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A compilation of advice about Dharma studies and practice
Advice from Khen Rinpoche Geshe Thubten Chonyi, resident teacher at Amitabha Buddhist Centre, Singapore. These teachings offer valuable advice related to our Dharma studies and practice: how to check whether our practices are Dharma, the need for study and constant reflection on the Buddha's teachings, and how to overcome our afflictions and problems so that we can truly benefit others. Transcribed, edited and prepared for publication by the editorial team at ABC, Singapore.

Daily Reflections is available as an ebook from online vendors.

Daily Reflections
i. Introduction and Biography
1. What is Dharma?
2. Studying the Dharma
3. Need for Reflection and Analysis
4. Overcoming Negative Emotions
5. Practising Pure Perception
6. Faith
7. Advice on Practice
8. Precious Human Rebirth
9. Death and Impermanence
10. Overcoming Attachment to the Body
11. Joyous Effort
12. Subduing Anger
13. Generating Bodhicitta
14. Wisdom Realizing Emptiness

The two wings of the bird 

Lama Tsongkhapa said in The Three Principal Aspects of the Path:

Although you practise renunciation and bodhi-mind,
Without wisdom, the realisation of voidness,
You cannot cut the root of samsara.
Therefore, strive to understand dependent origination.

Although there are many inconceivable benefits and advantages to developing the altruistic intention to become enlightened for the benefit of all sentient beings, if we do not develop the wisdom that realises selflessness or emptiness, there is no way we can free ourselves or others from samsara (or cyclic existence), to achieve the state of enlightenment. Therefore, developing bodhicitta alone is not enough. We must also develop the wisdom that realises emptiness, because of the reason given by Lama Tsongkhapa in the above verse.

The very root of samsara is the self-grasping ignorance: our grasping at the self of the person, conceiving the person as existing by way of its own character and our grasping at the self of phenomena, conceiving phenomena as existing by way of their own character.

In order to destroy these self-graspings, we must develop a mind that can counter such ignorance, realising how its mode of apprehension is mistaken and wrong. This is the only way to cut the root of samsara.

These two are called the method and wisdom aspects of the path. In order to fly, a bird needs a pair of wings. Having one wing alone is insufficient. In the same way, in order to achieve the state of full enlightenment, we need method and wisdom.

Dependent arising & lack of inherent existence

Lama Tsongkhapa said in The Three Principal Aspects of the Path:

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.

First, we need to understand how all phenomena including samsara and nirvana arise dependently, i.e. they came about through depending on something else. Understanding that, we then understand that things do not exist in the way they appear to our minds. When we look at phenomena, we grasp at them as being truly existent. We have to understand that phenomena do not exist in this way. With this understanding, we would have entered the path that pleases the Buddha.

A good understanding of dependent arising enhances our ascertainment of the law of cause and effect - the better our understanding, the greater will be our ascertainment of the law of cause and effect, that when we engage in positive actions, we will experience happiness; when we engage in negative actions, it will lead to suffering.

Through understanding how all things do not exist inherently, we will see how the law of cause and effect work and exist conventionally. It will also help our understanding of dependent arising, that conventionally there is such a thing as dependent origination.

“Not existing inherently,” means that all phenomena exist by depending on something else and on that basis are given labels. This understanding of dependent arising would enhance our understanding of the working of the law of cause and effect. Believing things exist truly contradicts this law, that causes lead to effects.

It is very problematic when we believe phenomena exist inherently from their own side. For example, if the seed exists inherently, then it is very difficult to explain how it can transform into a plant. When we assert that lower realms or good rebirths exist inherently, it is difficult to explain how we can move from one realm to another. When we say sentient beings exist inherently, it becomes difficult to explain how sentient beings can become buddhas. In the same way, if a baby or young person exists inherently, then it is very difficult to explain how that person will age.

We must not leave things at that but really try to figure them out in our minds. For example, when we assert that a youngster inherently exists, it is tantamount to saying that that he will never get old. We have to understand why there is a problem with such assertions and how that problem comes about.


Through the merit created by preparing, reading, thinking about and sharing this book with others, may all teachers of the Dharma live long and healthy lives, may the Dharma spread throughout the infinite reaches of space, and may all sentient beings quickly attain enlightenment.

In whichever realm, country, area or place this book may be, may there be no war, drought, famine, disease, injury, disharmony or unhappiness, may there be only great prosperity, may everything needed be easily obtained, and may all be guided by only perfectly qualified Dharma teachers, enjoy the happiness of Dharma, have love and compassion for all sentient beings, and only benefit and never harm each other.


A commentary on the emptiness section of the Seven Point Mind Training text

Mirror of Wisdom includes commentaries on the emptiness section of Mind Training Like the Rays of the Sun and The Heart Sutra.

Mirror of Wisdom
Part One: Introduction
Part One: Mind Training - Developing Bodhicitta
Part One: Mind Training - Developing Emptiness
Part One: Learning to Become a Buddha
Part Two: Commentary on the Heart Sutra

Part One: Introduction


I personally feel extremely fortunate to have this opportunity to teach the Heart Sutra, otherwise known as the Perfection of Wisdom or the Wisdom Gone Beyond. I also feel that you, too, as participants in this teaching, are very fortunate.

Why should we feel fortunate to be able to participate in this teaching? Firstly, this human life is extremely precious and very hard to achieve. Secondly, it is very rare that a buddha, an enlightened being, manifests as an emanation body in our world. Lastly, it is very difficult to come into contact with the Mahayana, or Greater Vehicle, teaching of Buddhism. Even though it is only under exceptional circumstances that all these factors come together, somehow we have been able to achieve it. We have this wonderful life with all its freedoms and potential for liberation and we also have the opportunity to follow the Greater Vehicle teaching of the historical Buddha, Shakyamuni.

The Heart Sutra is special because by putting its teaching into practice it is possible for us to attain liberation from samsara, the cycle of existence, and to become enlightened within our own lifetime. Even though this is a short sutra, its meaning is extremely profound and we find a wealth of information within just a couple of pages. Take the time to reflect upon and contemplate the meaning. When we recite the HeartSutra, we shouldn't rush our recitation as if skating on ice. Instead, we should try to understand what each word means and should not be afraid to ask those who know more than we do when our understanding fails us.

We will not gain much from the teachings if we listen with the sense of being coerced by some external force or authority. Only if we listen with our own inner spiritual enthusiasm can we listen fully. This enthusiasm flows from our understanding of the true value of the Dharma. When we ask, from the depths of our minds and hearts, what it is that we are truly seeking, then we can begin to realize the enormous value of spiritual practice in our present and future lives. Remember that meditation practice is far more important than simply reading Dharma texts. We shouldn't spend too much time reading books, but should try to meditate as much as possible so that we can internalize and actualize the meaning of the teaching within our mind-stream. It is primarily through meditation that deep experiences and realizations come. A poor person doesn't gain much simply by knowing how much a rich person owns. In the same way, an intellectual understanding of emptiness does not benefit us much if we don't put it into practice and meditate on it.

Let us cultivate our altruistic intention, seeking enlightenment for the sake of liberating all sentient beings, who pervade limitless space. It is with this kind of motivation, the motivation of bodhicitta, that we should participate in this teaching.


We have within us two types of buddha nature, or buddha lineage- our "naturally abiding buddha nature" and our "developable buddha nature." The naturally abiding buddha nature refers to the emptiness of our mind. As we engage in Dharma practice, we purify our negativities and accumulate wisdom and positive energy. It is through this practice that each of us can become a buddha. It is the emptiness of our infinite, all-knowing, or omniscient, mind that becomes the natural truth body of a buddha. This occurs when our mind is completely pure, free from defilements such as anger and pride and even of the imprints, or seeds, of those defilements.

Our developable buddha nature is the infinite potential of our mind to grow and develop spiritually through listening to, contemplating and meditating on the teachings. When our mind is completely free of the two obscurations-the obscurations to liberation (deluded emotions, such as anger and desire) and the obscurations to knowledge (ignorance born from dualistic perceptions)-it transforms into the all-knowing mind of a buddha.


Shakyamuni Buddha was born in India over two thousand five hundred years ago. After generating bodhicitta-the altruistic mind of enlightenment-for three countless aeons, he then thoroughly perfected the two types of accumulation that constitute the fruition of the entire Mahayana path, the accumulations of merit, or positive energy, and wisdom, or insight. Eventually, he became an enlightened being-a fully awakened person.

Buddha performed twelve great deeds, but the most important deed of them all was turning the wheel of Dharma. Buddha gave the three great discourses that are known as the three turnings of the wheel of Dharma. The first wheel was turned in Sarnath and concerned the Four Noble Truths (aryasatyas). This teaching was primarily aimed at those who have the mental dispositions of the Hinayana, or Lesser Vehicle, practitioner. The third turning of the wheel was at Shravasti and concerned the characteristics of buddha nature.

It was on Vulture's Peak, a mountain near Rajgir in the present day state of Bihar, where Buddha turned the second wheel of Dharma. His discourse concerned the Wisdom Gone Beyond (Prajnaparamita) sutras, which include the HeartSutra. Sutras and treatises deal with two types of subject matter-emptiness and the various levels of realization. The Heart Sutra explicitly presents emptiness as its subject matter and implicitly presents "the hidden levels of realization." The Heart Sutra is one of the most important of the Mahayana Prajnaparamita sutras. It is in the form of a dialogue between Shariputra, one of the Buddha's two closest disciples, and the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara. The most extensive version of the Prajnaparamita sutras contains one hundred thousand verses; another contains twenty-five thousand verses, and there's also an abbreviated version eight thousand verses long. But the most concise version of the Wisdom Gone Beyond sutras is the Heart Sutra, which contains the innermost essence of them all.


The sutras of Shakyamuni Buddha were not written down during his lifetime. However, when Buddha passed into parinirvana, final nirvana, there were many highly realized arhats and bodhisattvas who had great powers of mental retention, and they recorded everything the Buddha had taught about the Wisdom Gone Beyond.

Buddha passed into parinirvana, the state of solitary peace, during a spring full moon, on the fifteenth day of the fourth lunar month, according to the Tibetan calendar. It was later, during a summer retreat, that the great council was held, where as many as five hundred arhats assembled together to write down Buddha's teachings. During the great council, the three master narrators of Buddha's works collected all of the teachings together. They are now found in the three divisions of the Buddhist canon, called the Three Baskets (Tripitaka). Mahakashyapa recalled all Buddha's teachings on higher knowledge (abhidharma). Then Upali narrated all the teachings given by Buddha on moral, or ethical, discipline (vinaya). Finally, Ananda, the Buddha's personal attendant, recalled and narrated all Buddha's teachings on the discourses (sutras).

When they had gathered for the great council, all the arhats folded their yellow robes (chö-gö) together and placed them one on top of the other to make a throne. The principal narrators sat on this throne of robes and recalled all the teachings given by Buddha. When it was Ananda's turn to sit upon the throne, he faced in the direction where Buddha had taught the Prajnaparamita and the other sutras. He remembered Buddha so deeply that he wept as he began to narrate the sutras. Thus, when you read the words at the beginning of sutras such as the Heart Sutra, in "Thus I have heard...," the "I" refers to Ananda.


In Sanskrit, the Heart Sutra is called Bhagavati Prajnaparamitahrdayam. The Tibetans retained Sanskrit titles in their translations for two reasons. Firstly, it is believed the buddhas of the past, present and future give their teachings in Sanskrit, so by reading the title in Sanskrit, we plant the seeds of the source language of Dharma in our minds. The second reason is to help us remember the great kindness of the lotsawas, whose name comes from the Sanskrit term meaning, "eye of the world"-the great translators who originally translated this and other sutras from Sanskrit into Tibetan.

In order to understand the meaning of the Sanskrit title it is also helpful to know the Tibetan translation: Chom-den-de-ma she-rab kyi pa-rol-tu chin-pay nying-po. This line is actually an extremely concise statement of the doctrine of emptiness. It is regarded as the heart essence of the vast Prajnaparamita literature. Chom-den-de-ma relates to the word bhagavati in the title. Chom literally means "to destroy"; den means "to be in possession of remarkable qualities and realizations"; and de means "to go beyond." The Tibetan suffix -ma also relates to bhagavati and denotes that of the two aspects of Buddha's teaching, method (upaya) and wisdom (jnana), the Heart Sutra belongs to the mother-like, wisdom aspect.

The first part of the title signifies the state of nirvana beyond the two types of obscuration, which I mentioned before. Prajna means "wisdom" and paramita means "perfection" or "gone beyond." Thus Bhagavati Prajnaparamita can be translated as "the possession of the wisdom gone beyond." The Sanskrit word hrdayam relates to the Tibetan nying-po, which means "essence," translated here as "heart." So, the meaning of the title suggests that this sutra is the heart of all other Wisdom Gone Beyondsutras.


There are many kinds of wisdom but the Wisdom Gone Beyond sutra refers to the essential wisdom. This wisdom perceives the emptiness of true existence and thus the ultimate nature of all phenomena. It is with this wisdom that we can transcend ordinary levels of reality. Some other forms of wisdom include that arising from listening to teachings, the wisdom that arises from contemplating the teachings and the wisdom that arises from meditating on the teachings. These wisdoms can themselves be divided even further, but they are all only complementary or auxiliary wisdoms to help us generate and cultivate the wisdom that perceives the emptiness of true existence. Buddha said that it is because sentient beings have not realized that emptiness is the true nature of phenomena that they wander in the various states of cyclic existence. It is our delusions, particularly our ignorance, that keep us here in samsara.

The root of all ignorance is our continual grasping at a self and it is this grasping that perpetuates our suffering. The wisdom that perceives emptiness is the direct antidote to this self-grasping and, as such, is essential in order for us to become liberated from the compulsive cycles of existence. Once we directly and nakedly realize the final and ultimate mode of existence of phenomena, we case to create new causes to return to samsara.

The great Indian master, Aryadeva, in his treatise the Four Hundred Stanzas, clearly stated that even if one is not able to gain direct insight into the emptiness of all phenomena, merely by developing some positive doubt about the nature of reality, one can create a state of mind so powerful that it can shatter samsara. At the very least, if we think about and meditate on the meaning of emptiness every day, it will be of tremendous help in our spiritual growth. So, the Wisdom Gone Beyond refers to the wisdom that perceives emptiness, which itself is the very heart of wisdom.


This teaching focuses on the profound view of emptiness (shunyata), which we find in the Wisdom Gone Beyond sutras. This kind of teaching is meant for both those who have not yet realized the emptiness of true existence and those who have, to help them further their understanding. It is difficult to fully understand emptiness, but we must make every effort to do so. It is only through gaining this understanding and experience that we can liberate ourselves from the suffering of samsara, particularly the suffering of the three bad migrations, the unfortunate realms of rebirth.

If anyone thinks that by merely reciting a mantra they can liberate themselves from samsara, they are very mistaken. Likewise, simply cultivating great love, compassion and bodhicitta is not enough to completely remove delusion. Certainly, by reciting mantras and cultivating bodhicitta we can temporarily overcome manifest forms of delusion, but in order to eradicate delusion entirely, we must realize emptiness.

The way to generate an unmistakable understanding of emptiness in our own mind is by studying and listening to teachings on emptiness from qualified spiritual masters. However, the text states that emptiness is beyond words, expression or thought. How can we study something that is beyond words, expression or thought? What this statement means is that emptiness cannot be explained or even talked about without taking into consideration conventional phenomena as a basis or reference. There is no way to speak about emptiness directly, so we speak about it through its relation to certain phenomena.

Emptiness cannot be taught in the way that it exists for aryas in a state of meditative equipoise. Even they themselves cannot explain their experience to others. In the Sutra of the Ten Spiritual Grounds of Bodhisattva Realization (Dashabhumisutra), it is written that when aryas watch a bird fly they can see and understand the trail that it leaves in the sky. Most people can see only the bird, but aryas can somehow see the path that the bird is following. Similarly, aryas can see the trail-like emptiness of all phenomena.

We cannot deal with emptiness in isolation. We have to talk about the basis upon which emptiness is established. For example, a wave is empty of true existence. When we focus our mind on the wave we see that the wave and the ocean cannot be differentiated. We see that they are dependent upon one another. The wave has no truly separate existence. In the same way, the experience of emptiness is non-dual, and in this state of non-duality our mind does not see the wave, only its emptiness. The wave then becomes the basis upon which emptiness as its ultimate characteristic is established.

Everything exists dependently upon everything else. Nothing exists independently in and of itself. Therefore, everything is empty of inherent existence. Every phenomenon is empty of true existence, therefore emptiness is the ultimate nature of everything that exists.

Emptiness is a characteristic that all phenomena share. Like the wave, the self, or "I," is also a basis, and emptiness is its characteristic. Emptiness is a very profound reality. We can understand this from the life story of the great master Lama Tsongkhapa, founder of the Gelug school of Buddhism. When he was in Central Tibet, he was deeply involved in intensive meditation. I mentioned before how once, while meditating on emptiness in the assembly of monks he was so absorbed that he didn't notice the other monks leave the assembly hall. I also explained how Lama Tsongkhapa reached such a high level of attainment that he was able to meet with the tantric deity of wisdom, Manjushri, and receive teachings directly from him. Remember how Manjushri informed Lama Tsongkhapa that he had not yet fully realized emptiness and that in order to do so he needed to accumulate more positive energy, so Lama Tsongkhapa went into retreat at Wölka and practiced intensive purification and accumulation, doing innumerable prostrations and mandala offerings.

Realizing emptiness is no easy task. Even if we spend our entire life practicing meditation and reciting mantras, if we do not understand emptiness we cannot be liberated. We must realize that all the suffering we experience comes from the delusions in our minds. To cut through these delusions, we need the weapon of the wisdom that perceives emptiness.

Lama Tsongkhapa has stated that when we have made ourselves suitable recipients through cultivating the common paths or practices, we will be able to enter confidently into the tantric vehicle-the point of entry for the achievement of enlightenment. Before we receive a tantric empowerment, there are three conditions that are required of us. First, we must have the sincere wish to be liberated. Second, we must have generated the altruistic mind of enlightenment. And third, we must have the wisdom that perceives emptiness.

Part Two: The Meaning of the Text


"Thus I have heard. At one time the Lord was sitting on Vulture's Peak near the city of Rajgir."

It was out of Buddha's own deep experiences and realizations and his infinite compassion for all sentient beings that he gave his teachings. Buddha is an incomparable master. His body, speech and mind are completely pure of defilements and even the imprints of defilements. His body, speech and mind are the result of completion and perfection in the process of the accumulation of excellence, that is, of positive energy and wisdom. It is our knowledge of Buddha's qualities and realizations that helps us develop unshakable faith, confidence and trust in him and his abilities.

The English translation of the text refers to the Buddha as "Lord." In the original Sanskrit this word is bhagavan, but it is more profound in the Tibetan translation, chom-den-de. As we mentioned earlier, the word chom literally means "to destroy." It is saying that Buddha has destroyed all defilements and the imprints of defilements. Den means "to possess excellent qualities and realizations"; de means to "go beyond" or "transcend." What this tells us is that in his enlightenment, Buddha has transcended the two extremes, which can refer to either the two types of obscurations or the two extremes of cyclic existence and solitary peace. This is why the Buddha is called chom-den-de. He is the destroyer of defilements, the possessor of excellent qualities and one who has gone beyond ordinary levels of reality.

The honorific term bhagavan is also used to refer to other holy people, so the translators added the word de to the original Sanskrit to indicate that this wasn't just an ordinary bhagavan but a truly transcendent one.

The city name of Rajgir literally means "the king's palace." This was where King Bimbisara, one of the Buddha's great royal patrons, lived. There are two interpretations given to the origin of the name of Vulture's Peak. Some people thought that the rock formations at the site looked like a flock of vultures. Others say that when Shakyamuni Buddha was teaching the Prajnaparamita sutras, the great bodhisattvas took the form of vultures when they came to receive the teaching.


"He was accompanied by a large community of monks as well as a large community of bodhisattvas."

This tells us something about the excellent assembly, those who were witnesses to Buddha's teaching. This teaching was explicitly intended for bodhisattvas and those with bodhisattva inclinations, even though there were also shravakas (pious hearers) as well as ordinary monks among the gathering.

Emptiness cannot be taught to everyone, simply because not everyone has the capacity to understand it. As we find mentioned in the great Indian master Chandrakirti's work, Supplement to the Middle Way, a suitable recipient of the teaching of emptiness is someone who has already acquainted himself or herself with emptiness or teachings on emptiness and who is especially enthusiastic. There is an inner sign, an inner joy of the heart, which is sometimes expressed by tears rolling down the cheeks or by goose-bumps on the skin. Such a person has the right kind of mind to be able to comprehend the emptiness of true existence. Furthermore, based on their acquaintance with the subject of emptiness, such persons can grow spiritually to understand even deeper levels of realization.

The English translation of the text simply refers to a large community of monks and bodhisattvas. "Monk" is the common translation of the Sanskrit word bhikshu, but bhikshu can refer to people of varying levels of spiritual accomplishment. It can mean a person who has received full ordination, who relies upon the food that is given in alms and who enthusiastically engages in the practices of abandonment and meditation. There are also arya, or superior, bhikshus- those who have gained direct experience of emptiness. This third kind of bhikshu is one who is already in a state of liberation and has become an arhat-a full destroyer of delusion. The core disseminators of Buddha's teaching were this third kind of member of the community of bhikshus-bhikshus who had already attained this profound realization.

In the eight thousand verses of the Wisdom Gone Beyond sutra, we find that in the last community of monks before Buddha's death, all except one were arhats-completely free from contamination, defilement and delusion. The one exception was Ananda, the Buddha's personal attendant. Fortunately, Ananda achieved arhatship shortly before the great council was held.

The text states that the Buddha was also accompanied by "a large community of bodhisattvas." The Tibetan translation of the Sanskrit word bodhisattva is jang-chub sem-pa." Jang literally means "pure of faults and defilements." Chub means "internally realized." Sem-pa is Tibetan for sattva. Sem means "to think" and pa means "to be brave." Taken together, the term literally translates to "hero." So a bodhisattva is a pure, realized person who thinks about the welfare of others and who works courageously towards the attainment of enlightenment for the sake of all, bravely cutting through the forces of negative actions.

Another interpretation of the word sattva is "one who is heroic, courageous and patient in contemplation of the two truths-the conventional truth and the ultimate truth." In his Abbreviated Sutra, Buddha himself explained that sattva means "one who is generous, has great wisdom, is full of energy, has entered the path of Greater Vehicle Buddhism and has put on the armor of patience and tolerance and thereby combats the defiled states of mind."

In the Tibetan text we find the phrase thab-chig-tu zhug-pa. This has been translated as "accompanied by" and refers to how people are seated or gathered together. Zhug-pa means "to sit" or "be together," while thab-chig-tumeans "a form of discipline." Thus, the termthabchig- tu zhug-pa means that the assembly was sitting together in the same disciplined state.


"On that occasion the Lord was absorbed in a particular concentration called the profound appearance."

The words "on that occasion" are not simply a casual reference to the time when this teaching was given. It means an auspicious confluence of events-a point in time when everyone's positive energy ripened and they became fully prepared to receive this teaching.

"Profound" refers to profound emptiness and "appearance" here refers to the wisdom that perceives emptiness. Therefore, Buddha was involved in single-pointed concentration on the ultimate nature of reality, which was free from both coarse and subtle forms of laxity (drowsiness) and excitement (distraction). There isn't a single moment when Buddha isn't absorbed in this kind of meditative state. Lama Tsongkhapa said that this is because Buddha is constantly aware of everything that exists. In him, mindfulness is ever-present.

However, Buddha is described as doing all sorts of other things such as eating, sleeping and so on. So, what is his state during these activities? It is said that a buddha doesn't need sleep. Nor is he ever hungry or thirsty. When a buddha appears thirsty, it is just because of the nature of our own perceptions. When Buddha went begging for alms, he wasn't really in need of food but was trying to inspire benefactors to create positive energy by giving and thus increase their own merit (punya). A buddha doesn't need to eat food because he already enjoys the food of concentration.


"Meanwhile the bodhisattva, the great being, the noble Avalokiteshvara was contemplating the profound discipline of the perfection of wisdom. He came to see that the five aggregates were empty of any inherent nature of their own."

The sutras were not necessarily spoken word by word. There are different kinds of sutras-blessed sutras, permitted sutras and spoken sutras-composed of words blessed, permitted or spoken by Buddha. These three kinds of teaching are not seen as contradictory and are all considered as teachings of Buddha. The Four Noble Truths constitute actual words spoken by Buddha himself, as do most of the teachings in the Prajnaparamitasutras.

The Heart Sutra is generally considered to be a sutra presented through Buddha's permission and so it is a permitted sutra. But within the text we find passages that seem to dwell within the two other kinds, as when Buddha says, "well said, well said" to Avalokiteshvara. It is also a blessed sutra in the sense that Buddha blessed Shariputra and gave him the confidence to ask his question.

We find innumerable bodhisattvas among the ten levels of bodhisattva realization. There are the eight close bodhisattva disciples of Buddha, for example. But of them all, it is Avalokiteshvara, Vajrapani and Manjushri who are considered to be the most important. Manjushri is the embodiment of the highest form of wisdom-that which perceives the emptiness of all phenomena. The unique quality of Vajrapani is that he is the embodiment of the enlightened power of all the buddhas.

The word "noble" used in reference to Avalokiteshvara is a translation of the Sanskrit word arya, which has often been translated as "superior" or "transcendental" being. Avalokiteshvara, the embodiment of the compassion of all the buddhas, always keeps his eyes open to all sentient beings in order to liberate them from suffering and the causes of suffering and to endow them with happiness and the causes of happiness. Bodhicitta is the altruistic mind of enlightenment and the bodhicitta of Avalokiteshvara is said to be cowherd-like. Just as a cowherd doesn't rest until all the cows are safe in their shelter, so too has Avalokiteshvara promised that he will not rest until he has established all sentient beings in the mind of enlightenment. He is special because he represents compassion in its most intense and ultimate form.

Avalokiteshvara's compassion is extended infinitely to all sentient beings. To him, all are equal rather than being separated into friends, adversaries and strangers. He is able to manifest simultaneously in innumerable forms. His mind is omniscient, understanding precisely and distinctly each and every aspect of phenomena and the qualities and characteristics of the paths and grounds leading to liberation and enlightenment. The text demonstrates that Avalokiteshvara understands that the five aggregates-the principal faculties that make up a sentient being-are all empty of true existence.


"Through the power of the Buddha, the venerable Shariputra approached the noble Avalokiteshvara and asked him, 'How should a son of the noble lineage proceed when he wants to train in the profound discipline of the perfection of wisdom?'"

Thus, absorbed in meditative concentration, Shakyamuni Buddha blessed and inspired his disciple Shariputra to ask Avalokiteshvara this question; that is, how should a person who wishes to follow the Mahayana path leading to enlightenment train his or her mind? "A child of the noble lineage" means someone who has the inclination of a bodhisattva or of Mahayana Buddhism. A Mahayana practitioner with keen intelligence and sharp mental faculties realizes emptiness first and then cultivates love, compassion and bodhicitta, the altruistic mind of enlightenment. One with slightly lower faculties cultivates love, compassion and bodhicitta first, and then studies and realizes emptiness.


"The noble Avalokiteshvara replied to the venerable Shariputra, 'Whatever son or daughter of the noble lineage wants to train in the profound discipline of the perfection of wisdom should consider things in the following way. First, he or she should clearly and thoroughly comprehend that the five aggregates are empty of any inherent nature of their own....'"

Avalokiteshvara's answer tells us that from the Buddhist point of view, men and women are equal in being able to follow spiritual practice and gain spiritual realizations. Furthermore, every phenomenon-the house in which we live, the environment, in fact everything around us-has two truths, conventional and ultimate. When we shift the focus to ourselves, we see that we also have conventional and ultimate aspects. Once we know about the emptiness of forms, we can apply the same reasoning to the other four aggregates that make up our psycho- physical personality-feeling, discriminative awareness, compositional factors and consciousness, which are also empty of true or inherent existence.

The crucial word here is "inherent." Of course the aggregates exist in a conventional sense but they do not exist in and of themselves. That is, they do not possess an objective existence. The line of philosophical reasoning is as follows. If a phenomenon were to exist in and of itself, it would not depend upon causes and conditions. If things did not depend upon causes and conditions, it would mean that results could occur without causes, which is impossible.


"Form is empty but emptiness is form. Emptiness is not other than form and form is not other than emptiness. Similarly, feelings, discernments, formative elements and consciousness are also empty. Likewise, Shariputra, are all phenomena empty. They have no defining characteristics; they are unproduced; they do not cease; they are undefiled, yet they are not separate from defilement; they do not decrease, yet they do not increase."

In the text we find that form is emptiness and emptiness is form. In other words, form is not different from emptiness and emptiness is not different from form. In his answer to Shariputra, Avalokiteshvara says that all phenomena are empty. This does not mean that nothing exists. What it does mean is that all phenomena are empty of something. That "something" is inherent, or objective, existence. The Heart Sutradoesn't explicitly mention inherent or objective existence-it simply states that "form is empty"-but this is the true meaning of emptiness.

The text describes eight characteristics of emptiness, one of these being that phenomena have no defining characteristics. What this means is that phenomena have no inherently existing defining characteristics. So, when we contemplate this section of the Heart Sutra, if we conclude that nothing is produced and nothing ceases to exist, we are mistaken. The reality of phenomena is created by our perceptions and consciousness. Phenomena do exist and we cannot deny them. It is only inherent existence that does not exist. We know this because inherent existence is not apprehended to exist by any valid perception or state of mind. It is from this point of view that we speak of the self of phenomena and the self of a person as not existing.

"They are undefiled" means that even afflictive emotions and the afflictions of delusions do not inherently exist. This is precisely the reason why we can rid ourselves of them. Everybody who is not free of defilements possesses delusions, which means that all of us are defiled. But where are these defilements? Do they have form or are they formless? If they had form it would be easy to take them out and remove them, but our defilements do not have form. We can't throw them away because they are a part of our consciousness. Yet these defilements cannot contaminate the absolute nature of our mind. If they did, then when we removed them we would also be removing our mind. Then, when we reached enlightenment, we would be without consciousness altogether.

Therefore, we must understand that our defilements and our consciousness are not inseparable. When our clothes get dirty, the dirt is not the same as the cloth. When we wash our clothes it is the dirt that comes out. Our clothes remain intact. So remember, when we get rid of defilements we are not getting rid of our mind. When we engage in the activities of accumulating positive energy and wisdom, thus purifying our defilements, what we are really doing is purifying defilements onthe mind rather than inthe mind.

In the line "yet they are not separate from defilement," we see how even the liberated side of phenomena, the freedom from defilements, does not inherently exist. Where it says "they do not decrease," we see that we have to work to develop qualities to decrease defilements or negativities. They do not diminish in and of themselves. The eight characteristics of emptiness presented here describe the "three doors to liberation." The first one presents emptiness as the door to liberation. The next five characteristics represent what we call "signlessness" (tsen-ma me-pa) as the door to liberation. The last two characteristics represent "aspirationlessness" (mön-pa me-pa) as the door to liberation.


In Mahayana Buddhism, we present five progressive levels, or paths, of spiritual realization by which an aspiring bodhisattva travels towards enlightenment-the paths of accumulation, preparation, seeing (insight), meditation and no more learning.

