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How to recognize that everything is like an illusion or a dream.
Lama Zopa Rinpoche gave this teaching to about fifty ordained Sangha during a visit to a giant shopping mall in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in April 2016. Edited by Gordon McDougall.

Rinpoche was in Kuala Lumpur during a teaching tour of Southeast Asia in 2016. Video recordings from the tour are freely available on FPMT’s Rinpoche Available Now page.

Think of the five aggregates: [form, feeling, discriminative awareness, compositional factors and consciousness]. Be mindful of how you label the aggregates, how in the beginning they are just merely labeled. Watch that.

In the next second the “I” is supposed to appear back to you merely labeled by the mind. That is what happens in reality, but that doesn’t happen.

The “I” is merely labeled by mind but it only appears like that to a buddha because buddhas don’t have even the subtle negative imprints—the obscurations to knowledge (Tib: she-drip)—left by the ignorance holding the “I” as truly existent. Having totally purified these, these have ceased [in a buddha’s mindstream]. There is no dualistic view, no hallucination, no projection when the “I” and all phenomena appear as truly existing from their own side, as real. A buddha does not have this hallucination at all. You have to understand that. What appears to a buddha is what is merely labeled by the mind.

But for us ordinary sentient beings, in the next second [Rinpoche snaps his fingers], it appears back not merely labeled by the mind. It appears back as the total opposite of that. That, in the Prasangika view, is the gag-cha, the object to be refuted. According to the Prasangika Madhyamaka, the second [subschool] of the Madhyamaka, gag-cha, the object to be refuted, is the total opposite to that; it appears back to you as not merely labeled by the mind. The real “I” that appears to you is the subtle gag-cha.

The Svatantrika subschool’s view is grosser. For them it appears as not labeled by mind and existing from its own side. Before I said “not merely labeled” but here it is not even labeled by the mind. They see the “I” that appears to you as truly existing from its own side, as real. It is much grosser.

Also, there’s the Mind Only school. They say the real “I” exists without depending on the imprints left on the seventh consciousness, [the mind basis of all, Skt: alaya vijnana], from which both subject and object arise.

According to the lower schools, what is one hundred percent to be abandoned is believing that the “I” truly exists and is self-sufficient and independent, that is to say, independent of other things such as the aggregates. That’s the very gross wrong view to be refuted.

The “I” appears to us as permanent, existing alone [unitary] and independent. When the “I” appears to you, all this is there. This way that the “I” appears to you is extremely gross. It’s the grossest hallucination. This is what is believed in Hinduism and for them this is the right view. For us, however, the way the “I” appears is the wrong view.

So, you see how all the other schools’ views of what gag-cha is—how the “I” appears to us—are to be totally abandoned as they are all the wrong view.

Not only the subject, the “I”, but also the action, the object, all the sounds, smells, tastes and tangible objects—all the six sense objects—are all merely labeled by the mind, by your mind. However, in the next second they don’t appear as merely labeled by the mind. They appear as not merely labeled by the mind. Everything that appears back to you—all these wrong views, right up to Svatantrika—appear as permanent and existing alone [as unitary], and with their own freedom [as independent.]

When you walk, there’s one meditation you can do. Everything, even subtle things, should appear merely labeled by mind—the “I,” action, object, everything. But, that doesn’t happen for us sentient beings. They do not appear not merely labeled by mind, even when you go to the supermarket. Whatever you look at—all these forms, all these many thousands and millions of things: the sky, the road, the people—all appear to you according to the wrong views described by all those schools. Meditate on that.

If you can recognize even what’s asserted by the lower schools, gradually you can recognize the wrong views to be refuted by Madhyamaka schools, first the Svatantrika’s and then the Prasangika’s.

The main thing is to think that all these things are like an illusion. As I’ve said before, ignorance is like the magician. It leaves a negative imprint on the mind, like a magician who uses mantras to cause hallucinations. The audience’s senses are “hallucinated,” seeing lapis lazuli palaces and all kinds of things. The magician has hallucinated the audience. Their senses are “illusioned.”

You’re illusioned by your ignorance. The magician is ignorance; you are the audience. All this is an illusion. I’m sitting here, you’re sitting there. We’re here having tea, but all of this is illusioned as real – —real “I,” real restaurant, real tea, real snacks. All the rest is the same, appearing real.

Recognize all the wrong views, that in the end, all these are like hallucinations. You’re walking and you hallucinate the “I,” you hallucinate the action of walking, you hallucinate the road, you hallucinate the car, you hallucinate the building.

The other way to see it is as like a dream. Everything you look at is like a dream. You walk and you talk but [at the same time] the mind is practicing mindfulness, seeing it all as like a dream. You walk, talk, eat and so forth, but the most important thing is to recognize that this is all like a dream, like a hallucination, like an illusion, like a mirage.

When you do that, attachment doesn’t arise, anger doesn’t arise. There is no reason for anger or attachment to arise. That’s how it becomes the antidote to samsara, the antidote to ignorance.

Then, if it’s done with bodhicitta, thinking, “I must achieve enlightenment to benefit sentient beings, to free them from the oceans of samsara and bring them to enlightenment,” it becomes the cause of enlightenment.

A teaching given prior to a ceremony for generating the mind of enlightenment (bodhicitta).
A teaching by His Holiness the Dalai Lama prior to a ceremony for generating the mind of enlightenment, Washington, New Jersey, May 7, 1998.

Lightly edited by Sandra Smith, February 2013.

I would like to extend my greeting to all of you.

Yesterday when I arrived here it was raining quite a lot, but today it is quite different and pleasant. Perhaps half of you have come here partly to have a good time, for a holiday, so if you wish to stay for the whole talk or if you wish to walk around and take it easy, please do so.

The teaching that is going to take place here today is preceding the ceremony for taking the generation of the mind of enlightenment and for that I will be doing some preliminary recitations including the recitation of the Heart Sutra.

In the context of giving the teachings, both on the part of the person who is giving the teaching and the people who are receiving the teachings, it is very important to ensure that you have the right motivation. Therefore, for a Buddhist teaching it is very important that you take refuge in the Three Jewels and commit to the ideals of bodhicitta.

So please recite the refuge formula.

[Refuge prayer in Tibetan.]

I have visited this place several times and also I have had the opportunity to give teachings at this place several times. When I look around here today, one thing that I notice is the change in the trees. Some of the trees have really grown; some of them have really spread their roots. So, this points out to us and reminds us of the basic principle of impermanence, the transient nature of life. This is also something that we can remember if we think about the founder of the center, the late Geshe Wangyal-la, who is no longer with us. All of these things point towards the nature of impermanence, the transient nature of life. This transient nature and the process of change that we go through, that everything goes through in time, is something that no-one and nothing can stop. This is a basic fact of reality; a basic fact of existence.

Now what we do, what control we have in our hands, is how we utilize this time, which is constantly going through change. If we utilize our time for a more beneficial and positive purpose, we give our existence some kind of purpose and meaning. If we use it for destructive purposes, we create harm for ourselves and others. If we just lead a life with no mindfulness, we just completely have no sense of direction. So, the only thing that we have in our hands is how we utilize the time. So, wouldn’t it be wonderful to utilize whatever remaining time that we have in our existence, in our life, towards something that is noble and meaningful; something that is purposeful?

However, leading our life in a purposeful and meaningful way does not necessarily mean we have to lead a religious life in the sense of a religious belief or with religious faith. The key or essence is to lead a life which is grounded in the principle of helping others, if possible. If not, at least refraining from harming others. So, that is the key.

If we wish to create a sense of purpose, we can make our existence meaningful on the basis of a religious faith. Of course, on this planet there are so many different major world religious traditions, so we can pursue these paths through different traditions. However, it is important for the followers of these religious traditions to utilize, to implement the essential teachings of whatever religious path we are following in daily life.

If we can integrate the essential teachings of the religious path that we subscribe to and follow into our day-to-day experience, then of course there will be tremendous benefit.

Today, in the context here, the religious teaching that is being given is a Buddhist teaching, because this is a Buddhist center. Although many of you may already be aware of this, the key message of the Buddhist teachings is to try to seek a path to happiness and joy through a method that involves primarily bringing about discipline of the mind. This discipline of mind really brings about a transformation of the mind, which is the key path to obtaining happiness according to the Buddhist approach.

From our own personal experience we know that the more conviction, the more convinced we are of the value of a particular goal that we are pursuing, the greater our commitment and the greater our desire to attain that. In some cases, the commitment to achieving that goal is so strong that even if we are tempted to be distracted or diverted, there is a check, so we can follow the path without distraction.

What becomes important in this context for us here is to ensure that our wish to obtain that goal is grounded in a firm conviction, not only in the value of that goal, but also that our conviction is grounded in some personal experience and some valid reasons. The stronger it’s grounded in such valid reasons and personal experience, the more firm our commitment to that goal will be. Therefore in the context of Buddhist spirituality, the Buddhist religious path, understanding the nature of reality becomes very crucial.

Given that understanding the nature of reality becomes crucial for a Buddhist religious path to achieving the goal of ultimate liberation, what becomes important for Buddhist practitioners is not to be deceived by whatever perception we have. We should not be deceived by the level of appearance. Even from our own personal experience in day-to-day living, we know that appearance does not necessarily always convey the right picture of reality. Often in our day-to-day interaction with life there is disparity or a gap between how things seem to us and how things really are. This is really the basis for the Buddhist emphasis on developing such deep understandings like the nature of the two truths. Understanding the nature of reality is crucial, and in order to arrive at such a proper understanding we need to appreciate that sometimes appearance is not the true picture of reality. Therefore, having the sensitivity to appreciate that there are different levels of reality becomes critical.

The whole purpose of trying to seek a deeper understanding of the nature of reality based on the concept of the two truths is to bring about our ultimate spiritual aspiration of attaining lasting happiness and overcoming suffering, therefore, the teachings of the two truths are directly related to the Buddhist teachings of the four noble truths.

Once we look at the Buddhist teachings from this kind of angle or perspective, then we really appreciate the principal significance of the Buddha’s teaching on the four noble truths at his first public ceremony. Through teaching the four noble truths, he lays down the whole foundation or framework of the entire Buddhist path to enlightenment.

In the second public ceremony, the Buddha’s key teaching was the two truths. Although the two truths as a philosophical concept is something that is found not just in Buddhist teachings but also in non-Buddhist schools, it is in the teachings of the second public ceremony that we find a presentation of the highest level of understanding of the two truths. This addresses the fundamental issue at the heart of our existence as individual human beings or as sentient beings.

Now that we realize that the teaching on the four noble truths presents two sets of causality—one set that deals with the causality of suffering and its origin, and the other set which deals with the causality of cessation, the cause of that cessation, which is the path—we can raise the question, “Why?”

What was the significance of the Buddha teaching the four noble truths to begin with? The significance of that is to address the fundamental issue of our existence as individual human beings or as sentient beings. At the heart of our existence is this instinctual or innate desire to seek happiness and to overcome suffering. So, sentient beings who possess these natural instincts exist.

This suggests that naturally there exist sentient beings who possess this instinctual desire to seek happiness and to overcome suffering, and that really is at the basis. So the question can be raised about the nature of those sentient beings. We find a reference in one of the tantras where Buddha speaks about the beginningless and endless continuum of mind, that is said to be the ever-good or eternally good. The reference to the beginningless and endless continuum of consciousness or mind is that from the Buddhist point of view, there is nothing that exists outside the bounds of causation. Every event and every thing must come into being as result of causes and conditions. This is also true of consciousness, as it is true of the external world. In the case of a material phenomenon, not only must the object have a cause, but also there must be some substance which maintains its continuum from one instance to another. Buddhists call this a substantial cause or material cause—a cause which maintains the continuum.

Similarly, in the case of consciousness—of mind or mental phenomena—there must be a continuum, and not only must there be a continuum, but also that continuum must be maintained on the basis of entities which share the same nature. A physical entity cannot become a continuum for a mental entity or mental phenomena. So it is on that basis, as far as the continuum of consciousness itself is concerned, there is nothing that can really destroy that continuum, therefore, it is also endless.

However, this is not to say that every instance of consciousness or mental event is beginningless or endless. Of course, when we talk about consciousness—mind or mental phenomena—we must appreciate that there are so many different levels of subtlety and coarseness. For example, many of the gross levels of consciousness, such as our sensory experiences and many of our thought processes, are time-bound; they are contingent on that. Many of these aspects of consciousness are contingent upon specific additions, specific organs and so on.

