The Essential Distinction between Mind and Awareness: Within the View of Dzogchen
As David Higgs so clearly shows in his dissertation, between the 8th and 14th centuries there were illuminating phenomenological distinctions that were considered essential to understand the great perfection practice of awareness, becoming aware of awareness. These distinctions were primarily made by the Nyingma masters of meditation. The most basic distinction is between the mind of dualistic experience (sems) and the primordial awareness of naturalistic non-dualistic experience or primordial knowingness(ye shes) or (semde). This ye shes is non dualistic knowingness.
Unfortunately, many Buddhist texts describe dualism as deluded and non-dualism as non-deluded. This language of delusion is highly prejudiced and is nihilistic in tone and devalues the oneness of the two truths (conventional and absolute reality). They devalue the indivisibility of appearance and awareness and moreover, challenge the validity of the foundational human experience of oneness and difference or duality within non duality. This negative use of language unhappily challenges the divinity of appearance and invalidates the human experience of the Nirmanakaya dimension which is ordinary life. The differentiation and distinction of mind from awareness prevents the bewildering confusion of mind and awareness resulting in the negation of either the experience of non-duality or the experience of duality.
Much of the understanding about the difference between mind and awareness was presented in the unfolding of the seventeen Atiyoga tantras that brought forth the heart essence tradition (sying thig). These teachings and instructions are part of the instructional teachings of Dzogchen. These teachings are instructional in the forms of skillful means or praxis for bringing the experience of awareness of awareness into completion. This completion is experiencing the fullness of experience of personal awareness within the vast infinite and multidimensional field of awareness.
The essential method is to experience directly and completely primordial knowingness as well as the manifestations of this primordial knowingness such as mind, innermost subjectivity and external phenomenal appearance. Mind, subjectivity and all appearance are the manifestation of primordial knowingness itself. Primordial awareness is the primordial and abiding pervasive condition. Our experience of non -conceptual knowingness or non-conceptual perception opens us to the direct understanding and direct non-conceptual experience that everything and anything is the manifestation of primordial or ground awareness. Primordial awareness is radiance openness or radiant emptiness. Primordial awareness is not simply emptiness alone but the oneness of openness and radiance spaciousness as light. The incompleteness of emptiness alone is recognized by the 14th century Nyingma master Longchenpa. Awareness is the union of spaciousness and radiance.
After becoming aware of awareness the next step includes the integrating of mind into the dimension of non-conceptual awareness. This step of integrating dualistic mind into non-dual awareness facilitates the experience of experiencing duality within non-duality and non-duality within duality. This is the step of experiencing oneness and difference simultaneously.
To experience the difference between our mind, the functions of our mind and our non-conceptual awareness opens us to the experience of primordial direct perception or gnosis or jnana. We must know the difference between sems and semde. Sems is mind and semde is awareness. Within this movement non-duality becomes manifest within the context of duality. Primordial awareness becomes manifest within the context of mind and the indivisibleness within the perceived differences within phenomena. You and I are the manifestation of primordial knowingness. There is a “you” and there is an “I” and we are indivisible. The world is simultaneously oneness and difference. The world is absolute oneness and absolute difference.
Primordial awareness is manifesting knowingness through the mind as well as perceiving directly into the nature of phenomena. In this way duality can be experienced within non-duality. All differences are experienced within the non-dual context. Again as the Dakini said to Dudjom Lingpa you and I are indivisible.
The fifth Dalai Lama (1617 to 1682) pointed out that within the Nyingtig tradition, primordial knowingness and the mind structures should be experientially differentiated. Within such differentiation open awareness becomes experientially accessible and the power of primordial knowingness infuses the combined functions of the mind and opens our mind itself to experience direct awareness as well as perceiving directly through awareness itself. The 11th century Nyingma master Ronzompa named this experience as mind gnosis and awareness gnosis. So non-duality is experienced through a person complete in mind as well as complete in the continuous field of awareness. The duality between mind and awareness enters into the non-duality of mind and awareness. How Wonderful!
The next unfolding movement of the experiential understanding of primordial awareness is the wonderful experience that this primordial awareness underlies all phenomena, both the personal and the circumstantial. This primordial awareness is underlying the unbound unending infinite cosmological dimension. The final unfolding movement of knowingness opens primordial knowingness to become omniscient in becoming the Dharmadhatu itself. In this experience everything is alive as source knowingness itself. In this unfolding movement the personal and the sublime cosmological are in the oneness of indivisible non-duality.
