Abhidhamma Eleventh Lecture


The Abhidhamma

by Ven. Namgyal Rinpoche
Edited by Cecilie Kwiat

Introduction to the Abhidhamma
August – September 1977
11th of 16 Lectures


STUDENT: In the matrix the word ‘flood’ is used. Would you explain what that refers to?

TEACHER: This is from the root word ‘ogha’, oh + going, and indicates a complete overwhelming; that which overwhelms, floods or carries consciousness away. There is the ‘o’ – surprise, plus ‘ga’ – going, plus ‘ha’ – to kill. When consciousness is tumbled over and over in a torrent, surprised, unable to do anything about it, overwhelmed, dragged to the bottom of the sea, you would use the word ‘ogha’. It is descriptive of states of mind that surprise or overwhelm consciousness.

What factors would be present in such an event? One example might be what is called the “Zen sickness”. Or it could arise because of a storm of lust, hatred, or some other unwholesome state. For example, a rapist or someone in the grip of psychopathic states is entrapped by an idea or an event which suddenly arises, surprising the usual state of consciousness and pushing the being into an extraordinary act. ‘Ogha’ would refer to manslaughter rather than murder; to an event occurring outside of the usual limitations of a situation rather than arising through premeditated intention. So from the Dhamma-Sangani standpoint, one would ask what conditions are capable of producing such a flood. It is not panic so much as being carried away, flying off to the destruction of the being; even to the extent of psychosis.

The syllable ‘o’ is a contraction of ‘ava’. ‘Ava’ literally refers to a go-nowhere place; not-going going. When you are completely carried away, ‘you’ don’t go anywhere. One might say you are in the grip of the archetypes if that suggest that conscious decision making is negated. Therefore, it produces manic patterns. There are no options; there is just the flooding of consciousness. This is not a common experience. Obviously at this present moment ideas aren’t flooding you, because your mind is easily distracted.

Mania is an excitation of the system; a high of metabolism. Wake/sleep extremes are a more usual example of that – that should be simple enough for you to understand. We all go though a manic-depressive cycle which is not really maniacal. Energy changes with or without trials and troubles. We all have fluctuating day/night biorhythms. But along with that there is also the way that consciousness streams along through many different objects rather than continuously beating on one. I spoke of this the other day, of how the mind adverts to different objects when you think you are looking at only one thing: dog, cat, and so forth. So you don’t become a maniac because you are distracted by other things. Were that not so, it would be possible to be flooded, to be carried away, with no conscious control.

Ogha is the complete opposite of directed consciousness. The latter is not so much a flood; it’s more like a directed beam. With flooding, the causal reference being is wiped off the board. Both are intense, both have one object, but the difference is that in one the emphasis is nama and in the other it is rupa. Here I am using rupa as the form quality of consciousness.

STUDENT: What is meant by the expression “conjoined with jhana”?

TEACHER: This has a sense of lead-up. The being has developed the conjoined mental state and then – whether accidentally or not – attained jhana.

When the being has pre-programmed the mind with aspiration to awaken, or has held the question “What is Buddha?” and then attains jhana, upon emerging from that state there can occur attainment of transcendence. Directing the mind to some aspiration and then entering full one-pointed concentration is referred to as “conjoined with jhana”. The experience of jhana has the capacity to cleanse consciousness. As the being emerges from that state, the clear mind then adverts to the pre-programmed aspiration or question and realization arises. With fruition of path, attainment arises conjoined with jhana.

The completely awakened being always abides in a kusala state; in ecstasy. There remains no karmic activity; no work to be done. Karma refers to tilling the field. The transcendent is the fruition of previous work, the final harvest. At that point there is no more subjection to becoming.

There are differences in the way the idea of karma is used. One can speak of Buddha karma, and of karma. Karma can result in Path or in blind wandering. When the being has attained Path there is no more work – or there is effortless work. For example, you may work to build a machine, but when you switch it on and it runs, your work of building it is done. At that point you are no longer required to think about it; the machine just runs. Buddha Karma is suggested in the name of one of the Tibetan schools of Buddhism: Kargyu. This is the working school, the school that’s doing, and doesn’t have to do anything. It is involved.

The quality of attainment is spoken of as jhana because there are no unwholesome factors present in that experience. When the mind takes Nirvana as object, attachment is to the very nature of Nirvana. Because of attachment to that nature, the highest rupa and arupa factors of concentration are fulfilled. Then there is nowhere further to go, so it is path – the work is fulfilled. Path is not quite the correct translation, unless you see that as a verb, as activity. There is a sense of flowing, of going, at this point. The Pali word for ‘path’ is ‘magga’ which gives the idea of becoming one with the One: ‘ma’ + ‘ga’. In Sanskrit it is ‘marga’: ‘ma’ + ‘ra’ + ‘ga’. So ‘path’ is ‘mother-going’; going into the womb of the universe, the womb of being, returning to the One, to the source from which all beings spring.