Within the continuum of consciousness, there must be something unique to consciousness, that makes the first instance and the second instance and so on possess that nature of being an experience, which is called the luminous nature. There must be something in the nature of mere experience or in the nature of mere awareness, and it is on that basis that we speak of the beginningless continuum and the endless continuum. That faculty, that quality of pure awareness or mere experience is not contingent upon any physical conditions and neither is it contingent upon any specific time, so it is from that point of view that consciousness or mind is said to be beginningless and endless.

In Buddhism, when we speak about the nature of self—the person or I—that self or I is something that is designated upon the basis of this continuum of consciousness. So, just as the continuum of consciousness is said to be beginningless and endless, therefore in Buddhism, the person—the self or I—that is designated upon that continuum of consciousness is also said to be beginningless and endless.

The method or means by which we can fulfill the aspirations of that self or that person which is designated upon the continuum of consciousness must come about on the basis of some transformation of that mind or consciousness.

This fact is very forcefully demonstrated in the Buddhist teachings on the twelve links in the chain of dependent origination. The teachings say very explicitly that it is our fundamental ignorance that creates the whole chain that eventually makes the cycle of the twelve links. Ignorance leads to volition, volition leads to karmic consciousness and so on and so forth, so it is the fundamental ignorance that creates the whole cycle of unenlightenment.

However, it is through the elimination of ignorance that we reverse the cycle and thus create a process towards enlightenment. When Buddha taught the twelve links of dependent origination, we were never given the impression that although fundamental ignorance lies at the root of the whole cycle, we can eliminate ignorance simply through a prayer or simply through adopting certain physical discipline or some form of physical behavior. We are taught that we can begin the process of reversing the cycle only through cultivating the right insight that sees through the delusion created by ignorance. So in brief, ignorance lead to unenlightenment and knowledge, the opposite of ignorance leads to...

[At this point, the Dalai Lama interrupts the interpreter, Geshe Thupten Jinpa, and speaks briefly with him.]

Geshe Thupten Jinpa: Sorry...Ignorance leads to suffering, unenlightenment. [The Dalai Lama laughs] The opposite of ignorance, which is knowledge, leads to happiness or enlightenment.

His Holiness is saying he realizes that it is not only him who sometimes uses the wrong word.

His Holiness: Using the wrong word, not only me alone, but some people also there.

Geshe Thupten Jinpa: If you look at some of the epistemological texts, these texts speak of different fruits of valid knowledge or valid cognition, and in these texts, attainment of liberation or enlightenment is identified as the long-term fruit of cultivating knowledge or valid cognition. So what seems to be true is that if we examine this carefully, much of our experience of suffering and confusion really comes from states of mind which are ultimately deluded, and much of our experience of joy and liberation and enlightenment really comes from stages of thought or states of mind which are not deluded, which have their roots in some kind of valid experience or valid knowledge.

What becomes evident through all of this discussion is the fact that even for our spiritual path, cultivating the right knowledge and insight seems to become really crucial and critical. In some sense, we are aware of this fact, because even conventionally speaking we all appreciate the value of education and knowledge. The higher the level of education of the person, the better informed that person will be to cope with the challenges of life. In some sense, we do appreciate this basic point.

So we can raise the question, how does cultivating the knowledge and the insight help us eliminate fundamental ignorance? Here, when we talk about opposing forces and how one expels the other, we can use the analogy of light and darkness—illumination and darkness. The moment the illumination, the light, is switched on, the darkness is dispelled, so here we have an analogy.

Similarly, when we think about the different forms of mutual exclusivity, for example, in the case of our thoughts, if we know that something is a tree or that something is not a tree. If we know that something is not a tree, then so far as our thoughts relate to that particular object of concern, we can at that very instant never have the possibility of thinking, “That is a tree.” One thought, by the simple fact of its occurrence, by definition excludes the possibility of other.

There is a similar kind of relationship between ignorance on the one hand and wisdom or insight on the other. Ignorance here is not a case of mere unknowing, but rather it is an active case of perceiving things in a way that they do not exist. So when we cultivate the opposing thought, which is true knowledge or insight, given that these two thoughts oppose each other, the only difference is that insight is grounded in valid cognition. Just as we have insight that things and events do not possess some kind of independent existence, this also corresponds to the actual reality, because things do not possess an independent existence.

On the other hand, fundamental ignorance misperceives things as possessing an independent existence, but this does not have any validity—it does not have any ground or any support. So, when we compare two opposing thoughts which are directly opposed to each other, whichever has the validity and whichever has the support grounded in our experience is going to be more powerful. So, it is in this way that ignorance will have to be eliminated.

These reasons make it very important in Buddhism to cultivate an understanding of emptiness, and this is why emptiness becomes important in the Buddhist path. Of course, depending upon different interpretations, there are different ways of understanding what emptiness really means according to the Buddhist teachings. We understand that the emptiness as taught by Nagarjuna—where in the final analysis, emptiness is understood in terms of dependent origination—that is the highest level of understanding of the teachings on emptiness.

[Missing text]

Dependent by nature suggests that things are devoid of independent reality, or intrinsic reality. They are devoid of inner existence and identity, and this is what is meant by the Buddhist teachings on emptiness. It doesn’t mean that things do not exist. It simply means that things do not exist with some kind of independent identity or existence. So the nature of dependent origination is used as the final proof that things are empty, in the final analysis.

The thought which believes in the independent, intrinsic reality of things and events is known in Buddhism as the self-grasping thought or attitude. This we know is one source of much of our confusion and much of our ignorance. We also know that there is another element which is also one of the major origins of much of our suffering and problems. We are not only grasping at some kind of true existence of things and events and also at oneself, but we also have an attachment to the self which the Buddhists call the self-cherishing thought. This is a thought which cherishes one’s own self-interest and is completely oblivious to the well-being of others.

However, this is not to say that any form of self-regard is a source of suffering, because we do need a sense of self and also we do need our thoughts to have an element of self-regard. It is on the basis of a strong sense of self that we can proceed with many of the methods for attaining liberation: salvation, helping others and so on.

Now there is a problem when this form of self-regard becomes extreme to the point where we are prepared to exploit others; we are prepared to totally sacrifice others’ well-being in pursuit of that self-interest. In that form of extreme self-regard, a sense of self is a powerful problem.

His Holiness is making the point that if you don’t have any experience of caring for yourself, how can you even begin to care for others, because there is no real basis from which you can engage with others.

How do we overcome this excessive form of self-cherishing, that is prepared to sacrifice and exploit others’ well-being? The effective way to overcome this is through cultivating thoughts that cherish the well-being of others.

We can say that these two forces—the certain grasping at the self-existence of things and the self on the one hand, and also this excessive form of self-cherishing attitude —these two are said to be like two poisons that pollute from within. We could almost say that these two are poisonous trees that are growing in us.

Through this we can appreciate that the essence of our spiritual path should be the practice of cultivating compassion and love, which counteracts the self-cherishing, and also the practice cultivating correct insight into emptiness—the knowledge of emptiness which counteracts the other force. These two should not only be the essence of the teaching, but the key elements of our individual practice.

The day before yesterday I participated in a symposium on neuro-science and Buddhist meditation at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York. One of the speakers made a presentation where he showed an empirical study that was done, which seems to suggest quite conclusively that those people who have a tendency to use more self-reference terms, such as “I”, “me” and “mine” in a much higher proportion than the average person, have a much higher degree of self-involvement. Those people tend to have more health problems and also have much more hyper- kind of personality, and they are more prone to aggression and so on, including a much higher possibility of an earlier death.

This seems to suggest that not only Buddhist meditation on selflessness and counteracting the self-cherishing thoughts through cultivation of thoughts cherishing others’ well-being; not only do these kinds of practices have the benefit of leading to Buddhist liberation, nirvana, but even within this lifetime, even in immediate terms, there seem to be visible, beneficial effects. Because of this, just before the teaching, I told one of my friends, that if this is true then maybe many of the ritual practices that are aimed toward longevity—visualizations and meditations which involves prolonging one’s life, through focusing on one’s life—perhaps these may be counterproductive because the focus is on oneself whereas the focus should be on the others.

If we think carefully, it seems that the more self-involved we are, the more self-absorbed we are, thinking, “Oh yes, me, my problem, my this and my that,” it seems to have an immediate effect of narrowing our focus down to some tiny spot and reducing everything to that. It’s almost as if our vision is blurred, even to the point of being burdened, being pressed down by some heavy load. If we shift our focus from ourselves to others and think more about others’ well-being and welfare, immediately it has a liberating effect, because of that shift of focus. It gives rise to some kind of strength and also it makes us feel more expansive. Even if we are facing problems and we are aware of our own problems, somehow that very shift in the focus provides the space so the problem that seemed enormous earlier, now seems to be much more manageable. It seems to be less significant than it was before. This is the truth.

Since the main actual teaching here is the generation of the mind for enlightenment you should cultivate the right attitude, which is to put the focus on others, not on oneself and spread it out, extending it to all sentient beings, if possible. For the benefit of all sentient beings, make a strong commitment that you will ensure that this altruistic mind never degenerates.

As usual, for the ceremony of generating the mind of enlightenment, you should visualize here in your presence, the Buddha, the teacher, and all the bodhisattvas of the past and also the great masters of India and Tibet, such as Nagarjuna, Asanga and so on, and focus on them. Cultivate strong faith and admiration in them and then imagine that you are surrounded by all sentient beings and then focus on them. You should reinforce within you a strong sense of empathy and compassion towards their suffering and their problems, and then cultivate the thought, “For the benefit of all these sentient beings, I shall generate the mind of enlightenment in the presence of all the buddhas and bodhisattvas, and the great masters of the past. As a preliminary to that generation of the mind of enlightenment, I need to overcome all obstacles, therefore I shall engage in the preliminary practices, such as the purification of negativities, accumulation of merits and so on.”

This will be performed through the recitation of the preliminary practices, which will be done in Tibetan. When the recitation is being done, on your part, you should imagine that you are going through these practices of purification and accumulation of merits.

[His Holiness recites prayer in Tibetan.]

I believe that a small sheet has been distributed to all of you with three verses in English. The first verse deals with taking refuge and the second verse deals with the generation of the mind of enlightenment. I believe that they are citations from one of the tantras.

The first verse basically states that, motivated by the wish to free all beings, “I will go for refuge to the Buddha, the Dharma and Sangha, until I attain full enlightenment.”

The second verse states that this is reinforced with compassion and is grounded in true insight or wisdom, “I shall generate the mind for enlightenment in the presence of all the buddhas here today.”

The wisdom of emptiness, the insight of emptiness, reinforces compassion because through the cultivation of the right insight, the wisdom of emptiness, we will gain the awareness or the knowledge that grasping at true existence is a form of delusion. Because it is a form of delusion it is something that can be corrected—it is something that can be removed or eliminated. Once you gain the conviction of the possibility of eliminating that delusion from within, then your compassion toward sentient beings who continue to be deluded, who continue to be deceived by such forms of delusion will increase ever more, because you know that there is a way out. Sentient beings continue to be chained in the cycle, so of course this true insight into emptiness will reinforce your compassion towards other sentient beings.

The mind for enlightenment, or bodhicitta, is a state of mind that is altruistic and is derived on the basis of true aspirations. One aspiration is to fulfill the welfare of all other sentient beings, and the other aspiration is to seek full enlightenment for the sake of fulfilling the objective of helping others. So it is on the basis of these two wishes that we cultivate the mind that seeks full enlightenment. This is called bodhicitta or the mind of awakening.

The third verse is really a verse of dedication and also an aspirational prayer. This is from Shantideva’s Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life, the Bodhicaryavatara.

When you recite these three verses, you should dwell on their meaning. In the first verse, you are taking refuge in the Three Jewels; in the second verse, you are cultivating generating the mind for enlightenment; and in the third verse, you should have a strong sense that, “Now that I have generated the mind of enlightenment, I shall follow in the footsteps of the great bodhisattvas, and share in the powerful sentiments expressed in this verse, as long as space remains.”

We will do the recitation in Tibetan and while the Tibetan recitation is being done, you should read it all together in English.

With a wish to free all beings
I shall always go for refuge
To the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha,
Until I reach full enlightenment.

Enthused by wisdom and compassion,
Today in the Buddha’s presence
I generate the Mind for Full Awakening
For the benefit of all sentient beings.

As long as space remains,
As long as sentient beings remain,
Until then, may I too remain
And dispel the miseries of the world.

