Tsoknyi Rinpoche. "The Ground." In Carefree Dignity: Discourses on Training in the Nature of Mind by Drubwang Tsoknyi Rinpoche, compiled and translated by Erik Pema Kunsang and Marcia Binder Schmidt, edited by Kerry Moran, 23–31. Hong Kong: Rangjung Yeshe Publications, 1998.
The most important aspect in Buddhism is mind, and mind means attitude. We need to form a genuine attitude about engaging in the Buddhist path. Once we've decided to enter it, we should think, "What a fortunate situation I've encountered! I'm very happy about this, and I'll make full use of it. I'll use this situation not merely to make me temporarily happy or to achieve something for myself, but in order to diminish my disturbing emotions and progress towards enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings." This kind of attitude is something we need to train in.
Having formed this attitude, we need to work on realizing that everything is pure just the way it is. Everything is intrinsically free and perfect, and this is not just our imagination. The very nature of all things is an original purity. Whether we are talking about the nature of mind or the nature of all things, it is basically pure. This purity is not somehow separated from the impure aspect of things. Nor is it some product that we need to create or achieve. It is a natural purity, already present. Do you understand this principle? This is very important.
This original purity is not to be regarded as a product, a creation of something new, something that is not already present. It's not like that at all. Original purity is not something created or accomplished. We may imagine that because we so obviously experience impurity that there must be purity somewhere else that we can get to, as if we are in a foul-smelling room and we imagine a beautiful fragrance in another place. That's not it. This purity does not fall into any category; it belongs to neither samsara nor nirvana. In this context, it is not as if samsara is some impure state and nirvana is some pure place somewhere else. The purity of our intrinsic innate nature is present throughout all states — not falling into the category of samsara, not falling into the category of nirvana, but pervasive throughout. I will talk more about this later.
This term, innate nature or basic substance or basic element, buddha nature, essence of all buddhas — this is what buddhas actually are. This is what the purity is, and this is what the training is in, what the Dzogchen training is all about.
Ground, path and fruition — all of these terms are basically about this innate nature, which is not confined only to samsara or only nirvana. Our basic state is something which is present in every situation, whether samsaric or nirvanic, without belonging to either. In a way one could say it's the shared or common ground of these two states. So that is the purity, the purity of the basic state. The most important thing to understand at first is the ground, the basic state.
This nature, what is it? It is pure. Purity. Is this something that we can accomplish? No, it isn't. Does it belong to samsara? No. Does it belong to nirvana? No. Yet it's present throughout all states. That basic nature is what we should fully realize. It's difficult to find an accurate example of how this innate nature really is. One comparison that is often used is space. Space is not limited to being only between the walls and the pillars, not just between the floor and the ceiling — space is throughout everything.
I would now like to define the word 'mind.' The Tibetan word is sem. Basically it means that which knows, that which thinks that things are "nice" or "not nice." Because there is some sense of knowing, there is some identity, some property of that which knows. Exactly what is it, how is it? In essence, it is your innate nature, which is all-pervasive, ever-present.
Most important is to remember we don't have to think of mind as a concrete 'thing.' It's really more a quality of knowing — of knowing and thinking. This word 'mind' is going to be used a lot, but please remember every time you hear or read it that it simply means some act of knowing or thinking. It's really pretty simple. Knowing, just that.
There are many ways that knowing takes place. There can be dualistic knowing, or knowing which is free of duality. In either case, our mind is simply just knowing. The word sem means dualistic knowing. Maybe you feel like a lot of words are being thrown out at you right now, but please just catch them and keep them. We will put them together later.
Now let's look at ground, path and fruition. Earlier I briefly discussed ground, our basic nature. This basic nature is described as something which does not belong to either samsara or nirvana, and yet is present throughout all states, whether samsaric or nirvanic. It doesn't belong to either, yet is all-pervasive. Ground is something which is present as the very nature of this knowing mind. You can say this knowing is something which is empty and yet cognizant. These two aspects, emptiness and cognizance, are indivisible — you can't separate them. Sometimes three indivisible aspects are described: empty in essence, cognizant by nature and unconfined in capacity. This indivisible nature of mind is always present and it is called by different names: the natural state, the basic nature, the real condition, the enlightened essence or buddha-nature. Regardless of what name it goes by, this is what is meant by ground.
