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Part 4: Correct View of Emptiness

A commentary on Lama Tsongkhapa's text which covers the entire Buddhist path to enlightenment.

A teaching on The Three Principal Aspects of the Path by Ven. Denma Lochö Rinpoche at  Jamyang Buddhist Centre, London, in early October 2001.

The Three Principal Aspects of the Path is a text by Lama Tsongkhapa (1357-1419) which covers the entire Buddhist path to enlightenment.

CHAPTERS
Part 1: Renunciation

Part 2: Renunciation
Part 3: Bodhicitta
Part 4: Correct View of Emptiness

Part 4: Correct View of Emptiness

So continuing on with our text then, today we are going to cover the subject of the correct view, that is to say, the correct view of reality. Without this correct view then, it is impossible to sever the root of existence, that is to say, cut the root of the cycle of existence, that is to say, uproot the seed which brings about all the manifest sufferings within Samsara, or within the cycle of existence. If you ask 'Why is this, what is this cause of the cycle of existence which holds us in its grip?' - that is none other than the ignorance, or the confusion, with regard to the mode of phenomena, that is to say, grasping on to self-existence, or autonomous existence.

To uproot this then, we needs its antidote, or antithesis, which is then this wisdom which cognises the actual nature of phenomena. When this arises in our continuum, then we can be said to be on our way to getting rid of the root of the cycle of existence, kind of dragging up or tearing up this root of the cycle of existence. Without this wisdom, it is impossible for us to sever this root of the cycle of existence, therefore it is impossible for us to gain either of the two kinds of enlightenment (that is to say, the enlightenment of the lesser vehicle or the Buddhahood of the greater vehicle) because both of these arise in dependence upon thoroughly shedding the cycle of existence. So in order to do that, we need to generate this wisdom within our mental continuum, or mind.

The Prasangika Madhyamika view

The viewpoint which I'm going to teach from today is the highest philosophical viewpoint, that is to say, the Prasangika Madhyamika view. Within this system what we find is that there is a unique presentation of the various grounds and paths. With regard to the paths then, the Prasangika Madhyamika view holds that the practitioners of the hearer and the Solitary Realiser lineages cognise the emptiness, or the lack of autonomous existence, of phenomena, and through that they achieve the lesser nirvana. The other philosophical schools, for example, Svatantrika Madhyamika, the Mind Only school and so forth, they say that these persons (that is those of the lesser vehicles lineages) do not cognise the emptiness of phenomena, and because of that, they don't achieve nirvana. However it is difficult to assert that, so what we have to put forward is that the practitioners of these lesser vehicles, cognise the actual mode of phenomena, or the emptiness of phenomena, and from that viewpoint, we will proceed with the presentation of the Prasangika Madhyamika view.

So here what we are presenting is a view of phenomena, or what is known as the ultimate mode of abiding of phenomena, that is to say, the mode of abiding or the way of abiding of phenomena at its utmost peak. The reason for talking about the mode of phenomena is that the underlying way of existence of all phenomena, whether animate or inanimate - their final mode of existence is what is going to be presented here. This mode of phenomena is what is meant when we talk about various classifications of teachings by the Enlightened One. We can classify the various sutras as belonging to two different categories, that is to say, the sutras of definitive and then interpretative meanings. So here then if we look at two different kinds of sutra then, for example the sutra which teaches us that all composite phenomena are impermanent, then if we look at the mode of abiding of phenomena we do see that if they are composite, then they are momentarily disintegrating. This is in one level the mode of that phenomena - that they are momentarily disintegrating. However there is something that through further analysis will come to light, and that is that the objects in and of themselves - albeit an impermanent object or momentarily disintegrating object - those objects are themselves empty of any kind of autonomous existence, that is to say, empty of any kind of existence from their own side. So this then is what is meant by 'final' with regard to 'final mode of existence'. The 'final' here then refers to the ultimate or the empty nature of phenomena.

If you have some doubt about that we can clarify it by quoting another sutra which says that one must kill one's mother and father. So then we have to explain what is meant by 'killing one's father and mother' here by looking at the twelve links of dependent origination. So within those twelve, we find that the third and the ninth then are talking about various kinds of karma, so what is meant by 'to kill one's father and mother' is to kill these two types of karma, because Buddha has on numerous occasions made clear that, for a follower of the Buddha, killing is completely out of the question. So we need to clarify, we need to interpret, the meaning of those sutras. Whereas the sutras which present the actual mode of phenomena, that is to say, the empty nature of phenomena, those particular sutras don't need any interpretation because if we look at what they are presenting, there is nothing else to be found within that, that is to say, they are presenting the final nature or the final mode of existence of both animate and inanimate phenomena. So it is from that point of view that we are going to look at the actual nature of phenomena, look at its antithesis, that is to say, the ignorance which is the cause of the cycle of existence, that is to say, the ignorance which is confused about that nature of existence and through its confusion grasps onto the actual reverse of that, that is to say, grasps onto self- or autonomous existence. So the antithesis is what we are going to study today and going back to the root text then, it says:

Although you practice renunciation and Bodhi mind,
Without wisdom, the realisation of voidness, you cannot cut the root of Samsara.
Therefore strive to understand dependent origination (or dependent arising).

