Thekchen Chöling, Dharamsala, HP, India – “Today I’d like to greet you all,” so saying His Holiness the Dalai Lama began the third day of his explanation of Tsongkhapa’s ‘Essence of True Eloquence’ primarily for Taiwanese Buddhists. “The prayer you say at the end of the ‘Heart Sutra’ says ‘May I … enter into the practices of a bodhisattva’. Perhaps this should be more of a determination than just a wish, ‘I will enter into the practices of a bodhisattva’.
“However deep an experience of emptiness you may have, it will not enable you to overcome the obstructions to knowledge. To do that you also need bodhichitta. ‘Entering into the Middle Way’ pays homage to compassion because compassion at the beginning is the seed of the attainment of Buddhahood. In the middle compassion is the factor that increases bodhichitta and when you attain Buddhahood, it prompts you to serve others.
“Combining bodhichitta with the wisdom understanding emptiness you will overcome all defilements, obstacles to knowledge and afflictive emotions. When you see sentient beings suffering, you’ll be unable to bear it and will work to help them.
“We’ll resume reading the text. Towards the end there is an examination of the assertions of the Autonomous Middle Way proponents and then the assertions of the Consequentialists. In his ‘Praise to the Buddha for Teaching Dependent Arising’ Jé Tsongkhapa writes, because of the reasoning of dependent arising we do not rely on either of the extreme views. Dependent arising is the most significant teaching of the Buddha.”
His Holiness alluded to four logical fallacies that, in his ‘Entering into the Middle Way’, Chandrakirti explains would ensue if things had objective existence. They are that the Arya being’s meditative absorption on emptiness would be the destroyer of phenomena; that it would be wrong to teach that things lack ultimate existence; that the conventional existence of things would be able to withstand ultimate analysis into the nature of things, and that it would be untenable to state that things are empty in and of themselves.
His Holiness disclosed that he reflects on these four points every day in his meditation. Whether you think of the self of persons, consciousness or whatever, he went on, everything appears to have some kind of objective, independent existence. When the object of negation appears to your mind and you wish to refute it, you’re conducting analysis of how things exist.
1) The Arya being’s mind is absorbed in emptiness following his own analysis of whether things have any intrinsic characteristics. If they had such characteristics, they would have been found by the Arya’s mind. If things had any intrinsic existence, the Arya being’s meditative equipoise on emptiness would be a destroyer of that entity — (which is logically absurd).
If the intrinsic characteristics of things were to arise dependently, things would come to be destroyed by denying it; emptiness would then be a cause for the destruction of things. But this is illogical, so no real entities exist. 6.34
2) If things had an intrinsic identity, without dependence on other factors, conventional reality would have to withstand ultimate analysis — (which is logically absurd). If we could point out an identity, it would have to withstand ultimate analysis. However, the Yogi finds nothing, neither this nor that, to point to. Other schools say that an object of valid cognition must be something objective out there, but a valid cognition is a cognition according to which the object exists as perceived.
Lower schools of thought say there should be a valid cognition with self-defined characteristics. If that were the case, that object would withstand ultimate analysis. In fact, there is no object that has intrinsic existence — it is conventionally designated.
Thus, when such phenomena are analysed, nothing is found as their nature apart from suchness. So, the conventional truth of the everyday world should not be subjected to thorough analysis. 6.35
If things had any essential core in and of themselves, it would lead to the logical fallacy of conventional reality’s withstanding ultimate analysis.
3) If things with an essential core arose from a cause, ultimate production could not be denied. 4) The Buddha’s teaching that phenomena are empty of self-nature would not be true. When we say something is empty, the very thing we are analysing is said to be empty of intrinsic existence or self-nature.
In the context of suchness, certain reasoning disallows arising from self or from something other, and that same reasoning disallows them on the conventional level too. So, by what means then is your arising established? 6.36
Empty things dependent on convergences, such as reflections and so on, are not unknown. 6.37
“Things have no existence from their own side,” His Holiness clarified, “they are designated. They arise dependent on conditions. When you talk about emptiness of form, a physical thing, form is analysed and found to be empty of intrinsic existence.
