Other translations:

Eight Kinds of Mastery


Not separating appearance and emptiness
This is view as mastered as it can be

Not seeing dreams and day as differing
This is as meditation as it can be

Not bliss and emptiness seen as differing
This is conduct as mastered as it can be

Not seeing the here and hereafter as differing
This is their nature as mastered as it can be

Not seeing mind and space as differing
This is as dharmakaya as it can be

When pleasure and pain are not two different things
This is instruction as mastered as it can be

Not seeing affliction and wisdom as differing
This is as full as realization can be

Not seeing your mind and buddha as differing
This is as full a fruition as it can be

Under the guidance of Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche, translated and arranged by Jim Scott, Tibetan page 391. Translation copyright 2012, Jim Scott


Giving Rise to Bodhichitta

Before reading these teachings, please give rise to the supreme motivation of bodhichitta. This means that for the benefit of all sentient beings, who are as limitless in number as the sky is vast in its extent, you aim to attain the precious state of complete and perfect enlightenment. Know that in order to do this, you must listen to, reflect upon and meditate on the teachings of the genuine Dharma with great enthusiasm.

What follows is a brief explanation of the song called the Eight Kinds of Mastery, sung by the lord Milarepa, who was like the king of all the yogis who ever practiced in the snowy land of Tibet.

Verse One: Mastery of View

        Not separating appearance and emptiness
        This is view as mastered as it can be

“Appearance” refers to the forms that appear to the eyes, the sounds that appear to the ears, the smells that appear to the nose, the tastes that appear to the tongue, the physical sensations that appear to the body and the variety of phenomena that appear to the mind. These are all appearances that manifest due to the coming together of causes and conditions, so they are dependently arisen appearances. And this is what relative reality is—appearances manifesting due to the coming together of causes and conditions.

Then there is these appearances’ true nature, emptiness, meaning: emptiness of any inherent existence; emptiness of being able to be described by any conceptual label; and emptiness of existing as thoughts believe them to exist. That is appearances’ genuine reality.

To our thoughts, appearance and emptiness seem to be different things. Concepts conceive of appearances as being existent and of emptiness as being nonexistence. However, from the perspective of the true nature of reality, appearance and emptiness are undifferentiable. It is like appearances in a dream—the moment they appear, they are empty; while they are empty, they appear. When you understand with certainty that like dream appearances, all appearances are actually appearance-emptiness undifferentiable, you have mastery of the view. This view is open, spacious and relaxed.

Verse Two: Mastery of Meditation

        Not seeing dreams and day as differing
        This is as meditation as it can be

In dreams, forms, sounds, smells, tastes, and bodily sensations appear; and in the daytime, forms, sounds, smells, tastes, and bodily sensations appear. From the perspective of daytime thoughts that cling to true existence, the dream appearances seem to lack reality, while the daytime appearances seem to possess reality, and so they seem to be different.

But from the perspective of the mind that does not cling to daytime appearances as being truly existent, daytime appearances are appearance-emptiness undifferentiable, just as appearances in dreams are appearance-emptiness undifferentiable. Daytime and dream are recognized not to be different from each other.

It is the same from the perspective of the dreaming mind, because when the dreaming mind does not recognize the dream, it believes that what appears to it is real, just as the daytime mind, when it does not know that things do not truly exist, thinks that what appears to it is real. But when the dreaming mind recognizes that it is dreaming, it does not cling to there being any difference between what is appearing to it and what might appear during the day. When you have this understanding, this certainty that daytime and dream appearances are equally appearance-emptiness undifferentiable, and as a result you are able to meditate during dreams just as you do during the day, that is mastery of meditation. That is meditation without any clinging to meditation. It is meditation that is open, spacious and relaxed.

Verse Three: Mastery of Conduct

         Not bliss and emptiness seen as differing
         This is conduct as mastered as it can be

When you have certainty about what the true nature of mind is, and you settle naturally within that certainty in an uncontrived way; in a way that is not trying to make anything happen or prevent anything from happening, then you experience bliss. You experience the bliss that is the true nature of reality; the bliss that is naturally present; the bliss that is unchanging.
At the same time, this bliss does not have any nature of its own. It does not exist as anything; it cannot be identified as anything; it cannot be conceptually grasped in any way; so its nature is emptiness.

To our conceptual mind, bliss and emptiness seem to be different, but in reality they are undifferentiable, because whatever is bliss is empty of inherent nature, and whatever is emptiness of self-nature is bliss. Thus, bliss and emptiness do not exist separately—wherever you have one, you have the other. And when you have certainty in that, your conduct is masterful, because it is open, spacious and relaxed. It is flawless.