So here then it's quite clear: Even though one practices renunciation and the mind aspiring to the highest enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings, without this wisdom which cognises the final mode of phenomena, that is to say, the empty nature of phenomena, one cannot uproot the cause of the cycle of existence, and therefore one cannot be free from the fetters of Samsara. So therefore it's extremely important then to search out this final, or ultimate, mode of existence of phenomena.

So therefore we are encouraged to engage in the practice of trying to understand dependent origination, or dependent arising, because it is through applying the sign of dependent arising, that is to say - setting up a syllogism, for example, the subject - a sprout - is empty of inherent existence because it is dependent arising. Understanding what is meant by dependent arising, and then through that understanding we can come to understand what is meant by the lack of a true or autonomous existence, what is meant by 'emptiness'. So all these different words we keep hearing - 'final mode of phenomena', 'emptiness', 'suchness' and so forth - these are all just mere enumerations on the same meaning which is that phenomena lack any kind of autonomous existence. We are encouraged then to understand what is meant by dependent origination, or dependent arising, then to set that as the sign by means of which we can prove the thesis that phenomena are lacking in any autonomous existence.

Dependent arising

So then dependent arising is the reason which is going to be utilised in proving that phenomena lack any kind of autonomous or true existence. So then to utilise this, we have to, as we mentioned earlier, set up the syllogism. So for example what we are going to prove - the thesis - is that phenomena are lacking in true existence. So here then we have to understand what is being negated, or the object of negation, that is to say, true existence, because if we don’t have a clear understanding of what is to be negated then there is every chance that we might negate too much and fall to the extreme that nothing exists whatsoever, or if we leave too much behind then we might fall into the extreme of permanence. So then in order to avoid these two extremes, of true existence and non-existence, or permanence and annihilation, it’s very important that we understand exactly what is mean by true existence and exactly what is meant by its antithesis, that is to say, the lack of true existence.

So then this is going to be proved through utilising the reasoning of dependent arising, and then through setting that sign, we are able then to cut this mistaken view. So this syllogism that we’re setting up then - you may wonder: well, is this the actual mode of phenomena, is this the actual lack of true existence or not? So this is clearly stated to not be the actual mode of existence but rather is a convention, a convention which will then lead us to the ultimate understanding, that is to say, lead us to understand the mode in which phenomena actually exist. This is clearly mentioned by Chandrakirti in one of his works where he says that utilising the convention is the method to get to the ultimate. So here then ’method’ is referring to the setting up of that syllogism, having the basis upon which one is going to prove emptiness, then having the idea of the thesis that something is empty of some kind of autonomous or true existence, and then having the reason to prove that.

So these are all within the realm of conventionality and are used as a method to generate the ultimate. The ultimate here, as the text goes on to explain, is the subject which the superiors meditate upon. So the superiors' meditative equipoise is a single-pointed concentration upon the ultimate nature of phenomena. Being such then, it continually dwells on the empty nature, or the final mode of existence, of phenomena, the true existence, lacking any autonomy. So this then is the wisdom which is brought about through utilising the conventional method of the reasoning of dependent arising to prove the thesis of the lack of any autonomous or true existence. So we have to be very clear with regard to this middle way - ('middle way' here being between the two extremes of permanence and annihilation) - so we have to be clear that we don’t leave too much behind and then fall to the extreme that there is some permanent or true or autonomous existence, or that we cut too much and then we are left with nothing and fall to the extreme of annihilation. Thus then the middle way has to be viewed as that which is between the two extremes of permanence and annihilation, and this is what is going to be proved through utilising the reasoning of the dependent arising.

Selflessness

So then we initially have to understand what is meant when we talk about - let us use the example of a human being or a sentient being as our basis for proving the lack of any autonomous or self-existence. If then we use as a basis for example a human being (let us leave aside animals and so forth for the time being) – then human beings exist, you exist, I exist, there is somebody who creates causes, there is somebody who experiences results because there is the karmic law which we have gone through earlier on. So in that way there is an ‘I’, there is a self who is creating causes, who is experiencing results, and then there is something which goes from this life to the future life. So that self exists, also we know this because we see other individuals with our eyes. If we were to say that self or human being, being mere elaborations on the same meaning, that they don’t exist, then what are we seeing when we see other human beings with our eyes? So that self exists, exists in a conventional way, exists in a nominal way.

Then when we talk about ‘selflessness’ or ‘I-lessness’, what is this 'I' which is being spoken about? Here, what we are talking about is a lack of autonomous existence, because human beings exist as designations upon the five aggregates, that is to say, the aggregates of body and then the various kinds of mind. So on this basis then, an ‘I’ is imputed. And that ‘I’ then if grasped as anything else, as anything other than an imputation upon these five aggregates, seen as being something other than them, as existing solidly from its own side, that 'I', that feeling that we have, that feeling that something exists in and of itself is the ‘I’ or the self which is to be negated, thus we have selflessness or ‘I-lessness’. So it is extremely important to make a distinction between these two different kinds of self or these two different kinds of ‘I’ – one existing nominally, the other one not existing ultimately and the view that that exists being thus the mistaken view, the one which we are trying to negate or remove through our contemplations upon thusness.

