The Sutra of the Wheel of Dharma and the Rice Seedling Sutra
January 5, 2018
He greeted several of the distinguished Lamas seated around the throne, among whom were the Ganden Tri Rinpoche, the former Ganden Tripa, the Shartse and Jangtse Chöjeys, the Sakya Gongma Trizin Rinpoche, and Ling Rinpoche, as well as Abbots, former Abbots and Tulkus.
“Indians are the main disciples today,” His Holiness announced, “and we’ll begin with their recitations in Pali and Sanskrit.”
Adults chanted a series of prayers and praises, including the Mangala Sutta, first in Pali. They were followed by a group of schoolgirls and schoolboys who recited the ‘Heart Sutra’ in Sanskrit.
“After the Buddha had attained enlightenment, he declared, ‘Profound and peaceful, free from complexity, uncompounded luminosity—I have found a nectar-like Dharma. Yet if I were to teach it, no-one would understand, so I shall remain silent here in the forest.’ One reason for this is that existing Indian spiritual traditions asserted the existence of an independent self, a permanent agent going from one life to the next. The Buddha saw that clinging to the notion of an independent self is the root of all other mental afflictions. After realizing selflessness, he saw that it would be incomprehensible to most people if he were to teach about it.
“Nevertheless, in due course he did teach in Sarnath. Later, on Vulture’s Peak in Rajgriha, he taught that things lack intrinsic existence. During the first turning of the wheel of Dharma he explained the truth of suffering and its origins. Then during the second he elaborated in detail on emptiness. The Unravelling of Thought Sutra records that during the third turning of the wheel, he taught about dependent nature, imputed nature and perfect nature. The absence of imputed nature from dependent nature indicates the perfect nature of emptiness. Also, during the third turning of the wheel, the Buddha touched on Buddha nature and the subjective mind of clear light that is the basis for practice of highest yoga tantra.
“Mahakassapa and his followers preserved the teachings including Vinaya and Abhidhamma that became the Pali tradition. Later, when understanding had grown, Nagarjuna and other disciples examined the teachings in the light of reasoning giving rise to what became the Nalanda Tradition. The teaching of the Buddha has faced its ups and downs, and yet, relying on scriptural authority as well as reasoning and analysis, it still survives today.”
His Holiness discussed how the Buddha gave different teachings according to beings’ mental disposition, inclination and capacity. Sometimes he taught that the person carries the aggregates, much as a porter bears a load as if they were separate from each other. Elsewhere he explained that objects that appear to exist externally are not different from the subjective perception of them. At other times he taught that nothing has any inherent existence. The ‘Heart Sutra’ refers to form as emptiness and emptiness as form.
Having taught different things on different occasions, the Buddha admonished his followers, ‘O monks, just as the wise test gold by burning, cutting and rubbing, Examine my words thoroughly and accept them only after you have investigated them—not just out of respect for me’. His Holiness pointed out that modern scientists do not rely on anything like scriptural authority, they observe and conduct research themselves. Then they verify what they have discovered by comparing it to the findings of others and seek a consensus. Today, scientists are taking interest in what Buddhism has to say, much as Einstein predicted.
His Holiness emphasized that Buddhism originated in India, not in China or Tibet, and that masters of Nalanda like Nagarjuna were Indian too. Therefore, His Holiness said, it was propitious that the main disciples today were Indian. For more than 2000 years Buddhism has spread across Asia, so it would be appropriate if the Nalanda Tradition that has been kept alive in Tibet were to be re-established today in India.
His Holiness observed that India has the distinction of being the one place where all the world’s major religions flourish. Some of these traditions like Brahmanism are theistic and posit a creator; others like some Samkhyas and Jains are non-theistic and are based instead on the principle of causality. Among them, only Buddhism does not assert the existence of an independent self. From West Asia came Judaism, Christianity and Islam, which all believe in a creator god. All these traditions commend love and compassion, tolerance and forgiveness, contentment and self-discipline.
