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Kristina Bischoff

Karma Chang Chub Choephel Ling

The Treatise that Differentiates Consciousness and Wisdom
Venerable Chöje Lama Phunstok Rinpoche

Instructions on
The Treatise that Differentiates Consciousness and Wisdom
by the Third Gyalwa Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje


I wish to speak about the text entitled The Treatise that Differentiates Consciousness and Wisdom - rNam-shes-ye-shes-byed-pa that was written by the Third Gyalwa Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje, and will base my instructions on the commentary that was written by Jamgon Kongtrul Lodrö Thaye the Great, entitled An Illumination of the Thoughts of Rangjung Dorje. The root text by the Gyalwa Karmapa is short, but it is quite vast and profound. There isn't enough time at our disposal during this seminar to deal with the profundity of this text, therefore I will only present a summary.

The Third Glorious Karmapa wrote two large and two smaller treatises. The longer treatises are The Profound Inner Meaning and The Aspiration Prayer for Mahamudra; the shorter texts are The Treatise that Differentiates Consciousness and Wisdom and A Teaching on the Essence of the Tathagatas, the Buddha Nature. In The Treatise that Differentiates Consciousness and Wisdom, the Third Gyalwa Karmapa explained the consciousnesses on the one hand, primordial wisdom on the other, and spoke of their difference.


Homage and Introduction

To demonstrate humility after having paid homage with the line,

"I pay homage to all the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas,"

Rangjung Dorje tells us the reason he composed this text:

"I gained a thorough understanding through hearing the teachings and contemplating them. I then resided in solitude, in order to engage in the process of meditation. I shall describe here the kind (of realization) that arose at that time."

He explained consciousness and wisdom very clearly and tells us that consciousness accords with samsara, the cycle of conditioned existence, and primordial wisdom with nirvana, the state of perfect and lasting peace. Although different, both consciousness, rnam-shes in Tibetan, and primordial wisdom, ye-shes, have the same basis. This means to say that the inadequacies of conditioned existence as well as the qualities of perfect and lasting peace arise from the very same ground. What is the basis that samsara and nirvana have in common? One's own mind, which is one's Buddha nature within. Then what is the difference between consciousness and wisdom, i.e., samsara and nirvana? Not knowing the way the mind abides and the way it appears.


Part One: The Eight Consciousnesses

The mind as the source of delusion

The difference between consciousness and wisdom is due to ma-rig-pa, which is not knowing and therefore being deluded as to how the mind abides and clearly appears. Not knowing how one's mind abides, gnüs-lug, and the manner in which it appears gives rise to desire, död-chags, which in turn causes one to develop mind poisons. Due to not knowing the true nature of one's own mind, which is clear light, all the habits and tendencies, bag-chags, that one accumulates subside and are stored in one's ground consciousness. And so, one's ground consciousness,in Tibetan (abbreviated as kun-gzhi, literally "the foundation of everything") is the storehouse of samsara in its entirety. kun-gzhi'i-rnam-par-shes-pa


Not knowing causes one to grasp, dzin, i.e., to cling to the false notion one has of oneself. The erroneous notion one has of oneself arises due to conceiving one's all-ground consciousness as a self, thus falsely asserting "I am." This process occurs via the defiled or afflicted consciousness, nyon-mongs-pa'i-yid-kyi-rnam-par-shes-pa (abbreviated as nyon-yid). Based upon the power of one's afflicted consciousness, one's conceptual mind, sems in Tibetan, immediately grasps at one or all of the five perceptions that one perceives with any of one's five sensory faculties and thus one becomes involved with thought processes. Consciousness of the five sensory perceptions is a faculty that arises when one sees a form, hears a sound, smells a scent, tastes, and feels textures with one's body.

The eight collections of consciousness, rnam-shes-tshogs-brgyüd, are the all-ground consciousness (8) that is connected with the defiled consciousness (7). Based on the defiled consciousness, the mental consciousness (6) is activated the moment one perceives any of the five sensory perceptions (5 - 1). The basis for the seven consciousnesses is the all-ground consciousness.

One shouldn't think that one has many minds - one's mind is always the same. Yet one apprehends progressively and successively, therefore there are various levels of apprehension, which are described in the teachings on the eight kinds of consciousness.

The all-ground consciousness is not active, rather it is the storehouse for all one's traces or habitual patterns accumulated through one's former actions. The all-ground consciousness is the state in which one's karmic traces are accumulated and have not been exhausted. Karma and its traces, that are habitual patterns, arise due to the afflicted consciousness, which is conditioned by one's foregoing conceptual mind. When one's habits and therefore karma are spent, then primordial wisdom freely shines forth as the pure and true nature of one's all-ground consciousness.

Let's look at this process using the following example: The afflicted consciousness hooks in to a visual sensory perception the moment a visual organ perceives an object. As a result, the visual consciousness arises. One's sixth mental consciousness immediately jumps in and interprets and judges whether the visual perception one has is pleasant, unpleasant, and so forth. Due to judging and categorizing (with one's sixth mental consciousness) things that one perceives (with one's first five sensory consciousnesses), one automatically feels attracted to specific objects and repelled by others, and so attraction and rejection arise in one's mind, attraction towards those things one likes and rejection of those things one dislikes. Attraction gives rise to desire, rejection gives rise to aversion, and - due to wanting things to be different - greed and hatred develop in one's mind. One can have a third reaction, which is a kind of mental dullness. In any case, the same process applies to all sensory perceptions, i.e., when one thinks a sound one hears is either pleasant or unpleasant, one automatically develops desire or aversion respectively.

One's afflicted consciousness is stirred as soon as contact with a sensory object takes place, i.e., one acts out the impulse as soon as one identifies and judges things as pleasant or unpleasant with one's conceptual mind and then develops either desire and greed or aversion and anger. This means that one will do anything in one's might to keep or get what one wants and to avoid or eliminate anything one doesn't want. Focusing one's attention on methods and means to accomplish one's aims and acting them out is called "karma."