On the first two paths, those with bodhisattva inclinations are primarily engaged in listening to and contemplating the teachings on emptiness. As they progress along the paths of seeing and meditation, they begin cultivating the awareness of emptiness that arises through meditation. The obscurations to liberation and the obscurations to omniscience are the two main types of mental affliction that obstruct one's attainment of buddhahood and each of the five paths acts as an antidote to these obscurations.

The path of accumulation. Within the path of accumulation we find three levels-the great, the intermediate and the initial, or small. At first, practitioners simply listen to the teachings. They do contemplate to some degree, but mainly they just listen. On the great, or advanced, level of the path of accumulation, it is possible for certain practitioners to actually ascertain or realize emptiness, at least conceptually. It is on this path that one gains the two collections of merit (virtuous actions) and wisdom. Although one has not yet gained any real clarity in relation to emptiness, one is clearly accumulating the necessary causes for that clarity.

The path of preparation. There are four levels on this path-heat, peak, patience and supreme mundane qualities, or supreme Dharma. On these levels, practitioners comprehend emptiness conceptually. At the heat level, the meditator attains a clear conceptual awareness of emptiness within a meditative stabilization. The peak level marks a point at which the virtuous roots that have been cultivated previously will no longer decrease or be lost. At the patience level the meditator develops familiarity with the concept of emptiness and overcomes fear of it. When practitioners have reached this level and beyond, they are safe from falling into the three bad migrations, the unfortunate states of rebirth. At this stage, based upon their own valid reasoning, their conceptual understanding of emptiness is so powerful that they gain a deep understanding of the infallibility of the law of karmic actions and result. Even though they may have already-accumulated negativities, they cease to create fresh ones. At the level of supreme mundane qualities, the cognizing subject no longer appears while one is in meditative equipoise. Subject and object do appear, but the meditator no longer consciously perceives them. The path of preparation is also called the connecting path, as it connects us to the path of seeing.

The path of seeing. As one progresses on the four levels of the path of preparation, one moves onto the path of seeing. It is while the meditator is on this path that he or she directly experiences emptiness for the first time. Here, one does not create any new karmic actions to cause rebirth in samsara. There is a quote-"seeing the truth, there is no precipitation"-which means that when one sees the ultimate truth of emptiness, just as a person with good eyesight will not walk off a cliff, one does not create any new karmic action that will precipitate one to be reborn into cyclic existence. The path of seeing is the first of the ten spiritual grounds of the bodhisattva, the remaining nine of which lie within the path of meditation.

The path of meditation. On the path of meditation, when practitioners are in the state of meditative equipoise on emptiness, they experience it directly, with no duality whatsoever.

The path of no more learning. This means that we literally have no more to learn. We have reached the state of perfection. We have reached enlightenment.


The first thing with which we have to deal in our meditation on emptiness is identification of what is called in Buddhism "the object of negation" or "the object of refutation." The object of negation is the concept of the inherent existence of phenomena and the subsequent grasping at the existence of phenomena. As we find in the great bodhisattva Shantideva's Guide to a Bodhisattva's Way of Life, "Without coming into contact with the inherent thing, one cannot comprehend the absence of that thing." This means that without precisely identifying and recognizing the concept that you are refuting (the object of negation), you are not going to understand emptiness. After all, emptiness is established by way of refuting something. That something is inherent existence.

The main purpose of meditating on emptiness is to be able to counteract grasping at inherent existence. This grasping is the other object of negation. If we don't understand what is being refuted, then even if we try to meditate on emptiness, our meditation will not counteract our grasping. We will be shooting an arrow without knowing where the target is.

When we talk about the object of negation we are speaking of two kinds-one that exists and one that does not. To be able to identify the two types of object of negation, we have to check our perception and the habitual way we perceive things. For example, how do we perceive the self to exist? We perceive it to exist in and of itself. This idea of the inherent existence of the self is what we call a "non-existent object of negation"; our grasping at self is an "existent object of negation." We perceive and then we grasp. We use two different methods to deal with these two types of object of negation. We use authentic scriptural quotations to deal with the object of negation that does exist and valid reasoning to deal with the one that does not. Thus, we should try to imagine how we individually perceive the self to exist and where we perceive it as existing. Once we recognize the fallibility of the idea of a self, it is easy to recognize how we grasp at other phenomena. But in order to be able to understand the nonexistence of the self, we first have to know what we mean by the term "inherent existence." What are the criteria by which we judge whether something exists inherently? First, it should exist independently; second, it should not rely upon causes and conditions. Does the self exist this way? Upon analysis we can see that it does not. The self exists dependently. It is dependent upon the collection of our five physical and mental aggregates. This is the first level of how to meditate on emptiness.


"This being the case, Shariputra, in terms of emptiness there exist no forms, no feelings, no discernments, no formative elements, no consciousness..."

Remember that Avalokiteshvara is explaining how to train the mind in the perfection of wisdom. The key point is that while we are on the path of meditation, what exists for us in the state of meditative equipoise on emptiness is just emptiness and nothing else. Conventional phenomena do not exist for that kind of wisdom. We do not even perceive the basis upon which emptiness is established. We perceive emptiness directly, nakedly and non-conceptually.

When one first begins to meditate on emptiness, one also perceives the conventional phenomena that are the basis upon which emptiness is established. Eventually, our perceptions become like "water poured into water"-undifferentiable from one another. We no longer experience any duality existing between our perceptions and they become of "one taste." This is why we say that all conventional phenomena have been exhausted for aryas in the state of meditative equipoise on emptiness.

What Avalokiteshvara means when he says "in terms of emptiness there exist no forms" is that conventional forms do not exist in this state. It is common for people to fall into the extreme of nihilism and misinterpret this as meaning that forms do not exist at all. This is as mistaken a view as the extreme of absolutism, or eternalism. If a person is not receptive or "ripened" they can easily misconstrue the meaning of emptiness.

There is a story of a mahasiddha, a great Indian master, who took shelter from the midday heat in the carcass of an elephant. The elephant's insides had been eaten by worms and its body was empty like a cave. The mahasiddha meditated here and gained direct experience into emptiness. One day, the local king invited the mahasiddha to his palace and asked him to teach about emptiness. The mahasiddha entered a deep meditative state and started pointing at things saying, "That doesn't exist, this doesn't exist, they don't exist." He wasn't denying the existence of phenomena; what he meant was that nothing exists inherently, in and of itself. But his audience completely misunderstood him. The king became very angry and sentenced the mahasiddha to death.

Some time later, the king invited another great master to his palace. This master first spoke about basic things, such as the practice of refuge and the law of karma and its results. Eventually, he began to guide the king and his attendants into an understanding of emptiness. Because of his great merit, the king was able to gain direct insight into emptiness through these teachings. But when he entered into meditative equipoise on emptiness, he couldn't help repeating the first mahasiddha's statements, "That doesn't exist, this doesn't exist, they don't exist." It was then that he understood how truly realized the first mahasiddha had been. (Now, you might ask, if the mahasiddha was so realized why did he have to die in such a miserable way? This has something to do with the infallible law of karmic action and result. When unwanted problems come to us we must understand that this is the result of our own negative karmic actions, but we should not conclude that the practice of Dharma doesn't work.)

Just as forms do not exist for an arya's wisdom in meditative stabilization on emptiness, so the remaining aggregates-feelings, discriminative awareness, compositional factors and consciousness do not exist for such wisdom. When we read this statement we must understand that we are not denying the conventional existence of the five aggregates but just their inherent existence. We can see that the aggregates exist dependently, arising as they do from certain causes and conditions.


" eyes, no ears, no noses, no tongues, no bodies, no minds; no visual forms, no sounds, no smells, no tastes, no tactile sensations, no mental objects. There exist no visual elements, no mental elements, and no elements of mental consciousness."

As you recite the Heart Sutra and come across these lines, you must understand that what is being stated here is that none of these things exist for the wisdom of an arya in a state of meditative equipoise on emptiness-especially on the path of meditation. In the Heart Sutra, we find eighteen elements of phenomena. There are six objects, six faculties and six perceptions, all of which are empty of true existence. Emptiness pervades all phenomena. For example, when we are directly perceiving the emptiness of the true existence of eyes, we are only perceiving the basis upon which the eyes exist, but not the eyes themselves.

Visual forms, sounds, smells, tastes, tactile sensations and mental objects are the six objects, or objective conditions, of the six faculties. The six faculties are eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body and mind. Visible form is an object of eye consciousness, sound is an object of ear consciousness, smell is an object of nose consciousness, taste is an object of tongue consciousness, touch is an object of tactile consciousness and thought is an object of mental consciousness. The six faculties are the basis for the arising of a particular consciousness. For example, the eyes are the basis for the consciousness that perceives visual forms.

Sometimes we speak of the twelve sources. These refer to the six objects and the six faculties combined. The twelve sources give rise to the six perceptions of seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, touching, and thinking. "Source" is the English translation of the Tibetan word kyeche, meaning "that which gives rise to" and "door through which things are perceived," as well.


"There exist no ignorance and no exhaustion of ignorance, no aging and death and no exhaustion of aging and death."

This sentence refers to the chain of twelve dependent links, or the chain of dependent origination. This describes the process by which we are continually falling into cyclic existence. This chain or sequence of events begins with 1) ignorance and follows with 2) karmic formation, 3) consciousness, 4) name and form, 5) sensory fields, 6) contact, 7) feelings, 8) attachment, 9) grasping, 10) becoming, or existence, 11) birth and 12) aging and death.

Buddha has pointed out the need for us to understand and meditate on the twelve dependent links in both sequential and reverse order. In sequential order we are seeing the afflictive side of phenomena -that which pulls us into cyclic existence, or samsara. In reverse order we see the unafflictive side of phenomena-that which liberates us from cyclic existence. Contemplating the twelve links in sequential order, we gain insight into the limitations of cyclic existence; contemplating them in reverse order, we learn how to liberate ourselves from cyclic existence.

1) Ignorance. The first link is ignorance (ma-rig-pa). Ignorance is the root cause of cyclic existence. It misperceives the self of a person and the reality of all phenomena and causes us to grasp at ego and material things. But the wisdom that perceives selflessness sees the emptiness of the self and all other phenomena. Ignorance and selflessness contradict each other. It is very important to individually focus on our own ignorant grasping at self and to know that this root delusion gives rise to all others.

All problems stem from this root-the ignorant grasping at self, or I. This is the real troublemaker in our lives. To be able to fight the tendency to grasp at a self we have to prepare our minds through study and practice of the three higher trainings-training in higher ethics, higher concentration and higher wisdom.

Training in higher ethics lays a firm, solid foundation on which to build our other practices. Monks and nuns have their own ethics to keep, but even people who haven't taken any vows should refrain from engaging in negative actions, particularly the ten negative actions.

Having laid a foundation of ethics, one can then practice in the higher training of concentration. Just as a woodcarver needs strong arms to cut wood, we need to develop the strong arm of concentration through mindfulness and introspection. Without mindfulness and introspection, our meditation will be very weak and ineffectual. Once we have cultivated concentration, we need to cultivate wisdom, particularly the wisdom perceiving emptiness. This is our superior weapon; with it we can cut through the grasping at self. It is our woodcutter's ax, with which we can chop through our dense forest of ignorance. All of our spiritual activities, no matter what they may be, should be geared towards destroying our habitual grasping at self and cultivating the wisdom perceiving emptiness so that we can experience ultimate reality.

In the pictorial representation of the wheel of life, ignorance is depicted as a blind man, walking without any guide. Such a person is always uncomfortable and confused wherever he or she goes. Ignorance prompts us to create karmic actions that then become the cause of all our problems and suffering. Just as a blind person moving towards a precipice is certain to fall, whatever actions spring from ignorance are bound to bring about problematic results. Buddha made the statement, "Because this exists, that arises." In the same way, because ignorance exists, karmic formation naturally follows.

2) Karmic formation. The second link is karmic formation (du-che kyi lä). Karmic actions arise out of ignorance and are capable of precipitating our rebirth into samsara. There are two kinds of ignorance, that pertaining to the infallibility of the law of karmic actions and result and that pertaining to the ultimate reality of phenomena. Ignorance of the law of karma motivates us to do negative, or nonmeritorious, actions. These actions ripen in cyclic existence, especially in the three unfortunate states of rebirth-the hell, hungry ghost and animal realms.

Ignorance related to misunderstanding the ultimate nature of reality can make us do karmically positive or neutral actions. Positive actions stemming from this type of ignorance can ripen within fortunate states of rebirth-in the human, demigod or deva realms. In the drawing of the wheel of life, this link is depicted as a potter rotating his wheel. It is karma that spins and molds us in cyclic existence.

3) Consciousness. The third link is consciousness (nam-she). There are two kinds of consciousness-causal and resultant. Causal consciousness exists with the performance of a karmic action. As that action- good or bad-comes to an end, it leaves an imprint on our consciousness. The consciousness that receives that imprint is the causal consciousness. Resultant consciousness is activated by an imprint, or latency, that was deposited earlier on. The consciousness that enters the womb of a mother is an example of this. It is the consciousness that arises as a result of certain karmic actions in the past.

Say, for example, that out of ignorance we kill someone and don't purify that action. The action leaves an imprint on our consciousness, which thus becomes a causal consciousness. Some day this imprint will precipitate an unfortunate rebirth; the consciousness that goes towards that conception is the resultant consciousness.

In the wheel of life, consciousness is shown as a monkey. When a monkey inside a house with windows on all four sides looks out each window it sees different views, but it is still the same monkey.

Similarly, it is our single consciousness upon which imprints of our karmic actions are deposited and then activated at different times to bring about certain results. This is how we are born into various states in cyclic existence.

4) Name and form. The fourth link is called "name and form" (mingzug). Those born from the womb (as opposed to those born through miraculous power) possess the five aggregates that constitute the psycho-physical personality. The first aggregate is "form." The remaining four-feelings, discriminative awareness, compositional factors and consciousness-are called "name" because they do not have the concrete quality of form. Form is considered to begin when the consciousness enters the womb and absorbs into the mixture of sperm and egg. In the wheel of life, the dependent link of name and form is depicted as a boat. Just as we need a boat to cross a river, in order to cross over into a physical being in cyclic existence we depend on name and form.

5) Sensory fields. The fifth link is called "origination" or "sources" (kyeche). As I mentioned before, there are twelve sense fields altogether- one for each of the six senses and one for each of the objects of the six senses, including mind. There are eye and visual forms seen, ear and sounds heard and so forth. In the wheel of life, this dependent link is represented by a fortress because our senses encompass and concretize our experience of the world.

6) Contact. The sixth link is called "contact" or "touch" (reg-pa). It refers to the interaction of an object, a sense faculty and a consciousness. Before this contact, although our faculties are fully developed, we cannot perceive anything or distinguish one thing from another. Only when there is a union of these three things can perception or discriminative awareness occur. When there is a meeting of attractive object, sense faculty and consciousness, a pleasant feeling arises. Similarly, when there is a contact of unattractive object, sense faculty and consciousness, an unpleasant feeling is experienced. In the wheel of life, contact is depicted iconographically by a man and woman in sexual union.

7) Feelings. Contact naturally gives rise to the seventh link of feeling (tsor-wa). We talk about three types of feelings-pleasant, unpleasant and neutral-all of which arise from some kind of contact. When we see something, there follows a sense of attraction or aversion and a value judgment about what we are seeing, which stimulates these feelings further. In the wheel of life, feelings are represented by a man with an arrow stuck in his eye. This describes our sensitivity and how, when feelings arise, we notice them immediately.

8) Attachment. Feelings precipitate the eighth link, attachment, craving or desire (se-pa). When we experience a pleasant feeling, we desire to not be separated from it. When we feel trapped in a problem, we experience the desire to be free from it. In our everyday life we experience all sorts of feelings. It is possible to have feelings without attachment, but the feelings we are talking about here are the kind that stem from ignorance. If we eliminate ignorance, we will experience feelings without attachment. Not surprisingly, attachment is depicted in the wheel of life as a person indulging in intoxicating liquor. In some treatises, attachment is likened to someone scratching an itchy skin irritation-it feels pleasant at first, but it is actually creating the conditions for more and more itching.

9) Grasping. Attachment gives rise to the ninth link, grasping (len-pa), which is an intensified form of attachment. There are four kinds of grasping-grasping at sense objects (forms, sounds, smells, tastes and tactile objects); grasping at wrong, or distorted, views; grasping at improper ethics and disciplines, seeing them as worthy; and grasping at the inherent existence of the five aggregates. In the wheel of life this dependent link is depicted as a person picking fruit.

10) Becoming, or existence. Grasping gives rise to the tenth link, becoming, or existence (si-pa). A karmic action leaves an imprint on our mental consciousness. At the time of death, that imprint is activated by craving and grasping. In this way, the karma becomes fully prepared to precipitate the next rebirth and a being about to be reborn feels a powerful attraction towards its future parents, who are about to engage in sexual union.

11) Birth. The eleventh link is rebirth (kye-wa). It occurs from this fully ripened karmic action. In Buddhism, rebirth is considered to have taken place when the consciousness enters the womb of the mother at conception and later culminates in the act of physical birth.

12) Aging and death. The final link is aging and death (ga-shi). Aging begins from the moment of conception. Death is technically defined as the complete exhaustion of the aggregates, when the life energy, or life force, comes to an end. The dependent link of birth necessarily gives rise to aging and death, and if one dies under the power of karmic actions and delusions one is necessarily born under their influence. Yet, if someone born from delusions and contaminated karmic actions becomes an arhat and attains liberation, such a person does not die under the influence of delusion, and his or her rebirth is not influenced by them.

Summary: Ignorance is the cause of all karmic formation, which gives rise to consciousness. Consciousness allows for name and form and the sensory fields, which prepare the way for contact. Contact elicits feelings that stimulate attachment and create grasping. Grasping is the condition that brings about existence, which in turn precipitates rebirth and leads to aging and death. The twelve dependent links can be brought under four headings:

  • Precipitating causes—ignorance, karmic formation and causal consciousness. These are the links that instigate our rebirth into cyclic existence. Ignorance is like a farmer, karmic formation is the seed sowed by the formation of ignorance and causal consciousness is likened to a field.
  • Accomplishing causes—craving, grasping and becoming. Just as water, manure and sunlight prepare the seed for growth, in the same way, craving, grasping and becoming activate the karmic action and prepare it to bring about its result.
  • Precipitated results—resultant consciousness, name and form, sources, contact and feelings are brought about by the accomplishing causes.
  • Accomplished result—aging and death. When we study the twelve dependent links in reverse order we are really trying to reverse the entire process. We are trying to put an end to aging and death by preventing birth and trying to put an end to ignorance, which stops the whole cycle from repeating. What uproots ignorance is the wisdom realizing emptiness, and when ignorance is eliminated, karmic formation does not arise. The whole purpose of studying and meditating on emptiness is to break this chain of twelve dependent links.


"In the same way there exist no suffering, no origin of suffering, no cessation, no path, no wisdom, no attainment and no lack of attainment."

Neither suffering, the path, attainment nor the lack of these things truly exist for an arya's wisdom in the state of meditative equipoise on emptiness. Even the wisdom that realizes the Four Noble Truths does not exist for this wisdom. We must not misinterpret "no attainment" to mean that we cannot attain buddhahood or the qualities of a buddha. We can. It simply means that this attainment does not exist for an arya who is in a state of meditative stabilization because in this state he or she sees only emptiness and not conventional phenomena. There also exists no lack of attainment, so neither does failure appear for this kind of wisdom.


"Therefore, Shariputra, since bodhisattvas have no attainment, they depend upon and dwell in the perfection of wisdom; their minds are unobstructed and unafraid. They transcend all error and finally reach the end point: nirvana."

This passage deals with the path of meditation in general and the meditative stabilization of a bodhisattva on the final stage of the tenth ground in particular. This vajra-like state of meditation becomes an antidote to the last obstacle to enlightenment. What is meant by "they depend upon and dwell in the perfection of wisdom" is that bodhisattvas are completely free from any fabrications when absorbed in the nature of emptiness, being completely engaged in that state. When we talk about purifying negativity, we find two kinds of defilement-coarse, or gross, and subtle. Just as the coarse dirt on our clothes is easier to wash away, coarse defilements are easier to get rid of. Subtle stains penetrate our clothes more deeply and are harder to clean away; the final obscurations to omniscience, even though the smallest in magnitude, are the toughest to eradicate. We need the most powerful weapon to destroy them. This weapon is the vajra-like meditative state.

"Their minds are unobstructed and unafraid" tells us that such bodhisattvas, having trained their mind in stages, from the path of accumulation all the way up to the final stage of the tenth bodhisattva ground, have abandoned many of the obscurations along the way, including fear.

Then comes the phrase, "They transcend all error." We talk about four kinds of error, sometimes called the "four distortions"-perceiving that which is impure as pure; perceiving that which is painful as pleasurable; perceiving impermanent phenomena as permanent; and perceiving that which is selfless as having self. Bodhisattvas are free from these errors and also from the error of the two extremes-solitary peace and cyclic existence.

When we emerge from the vajra-like meditative state, we achieve the liberated path and attain the final enlightenment of buddhahood. This state is described by the Sanskrit word nirvana, which means, "beyond distress" or " beyond sorrow." These are the sorrow and distress of the solitary peace of personal liberation and the sorrow and distress of cyclic existence. Nirvana refers not just to personal liberation but to complete enlightenment as well.

Buddha's great compassion prevents him from falling into the extreme of solitary peace. If he did, he wouldn't be able to work continuously for the benefit of other beings. Like the bodhisattvas, he also has the fully developed perfection of wisdom and is thus free from cyclic existence. Foe destroyers, arhats of the Lesser Vehicle, who have liberated just themselves from samsara, are still trapped in solitary peace and, unlike bodhisattvas, cannot work for the welfare of other sentient beings.


"All the buddhas of the past, present and future have depended, do and will depend upon the perfection of wisdom. Thereby they became, are becoming and will become unsurpassably, perfectly and completely awakened buddhas."

From this we understand that the perfection of wisdom is the universal path trod by all the buddhas of the past, present and future. The perfection of wisdom is also referred to as the Great Mother because it gives birth to the buddhas of the three times. In both Buddha's sutras and tantras we find skillful means, or method (upaya), referred to as father-like and wisdom (jnana) as mother-like. This wisdom gives birth, metaphorically speaking, to the three different states of liberation-those of the hearers, solitary realizers and bodhisattvas.


"Therefore, the mantra of the perfection of wisdom is a mantra of great knowledge; it is an unsurpassable mantra; it is a mantra that is comparable to the incomparable; it is a mantra that totally pacifies all suffering. It will not deceive you, therefore know it to be true!"

In both sutra and tantra, the word mantra has the same connotation -protecting the mind. Practitioners who practice mantra are protecting their minds from fears and danger. The perfection of wisdom fulfills the same purpose. It is called a mantra here because when we cultivate the wisdom gone beyond, this practice also works to protect us from fear and danger.

The perfection of wisdom is "a mantra of great knowledge" in the sense that of all the various kinds of wisdom, it is the greatest-the real antidote to ignorance. The mode of apprehension of ignorance is incompatible with the mode of apprehension of the wisdom of emptiness, which directly contradicts the grasping at self. It is "unsurpassable" inasmuch as we cannot find any other wisdom that has such power to free us from both suffering and its causes. The perfection of wisdom leads us to the non-abiding state of enlightenment, and because of this it "is comparable to the incomparable."

Another interpretation of this passage can be related to the five paths. "Therefore the mantra of the perfection of wisdom" relates to the path of accumulation; "Is a mantra of great knowledge" relates to the path of preparation; "It is an unsurpassable mantra" relates to the path of seeing; "It is a mantra that is comparable to the incomparable" relates to the path of meditation; and "It is a mantra that totally pacifies all suffering" relates to the path of no more learning, or enlightenment. The five paths of the Greater Vehicle are differentiated from one another from the point of view of wisdom, or insight, not from the point of view of method, or skillful means. The way in which everything actually exists-the ultimate nature of phenomena -is the way that it is perceived by the perfection of wisdom. It is this perception that can take us to the state of enlightenment. As we train our minds in the perfection of wisdom, we should do so together with the practices of the other five perfections, or the skillful means of method. We should not isolate wisdom from method or method from wisdom. If we do not practice the two together, we will never achieve enlightenment. The integration of method and wisdom is essential.

The importance of this was expressed well by the first Dalai Lama in his praise to Lama Tsongkhapa when he said, "Integrating method and wisdom together, you have actualized the three enlightened bodies. Most glorious spiritual master, please bless me." By practicing method and wisdom on the five paths, we can abandon all obstacles and finally reach the state of non-abiding enlightenment.


"I proclaim the mantra of the perfection of wisdom, TAYATHA GATE GATE PARAGATE PARASAMGATE BODHI SVAHA. Shariputra, it is in this way that the great bodhisattvas train themselves in the profound perfection of wisdom."

The Heart Sutra can be condensed from a Mantrayana or tantric Buddhist point of view into the one-line mantra, TAYATHA GATE GATE PARAGATE PARASAMGATE BODHI SVAHA.

The word TAYATHA means, "it is like this." GATE means "go" as an exhortation. So GATE GATE means "go, go," meaning that we should go onto the path of accumulation and then go further onto the path of preparation. PARAGATE literally means "go beyond" and PARASAMGATE means "go thoroughly beyond." It is telling us to go beyond the paths of accumulation and preparation and onto the paths of seeing and meditation towards supreme enlightenment.

The first GATE or "go" is for beginners with Mahayana inclinations, those practitioners who haven't yet entered the Mahayana path but who are cultivating compassion and the perfection of wisdom. It means go to the path of accumulation of the Greater Vehicle. When practitioners spontaneously and naturally experience bodhicitta, they have already entered the Mahayana path of accumulation.

The second GATE also means "go." When practitioners have gone to the path of accumulation they should go on to the next path, which is the path of preparation. It is on this path that practitioners can conceptually understand emptiness. Practitioners who have traversed the paths of hearers or solitary realizers may have already realized emptiness directly when they enter the path of Mahayana. When we have reached the path of preparation we should go beyond to the path of seeing. When we reach the path of seeing we are already on the first spiritual ground of bodhisattvas. We are then told to "go thoroughly beyond." We should not get stuck on the path of seeing but go higher up onto the path of meditation. BODHI is enlightenment and SVAHA means to become stabilized in the state of enlightenment. So the meaning of the entire mantra is, "It is this way: Go, go, go beyond, go thoroughly beyond, go to enlightenment and become stabilized there."


"At that moment the Lord arose from his concentration and said to the noble Avalokiteshvara, 'Well said, well said. That is just how it is, my son, just how it is. The profound perfection of wisdom should be practiced exactly as you have explained it. Then the tathagatas will be truly delighted.' When the Lord had spoken these words, the venerable Shariputra and the bodhisattva, the great being, the noble Avalokiteshvara, and the entire gathering of gods, humans, asuras and gandharvas were overjoyed, and they praised what the Lord had said."

When Avalokiteshvara and Shariputra finish their dialogue, Buddha rises from his meditative state. He authenticates the words of Avalokiteshvara and congratulates him on his presentation of the perfection of wisdom. His explanation delights not only Buddha himself but all the enlightened beings of the ten directions and the buddhas of the three times. After the teaching, everybody in the gathering committed themselves to following the perfection of wisdom, while others who were not yet ready made fervent prayers that they would soon be able to do so.

Part Three: Great Compassion

The life stories of Buddha and other enlightened teachers shouldn't be regarded as just interesting tales but should be seen as practices for us to follow and paths by which we can grow spiritually. Buddha stated that compassion is the core of his teachings. This compassion should be all-pervasive and non-discriminatory. We should minimize harmful actions towards others and try to increase the scope of our compassion to bring more and more people and sentient beings into its fold. We also need to cultivate the determined wish to be liberated and develop a true aspiration for enlightenment.

It is not so hard to aspire to be liberated from the problems of cyclic existence, but we need also to have the same wish in reference to samsara's prosperity and happiness. Pain in cyclic existence does not last but neither does pleasure, so we should not cling to samsara's temporary marvels. To be true Dharma practitioners, we must consider our future lives to be more important than the present one. We should consider others to be more important than ourselves and spiritual activity to be more important than worldly activity. Of course, all these things will come to us gradually. We need to train our mind in stages before we can experience this kind of change in attitude. Remember that all good things happen to us through the kindness of others. It is only in relation to other sentient beings that we can do our practice. If sentient beings didn't exist, we couldn't practice at all or create the positive energy and positive actions through which we receive peace and happiness. Thinking in this way, we can see the kindness of all sentient beings.

As Dharma practitioners, our practice involves two things- purifying our negativities and accumulating positive energy and wisdom. You can do these things in relation to the Three Jewels, sentient beings or both. Therefore, experienced lineage masters who have deep spiritual understanding tell us that sentient beings are as kind to us as Buddha himself. This might seem inconceivable at first, but in terms of the inspiration for our practice there is little difference between them. Normally, although we may accept certain sentient beings as being kind to us, we also become selective. We exclude those who have been bad to us and include only those whom we consider worthy. But if we exclude some beings, then logically all others should be excluded as well. We must create a sense of equanimity, a balanced attitude, in relation to all sentient beings-friends, adversaries and strangers.

If we really want to work for the benefit of others, it is essential to cultivate great compassion. For those who wish to pursue the path of the bodhisattva in Mahayana Buddhism, it is as important to cultivate great compassion and altruism as it is to cultivate the perfection of wisdom. It is not very difficult to generate compassion for ourselves, but it is a great deal harder to cultivate the same compassion for others. Yet this should be our goal, however hard it may be.

Part Four: Dedication

Let us dedicate our positive energy to the flourishing of Buddhadharma throughout the world.

Let us dedicate our positive energy to the long life of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. May his sacred mandalas of body, speech and mind be unharmed by negative intentions and actions. May he and other great masters be successful in fulfilling their dreams and visions for benefiting all sentient beings.

Let us dedicate our positive energy to all spiritual communities throughout the world, so that they may flourish in their study, contemplation and meditation.

Let us dedicate our positive energy to the elimination of the problems in our world, such as famine and war. May everyone in this and other world systems experience peace, happiness and harmony. Let us dedicate our positive energy to ourselves and to other Dharma practitioners, so that we may overcome all obstacles to spiritual development.

Let us dedicate our positive energy to ourselves and to all sentient beings, so that we can purify the obscurations to liberation and omniscience and quickly reach enlightenment.

A commentary on the emptiness section of the Seven Point Mind Training text

Mirror of Wisdom includes commentaries on the emptiness section of Mind Training Like the Rays of the Sun and The Heart Sutra.

Mirror of Wisdom
Part One: Introduction
Part One: Mind Training - Developing Bodhicitta
Part One: Mind Training - Developing Emptiness
Part One: Learning to Become a Buddha
Part Two: Commentary on the Heart Sutra


We have already dealt with training our mind in cultivating conventional bodhicitta, or the conventional mind of enlightenment. We now need to look at how to cultivate ultimate bodhicitta-the mind of enlightenment that deals with emptiness. The mind training text we are studying presents actual instructions for cultivating the ultimate awakening mind. In certain texts such as this one, you will find that the conventional mind of enlightenment is presented first and followed by the ultimate mind of enlightenment. In other texts, the order of presentation is reversed. The reason has to do with the mental faculties of Mahayana practitioners. For those with sharp faculties, emptiness is presented first. For those with relatively less sharp faculties the conventional truth is taught before the ultimate.

