Expressive Power / Manifestation / Display

Previously, we discussed the meaning of rikpa (Tib. rig pa), or “awareness,” which is a key term used in the teachings of dzokchen. Tsal (Tib. rtsal), another key term in both the mahamudra and dzokchen traditions, refers to the potential of this awareness to manifest, as well as the manifestation itself.

Tsal is a difficult term to translate. Having a range of meanings, it has been translated into English in many ways. It can refer to the “skill” or “dexterity” produced through training, whether physical or mental. It can refer, for example, to the prowess of a well-trained athlete or of an experienced meditator.

In the teachings on the nature of mind, in some contexts tsal refers to an inherent “potential” of mind to express itself. In this sense, it has variously been translated as “power,” “potency,” “capacity,” “creativity,” “energy,” “creative energy,” “expressive power,” and “resourcefulness.” In other contexts, tsal refers to the outcome of that creative potential. In this sense, it has been translated as “display,” “manifestation,” or “expression.” In both cases, the word conveys a feeling of energy and dynamism.

In his commentary on the Lamrim Yeshe Nyingpo (The Gradual Heart of Wisdom), Khenpo Tsültrim Gyamtso presents tsal using the analogy of a mirror. In discussing the line, “Since awareness-display, the trikaya, appears on the path,” Rinpoche explained:

Awareness itself

[rikpa], which is the embodiment of the three kayas, is the ground and does not itself appear, but its display [tsal] appears through the methods of the path. That is what “appears on the path” means. For example, it is like a crystal. A crystal has the potential to display the colors of a rainbow. When the proper conditions are applied, such as rays of light hitting it, the potential is displayed outwardly as the appearances of a rainbow. The crystal’s potential is like the awareness that abides as, or in, the ground. The proper conditions are like the methods of the path. What arises when light strikes the crystal is like the display of awareness as the various appearances.

In discussing the meaning of tsal, Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche uses the analogy of the sun and its light. As he explains, the relationship between mind’s essence and its expression (tsal)

. . . is like the relationship between the sun and sunlight: you cannot have sunlight without the sun shining. It’s the same with the expression of mind essence and the essence itself. The essence doesn’t increase or decrease, is neither improved or worsened. The only possibility of recognition lies in the expression. . . . It is said that when the expression dawns as sherab, as knowledge—when the expression knows its own nature—it is liberated, there is freedom. When the expression moves as thought, as thinking, it is bewildered—there is delusion.