One's mental consciousness sets the entire process in motion, while the traces of one's actions that become habits subside into one's all-ground consciousness and arise again as impulses when the all-ground consciousness is stirred. So, it's clear that any actions one carries out are based upon one's thoughts as to what one thinks is good or bad, pleasant or unpleasant. Actions lead to results that one necessarily experiences, i.e., one's positive actions lead to happiness and one's negative actions lead to suffering. One can say that due to one's habitual patterns or karmic imprints, that are stored in one's all-ground consciousness, happiness and suffering are experienced. And this is how samsara is created, not due to one factor only, for instance, not by the object that is perceived and not by one consciousness alone. Rather samsara is created due to the coming together of an apprehending subject and apprehended objects. This very coming together activates one's stored karma, i.e., habitual patterns, and leads one to apprehend appearances the way one does. One's experiences depend upon the quality of one's karma.

All outer appearances one apprehends do not truly exist, but one turns them into truly existing existents because of the way one thinks they are, i.e., one erroneously apprehends objects of perception that have no inherent existence as truly existing entities and reacts accordingly. For example, if one takes the many living beings in the six realms of conditioned existence to mind and understands that they are entangled in samsara yet experience appearances differently, one can then acknowledge that manifold experiences are a subjective matter that accord with an individual's mind and not with appearances as such. Let's take water to exemplify this: A human being checks if water is dirty or poisoned before he drinks it to quench his thirst, whereas a dog just drinks it. A hell being experiences water as boiling liquid poured over its entire body, whereas a hungry ghost experiences it as puss or blood, so it is evident that one and the same object is experienced quite differently by different kinds of beings. Another example that shows that differences do not pertain to appearances, rather depend upon an individual's mind, is eating habits: Some people like sweets, while others can't stand it. The many different judgments that give rise to the many different apprehensions are due to the great variety of karmic imprints that human beings have.

If one asks where the karmic propensities that are energies stored in one's ground consciousness come from, it is important to know that karma does not arise from one cause and one condition only, but from a combination of many causes and conditions. The immense variety of karma one collects again and again is due to the coming together of many causes and conditions. If one asks who the busy collector is, then it's the mental consciousness that discriminates, "This is nice and that isn't," and so forth. The traces of all one's activities subside into one's ground consciousness and are stored there. Understanding this process enables one to understand that samsara, conditioned existence, is created by one's own mind, i.e., samsara is not created by anything outside oneself. Had the world of appearances been created by a creator outside oneself, then the creator would have needed to have created many things, for example, pure water for human beings, murky water for dogs, boiling water for hell beings, etc.

It is clear that every living being apprehends phenomena subjectively, which is due to everyone's individual accumulation of karma - living beings create their own appearances and experiences. Let's take parents who have three children, love them equally, and treat them alike, nevertheless every child will mature differently. It does happen that one child in the family becomes a very respectable citizen, while another child turns out not so nice. Everyone has an own destiny, because their former karma is stored in their ground consciousness as energetic propensities that move their mental consciousness to perceive and apprehend subjectively and therefore differently.

All appearances that one perceives and apprehends were not created by anyone outside oneself. Appearances don't truly exist and are mind only. Followers of the Cittamatra School teach that all appearances are reflections of one's own mind and that no outer phenomenon exists of its own accord.

Why does one speak about samsara, khor-ba in Tibetan? Because the mental consciousness that is driven by the energy of one's karmic traces, yid-kyi-bag-chags, functions and causes one to accumulate new karma that again subsides into one's ground consciousness, leaving further traces that determine one's future - and that's how samsara continues to churn and spin around in circles. If one asks oneself who created samsara and investigates carefully, one discovers that one creates one's world oneself through the coming together of one's afflicted seventh consciousness with the first five sensory consciousnesses, which cause one's sixth mental consciousness to differentiate between pleasant and unpleasant feelings. This process gives rise to attachment and aversion. Attachment and aversion cause one to act and therefore accumulate karma, which subsides into one's ground consciousness as imprints or karmic traces. These energetic propensities or traces keep the wheel of samsara turning, which is one's own life. If one understands this process, then one appreciates how important Dharma practice really is - it enables one to know how to stop the chain reaction that keeps the inadequacies of conditioned existence revolving.

Should one engage in meditation practice, it is very important to know why. Just sitting down and meditating without knowing the purpose is like shooting an arrow at a distant goal into the darkness of the night. It is necessary to understand one's mind if one wishes to meditate correctly. If one investigates how the eight types of consciousness function, one will discover that the five sensory consciousness are very active during the daytime - one sees, hears, tastes, smells, and touches many things while one is awake. One's sixth mental consciousness differentiates and evaluates the impressions perceived through one's sensory consciousnesses. Then the inner chattering begins and goes on all day, such as, "Oh, today I saw such beautiful things," or, " I saw such ugly things that I never want to see again," or, "Oh, today I heard such nice things," or, "No, I heard awful things that I never want to hear again," and so forth. Mind's activities do not vanish, rather all judgments and thoughts subside into one's ground consciousness and are stored there as habitual patterns.

During the night, when one is asleep, the five sensory consciousnesses are inactive, whereas the mental consciousness continues remaining active. One goes through various phases while asleep: dream and deep-sleep phases in which case one doesn't dream. When one dreams, one's mental consciousness appears illusively. One doesn't dream if the mental consciousness sinks into the ground consciousness while asleep. And so, the mental consciousness goes through three phases: the waking phase in which one's mind is actively involved with one's active sensory perceptions, the dream phase in which one's mind is active without being involved with one's inactive sensory perceptions, and the deep-sleep phase in which one's mind sinks into one's ground consciousness. These three phases are the stream of being that characterize a living being.

