The Third Epoch: The Absence of Self and The Presence of Self in Buddhist History:
An Existential Phenomenological View
Rudolph Bauer, Ph.D Diplomate In Clinical Psychology, A.B.P.P.
The Washington Center for Consciousness Studies and The Washington Center for Phenomenological and Existential Psychotherapy Studies
The Uttara Tantra as The Third Epoch
This paper focuses on the presence and absence of self in the unfolding of Buddhist history from the view of Existential Phenomenology. The Third Epoch of the Unfolding of Buddhism takes place in the 3rd 4th and 5th century CE. This is the epoch of the Uttara Tantra and Tathagarbha tradition coming into existence
This Third Phase of the unfolding of the self within Buddhism is the experience of our Buddha Nature within us. The Uttara Tantra reveals that Buddha Nature is the essence of all sentient beings. Buddha Nature is the potential in all sentient beings. Buddha nature is the source within all sentient Beings. Buddha Nature is our ontological sense of self. Buddha nature is our innermost Being.
During the 4th and 5th century CE, the Uttara Tantra brought forth the magnificent and positive understanding of wisdom awareness as the Buddha Nature being the cosmological source of, and within everyone and anyone. The Uttara Tantra emphasized the Tathagarbha tradition of Indian Buddhism. This was a great step in Buddhism with the profound understanding that luminous wisdom awareness as Buddha Nature, was the cosmological source within all sentient beings. The Buddha Nature is within all beings in seed (garbha) form. All human beings are, and have this Buddha nature in seed form, and with practice and understanding, the Buddha nature can become fully experienced and embodied by everyone. This is the Tathagarbha. This is the sustained view of the seed of wisdom becoming the Buddha Field in everyone as everyone. The Buddha Field is the Field of Being. Within this unfolding phase of the Uttara Tantra, the understanding is that within Shunyata is Buddha nature in seed form. Shunyata is the luminous openness of Being. The understanding is that within the openness of Being is this Divine Nature, this Divine Elemental-ness.
Divinity of Experience
The creative epoch of Nagarjuna opened up the presence of the field of Being within Buddhism. This field of Being is the primordial non-duality of openness and luminosity. Now with the unfolding of the Epoch of the Uttara Tantra, this field of Being is now understood to have within it the essential element of Buddha Nature. In essence we are Buddha Nature. Buddha Nature is our self in potentiality.
Within this field of Being is wisdom gnosis. Within the field of Being is wisdom knowingness. This knowingness is not only the source within every one of us, but can be embodied and experienced completely by everyone of us. Within this vast opening of human experience and human understanding, many of the great Vajrayana Tantras were revealed.
Within the great Tantras such as Chakrasamavara, the dramatic understanding arose that Bliss overcomes suffering. Bliss is the very nature of Being. Bliss is beyond good and beyond evil. Bliss is the essence of Being. Bliss is the essence of our own Being. Bliss is the essence of Buddha Nature.
This is a most wonderful revelation that the unfolding of self-liberation is within the experience of our knowing of our own Being as Divinity. This knowing is the experience of our becoming aware of our awareness, of our Being as Buddha nature. This knowing is direct experiential knowing and not belief. Knowing is not believing and believing is not knowing.
Limitation of the Uttara Tantra In Light of The Understanding of The Great Perfection
The Uttara Tantra’s luminous understanding was that to experience our Buddha Nature and to experience within our own self Buddha Nature, is to experience the Divinity of our innermost Being as our inner sense of self. Of course our innermost Being is not a thing.
To accomplish this experience of Divinity, the Uttara Tantric Text describes how we must purify our own mind of obscurations. If our mind is cleared of obscurations then we will be able to perceive and directly experience our Buddha Nature with our mind. The primary limitation of the Uttara Tantra was in seeing our Buddha nature only as potentiality and not as complete actuality. The second limitation, is the Uttara Tantra in describing skillful means teaches that in order to experience our Buddha Nature we must purify our minds. We must become pure in mind to know and experience our embodiment of Buddha Nature.
