View and Conduct

living them

“Padmasambhava said: ‘Though the view should be as vast as the sky, keep your conduct as fine as barley flour.’ Don’t confuse one with the other. When training in the view, you can be as unbiased, as impartial, as vast, immense, and unlimited as the sky. Your behaviour, on the other hand, should be as careful as possible in discriminating what is beneficial or harmful, what is good or evil. One can combine the view and conduct, but don’t mix them or lose one in the other. That is very important.

View like the sky’ means that nothing is held onto in any way whatsoever. You are not stuck anywhere at all. In other words, there is no discrimination as to what to accept and what to reject; no line is drawn separating one thing from another. ‘Conduct as fine as barley flour’ means that there is good and evil, and one needs to differentiate between the two. Give up negative deeds; practice the Dharma. In your behaviour, in your conduct, it is necessary to accept and reject.”

~Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche


Padmasambhava, also known as the Second Buddha, was a sage who travelled from Pakistan to Tibet in the 8th century CE, where he is said to have transmitted Vajrayana Buddhism, a collection of esoteric methods aimed at liberating the aspirant from ignorance and its associated afflictions. What today is commonly considered to be Tibetan Buddhism is, for the most part, Vajrayana Buddhism (although elements of Vajrayana are also practiced in China and Japan under different names). Among many of the legendary accomplishments of Padmasambhava, he is regarded as the author of the famous Tibetan Book of the Dead, which is actually translated as “The Great Book of Natural Liberation through Understanding in the Between”.

In any event, his transmitted teachings were very clear in pointing out the two salient and complementary aspects of spiritual practice that necessarily must go hand in hand if one’s efforts are to bear fruit – right view and right conduct. The successful integration of these two qualities is essential for the realization of a true spiritual maturity in which the aspirant is liberated from the poisons of ignorance, envy, greed, hatred, arrogance, and emotional contraction.

Essentially, right view develops from the direct and stable realization of one’s own true nature (and thus the true nature of all phenomena), whereas right conduct entails the embodiment of such a transformative realization in all of one’s life and relations. Certainly, that sounds forthright enough, but problems arise for practitioners when one is lost in or conflated with the other.

When the view is lost in the conduct, for example, one is prone to go about accepting and rejecting, affirming and denying, grasping and avoiding — always conceptualizing the path in terms of good and evil, virtue and sin, desirable and undesirable, rather than appreciating the fundamental substratum or background of all phenomena – the essential emptiness that transcends all dualistic notions.

The Dzogchen master Chogyal Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche described the view succinctly when he said:

“Leave alone whatever arise in the mind. Do not seek to change or alter anything. It is all perfect as it stands.”

Rather than resting in the summary recognition that everything is perfect just as it is, losing the view in the conduct renders one perpetually invested in efforts to change and manipulate phenomena and relations in order to attain some idealized condition or result. However, relying on right conduct alone, though admirable from a certain perspective, will never yield true liberation.

If uninformed by right view, we will instead be motivated by a presumed internal division, a conflict at the core of our psyche necessitating a relentless struggle between dark and light elements. As it so happens, neither aspect can be victorious, since they both depend on each other to exist in the first place. With the benefit of right view, however, both positions are seen through and transcended. After all, when we try to find this self that is believed to be in need of improvement and salvation, what we discover instead is merely a bundle of thoughts and memories, sensations and conditioning, all strung together on an imaginary clothesline called “I”.

Nevertheless, losing the conduct in the view is even more troublesome. The problem with that error crops up far too often in spiritual communities these days (and perhaps it always has, it’s just that today news travels faster). The all-too-common scandals involving sexual improprieties, financial shenanigans, and oppressive power trips on the part of teachers, swamis, lamas, roshis, priests, and pastors are prominent though unfortunate examples of losing the conduct in the view. Even though some of these persons in positions of responsibility and authority may have experienced a profound insight regarding the true nature of things, that insight has not yet been integrated to the extent that their character has been freed from the afflictive passions, and so harm can be and often is perpetrated on their disciples, students, and parishioners.