By bringing the luminous non-duality within the mind and primordial knowingness Dzogchen Nyingtig masters were able to bring forth and articulate the knowingness of the great perfection. This knowingness is the wisdom of the Buddha. The Buddha is not a person but the essential nature of awareness.
As the 14th century master of meditation Longchenpa describes, primordial knowing takes us beyond the experience of subject and object duality and yet at the same time allows for the simultaneous experience of both the difference within phenomena and the indivisibility of all phenomena. As the Dakini said to Dudjom Lingpa, you and I are indivisible. Yes, there is a “you” and there is an “ I” and wonderfully, they are indivisible. You and I are the manifestation of awareness as awareness and we are individuated and different. This is the wonder of oneness and difference. This is the wonder of the universe. Many non-dual systems simply invalidate duality, invalidate difference, and invalidate either the actuality of oneness and/or the actuality of difference.
The Dzogchen account of knowingness is a multi-dimensional account. This primordial awareness is the base of personal mind and personal subjectivity. The manifestation of primordial awareness in time and space is available through the ongoing flow of representational thought, feeling and sensation. The path is not simply one of collecting merit as superego based systems suggest. Many forms of Buddhism and forms of Vedic Hinduism have this merit orientation. The focus is on earning liberation and not on the basic given-ness of self-liberation.
The path of Dzogchen is the path of attunement to the unceasing given-ness of primordial awareness and the experience of the attunement to the manifestation of phenomena as the manifestation of primordial awareness. This experience is the process of natural self-liberation. In Dzogchen, Deity practice itself is a method for experiencing the nature of the innermost awareness field as configurations of luminous translucent energy.
Sadhana becomes the continuous practice of becoming attuned and living within this field of awareness and experiencing the unfolding of phenomena within this field of self -liberation. By being in this state of awareness of awareness and by being located within awareness the structures of dualistic mind and dualistic experience becomes less and less organizing and less objectifying and less foundational. The base of the person shifts from the base being in mind alone to the base becoming unbound awareness field. The base of the person shifts from being psychological to cosmological awareness. The narcissistic attachment to mind alone become less compelling. The base of speech shifts from being located in the mind alone to becoming embodied within the embodied field of awareness. Language itself becomes a medium of the field of awareness.
In Dzogchen the guru is understood as the self-revealing function of primordial awareness itself that is manifested both within one’s self within the world, and within our circumstances. The self-revealing function is also within masters who have completely embodied the experience of primordial luminosity so completely that the invisible becomes visible. The manifestation and visibility of the field of indivisibleness becomes a Felt Sense. The experience of manifestation itself becomes the experience of self-liberation, the direct experience of the unfolding of the appearance and openness emptiness simultaneously. This is the path of natural self-liberation.
In Dzogchen compared to the tantric paths of Tibetan Buddhism, there is less emphasis on sexuality. The various yogini tantras both in tantric Hinduism and tantric Buddhism had an excessive and preoccupying focus on sexuality as a source of liberation. In Dzogchen sexuality is simply another experience to be assimilated into primordial awareness. Dzogchen and the heart essence traditions have less of a sexual focus as source of self-liberation and simply and realistically understand sexuality as another human experience to be assimilated and integrated into the sphere of primordial awareness continuum. As Longchenpa (1308-1363) the great Dzogchen master pointed out, much of the tantric sexual preoccupation is a function of sexual neuroticism.
Dzogchen also differs from the classical tantric view in that the focus is not singularly focused on the archetypal energies alone. The archetypal energies of primordial awareness are of importance and can be experientially felt and invoked as iconic methods of entering into the state of primordial knowingness. Although the archetypal is of importance there is more emphasis on the experiential phenomenology of everyday experience within the Nirmanakaya dimension. The traditional archetypal deity practices are methods for entering into primordial awareness and opening the experiential qualities of the Sambhogakaya dimension, the archetypal dimension. These are methods of invocation, Methods of bringing forth the experience of the archetypal dimensions of human awareness into ordinary human awareness.
The presentation of this essential differentiation between these two modalities of mind and awareness allows this unfolding experience to transform the exoteric Indian Buddhist viewpoint which is so idealistic in orientation and considers all phenomena to be illusionary delusion and even non-existent. This view does not take the multi-dimensionality of human awareness and its manifestation as light. Awareness is spacious radiance manifesting everything and anything as light forms.