So it is extremely important then to understand clearly these two modes of existence, these two ‘I’s, or these two selves, which we experience because, as is mentioned in the Bodhisattva grounds, when we explain the actual mode of phenomena or the selflessness of people or persons, it is very easy to fall to the extreme that nothing exists at all - there is no person creating karma, there is nobody to experience the result of that karma, there is no 'I' used as a conventional term which is going between one existence and another existence. When this is presented then we have to be extremely careful in making clear this distinction at the beginning because, as the Bodhisattva grounds mentions, there is every danger that the listener, the person who is being instructed, might fall to the extreme that because we are taught selflessness, that self refers to us, ourselves – then there is nobody to create karma, there is nobody to experience the results, there is no past and future lives, and they fall into this extreme wrong view that there is no karma and no continuation from this life to a future life.

So one has to be extremely clear then with regard to this presentation of how the self exists, and what is meant by selflessness or I-lessness. So one of the distinctions which is extremely important to make is one that is quite simple, but when we talk about seeing things or experiencing things, like we experience our self directly, we experience others through our eye-consciousness, now this valid cognition which we are using is then one which is correct with regard to the object which it entertains, or which it engages. So if one is perceiving somebody else as being an object of one’s valid cognition, then that must be something which exists because the very differentiating point between existence and non-existence is whether the object can be cognised by valid cognition or not. So as we see other individuals then, we are seeing them with a correct or valid cognition, therefore there must be some object existing there for us to see. This is the nominally existent or the existing 'I', then the ‘I’ which is to be negated is the emptiness of an autonomously existing 'I', ( ‘autonomous’ here referring to not being part of the five aggregates but existing as something other than that). Through that contemplation then, the ignorance which grasps onto that is removed.

The object of negation

So then initially it’s incredibly important to understand what is meant by the object of negation. When we talk about something lacking natural or true existence, autonomous existence, however we like to use that language, then we are getting down to the same point – something lacking any kind of existence from its own side. So we have to understand then what is meant by ‘existing from its own side’ or ‘true existence’ and so forth. So in order to do that, we have to understand this ignorance which grasps onto such phenomena in a mistaken way, and for that to happen, we have to understand the naturally arising or spontaneously produced mind which is grasping at true or self existence. Through observing that, then we can come to see the way that this ignorance grasps onto its object, we can then come to see the actual nature of the object and the mistaken way which it is being grasped at by this naturally or spontaneously arising mind of ignorance. So then when we talk about understanding the object of negation, if we look in the scriptures we can take a quotation from Shantideva’s Bodhicaryavatara which mentions - How without understanding true existence, can you talk about the lack of true existence? So here it’s very clear isn’t it, if we want to understand what is meant by lack of true existence, then we have to understand initially true existence, that which is to be negated.

In a simpler to understand answer, if we talk about a house or a building, if someone were to come to us and say ‘Is Lodro in the house?’, then if we don’t know who Lodro is, we can’t possibly answer that person – we cannot say ‘yes’ or we cannot say ‘no’. Even though we might say the word ‘Lodro’ a lot, it doesn’t really mean anything because we don’t understand the basis to which this word, or this name, is attached, or given. So in the same way we may say ‘lack of self existence’ or ‘lack of autonomous existence’, and so forth, but unless we are really clear about what 'self existence' is or what 'autonomous existence' is then it just is a lot of play with words, we’re not really going to learn anything from that, and what is more, we’re not really going to be able to develop the wisdom which cognises this mode of abiding of phenomena. So it is extremely important then initially for us beginners to contemplate upon this object of negation, that which is actually negated by its antithesis and the wisdom arising thereafter. And for those of you who have already understood this then, there is not much point in me going on about, but for the majority of us beginners then it’s incredibly important to understand what is meant by the object of negation.

Two kinds of reasoning

So then in order to find the ultimate nature of phenomena we contemplate its antithesis - true existence or autonomous existence - and then we strive to understand what is meant by the opposite, that is to say selflessness, or lacking autonomous or self existence, and the way we do this - because this mode of phenomena is the kind of phenomena which is classified as a hidden phenomena, we have to rely upon a correct line of reasoning to draw out or to prove what we are trying to set forth, or our thesis. In order to do this there are various kinds of reasoning we can set forth, but from within those we find that two are the best two. So the first of these is the reasoning of 'the one and the many', and the second one is the 'king of reasonings' then, the reasoning of dependent origination or dependent arising.

So from within these two then, it is said that the reasoning of the one and the many - from this we draw out the renowned fourfold analysis. This is for beginners, the easiest way to settle or come to understand the ultimate nature, or the ultimate mode, of phenomena. However then, when we look at the other reasoning - the 'king of reasonings', that of dependent arising or dependent origination, this reasoning is one which is renowned as the king for what reason? For the reason that the Mind Only school use this reasoning to prove true existence, whereas the Madhyamika school use this to prove non-true existence. So everybody is coming down to this same point of dependent arising, and through this reason it is renowned as the 'king of reasons' or the king of correct signs, when set in a syllogism.

