The Secret Door
Thoughts on Thelema


The Teachings of Padmasambhava – Part 3 of 5

The following was originally written in a Buddhist context. However, the similarities between Tibetan Buddhism and the Western esoteric tradition, and between Padmasambhava and the Law of Thelema, are sufficiently remarkable to justify its inclusion here.

[81, 82] Reality is abstract and non-representational. Since, however, we must still use language to communicate, Padmasambhava introduces the same idea as Alfred Korzybski, the founder of General Semantics, eleven centuries later, when he says, “the map is not the territory.” The map is the dpe (pé), the model, and the don (dön) is the actuality. Guenther says that the dpe is the medium, and the don, the content. [83]Guenther claims of Padmasambhava that “the presentation of us as spiritual and luminous beings and the subtle distinction between the whole’s ontological and functional intentionality is unique in the history of human thinking.” If true, this statement alone would make Padmasambhava one of the most important human beings in history. This distinction further relates to Padmasambhava’s rejection of the absoluteness of rational thinking.

Padmasambhava’s description of the relationship between the paradigm and reality’s spiritual teaching (gdams-ngag) insists that we immerse ourselves in amrita. You will remember from last time that Sanskrit amrita, Pali amata (Tib. dutsi), the ecstatic drink of the rishis that is usually translated as “deathlessness” or “immortality” in the Pali Canon (it is also a divine draft that guarantees the immortality of the gods). The account is put into the mouth of “He who is utterly free from conceptual limitations,” representing the Absolute Lama. He begins to explain what amrita means by referring to the symbol of the sea. All diseases are expelled, including birth and death, from him who immerses himself in the sea of amrita and drinks it (referring as I mentioned last time to the myth of the churning of the soma). The immersion in the sea of immortality’s elixir is the experience that Padmasambhava calls the leap (thod rgal), a.k.a. the Vision of Light, referring to the experience of transcendence.

Guenther notes that Padmasambhava repeatedly emphasizes that he has actually had this experience. Guenther describes this experience as an “intrapsychic evolutionary process” with “three intertwining phases.”

[84]Padmasambhava identifies amrita with the attainment of the spyi-ti (chi ti) experience, as well as the realization of reality, called suchness (chos-nyid), the transcendence of phenomenality (chos-can), and complete and perfect awakening. The realization of suchness means that the phenomenal is actually realized and experienced as a mirage. [85] The reality that recognizes its own illusoriness is the primordial mystery. Guenther compares Padmasambhava’s idea of ontological meaningfulness to the “pre-reflective nonthematic structuring of experience” (C.O. Schrag). This is mainly concerned with functionality, process, and value, which Guenther compares to the Gnostic “pure nothing” of Basilides, Padmasambhava’s negation (med [mé]; cf. Zen mu, the original non-being from which being is produced), and David Bohm’s “implicate order,” i.e., the probabilistic wave-function before particularity has been precipitated by the act of observation.  In contrast, “representational thinking’s constructs” (chos-can) corresponds to Schrag’s ”reflective-thematic movement,” which is concerned with the process of impersonal objectification.

When we project our subjectivity (chos-can) into the world, it appears as a “malfunction,” which is experienced as an “errancy,” a deviation, limitation,  or restriction.

[86] What is meant by “the sea of immortality’s elixir,” characterized by the complete transcendence of the rational faculty? Padmasambhava answers by identifying three poisons, a.k.a. traps or enemies, which (he says), must be killed by tearing out their hearts – the bloodthirstiness of the language is typical of Tantric symbolic or “twilight” language, and must be understood very carefully if one is not to be misled. Correlative to the three poisons are the three manifestations of reality, a.k.a. fortresses. The three manifestations of reality become safe by “killing” the three poisons, then one can rest in the empty dimensionality of being that is like the sky or space. Padmasambhava explains that this statement is a spiritual teaching (Guenther’s “binding enunciation,” gdams-ngag), in which the three traps are the three times – past, present, and future; the three enemies are awareness (Guenther’s excitability/excitation, rig), thinking (yid), and attachment (sems).

The fortress consists of reality’s intrinsic luminous self-manifestation (rang-snang), self-appearance (rang-bzhin), and self-liberation (rang grol), characterized by [87] autonomy, purity, and transcendence. This is the citadel of the three fore-structures of our humanity. By “killing” the three poisons and tearing out the duality of subject and object, which is the passion of the false ego, one goes to sleep in the dimensionality of reality’s suchness, in which nothing arises. Padmasambhava calls us to experience the dissipation of the phenomenal (chos-can), which is itself liberation (grol-lugs). The closest one can come in language to describe this experience is that everything just “falls away.”

