The duality of me and other

Jul 12, 2021




Dear Venerable Robina,


I attended a series of teachings with Glenn Mullin on the Six Yogas of Naropa and during the presentation of phowa he said some things that really struck me. 


In the context of emptiness and dualistic appearances, he said: “coarse sense objects appear as separate from the apprehender, this is the meaning of dualistic appearance in buddhism. For example, on the basis of practicing bodhichitta without having realized emptiness, we see our mother suffering as a separate external being, and so we generate bodhichitta. Realizing the unity of the two, apprehender and apprehended, is the meaning of emptiness.” 


And, finally, in the context of the three bodies, he said: “The nirmanakaya is not just the coarse aggregates, but also external objects such as mountains and rivers.” 


I’ve been reflecting on these notes, going back and forth, and I want to ask you to please share with me your own commentary on these two statements so as to help them become clearer in my mind.


Thank you, Venerable, and sending you all the best wishes.






Good to hear from you, dearest V.


As for your first point: yes, it seems, doesn’t it, that the emphasis in tantra is on the nonduality of not being separate: the I and other not separate; emptiness and appearances not separate. 


The main thing in our sadhanas is to become oneness with the guru buddha. Lama Yeshe would say “union oneness.”


But in the sutra teachings too it is said that once we’ve achieved buddhahood we’ve finally achieved the union of the two truths; that I and others are no longer separate; that emptiness and appearances are no longer separate. Even for the highest yogis, there is the experience of nonduality in meditation but out of their meditation session things still appear as separate, although they don’t believe it. It’s only for the buddha there is no longer this duality.


As Lama Yeshe says in his Mahamudra book: “And as the great Mahayana scholar Chandrakirti points out, this primordial belief in a separate “me” creates the concept of “other.” From this tremendous gap comes the evolution of all of samsara, the cycle of existence.”


The second: yes. The buddhas can manifest themselves as anything in the physical world in order to benefit others. Basically they can join their minds with any of the four elements out there: that tree, that television set — they’d all be the nirmanakaya. 


Lama Zopa Rinpoche talked somewhere, I remember, about how there are, in the Kalachakra Tantra, detailed descriptions of the intimate relationship between the internal and external energies, internal being mind and external the four elements. That when the mind is angry, let’s say, it naturally pollutes the wind energies it’s inextricably linked to — I love how they say “the mind rides on the winds” — and eventually this manifests as sickness and then, in the long term, impacts upon the external elements and causes the disharmony, the imbalance, of the environment, such as earthquakes, pollution, etc. 


Love to you, dear one,


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