She gazed at nothing. Eyes half open, a Himalayan vista in every direction, yet she saw nothing distinct. Sameness was her mind-state. She abided in the equanimity of Awareness. Her mind was awakened.
I was blessed five lifetimes ago with knowing and serving a mountain-solitude, meditating yogini. She was vowed to benefit beings; her Path was Dharma, nondual wisdom, buddhahodd. She had been in the elevations around the village into which I was born since I was five. My parents and the villagers called her “Blessed or Holy Mother,” Jetsumna. I started bringing provisions to her when I was eight and continued until my early forties when I passed out of incarnation. She was still meditating on the mountain then. Her name was Jetsumna Kyilkhor, Holy Mother of the Mandala.
A vision of our relationship, her blessing, presence, instruction, and undying meditative benefit to beings came to me in the Spring of 2017. Not knowing Tibetan, my mind heard Matsumna Kyilkhor, so that is what I call her. We are beyond meeting and parting.
A core teaching within the BuddhaDharma is to “look into the mirror of the mind” for the source of our reality. What we find when we do is the intricate connective tissue of emotions, thoughts and thought processes, projections and assumptions, sense of values and morals, hopes and dreams, wishes, avoidances, and fears. Looking into the mind for or to open oneself to discovering such things requires some training. Like learning to read, one cannot begin in the middle. Maybe more important is the blank-child-mind necessary to the process. A child cannot know and does not imagine where the song ABCDEFG … will take her or him. Similarly, so with looking into one’s self openly.
One begins looking into the mirror of the mind by noticing the usually not noticed; for instance, an emotion arising (which happens non-stop through each day). Say one is driving, and the emotion of craving a latte or snack, music or news on the radio arises. Notice it, know that this is what is happening. Craving anything at any moment -latte, news, or whatever- immediately divorces one from the present which has no desires. Presence is a state of equilibrium, peace.
The desire for news might be easily accomplished with the on button and appropriate channel, but what about the news one hears? Maybe it elicits sadness, maybe anger. Sadness can seem obvious to notice. It dons few costumes. But anger can appear dressed in myriad ways: righteous indignation, a justified set of beliefs, shared or antagonistic views, and one’s life experiences or it can demonstrate with a quick push of the power button -off. “How can that happen?” “How can that still be happening?” Passion and heat, volatile emotion-thoughts whirl in the mind. Does one recognize these as anger and aggressive? So, we first learn to notice.
Second, we learn to drop into the arising emotion, assumption, hope or aversion. What is this? What am I actually feeling? Let’s use the news/anger example. Often underneath anger is caring, caring about something or someone or the way of the world, etc. Thus, the first layer of discovery in the mind-emotion complex in this example is that you care and care passionately regarding something in the news. Now drop into that emotion. What are you upset about, what has riled your emotion-mind? What is it that you actually care about?
Each layer of discovery is beneficial and is an in-the-moment self-liberation. That which was not noticed before now has been. It is recognized, seen for what it -at least in part- actually is. Just to notice how emotionally-driven one is through the day is a significant awakening. Most of us think that we are pretty mentally oriented. Yet, comfort is an emotion, avoiding discomfort is an emotion. Choices are mostly decided by emotions regardless of how much research has been done. Notice; don’t judge. Childlike mind; open.
The idea of the mirror of the mind reports that all our emotions, thoughts, beliefs, considerations, and personal realities are displays – just like the image in a mirror is a display. A display of what? Causes and conditions.
Your face appears in the mirror only when you are in front of the mirror. The mirror, you standing in front of the mirror, plus enough light in that location for the reflective process to occur is how your face appears in the mirror. If any of these causes and conditions is missing, your face does not appear in the mirror. Another example of cause/condition: a person hospitalized in America will have the outcome of being hospitalized in America where the “health care” system is profit-driven. Someone hospitalized in Sweden, Denmark, France or Portugal will have a different experience and outcome because the health care systems in those countries are not profit-driven. The sick or dying will owe money in America; not so in Europe. Causes and conditions.
Consider frames of reference also. Old or ancient systems of medicine and health care have the reference of the body primarily expressing harmony and that malady indicates disharmony. The desired outcome of such types of health care is to support harmony in its fluidity through varying stages of life. The American model is largely predicated upon the body seen as a machine with removable parts, replaceable parts, and the suppression of symptoms. A conquer mentality is brought to the body rather than an embrace of its plea for assistance and change. These two different frames of reference are causative of type of care, suggestions of remedies and remedial actions, as well as education and the view in a society about one’s body and health. Medical education in both conditioned cultures would differ also. Causes and conditions again.