For example, if you are able to ascertain that the dualistic split between an outer perceived object and an inner perceiving subject does not truly exist, and you rest within your certainty in non-duality, you will naturally have experiences of bliss, clarity, and non-conceptuality. This proves that bliss is present in the true nature of reality, and when it is not covered over by our dualistic concepts, it manifests. At the same time, when you have an experience of bliss, that bliss is also clear and luminous. And when you have the experience of resting in uncontrived certainty that the true nature of reality is non-dual, that experience is bright, and that clarity is blissful. And since, at that point, your experience is not covered by concepts of duality, it is non-conceptual. Thus, clarity, bliss, and non-conceptuality are themselves undifferentiable.

In short, when you understand that bliss and emptiness are undifferentiable, your conduct is open, spacious, and relaxed, because your conduct is free from concepts that cling to things as being truly existent. Furthermore, when you do not have concepts of things being truly existent, you are not arrogant, and so your conduct is easy and relaxed.

It is always the case that in a dream, your conduct is the conduct of appearance-emptiness. But when you do not know that you are dreaming, you do not know that your conduct is appearance-emptiness—you think it is truly existent, and that prevents your conduct from being open, spacious and relaxed. When you know you are dreaming, though, you have confidence that the appearances you perceive do not truly exist. Since you are free from clinging to things as being truly existent, you can experience how your conduct is naturally open, spacious and relaxed.

Verse Four: Mastery of the True Nature

        Not seeing the here and hereafter as differing
        This is their nature as mastered as it can be

Whatever appears to us in this life does not have any essence of its own; it is not established from its own side as being existent; rather, it is merely an appearance arisen in dependence upon causes and conditions. And whatever appears in the next life will also be dependently arisen mere appearance. So from the perspective of the true nature of reality, there is no difference between this life and the next.

In fact, the whole idea of present and future lives is a dependently existent concept, because, in order for there to be this life, there must be a future one, and in order for there to be a future life, there must be this one—present and future lifetimes can only exist dependently. If the future life existed in dependence upon the present one, but the present one did not exist in dependence upon the future one, then you could say the future life truly existed because it would have a truly existent support. But the future life does not have a truly existent support, because its support, the present life, exists only in dependence upon the future life itself. This is called a relationship of mutual dependence. When things exist in mutual dependence, they do not truly exist; they do not exist with any nature of their own.

When you know that this life and the next life are dependently existent in this way, you know that they are equally appearance-emptiness, and then you know their nature—you have mastery over the true nature of reality. You know that in apparent reality, whatever appears is a dependent appearance, and you know that its genuine reality is that it does not exist as anything. This understanding is open, spacious and relaxed.

Another example of dependent existence is the relationship between the visual form that is the perceived object and our eyes that are the perceiving subject. Perceived and perceiver are only dependently existent because if there is a perceiving eye, it is only because there is some form to perceive, but if there is a perceived form, that exists only in dependence upon there being a perceiver of it. One cannot exist without the other. If a perceived object could exist independent of there being anything to perceive it, then we could say, “That perceived object exists from its own side.” But look at your experience—when your eyes see something, there cannot be the appearance that is seen without the eyes as the seer of it. The existence of the perceived appearance depends upon the perceiver, and the existence of the perceiver depends upon the existence of the perceived appearance. Thus perceived and perceiver are dependently existent, and therefore not truly existent. Their nature is equality.

That is how perceived and perceiver are during the daytime, and it is also easy to see that they are the same way during dreams—the perceived object in a dream exists only in dependence upon there being a perceiving subject, and vice versa. When you do not know that you are dreaming, you think that the perceived object and the perceiving subject are different from each other. You think that they each have an independent existence. But when you know that you are dreaming, it is easy to see that they do not. It is easy to see that they lack inherent nature and are therefore of the nature of equality.

In a similar way, mind and matter are interdependent. Mind changes in dependence upon matter, and matter changes in dependence upon mind. Since matter and mind have this dependent relationship, neither one of them truly exists. The nature of matter and mind is equality.

If you have doubts about that, consider what the relationship is like between the matter and the mind that appear in a dream when you know you are dreaming: In that situation, you can sit in a fire and not get burned; you can sit in a river of water and not get carried away; and rocks may fall on your head but they do not hurt you. This proves that changes in mind affect matter, because you cannot do things like that in dreams when you do not know you are dreaming. Thus, it is not only that matter can change mind, but also that mind can change matter.