Padmasambhava says that this liberation illuminates the diversity of phenomena with its possibilities or probabilities consisting of extension, illumination, and liberation. Extension is experienced as a profound energy, focused entirely in the present, autonomous, creative, and trans-rational. Illumination is the autonomous and persistent self-presentation of reality. [88] Self-liberation manifests in its own natural state (rang-sa) when it is neither suppressed/repressed nor sought after. Its own-being dissolves into itself when no effort is made to divide it or eliminate one or another aspect of it. Illumination is devoid of activity, agitation, or thinking, and all subjective attachments, resulting from grasping/craving, dissolve into the primordial purity (Guenther’s “symbolic pregnance,” ka-dag or ka-nas dag). An inner psychic process evolves into the primordial illumination of the whole, which then goes astray because of labelling, resulting in objectification.

The threefold illumination and becoming of the misinterpreted phenomenal world is due to a fundamental agitation or irritability in one’s real being, which dissipates and dissolves into the energy of the whole because of non-differentiation. By letting it all go, in perfect indifference and non-attachment, the world loses its grip on us. By abandoning the subject-object duality, one cuts off the thinking ego’s reification of what is only a name or a label. [89] Thus, the energy of the thinking faculty dissipates into its own-being, which is its inherent tendency towards an illumination that is intrinsically still and undisturbed. One should not entertain any thought or preconception as to one’s real being. Once the habitual veils and blindfolds have been torn away, the self-existent spontaneously dissipates or dissolves into the energy of reality.

These three aspects are experienced as a unity. It is the dynamic suchness of one’s real being, without the anterior instability, which leads to illumination.

The philosopher David Michael Levin nicely describes this grasping to which the Buddha, Padmasambhava and Guenther refer: “Normal perception … is inveterately grasping, as the very word itself should remind us. It is an anxiety driven, restless intentionality: a grasping of light and a grasping in the light. But such perception cannot see the whole of things, because wholeness, unlike totality, is not something that can be grasped.”

The sea of immortality’s elixir is the true dwelling of the whole and of us. Padmasambhava says, “by means of the destruction of thinking one is immersed in the elixir of immortality that is the universal suchness. When the phenomenal dissolves into its proper dwelling one is immersed in the elixir of immortality that is the universal dimension of meaningfulness. When one’s real being dissolves into its proper dwelling, one is immersed in the universal energy.” [90] The immersion in the sea of immortality’s elixir, experienced as the dissipation of the constructions of representational thinking, progressively loosen their grip on the experiencer. This is the spiritual teaching of the whole.

Two aspects of this process are thus implied. First, the teacher is wholeness itself, whereas the hearer (sravaka) to whom the spiritual teaching is addressed is that self-same wholeness! It is the self-revelation of the whole as whole to the part that is still part of the whole, and thus itself. Thus, it is a true teaching. This spiritual teaching is thus a prototype of the actual experience of non-duality, in which the part and the whole are one, since there is still a trace of duality present.

The “fullness” of the elixir of the sea of immortality is indicated by but not identical with the spiritual teaching. Padmasambhava asks, “How does the oral transmission characterized by the dissipation of ignorance and the expansion of illumination that is the immersion in the sea of immortality’s elixir manifest the perfection of reality?”  The spiritual teaching of the whole has become an oral transmission, a silent awakening, in which the dissipation of the darkness of ignorance and the expansion of illumination manifest the invisible dynamics of reality that is its dynamism. [91] Padmasambhava says that the elixir of immortality that is autonomous and creative is the means of an awakening to the perfect heart-essence of realty. The elixir of immortality is the cause of an awakening to the profundity of our own reality in which the suchness of reality manifests as an expanse.

The elixir of immortality, identified with the energy and creativity of reality, effects an awakening that manifests the unmanifest as a prototype of our physicality infused with real meaning and value. One’s mind/spirit has been a process of darkness dissipating and light expanding since time before time.  It is an awakening that makes one’s understanding of one’s reality manifest dynamically. The Tibetan word would ordinarily be rendered as “attained the totally realized state” or, simply, perfection. Guenther’s rendering appears to be etymological, based on klong (long), “spiral inward, turning place, whirlpool” + gyur (gyur), “to become, change, transform, arise.”

