Everything is our own karmic appearance

Nov 24, 2022


We have sensory consciousness and then we have the mental – that’s where the workshop is, as Lama Zopa Rinpoche puts it: all our thoughts and feelings and emotions, opinions and viewpoints; intuition, instinct, you name it.


But as Lama Yeshe says, we make the body the boss. We give so much power to our sensory consciousness, our senses. We even believe we are the body. We spend our lives trying to manipulate the outside world, the various objects of our senses: getting the ones that trigger pleasant feelings upon contact, and trying to avoid the others.


But what do we experience exactly? 


My eyes land on this Thermos here, and straightaway I will say, “Oh, that’s a nicely designed Thermos,” so just naturally we assume my eyes are cognizing a nicely designed Thermos.


In fact, no. The five sensory consciousnesses are actually profoundly limited in their capacity for cognition. Eye consciousness – that part of my mind, which for the Buddha is non-physical, that works in conjunction with the eyeball, etc., etc. – cognizes precisely two things: shape and color.


So therefore the question has to be: What part of my mind is cognizing a “nicely-designed Thermos?” What happens is, the millisecond my eye consciousness cognizes that shape and color, quicker than Google my mental consciousness is accessed, and based on my tendencies, habits, taste, etc., up comes the concept, the thought, the opinion, “Oh, that’s a nicely designed Thermos.”


It’s a story constructed by my concepts. And this is how we live our lives!


We live at the level of conceptuality, the grosser level of the mental consciousness, the tip of the iceberg. We don’t even touch the subtler level until we have shamatha, single-pointed concentration – and, of course, we don’t even posit that as existing in the modern world. 


You are the cause of all my suffering, I hate you, she is totally divine; one plus one is two; what a lovely color – they’re all concepts, opinions, viewpoints.


Buddha’s view of concepts is that basically there are those that are valid – one plus one equals two is valid; that is a Thermos is valid – and there are those that are elaborations, not valid – you are the cause of all my suffering, she is totally divine. These latter ones, of course, have the added intensity of emotion because they’re so habitual.


The mind is like a mirror, as Lama Yeshe tells us in Mahamudra: How to Discover Our True Nature, and as we well know, whatever appears to us from out there is reflected back to us through the mirror of our mind. If it’s polluted by anger, the person will look ugly. If it’s polluted by attachment, they appear divine.


And, the thing is, we believe it! That’s the killer! Not for one millisecond do we even consider the possibility that our view might be distorted. In fact, we don’t even think we have a view – it’s the truth, and that’s it!


Our mirror is also distorted by our karmic tendencies. As Rinpoche says, everything we experience is our own karmic appearance.


This is intense! 


Finally, of course, the most pervasive, the most utter distortion is the one of self-existence: it’s true from its own side, intrinsically, having nothing to do with my mind.


As Pabongka Rinpoche advises, even if we know nothing about the emptiness of this intrinsic nature, just to think, “Maybe things don’t exist in the way they appear” is perfect.


Wow! That would put atomic bombs under the delusions.


So let’s remember it.


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