“These four logical fallacies or absurdities are mentioned in Jé Rinpoché’s ‘Essence of True Eloquence’ and the special insight section of the ‘Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path’.
“‘Essence of True Eloquence’ says:
This (exceptional negation) is executed in the ‘Central Way Introduction’ (Entering into the Middle Way / Madhyamakavatara) by three reasonings given in the basic verses and one given in the commentary.
The first of these (is called) “the consequence that the holy equipoisewould destroy phenomena,” (366)
(The second of the four exceptional reasonings is called) the “conse-quence that conventional reality could withstand analysis,” (367)
(The third of the four exceptional reasonings is called) “the conse-quence of the non-negation of ultimate production,” (373)
(The fourth of the four exceptional reasonings is called the consequenceof) “the wrongness of the (scriptural) statement that things are empty by intrinsic reality.” (374)
“Things are merely designated by our thought, language and concepts. Emptiness does not make phenomena empty as such — phenomena are empty. Things are empty by themselves. They are not empty of something else. This is one of the main points Jé Rinpoché makes in this book.
“‘Entering into the Middle Way’ states that when bodhisattvas reach the first ground, they outshine Shravakas and Pratyekabuddhas by lineage. When they reach the seventh ground, they outshine them through intelligence. Chandrakirti asserts this in his auto-commentary too and in so doing asserts that Arya beings among Shravakas and Pratyekabuddhas also have direct realization of emptiness.
“Realizing coarse selflessness of persons may help in suppressing some degree of clinging to a truly existent self of persons, but, like non-Buddhist practices, it will not overcome all defilements.
“In order to realize the selflessness of persons thoroughly, it’s necessary to realize the selflessness of phenomena. Chandrakirti cites a verse from Nagarjuna’s ‘Precious Garland’:
As long as the aggregates are conceived (to truly exist), So long thereby does the conception of (a truly existent) I exist. Further, when the conception of (a truly existent) I exists, There is action, and from it there also is birth. (35)
“I had an experience once when reading Tsongkhapa’s ‘Illumination of the Thought — his commentary to ‘Entering into the Middle Way’ — and I felt like I’d been struck by lightning. It seemed that the self had no true existence, but when I referred to these lines from the ‘Precious Garland’ I realized that it is not enough to feel that the self does not exist. You need to be able to see that the self lacks true existence and is merely designated. As long as you are not able to overcome the objectification of the aggregates, you’ll not be able to fully realize the selflessness of a person. This verse from the ‘Precious Garland’ is important.
“I reflect on these four logical absurdities mentioned in ‘Entering into the Middle Way’ and ‘Essence of True Eloquence’ every day. We Tibetans are prone to reciting Manis, but we would do well to reflect on these four points daily too.
“We need to think about emptiness, but we also need to cultivate bodhichitta. Shantideva’s ‘Bodhicharyavatara’ is the best text to help us defeat our self-cherishing attitudes. He states quite clearly:
8/129 All those who suffer in the world do so because of their desire for their own happiness. All those happy in the world are so because of their desire for the happiness of others.
8/130 Why say more? Observe this distinction: between the fools who long for their own advantage and the sage who acts for the advantage of others.
8/131 For those who fail to exchange their own happiness for the suffering of others, Buddhahood is certainly impossible – how could there even be happiness in cyclic existence?
“We don’t want suffering, we want to be happy, but we create all sorts of sufferings and problems in the world out of self-centredness. If we allow ourselves to be misled by self-centredness, we’ll not attain Buddhahood.
7/30 Proceeding in this way from happiness to happiness, what thinking person would despair, after mounting the carriage, the Awakening Mind, which carries away all weariness and effort?
“I meditate every day on emptiness and bodhichitta. I encourage you to do so too. These two comprise our main practice. Study them, reflect on them and meditate on them.”
His Holiness revealed that he thought to complete the current series of teachings by leading a brief ceremony for cultivating bodhichitta. He recommended that the disciples imagine the Buddha Shakyamuni in the space above him accompanied by the eight close disciples, the bodhisattvas, and great Indian masters like Nagarjuna.