The late Adept Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche clarified the matter when he noted: “Your view can, and should be, as high as possible — there is no danger in this since enlightenment is the total realization of the absolute view. But at the same time your behavior should be as grounded as possible in an awareness of cause and effect. If you lose this basic attitude regarding actions, if you forget all common sense and use the loftiness of the view as an excuse for putting into action whatever comes into your mind, you are engaging in mundane activities contrary to the Dharma, just like ordinary worldly people.”

On a personal level, losing the conduct in the view means that one fails to discriminate in the objective world. Even though it is ultimately empty of any inherent solidity and duration, as long as we are in it, it is real enough, and our behavior matters. Every choice we make has consequences, felt not only in our emotional lives while involved in this current life adventure, but also in all future lives until all possible lessons have been learned and traumas resolved and healed.

By losing the conduct in the view, we might imagine that there is nothing to accept or reject – that whatever we do doesn’t really matter, and that there is no good and evil — it is all illusion, or alternately, it is all a divine manifestation of Source, so why bother addressing conventional issues and trying to do the “right thing”? As it so happens, that attitude is an even greater error in judgment and appreciation, primarily because of its effect on relations. For example, the great Tibetan adept Patrul Rinpoche remarked that, if one claims to have the view but doesn’t show loving kindness in their conduct, they should have their mouths stuffed with the excrement of a hundred villages.

The eminent sage Ramana Maharshi once asked:

“When we awaken from the dream, do we go searching for the characters in that dream, to awaken them?”

Such a comment, when taken out of the context of Ramana’s total teaching, could be presumed to indicate that awakening frees one from any further behavioral concerns. However, for those of us with less than complete transcendental knowledge of the way things really are, it’s easy to fall into a logical fallacy called “Category Error”. That is, we conflate the world of the absolute with the world of the relative, and because we fail to properly distinguish between these two, we often end up confusing ourselves and others.  This is why the great Buddhist sage Nagarjuna remarked:

Those who do not understand the division of these two realities (Absolute and Relative) do not understand the profound true reality of the Buddha’s teaching. Without reliance on conventions, the ultimate cannot be taught. Without realization of the ultimate, Nirvana will not be attained.”

Certainly, there is an ultimate truth indicated by the simile “like a dream,” wherein there is nothing whatsoever which is real, or independently existent, and yet we believe that there is something which is real, based on our conditioned and conditional interpretation. Upon awakening, we realize that there was nothing at all, just dependently arising phenomena that temporarily create the appearance of stable objectivity.

It is on account of the power of this sleepy ignorance that, in the midst of all manner of phenomena which do not ultimately exist, we nonetheless perceive them to exist: the so-called “self”, “persons”, “ice cream”, “countries”, and so forth.

Mysteriously, the unchanging Absolute appears to manifest in the midst of the relative, as the quicksilver play of consciousness, as energies and forms and functions to infinity. In the midst of it all, what we can re-cognize is the self-evident fact that we ARE. We don’t really know what we are, but it is undeniable that we are.

This awareness of our beingness is the only thing that doesn’t change, though worlds after worlds arise, thrive, and pass away. Our bodies change, our self-concepts change, our beliefs change, and our relations change, but we do not change, or rather, awareness does not change. That unchanging awareness is just another name for what we fundamentally are, and it as this awareness itself that Source plays in the fields of creation.

The relative is recognized as the relative because it is impermanent. It consists of everything that changes, and that includes everything perceivable or conceivable. Just so, if the absolute did not want to express itself in this dreamy density of transience, then we would not be incarnating as these bodies, in the midst of the changing circumstances in which we find ourselves appearing. Indeed, we are the absolute, expressing itself as the relative. As Shitou Xiqian noted in his famous Chan poem “Sandokai”:

“Each thing has its own intrinsic value and is related to everything else in function and position. Ordinary life fits the absolute as a box and its lid. The absolute works together with the relative like two arrows meeting in mid-air.”

