Friday, March 18, 2011

The View of the Great Perfection

Many regard the pinnacle of Buddhist theory and practice to be the Great Perfection system of theory and practice resulting in perfect spiritual awakening. According to this view, the physical world, the form realm, and the formless realm all emerge from an implicate unity of the absolute space of phenomena (dharmadhatu), primordial consciousness (jnana), and a primal energy (jnana-prana) that is indivisible from both space and consciousness. The absolute space of phenomena is not to be confused with relative space; rather, it is the ultimate dimension of reality out of which space, time, energy, matter, and mind all emerge. This primordial unity of space, consciousness, and energy is the ultimate implicate order.

Physicists have always set themselves the goal of understanding the objective universe as it exits independently of any relative observer, so their understanding of the melted and frozen vacuums is necessarily devoid of any notion of consciousness. This, as we have seen, may be a crucial limitation in their understanding of nature. Buddhists have always sought to understand the world of experience, not a purely objective world independent of experience. So in their understanding of nature, absolute space is not separate from primordial, nonlocal, time-transcending consciousness. And this ultimate consciousness is said to be imbued with unbounded knowledge and compassion and with a creative energy limited only by the natural laws of karma. This luminous space is the ground from which all possible worlds appear, and it is the ultimate nature of every observer's mind.

Much as physicists describe the current universe as "frozen" with respect to the perfect symmetry of the melted vacuum, so do Buddhists characterize our current minds as frozen with respect to the perfect symmetry of primordial consciousness. But that hidden perfection is not confined to the distant past, before our current "fall from grace." Rather, as the Dalai Lama comments, "Any given state of consciousness is permeated by the clear light of primordial consciousness. However solid ice may be, it never loses its true nature, which is water. In the same way, even very obvious concepts are such that their 'place', as it were, their final resting place, does not fall outside the expanse of primordial awareness. They arise within the expanse of primordial consciousness and that is where they dissolve." How is the perfect symmetry of this ultimate ground broken? In the words of Dudjom Lingpa, a nineteenth-century Tibetan master of the Great Perfection, "This ground is present in the mind-streams of all sentient beings, but it is tightly constricted by dualistic grasping; and it is regarded as external, firm, and solid. This is like water in its natural, fluid state freezing in a cold wind. It is due to dualistic grasping onto subjects and objects that the ground, which is naturally free, becomes frozen into the appearances of things."

Like the melted vacuum of physics, the primordial unity of space, consciousness, and energy of the Great Perfection transcends time as we know it. Instead of being structured by the ordinary divisions of time, which are designated by specific observers within their own cognitive frames of reference, the Great Perfection is associated with "the fourth time", a dimension beyond the past, present, and future. So the broken symmetries of relative space-time, mass-energy, and subject-object all emerge from the ultimate, undifferentiated symmetry of the absolute space phenomena, the fourth time, primrdial consciousness, and the energy of primordial consciousness, all of which are coextensive and of the same nature. These two sets of relative and ultimate phenomena have no inherebt indentities apart from the cognitve framework in which they are ascertained.

In this view, location in space-time is contingent upon the observer, but the emphasis is on the participant as a perceiver, not as a conceptual designator. Empirical observations exist only relative to the mode of perception and the technological system of measurement with which they are made. On a deeper level, theories exist only relative to the conceptual framework in which they are formulated. It is the participant as thinker who establishes relative locality within space-time. This sets the universe -- relative to a cognitive frame of reference -- in motion. Without such participancy by a perceiving agent, there are no phenomena, and the universe is static. In other words, multiple worlds of experience emerge into existence and evolve relative to the theory-laden experiences of observer-participants.

According to the cosmogony of the Great Perfection, all phenomena arise as displays of absolute space, which transcends all words and concepts, including the notions of existence and nonexistence, one and many, and subject and object. As a result of the delusional habit of reification. this infinite, luminous space is obscured and reduced to a blank, unthinking void, known as the substrate (alaya). The experience of the substrate is like a dreamless sleep, devoid of appearances. From that void arises the substrate consciousness (alayavijnana), a state of limpid, clear consciousness from which all phenomena appear; it emerges from and is of the same nature as primordial consciousness. From the substrate consciousness arises the sense of self, or "I", which is apprehended as being "here", which results in the objective world appearing to be "over there", thus establishing the appearance of space. In this way, the dualistic experience of the world emerges from multiple, implicate orders of nonduality.

