Abhidhamma Tenth Lecture

Ananda Bodhi at his home on Harbord St, Toronto,1970 photo by Peter Deutsch

The Abhidhamma

by Ven. Namgyal Rinpoche
Edited by Cecilie Kwiat

Introduction to the Abhidhamma
August – September 1977
10th of 16 Lectures


Continuing with our exploration of transmutation, there is a famous Zen story about changing a mud brick into a glass mirror. Do you know how it’s done? If you drop the brick you have a glass mirror.

Do you have any question?

STUDENT: Is intuition the result of a play between thinking, feeling, and sensation?

TEACHER: The dynamic is a result of the interplay of these three. It would be incorrect to view that as being the intuitive. Intuition depends on the degree to which awareness is invested in thinking, feeling, and sensing. The dynamic is a result of the interplay of conditions and bigger and better intuitive functioning. In a way, perhaps you could say that awareness is integral to the dynamic.

In the west we approach this whole subject via some mysterious thing called ‘matter’ which has a sense of something solid and unmoving. In the east they use the term ‘rupa’, which indicates a transient form or a shaping. This brings to mind the active, dynamic statement of reality found in a famous teaching called The Heart Sutra: shaping is emptying. Even the vacuuming is shaping; almost like an ocean with its continuous tidal dance. There is a hint of this in the name given to high attainment: Ocean Seal Samadhi. One has to think differently to image this experience. Imagine an ocean in which nothing is arising; it is flat in all directions, so you are able to see all interconnections. To see all arisings or interconnections is, in fact, to see nothing.

Think of matter as an ocean of potential, a limitless network which interplays. Once you free the mind from human time reference, you can see everything as faster and slower pulsations of time and space. How we habitually conceive of matter is not a valid consideration. Iron from your standpoint is not iron from a universal standpoint. It is a temporary binding. It’s not even that bound, because it’s in the process of transmuting.

It is more effective to become interested in the formula for shaping than in trying to find solid answers. Through understanding the patterns of mutating form, you could transmute anything. People tend to see static reality, but all dharma is in constant flux. There is no permanence in flux. Form is only an agreement to a fiction. Were I to drop this vase, I would only hasten its destruction, not cause it. Ultimately the vase is already broken. Dropping it only speeds up the process. Even light and space are not constant. There is no such thing as a vacuum, except on paper.

One could say this teaching is only interested in formulas. When you wish to make a particular colour of paint, you make it according to formula. It is possible that on the next day the same formula might produce a slightly different colour because all things are in a state of flux. No formula will work exactly the same in every application. The accuracy might be 999 out of 1,000 experiments, but the law of probability is still involved. We live in a probable rather than a fixed universe. In a fixed universe there would be no coming into being and passing away.

“God has left a little point between He and thee.” So said Meister Eckhart. There is some little difference; the God state and the created state are one point away. Creation exists only by the withdrawal of God. (I like to use the word ‘God’ to confuse you!) There is only one constant – Dharmadhatu. It neither arises nor ceases. There is an ideal constant, but it’s not on paper – and God isn’t either!

All dharma that can be observed is probable. Applied awakening is simply the exploration of probability. By computing the likelihoods, you get greater understanding of probability. Compute what is likely, not what you think of as actual. A Bodhisattva lives in a totality of probability – that’s called the fruition of awakening. A Sammasambuddha lives in a totality of actuality. All of which is just another view in your being.

What have you ever done but compute probabilities? There is speculation and there is experience. To say that creation exists is stating a probable. There’s no pure theory; there is only probability. Mankind must be mentally retarded: that should have been clear thousands of years ago! The probability of the observer is interesting. I don’t find the observers probable, however.

The whole beauty of this existence is in its uncertainty. Leaves on the trees tremble until they fall.

There is either responsibility – using that word in the way most people do – or probability. If you want to experience lots of suffering then try to live in certainty. As the saying goes, there’s only death and taxes as certain. And when you try to find certainty, you’re taxing yourself to death. By trying to make the impermanent permanent you’ve picked up the bad habit of becoming certain. And unfortunately, you think that the path of enlightenment is to establish certainty while in fact it’s for freedom. Enlightenment is for the unenlightened.

What are you doing here? I know. You want to get it all pitti-pat. But if you ever succeeded, it would only end up with you being a patsy for pity. What is your view of awakening? Let that go. Imagine a totality of view; open-ended awakening. There’s glory for you! That wouldn’t exclude exploration. But most beings want Humpty Dumpty to stay right up there on that wall. All the king’s horses and all the king’s men will never be able to keep Humpty Dumpty together, whatsoever. They are trying.

You are a probable, not an actual. You are only a creation. You may suffer a sea change, but that would be an actual. All the cells of your body are supposed to be aligned. If you have a problem it is because you lack sympathy.