So as our text here principally deals with the reasoning of dependent arising, then we will follow this line reasoning (if we can go through the fourfold analysis, so much the better), but if we just stick with the text then what we are going through is the reasoning of dependent origination or dependent arising, so let us then stick with that. It is always better to use one line of reasoning because in dependence upon one line of reasoning one can come to understand the truth of the thesis, then as one has understood the truth of that thesis then there is no need to then entertain another reasoning to again prove that same thesis because one has already proved that to oneself.

So in order to set the syllogism then, if we lay it out using as the subject a sprout (we can actually use any kind of subject, for example a human being or whatever but let us just use the example which is given in the text, then the subject a sprout). So it’s very important that we understand that in order to set a thesis, we have to have a subject - a basis upon which we are going to discuss a natural or autonomous existence, because if we are just talking about having or lack of autonomous existence, we have to have something which we are going to look at, something which we are going to focus upon when we start to engage in this reasoning. If we don’t have a basis of a discussion or argument, our argument is going to spiral out of control.

So here then we will look at the subject (in this case a sprout) and the thesis which is to be proven about that is its lacking autonomous existence or lacking a natural inherent existence. So that is what is to be proven then, and the reasoning, or the sign, which is going to be set forth, is that it is lacking that natural existence or autonomous existence because it is dependent arising. So here then, if we have a look, we have three things: We have the subject which is the sprout; that which is to be proven about it (or the thesis) – that it is lacking natural or autonomous existence; and then the sign, or the reason, for that – because it is a dependent arising. So the sprout then is something which is dependent arising and if we look at this in the simplest way then, it is something which comes into existence in dependence upon its causes and conditions. So as it is a subject which has come into existence in dependence upon a cause, in dependence upon a condition, then it is not something which is existing naturally in and of itself, because if it was existing in and of itself it wouldn’t rely on phenomena other than itself to come into existence because it would already be there, naturally or autonomously existing, it wouldn’t have to rely upon the various causes and conditions which bring about, or bring forth, its existence. Thus then the reasoning of dependent arising looked at in this way - that the sprout arises in dependence upon its causes and conditions - therefore proves that the sprout in and of itself is not existing in such an autonomous way, but rather has come about as a product of various causes and conditions.

The Praise to Dependent Origination

So then this reasoning of dependent arising is further elaborated upon in the prayer by Lama Tsongkhapa called The Praise to Dependent Origination within which he says that anything that has arisen in dependence upon a cause and a condition is something which lacks autonomous existence, and this understanding is one which is most beautiful and which needs no further elaboration. So here then if we look at the object of our analysis, if that object is one which is has arisen in dependence upon objects which are other than it, that is to say, causes and conditions, then it cannot exist in an autonomous, self-existing way. This is because if it were existing in such a way it wouldn’t need to rely upon, it wouldn’t need to depend upon, its causes and conditions which brought it into being.

Now the source of Lama Tsongkhapa’s words here are from the Rare Stalk sutra, within which it explains about how phenomena exist in a dependent way, and how viewing them in a way which is contrary to that, that is to say, in an autonomous way is then a false or a wrong way of viewing phenomena. So this goes on to tell us that something which arises in dependence upon causes and conditions must exist, because if it were a non-existent, we could not talk about it coming into existence, or we could not talk about it being generated, so this has to be something which exists. So if it is something that exists, how does it exist? So then it has come into existence in dependence upon its causes and conditions, so therefore it has dependently arisen. So it is an object which we can perceive, it has dependently arisen.

However then if we view this in a contrary way, that is to say, in a way which doesn’t accord with that reasoning, that is to say, we view it as something which is autonomously existent, then the third line tells us then, this object which we are viewing cannot possibly exist in such an autonomous way because it lacks such natural existence for the very reason that it has depended upon causes and conditions to come into existence, and that is proved then through looking at the subject and seeing how it has arisen in dependence upon its causes and conditions. So if it something that has depended upon others, that is to say, something other than it, to come into existence, then it cannot naturally or autonomously exist from its own side. So cognising this reality is said to be the mind or the awareness which destroys the father - that is to say, the cognition or the ignorance which understands phenomena in a wrong or in a false manner is like the father which gives rise to the children of the destructive emotions. So if one negates that, it is as if one has removed the source of all of the destructive emotions.