There are four major traditions within Tibetan Buddhism- Gelug, Kagyu, Nyingma and Sakya. We may find differences between them in terminology or the emphasis of certain practices, but they are all authentic Buddhist traditions. The Kagyu and Gelug traditions use the term mahamudra-"The Great Seal"-to talk about emptiness, whereas the Nyingmapas use the term dzog-chen-"The Great Perfection"-to refer to the same thing. In the Nyingma tradition, there is a tantric practice called atiyoga, which means the pinnacle, or topmost, vehicle. This could be compared to dzog-rim, the completion stage practice of the Gelug tradition, which is the most exalted practice of highest yoga tantra.

When people hear about The Great Perfection of the Nyingmapas they may think that this tradition has something that other Tibetan Buddhist traditions do not, but this is not the case. Each of these traditions is talking about the ultimate nature or reality, which we also call the profound Middle View, or Middle Way. Also, some people might think that because dzog-rim practice is said to be very profound, it must be a quick and easy way to reach enlightenment without having to do meditation. It is never like that. Meditation is as essential in Tantrayana as it is in Sutrayana. It's not as if in tantric practice you just do some rituals, ring the bell-ding! ding! ding!- and then you get enlightened. No; you have to meditate.

As the great Atisha tells us, the way to conduct one's studies of meditation and contemplation in order to realize the true nature of emptiness is by following the instructions of Nagarjuna's disciple, Chandrakirti. Lama Tsongkhapa elucidates the view of emptiness in accordance with the system of Arya Nagarjuna and Chandrakirti. It is within Lama Tsongkhapa's mind-stream that we find the presence of the buddhas of the three times, and I am going to explain emptiness in accordance with Lama Tsongkhapa's way.


The historical Buddha, Shakyamuni, taught the profound middle path-the way of the wisdom perceiving emptiness, or selflessness- in order to liberate us from samsara. It is by way of perceiving and experiencing emptiness that we will be able to counteract our basic sense of ignorance, or grasping at self.

There is a passage from the sutras: "Thus, not being able to realize that which is known as emptiness, peaceful and unproduced, sentient beings have been helplessly wandering in different states of cyclic existence. Seeing this, the enlightened one has revealed, or established, emptiness through hundred-fold reasoning." What this tells us is that we ordinary sentient beings, who are unable to see the ultimate nature of everything that exists, create all kinds of negative karmic actions for ourselves and face unwanted problems and sufferings as a result. All the teachings Buddha gave either directly or indirectly point to what emptiness is. This is because the sole purpose of Buddha's teaching is to free all of us from the causes of suffering.


For us to reach the state of enlightenment we need to understand the basis, the path and the result. The basis consists of the two truths, the conventional truth and the ultimate truth. The path is method and wisdom, or skillful means and awareness. The result consists of the two enlightened bodies-the form body, or rupakaya, and the truth body, or dharmakaya. First we must study the view of emptiness as presented by enlightened beings. This is our basis. Then, as trainees on the path, we need to integrate method and wisdom. We must never separate method and wisdom from one another. If we focus on one and forget the other, we are going to get stuck. Eventually, as a result of this practice, each of us will reach the enlightened state and be able to realize the form body and the truth body.

Although nominally different from each other, these enlightened bodies actually share the same nature. For example, Avalokiteshvara, whom Tibetans call Chenrezig, can manifest in innumerable ways to work for sentient beings, yet all these manifestations are Avalokiteshvara. When we become buddhas we will do so in the form of the buddhas of the five families, the five dhyani buddhas. So, you may ask, what happens when I become a buddha, a completely awakened being? Having actualized the form and truth bodies, you will be working solely to help others become free from cyclic existence. You will be constantly working for their benefit until samsara is empty of all sentient beings.

The primary cause for accomplishing the enlightened form body is the practice of method, the collection of positive energy, or merit. The primary cause for accomplishing the truth body is the collection of wisdom, or insight, particularly the wisdom realizing emptiness. This does not mean that accumulating either merit or wisdom alone will allow us to reach the state of enlightenment. When we understand that the wisdom realizing emptiness is the primary cause for the truth body, implicitly we should understand that in order to accomplish that body we must practice method as well.


Everything that exists can be classified into objects or subjects. There isn't any phenomenon that doesn't belong to one of these two categories. However, object and subject-the observed and the observer -are actually mutually dependent upon one another. If there is no object, there cannot be an observer of that object. This is what Chandrakirti states in his Supplement to the Middle Way: "Without an object, one cannot establish its perceiver."

There is a line from the mind training text that says, "Consider all phenomena as like a dream." This does not mean that everything that exists is a dream, but that it can be compared to a dream. If you miss this emphasis, then when you read in the Heart Sutra, "no ear, no nose, no tongue" and so forth, you will interpret this passage to mean that those things don't exist at all, which is a totally bizarre notion. This is the position of the nihilist-someone who rejects even the conventional existence of phenomena. We know that the things in our dreams don't really exist, that they are dependent upon our mind. Also, for us to experience a dream, the necessary causes and conditions must come together. First we have to sleep, but if we go into a very deep sleep then we're not going to dream. Just as a dream occurs as a result of certain causes and conditions, such is the case with everything that exists. Every functional phenomenon depends upon causes and conditions for its existence. This is a fact of reality. Nothing exists in and of itself, inherently, or objectively. Everything exists dependently, that is, in dependence upon its parts, and so we say that things are emptyof inherent, or objective, existence.

The next line in the stanza reads: "Analyze the nature of unborn/unproduced awareness." What this means is that this subjective mind, or consciousness, is not born or produced inherently, in and of itself. As much as objective phenomena are to be seen like dreams, which arise from their causes and conditions and are empty of inherent existence, subjective phenomena, too, exist dependently and are empty of inherent existence. We must analyze the non-inherent nature of our awareness, or mind.

With the line, "Consider all phenomena like a dream," we are primarily dealing with the observed, or the object. When we discuss awareness we shift our focus onto the observer, or the subject. If you perceive that objects don't exist independently, or inherently, then what about their subjects? Do they exist inherently? Again, the answer is no. Just like the object, the subject does not exist inherently, in and of itself. Just as objects and their perception exist dependently, so does the person who is experiencing and interacting with the objects and perceptions. The observed and the observer are both empty of inherent existence.


Ignorance is the grasping at inherent existence, especially the inherent existence of the self. There are two forms, the intellectual and the innate. The intellectual form of ignorance-grasping at the inherent existence of "I," or self-is found in those whose minds have been affected by some kind of philosophical ideas, but the innate form exists in the mind of every sentient being.

The type of grasping at inherent existence that is presented in the Abhidharmakosha, the Treasury of Knowledge, and its commentaries is the intellectual form. If this were to be taken as the root cause of samsara, then our position would have to be that only those whose minds have been influenced by philosophical concepts could possess the root cause of cyclic existence. According to this view, birds and other animals couldn't have this cause of cyclic existence because they can't study or be influenced by philosophy. It is certainly true that yaks and goats don't sit around discussing philosophy, so they don't have the intellectual form of grasping at self. However, the root cause of samsara exists in the mind-streams of allsentient beings who are trapped in cyclic existence.

The text provides a quote from the Supplement to the Middle Way to clarify this point. "Even those who have spent many eons as animals and have not beheld an unproduced or permanent self are seen to be involved in the misconception of an I." What this passage is telling us is that beings who remain in the animal realm for many lifetimes do not possess the intellectual grasping at self but they do have the innately developed form of ignorance. Therefore, the root cause of cyclic existence cannot be intellectual but must be the innately, or spontaneously, developed ignorant conception that grasps at the self.


We need to ask ourselves what the original root cause of cyclic existence is. How did we get here in the first place? Having discovered this cause, we can then apply the method to counteract it. Due to our ignorant attachment to self, we grasp at and get attached to everything that we perceive as being ours and at anything that we think will help to make us happy. This is the root delusion. When we discuss the process of coming into and getting out of cyclic existence- taking rebirth and becoming liberated-we talk about what are known as the twelve links of interdependent origination. In the mind training text, there is a quote that spells out three of these twelve links, which are the main reasons we remain in samsara.

Our innate self-grasping ignorance is the root cause of samsara, so ignorance is the first link. It is because of this ignorance that we create karmic actions, therefore the second link is called karmic formation. This refers not only to bad karmic actions but also includes positive and neutral ones as well. These karmic actions then deposit their latencies upon our consciousness, or mind-stream. Our minds carry the imprints of all the good and bad karmic actions we have created, and when any of these karmic imprints get activated, they can precipitate all the other links and lead to our rebirth either in either a positive or a negative state.

There are six types of sentient beings in cyclic existence. Of these six, three are relatively fortunate types of rebirth and three are unfortunate. Under the influence of ignorance we could create positive karmic actions and, as a result, take one of the good rebirths as a human being, a demigod (asura) or a god (sura). For a positive karmic action to lead to a fortunate rebirth it must be activated by positive conditions. However, even someone who takes a good rebirth is still bound to cyclic existence.

Similarly, under the influence of the delusions of ignorance, attachment or aversion we might create negative karmic actions. These leave imprints on our mental consciousness such that when they are activated by other negative actions or conditioning factors, we can be reborn in one of the three bad migrations. Great negativities precipitate rebirth in the hells. Negativities of medium intensity precipitate rebirth as a hungry ghost. Small negativities can still cause us to be reborn in the lower realms as some kind of animal. Karmic formations connect us to our next conception in our mother's womb, which is the tenth dependent link of existence. These three links of ignorance, karmic actions and existence are very important. To substantiate this point we have a quote from Arya Nagarjuna's Seventy Stanzas on Emptiness, "Actions are caused by disturbing emotions." In other words, the karmic actions we create can be traced back to our innate self-grasping, which is the origin of our disturbing emotions, or delusions. Nagarjuna continues, "Karmic formations have a disturbed nature and the body is caused by karmic actions. So, all three are empty of their own entity." This means that because ignorance, karmic formations and existence all interact with one another to cause our rebirth, they are therefore all empty of inherent existence.

We should train ourselves to clearly ascertain the way in which we enter cyclic existence because then we can work to reverse this process. Once we have put an end to our delusions and contaminated karmic actions we will achieve the state of liberation. This is what Nagarjuna refers to in his Fundamental Wisdom Treatise when he says, "You are liberated when your delusions and contaminated karmic actions are exhausted." We must all understand that any situation we go through is nothing but our own creation-the results of our karmic actions. Usually when things go wrong we find someone else to blame as if others were responsible for our wellbeing. If we can't find other fellow beings to blame then we blame inanimate objects like food. Either way, we always view ourselves as pure and separate from things.

Again, we can use the example of a seed to understand karma. If the seed is not there in the first place, then even if all the other conditions needed for growth are present, we are not going to see any fruit.


In the same way, if we ourselves do not create any good or bad karmic actions, conditioning factors alone cannot bring us any good or bad results. However, once we have created these actions, they can be activated or ripened by other conditions. It is in that sense that other people can act as conditioning factors to activate our good and bad karmic actions. Even the kind of food we eat can be a conditioning factor to activate certain karmic actions we have created. Even so, it is the karmic actions themselves that are the most important factor in bringing good and bad situations upon us. We should adopt positive actions and abandon negative ones because it is us who will experience their results. We should feel that every good and bad experience is the result of our own seed-like karmic actions. This is a very good subject for meditation.

We should understand that the ignorance of grasping at self, which all of us have within our mind-stream, is the very ignorance that locks us like a jailer within the walls of samsara. In the diagram of the wheel of life, which depicts the twelve dependent links, a blind person represents ignorance. We are blind with regard to what we need to abandon in our lives-to what we should not be doing-and also blind to what we need to cultivate in our lives-to what we should be doing. Just as an untrained blind person will create a big mess around himself or herself, so we make a mess of our lives. And we continue doing this, repeating the whole process of samsara and perpetuating a cycle that is very difficult to stop.

We all wish for happiness, but the happiness that we experience is very small. We don't want any kind of pain or problem, but innumerable pains and problems befall us. Deep down we are motivated by the ignorance of grasping at self and engage in different kinds of karmic actions, which bring forth all kinds of experiences. The wisdom that realizes selflessness is the direct antidote to our ignorant self-grasping.

All of us who want to reach the state of highest enlightenment must combine the practice of the two aspects of the path-skillful means, the extensive aspect of the path, and wisdom, the profound aspect of the path-as presented by the two great pioneers of Buddhadharma, Arya Asanga and Arya Nagarjuna respectively. First, we must recognize that the innate ignorance of self-grasping is the root cause of cyclic existence, or samsara. Then we have to deal with the presentation of selflessness, or emptiness, which is the antidote to this ignorance. The Tibetan word, rig-pa, literally means "to see," and ma-rig-pa means "to not see." Ma-rig-pa is translated as "ignorance" while rig-pa is translated as "wisdom." In other words, wisdom directly opposes, or counteracts, ignorance. Rig-pa doesn't just mean any kind of awareness or wisdom-it refers specifically to the awareness, or wisdom, that realizes emptiness.


There are two kinds of objects of this ignorant grasping-the grasping at the self of persons and the grasping at the self of phenomena. Both kinds of grasping are misconceptions because the focus of both is non-existent. The grasping at the self of persons means perceiving a person to exist inherently and objectively. This grasping is an active misconception because it is projecting something that doesn't actually exist. The self does not exist in and of itself-it is not inherently existent -however, our innate self-grasping perceives the self, or I, to exist in that manner. Our self-grasping, or ego-grasping, (dag-dzin in Tibetan) actually serves to fabricate the way that the self appears to exist for us. Similarly, grasping at the self of phenomena means that a person perceives phenomena to exist inherently and objectively. There isn't a self of phenomena but our grasping makes one up. It exaggerates and fabricates a self of phenomena and then grasps at its supposed inherent reality. So, we can talk about two kinds of selflessness, the selflessness of a person and the selflessness of phenomena. When we refute the inherent existence of a person, we are dealing with the selflessness of a person, but when we refute the inherent existence of anything else we are dealing with the selflessness of phenomena.

What we mean by "a person" is a projection, or label, that is placed onto the collection of someone's five physical and mental aggregates of form, feeling, discriminative awareness, conditioning factors and consciousness. When we take a person as our basis of investigation and think that this person exists in and of himself or herself, that is what is called "grasping at the self of a person." If we grasp at the inherent existence of the aggregates, that is, at any part of a person, whether it be a part of body or mind, that is called "grasping at the self of phenomena." This is described as including all things from "form to omniscient mind." In Nagarjuna's Precious Garland, it is stated, "So long as the aggregates are misconceived, an I is misconceived upon them. If we have this conception of an I, then there is action that results in birth." What this passage is saying is that as long as we grasp at the physical and mental constituents, or aggregates, as being truly and inherently existent, then we will have the misconception of a truly existent I. Due to this grasping we create karmic actions that precipitate our rebirth and cause us to become trapped again and again within cyclic existence.

The object of our grasping at the self of a person is an inherently existing self. This is something that doesn't exist at all, yet our grasping makes it feel as if that kind of self truly exists and we cling to it in this way. Similarly, the object of the grasping at the self of phenomena is an inherently existent self of phenomena. From these two innate forms of grasping come attachment to the happiness of I. Attachment to one's own happiness actually depends upon the concept of "my" and "mine"-my feelings, my possessions, my body, my family etc. As Chandrakirti states in Supplement to the Middle Way, "At first there arises the conception of and attachment to I, or self, and then there arises the conception of and attachment to mine." We experience the grasping at the self of a person, and this grasping then induces the grasping at the self of phenomena, which is the grasping at mine. Due to the strength of our clinging to these feelings of I, my and mine, we are not able to see the fallacy of seeking self-happiness. This attachment obscures our mind and we are unable to see what is wrong with it.

From being attached to ourselves we become so attached to our things and different parts of our bodies that some of us even change our appearance through plastic surgery. If we weren't attached to our I, we could be totally liberated and free, like Milarepa. He turned a strange greenish color from eating nettles, but this didn't matter to him because he wasn't attached to his appearance. As we look into this mirror of teaching, we can see a different kind of reflection of ourselves-one that shows us how we grasp at things and how attachment arises within us.

It is important for us to understand that "I" and "mine" are not identical. If we can't differentiate between these two, we will have problems later on. The object of our innate grasping at self is the "I" not the "mine," because mine includes the physical and mental aggregates. Chandrakirti explains that if the aggregates of the person were the object of our innate grasping at the self of a person, then we should be able to perceive our aggregates as being I, which we are not able to do. Also, if the aggregates are taken to be the self, then we have to assert that there are five selves because there are five aggregates. The kind of conception that arises with regard to the aggregates is not the conception of I but the conception of mine. We do not think about our ears or our nose as our self, but as things belonging to our self. In the same way, when we investigate our mind, we don't find any part that is I.

We should examine, investigate and analyze the mode of apprehension of our innate grasping at self. In other words, how does our innate grasping perceive the self to exist? What does our innate ignorance perceive? What does it grasp at? We should always focus upon our own condition and not point our finger at someone else's ignorance. Having discovered this, we must then find the means of generating a different kind of perception, one that directly contradicts the mistaken one that grasps at self. This perception is the perfect view of emptiness, or selflessness. However, in order to realize this view, we first have to be clear about what this view actually is. We need to establish the correct view of emptiness.


There is no way to reveal emptiness nakedly or directly because we must use words and terminology. It is only through conventional terms that emptiness can be revealed. In other words, there is no way to discuss emptiness without using something as a basis. For example, when we talk about the emptiness of forms, these forms constitute the basis upon which their emptiness is then established. This is also

the case with any other phenomenon-sound, smell, taste and so forth. Everything around us is characterized by emptiness and so our body or any other phenomenon constitutes the basis upon which we can then understand its emptiness.

In the Heart Sutra we read that "Form is emptiness and emptiness is form." This means that the ultimate nature of form is emptiness and that emptiness relates to form. Emptiness is not the same as form, but in order to understand emptiness we have to take form into consideration as our focal object. Without dealing with a form, we cannot understand its emptiness. There is a line of a prayer that states, "The wisdom gone beyond (emptiness) is beyond words and expression." The Tibetan translation suggests that it is also beyond thought. This means that without depending upon a basis you cannot even conceptualize what emptiness is.

The same thing is stated by Arya Nagarjuna in his Root Wisdom Treatise, where we read, "Without depending upon conventional terms or terminology, one cannot reveal the ultimate truth or reality." When we deal with emptiness, however, it may have nothing to do with form at all. In certain mental states, for example, we don't perceive forms; for instance, when we are in a deep sleep. Even so, it is empty.

When we deal with the selflessness of a person, the basis for that selflessness is the person. Therefore, it is in relation to the person that we establish the person's emptiness. When we deal with a person's aggregates (body, feelings, thoughts, perceptions and so forth), we are dealing with a different kind of basis, one that is the selflessness of phenomena. The text tells us that with regard to what is being refuted, there is no difference in subtlety between establishing the selflessness of a person and establishing the selflessness of phenomena. So, once we understand the selflessness of a person, we don't have to repeat our reasoning over again to understand the selflessness of phenomena. We can simply shift our focus onto another object while remembering the same reasoning with which we realized the selflessness of a person. This is what the great Indian master Aryadeva was saying in his Four Hundred Stanzas on the Middle View when he stated, "The view of an object is the view of everything else."


In order to realize what selflessness or emptiness is, we must first understand its opposite. What is the antithesis of selflessness? What is it that we are trying to refute, or negate, in order to establish what emptiness is? What we are refuting is the way that our innate selfgrasping perceives the self as existing truly, inherently and objectively. Therefore, we say that inherent, objective or true existence of the self is the "object of refutation" or the "object of negation." The object of refutation, or negation, is the thing that we are denying exists. There are a few terms that may sound different from one another but which, in the context of Prasangika-Madhyamaka (the school of philosophy that we are studying here), all mean the same thing. They are "existing by way of its own characteristic," "existing from its own side," "existing in and of itself," "inherent existence," "objective existence", "independent existence" and "true existence." Also, the terms "I," "self" and "person" all mean the same thing.

We can speak about the object of refutation on two levels-the object of refutation by reasoning and the object of refutation by scriptural authority. Inherent existence is the object of refutation by one's own valid reasoning, because nothing exists in and of itself without being imputed by terms and concepts. The object of refutation according to scriptural authority, however, is the grasping at that object, such as the grasping at the inherent, or true, existence of the self. Even though it is an object of refutation, that grasping actually does exist. There is no inherently existent self; however, there is grasping at the self's inherent existence as if it existed inherently. Therefore, the object of refutation by reasoning (inherent existence) refers to something that does not exist, but the object of refutation according to scriptural authority (grasping at inherent existence) refers to something that does exist.

Let us say that we want to investigate the emptiness of a particular form, such as a vase. As we analyze the vase, we must remember that we cannot perceive its emptiness by negating its very existence. Perceiving the vase's emptiness is not the same as concluding that the vase does not exist at all. If we refute, or negate, the conventional existence of the vase, then we have fallen into the extreme position of the nihilist. We have annihilated the vase's very existence and, as a result, we are not going to discover its emptiness. So, if we are not refuting the conventional or nominal existence of form in our search for emptiness, what is it that we are refuting? What is it that doesn't really exist? What we are refuting and what does not exist is the inherent existence of form. If we want to hit a target with an arrow we need to be able to see exactly where that target is. In the same way, to understand what emptiness is, we must be able to precisely identify what it is that is being refuted.


If we overestimate the object of negation then we will be refuting too much, but if we underestimate the object of negation we won't be refuting enough. An example of refuting too much is when we take conventional existence and inherent existence to be one and the same, concluding that because phenomena don't exist inherently they must not exist at all. When we take this position we are denying the existence of everything and have become nihilists. Remember, conventional existence and true existence do not mean the same thing.

If we deny the existence of everything then we won't be able to assert the distinction between the two types of phenomena-deluded phenomena (which includes our contaminated karmic actions and delusions, or afflictive emotions) and the liberated aspect of phenomena (which includes the spiritual paths, the true cessation of suffering and so forth). We won't be able to talk about the infallible law of karmic actions and their results because we will be asserting that its existence is merely a hallucination. If we cannot present the existence of both contaminated and uncontaminated phenomena, then we cannot present the complete structure of the path leading to spiritual liberation.

On the other hand, if we underestimate the object of negation and don't refute enough, that is as much of a problem as refuting too much. Certain schools of Buddhism assert only the selflessness of a person and not the selflessness of phenomena. Other schools assert both types of selflessness. Within each of the four schools of Buddhist thought-Vaibhashika, Sautrantika, Cittamatra and Madhyamaka- we find sub-schools. In the Madhyamaka, or Middle Way, school we find two major sub-schools, the Svatantrika-Madhyamaka, or Inference Validators, and the Prasangika-Madhyamaka, or Consequentialists. The Prasangika-Madhyamaka school's presentation of emptiness is considered the most authentic and it is this presentation that we are studying. The schools of Vaibhashika, Sautrantika, Cittamatra and Svatantrika-Madhyamaka all present an assertion of deluded states of mind that we find in Jamgon Kongtrul Yonten Gyatso's Treasury of Knowledge, the root text of which is the Abhidharmakosha.

The Prasangika-Madhyamaka school, however, presents in addition to these delusions, a subtle form of delusion that the other schools have not been able to identify-the conceptual grasping at inherent existence. Except for the Prasangika-Madhyamaka, all the other Buddhist schools assert the inherent existence of phenomena. They assert that if things don't exist inherently, they can't exist at all. The Svatantrika-Madhyamikas, who are in the same school as the Prasangikas, make a distinction between the true existence of phenomena and the inherent existence of phenomena. They say that things do exist inherently, from their own side, but that they do not exist truly. Their explanation for this distinction is that things exist from their own side as well as being posited by thought, or concept. According to them, a phenomenon exists as a combination of existence from its own side and of the mental thought imputed onto it.

They don't include the conceptual grasping at inherent existence as a subtle delusion. Therefore, the Svatantrika-Madhyamaka and other Buddhist schools, apart from the Prasangika-Madhyamaka, have not been able to refute enough in order to establish selflessness or emptiness. In other words, the object of negation identified in their schools is inadequate.

There are many people who try to meditate on emptiness, but I believe that those who really know such meditation are very few. If you overestimate the object of negation and refute too much, you are off track, and if you underestimate the object of negation and don't refute enough, you again miss the point. It's like a mathematical equation. The text cautions us that we have to be very precise in identifying what is to be refuted and refute exactly that amount-no more and no less.


We have seen how the innate form of ignorance is the root cause of our being in samsara, therefore, we must study how this ignorance perceives or apprehends its object, be it a person, a person's thoughts or a physical thing. Naturally, ignorance apprehends its object in a distorted way, yet how exactly does our innate ignorance perceive things? It perceives things to exist in and of themselves, from their own side, by way of their own characteristics and without being imputed by terms and concepts. However, this is not the way in which things actually exist. In fact, this kind of existence is a complete fabrication.

There is a popular Tibetan children's story that illustrates this point. A lion was always bothering a rabbit, so the rabbit began to plan a way to get rid of him. The rabbit went to the lion and said, "I have seen another beast even more ferocious than you." The lion was outraged by this notion because he felt that he was the king of all the animals. The rabbit said, "Come with me, I'll show you," and took the lion to a lake and told him to look into the water. The lion looked carefully into the water and when he saw his own reflection, he thought it was actually another lion. He bared his teeth at his own reflection but it did exactly the same thing back at him from the water. The rabbit said, "You see that dangerous animal down there? He is the one who is more ferocious than you and if you don't kill him, you won't be the strongest guy in the forest." The lion became even angrier and jumped right into the water. He struggled and splashed for a while but could not find the other lion, so he crawled out onto the bank. The poor lion looked really confused and bedraggled, but the rabbit, laughing to himself, said, "I think you didn't dive deep enough; try again." So, the lion went even deeper into the lake and eventually drowned trying to fight with his own reflection. We have seen that the ignorance of self-grasping is of two kinds- an intellectual form and an innately developed form, and we have established that it is the innate ignorance, the innate self-grasping, that is the root cause of all our problems. So, how does this innate form of ignorance perceive or grasp at I? Without knowing this, even if we try to engage in analytical meditation on selflessness we will never understand it. If a thief has run into a forest, his footprints will be in the forest. If we look for his footprints in the meadow, we will never find the thief.

Also, we must have a clear idea or picture of what inherent or selfexistence is. If the I were inherently existent then how would it exist? Until we can precisely identify the inherent existence of I, we will never be able to realize the absence of the inherently existing I, that is selflessness. It is for that reason that the great bodhisattva, Shantideva, states in his Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life, or Bodhisattvacaryavatara, that until you identify the object of grasping at true existence you won't be able to understand its non-existence; its lack of inherent, or true, existence. Therefore, we need to make a great deal of effort to identify how the I appears to our innate form of ignorance. It is relatively easy for us to understand that we do have this innate grasping at our self but we have difficulty seeing exactly how this grasping perceives the I to exist. Once we are sure that we have found the object of refutation, then in order to realize what emptiness is, we have to refute that object.

We all know that snow is white but it is possible that someone with certain sensory defects will perceive snow as yellow. That is an example of a distorted perception that misconceives the true color of snow. In a similar way, our grasping at self is a distorted perception that misconceives the self to exist in and of itself. The valid perception of snow as white invalidates the perception of snow as yellow. In the same way, our grasping at I is invalidated by the wisdom that perceives selflessness. When we actualize and experience this wisdom, then the grasping at self must leave because we understand that the way in which the self actually exists is the opposite of the way that our self-grasping perceived it.

Through this reasoning, we are trying to establish that the self could not exist in and of itself. As we refute the inherent existence of I, what we are establishing on the other hand is selflessness. If the self does not exist inherently, then how does it exist? It exists being empty of inherent existence. This is how we establish selflessness. We will deal with this topic from different perspectives and angles so that we can really understand it.

The self is apprehended as existing objectively, in and of itself. The example given in the text is a person who is completely ignorant about the fact that the reflection of a face in the mirror is not the real face. Like the lion in the story, such a person cannot tell what is real from what is not real.


When someone calls you by your name, by the time you respond there is some kind of concept or picture of yourself that has emerged in your mind. You may not get a very clear or lucid concept of this self, but you do experience some kind of rough imagery of yourself before you answer. This self is something that seems to exist independently of anything else. It's a sort of solid point, a fixed entity that is just there by itself. It's very important for each of us to personally find out where this image of self or concept of I comes from. Does it come from the collection of our body and mind? Or does it come from a single part of our body or mind?

If an I exists then we should be able to find it within either our body or our mind. We have to analyze each part to find where the sense, concept, or image of I comes from. Let's say that your name is John. Who or what is John? You should investigate from the hair of your head down to your toes whether or not any particular part of your body is John. When you have eliminated one part, go on to the next. Then do the same kind of analytical meditation on your mind. Like your body, your mind also has many parts, so you should try to find out whether any one part of the mind can be identified as I. There are many levels or kinds of mind and every one has its preceding and subsequent moments. You have to look at every minor detail and ask yourself, "Is this moment responsible for the sense of I?"

Westerners love to do research; this is a good topic to research. If you feel that your concept or image of I comes out of a particular part of yourself, be it body or mind, then that is what you identify as being your self. You might think, for example, that your sense of I comes from your brain. However, because each aspect of your body and mind has multiple parts, then logically, you must have that many I's or selves within you. Mind is a whole world in itself, with many states and levels. So which one is the self?

At the end of your analytical meditation, you will not be able to pinpoint any part of your body and mind as being an inherently existent I. At this point you might get scared because you haven't found yourself. You may feel that you've lost your sense of identity. There is a vacuity-an absence of something. However, when you really develop certitude of the absence of an inherent I, you should then simply try to remain in that state of meditation as long as you can. As your understanding of the absence of self improves, then outside your meditation sessions you will be able to realize that although the self seemed to exist inherently, this perception was simply the result of your innate grasping. Next time someone calls your name, try to do this examination.

The mind training text states that when we investigate how our innate conception of I apprehends the self to exist, we must make sure that our investigation is not mixed up with the intellectual grasping at self. The text reads, "Detailed recognition of this comes about through cultivating a close relationship with a spiritual friend of the Great Vehicle and pleasing him for a long time." Thus, if we want to comprehend every detail and subtlety of this issue, it is essential that we consistently rely upon a qualified Mahayana guide.


At the end of your analysis it may seem as though no conventional realities or phenomena exist, including the law of karmic actions and results. However, they do exist-they just don't exist in the way that you thought they did. They exist dependently; that is, their existence depends upon certain causes and conditions. Therefore, we say that phenomena are "dependently arising." All the teachings of Buddha are based upon the principle of the view of dependent arising. As Lama Tsongkhapa states in his Three Principal Paths, "…it eliminates the extreme of eternalism." This means that because things appear to your perceptions to exist only conventionally or nominally, their true, or inherent, existence is eliminated. The next line says, " eliminates the extreme of nihilism." So, when you understand emptiness you will be able to eliminate the idea of complete nonexistence. You will understand that it is not that things are completely non-existent, it is just that they exist dependently. They are dependent arisings.

In Arya Nagarjuna's Root Wisdom Treatise, he says that there isn't any phenomenon that is not dependently existent, therefore there isn't any phenomenon that is not empty of independent, or inherent, existence. Dependent arising is what we use to establish emptiness. Everything exists by depending upon something else, therefore everything is empty of inherent existence. When we use the valid reasoning of dependent arising we can find the emptiness of everything that exists. For example, by understanding that the self is dependently arising, we establish the selflessness of a person.

An example we could use is the reflection of our own face in the mirror. We all know that the reflection is not the real face, but how is it produced? Does it come just from the glass, the light, the face? Our face has to be there, but there also has to be a mirror, enough light for us to see and so on. Therefore, we see the reflection of our face in the mirror as a result of several things interacting with one another. We can investigate the appearance of our self to our perception in the same way. The self appears to us, but where does this appearance come from? Just like the reflection of the face in a mirror, it is an example of dependent arising.