Where is the mind located? Scientists are struggling to prove that it is located in the brain; others say it's in the heart, but Buddhism teaches it can never be located. While awake, the sensory consciousnesses are very active; when dreaming while asleep, the mental consciousness is very active, and while in deep-sleep the ground consciousness is active, so one will never find that the mind exists in a specific location in the body. Mind's location is extremely fleeting, for example, if we see something that we really like but something heavy falls on our knee, then our mind immediately springs from the object we were looking at to our knee. That's how it is, so it's good to appreciate and acknowledge that one's mental consciousness, one's mind, isn't seated in one's brain or heart, but is always where one focuses one's attention or notices something happening. When one meditates correctly, one employs the mental consciousness, turns it inwards, and then it will be located in one's heart.

A skilled practitioner of calm abiding meditation will reach a stage at which it is necessary to ask whether the mental consciousness can be found to exist anywhere. If a practitioner is able to hold his or her mental consciousness in the heart and abides in ease, instead of becoming involved with sensory perceptions, then it is a sign of having accomplished levels of calm abiding meditation, zhi-gnüs. It is important to meditate in order to reach this stage, and it doesn't really matter whether one practices zhi-gnüs or deity visualization at this point. The purpose of calm abiding meditation practice is to be able to hold one's mental consciousness within and to abide in an unwavering state of non-discursive ease. As long as one isn't able to keep one's mental consciousness still, one won't be able to visualize clearly. Knowing how one's consciousnesses evolve and how karma is created and accumulated is a support and prerequisite so that one's meditation practice is beneficial.

Meditation practices are remedies to overcome and relinquish one's discursiveness. One can only apply a remedy if one has understood how one fabricates thoughts. Meditation leads to attainment of Buddhahood, at which point one's ground consciousness will have been emptied of all habitual patterns that are traces of one's own karma.

Summary: The root of conditioned existence is the ground consciousness. The mental consciousness accumulates and collects karma by coming into contact with any of the five sensory perceptions that arise when sensory objects are perceived with the respective sensory faculty, by then judging those perceptions, and by reacting according to one's thoughts. The traces of actions, that are habitual patterns, subside into the ground consciousness and determine the cycle of conditioned existence that is repeatedly experienced when causes and conditions prevail.

It is very conducive for one's meditation practice to understand how the eight types of consciousness arise and function. For example, if one knows a city like Hamburg, then it's easy finding one's way around. It would be very hard for me, though, because I don't really know Hamburg. In the same manner, knowing the way one's mind functions is very beneficial for one's practice. Understanding one's mind well is the prerequisite to develop one's practice, because one will have certainty in one's practice and be able to recognize what needs to be done.

We have been looking at sems, "the mind," and saw that it goes through many phases that consist of various aspects. It's not very helpful thinking that one is dealing with a singular mind while one practices, since everything arises in dependence upon many causes and conditions.


All appearances are mind

Buddhism teaches that all living beings in the three realms of samsara exist due to being deluded about the true nature of inner and outer phenomena. Anything that appears does not exist from its own side or as it seems. Lord Buddha said in a Sutra that all appearances in the three realms of cyclic existence (the form, formless, and desire realms) are mind. This means to say that nothing really exists outside one's mind, i.e., all appearances are a result of thoughts that arise from not knowing, ma-rig-pa. Some people think a creator made everything, but Buddhists do not believe such things.

Buddhism teaches that all apprehensions are illusory, which I spoke about. Again: The basis is the ground consciousness (8) that stores all imprints of actions that one performed. The afflicted mind (7) moves the mental consciousness (6) to conceptualize sensory perceptions (1 - 5). If contact between a sensory object and the respective sensory consciousness occurs, then the mental consciousness grasps and judges that perception. It is therefore logical that all appearances are created by concepts and thoughts and are consequently illusory.

Although it's not true, due to not knowing how things are and how they appear, one thinks that appearances that one apprehends truly exist. One turns appearances that do not truly exist into truly existing objects and clings to them as real. For example, one sees many things while dreaming, such as being swept away by a river current, but the river certainly doesn't exist and doesn't consist of a single drop of water or tiniest particle. Yet, one thinks the dream-image truly exists and experiences tremendous fear. When one wakes up, one realizes it was just a dream. In the same manner, one turns things that one perceives while awake into truly existing objects.


How the eight consciousnesses cause delusion

One can say that delusiveness occurs in three stages. The basis is the ground consciousness. Then there is the conceptual mind that is activated and moved by the karmic impulses that are stored in and arise out of the ground consciousness when causes and conditions prevail. After an outer appearance has been perceived, the mental consciousness identifies and overlays that object with the karmic imprints that are created by afflictions and thinks what was perceived is a truly existent, unique, and solid entity. This is what is meant by delusion. It means to say that awareness of an appearance arises in the mind the moment a sensory perception and the respective object of perception come into contact and join. The immediate moment of perception is not tainted, but delusiveness is created when the conceptual mind overlays what was perceived with thoughts and judgments in the subsequent moment and joins both instants of perception and conception as though they were single. And so, all things that can be apprehended only appear in dependence upon causes and conditions. It will be very beneficial for one's practice if one can correctly understand how one's consciousnesses cause delusion.

The main purpose of meditation practice is recognizing and relinquishing the misleading contact that takes place immediately and directly the moment an appearance has been perceived. Meditation practitioners will benefit immensely if they are aware of the great variety of thoughts they have and then realize that they are merely bubbles of the mental consciousness.


How delusion is recognized and overcome

- Mahamudra

Mahamudra instructions of the Kagyu Tradition are generally explained in three stages. They are Mahamudra of ground, path, and fruition - phyag-rgya-chen-po-gzhi, phyag-rgya-chen-po-lam, phyag-rgya-chen-po- brüs-bu. It's very important to understand them correctly.