So dependent arising then - when we think of an object, if this object exists in dependence upon causes and conditions which are other than it, that is to say, it has arisen in dependence upon those other causes and conditions, then there is no way that this object can exist in and of itself, for the very reason existing in and of itself implies not depending upon other phenomena, or other causes and conditions or whatever, to come into existence. So if something is lacking this inherent existence, it is something which has arisen in dependence upon its causes and conditions, for no naturally existing or autonomous phenomena can come into existence in dependence upon its causes and conditions because at the very time of those causes and conditions, this object must already exist in the way we are perceiving it to exist, that is to say in the wrong way. So this understanding of emptiness then is mentioned by Aryadeva by saying that through understanding emptiness in dependence upon any object, once we have understood that – the empty nature of phenomena – at that moment we have uprooted the seed of the cycle of existence. The reason for this is given – because the seed of the cycle of existence is the confusion or the ignorance which grasps onto autonomous or true existence, so then through understanding the falseness or the wrongness of that nature, we have completely cast out that wrong view. Its analogy is of having plucked a seed from the earth – nothing can thereafter grow from that, so in a similar fashion, no other confusion can come through this mistaken view.

So as is further mentioned by Aryadeva in the Four Hundred Verses, for a person who doesn’t have much merit or positive potential, that individual is one for whom the mere speculation of emptiness is something which is very far away from their being, from their mind, in other words they are not really interested in this mode of phenomena. However for somebody who has a little more merit, let’s say that they have a doubt towards the mode of phenomena - ‘perhaps there is natural or autonomous existence, perhaps not’ – let’s say they have the doubt which is known as the doubt leaning towards the truth (or leaning towards the true meaning) that phenomena don’t have any inherent existence - for that person they acquire a tremendous amount of positive potential, just through that doubt. As Aryadeva mentions in his book, just having that doubt is enough to tear the three worlds asunder; that is to say, this reasoning, this doubt, which is tending towards the fact, is one which has the ability to not only remove, but to tear to shreds, any notion that the three worlds exist inherently. Thus one is able to remove through this the seed of the cycle of existence, and through that then the whole of Samsara for that individual becomes something which is withered and then finally non-existent.

So then we need to continually familiarise ourselves using reasons. Once we have established those reasons we can meditate upon the ultimate nature, or the lack of autonomous existence, of phenomena - this then is something which we need to prove to ourselves using the various reasonings. For example, when we start to contemplate, we need to have an understanding and then slowly get into the understanding of the nature, or the actual mode of existence, of phenomena. Then when we start to have queries about that, we can remove those using the various reasonings. For example, if something has autonomous existence then it cannot be something which arises in dependence upon something else because it’s autonomously existing. Another example we could use is that if it is a functioning thing, if it has natural or self-existence then it is not something which is brought about by a cause and an effect - but yet it is something that is brought about by a cause and an effect. So through using these jarring reasonings we can bring ourselves - we can continually familiarise ourselves with the actual mode of phenomena. For somebody then who has a doubt about the ultimate mode or the ultimate nature of phenomena, for that person we can set the syllogism and then through that we can lead them into that correct understanding. So if we have some doubt ourselves, then we can perhaps contemplate that the subject – whatever you like – is empty of any autonomous existence because it is a dependent arising or because it is lacking autonomous existence as singular or plural, and through these kinds of reasonings we can bring ourselves onto the path and using the former reasonings, continually familiarise ourselves with that.

Grasping onto inherent existence

So we have to understand how the mind grasps onto true existence. We have already spoken about how phenomena lack any kind of natural or autonomous existence, so we have to have a look then at the mind which grasps onto autonomous existence, that is to say, a mind which grasps onto inherent existence, and the trouble which is brought about through entertaining such a mind. So then this is clearly explained in Chandrakirti's book where he says that initially what happens is we have a view of self or 'I', and in dependence upon this we generate a feeling of possessiveness - for example 'my head', 'my arms', 'my possessions', 'my enjoyment' and so forth. Then in dependence upon that view of possessiveness, when we engage with various objects, what we find is then mind grasping onto the true pleasure which we perceive to be existing from the side of the object give rise to attachment towards such seemingly true or autonomous existence; and quite the reverse on the other side - for example when a seemingly antithesis for our pleasure comes before us, our reaction towards that is of repulsion, we want to get rid of that, we are completely averse to that object. When we have those minds then of attachment and aversion we have generated the destructive, or the disturbed, emotions in our being, or in our mind, and once they have arisen and we engage in actions in dependence upon those, we are developing negative karmic seeds within our mental continuum, or mind. Having brought about those negative karmic seeds, having planted those negative karmic seeds, the result of those are something which is definitely going to be experienced by us in the future.

As they are going to be experienced in the future, how are they going to be experienced then? They are going to be experienced as none other than existence within the cycle of existence. So Chandrakirti's book then tells us how initially sentient beings have a notion of an autonomously existing 'I'. That is to say, we've spoken a lot about how phenomena lack such autonomous existence or true, from its own side, existence and how phenomena (when we use the self as the object of our discussion) exists merely as a nominal designation on the five aggregates - so grasping onto it as something other than that is the first step; the second one is a sense of possessiveness on top of this 'I'; then with this idea of true possessiveness with regard the object we encounter, a sense of true pleasure or true discomfort arising from the side of those objects; and then our mind of attachment and then aversion directed towards those objects; and then in dependence upon that, the arising of the destructive emotions of attachment and aversion; and then in dependence upon that, the generation of karma; and then in dependence upon that, the whole of the cycle of existence.

