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Gross Mind, Subtle Mind, and Very Subtle Mind

Geshe Dakpa Topgyal: Gross Mind, Subtle Mind and Very Subtle Mind
Dateline: Columbia: March 16, 2001

Gross Mind, Subtle Mind and Very Subtle Mind

If we don’t know the nature of the mind or subtle consciousness, it’s
very difficult to understand the possibility of life after death. The
material body ends with death, but the very subtle consciousness
continues, from past to present, present to future.
The mind is divided into the gross mind, the subtle mind, and the very
subtle mind. The gross mind depends on the body. As soon as body
functions stop, gross mind stops.
The subtle mind, which underpins the five senses, provides information
to the very subtle mind. Neither the gross mind nor the subtle mind goes
from past to present, present to future, carrying information from life
to life.
To understand karma and how karma works, to understand where the karmic
imprint is stored, you must understand the very subtle mind. It will be
discussed in more detail in your second year of the Lam Rim.
Four reasons prove the possibility of rebirth and reincarnation. Let us
consider one of the four: In the very last moment of consciousness of a
dying person, conceptual thoughts have ceased because the brain, heart,
breath have stopped. So the gross mind has stopped.
What’s left is a neutral mind, an unbiased mind. It continues. This
consciousness has mere knowing, mere clarity, and mere experience.
When we are dying, no matter who we are we experience four types of
fear: fear of losing the self, fear of separating from loved ones, fear
of leaving possessions behind, and fear of not remaining in the world.
These fears intensify our attraction to the world, our desire to remain
part of it. This attraction or desire controls our subtle consciousness
and forces contact with the world. The connection is through the gross
The subtle consciousness is attracted to the gross body, and the moment
subtle consciousness makes contact with a gross body, rebirth occurs.

Realms and Their Beings
If there is a life after death, where will we be reborn and what form
will we take?
In the Buddhist cosmology there are three realms and six kinds of
beings that are living and sentient or conscious.
The realms of existence are the desire realm, raga dhatu; the form
realm, rupa dhatu; and the formless realm, which is purely mental, arupa
dhatu. Raga dhatu is the gross material world. Rupa dhatu is the subtle
material world. And arupa dhatu is an immaterial world.
In Buddhist cosmology, Mount Meru is the very center of the universe.
Mount Meru is a very large mountain, half in the ocean, half given over
to rupa dhatu. Of four continents and four subcontinents, our world is
in the South, zambhu beapa. The living beings on each continent cannot
contact each other, unless meditation or telepathy is employed.
In raga dhatu, happiness is closely related to material well being.
Everyone is crazy for material comforts. Experiences are intense,
including intense attractions to gross material objects and gross
sensory pleasures, such as sex.
Six types of living beings reside in rupa dhatu: human beings, jealous
shapeshifters, animals, hungry ghosts, hell-beings and celestial beings.