Ground Mahamudra employs three reasonings, dön-mkhyen-gsum, to describe the consciousnesses. The reasonings are carried out in order to know three things: how the mind abides, gnüs-lug, how delusions are, khrul-lug, and how the mind really is, nyid-lug. It's extremely important to correctly understand in which manner one apprehends appearances delusively in order to have the correct view of Mahamudra and in order to realize how the mind truly is.

Path Mahamudra consists of three profound stages, which are calm abiding and insight meditation, zhi-gnüs and lhag-mthong, furthermore the specific pointing-out instructions, ngo-spröd. The direct pointing-out instructions consist of four steps, the first being to receive the transmission, in which case a teacher introduces a qualified student to the truth that all appearances are mind. As long as devotees don't really understand how the mind functions, they won't be able to appreciate and understand the meaning of calm abiding, insight, the sacred pointing-out instructions, and yidam meditation practices. Lacking correct understanding, one's meditation practice will be superficial and shallow. Meditating these practices one-pointedly and clearly involves the conceptual mind. Yidam meditation practices are remedies to purify one's mental consciousness from delusiveness by exchanging negative thoughts with positive ones.

Difficulties to clearly visualize a yidam, a Buddha, are natural, because the karmic imprints and traces, that cause one to perceive impurely, are stirred up. One's karmic imprints will always interfere with one's meditation, notably when one begins progressing in one's practice. Interferences that disturb will occur while more and more subtle karmic traces are eliminated, but one's visualization of a yidam will become clearer and clearer during the purification process. Subtle disturbances and interferences will finally end when fruition has been achieved, and then all appearances will be apprehended clearly and purely. When a yidam is seen clearly, then it's not an appearance outside oneself, but is an appearance of one's own mind. A clear visualization is a sign that one's practice is going quite well.

Perceiving appearances either purely or impurely depends upon each individual, i.e., upon the karmic traces each and everyone has accumulated. If one perceives impurely, then it is called "samsara." If one only perceives purely, then it is called "nirvana." Pure and impure apprehensions have nothing to do with something outside oneself, rather depend upon one's thoughts, so one's thoughts are extremely important.

Anyone who practices Phowa (transference of consciousness) must understand the teachings I am presenting here. The main goal of Phowa and all other practices is to empty one's ground consciousness - one can actually say to relinquish one's ground consciousness. The more one succeeds, the easier one's Phowa practice will become. There's a moment during the dying process when all sensory organs cease functioning and one can't perceive anything anymore. At that stage in the death process, all elements have subsided into the mental consciousness that, in turn, subsides and becomes inseparable with the ground consciousness. Death has set in when the karmic wind leaves the body. If one understands these instructions, has practiced in one's life, and if one isn't killed suddenly but dies slowly, then one knows that one will die in any moment when one loses the ability to perceive anything anymore. At that point, one can cause one's mental consciousness to fall into one's ground consciousness in order to alter one's way of dying.

Summary: Everyone has eight consciousnesses. They are the ground consciousness that stores all imprints of actions that one performed. The afflicted mind moves the mental consciousness to conceptualize sensory perceptions. One can say that the first seven are the same as the ground consciousness. When the ground consciousness has been completely emptied of all karmic traces, Buddhahood will have been attained.

The aim of all practices is to attain Buddhahood. Therefore it is important to know that the all-ground consciousness determines one's perceptions and needs to be purified and emptied of any karmic traces so that one can perceive purely. Although one may experience temporary results through one's practice, one will not even be able to approach or come near the ultimate goal if one doesn't purify one's ground consciousness. The moment a very advanced practitioner succeeds, then he will have cut the root of samsara and have reached the state of nirvana.


- Zhi-gnüs and lhag-mthong

The purpose of practicing zhi-gnüs, lhag-mthong, or Mahamudra as it is taught in Sutrayana is to diminish one's habit of focusing one's attention outwards and as a result to purify one's sensory consciousnesses. One turns one's attention inwards and pacifies one's mental consciousness through zhi-gnüs practice. If one practices diligently for a long time and is able to hold one's mind inwardly without wavering - i.e., when one turns one's attention outside oneself less and less -, then that is a sign that one's zhi-gnüs practice is good. If one engages in zhi-gnüs meditation and doesn't know what needs to be abandoned, then it would be like one were throwing a stone at something one cannot see in the dark night.

When one gives up chasing after thoughts that move one to wander outside oneself and become distracted by sensory perceptions, then one will be able to practice lhag-mthong and pacify one's mental consciousness. The mental consciousness continuously dzin-pa, "conceives, grasps, fixates, and clings" to things. Dzin-pa is the basic aggression of wanting things to be different than they are. As a result, one's mental consciousness has the strong tendency to control perceived sensory objects by identifying, categorizing, and judging them.

Mahamudra meditation is based upon pointing-out instructions and addresses the ground consciousness. When advanced practitioners have transformed their ground consciousness by fully emptying it of last karmic traces, then they will have directly realized Mahamudra, which is the same as attaining Buddhahood. If one wants to engage in zhi-gnüs, lhag-mthong, and Mahamudra, then one needs to know what each method of practice purifies and eliminates. For example, one needs to take the right medicine that heals the sickness one has when one is sick - swallowing any pill one has saved in one's cupboard will most likely harm. Likewise, it is necessary to practice the right method to overcome specific adverse conditions that one does have.