By reflecting on our original identity to the point of gnosis, or re-cognition, we can realize that we are indivisible from Source, the Absolute. Moreover, we have never been separated, despite the transient illusionary flow of relative phenomenal existence. However, awakening to the totality of who and what we are does not mean that we somehow disappear. Rather, we discover that we are both ourselves and everything, simultaneously. The relative and absolute intermingle and interpenetrate — you are you and you are not separate from anything.

A critical by-product of such gnosis is the realization that the function of the absolute in manifestation is unconditional loving. Why is there anything, rather than nothing? Love. Since love must love, all beings must be served and even saved, despite the fact that there has never been a single independently existing being in need of saving, including ourselves. This is a great and marvelous mystery, and a humorous one too, though confounding to the discursive mind that would like to have everything filed and figured out.

Buddha’s concept of saving beings was to cause them all to enter into Nirvana. If one was to become a Bodhisattva, dedicated to saving all beings, the aim was just this, to cross all sentient beings over to Nirvana. However, in the Diamond Sutra, Buddha demonstrated his sense of humor by paradoxically noting:

“All types of beings, whether egg-born, womb-born, moisture-born, or transformationally-born, whether possessed of form or formless, whether possessed of thought or free of thought, whether neither possessed of thought nor free of thought — I cause them all to enter the nirvana without residue and thus cross them over to extinction. As I cross over to extinction in this manner an incalculable, innumerable and unbounded number of beings, in truth there are no beings whatsoever who succeed in being crossed over into extinction. Why is this so? Subhuti, If a bodhisattva retains the mark of a self, the mark of a person, the mark of a being or the mark of one with a life span, he is just a non-bodhisattva.”

The point of all this is: when we see someone in need of being served, we must serve them, even though it is a dream, a mirage, a hallucination of the mind. After all, we are love, and love must love. Because Love is all that really matters, our behavior really matters, regardless of any brilliant insight we may have experienced in terms of emptiness and dependent origination. Thus the wise do all sorts of foolish things, like lecturing on nothingness to nobody, teaching emptiness to empty chairs, and performing countless compassionate good deeds, even though there is no such thing as good or bad, absolutely speaking.

There is only Source, without a second, and so who is there to benefit from good deeds? Still, love must love. As long as there is the illusion of separation, the function of love comes into play, even though it may not even look like love to the mind that still clings to the divisive notions of “me and mine”. Nisargadatta Maharaj summed it up perfectly when he said,

“When I see I am nothing, that is wisdom. When I see I am everything, that is love. Between these two my life moves.”

This is no enigma to the Realized, but only to those of us who still see some difference between saved and unsaved, lost and found, plus and minus, sacred and profane. Paradoxically, that’s apparently the way the absolute would have it played, just so that It, Source, can discover Itself over and over again in the relative — in and through these humble and transparent forms of you and me and everyone.

“Without love, and will inspired by love, nothing can be done. Merely talking about Reality without doing anything about it is self-defeating. There must be love in the relation between the person who says “I am” and the observer of that “I am.” As long as the observer, the inner self, the ‘higher’ self, considers himself apart from the observed, the ‘lower’ self, despises it and condemns it, the situation is hopeless. It is only when the observer accepts the person as a projection or manifestation of himself, and, so to say, takes the self into the Self, the duality of ‘I’ and ‘this’ goes and in the identity of the outer and the inner the Supreme Reality manifests itself.

This union of the seer and the seen happens when the seer becomes conscious of himself as the seer; he is not merely interested in the seen, which he is anyhow, but also interested in being interested, giving attention to attention, aware of being aware. Affectionate awareness is the crucial factor that brings Reality into focus.”

