Our Pristine Mind: A Practical Guide to Unconditional Happiness (2016)
Enlightenment: Fully Awakened Pristine Mind
24. THE THIRD STAGE OF AWAKENING
IN ORDINARY MIND, both positive and negative thoughts have a big impact on us. But at the third stage of awakening, mental events have hardly any impact, either positive or negative. Our happiness is no longer dependent on mental events, no longer dependent on outside conditions or circumstances. Our mental environment is completely different at this stage.
BECOMING FRIENDS WITH OUR MENTAL EVENTS
In the third stage of awakening, Mipham Rinpoche says that mental events transform from being enemies to being harmless, even friendly. Everything in our being feels very smooth, and our thoughts and emotions are mainly positive. Mental events are less influential in all ways, not just the harmful ways, than they were in the first or second stages of enlightenment; they simply lose their importance.
Unlike when we began our practice, thoughts that arise in the third stage of awakening are no longer harmful. Negative mental events have disappeared, and the remaining events tend to be positive and joyful, like helpful friends, improving our internal experience of life. In an ordinary state of mind, including the first stage of awakening, negative thoughts and emotions support and empower one another. Those negative thoughts, emotions, and habits are working together. Our mental projections and perceptions feed and strengthen each other. In the third stage, our perceptions and our mental environment are different, and remarkably positive. This makes it difficult for negative or harmful thoughts to form.
In the middle of a hot summer day in New York City, it is impossible for ice to form across a lake in Central Park. The ice cannot form because the environment does not support it. In the same way, for someone at this third stage of awakening, it is difficult for any harmful thoughts or negative emotions to form. The mental environment does not support negative mental events; therefore, any mental or emotional experiences that arise are harmless and not of great consequence. The mind, under most circumstances, is in an almost completely pristine state.
Whatever mental events do arise have very little influence. At this stage, they neither help us nor harm us because the mental environment is more and more pure. Even positive mental events do not provide help as they may have done in our ordinary mind. They are like candles burning in sunlight; they make no difference. Without their influence, we are free to have a relaxed, fluid, and powerful mind.
How does the third stage of awakening occur? The more we develop our experience of the three realizations, the more we widen the gap between mental events; the more we experience Pristine Mind, the more mental events dissolve, and the more positive are those that remain. Negative thoughts no longer arise, because they cannot function in an environment that does not support them. In order to resume having those reactions to our mental events that we once had, we would need to revert to our ordinary mind. But in this third stage, our mind-set is very beautiful, and whatever remaining mental events arise in it, we can for the most part view as friendly reminders of our fundamental Pristine Mind.
Even our habits at this third stage are friendly. Our positive habits may remain, but our negative habits are gone. If we have beliefs at this stage, they are positive beliefs that are in line with reality, not based on misjudgment and misperception; they are not narrow or prejudiced. If we have thoughts and emotions, they are positive and helpful—filled with great compassion, unconditional love, genuine appreciation, boundlessness, fulfillment, strength, self-confidence, and a mental and emotional sense of well-being. Everything in our mind is positive, because that is all that the environment of the mind at the third stage of awakening supports.
As we progress from the first to the second stage and from the second to the third stage of awakening, our experience of Pristine Mind expands more and more. The gap between mental events becomes wider and wider. This is why mental events lose their power and become less significant. The more we expand our experience of Pristine Mind, the more present and apparent that expansion becomes in each immediate moment. While mental events were predominant in the first and second stages, in this third stage of awakening, Pristine Mind is the predominant experience.
When we are at this stage, whether we are meditating or not meditating, whether we are awake or asleep, under all circumstances we are connected to the pristine, unpolluted, untainted mind as our predominant state of mind. Thoughts and emotions, mental events, are not central; instead, they are tangential, off to the sides of our awareness. Pristine qualities are at the center stage of our mind. Mental events are now like shooting stars occasionally darting across the sky. They pass by quickly.