[92] Padmasambhava presents the experiencer’s drama as an allegory consisting of two movements, first describing the place and then the process.

The Place

The place is a temple, citadel, or celestial mansion. Guenther notes that this is “a symbol through which the anthropo-cosmic whole experiences itself in its [affectivity] and, in the narrower sense of the word, a symbol for the experiencer’s body as lived,” recalling Jung’s identification of the symbol of the house with the psyche. The temple to which Padmasambhava refers is not a physical temple. Rather, it is a symbol of the energy of the whole of reality itself as pure intensity or, as Jung says, “the sensuously perceptible expression of an inner experience,” i.e., an archetype. The temple is a gestalt of the absolute lucidity of meaning, qualified as sheer luminosity. The temple is, moreover, the residence of a divine/human couple, representing the binary principle of complementary duality that is the means by which the inner tension of the whole  becomes self-creative. [93]

To be self-creative also implies being in search of itself, represented by Padmasambhava as a quest for a precious jewel.  Padmasambhava says that the luminously radiant temple is precious, the crown jewel of the gods. It is the dwelling of the god “He whose mirror-like nature displays the sun and the moon,” and [94] the goddess, “The beautiful one shining in a thousand lights,” who are as it were husband and wife. [95] Together these two principles generate the whole universe in its illumination, which being interpreted are samsara and nirvana, which Padmasambhava typifies as “the greatest wonder.” Guenther notes the similarity of this description to the upper plane of the threefold cosmos, but he also notes the emphasis on the human element. Guenther characterizes the god and the goddess as a myriarch (a commander of ten thousand men) and his consort or Shakti, “the sovereign mistress of the phenomenal world,” but with an additional aura of sacredness, through which it is possible to establish a personal relationship with them.

The universe is their offspring and human beings are their children. Moreover, the god becomes the Little Man or Anthropos who is omniscient or, in Guenther’s jargon, “all-excitation,” and the real Lord of illusions, and [96] the beautiful goddess of light. Because of their non-dual union as archetypal Father and Mother, an autonomous Son is born from the archetypal Mother (matter) as an autonomous, omniscient, brilliant light. The Son resolves to discover the limits of space, but he cannot find a circumference or a centre. He cuts off all preconceptions concerning the nature of phenomenality and its dualistic interpretation as samsara and nirvana and returns to his home.

This is the whole’s primary revelatory utterance: Drench yourself in the vital perfection of the energy of reality itself, which inheres non-reductively in the infinite whole. [97] Thus, the Son, Little Man, or Anthropos, finding nowhere to go, returns home, where he conceals his precious jewel. In a passage strongly suggestive of Laozi in the Tao Te Ching, without desire, he is completely satisfied. Without action, everything to be done is done. Thus, one’s existential values become a reality and he understands his own immortality; expectations and apprehensions vanish. The mystery of reality is thus summarized in an allegorical formula described as the Unique Sphere, literally “the Only One,” i.e., the supreme non-dual goal of self-unification.

[98] The Little Man or Anthropos protects his precious jewel or treasure from a terrible enemy, which is none other than his own ego. The ego’s power and how to deal with it is dramatized in a dialogue between the quintessential feminine spiritual principle in the mode of the precious jewel and in the mode of karma or action.  [99] Padmasambhava asks, “How is this enemy’s vein of life cut?” The female force responds that the enemy is the five poisons, consisting of ignorance, irritability, desire, envy, and jealousy. There are 84,000 such enemies, i.e., all the various emotions. Their root is the I. Their leader is ignorance, irritation, and passion. The vein of life is cut in the causeless dimension.

Padmsambhava asks whether the cutting of the vein of life is to be understood literally, like some early followers of the Buddha who committed collective suicide [100]. The female force responds that it is not to be understood literally, but as referring to the annihilation of the notion of an I, echoing the Buddha’s doctrine of anatta, “non-self-identity.” Padmasambhava asks, “How is this vein of life cut?” The female force responds that it is cut by the self-caused and self-extinguished (rang-drol), assisted by infinity and the army of the uncaused, primordially pure dimension of reality. Taking the sword of transcendent insight (shes-rab), he abolishes the three traps, corresponding to the worlds of desire, form, and formlessness, in the wilderness between light and dark, in the great hall of a castle (psyche), including the searching, determining, and creating functions of the ego. Here the autonomous and luminous enemy of the I cuts the throat of the enemy with the sword of wisdom, [101] tearing out their heart with the indestructible hook of skilful means (thabs).