These powerful understandings about our Buddha Nature are incomplete in light of the later Great Perfection’s understanding that arose in the 4th Epoch that took place in Tibet during the 7th, 8th and 9th centuries. The Dzogchen tradition and lineage considers the Uttara Tantra’s understanding as incomplete when the Uttara Tantra text describes the Buddha Nature being only in potential or in seed form. The Dzogchen understanding also considers the Uttara Tantra as incomplete in the presentation of skillful means meaning the purification of the obscurations of the mind so that our mind can know and experience Buddha Nature which is the field of Being within us. The Uttara Tantra emphasizes that the knowing and experiencing of the Divine nature of our Being depends primarily on the purification of the obscurations of our mind. The focus of the Uttara Tantra text is that we can know our Buddha Nature through our mind alone.
From the viewpoint of the Great Perfection or the great completeness of Dzogchen, the understanding is that our nature is not simply Divinity in potentiality but our nature is Divinity in Actuality. And our direct knowing and experience of our Buddha Nature, does not depend on the purification of our mind, but rather depends on our becoming aware of our own awareness. The knowingness of Awareness is distinct from our knowingness of mind. Through our direct experience of awareness we have the direct experience and knowledge of Being. The Nature of Being is Buddha Nature. Awareness directly knows Being. Our mind only knows form.
The View of Completeness
Our understanding is that Buddha Nature is completely ‘given’ within us, as us. This understanding of the completeness of our embodiment of Buddha Nature and skillful means is not purification of mind but knowing through awareness of awareness. By entering into our awareness we know the direct experience of Being.
This fourth epoch of the Great Perfection or Great Completeness of Dzogchen takes a transformative leap within Buddhism. There is a profound shift from the transcendental path to the path of immanence and the embodiment of luminous Being. The great discovery of Dzogchen was the distinction between our mind and our awareness. Our mind knows form and our awareness knows Being. This took place in the 8th century CE.
The Limitation of Purification of Mind
In the Uttara Tantra, just as there is in our life, there is the relentless subtle dissociative splitting between our Innate Wisdom Awareness (or our Buddha Nature) and our lived personal experience. In the Uttara Tantra, there seems to be the unending task of purifying obscurations of our mind in order to fully and completely know and experience through our minds the immediate treasure of Luminous Being that is there within us as us.
In spite of the ontological immediacy of our innermost Being which is our natural innermost sense of self, the Uttara Tantra suggests that we cannot directly experience our innermost Being unless the obscurations of our mind are purified. This means that in order to experience our own nature as our own self, we must purify our mind and all of our mind’s obscurations. Moreover, some think that not only our obscurations of the present moment must be purified, but also the obscurations from our endless past lives must be purified. This seems to be a never ending task that lasts eons and eons. This approach of purification is an endless form of self-liberation.
Not the Direct Path of Gnosis
The actual working at the purification of our obscurations of mind is really great if you wish to improve the clarity of your mind and clarify your thinking, and clarify your feelings, and clarify your memory, clarify your reasoning and clarify your focus of your attention. But your clarity of mind will not be of help in experiencing and directly knowing what is actually appearing and manifesting as Buddha Nature within you and beyond you and around you. Your clarity of mind will not help you experience the Being of your Being and the Being of other beings. The purification of the obscurations of your mind will help you experience and know form and forms in clarity.
When you experience the Being of phenomena you are experiencing Buddha Nature. When you are experiencing the phenomena of Being, you are experiencing Buddha Nature. You must shift from being in your mind alone and the functions of your mind and enter into your own awareness. Our awareness knows Being. Our Awareness is gnosis. Our awareness is jnana. By becoming aware of your awareness you will experience the Being of your own being, the Being within others, and Being in and of itself.
The purification of our mind is not the direct path to direct knowing. The direct path of knowing, is the knowing of awareness of awareness. Awareness is the direct path of knowing Being. Awareness is gnosis, awareness is jnana. Awareness is the direct knowing and experience of our Buddha Nature within us and the world. The purification of our mind is not the open path to self-liberation of our Being, but it is a path to have a clear and open mind. Some times in the purification of our mind, we may find ourselves going beyond our mind into spaciousness, openness, and luminosity of our immediate field of awareness.