Path, in this context, is called confusion. From the Buddhist perspective we are not talking about only one lifetime of confusion, but innumerable lifetimes. The basic confusion is this: not recognizing the basic state, the ground, to be as it is, one confuses it or mistakes the basic state for being something other. An example would be if I mistook the rosary that I am holding in my hand for something else, believing it to be a snake, or a piece of rope, mistaking its concrete physical form, smell, texture, and so forth.
This process of solidifying that which obscures our basic state has gone on for many, many lifetimes, not just for a short while. Our confusion is long-term. It's through training in the view, meditation, and conduct that we rediscover what is already present. Through training, we are reintroduced to the basic state.
Ground means the nature of our mind, our basic state, which has the capacity to be enlightened, to be awakened. By 'enlightened' we mean able to be free. Everyone has this kind of potential. That is our ground.
The ground is the nature of things.
This nature, dharmata, is self-existing.
This dharmata nature is not fabricated.
It's not something that was once constructed.
It is not something that originally didn't exist and was then created.
It is not something that we can improve or modify in any way.
It simply is what is.
What naturally is.
The natural state, itse!f.
Not made by the Buddha.
Not made by sentient beings.
Not made by the four elements.
It is a nature which just is, by itself.
The Buddha did not come into this world and create this basic nature. Everything is naturally pervaded by emptiness. Likewise, mind is naturally and always pervaded by a nature which is empty and cognizant. By 'everything,' I am referring to material or concrete things as well. They're all permeated by an empty quality, and it is this very quality that allows things to come into being. That empty quality is still present even when things exist. In the same way, all states of consciousness are permeated by a nature which is both empty and cognizant.
The empty quality of things means the openness that allows for the thing to come into being, to unfold, to be present. You can move your hand around in mid-air because the space is open, right? Another word for this open quality is 'empty.' Here's another example: this stick I'm holding in my hand can disintegrate. It has a perishable nature, right? The fact that its existence is impermanent proves that it is empty in nature. These examples provide a rough idea of what empty quality means in this context.
Our nature — and now we're back talking about mind — this mind right here — is something which is basically both empty and cognizant, indivisibly. What happens in a normal moment of perception, when we are looking at a flower, for example, is that our basic identity, this unconfined, empty cognizance, becomes confined in the moment of perceiving. Somehow the empty quality becomes limited to being the perceiver, while the cognizance of the perceived, of what is present, is confined to being the object. The original unconfined and empty cognizance becomes apparently split up into perceiver and perceived, subject and object.
Of course, this isn't really the case; it just seems like that. This mistaking of what seemingly is as being real is confusion. That is what confusion really is: mistaking something that seems to be for what it isn't. At the same moment, one fails to recognize what actually is. Delusion is this ongoing, moment-to-moment conceptualizing activity of fabricating a subject and object that don't really exist.
It's as if we see a colored rope lying on the ground, mistake it for a snake, and panic. The rope and the snake look alike, and because of not directly seeing what is what, we become confused. On the other hand, when we recognize that the rope is simply a rope — when we recognize it for being what it is — the notion that it is a snake vanishes. That is only possible because the snakeness doesn't exist in any way whatsoever in the rope. Therefore, that which so terrified us was merely a construct created by our own thoughts.
That is why it is said that disturbing emotions have no real existence in the ground itself. Disturbing emotions, which are the basic cause of samsara, only come about during path through mistakenness, through delusion. Path is synonymous with being confused. Path is to be mistaken. Ground is our basic state, which is pure in nature. It's because we don't know this purity — because we don't acknowledge it — that we confuse it with impurity. So, confusion occurs on the path. When this confusion is cleared up, that's called fruition.
Among these three, where are we right now? We are at the path stage — being confused. Why do we practice the Dharma? Because we have the basic state, the essential nature as ground. It is like the oil present in sesame seeds, which can be released with the proper procedure of pressing. It's not something completely nonexistent or imaginary, like oil in sand. All that is necessary is to acknowledge what we have as what we have. We need a method for recognizing this, and such a method does exist.