One could also say that, with the arising of marga, you become gaga; the ego is wiped of all reference. Looking at the composition of the word we have ‘ma’ + ‘raga’: ‘raga’ is ‘king’. ‘Ra’ on its own is ‘fire’, and ‘ga’ is ‘return’. So this could arise as a majestic, fiery going. In one way, Path is experienced as jhana, but one might say it could be triply jhana if first the lead up, the ground work laid before Path experience was practice of jhana. Second is through the quality of attaining Magga. And third is the abiding in that ecstatic state after attainment. Magga is one-pointed goneness, and because no one is going anywhere, there is detachment: anywhere – or everywhere – abiding. The letter ‘m’ implies a state of imminence, of anywhere or everywhere abiding.

‘Svaha’ is ‘with it’; with marga.

Now we will look at time sequence. In the mantra of Orange Tara the word ‘gate’ is present. This can be translated as ‘going’, ‘being’, and ‘coming’. The mantra is OM GATE GATE PARAGATE PARASAMGATE BODHI SVAHA. It opens with ‘om’; which is similar to the ‘ma’ we spoke of earlier, and refers to the state of being. This mantra reflects on the going/being/coming or fruition of the ‘ma’. Perhaps 90% of the time ‘gate’ is translated as ‘going’, 9% as ‘coming’, and 1% as ‘being’. Going to attainment with jhana is the resolution of the path. That going – ‘ga’ – is itself a state of being, a resolution of the path, and thus is the coming to fruition. ‘Svaha’ is ‘with it’; with marga. Practice the mantra with this understanding. You are the Om, the aspiration. You are exposing yourself to your own aspiration for awakening; exposing yourself to the mother of your being.

One could say that Om is mother reversed; the quality in your being which is the seed of the transcendent and is aspiring to full experience of that. ‘Om’ is also the womb. Your work is to bring mother and son together and then the son has life. The ‘ga’ represents jhana and the ‘om’ is the ma state of being. In ancient times Om was vocalized as AUM and was said to include all vowel sounds. From that perspective it could be thought of as a way of using sound to move energy from the root chakra to the crown. ‘O’ also represents the result of discriminating wisdom, which is linked to negation.

Marga – the way back to mother – is here.

Either get involved or get excited when practicing mantra yoga. It’s not enough to mumble through one rosary a day if you want results. Right now it’s very easy for you to gain insights; they’re being handed to you on a platter – you’re getting it second hand. You know the Buddha said that you don’t get anywhere by counting the sheep in someone else’s pasture. Attainment is here. Marga – the way back to mother – is here. If you immerse yourself in studying the minuteness of seed syllables you will find indications of this truth. The mantra of Orange Tara has to do with being: GA TE.

STUDENT: Would you speak about cetana?

TEACHER: Cetana is ‘ceto’ + ‘na’. ‘Na’ is a negation. The ‘ceto’ part is somewhat remote from – but still related to – words like ‘chanda’ which is ‘wishing’ and also ‘moon’. What we see as moonlight is in fact reflected sunlight. The idea behind ‘cetana’ is interwoven with this analogy; it is pointing to reflection of energy.

Question always arouses aspiration. You are aroused by the light of aspiration, which is of the same nature as the one mind. Is the aspiration of your being more like moonlight or sunlight? You are boiling with things you want to do, one of which is “I want to awaken”. And your aspirations influence how you see. If you were to hold up a mirror and look at it, you would see your own mind. This is actually done by the lama in some wongkurs; he holds a mirror to show the one mind.

The moon of aspiration is not separate from sunlight even though cetana is often equated with being the cause of wandering in samsara. There is a famous quote from the Buddha: “O bhikkhus, I say to you that cetana is karma.” The mind that wants is a working mind; the feeling that there is something lacking does not make for passivity. That mind and karma are inseparable. One can’t say that first there is cetana and then karma – they are conjoined. Because there is one, there is the other. So with the word cetana, you have ‘ceto’ + ‘na’; one mind negation. Mere wanting is tugging at your head. The solution is also presented with chanda.