The most simple way of entering our awareness is to suspend our mind and then in the suspension of mind, we will experience our awareness and then by turning and focusing our awareness within awareness, we will enter and become the field of our awareness, which is infinite in its horizons and multidimensional. Our field of awareness is the field of Being.
Being is Totally Pure
Our Being is totally Pure. And our awareness is totally Pure. Our awareness is the knowing of our Being. and our Being is the knowing of our awareness. Our mind can be confused and collapsed and yet our innate awareness is always there. Our innate awareness is openness, luminous spaciousness with vital energy and the sea of compassion. Whatever the state of your mind, your awareness is always open and radiant. And your inner most Being is totally pure, luminous and spacious.
It is really important and necessary to know that our mind and the functions of our mind only know form. We can purify our experience of our obscurations of our mind and this facilitates our mind knowing form in brilliant clarity. This drama of purification of mind and our mind knowing of form is not the liberation of our Being. Actually, our Being is completely pure just as it is. The purity of our Being does not depend on the purity of our Mind. Purification of our mind alone does not provide liberation of our Being.
We can experience the purity of our Being by simply gazing within our own awareness and through our awareness, gazing into the Being-ness of our Being. The Being-ness of our being is Buddha Nature. The process of self- liberation is that direct and that immediate. By embodying our Being of our Being we experience our embodiment of Buddha Nature. By becoming and deepening experientially our relationship to our Being we experientially become Being itself. We become what we are! Our Being is Buddha Nature and Being itself is Buddha Nature. The Being of all phenomena is Buddha Nature.
Sense of Self
We are directly experiencing and becoming what we are. We are embodying what we are. Our experience of the Being of our form is Buddha Nature. The Being of our form is also our sense of self. To experience the Being of the form of others is to experience Buddha Nature within and as others. To experience the Being of the form of others, is to experience their sense of self. The Being of the form of the world is also Buddha Nature. Buddha Nature manifests as the Being of our form and Buddha Nature manifests as the Being of all phenomena.
Moreover, if our mind and awareness are in union we can experience the Being of our form, and our form of our Being. We can experience the Being of our form as Buddha Nature. Buddha nature is simply a metaphor for the nature of Being.
This distinction between mind and awareness is most important in understanding the process of self-liberation. Only awareness knows Being. By entering into our awareness, by becoming aware of awareness we have the capacity to experience the actuality of Being within our self and within all phenomena.
Our mind cannot directly know Being. Our mind cannot directly experience Being. Our mind can think about Being. Our mind can imagine Being. Our mind knows Being indirectly through thinking, feeling, sensation, memory and imagination. Only our awareness knows Being directly and experientially. Our awareness is gnosis, jnana and direct perception.
Our mind knows the form of Being, but not Being itself. By form of Being, I mean my form and your form or my dog’s form. Beings have forms. The preoccupation with purification of mind and the functions of the mind reminds us of the Hindu Vedic tradition’s endless preoccupation with purity of mind. We misunderstand when we believe that the infinite obscurations of our mind limit our experience of the purity of Being within us .
The most direct way of gaining clarity of mind and dissolving the obscurations of mind, is by embodying our field of luminous awareness. When we experience the embodied field of awareness within us, the luminous field infuses our mind, illuminates our mind and dissolves obscurations.
We are not only mind, we are the vast expanse of luminous awareness embodied. The purification of our mind increases our capacity for clarity and understanding within the phenomena of the forms of that the mind knows. The clarity of knowing forms is not the same as the clarity of knowing Being. But these two forms of knowing go together. The union of the two modes of knowing is the Mysterious Conjunctio. We can know Being directly, experientially and completely through our awareness.
Many traditions do not know this truth of the different modes of knowing. They do not know that mind knows forms and awareness knows Being. They do not know of the union of the two modes of knowing. Many traditions dissociate the two forms of knowing. They think that a person is either in non-duality and knows through awareness or a person is in duality and knows only through their mind alone. These traditions split duality and non-duality. They split into either spiritualism or materialism. They split either being in mind or being in awareness. The union of mind within awareness opens for us the experience of non-duality of Being within the duality of beings; and opens for us the experience of the duality of beings within the non-duality of Being. The union of mind within awareness opens for us the experience of difference within oneness, and oneness within difference.