What do we need to recognize? We need to recognize our basic state, the ground. This basic state encompasses enlightened body, speech and mind — body present as essence, speech present as nature and mind radiantly present as capacity. Because the enlightened body, speech and mind are already present as the identity of the ground, as a mere dependent relationship with that, right now, when we are on the path, our identity is one of having a body, a voice and a mind.
To go back to the example, without the rope there wouldn't be the notion of snake. In fact, it would be impossible to have the notion of something being this snake if there wasn't a rope. In the same way, enlightened body, speech and mind, in the form of essence, nature and capacity, are already present as our basic state, the ground. Only because of this is it possible to be mistaken about what we are. In a country where there is no rope, you would never mistake a piece of rope for a snake, because there would be no basis for misunderstanding.
Let's go one step deeper into exploring our confusion. Because we've failed to acknowledge that the enlightened body is present as essence, it has turned into a physical body. The enlightened body as essence lies beyond arising and disintegration, birth and death; It has not been acknowledged, and now it appears in the form of something that takes birth and later dies. It is the same with our voice and mind.
To reiterate, the path stage is one of confusion. We are on the path right now and this confusion needs to be clarified. The method used to clarify confusion on the path is threefold: view, meditation and conduct. This is where recognizing rigpa comes in.
This rigpa which needs to be realized i:; actually an aspect of the ground, an aspect of our dharmakaya nature. But rigpa can also be considered something to be recognized during the path. In this regard, path and ground are identical in essence. It is only a difference of one's essential nature being covered by confusion, or not covered by it.
When recognizing the naked state of rigpa, we are like this (Rinpoche shows a piece of blue cloth). This is the ground, but it is covered by the path (Rinpoche covers the blue cloth with pieces of white, green, red and yellow paper). You can see there are many different types of coverings, including emotional obscurations and cognitive obscurations. The notions we have — first 'I,' as in 'I am,' which is followed by 'my,' 'mine' and so forth — these notions are like opaque veils that cover the basic ground.
There are various ways to remove these obscurations, including the meditation practices of shamatha and vipashyana, the development stage, training in the completion stage with attributes, utilizing the key vajra points of channels, energies and essences, and so forth. A single meditation technique removes a single layer of obscuration. When at some point we arrive at what is called the first bhumi, also known as the 'path of seeing,' realization dawns in our stream of being. Gradually all the covers are removed, so that eventually the ground is totally revealed. That is the realization of dharmakaya.
It's generally believed that this process takes a tremendously long time. There must be a more direct method than gathering merit and purifying obscurations through three incalculable aeons! The Dzogchen approach to removing obscurations and uncovering our basic nature is indeed direct and quick. The Dzogchen view involves cutting through to primordial purity. The Dzogchen teachings have three sections: mind section, space section and instruction section. Within the instruction section there are two aspects: kadag trekchö, the cutting through of primordial purity, and lhündrub tögal, the direct crossing of spontaneous presence.
From the Dwgchen perspective, everything that covers or obscures the pure basic ground is called thought, or conceptual mind. Regardless of whether it is karma or habitual tendencies, it is contained within conceptual attitude. Trekchö is the thorough cut of cutting through, cutting the obscurations completely to pieces, like slashing through them with a knife. So the past thought has ceased, the future thought hasn't yet arisen, and the knife is cutting through this stream of present thought. But one doesn't keep hold of this knife either; one lets the knife go, so there is a gap. When you cut through again and again in this way, the string of thought falls to pieces. If you cut a rosary in a few places, at some point it doesn't work any longer.
If you cut Tsoknyi Rinpoche's head off, and cut his arms and legs off, and continue cutting, cutting in this way, at some point there is no longer any Tsoknyi Rinpoche. If you only cut off Tsoknyi Rinpoche's head, you can say here is Tsoknyi Rinpoche's head and here is his body, those two pieces. But if you cut the head up again and say here are the cheeks and here are the eyes and so on, soon you won't be able to call those pieces a head any longer. And if you cut those pieces up really finely, if you mince them up completely, finally there are no separate things left at all. Eventually it becomes emptiness. There is only the name left of Tsoknyi Rinpoche, there is no thing to attach that to. If Tsoknyi Rinpoche is not that famous, after a few generations even the name vanishes as well. Everything vanishes, even the name.