So Chandrakirti goes on to mention that seeing helpless sentient beings in such a way one should strive to generate compassion and so forth. If we were to give a great or a long explanation of this process of the arising of the cycle of existence, we would give an explanation of the twelve links of dependent origination, but as we don't have time for that, this is a very abbreviated way of how sentient beings first grasp onto an 'I' and then through that the whole cycle of existence comes into being.

So then there is no phenomena for which dependent arising is not its actual mode of existence, there is no phenomena which does not arise in dependence upon other factors, be it causes and conditions or nominal designations. For example, Rinpoche was showing his glasses case and was saying 'is this long or is it short?' If you hold it up to the microphone you can say it's short in dependence upon the length of the microphone, whereas if you compare it with Rinpoche's finger then, it's long in comparison with Rinpoche's finger. So 'short' and 'long' - 'short' depends upon 'long' and vice versa; there is no object about which we can say 'this is long and there is nothing which is longer than this, this is the perfect long', or 'this is the perfect short, there is nothing shorter than that particular object'. For example with a table, can we say that the table in front of Rinpoche is high or is it short? In dependence upon the floor it's something quite high, but compared with the shelves and the tables behind, it is shorter. So we cannot say of an object that this is the perfect high or the perfect short.

Imputation from the side of another

This reasoning can also be applied to all other individuals, for example, we speak a lot about those whose are our friends, and those who are our enemies, but there is no naturally existing or autonomously existing 'enemy'. If we look in world history, we find two individuals, for example Adolf Hitler and Mao Tse-tung, so these two individuals - the majority of the people in the world would class them as their enemy, as somebody evil and somebody to be hated. For example if we concentrate on Mao Tse-tung then - the Tibetan and Chinese religious practitioners would then view him as the most evil man alive, he was their complete sworn enemy because it was he who was responsible for the destruction of all their religious practices and so forth. However if we look at it from a different angle, if we look at it from the angle of those in China who support the Communist party, or those for whom the Communist party holds a great sway, then for them, Mao Tse-tung is like their hero, somebody who is almost worshipped by them. So we can say that 'friend' and 'enemy' are opposites, there is nothing which is both of them. However, if we look from different perspectives then we can see that one individual can exist at the same time as both somebody's friend and somebody's enemy. So from one side then, the name 'enemy' is applied and from another angle the name 'friend' is applied to the same object. This is another opening into the perception that there is no object which exists in and of itself, rather it is just a mere imputation from the side of another.

So then let us take the example of an individual called 'John'. So let's say this character has a son, and has a brother and a wife and so forth. So then this person 'John' from his father's side is a son, and from his own child's side is a father, from his wife's relations' side he is an uncle and from his own relations' side he is a brother and so forth. So then if this individual 'John' was one who existed as a son in and of himself, then even his own son, his own relatives, his wife's relatives would all have to view him as such because he is naturally existing, or existing from his own side, as a son. And the same looking at it from the child's perspective - seeing John as a father - if he was naturally existing as a father then all those other beings (his father, his uncles, his relations) would all view him as 'father', so again this is something which is absurd. So through looking at other people's perspectives we can see how the labelling process provides us with a person existing in such a way, whether it be as a son, whether it be as a father, uncle and so forth. If we look at a woman - for example the woman has a child, so from the child's point of view, the woman is a mother, but from her mother's own point of view she is a daughter, and then from her relatives' point of view, she is a sister or an auntie. So with regard this woman, she is being seen in four completely different ways. If she were naturally or autonomously a mother then everyone should see her as such; if she were autonomously a daughter, again everyone should see her as such. But that doesn't occur, and the reason for that is because she doesn't exist naturally or inherently as any of those things but rather from the perspective of the mother, the child, the relative and so forth she is merely designated as mother, auntie, and so forth.

Establishing a phenomenon in dependence on its parts

So then we can look at a quotation from the sutra which says that just as a chariot comes into existence in dependence upon its parts and the labelling process, in such a way a human being is also known. So here when we talk about 'a chariot' we might have some idea of what a chariot is, but we have to remember that this was some years ago when the Buddha gave this sutra, so nowadays a modern interpretation might be 'a car'. So then if we take 'car' as the starting point then: A car is made up of all its components, if we separate out its components, we don't find something that we can point to as 'car'. For example if we were to point to the wheel and say 'this is the car', or look at the exhaust and say 'this is the car' - this is something absurd. So then when we put all the parts of the car together, we designate the name 'car' upon the certain formation of those parts and then that serves as the basis of designation of the label 'car'.

…five aggregates are not in and of themselves the self, we have to clarify this. If we look at the five aggregates - is the self the form aggregate? or the feeling aggregate? - and so forth and right down to the point of having the aggregate of consciousness. So here then the biggest doubt comes with regard this aggregate of consciousness because the Svatantrika Madhyamika then say that this is the self, this is the autonomously existing self. But the simple negation of that is that we don't talk about possessing something which is the 'I' in the way which we talk about possessing something which is a consciousness. For example we can easily say 'my consciousness' or 'my mind' but we don't say 'my I', do we? So how can the thing which is the 'I' in and of itself, that is to say, the consciousness, be possessed by something which is other than it? So that is what Rinpoche was saying - can you say 'my I' or 'my self', not as in 'me, myself' but rather as in my - other than my - like a glass - 'my glass', 'my self' kind of thing. So is it possible to say that? - and obviously that is not the case, and the antithesis then is that we can say with regard to consciousness, 'my mind' or 'my consciousness', so that kind of negates the fact that the consciousness in and of itself is the possessor, or that is to say, the 'I'.