I think whenever you have spare time, it would be very effective and beneficial to recite these three verses and reflect on their meaning. In that way you can experience the benefit. There is a Tibetan expression which states that the mind follows familiarity. So it is through constant familiarization and constant practice that something becomes more natural, easier and more applicable. So with that, today’s teaching is over. I would like to ask all of you to be happy.

His Holiness [in English]: Of course I believe the ultimate source of happiness is within ourselves. I think it is very important that our mental state remains calm, peaceful, then the external disturbances will not much disturb our internal peace. So therefore while we are earning money or some other things, I think it is equally important to pay more attention to our inner values, to be somewhat balanced. We should not be a slave of money. So, I think a happy balance. Of course, money is very important, hmm? [Laughter.]

Geshe Thupten Jinpa: You may be interested to know that Tibetans have a nickname for money; it is called, “that which by which all the wishes are fulfilled.” [Laughter.] So, the Tibetan expression translates as, “that which makes everybody happy and that which makes all the wishes fulfilled”.

His Holiness [in English]: So, as I mentioned before in the beginning, I think it is very, very important to be a warm-hearted person, a good-natured person, with more sense of caring for others. Ultimately, you get more happiness.

So, as I think—our old friends, I think you often heard before, I’m always telling people—I myself feel that if you are going to be selfish, you should be wise-selfish rather than foolish-selfish. So I think that’s very important. If you take care more of others, ultimately you get the benefit. That’s all. Thank you very much.

[Recitation of dedication prayers in Tibetan.]

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.

CHAPTERS
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.

Dedication

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.

 

The Graduated Path to Liberation is a rendering in English of teachings given by Geshe Rabten Rinpoche in Dharamsala, India, in 1969. It follows the traditional lam-rim (graduated path) format, which originated with the teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha and has been passed down through an unbroken succession of Indian and Tibetan masters.

CHAPTERS
Introduction
Four Noble Truths
Bodhicitta
The Five Paths and the Ten Levels
The Six Perfections
Conclusion and Notes

There are five successive paths on which a bodhisattva develops:

  1. The path of accumulation (sambharamarga)
  2. The path of training or preparation (prayogamarga)
  3. The path of seeing (darshanamarga)
  4. The path of intense contemplation (bhavanamarga)
  5. The path of liberation or no more training(vimuktimarga)

When bodhicitta has been developed until it is natural and intrinsic, the bodhisattva has completely obtained the sambharamarga (which has lower levels before this point). Then many spiritual powers (rddhi) are attained, such as psychic power (mahabhijna), which enables the bodhisattva to know other people's thoughts, to know the past and future events of other beings' lives, to fly, to have multiple bodies, and so forth. A bodhisattva does not concentrate on these techniques specially to get a particular power; these powers come naturally. But the bodhisattva is able to put them to good use because these powers aid greatly in seeing the karma, spiritual development and potentialities of other beings, and whether or not they are in a state where they can be helped escape from samsara. The bodhisattva can see at which place beings can receive teachings from the buddhas and bodhisattvas in the various buddha-fields. 14 Many other virtues also accrue to the bodhisattva.

At this point the most important thing for the bodhisattvas is to meditate on emptiness, which is still not perceived clearly. When emptiness becomes clearer the second path, the path of training, is attained; this stage immediately precedes becoming an arya-bodhisattva.

Then, after much meditation, the feeling arises within the bodhisattva that the mind that meditates and emptiness are one, like water poured into water; (this feeling, though, is deceptive). This signifies the attainment of the path of seeing and the becoming of an arya-bodhisattva. Although the arya-bodhisattva still retains old karma as well as some defilements, no new karma is produced from this level of attainment onwards, and there is a great increase in psychic powers. For instance, the arya-bodhisattva begins obtaining the power to eradicate past karma and even deeper defilements. Because there are many different layers of avarana, they have to be removed one by one; as the psychic powers grow stronger, the bodhisattva can remove more and more layers.

Due to the first direct perception of emptiness on the path of seeing, the bodhisattva removes the first layer of obscuration of defilements (kleshavarana). The bodhisattva now has greater wisdom because there are fewer layers of defilements covering or hiding reality. On the first two paths, the obscurations are suppressed but are not truly eradicated and therefore they can still rise again. But on the path of seeing, one layer is actually removed forever. In all, there are ten layers of defilement-obscurations; they are like ten cloths which hide reality and have to be peeled or washed away. The practitioner removes the veils covering reality in the same way that one washes clothes, by using the strength of washing soap appropriate to the amount of dirt.

There are ten levels 15 of arya-bodhisattva:

  1. The joyous (pramudita)
  2. The stainless (vimala)
  3. The light-maker (prabhakari)
  4. The radiant (arcishmati)
  5. The very hard to conquer (sudurjaya)
  6. The turning-toward (abhimukhi)
  7. The far-going (durangama)
  8. The unshakable (acala)
  9. The good mind (sadhumati)
  10. The cloud of dharma (dharmamegha)

"The joyous" level, pramudita, is reached on the path of seeing, and all the other nine on the path of intense contemplation. At each of the ten levels, the bodhisattva has increasingly greater virtue and has overcome more defilements. In several scriptures, the amount of increase in virtue is given for each level; at some levels the virtues are innumerable. All these levels are a connected stream. One layer of defilement-obscuration is removed at each of the first seven levels; at the eighth, "The unshakable," the remaining three are removed so that the bodhisattva is then free entirely from kleshavarana. With respect to the removal of defilements, the bodhisattva is equal with the lower arhats, but in terms of the virtue amassed through such practice, the bodhisattva is much higher. These defilements are all removed by meditation on emptiness; at the level of the unshakable there is particularly strong growth in the strength of this meditation on emptiness.

At the ninth level, "The good mind," the bodhisattva begins at last to remove the wisdom-obscuration— jneyavarana. This is very subtle and difficult to perceive. If we put some garlic or onion into a pot and then remove it, the smell still remains. In the same way, although the defilement has gone, this obscuration still remains. At the level of "good mind," the bodhisattva is out of samsara but the wisdom is not quite perfect. At this point the bodhisattva can recognize and begin to remove the only remaining factor obscuring reality: the wisdom-obscuration, Without the removal of the wisdom-obscuration, the bodhisattva cannot help beings to the extent that a fully enlightened buddha can. The degree to which we can help others depends on the depth of our own wisdom.

While defilement-obscuration is like a cut that gives pain, the wisdom-obscuration is like the painless scar that remains when the cut has healed but not finally disappeared. "The cloud of dharma" is the level immediately before buddhahood, on which the last traces of the wisdom-obscuration are taken away. The removal of obscurations is like removing increasingly fine and wispy veils. The development of greater spiritual power is like having stronger and stronger binoculars to see more and more clearly. At the buddha stage, all obscurations are gone. Even a small part of a buddha's mind can see all things clearly at the same time. If there is even a tiny cloud in the sky there is still a small shadow on the earth, but when this cloud has disappeared the sun can shine everywhere. At the level called "The cloud of dharma," the bodhisattva meditates on emptiness with perfect concentration. Although emptiness can be seen clearly and completely, the tenth level bodhisattva cannot perceive both emptiness and phenomena simultaneously; a buddha, however, can see both at the same time. Things are empty of independent self- existence, but they themselves are not emptiness. The moment this final trace of the wisdom-obscuration disappears, phenomenal existence and emptiness suddenly appear together. At this moment a buddha can see phenomenality and emptiness simultaneously, not only with eye-perception, but also with the other sense-perceptions. At the time of becoming a buddha, not only is knowledge of the deepest nature of everything attained, but also the final virtues of body—such as easily multiplying the body an infinite number of times—and speech—such as being able to give teachings to any being without difficulty.

The virtue of a buddha's speech is unlimited. If, for instance, a thousand people each ask a different question in a different language at the same time, a buddha, by saying just one word, can answer all their questions immediately. We do not have the inner power to do this kind of action because of our avaranas. In all, there are sixty-four virtues of a buddha's speech: sweetness, softness, an attraction that makes people want to listen, a quality that gives a feeling of peace to those who hear it, and so forth. The different virtues of the body, speech and mind of a buddha can be found throughout many different sutras, and are presented collectively in a work by Lama Tsongkhapa. 16

There are one hundred and twelve different virtues of a buddha's body. The duty of a buddha is to help sentient beings; if it is helpful, in one second he can multiply himself as many times as there are beings, or can manifest as any kind of being or object such as trees, water, and so on. The buddha performs this type of miraculous action always and only to help beings find release from samsara.

To receive such help, we must also contact the buddha from our own side. At night, when the moon is shining on the surface of a lake that is clear and smooth, the light can shine on all parts of it, but if the surface is disturbed or overgrown the moon cannot penetrate or be reflected; when it is smooth and clear, the moon is reflected clearly in it, the reflection being just like the moon in the sky. In the same way, the buddha's help goes out to all beings equally; it is the beings' receptivity that varies. We must, for our part, make contact with the buddha; if it were not necessary for us to act from our own side, the buddha would have already taken us all out of samsara. A buddha has the ultimate mahakarunika, so he would not leave beings in suffering if by his own efforts alone he were able to take them out of it. If you clap your left hand with your right, your left hand must be there to receive the blow, otherwise there is no sound.

Once all coverings are removed and the power of the virtue that has been built up is at its full height, there is nothing we cannot do. We can multiply our bodies infinitely and can give teachings on all levels, from the beginning of the path to the goal; the virtue of a buddha's mind is that even a small part of it knows the reality of everything. This buddha stage is the effect of many causes, achieved through an enormous amount of Dharma practice.

After the historical buddha, Shakyamuni, had finished his teaching on earth, all the beings there at the time who had the karma to see and hear him had done so, and so he went to continue his work in other realms. Although this form has disappeared, he can still help beings in other forms. Buddhas can take ordinary forms such as a friend, guru and so forth.

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.

CHAPTERS
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

MOTIVATION

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.

OUR BUDDHA NATURE

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.

BACKGROUND TO THE HEART SUTRA

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.

RECORDING THE SUTRAS

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.

THE MEANING OF THE TITLE

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.

THE WISDOM THAT PERCEIVES EMPTINESS

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.

INTRODUCTION TO EMPTINESS

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

THE QUALITIES OF THE TEACHER

"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.

THE QUALITIES OF THE STUDENT

"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.

THE PROFOUND APPEARANCE

"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.

AVALOKITESHVARA

"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.

SHARIPUTRA'S QUESTION

"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.

AVALOKITESHVARA'S S ANSWER

"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.

THE CHARACTERISTICS OF EMPTINESS

"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.

THE FIVE BODHISATTVA PATHS

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 OBJECT OF NEGATION

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.

EMPTINESS OF THE AGGREGATES

"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.

OBJECTS, FACULTIES AND PERCEPTIONS

"...no 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.

THE TWELVE LINKS OF DEPENDENT ARISING

"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.

THE EMPTINESS OF SUFFERING

"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.

THE NATURE OF BODHISATTVAS

"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.

THE UNIVERSAL PATH

"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.

THE MANTRA OF THE PERFECTION OF WISDOM

"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.

THE MEANING OF THE MANTRA

"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."

CONCLUSION

"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.

CHAPTERS
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

THE WISDOM THAT PERCEIVES EMPTINESS

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.

WHY DID THE BUDDHA TEACH EMPTINESS?

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.

TRUTH AND FORM BODIES

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.

THE MUTUAL DEPENDENCE OF SUBJECTAND OBJECT

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.

INTELLECTUAL AND INNATE FORMS OF IGNORANCE

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.

INNATE IGNORANCE IS THE ROOT OF CYCLIC EXISTENCE

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.

MIND TRAINING, DEVELOPING EMPTINESS

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.

GRASPING AT SELF AND PHENOMENA

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.

USING A BASIS TO DESCRIBE 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."

THE OBJECT OF NEGATION, OR REFUTATION

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.

REFUTING TOO MUCH AND NOT REFUTING ENOUGH

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.

HOW INNATE IGNORANCE PERCEIVES SELF AND PHENOMENA

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.

WHAT IS SELF?

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.

DEPENDENT ARISING

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, "...it 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."

REFUTING INHERENT EXISTENCE THROUGH VALID REASONING

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."

INTERPRETATIONS OF EMPTINESS BY EARLIER MASTERS

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.

EMPTINESS INDIFFERENT BUDDHISTS CHOOLS

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.

THE MEANING OF I, OR SELF, INDIFFERENT BUDDHIST SCHOOLS

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.