This has been a brief explanation of the eight consciousnesses, rnam-shes-tshogs-brgyüd, which can be summarized in three: the ground consciousness, the mental consciousness that is plagued with thoughts, and the five sensory consciousnesses. Zhi-gnüs practice deals with the sensory consciousnesses; lhag-mthong deals with the mental consciousness; and Mahamudra deals with the all-ground consciousness. These procedural practices lead from coarse to more subtle practices as one advances from the one to the next. Let me stress again that it is very important to recognize one's real enemies, to know the remedies, and then the remedies one applies will be right. For example, if the cup in front of me has black stains, then I need to know what kinds of stains they are if I want to clean the cup. I would need to know whether I should use soap or something else to scrub the cup clean of stains. Likewise, it is necessary to know which defilements and afflictions one has so that one knows which method to practice.

Let me stress, too, that it is utterly important to understand how one's defilements and afflictions impede achieving freedom from suffering and pain, which is samsara. One needs to correctly understand what kinds of defilements and afflictions one has, how they arise, and what their negative impact in one's own life as well as on that of others they have. If one knows, then one can apply the right remedy and engage in zhi-gnüs, lhag-mthong, Mahamudra, yidam meditation, or Phowa.

It will be very beneficial to deepen one's understanding of the Dharma, especially in preparation for one's own death. The death process is taking place in this very instant. One's sensory faculties are very clear and sharp when one is 20 and 30 years old, but they are less clear when one turns 50 and become worse when one is 60 years old. When one is 70 or 75, they have become rather selective, so by brushing the thought of one's imminent death away, by fighting this fact, and by acting as though one has lots of time is useless. When the sensory faculties become weak and even weaker, it will not be long and one will have died.

One cannot see, hear, smell, touch, or taste anything anymore when the final death process has set in. At that stage, the five sensory consciousnesses have ended, and then the subtle perception of the mental consciousness appears, which is the manifestation of red and white. If one understands this vision by having practiced and became prepared during one's life, then one knows that one is dying and can continue practicing when red and white appear. Dying actually means that the eight consciousnesses dissolve, one into the other, i.e., the sensory consciousnesses subside into the mental consciousness, and the mental consciousness then subsides into the ground consciousness. At that point, it would be good to unite one's energy-wind with one's ground consciousness and to do Phowa by sending one's consciousness, one's mind, out of one's body through the crown of one's head.

The short but very profound text, entitled The Treatise that Differentiates Consciousness and Wisdom - rNam-shes-ye-shes-byed-pa that was written by the Third Gyalwa Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje, is very important if one wishes to understand the consciousnesses and know how they arise in dependence upon each other. It was only possible for me to offer a brief explanation of the consciousnesses during this short seminary, but it would be very good and beneficial if you study the text well.

When differentiating between samsara and nirvana, it is important to know that both are only mind.

All living beings without exception have Buddha nature, are therefore always and already endowed with pure and perfect qualities of enlightenment. But individuals differ in as much as they don't realize their true nature due to their karmic traces. Those who don't realize their true nature move about and remain entangled in samsara.

What did the Buddha teach? The methods by which one can surpass and overcome ma-rig-pa, the main defilement that is not knowing. For those individuals who have overcome and relinquished their habitual patterns (that are karmic traces stored in their ground consciousness) and uprooted the seed of negativity (which is not knowing) their Buddha nature will manifest openly and their immaculate qualities of Buddhahood will have freely unfolded. The only difference between those individuals who are fettered in samsara and those who have attained nirvana is given in the connotation of the terms "consciousness" and "wisdom." Knowing this, Lord Buddha therefore taught beings: "All appearances in samsara and nirvana are only mind."

What happens as long as one doesn't realize the true nature of one's own mind and erroneously thinks it's something else? One wanders in samsara, accumulates karma, and suffers. What happens when one realizes the true nature of one's own mind? Then one no longer has an all-ground consciousness, kun-gzhi'i-rnam-par-shes-pa, rather one has realized all-basis, primordial wisdom, kun-ghzi'i-ye-shes.

The method to realize primordial wisdom depends upon understanding very, very well how one's mind is and functions. Based upon one's understanding, one diligently works to eliminate one's negativity and thus enables one's positive qualities to unfold from within. One should never forget that one's mind possesses immense capabilities and is very powerful. For example, computers are very complex. Once someone sat down and thought it all out - a slight example for mind's extraordinary abilities. If one is really connected and is certain of what needs to be abandoned and eliminated and has trust in the methods to realize what needs to be established, then - due to the power of one's mind - one will definitely attain the result, which is complete and perfect enlightenment. If one is able to establish an authentic and reliable connection and receives the pointing-out instructions, then one will attain enlightenment real, real fast. If one isn't able to make a connection and receive the instructions, then it won't be easy to practice.

Let me stress that it is necessary to again and again study and thoroughly understand how the consciousnesses arise, how they cause delusion, and how delusion can be recognized and overcome - then one will attain the result. If one studies dependent arising of one's own mind, one will develop and have the correct view. One can go astray if one becomes negligent, for example, by believing that nothing exists or that things exist forever. Studying the teachings protects one from going astray, and then it doesn't matter which meditation one practices, whether zhi-gnüs, lhag-mthong, Mahamudra, or yidam meditation. In fact, one can meditate the method one prefers, because one's practice will be to the point.

The same applies to the practices of mind training, loving kindness and compassion, or giving and taking through cultivating Bodhicitta, in any case, lacking the perspective, one's efforts will remain bereft of a purpose. It's more than necessary to know what the mind is if one wishes to practice mind training that I spoke about on another occasion. What is the mind? Our thoughts. So we need to purify our thoughts.

In the absence of the right view, one's practice of giving others all one's joy and taking on their pain, of giving them the causes for their happiness and taking away the causes for their suffering and pain will be useless if the one who receives doesn't have the karma to receive. Therefore one does need to know that one practices mind training and giving and taking in order to purify one's own mind of attachment to a self and all habitual impulses and consequences that follow.

