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Conventional and clear light mind

Stages of the Path #112: The Third Noble Truth

Part of a series of Bodhisattva’s Breakfast Corner talks on the Stages of the Path (or lamrim) as described in the Guru Puja text by Panchen Lama I Lobsang Chokyi Gyaltsen.

  • The purity of the mind
  • The afflictions are not in the nature of the mind
  • The clear light nature of the mind

We were talking about the mind’s ability to know and the things that obstruct it that we have to eliminate. Sometimes they’re physical, sometimes it’s according to distance, and so on. Then also the karma and the seeds of the afflictions, and the afflictions themselves, that also cloud the mind and its ability to see.

When we talk about the fact that the afflictions can be eliminated there are a few reasons for that. It’s not just out of the air that the Buddha said that.

One reason is that the nature of the mind itself is pure. We can see this by the fact that the afflictions are not always present in the mind. In other words, if the nature of the mind were afflicted (like the nature of fire is hot), if the nature of the mind were afflicted then the afflictions would be there constantly, continuously, they would never fluctuate at all. But we can see from our own experience that anger’s there, then anger goes away, then something else comes, it goes away. Nothing is constant. That shows that the afflictions themselves are not in the nature of the mind.

Also, when we talk about the mind, the clear light nature of the mind, it has two meanings. One meaning is the clear and knowing nature of the mind, the conventional nature of the mind. This conventional nature of the mind is something that is neutral. It isn’t nonvirtuous it isn’t virtuous, it’s neutral. However, it can be transformed into virtue. Especially when we talk about the subtlest clear light mind that goes from one lifetime to the next lifetime, although it’s neutral now it can be transformed into virtue. In other words, it can be made so that it realizes the empty nature of all phenomena, it has that wisdom realizing emptiness, which is a virtuous mental state. That’s one of the reasons why we say the mind is pure. The afflictions aren’t stable, they aren’t always present, and that the neutral nature of the mind can be transformed into something virtuous.

I’ll talk tomorrow about another reason why we say the afflictions can be eliminated.

Audience: I have a question, it’s about the obscuration that makes, that even though the affliction may not be present the ignorance that colors our mind that makes everything appear truly existent seems like it’s pretty much always there. How do we think about that as being able to be eliminated, logically?

Venerable Thubten Chodron: So the predisposition to perceive things as truly existent is always there, so how do we see that as being able to be eliminated?

We’re getting into that, but basically it’s when you eliminate the ignorance then you eliminate the seeds of the ignorance, and when you continue meditating on emptiness that also eliminates the tendencies to see things as truly existent, because when you’re realizing emptiness directly things are not appearing truly existent, you’re not perceiving them to be truly existent. That’s the way you cleanse the mind from that kind of subtle obscuration.

Venerable Thubten Chodron

Venerable Chodron emphasizes the practical application of Buddha’s teachings in our daily lives and is especially skilled at explaining them in ways easily understood and practiced by Westerners. She is well known for her warm, humorous, and lucid teachings. She was ordained as a Buddhist nun in 1977 by Kyabje Ling Rinpoche in Dharamsala, India, and in 1986 she received bhikshuni (full) ordination in Taiwan. Read her full bio.