THE DIFFICULTY OF UNDERSTANDING EMPTINESS

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!

DEFINITIVE AND INTERPRETABLE TEACHINGS

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 the emptiness section of the Seven Point Mind Training text.
Commentaries on the emptiness section of Mind Training Like the Rays of the Sun and The Heart Sutra.

CHAPTERS
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

Mirror of Wisdom

Teachings on Emptiness
by Geshe Tsultim Gyeltsen

Produced by the Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive for Thubten Dhargye Ling Publications, Long Beach, California.

"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."

In this book, Venerable Geshe Gyeltsen does indeed help us establish a correct view of emptiness, the ultimate mode of being of all phenomena, which we have to do if we are ever to escape from our beginningless suffering and find the perfect peace and happiness we seek. Basing his explanation of emptiness on the Heart Sutra, the essence of the Buddha’s perfection of wisdom teachings, and the emptiness section of a classic Tibetan thought transformation text, Namkha Pel’s Mind Training Like the Rays of the Sun, Geshe-la compassionately helps us cut through our inability to see reality and sets us firmly on the path to liberation and enlightenment.

You can read this book online.

A Commentary on the Seven-Point Mind Training
In this book, Khensur Rinpoche Geshe Jampa Tegchok explains how we can train our mind away from self-cherishing, the cause of all suffering, and develop compassion, the cause of everything that is good. He bases his explanation on Kadampa Geshe Chekawa’s classic text, The Seven Point Mind Training, which, amongst other things, teaches us how to transform problems into happiness.

You can read this book here or order a print copy or ebook version of the book from the Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive.

The Kindness of Others
The Kindness of Others: Editor's Introduction
Chapter One: Motivation
Chapter Two: The Seven-Point Mind Training
Chapter Three: The First Point - The Preliminaries as a Basis for the Practice, Training in Bodhicitta
Chapter Four: The Second Point - The Actual Practice,Training in Bodhicitta
Chapter Five: The Third Point - Transforming Adverse Circumstances into the Path
Chapter Six: The Fourth Point - The Integrated Practice of a Single Lifetime
Chapter Seven: The Fifth Point - The Measure of Having Trained the Mind
Chapter Eight: The Sixth Point - The Commitments of Mind Training
Chapter Nine: The Seventh Point - The Precepts of Mind Training
Chapter Ten: Conclusion
Appendix: The Seven-Point Mind Training
Bibliography and Recommended Reading

Chapter Four: The Second Point - The Actual Practice,Training in Bodhicitta

For practitioners of great scope, the main point is the method of meditating on or practicing bodhicitta—the determination to achieve enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings. What does this mean? Bodhicitta is a primary mind associated with two aspirations— the first, its cause, is what we practice to generate bodhicitta, the aspiration to benefit all sentient beings; the second, which accompanies and is similar to bodhicitta, is the aspiration to achieve enlightenment.

So, bodhicitta is a primary mind accompanied by the aspiration for enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings. There are three kinds of enlightenment—those of the hearer, solitary realizer and bodhisattva. Bodhicitta aspires to the highest form of enlightenment, that of the bodhisattva—the great, or Mahayana, enlightenment. When we understand that bodhicitta is the aspiration to attain the highest kind of enlightenment and that hearers and solitary realizers do not have it, we should feel strongly motivated to achieve enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings because of the many unbearable sufferings they experience within cyclic existence.

We should also recognize that we are impermanent, changing from moment to moment, and must eventually leave this life, as we cannot stay here forever. Furthermore, when we do leave this life, even though we might have accumulated enough wealth and possessions to completely fill the whole Earth, we can take absolutely nothing with us and have to leave it all behind. Even if we have a huge family with hundreds of thousands of relatives, we will have to relinquish them all; not one can accompany us. Even this body, which we have inhabited since we entered our mother’s womb and have taken so much care of all our life, will not help us but will be left behind. Understanding all this should encourage us to practice and try to generate bodhicitta right away.

Of course, generating bodhicitta will not protect us from death, but if we do generate this attitude—or even if we simply practice it—we will not die a normal death; we will die with joy. That’s the difference bodhicitta makes. Normally, as we age, we find it difficult to stand up—we have to haul ourselves up on a stick or push against something solid—and when we sit down we just flop down into the chair. It’s difficult to do anything. But if we have developed bodhicitta, we’ll at least know that death is going to bring us a nice new body and will feel very positive about dying.

I speak from personal experience about the suffering of old age. I tell you, if you went to bed one night and woke up the next morning old, with all its attendant sufferings, you’d find it totally unbearable. However, the special sufferings of old age creep up on us gradually, and those who have had plenty of positive experiences from practicing bodhicitta are quite happy to die because it’s a chance to get rid of their rubbishy old body and move into one in which it will be much easier to practice. People who die without having practiced Dharma feel very afraid.

There are two kinds of bodhicitta—conventional and ultimate. Certain earlier presentations of how to generate it explained how to develop ultimate bodhicitta first and then moved on to conventional bodhicitta, but some recent masters have said that this is incorrect and that instead we should begin with conventional bodhicitta and then practice the ultimate. This is the order of the version presented here; the tradition that put ultimate bodhicitta first was taught for practitioners of extremely sharp intellect.

The training in conventional bodhicitta is explained here principally by way of the technique of equalizing and exchanging self and others. The other method, the sevenfold cause and effect instruction, is partly relevant, but equalizing and exchanging self and others is what is mainly explained. In his Compendium of Training, Shantideva says that our bodhicitta will be much firmer if we develop it by practicing equalizing and exchanging self and others from the outset.

Equalizing self and others

What exactly does equalizing self and others mean? Specifically, what is it that is supposed to be equalized? For example, is it that self and others are equal in being selfless, lacking in self-existence? Although this is true, it’s not what is meant here. Is it that self and others are equal in suffering in cyclic existence? Again, although this is true as well, neither is that our focus here. Perhaps the meaning is that self and others are equal in wanting happiness and not wanting suffering? The answer here is yes, self and others are indeed the same in wanting happiness and not wanting suffering, and this is what we are talking about here.

When we talk about equalizing self and others in order to generate bodhicitta, what we mean by the equality of self and others is that we all want happiness and none of us wants suffering.

Since time without beginning we have harbored the selfish attitude that continually makes us afraid of getting cold, hungry, thirsty and so forth or suffering in other ways. We always worry about what will happen to us. This continual worry is the selfishness that’s called the self-cherishing mind—the tendency to focus on our own happiness while neglecting the welfare and needs of others—and we have been under its influence since beginningless time.

Exchanging self and others means switching these two so that instead of being primarily concerned about our own happiness we become more concerned for that of others, and instead of neglecting others we neglect ourselves and strive for enlightenment for their benefit.

There is a connection between the self-cherishing mind and self-grasping, or grasping at true existence. The self-grasping mind is the actual root, or fundamental cause, of all samsaric suffering but it is very closely followed by the self-cherishing mind, which arises on the basis of self-grasping and itself serves as the basis for all the other delusions.

There are said to be 84,000 delusions, each of which arises as a result of the self-cherishing mind. Motivated by these delusions, we engage in harmful actions such as the ten non-virtuous actions, 9  the five immediate negativities 10 and other kinds of negative activity and, as a karmic consequence of doing so, have to undergo all kinds of unbearable suffering.

Thus the very root, the fundamental cause, of all our delusions, negative minds and suffering is self-grasping, the mind that thinks we are completely self-existent, inherently-existent; that we exist in a way that is totally independent of any causes or conditions, utterly independent of anything.

And if self-grasping is the king, then self-cherishing is his most powerful minister, the one who tries to achieve all kinds of objectives on his behalf. Selfishness itself does not conceive of or believe in the self as existing from its own side because that is not its job. However, the selfish mind does act as a protector or helper for the self that is conceived of by self-grasping as existing from its own side.

In order to get nice things for the self, self-cherishing causes us to develop attachment; to protect the self from harm, self-cherishing causes us to generate anger; in other situations it stimulates jealousy, pride and other delusions. Then, by following these negative minds, we engage in negative actions, create negative karma and suffer. Thus selfishness is just like a minister that the king can order around to get whatever he wants done.

Therefore, we should think repeatedly about how self-cherishing creates all our suffering and problems until we see it as our main enemy. Then, instead of allowing selfishness, whose main aim is our own happiness, to lead us around by the nose, we should switch everything around and start thinking about how we can benefit others, how their happiness is more important than our own.

If we think about it correctly we can easily understand how important others are and how all our happiness and fortune definitely and completely depend on them.

I mentioned before that one way of developing bodhicitta is through the sevenfold cause and effect instruction, which, based on equanimity, is as follows:

(a) recognizing that all beings have been our mother,

(b) recollecting their kindness as mother,

(c) thinking how to repay their kindness,

(d) developing love,

(e) developing compassion,

(f) generating the special intention of benefiting all beings by oneself alone, and then

(g) generating bodhicitta itself.

The only way we can gain these realizations is by depending on others.

Likewise, the only way we can develop the six perfections of generosity, morality, patience, enthusiasm, concentration and wisdom is by depending on others. Take, for example, the practice of generosity, the mind wanting to give away all our possessions and even our body in order to benefit others. Obviously we can do this only in dependence upon others; it is only thanks to them that we can develop a generous mind.

Then there’s morality, which means abandoning the ten non-virtuous actions—killing, stealing, lying and so forth. Abandoning killing means giving up taking the lives of others; we can do this only by depending upon others; again, it is only thanks to them that we can do it. Similarly, we abandon stealing by regarding others as important and therefore not taking their possessions; it is only thanks to others that we can do this, too. The same applies to all other beneficial qualities of mind—we can develop them only through the kindness of others.

We should think, therefore, that we must definitely attain the state of complete enlightenment as soon as possible for the sake of all sentient beings, and for that reason determine to spend all our time from now on working towards that goal without wasting even a moment. We must resolve to practice like this in particular for whatever remains of this life—studying, thinking, meditating and practicing as well as we can—especially this year, this month, this week and particularly this day. We must generate the strong determination to not waste time but spend every moment practicing whatever we have to do to attain enlightenment as quickly as possible.

Meditation on equalizing self and others is done by way of nine reasons, of which six work on the conventional level and three on the ultimate. With respect to the six conventional ones, three relate to self and three to others. This is how we should meditate on the equality of self and others.11

The shortcomings of self-cherishing

The fourth paragraph of the text says,

Banish the one to blame for everything,
Meditate on the great kindness of all beings.

The first line means that we should blame the self-cherishing mind for all our negative experiences. Why? Because every problem and fault we experience is a result of our own selfishness. Therefore we should blame ourselves for every unpleasant experience that befalls us, no matter how bad it is; we should grab hold of our own selfish mind and view it as the culprit.

As the great Shantideva wrote in his Guide,

All the suffering in the world
Comes from the desire for one’s own happiness.12

Every problem we experience comes from wanting and thinking of only our own happiness; all our suffering—everything that goes wrong, every kind of fault, everything fearful or unpleasant and all violence—comes from this selfish mind. Furthermore, it all comes equally from the self-grasping mind that conceives everything to exist from its own side.

Shantideva then compares selfishness to an extremely harmful spirit that continuously harms us.

If all the harm, fear and suffering in the world
Occur due to grasping onto the self,
What use is that great demon to me?13

Thus we’re encouraged to ask ourselves, “Why do I hang on to this selfish mind, which is such a harmful entity?”

As the Indian master Padampa Sangye told the people of Tingri, where he had decided to stay because he felt he could help them, whenever things go wrong we always blame others but we should instead point the finger of blame at ourselves, where the root of all problems lies.14

And, as the mind training text The Wheel-Weapon Mind Training says, if we develop this understanding it is marvelous, because by so doing we identify the real enemy that continuously gives us harm—beginning, middle and end. It says, “So now I’ve identified you, you thief.”15

But self-cherishing is not the ordinary kind of thief, who robs people by beating them up and forcibly taking their possessions. Self-cherishing is the type of thief that sneaks in surreptitiously at night and steals on the sly.

The Wheel-Weapon also says, “So now I’ve understood you for what you are, you unfaithful friend!”16 From the point of view of our own selfishness it seems to be our greatest friend, but in practice it does nothing but trick and deceive us. The selfish mind creates all the suffering we experience in this life, such as people being horrible to us, hitting and attacking us with weapons, but more especially, it is the cause of all the unbearable sufferings we’re going to experience in the lower realms in our future lives.