Mipham Rinpoche says that at this third stage, our mind readily cooperates with us. If we want to remain in this pristine nature of our mind, we can do it easily. If we want to engage in something, it is easy to engage because our mind is no longer complicated. It becomes simple for us to deal with our mind. Our mind and our mental events listen and obey us. This is very different from the ego-dominated mind we started with.
Once we gain stability and familiarity with the true nature of our mind, our mind rests solidly and unwavering like a mountain. When our mind engages, it engages immediately and perfectly to do what we want it to do. Our mental events always obey us because we have full control over them. Everything we direct our mind to do, it does as we wish.
WIND BLOWING THROUGH EMPTY SPACE
When our experience of the pristine state of mind becomes more stable and expansive, mental events are as harmless as wind blowing through empty space. However forcefully the wind blows through space, it cannot harm the space; it just passes through. Similarly, when our mind has become more spacious, when mental events do arise, they have almost no effect on us at all.
At this third stage, when everything that arises in our mind is a friend that supports our connection with Pristine Mind, we reflect on our experience during the first stage of awakening. We see such a huge difference that it creates a sense of incredible relief inside us. We feel amazing joy and happiness in our heart. We gain great confidence. This is another element of what a practitioner at the third stage of awakening can expect, Mipham Rinpoche says.
Mipham Rinpoche also says that once we have achieved victory over our mental events, we have conquered everything. We have no enemies or fears, and there is nothing left outside our pristine domain. No one and nothing can defeat us at this stage; we are victorious. We remain in a pristine state of mind under all circumstances, not just when we are meditating. Our Pristine Mind carries over into everything we do. When we are working, going anywhere, or doing anything, we operate from Pristine Mind. We have a profound and wonderful experience of our cloudless mind. Even when we do experience mental events, we have the most beautiful and positive mental events imaginable—mental events that embody our good heart. This is really what defines the third stage of awakening.
MASTERY OF OUR MIND
We have described how in the advanced stages of enlightenment our thoughts become allies and Pristine Mind takes the center stage of our experience. Mental events only happen off to the sides of our mind. They are merely peripheral. We have achieved mastery of our own mind.
Have you ever seen statues of the Buddha sitting in repose, still as a mountain? When we achieve mastery of our mind, we remain like a mountain, without wavering. This does not mean that enlightened beings spend all their time just staring into the distance without moving or even blinking. These statues instead represent the unwavering stability of the enlightened mind. In fact, while our mind rests in its natural state, our body may be in quick motion, doing any number of activities, and we can use our thoughts purposefully and effectively. Our mind can engage positively, calmly, and clearly; and we are more flexible, open, and dynamic. Our instincts are sharp. Positive emotions and thoughts arise more readily. We engage very consciously, productively, and properly. We have positive, beautiful, wonderful experiences, not the frustrations and disappointments we experienced when we were at the mercy of our mental events.
ENJOYING OUR MENTAL EVENTS
At this third stage, we can enjoy our remaining mental events, which are now under our full control. We can shape our mental events and increase and decrease them as it serves our objectives—objectives that are filled with love, compassion, joy, and appreciation for all beings.
When we are operating with an ordinary mind, as we do at the first stage of awakening, our mental events toy with us. They control every aspect of our life. We are like a marionette dangling on the puppeteer’s strings. But once we have mastery of our own mind, then we can constructively and lovingly direct our own mental events. Our mental events are gentler and lighter; they lack the power they once had to drive our mind in the direction of chaos and self-defeating behaviors, because in this newly experienced environment our mind achieves stability.
We have the choice of our mental events and the direction of our mind. If we want to engage with mental events for constructive purposes of our own choosing, we can engage very positively and productively. If we choose to expand or dissolve any mental event, we can do that swiftly and without conflict. If we want our mind to be clear like a blue sky, we can also do that effortlessly. When we want to increase feelings like love, compassion, happiness, or enjoyment, we can choose that and it happens. We can increase mental events by focusing on them. We have complete authority and control over our mental events.
