Dzigar Kongtrül Rinpoche- Uncommon Happiness Chapter 9, pg. 48
Regardless of this irony, there is definitely a belief that there is a self, and there’s also a belief that this self has certain characteristics. A primary belief regarding the characteristics of self is that it is singular. This self is also believed to be permanent. It is permanent in the sense that the one who was born forty-two years ago and the one who I am now are considered to be the same person. Or that yesterday’s me and today’s me are the same. The one who did something and the one who actually experienced the result of that are considered to be the same person, good or bad.
We also believe the self to be intrinsic. There’s no thought of the self being dependent on causes and conditions. We think that self exists without causes and conditions. We don’t see the self like a rainbow, which appears as a result of moisture and sunshine coming together in the environment. Instead, we see this self as solid. If somebody says mean things, the self gets hurt. If somebody says something nice, the self gets happy. It’s not unresponsive. It is conscious, and this capacity to experience fuels the pain and the happiness in a seemingly tangible way. We say, “my body,” “my speech,” and “my mind.” On these occasions the self is seen as an owner of body, speech, and mind. On other occasions we see the body, speech, or mind as the self: “I see, I hear, I feel.”
There are a lot of assumptions being made about the self. But has anybody seen the true existence of this self? To actually see the self, it must exist within the skandhas or within the body, speech, and mind. If you examine the body, speech, and mind—the perceptions, feelings, thoughts, and consciousness—you will never find anything that is singular. Everything has many parts. This body is made of billions and trillions of particles, and those particles in turn are made of particles. Examining deeply, you will not find anything other than emptiness. It is similar with speech: Paragraphs are made of sentences, sentences are made of words, words are made of syllables, and syllables are made of sounds. When you investigate like this, in the end, it is an empty void. There is nothing you can say is truly existent.
With regard to the mind in general, there are perceptions, feelings, thoughts, and consciousness. There are many different aspects to the mind. All of these continuously rise and cease. If you look closely, there’s nothing in the body, speech, or mind that is a singular thing existing intrinsically, by itself, without causes and conditions. Because everything exists due to causes and conditions, they are changing as they arise, remain, and cease. On a subtle level, they are continuously changing. On the coarse level, you see gross change.
We actually designate a self to exist. The designator is the ignorant mind. But if we really do a thorough search, we will never find the self as we assume it to be. The skandhas do exist in the relative sense. They exist in the relative sense with many, many parts to each, not as a singular entity. Also, they exist through causes and conditions. Nothing exists without causes and conditions. And anything that exists due to causes and conditions is going to be impermanent. As it arises, it has to fall.
Anything that is created by causes and conditions, that rises and ceases simultaneously, does not truly exist. This is how a continuum starts—a moment arises that is subsequent to the first, which has already arisen and ceased. It looks just like the first moment, but it’s not. And then a third arises after the second that looks like the second but is not, and so on. There is a gap between all three; otherwise, they would become one. The primary cause for the second one to come into existence is the first. The primary cause for the third one to come into existence is the second. If you try to actually find the origin, you will never find it—it’s infinite. Between each of those three, there’s a gap. They are in no way linked or connected. In reality, when you examine causes and conditions, they only seemingly and functionally exist. You will never be able to locate a cause producing an effect, nor a linear connection between the effect and the cause.
Causes and conditions are more or less illusory. Effect is illusory. Illusory refers to something that seemingly does exist, but, when you really look closely, there’s nothing substantial, nothing there as a reality with any characteristics. In this way, everything is relative. The relative is always illusory. The nature of relative appearances is always going to be shunyata. Examining this carefully, you find no substantial, intrinsic, singular, permanent thing in the entire phenomenal world. There’s just the mere appearance of causes and conditions coming together and producing a manifestation. Cause itself is empty of inherent existence, effect itself is empty, the relation between cause and effect is empty, and the appearance of anything is empty.
The entire phenomenal world is nothing other than empty appearance. It is not how we believe it to be—singular, permanent, intrinsic, and solid. That is ignorant mind’s designation of things. Ignorant mind’s strong insistence that things are really like that, and its holding on to that assumption for so long with such conviction, have an effect in terms of our mistaken perception. But the phenomenal world is always nothing other than empty appearance. In the mind, the subtlest appearance experienced is the first rising of thoughts. In the phenomenal world, there’s emptiness. In the mind, there’s emptiness. Between the emptiness of the table and the emptiness of the mind, there is no differentiation.
