The Framework of the Three Absorptions (or Three Samadhis)
From “Husks of Unity” – A Clarification of the Development Stage Rituals
by Getse Mahapandita Tsewang Chokdrup (1761-1829)
THE ABSORPTION OF SUCHNESS
In the absorption of suchness, the object of purification is the death process. The first stage of death involves a series of outer and inner dissolutions. Once this process is complete, the three phases of appearance, increase and attainment occur, each of which dissolves into the subsequent stage. In the last phase, full attainment dissolves into luminosity. If this moment goes unrecognized, the death state involves a turning away from this momentary appearance of luminosity, the clear, empty, and thoroughly non-conceptual dharmakaya.
The process of purification is the absorption of suchness, which refers to witnessing the nature of reality itself. In this very moment, the innate, natural state of the ordinary mind is one of simplicity. When you rest directly in this nature of mind, without trying to alter it in any way, you will see that the entire range of apparent phenomena do not go anywhere, nor are they present anywhere. They are not conceptualized and there is no grasping at them as being real.
As for the way it is, having never existed, it is not nonexistent. Yet since it has never been nonexistent either, neither does it exist. Thus, it is emptiness. In no way is it a permanent phenomenon, nor is it completely nonexistent. It cannot be ascertained as an object of knowledge or put into words, and so it possesses no characteristics. Finally, because its essence does not fall within the realm of the compounded, its identity is without desire. In this way, it possesses the characteristics of the three gates to complete liberation.
The result of purification is the dharmakaya, the wisdom of the buddhas that is utterly free from mental fabrication. Thus, both the object of purification and the result of purification are similar to the absorption itself. When training in this way, in terms of samsara, the habitual patterns of the death state are purified and refined away, as is one’s fixation on actual entities. The latent potential associated with dharmakaya is nourished as well, whereby the fruition of nirvana is perfected. Until that takes place, it lays the foundation for the birth of luminosity in one’s mind and matures one for the higher paths.
THE ABSORPTION OF TOTAL ILLUMINATION
In the absorption of total illumination, the object of purification is the disembodied consciousness that arises the moment one fails to recognize the luminous dharmakaya during death. This refers to the mental body of the intermediate state that develops from the energetic-mind in this state. This form of consciousness has the complete range of faculties and an appearance that is flickering and momentary, like a dream.
The process of purification involves training in a detached and illusory compassion, one that includes all sentient beings of the six realms without any sense of bias or partiality. Here, reflect on the fact that samsara and nirvana are not two different things when it comes to their true nature, suchness. Still, although they never part from this state, beings cling to illusory appearances as though they were real and end up wandering helplessly in the realms of samsara as a result. Reflecting on this, you should then think, “I must free all these beings from suffering!”
The result of purification involves the emanation of the illusory wisdom body of the sambhogakaya, clear and complete, with all its marks and signs. The illusory absorption of total illumination accords with both samsara and nirvana. By training in this absorption, the stains of samsara are purified and refined away. These are the habitual patterns of the intermediate state and any ideas one may have about a one-sided emptiness. In terms of nirvana, the seed that allows for an actualization of the sambhogakaya is nurtured. Until that takes place, it matures one for the completion stage by laying a foundation for developing great compassion, which is the cause for arising from luminosity in the form of the wisdom deity.
THE CAUSAL ABSORPTION
In the causal absorption, the object of purification is the energetic-mind of the intermediate state that is on the verge of being reborn. This occurs once the mental body of a sentient being in the intermediate state becomes directed towards its future rebirth and generates attachment to one of the four types of birth.
The process of purification involves meditating on the self-aware unity of emptiness and great compassion – the syllable of the root life-force of any deity, such as HRIH or HUM (HUNG). Apparent and yet without intrinsic nature, such syllables are the support for the awakened mind. The essence of this great subtle life-force is both vividly clear and utterly unchanging, yet it is capable of arising in any form.
The result of purification is the coarse form emanated by the sambhogakaya, which arises in this manner for those in need of guidance. This absorption corresponds to the factors that cause rebirth to take place, the energetic-mind of the intermediate state as it is on the verge of entering a new birthplace. It also corresponds to the way in which nirmanakaya buddhas manifest various emanations in the perception of those who need guidance.
Due to this correspondence, training in the causal absorption by meditating on the seed syllables that generate the whole range of mandalas enacts a process of purification, perfection and maturation. In terms of samsara, the habitual tendency to enter a new birthplace is refined away and purified, as is the idea that appearance and emptiness are two different things. In terms of nirvana, this nourishes the seed of liberation, leading to the actualization of the nirmanakaya, whereby the fruition is perfected. In between these two stages, one is matured for the completion stage by laying the foundation for the ability to arise out of bliss, energy, and mind in the form of the wisdom deity.
These three absorptions are the basis for accomplishing the entire range of development stage practices. As such, they are indispensable, regardless of whether one’s practice manual is elaborate or condensed.
All deity meditations are preceded by the mantra OM SVABHAVA SHUDDHAH SARVADHARMAH SVABHAVA SHUDDHO HAM. In reciting this mantra, one is saying “Just as all phenomena are naturally pure, so too am I pure by nature” which captures the meaning of the absorption of suchness.
In certain contexts, the mantra OM MAHA SHUNYATA JNANA VAJRA SVABHAVATMAKO HAM is recited. This mantra condenses the meaning of all three absorptions. Its meaning is, “I am the very embodiment of the nature of vajra wisdom and great emptiness”. In this mantra, the phrase “great emptiness” refers to the absorption of suchness, while the remainder illustrates the latter two absorptions. The term ‘vajra wisdom’ points to the union of emptiness and great bliss, or, alternately, to the union of emptiness and compassion. What one needs to understand here is that the significance of both the absorption of total illumination and the causal absorption is contained in the statement, “I am the very embodiment of the nature of vajra wisdom.”