As Shantideva also said, look at the difference between the buddhas and ordinary worldly people like ourselves.17 Because we have not yet discarded our selfishness, we are still suffering here in cyclic existence, not even free from rebirth in the lower realms. Even arhats, who have completely transcended the suffering of cyclic existence, have reached only a limited degree of perfection because they have not relinquished their selfishness. They have not devoted themselves to benefiting others; therefore they have not been able to achieve the state of full enlightenment.

The Buddha, on the other hand, gave up all selfishness and totally devoted himself to benefiting others. As a result, he reached a state of complete freedom from suffering and to this day remains incredibly beneficial to and highly regarded by many beings. By seeing the difference between him and us, we will understand how important it is also to renounce the selfish mind and totally devote ourselves to benefiting others.

Originally, the Buddha was exactly the same as us. When water is boiling, the water on the top goes to the bottom and the water on the bottom comes up to the top, and it keeps on going round like that. Similarly, in many previous lives we were together with the Buddha—sometimes as best friends, sometimes as worst enemies, all the time changing, changing, changing. Then, unlike us, at a certain point he decided to enter the path by renouncing selfishness and devoting himself to others, and kept on developing spiritually until he attained enlightenment.

The kindness of all sentient beings

Furthermore, Shantideva pointed out that everything good—every form of happiness, all positive qualities and so forth—comes through the kindness of others. Therefore, the mind devoted to their welfare is like a wish-fulfilling jewel, the source of all happiness and everything good and useful in the world. Just as a farmer who possesses an extremely fertile field, where everything he plants always grows, is very happy to have it and cherishes and takes great care of it, we should feel the same way about other sentient beings—that they are extremely valuable, and cherish and take care of them.

It is interesting that, whether we are Buddhist or not, if we think about the great kindness of all beings it will be evident that all our happiness does indeed depend upon them.

It is also said that the buddhas and sentient beings are equally kind. The buddhas’ kindness is obvious—through following their teachings and advice we can attain enlightenment. However, we do so only by meditating on love, compassion, bodhicitta, the six perfections, the four means of taking care of disciples and so forth, and doing these practices obviously depends upon others. Therefore, they and the buddhas are equally kind and it is wrong to dismiss sentient beings while holding the buddhas in great esteem.

This does not mean that we should make prostrations, offerings, prayers and requests to sentient beings to be able to generate realizations and so forth but that they and the buddhas are equally important and kind in the genesis of our happiness and we should therefore appreciate and respect them both equally.

Having understood that all happiness, especially the many qualities we are trying to develop on the Mahayana path to enlightenment, results from the kindness of not just the buddhas but also all sentient beings, from this point on we should always remember how all beings are kind. This is what “meditate on the great kindness of all beings” means.

When we think about self and others, self refers to just the one person whereas others are utterly uncountable. Nevertheless, we normally take tremendous care of that one self and basically ignore most of the others. If we think about the difference in numbers here, it seems disgraceful to ignore the numberless in favor of just the one whereas neglecting the one in favor of the countless others doesn’t seem so bad.

As soon as we start meditating on all beings as most kind, even though we can concentrate on love and compassion—wanting all beings to be happy and free from suffering—for only a very short time, it is still a very powerful way of building up an extraordinary amount of merit. That’s why meditation on qualities such as love and compassion is so valuable.

Of course, it is inevitable and to be expected that we beginners meditating on the kindness of all sentient beings will occasionally create negative karma by getting angry at some of them, therefore we also need to know how to purify immediately any negativity we create.

According to the sevenfold cause and effect instruction, above, when we meditate on the four immeasurables, which include love—wishing all beings to be happy—and compassion—wishing them to be free from suffering—and on bodhicitta—the determination to achieve enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings—we start by recognizing all beings as having been our mother, recollecting their kindness and resolving to repay this kindness, and then go on to meditate on love, compassion, the special intention and finally the mind of bodhicitta itself. All these recognitions and qualities arise through the kindness of others because it is only by meditating on others that we can generate them.

Once we have entered the path to enlightenment we develop it further by practicing the six perfections and so forth. Again, each of these depends on the kindness of others. When we finally achieve enlightenment we spend all our time benefiting others because of the strength of our compassion, which cannot bear to see or ignore others’ suffering. So again, even when we become buddha, all our enlightened activity depends upon others and their kindness.

A mother’s kindness

Simply by looking at our present life we can see the kindness of others. From conception we were completely reliant on our mother’s kindness for survival. For the nine months we were in her womb she underwent many difficulties carrying us and then faced the hardships of giving us birth. Then, when we were very small, there was no way we could look after ourselves—we were always in danger of falling or getting hurt in various other ways, and when we got a bit bigger we were again in danger of running into traffic, falling from high places and so forth.

Parents constantly have to think about their children, protect them from danger and work to feed and educate them and so forth. Thus when we were small we completely depended on the kindness of our parents for everything.

This is also true for animals. We can see how ducks and geese, for example, look after their young—and while there is actually very little they can do to protect them from predators they will nevertheless defend them with their lives.

As we get older and go to school, our education depends upon the kindness of our teachers and our fun depends upon the kindness of the other children we play with. Later on, when we get married, start a family, live together and so forth, our enjoyment of all this going smoothly and happily depends upon our partner and the other members of our family. And when we become old and find it difficult to sit or stand and can’t cook or take care of ourselves properly, we again need somebody to look after us.

Thus, it’s clear that from the beginning of our life to its end, even our mundane happiness depends entirely upon the kindness of others, and not only the kindness of other human beings—we use animals’ bodies for food, shoes and clothing and so forth and they keep us company, protect us and help us in our work. Therefore we should also appreciate the kindness of animals.

With respect to other kinds of food, consider how grain used for food starts off in dependence on the kindness of others. Somebody plants the seeds in a field; somebody tills the earth; somebody removes the weeds; many people harvest the crop and make it ready to cook; others mill the flour and make bread; somebody else prepares our rice. Thus everything we eat depends on the kindness of the many others who bring it to us. Furthermore, the roads that bring us our food and help us get from place to place were built by the hard work of many people.

We might think that we paid for all this, but where did we get the money? It came from our job, but we only got that because somebody gave it to us.

Therefore, all we have comes from the kindness of others. We came into this world completely naked, without a stitch of clothing or anything in our hands. All we have accumulated since then has come from others.

We must reflect from our own experience on all the other ways in which others have been kind to us. The more we think about this, the more embarrassed we’ll be at thinking of ourselves as important and precious, and the more we’ll realize that in fact it is others who are important and precious. If we don’t think deeply about all this, it won’t make much sense, but if we want to follow the spiritual path we must develop this awareness. Meditating on the kindness of others is priceless.

Giving and taking

The next line of the text says,

Practice a combination of giving and taking.

This means that we should alternate giving and taking [Tib: tong-len]. I’ve been talking about the kindness of others—the more we think about this the more we’ll realize the extent of their suffering and will come to think that it’s so terrible that we must do something about it. Eventually we’ll feel compelled to take their suffering on ourselves and give them our happiness. This is what giving and taking means—giving happiness to all beings and taking on all their suffering—and we practice it in an attempt to destroy our self-cherishing mind.

We might think that since the suffering of others does not hurt us, why even consider taking it on? In response, the commentary reminds us that even in their dreams all beings want happiness and do not want suffering.

We might also think that while it is true that we all want happiness and freedom from suffering, nevertheless, the best thing is simply to take care of our own happiness and eliminate our own suffering. Moreover, we might wonder whether it is even possible to give happiness to others and alleviate their suffering, arguing that, since each of us has our own individual mind stream, we can of course create happiness in and remove suffering from our own mind, but how can we possibly do this for others? After all, their minds are completely separate from ours; surely they must be responsible for creating their own happiness and eliminating their own suffering?

While it is true that our minds are separate, it still makes sense that one person can help another find happiness and freedom from suffering. For example, a mother and her child are responsible for helping each other find happiness and eliminate problems. Now, we might argue that even though mother and child have different mindstreams, because they are so close and have great affection for one another it’s possible to talk of their doing this but not other sentient beings. The answer is that although it is true that in this life we have only one mother and father and don’t have that special connection with other sentient beings, before this life there was a previous one, and before that there was another, and before that another and so on—in fact, there is no beginning to the lives we have had in cyclic existence.

Furthermore, in many of those lives we were born from a womb, just as we were in this one, and if we think deeply about this we will see that every single living being has been our mother and father and has therefore been extremely kind to us. Through reflecting on the kindness of our present mother and father we should understand that in past lives, when other beings were our parents, they were similarly kind and affectionate towards us. Perhaps they were even kinder, sometimes even giving up their very life for our sake.

Thus all sentient beings have helped us in countless ways and saved us from innumerable harms and have even given their life for us on numberless occasions. However, the selfish mind says that while all this might be true, it happened so long ago that it’s all forgotten by now. Moreover, it also says that many of these beings have actually done their best to harm us as much as they can, so caring for all beings is out of the question.

However, the commentary points out that it is only our own selfishness that is raising these objections and denying the need to think so much about others and describes this way of thinking as a debate between selfishness and the altruistic mind dedicated to benefiting others. It’s like a dramatization, which is actually how to reflect and meditate. It discusses potential objections our mind might raise when we think about these issues, several of which will ring true to our experience. When the selfish mind comes up with these objections we have to find a way to respond.

For instance, when the selfish mind asserts that many other people are intent on harming us, the altruistic mind retorts that this is unreasonable because since beginningless time, over countless lifetimes in cyclic existence, others have been extremely kind to us. We cannot possibly measure how kind they have all been or count how many times they have protected and helped us. They have shown us this kindness since beginningless time and now, because of some minor problem, we’re branding certain people worst enemies undeserving of help. This is completely unreasonable and we should be ashamed of ourselves for even thinking it. Don’t we feel even a little embarrassed by our reaction?

Our ways of thinking and behaving are profoundly ignorant and particularly unpleasant because they completely disregard the untold help we have received and merely remember the little harm. It’s as if our parents, having taken care of us all our life, have become old and sick and gone into hospital and then said just one unpleasant thing to us, and we have reacted with anger and attacked them. If our family and friends would come to know how we have completely forgotten our parents’ kindness and reacted with hatred just because of this one comment they would be disgusted at our behavior.

Moreover, we may wonder why we meditate on the kindness of others and take on their suffering because neither we nor they seem to be affected by this practice. To this we can reply that of course no immediately visible, direct effects arise from such practice, any more than they do when we make offerings, prostrations and so forth to the buddhas, which also bring no immediate result. It is different when we give food or drink to those who are hungry or thirsty because such actions bring immediate benefit. But when we do this, do we really experience no benefit? Do we ourselves derive no benefit at all? We might feel that we do not benefit personally from giving to others in this way, at least not directly or immediately, but that doesn’t mean there’s no result at all. Likewise, if we see no immediate, visible result from practicing morality, does that mean that moral conduct has no benefit at all?

With respect to the karma created by various actions, some actions bring results in this life, some in the next and certain others in a more distant future life. Therefore, the altruistic mind has to respond to the selfish mind’s objection above by saying, “You are rather stupid in failing to recognize that the good you do might not bring immediate results. For example, farmers plant various kinds of seed, some of which ripen that very year, others the following year and some only several years later. The fact that they don’t all bring immediate results doesn’t stop the farmer from planting them.”

Likewise, when we try to generate, meditate on and practice bodhicitta, we don’t necessarily experience immediate, visible results like those of eating when we’re hungry, but nevertheless, the future good results that will eventually ripen are endless.

Just as when we see a high quality crop we can infer that its seeds must have been excellent, in the same way, when we see any good result we can confidently infer that it must have had a good cause. The principle that good results must be preceded by good causes applies to the state of enlightenment itself.

The exalted state of enlightenment—in which all good qualities are fully developed and from which all faults and obscurations are totally absent—is a good result. We can therefore infer that it must have been preceded by many good causes, such as the practice of the six perfections and the four means of taking care of disciples and so forth, and we can speak of all such practices along the path, over an extremely long period of time, as the good causes that bring the great result of enlightenment.

Thus we can see that by using our wisdom and intelligence to understand the difference between right and wrong and gradually working at eliminating wrong, harmful states of mind and actions and developing correct, beneficial ones, over time, we can attain enlightenment. Once we have done so we will be able to benefit many, many beings extensively—ripen on the path those not yet ripened, liberate those not liberated and completely free from all obscurations those not yet free. How will we be able to do that? How do enlightened beings do that? While on the path they gradually develop the mind wanting to benefit others, practice actions beneficial to others and abandon all thoughts and actions harmful to others, thereby gradually acquiring the power to attain the omniscient mind of a buddha.