This is quite clear in the case of functional things such as produced, or composite, phenomena, but there are other phenomena that are not produced by causes and conditions. However, they too exist dependently, that is, through mutual dependence upon other factors. For example, in the Precious Garland, Nagarjuna talks about how the descriptive terms of "long" and "short" are established through mutual comparison. "If there exists something that is long, then there would be something that is short." This kind of existence is dependently arising, but it is not dependent upon causes and conditions. So, dependent arising can mean several things. As we practice analytical meditation on emptiness we need to bring these different meanings into our meditation.

Dependent arising also refers to how everything is imputed by terms and concepts. Everything is labeled by a conceptual thought onto a certain basis of imputation. There is the label, there is that which labels things and then there is the basis upon which the label is given. So, phenomena exist as a result of all these things and the interaction between them. In his Four Hundred Stanzas, Aryadeva says, "If there is no imputation by thought, even desire and so forth have no existence. Then who with intelligence would maintain that a real object is produced dependent on thought?" In the commentary, Mind Training Like the Rays of the Sun, we read, "Undoubtedly, those that exist only through the existence of thought and those that do not exist when there is no thought are to be understood as not existing by way of their own entities, just as a snake is imputed onto a coiled rope." The example I gave earlier is how perceiving snow as yellow is a distorted perception. The example of distorted perception given here is mistaking a coiled rope for a snake.

Several conditions and factors need to come together for a person to misapprehend a coiled rope as a snake. It's not enough just to have a coiled rope in a corner on a bright day. No one is going to be fooled by that. There has to be some obscuration or darkness and distorted perception in the mind as well. Only then can the misapprehension take place. Even if we analyze every inch of that coiled rope we will not find a snake. In the same way, even if we analyze every aspect of self or phenomena we will not find inherent existence.

In the mind training text we find the following explanation. "An easier way of reaching a conviction about the way the innate misconception of self within our mind-stream gives rise to the misconception of self of persons and phenomena is that, as explained before, when a rope is mistaken for a snake, both the snake and the appearance of a snake in relation to the basis are merely projected by the force of a mistaken mind. Besides this, from the point of view of the rope, there is

not the slightest trace of the existence of such an object [as a snake], which is merely projected by the mind. Similarly, when a face appears to be inside a mirror, even a canny old man knows that the appearance in the mirror of the eyes, nose and so forth and the reflection is merely a projection. Taking these as examples it is easy to discern, easy to understand and easy to realize that there is not the slightest trace of existence from the side of the object itself." The moment that a person thinks that there is a snake where the coiled rope lies, the appearance of a snake arises in that person's mind. That appearance, however, is nothing but a projection.

Similarly, although there isn't a self that exists independently and objectively, our grasping misapprehends the self to exist in that way. So then how does the self exist? Like any other phenomenon, the self exists imputedly. It exists by labeling, or imputation, by terms and concepts projected onto a valid basis of imputation. We must be able to clearly distinguish between the imputed self that is the basis for performing karmic actions and experiencing their results, and the inherently existent self that is the object that needs to be negated. When we consider our own sense of self, we don't really get the sense of an imputed self. The feeling we have is more as if the self were existing inherently. Let me explain how the labeling, or imputation, works. People use names for one another but those names aren't the person. The words "John" and "Francis" are merely labels for a person. Just as the reflection of a face in a mirror does not exist from the side of the face, in the same way, the names John and Francis don't exist independently. The names are applied to a valid basis of imputation -that is, the person. When you apply a label onto any base of any phenomenon, it works to define that thing's existence-a vase, a pillar, a shoe and so forth. They are merely labels applied to their respective valid bases of imputation.

There is a common conceptual process involved in labeling things. Things don't exist from their own side, but they are labeled from our subjective point of view and that's how they exist. Let's take the example of a vase that we used earlier. In order to understand the selflessness, or emptiness, of the vase, we need to refute its inherent, true or independent existence, just as we have to refute the inherent, or true, existence of a person in order to understand the selflessness of a person. We must also be able to establish what a vase is conventionally or nominally because we cannot annihilate the conventional reality of a vase.

Conventionally, a vase exists. It is made out of whatever materials were used to create it. It has hundreds and thousands of atoms and then there is its design, the influence of the potter and so forth. All these factors contribute to the production of a vase. So, a vase exists as a mere labeling, or imputation, onto the various factors that form its conventional existence, that is, its valid basis of imputation. If we look for what is being imputed, if we look for "vase," we cannot find it. Just as we cannot find the imputed vase through ultimate analysis, we cannot find the imputed person through ultimate analysis.

The person, self or I is neither the continuity nor the continuum of a person, nor his or her collection or assembly of aggregates. So, what is a person? Chandrakirti gives the example of how the existence of a chariot depends upon the collection of its various parts. In today's terms we could use the example of a car. When we examine a car we discover that no single part is "car." The front wheels are not the car, the back wheels are not the car, neither is the steering wheel or any other part of it; there is no car that is not dependent upon these individual parts. Therefore, a car is nothing but a mere imputation onto its assembled parts, which constitutes its valid basis of imputation. Once the various parts of a car have been put together, the term "car" is imputed onto it. Just as a car is dependent upon its parts, so too is everything else.

Chandrakirti continues, "In the same way, we speak of a sentient being conventionally, in dependence upon its aggregates." So, we should understand that a person also depends upon his or her collection of aggregates. No one aggregate is the person, self, or I, yet there isn't a person who is not dependent upon their aggregates. A person or sentient being is nothing but a label projected onto his or her valid basis. As we find stated in the mind training text, "Such a technique for determining the selflessness of the person is one of the best methods for cognizing the reality of things quickly. The same reasoning should be applied to all phenomena, from form up to omniscient mind."


We need to use our intelligence to establish that the way in which our innate ignorance perceives the self to exist is not really the way that the self exists at all. This is what we call "refuting inherent existence through valid reasoning." It is not enough to say, "Everything is emptiness" or "Things don't inherently exist." We need a process of sound reasoning to back up this viewpoint. Once we have that, we will understand that there isn't anything that exists objectively. However, this is still only an intellectual understanding. We have to develop an intimacy between our perception and the true understanding of emptiness.

When we gain what is known as "definite ascertainment"-certitude with regard to the absence of inherent existence-we will be able to realize emptiness experientially. To substantiate this point, the mind training text offers a quote from the Indian master Dignaga's Compendium of Valid Cognition. "Without discarding this object, one is unable to eliminate it." This is telling us that once we have discovered the object of apprehension of our self-grasping-that is, the inherently existent self-we then need to train our mind to get rid of the idea of this object from our perception.

We must be aware of three examples of mistaken approaches to emptiness. The first example is of people who don't even allow their minds to investigate what self and selflessness are. They just never engage themselves in these questions. People with this kind of attitude will never be able to cultivate the wisdom realizing emptiness because they haven't made any kind of connection with the concept. Again we find a quote from Dignaga's Compendium: "Since love and so forth do not directly counter ignorance, they cannot eliminate that great fault." What this tells us is that even if we cultivate any or all of the four immeasurables-immeasurable love, immeasurable compassion, immeasurable joy and immeasurable equanimity-we still will not be able to understand selflessness. However wonderful these attitudes may be, they do not directly counteract the way in which our innate grasping perceives the self to exist.

The second example is given in another quote from the text: "We acquaint ourselves with a non-conceptual state in which thoughts about whether things are existent or non-existent, whether they are or are not, no longer arise." This refers to people who remain in a blank state of mind during their meditation, without investigating the nature of existence. They stop all kinds of conceptual thoughts. It's almost as if they are in a state of nothingness. Such people also will not understand selflessness, for they have exaggerated the object of refutation and refuted too much. They consider every conceptual thought as if it were the object of refutation; as if to allow a conceptual thought to enter one's mind would be to accept the inherent existence of that thought. They view all thought processes as something to be abandoned. Therefore, they don't think about anything at all. They have confused what is being refuted through valid reasoning-the inherent existence of the self, or I-with something that actually conventionally exists, that is, a thought. In other words, they have taken conventional existence as being identical with inherent existence.

If the wonderful attitudes of love, compassion, joy and equanimity cannot directly counteract our innate self-grasping, how can thinking about nothing achieve this aim? If we stop thinking about anything, that is not a meditation on emptiness because we are not allowing the wisdom understanding emptiness to arise. If we could ever reach the state of enlightenment by this method we would be buddhas without omniscient wisdom or compassion, because we would not have let anything arise in our minds. I encourage you to investigate this for yourselves.

The next example of this mistaken approach to emptiness is, "If, in meditation, following analysis of the general appearance of what is negated, our analytical understanding differs from the meaning intended or we meditate merely on a non-conceptual state in which we do not recognize emptiness, no matter how long we do this meditation, we will never be able to rid ourselves of the seed of the misconception of self." What this is saying is that if we refute inherent existence through valid reasoning and then meditate on something else, our meditation is not going to work. The text continues, "The third mistaken approach is to have established something other than the view of selflessness through analytical awareness so that when we meditate, our meditation is misplaced." We will never realize selflessness with this approach either, because we have disconnected the focus of our valid reasoning from the focus of our meditation. This is, as the text describes, "like being shown the racetrack but running in the opposite direction."


In order to realize what selflessness is, we have to understand the self that does not exist. Different schools of Buddhist thought have different interpretations in regard to this. The commentary on one of Lama Tsongkhapa's greatest works, The Essence of Eloquent Presentation on that which is Definitive and that which is Interpretable, tells us that Tsongkhapa asserted that many earlier Tibetan masters, although endowed with many great qualities, somehow missed the true meaning of emptiness. By "earlier Tibetan masters" Tsongkhapa is referring to the period after the eighth century when Acharya Padmasambhava and Abbot Sangharakshita were invited to Tibet and also to the period after the eleventh century, including the arrival of Atisha up until the time of Tsongkhapa in the fourteenth century.

What Lama Tsongkhapa meant was that in terms of the aspect of the path, which has to do with method or skillful means, these masters had innumerable great qualities such as bodhicitta. They had perfected the method aspect of Buddhism, but somehow many of them had missed the view of emptiness. They couldn't quite grasp it completely. Then, in the eleventh century, the great Indian master Atisha was invited to Tibet. He composed a very beautiful text called Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment, and with this work Atisha refined the complete teachings of the Buddha, including both sutra and tantra.

In the fourteenth century, Lama Tsongkhapa realized the view of emptiness with the help of the deity, Manjushri. Tsongkhapa said that in order to understand emptiness, our understanding must be free from the two extremes of refuting too much and refuting too little. Some earlier Tibetan masters did not precisely identify the object of refutation. They asserted that the ultimate truth is findable under ultimate analysis. This is a case of underestimating the object of refutation. They have not refuted enough and, in so doing, have missed the view of emptiness. We need to purify much negativity and accumulate great merit in order to realize emptiness. If such great masters can miss it, we can easily miss it as well.


There are four essential points of Buddhism called the "four seals"- every composite phenomenon is impermanent; everything that is contaminated or deluded is suffering in nature; everything that exists is selfless, or empty; and nirvana, or liberation, is peace. All Buddhists accept these four points as definitive teachings, but in regard to the third point-that all phenomena are selfless, or empty-different Buddhist schools have different interpretations.

Theravadins interpret the third seal as meaning only that there is no self of a person. This Buddhist tradition does not accept the selflessness of phenomena. Within the four major tenet schools of Buddhism-Vaibhashika, Sautrantika, Cittamatra and Madhyamaka -we find different assertions and presentations with regard to selflessness, and also in regard to the object of refutation. The two lower schools are the Vaibhashika-sometimes called Particularists or Realists-and the Sautrantika-Followers of Sutra. Like the higher schools, the tenets of these schools say that there isn't a self-sufficient and substantially existent self of a person. However, they also only assert the selflessness of a person and not the selflessness of phenomena.

As we go higher in Buddhist philosophy we find the Cittamatra, or Mind Only, school of thought. Their presentation is different. They talk about two types of selflessness, the selflessness of persons and the selflessness of phenomena. According to the Mind Only school, it is the "duality between subject and object" that is the object of negation or the thing that one is denying exists. They establish the selflessness of phenomena by saying that the subject and its object have the same nature and that it is the division between subject and object as being separate entities that is the object of negation. In other words, the subject and object are empty of being dual and separate entities.

The Mind Only school talks about three different categories of phenomena -"imputed phenomena," which do not exist by way of their own characteristics, and "thoroughly established phenomena" and "dependent phenomena," which do exist by way of their own characteristics.

As mentioned before, in the Middle Way school we find two subschools -the Prasangika-Madhyamaka and the Svatantrika- Madhyamaka. These two philosophical schools present selflessness differently. The Svatantrika-Madhyamaka school also talks about two kinds of selflessness, the selflessness of a person and the selflessness of phenomena. They agree with the Mind Only school that the selflessness of a person is easier to understand than the selflessness of the phenomenal world. They agree with the Mind Only School and the other two Buddhist schools as far as the selflessness of a person is concerned, but their selflessness of phenomena is different.

Most Buddhist schools assert that if something does not exist from its own side or by way of its own characteristics, it does not exist at all. The Svatantrika-Madhyamikas, however, assert that things do exist by way of their own characteristics but do not exist truly. So, according to this school, the terms "true existence" and "existing by way of its own characteristics" are not synonymous. The Svatantrika- Madhyamaka school asserts that everything exists as a combination of projection and inherent existence. They believe that things exist partly as a result of our mind's conceptual projections, or imputations, and partly from their own side. They believe that nothing exists in and of itself without labeling, or conceptual imputation, and this assertion is their object of negation, but they believe that things do exist from their own side to some degree. In other words, phenomena possess a characteristic that we can call objective existence.

In the highest Buddhist school of thought, the Prasangikas, it is said that nothing exists from its own side, even to the slightest extent. Everything is imputed, or labeled. Unlike other schools, they assert that the selflessness of a person does not simply mean that there is no self-sufficient or substantially-existent person. They talk about a person not existing inherently, or in and of itself. According to the Prasangikas, the "emptiness of true existence" and the "emptiness of inherent existence" mean the same thing. Like the Mind Only and Svatantrika-Madhyamaka schools, the Prasangikas assert two types of selflessness, the selflessness of a person and the selflessness of phenomena.

However, in terms of what is being refuted, they assert that there isn't any difference between them. One is just as easy to understand as the other because the process of discovering them is the same. Supposing that you as the meditator want to focus on the selflessness of I, using the person as the basis. When, through reasoning, you perceive the selflessness of I, as you shift your focus onto any other object or phenomenon you can understand the selflessness of that phenomenon by the power of the same reasoning. You don't need to re-establish the selflessness of phenomena using some other method.

For the Prasangika school, there is not even a subtle difference between the selflessness of a person and the selflessness of phenomena.

When we realize that a person exists through mere labeling by terms and concepts and does not exist in and of itself we have realized the selflessness of a person. Taking phenomena as our focus, when we realize phenomena as mere labeling by terms and concepts and not existing in and of themselves, we have realized the selflessness of phenomena. There is a difference with regard to the basis of imputation, but there isn't any difference between the two types of selflessness in terms of what they actually are. It is for that reason that Chandrakirti states that "selflessness is taught in order for sentient beings to be liberated from cyclic existence. The two kinds of selflessness are simply posited on their bases of imputation." When we take a person as the basis of imputation, we are dealing with the selflessness of a person. When we take any other phenomenon as the basis of imputation, we are dealing with the selflessness of phenomena.

According to the Svatantrika-Madhyamikas and the three schools below them, phenomena are not just names or labels. They assert that phenomena should be findable under what is known as "ultimate analysis." When things are found under this type of analysis, they say we can validate the existence of these phenomena. When something is not findable under this kind of analysis, they are not able to assert its existence.

The assertion of the Prasangika-Madhyamaka school is totally different. According to the Prasangikas, nothing should be findable under ultimate analysis. If something is found then that thing must truly exist, and it is true existence, or findability under ultimate analysis, that is the object of refutation according to this school. Arya Nagarjuna said, "Knowing that all phenomena are empty like this and relying on actions and their results is a miracle amongst miracles, magnificence amidst magnificence." So, even though we understand the emptiness of all phenomena, we still rely upon the understanding of the infallible nature of cause and effect.

According to the Prasangika-Madhyamaka school, the terms "existing by way of its own characteristic," "inherent existence" and "true existence" all mean the same thing. For the Prasangikas, all these terms describe the object of negation-the kind of existence that is being refuted or negated. For that reason, our innate grasping at the inherent existence of the self (that is, the innate grasping at the self, existing by way of its own characteristics) is a distorted perception. It is exactly that distorted perception that needs to be cut through and eliminated by cultivating the wisdom that understands emptiness.


All Buddhist schools of thought agree that the I, or self, constitutes the focus of our innate grasping. Where they differ, however, is in terms of what a person is. Certain lower Buddhist schools assert that a person is their five physical and mental aggregates. Other schools say that it's just the mind that is the person and not the other aggregates. In the Mind Only school there is one sub-school that follows a sutra tradition and another that follows reasoning. The sutra followers of the Mind Only school assert that the mind is the person.

The majority of Buddhist schools assert six consciousnesses-the five sensory consciousnesses (eye consciousness, ear consciousness, nose consciousness, tongue consciousness and body consciousness) and mental consciousness. In addition to these six consciousnesses, however, the sutra followers of the Mind Only school talk about "deluded mental consciousness" and "mind basis of all," sometimes translated as "store consciousness." According to them, the mind basis of all is the person and as such it is the focus of the deluded mental consciousness. Those who assert this position say that all our karmic actions deposit their imprints on this particular consciousness.

According to Bhavaviveka, the great Indian master of the Svatantrika-Madhyamaka school, the person is a stream of mental consciousness. So, according to these two schools, when we create karmic actions, the imprints of these actions are stored or deposited on this mind-stream. The reason that the sensory consciousnesses don't store any of these imprints is because they only function here and now. When we die they cease to exist. They are confined to this existence and so cannot become connected to our future lives. Bhavaviveka has presented his position or assertion of what a person is in his work called Blaze of Reasoning.

Now, all the Buddhist schools of thought agree that the person, or self, is an imputed phenomenon-something that is imputed onto its aggregates. Yet, when you ask many of them to pinpoint what that imputed self is, the examples they give are some kind of substantially existent self, or person. Such is the case with some of the assertions we have just been considering. According to the Buddhist school of thought below the Svatantrika-Madhyamaka school, in order to know whether something exists, its existence must be proved by a valid cognition. According to these schools, when we look for a phenomenon it should be findable under analysis. When you find something under such analysis, that thing is said to exist by way of its own characteristics. If you don't find something, then that means that thing doesn't exist at all. However, according to the Prasangika-Madhyamaka school, things should not be findable under ultimate analysis. If you find something, you've gone wrong. That is how the Prasangika position totally opposes that of these other schools.

According to the Prasangika-Madhyamaka school, when you investigate self, you will not find anything such as a person existing from its own side at the end of your analysis. A person is merely a projection that is imputed onto the aggregates. If you do find a person existing from its own side, it should be inherently existent, existing in and of itself, which is impossible because things exist dependently.


These are very technical points and you need to take time to think about them. After contemplating the profundity of these teachings, you may simply come to the conclusion that the wisdom realizing emptiness is too difficult to achieve. It is important to understand that however difficult it is, with perseverance and the passage of time, you will be able to see progress within yourself and gain this wisdom. This is simply the law of nature. If we keep doing something, through the power of familiarization, it gradually becomes easier to do.

You may find it very hard even to conceptualize the view of emptiness, especially at the beginning, but think positively and make continuous effort. If you keep inspiring yourself, you can develop what is called an "affinity" with the view of emptiness-an inkling of what it all means, even if you don't yet have a full understanding. You develop a positive doubt about the nature of reality, a question as to whether things actually exist in the way that they normally appear to you. Such positive doubt is somewhat in tune with what we might call the "music" of emptiness and is said to be very beneficial and powerful. The text states that, "Buddha, the transcendent subduer, prophesied that the protector, Nagarjuna, would establish the unmistaken, definitive and interpretable meaning of emptiness as the essence of his teaching." The commentary given on these lines explains that before he spoke on emptiness Buddha knew that ordinary people would find it difficult to understand these concepts. So, even though you may find it very difficult to follow this teaching, you must never give up hope. Determine that you are going to make every effort to understand and please remember that it is better to put your effort into these matters by trying to understand them slowly. After all, if you don't want to suffer any more, you have no choice!


All the teachings of the historical Buddha are contained in the sutras and can be classified into two groups-definitive teachings, which need no elucidation, and interpretable teachings, which require explanation. A definitive teaching is one that can be accepted literally, in the way that Buddha presented it. An interpretable teaching is one that, if it were accepted as it is literally presented, would cause misunderstanding. The Buddha predicted the coming of two great spiritual pioneers, Arya Nagarjuna and Arya Asanga, who would illustrate the real meaning of his teachings and distinguish both their definitive and interpretable nature.

There is a sutra passage that states, "Father and mother are to be killed. The subjects and the country are to be destroyed. Thereby you will attain the state of purity." This passage is obviously an example of Buddha's interpretable teaching, as it requires interpretation. The background to this passage is something that took place in the ancient Indian city of Rajgir, in the present state of Bihar.

Devadatta, a cousin of the Buddha who was always trying to compete with him, befriended a young prince named Ajatashatru. Devadatta poisoned the prince's ears, saying that his father the king was clinging to the throne. He plotted with the prince to have the king assassinated so that Ajatashatru could take his place. Devadatta also plotted to kill the Buddha because he was jealous of Buddha's spiritual attainments. Devadatta told the prince, "I have a beautiful plan. Your father often invites the Buddha and his followers for alms, so you should ask the Buddha and his entourage to lunch. Dig a big fire pit right before the entrance to your palace and cover it so that it's well hidden. Buddha always walks ahead of his monks so, when he steps onto the pit, he will fall in and burn to death." The prince argued that the Buddha was too clever to be deceived, but Devadatta told him that, to be certain, he should poison Buddha's food in case the first plan didn't succeed.

One day, when the king was not at home, the young prince invited Buddha and his monks to the palace for lunch. He constructed a fire pit and poisoned the food just as Devadatta had instructed him. However, when Buddha placed his foot on the hidden fire pit, it instantly turned into a beautiful lake covered with lotus flowers. Buddha and the entire sangha walked safely across the lake on these flowers and entered the palace. The young prince was totally amazed and immediately confessed to Buddha that he wouldn't be able to serve the lunch because it was poisoned. Buddha told him to go ahead and bring the food anyway. When his meal arrived the Buddha blessed it and ate it without any harm coming to him. Meanwhile, the assassins who had been sent by the prince had caught his father.

Before they killed him, the king asked them to take a message back to his son. The message read, "By killing me you have committed two heinous crimes of boundless negative karma because I am your father and an arhat, having already achieved the state of freedom." When Ajatashatru received this message he felt tremendous remorse for his actions. The emotional burden was so great that he felt he would die right then and there. He decided to go to the Buddha and tell him everything. Buddha wanted to give the prince more time to do confession and purification and so he told him, "Father and mother are to be killed and if you destroy the king and his ministers and subjects, you will become a pure and perfect human being."

Of course, at that moment the prince didn't understand the meaning behind the Buddha's statement, but later on when he had given it more thought he realized that the terms "father" and "mother" stood for contaminated karmic actions and delusions and that these were to be killed, or destroyed, within himself. The remainder of the passage meant that other negativities associated with negative karmic actions and delusions also needed to be destroyed in the sense of being purified, and by doing that the prince would be able to attain the state of pure and perfect liberation.

The Heart Sutra is another example of an interpretable sutra, because it contains many statements that require explanation. For example, it doesn't make any sense to say "no ear, no nose, no tongue," and so forth. We know all these things exist. We need to understand that what Buddha really meant by these terms is that the ear, nose and tongue don't exist inherently.

An example of Buddha's definitive teaching is the sutra that presents the "four seals" of Buddhism. As I mentioned before, the four seals are that every composite phenomenon is impermanent, that which is contaminated is suffering in nature, everything that exists is empty, or selfless, and nirvana is peace. This teaching doesn't require any additional interpretation.

When we don't know how to differentiate between the definitive and interpretive teachings of Buddha, we get really confused. The Tibetans say that we make porridge of our misunderstanding. There is a very popular statement from the sutras: "O bhikshus and wise men, you should analyze and investigate my teaching just as a goldsmith analyzes gold. Just as a goldsmith tests gold by cutting it, rubbing it and burning it, so should you examine and investigate my teaching. Do not accept my teaching just out of devotion to me." So, just as a goldsmith tests gold in three ways, so should we examine and analyze the validity of Buddha's teaching through what are known as the "three types of valid cognition."

First, there is "direct valid perception." Then there is "inferential valid perception," which is not direct but based on reasoning. Finally, we use another form of inferential valid perception, which is more like a form of conviction based upon authentic reasoning. Having applied these three kinds of investigation, when we discover the refined goldlike teaching of Buddha, we should then adopt and practice it.

Buddha taught different things to different people at different times and under different circumstances. So, one thing we must do is understand the context of the situation in which he gave the teaching and to whom it was addressed. Without taking all these factors into consideration we cannot understand Buddha's intention. This is why it is important to study both the definitive and the interpretable teachings.

Another reason we talk about the three types of valid cognition, or perception, is that we find three different types of phenomena in the world. There are manifest objects, or obvious phenomena-those we can directly perceive with our senses. Then there are other kinds of phenomena that are hidden or concealed-we cannot perceive them directly and so we need to use inference in order to understand them. These phenomena need to be realized through valid reasoning and that is why we talk about inferential valid cognition. Third, within these concealed phenomena, there are those that are even more subtle and obscured. In order to perceive these, we need to rely upon authoritative or what are called "valid statements" by an unmistaken enlightened being. This is how we develop the conviction to perceive more obscured phenomena. For example, the text mentions that the great Indian master Atisha follows the elucidation of Arya Nagarjuna in terms of presenting emptiness. Therefore, Atisha's presentation of emptiness is authoritative and valid and the author advises us that we can feel confident in following it.

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.

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.


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.

Teachings on the Heart Sutra, a Perfection of Wisdom text.
Khensur Rinpoche Geshe Jampa Tegchok gave this commentary on the Heart Sutra to Saraswati Buddhist Group, Somerset, England on August 17 -20, 2007. The commentary is edited by Andy Wistreich.

Read the Heart Sutra, a Perfection of Wisdom text. You may also download the commentary in a pdf file.

3. How Things Exist

"Dependent arising"1, "empty" and "the middle way"  all have the same basic meaning involving the same kinds of thought processes. Just as the word "middle" normally means the middle between right and left, likewise dependent arising is said to be the middle way or the middle, with the connotation of being between two extremes. The path of the middle which goes through the central way is the one free of two extremes. These two are the nihilistic and the permanent/eternalist extremes. If something were inherently or self-existent, existing in and of itself by its own nature, this would be the permanent extreme because the permanent or eternalist extreme basically means inherent existence.

That things (phenomena) exist means they have their own particular function to accomplish or perform. Within this context of things being able to perform a function, refuge exists. We assert that there is refuge, and also that karma (action) and its results exist. Although everything which exists can perform actions or functions, there is nothing which is inherently existent or self-existent.

Therefore one should distinguish between statements that things exist and that they inherently exist. They exist but they do not inherently exist - they are not self-existent. If they were self-existent, existing by their own nature, existing inherently or intrinsically (these are different ways of expressing the same point) they could exist completely independent of any action they perform, and of any other phenomenon. However, we know things exist and the way they exist because they can perform actions. They each have specific actions and functions they perform - that is the level on which they exist.

If things were self-existent, they would exist independent of the capacity to perform any action or function. Therefore there is a big difference between saying things exist and that they are self-existent. To repeat, things do exist, but they are not self-existent - they do not exist inherently.

We must distinguish between existing and being self-existent. These are complete opposites because existing means coming into being through depending on various other factors. However, something self-existent would be completely independent of anything else.

We must also distinguish between not existing inherently and not existing at all. Things are not inherently existent - they do not exist inherently - but that is very different from not existing at all. One should recognise that things are existent without being self-existent. When realising things are not self-existent, one should not think they do not exist at all.

Dependent Arising, Empty and Emptiness

How are dependent arising and empty connected? They come to the same thing and have the same import. Therefore one should understand something as empty, in such a way as to see it as dependent. Moreover, one should understand something as dependent, in such a way as to see it as empty.

When something is empty, what does "empty" mean? It does not mean empty of existing - not existing at all. "Empty" means empty of self-existence which means being independent of anything else. Thus it means dependent. An empty thing exists depending on various other factors.

Knowing something to be empty leads one to recognise that it exists as a dependent arising. The opposite is also true. Knowing something to be dependent, one knows it depends upon various other factors and is not independent. Independent meaning self-existent, and not independent meaning not self-existent, one knows something dependent to be empty of self-existence and therefore "empty". This demonstrates that "empty", "dependent arising" and "the middle way free of the two extremes" come to the same thing, are synonymous, having the same meaning or import.

Everything which exists is empty - of self-existence - but not everything is emptiness. There is a difference between "empty" and "emptiness", because emptiness is the quality of a thing's being empty, or the characteristic that an object has of being empty. Everything which exists is empty, but not everything is that quality of being empty, so not everything which exists is emptiness. One must distinguish between empty and emptiness.

Emptiness is the ultimate way of being of phenomena and is described as an exclusive negation.2 It is neither a positive phenomenon nor an implicative negation.3 It is a negation, and out of the two types of negation it is an exclusive negation. Not everything which exists is this exclusive negation, emptiness, but everything which exists is empty.

There is a difference between being empty and being emptiness. There are two types of truth, namely conventional truth and ultimate truth. Emptiness means ultimate truth, and not everything which exists is ultimate truth. Everything which exists is empty because of being empty of self-existence. Not everything is emptiness because not everything is an ultimate truth. There are also conventional truths.

Some texts seem to use the words "empty" and "emptiness" indistinguishably, suggesting that there is little difference between them. However, there is very definitely a distinction between them because emptiness is ultimate truth, and empty is not ultimate truth. Not everything which is empty has to be an ultimate truth, but everything which is emptiness has to be an ultimate truth. Although absolutely everything which exists is empty, it is not the case that everything which exists is emptiness, because emptiness is an ultimate phenomenon and not everything which exists is an ultimate phenomenon.

Just as dependent arising and empty are synonymous, also the appearances of dependent arising and empty are synonymous. "Dependent arising appearance" and "the appearance of dependent arising" mean conventionally existent. All that exists, exists conventionally and is also empty. Thus all that exists and appears is both a dependent arising and also empty. Things exist and appear but are also empty, so although they exist, things are not self-existent, but are empty of self-existence.

First is the idea of conventional phenomena appearing to be and being dependent and second the idea of them as empty and free from assertions. When these two ideas seem different and separate, one has not yet understood Buddha's teaching of emptiness. On the other hand if one recognises that things both appear to be and are dependent, and that they are simultaneously empty, knowing these two without any conflict, one has correctly understood the definitive teaching of the Buddha.

Everything is both empty and dependent. Distinguishing between empty and emptiness, one should maintain the knowledge of everything's being simultaneously empty and dependent.

When recognising something as dependent, can one eliminate the sense of it existing in either of the two extremes? In other words, can thinking of things being dependent eliminate the two extremes? It is not hard to see how dependent arising eliminates the extreme of non-existence (the nihilistic extreme). All four Buddhist philosophical systems4 accept that. However, does recognising a thing as dependent, a dependent arising, also eliminate the permanent or eternalistic extreme, which is the extreme of things being self-existent?