Where do all one's negative and frequent positive thoughts come from? Exclusively from one's sixth mental consciousness that is enslaved by one's concepts and thoughts. So the mental consciousness is the enemy one attacks in order to decrease and vanquish one's negative thoughts and in order to increase and establish a benevolent mind. A great Tibetan Mahasiddha once said, "If one wants to vanquish all harmful appearances, then one needs to uproot the cause, which is one's thoughts. If one succeeds, then one has uprooted the cause of all painful manifestations." Since this is the case, then one must know where the cause is located. It's located in the mental consciousness.

The Third Gyalwa Karmapa said, "If one wants to bring the essence of the Sutrayana and Vajrayana to a point, then it is crucial to understand the difference between consciousness and primordial wisdom." Therefore, I do want to ask you to please study the profound text, The Treatise that Differentiates Consciousness and Wisdom. Teachers will visit Theksum Tashi Chöling in the future and offer instructions. It would be very good and beneficial if you ask them to present further instructions on this topic and to personally answer any questions you may have.

As long as we have not attained Buddhahood, we are like a patient who does have to find out what he needs to abandon and adopt in order to become well. Nowadays, it has become fashionable to buy a Dharma book or two, to read them, and then to practice what one has read. This is not really a good idea, because practitioners do need to receive personal instructions from a qualified and authentic teacher in order to deepen and intensify their understanding of the Dharma correctly. If one bases one's practice on books, it will be rather difficult. Even if the books are correct, they are always written from a specific perspective and in the context of a certain viewpoint. Some books explain the practice; others describe the view, yet others speak about ethical behaviour. If one doesn't receive instructions on which topics pertain to which aspect of the teachings, it will be rather difficult. Thinking it is sufficient to read books resembles a patient who just takes any old medicine he happens to have.

The text, The Treatise that Differentiates Consciousness and Wisdom is very summarized and has been translated into English. Jamgon Kongtrul Lodrö Thaye wrote a detailed commentary that you can read in English. It would be good if you study these books again and again as well as the other treatises that the Third Gyalwa Karmapa wrote.

Buddhism teaches that one needs to meet preparations correctly and understand the purpose of one's practice. If one fails, one may think one is practicing meditation but will not know what the source of lasting happiness is, which is our aim. Lasting happiness is the same as perfect enlightenment. And the source of lasting happiness lies in one's own mind. In regions populated by many monkeys, one can see them seated in a meditative posture - eyes closed and hands resting on their lap, but they are
sleeping. Just sitting like that and thinking one is meditating is rather useless and helps no one at all.

karma pakshi

Part Two: The Five Wisdoms and Four Kayas

Transformation of the consciousnesses into wisdoms and kayas

We saw that there are eight consciousnesses: the all-basis ground consciousness, the afflicted consciousness, and the mental consciousness that identifies and judges the five sensory consciousnesses. One can say briefly that they belong to samsara.


- The five wisdoms

What is primordial wisdom, ye-shes in Tibetan? When the all-ground consciousness, kun-gzhi'i-rnam-par-shes-pa, has been purified of all stains, then it is called "all-basis, primordial wisdom," kun-ghzi'i-ye-shes.

Generally, all living beings without exception have Buddha nature, but as long as they don't realize it, then not knowing, ma-rig-pa, is the all-ground consciousness. The seven other consciousnesses are impure as long as the ground consciousness is stained and obscured. When the veils and obscurations brought on by not knowing have been dispelled from the ground consciousness, then the Buddha nature is free and primordial wisdom manifests in five aspects. The five aspects of primordial wisdom, ye-shes-lnga, are: (1) me-long-lta-bu'i-ye-shes, mirror-like wisdom, (2) mnyam-nyid-ye-shes, wisdom of equality, (3) sor-rtog-ye-shes, discriminating wisdom, (4) bya-grub-ye-shes, all-accomplishing wisdom, and (5) chös-bying-ye-shes, wisdom of the expanse of reality. The five aspects of primordial wisdom manifest directly when a practitioner has attained the final result of the path, which is called "fruition." As long as practitioners are on the path, traces of not knowing conceal their mind's true nature and the five aspects of primordial wisdom do not manifest.

One attains fruition, which is Buddhahood, when the ground consciousness has been totally emptied of finest and most subtle karmic traces. At that point, primordial wisdom is unleashed and manifests the five aspects listed above. As long as the purification process is not completed, a practitioner is on the path and does achieve levels of realization, but primordial wisdom will not directly manifest until fruition has been fully established. Buddhahood is understood to be the point at which the ground consciousness has been completely negated, because the last traces and finest stains that arise from not knowing have been eradicated. Then the ground consciousness manifests mirror-like wisdom.

It is important to understand that mirror-like wisdom is not something new when the ground consciousness has been purified, because mirror-like wisdom is always and already present in one's mind. We are looking at this from the viewpoint of the purification process. When the ground consciousness is free of all traces and fully negated, then it is all-basis, primordial wisdom that is like a mirror.

We saw that the ground consciousness is the basis and source for the other seven consciousnesses. Likewise, mirror-like wisdom is the root and source of the other four wisdoms. Based upon mirror-like wisdom, the three following kinds of primordial wisdom appear - wisdom of equality, discriminating wisdom, and all-accomplishing wisdom. Looking at the simile of a mirror that is free of stains, the other wisdoms appear clearly in the immaculate mirror of mirror-like wisdom.

Nothing is added to the purified ground consciousness at fruition, rather at that time it is completely transformed and appears clearly. As long as it is stained, the ground consciousness is the source of samsara. During the purification process of the ground consciousness, it is the root of nirvana. There is only a difference between the dimensions of samsara and nirvana as long as the purification practice takes place. And the mutual source of samsara and nirvana is nothing but the mind.

