Beginning the Transmission of Bhavaviveka’s ‘Essence of the Middle Way’
February 20, 2019
Thekchen Chöling, Dharamsala, HP, India – In persistently cold conditions, under overcast skies, this morning approximately 7000 people gathered in and around the Tsuglagkhang, the main Tibetan Temple, and in the yard below. They included more than 2000 monks and nuns, many of them from the Seats of Learning in South India, local Tibetans and about 800 people from 54 other countries.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama arrived a little earlier than announced and lost no time in beginning the teaching.
“Today, we are going to go through an annotated commentary on the ‘Essence of the Middle Way’. As Je Tsongkhapa writes at the beginning of his ‘Great Exposition of Tantra’, “We should be able to prove the teachings of the Buddha on the basis of reason so as not to be led astray by opponents.” I made a similar point at the end of the ‘Praise to the 17 Masters of Nalanda’: “It is extremely important that those of us who follow the Buddha should have faith based on knowledge of his teaching. Therefore, we should examine the reasons for it with an unbiased and inquisitive mind, analysing it closely.” In India there were many competing schools of thought. Bhavaviveka (500-78 CE) addresses their points of view, which makes this book particularly valuable.
“When, by contrast, Atisha composed his ‘Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment’ in Tibet in 11th century it was intended for an individual to transform his or her mind in a specific way.
“I’ve received transmission of the 13 Classic texts from Khunu Lama Rinpoché and Geshé Rigzin Tenpa, Khenpo Kunga Wangchuk and so forth and I thought it was important to receive the transmission of this work the ‘Essence of the Middle Way’ too. However, my investigations revealed that there wasn’t one. I thought that if we had an annotated commentary to the text I could receive that, so I requested Sakya Khenpo Kunga Wangchuk (1921-2008) to prepare one and to give it to me. Bhavaviveka composed this text in verse and also wrote his own commentary which is known as the ‘Blaze of Reasoning’.
His Holiness began to read. After the title in Sanskrit—Madhyamakahrdayakarika—he noticed that for some reason Khenpo Kunga Wangchuk had written “and in the language of Central Tibet” rather than just in Tibetan it is called ‘Uma Nyingpo’. For His Holiness the important point was that it is written in the Tibetan language established by King Songtsen Gampo and into which King Trisong Detsen commissioned the translation of the Kangyur and Tengyur.
Next came the translator’s homage, which is also known as the ‘salutation imposed by royal command’. King Tri Ralpachen decreed that the translator’s homage should indicate to which section of the Three Baskets of the Buddha’s teachings the work belonged. In this case, the homage to youthful Manjushri indicates that the work belongs to the abhidharma or collection of higher knowledge.
His Holiness remarked that there are many mentions of the subjective clear light mind that he referred to yesterday as having been revealed in the third round of the Buddha’s teachings. That pristine awareness, he said, was not brought about by adventitious causes and conditions, but has prevailed for beginningless time.
“What was the reason for composing this treatise? To bring those who have developed the awakening mind of bodhichitta to enlightenment. To summarize—those who have developed the awakening mind should never forsake it, but should nurture the four intentions to fulfil the purposes of sentient beings and place them on the right path. His Holiness observed again that Bhavaviveka was the first Madhyamaka master to write about rival schools of thought and the intellectual differences that stirred the Buddhist community.”
Having read the first chapter, ‘Not Forsaking Bodhichitta’, His Holiness went on to the second, ‘Engaging in the Ascetic Practice of the Sage’. Again he noted that mind is a stream of consciousness, so the continuity of a being is seen in terms of consciousness. Because consciousness is a continuum a person cannot be intrinsically existent. He mentioned that scientific interest in the subtle mind is growing partly as a result of efforts to explain memories some people have of previous lives and the phenomenon of ‘thuk-dam’. This occurs when an experienced meditator’s body remains fresh after clinical death. The Buddhist explanation is that this is because of the continued presence of subtle consciousness.
His Holiness began to read Chapter Three, ‘The Quest to Understand Reality’ and stopped when he reached verse 260. He will resume his reading tomorrow.