When thinking how something is dependent does that bring to mind an idea of its being self-existent or does it bring to mind how in order to exist the thing depends on the coming together of various different factors? Reflection on how something is dependent certainly stops one from thinking it does not exist at all, but on the other hand does it stop you from thinking the thing is self-existent?

Recognising something as dependent implies that it is not self-existent and therefore stops both extremes It stops the extremes both of thinking a thing does not exist at all and of thinking it is self-existent. This insight into how the understanding of dependent arising can eliminate both extremes is one of the unique and very difficult to understand points of the Consequentialist system.

Furthermore, recognising a thing's being empty stops the extreme of believing it to be self-existent, which is the permanent or eternalistic extreme. When recognising something as empty, one recognises that it is empty of self-existence. That self-existence means existence independent of anything else.

Thinking something is empty of self-existence, involves thinking that it is not independent. This is seen through recognising that it is dependent. So something's being empty means it depends, and therefore exists dependently. "Empty" stops both extremes. Thinking of something as empty stops both extremes in your mind, and thinking of it as a dependent arising also stops both extremes.

The Two Truths

What we hear, smell, taste, touch and wear are examples of conventional truths. For an example of emptiness analyse the person, to seek a self-existing person in the aggregates - the form, feeling, discrimination, the conditioned phenomena and the consciousness aggregates. Investigate, searching for a self-existing person in each of those aggregates. At a certain point having looked everywhere and not having found it, there is an empty appearance, almost a feeling of having lost that self-existing person. What is then appearing to our mind is the emptiness of the person, which is an example of ultimate truth.

Having recognised that things appear to one as if self-existent the mind investigates whether or not what appears to be self-existent is genuinely so. The mind which analyses and searches for a self-existent thing eventually realises there is no such thing. This is called a valid mind experiencing ultimates or engaging in an ultimate analysis. That valid mind finally realises emptiness, the object found by a valid mind engaging in an ultimate analysis or experiencing ultimates.

Visual forms, sounds, tastes and so on, are not objects found by a mind performing an ultimate analysis, but they are objects found by a mind engaging in a conventional analysis. For example, the visual consciousness that realises (sees) visual form is a valid mind; the nose consciousness that smells various odours, so realising those odours is also a valid mind. These are examples of valid minds experiencing conventionalities.

Ultimate truth is not found by a valid mind experiencing conventionalities but is generally defined as the object found by a valid mind experiencing ultimates. This mind is a valid mind experiencing ultimates with respect to this object. Moreover, just as in general, things like emptiness are the objects realised by a valid mind performing an ultimate analysis, conventional phenomena or truths such as smells, tastes and so forth are objects found by a valid mind performing a conventional analysis.

Student: I have always thought that all phenomena are like coins with two sides, with conventional reality on one side and ultimate reality on the other. But am I mistaken, does emptiness not apply to all phenomena?

Khensur Rinpoche: One may say that a thing's empty and dependent aspects are like two sides of a coin. However emptiness is something else. It is correct to think of the two truths as being like two sides of one coin, because you are thinking of how the thing is empty rather than how it is emptiness.

Conventional phenomena do not exist as they appear, whereas ultimate phenomena do. This statement requires one to identify to what they are appearing. To which type of mind do conventional phenomena not exist as they appear? To which type of mind do ultimate phenomena exist as they appear?

Two types of valid mind are being discussed here. To one of them conventional phenomena do not exist as they appear and to the other ultimate phenomena do exist as they appear.

The mind to which conventional phenomena do not exist as they appear is the valid main mind5 realising them. For example for visual form, it means visual (eye) consciousness, the valid main mind6 realising visual form. Visual consciousness is a valid mind experiencing conventionalities. That valid mind experiencing conventionalities is the main mind realising visual form. Visual form does not exist in the way it appears to that valid mind since it appears to be self-existent but is not. Therefore although that is a valid mind, visual form does not exist as it appears to it. It is the same with other conventional phenomena like smells, tastes, sounds and so on.

What appear to visual consciousness and what it realises are shapes and colours. Shapes and colours appear to visual consciousness as self-existent, whereas they are not. They are dependent, existing only through dependence, and not at all self-existent. In this sense, shapes and forms do not exist the way they appear to the valid mind realising them.

There is a difference between sense consciousnesses - visual consciousness realising visual form, shapes and colours and so on; ear consciousness realising sounds, and so forth - and the innate I-grasping mind. The innate I-grasping mind is a type of true-grasping or self-grasping mind that grasps or apprehends the "I" in one's own continuum as being self-existent. There is a difference between the inborn I-grasping mind which thinks of and believes the "I" to be self-existent or inherently existent, and the mind which thinks, “I'm coming, I'm going, I'm doing this, I'm doing that”, which are minds realising the conventionally existing "I." Those minds thinking, “I'm coming, I'm going, I must do this and I must do that,” are conventional minds and are not true-grasping, so are certainly not the innate I-grasping mind.


"Dependent arising" means arising in dependence on other things. [Return to text]

 This means that in its act of negation it excludes any positive implications. [Return to text]

Phenomena can be either positive or negative (e.g. "body" or "nobody"). Negations may be implicative or exclusive. An implicative negation would imply something in place of the negation. [Return to text]

The four Buddhist systems are the philosophical schools of the Vaibhashika (Particularists), Sautrantika (Sutra-followers), Cittamatra (Mind-only) and Madhyamaka (Middle Way). [Return to text]

Mind can be divided into main minds and mental factors. An example of a main mind is the visual consciousness. An example of a mental factor is feeling. So if you see something you like, you have a visual consciousness as a main mind and pleasure as a feeling.  [Return to text]

 Valid means that the visual consciousness has correctly ascertained its object, so if it is seeing a sunflower, it is not mistaking it for a lotus, as it is actually a sunflower that is being seen. [Return to text]


Teachings on the Heart Sutra, a Perfection of Wisdom text.

Khensur Rinpoche Geshe Jampa Tegchok gave this commentary on the Heart Sutra to Saraswati Buddhist Group, Somerset, England on August 17 -20, 2007. The commentary is edited by Andy Wistreich.

Read the Heart Sutra, a Perfection of Wisdom text. You may also download the commentary in a pdf file.

2. Dependent Arising and Emptiness

The passage up to the fifth line of the third paragraph, "the five aggregates are empty of any inherent nature of their own," is the brief answer about how to meditate on emptiness. Following that is the extensive explanation.

First is an extensive explanation of the meaning of emptiness in relation to form,

Form is empty. Emptiness is form. Emptiness is not other than form and form is not other than emptiness.

This detailed explanation of emptiness in relation to form is followed by an explanation of how to apply it to the remaining aggregates and other phenomena such as the twelve links of dependent arising. What you understand from the discussion of emptiness in relation to form, should be applied to other phenomena such as the eighteen elements, the twelve sources, the twelve links of dependent arising and the Four Noble Truths. Evidently, it is important to understand how this works in relation to form because then you can apply it to anything else.

In brief, it says that all phenomena (everything which exists) are empty of existing by their very nature (by their own nature). There are various ways to express this. One can say either that everything is empty of true existence or of self-existence.

With cause and effect, for example mother and child, the mother is the cause, and the child is the effect. As an effect the child depends upon the mother as a cause. It is straightforward to understand how results depend upon causes - the child depends upon the mother because the mother gave birth to the child. However, somebody cannot be called a mother without there being a child to be mother of, so also the mother exists depending upon the child.

One can easily see that the child's existence depends upon the mother. However, one might have doubts about the idea of the mother's existence depending on the child. This illustrates cause depending on effect, not simply effect depending on cause.

According to the highest system of Buddhist philosophy, the Prasangika (Consequentialist)1 system, not only do effects depend on causes, but causes also depend on effects. They say the mother depends on the child. This is obvious when one considers how a woman does not become a mother merely by reaching a certain age, such as by becoming an adult. She becomes a mother by having a child. Without a child there would be no mother.

Likewise a series of moments culminates in the formation of a particular object. The later moments depend upon the earlier moments, but also the earlier moments of the series exist in dependence on the later moments.

In terms of time, a year, being composed of twelve months, depends on twelve months. Regardless of the different lengths of months - thirty or thirty-one days and so on - a month exists depending on its days, a day depends on twenty-four hours, an hour depends on sixty minutes and so on. Parts and whole are mutually interdependent.

Likewise with respect to short and long, something is only long in comparison to something shorter and something can only be short in comparison with something longer.

There are many other instances of this principle. For example, inside and outside: outside only exists in relation to inside and inside only exists in relation to outside. Likewise, big and small. Moreover, with cloth - fine cloth or course weave cloth - or thick and thin. We can understand this if we apply our minds to it.

One can see how a large object like a house exists depending upon its various parts and can see an interdependent relationship in so many other things too. The more one reflects the more one sees that everything exists and comes into being through depending on something else. One simply cannot find anything that cannot be analysed or described in this way.

According to the Consequentialist system of Buddhist philosophy which is the system of this commentary, there is nothing which does not exist depending upon something else. For example a watch for telling the time can only exist through the convergence and fitting together of its various parts. Since nothing is completely independent, not depending upon something or other, there is nothing self-existent. This is because to be self-existent would be to exist in and of itself without depending on anything else, whereas everything exists through depending on something else.

"Emptiness" implies the non-existence of something. When we use the term "emptiness", something is denied or negated. What is negated or denied is a thing”s being self-existent, where self-existence implies the capacity to come into being and exist without depending on anything else. Nothing exists completely independently of anything else; everything depends upon something. For that reason everything is empty, meaning "empty of self-existence".

The great master Nagarjuna says in The Fundamental Stanzas on Wisdom that there is nothing at all which is not dependent and therefore, there is nothing at all which is not empty. If one could find something not dependent, in other words completely independent of anything, one would have found something self-existent, because self-existent means existing in and of itself without having to depend upon anything else. Thus it would not be empty. If something were independent it would not be empty, because empty means "empty of self-existence". Emptiness negates the self-existence of everything.

It is said that "empty" and "dependent arising" are synonyms - possessing the same import. This means that saying something is dependent means it depends on this and that, and so is not independent. If it is dependent, of course it is not independent and the fact that you know it to be dependent means you know it not to be independent. If it is not independent, it is empty of being independent, or empty of being self-existent, because "independent" means 'self-existent", these being the same thing. "Empty of being self-existent" is exactly what is meant by saying things are empty.

Recognising something as empty enables recognition of it as dependent; it comes to the same thing. Being empty means "empty of self-existence", or empty of existing in and of itself, independent of anything else. Therefore if it is empty it is not independent. Not being independent must mean that it depends, because these are opposites. Therefore thinking about something”s being dependent brings one to the same conclusion, that it must be empty. Thinking about how something is empty brings one to the conclusion that it is dependent, so in this sense "empty" and "dependent" have the same import and may be regarded as synonyms.

Thus, saying something is either empty or dependent comes to the same thing, because something”s being empty means it is empty of self-existence or not self-existent. It is not self-existent because self-existent would mean independent of anything else. Being empty of being self-existent means to depend. Whether you describe something as empty or dependent it means the same thing.

Questions and Answers

Student: I always expected that because the Heart Sutra is about emptiness, Manjushri would give the explanation. Is it significant that Avalokiteshvara gives it?

Khensur Rinpoche: I don”t have a particular answer for that. There does not seem to be any particular reason why Avalokiteshvara, the Deity or Buddha of Compassion would need to answer it, because any enlightened being could have answered. It could have been either Avalokiteshvara or Manjushri since they have the same insight. There is the cause and effect process of developing love and compassion through different stages of the meditation required to develop compassion. Therefore Avalokiteshvara would have a particular kind of insight into dependent arising, so perhaps he is particularly qualified from that point of view. However, any of the Deities would have the same insight and understanding.

Another student: What is the benefit of studying emptiness in relation to achieving the path? What is the main attribute and the main point?

Khensur Rinpoche: That is a very good question. The reason for wandering in cyclic existence, going from life to life and experiencing suffering in one life after another, is the ignorance of the true-grasping or self-grasping mind. One takes birth because of karma - destructive actions done under the control of inner mental afflictions. These mental afflictions are derived from ignorance. The purpose of learning about then meditating on emptiness is to remove or eliminate that ignorance.

This knowledge is the particular and indispensable thing needed to eliminate the root of cyclic existence. By eliminating its root one can eliminate cyclic existence itself. When completely free of cyclic existence one achieves liberation. So this is the single indispensable cause, practice and insight needed to achieve liberation.

In general, to learn about or meditate on emptiness is an extremely powerful purification. Without the wisdom realising emptiness, there is no way to overcome and eliminate the true-grasping, self-grasping mind. Without overcoming the mind of ignorance all the mental afflictions that derive from it cannot be overcome, so one will continue to create karma and be born in cyclic existence. As long as one lacks wisdom and insight, one cannot achieve liberation. Thus although it is most important and effective to meditate on bodhicitta, love, compassion and so on, no matter how much one does this without the wisdom realising emptiness one cannot become free of cyclic existence. They are not what principally free one from cyclic existence.

Another student: I have difficulty understanding the line "Form is empty. Emptiness is form."

Khensur Rinpoche: The first point, "Form is empty" is relatively straight forward. "Form is empty" means that form is empty of self-existence. Why is it empty and how do we know it is empty? We know it is empty because form exists through depending on other things and is therefore dependent. It does not exist independent of anything else, so it is not self-existent. It is not something one can see existing independently, in and of itself. So since it is not self-existent it is empty of self-existence which is why form is empty.

To understand the meaning of "Emptiness is form", consider the emptiness of form. The emptiness of form is its emptiness of self-existence, which is its emptiness of existing independent of anything else. This is form's existence depending upon other factors, which is form itself. So that is the meaning of "Emptiness is form."

Form's existing dependent upon causes and conditions is form itself. This means that there is such a thing as form”s existence dependent upon causes and conditions. If one has to point that out, to what can one point except form itself? That is the meaning of form's existence depending upon causes and conditions being form itself. It is similar with form”s transience, its moment by moment changing nature. That nature is also nothing other than form. You cannot point out form”s moment by moment changing nature anywhere other than exactly where form is. Therefore it is form itself.

Student: It seems the problem is to think of form as being separate from its changing nature.
Khensur Rinpoche: We might have that idea, but obviously it would not make sense. One could not possibly have form”s moment by moment change or form's existence depending upon various causes and conditions as an object separate from form itself.

Student: So one may think about the impermanent form without thinking about the base of that impermanent form, but cannot have them separate. Can one think about them as two?

Khensur Rinpoche: Yes one can. Although for example, the moment by moment changing nature of form does not exist separate from form, still, with a conceptual mind one may think of them separately. Nevertheless that does not make them separate. Just because one may think of them separately does not endow them with any separate identity.

Another student: Some people recite the Heart Sutra a lot. Does it have some power in itself?
Khensur Rinpoche: Because the subject matter is extremely profound, it is said that even reciting the sutra which expresses it is a very powerful purification. It is said that if one recites this sutra every day, it is very helpful in overcoming illnesses and various external and internal forms of harm. Depending on how well and how much one recites it and so on, one could completely eliminate or at least reduce all kinds of obstacles, hindrances, harm and so forth. Besides that, if this recitation and reflection is reinforced by the practice of compassion, love, bodhicitta, the determination to be of benefit to others and so forth, it is most excellent and makes recitation and practice incredibly powerful.

There is a verse whose first line states that the perfection of wisdom is inconceivable and inexpressible. "Inconceivable" literally means that the conceptual mind cannot conceive of or realise it and "inexpressible" means that words cannot express it. The perfection of wisdom is like that.

The next line in that verse says "unproduced and unceasing", meaning that it is not inherently produced. Things are produced, but not inherently. Production is not self-existent and although things cease, there is no inherent cessation. There is no inherent stopping of things. When things cease, their cessation is not self-existent. The lack of inherent production and cessation is emptiness. These are both forms of emptiness and their nature is like space.

In the third line it makes the point that emptiness is an object experienced directly by the aryas, those beings who have a direct realisation of emptiness, when they are in totally non-conceptual single-pointed equipoise or meditation on emptiness. Emptiness is the object of that mind in the sense that it realises emptiness directly and non-conceptually.

In other words, although the first line says that emptiness is inexpressible and inconceivable, it does not mean that it is not at all possible for the mind to know it nor that it is impossible to be expressed at all. It is just that the conceptual mind cannot grasp or experience emptiness the way it is experienced by a direct non-conceptual realisation. Alternatively, although emptiness can be understood and realised by the conceptual mind, the experience of the conceptual mind realising it is not the same as the direct perception of emptiness.

Although emptiness can definitely be expressed and explained extremely – and very precisely at that, the words do not capture the actual experience of emptiness the way that the direct realisation of it does. This is how emptiness is and is not describable.

Also when we hear emptiness is inconceivable we might ask, "Does that mean that it cannot be realised at all?” The third line makes the point that it is not that it cannot be realised at all. It can be realised by the aryas” direct perception of emptiness. For example the path of seeing directly realises the sixteen aspects of the Four Noble Truths, such as emptiness and it is also directly perceived during the paths of meditation and no more learning.

Another student: What would be the benefits in this life from understanding and realising emptiness?

Khensur Rinpoche: The self-grasping mind thinks everything is self-existent but meditating on emptiness opposes that. In the long-term or short-term, meditating on emptiness and reciting the Heart Sutra is very powerful in avoiding illness or reducing and eliminating one's problems, difficulties and hindrances, because they come from the self-grasping mind. This is because the self-grasping mind is the foundation and root of all of the other afflictions. When afflictions of attachment, anger and so forth arise, we engage in various actions which lead to the suffering of having hindrances, illness and so on. Therefore there is a direct link. Meditating on emptiness works because it attacks the very root and foundation of problems and suffering. The meditation itself reduces them.


Called the Consequence School because of the logical method of demonstrating to others the unwanted consequences of their mistaken views. [Return to text]

Teachings on the Heart Sutra, a Perfection of Wisdom text.
Khensur Rinpoche Geshe Jampa Tegchok gave this commentary on the Heart Sutra to Saraswati Buddhist Group, Somerset, England on August 17 -20, 2007. The commentary is edited by Andy Wistreich.

Read the Heart Sutra, a Perfection of Wisdom text. You may also download the commentary in a pdf file.


To begin with please review your motivation for studying this topic because without an appropriate attitude and motivation, activities are less useful and meaningful, and might be neither Dharma1 nor spiritual practice. Three scopes of attitude are considered appropriate.

If the motivation for an action such as coming, going or meditating is to avoid one's own rebirth after death in the unfortunate realms of existence, this is Dharma or spiritual practice of the most modest or least scope. The motivation is of middle scope if the aim is to avoid rebirth anywhere in cyclic existence thereby achieving one's own liberation. Finally, the highest motivation, of a person of great scope is if one practises to achieve enlightenment for the sake of all beings. Studying the teachings with excellent attitude and motivation is very powerful, less good is of middling benefit and the least or weakest is not so significant.

The supreme attitude or motivation, embracing all living beings, is thinking "Everything I do until I achieve enlightenment is for the sake of all sentient beings. All I do from now until my death I dedicate to every single living being without exception. Particularly I dedicate everything I do this year, this month, this week and today for the sake of all living beings."

This highest motivation "To be of benefit to all living beings I shall use my time and energy to achieve enlightenment" is important for students and teacher alike. It is dreadful if a teacher's whole reason and mental attitude for teaching is to make money, become famous, be well thought of, make friends and so forth. Likewise, if students have these attitudes, their motivation for study and practice is completely wrong.

The Kadampa lamas, great Tibetan practitioners of the past, had a saying that two particularly important focal points of any activity are at the beginning and the end. At the beginning it is especially important to have a good kuenlong – an appropriate attitude or motivation. At the end, having performed a well-motivated activity, it is important to make prayers of dedication. By making such prayers, all the virtuous goodness created by engaging in the action with such a positive motivation is retained. For example, if subsequently one gets angry without having dedicated the good energy created by an action, the anger completely destroys the benefit. However, having dedicated, even if one gets angry later, it cannot destroy the goodness. Therefore, it is very important to dedicate.

There are traditional prayers like the jam.pel pa.wo that begins, “Just as the great bodhisattvas of the past like Manjushri and Samantabhadra, made dedication, I also dedicate.” With this one mentally transfers one's positive energy to the safe-keeping of these two bodhisattvas, entrusting them with the virtue created. Even without knowing the formal words of the prayer, it is sufficient to understand the main point which is thinking that "I dedicate exactly the same as whatever prayers of dedication all the buddhas and bodhisattvas, those great holy beings made in the past and are making now." Similarly, when setting the motivation, think, "With my life, time and energy, may I too engage in every action they did and are doing for the sake of all sentient beings! May I emulate them!"

The Heart Sutra: Emptiness and Lines of Reasoning

To examine the Heart Sutra word by word from the beginning would take too long and might become tedious for those who have already studied teachings on emptiness. With some experience of emptiness study there is already some understanding, so it could feel frustrating to start from the beginning without reaching the main point.

In general there are several methods to study and meditate on emptiness. The following are the best known lines of reasoning leading to an understanding of emptiness. The line of reasoning of being free from one and many analyses the very nature of things. The vajra slivers line of reasoning analyses causes. The line of reasoning analysing the results of things is the refutation of existing and not existing. The reasoning of dependent arising is known as the king of reasoning.

From the Supplement to the Middle Way (Skt. Madhyamakavatara) by Chandrakirti, comes the sevenfold analysis refutation of self existence. Another very important line of reasoning, the refutation of production from self and other is derived from the first verse of Nagarjuna's Fundamental Stanzas on Wisdom:

Neither from itself nor from another
Nor from both,
Nor without a cause
Does anything anywhere, ever arise.2

The Prajnaparamita Sutras

The title of this sutra is The Essence of Wisdom, often known as the Heart Sutra. Just as our heart is the most important part of our body, this sutra contains the heart or essence of the Prajnaparamita Sutras, the most important teachings of the Buddha. Prajnaparamita means the Perfection of Wisdom, the Wisdom Gone Beyond or the Transcendental Wisdom.

Amongst the Prajnaparamita Sutras are the extensive, middling and concise Mother Sutras. The great or extensive one is the Perfection of Wisdom in 100,000 Verses; the middling is that in 20,000 verses and the concise one is in 8,000 verses. The Essence of Wisdom sutra is so-called because it contains the essence of all of the wisdom sutras.

Different types of wisdom analyse conventional and ultimate phenomena. The ultimate here means emptiness. The wisdom intended when calling The Essence of Wisdom a sutra containing the essence of all the Prajnaparamita Sutras is wisdom analysing the ultimate which means wisdom realising emptiness. Various levels of this are wisdom from hearing or studying, wisdom from reflecting or contemplating, and wisdom from meditation.

Wisdom analysing the ultimate analyses and realises emptiness. This wisdom is the complete opposite of the ignorance which is the true-grasping or self-grasping mind, the root cause holding us in cyclic existence. Although this wisdom and ignorance have completely opposite ways of engaging they refer to the same object. Being directly contradictory, they are complete opposites.

The Prajnaparamita Sutras explicitly teach or reveal the stages of profound emptiness. Implicitly they explain the grounds and paths, the various realisations produced or arising sequentially in the mind of the practitioner gradually progressing through the path, and the methods of practice.

Dependent Arising

Lama Tsongkhapa wrote The Brief Explanation of the Way of Discerning the Difference between the Sutras of Definitive and Interpretative Meaning more commonly known as the Dependent Arising Praise in which he explained emptiness by stating that the Buddha based all he taught on everything which exists being a dependent arising. Buddha taught emptiness never losing the perspective of it totally fitting with everything being a dependent arising.

Tsongkhapa made the point that, in the multiplicity of teachings Buddha gave, everything was taught in terms of dependent arising. In other words, Buddha never taught so that you could possibly lose sight of the view of everything being a dependent arising.

Furthermore, by teaching like that, absolutely everything the Buddha taught was aimed at helping all sentient beings to overcome all inner mental afflictions and every fault and problem deriving from those afflictions. In other words, absolutely everything the Buddha taught was aimed at bringing all sentient beings to the state of nirvana. What the Sanskrit term nirvana means is "the state beyond sorrow." This means beyond the sorrow of the mental afflictions.

By what method can beings achieve this peaceful state which goes beyond or completely transcends all inner mental afflictions? One can achieve the state beyond sorrow with the wisdom realising emptiness. At present, sentient beings are unable to see the true nature of their own minds. The wisdom realising emptiness will enable them to see this.

The presence of mental afflictions prevents us from seeing the true nature of our minds. By meditating on that nature we can overcome those afflictions, (Tib. nyon mongs; Skt. kleshas) and thus achieve the state beyond sorrow. It is said that by extinguishing karma (action) and the kleshas (mental afflictions) we find liberation. Mental afflictions impel us to engage in harmful destructive actions that lead to our experiencing suffering in the future. Karma (action) refers to destructive actions engaged in through the force of mental afflictions.

Suffering arises due to karma, and karma arises due to mental afflictions. Because of mental afflictions we engage in harmful karmic actions. Where do they come from? Tsongkhapa's text makes the point that karma and afflictions come from a particular kind of conceptualisation, the true-grasping mind (ignorance). Destructive actions (karma) come from mental afflictions derived from this true-grasping conceptualisation (Tib. nam.tok) or "superstition" - in other words, the mind of ignorance or true-grasping.

The way to eradicate this true-grasping mind is by reflecting upon and understanding dependent arising. "Dependent arising" refers to the fact that everything arises (comes into being or existence) through depending on other factors.

The Setting and Structure of the Heart Sutra

The prologue to the Heart Sutra is called "a basis for the discussion" (Tib. ling.shi), meaning the background or setting for the sutra. For example, in the case of some of the monastic precepts there is an explanation about how a particular precept came to be given. This can include a description of how a certain monk made a mistake and how, when the Buddha came to know of this he said, “This is something that the monks and nuns should not do.” From that point on the monks and nuns had to follow that precept. The background to how and why it came about is called the ling.shi or prologue.

The prologue to this sutra begins with:

Thus I have heard at one time: the Lord was sitting on Vultures Peak near the city of Rajgir. He was accompanied by a large community of monks as well as a large community of Bodhisattvas.

This is the common prologue. The next two lines form the special prologue,

 On that occasion the Lord was absorbed in a concentration called the profound appearance.

The common prologue describes how the Buddha was sitting with a great community of monks and bodhisattvas. The special prologue, that he was absorbed in a concentration called the profound appearance means that the Buddha was himself reflecting or meditating on emptiness.

Meanwhile the bodhisattva, the great being, the noble Avalokiteshvara was contemplating the profound discipline of the perfection of wisdom. He came to see that the five aggregates were empty of any inherent nature of their own.

The Buddha meditates on emptiness and throughout most of the rest of the sutra starting from "Through the power of the Buddha", he blesses and causes a change to occur in the mental continuum of two of his disciples, Avalokiteshvara (Tib. Chenrezig) and Shariputra. He blesses their continuums so that Shariputra asks Avalokiteshvara a question. The rest of the text is Avalokiteshvara's answer.

Both question and the answer arise through the blessing of the Buddha and are called the holy word of the Buddha. There are different types of word or teaching of the Buddha and one is called the holy word that comes through the blessing of the Buddha. Although spoken by Shariputra and Avalokiteshvara, with the question coming from Shariputra, and Avalokiteshvara giving the answer, it is still referred to as the Buddha's word. Specifically in this case it is the Buddha's word that comes through his blessing these two beings. At the very end of the sutra it says,

At that time the Lord arose from his concentration and said to the noble Avalokiteshvara, “Well said, well said, that is just how it is my son, just how it is. The profound perfection of wisdom should be practiced exactly as you have explained it, then the Tathagatas will be truly delighted.”

This is the Buddha's holy word spoken from his own mouth. Although more detail is possible, this gives a rough idea of the structure.

To recap, a question comes from Shariputra followed by Avalokiteshvara's answer, and both are the word of the Buddha called the "blessed word". Later where the Buddha says, “Well said, well said,” he confirms that what Avalokiteshvara said about emptiness is absolutely faultless. That is also the Buddha's word, specifically that spoken by the Buddha.

Thus there are three sections. In brief, the Heart Sutra, has three points - the question from Shariputra, the answer from Avalokiteshvara and finally the Buddha's approval.


Buddhist practice – literally that which prevents suffering. [Return to text]

Translated by Jay L. Garfield. [Return to text]

Teachings on the Heart Sutra, a Perfection of Wisdom text
Khensur Rinpoche Geshe Jampa Tegchok gave this commentary on the Heart Sutra to Saraswati Buddhist Group, Somerset, England on August 17 -20, 2007. The commentary is edited by Andy Wistreich.

Read the Heart Sutra, a Perfection of Wisdom text. You may also download the commentary in a pdf file.

Index Page

1:  Introduction to the Heart Sutra

  • Motivation
  • The Heart Sutra: Emptiness and Lines of Reasoning
  • The Prajnaparamita Sutras
  • Dependent Arising
  • The Setting and Structure of the Heart Sutra

2:  Dependent Arising and Emptiness

  • Dependent Arising and Emptiness
  • Questions and Answers


3:  How Things Exist

  • How Things Exist
  • Dependent Arising, Empty and Emptiness
  • The Two Truths

4:  The Mere ‘I’

  • The Consequence (Prasangika) School View of the ‘I’
  • Question and Answer
  • Form is Empty…the Fourfold Purity
  • Question & Answer

5:  Meditation on Emptiness

  • The Object of Negation
  • The Risk of Nihilism
  • Conventionally Existing Phenomena and Emptiness

6:  Liberation from Cyclic Existence

  • Cutting the Root of Cyclic Existence
  • The Importance of the Wisdom Side
  • Conclusion

By Lati Rinpoche in New York, New York, 1991

Lati Rinpoche, a recognized reincarnate lama, was Abbot of the Shartse College of Ganden Monastery in Mundgod, South India. Born in the Kham district of Tibet, he received his Geshe degree at Ganden Monastery and later joined the Tantic College of Upper Lhasa before being forced into exile by the Chinese Communist invasion. Lati Rinpoche passed away on April 12, 2010.  See the Thubten Dhargye Ling website for a more extensive biography.

This teaching was given in New York City, October 15, 1991. Transcribed by Phillip Lecso.

Before giving the actual teaching Rinpoche would like to say some prayers. First is a prayer to Shakyamuni Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, and this prayer contains prostration, recitation of Sutra and dedication. The second prayer is The Hundred Deities of Tushita because Rinpoche is here to represent the Gelugpa tradition. The next prayer will be The Foundation of Remarkable Qualities and this short prayer contains a major outline of the Lam-rim teaching. As we recite this prayer we review the entire structure of the path. Finally will be the Heart Sutra for removing the obstacles to give and receive these teachings.

I would like to thank you for coming here to listen to the teachings and I am sure there are many other things to do but you have placed them aside and made the point that it is important to attend the teachings. I very much appreciate this.

As we all know our purpose in gathering here is to discuss the Dharma. There are various spiritual traditions in this world and I feel that each spiritual tradition has its own qualities and all have made contributions for the welfare of humanity. I feel it is important for us to cultivate respect for each other’s spiritual traditions and cultivate a pure perception, appreciating the good qualities of other’s traditions.

As followers of various spiritual traditions, if we properly appreciate each other and work with each other, creating harmony between us, this would contribute to world peace and stability. Instead of appreciating the good points of each other’s traditions, if we go on criticizing one another, bringing out the weak points here and there, this will create disharmony and we will not make positive contributions to the world.