Thus, ignorance and egoity are destroyed, drowned in the dimension where birth and death are not, and abiding in the perfect brilliance that is reality’s primordial purity. The hero or adept who spontaneously presences the truth, enjoyment, and emanation bodies, representing our spiritual identity and spiritual participation in the world, cuts the vein of life of the enemies’ leader, consisting of ignorance, irritability, and desire, and kills all the other enemies, i.e., the emotions, becoming one with the autonomy, primordial purity, and “dynamic nothingness” of reality, in the dimension where there is neither intentionality nor thinking. All phenomenality, limiting and restricting the superconscious ecstatic intensity, dissolves in the immense profundity of reality’s suchness (chos-nyid). He becomes the perfect nameless in which all limitations and restrictions have been annihilated.

Guenther emphasizes two terms in Padmasambhava’s description: “castle” (mkhar) and “nameless” (ming-med).  The nameless goes to the very heart of the problem of the human spiritual evolution. [102] By definition, the human being is “enworlded” in a human world. This problem is important for Padmasambhava since, like the Buddha, he starts with the experiencer rather than the experienced, whether an axiomatic ontology, cosmology, or theology. Human consciousness, questioning, and the formulation of answers to those questions, i.e., the act of naming, are especially significant.  Padmasambhava says, “Naming is the basis of errancy,” tied to the fragmented and fragmentizing activity of human thinking. Thus, rational-representational thinking sets up an obstacle that must be transcended.

Padmasambhava says, “Since the play of the proliferation of logical constructions concerning what something is supposed to be, of reality’s unoriginated activity [103] in the unborn that is reality’s suchness, for which in its pre-beginning there was no name, is, when fragmented by rational-representative thinking, the reason for one’s errancy, this obstacle must be transcended.” We are, thus, compelled to ask, “What is this absolute nothingness?” Padmasambhava responds that this nothingness is itself a symbol or sign (brda’), thus elevating the totality of the world to the level of the imaginal and the symbolic. Theoretical physicist Basarab Nicolescu says,

The symbol is a marvellous living organism which helps us read the world. It never has an ultimate or exclusive meaning. Its precision consists just in this fact, that it is capable of embracing an unlimited number of aspects of reality. We are thus obliged to accept the relativity of our way of looking at it: this relativity can be present only if the symbol is conceived of as in movement and if we ourselves experience it. Symbolism entails a decreasing entropy of language, a growing order, an augmentation of information and comprehension, as it crosses different levels of reality.

The Process

In Padmasambava’s account, the journey into the unknown starts with a citadel, palatial mansion, temple, or castle. We have already alluded to Jung’s identification of this archetype with the psyche. Guenther describes the castle as a private world consisting of multiple storeys in which each higher storey incorporates all the lower storeys, marking the interplay [104] between stability and flexibility and their intertwining which marks the completion phase, referring of course to the generation and completion phases or stages of Tibetan yoga. Stability is a state of mental concentration, whereas flexibility expresses itself in ritual acts, in which the generative or, in Guenther’s terminology, the transformative phase (bskyed-rim) provides the specific pattern or structure and the completion phase (rdzogs-rim) provides the significance. The castle is a model of the experiencer’s world as lived by him, carrying the imprint of his physical, social, and ego-logical/spiritual consciousness. The castle’s Lord (bdag-po) and Lady (bdag-mo) double on the social-physical level as father (pha) and mother (ma). [105] On the imaginal-spiritual level, they double as archetypal Father (yab) and the archetypal Mother (yum), which symbolize the spirituality of the anthropic whole. Guenther describes spirituality as a self-projection, a dynamic self-manifestation that displays the binary principle of complementarity, in the archetypal images of a Father and a Mother as well as in their human representatives. Father-Mother need a third element in order to be a father and a mother. This is the child (bu), the Son, the Anthropos, or the Little Man of Light (khye’u-chung) or, in Jung’s terminology, the Puer Aeternus (“eternal child”).