There are crucial differences between the substrate consciousness and primordial consciousness. When one's mind is settled in the substrate consciousness, one ascertains the nature of one's own mind in its relatively "frozen" state. Even though dualstic, discursive thoughts have subsided, this vacuum state of consciousness is subject to change and is implicitly structured by conceptual reification. The mind is temporarily in a state of relative equilibrium, or symmetry, but as soon as it emerges from that meditative state, the asymmetries of dualistic thinking are catalyzed as before. Primordial consciousness, in contrast, transcends time, and all appearances are present to it, without arising or ceasing. There is total knowledge and total awareness of all phenomena, without ever merging with or entering into objects. As Dudjom Lingpa explains, "Primordial consciousness is self-originating, naturally clear, free of outer and inner obscuration; it is the all-pervasive, radiant, clear infinity of space, free of contamination."

Dualistic, or "frozen", consciousness is the natural radiance and clarity of the objects that emerge in the expanse of awareness. When they arise to our perceptual faculties, they are frozen by reification, as we grasp onto ourselves and all other things as inherently existing objects. The objective world is crystallized into separate and distinct things as a result of consciousness individually apprehending and labeling objects. They are experienced as agreeable, disagreeable, or neutral, and consequently thoughts of attachment to the agreeable, aversion to the disagreeable, and indifference to everything else emerge. Agreeable things are seen as good and become objects of hope, thus proliferating thoughts of yearning. Disagreeable things are seen as bad, and thus serve as a basis for thoughts of anxiety.

The way to return to the perfect symmetry of primordial consiousness is to realize how all phenomena fundamentally emerge from and are of the nature of absolute space. They have never existed except as displays of this primordial purity, so all appearances are illusory displays of our own primordial consciousness, which has taken on the guise of ordinary consciousness. It is not that consciousness must vanish into absolute space and primordial consciousness must arise from somewhere else. It just seems that way because of our ingrained tendency to reify ourselves and all objects of awareness.

In encountering the view of the Great Perfection, we first gain conceptual understanding based on verbal instruction, reading, study, and reflection. The next step is to investigate this theory, both analytically and experientially, until we fathom the lack of inhehrent existence of all objective and subjective phenomena. We now comprehend how they are all "empty" of any intrinsic identity, independent of any cognitive frame of reference. Finally, we comprehend how all things naturally, spontaneously arise from the absolute space of phenomena and have no existence apart from that ultimate ground. We have now realized the view of the Great Perfection. To "gain confidence" in the view, we first identify the nature of primordial consciousness, then continually abide in that state of awareness until it remains unwaveringly at all times and in all situations.

While physicists speak of the perfect symmetry of the melted vacuum as a thing of the past, Buddhists regard the perfect symmetry of primordial consciousness as immanently present. According to Buddhist cosmogony, the form realm emerges from the formless realm, and the explicate order of the physical world emerges from the form realm. Eventually the reverse will oocur. But in evry instant all three of these worlds spontaneously emerge from and dissolve back into the absolute space of phenomena. Just as the nature of ice is water, the nature of everything is the unity of primordial consciousness and absolute space. Once we cease objectifying ourselves and everything else and recognize the "one taste" of all phenomena as displays of primordial consciousness, we enter into a state of meditative equipoise in which all phenomena dissolve into the great expanse, with no object, obstruction, or intentionality.

From ~ Hidden Dimesions: The Unification of Physics and Consciousness, pgs 110-113
B. Alan Wallace, Ph.D.

Related Links:

Vacuum States of Consciousness: A Tibetan Buddhist View
The Potential of Emptiness: Vacuum States of Consciousness
External, Internal, and Nondual Space
A Contemplative View of the Mind
The Scientific Frontier of the Inner Spirit
The Inter-Subjective Worlds of Science and Religion