The next primordial wisdom that appears in mirror-like wisdom does so when the afflicted consciousness is utterly defeated and the disturbing emotions are utterly eliminated. When the afflicted consciousness is purified of all destructive mind poisons, then it is completely transformed and is then wisdom of equality.

When great wisdom of equality manifests freely, the mental consciousness that judges the five sensory consciousnesses and consequently gives rise to thoughts is defeated. Conceptualization is then transformed into discriminating wisdom. Furthermore, the five sensory consciousnesses are transformed through discriminating wisdom and when they are purified, there is all-accomplishing wisdom.

Summary: One can briefly say that samsara is characterized by the activity of the eight consciousnesses, and nirvana is characterized by the manifestation of the five primordial wisdoms. We have only addressed the first four so far and will look at the wisdom of the expanse of reality in a moment. One can describe the result of having completed the purification process by means of the five primordial wisdoms or by means of three or four kayas, the Sanskrit term for "bodies of a Buddha."


- The four kayas in relation to the five wisdoms

When the four kayas, sku-bzhi in Tibetan, are discussed in relation to the five aspects of primordial wisdom, then mirror-like wisdom is equivalent to the Dharmakaya, which is the Sanskrit term that was translated into Tibetan as ye-shes-chös-sku, "wisdom body." Two aspects of primordial wisdom, wisdom of equality and discriminating wisdom, are related to the Sambhogakaya, longs-spyöd-rdzogs-pa'i-sku, "complete enjoyment body." And all-accomplishing wisdom is related to the Nirmanakaya, sprul-pa'i-sku, "emanation body."

Summary: Mirror-like wisdom and Dharmakaya are the purified ground consciousness. Discriminating wisdom and wisdom of equality are the purified afflicted and mental consciousnesses and the Sambhogakaya. All-accomplishing wisdom is the purified five sensory consciousnesses and the Nirmanakaya.

A fifth wisdom and fourth kaya are explained so that one understands that the four wisdoms and three kayas are inseparable, since their essence is one and the same. The fifth wisdom is Dharmadhatu wisdom, chös-bying-ye-shes, "wisdom of the expanse of reality." Dharmadhatu wisdom is equivalent to Svabhavikakaya, gno-bo-nyid-kyi-sku, "the body of their essentiality."

What is nirvana, mya-ngün-lüs-'düs pa? Nirvana is the state in which the five wisdoms and four kayas manifest directly. When this is so, then it is a sign that ultimate fruition has been attained. Again, the source of primordial wisdom is mirror-like wisdom, which is the completely purified ground consciousness. What is samsara? Samsara is the state in which duality abounds - suffering as well as happiness. Karma creates both suffering and happiness. The mental afflictions create karma, and not knowing gives rise to the mental afflictions. Not knowing means being ignorant of one's true nature and as a result thinking it is something foreign to oneself. Karmic traces and habitual patterns are created as long as delusions are created. Karma is stored in one's ground consciousness. When one's ground consciousness has been emptied of all karmic traces, then the four kayas manifest. And so one sees that the source of samsara as well as nirvana is one and the same - one's own mind. The only distinction one can make between samsara and nirvana is whether one has realized the true nature of one's mind or not. Therefore the Third Gyalwa Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje, stated in this treatise, "All appearances are only mind." It's extremely important to understand this.

In our present situation, it's not very useful receiving detailed instructions on fruition, although it's good to know where one is heading. Followers will gradually understand the result while practicing the path. Yet, from the viewpoint of Buddhism, it is important for followers to know that both samsara and nirvana are not created by anyone else, rather the experience of samsara and nirvana depend upon the state of one's own mind. The only difference between samsara and nirvana lies in the amount of defilements one has or has been able to purify and eliminate. When defilements and afflictions have been completely dispelled, then the five primordial wisdoms and four kayas manifest. As a result, an accomplished practitioner experiences the environment as a pure realm and all appearances purely, which is referred to as having "the pure view." Vice versa, as long as one's consciousness has not been purified and one is deluded, one's same old defiled mind appears again and again, i.e., one continues experiencing suffering and pain due to karma and perceives appearances impurely, which is referred to as having "the impure view."

One will not understand the significance of differentiating consciousness and wisdom by only having heard or read about it. Rather, one can only win a true understanding if one engages in the three trainings to realize discriminating awareness, prajna in Sanskrit, shes-rab in Tibetan. The three trainings are: receiving the instructions, contemplating them thoroughly, and integrating them in one's life by meditating them. It is crucial to investigate and reflect the teachings one has received carefully and thoroughly, until one has gained certainty in the truth of the teachings. Contemplating the teachings deeply is a prerequisite if one wishes to meditate correctly. Meditating the teachings after having contemplated them carefully is the method by which one perfects discriminating awareness. Having perfected discriminating awareness, an advanced practitioner has attained the knowledge needed in order to manifest the five wisdoms and four kayas.

Summary of the Treatise

Usually one has the tendency to think that Buddhahood is far, far away, but these teachings show that this isn't so. Buddhahood lies within every living being without exception in every single instant of time. As long as one remains spellbound in a dream-like state that is characterized by not knowing, one's true nature is experienced as samsara. As soon as one wakes up from the sleep of not knowing, one's mind manifests and one experiences nirvana.

It will be very helpful to gain certainty through one's meditation practice that one's practice is solely aimed at one point, which is one's all-ground consciousness, to recognize that it needs to be purified of all karmic traces, and to furthermore acknowledge that one's pure qualities of being will manifest the moment the purification process has been completed.

A great Siddha of the Kagyu Tradition once said, "Buddha resides in one's very own mind and nowhere else." In order to appreciate this fact, it is necessary to understand that samsara is based upon the one and very same source as all qualities that characterize nirvana. If one doesn't understand this and merely reiterates, "Buddha is within me," then he isn't.