The transformed view and uniquely Tibetan view is the esoteric expression specific to the Nyingma view. This view emphasizes the embodiment of mind and awareness in a relational and phenomenological context as light. The actuality of the interior and exterior awareness field is considered skillful means. The path itself becomes the path of appearance and primordial knowingness. The path becomes the path of appearance and luminous emptiness or luminous openness. The path is both vertical and horizontal in nature. The path is one of ascendance and relatedness. The path is the path of the embodiment of the awareness field which is infinite in its horizon and multidimensional. The focus shifts to the heart essence as the source point of the awareness field, the place of gnosis. Within the body there is a shift from the navel centers and lower pelvic centers to the upper heart center.
The period of 610 ad through 910 was the focus of oral transmissions by such teachers as Vimalamitra, Garab Dorge, Manjusrimitra, Sri Singha. During this period there was the focus of having this mind/primordial knowing difference and the non -dual primordial knowingness becoming the foundation of Tibetan thought and practice. There was various terminology used during this period such as primordial knowing (ye she) open awareness (rig pa), self-awareness (rang thrig), awakened mind and mind itself (sems nyid).
During this time period of 610 AD through 910 as this unfolding of Dzogchen understanding and teaching was taking place in Tibet, it was also during this period that the early Nyingma text were written including the Guhyargarbha tantra. Many of these early texts were written in various forms of the Tibetan language and the Indian Buddhist influence was present but less dominant. The culture of Tibet was village focused and not monastic. Ordinary life was the path.
Besides the 17 tantras, the two great classical and root tantras of Nyingma Dzogchen tradition are the Guhyagarbha tantra and the Sovereign All Creating Source were created during this time period. The Guhyagarbha tantra emphasizes the purity and equality of all phenomena and the Sovereign All Creating Source focuses on the pervasiveness of primordial presence. The effortlessness of the path is focal. Another recently translated root Dzogchen text is the Marvelous Path. This text was recently published by the Dzogchen master Namkai Norbu Rinpoche.This text also focuses on primordial presence self-manifestation as everything and anything. The method is effortlessness.
From the 14th century Longchenpa’s work consistently and explicitly articulated the distinction between mind and primordial knowingness. In his great text Precious Treasury of The Genuine Meaning he says that this is the most important and essential distinction that opens the actuality of Dzogchen with immediacy and ease. Before Longchenpa, Ronzompa the 11th century master articulated the nature of gnosis and the divinity of appearance. He explicitly describes mind gnosis and gnosis of direct perception of awareness which unfolds into omniscience. This prefigures the comments of the Dali Lama about direct seeing of mind and direct seeing of primordial awareness.
Longchenpa integrates Mahayana and Vajrayana teachings within the distinction of mind and primordial knowingness. Later Jigme Lingpa continues in the phenomenological elucidation of this difference between primordial awareness and mind.
Later, in the later part of the 19th century, Dudjom Lingpa with exquisite phenomenological elaboration of both the Sambhogakaya realms (archetypal manifestations and apparitions) and Nirmanakaya manifestation of ordinary life taught the manifestation of primordial awareness as appearance, From Dudjom Lingpa the Dudjom lineage evolved which is the path of appearance and luminous awareness.
Much of this Dzogchen elaboration takes us beyond the usual epistemological frames of realism or idealism. This intermediate area of experiencing has the quality of magical --realism, the realm of magical-ness and trans-lucidity of appearance and apparitional-ness. This intermediate area of experience is the area of potentiality, potential space.
The Dzogchen elaboration of mind presents mind in subject- object dualistic structuring of experience. Dualistic mind has two aspects of apprehension. The apprehension of objects of an object centered mind that gives rise to the apprehension of objects, and an apprehending subject oriented mind that apprehends the subjectivity of the mind. The mind reifies experience, reifies otherness and reifies its own self. And the reified mind with reified functions becoming a reified world. In this reification, the thingness of the world and thingness of others and thingness of self, replaces and minimizes the being-ness of being, greatly limiting the profound experience of coming into being-ness of Being. Being is the Dharmakaya but Being is not a being. The ordinary being-ness of all the beings is the being-ness of Being, which is the manifestation of the singular being-ness of Being which is no thingness from which everything and anything arises.
Primordial knowing cannot be reduced to representational object or ideas and is no- thing like in nature. So appearance is the field of being manifesting through beings and in beings and beyond beings. Awareness is the experience of the manifestation of being-ness as luminous potentiality which is not a thing but from which everything and anything arises,
The Washington Center for Consciousness Studies and The Washington Center for Phenomenological and Existential Psychotherapy Studies