That is the ultimate result, but the benefits of the actions that bring it are not seen immediately, unlike those of eating and drinking to get rid of hunger and thirst. In response to this, the selfish mind might reply, “That’s OK, ultimately there might be such a result, but for the time being I’m not interested in trying to benefit all sentient beings because it’s evident that however much I look at it, I see little benefit to either my body or my mind.”

However, this thought is also a mistake because, even in the short term, there are many benefits from helping others and not harming them. When we live trying to be as helpful to others as we can and avoiding aggressive, negative mental attitudes and actions towards them, our companions and the people with whom we live really appreciate us because our behavior makes them happy and we in turn enjoy being appreciated, popular and well-liked.

Although the selfish mind does not understand and appreciate all this, the buddhas, bodhisattvas and other holy beings do. Similarly, those of us who are trying to develop, practice and meditate on love, compassion and so forth also understand and appreciate it, as do the people with whom we spend our lives, as I’ve just said. Even strangers with whom we’ve just come into contact will appreciate and take a liking to us. They feel something right away, just as we immediately feel uncomfortable and afraid the moment we encounter a vicious, violent person, even somebody we’ve never seen before, or a scorpion or poisonous snake.

The selfish mind might further object that there’s no point in meditating on love or compassion because there’s no direct personal physical or mental benefit. The reply to this is, “Normally you, the selfish mind, say all sorts of unpleasant things to people—perhaps you should give up doing this because it harms neither their bodies nor their minds; so why bother? Moreover, you are normally so full of malevolent thoughts and covetousness towards others—perhaps you should give these thoughts up as well; since they neither help nor harm anybody directly, physically or mentally, just forget them.” It’s only when you take action on the basis of your ill will or covetousness that you actually harm others physically, so since those attitudes themselves neither harm nor help others directly, why not just drop them?

Such objections can arise when we think deeply about the various disadvantages of the selfish mind and begin to gain experience in this area. One lama explored this issue in his writings and, although it wasn’t in relation to the text we’re studying here, I’ll use what he said to illustrate the following point. Debating with the selfish mind about these things until it has nothing left to say is extremely helpful.

To continue the argument, then, the selfish mind objects: “I don’t want to practice altruism or give up selfishness because doing so has no direct benefit.” The reply to this is that we readily accept the benefits of saving money and other things for our old age but since doing so has no direct or immediate benefit us, why bother? Similarly, if we get a thorn in our foot, our hand removes it; since this does not benefit our hand in any way, why should it bother to help the foot?

If we do not abandon selfishness and devote ourselves to the happiness and welfare of others we will never achieve the perfect happiness of enlightenment and will forever be stuck with changeable, unreliable kinds of happiness.

How to practice giving and taking

The text then goes on to say,

Giving and taking should be practiced alternately.

First we were told to practice a combination of giving and taking; now we’re being told to practice them alternately. Finally,

And you should begin by taking from yourself.

Thus these two lines tell us how to practice giving and taking, the second being for those of us who lack the courage to practice taking in its fullest form—taking on all suffering of all beings—straight away. We build up to it gradually by taking on our own suffering first. How do we do this?

We can start by meditating each morning on taking on, in advance, the suffering we’re going to experience that day. On that basis we gradually build up to taking on the suffering of the next day as well, then the day after that, and so on until we’re able to take on all the suffering of this life and finally, the suffering of all our future lives.

Once we can do this we extend the taking to all our friends and relatives, then gradually build up to include all the people to whom we feel neutral, those who are neither friends nor enemies, and when we’ve mastered that we add in our enemies, those who harm us, thus extending our practice to include all sentient beings. Of course, if we have the courage and strength of mind to practice this most difficult technique from the outset we don’t need to train our mind in the gradual method that begins with taking on our own suffering first.

Briefly, in a simplified way, the meditation on taking is as follows.

Reflect on the six realms of cyclic existence: the hell, hungry ghost, animal, human, demigod and god realms.18

Within the hell realm lie the hot and cold hells. The hot hells have eight levels with progressively increasing suffering, as do the cold hells. After the first level, the second has more suffering, the third still more, and so on. Then there are the surrounding hells like the hell of the shalmali tree, the swamps of rotting corpses and so forth, and then the temporary hells as well. However, the main sufferings that we take from the hell beings are those of the intense heat and cold they endure.

The worst sufferings in all of cyclic existence are those of the hell beings. The hungry ghosts experience slightly less and the animals’ sufferings are somewhat less again. The principal sufferings that the hungry ghosts undergo are those of hunger and thirst; they can go millions of years without finding even a gob of spit to eat.

With respect to the animals, if we look at those who live among us, especially in the West compared to Asia, they seem quite well cared for. Sometimes it can look as if pet dogs and cats, and even livestock, have an enjoyable life. They get a pleasant place to sleep and their food is prepared for them; it’s often better than that of humans in many parts of the world. The animals that live among us—pets, livestock and so forth—are referred to as “scattered animals” and compared to other animals actually suffer less than the majority, who live in the oceans.

Nowadays films give us a glimpse of how sea creatures live in water teeming with different species of fish; thousands, even millions, of different creatures living there together. They have more suffering than most land animals.

The general suffering of animals is that of not being aware and of eating and being eaten by each other. The big ones prey on the smaller ones or sometimes the smaller ones gang up on the big ones and kill and eat them instead. This goes on all the time and causes great suffering.

When taking suffering from humans, think about the three, six or eight sufferings. For example, the eight include the sufferings of birth, aging, sickness, and death; of not being able to get what we want; of being separated from things and people we love; of all sorts of unwanted unpleasant things happening to us; and of our physical and mental aggregates, which are under the control of delusion and karma.

The main suffering of the demigods is that of fighting. Out of jealousy, they constantly fight with the gods, who eat the fruit of a tree whose roots are in the realm of the demigods but ripens in the realm of the gods.

The gods live for millions and millions of years, enjoying themselves greatly, experiencing extraordinary pleasure with their divine friends, but at the end of their lives, a week before they die, they hear a sound like an announcement in space, telling them that they will die on such and such a day. From that point on their splendor fades, they start to smell and their friends no longer want to come anywhere near them. Furthermore, they become aware that they have exhausted their merit and will soon be reborn in the lower realms.

Therefore, in that final week of their lives, they experience dreadful suffering, which is made more intense by seeing that all their pleasure is coming to an end and that they are about to experience great suffering. Moreover, even though a week might not sound like much, a week in the life of a god is like billions of years in the human realm.

The three lower realms are called bad realms because their inhabitants create nothing but bad actions and experience only bad results, while the three upper realms are called good realms because their inhabitants experience good results of good actions.19

When we practice tong-len 20 we begin by imagining the hell realms, thinking about the terrible sufferings the hell beings experience, and visualize taking it all on, completely relieving them of it all. Once we have done this we imagine giving the hell beings all our possessions, happiness and merit, the receipt of which brings each hell being to complete enlightenment. We then gradually work our way up in a similar manner through the other realms.

The way to practice taking is to concentrate on our breath and imagine that the sufferings of the beings in the particular realm we’re focusing on leave through their right nostril and enter us through our right. Visualizing our selfish-cherishing mind as a dense blackness at our heart chakra in the center of our chest, the sufferings we inhale descend dissolve into it, completely destroying this selfish mind.

The way to practice giving is to imagine sending out through our left nostril our entire body and all our possessions, happiness and merit from the past, present and future to each and every sentient being in the realm we’re focusing on. All this enters their left nostril, as a result of which they develop all the realizations on the path and become fully enlightened.

After taking on all the sufferings of the hell beings and using them to harm our selfish mind and then giving them all our happiness and so forth, bringing them to complete enlightenment, we move on to the hungry ghosts. We likewise take all their suffering from their right nostril into our right nostril; it too dissolves into and destroys our self-cherishing mind. We then send out all our happiness, merit and so forth through our left nostril; it enters their left nostril and brings them to enlightenment.

When giving, we should feel as if we’re turning on a light in a dark place. It might have been dark for thousands or even millions of years, but no matter how long the darkness has been there, as soon as we turn on the light it’s immediately dispelled. In the same way, when we send our happiness and merit from our left nostril into the beings in the realm we’re focusing on, even though all their obscurations and so forth might have been there for a long time, they are totally eliminated and those beings are established in the state of complete enlightenment.

Thus, we gradually go through this process with all six types of sentient beings up to the gods, taking on their suffering, using it to destroy our selfish mind.

We can sometimes add another visualization to this practice: after bringing all beings to enlightenment we receive back through our left nostril the blessings of their enlightened body, speech and mind. These blessings completely eliminate our self-grasping mind—which resides in our heart and has always believed that everything exists from its own side, independent of all causes and conditions—like switching on a light instantly dispels darkness from a room or a powerful jet of water immediately sweeps away a pile of dirt.

Meditating like this is a way of taking action. Instead of merely generating the aspirational love that wishes all beings to be happy and the compassion that wishes them all to be free from suffering, by practicing tong-len we’re actively doing something that creates an extremely powerful, positive force within us.

Again, the selfish mind will raise arguments against this practice: “It’s just too tiring and difficult,” “What’s the point? It benefits neither others nor myself” and so forth. The objection that it does not benefit us is easily refuted: it clearly strengthens our love and compassion and when we engage in this practice we can see that it creates a tremendous positive force in our mind.

With respect to the objection that this practice does not help others in any way either, once more the selfish mind is considering that the only way to help others is directly; for example, by giving them food or drink when they are hungry or thirsty. It’s true that tong-len does not benefit others in that way but there are many ways in which we do benefit beings through this meditation, albeit neither directly nor immediately.

Anyway, although helpful, the benefits of giving food to the hungry or drink to the thirsty are very limited. Tong-len, by contrast, is incredibly beneficial because it is only through practicing it and similar meditations that we can become enlightened, and when we do we’ll be able to benefit numberless beings in a single moment. So, looking further ahead, the practice of this meditation offers enormous benefits to both ourselves and others.

With respect to alternating taking and giving, if meditating on taking makes you feel uncomfortable and you can’t handle the idea of taking on the evil actions, bad karma and negativities of others, you can leave that part out and just do the giving. Imagine all your merit, good qualities and so forth leaving you in the form of white light, going to all sentient beings, entering them and purifying them of all their delusions and negative karma. Imagine that all this is completely purified, washed out and cleansed, leaving their body in the form of frogs, scorpions, all kinds of other insects and dirty liquid and completely disappearing into the ground.

Actually, when taking, there’s no reason to feel that you’re being polluted because all the negativity, bad karma and obscurations you take is poured onto your selfish mind, thereby reducing its power. So you shouldn’t feel that it’s polluting you. It’s like peacocks eating poison— it doesn’t harm them but actually enhances the brilliance of the colors in their feathers.

The text continues,

These two should be made to ride on the breath.

The two referred to here are taking and giving. Although the text says “giving [tong] and taking [len],” the actual order in which we practice is taking and giving. We first take on their suffering and then give them happiness because while sentient beings are suffering, happiness is of little immediate use to them. Therefore we take away their suffering first and then give them happiness.

When we have had some experience in this meditation we combine it with our breath. Since we are always breathing, when we breathe in we imagine we’re inhaling all others’ suffering and when we exhale we imagine that we’re sending them all our happiness and so forth on our breath, as described above.

When Khädrub-je, one of Lama Tsongkhapa’s main disciples, praised him for being so helpful to others that even his breath helped them, he was referring to this practice, where high level practitioners can combine even their normal breathing with taking and giving.

Concerning the three objects, three poisons and three virtues,

The three objects are pleasant, unpleasant and neutral objects, the three poisons are attachment, aversion and ignorance and the three virtues are the opposites of the three poisons.

For example, when we come into contact with pleasant objects we experience pleasure and as a result generate attachment to those objects. When we come into contact with unpleasant objects we generate hatred, anger or aversion. And when we come into contact with neutral objects we generate a kind of neutral mental stupidity in relation to them.

It’s the same in our relationships with people. We feel attached to our friends, hatred for our enemies and, towards neutral people, “strangers,” our normal ignorance simply continues unabated. If whenever we notice these delusions arising in our mind we can think to ourselves, “May all the attachment, hatred and ignorance that sentient beings experience ripen on me,” we generate the three virtues.

