Classic and Contemporary Buddhist Works

The Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism - Selections

Its Fundamentals and History

2 Doctrines of Samsara

[4b.5-16a.3] First, the doctrines of samsara are explained under three headings: (l) the characteristics of samsara, (2) the mundane vehicle [and the Brahma vehicle], and (3) an ensuing discussion of the views held by those of no understanding and by those of wrong understanding.


The doctrines or phenomena of samsara are originally caused by ignorance which arises in three interrelated aspects. Firstly, the ignorance of individual selfhood (bdag-nyid gcig-pu'i ma-rig-pa) arises as consciousness, but it is not recognised as such. Secondly, through the co-emergent ignorance (lhan-cig skyes-pa'i ma-rig-pa), the unconsciousness of the true essence and that consciousness emerge together. Yet it is thirdly, through the ignorance of the imaginary (kun-tu brtag-pa'i ma-rig-pa), that one's own perceptions are externally discerned. Since these three aspects arise diversely from a single essence, they arise from the ground as the appearance of the ground; and since this is not known to have been self-originated, the threefold ignorance which subjectively discerns objects is the causal condition [of samsara]. The objective appearances, which arise like one's own reflection in a mirror, through clinging to externals apart from oneself, are the referential condition [of samsara]. The consciousness which holds to the [concepts] of "I" and "mine" is the possessive condition, and since these three [conditions] are simultaneous, they form the immediate condition. Bewilderment originates from the impure referential aspect containing these four conditions [of samsara] and is maintained by divisively clinging externally to objective phenomena, and internally to subjective consciousness. As it is said in the Penetration of Sound (sgra thal-'gyur, NGB Vol.lO):

The basis of bewilderment is ignorance.
Ignorance has three forms.


Owing to that root which is the single indivisible cause,
The true essence is not perceived;
This, therefore, is the beginning of samsara.

And in the Great Array (bkod-pa chen-po):

Spontaneous presence arises as an object,
Which is emptiness.
At that time, from the cycle of bewilderment
Which has four conditions,
The snare of clinging comes into being.

From the very moment of bewilderment, that same bewilderment arises as the ground-of-all (kun-gzhi, Skt. alaya) in its role as the ignorance, the naturally obscuring expressive power, which is the unconsciousness of the true essence, Dependent upon that [ground-of-all] is the mind which is the consciousness of the ground-of-all and the six conflicting emotions which originate from it. These are [ignorance, the basis on which bewildering thoughts are grasped]; delusion, the bewilderment in the area of discriminative awareness; hatred, the bewilderment in the area of creative phases; pride, the bewilderment in the area of the view; desire, the bewilderment in the area of appearances; and envy, the bewilderment in the area of non-understanding [in relation to these]. Eighty-four thousand phenomena (dharma) then emerge through the gradual accumulation of ideas, beginning with the mind which apprehends emotionally conflicted thoughts such as the above, the intellect which apprehends all memories, the ideas which form the ground of connecting propensities and doubts, and that area [of mind] which clings to objects and entities.

In this way then, the five sensory perceptions originate together with the consciousness of the intellect wherein the twenty-one thousand phenomena [in each of four categories], namely, the three poisons and their equal combination, arise dispositionally.

The object which maintains the continuity of any of these six active consciousnesses at the moment of objectification, the immediate consciousness which at the same instant apprehends the object and its form, and any of the three subsequent feelings of pleasure, suffering or neutrality, are together called the sensation of contact. So it is that the eighteen psychophysical bases originate, divided into three groups of Six.

[Thereupon, the evolution of] the five components, the twelve activity fields, the six sense organs and karma or [world-forming] deeds ensues. The five components are, namely, the component of form, which is an accumulation of atoms and is capable of being destroyed and split; the component of feelings, which are the source of enjoyment and desire; the component of perceptions, which are dynamic and object-oriented; the component of habitual tendencies which create and accumulate propensities; [and the component of consciousness which is aware and objectifying].

As for the twelve activity fields which cause any accumulation of ideas to be sensed, there are six objective modes, such as form, the object apprehended by the eye, which causes both the continuity [of the object of perception] in the subsequent instant and the apprehending consciousness to be sensed; and there are also six subjective modes, such as the consciousness of the eye, which arises in that subsequent instant and perceives as form that form which may be objectively sensed. There are five organs of sense, such as the eye, which have the power to apprehend objects, or six with the inclusion of the sense organ of the intellect, which originates from the possessive condition of the initial apperceptive consciousness.

Deeds may be of three types: virtuous, unvirtuous or neutral. The first includes the ten virtues which produce worldly happiness as their result. The second comprises the contrary deeds which cast [beings] into evil existences. The third refers to those [neutral] deeds which cast beings into higher realms.

Although all these phenomena are compounded internally by the mind, their apparitional aspect and supporting foundation are the five gross elements of which external objects are compounded, and which are caused, conditioned, supported and substantiated by the fourfold process of creation, duration, destruction and dissolution. As the number of mental propensities through which they appear as objects expands, the world realm of desire containing the four continents, Mount Sumeru and perimeter appears like a dream, along with the realm of form, like self-radiating rainbow light of five colours, and the formless realm, which originates from the contemplation of the summit of existence, and so on. In brief, the entire array of the inanimate container and animate creatures, mobile and motionless, subsumed by the three world realms, does not appear in the ultimate vision of sublime beings. Rather, it is an apparitional mode of the bewildered intellect of sentient beings, which appears by the power of the subject-object dichotomy lapsing into delusion, like water in a mirage, and into erroneous perception, like seeing a multicoloured rope as a snake. As it is said in the Pearl Necklace (mu-tig phreng-ba, NGB Vol.9):

In this way, the diverse appearances
Resemble a rope when seen as a snake.
Though not so, by clinging to them as such
The outer container and inner essence
Are established as a duality.
The rope itself, on further investigation,
Is primordially empty of container and essence.
The ultimate takes form as the relative.
That perception of the snake is visually true,
The perception of the rope is genuinely true.
Enduring, for example, as a bird relates to a scarecrow,
The independent existence of the two truths
Refers only to the relative world.
It has no relation to genuine reality.
Because of the expanse of emptiness
The essence of that [reality] is that all is free.

And in the Oral Instructions of Manjusri (Manjusrimukhagama, T 1853-4) it says:

All things of samsara are held to be non-existent
Like the multicoloured rope when perceived as a snake.

Moreover, the creator of the happiness and suffering of samsara, the high and the low and all such apparitional modes, is karma or [world-forming] deeds, corrupted by all-conflicting emotions, which are of three types. Without exception these modes are created by deeds, emanated by deeds, matured by deeds, and they appear through the power of deeds. Accordingly, it is said in the Hundred Parables on Deeds (Karmasatakasutra, T 340):

The diversity of the world is developed through deeds.
Happiness and suffering are created by deeds.
Deeds originate from an accumulation of conditions
And by deeds happiness and suffering are made.

And in the Introduction to the Madhyamaka (Madhyamakavatara, T 3861, Ch.6, v.89) it explains:

By mind itself the diverse
Sentient and inanimate worlds
Are allocated their share of deeds.
Living creatures without exception
Are said to be created through deeds.