With regard objects then we've looked at a car, but let's look at something which is more accessible to us at the present moment - if we look at this building and in particular this hall which we are now gathered in: This hall exists, we are enjoying the Dharma teaching within this hall, but if we were to say 'Where is the hall?' - can we say that it is in the northern wall, the eastern wall, the southern wall, the western wall? If it was, let's say, in the eastern wall - if we then look towards that wall, we could say 'this is the hall' and there would be something there which everybody would perceive as 'the hall'. But if we investigate then, if we look at that wall, we find it is a composite of bricks and cement and wood and glass and so forth, there is nothing there screaming out 'hall' from its own side.

So through these kind of reasonings we can come to understand that the way phenomena exist is just as a mere verbal designation, or as a concept, a name which is applied by a conceptual mind or a thought. So it is in dependence upon these reasonings that we can start to pass through the gateway into the correct understanding of emptiness or the correct understanding of the ultimate nature of phenomena. But you have to understand that this is just the beginning - we are just introducing those initial reasonings, those initial contemplations as a means to inspire you to come to terms with, or try to understand, what is meant by 'the object of negation', and then through that to try to get into the understanding of the way that phenomena actually exist. Because if we were just to say - 'Well, we can't find a hall in this place, there is a hall but we can't find it - I've realised emptiness!' - then that would be something that is quite absurd because the realisation of emptiness is something extremely difficult. A reason for that is that past masters, for example Dignaga, have set forth their various tenets, so we have the four tenets school system and so forth; so these are not idiots, these are individuals who knew what they were talking about. So this is just an introduction to the lines of reasoning which will eventually, if one pursues them, lead one to a correct understanding. It's not as if I've said 'this is emptiness and you've got to see this', and now you've got it because I've just told you this and you have accepted this.

The union of the two realisations of dependent arising and emptiness

So then returning to the root text, it reads:

One who sees the infallible cause and effect
of all phenomena in Samsara and nirvana
and destroys all false perceptions
has entered the path that pleases the Buddha.

So here then when we talk about 'seeing the infallible nature of cause and effect of all phenomena within Samsara and nirvana' - 'samsara' then refers to the cycle of existence within which one is bound by the fetters of the destructive emotions and the actions, or karma, which is generated thereby; 'nirvana' here then refers to an individual who has destroyed the enemy of the gross destructive emotions but not perhaps the subtle imprints, and has achieved the lesser nirvana - we could also include within that category the various pure lands and so forth - so all of these experiences, all these places, come about through the infallible nature of cause and effect. 'Cause and effect' here then - when all the causes are gathered for a result it is very difficult to stop that result coming. So it is also possible to remove negative causes, that is to say, negative karmas, through the various practices which are set forth and then through that avert such a drastic event, but when all the causes and conditions are in place, then it is very difficult to avert such an effect.

So with regard the cycle of existence, if one engages or encourages the play of the destructive emotions, and the cause of Samsara, that is to say the truth of origin, the truth of the cause of Samsara, it is very difficult to bring about an end to the cycle of existence. And with regard then to achieving the truth of final cessation - if one is an individual who is fully qualified in meditating upon the ultimate nature of phenomena, that is to say, the empty nature of phenomena, and then through that generates the truth of the path, then it will be very difficult to stop the truth of that - which is the truth of cessation. So then understanding the mode of the true nature of phenomena destroys all false perceptions. So here 'false perceptions' refers to grasping at objects as existing as something which they aren't, and then through removing that, generating the wisdom which cognises that as something other, that is to say, as naturally empty of that false mode of existence. Then that individual is one who is said to have entered the path that pleases the Enlightened One, or the Buddha.

The next stanza reads:

Appearances are infallible dependent origination;
voidness is free of assertions.
As long as these two understandings are seen as separate,
one has not yet realised the intent of the Buddha.

So here then there are two understandings - first of all that appearances (whatever appears to our five senses) are dependently originated, they have arisen in dependence upon something other than them; and then the voidness, or the empty nature, of that object. If they are seen as something lacking a single entity, that is to say, lacking a single unity, then one is perceiving them in a wrong fashion, because these two (what is written here as) two ways of existing of phenomena are in actuality one entity. So then seeing them as other that is not the intent of the Buddha, so whilst one is seeing them in such a way one has not, as the text says, realised the intent of the Enlightened One.

The next stanza reads:

When these two realisations are simultaneous and concurrent,
from a mere sight of infallible dependent origination
comes certain knowledge that completely destroys all modes of mental grasping.
At that time, the analysis of the profound view is complete.