The instruction to be followed, in short,
Is to be mindful of the practice in general,
By taking these words to heart in all activities.

In brief, the way to practice is to constantly remind ourselves of these instructions in all activities, which we can do by always remembering and reciting the words of Nagarjuna mentioned before,21

May the negativity and suffering of others ripen on me
And may all my virtue and happiness ripen on them.

Just as an old person needs to lean on a stick to move around, similarly, reciting words such as these helps remind us of the main points of the Mahayana mind training and keeps us going. By leaning on these words we can remember to practice taking and giving in all our daily activities.

So far this has been a commentary on the section of the text that explains how to meditate on conventional bodhicitta—how to generate the determination to achieve enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings. There are two methods for developing bodhicitta: the sevenfold cause and effect instruction and equalizing and exchanging self and others. This has been a brief explanation of the latter, making some basic points about equalizing and exchanging self and others.

Ultimate Bodhicitta

Now let’s look at the next section of the root text.

When stability has been attained, impart the secret teaching:

Stability refers to the method side.22 When we have gained stability in the practices of conventional bodhicitta our teacher can give us the highly secret teaching on ultimate bodhicitta.

Ultimate bodhicitta refers to the direct realization of emptiness, so explaining it means explaining emptiness, which here means that everything is empty of true, or inherent, existence. Nothing is truly existent; everything is empty of true existence. That is the emptiness that we must realize.

Generally speaking, all phenomena that exist can be classified as either mind, which knows objects, or objects, which are known by the mind.

The next line of the text says,

Consider all phenomena as like dreams

When external objects appear to our mind, even though they appear to be truly existent, self-existent, existing from their own side, this is not at all the case. Therefore they are likened to dreams, which also seem to be real at the time but are seen to be unreal on awakening.

Both outer and inner objects are actually empty, but still, everything appears to be truly existent. However, if something were truly existent, if it truly existed the way in which it appears, it would have to be completely independent of anything.

For example, external objects like mountains, trees and forests are simply combinations of different particles or atoms; periods of time, such as years, months, weeks and so forth, are likewise combinations of moments. Therefore, none of these things—external objects, time or anything else—is independent of its constituent particles, periods of time and other factors. To be truly existent they would have to be completely independent of everything else.

When we talk about something being truly existent that means it’s independent of everything else. But since there’s nothing like that, there’s nothing that’s truly existent. The reason that there’s nothing completely independent, or truly existent, is because everything exists in dependence upon other factors.

Take a glass of water, for example. When we think about it, of course we know that it is dependent upon this and that, such as the various causes and conditions that have gone into producing it. If, however, instead of thinking about it we examine how it looks when it first appears to us, we’ll see that it has this vivid appearance, an appearance as if it were totally independent of any causes, conditions or, indeed, anything at all. That is how the glass of water appears—truly existent; completely independent of everything else; totally self-existent (which are just different ways of saying the same thing).

If the glass of water were truly existent the way it appears to be, it would have to be completely independent, but when we think about it we know that it depends on many different factors and is therefore not truly existent, independent or self-existent—and neither is anything else we can think of. Since this applies to everything that exists, all existent phenomena are empty of true existence.

Examine the nature of unborn awareness.

This next line refers to the fact that not only its objects but also the mind itself is empty of true existence. Mind, here, refers to the six kinds of primary consciousness—visual, auditory, olfactory, gustatory, tactile and mental; all completely lack any true existence.

Where it says “unborn awareness,” awareness refers to consciousness. Consciousness itself is produced in dependence upon causes and conditions and is therefore not truly existent. That means a truly existent consciousness is not produced, so a truly existent consciousness is unborn.

You can understand this by examining its very nature of being completely empty of independent existence. This shows that it is neither truly existent nor produced by or dependent upon truly existent causes and conditions. Thus we have only to examine the nature of the six consciousnesses to understand that they’re unborn.

The remedy itself is released in its own place

This line refers to the fact that the wisdom understanding everything to be empty of true, independent or self-existence is the remedy to all of cyclic existence and everything that produces it.

Place the essence of the path on the nature of the basis of all

This means that because everything is empty of true existence, things are produced only from particular causes and conditions and come into existence depending upon specific factors. If things were not empty—in other words, if everything were truly existent—phenomena could not possibly come into being in dependence upon certain specific causes and conditions.

Moreover, because we can see and explain how each event is produced dependent upon its own specific causes and conditions, we can see that it is also impossible to assert that any event is truly existent.

Therefore, “essence of the path” refers to an understanding of the relationship between emptiness and dependent arising, the knowledge that because everything is empty, the various manifestations of dependent arising—things arising dependent upon various causes and conditions—are possible, and because such arisings occur, everything must be empty.

In the period between sessions, be a creator of illusions.

A creator of illusions is a conjuror who can make illusory objects appear due to a special arrangement of sticks and stones together with mantras and various other substances. When he makes things appear to his audience he also sees them but since he knows that he himself has simply conjured them up he knows that they’re illusory. In the same way, even when we have directly realized emptiness, when we come out of meditation, despite our knowing that nothing exists truly, everything will still appear to be truly existent. We’ll see things as truly existent but will know that in reality, they’re not; due to the force of our experience in meditation we’ll have the certainty in the post-meditation period that nothing exists truly, the way it appears.

I mentioned earlier that the self-cherishing mind completely depends upon the self-grasping mind—the consciousness that conceives or apprehends that everything is truly existent and therefore completely independent.

For example, we can figure out that a cake is not truly existent because we know it cannot be made without ingredients—fruit, butter, flour and so forth—but still, the self-grasping mind sees the cake, like everything else, to be completely truly existent and independent of any causes and conditions. This is in total conflict with the knowledge that everything exists depending upon causes and conditions and in this way, the self-grasping mind completely prevents the arising of any awareness of cause and effect, such as happiness resulting from virtue and suffering from non-virtue.

All the problems we experience in life and, indeed, all our beginningless suffering in cyclic existence, can be traced back to our self-cherishing mind and if we delve even deeper we’ll find that beneath this lies the very root of all our problems, the self-grasping mind.

Those with less experience of Buddhist teachings should try hard to understand this important point—the self-grasping mind that conceives everything as being completely independent is the support for the self-cherishing mind, which produces the various delusions that cause us to create negative actions, which, in turn, lead to our experiencing suffering in cyclic existence.

An alternative translation has

In between meditation sessions, be like a conjuror.

This refers to the period subsequent to the meditation session—how to practice in between meditation sessions—and how even though things are empty, they still appear.

An example of how everything is empty yet still appears is the way our face appears in a mirror. When we see our face in a mirror we know that there’s no actual face in the mirror even though there appears to be one there. There’s a reflection that exists there and it appears to be a face, but we know that the reflection is empty of being a real face. However, despite the fact that it is empty of real face, at the same time all the various features of a face appear.

Notes

9 Three of body (killing, stealing and sexual misconduct), four of speech (lying, slandering, speaking harshly and gossiping) and three of mind (covetousness, ill-will and wrong views).[Return to text]

10 Killing father, mother or an arhat, drawing blood from a buddha and creating a schism in the Sangha community. They are called immediate because those who create such actions are reborn in hell in their very next life. [Return to text]

11 Transforming Adversity Into Joy And Courage, pp. 167–171. This entire book, especially chapters 10–12, augments Geshe Tegchok’s thoughts on the development and practice of bodhicitta. [Return to text]

12 A Guide to the Bodhisattva Way of Life, Chapter 8, verse 129 (p. 106, note 297). [Return to text]

13 Ibid. Chapter 8, verse 134 (p. 106, note 300). [Return to text]

14 “You say such clever things to people, but don’t apply them to yourself; People of Tingri, the faults within you are the ones to be exposed.” Dilgo Khyentse. The Hundred Verses of Advice of Padampa Sangye. Boston: Shambhala Publications, 2002, verse 89. [Return to text]

15 Peacock in the Poison Grove, p. 83, verse 49: “I seize the thief who ambushed and deceived me.” [Return to text]

16 Ibid. Same verse: “The hypocrite who deceived me disguised as myself.” [Return to text]

17 Op. cit. Chapter 8, verse 130: “Enough of much talk! Note the difference between the fool who seeks his own benefit and the sage who works for the benefit of others.” [Return to text]

18 See the relevant sections of Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand for details of all these.[Return to text]

19 The three upper realms are still fraught with all kinds of samsaric suffering (like the three, six and eight) but are relatively happier than the lower realms, therefore they are called “good.” [Return to text]

20 For a highly detailed description of this practice see Meditation Seven in Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s Wish-Fulfilling Golden Sun on the LYWA website. [Return to text]

21 See note 6 above. [Return to text]

22 There are two streams of practice in the Mahayana: method—the development of bodhicitta—and wisdom—the development of the wisdom directly realizing emptiness. Like a bird needs two wings to fly, we need both method and wisdom to reach enlightenment. [Return to text]

 

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

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

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

CHAPTERS
Part 1: Renunciation

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

Part 4: Correct View of Emptiness

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

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

The Prasangika Madhyamika view

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dependent arising

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

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

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

Selflessness

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

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

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

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

The object of negation

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

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

Two kinds of reasoning

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

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

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

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

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

The Praise to Dependent Origination

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grasping onto inherent existence

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

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

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

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

Imputation from the side of another

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

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

Establishing a phenomenon in dependence on its parts

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

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

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

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

The union of the two realisations of dependent arising and emptiness

So then returning to the root text, it reads:

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

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

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

The next stanza reads:

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

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

The next stanza reads:

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

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

So the next stanza reads:

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

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

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

Encouragement to practice

The final stanza of the root text reads:

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

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

Dedicating merit

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

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

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.

5. Meditation on Emptiness

The Object of Negation 

When meditating on emptiness it is important to be able to identify the object of refutation or negation. Without such knowledge it is like trying to catch a thief without being able to identify him. If you cannot identify the thief, not knowing what he looks like, it is very difficult to catch him. Similarly when we meditate on emptiness something needs to be negated, and without knowing what it is one will find it very difficult to make that negation.

If when trying to describe the thief one wants caught to somebody, one can say only that he has a round head, two eyes and two legs, this information is of little use to the thief-catcher because so many people fit the description. It is not precise. However, knowing what uniquely distinguishes the thief from everyone else, the thief-catcher will know for sure when she has found the right person.

In meditating on emptiness, whether the basis of your analysis is a person or a phenomenon, once you know what the object to be negated is, if you look in the basis for that object, on failing to find it you will realise emptiness. Realising emptiness means realising the meaning of emptiness.

The person uses phenomena, specifically the aggregates. If the person were self-existent he or she would be completely independent of all causes and conditions, of anything in fact. The only place where it makes sense to look for the object of negation, a self-existent person who is completely independent of anything, is within the aggregates. This is because the person actually exists depending on the aggregates. In a sense, the person exists on or in the aggregates. The person is based on the aggregates.

To try to find the self-existent person, one should look within the aggregates, the person’s basis of imputation. When analysing and searching for that self-existent person within the aggregates, and failing to find it, one realises or understands the meaning of emptiness. The emptiness thus realised is the selflessness of the person and one gains certainty of it with a valid mind, through one’s own logical analysis.

This is important because thinking there to be no such thing as a self of a person, or a self-existing person based merely on being told as much is insufficient. One must know exactly what one seeks, understanding what the object of negation is, and then must search for it oneself within the basis of designation of the person. Having looked and searched for it, not finding it means one understands emptiness.

How can one know whether or not one’s meditation on emptiness has been successful and effective? Having a clear idea of what one searches for, the object of negation - when meditating on the selflessness of the person, the self-existent person - one searches for it within the aggregates. One enquires whether that self-existent person is any one of the aggregates individually, the group of the aggregates or whatever. Having searched exhaustively, not having found it means it does not exist. Recognising this shows the meditation on emptiness to be a success.

The Risk of Nihilism

When looking for the object of negation, the self-existent person, within the aggregates, one fails to find it. Not finding it means finding that it does not exist. That means you have found or realised emptiness. However, approaching meditation on emptiness without a clear idea of the object to be negated, and simply looking for the person within the aggregates one fails to find the person. Simply looking for the person within the aggregates, without qualifying it with the object of negation, one fails to find that too. Thus, by looking for and failing to find the person within the aggregates there is the risk of concluding that the person does not exist.