When you analyze this life and the next life; perceived and perceiver; matter and mind; and all other things that seem to stand in distinction to each other, and you find that these seeming opposites are actually undifferentiable, then you have mastery of the true nature of reality. Your understanding of the true nature is open, spacious and relaxed, because you realize that all opposites and contradictions are actually equality.

Verse Five: Mastery of Dharmakaya

        Not seeing mind and space as differing
        This is as dharmakaya as it can be

There are different ways that the Dharma uses the example of space. Sometimes space is used to illustrate non-existence—mere emptiness—because in space there is absolutely nothing identifiable. But space is also used to illustrate how genuine reality transcends conceptual fabrication, because when you do not find anything in space—when you find no top, bottom, up, down, end, center, direction or dimension—then what is space actually? You cannot say what space is—it is inconceivable.

Like space, mind’s true nature transcends conceptual fabrication. When we do not analyze—at what is called the stage of no analysis—when we just accept things as they appear, then when we have a thought, we believe that thought truly exists. We believe that mind truly exists. But, when we analyze even slightly, we find that this thought that appears cannot actually be found. For when you have a thought, where is it? Can you find it in your brain? In your heart? Is it somewhere else inside your body? Is it somewhere on the outside? Wherever you look, you cannot find the thought you seem to be thinking.

You can use this analysis to help yourself understand that since mind cannot actually be found, mind does not actually exist. How could someone say that mind exists if they cannot even say where mind is? What you have found at this point is non-existence, and this is the stage of slight analysis.

Finally there is the state of thorough analysis, when not only can you not find existence, you cannot find non-existence either. The reason for this is that existence and non-existence are dependently existent, and so there can only be existence if there is non-existence, and non-existence only if there is existence. However, since when you analyzed you could not find mind’s existence anywhere, there is therefore no non-existence of mind either. Thus, the conclusion of this third stage is that the mind is neither existent nor non-existent—it is beyond any concept of what it might be.

In these ways, space is an example for mind at both the stage of slight analysis and the stage of thorough analysis. At the stage of slight analysis, you think about space as just being nothingness—mere emptiness—and this is what you conclude is the true nature of your mind, because when you look for your mind you cannot find it existent anywhere or in any way. So mind is like space.

At the stage of thorough analysis, you see how, just as space is beyond end and center, top and bottom, direction and dimension, so mind is beyond the conceptual fabrications of existence and non-existence both.

You might still have a clear thought that your mind exists, but that is only a thought. That is believing in the existence of mind without analyzing to see whether that belief is valid or not. For as soon as you do analyze, you cannot find your mind. You cannot find it come or go—when you have a thought in your mind it did not come from anywhere to your mind, and when it ceases it does not go from your mind to anywhere else. Since it did not come from anywhere, how could it actually be there now? Also, you cannot find or locate thoughts’ arising, abiding, or cessation. And you cannot find mind to be describable by any conceptual fabrication, because from mind’s own perspective, it is not connected with labels or names. For when you have a feeling that you describe as “good” or “bad,” what is that “good” feeling actually like? What is a “bad” feeling actually like? Those are just labels that you have put onto mental experiences that are actually indescribable, inconceivable.

So when you analyze, you find mind to be not truly existent, and then you might think, “Now I know my mind does not really exist.” But that thought of non-existence itself does not truly exist. Whatever you think: “Mind exists”; or “mind does not exist”; or “mind’s nature is beyond conceptual fabrication,” all of those thoughts lack inherent nature.

You can also think of yourself as the investigator, by thinking: “I am the analyzer of my mind.” But not only does the analyzer not find the mind, the analyzer does not find the analyzer either. The analyzer’s nature is also beyond conceptual fabrication.

The result of this type of analysis is called “no ground, no root.” When you analyze any pair of contradictory phenomena in this way, and you find that actually there is no difference between them; that their nature is equally beyond concept; you have mastery of Dharmakaya. Thus, mastery of Dharmakaya means to see that contradictions and opposites are actually of the nature of equality.

Verse Six: Mastery of Dharma Instructions

        When pleasure and pain are not two different things
        This is instruction as mastered as it can be

The analysis here is the same as has been explained above: Pleasure exists only in dependence upon pain, and pain exists only in dependence upon pleasure. Therefore, neither one has any nature of its own. They do not exist from their own side; they are just dependent imputations. Therefore, pleasure and pain are not truly different.

This is quite clear when you think of the example of a dream. When you do not know you are dreaming, pleasure and pain appear to be different. But when you know you are dreaming, you know that the experiences of pleasure and pain do not truly exist, so they are not truly different.