All appearance is empty, and everything is impermanent. You can see this in your mind as well as in a particular phenomenon. It’s a little more difficult to see this in a phenomenon in terms of perception, but with wisdom mind, you can. At some point, when you refine your perception, you can actually see in this way. But it takes a while for the perceptions to be able to see how the atoms of this table are simultaneously arising and ceasing. It’s easier to see how in the mind a thought arises and ceases simultaneously. Beyond the subtlest rising, there’s only emptiness. That we can see.
Beyond the arising, dwelling, and ceasing is emptiness. Everything is emptiness, but that doesn’t
mean a void. There’s an awareness of the empty quality that is luminous as well. You can actually see emptiness as your own nature. In the case of the self, that means there’s no appearance of the self. There’s only an absence of what you have projected based on the skandhas, which are relative. Relative appearance and what your ignorant mind has projected, a truly existing self, are totally opposite to the actual truth.
Now the projection comes to light to be seen exactly as it is—there’s nothing there. Take the example of projecting a rope to be a snake. You never see the snake; you only see the rope, right? The characteristics of the rope and the snake are completely different. When you realize this, the projection is understood as complete illusion. Similarly, you come to see that the phenomenal world by nature is empty but still has appearance; that appearance is relative truth. What you have projected as a truly existing self is also seen to be delusion, because that appearance of the self and the characteristics of the appearance of the self are totally opposite.
In that way, you have the dawn of realization. Our self is always an ignorant mind projecting a self to exist in the skandhas, as an owner, as a reality, which it is not. Seeing through this is the realization of the egolessness of the self. Now, realizing how the skandhas themselves are, in the ultimate sense, nothing other than empty and luminous—that realization—is called egolessness of dharmas. Egolessness of dharmas is a much greater than realization egolessness of the self.
Egolessness of the self is realizing that the self does not exist either absolutely or relatively. Egolessness of dharmas, on the other hand, is realizing that they don’t exist in the absolute but appear in the relative. But again, the appearance doesn’t mean it’s intrinsic, without causes and conditions, permanent, or singular. We relate to everything in that way, like this table. I relate to this table as one table. I do not relate to this table as something made up of trillions of particles, right? Also, yesterday’s table and today’s table I see this as one table. I relate to this as permanent. When I relate to this table, I don’t really think of the causes and conditions that make this table come together. I relate to this table as a solid thing existing by itself.
We relate to the phenomenal world in this way. In both cases, it’s mind’s delusion. Whether we think that self exists as singular, permanent, intrinsic, and therefore solid, or that the phenomenal world is singular, permanent, intrinsic, and solid—both are projections of the ignorant, deluded mind. In the case of the self, it doesn’t even exist in the relative world, but the phenomenon does appear. Appearance is all illusory—there is nothing substantial to it. This understanding brings us to realization. Mind does not perceive on the absolute level. Even on the relative level it does not recognize that the appearance of the skandhas are numerous, impermanent, and dependent upon causes and conditions.
The question comes to mind, who is the doer and who experiences the deeds? The answer to both is the mind. Once again, our mind doesn’t correctly experience the doer and the deed. If the doer is the experiencer of the deed, and the doer has not changed, both cause and effect would be one. The doer becomes permanent, which cannot be a doer. What actually happens here is that the continuum of the doer experiences the deed. The experiencer is the continuum of the doer, not the doer itself. The doer itself has ceased. It is like an apple seed that produces a shoot. The moment the shoot has been produced, the apple seed has ceased to exist. The shoot is the continuum of that apple seed. Likewise the big apple tree that comes later is the continuum of the seed and the shoot. Relatively speaking, it’s all one continuum.
There’s no self that experiences; there’s only the mind that experiences, and the mind is not permanent—it’s the continuum that experiences. That’s how karma works. Karma works based on things being impermanent. If something is permanent, karma cannot work. From that point of view we realize that all this relative experience of karma exists in illusion. In reality, when we
realize emptiness, there is nothing as a doer or deed or the result being experienced. Only having completely made a home in the absolute do we transcend the relative experience. Until that point has come, we always have to experience in the relative, because we are absorbed in the relative world. In that way, even though karma doesn’t exist in the absolute sense, we are still subject to it as long as we have not completely made a home in the absolute, completely realized the absolute truth.
When you have completely made a home in absolute truth, you have no reason to do anything negative. Negative action is done solely because of ignorant grasping to the self. Our confusion produces the afflicting emotions. Once free of this confusion, doing harm to others ceases. There’s no reason to do anything negative. You do engage in the positive, but you don’t cling to the positive having a reality or a substantial nature in any way. You do it as a means to accumulate merit, so that you can actually further your realization of emptiness and purify your obscurations.