Padmasambhava says that the storeys of the castle recapitulate the three levels of the generation stage, the completion stage, and the completeness stage, culminating in “invariant concentration” or meditation. “Completeness stage” is Guenther’s translation of rdzogs-chen (dzok chen), the Great Completion, the apex of Tibetan yogic attainment. Here the Lord and the Lady, the Archetypal Father and the Archetypal Mother, both called “supremely excellent goodness,” have an only child, called Precious Light, who is predisposed to illumination. However, although they own the castle, they do not possess the Wish-Fulfilling Jewel. The parents send their son to buy this precious jewel. After an arduous journey, he comes to a crossroad (so-mtshams), a boundary or threshold between light and dark, in a concealed and fertile valley, wherein lies a self-luminous precious jewel or gem. This precious gem is the most valuable thing a person can have. Padmasambhava says that this precious gem is the highest nature of mind or Buddha nature, which Guenther renders, somewhat confusingly, as “thinking’s thinking” (sems-nyid) or pure reflexive sentience, the sentience of sentience itself. There the sun and the moon dispel darkness; a sword severs and thus ends one’s errancy.

Despite Padmasambhava’s earnest exhortation to “get possession of this inexhaustible treasure,” finding this jewel is not easy. [108, 109] The Little Man of Light is exhorted by his parents to buy the Precious Jewel from a blind old woman. He is to send three mediators, who are the three modes of transcendental insight: understanding ultimate reality as ultimate reality, understanding consensual reality as consensual reality, and understanding that which unites them. The transaction is to be concluded with the aid of rational reflection on  the oral transmission (lung-rigs), and paid for by renouncing the eight rational and emotional aspects of the ego, including dogmatism, egocentricity, selfishness, intentionality, desire, subjectivity, [110] longing, and ignorance. The Jewel, purchased with the knowledge of what has led to one’s enworldedness, confers the realization of non-duality, especially the non-duality of samsara and nirvana, spiritual awakening and “unregenerate opinionatedness,” and the ignorance of the common and educated people compared with the primordial wisdom (gnosis) of an authentic seer. Buying the Jewel means that the Self has been realized as an ongoing unfolding process that is completely non-dual and does not turn non-duality into a merely logical construction. Padmasambhava says, “Once you have completed your transaction, return home. Inside your home is the fundamental nature of existence (Chos-nyid dbyings). [111] Drink the warm drink of profound spiritual advice. Eat the delicious nectar of the profound appraisal of your wholeness. Don the robe of supreme bliss. Prepare the bed of changelessness. Curl up in the hidden nook of this changelessness, suchness. Fall deeply asleep in the perfect supreme bliss. Do not participate in the activities of the common and uneducated people who seek out distractions. Renounce all worldly responsibilities. Stay with your natural being. This is what is meant by going to sleep in the fundamental nature of reality.” [112]  Guenther finds echoes of this in the poem of the Gnostic Hymn of the Pearl, in the Gnostic Acts of Thomas, in which a prince is sent to Egypt by his father to recover a hidden treasure in the form of a pearl of great price.

The Experience

The immediacy of human experience is the symbolic mode of the whole that was already active before there was any naming, and therefore must be primordial. This “original” scenario is our pre-conceptual and pre-ontological mental state in the field of reality of the intimately felt presence which Padmasambhava describes as a temple. As real beings, we feel this mental state (or “mood”) both intimately and with varying degrees of intensity. Padmasambhava says, “In a temple that is brilliant yet empty a mad craftsman gazes about and since it is entirely empty, he cannot see aught. Instantly he loses his ability to think. He loses his memory and his mind. He does not know how to see or speak. This description symbolizes what was before any naming.”

[114] Guenther paraphrases/interprets this quotation, which I have paraphrased/interpreted as follows: “Divine self-realization, established in its own place, in its open void is utterly coterminous with the clear light.”   The Tibetan word stong (tong), lit. “void, emptiness, vacuity,” Guenther translates as “openness/nothingness,” which he identifies with the quantum concept of the zero-point energy of the void.

The anthropo-cosmic experience of the “original” scenario of human spiritual evolution is already represented in human terms. The luminous void is already destabilized by a figure that approximates to the Gnostic notion of a “demiurge,” i.e., an artificer of the world who, in Gnosticism, is regarded as the originator of evil. [115] Thus Padmasambhava describes the cosmic craftsman, the originator of samsara, as crazy, similarly to the way the Pali Canon portrays the Brahma god.