As follower of various spiritual traditions we have a responsibility to be kind and caring towards others, otherwise nonbelievers who do not follow any form of religion will feel that we are unnecessarily creating divisions among ourselves. Due to this we say our tradition is the best and cling to it, criticizing other’s traditions and create unnecessary divisions. When we do this the religion we adopt instead of helping us calm and settle our minds, it fuels attachment and hatred. So be careful with your spiritual tradition and don’t give this kind of impression to nonbelievers.

Creating unnecessary divisions has nothing to do with the spiritual traditions themselves; this is a weakness of us the followers of the traditions. We are placing our weaknesses onto our spiritual traditions so we need to be careful with what we do. The Dalai Lama has said that we should cultivate respect and pure perception towards all forms of life, especially the followers of different spiritual traditions. If we make a point to put this into practice, there will certainly be harmony between followers of the different traditions and with this harmony and cooperation, we could make a great contribution to world peace and happiness.

Of the various spiritual traditions, I am here to speak about Lord Buddha’s teaching. As you know Lord Buddha’s teaching has different vehicles or yanas such as the Lower Vehicle or Hinayana and the Mahayana or Greater Vehicle. Of these two vehicles I am here to speak more about the Mahayana or Greater Vehicle of Buddhism.

Perhaps one could say that Mahayana Buddhism or Greater Vehicle Buddhism flourished incomparably in Tibet. Over time it developed into different schools or traditions of what is called Tibetan Buddhism. All the teachings that the followers of the four traditions of Tibetan Buddhism are the teachings of the same teacher, Shakyamuni Buddha gave the teachings and all of the followers of the four traditions of Tibetan Buddhism are practicing this.

All four traditions of Tibetan Buddhism have flourished well but sometimes one does hear some unfortunate things, which I feel are unnecessary conflicts among the various traditions. This is misinformation, which has been given that has nothing to do with the traditions of Tibetan Buddhism. All four traditions can trace their teachings back to Lord Buddha’s teachings, which originated in India. Over the centuries Tibet sent a number of brilliant scholars to India to study and reproduce a number of greatly realized scholars as well as lotsawas, the translators many of whom were emanations. So one can trace back all of the teachings of Tibetan Buddhism back to the teachings of Lord Buddha.

Of the four traditions of Tibetan Buddhism, I am here to present the teachings of the Gelugpa tradition which is also called the Wholesome Tradition or the Virtuous Tradition. I am going to touch on different points of what is the philosophical view, what is the meditation in this tradition and what is called the contact or the behavioral aspect of this tradition. Actually it would be ideal to tell you of the lineage masters of the Gelugpa tradition and when one tells the life stories of great masters; this facilitates one gaining respect, confidence and conviction in those great masters. Due to the time factor and the fact that I am incapable of relating the greatness of those past masters, I will skip this.

But I must mention a little bit about Manjusri, Lama Tsongkhapa, the founder of the Gelugpa tradition. At a very young age when he was three he received a layperson’s ordination or upasaka vows from Karmapa Rolpay Dorje. Later he received novice monk and full ordination from Choye Dondrup Rinchen. From the age of three until sixteen years of age, Lama Tsongkhapa studied at the feet of those two great masters and received innumerable tantric initiations, commentaries, transmissions and pith instructions. When he was sixteen years old he went to central Tibet.

In central Tibet he continued his extensive studies and practice with many great masters such as Lama Umapa (Sp?), Nyapon Kunga Pel, Lama Rendawa and so forth. A full list of his teachers would be very long so I mentioned just a few. He also studied with Potam Gyaltsen (Sp?), Tonjup Sangbo (Sp?) and other great masters receiving innumerable transmissions of scriptures. Lama Tsongkhapa was never satisfied with partial study so he studied with many great masters and the treatises or shastras of many great masters such as Maitreya, the Six Ornaments and the Two Supreme Ones. He completed a profound study of all those treatises.

Studying with great masters he learned a great deal of the scriptures so he became the holder of the treasure of scriptural teachings. He also implemented the teachings and particularly he performed retreats and practiced intensively developing high realizations. He developed the realizations of the three principal aspects of the path, which include the altruistic intention to become enlightened or bodhicitta and the wisdom that understands emptiness.

Having accomplished his intensive study of the great treatises and having actualized profound realizations, Lama Tsongkhapa did critical study of the teachings of Buddhism existent in Tibet at that time. He also composed many profound treatises and later mainly following the tradition of the great Atisha; he founded the Gelugpa tradition called the New Kadampa Tradition. This is how he made a tremendous contribution for the restoration of Buddhism in Tibet.

The point that I am making is that Lama Tsongkhapa did not found a tradition just out of his own mind without any kind of base. He studied the teachings of Buddhism present at that time in Tibet and accomplished realizations. Later he founded this new tradition. Before Lama Tsongkhapa there were three different traditions of Kadampas such as the Textual Kadampa who followed the scriptural texts, the followers of the Pith Instruction or the Quintessential Instructions and the Lam-rim tradition or the Stages of the Path tradition. But Lama Tsongkhapa received all of these traditions from great masters and integrated the three traditions.

As for the highest tantric teachings Lama Tsongkhapa received teachings on the Guhyasamaja Tantra many according to the tradition of the great translator Marpa Lotsawa. He received the teachings on Chakrasamvara according to the tradition of the Sakya masters. He received teachings on Yamantaka according to the tradition on the translator Ralosawa. Of course it is not possible for me at this point to tell everything about the teachings, transmissions and everything Lama Tsongkhapa received. I have just given you a glimpse into the teachings of Sutra and Tantra that he received.

To experience the profundity and authenticity of Lama Tsongkhapa’s teachings, if you were to study the eighteen treatises that Lama Tsongkhapa wrote which contain innumerable quotations from sutras and from the profound treatises, shastras, of the Indian masters as well as Tibetan masters who preceded him one would gain confidence in his teaching. You would see its authenticity and based on various authentic sources.

As for the philosophical or profound view, Lama Tsongkhapa relied heavily upon the works of the great Nagarjuna, Aryadeva and other great masters who followed them. Lama Tsongkhapa studied the works of Nagarjuna and Aryadeva on emptiness or the profound view and he gained a precise insight into the way in which all phenomena actually exist, that is the ultimate nature of all phenomena. He was very pleased with this realization and I quote from his text, which says, “I have been able to transcend the artificial view”. Where some people might think that he found an artificial, incomplete view but he transcended those extremes he gained a precise insight into the profound, ultimate nature of phenomena. This ultimate reality of phenomena is the same for every kind of phenomena from form to the omniscient state of mind.

Perhaps the most extraordinary characteristic of his realization and his work is how dependent arising and emptiness complement each other. As one studies dependent arising and develops confidence in it, one’s understanding of emptiness and confidence in that profound view also increases. In other words what I am telling you here is that Lama Tsongkhapa explained precisely how things conventionally exist and yet they are empty of intrinsic existence or existing in and of themselves. He wrote a number of commentaries such as his commentary to the Fundamental Wisdom and he wrote about the special insight as one finds in the Lam-rim texts. He wrote great texts like Unraveling Thought and others texts that deal with the profound view of emptiness.

In his works on profound emptiness he explains precisely how understanding the conventional appearance of phenomena helps to eliminate the extreme of nihilism and how the understanding of emptiness eliminates the extreme of eternalism. This was a unique contribution that Lama Tsongkhapa made.

As for meditational practice in his works Lama Tsongkhapa presented the conducive factors for developing shamatha or calm-abiding and the conducive factors for developing penetrative insight or vipasyana. He also taught a great deal about the different objects of meditation and the criteria for judging whether or not one has attained calm-abiding or special insight. He also taught how to identify the obstacles in one’s way from performing meditation such as laxity and excitement as well as how to counteract them, eliminating all faults and obstacles. In fact he mentioned about both stabilized meditation or contemplative meditation and analytical meditation. He presented where one needs more analytical meditation and when to perform single-pointed meditation or stabilized meditation. Sometimes one needs to alternate those two types of meditation and he was very clear on this point also. While dealing with these subjects he relied heavily upon the Five Treatises of Maitreya and the works of Asanga such as the Bodhisattva Levels and The Stages of Meditation by Acharya Kamalashila.

In short Lama Tsongkhapa said that if one wants to cultivate calm-abiding or shamatha then one should primarily do single-pointed meditation or stabilized meditation. If one wants to gain insight into the profound nature of phenomena then one should be primarily doing analytical meditation especially right from the beginning. If one is interested in cultivating special insight then one should alternate between analytical meditation and stabilized meditation. Also he said that if one is to meditate on outlines such as cultivating one’s relationship with the spiritual master and to gain insight into the precious nature of one’s human life, how one’s life is endowed with leisure and freedom and how one’s life is transient then at first one should do analytical meditation. At the end of each analytical meditation one should perform single-pointed meditation. He was very clear on how to meditate on each and every point and as I have already mentioned he taught about meditation practice based on the authentic works of Maitreya, Asanga and Kamalashila.

As Lama Kuntangsang (Sp?) said that as for the behavioral pattern one should adopt, it should be in accordance with the principles of Buddha’s teaching. Lama Tsongkhapa was also particularly concerned with the Vinaya or the behavioral aspect of the teachings. Whatever one finds in the Vinaya or the texts dealing with monk’s, nun’s or lay practitioner’s ethics or ethical discipline, one should be following them accordingly.

According to Lama Tsongkhapa if one can the best thing is to follow even the minor precepts or ethical behavior that is mentioned in the Vinaya. But if one is unable to do this because of the predominance of defilements in one’s mind or one is ignorant of them or due to one’s lack of understanding of the precepts or carelessness or lack of conscientiousness, if one does break one’s minor vows then in accordance with the Vinaya text one’s should perform purification and restore one’s vows. One should not let one’s broken vows remain as they are, one needs to purify and restore them in accordance with Lord Buddha’s teaching.

In short one should study the Vinaya or other texts dealing with ethical disciplines and learn what one can do and what one shouldn’t be doing. Supposing one breaks a vow how does one restore one’s vows? In the Vinaya one finds that even at the cost of one’s life, one should observe one’s precepts or ethical discipline.

This was an introduction. Today the main subject is as announced is the nature of mind and the union of bliss and voidness or emptiness. First I would like to speak about the nature of mind and I will do this in the context of the basis, path and the result. I will do my best to be brief, lucid and concise.

I must say that what I am going to speak about is within the framework of Lord Buddha’s teaching. I cannot speak about other than what Buddha taught and you have already listened to great masters here. Sometimes you may hear the same kind of teaching but as the bodhisattva Shantideva said, “I have nothing new to say to you”. What I shall be doing is to talk about those things within the Gelugpa tradition; how Gelugpa masters have understood this and how they practiced this.

Bodhisattva Shantideva also said that all of the problems one experiences and all one’s fears and frustrations as well as happiness, all arise from one’s mind. Mind is the basis for all of them. To continue Shantideva’s quote, he also said, “The mind is the forerunner of everything”. In order for one to accomplish peace and happiness while ridding oneself of problems and suffering, it is essential for one to know the workings of the mind, how the mind works. Otherwise one won’t be able to accomplish happiness and get rid of one’s problems. For this reason, one should study the mind and one should safeguard one’s mind. One should protect it and cherish it.

Lama Tsongkhapa had said the same thing that the mind is the basis for both good and bad. As far as actions are concerned there are the three doors of body, speech and mind but body and speech are very much influenced by the mind. The mind is the primary basis; mind dictates or influences one’s physical and verbal actions. All of the great masters such as Nagarjuna, Aryadeva and Asanga have unanimously stated that the mind is the basis for both liberation and enlightenment and cyclic existence.

What is mind? What are the types of mind? According to the Prasangika-Madhyamika School, the highest school of thought there are six consciousnesses or six types of consciousness; the five sense consciousnesses which are eye, ear, nose, tongue and body consciousnesses along with the mental consciousness. So these are the six consciousnesses asserted in the Prasangika-Madhyamika School.

How does the eye consciousness or the visual consciousness arise? It arises based on certain conditions with the fundamental condition being the eye sense organ along with a visible form. Through the interaction of these factors the visual consciousness or eye consciousness arises.

It is the same with the other consciousnesses as say the ear consciousness relies on the ear sense organ and different types of sound. Only then can the ear consciousness arise. The nose consciousness relies on the nose sense organ and different types of smell and the taste consciousness relies on the tongue sense organ and taste. So depending on different factors different consciousnesses arise. The first five consciousnesses are the sense consciousnesses and they are considered as coarse as they rely on the physical organs. Those who do research on them feel that this is true. They are coarse consciousnesses.

When talks about mind as the basis for both cyclic existence and enlightenment or liberation, one is in fact talking about the six mental consciousnesses, not the sense consciousnesses. These mental consciousnesses also rely on certain conditions such as the mental organ and phenomena as its object. The mental consciousness again is not just one consciousness, it has different forms. There is the coarse form of mental consciousness, the subtle form and the subtlest form of mental consciousness. To give an example when one meditates on emptiness or for developing calm-abiding, one’s mind becomes subtler. When one is in a meditative state one’s mind has become to a certain extent subtle.

Also in the case of attachment and anger, normally when one experiences them, they arises quickly so they are coarse. One can also talk of the subtle forms of attachment and anger. There are the eighty conceptions, which are relatively speaking, are subtler.

In the context of tantra when one talks of the mind of three appearances which are radiant appearance or white appearance, radiant red appearance and black near attainment. These are subtle forms of mental consciousness but the subtlest of all is the primordial clear light mind. This is the subtlest state of mind. Towards the end I will briefly speak about the primordial clear light mind which is the subtlest mind in the context of tantra because our topic is the union of bliss and emptiness.

I have a restriction as I feel there are people here who haven’t received any initiation or empowerment so to truly talk of the union of bliss and emptiness is very difficult. Both masters and disciples would be breaking their commitments and vows to go into detail and create the conditions for going to hell. Without an empowerment even if one listens to teachings on tantra and practice it, one may achieve some minor attainment but this won’t help much as one will find oneself in one of the unfortunate states of rebirth. Just as one cannot expect oil to come from squeezing sand so one can’t expect great wonders to happen through tantric practice without the proper initiation.

At this point, not in the context of tantra, I will explain how the mind forms the basis for the cycle of compulsive rebirth or samsara and nirvana, liberation or enlightenment. To talk about how the mind is the basis for cyclic existence one cannot help but speak about how one comes into cyclic existence, how one enters into this cycle of compulsive rebirth. I need to be very brief on this.

Acharya Chandrakirti has said that all the diversity one finds among sentient beings and their environment is the result of karmic actions that sentient beings create. Sentient being in the sense of those beings capable of feeling and thinking. Historically speaking Shakyamuni Buddha after he became completely enlightened, the first teaching he gave in the Deer Park in Varanasi was on the Four Noble Truths. The Four Noble Truths contain nothing but how the process of coming into cyclic existence works, how to break this process and go out of cyclic existence.

There are different approaches one can follow to talk about the process of entering cyclic existence and of going out of cyclic existence. One can do this speaking about the Four Noble Truths in general or in particular one can speak about the Twelve Links of Dependent Origination which explain how one has come into cyclic existence and how one can go out of cyclic existence.

The great Nagarjuna said, “So long as there is grasping at the physical and mental aggregates, there will be grasping at a self or I. Due to this there will be activity or action and due to all of them one will be in the compulsive cycle of rebirth”. What Nagarjuna is saying is that so long as one has grasping for both a self and phenomena, one will grasp at a notion of a person, which is called the view of the transitory collection. Due to these graspings one will continually create karmic actions, a chain of karmic actions and these karmic actions bind one to the cycle of compulsive rebirth.

In saying that one grasps at the self of a person, one feels that as a person in and of oneself, existing in one’s own right, and because of this grasping one cherishes oneself too much. Due to this grasping or self-cherishing attitude, many other inappropriate states of mind or conceptions take place in one’s mind. Due to this one experiences delusions such as attachment or anger and under their influence one creates karmic actions. These karmic actions keep one within cyclic existence. As one creates karmic actions, they deposit imprints or latencies in one’s mindstream or mental continuum.

At the time of death what happens is that the dependent links of craving and grasping, the eighth and ninth links activate one’s karmic actions. Following these, the dependent link of existence or becoming arises. By this process when one karmic actions intensify and after one leaves this world, one has to take rebirth. So one is born through four different ways, mostly from the womb of one’s mother. The other ways are to be born from eggs, born from heat and moisture and lastly to be born miraculously or spontaneously. These are the four different ways of taking birth.

At the time of death if a positive karmic action is activated by dependent links of craving and grasping, then one is able to have a fortunate rebirth. But at the time of death if a negative karmic action is activated by those factors then one will achieve an unfortunate rebirth. Suppose one is born in an unfortunate state. Until one’s karma that precipitated one to be born there is exhausted, it make take eons, hundreds of years of human lifetime, for one to experience that unfortunate state of tremendous suffering.

If a positive karmic action gets activated at the time of death by the two dependent links then one achieves a fortunate rebirth either as a human being or as a celestial being, deva. Even if one is born as a human being, which is relatively speaking a fortunate rebirth, but one has to experience human problems. One cannot escape problems. Also if one is born as a god or celestial being in the Desire Realm, relatively speaking that is a very happy situation. But still one has to experience the problems that the gods of the Desire Realm experience and the same with the demigods.

Suppose one is born in the Formless Realm or Form Realm in which there isn’t the suffering of suffering but wherever one is born in cyclic existence one does experience the pervasive suffering of conditioning. Wherever one is born in cyclic existence the way one has been currently reborn, one is always under the influence of contaminated karmic actions and afflictive emotions or delusions. This is why one always runs into difficulties and problems. Wherever one finds oneself in cyclic existence there are problems.

The great Nagarjuna said,”From the three arises the two. From the two, seven and from the seven arises three”. The explanation given is in terms of the twelve links of dependent origination. Within the twelve links of dependent origination there are three links that are afflictive emotions or delusions come the two links that are karmic actions, karmic formation and becoming. From these karmic actions arise the succeeding seven links such as name and form, contact, feelings and etc. From these seven arise the last three dependent links. This is how when one is caught up in these twelve dependent links one continually experiences one or another form of problems. There doesn’t appear to be a gap, just incessantly and continually experience forms of problems.

According to Buddhism no one has dumped one into this cyclic existence. Under the influence of karmic actions and delusions, one has been born into this problematic creation. When one’s mind is conjoined with delusion or afflictive emotions, one runs into all kinds of difficulties and problems. If one is to posit a creator of everything then it is one’s mind. One’s mind is the creator of everything. Sometimes one hears that contaminated karmic actions and delusions are the creator of the life one is experiencing. One could also say that one’s mind is the creator. One’s mind has always been joined with contaminated karmic actions and delusions.

If one goes deeper into this matter, it is one’s karmic actions which have brought one into cyclic existence and if one traces further one finds that the underlying causes are the delusions and afflictive emotions. Of the different forms of afflictive emotions or delusion, at the very root there is the ignorant perception of grasping at a self. This is the root cause of all of one’s problems and one’s life in cyclic existence. Just because this grasping has always accompanied one’s mind, so one can say that one’s mind is the basis for life in cyclic existence. It is the creator of one’s life in cyclic existence.

As one looks into one’s present situation, one is controlled by one’s mind, one’s way of thinking. One’s mind has been dominated by or controlled by the defilements or afflictive emotions such as attachment and anger. This is why one encounters many difficulties and problems. Because one’s mind is not under one’s control, one is captivated by the mind and one’s mind is captivated by defilements. This is how one encounters all difficulties. This is like a child as a child who is very nice but spoiled. The defilements and afflictive emotions have spoiled one’s mind so to speak. When children find themselves in bad company they learn bad manners and when we see those children we think how sad the way they behave.

In a sense the defilements and delusions have made one just like those spoiled children. One’s mind has very much been spoiled by them and this is why one hears of people committing suicide. When one pauses to reflect on why someone would do that, one has no answer. This seems inconceivable to us. The fact of the matter is that one has no control over one’s mind and one’s mind has been ruling one. The mind in turn is dominated by the negative emotions and this is how one can go to such an extreme.

When the defilement dominate one’s mind, one fins oneself doing many improper actions and somehow when a particular delusion arises in one’s mind, at that moment it is as though one has gone crazy. One does not look like one’s normal self and one does actions that one should not be doing. One should be ashamed to do such actions but one becomes a shameless person. The delusion is dictating one’s behavior. One picks up so much courage to do certain things, one becomes very fearless and does actions one should not be doing. This is how the defilements dictate one’s actions and force one to do that which one really should not do.

When delusion arises in one’s mind and it dictates one’s behavior, all of one’s actions become negative. One cannot expect positive actions to be created under the influence of delusions. As the great Nagarjuna has said that actions which arise from attachment, anger and obscuration are negative actions. Actions that arise from non-attachment, non-anger and non-obscuration are positive actions. By what Nagarjuna is telling us if one acts under the command of delusions, one cannot expect to create peace and happiness. Peace and happiness do not come from actions created under the influence of the delusions. If one really wants genuine peace and happiness and for one’s life to go smoothly, one needs to discipline one’s mind, one should subdue one’s mind. As one subdues one’s mind life becomes much better and one experiences peace and happiness.

As we know there are people who do not believe in rebirth or life before and after the present one. But then there are people who believe in previous and future lives and among those are those who feel that Tibetans when they die will be reborn as Tibetans and so forth. This is their way of thinking and I have nothing to say about this.

As a believer in rebirth if one accepts this as fact that one’s good and bad karmic actions decide the type of rebirth that one will achieve, then one cannot remain satisfied by the fact that one has enough food, clothing and shelter. One needs to examine; one needs to look within oneself and find out when one dies where will one end up. What kind of rebirth will one achieve? It is very important for one to question oneself and find the answer to this question.

In a sense the existence of previous lives has become a problem for many people and they find it hard to believe in this idea. In Buddhism, in the profound treatises and texts there are presentations of different reasonings to establish previous lives as well as future ones. In discussing these reasonings like the substantial cause of mental consciousness, the preceding moment of experience or in terms of familiarization or intimacy one has had in the past, in order to understand how these reasons establish the theory of rebirth, one needs to have acquaintance with Buddhist logic and metaphysics. Otherwise one might not grasp the idea.

I will not go into those reasonings but I want to take the opportunity to mention that there is a clear indication that there have been previous lifetimes. For instance among people of the same nationality there are some who look handsome or beautiful and those with much lesser qualities. These differences must have causes and conditions; it can not just happen without cause. So when one traces back this physical body, back to one’s mother’s womb. One cannot create good or bad karmic actions in that state so one cannot say that actions in the mother’s womb were the cause. This indicates a previous existence and helps support the idea that there have been past lives.

One also finds differences among us such as in business some are very successful, flourishing while others are struggling. They are the same businesses with the same effort and similar factories but still big differences in success. One finds similar differences in children in the same family; some are very successful and handsome while others are less handsome and less successful. So all these differences one finds must have causes and conditions as their basis. In this life, one can place the same amount of effort in the same endeavor but there are huge differences in success. As one looks into this one finds support for past lives, what one did in the past.

One can also talk about how children educated in the same way, the same school, studying under the same teacher, with the same facilities yet there is a big difference between the students. Some learn quickly while others hardly seem to learn at all. Why is there this big difference? As far as the facilities are concerned and all the things that can be done in this lifetime are concerned, they all have the same opportunity but why is there such a large difference in the students? I think this has something to do with what one did in the past.

One does find people who such personalities that they are very influential. Just by their presence they are much influence on other people. This does not seem to be an acquired quality but an inborn quality that they have and I think that this quality can be traced back to previous lifetimes. Then of course in our world we find children who can remember their past lives vividly. This also suggests that previous lives do exist, if they did not exist what are these people remembering? If there are past lives that they have remembered then it is clear that there will be future lives.

Thinking along these lines as one develops certain belief in past and future lives then the theory of karmic action makes more sense. Then one knows that one must be careful with all of one’s actions otherwise one will have to experience the ripening results of all of one’s actions. Lord Buddha said that one will experience different situations in accordance with one’s own actions. This means that one cannot neglect one’s future rebirth in future lives, one has to be careful now so that one does not suffer in one’s future lives.

Of course we all cherish ourselves and want to fulfill our own interests and wishes. As one develops concern about one’s future, what one wants for their future it helps to be concerned about future lifetimes. What do we want for our future lives? If one wants to have happiness in the future, in one’s future lives especially what is pertinent for one to do is to train one’s mind, discipline one’s mind or subdue one’s mind. This is the best way. To accomplish the kind of peace and happiness that one wants, material development is good but it will not insure genuine peace and happiness. The more material progress one makes, the more scattered becomes one’s mind as one’s mind wanders to different material things. Temptations and all those other things happen.

The only way to bring true peace and happiness to oneself is to make inner development, inner transformation, which can only come about through spiritual practice. I don’t speak English so I don’t know how much the word religion carries the meaning of the Tibetan word cho, the Dharma. The Tibetan word cho tells one that one needs to make change or transformation. When talks of practicing cho or Dharma one is implying that one is going to make change, transforming oneself into better beings.

If one wants to make the greatest accomplishment and do the best through spiritual practice then one has to follow the gradual spiritual path. First one must study and practice the three principal aspects of the path which are renunciation or aversion to cyclic existence, bodhicitta or the altruistic intention to become enlightened and the profound view or the insight into emptiness. Having cultivated these three principal aspects of the path then one enters into tantric practice performing Highest Yoga Tantra practice. In this way one can attain enlightenment in one lifetime. If one is able to follow this process that is the best and one will make great the greatest accomplishment.

As there are different spiritual paths within Buddhism that one can follow, if one doesn’t mind to take a long time to reach enlightenment, one has this kind of determination, one cultivates the enlightened attitude of the altruistic intention to become enlightened. After this it may take three great, countless eons to accumulate the merit and wisdom needed and during this process one is tremendously benefiting sentient beings, working for them. One is working for enlightenment to benefit sentient beings the most. So this is one way, the follows the way of Bodhisattvas and how they benefit sentient beings.

Then one can also follow the path of Solitary Realizers or Pratyekabuddhas. One can follow the stages of this path and attain Arhatship or the state of liberation of a Solitary Realizer. If this doesn’t suit one then one can follow the stages of the path of a Hearer or Sravaka, which leads to their state of liberation. These are the different paths; one has many choices before one. One makes one’s choice and follows the path to its destination.

Later I will speak very briefly about those different paths, how one can attain enlightenment in just this one lifetime. I will also speak on how to attain the realization of Solitary Realizers and how to attain the liberation of Hearers or Sravakas. I shall touch briefly on all of them. Also another important point here is how can one integrate spiritual practice into one’s daily life. As one goes on in life, how can one practice the Dharma at the same time? I will also speak briefly about this.


The way one integrates spiritual practice into one’s daily life is within the context of what is called the five paths. Of the five paths the first one is called the power of setting forth the thought which is the power of motivation. Be it spiritual practice or a worldly activity, as one knows it is important to reflect on what one wants to do first and then make a good plan. Done this way things go much better. In terms of spiritual practice when one gets up in the morning one needs to set one’s motivation that one will place much effort into the practice of Dharma in this life, this year, this month and particularly this day. One will not waste one’s life just for the sake of accumulating food, clothing, shelter, being satisfied merely with those. One will work for achieving enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings, which is the highest type of motivation. This is called the power of motivation.

When one gets up in the morning one should make a point to generate the proper motivation to make one’s daily activities meaningful in a spiritual sense. The second path is power of the white seed, which means the purification of negativities and the accumulation of positive energy. Those who are committed to do certain main practices have preliminary practices to perform first such as ngondro. Engaging in ngondro practice consists of this power of the white seed. Even if one is not aiming for such main practices they can still perform preliminary practices such as prostrations, circumambulation, making offerings and so forth. This constitutes the power of the white seed. The seven limb practice constitutes purification of unwholesome actions and the accumulation of positive energy. One can practice the seven limb and do purification and the accumulation of merit.

The third power is called the power of familiarization or intimacy. This means that if one takes renunciation as one’s key practice, one does one’s practice and afterwards one develops more intimacy with renunciation. This is the power of familiarization. If one wants to cultivate the altruistic intention to become enlightened or bodhicitta, as one performs the practice one develops more intimacy with the enlightened attitude. Or one could be meditating on deity yoga and through this meditation one develops more and more intimacy with the deity. This applies to any other kind of practice.

The fourth power is the power of applying the counteractive measures or antidotes. If one’s main aim is to challenge the self-cherishing attitude or self-centeredness, as it arises in one’s mind one should counteract it; one needs to challenge it. As any form of delusion like anger or attachment arises in one’s mind, one does not let it be there unchallenged but face it and confront it. This is called the power of applying the antidotes.

Of course the best method is to see that any form of delusion does not arise within one’s mind. This is to say that prevention is better than cure. Once the delusion has arisen in one’s mind it is difficult to bring it under control. Just before attachment or anger arises in one’s mind if one is mindful and notice that it might arise, just stop it and prevent it from arising in one’s mind.

In case one is not able to prevent the delusions from arising within one’s mind because one is being exposed to different situations and different objects, one way to as a temporary measure is to keep the objects of delusion at a distance and avoid them. So one of the methods that is practiced is to go into seclusion isolating oneself from the objects of delusion. This can be helpful temporarily. So long as one has delusions if one encounters the objects of those delusions it is difficult not to experience the delusions. So in this case try to avoid the objects of delusion.

The fifth power is the power of aspirational prayer and here one can say any kind of prayer. May I be able to direct my mind into spiritual practice. May my spiritual practice become a spiritual path. May this spiritual path be brought to the completion stage. These are all wonderful prayers. One can also pray that the Dharma, the source of benefit and happiness for all sentient beings, flourish all over the world. May all sincere practitioners and the upholders of the Dharma enjoy long lives and good health. However the best kind of prayer is, “May I never be separated from the altruistic mind of enlightenment of bodhicitta in this life and in all future lives." This is the best kind of aspirational prayer that one can make. This is the power of aspirational prayer.

In short the way one can integrate spiritual practice or those five powers that constitute spiritual practice into one’s daily life is when one first gets up, set the power of motivation. In the context of Greater Vehicle Buddhism one should set the motivation that at least today one will not be selfish, one will not let selfishness dictate one. In other words this is to say that one will develop concern for others, being kind and caring for others. One then should perform the purification of negativities and the accumulation of positive energy in different ways. If one is committed to do certain spiritual practices, one should do this with a sense of delight and enthusiasm not that it is a burden placed upon one.

In fact selfishness is the main obstacle in the context of Greater Vehicle Buddhism to practice. At the end one does aspirational prayers and dedication. One can pray for a long and healthy life but that is just an ordinary prayer. One instead should pray for the peace, happiness and prosperity of all sentient beings and that one may engender this enlightened attitude in all of one’s future lives. If one does this in one’s daily life then one’s life will be very well integrated with spiritual practice.

Lord Buddha’s teachings consists of are called the 84,000 bundles or sections. These 84,000 bundles of teaching are contained within the twelve scriptural divisions or the nine scriptural divisions, which are different ways of classifying his teachings placing them into different baskets. One could also say that Buddha’s teachings are all included within the Three Baskets or Tripitaka, Sutra, Abhidharma and Vinaya. The subject matter of these three baskets are brought together or summarized in their essence by the great Atisha in his The Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment. [See His Holiness the Dalai Lama's book Illuminating the Path to Enlightenment for a copy of Atisha's text and a commentary on it.]