One aspect of the study of rupa in the Dhamma-Sangani is an introduction to the idea that formings or shapings could be produced from unwholesome states. If you were to endow your activities with unwholesomeness, that would be a catalyst for unwholesome results, unwholesome realizations. Shapes that, due to their coding, trigger off unwholesome realizations do exist. They could be described as a mismatch, a sin in matter. (I suggest that you take this idea with a grain of salt.) So now the question is raised: are there shapes which are kusala, shapes which retard unfoldment, and shapes which are neutral? There is something of that idea in the study of DNA and RNA; the coding that builds beings. Shapes could be created – something like a gargoyle – that would seem evil to some. There could be shapes that demoralize human perception; shapes that do not slot in with acceptable human coding and thus produce unwholesome streams of consciousness.

One could dissolve the body by sound; could the same thing be done by shape? Through any of your sense organs you are vulnerable to a quickened pace of dissolution. Are some shapes actually aiding in the growth of cancer cells, or other disease? A society can build cities using shapes that stream consciousness in a way that arrests the drive to unfoldment. And once something is constructed, it can seem ‘right’, so these shapes can be self-perpetuating.

This would not only be limited to the visual sense. There are frequencies of sound capable of dissolving the earth itself. A whole exploration could be undertaken to discern which frequencies bind and which loosen matter. But before you get to that, first I suggest you study which forms, sounds, tastes, and colours that you now experience have kusala, akusala, or kiriya intonations. Then perhaps we might move on to exploring which combination of sense data move mankind toward a quantum leap and which lead to downward evolution.

How does the environment shape consciousness? The environment is shaping consciousness, although the effect may take millions of years to become manifest, or it may happen in only a few hours. What is pollution? What shape is that? In pure theory, it could be possible that the human body could mutate into the shape of a toad in a very short time. Mind shaping is always occurring. It’s only a question of the time span involved. To know more about this type of thing, you will need to study the time/space interplay. This is called ‘evolution’ and ‘preservation of the species’ in most circles, but I call it ‘adaptation. So it is for you to question whether your environment is leading to wholesome or to unwholesome adaptation. Do you think it’s possible to maintain human life by form alone, isolated from the environment?

The Pythagorean School studied shapes very seriously, building the temple by using the laws of sacred geometry. This building was done in silence or with music, and the shapes were designed as harmonics. (Shapes reflecting the mysteries are occasionally still around in our time. The original meaning of the red and white spiral used for a barber’s pole was the spine.) Harmony with the human body is a very important consideration when planning a building. Disharmonious shapes in our architecture can cause harm, even death. If you put a human being into a room with very low ceilings, into an oppressive space, that will augment neurosis. This is why in the mystery schools the study of the Golden Mean – which is related to the scale of the human body – was so important. It would be of interest for you to study the co-relation between shape and colour and the human reaction; to pay attention to the effect of environment. Not only can this dharma cause harm, it can also awaken beings.

Biorhythms would also be part of this study. It is important to examine the co-relation between outer and inner environments. Unless you make an effort to leave your cities and spend time in the dynamic shapes of nature, it may be difficult for you to overcome unwholesome states. Even 2,500 odd years ago, the Buddha advised beings to get out of cities, go sit amidst a forest. Nature builds in silence. Cities are roaring with restriction; they are on about walls.

North American cities are often built on a grid system. In Europe one finds more mandalic designs. The lay-out of a city is also worth considering in terms of providing support for beings to attain the network understanding. There is reason to pay attention to spatial directions when constructing communities, in particular to honour the power of the north-south polarity. I wonder why we don’t have more cities laid out in the pattern of a spider’s web, or a bubble. Perhaps we are coming to a time when more attention will be paid to whether man can be made or broken by the shaping of habitat.

In the future it may be necessary to decentralize our urban centres. Throughout the present city streets creativity could be incorporated into structure. Why not display interesting objects in neighbourhoods so people lived within a mobile cultural show? One week you might walk along and see an Etruscan vase. The next week, perhaps the Mona Lisa would be on display. Why not use cities as an expression of movable culture – whether or not protected by unbreakable plastic walls – rather than having special buildings isolated from neighbourhoods that require a time-consuming trip to get to? I would like to see whole cities showing the richness of history, celebrating the glory of humanity.

STUDENT: Someone once tried to sell that idea to a city, but he didn’t get very far.

TEACHER: Maybe they didn’t buy because he was selling.

For homework, I would like to give you a major key to work with: the Ali Kali alphabet. This is a common mantra used in Buddhism, particularly in the higher or secret initiations of the Tibetan schools. The consonants of this alphabet are arranged, for the most part, in groups of five. Perhaps when you are reciting them, you could equate them with the five senses, or as movements in the five main cakras. This mantra is particularly useful for purifying the sense doors, so you can take this assignment as an on-going investigation.

An added note about space: in the Buddhist Order it is customary to sit at least three steps from a teacher. Coming within three steps of someone’s personal space can make them feel crowded, and this can be interpreted as an act of aggression. This also has some symbolism of the three steps involved in undertaking the religious life: purification, illumination, and beatitude. Studying the rules of the order will lead to many interesting realizations.
The nature of a homeostatic relationship is to make an agreement. The minute there is compulsion, there is binding; a binding and a zeroing – and no departure from that. You might represent this relationship with a plus sign, a zero, and a minus sign. If you consider the plus sign to represent Nirmanakaya, the zero as Dharmakaya, and the minus as Sambhogakaya, then the nature of the agreement would be the centre – Dharmakaya. All of nature is a withdrawal into Dharmakaya. If you want to use that confusing language, you could say that all movement is a plus and/or a minus flowing back to God or Creator. This analogy has also been represented by the yin/yang symbol, and by male/female polarity. In the yin/yang, the dots in each half are actually dimensional. One point is sticking out and the other is going in. The half-circle shape is actually a three-dimensional spiral. The dot is Dharmakaya, and it moves. When you image this symbol, think of it not as a solid outline but as moving in all directions. In time, it puts on solidity.

