumulate karma. If one accumulates karma, one will experience suffering as a result, it will ripen.
Also, Lord Jigten Sumgon had said that this is the interdependence of things, which is unfailing and will ripen corresponding to what was accumulated. So, temporarily because we do not sustain mindfulness, we do not recognize how things really are, we experience all sorts of things, all sorts of emotions of happiness and sadness and then driven by these we accumulate much karma. Who is actually the one who accumulates karma? It is your consciousness, so you can practice by recognizing that consciousness. When an afflictive emotion arises, whether it is strong or a very subtle emotion, even if it’s just a very subtle emotion, recognize it with mindfulness and the afflictive emotion the feeling of that emotion will diminish. If you sustain a state of clear awareness then you will gain an actual experience of how the entire feeling, this experience of the afflictive emotion completely disappears. That is when you believe, when you will feel ‘now I have understood’. You have gained an experiential understanding and that is an ongoing process. You have to experience this in an ongoing way. The small spark of fire must be nurtured again and again until it becomes a vast wisdom fire. Then in the end, what happens is explained in this Samanthabhadra prayer where it says ‘even if the three realms were to be destroyed, there is no fear there is no attachment to the five desirables of the senses’. If you have realized that even if the whole world comes to an end, you will think each person has just this this one life in this world. Then when we die there is no more world, so if it comes to an end it comes to an end, but the mind will never come to an end. The mind transcends birth and death and when you have realized that you have realized the perfection of wisdom.
Also, this is what we refer to as the vajra-like body. One attains a vajra-like body when the consciousness transforms into primordial awareness. So, it is something that again you have to experience on an ongoing basis, it will not happen at once but it happens gradually on an ongoing basis. The moment an afflictive emotion or just a thought arises in your mind, instantly recognize it with mindfulness and gain the actual, the direct experience of how clear awareness will eliminate the feeling that was created by this thought or emotion. Then the mind remains in a clear state and that is what we call transforming the afflictive emotions into primordial awareness. Once you have understood that the afflictive emotions even if they arise will no longer harm you in any way, in fact they become an enhancement to your practice, they increase the power of your awareness. So this is how someone practices who really understands the secret mantra.
So, we need to understand how imprints are placed in the mind and if we continue to allow imprints to be placed into our mind then awareness has lost to these afflictive emotions and the afflictive emotions have gained victory. So there are many people of you who engage in practice, some practice Mahamudra, some practice Dzogchen but it is all the same meaning. In the view of the perfection of wisdom and essentially it is mindfulness, there is no greater perfection of wisdom than mindfulness. Now, when mindfulness encounters the afflictive emotions then the falsity of the afflictive emotions will be exposed and that means that you will directly see that the afflictive emotion is empty, it does not inherently exist and if you can see that, then they these emotions will not leave a feeling in your mind. As you will know these afflictions are not real, none of these thoughts and afflictions are real. When you realize that then they become wisdom. For example, anger or hatred becomes the mirror-like wisdom. Attachment becomes the individually-discriminating wisdom and so on. The five afflictive emotions become the five wisdoms and so you will gain certainty on the basis of your own personal experience.
That is really the essence of knowing the perfection of of wisdom and it can be applied to anything that you experience. So, the key point is that you experience it. Many people know how to explain the perfection of wisdom but even if you know how to explain it well, it does not necessarily mean that you are liberated from suffering. Explanation is one thing, but Milarepa says that meditation or practice must be infused by actual experience, you have to experience it. These words are very important. Milarepa said when teaching the ten paramitas:
‘At the ‘understanding’ of one’s hidden afflictions, There is nothing other than ‘primordial awareness’.
He also said that:
‘At the pāramitā of ‘measuring actions accumulated. There is nothing other than ‘method’.
‘At the pāramitā of ‘conquering the four maras’. There is nothing other than ‘power’.
So, these words of Milarepa are important and you should keep them in mind at all times, day and night and really gain your own personal experience in this practice. With that dharma friends I have explained the Heart Sutra to the best of my abilities. Just one last and final word that is quite important for my dharma friends. Milarepa also said is ‘when you realize that afflictive emotions and primordial awareness are no different you have mastered, what is to be realized’.
You have to gain a direct experience in seeing the nature of your mind. It is just like for example when wood meets with fire, then you know with 100 percenty certainty that the wood will turn into fire. So, fire really is inherent within the wood, there is no wood that does not turn into fire when met with fire. So, similarly when met with awareness, the afflictive emotion becomes just that and you have to gain certainty in that fact. When you gain certainty in that, there is no other afflictive emotion and no other awareness than the afflictive emotion. They are one just like fire and wood. You have ultimately mastered the final realization. So, this is what we should gain a personal experience in, and this is what I myself have experienced.
Milarepa said fire that meets with wood turns into a fire, and likewise when wisdom awareness meets with the thoughts, the afflictions, they turn into awareness themselves. However, this is something to train in and so you need to use these afflictions and these thoughts to enhance the power of your awareness, to train your awareness and this is also how it is termed in focusing teachings and thoughts to train in the power of our own awareness. Thus, thoughts enhance the power of one’s own awareness, it’s just like the more wood there is, the greater the fire will become. It is something that you have to personally experience. You really trust in your own personal experience because later on, after you have died and go into the bardo, you have to go on alone in the bardo and if one has gained confidence in this view, if one has resolved this, then as it was said in the Samanthabadra prayer ‘even if the three realms were to be destroyed there is no fear, even if the world comes to an end, it will be nothing to your mind.’
[i] For more on the translation of yeshe as primordial awareness and sherab as special insight, see the Introduction to Taranatha’s Commentary on the Heart Sutra (Tomlin, 2017).