~Nisargadatta Maharaj



About Bob OHearn

My name is Bob O'Hearn, and I live with my Beloved Mate, Mazie, in the foothills of the Northern California Sierra Nevada Mountains. I have a number of blog sites you may enjoy: Photo Gallery: Essays on the Conscious Process: Compiled Poetry and Prosetry: Verses and ramblings on life as it is: Verses and Variations on the Investigation of Mind Nature: Verses on the Play of Consciousness: Poetic Fiction, Fable, Fantabulation: Poems of the Mountain Hermit: Love Poems from The Book of Yes: Autobiographical Fragments, Memories, Stories, and Tall Tales: Ancient and modern spiritual texts, creatively refreshed: Writings from selected Western Mystics, Classic and Modern: Wisdom of a Spirit Guide: Thank You!
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28 Responses to View and Conduct

  1. marcel says:

    Thank You Brother!
    Yes even in the nightly dreams when I know that I’m dreaming, you help an old lady cross the street, one does no harm, and awakes to Love, eventhough perfectly aware that these are echos of mind, but so is the “waking state” eventhough it has more the illusion of being “solid” Those who awaken to non-seperation, awaken to love, whether there is “right view” or not.
    Thingy is in this greedy plane, religions are fighting a war, dharma transmissions must be quick as possible, “lost souls” need be saved and donations need to keep coming, whenever someone is elligble to teach, from whatever path. When someone crosses the line, the fashionable thing to say is “oh but he/she also did a lot of good” Ironically that’s what my mom said when she got beat up by the numerous step dads, until I as a 11 year old had to make a stand and start kicking them out myself. And knowing it is all Self, and it’s all like a dream, I can do it again, only this time devoid of anger, and devoid of self-pride. It’s just a matter of ignorance and freedom from ignorance, relatively speaking.

    I accidently killed a spider today in an attempt to “save” it from a murderous friend : rolleyes:

    • Bob OHearn says:

      Astute and thoughtful comments, Brother — Thanks for sharing! And yes, there is ignorance, and there is the cessation of ignorance. The only solvent for what transpires in between is Love.

      Love & Blessings!

  2. marcel says:

    Thank you Brother for these wonderful teachings, this rare gift of Sanity!

    I know the way you can get
    When you have not had a drink of Love:

    Your face hardens,
    Your sweet muscles cramp.
    Children become concerned
    About a strange look that appears in your eyes
    Which even begins to worry your own mirror
    And nose.

    Squirrels and birds sense your sadness
    And call an important conference in a tall tree.
    They decide which secret code to chant
    To help your mind and soul.

    Even angels fear that brand of madness
    That arrays itself against the world
    And throws sharp stones and spears into
    The innocent
    And into one’s self.

    O I know the way you can get
    If you have not been drinking Love:

    You might rip apart
    Every sentence your friends and teachers say,
    Looking for hidden clauses.

    You might weigh every word on a scale
    Like a dead fish.

    You might pull out a ruler to measure
    From every angle in your darkness
    The beautiful dimensions of a heart you once

    I know the way you can get
    If you have not had a drink from Love’s

    That is why all the Great Ones speak of
    The vital need
    To keep remembering God,
    So you will come to know and see Him
    As being so Playful
    And Wanting,
    Just Wanting to help.

    That is why Hafiz says:
    Bring your cup near me.
    For all I care about
    Is quenching your thirst for freedom!

    All a Sane man can ever care about
    Is giving Love!

  3. All a Sane man can ever care about
    Is giving Love!

    Yes. Brilliant, thank you Bob!

  4. Candace says:

    This post is full of profound wisdom! I was just talking with a friend today about “walking the talk.” This part particularly resonates >>> “Every choice we make has consequences, felt not only in our emotional lives while involved in this current life adventure, but also in all future lives until all possible lessons have been learned and traumas resolved and healed.” Thank you for sharing, Brother!

    Love & Blessings!

  5. JS says:

    You should teach, Bob. Teachers who can walk the path are probably rare.

    Thanks as usual.

    • Bob OHearn says:

      We all are teachers and students of each other, my Friend!