Guru Rinpoche Padmasambhava says:
If you realize everything is your own perception,
You experience unconditional happiness.
If you remain free from ego and judgment,
You experience natural happiness.
If you are free from fixation within your natural mind,
You experience boundless happiness.
When we have mastery over our mind, our happiness is unwavering and indestructible. Our mind becomes unmovable by conditions. Mental events cannot shake our mind at this third stage. Our happiness is no longer circumstantial, depending on particular conditions or happenings.
Once we have unconditional, enlightened happiness, whatever joys we have are stronger than they were in an ordinary state. The joy we experience when our mind is free from negative emotions is more powerful and vivid than when it is colored by negative emotions. When our mind is in an ordinary state, joy is not pure joy, happiness is not pure happiness, and love is not pure love, because everything is contaminated by ego and its misperception of the world in which it operates. Enlightened joy is not just ordinary pleasure; it is pure, stainless enjoyment arising from undistorted perception.
Everything becomes more pure in the third stage of awakening. We experience pure love, pure joy, pure happiness, and pure compassion. We have these pure experiences far more consistently. Under a hazy sky, we can see the sky but not with perfect clarity. But when all the haze clears away, there is nothing left but blue sky.
The more distorted our perceptions, the less pure our joy is. It’s not natural or genuine. But without distortions, every experience we have is pure and authentic. The more pristine our mind becomes, the more pure, genuine, and real our life experiences are. Our experience is more powerful, more vivid, and more pristine.
Until we reach the second and third stages of awakening, our happiness is like a candle on a windy mountain peak. So many mental events keep blowing out the flame of our happiness. We constantly need to rekindle the flame. The instability of the candle flame is like the ordinary mind’s attempts at happiness because there are so many mental winds blowing through the mind day and night. However, once the wind dies down, the candle burns continuously. In the same way, once all mental and emotional events subside, the flame of happiness burns steadily for longer and longer periods of time. We do not need to keep rekindling our happiness, because there are no gusts of mental and emotional wind to blow it out.
Compassion, love, joy, tranquillity, a sense of well-being, and all positive experiences and qualities become stable when the winds of mental and emotional events have calmed. All positive qualities then endure because there is no interference. The more pristine our mind, the more compassionate we are and the deeper our gratitude toward enlightened beings. We feel appreciation from the bottom of our hearts that enlightened beings like the Buddha and Guru Rinpoche Padmasambhava have gone before us and stood like beacons for this experience we now have. No one has to convince us to feel this appreciation. The experience of Pristine Mind itself elicits these positive emotions.
THE HEALTHY WAY OF ENJOYING SENSE PLEASURES
As a person progresses through the second and third stages of awakening, they are increasingly able to enjoy the pleasures of the senses in an authentic way.
When we think of sensual pleasures, we often think of sex as the primary example. It is true that sex can be one of the most intense forms of physical pleasure. But sensual pleasure is not just about sex. All of the ways that we enjoy the world through our senses, whether they are our favorite songs, delicious smells, or inspiring art, are sensual pleasures. Anything that causes joy or pleasure from the senses is a sensual pleasure. Through the stages of awakening, the more we awaken, the more we enjoy sensory experiences in an unpolluted way. When we encounter sensory experiences, we can experience them more fully, robustly, and authentically, without complications.
Once our mind is no longer controlled by mental distortions, then sensory experiences are no longer adulterated with bad habits, negative emotions, or negative thoughts. As a result, sensory experiences no longer make us suffer from the intensity of our reactions. The less distortion in our mind, the less turbulence sensory pleasures create.
