5. Rest in the nature of alaya, the essence.
In the Tibetan system there are eight consciousnesses. The first five are the sense consciousnesses: visual (eye), auditory (ear), olfactory (nose), taste (tongue), touch (body). The sixth is the mental consciousness that governs and integrates the first five. The seventh is “nuisance mind” or conceptual mind, which gives birth to the first six. The eighth consciousness is alaya; the simple, clear non-discriminating mind, shining brilliantly and clearly regardless of what is going on in the first seven consciousnesses. “Resting in the nature of alaya” means you just relax into what is always there without influence from the phenomenal world. There is no sense of right or wrong, no good or bad – just the simplicity and immediacy of the present moment.
In his commentary about this slogan, Trungpa Rinpoche offers a vivid and helpful analogy. We can relate our experience of the world to a setup for viewing home movies. The phenomenal world where everything happens is the screen and our mental processes are the projector. The first seven consciousnesses comprise the film, running through the machinery of the mind and containing the content of what is projected onto the screen. The bulb of the projector is alaya, just shining brilliantly away. It is the ultimate source of the whole experience, while remaining unaffected by whatever is going on with the rest of the setup. The projector, the film and the screen all do what they do and the bulb just keeps shining, luminous and steady.
Trungpa Rinpoche says, “Resting in alaya is the actual practice of ultimate bodhicitta…purely the realization that phenomena cannot be regarded as solid, but at the same time they are self-luminous.” Continuing the analogy of the movie projector, we rest in the nature of alaya by working with the lamp directly. For the time being we leave aside the machinery of the projector, as well as the film and the screen. We just take the bulb out of the projector, screw it into an ordinary fixture, turn it on and look at it. This is resting in the nature of alaya, the essence.
Reflecting on this analogy, I begin to wonder about the audience. Who is in it? Is anyone there, really, or is the whole show playing in an empty room? I believe this is worth contemplating.