You are familiar with the word ‘karma’, which denotes ‘going somewhere’. There is another word very similar – ‘kama’. This word indicates sensual desire, greed, or just desire. Undoubtedly you have met with it in the Abhidhamma studies as ‘kama vacara’, which is the name for the sensual sphere or realm. It is also used to indicate desire for sensual experience; kama-chanda. The ‘chanda’ part hints at the path because there is at least an awareness of sunlight. But when you just want – kama – that’s more like vaguely hearing the call of the mother without any sense of understanding. ‘Karma’ is moving, working, but ‘kama’ really has no movement toward satisfaction; it’s just “I want mama” desire. When view accompanies this desire, there is ‘chanda’ – moonlight. In Mahamudra teaching the moonlight is equated with the son, or son-light. The light of the sun is referred to as the mother-light. So this is the beginning of getting to where the mother-light and the son-light become one.

Aspiration leads to union with totality. It is totality that has given rise to chanda. All beings are tumbling through existence to the great ocean; all beings are driven by the transcendent. Although it is blind desire, even the ‘ka’ of ‘kama’ can be a higher call. Kama has the potential to become ordered, directed, because it is also oriented toward the light of the sun; it is associated with the pleasure principle. ‘Kama’ without the long ‘a’ sound means ‘steps’, and ‘kamati’ is ‘to walk’; so you have indications that the being can be liberated by the pleasurable, the beautiful. Unfortunately most beings don’t open themselves to the present beauty because they are engrossed with seeking rather than finding. They are seeking The Big One, the origin of desire (which they are sure is somewhere else) so they go now here, now there. However, because kama is a call to the higher, any way the being is going – albeit in blind wandering rather than with aspiration – is eventually chanda. So the word ‘kama’ doesn’t necessarily have negative connotations; it is just the idea of stepping. Ka ma ka ma ka ka ka; short steps of pleasure will eventually lead to the Pleasurable, to ma, to suck – sukha. Then you can have succour at leisure!

In the mantra we were discussing earlier the word ‘gate’ is repeated, so you have three (‘te’) goings twice. The three goings are the Dharmakaya, Sambhogakaya, and Nirmanakaya. Pa + ram + gate – the fathering fire within; sam gate is the fathering fire without. ‘Bo’ is ‘bud, budding’, and the ending of the word ‘bodhi’, the ‘hi’ is ‘higher’. Then comes ‘svaha’: the ‘sva’ is with and ‘ha’ is happiness – may it flow! To go three times to the Buddha dhatu is known as Gotrabhu. This experience arises when one opens to the three-fold realization of Dharmakaya, Sambhogakaya, and Nirmanakaya as one.

The mantra begins with OM when it is intoned by an awakened being, or for the first repetition of a series done by a practitioner. Not all mantra start with OM; that seed syllable has a very special meaning. It indicates that this principle is completely conscious and working at the Nirmanakaya level of being. When recited by the lama in wongkurs, this mantra is said with the OM syllable to express “Thus it is”, showing that this state is being bestowed from guru to chela to build the student in happiness.

TADYATHA OM GATE GATE PARAGATE PARASAMGATE BODHI SVAHA! It’s very clear. But perhaps first you should carry on with your intellectualizations, carry on with your work studying the Ali Kali alphabet mantra, and your studies will bring you to this clarity.

We have covered some of the meanings of the word ‘kama’, so now let us turn to ‘vacara’. The ‘cara’ part means ‘circle’. You move in circles – or spirals – in order to progress. So-called repetitive patterns are never actually repeating; they are charioting. It is not possible to repeat a circle, but one can approximate repetition. The opposite of ‘vacara’ – and the symbol moving to Gotrabhu – is the arrow. It has a triangular arrowhead to show the three-time going of Dharmakaya, Sambhogakaya, and Nirmanakaya. An arrow is used to symbolize the moment just preceding attainment of transcendence; the moment when the decision has been made. The end feathers are arranged in a spiral; which is how one moves toward this experience.

‘Samsara’ originally meant ‘to enter’ or ‘to be in the state of’. You have entered the Wheel of Samsara which is perpetually in motion. Your habitual patterns will eventually allow you to gather the momentum – if you repeat them often enough! – to become the flight of the arrow. Even through habitual patterns you will eventually be liberated from the wheel of becoming.

When describing the experience of Gotrabhu, the Visuddhimagga uses the analogy of a man on one shore who wishes to cross over. Here he is, on the shore of blind wandering, looking at the shore of certainty. In between the two, the Tree of Life is growing. (Let’s say it’s growing upside-down: the Tree of Life is said to have its roots in heaven.) A vine is hanging from the tree. Now one day – because of the divine law of chance, because of the essential freedom of the universe – one day, the wind blows that vine right to the shore where you/he stands! (Of course this happens after much diligent seeding by those untiring teachers, Mr. and Mrs. Puthujjana!)