When you know that pleasure and pain are undifferentiable, that is when you have mastered the instructions of the Dharma. There are many Dharma teachings, but the measure of having mastered Dharma instruction is to realize that the true nature of reality is pleasure and pain’s undifferentiability, which is the same as pleasure and pain’s equality—pleasure and pain equally lack true existence and equally transcend conceptual fabrication.

When you dream, from the perspective of the dream itself there is no difference in the quality of pleasure and pain’s existence. But when you think the dream appearances are truly existent, pleasure and pain seem to be different. Thus it is the thought that things truly exist that obscures the true nature of the pleasure and pain in the dream. Because when you know that you are dreaming, you know that there is not any difference between the experience of pleasure and the experience of pain—how could there be? You could not find a difference even if you wanted to.

And so in that situation you have doubt-free certainty in pleasure and pain’s equality, and that is the point of all Dharma instruction. Dharma instruction is meant to be put into practice, and the main thing to be practiced and realized through Dharma practice is pleasure and pain’s equality.

Because when you do that, you do not have any fixation and you do not differentiate between superior and inferior, and that freedom from fixation and differentiating is open and spacious and relaxed.

Verse Seven: Mastery of Realization

        Not seeing affliction and wisdom as differing
        This is as full as realization can be

The five mental afflictions are: desire, anger, stupidity, pride and jealousy. These afflictions themselves, in terms of just the relative appearances of them, are not wisdom; they are obscuring. When you realize their true nature, however, that is wisdom.

In genuine reality, the affliction itself and the wisdom realizing its true nature are inseparable. There is no difference between the affliction and the wisdom. When you realize that, it is the highest realization you can have. Why? Because then you do not have any fixation on realization. When you think that wisdom and afflictions are different, you will automatically think that the more wisdom you have, the better you are; you will think yourself better than people who have more afflictions and less wisdom. But if you realize that affliction and wisdom are not different, then you realize: What could there be to make one person superior and another inferior? So your realization does not make you arrogant—on the contrary, it makes you realize that all people, whether their minds are filled with affliction or wisdom, are of the nature of equality. Thus, when you do not have any fixation, you do not have any arrogance, and you do not put other people down. That type of realization is open, spacious and relaxed.

How could mental afflictions be undifferentiable from wisdom? When you investigate the true nature of these afflictions, you find stainless luminous clarity, which is precisely what wisdom is. Thus the Vajrayana explains that the afflictions are self-liberated as wisdom.1 If you have a lucid dream, you can experience that. As the disturbing emotions arise in a lucid dream, you can recognize that they are self-liberated and that their basic nature is wisdom. For example, when you dream and go from not knowing it is a dream to knowing it, where did the ignorance of the dream’s true nature go? It did not go anywhere, so it was self-liberated.

Verse Eight: Mastery of Fruition

        Not seeing your mind and buddha as differing
        This is as full a fruition as it can be

The meaning of this verse is that the true nature of your own mind is stainless luminous clarity. Therefore, the true nature of your mind is the Buddha Nature. When you recognize that, you recognize the equality of the true nature of your own mind and that of the buddha who is perfectly free from confusion, and then you have mastery of the fruition of the path of Dharma. Your fruition is open, spacious and relaxed.

The Buddha taught about sentient beings and buddhas’ undifferentiability many times. For example, in his middle turning of the wheel of Dharma, in the “Perfect Purity” chapter of the Great Mother Prajnaparamita Sutra in One Hundred Thousand Verses, the Buddha taught that sentient beings’ desire is perfectly pure, their anger is perfectly pure, their stupidity is perfectly pure, and all other phenomena as well—from forms through the buddhas’ omniscient wisdom—are perfectly pure. In this way he taught that all phenomena are equally of the nature of perfect purity, and therefore in genuine reality there is no difference between sentient beings and buddhas.

Similarly, Nagarjuna taught that buddhas and sentient beings are equality in his commentary on the middle turning of the wheel of Dharma, The Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way:

        Whatever is the nature of the Tathagata,
        That is the nature of wandering beings.
        The Tathagata has no inherent nature;
        Wandering beings have no inherent nature.

And Jamgön Kongtrül Lodrö Thaye wrote in his Calling the Lama from Afar:

        My own mind is buddha, but I don’t recognize it.

One might ask, “If my mind and the buddha’s enlightened mind are not different, then why am I not enlightened now?” It is true that the true nature of one’s mind is the buddha of natural purity, but for as long as this buddha of natural purity is obscured by fleeting stains, one does not manifest as a buddha in conventional reality. When one does clear away all the stains that prevent oneself from perfectly realizing this true nature of mind, then one achieves what is called the buddha of the freedom from fleeting stains. Thus, in order to manifest as a buddha, one must achieve both of the two types of buddhahood.