Confusion needs to be chopped into pieces in the same way. The conceptual frame of mind is not one solid lump; it's not a single concrete thing. It's actually made up of small pieces which are connected in a vague sort of way. You can call that vague sort of connection karma, or habit, or the thinking mind. But if you know how to really recognize, a gap immediately appears. Then it's like your obscurations have been removed, allowing a little piece of your basic nature to be visible. So it gets covered again, and again you need to recognize rigpa. You'll find that as you chop more and more, the ability of the obscurations to return actually becomes less and less.
Even if only a little piece of the basic state is visible, if it is the genuine, real thing, that is the recognizing of dharmakaya. But whether we actually recognize or not is dependent solely upon ourselves. The Dzogchen teaching on how to recognize is available and is being taught. But how it is applied by a person is something entirely up to the individual. One cannot say that everyone recognizes or everybody doesn't recognize — exactly who recognizes and who doesn't is not fixed. We can know that for ourselves.
We need to recognize in a way that is not mixed up with concepts, with attachment, with clinging, with resting or dwelling on something. And in a way that is not mixed up with analysis either. Everything is perceived, yet we are not stuck in the perceiving. This is a very important sentence: "Everything is perceived, yet we are not stuck in the perceiving." The natural expression of the basic essence of mind can move or manifest in two different ways. One is as a conceptual frame of mind, a thought. The result of that is confusion. The other is the expression showing itself as intelligence or knowledge. That becomes original wakefulness, which results in liberation.
I'm using the word conceptual a lot here. A concept is a thought formed about a subject and object. A conceptual attitude is based on this holding onto of subject and object. The subject and object can be many different things. Most obviously, they can be material objects that we see or hear. For instance, when looking at this mandala plate in front of me, the mind fixes its attention on the plate as an object. Through the medium of the eyes occurs the visual cognition of the mandala plate by a perceiver, the subject, and inevitably some thought is formed about it. The process is the same for all the senses. That is an example of conceptual mind at work.
There is another, more subtle way conceptual mind operates. Basically, conceptuality implies duality — duality of this and that, of subject and object. This does not only refer to external material things: it could also be that the previous thought is the object and the present thought is the subject. Conceptual also implies the notion of time, whether it be in the gross materialistic sense of an external interaction, or the more subtle internal sense of one thought looking at the previous thought, or looking back into a past memory. While it's not overtly dualistic, there is still some lapse there, some sense of time. The sense of time is always conceptual. Something which is temporal is always conceptual; thus, the notion of time is conceptual. The notion of time is a conceptual state. Is that clear?
Now I will introduce what is meant by the path. Path here refers to not knowing the basic nature - thinking of our basic state as being something other than what it actually is. That is called path. Path is delusion. This delusion or confusion essentially means we fail to know our basic nature as it is, and instead mistake it for something else. That is the confusion. Not recognizing what is to be what it is, but regarding it as something other. Mind, as the nature of mind, is fundamentally pure. When we fail to recognize the identity or nature of what knows as something pure, free, egoless and insubstantial - and when we instead regard the nature of this knowing as being 'me' or 'I,' and hold onto that concept — this is a small view, and it is confused, mistaken. Introducing the idea of me/I is mistaking our essential nature for something that it isn't.
At some point, by means of some method, we are introduced to our basic nature and recognize what is to be as it is. When confusion has thoroughly been cleared up, that is fruition. When this mistakenness is dissolved; where does it go? Nowhere, because the confusion never existed in the first place. If the confusion was a real entity, then when it went away we could follow it and see where it went. But it wasn't real at all.
Among these three, ground, path and fruition, ground is purity, pure. Path is confusion, and fruition is being free from confusion. If anybody asks us what is spiritual practice about, we should reply that it is to clear up confusion.