      • Candace says:

        Admittedly, Brother, I agree with JS. Not to blow up the ego, but in my mind, you are likened to Sri Nisargadatta. You’re very clear and concise. Just by reading your words, one can instantly see reality for what it is. But to top it off, you also appear to practice what you share, which is amazing and truly admirable. Yes, “we’re all just walking each other home” and you are already a teacher (how blessed we all are to be able to access your writings for free), but some have the rare ability to get to the core and immediately shake up illusions, which is exactly what you do. How amazing it would be to visit you and listen to your lectures 🙂 (egoic desires, ha!) I know you don’t necessarily want “followers” but your journey is admirable and the wisdom you share is impeccable. I am grateful for you!

        Love & Blessings!

      • Bob OHearn says:

        How kind of you, my Sister, to offer such appreciation! It is very gratifying to hear that this service has resonated for some. My prayer has always been to be as clear a vehicle as possible, although admittedly my own foolishness has often gotten in the way. When I realized I no longer needed to be in conflict with my foolishness, some poetry eeked out, mostly in response to Love’s Touch and the encouragement of light.
        In any case, it seems to me that we already have too many teachers. Remember the old saying, “too many chiefs and not enough indians”? Rather, I feel that this is the time for the maturing of the community (sangha), to a point where we do not need somebody special sitting in the chair at the front of the room, but all of us sitting in the circle instead, each one both teacher and student.
        The old paradigm needs to change, in my opinion, as more of us awaken and take responsibility for our mutual evolution, beyond the guru meme that may have once served well, but is now perhaps no longer appropriate for where we are moving towards as a collective of truth lovers.
        In any case, may all beings enjoy the profound brilliance of their own inherent nature!

        Love & Blessings!

      • Candace says:

        Dear Brother,

        You are so insightful! I too agree that the old ways no longer serve us and there is something so much more real and true about embracing both the role of a teacher and student simultaneously.

        Again thank you from the bottom of my heart! 🙂

      • Bob OHearn says:

        OneHeart, Sister!

        Love & Blessings!

  6. marcel says:

    All a teacher can say is that you Are, all other knowledge one has about themselves being hearsay and illusory.
    I still have to remind myself at times, to not hold on to unreal objective principles, and every outer teacher is just the manifest knowledge of Being, not something in particular, not an individual and another individual, a student and teacher, eventhough I’m in the deepest debt to quicksilver Bob and my current lessons arent done (hey that minds me of a Cohen song) fact is, there are no persons here, nor world, you or me, yet everything goes on as usual, it’s not a paradox anymore.
    Nothing can be done about the primary illusion since it is beyond conception (to my limited dream eyes at least), only superimpositions on that can be investigated and dissolved, and again I’m in debt to you, but I no longer make illusions about ‘you and me’ at least I can give you that. Just Love manifesting as itself, may we all walk in your shoes like that, in our own unique ways depending on the qualities of these vehicles, yet with the same primoridal message 🙂

    • Bob OHearn says:

      Thank you for your thoughtful comments, Brother! Love the video — interestingly enough, both Leonard and I shared the same Zen teacher (the same guy I spoke about in my essay “Zen and the Emotional-Sexual Contraction”). Still, only love manifesting itself, though the shadow aspect is a difficult area for many aspirants to come to terms with in their practice.

      Heart Blessings Always!

    • Candace says:

      Marcel, thank you so much for sharing your comments. You are so spot on!

      Love & Blessings!

  7. marcel says:

