The following article is from the Spring, 2002 issue of the Snow Lion Newsletter and is for historical reference only. You can see this in context of the original newsletter here.

Everyday Consciousness and Buddha-Awakening

by Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche

Translated and edited by Susanne Schefczyk

This introduction to Buddhist psychology supplies essential instructions for successful meditation practice. Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche presents meditation practices that can powerfully influence and ultimately transform the mind into the purified mind of a Buddha. Rinpoche clearly describes how consciousnesses operate in everyday perception and how at the time of Buddhahood, these same consciousnesses express the five primordial wisdoms of the five Buddha families.

Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche presents meditation practices that can powerfully influence and ultimately transform the mind into the purified mind of a Buddha.



Introduction by Thrangu Rinpoche:

Tibetan Buddhism, Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche

"I am particularly happy to have the opportunity here to explain the difference between everyday consciousness and the primordial awareness of the Buddhas. In my opinion, knowledge about the mind is very beneficial for everyone. Mind is designated as being composed of six, or sometimes eight, collections of consciousness. This is a very specific classification of mind as generally taught in Buddhist philosophy, but one which is comprehensible by means of inference.

Everyone who meditates including those who, for example, are visualizing the creation phase of a yidam deity will receive much greater benefit from the meditation if they know about the condition of mind. Whoever meditates on calm abiding (Skt. shamatha) should, while doing so, be clear about, what the resting mind' actually is, and how it may be generated. For the meditation on deep insight (Skt. vipaśyanā) of the great seal (Skt. Mahāmudrā) or of the great perfection (Skt. Mahāsaṅdhi), it is likewise of great benefit to know what the mind is composed of, what its innate essence is, and through which forms of expression it makes itself manifest

Studying this topic is also beneficial for those who are interested in Western psychology and psychotherapy. Some psychologists conscientiously study the mind's mode of being according to the teachings of Buddhism. They are very much interested in the divisions of mind into six or eight kinds of consciousness and how these consciousnesses function.

Knowledge about the five kinds of primordial awareness is also important, since this is the fruit that all practicing Buddhists aspire to bring forth through their meditation and dharma practice. The fruit of this practice is to reveal the ultimate primordial awareness. Since meditation takes us gradually closer to this result, it is important to know about what results may be attained.

Though the highest, ultimate result of our dharma practice is the state of a Buddha, this does not mean that we leave off being present to ourselves and our situation and pass over to somewhere else entirely. Nor are we to be concerned with developing extraordinary powers to boast about or with which to show off. Instead it is a case of revealing the primordial awareness that is primordially present within ourselves. It reveals itself through the gradual development of the three kinds of highest understanding (Skt. prajñā): that arisen through listening, that arisen through reflecting, and that arisen through meditating. When these three are completely and perfectly developed, the primordial awareness is fully revealed.

Due to the influence of primordial awareness expanding, the stains of ignorance and obscuration become purified, and we attain the ultimate fruit that in Sanskrit is called Buddha. The Tibetan equivalent of this designation is Sangyé (Wyl. sangs rgyas), purified and expanded. The actual meaning of Buddha is merely Gyé, expanded. The Tibetan translators, however, added the syllable Sang, purified, in order to indicate that due to primordial awareness revealing itself all the obscurations are purified. Thus in Tibetan the designation Buddha in both its aspects, that of purification and that of expansion, points to primordial awareness.

The method to expand the primordial awareness consists principally of engaging in meditation. Therefore, in order to practice and meditate correctly, we should first of all understand what primordial awareness is and how it reveals itself. This knowledge can be attained through the highest understanding of listening and reflecting.

When Buddha Shakyamuni introduced the Buddhist teachings (Skt. Dharma) he taught extensively on the subject of the mind. In the context of the lesser vehicle (Skt. Hīnayāna), when explaining the five aggregates, the twelve sense-sources, and the eighteen elements (eighteen Dhātus), the Buddha explained the mind in terms of six collections of consciousness: eye, ear, nose, tongue, and body consciousness (i.e. the five sense consciousnesses), and the mind consciousness.

 the absorbing consciousness is profound and subtle.

In the context of the great vehicle (Skt. Mahayana), however, Buddha Shakyamuni explained the mind in terms of the eight collections of consciousness: the seventh consciousness is the kleśa-mind and the eighth the all-base consciousness (Skt. ālayavijñāna). The reason why these two types of consciousness were not taught in the lesser vehicle is explained in the sutras. There it says, the absorbing consciousness is profound and subtle. If it were taken to be the self, that would not be appropriate. The all-base consciousness functions uninterruptedly, like the flow of a river, by absorbing imprints as seeds.

In many non-Buddhist philosophies for example, that of the Indian Tirthikas the true existence of a self is postulated. It could happen that the followers of such philosophies take the all-base consciousness to be the truly existent self; this is a mistake. In the great vehicle, however, there is no entity as such that could be viewed as the self: indeed, there is no valid cognition that could prove the true existence of such a self. Since sometimes the body is taken to be the self and sometimes also the mind, there is no definite focal point for the self. It obviously follows that the self cannot be construed as being the all-base consciousness either.

the functions of the eight kinds of consciousness. . . .  the way they can be transformed into the five kinds of primordial awareness. . . . how the ultimate fruit, the level of the five Buddha-families, can be attained.

When the Buddha's teaching spread throughout India, many Indian scholar's (Skt. pandita) wrote commentaries. When Buddhism later came to Tibet, Tibetan scholars also wrote commentaries concerning the functioning condition of the mind. Explanations of the most important points describing the functions of mind were given by Karmapa Rangjung Dorje in his text The Commentary that Distinguishes Consciousness from Primordial Awareness. In addition, Mipham Rinpoche addressed the same topic in his text Gateway to Knowledge. Both these texts describe the functions of the eight kinds of consciousness, the way they can be transformed into the five kinds of primordial awareness, and how the ultimate fruit the level of the five Buddha-families can be attained.

Concerning the transformation of the eight consciousnesses into the five kinds of primordial awareness, however, the authors each emphasize different aspects. Karmapa Rangjung Dorje emphasizes the seventh consciousness by dividing it into two kinds: the immediate mind and the klesha-mind. Mipham Rinpoche, however, describes the all-base consciousness in much more detail by discriminating between the all-base and the all-base consciousness.

When I was seventeen years old I studied Mipham Rinpoche's text very intensely. At such a young age one learns very well, and this is why I still remember his interpretation very clearly today. The following explanations are therefore in accordance with Mipham Rinpoche's text Gateway to Knowledge.

Related articles:

Jamgon Mipham Rinpoche: A Reader’s Guide

Five Buddha Families


For more information:

Khenchen ThranguKhenchen Thrangu is an eminent teacher of the Kagyu tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. He was appointed by the Dalai Lama to be the personal tutor for His Holiness the Seventeenth Karmapa and has authored many books, including Pointing Out the DharmakayaEveryday Consciousness and Primordial Awareness, and Vivid Awareness.




Also see our Reader's Guide to Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche which explains this text in the context of his many works.