Glimpses on the Path

 Steven Landsberg

An excerpt from a talk during a retreat held in October, 2023, in Santa Fe, USA 

Our Motivation

We’re going to continue with what we started discussing yesterday about these three continuities. Yesterday we spoke briefly about the causal continuity and we’re going to continue talking about that, but also introduce what is referred to as the path continuity, referencing all aspects of the path which help one to progress. 

So where does the path begin from? It begins from the Mahayana.  The essence of the Mahayana is the consideration that everything the practitioner does is ultimately for the benefit of all beings. Its focus is upon our motivation and it indicates to us that our ultimate realization is going to depend upon our consideration of all beings. 

At first it may seem like we’re doing this work to help ourselves. We want to feel peaceful, we want to feel satisfied and have virtuous feelings.  We motivate ourselves with primarily three different examples of how compassion can be applied.  One is acting or behaving like a king, I will  understand what’s going on and get enlightened first and then after that, I will lead other beings to enlightenment. We have the feeling that unless I understand first, how can I possibly benefit others

The next is more like having motivation like a boat driver, where everybody gets into the boat together and you say, “I’m good, let’s navigate this river together”.  We have a broader sense of collaboration and compatibility. In our practice we try to work together with other sentient beings.  The third motivation is something like a shepherd who first  pushes everybody forward towards that ultimate goal and when finally everyone is established in the ultimate condition you go in last. Although all three of these applications of bodhicitta are important, the third seems the most selfless.

When we first start, we can feel that our motivation is mostly generated by this wish to understand what is going on. It’s like me first and then I’ll take everybody else. Then gradually as our understanding expands, we’re able to move together with others and we recognize the importance of other beings and that really there is no way into this ultimate dimension unless we are accompanied by all beings. So this becomes very important.  We can’t just seek enlightenment for overcoming the five poisons that we discover within our own dimension. Somehow  that sense of accommodating and accompanying  all beings on this path becomes a huge motivation. It becomes a necessity. Even though we may practice alone or in retreat, our motivation is fulfilled with the feeling that I and all beings are intimately connected.

As we go along, we understand what total integration is and that samsara or all possibilities for suffering are not just mine, but they’re everywhere in the dimensions of the six lokas, and  bodhicitta becomes so refined that we see that ultimately enlightenment is going to depend upon other beings realization. So naturally one works as much as possible in that direction. 

I know from myself that when I first started studying, I didn’t have any idea about that. I just felt that I could get my own understanding about it and that somehow these other things would fall into place. But then we’re doing practice, we’re doing meditation, we’re doing contemplation, we begin to understand that our contemplation can’t become all inclusive unless every aspect of all beings’ sufferings, that every samsaric possibility is accommodated in our contemplation. The meaning is that our contemplation is without any border or limit and in that way the enlightened possibility of all beings must be integrated in our practice. 

So this practice and this path continuity begins with this kind of motivation of a Mahayana practitioner, whatever level it may be, the king, the boat driver, or the shepherd. 

Mantra Visualization

And in the Vajrayana context, one can’t really proceed on the path unless one has the empowerment. So first it’s necessary to get the empowerment of the particular deity that one is going to work on. In our case, we know that Rinpoche rarely gave big empowerments. He did, from time to time, like Mandarava, Shitro and a few others. Primarily, he always gave the lungs of the short, medium, long tuns along with their respective mantras  He also gave us the lung of the mantras of many other secondary practices. He taught us the Anuyoga method of instant transformation. At this point, we begin to learn the various phases of the path of transformation: first the generation phase, that means all the aspects of our relative vision, which are mainly encompassed by the consciousness of the senses, the senses themselves, and their objects, all of that has to be transformed into the realm of the deity. In this application of instant transformation we must recognize the simultaneity of unborn space and self-existing wisdom. 

Then there is the proper recitation of the mantra with its visualization. For every deity, the visualization of the mantra can be different. There are different kinds of visualization but if we’re just searching to draw a picture of a circle or a figure eight, like Mandarava, and just following that with our mind, it doesn’t work that way. We may try a lot in that sense, and people do, and then they come up with strange questions about how it does this and how can I do such a complicated visualization. Well, you can’t, not that way. 

We’ve got to understand that this mantra wheel is a wheel of energy and not just an object of our directional focus. The mantra chain has a way of becoming self apparent. It is not the consequence of intense objectification but rather the unification of what we call inner and what we call outer. There is a kind of unification in which energy is released and mantra vizualization becomes evident and relevant. Its movement, the letters, colors, and light become self-evident

Mostly we have something simple, just turning to the left, turning to the right, letters facing inwards or outwards. That already is not so easy, but we’ll never be able to visualize it if we’re just trying to focus in a particular way. Remember that mind is very limited – it can only do one thing at a time – so if we’re focusing on one thing, then we’re not focusing on the other. That’s why Rinpoche always talked about this idea of a global idea of visualization, which means a situation in which mind doesn’t direct itself at a particular reference point. There is still a reference point in this case, how the mantra turns etc., but even in order to understand that, we have to relinquish our attention to very small details. We get a kind of global idea, but if we turn the global idea into just an ordinary concept, then it also doesn’t work. Ultimately, what we’re working with is something beyond physical ideas, verbal expression and a materialistic approach conditioned by dualistic focus of a subject and object.  It’s completely energetic at this  level. We have to learn how to work with our energy. 