It's very important to understand these teachings. Many people believe that living beings and all appearances of the outer world truly exist. Buddhists do not think like that. Nothing whatsoever contains the tiniest trace of real existence, and nirvana is not something that is newly acquired and truly exists either.

The Hevajra Tantra states: "All beings are Buddhas, but obscured by incidental stains. When those have been removed, there is Buddhahood." This means to say that the entire process of becoming free from the experience of suffering and attaining the experience of peace is nothing but a gradual purification process. When purification has been completed, the goal will have been attained, in which case nothing has been removed from one's true nature and nothing new has been added to it.



Please don't forget that the Buddha presented teachings in stages. He taught beginners that samsara exists, that karma is valid, and that suffering is a true experience. These instructions are necessary so that a devotee recognizes and is inspired to overcome the coarse inadequacies of conditioned existence. The Buddhist teachings become more and more subtle, though, until a practitioner learns that nothing really exists. One needs to become prepared by slowly and gradually learning the meaning of the teachings, so that one is able to actually experience the very profound meaning oneself. In reliance upon the Buddha's instructions, a practitioner therefore takes one step after the other, by first taking refuge in the Three Jewels, by practicing the preliminaries, by generating and developing Bodhicitta, and by practicing the further stages of the path. For example, having studied well, scientists can analyze, break an atom, and destroy anything that has been made. Our mind and mental afflictions are different, though - they can't be destroyed that easily. Even if a scientist were to shoot a rocket and try to throw a bomb on our defilements, he wouldn't succeed. If it were possible, it would really be useful and then it would be easy to attain enlightenment. Please think about this, seeing nowadays scientists and neurobiologists are spending much energy studying the mind. If one tries to clearly understand the cause of suffering, which is samsara, and the cause of lasting happiness, which is nirvana, and practices diligently, regularly, and continuously in reliance upon the knowledge one has won, then one doesn't need scientific studies.

It's very important to acknowledge that the teachings of Buddhism again and again remind us that we need to cultivate the right view joined with meditation practice. Should someone practice meditation in the absence of the correct view that is established by studying and reflecting the teachings, he would resemble someone trying to shoot an arrow at a distant goal in the darkness of the night. Should someone cultivate the correct view and not meditate, he would resemble someone trying to climb a cliff without hands.

As to meditation practices, there are very many methods available to practitioners who have boarded the vehicle of Mahayana. All methods have the same source, whereas the great variety is due to the many different inclinations and capabilities that living beings have.

Understanding the treatise we went through here is a very good preparation for one's practice. It's very important to differentiate between consciousness and wisdom. If one is then able to meditate one-pointedly in reliance upon one's correct understanding, without thinking about it, the qualities of primordial wisdom will arise and increase in and through us. A practitioner who has attained Buddhahood needn't take refuge anywhere else.

If no historical Buddha had ever appeared and offered instructions, we wouldn't be able to attain Buddhahood. It's also important to appreciate that there were many Buddhas in the past, that many Buddhas live in our presence, and that many will be born in the future, i.e., everyone without exception has the capacity to become a Buddha. Buddha Shakyamuni appeared in the world, turned the Wheel of Dharma, and showed us the way. If we practice his instructions, we will attain the result.

Please recognize and know that there isn't the slightest difference between our present mind and that of a Buddha. For example, there is a huge difference between a precious bowl made of pure gold and one made of clay, but the space in each bowl is the same. Likewise, there's no difference between the mind of an ordinary being and that of a Buddha, only the outer form differs.

It is important to see that one is entangled, caught, trapped in samsara. What keeps one chained to conditioned existence? Believing in and clinging to appearances as though they were real. Therefore Tilopa told Naropa, "Child, it is not by appearances that you are fettered, but by craving." Who grasps, clings, clutches? One's afflicted and defiled consciousness (number 7 in the list). What does grasping and clinging actually mean? For example, let's all lay our watches on a pile on the table. While noticing that the other watches are there, everyone will stare at his or her own watch and grasp and cling to it. Those who don't have a watch and therefore couldn't lay it on the table won't grasp and cling if someone threw a rock at the pile and broke all the watches. This doesn't mean that those who had no watch are free of attachment and desire, because those who wouldn't lose a watch they didn't own in the first place and see the others broken will experience joy that the watch they didn't own wasn't broken - and this is a sign of attachment. Those who have lost their watch will experience sadness - and this is also a sign of attachment. This example clearly shows that appearances are innocent, so to speak, and cause no problems, rather one's own reactions cause problems. And so, it is necessary to give up one's grasping and clinging, just like Tilopa told Naropa, "Child, it is not by appearances that you are fettered, but by craving." Simply telling oneself that one is abandoning one's attachment without knowing how it arises is useless. One needs to clearly understand that one's own afflicted and conceptual consciousnesses fetter and bind. Thank you very much.


Through this goodness, may omniscience be attained

And thereby may every enemy (mental defilement) be overcome.

May beings be liberated from the ocean of samsara

That is troubled by waves of birth, old age, sickness, and death.

May the life of the Glorious Lama remain steadfast and firm.

May peace and happiness fully arise for beings as limitless (in number) as space (is vast in its extent).

Having accumulated merit and purified negativities, may I and all living beings without exception swiftly establish the levels and grounds of Buddhahood.

Instructions presented at Theksum Tashi Chöling in Hamburg in 2006. With sincere gratitude to Khenpo Karma Namgyal and to Hans Billing, webmaster of Karma Chang Chub Choepel Ling in Heidelberg for their immense help, translated into English in reliance on the German rendering kindly offered by Rosemarie Fuchs by Gaby Hollmann, responsible and apologizing for all mistakes. Copyright Karma Lekshey Ling Institute in Kathmandu, Nepal, and Theksum Tashi Chöling, 2008.

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