Objectifying thinking integrates memory (dran-pa), cognition (blo), and awareness (rig-pa). These three modes of thinking constitute the ego-logical perspective per se, which cannot understand pre-personal or primordial thinking, but sees it (if it sees anything at all!) as its own incapacitation and undoing. In the radiant intensity of the whole, the ego personality must go mad! Thus, it projects its own insanity into what it sees as sanity. Instead of human spiritual evolution, modern man posits obsessive consumption, sensual satisfaction, perpetual growth, monetary success, “progress,” and fake scientism as its signposts, with the results that we see.

This entire analysis forces one to realize that reality, the whole, is not perfectly symmetrical. The inherent nature of nothingness is dynamic or kinetic at its core. Otherwise, our individual self-existence would not experience the illusion of samsara, and there would literally be nothing, unconsciousness, non-entity. Illusory as it is, the potential to create that very illusoriness indicates what Padmasambhava describes as an “insanity” that is already inherent in God’s own house (lha khang), the anthropic universe and its experiencers. No matter how hard we try, we cannot get rid of this essential asymmetry at the very core of creation, Blake’s worm in the apple core. Deus est demon inversus – God and the devil stare at each other in the mirror.  Of course, the Buddha did not posit a supreme deity but the problem remains, albeit on a far more abstract, subtle. metaphysical plane. The only possible solution is trans-dual emptiness.

The primordial scenario is represented by Padmasambhava as a temple that is a radiant void. [116] This trans-dual radiance includes duality and non-duality. Language cannot penetrate this paradox, but we can represent the processes arising out of this tension as successive creative phases of a primary intensity beginning with the ecstatic awareness that is the essence of consciousness itself. [117] Similarly, white light is divided into the primary colours and energy manifests in an infinite range of vibrations, from greater to lesser intensity. This is of course the basis of Buddhist vertical cosmology.

The temple that is the psyche is described as made of light or vibrations of energy in the five colours of the rainbow. These are the five primary forms of awareness[1] of the divine person that is the Anthropos, symbolized as a person in the form of a rainbow body (body of light) riding a horse or stallion. On one level the horse is the vital energy, the rider the self, but the true self is beyond duality and therefore beyond the duality of the horse and the rider.

[118] The transition from probability to possibility is the next phase of the process in which the infinity of wholeness enters into the finite infinity of a human being. A finite being is absorbed in their impressions. An infinite being is awake. Padmasambhava says, “The evolving anthropo-cosmic system’s perturbation motility is a fast stallion ridden by a human being who is the intensification of the system’s cognitive capacity, ego, and overall disposition to egocentricity. Arriving at a temple that is the system’s functionality, the whole’s light, and looking about, the human being saw two divine figures, one seated and immobile, and the other restless and agitated. This symbolizes the mysterious wilderness dividing the commonality into territories.” Similarly, in the Pali Canon territories appeared because of the progressive degeneration of the original luminous beings who were the first human beings.

Padmasambhava says, [119] “The stallion is the evolving human’s breath and the cosmic plane’s fog. Riding on the stallion is a monkey person [Charles Darwin?], which symbolizes the impermanence of the whole. They arrive at the mysterious wilderness whence two paths lead, one leading up and one leading down, leading to two temples. The upward path leads to a temple that shines with a brilliant light, door wide open. The lower temple is pitch black, door also open. The upper temple is the monkey man’s disposition and dimensionality of illumination. In the lower temple an egotist lives, rushing from place to place. This symbolically represents the gates through which the Primordial Awareness dawns upon the experiencer or through which he may go astray into the realm of errancy.”

The moral is clear. The experiencer may enter the gate of light and return to his proper abode, or he may enter the gate of darkness and become involved in mistaken identifications from which it becomes extremely difficult to free oneself. Yet the upward and downward paths are both aspects of the same reality, which is the temple of our lived humanity.

[120] However, allowing ourselves to be swept away by the force of this fall moves us towards the dark pole. Padmasambhava says, “The human being riding the stallion is subject to the experiencer’s quick-witted ego-logical mind, fragmented and excitable. He arrives at three traps, where he meets a blind woman holding a cup containing three poisons. She says to him, ‘What’s wrong with you, not looking at my emblematic world of darkness?’ The temple of darkness is taken to be something existent, true, and permanent, but it is only conventionally real, banal, miserable, dual, material, ignorant, shrouded/befogged, opinionated, samsaric, poisonous, and [122] loathsome. Thus, one takes a cairn, a rope, and a mirage to be a person, a snake, and water respectively. This represents how a person goes astray and the whole illuminates its errancy by way of symbols.”