For Buddhism, the conduct of non-violence is important. It also teaches that suffering, pain and pleasure are in our own hands. Action which helps others and makes them happy is regarded as positive. Actions that harm others are negative.
“The various religious traditions have long flourished in India and lived alongside one another in harmony,” His Holiness added. “A secular view according equal regard to all faiths prevails here. We must preserve it. Meanwhile, I am doing my best to revive awareness of ancient Indian knowledge in this country. However, in the long run, the most important thing is to be a good human being.
“Among 7 billion human beings alive today, 1 billion have no interest in religious practice. But even among those who remain, some use religion as grounds for division. For religion to become a source of conflict is really very sad.
“We human beings are social animals, we rely on each other. We are not self-sufficient. We are at peace with one another here, but elsewhere conflict abounds. People are bullying and killing each other. Others are neglected to die of starvation. How can we put up with this when we regularly pray for all beings to be free from suffering? As followers of the Buddha we should ask ourselves every day how we can help others, since we all want happiness and don’t want suffering.
“Because modern education currently has little time for human values, we need to augment it with discussion of love and compassion. Common sense tells us, for example, that an affectionate, compassionate family is happy, whereas a family riven by jealousy and competitiveness is not.”
Turning to the two texts he was to read, the ‘Sutra of the Wheel of Dharma’ and the ‘Rice Seedling Sutra’, His Holiness observed that they both deal with ideas common to all Buddhist teachings. He remarked that the word Dharma has a connotation of holding back as in transforming or reshaping the mind, which is clearly illustrated by this verse:
Commit not a single unwholesome action,
Cultivate a wealth of virtue,
To tame this mind of ours
Is the teaching of all the buddhas.
Whether what we do is unwholesome or counts as virtue depends on the motivation.
His Holiness noted that the Buddha’s teachings can be categorized in terms of scripture and realization. Scriptural instructions are preserved by reading and study, whereas teachings related to realization depend on our engaging in the Three Trainings—ethics, concentration and wisdom.
His Holiness remarked that the Buddha left his family behind when he became a monk, which was not just a matter of changing how he dressed, but of his adopting and putting prevailing teachings into practice. He examined what he heard, contemplated and then meditated on it. This meant, for example, that he engaged in critical analysis of the nature of suffering until he understood it. He pursued the shamatha, a calmly abiding mind, and vipashyana, special insight, that are common to many traditions. Subsequently, the Buddha’s companions when he was engaging in such practice and observing strict austerities became his first disciples.
In the ‘Sutra of the Wheel of Dharma’, the Buddha speaks of having first comprehended suffering and then relinquished it. His Holiness quoted a verse by Nagarjuna,
Through the elimination of karma and mental afflictions there is liberation;
Karma and mental afflictions come from conceptual thoughts;
These come from mental exaggeration;
Exaggeration ceases through emptiness.
He clarified that it is due to our misconception of true existence that suffering arises, but we will not overcome this by offering lamps or performing rituals. It’s analysing and thinking about dependent arising that enables us to overturn these misconceptions. Nagarjuna praised the Buddha for teaching how to overcome wrong views. Je Tsongkhapa praised him for teaching about dependent arising.
In mentioning that the ‘Rice Seedling Sutra’ belongs to the Sanskrit tradition, His Holiness noted once more that he prefers to refer to the Pali and Sanskrit traditions because the terms Mahayana and Hinayana tend to lead to one set of people looking down on another. After all, he remarked, the Sanskrit tradition is built upon the foundations of the Pali tradition.
Beginning to read the ‘Rice Seedling Sutra’, His Holiness made two observations. The sutra concerns a conversation between Shariputra and Maitreya, who sat down together on a huge flat rock, which he appreciates for its down to earth quality. Secondly, a remark in a commentary to the Perfection of Wisdom teachings by the Korean Abbot Wen-tsig suggested that Maitreya’s mother was also called Maitreya, which establishes him as a human being, as well as a celestial bodhisattva, explaining dependent arising.
His Holiness will continue his elucidation of the text tomorrow.