Jealous shapeshifters have some sort of magical quality or power. They
can manifest in many different forms, including the human form. Their
birth is not from the womb, egg, heat or moisture, but spontaneous, and
they are born full-size They do not depend on external light; they have
a light in their body. Their food is subtle.
They have one big problem; they are very jealous. They constantly have
problems with celestial beings because of their jealousy of celestial
beings’ happiness and prosperity. Consequently, they fight their entire
lives with celestial beings for the wish-fulfilling tree atop Mount
Meru. The root belongs to the jealous shapeshifters, but the fruit,
which is like ambrosia, belongs to the celestial beings. Jealous
shapeshifters have to take care of the root, but have no right to eat
the fruit. Celestial beings can eat the fruit, but don’t have to care
for the root. That’s funny, huh.
This is not an issue about sharing, but karma. Jealous shapeshifters
don’t have access to the fruit because of karmic obscuration.
People can become hungry ghosts, according to Buddhist understanding, at
the time of death. If, at the last moment, we are deeply attached to any
special object (a person or a thing), when the subtle consciousness
leaves the gross body, it may stick with the object. Then, the subtle
consciousness cannot find a new body.
Because of karmic imprints, the subtle body of hungry ghosts can appear
to certain beings. But the moment the hungry ghost appears to the mind,
it’s already gone. It disappears like a rainbow and, like a rainbow, it
could appear again.
A ghost story: In 1994, the monks of the Mystical Arts of Tibet tour
stayed in a haunted house in Santa Barbara. It was 11:30 xxxa.m. or
p.m.xxxx, and the lights went off, and a window began shaking. The
hostess, Rinpoche xxxxnamexxxx and the chant master, all three saw in
the same spot a big guy who immediately disappeared.
A hungry ghost can be harmful or benign, but it’s stuck to protect an
Question: How can it get unstuck?
Answer: Call the police, I guess.
Question: Ghostbusters?
Answer: A hungry ghost can’t get out until its karmic force is
exhausted. Fifty of our human years equals one day for a hungry ghost,
so, in general, a hungry ghost is stuck 500 years.
Question: Are there millions and billions of hungry ghosts then?
Answer: Yes, but it will never get crowded.
Question: Why don’t we see more?
Answer: There must be a personal connection, a karmic or
spiritual connection.
Question: Why could the Rinpoche see?
Answer: Through meditation we can gain extra-sensory
perception or power and perceive the immaterial without a karmic or
spiritual connection.
Question: What about battlefields?
Answer: The atmosphere is not in harmony. You may notice a
strange feeling, a pressing sensation where soldiers have been killed.
If you’re near where an earthquake happened, you might think you see
someone making a fire far away, but when you go there, you’ll find
nothing. According to Buddhism, it’s very important to be prepared at
the time of death. The last minutes of the mind determine the quality of
the next life.
Question: What about a sudden death, like a car wreck? How does it work?
Are you out of luck? You spend your life trying to improve yourself, and
suddenly something happens?
Answer: For the practitioner, this is a great obstacle. The best way to
die is in the natural process, slowly. You prepare, but the external
circumstances are stronger.
Question: Is there a lower birth then?
Answer: No, not necessarily.
Question: Is a sudden death karma?
Answer: You can’t blame everything on karma.

A return to the types of beings
We all know what an animal is.
Hell-beings cannot be perceived by the ordinary senses. There are two
types, hot and cold. They belong to the material world, but only to a
specific location, 9,000 meters deep into the earth. Hot hell-beings
always have a problem with heat. Cold hell-beings always have a problem
with the cold. This we won’t talk about; it’s very depressing.
Essentially, all life in raga dhatu is confusing and frustrating. Beings
are caught in the cycle of birth and death.
Life is ever-changing, with no guarantees of name, fame, reputation,
relationships. We are simply living with hope.
And life is full of dissatisfaction. We think if I obtain this object of
desire, I will be happy. This is a very mistaken way of thinking. In
reality, the moment we achieve the object of our desire, we’re already
dissatisfied. The more we get, the more we want.
And this confusing, frustrating life is repeated endlessly.

Rupa dhatu and arupa dhatu
The beings in rupa dhatu and arupa dhatu are celestial or divine. In
these realms there is no gross samsaric pain. The celestial beings are
always blissful and are completely consumed by the bliss.
A story: The historic Buddha had a disciple named Shariputra. When
Shariputra’s mother died, he used his clairvoyance to see where his
mother was reborn and could not see her at all. He went to Buddha and
asked. The Buddha looked and said, "Your mother is born in rupa dhatu."
Through magic Shariputra traveled there and found his mother, but he
could not make contact because she was completely consumed by bliss. So
he gave up and came back.
In rupa dhatu everyone experiences the highest bliss. They are always
laughing and smiling. They don’t need sexual intercourse to experience
bliss. Everyone is very attractive, so there’s no need for make-up. The
body produces perfume and a radiant light. There isn’t any aging, any
wrinkles, any face lists. I’m serious!
The average life span is 900 to 1,000 of their years. Their day equals
100 of our years. They know when they’re going to die and where they’re
going to be reborn and in which form.
The main problem occurs at the time of death. Unbearable pain is
experienced for seven days of their days before death. During death,
they lose their light and their perfume. They sweat. Everything comes
undone; wrinkles appear.
When friends and relatives see the signs of death, they abandon them.
Ninety-nine percent of beings in rupa dhatu go down to become hungry
ghosts or hell-beings.
Question: Why?
Answer: Because they were so consumed by bliss, they had no time to
accumulate positive merit. What merit is acquired is completely
exhausted by the bliss.
Question: Is Mt. Meru a real place or a metaphor?
Answer: His Holiness the Dalai Lama has discussed this with physicists.
His Holiness says it’s a really, physical, material mountain, but it is
not visible to us.