The being on this side has kept repeating the problems and examples freely given by life over and over again. There has been some amount of aspiration, but this moment arises as an expression of evolution rather than as something self-inspired. Propelled by this force of evolution, the being runs up to the edge of the shore – but then can’t quite make the decision to grab the vine and jump. So he runs back again. Perhaps he spends some time recalling the events of his life. Then off he goes again, running to the shore. And again he hesitates. Back to recall some more, charging himself up.

He goes back and forth like this. His experience of recall may even go to the time he was in the womb. Like they say of a drowning person, he sees his entire life pass before his eyes. Strangely enough, this is what gives him the impetus to make the runs. But he’s not quite yet ready to grab hold and swing on that vine. Once more he engages in recall, this time maybe even going beyond the birth experience. Then – after reviewing entire sequences of patterns – ultimately the decision is made to jump. Off he goes, grabs the vine, and swings.

Gotrabhu is the middle of the jump. It is a state of hiatus, suspended. The experience is all vacara until you reach the other shore, which is Lokuttara. Incidentally, the Tree of Life is really on this shore, not separate from you. For the moment I’ve imaged it in mid-heaven.

STUDENT: When that experience of recall is occurring, is that what is referred to as the great healing?

TEACHER: In the 16 Stages of Insight the great healing is listed as number 11. Using the analogy of shooting an arrow, this stage is comparable to pulling back the bow. When the meditator comes to this point, he will experience a clearing of energy blocks, of traumas. This frees one’s power, so the run can then be successful. During the final run-up the great healing is complete; all the traumas are actually released in that process. First you un-become, then you can become. You go back into the dis-ease in order to free your energy from that binding.

There is no security without enlightenment. You really must become as little children; go back to before you learned to fear. There is no security for the being that does not do this. This process is a bit like the dance of Salome with her veils. You can think of it as one of the stages of insight, or relate to it as a story from the Bible, or whatever you wish, but this process has to be completed. For most of you, at the moment you are probably coming up against something that makes you sleepy or distracted when you meditate. You go right up to the edge of some happening and then, OOPS! Back you go. You take refuge in thinking about what you will do when you get up from the cushion! That’s fine; that’s how the process goes. But until you return to the cause of trauma there will be no liberation. In the Abhidhamma it says that when one is in a state of calm, nothing is frightening. When the Buddha remembered 100,000 different world systems, he cleared not only his being, but the origins of mind.

STUDENT: What responsibility to children do we have in terms of karma?

TEACHER: What do you mean, what responsibility to children do you have? You’re not responsible for your own karma. (They say that the lama takes on every being’s karma.)

Children are experiential, so to be responsible you must be able to respond. Beings who talk about taking on responsibility are not usually able to respond. Really, they are rarely concerned with society, the house, the partner, and all that – that’s just a falsity. Horrors to hear them talk in terms of responsibility!

When you are a co-responsive being, responsibility is effortless. It’s not a question of “Am I responsible for someone else’s karma?” You’ve heard this question before: “Am I my brother’s, sister’s, child’s, parent’s keeper?” Ponder on this two, three, four ways. Shall you keep them in the jail of your lack of response? What are your options? Do you drop them on the street in the hope that they will be picked up by some responsible being?

In terms of awakening, what prevents responsibility? The term itself – although it can be very useful for teaching – is an anathema because it is used so often as an excuse for blindly following dictates. Just look at the word: response + ability. In some way, it brings to mind the French word ‘pence’ – to think. Maybe to be responsible is to cognize the pulsations of the universe. Are you responsible for your parents, for society? That’s not really a question, is it? All you are really concerned with for starters is the capability of your depth response for seeing, hearing, and sensing.

You refer to karma as if you were talking about work in a factory. That’s what I think you mean by responsibility: what you have to do. The whole universe is working, and here you are thinking “My child, my problems”. Why not go further, why not increase the weight? Why not “My universe”? Take up the white, black, green man’s burden; take up the whole thing. Then one day if you’re lucky the weight will be crushing, and you’ll drop it. After that, you’ll be able to respond.

You aren’t responding now. You are bearing, putting up with, toiling like a slave for someone else. You will not be able to escape aggression with that attitude! I suggest that you strip all these ideas, bare yourself. Make yourself more sensitive and you will begin to understand the aliveness of responsibility. Open the dead corpus. Massage yourself with sandpaper if necessary. As the body goes, so goes the mind. You may be carrying one or the other – or both – of your parents around and they bore too much. You don’t have to be responsible for children: just chuck your parents. Don’t follow their dictums as if they were gods who must be obeyed.

All has been asked. All has been heard, and nothing has been responded to.