To illustrate this, the pinnacle of sensual experience occurs in intimate relationships. When our mind is undistorted and pristine, an intimate relationship brings happiness, fulfillment, and extraordinary, blissful pleasure. But when our mind is filled with unhealthy habits, negative emotions, and ego, our love life becomes problematic. It is not, as some think, that relationships are inherently complicated. Instead, it is that our mind is complicated, making our relationships complicated. That is the true reason intimate relationships can seem so difficult. If our mind is in a keenly reactive mode, if our negative emotions are highly active, then the sensory experiences of an intimate relationship can quickly change from joy and ecstasy to conflict, anger, and disappointment. But if our mind more often remains in the equanimity and tranquillity of Pristine Mind, then the relationship is no longer problematic and its sensory experiences can be enjoyed for what they are—pure pleasure, uncomplicated by frustration, unrealistic expectations, or other negative mental events.
The Buddha’s early teachings address attaining enlightenment through avoiding the temptation of all sensual pleasures, which were considered obstacles. The Buddha’s later, advanced teachings, however, involve bringing all sensual pleasures onto the path to enlightenment and not avoiding them. The Buddha taught that these two different paths are for two different types of people. Some people, including those who become monks and nuns, attempt to avoid all sensual pleasures as a path to enlightenment. Most others do not want to give up sensory experiences in order to attain enlightenment. The Buddha taught that if you live in Pristine Mind, then you do not need to give up sensory pleasures to attain enlightenment.
Most of us are looking for pleasure through the five senses. We are listening to music, watching TV, gazing at scenery, holding hands, or eating delicious meals. Almost everybody seeks to enjoy those pleasures. They long to touch and be touched. They want to smell fragrances. Billions of dollars are spent on creating and providing sensory experiences.
The problem with sensory experiences is that when people have access to these sensory experiences, most do not know how to handle them. Every day they indulge themselves in sensory experience. There is music constantly playing everywhere in stores and restaurants. Everywhere people go, they expect or want to hear beautiful and pleasant sounds and see pretty sights. Since just about everybody wants to enjoy sensory experiences, then the admonishment “You should give up sensual pleasures” is unhelpful in most cases. So we need to learn how to incorporate sensory experiences into our spiritual path.
We do not need to abandon, avoid, or renounce sensory experiences in order to become enlightened. Instead, we can learn how to enjoy sensory experiences in a healthy way. We need to know the most authentic and genuine way to enjoy them. We can do this by following the teachings of the Buddha and Padmasambhava.
In his quest for freedom from suffering, the Buddha initially practiced self-denial and asceticism for years, renouncing all the sensory enjoyments that he had previously indulged in during his luxurious life as a prince. But in time the Buddha realized that the extreme of asceticism was not conducive to enlightenment. He also realized that to become fully awakened, the mind had to be liberated from all distortions, such as negative emotions. To accomplish this, it was necessary to work with the mind through meditation. This was a major turning point in the Buddha’s path to enlightenment.
Through meditation, the Buddha’s mind became completely pristine. He then knew that enjoyments and sense pleasures were not required to be abandoned or rejected in order to become enlightened—they could be cooperative “ornaments” on the path to enlightenment. There is a famous story from the Buddhist scriptures about King Indrabhuti, who lived during the time of the Buddha. Each day the Buddha and his disciples would travel to different places where they would be hosted by various people for lunch, which was the Buddha’s only meal of the day. Indrabhuti, who was very sincerely devoted to the Buddha and his teachings, invited the Buddha to lunch at his royal palace. The Buddha accepted the king’s invitation. At this meeting, Indrabhuti requested the Buddha to please give him a teaching to transform his mind and attain enlightenment.
The Buddha began by testing the king to determine what teachings were most appropriate for him. The Buddha said, “If you want to attain enlightenment, you will first have to give up all your worldly attachments—your kingdom, your queens, your concubines, your life of luxury, and all the other pleasures of the senses that you enjoy. You will need to become a celibate monk. Then I will give you the teaching to attain enlightenment.”
The king responded, “I fervently desire enlightenment, but I don’t want an enlightenment without any pleasure—even if, by saying this, I am immediately turned into a fox! I would have no regrets. I don’t want to attain enlightenment without pleasure, Gautama Buddha.”