Even ordinary things can be learned by observing what others are doing. One cannot learn each and every thing unless one goes to study with professional teachers. If this is true for ordinary things it is especially true of the spiritual journey one wants to undertake. It is like going to an unknown land or destination but with an inner transformation there is nothing to see or hear with one’s ears. Here it is very important for one to cultivate a relationship with a qualified spiritual guide. At this time one has achieved such a precious human rebirth free of the main obstacles to the practice of the Dharma and also possesses the enriching factors to accomplish realization. If one is to make the best use of one’s life and accomplish not only temporary purposes for this life but also reach the ultimate spiritual goal; one cannot be lazy and use this life properly. One has the potential to accomplish one’s goals.

As for this precious human life it is very hard to attain, as the causes needed to attain this kind of life are hard to create. At this time one does have this precious human life but this life will not remain forever. It has a transient nature so it is very unstable. If one does not make the best use of it now, the time will come when one must leave this life and go empty-handed. So when the time comes for one to leave this world and one reflects on what one has accomplished during one’s life, all the worldly activities one thought were so meaningful, do not make much sense at the time of death. If only one had created positive energy and practiced the Dharma then that would stand with one at the crucial time of death. Otherwise one will be helpless in the face of death; only the Dharma can help one at that time. One should reflect and meditate on all of these important points.

As one meditates on those points serially, first one performs analytical meditation where one brings up all the reasons to establish each point and ascertain each point. At the end of each analytical meditation one switches to single-pointed or stabilized meditation on each point. The purpose of meditating on the points I mentioned is for one to be able to eliminate clinging to this life. One is so attached to this life and the things associated with this life which firmly binds one to samsara. One has to get rid of this clinging to just this lifetime and meditating on those points will help one with this.

If one continues to cling to this life one can do practice but one’s Dharma practice will not be that effective. One may have the feeling that one has been practicing for a long time without much benefit. This is telling one that one has not been practicing the Dharma properly in its pure form. Doing the practice just for this life is not a Dharma practice. One is only confusing oneself and will not be able to achieve one’s higher goals, spiritual goals. So this is why the first thing one should try to do is to work on getting rid of clinging to this life. Otherwise one will not be able to get rid of clinging to material prosperity and the like all this and future lives.

One should also meditate on different aspects of the law of karma or karmic action. Its major characteristics or aspects are the certainty of karmic action. This means if one creates a positive karmic action that it will definitely bring a positive result. There is no way that it will bring about problems or difficulties. If one creates a negative karmic action it will bring a negative result. This is a law of nature. So this is the certainty of karmic action.

The second point is the increasing nature of karma. This means that one could create a small positive action and with the passage of time it can intensify and bring a great result. The same is with a slight negative action; with the passage of time it intensifies and can bring great problems to one.

The third characteristic of karma is whatever karmic action one has not created or accumulated one will not experience the results. One is only responsible for one’s own actions and of the actions one creates, one experiences the results. Actions one has never created one does not need to worry about, one will not experience those results.

The fourth characteristic of karma is that whatever karmic action one has created, good or bad, provided they are not destroyed by certain factors, they never are wasted. It may take eons and eons but one’s karmic actions will definitely bring their respective results. For instance if one creates a positive karmic action and it is never destroyed by one’s anger, it may take many eons to bring its result but it will definitely bring its result. Similarly one could perform a negative karmic action and if one does not apply the Four Antidotes to purify those karmic actions with the passage of time given the proper conditions it will ripen into its negative result. So this is how karmic actions work.

By meditating on these different aspects of karma one develops confidence in the infallible workings of karmic action. One also needs to contemplate of the different aspects of the suffering in cyclic existence, the general sufferings of cyclic existence and the particular sufferings of cyclic existence. The purpose of meditating on the different forms of suffering along with the working of karmic action is to help one cut off clinging to material prosperity and the ordinary pleasures of life in cyclic existence.

What one needs to be like a sick person, who is nauseated at the sight of food, in that one should have a similar aversion to the sufferings of cyclic existence. At the present as soon as one sees prosperity as someone who owns a magnificent house, one becomes attached to it wishing to have the same type house. Or one sees the automobiles of others so one desires one for oneself. There is nothing wrong with appreciating a beautiful thing but when one develops attachment that is a different matter. One needs to work with one’s own mind and the attachments towards material things in cyclic existence. If one is able to generate the same kind of attitude that a prisoner develops whom really wants out of the prison, who is tired of spending one more day in prison. If one starts to generate that kind of aversion and renunciation towards life in cyclic existence then one is starting to develop the proper aversion towards cyclic existence which is a very important spiritual quality.

It is the same for all three types of practitioners. First one must develop an aversion to life in cyclic existence. One should not get attached even to the best of material prosperity or things of cyclic existence. Once one has developed renunciation then if one decides to follow the path of the sravaka or Hearers then one needs to develop the genuine aspiration seeking the liberation of sravakas. As one develops that genuine aspiration, one is already on the path of accumulation of a sravaka and the main practice consists of the Three High Trainings, training in higher ethical discipline, higher concentration and higher wisdom.

By performing the Three Higher Trainings one progresses on the stages of the path such as the paths of preparation, seeing, meditation and no more learning. As one attains the path of no more learning one achieves the liberation of the Hearers.

Having generated renunciation if one is interested in following the path leading to liberation of the pratyekabuddhas or Solitary Realizers first one needs to cultivate a genuine aspiration seeking that liberation. As one experiences that aspiration genuinely one is already on the path of accumulation of the Solitary Realizer’s Vehicle. Again the practice is the same, the practice of the Three Higher Trainings. Through this practice one progresses on the remaining paths such as the paths of preparation, seeing, meditation and no more learning. The major difference between Solitary Realizers and Hearers is that the Solitary Realizers have to accumulate much more positive energy or merit. This they accomplish mostly on the path of accumulation.

Generally speaking all sentient beings have the great potentiality to become a completely enlightened person eventually which is called the Buddhanature. But one does speak of those who are temporarily inclined towards the Hearer’s Path or inclined towards the Solitary Realizer’s. What they need to do first is according to their inclinations they need to follow the respective paths leading to their respective states of liberation. Having attained those states of liberation then they move on to the path of the Greater Vehicle working for supreme enlightenment.

To substantiate this point that all of us have the Buddhanature, as Rinpoche has quoted the nature of the mind is clear light and it has never been defiled. The defilements are just temporarily in one’s mind; they are just adventitious. They have not contaminated the pure nature of one’s mind so this is why one has the great potentiality to grow.

Each of us, in fact all sentient beings have the Buddhanature which is of two types, the naturally-abiding Buddhanature which is the main cause for one to attain the Truth Body or Dharmakaya and the developmental Buddhanature that is the main cause for one to attain the Rupakaya or the Form Body. As Maitreya has stated that if one makes effort consistently one will be able to experience one’s Buddhanature and attain one’s spiritual goals. Even if an insect were to do this positive development that insect would attain supreme enlightenment. This means we all share in this Buddhanature.

As we have Buddhanature, this is why all of us can become Buddhas provided we make consistent efforts. Another reason for one to be able to become a Buddha eventually is as I have already quoted that the nature of the mind is clear light, pure and never defiled. The defilements that one has in one’s mind do not form the nature of the mind. They have not contaminated the purity of one’s mind so to speak. The naturally-abiding Buddhanature, which is the emptiness of one’s mind, the ultimate nature of one’s mind has remained pure right from the beginning and has never been contaminated. So all of the delusions and defilements that one has in one’s mind are just temporary and if one makes a point to apply the antidotes to them, they are removable. They can be eliminated, can be gotten rid of.

Just as the nature of fire is heat and burning so is the clarity and stillness is the nature of the mind. So the clarity and calmative power of the mind has never been defiled by the delusions. The defilements, as I already have said are just temporary. By temporary I mean that they can be separated from the mind. One can eliminate the defilements for one’s mind and experience the purity of one’s mind. Because one can do this, this is the great possibility for us to become an enlightened person.

In the case of a Mahayana practitioner, having generated renunciation, if one is of sharp faculties one should straight away meditate on emptiness, the ultimate nature of phenomena. Having gained insight into emptiness one then cultivates the conventional mind of enlightenment, which is bodhicitta. In the case of a Mahayana practitioner of lower faculties having generated renunciation, one first cultivates the altruistic mind of enlightenment or bodhicitta. One then studies emptiness and develops insight into the ultimate nature of things.

As for the cultivation of the altruistic mind of enlightenment there are two different techniques or lineages. One is called the Six Causes and the One Result Quintessential Instructions for Developing the Mind of Enlightenment and the practitioners of lower faculties normally start with this practice. Practitioners of sharp faculties develop the altruistic mind of enlightenment by practicing the other lineage; the instructions called Equalizing and Exchanging Self with Others.

It doesn’t matter which of the two lineages of instructions one practices. With either one is able to experience the altruistic intention to become enlightened. As soon as one experiences genuinely the mind of enlightenment or bodhicitta, one finds oneself on the path of accumulation of Greater Vehicle Buddhism. This is the entryway into Mahayana Buddhism and as it has been said that for someone wishing to become a completely enlightened person, they must cultivate the mind of enlightenment, which is the source of enlightenment. It should be stabilized and made firm as Mount Meru, the King of Mountains.

Without cultivating the mind of enlightenment there is no other way to reach enlightenment. If one wants to attain enlightenment one has to cultivate the altruistic mind of enlightenment or bodhicitta. With the mind of enlightenment, whatever one does especially if practicing generosity, morality or ethical discipline, patience or tolerance and so on, all of one’s actions will become the deeds of a bodhisattva and one’s practice becomes perfections.

As soon as one generates meditative stabilization integrating calm-abiding with special insight, one finds oneself on the path of preparation of Greater Vehicle Buddhism. Then as one continues one’s practice and cultivates greater intimacy with these insights, one progresses on the remaining paths. When one develops direct insight and experience emptiness, one is then on the path of seeing of Greater Vehicle Buddhism. As one develop even greater intimacy with this direct insight along with skillful means, one progresses on the path of meditation and the path of no-more learning.

This is all within the context of Sutrayana or the Greater Vehicle of Buddhism. This is to say that one must accumulate merit for three countless eons. On the paths of accumulation and preparation one is able to accumulate the merit for one countless eon. The seven spiritual grounds from the first, Joyous to the seventh ground account for one countless eon of the accumulation of merit or positive energy. On the last three spiritual grounds, the eighth through tenth bhumis account for the final countless eon of the accumulation of merit then becoming a fully enlightened being. This finishes my discussion of the Three Vehicles having created the context to speak a little bit about tantric practice.

There are two entrances into the Tantric Vehicle or Path. One can enter from the path of accumulation of the Greater Vehicle Buddhism or one can enter the Tantric Path from the tenth bhumi. Actually the formal entryways are those two ways from which one can enter the Tantric Path. We are an exception as we enter into tantra from all kinds of entrances. The reason why one enters from either the path of accumulation of the Mahayana or the tenth bhumi is because to perform tantric practice one has to first do the common practices, one must first cultivate the common path which are the Three Principal Aspects of the Path, renunciation, bodhicitta and the wisdom realizing emptiness. Having cultivated those paths first then one can enter into the tantric practice and one is qualified to engage in tantric practices.

One then seeks a qualified Vajra master, receives the standard empowerments and then enters into the tantric practices. The tantric path is considered a very profound and swift, it can take one to the final destination the most quickly. But its profundity and swiftness also depends upon the Lam-rim or the Stages of the Path, especially the Three Principal Aspects of the Path as I already mentioned. There is a saying in Tibetan that the reason why butter cheesecake is so delicious is because of the butter; without the butter it is just a dry cheese ball. So the profundity and swiftness of the tantra is due to the Lam-rim, the common path. Without the common path tantra is just full of ritual noises (hum hum and phat phat).

If one wants to be a qualified practitioner of tantra then one has to cultivate the altruistic mind of enlightenment or bodhicitta. When bodhicitta is genuinely present within one’s mindstream, one is already on the path of accumulation of Greater Vehicle Buddhism. One then can enter into tantric practice. In this context it is not enough to only cultivate relative bodhicitta, one has to cultivate the extraordinary altruistic mind of enlightenment. This extraordinary mind of enlightenment gives one a push so that when one sees others suffering one is unable to tolerate it. One cannot sit idly by but must do everything possible. This kind of push, this kind of inside drive is needed.

Having cultivated this extraordinary altruistic mind of enlightenment, if one wants to practice the three lower tantras one needs to receive the standard initiations into the mandalas of the respective tantras from a qualified Vajra master. One must also receive the commentary on the tantra. If one wants to practice Highest Yoga Tantra, Mahanuttarayoga Tantra it is the same. One needs to find a qualified Vajra master and receive all four of the initiations. One then can engage in tantric practice. In fact it is said that abhisheka or empowerment is the door to enter into tantra.

Suppose one wishes to practice the Guhyasamaja Tantra which is a Buddhist Highest Yoga Tantra. In fact the Guhyasamaja Tantra has two traditions. One could receive the initiation according to the Jñanapada tradition or according to the Arya Nagarjuna tradition. According to the Arya Nagarjuna tradition one must receive the Guhyasamaja empowerment called Akshobhya Vajra Empowerment receiving these four empowerments. Having received them then one can practice the two stages, the generation stage and the completion stage. For a beginner one has to follow this order, there is no other way. Without practicing the generation stage one cannot practice the completion stage because it is said that these two stages are like rungs in a ladder, one must go step-by-step. In a special case like someone who already generated an understanding of the generation stage in a previous lifetime, that practitioner can straightaway practice the completion stage. This is an exceptional case.

Having received the proper initiation or empowerment one then has to practice first the generation stage. According to the Jnanapada tradition of Guhyasamaja one has to practice what are called the Four Drops or bindu for the completion stage. According to the extensive mandala of Vajrapani one has to practice the four types of blessing. According to Yamantaka practice one has to do the Four Yogas which constitute the completion stage practice. According to the Ghantapa tradition one has to practice five levels and these five levels are the completion stage but are not the same five levels as the completion stage practice of the Guhyasamaja Tantra. According to the Kalachakra Tantra one has to practice the Six Preparatory Yogas. What is common to all of these completion stage practices is the Six Yogas of Naropa.

So those are the different classifications and there are eight of them, which are referred to as the eight great commentaries according to the tradition of Lower Tantric College.

To give you a little more insight into the five levels of the completion stage of Guhyasamaja, according to the Arya Nagarjuna tradition the five levels are the Isolated Body level and Isolated Speech level as one level, Isolated Mind level, the Illusory Body level, the Clear Light level and the Level of Unification. Sometimes one talks of six levels of the completion stage of Guhyasamaja, sometimes five but it is just a matter of classification, there is no conflict.

Now we are getting to the main topic the union of bliss and voidness. The Isolated Body practice where a practitioner who has completed both the coarse and subtle yogas of the generation stage and is meditating on the subtle drop at the lower end of the central channel or secret space, is able to bring all of the winds into the central channel. There are the three phases of entering, abiding and the dissolution of the winds in the central channel or nadi. Just before this happens with the two levels of the generation stage up to this level where a certain exalted wisdom is generated is called the Isolated Body level.

On the Isolated Body level of the completion stage of The Guhyasamaja according to the Arya Nagarjuna tradition, in the state of meditative equipoise one is meditating on the wisdom of non-dual bliss and voidness or emptiness. This is the primary experience at this level of practice. As one comes out of that meditative state in the post-meditational period one tries to see every appearance of whatever object one experiences as the nature of non-dual bliss and voidness. Also during the post-meditational period on this level one experiences this non-dual union of bliss and voidness in the form of deities.

What does the Isolated Body mean? The body of course refers to one’s body, which is composed of different constituents like the Five Psychophysical aggregates. These constitute the basis of isolation and it is the ordinary appearance along with the ordinary clinging attitude from which the practitioner’s body is isolated from ordinary appearance and the ordinary cling attitude. This is done through deity yoga practice so one arises in the form of a deity or deities and sees oneself as the deity, not as an ordinary being. This is the etymological explanation of the term isolated body.

Next is the Isolated Speech level and at the practitioner’s heart one visualizes the mantra drop or circle trying to bring the winds of the upper and lower body into the central channel. There one realizes the wisdom of appearance. When one experiences this wisdom and when one is able to dissolve the winds into the indestructible drop within one’s heart, up to this point is the boundary of the Isolated Speech level.

The etymological explanation of the term isolated speech, from what is speech isolated, is in fact the ordinary perception and clinging to speech. On this level the arising, abiding and flow of the breath is not perceived as the ordinary flow but in the sound of the Three Syllables [OM AH HUM]. The flow of the breath or speech is not just seen as ordinary but as if it resounds naturally as the Three Syllables. The main practice here is the Vajra Recitation also the two ways of dissolving the winds into the central channel. There is the gradual dissolution and the spontaneous dissolution. One can also rely on external concert.

Through these techniques or methods one brings the winds into the central channel at the heart and they dissolve into the indestructible drop where one experiences the wisdom of non-dual bliss and voidness. From this point on to where one attains the Impure Illusory Body this whole level is of Isolated Speech.

In order to experience the exemplary Clear Light of the Isolated Mind level one has to bring all of the wind energies into the indestructible drop. For this one has needs to rely on a qualified consort. By qualified consort it is meant is a consort who has also received the standard tantric empowerments and who has also cultivated the three aspects of the common path. Through relying on the consort’s help one brings the totality of the winds into the indestructible drop and experiences the exemplary Clear Light of the Isolated Mind.

If both practitioners who are helping each other in this way are not qualified then the result is ordinary sexual activity, nothing Dharmic will happen. The exemplary Clear Light will not arise so both practitioners need to be qualified. If one practices in the way I have just described and through one of the two ways of dissolving the wind energies of the body, one goes through all of the stages of the dissolution processes that occurs at the time of death. One also sees eight different indicative signs of the dissolution of the elements, constituents and so forth.

As these happen, this is the internal practice, one also experiences four types of joy due to the flow of the drop at the crown of the head down to the tip of the secret organ. When the drop reaches the tip of the secret organ, one experiences spontaneous bliss and this blissful mind is used to penetrate and experience emptiness, the ultimate nature of phenomena. This is how one experiences the non-dual bliss and voidness. As the drop comes to the tip of the secret organ one needs to retain it there and this is an important point of the practice.

At the end of that dissolution one experiences the Clear Light mind which is the primordial, subtle Clear Light mind. This blissful Clear Light mind is used to penetrate and experience emptiness. This Clear light mind is also called the Exemplary Clear Light mind of the Isolated Mind Level. As one continues on with the practice one experiences emptiness directly, the primordial, subtle Clear Light mind experiences emptiness directly and at that point the Clear Light becomes the Meaning Clear Light.

In the case of ordinary people it is at the time of death that there is a chance for one to experience the primordial, subtle Clear Light mind as it manifests at death. But in the case of yogis or meditators through the power of their yoga or meditations are able to experience the primordial Clear Light mind, which is an exceptional case. So through the practices I just mentioned when one experiences the Exemplary Clear Light mind of the Isolated Mind Level, at that point one is still not experiencing emptiness directly or nakedly, still there is what is called the image of emptiness, a generic image. Through a combination of the practice where that generic image is removed and one has a direct experience, this experience is called the spontaneous wisdom experiencing emptiness directly or the Meaning Clear Light.

Having reached this state, the Exemplary Clear Light Mind of the Isolated Mind, one is still is still in a meditative state. As one rises from that meditation one attains the Impure Illusory Body. As one continues one’s practice and re-enters the meditative state when one is able to gain a direct experience of emptiness, the subtle primordial Clear Light Mind, experiencing emptiness directly, one achieves the Meaning Clear Light. When one arises from that meditative state one achieves the Pure Illusory Body. So the unification of the Impure Illusory Body with the primordial Clear Light mind in union with the Pure Illusory Body with the Meaning Clear Light mind is called the unification of mind and body or the Extraordinary Thing, the ugonnata.

I would like to stop here. We will have a short meditation period before the question and answer session. One great Tibetan master has said although there is meditation on the generation stage but meditation on the Guru Yoga is unsurpassable. There is no greater meditation than that. Though there are many forms of recitation that one can do, making supplication to one’s guru is the best recitation.

I will tell you a little anecdote. Once a lama told his disciple to meditate on his teacher but the disciple got the information confused. He thought the lama told him to visualize himself sitting on his lama’s head. His lama had a bald head and the student kept slipping off of his hat. The disciple approached his master and said that he did not know how to sit on his bald head as he kept falling off. The lama was very skilled and instead of scolding his disciple said for him to try meditating with his lama on his head.

Meditation on one’s guru or master is the supreme meditation Many masters in the past have agreed with this. I feel this would be a great opportunity for us to meditate on His Holiness the Dalai Lama, our root guru, as we are about to receive the Kalachakra Empowerment from him. I feel this would be an appropriate meditation for us to do. He has won the Nobel Peace Prize as well being the embodiment of great compassion and has so much to do with peace and happiness in the world. Let us meditate on His Holiness either sitting on the crown of our heads, in the space in front or in our heart. However if you are bald His Holiness might slip!

Rays of light emanate from the body of His Holiness, which enters our bodies and these rays purify all of our defilements and negative thoughts. As we become purified reflect that rays of light emit from you to all other sentient beings which purify their negative states of mind. All experience peace, harmony and happiness. Also reflect that as the rays of light enter our bodies, they also lengthen our life spans, provide good health, aiding one’s practice.

Question: How does one cultivate proper motivation?

Answer: Of course the best motivation is the motivation of the altruistic mind of enlightenment or bodhicitta. One can also cultivate other proper motivations. For bodhicitta one purposely cultivates the though to benefit all sentient beings by repeating the thought “I wish to attain enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings”. Generally constant reflection on this thought helps generate a feeling within one.

Question: Of the two aspects of either distancing oneself from the delusions or taking difficulties on to the path which is the better practice?

Answer: For beginners if one is not able to take the difficulties of troubling situations as an opportunity to transform them into one’s practice then it would be better to keep the situations at a distance.

Question: His Holiness has stated that there is no difference in the attainment between the Sutra and Tantra Vehicles but as the mind realizing emptiness in tantra is more subtle and profound, why are they considered equal? What difference does it make in helping sentient beings escape cyclic existence?

Answer: As far as the ultimate goal of enlightenment is concerned there is no difference at all whether one achieves it through the Sutrayana practice or Tantrayana practice. In the case of the state of the mind of enlightenment, the bodhicitta developed through tantric techniques is more profound and swift so thus one is more determined and has more strength to work towards enlightenment. It has more to do with technique than the mind realizing enlightenment.

As we see in daily life people who are more determined to do something, they get it accomplished quicker whereas others are not capable of that intensity.

Question: In general must karma always come to fruition or can the result be avoided through purification or realization?

Answer: This was already addressed earlier. Yes, through purification one purifies one’s karma and can avoid experiencing the results or through realization it is possible that one does not have to experience the results of certain karma.

An example is that if one is a keen practitioner of cultivating Guru Yoga it is possible for one to see in one’s dreams one’s master scolding one and certain negativities are purified.

Question: Is there any way to help a friend who has died?

Answer: Normally one recites prayers for them of purification and also makes offerings on their behalf. This can help the deceased.

Question: How can one deal with an inability to visualize appropriately when practicing the generation stage?

Answer: One has to take into consideration one’s own abilities and one can’t expect one’s visualization to be perfect at the beginning. In accordance with one’s own abilities perform the visualization and as time goes by one’s abilities will grow and one will see progress. With patience if one continues one’s practice of visualization of the generation stage a time will come when one is able to perform the visualization very well.

For example when one first learns how to write one does not do it very well. With practice writing one gains the skill of writing and later one can write well. The same can be said of visualization practice.

Question: One often hears of the suffering of samsara but very little about the joys of samsara. Even though both suffering and joy are impermanent, if the nature of samsara is suffering why would we have come into being?

Answer: If one talks about all of the nice things of samsara then one would never develop an aversion for cyclic existence and one would want to stay here. Let me talk about the problems one faces if one stays in samsara and help develop the aversion. What brings all of one’s problems and how can one avoid those causes? Through understanding suffering and its causes one is able to generate compassion towards other sentient beings. When one knows one’s own situation that will also help one to bring down one’s pride and arrogance.

We are all very attached to life in cyclic existence. If we talk of all of the nice aspects of cyclic existence, it will only intensify our attachment. We will not think of leaving cyclic existence.

Question: I wonder of the appropriateness of Indian or Tibetan deities in the West.

Answer: Anyone who wants to attain enlightenment has to create causes for attaining the Rupakaya of an enlightened being and the Dharmakaya. The main cause for obtaining the Form Body of an enlightened being is generating oneself as a deity, deity yoga. The main cause for attaining the Truth Body of an enlightened being is meditating on emptiness. These causes need to be created to attained enlightened bodies.

The Kadampa masters used to say that everyone had a deity to meditate upon and a mantra recitation to be performed but I don’t find many persons whom have a real Dharma state of mind. So what I feel is that for beginners it is more important to cultivate the altruistic mind of enlightenment, bodhicitta.

Question: If negative karma creates future suffering isn’t there a tendency to feel less compassion for those with an unhappy childhood like child abuse?

Answer: Whatever actions one does not just negative, decides one’s future life. In the case of those who have unhappy lives especially child abuse, one needs to understand the situation and cultivate compassion for them. There is no way that the theory of karma should obstruct one from generating compassion to them.

Question: Given the law of karma since the Tibetan people have generated so much merit over the centuries how can you explain the terrible atrocities committed against the Tibetans by the Chinese?

Answer: The Tibetans generated tremendous positive energy as well as many negative actions. At this time the negative karmic actions has ripened and the Tibetan people are experiencing atrocities. Whatever positive karmic actions have been accumulated will bring their results in the future.

Question: With each subsequent lifetime must one start over again the process of learning non-attachment or does it get easier?

Answer: If one is able to overcome attachment in this lifetime then one will not need to do it again in any future lifetime. If one has worked hard in this life and to a great extent has overcome attachment, in future lifetimes it will be easier for one to generate detachment. This is the same for any other form of delusion and spiritual practice becomes easier in future lifetimes.

Question: What is the difference between the union of great bliss and emptiness and Mahamudra?

Answer: One can talk of this in the context of the Sutrayana practice or Tantrayana practice. In the Sutrayana practice the wisdom that understands emptiness is referred to as Mahamudra or the Great Seal. In the context of tantra the Exemplary Clear Light and the Meaning Clear Light Mind, where the experience of bliss and emptiness has become non-dual, are referred to as Mahamudra or the Great Seal.

Question: What is the difference between attachment in wanting a new car and the attachment for wanting to leave cyclic existence?

Answer: When one talks of the aspiration to leave cyclic existence, that is not a form of attachment. In the case of wanting a new car, that also is not necessarily attachment. Just the wish for a new car does not mean that one is attached to the car. Attachment can become involved in the situation. The aspiration to leave cyclic existence is not a form of attachment.

Question: What is the difference between resisting anger and suppressing it?

Answer: The best method for one is not to become angry in the first place. Prevention is the best technique but when anger arises one should apply the antidotes to overcome one’s anger. One needs to work with one’s mind and lower the intensity of one’s anger.

Question: What kind of existence is there after cyclic existence ends? What is left of the individual and how can one help others?

Answer: When one attains freedom from cyclic existence one is free from all of the problems of cyclic existence and one has great capability to help other sentient beings. It is not the case that when one attains freedom from cyclic existence that everything ends and nothing remains. What remains is the state of liberation, as one knows. Being in the state of liberation one has the capability to help other beings otherwise right now one is being carried away by the current of the delusions. Two people stuck in a raging river cannot help each other to get out of the river, only someone on the shore can help. So being in the state of liberation is something like that as now that oneself has no problems one can help others effectively.

As I have already mentioned to achieve states of liberation one has to follow the path of either of the Hearers or Solitary Realizers. If one wants full enlightenment or Buddhahood then one must cultivate the mind of enlightenment.

Question: How can animals do any good works in order to obtain a human rebirth?

Answer: Animals are in a difficult situation but they do have the chance to obtain a human rebirth. If in their past lives they had accumulated positive actions then they have the positive karma to be reborn as a human being. However it is difficult for them as animals to create the causes for a human rebirth.

Question: I was born Catholic and have been brought up to respect a Christian God. Is it appropriate to transfer this reverence to Lord Buddha?

Answer: Yes, you can do that.

Question: Why does ignorance arise?

Answer: From time immemorial until now ignorance has been with us. I have already discussed our grasping at the self as well as a self of phenomena, which are different forms of ignorance. From these two forms of ignorance arise attachment, hatred and all of the other forms of delusion. These other forms of delusion strengthen ignorance and ignorance strengthens the other delusions. It is like the chicken or the egg argument; it is difficult to say which came first.

Question: Is meditation on emptiness the same as Clear Light meditation?

Answer: Sometimes emptiness is referred to as objective Clear Light and the wisdom understanding emptiness as the subjective Clear Light. In this sense meditation on emptiness can be said to be Clear Light meditation. The term Clear Light is used in different ways and one must learn in which context the term is being used.

Question: What is the special importance of guru yoga?

Answer: The guru or one’s spiritual guide is the source of all spiritual attainment. It is through the blessings and inspiration of one’s gurus that one progresses along the path and stages. This is why guru yoga or the practice of cultivating the spiritual guide is very important.

Question: Is the practice of Dzogchen enough or do we need to practice other things before Dzogchen?

Answer: I have not studied Dzogchen so I am not the right person to answer this question.

Question: Could you explain the image of the mind being the sky with clouds relates to applying the antidotes to the afflictions such as anger, not just letting it drift away but confronting it?

Answer: The defilements one has within one’s mind will not go away on their own. One must supply the antidotes and one has to practice. This is how one purifies the mind of negativities and the defilements. If the defilements could go away on their own by now everyone would be free from all defilements, as it has been an immeasurable long time already. If one does not apply any of the antidotes to one’s defilements and leave then as they are, one will only develop more intimacy with the defilements and they will become stronger and more powerful. The best antidote to all of one’s defilements, to completely uproot the defilements is the meditation on emptiness.

Question: Could you say more about the Illusory Body?

Answer: As there are those who have not received the empowerments, I am not free to talk more about the Illusory Body. Maybe if you are interested you will find an opportunity later to find out more about the Illusory Body.

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

By Denma Lochö Rinpoche in London, England 2001

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.

Part 1: Renunciation
Part 2: Renunciation
Part 3: Bodhicitta
Part 4: Correct View of Emptiness

Part 1: Renunciation


So when we begin the teaching with the prayer of going for refuge and then the aspiration to the highest enlightenment, that is to say, buddhahood for the sake of all sentient beings, then we recite the four-line prayer as we have just done. So within that, as you know, we should recite, 'through the merit I receive by engaging in listening to this teaching, may I achieve buddhahood for the sake of all sentient beings'. The lama who is giving the discourse recites 'through the merit I achieve through explaining the Dharma'. So as we, the disciples, are not explaining the Dharma, then we needn't recite this, so we should recite 'through the merit I receive through listening to this teaching, may I achieve buddhahood for the sake of all sentient beings'.

So one of the most important things before receiving a Dharma teaching is one's motivation for receiving the teaching. So our motivation should be one that is in accordance with the Dharma, that is to say, in accordance with the Three Jewels. So what should our motivation be? Most of us already know, but it's good to go over that. One should listen to the teaching with the thought 'I must achieve the highest unsurpassable enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings in order to lead them out of the state of dissatisfaction into one of everlasting satisfaction'. So with this motivation one should then listen to the teachings, not rather with the motivation to gain fame or renown or some kind of strange blessings; rather one should adjust one's motivation or attitude to one of achieving the highest enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings.