Yet darkness has its own light, and its perturbation is inherent in the whole’s illumination, represented as a mad demiurge or a monkey. To call this a flaw, as it clearly is, is also paradoxical, because error itself inheres in the whole’s illumination. Passing through the gate of gnosis, however, reveals quite a different picture. Padmasambhava says, “The Precious Jewel has been won. Sun and moon have arisen and displaced obscurity and darkness. Poison has been neutralized. Base metal has been turned to gold, recalling the symbology of alchemy. Food has been turned into the elixir of immortality. You sleep in the black hole of supreme bliss. You enjoy an inexhaustible treasure. You have abolished the abyss of the six sorts of beings. There is neither spiritual wakefulness nor samsara. Even the notions of attachment and aversion are irrelevant. The duality of cognition and cognizing, apprehensible and apprehending, negation and affirmation, separation and elimination, ceases to exist. Bias and impartiality expressed as notions of enemy and friend, craftiness, and rejection and acceptance ceases to exist. Once the five poisons have been neutralized, even the concept of samsara disappears. Once obsessiveness has been eradicated, there is no effort in any direction. [126] This presents the gate of the gnosis of the whole which dawns on the experiencer as symbols.”

Several symbols recur in Padmasambhava’s presentation. The experiencer finds himself in the precarious situation of either losing or finding himself by growing into the fullness of being, including:

  • the mystery of the luminous emptiness of the temple;
  • the whole’s unfolding intelligence symbolized as a rider represented as a rainbow human being riding on a stallion of light, whose racing reflects the speed, storminess, vehemence, and perturbation of the instinctual/emotional stratum in us, and reflects the stress or tension within the light itself;
  • the “cypher of transcendence” (lha), symbolized as a divine figure in whom the self-realization process culminates, corresponding to the male polarity; and
  • the image of the objective sphere of Total Knowledge, reality itself, symbolized as the mother to whom the child returns after going astray, corresponding to the female polarity.

The process of self-realization starts with the inarticulate mystery that is our own being and culminates in an even greater mystery, the working out of which we sense by means of symbols.


[1] Pali Buddhism has the five complexes or aggregates of clinging (skandhas): body, sensation, perception, karmic predispositions, and consciousness. The rainbow body or body of light is the penultimate transitional state of meditation in which matter begins to be transformed into pure light, before stepping over the threshold to the state of nirvana.  In the Tibetan tradition, the colours represent five modes of wisdom: wisdom of reality, wisdom of sameness, mirror-like wisdom, wisdom of discernment, and wisdom of accomplishment.

Tibetan Glossary

bdag-mo: great lady
bdag-po: lord, master, owner
blo: cognition
brda: symbol, word, sign
bskyed-rim: generation, creation, or development stage
bu: son, child, boy
chos-can: subject
chos-nyid: suchness, reality
chos-nyid dbyings: reality field, fundamental nature of existence
don: meaning, object, function, fact, purpose
dpe: example, simile, model
dran-pa: mindfulness, memory, recollection
gdams-ngag: advice, instruction, teaching
grol-lugs: modes of liberation
gyur: become, change, transform, arise, be
ka-dag: primordial purity
ka-nas dag
klong: expanse, sphere, space, dimension
lha: yidam, deva, cipher of transcendence
lha-khang: temple, shrine, sanctuary
lung-rigs: quotations and logic, scripture and reasoning
ma: mother
med: not
ming-med: nameless
mkhar: castle, mansion, citadel, fort
pha: far, father, ancestral
rag-bzhin: self-similitude
rang-drol: one’s own state of being
rang-grol: self-release, self-liberation, natural freedom
rang-sa: one’s own place or natural condition
rang-snang: self-manifestation
rdzogs-chen: Great Completion, Great Perfection
rdzogs-rim: completion, fulfilment, or perfection stage
rig: knowledge, awareness, perception
rig-pa: knower, knowledge, awareness [vidya]
sems: mind, consciousness, thought
sems-nyid: mind bent on, mind proper, mind essence
shes-rab: wisdom, insight [prajna]
spyi-ti: universal yoga
stong: empty, emptiness, void
thabs: method, skilful means [upaya]
thod-rgal: leap-over, breakthrough
yab: father
yid: mind
yum: mother