But that is still just a description from the perspective of conventional reality, because from the perspective of genuine reality, the stains that differentiate a sentient being from a buddha do not truly exist. They are self-liberated, like stains in a dream. Therefore, in genuine reality there is no difference between a sentient being and buddha.

This explanation is helpful to understanding how mind’s basis—the true nature of mind—is the enlightened Buddha Nature, but there is still a conventional difference between ordinary sentient beings and buddhas because the enlightened ones have both the buddha of natural purity and the buddha of the freedom from fleeting stains.

When sentient beings do not recognize the true nature of their mind, that is the cause of their confusion. When they do recognize it perfectly, then they are free from all fleeting stains and they attain enlightenment. In short, when you perfectly recognize that the stains obscuring the true nature of mind are self-arisen and self-liberated, you are a buddha endowed with the two types of purity, and at that point, you have perfect mastery over the fruition. Your fruition is open, spacious and relaxed.

Question and Answer

Student: I keep listening, reading, and trying to practice, and some aspects of these teachings are very clear to me intellectually, but still, in my day-to-day life, it just does not seem to affect my experience of reality very much. I do not have shiny moments of realization or anything, and my mind is still addicted to generating fears and desires. After ten years of practice, there is still no realization—is there any suggestion or help to make it connect?

Rinpoche: It happens in stages. First, you have to listen to teachings and reflect on them in order to gain certainty in their meaning. Next, you cultivate that certainty in meditation, which transforms the certainty into experience. But that experience itself does not begin as being all-encompassing; you have to cultivate your experience too. Then the experience grows, and when experience is brought to its perfection, it becomes direct realization.

And even in the very last step in this realization, which is the attainment of enlightenment, all that really means is that whatever appears to you is self-arisen and self-liberated. It is not that you get anything that you do not have now; it is not that there is any new thing that you need to acquire.

Thus, for the one who is described as having realization, the reference points of there being something to realize and someone to realize it have dissolved, and that is called “realization.” As Milarepa sings,

        Vipashyana will realize purity that can’t be seen,
        And then you’ll see mind’s hopes and fears for what they really are.
        Without going anywhere, you’ll arrive at the Buddha’s ground.
        Without looking at anything, you’ll see Dharmakaya.
        Without achieving anything, you’ll naturally reach your goal.

With meditative insight, you see in a way that does not involve seeing anything at all. Since there is nothing to see, you can understand that the hope of seeing something—the hope for something to happen when you look at the true nature of reality, and the fear of this not happening, are self-liberated.

Student: You said that shunyata [emptiness] has no qualities, and I thought I had been taught that it had awareness and a number of other qualities.

Rinpoche: There are different explanations of shunyata, of emptiness. In the middle turning of the wheel of Dharma, the description of the emptiness that you ascertain at the level of slight analysis is that it is mere emptiness, because you analyze and do not find anything. But then at the level of thorough analysis, you do not find emptiness, either, so you conclude that emptiness is in fact the transcendence of all conceptual fabrication. In the third turning of the wheel of Dharma, emptiness is taught to be endowed with spontaneously present qualities. All the qualities of enlightenment are explained to exist naturally in the ground, in the basic nature of mind, the Buddha Nature.

There are no contradictions between these different explanations, because although one can name and describe qualities of enlightenment, from the perspective of their true nature they transcend conceptual fabrication.

It is explained that in order to bring out these qualities, particularly those of compassion and altruistic activity, we must make aspiration prayers now. So we give rise to bodhichitta, we pray that we will be able to be of benefit to others, we aspire to lead all sentient beings to enlightenment, and we keep making aspiration prayers that we will be able to perform activity along these lines, in an ever increasing way. All these aspiration prayers result in our acting in a way that naturally benefits ourselves and others. Ultimately, upon achieving enlightenment, the result of having made these aspiration prayers is that the enlightened buddha manifests a buddha realm that appears to others, in a way that is of benefit to the beings who perceive it—it leads them on the path to enlightenment. It is explained that there are right now limitless buddha realms emanated by buddhas performing limitless enlightened activity.

Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche gave the teaching that served as the basis for this article on October 22, 2005, at the Boston Shambhala Center, Boston, Massachusetts.  These teachings were orally translated and this article edited by Ari Goldfield.

1 For Khenpo Rinpoche’s explanation of self-liberation, please see “Dza Patrul Rinpoche’s Verses on the Five Poisons Self-Liberated and Commentary”, published in Bodhi, volume 8, issue 1, pages 4–11, 46–49 and 61.