The Benefits of Listening to the Dharma

So with regard to this attitude or motivation for receiving the teaching - initially if we understand the benefits of listening to the teaching, of receiving the Dharma discourses, then we will willingly engage in the practice of hearing the teaching, or delight in hearing the teaching. So then we should understand this through an example: If we are engaging in some kind of worldly work, for example a business, if we understand the benefits of engaging in a certain business deal, then we will put a lot of effort into that business deal, we won't have a two-pointed mind, that is to say, we won't have doubt with regard to that deal because we will have firstly seen the benefits, understood the actual deal itself and then engaged in that action. So in the same way when engaging in the practice of Buddhism, then initially one should understand the benefits of engaging in the Dharma practice.

So this is understood through understanding a quotation from a book which talks about the benefits of hearing the Dharma. So within this text then it first instructs that we should delight in the practice of hearing the Dharma because through this all qualities arise. So what is meant by this is that through engaging in the three higher trainings, we achieve the state of liberation; whether we are engaging in a lesser vehicle practice or in a greater vehicle practice, we achieve the result which is the state of liberation. Of those three higher trainings, the most important is the one of wisdom. So with regard to this wisdom which is crucial at the base and path and resultant level of the path, then how does this come about, how do we generate this wisdom within our mind, or within our being? We generate this through initially hearing a teaching about wisdom and then engaging in that particular practice. So initially then, the benefits that come about through engaging in the three higher trainings - the state of liberation and so forth - all come about through initially hearing the Dharma teaching.

Then the second line from that text goes on to say that through listening, negativity, or non-virtue, is reversed. So what this means is that through hearing the teaching, we understand what is virtuous to take up and what is non-virtuous and thus what are the objects to be abandoned. So this is principally talking about the higher training of morality. So here then if we talk about restraint - what is meant by 'restraint' here is the subduing of negative actions or negative states of mind. So this again is something that is learned through hearing the teaching. So through hearing the teaching we understand what is meant by a negative action and how to refrain from that particular action - we understand what is the base, what is the motivating factor, what is the intention with regard to the particular action or the particular karmic deed which we are going to perform and then what is meant by the rejoicing in that action afterwards. So then if we don't understand this fourfold mode of action, then we can easily engage in negative actions, and then the ripening result of those, or the negative result of those, which will inevitably come will just be something that causes us displeasure later on.

For example, if we have not heard the Dharma teaching about the necessity of abandoning the negative action of stealing, we might engage in the practice of stealing, through borrowing something and not returning it, or we might engage in the practice of killing through being pestered by an insect, and through this we will inevitably receive the result of such actions. If we don't want to have such unpleasant karmic results, we need to know what actions to abandon, and the only way we are going to understand what actions are to be abandoned is through hearing the Dharma teachings. So again here then, the praise of listening to the Dharma teaching is that one will know exactly what negative actions to reverse and this is only understood through initially engaging in the practice of hearing a teaching upon that.

So then the third line talks about the higher training of concentration. So if we talk about the mind of calm abiding, or shamatha, then this mind is one which spontaneously and effortlessly remains single-pointedly upon its object of observation. So let's talk about the achieving of that state of mind - what does one need to initially engage in? One needs to initially understand what is meant by the object of observation, the object upon which we are going to generate this single-pointed mind, this single-pointed concentration. Then we need to understand what are the beneficial mental factors which we need to take up, for example faith in the practice, introspection and so forth. Then we also need to know the objects of abandonment which are abandoned by these positive attitudes, for example mental sinking, laxity and so forth. So when we understand what is to be taken up and what is to be abandoned on this path of achieving this single-pointed mind of concentration, we will be able to engage in this particular practice of achieving a mind of calm-abiding. So again, we only know what objects are to be taken up and what objects are to be abandoned (in this case, mind-states) through engaging in the practice of hearing the teaching about this particular mind-state, or the mind of calm abiding.

Then the last line says that in essence one achieves the state of liberation through hearing the teaching. So here when we talk about having engaged in the practice of the three higher trainings, the natural result of that is to achieve the state of liberation. If we look for the root cause of achieving the state of liberation, we will find that it is hearing the teaching. So initially when one engages in the practice of hearing the teaching, then generating the various wisdoms which arise form hearing, and then contemplating the teaching, and then meditating single-pointedly on the teaching, then through having done that one generates the yogic direct perception of suchness, and then through single-pointed placement on that, one goes through the various stages and paths and achieves then the state of omniscience. So all good qualities arise through initially engaging in the practice of hearing the teaching, thus hearing the teaching is incredibly important.

The Root Text

So after having gone through the benefits of listening to the Dharma, we should engage in the practice of listening to the Dharma teaching. So the Dharma teaching which we are going to receive today is known as The Three Principals of the Path. So when we talk hear about 'path', what is meant by 'path'? In general we can talk about various kinds of path, for example, a road or a rail-track, something which gets us from A to B. However in this instance, we are not talking about a worldly path, we are rather talking about a spiritual path, and what is meant here by a spiritual path is one which gets us from a spiritual A to B, travelling through the various stages, based upon the oral instructions of the past masters, the present masters, and then taking those instructions to heart, putting them into practice, and through that moving through various stages of spiritual evolution. Here 'principal' then refers to the main points of the path, like for example snatching the essence from what is known as the Lam-rim (or the graduated stages of the path to enlightenment) teachings. So when we talk of these 'three principals of the path', we talk about a person of smaller, middling and greater capacities and then the practices which are in common with a person of smaller, middling and then the pinnacle practice which is unique to a person of greater capacity. So within that division of three, what we find are various divisions and sub-divisions, but the essence is all kind of snatched together and put in these three principals of the path, which we are going to go through.

So this particular text was composed by Lama Tsongkhapa and it was something which he received while in communication, if you like, with Manjushri, and it is the heart-essence of his practice and also of the Lam-rim genre of texts. So this was requested by a disciple of his who lived in a place called Gameron which is on the Chinese-Tibetan border. This monk requested him to give him some inspiring word for his practice, and then Lama Tsongkhapa wrote this to him based on the teachings he had received in the pure vision, thus we have the written form of The Three Principals of the Path.

The Three Principals

So if you ask – ‘what are these three principals of the path?’ Initially then it’s renunciation. So 'renunciation' here refers to a turning away from the faults of the cycle of existence and yearning or directing one’s spiritual career towards liberation from such a state of existence. Then the second is the mind of bodhicitta. This refers to a mind which for the benefit of all sentient beings, through seeing sentient beings’ suffering, strives to achieve the highest state of enlightenment in order to be of maximum or optimum benefit. So through seeing the faults in one’s state of mind, through abandoning those, gathering all the qualities, achieving the mind of omniscience of the Buddha - this desire to achieve such a state - the mind of bodhicitta - is the second of the three. Then the third of the three is what is known as the 'correct view', also known as 'wisdom'. 'Wisdom' here then refers to the mode of abiding of phenomena, that is to say the middle way view - 'middle way' here being a middle way between the two extremes of annihilation and permanence. So this correct view of reality then is the third of the three principal aspects of the path.


So then initially we have the prostration and then the promise to compose the text. So initially then we have the first line of the text:

I bow down to the venerable lamas.

So then we should understand what is meant by this prostration - who is the object towards which the author is making this prostration? It is the field of merit, that is to say, the field upon which the prostrator, or the one making the supplication, receives the maximum amount of merit, that is to say, one's spiritual mentor, or one's lama. So here then the prostration is made to the venerable lamas. So here then we should understand what is meant by 'venerable lamas' by looking at the Tibetan word. If we look at the etymology of [Tib] - the first part [Tib] refers to the lama having heard a lot of teaching, that is to say, the lama is very knowledgeable about the Buddhist practice. Then the second part of that word [Tib] refers to not only having heard the teaching but then has accomplished, or has gained realisation of, that teaching through putting it into practice in a faultless fashion. So this then refers to the level of realisation of the lama. So here then [Tib] together refer to the lama's knowledge and then the realisation of that knowledge. Then the third word 'lama' - if we look at the meaning of this word, what we find is that it refers to the highest, or that of which there is none higher. So then this is the name given to one's spiritual master with whom there is none higher with regard to the knowledge of the teaching and the realisation of that teaching. So thus we have [Tib]. In Tibetan, there is the plural [Tib] - so [Tib] here refers to the various lamas of the various lineages, that is to say, of the profound lineage, of the vast lineage, there are many what we call 'lineage lamas'. So through saying 'I bow down to the venerable lamas' - using the plural, the author is showing his willingness to bow down before all the lamas of the lineage and in particular then his principal teachers.

The Promise to Compose the Text

So then we have now reached the first stanza which is the promise of composition, so I will read from the root text:

I will explain as well as I am able
the essence of all the teachings of the Conqueror,
the path praised by the Conqueror's offspring,
the entrance for the fortunate ones who desire liberation.

So here when we talk about 'the teachings of the Conqueror', the 'Conqueror' here then refers to the Fully Enlightened One, the Buddha, and then 'the essence of the teachings' here - whether it be the various sutras or the various teachings of the Secret Mantra and the fourfold division therein, the essential part of all of this is what is going to be explained. So here then we have to understand what is meant by the teaching of the Buddha. It wasn't that the Buddha just gave a teaching and then everybody had to follow that teaching. Rather, as is mentioned by Nagarjuna in the 'Precious Garland', the Buddha teaches as a grammarian instructs his pupils. That is to say, a grammarian doesn't just teach advanced grammar to... [end of side - tape breaks here]


…initially then one would learn the alphabet, so you would learn the basic Tibetan grammar like [Tib], or in English 'A, B, C', then in dependence upon that you would learn how to form words and then sentences and then advance up into advanced grammar and so forth. So the Buddha taught his disciples in much the same way, that is to say, in a method which would lead them along a path. So 'path' here then is referring initially to renunciation. So there are two kinds of renunciation which are mentioned - one is to turn one's attention away from this life in and of itself and towards one's future lives; then to turn one's mind even away from future lives and put one's mind in a state where one wishes to achieve liberation from the cycle of existence. So thus then there is turning away from this life and then turning away from future lives, thus two kinds of turning away, and these are taught in stages to the aspiring disciples. In essence, we can say that the Buddhist teachings are taught as a method to subdue one's unruly mind, to subdue the destructive emotions which we find therein, and then to develop the spiritual qualities on top of that. So this is what is meant by 'the essence of all the teachings of the Conqueror', and here 'Conqueror' refers to having conquered all others, thus the Fully Enlightened One.


So then the second line of The Three Principal Teachings of the Path (which is the first in Tibetan) talks about the practice of renunciation. The third in English (and the second in Tibetan) - 'the path praised by the Conqueror's offspring'. So here then let us have a look at the word 'Conqueror's offspring'. Here then if we read from the Tibetan it says the holy Conqueror's offspring, or the exalted Conqueror's offspring. So this word 'exalted' means that a person in whose mental continuum, or mind, the wish to achieve full awakening for the benefit of all sentient beings has arisen, becomes a superior individual, thus kind of a holy individual. At that moment of generating the mind aspiring to the highest enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings, a lot of negative karma is destroyed, and that person then becomes what is known as one of the 'Conqueror's offspring', or the son or daughter of the Victorious One. This is mentioned quite clearly in Shantideva's book called The Bodhicaryavatara where it says that just through having given rise to this, no matter what caste one is born to, one becomes renowned as the son or the daughter of the Victorious One. So no matter what caste or what colour one might be, one is equal in the sense that one will be equally regarded, through having given rise to this mind, as the offspring of the Victorious One. This mind then is one is which is extremely important and its importance cannot be overestimated because through this mind one achieves the state of buddhahood, and if one doesn't have this mind, if one hasn’t given rise to this thought, then no matter what practice one engages in, one will not come any closer to the state of omniscience.

Correct View

Then the next line reads 'the entrance for the fortunate ones who desire liberation'. So 'fortunate ones' here then refers to those who are engaging in the Buddhist practice - fortunate in the sense that we have become into contact with the Buddha's teaching and are able to put them into practice, and in particular, fortunate in the sense that we have come into contact with the teaching of the greater vehicle, or the Mahayana teaching. So this sentence is describing the third of the three principals of the path which is correct view, correct view of reality. Because as the line says, 'the entrance for the fortunate ones who desire liberation'.

So here then 'desire liberation' - what is meant by 'liberation' and how does this sentence teach us about the correct view of reality? Here we have to understand what is meant by 'liberation'. So liberation then refers to a kind of release or an escape. So if there is a release, something has to loosen so we can escape from it, or if there is an escape there has to be something from which we are going to escape. So here then what we are escaping from or loosening and then getting away from is the destructive emotions, and then action, or karma. So these are the two fetters which bind us to the wheel, or cycle, of existence. So it is only through removing ourselves from the destructive emotions and action that one is able to achieve liberation.

So then if we think about what the cause of the destructive emotions and karma is, we can say that the root of the causes of cyclic existence (that is to say, of the destructive emotions and then the action which is brought about through them) is grasping at a truly existent or self-existent self or 'I'. So then if one wants to reverse this root, one needs to understand how this root is baseless, that is to say, we need to understand how phenomena actually exist and how, perceiving them in a wrong way, we develop these destructive emotions and then through having brought about these destructive emotions, we engage in action, the result of which is the wheel of existence, that is to say, the state of dissatisfaction. If we look at action and destructive emotions in and of themselves, then we find that the strongest of the two is the destructive emotions. If we look at the destructive emotions, then we find in the various college text books that there are two kinds, that is to say, the root and then the secondary destructive emotions, but whether it be root or secondary, these destructive emotions are emotions which cause us to have an unpeaceful or disturbed mind. So those states of mind are those which we are seeking to abandon through uprooting the root of those destructive emotions, that is to say, wrong view. So that which is going to uproot the wrong view is the correct view which is taught here in the third line - 'the entrance for the fortunate ones who desire liberation'. 'Entrance' here then referring to the path which one has to engage in if one wants to achieve liberation, that is, the removal of the destructive emotions and the actions which come about through that.

Then the last line in the Tibetan which is the first in English is 'I will explain as well as I am able'. So through this we see that Je Rinpoche was a very humble individual. He in fact was an incredibly learned person, so he could easily have written 'I am going to explain the subject matter better than others or in a different way to others' but rather than that he wrote 'I will explain as much as I can, as well as I am able', then he went on to give the rest of the verse. So this clearly shows that Lama Tsongkhapa himself was a very humble individual who always took a low status.

The Cycle of Existence

So that concludes the promise to compose the text. The next stanza is a request to listen well to the teaching which is to follow. So in English it reads:

'Listen with clear minds you fortunate ones
who direct your minds to the path pleasing to the Buddha,
who strive to make good use of leisure and opportunity
and are not attached to the joys of samsara.'

'Not attached to the joys of samsara' here refers to having turned away from the pleasures in which one may indulge in the wheel of existence, that is to say, samsara. So having gained precious human existence which is adorned with leisure and opportunity, then engaging with effort in the practice of the path, then to make use of this human opportunity which we now have in our hands by directing our minds to the path which is pleasing to the Buddha. Here 'pleasing to the Buddha' means the path of the greater vehicle, that is to say, having engaged with effort in the practice of generating the mind aspiring to highest enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings, and then engaging single-pointedly in that practice, thus the path which is pleasing to the Buddha. Then for the disciples listening to the discourse then - 'listen with clear minds you fortunate ones' - 'fortunate' in the sense of having come into contact with this particular teaching and then engaging in the practice thereafter.

So then the next stanza of the text reads:

Those with bodies are bound by the craving for existence;
without pure renunciation there is no way
to still attraction to the pleasures of samsara.
Thus from the outset, seek renunciation.'

So this stanza then teaches us that initially one should strive to generate a mind which is turned away from the world, that is to say, a mind which is free from seeking the pleasures of the cycle of existence, so one's attraction to those fetters have been reversed and thus one is striving in the opposite direction, that is to say, striving to achieve release from the cycle of existence. If one initially doesn't seek release from the cycle of existence, one isn't going to be able to get out of the cycle of existence, one isn't going to find any release from the cycle of existence within that. So initially one should seek renunciation from that cycle of existence. So as the text tells us, 'without pure renunciation, there is no way to still attraction to the pleasures of samsara', thus one will not be able to turn away from the pleasures of samsara, therefore one will still be trapped within that. So the first line reads 'those with bodies are bound by the craving for existence' - 'those whose bodies' then refers in particular to human beings who are bound by this craving for existence. So this craving is one which has to be reversed before one can really start out on the path of liberation.

Contemplation on the Preciousness of Human Existence

So then the next stanza reads:

Leisure and opportunity are difficult to find;
there us no time to waste.
Reverse attraction to this life, reverse attraction to future lives.
Think repeatedly of the infallible effects of karma
and the misery of this world.

So here then we are taught about renunciation, renunciation away from initially this life and then subsequently from future lives, so two kinds of renunciation are thus taught. So with regard to the first practice of turning one's mind from this life, one can bring about this change in one's attitude through reflecting on the preciousness of human existence, precious human rebirth, and then through the impermanence of human life. So through these kind of contemplations and the contemplation of action (cause and effect), one can turn one's mind away from the pleasures of this life and bring to mind the future lives which are yet to come. So the basis on which we can do this kind of contemplation is our human existence, that is to say our precious human rebirth which we now possess, a life of leisure and opportunity, which the text then tells us are difficult to find.

So if we want to quote, for example, from Lama Tsongkhapa's works, then we read that this human existence is more precious than a wish-fulfilling gem. So how is it more precious than that gem? In the worldly sense, if we have a wish-fulfilling gem, if we polish it, and put it atop a pole then whatever prayers we make to this wish-fulfilling gem are instantly fulfilled, through which we can have all the riches and enjoyments in one lifetime. But with regard to future lifetimes, there is nothing we can take with us. It is only in dependence upon this kind of human existence which we have now that we can put ourselves in a position where we will achieve the status of human being or god in the future, or if we so wish, the various kinds of liberation, that is to say, the greater and the lesser vehicle liberations from the cycle of existence. This can all be brought about only through dependence upon the support of precious human existence which is more precious than the wish-fulfilling gem in that we can fulfil our future aims through and in dependence upon this precious human existence.

Then it says that this human existence is something which is difficult to find. So here then we should understand why it is difficult of find, and this we can understand through two key points, that is to say, difficult to find because its cause is difficult, and through an example. So initially then through an example: In the sutras we read that the Buddha was once asked 'What is the difference between beings in the higher realms and those in the lower realms?' So to answer this the Buddha put his finger in the earth and said 'the amount of dust which I have on my fingertip symbolises those beings in the pleasurable states, or the states of bliss, whereas all the other grains of sand and dust which are on the face of the earth resemble those who are in the unfortunate states, or the states of suffering and misery'. So through that example we can see that having an existence which is within this fingertip of dust, that is to say, in the realms of bliss, or the higher realms, is something extremely difficult to achieve, whereas if we look all around us it's impossible even to count the amount of dust one might come into contact with in the street, something which is completely uncountable.

Then with regard to the cause, the cause is principally to guard ethical behaviour. So this is the root cause and this needs to be supplemented with the practice of the six perfections and complemented by stainless prayers. So we might think that if we don't keep virtuous or ethical behaviour but rather engage in the practice of the six perfections we may achieve some higher existence as a human, but as Nagarjuna mentions in his book, what we find is that wealth comes about through the practice of the perfection of giving, while the states of bliss (that is to say, the higher realms of existence humans, gods and so forth) come about through engaging in the practice of ethical conduct. This is commented upon by Chandrakirti in his book Entrance to the Middle Way when he says that through engaging in the practice of generosity, it doesn't necessarily follow that one will be reborn in the states of bliss (that is to say, in the higher states of existence), because even if one engages in the practice of giving, if one doesn’t protect one's ethical behaviour one may be reborn as a spirit which is quite wealthy or, for example, a snake spirit, a naga spirit, which is well-renowned for having plentiful jewels. Having wealth or jewels in that instance comes about through engaging in the practice of generosity; however, that individual hasn't engaged correctly in the practice of the protection of morality, therefore hasn't achieved the status of humans or gods (that is to say the realms of bliss) through the very fact of not protecting the cause, that is, ethical behaviour. So through contemplating these things we can come to see how the precious human existence which we now have in our hands is something which is not only more useful than a wish-fulfilling gem, but is also something which is incredibly difficult to come by.

Contemplation on Death

So then through these contemplations of one's precious human existence, one abandons all non-beneficial action. Then through contemplating how difficult it is to find such a human existence, one will seek out what will take the essence of this precious human existence, that is to say, one will put a lot of effort into engaging in the practice of the Dharma through seeing that one has in one's hands the incredible opportunity to make use of this life, and then the preciousness of one's life won't be carried off by the thief of laziness. So here we have to understand that this precious human life which we have is not something which is going to last forever - at some point there is going to be the separation of the mind and the body.

So when we talk about having a life-force within us, this life-force is basically referring to one's physical body and one's mind being joined together, so that when this joining of these two aggregates is broken, this is what is known as 'death', or the separation of the life-force. So when this occurs, one's physical form remains and is buried or whatever and then aggregate of consciousness goes on to one's future existence. So this is what is meant by 'death', and this is something which is definitely going to happen to all of us.

Now death is something which is definitely going to happen to all of us, but the time of our death is something which is not sure, not definite. If it were definite then we could mark it on the calendar and then just practice a bit beforehand, but however that is not the case - we could pass away at any time. So this being the case, we should really strive to engage in the practice of the Dharma while we have the chance to do that.

Then the third contemplation on death is that nothing is of any use to us at the time of death apart from the amount of time we have engaged in the practice of the Dharma. The reason for this is if we look at our predicament - when we are dying, no matter how rich we are, all our wealth gets left behind; no matter how many friends or associates we have, they all get left behind; even our body which we have striven so hard to protect and adorn and make look beautiful - this at the time of death gets left behind; and all that goes on to the future existence is the aggregate of one's mind and the amount of positive potential and Dharma practice which one has imprinted upon the aggregate of one's consciousness. So then we should contemplate that not only do we have this precious human existence which is difficult to find and has great meaning, but we should strive to put this into use through contemplating the great purpose of human life and how difficult it is to achieve that, through contemplating that we are definitely going to die, that the time of our death is uncertain, and that the only thing that will be of any use to us at the time of death is how much Dharma practice we have done in our life.

So the second line then:

There is no time to waste;
reverse attraction to this life…

So here what we are advised to do is to engage in the practices which we have gone through - contemplating the preciousness of one's human existence, how it is something difficult to come by and has great meaning and that it is not something which is going to last but rather is something that is at some point going to pass away. So through these contemplations, we come to the state of reversing attraction to this life. The sign of this is that we do not engage in any worldly actions, that is to say, actions which will bring about a result in this life, rather we are striving to utilise all our time to generate positive potential and positive Dharma training that will be of use to us in future lives. So once that has been developed fully within us, we can be said to be on our way with the practice which is in common with an individual of lesser capacity. Then we should try to emulate the great Kadampa geshe Potowa who used to spend all his time engaged in the practice of meditation or explaining the Dharma or engaging in different kinds of practice. He was continually meditating, reading Dharma, explaining the Dharma - he wasn't an individual like us who runs around doing this and that, but rather had just put his mind solely into Dharma practice, so we should strive to emulate such an individual.

Contemplation on the Karmic Law

So then the text goes on to tell us to:

reverse attraction to future lives;
think repeatedly of the infallible effects of karma
and the misery of this world.

So then one has a human existence now; if one turns one's attention away from this life and directs it towards one's future lives, the very best one can hope to achieve is another human existence like the one we have now or perhaps birth as a god or as a demigod (thus the three realms of bliss, or three higher realms). But if we investigate those three higher realms, they are not something which is stable, that is to say, they are not going to last for a long time - even having been born in those states we will inevitably fall from those states when the time of our death comes.

So the way we can reverse attraction towards, or thinking solely about, one's future existence is thus through contemplating the karmic law, that is to say, the law of cause and effect. So here this is a very profound subject, something which is quite difficult to go into great detail upon in such a short space of time, but if we go through the outline of four. Initially we should understand that karma, or action, is something which is definite, its increase is also something which is definite, and then one will not get certain results, for example a positive result, unless one engages in a positive action, that is to say the cause of such a result, and one won't get a result from which one hasn't planted the cause for its arising.

So if we look at this outline of four serially: Initially then that karma, or action, is definite. This means that if we engage in a positive action it is definite that the result of such an action, or such a karma, will be something positive. For example our human life now is the result of engaging in a positive cause in a past existence, and thus this is the ripening effect of that cause. Now the doubt can come - if someone is born as a human and is continually ill or undergoes a great amount of difficulty in their life, then we might feel 'well, that person is born as a human which, you say, is the result of a positive action; however, their human existence is not anything particularly joyous, anything particularly blissful - so how can that be the result of a positive cause?' So here we should understand a distinction between the different kinds of causes and the different kinds of results of those causes. The very fact that a sick individual has a human body is the result of a positive seed which was planted sometime in a previous existence. However, the various difficulties that this individual undergoes are not the result of the same cause, they are rather the results of different causes, or different karmas. That is to say, that individual has not only committed positive actions in the past, but has also committed negative actions, the ripening results of which are manifest as various difficulties, that is to say, illness etc.

So we can also understand this in reverse - if we look at certain kinds of animals, for example, dogs and cats - even though they are members of what we call the animal kingdom, or are included in the lower realms of existence, then they can still have the results of having committed positive causes in a previous existence. For example, we see dogs that are very, very beautiful, have very beautiful barking, cats that have very beautiful purring and so forth, very beautiful fur, very beautiful tails etc. So these results are not the results of negative causes, or negatives karmas, but rather are the result of positive causes, even though the basis for their ripening is an inferior one which is brought about through a negative karmic action, or a negative cause.

Then the second part of the outline is that karmas, or actions, once committed, increase. We can learn this through a very simple worldly example - if we plant a seed, the result of that seed can be something as huge as a great tree and yield lots of fruit. So a huge tree comes about through a tiny seed and in the same way a small action can bring about a great result, whether it be positive or negative. We read in the biography of the Buddha that a child threw some grains into the Buddha's begging bowl when the Buddha was walking past. Obviously the child couldn't just reach up and put them in the bowl because he was just a child and the Buddha was an adult, so there was a great difference in height. But even through throwing these grains, it is said that four of the grains fell in the begging bowl and one fell on the circular rim of the bowl, and even though this cause was something very, very small, it is said that the result of this was that the individual was born as a wheel-turning king with complete power over the four continents. So even from a small karmic action such as that, the result is something which is much, much bigger and this is explained clearly in the sutras.

Then the latter two of the outline of four are that if one hasn't generated certain causes then one won't experience the result of those causes, and the opposite - if one has accrued certain causes then one will definitely receive the result of those causes. So here then if one engages in a virtuous action then the result of that is something definite which will come to one and vice versa - if one has engaged in a negative action then the result of that is certain to come to one no matter what one's circumstances. We can still see this through an example given in the sutras: When the Sakya lineage of India (that which the Buddha belonged to) were destroyed, all wiped out simultaneously, two of them were hiding in a field, and it is said that even though they were far away from the battleground, owing to the light of the sun, the field caught fire and they perished in the fire. So the Buddha was asked about this: 'These two people who escaped from the battleground then went to this field to hide - how is it that they died at the same time that the Sakya clan was wiped out?' He explained that even though they weren't in the actual battleground, then they still had a similar karma to die at that particular time. So we can see various stories which give us solid examples of how that if we have accrued certain kinds of causes, their effect is definitely going to occur at that time unless that karma is exhausted in some way.

This brings us to the fourth of the outline of four which is that karma in and of itself never goes to waste, that is to say, it doesn't grow rotten and then suddenly disappear in and of itself, rather it is something that stays with us unless it is destroyed. So here then we have the understanding that karma is not something which we have to undergo - we can, if we apply the right antidotes, rid ourselves of these particular positive or negative karmic actions. So as it said then, the only good thing about bad karma is that is can be removed from our mindstream, or from our being. For example if we engage in the practice of love, this is the antidote to anger, and the reverse is quite the same - if we generate anger, this is the thing which destroys love ie virtuous states of mind. So if we have accrued a great amount of positive potential, or karma, this can be destroyed in a moment of anger. And with regard to negative states of mind which we may have generated in the past, if we engage in the opponent powers practices of regretting and then applying the various methods of confession and so forth, we can rid ourselves of these negative karmic seeds which we have in our being since we have accrued them in the past.

So the stanza then tells us to also reflect upon the misery of this world, or the cycle of existence, but tomorrow in the section on compassion, we will engage in the contemplation on the misery of the cycle of existence, so there's no need to go into this now. So if you have a question or two?

Question: I wanted to ask about collective karma. Rinpoche talked a bit about karma but how is it that one karma over-rides and brings a whole group of people to one disaster out of all the karma that there could be?

Rinpoche: With regard to the understanding of karma for an individual - if we understand this well, we will understand that through engaging in positive causes a positive result comes about, and the same for engaging in destructive karmic actions or causes - the result of that will be something unpleasant. So it is not that a group of people collectively engages in one particular action and then goes on to another action, but rather if we understand that through engaging in a positive cause, a positive effect comes around, not only for ourselves but if say everyone in the room has generated a similar cause in the past then the result for all of us can ripen at the same time. It's not that a group has to create a cause as a group, and then kind of all gather back and, as another group, have that result. For example, if we look at time - now we are in the time of the five degenerations, so it's not that we were all in some previous existence engaging in a particular action and the particular result of that is now undergoing the time of the five degenerations; but rather it is that we have engaged in various kinds of negative actions in the past, the result of which - the time of the five degenerations - is being experienced by all people, albeit in slightly different ways.

Question: I have a question for Rinpoche about renunciation. Here in the West we like to have comfortable homes, we have nice clothes, things like that, so I ask how we can practice renunciation without giving up all these things? [Big laugh from class!]

Rinpoche: It's very important to have a sense of satisfaction with oneself, that is to say, if we in general look at the way we behave, if we have some kind of enjoyment, we are always looking to better that enjoyment. If we are wearing some kind of particular clothing, we are always seeking something which is more beautiful, if we have some delicious food, we are always looking for something to match that or better that food. So our mind is not something very content at this point, so it's very important to develop a content and peaceful mind which is looking at one's enjoyments in a realistic fashion. That is to say, whatever we get, be it the very best, we are never going to be satisfied with that if we engage in desire for perfect objects, or beautiful objects - we are always going to try to find something which is better than what we have at the moment. With relationships, having friends, be they Dharma friends or whatever, when we come together, there is always going to come a time at the end when we disperse; and, for example, with our body, we have perfect human existence now, but this is not something which is going to last, it is something which is going to pass out of existence. So if we have a mind which is attached to and desirous of better and better objects, we are always going to be within a state of dissatisfaction, so a mind of satisfaction is something that is extremely important to develop, and more will be said about this in tomorrow's session.

So before tomorrow's session it would be excellent if you could contemplate the subject matter which we have gone through today. I have received this teaching many, many times from many high and extremely realised masters and they in return have received this from their teachers and thus we can trace the lineage back to Buddha himself. So through the blessing of the lineage there is definitely some benefit to be derived from engaging in these contemplations. Whether there is any direct benefit coming from me or not, there is doubt with regard to that, but with regard to the blessing of the lineage, as I mentioned I have received this teaching many times from many highly realised lamas, so remembering their instructions, I am imparting them to you. So if you could engage in the practice of contemplation on the subject matter, that would be excellent.