Simply because emptying is always accompanied by forming, the yin/yang is a very adequate meditation symbol, useful to realize the homeostasis which is called an agreement. The agreement is the balancing factor. It doesn’t have to be restricted to one plane; there are undulations. A wheel is made up of particles, but because of its rapidity of movement, it becomes a circle. Allow these symbols to work on you. Bring your consciousness back again and again to these considerations. Allow them to be internalized. Then it will act as a trigger to the intuitive leap; the higher understanding.

STUDENT: In the Southern School’s meditation on metta, the word ‘kammassaka’ is used, and it is translated to mean ‘all have kamma as their own’. Is that one’s wish for others?

TEACHER: It is likely that ‘assa’ – which is in the middle of that word – means that all are beings of kamma or karma. All beings are identical with karma; causal reference beings. In Thailand, ‘assaka’ is a greeting, a royal expression, and in English it would translate as ‘all on their own’. The meanings of this word can range from indicating that the being has mastery over karma or that they are not subject to others, and therefore it is used as a royal greeting. I would take the meaning in the sutra to be a wish that beings be able to process or master their kamma. Then the other meanings also come into play; the sense of being independent, not subject to kamma, not booted about in the fields of life by other players.

STUDENT: Could it also mean not produced by consciousness?

TEACHER: It has to do with planes of form only. It simply relates to shape frozen, something like what occurs at the event horizon of a black hole.

STUDENT: (question unclear)

TEACHER: Every mandala is basically reflecting an awareness of the several identities within your own being. It is possible that some beings can have five-fold vision; awareness of five world-systems at one time. In fact, with overview one could live five lives at once. There could be five different beings of five different spheres of consciousness linked to one another by overview. I suggest that you look at the standard dorje mandala and perhaps try to see different scenes taking place. To do this type of work, you must be confirmed as a human being, and not subject to rebirth. When one receives an empowerment – a formal initiation to evoke meeting the transcendental wisdom – that ceremony grants protection for this type of exploration.

Foundation for this type of experience can be laid through recall of past events. The classical meditation for exploring this is to imagine oneself passing through rings of light. After having some success with that bit, then one develops the ability to link the cellular coding of human consciousness with the coding of a dog, a cat, and so forth. This needs to arise with sympathy and without fear. Eventually, having destroyed the illusion of a permanent ego by meeting with all the types of beings who interweave in the history of this life, one can become aware of all views; many ego identities. Remember that the Buddha said “… I become one with them…” You can know the lives of others; you can be thousands of beings! Maybe you are now living the lives of others anyway!

The story of the Buddha’s awakening tells how he reviewed 100,000 of his lives in one hour. The second step was to review 100,000 lives of 100,000 other beings. Then in the third watch of the night, he reviewed the entire arising of the universe. And only then was he completely awakened. It wasn’t enough to have 100,000 mantra of lifetimes arising in a serial formation. It had to be a multidimensional experience – and even that wasn’t enough. Only when knowledge of the whole causation of all arising came did he realize that which is not subject to coming into being or passing away. With the realization of causation came the experience of the Four Noble Truths, which constituted the great awakening. And that understanding is out of sight!

By complete seeing – when you’ve seen all – there is no longer any you. When you hear all sounds, that’s the Divine Sound. So the phrase ‘leading on’ is used when speaking of liberation. Awakening is far beyond the concepts grasped by ego. But ego is not to be destroyed; it is to be worn easily without grasping, like the Fool. Then you might have not just one lifetime, but thousands of lifetimes; thousands upon thousands of coming into being and passing away available to consciousness. Readings of lifetimes take place from the heart centre. Hetu is the root, the heart of understanding. The word ‘hetu’ has the same origin as the word for heart in Pali: ‘hadaya’.

The principle of liberation is applicable to all the senses. The universe has but one taste. Sammasambuddha isn’t restricted to just seeing everything, to just having One or total vision. In the texts there are references to exploration of taste; the tongue is also to be liberated. One might speak of awareness as the process of tonguing the universe.

Avalokitesvara, the mighty Lord, beheld but five heaps; a mandala. There is a seeing universe. Atoms have eyes. Consciousness is always building sensing, wherever you go. Sensing is a universal ability. Anywhere a paramattha exists, consciousness will develop an organ to interrelate with it. Maybe the universe is just God licking himself! Every place is Nirvana; every being is the living Buddha. The unborn belongs to no category. Therefore it can admit to no alteration. It is the zero point. Drop the anxiety and the Buddha will appear.

Photo caption: Ananda Bodhi at his home on Harbord St, Toronto,1970 photo ©Peter Deutsch

Edited works ©Cecilie Kwiat