In his ‘Praise of Bodhichitta’, Khunu Lama Rinpoché wrote, in order to have a relaxed mind, you should practise bodhichitta. To benefit others and to achieve a higher rebirth in your next life are results that arise from cultivating bodhichitta. Bodhichitta is the one factor that brings benefit to self and others.
His Holiness recited the essential verses of the ceremony and invited the disciples to meditate on bodhichitta.
I seek refuge in the Three Jewels; Each and every wrongdoing I confess. I rejoice in the virtues of all beings. I take to heart the state of Buddhahood.
I go for refuge until I am enlightened To the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Supreme Assembly, In order to fulfil the aims of myself and others I develop the awakening mind.
Having developed the aspiration for highest enlightenment, I invite all sentient beings as my guests, I shall enact the delightful supreme enlightening practices. May I become a Buddha to benefit all sentient beings.
To complete the ceremony, he repeated some verses of celebration from Bodhicharyavatara.
3/25 Today my birth is fruitful. My human life is justified. Today I am born into the family of the Buddha. Now I am the Buddha’s son.
3/27 As a blind man might find a jewel in heaps of rubbish, so too this Awakening Mind has somehow appeared in me.
He mentioned that during tantric practices it is customary to engage in means to drive away potentially interfering entities, but, in the context of bodhichitta, there is no one you can regard as an enemy.
While answering questions from the audience, His Holiness alluded to the selflessness of persons and of phenomena. With regard to ‘automatic suffering’, he explained that it refers to the suffering that comes with us. We have had misconceptions about true existence for beginningless time, as a result of which suffering accompanies us throughout cyclic existence.
In response to a question about perfect happiness, he quoted verses from ‘Entering into the Middle Way’.
Thus, illuminated by the rays of wisdom’s light, the bodhisattva sees as clearly as a gooseberry on his open palm that the three realms in their entirety are unborn from their very start, and through the force of conventional truth, he journeys to cessation. 6.224
Though his mind may rest continuously in cessation, he also generates compassion for beings bereft of protection. Advancing further, he will also outshine through his wisdom all those born from the Buddha’s speech and the middle buddhas. 6.225
And like a king of swans soaring ahead of other accomplished swans, with white wings of conventional and ultimate truths spread wide, propelled by the powerful winds of virtue, the bodhisattva would cruise to the excellent far shore, the oceanic qualities of the conquerors. 6.226
Asked about employing mice and so forth in scientific experiments, His Holiness suggested that if work is being done to bring benefit to human beings and to save lives, and there is no deliberate attempt to cause suffering, it may be acceptable. He suggested that the mind training technique of imagining taking on the sufferings of others does not generally make a practical difference. As he said, there are countless Buddhas and bodhisattvas throughout space, but they don’t have a direct effect on beings’ sufferings.
He noted that if, by analysing phenomena through the sevenfold or fivefold reasoning, you are unable to find a solid, separate entity, you may gain insight into selflessness. Similarly, as a result of meditation on emptiness you may be able see that people and things are like illusions. The Middle Way School assert that things are devoid of true existence from the moment they appear.
“I’ve gone over the essential points of this book,’ His Holiness declared as the session came to a close. “As far as the pandemic is concerned, maybe it will over by next year and I’ll be able to teach here at the Tsuglagkhang and in Bodhgaya once more. That’s something I’m determined to do when I can, but in the meantime we all need to be careful.
“The Buddha told us that we are our own masters and what kind of life we lead is in our hands. The most important thing is to practise the dharma, which means cultivating bodhichitta and an understanding of emptiness. Of course, I also engage in deity yoga, but it is my practice of bodhichitta and emptiness that has really brought about a transformation in me. The crucial books about these things are the ‘Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life’, ‘Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way’ and ‘Entering into the Middle Way’.
“I feel that I have made some progress in bringing about transformation in myself and you can do the same. Remember, the Buddhas do not wash unwholesome deeds away with water, nor do they remove the sufferings of beings with their hands. Neither do they transplant their own realization into others. It is by teaching the truth of suchness that they liberate (beings).
“If you study, reflect and meditate on the teachings, transformation is within reach.”