Discovering Buddhism at Home -FAQ
Module 3 - Presenting the Path (page 1)
Can you help me imagine a non-conceptual state of mind? The whole idea is very foreign to me.
A student writes:
In relation to module 3 another query. A mind without conceptualisation? Don't get me wrong, I'm not expressing disbelief, just .... what's that supposed to be? I guess I think I have some idea and maybe some small experience of it in meditation when I empty my mind of thought, which then thoughts still arise but are left to pass, so the bits where there is no thought might be something of a non-conceptual state, when there is nothing. Nothing at all. I most definitely have not had a realisation of emptiness or anything, not even a true glimpse, so trying to imagine a non-conceptual state of mind, particularly as a continual state is very foreign for me.
Can anyone explain? Any ideas? Any opinions?
Ven. Connie responds:
In the Mind and Awareness (lo-rig) teachings, there is a distinction made between perception and conception. Perception is a direct apprehension of an object by the mind, whereas conception means to apprehend the object by means of a mental image. "Thinking," as we normally conceive of it, is a conceptual process. We are "thinking" about things that are not there, by means of remembered images. When I say "image", I don't automatically mean something derived from the visual. We have sound images, taste images, tactile images, discursive images, etc. as well. When you remember anything that isn't present, that is definitely a conceptual process, apprehending, for example, the Eiffel Tower in your mind through your memory of having seen a picture or the Eiffel Tower itself, or a tune that you heard, etc.
So you actually experience direct perception all the time, especially in the first moments when you see, or hear, or smell, or taste, or touch things. Conceptuality starts functioning quite quickly -- after only a moment or so -- but nevertheless, we DO have nonconceptual perceptions all the time.
We have six consciousnesses ... our five sense consciousnesses PLUS our mental consciousness. It is that mental consciousness that turns inward and observes the mind itself, but it is also that mental consciousness that is active when we are thinking, remembering, etc. So the habit of conceptuality, of mental images, is very strong there. The key is to learn to catch the moments of nonconceptual awareness of the mental consciousness, of awareness without mental images, and distinguish them from conceptual consciousnesses. This comes from spending a great deal of time observing the mind, moment by moment, gaining greater concentration, slowing down time, and gaining the ability to distinguish even small and subtle differences between one moment of mind and another.
The thing about mental images (sometimes called generic images and sometimes translated as "meaning generalities") is that they are permanent, i.e., NOT changing moment by moment. So the mental images that we form, whether of the Eiffel Tower or of our friends, wives, husbands, enemies, etc. are unchanging during their duration. It's odd. A mental image may be destroyed (permanent does NOT mean eternal) and another, slightly or greatly different in characteristics, may take its place -- this is how we make adjustments in our mental images as all the impermanent things in the world undergo change. But during the duration of its "lifetime", a mental image doesn't change moment by moment. So our "image" of our enemy isn't really in touch with the actual every-changing nature of our enemy -- the image remains the same, while the person is continually changing.
I'd just like to say one more thing about conceptual and nonconceptual consciousnesses. There is great debate among the 4 schools of Tibetan Buddhism with regard to the role of conceptuality in the path to enlightenment. Lama Tsongkhapa was especially strong in his contention that we can USE our conceptual mind -- specifically through what is called a valid inferential cognizer, which is a type of conceptual mind -- as a stepping stone to a direct perception or direct realization of the points and stages of the path, such as emptiness, impermanence, equanimity, bodhichitta, etc. We can explore further how that happens, but suffice it to say here, Lama Tsongkhapa definitely demonstrates how our conceptual mind is a tool that we learn to master and make use of as we learn to go beyond it.
Is that too much? I hope not. You might try the following references:
· Meditation on Emptiness, by Jeffrey Hopkins (Wisdom Publs.)
· Mind in Tibetan Buddhism, by Lati Rinbochay and Elizabeth Napper (Snow Lion)
· The Mind and Its Functions, by Geshe Rabten (Rabten Choeling, available through Snow Lion Publications)
I hope this helps. Let me know if you have any questions arising!
all good things,
Why didn’t Shakyamuni Buddha create karma with his actions after he was enlightened, such as when he was just eating or walking?
A student writes:
Lama Yeshe said that the Buddha was ready to get enlightenment even before he did the six ascetic years and become enlightened. Because he had the karma full positive, and that he has made the round of three great eons, if I've well understood the "The Essence of Tibetan Buddhism", he became the buddha. But still he had action and which had made reaction in his life, but he produced no more karma at all, so what is really the westerns translation of the Karma, could you explain it Tibetan elders?
Ven. Connie responds:
If I understand your question rightly ...
There seem to be two different interpretations in the Buddhist teachings regarding the life of Shakyamuni Buddha himself. One is that before his lifetime as Siddhartha, that person's mindstream was on the bodhisattva path and entered the life of Siddhartha as a bodhisattva, having practiced the bodhisattva's deeds (as documented in the Jataka tales) for three great countless eons. He then lived that life that we have subsequently become familiar with and reached enlightenment under the bodhi tree, at which moment he became Shakyamuni Buddha. Having become a buddha, he went completely beyond samsara, beyond karma. Unless he had realized emptiness before sitting under the bodhi tree, unless he had already attained nirvana (which the story does not say that he did), then it was not until his full enlightenment that he crossed beyond the boundaries of karma.
However, there is also the teaching that when Siddhartha was born into this life, he was already enlightened (which is that which, to my understanding, Lama Yeshe was referring). From his conception in his mother's womb, all the way through his manifesting death by entering parinirvana, that being, Siddhartha/Shakyamuni Buddha, was manifesting the 12 deeds of a buddha, as did all the previous buddhas. These 12 deeds of a buddha's life, including demonstrating attaining enlightenment, are all teachings/instructions for us to inspire us on the path to do the same. According to that perspective, then Siddhartha/Shakyamuni Buddha would have been beyond karma and beyond samsara from the actual moment of his enlightenment, and therefore throughout that entire life in which he manifested the 12 deeds for our benefit. He manifested his childhood, he manifested his teenage years, his marriage, his forays into the world, his escape from the palace, his years of ascetic practice, etc., etc.
As with many teachings, there are different perspectives offered to us ... as we are not all at the same level or needing the same teaching to help us on the path. I believe the most prevalent perspective on the Buddha's life is the second of the above perspectives, as evidenced by Lama Yeshe's teaching.
Does this help? Hope so.
warm wishes to all,