Then the Buddha knew what kind of teachings would most benefit the king. He gave him the teachings and methods for how to make sensory pleasures part of the path to enlightenment. As a result, Indrabhuti, his queens, his daughters, his ministers, and many others surrounding him, attained enlightenment in a single lifetime.
Many people think that following the teachings of the Buddha is only for monks and nuns, and requires giving up ordinary life and staying in monasteries or caves. But on the other side of the coin, you need to know about the yogi tradition. In the yogi tradition, you don’t necessarily give up sensory pleasures and you can still attain enlightenment. You don’t need to become a monk or a nun. If you have the right conditions and circumstances, receive the right teachings, and accomplish your meditation, then you can enjoy sensory pleasures as you continue to meditate and pursue enlightenment.
The Buddha gave us both of these paths—the tradition of monks and nuns, and the tradition of yogis and yoginis—as models to provide everyone with the best and most beautiful ways to handle mental, emotional, and sensual experiences, depending on people’s different propensities. In both pathways, sensory pleasures can be successfully handled.
Many people suffer from the complications and turbulences of life because they don’t know how to either avoid or transform their sensory pleasures. Without a proper way to handle sensory pleasures and our cravings for sensory experiences, we are at the mercy of the turbulent mental and emotional experiences that result. We can find ourselves drowning in uncontrolled passion, jealousy, conflict, fighting, and even, in extreme cases, killing. The Buddha’s teachings are not religious principles; rather, he taught methods that we can all use as ways to handle our sensory experiences, and live fully on our journey to enlightenment.
When passions and sensual pleasures are mixed with ego and negative thoughts and emotions, it can be dangerous, poisonous, and even deadly. But there is nothing inherently wrong with passions and sensual pleasures; it all depends on the mental environment. If our mind is less influenced by the ego, if our mind is not filled with negative mental events, if we have a good heart, and if our mind is more pristine, then sensual pleasures become positive—not a hindrance to enlightenment, but a source of happiness and fulfillment.
To transform our sensory experiences into enlightened experiences, we need realization, meditation, and a good heart. We need a pristine and undistorted mind. All these things are the keys to enjoying sensory experiences. Enlightenment is not only the end of suffering; it is also the way to fully enjoy the world.
If there are no hindrances to our experience of the world, such as those created by the mental events we have been discussing, then when we listen to beautiful music, for example, it becomes part of our pristine experience. When our mind is pristine, then music is pristine because, ultimately, music is just pure sound. That sensory experience and our Pristine Mind are completely united and connected. They are unpolluted mental experiences—we can call them “pristine mental events.”
With our ordinary mind, each form we see, each sound we hear, elicits judgments—whether resentment, attachment, or some other reaction that disturbs the flow of that union between our present awareness and our enjoyment of the world. But with enlightened mind, any sounds we hear, we hear in a very pure way. Enlightened beings can fully appreciate music, because they experience it in its pure state with absolutely no distortions, no preconceptions, and no disturbances.
The Dzogchen text Symbol of Everlasting Victory says, “All five sensory experiences become ornaments of your innate awareness.” The more present and pristine our mind is, the more we enjoy each and every day in a very complete way. From the moment we wake up in the morning until we go to sleep at night, we experience a day full of contentment. Life’s pleasurable experiences become ornaments of our pristine awareness.
The principles we have emphasized so far include the importance of connecting with enlightenment and the importance of having a good heart. Having a Pristine Mind includes enjoying the world, living properly and fully, and dying without confusion or fear. If we have a Pristine Mind, we will truly enjoy sensory experiences without creating hindrances. We feel perfectly connected to our friends and family and those around us. We feel connected to enlightenment. At the moment of our death, we have no fear or hesitation; we can remain in Pristine Mind. The goal is to have fewer restrictions—both worldly and spiritual—and more Pristine Mind. That is true spirituality.