When we’re talking about the continuum related to the result, it is referring to the final state of accomplishment or the three kayas. It’s not a state that ever gets lost or deteriorates or decreases in some way. Here Mahayana motivation is completely fulfilled and ultimately this continuity of the fruit manifests as the three kayas, which only serve to benefit other beings. 

When we read about the examples of the great masters in their autobiographies and observe those that are still with their feet on the earth today, we can get an idea of their realizaiton and how it manifests as activity.  All they are doing is working for the benefit of the realization of sentient beings. Sometimes students get hung up on the various behaviors of teachers. We have our own limitations and frequently make judgements about how masters should behave. It is a complicated subject but from our side, we should not only observe the behavior of a master, but also recognize our own limitations and biases in regard to what we consider good and bad. 

Karmic Vision

All of our karmic vision and the appearances and conditioning that results from that vision, our thoughts, are deceptive but at the same time appear real, solid, independent  – something separate in a very dualistic way, related to subject and object. We need to recognize that. If we don’t get that point, we need to study more and observe ourselves more and get a very clear understanding of what Rinpoche called being aware of one’s  limitations. This can be a mental configuration, an energetic vibration, a physical manifestation.

When we’re really conditioned by our karmic vision, we’re subject to all kinds of problems. We can get upset, we can get impatient, we can get annoyed, we can get angry, we can get attracted, we can get attached, we can fall in love and get even more attached. Don’t misunderstand. I don’t mean that love is not something genuine.  Love is always good, right? But falling in love is another thing because that means we have been distracted by a certain appearance, and the results manifest very systematically and can be very painful. 

Even when our karmic vision is very overwhelming, and everything seems very real, independent, solid, permanent, the ground of that manifestation, or the mind of luminous clarity, is never absent. Even when we’re totally distracted and overwhelmed by our karmic vision, that mind of total awareness and luminosity is not absent. It may be hidden or disguised. This itself is the causal continuity that we said was impossible to escape from. There’s no way out. So once we’ve received instructions from a guru, one becomes familiar with this idea that whatever it is that appears in our experience is nothing other than this essence of luminous clarity. 

We may not recognize that, but whether we recognize it or not, it doesn’t make this untrue. What we should recognize as practitioners, though, is that we don’t need to add something to our condition. In other words, if we feel upset or angry or attached or confused, it’s not that we need to add something to that or edit that in some way because ultimately we cannot remove the way the causal continuity is manifesting to us, the disguise and its ultimate nature. So we don’t need to add something, nor do we need to take something away. 

But if we cannot recognize this inherent indestructible connection then it’s recommended that we try to apply the method in which all appearances are recognized as various gods and goddesses. If we can’t recognize that ultimate condition, like Mahamudra or Dzogchen, then maybe it is useful to practice something like the Vajrayana generation phase. But even if you practice the Vajrayana generation phase, and just mechanically go through the steps that are recommended there, we discover very quickly that just saying billions of mantras doesn’t change anything. 

So there’s no doubt that if you apply all these practices in a perfect way, then you can get a good result. But in many schools, and particularly today, I’ve noticed that teachers are beginning with the end, trying to point out to their students  the ultimate meaning from the beginning and then telling their students,  “Now go back with that kind of understanding, and apply your practice”. Then we can get some real understanding that way and those practices can definitely have more concrete meaning to us. Even if we practice Sutra or Kriyatantra with that ultimate understanding, everything becomes more useful, more practical and the possibility for its result to manifest becomes more evident. Rinpoche was doing this in the 1970s and it seems many teachers today are following that approach.

From time to time it may happen that all appearances, sights, sounds, mental phenomena, and so on manifest as brilliant luminosity, stable, just like the flow of a river. It means that stability is not something that gets broken up – in the morning, it’s like this, at night it’s like that and every day it’s different. That’s unstable. But now we’re talking about this level of stability, like the even flow of a river. There’s a kind of realization here. I don’t think we have that, but this is the point that we’re trying to understand through that practice. When this experience of equality becomes evident, immediately the pristine awareness – or that awareness which is totally unconditioned and only knows itself – may arise spontaneously not as a consequence but as one’s ultimate condition. This is the great junction or intersection of the one who is aware and the awareness that we are in.

Featured image: The meditation base path and fruit by Frederica Henrieta Hegedus

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