Emotions are the sub-terrain of human thoughts, beliefs, assumptions, perceptions and perceiving processes, as well as our sense of self/ego. But, emotions themselves are a result of causes and conditions, as are each of the other layers of human internal processes. Therefore, all manner of human psychological, cognitive, sensory, analytical, and formulative processes are cumulative results which are simultaneously conditioning and causative of further processes. A school teacher witnesses this daily. A psychological counselor observes this each session with each client. Changes in relationships that occur over time are driven by these internal causes and conditioning factors, as is one’s spiritual Path or even if one is on one, the manner in which one engages its principles, and/or practices its Path. Path for some is music, for others art, others fixing things and problem solving. For others it is educating, coaching, or explaining. In every case, untold causes and conditions are in play and on display. Learning to drop into any of this matrix is vital if one desires freedom from it. This is equivalent to knowing that one’s face in the mirror is not the one to wash with the face cloth.
Causes and conditions is vital to understand, investigate and contemplate. So much so that, in the BuddhaDharma, this subject is given differing terms according to the range of completeness and flawlessness that is being highlighted of the subject overall. Here are a few:
- the Four Noble Truths: 1. the truth of discontent or unsatisfactory-ness as a primary experience of and for all beings; 2. the truth that this state drives beings to want, crave, and do what can be done each moment to ameliorate, address, or relieve this unsatisfactory-ness, thereby recharging the cycle of temporary remedy. The core dissatisfactoriness is not addressed. A feedback loop is in play. 3. the truth that this fundamental condition has causes, has produced conditions, and will continue to do so until and unless addressed. Determine the causes and foundational transformation ensues. Suffering can be ceased. 4. A methodical addressing of the causes of discontent and unsatisfactoriness will result in the exhaustion of those causes. Hence, liberation individually and collectively ensues.
- the teaching on karma: In general the Eastern traditions foster an understanding that what is put in motion by someone has results beyond time and immediate circumstances. Karma is neutral unto itself. Positive karma is not miraculous; negative karma is not a judgement. Karma is a manifestation of the interconnectedness of everything and everyone in existence. For example, the response of the plant kingdom to sunlight in the evolutionary development of photosynthesis is karma. Human karma is rooted in intention, motive, or aspiration. Each of these complex emotions, then, drives mental processes and decisions, action and behavior, use of energy, vitality, and resources. Every component is causative and will produce conditions for one’s self, those around one, now and in the future. These qualities are like a beam of light pointed at the heavens. That beam will continue for a long time. The same applies for nations, cultures, societies, and human systems. Karma is not simplistic nor should be thought as so.
- merit: Merit is a feature within the greater subject of karma. Merit is positive or beneficial karma generated specifically through alignment with ultimate Truth, prajna/wisdom of emptiness, and practicing a Path that is non-dual in essence. The idea behind merit is: that which fosters, nurtures, and assists one in accomplishing liberation from dualistic mind will, in an ongoing manner, continue fostering that objective. As one incrementally actualizes nondual wisdom (i.e. there is no truly existing subject or truly existing object -all phenomena are emptiness including the phenomenon of perceiver), the benevolence (bodhi) of nondual wisdom propels itself and expands itself. However, for us entangled in the web of illusory perception, this is experienced as an incremental process. Merit, then, is experienced as myriad mechanisms of support and assistance that are perfectly magnetized or manifest in our Path. As one systematically undoes duality, all beings benefit because the perception of any form and all forms of separateness are by-products of dualism.
- dependent arising: To a certain extent, the principle of dependent arising has already been stated in the other points. If one wants a cooked egg, one needs an uncooked egg, something to cook it in, a method for cooking, the apparatus for cooking, time, energy, plus physical and mental capacity to put these various components together. Then, if nothing is missing and all can be combined in right order and method, then voila, cooked egg. But, all of these are not as they seem. The egg is a byproduct of causes and conditions including a chicken; the heat or fire top accomplish cooking is a byproduct of fossil fuel use, extraction, delivery to your home, adequate amount of it, relatively safe fossil fuel to use, etc. Fossil fuel “arises” into your home environment due to complex dependences. A cooked egg “arises” due to complex dependences. The same is so for every phenomenon in existence. Every one of them and all their complexities arise dependent upon causes and conditions ad infinitum in regression. Therefore, “cooked egg” is empty of cooked egg; it is an illusion. But “cooked egg” is a fullness of dependent factors that, when in certain combination, a human being experiences as the temporary satisfaction of a “cooked egg.”
- the teaching on impermanence/change: Any thing is a manifestation of countless causes and conditions from the past, from five minutes ago, and from the interdependence of all things. If one factor is changed, added, diminished, or deleted the thing changes too. Impermanence is the fertile ground of learning, invention, creativity, and life itself. Impermanence is also the mother source of aging, birth and death, changes in societies, one’s mind and emotions, and in one’s self overall. All of these are products of causes and conditions which are themselves born of causes and conditions which are themselves born of causes and conditions, ad infinitum.