Our dramatic misunderstanding is that our mind alone will never experience the purity of the Being of forms. Our mind only knows form. Our awareness knows Being. We can purify our mind and our mind will not know our Being or the Being of others. Our mind only knows forms. Purifying our mind will provide our mind knowing the clarity of forms.
A pure mind knows purity of forms. Our awareness knows Being and our awareness can know the purity of Being. When we are within our awareness, we can experience the purity of Being in our self and the purity of Being within others. When we are in awareness of awareness, we can experience the Purity of Being within the Phenomena of the World. When we are in awareness, we can experience the phenomena of Being and the Being of phenomena. Liberation is that direct and that immediate.
What is called Jnana and what is called Gnosis is the direct knowing of our awareness. The knowing of awareness is Jnana and the knowing of Gnosis is awareness. This knowing is immediate and available to us all.
When we are in our mind alone and we are not in our awareness, then we will not experience Being and the purity of Being of ourselves and others. We will naturally and directly experience the purity of Being and the purity of the Being of the phenomena when we are in awareness. We will experience the purity of our own Being and the purity of Being of others. That experience is self-liberation, just as we are.
The experience of the purity of the Being of phenomena does not depend on the purity of our mind. Rather to experience the purity of Being depends upon us being within our field of awareness, and experiencing the phenomena of Being and Being of phenomena within our awareness.
Within awareness through the gaze of awareness we can experience and perceive the purity of Being and beings. When our mind is integrated within our field of awareness, we as the one knower can experience the purity of the Being of the form.
Our awareness is direct knowingness and this knowingness of Being is called gnosis and jnana. As I have described, sometimes as a person works on the purification of their Mind, they may simultaneously experience the opening of the light of awareness which is naturally in union with their mind, and this union opens the experience of Being of the form. Both forms of the knowing of mind and the knowing of awareness are experienced as the one knower and within the one knower. The process of purification of your mind is not necessary to become aware of your awareness and to experience the field of Being.
This is why we can experience the field of Being and our form in oneness. We can experience the form of our Being and the Being of our form as our self. Our self is an onto- ontological experience. Our self is an onto- ontological reality. Our minds can be mad, and intellectually limited and yet within our madness, we still are the Buddha nature.
The Pervasive Form of Patriarchal Context
It is true that a form of the field of Being may hide the truth of the field of Being. The form of the patriarchal context often conceals the nature of the field of Being that we are. Our experience of the unbound openness of Being is contextualized by patriarchal institutionalization. Most religious and spiritual traditions are contained and organized within the patriarchal context. The patriarchal context may hide the actuality of natural embodiment of the completeness of Luminous Being that is within everyone, within you and within me as us. Our mind only knows the form. Awareness knows Being.
When we are in our mind alone we limit our knowing to the form alone. To experience the nature of our Being and the Being of the world, we must enter into awareness of awareness. Awareness reveals the Pure Being of the form just as it is. Awareness in union with the mind directly illuminates the character of the form. Awareness reveals Buddha Nature or our Divine Nature as Light. The nature of our awareness is spaciousness and the radiant light of direct knowing. Our awareness is direct knowing, our awareness is direct perception of the field of Being. Our awareness is jnana and is gnosis. Our ordinary awareness is gnosis and jnana.
Spiritual Grandiosity and Narcissism
Patriarchal traditions mythologize direct perception, mythologize gnosis and mythologize jnana. The nature of awareness becomes super natural. In the drama of mythologizing gnosis and jnana, the direct perception becomes exceptional and becomes the narcissistic prize rather than being the doorway of the ordinariness of the equality consciousness of Being.
We think we have to be special, or exceptional to experience jnana or gnosis. This is the mythological salesmanship on the part of patriarchal institutionalization. This is the mythologizing of the One Who Knows. We must understand direct perception, jnana and gnosis in the illuminating light of equality consciousness and equal vision. The Bliss of the world is the Bliss of The Ordinary.
There will be a following paper on the 4th epoch which is the coming into Being of the Great Perfection of Dzogchen.
Rudolph Bauer, Ph.D.
The Washington Center for Consciousness Studies and The Washington Center for Phenomenological and Existential Psychotherapy