    Well yes, but they need not be shadows, I think lots stays in the shadows due to differences in culture which in their hearts would want to be in the open, on the surface, but is accompanied with a lot of shame and judgment. So many students-teachers just walk the path of precepts and meditation etc and need help from fellow humans to work with shadows,but after a long time stuff just gets repressed because they need to represent their self-image to the objective world. When dealing with humans there are many individual motives to not be honest to ones self, I have a peculiar childhood so to speak, around the age of 10-16, I knew the Satanic Bible by mind, I walked on the streets at times covered in blood (local flavour of mardi grass I guess) Ethical Hedonism was glorified along with entertainment of black gods and what not, I mean a kid needs to enjoy itself. But there’s was no judgment, never, neither from parents or society, everyone can express themselves as they see fit mostly around here (although that’s changing a bit too) Later on when that thrill wasn’t so thrilling anymore, I was exhausting this self-image with spiritual marathons, again no judgement anywhere, there’s nothing to hide in the dark. When I look at other people, especially in different cultures and countries, at a very young age, completely natural feelings are taboo and if explored, it need to be in secret. Well being very ‘advanced’ due to long time practise is one thing, but if you wind up with a group of followers who adore you and all of a sudden the vasanas pop up, well it’s a recipe for potential disaster. Also culturally there’s no equality between the sexes, even in some ‘sophisticated’ western countries, most people still conform to a habitual conditioned ancient story about the so called nature of man and woman, and most of the media is still based on maintaining these ridiculous scripts.

    ps around the age of 21 I had my own encounter with the emotional sexual contraction, this became a study which lasted for over 10 years, I could write a book about that, anyways this would have never been explored in depth if I would have lived in some temple or church. Indeed there is no spiritual bypass, we all need to go through and uproot whatever it is without judgment or shame, not exploit others with our imperfections and justifying it with some spiritual jargon.

  8. Bob OHearn says:

    It seems you had a very unusual environment in your childhood, much more receptive to diversity, which is uncommon. Most westerners I encounter grew up under the guilt & shame program, courtesy of the twisted religious themes that still infect this part of the world, and so are still intimidated by the shadow aspect, even though they may realize intellectually that light and dark can be complementary, and not necessarily antagonistic, when properly appreciated.

    In any case, I continue to encourage you to consider committing your thoughts, insights, observations, and experiences to some kind of blog/journal — I think a lot of us would benefit in the sharing!


  9. marcel says:

    Diversity, yes that’s the word, I always embrace differences in all aspects of life, instead of blind habitual conformity. Thank you Brother, perhaps one day it will happen spontaneously 😀

  10. Bob OHearn says:

    Here is an excellent (though lengthy) exposition on the Two-Truths Doctrine of Buddhism, by the great Tibetan adept Patrul Rinpoche. Much conversational confusion can be avoided by simply recognizing and then avoiding the tendency to conflate absolute and relative positions or views.

  11. Bob OHearn says:

    Embodied Nonduality
    by Judith Blackstone

    “I describe an approach to embodied nonduality called the Realization Process. By embodied, I do not mean just the ability to walk around in our daily life, recognizing nonduality. I mean the nondual transparency of the body itself. This is an experience (I will talk more about this word “experience” later in the paper) that we are made of transparent, space-like presence, that this is our basic or true nature, and that everything that we perceive around us is also made of transparent, space-like presence.”

    Click to access Embodied_Nonduality.pdf

  12. Bob OHearn says:

    “When your realization of emptiness becomes as vast as the sky, you will gain an even greater conviction about the law of cause and effect, and you will see just how important your conduct really is. Relative truth functions inexorably within absolute truth.”

    ~Kyabje Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche

  13. John Elford says:

    Very nice piece, Bob – many thanks. I came across it when someone posted a link to it in Nonduality Highlights Facebook group.

  14. Carlton says:

    Well, Sir Bob:

    Again, you’ve come to my rescue!


  15. Bob OHearn says:

    We are all finite, we cannot live out of time and space; inasmuch as we are earth-created, there is no way to grasp the infinite, how can we deliver ourselves from the limitations of existence? … Salvation must be sought in the finite itself, there is nothing infinite apart from finite things; if you seek something transcendental, that will cut you off from this world of relativity, which is the same thing as the annihilation of yourself.
    You do not want salvation at the cost of your own existence… Whether you understand or not, just the same go on living in the finite, with the finite; for you die if you stop eating and keeping yourself warm on account of your aspiration for the infinite… Therefore the finite is the infinite, and vice versa. These are not two separate things, though we are compelled to conceive them so, intellectually.

    ~D.T. Suzuki

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