Our lives are mirror-like displays of the causes and conditions that we have seeded and nourished over untold time. In truth, everything matters more than usually considered or noticed. Taking in that idea could feel overwhelming. What is one to do with the completeness and flawlessness of causes and conditions in our conventional reality and lives? Notice the usually not noticed. Drop into any moment and its net of emotion-mind-ego processes. Most of these are so habituated as to seem instantaneous in a moment’s experience.
Noticing the usually not noticed momentarily pauses the momentum of unnoticed desire-mind driven thoughts, emotions, choices and behavior. The pause -or gap- is a second in which recharging is not happening. During that gap, one abides in neutrality and in present moment. The pause is without causes and conditions. It is a pause; it is blank, empty. Analogically, the pause is akin to not standing in front of the mirror therefore no reification of the image of self is produced. Matsumna Kyilkhor gazing into nothingness illustrated this on an elongated scale. I bow to her example.
To remind one’s self any moment “ah, this is a display” of one’s own habituated consciousness and/or of a group collective consciousness is to add prajna -the wisdom of emptiness- to that moment and experienced reality. For instance, human habituated consciousness interacts with water in particular ways; fish habituated consciousness interacts with it in other ways. Humans see a light spectrum that is distinct to humans; animals in their variety perceive additional wavelengths of light. Thus their visual reality is alternative to human visual reality. All is a display on the mirror of consciousness.
“Look into the mirror of the mind,” Tilopa said to Naropa. He was restating instruction from Buddha Shakyamuni, an instruction repeated in myriad ways over his 40+ years of teaching. Here is an example and then its restating.
- “awakening is awakening to emptiness. … “And emptiness, Shariputra, is emptiness of what? It is emptiness of any phenomena. If there is anything perceived as a phenomenon, there will be grasping to that perception, grasping as self, grasping as a being, grasping as a life force, grasping as a person, and the grasping of all grasping. Therefore, grasping to perception is so termed. The absence of that is termed emptiness; and emptiness is awakening. Moreover, all phenomena are awakening, and likewise, perfect buddhahood. Thus, act in harmony and do not act in disharmony with this. ” From: 84000 – Translating the Words of the Buddha. “Upholding the Roots of Virtue.” 6.128.
- “Buddha is not found outside yourself; indeed, the perfect Buddha is the mind.” from the Hevajra Tantra.
- and from the omniscient Longchenpa: “Examine the nature of everything in its multiplicity; destroy the delusion of clinging to any of it as real.”
The mirror of the mind, causes/conditions/results in their ongoing cycle, and how to use these understandings as a path of disentangling one’s self from illusory perception and the sense of self edified by illusory everything, is an education in nondual wisdom. Fundamentally, it is to realize that there is nothing outside because there is no outside. Everything that we experience and think we are experiencing is a display of the mirror-like essence of Being. That, also, might be a big bite to chew! Yet, the more that each of us pauses in a moment and remembers that a goat, dog, tree, ant, ghost, or angelic being would uniquely interact with this moment and all of its features as do each of us is to habituate to the pause, not the momentum of illusion-producing habits of consciousness. No matter what type of being we are, our reality is a display of our habits of consciousness.
A bodhisattva has brought just enough prajna/wisdom of emptiness to just enough moments often enough such that the reification of dualistic projected reality is not so firm, not so formed, and therefore no longer relied upon as truly real, truly existent. That being has brought bodhi to his/her/its chitta: has brought illumination to the workings of the emotion-mind complex and thus to the sense of self. As a result (causes and conditions), the matrix of self-made reality and of the perceived self experiencing that reality erode. Prajna and bodhi were/are already present as the ground of being. The displays merely kept highjacking or enticing our attention.
By whatever merit that had been generated over lifetimes, I had the sublime fortune to meet, serve, and be instructed by Matsumna Kyilkhor. She rarely spoke to me. Her presence was her instruction. When I was a child bringing her provisions, she would lift her finger to her mouth and make the sound “sshhh”. I learned to quieten my activities, my mind, my emotions, and to simply sit with her, little by little learning her mode of meditation. I pray that you have such benevolent fortune.
Each of us can undo how entangled we are in our own net of illusion. As we do so for ourself, we do so for others. All is interdependent, interconnected, woven together. Your disentangling becomes causative of conditions of liberation for all beings.
May any merit generated or accumulated through clarifying these points for myself and sharing them with you awaken all beings to luminous, empty, nondual wisdom.