So here then when one has these two realisations of dependent arising and emptiness arising simultaneously within one's mind - from just seeing the sight, as it is said here, of infallible dependent arising - through cognising the emptiness at the same time as that comes the 'certain knowledge' - 'certain' with regard to the actual mode of phenomena; and then through that understanding of the correct or the true way or natural way of existence comes the negation, or the removal, of the grasping onto autonomous existence; and then through this negation, one arrives at the state where the basis for the destructive emotions has been destroyed, so as the text says ' comes certain knowledge that completely destroys all modes of mental grasping'. So at that time then, one's analysis of the profound view, that is to say, the view of emptiness, is complete.

So the next stanza reads:

Appearances clear away the extreme of existence;
voidness clears away the extreme of non-existence.
When you understand the arising of cause and effect from the viewpoint of voidness,
you are not captivated by either extreme view.

So here then it's a rather unique presentation because if we look below the Prasangika Madhyamika philosophical school we find that the majority of the other schools use appearances to prove existence, but here we are clearing away that very notion of existence by appearance. The reasoning set forth here is that if something appears to our senses, or to our consciousness, at the moment that appears, we understand that object in a causal way, that is to say, it appears as an object because there is an object possessor, it appears in a certain way because of certain causes and conditions. So we are seeing that object as an object which is lacking any kind of autonomous existence. Thus just through the object appearing to our mind, any notion of the object existing in and of itself becomes, as the text reads, cleared away, or removed.

Then 'voidness clears away the extreme of non-existence' - so here then 'voidness clearing away the extreme of non-existence' - what is meant by that is in order for us to talk about the emptiness of something, that 'something' has to exist as the basis of our discussion, or analysis. So for example, if we use the example of a sprout - and a sprout being empty of inherent existence - the basis upon which we are going to prove, or set forth, emptiness is the sprout, and it is negating a false perception of that sprout, and through that, we negate that false perception. We cannot talk about the emptiness of a non-existent phenomena, for example saying the emptiness of the horn of a rabbit, or the emptiness of the child of a barren woman, because for that we don't have any basis on which to prove emptiness. If there is no basis upon which to prove the lack of or the emptiness of a false perception then we cannot possibly prove that. So then the text reads 'when you understand the arising of cause and effect from the viewpoint of voidness' (that is to say when you understand these two simultaneously) 'you are not captivated by either view.' 'Either view' here then referring to the extremes of permanence, or annihilation - 'permanence' referring to the ignorance or confusion which grasps at true or autonomous existence, or in simpler terms grasps on to the object which we are trying to negate; and then the extreme of 'annihilation' - which has cut away too much, too much so that there is no ability for the workings of cause and effect and so forth.

Encouragement to practice

The final stanza of the root text reads:

Son, when you realise the keys of the principles of the path,
depend on solitude and strong effort and quickly reach the final goal.

So this is an exhortation to engage in the practice of these three important parts of spiritual practice through depending upon living in a quiet - or living in solitude and then exerting great effort with the practice of these three important points. 'Quickly reaching the final goal' refers to achieving the various states of nirvana. And then we see in the last line in Tibetan (but it is the first line in English) - 'Son, when you realise the keys' - 'Son' here then is a term which refers to Ngawang Drakpa, who was a disciple of Lama Tsongkhapa, the author of this text, and because he was such a close disciple, Lama Tsongkhapa referred to him as being like his child.

Dedicating merit

So then we come to the conclusion of our time together. I have offered you this abbreviated commentary on The Three Principal Aspects of the Path and you have listened to this, so all of us have gathered some positive potential, or merit, and now it is extremely important to dedicate this merit. So what should be the object towards which we are dedicating this merit? So nowadays in the world there are a lot of problems, we are living in a very degenerate time, so it would be good if we could direct our positive potential towards the well-being of all other sentient beings, to the joy and bliss of others.

And with regard to the Buddhadharma - which Shantideva mentions in The Bodhicaryavatara is like the cool nectar which quells the heat of the sufferings of sentient beings - then for this holy Dharma to spread in the ten directions. And in order for the Dharma to spread in the ten directions depends upon those who are renowned as the upkeepers of the Dharma, so then we should pray for the long life of such luminaries as His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and the person who is in charge of all the FPMT centres, Lama Zopa Rinpoche, we should pray for his long life and also that all his exalted wishes, especially the building of the huge Maitreya statue, be accomplished quickly, because as you may know, Rinpoche has a lot of obstacles with the building of the statue, so it would be excellent if we could dedicate our positive potential towards fulfilling Rinpoche's wishes. So then in essence, dedicating the merit towards the spreading of the Dharma and then in addition to that to the benefit and the bliss of all sentient beings. So it's not that we recite a prayer and then instantly everything becomes fine, but rather it may help if we dedicate our positive potential in such directions, so it's an excellent practice if we do that. And as I mentioned earlier then, the dedication of merit is extremely important because without it, there is every chance that we could fall into some state of negative emotion and then through that, destroy our roots of virtue. So it's important then to continually make these roots of virtue and merit, and then to continually strive to recognise and then abandon negative states of mind.

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