This causes one to take emptiness as a form of nihilism, whereby whatever is empty does not exist. This is because in seeking the object within its basis of designation one fails to find it, suggesting it does not exist. Thereby meditation on emptiness may become a form of nihilism. As a result one could deny that karma and refuge exist and eventually abandon or reject emptiness itself. As a result of rejecting emptiness, one is born in the lower realms in a future life, specifically in the hell called "the hell of unrelenting torment". In this case one’s meditation on emptiness will have been ineffective, and will have gone extremely badly.

In the process of searching for a self-existing person, when thinking “I this and that,” an appearance of an "I" existing from its own side is produced. Such an "I" or person existing from its own side is what one should seek.

If instead one looks for the person within the aggregates asking oneself if it is the aggregates, part of the aggregates, the collection of the aggregates and so forth, one will not find it. Likewise one does not find the watch when seeking a watch within its parts, enquiring whether it is this part of the watch, the front or the back, this cog, that cog and so on. Taking this to mean the watch does not exist is a mistake. When meditating on the selflessness or emptiness of the person, if, having failed to find it one takes that to mean the person does not exist, this spreads over to other areas leading one to think that refuge, karma and so forth do not exist.

Thus the emptiness on which one meditates will be a nihilistic emptiness - a form of nihilism. When taking the things on whose emptiness one meditates to be non-existent, one’s meditation kind of annihilates them. The ripening result of meditating through misunderstanding emptiness like that is birth in the hell of unceasing torment.

Whilst every other kind of negative action (karma) can be purified there is no way to purify the fault of nihilism. One can only experience the ripening result. This is the meaning of the scriptural statement that when a person of limited intelligence approaches emptiness mistakenly, it brings about their downfall.

One will not find the person when seeking it within the aggregates, the person’s basis of imputation. Moreover, when seeking a self-existing person within the aggregates this is not found either. Thus there is a similarity between these two in the sense one fails to find either the person or the self-existing person within the aggregates. However, in the second case, not finding a self-existing person when looking for it within its basis of designation, the aggregates, equals finding it does not exist, which means realising it does not exist, and that is realising emptiness.

In the case of looking for the person within the aggregates, not finding it neither means to have found it not to exist nor that one has realised its non-existence. Nevertheless, one might make the mistake of thinking that the failure to find it means it does not exist.

Furthermore one could infer from that misunderstanding that like the person, other conventional phenomena do not exist from the perspective of the wisdom of meditative equipoise of the Arya when single-pointedly and non-conceptually experiencing meditation on the true nature of reality, emptiness. Since the person does not appear within the perspective of that meditation, the person does not exist for such a meditation. The only thing that exists and appears for that meditation is ultimate truth. Conventional phenomena do not appear for it because conventional phenomena are false. Being untrue1, they do not appear.

One might think that because conventional phenomena do not appear to or exist for that meditation they do not exist at all. Moreover one might think that when an Arya is absorbed single-pointedly in meditation on this non-conceptual realisation of the true nature of reality, he or she realises the non-existence of all conventional phenomena, and so annihilates them. This misunderstanding of emptiness will lead to the ripening result of birth in the hell of unceasing torment.

In fact the non-existence of conventional phenomena from the perspective of the Arya’s wisdom of meditative equipoise single-pointedly meditating on the nature of reality, emptiness is itself emptiness. Their non-existence from the perspective of that meditation is emptiness. There are two ways to misunderstand that, meaning there are two faults that may follow.

One fault is thinking that the view of emptiness is a nihilist position since conventional phenomena like karma and refuge do not exist from the perspective of that meditation. In other words, one thinks that because for the direct perception of emptiness conventional phenomena do not exist, emptiness means the non-existence of everything. To such a misunderstanding it seems that emptiness is the non-existence of or annihilates conventional phenomena. Therefore, although not rejecting emptiness one mistakenly thinks it means that conventional phenomena like refuge, karma and so on do not exist at all.

The other fault is rejecting emptiness as wrong or bad, for being like nihilism. When taking the view of emptiness to be a nihilistic position because it seems that emptiness annihilates things, one might conclude that emptiness is wrong. This follows because for the meditative equipoise of the Arya directly realising emptiness, conventional phenomena do not exist. That meditation realises they do not exist, so one might mistakenly conclude that meditation on emptiness annihilates conventional phenomena. This fault can lead the person to rebirth in the lower realms.

In the commentary it explains that a mistaken approach to the view due to low intelligence or limited wisdom brings about one’s downfall. The afore-mentioned two wrong approaches to emptiness can cause this. The same passage continues to say that a poisonous snake grabbed hold of in the wrong way will bite and poison one, though it cannot bite someone who knows how to take hold of it.

Conventionally Existing Phenomena and Emptiness

We cannot see the very subtle profound qualities of an enlightened being, but we have seen neither their non-existence, nor that the Buddha lacks them. One should not believe them to not exist just because of not seeing them. Likewise, it is natural that conventional phenomena do not appear to the wisdom of meditative equipoise of the Arya. Reality is all that mind focuses on, and all that appears to that mind is the ultimate truth of emptiness.

Though it is the nature of that meditation that conventional phenomena do not appear to or exist for it this does not mean that that mind has realised them not to exist. It is simply that they do not and cannot appear to such a mind.

There is a big difference between not realising something and realising that that thing does not exist. For example, the eye consciousness cannot experience or realise sweet, salty and sour flavours, and so on, but that does not mean the eye consciousness realises they do not exist. Similarly, the eye consciousness cannot hear or realise sounds, but this does not mean it realises that they do not exist.

In the same way, although we ordinary beings are unable to perceive, understand or realise the subtle qualities of the enlightened beings, this does not mean that through not seeing or understanding them, we understand and realise they do not exist.

The self-grasping mind looking at the person thinks that a self-existent person is there. The object of negation - in terms of the person, the self-existent person - appears to our mind, so to that very mind there is an appearance of the person being self-existent. It is not possible for a person who does exist and a self-existent person to appear separately. They appear to that mind as completely indistinguishable.

It is impossible to perceive only a self-existent person without the person itself appearing. These two appear mixed and indistinguishable because they cannot appear separately. One negates the self-existent person by meditating on emptiness using various forms of analysis to realise that there is no such thing. The appearance of the conventionally existing person disappears at the same time as that negation.

Because of that, when you negate the self-existent person it seems as though the conventionally existing person has also been refuted. However, you have not realised the conventionally existing person to be non-existent; you have realised there to be no such thing as a self-existent person.

For example, if you ask someone not to sit here but to move elsewhere, when they go they take their shadow with them. You do not separately tell their shadow to go, nor tell them to take their shadow with them. You merely ask the person to go, but their shadow goes along with them. This is similar and shows how meditation on emptiness does not imply the non-existence of conventionally existing phenomena such as refuge and karma.

Student: To ascertain the object of negation one must separate the appearance of the truly existent from the validly existent person, yet because we are ordinary beings, whenever the person appears to us it appears along with an appearance of inherent existence. Before we have realised emptiness how can we make that separation effectively in order to actually find the object of negation?

Khensur Rinpoche: The way to separate them is through thinking that the object of negation is a self-existent person that exists from its own side completely independent of causes and conditions. That is the thing to be negated. Get an idea of a self-existent person that exists completely independent of causes, conditions and anything else. Then recognise how the person actually exists depending on various causes and conditions and so forth. Thereby realise that because of being dependent, the self-existing one is a mistake and does not actually exist.

Several other options are available of reasoning showing that the self-existing person does not exist. However, the clearest, simplest and most straight forward is thinking about how the person is dependent.

Same student: It is very difficult to separate the validly existing person from the appearance of the inherently existing person.

Khensur Rinpoche: Everything that appears automatically appears not as dependent, but rather as self-existent. Things appear as independent, so use analysis to investigate whether "self-existing" things exist as they appear. Using the insight into dependent arising, see that they do not.

Same student: If one is having problems with that would it help to first establish that the conventionally existing person does exist, because of functioning for example, and then go on to establish that the truly existent person does not exist?

Khensur Rinpoche: Yes, one should recognise how the person does exist. There is a person who comes and goes, sits and eats, sleeps and so on. Then we need to realise that that person appears as if self-existent, meaning as existing independently, and then we analyse whether there is such a person.

Another student: I find the idea of being in a state where neither the "I" that is independent of causes and conditions nor the conventionally existing "I" arises a little bit frightening. I am wondering how you re-emerge from that experience to be able to function again? Do you just wait for some pain, for instance for your knee to hurt, to think “Ah, that’s conventional existence” or is there a meditative process, a way of analysing that there are indeed conventional realities?

Ven Steve Carlier: In other words if you have got to the point where there is a direct perception of emptiness, with no appearance of any kind of conventional phenomena, at what point would you reaffirm their existence?

Student: Clearly there are beings that have this meditative experience and then function. They do not just sit there for the rest of their lives, but they go out and function. How do they arrive at this place where they can function in conventional reality?

Khensur Rinpoche: When they come out of the meditation and just go about their normal activities, they are able to think very clearly how even though at that time there was no appearance of conventional phenomena nonetheless they do exist. That is the time of the meditation break.

Ven Steve Carlier: It is at the time of subsequent realisation.

Khensur Rinpoche: When they rise from their meditation they can see very clearly that although there was no appearance of the person during the meditation, nevertheless there is a conventionally existing person that can come and go, sit, sleep, and eat and so on.

The mantra of the Perfection of Wisdom, TAYATHA GATE GATE PARAGATE PARASAMGATE BODHI SVAHA is recited in the Heart Sutra.

GATE GATE PARAGATE PARASAMGATE BODHI contains five sets of syllables which can be understood in connection with the five paths of accumulation, preparation, seeing, meditation and no more learning.

The first two syllables are each translated as "Go!" Thus there is "Go! Go!" Next is PARAGATE, "Go beyond!" and PARASAMGATE, "Go perfectly beyond!" Finally, BODHI basically means "Go to enlightenment!" and literally means to set up or place the basis or the foundation of enlightenment, so it means "Attain enlightenment!"

The whole mantra means "Go! Go! Go beyond! Go perfectly beyond! Go to enlightenment!" or "Attain enlightenment!"

Imagine a criminal imprisoned in a cell or dungeon for life. After he has been there a long time a friend visits and advises him, “Don’t stay here any longer! You must do something to get out, to get free of this!” The friend explains the route out, with all the shortcuts and secret passages. The friend explains, “You have to go here, and there; there are actually four paths or legs on this journey. When you have gone through all four segments of the path, finally you will be completely free and will never have to come back and undergo this kind of bad experience again.” The path to enlightenment is like this.

First is the path of accumulation on which one mainly accumulates merit. Then, on the paths of preparation, seeing and meditation, one principally uses wisdom to progress along the path, although that wisdom must be reinforced by the method side of compassion and so forth. Thus, although during this phase method and wisdom must be practised inseparably in combination, the main driver is wisdom. For example, on the path of seeing, although it must be bolstered with the method side, it is mainly wisdom which eliminates the intellectually acquired obscurations. Then on the path of meditation the innate obscurations must be eliminated in several stages. Once both types of obscurations are eliminated one achieves the fifth path which is enlightenment.

This means the journey across the ocean of cyclic existence to liberation relies mainly on the wisdom realising emptiness. One gradually eliminates the obscurations and faults in the mind through practicing the perfection of wisdom (developing the realisation of emptiness) and thus gradually achieves enlightenment.

At the outset of the waxing phase, there is a very fine crescent of the new moon. That thin sliver of a crescent of the new moon puts an end to the total darkness. Before waxing began, only darkness was in the moon’s place. Instead now, although predominantly dark it is no longer totally so. The very fine crescent eliminated the complete disc of darkness, of which less than a disc remains now. As the moon waxes, its light gets fuller and fuller, and what is being eliminated gets increasingly less until finally the full moon eradicates the finest, most subtle level, the final sliver of darkness.

Similarly, as we progress on the path, our wisdom is somewhat weak initially and can eliminate only the greatest, most superficial and gross obscurations. As the wisdom gets stronger and stronger it has the capacity to dispel increasingly subtle obscurations. On the path of seeing2 one has strong enough wisdom to enable one to eliminate the grosser obscurations in the sequence of the sixteen moments of the path of seeing. These wisdom processes are called forbearances and liberation. Then on the path of meditation the remaining, more subtle obscurations are eliminated in nine cycles. There are nine cycles of the path of meditation called the three great, three middling and three smaller cycles.

Notes

Although true conventionally or relatively, ultimately they are untrue.  [Return to text]

The path of seeing is the initial point of the dawning of the direct non-conceptual realisation of emptiness. This realisation is developed and deepened in the path of meditation which follows. [Return to text]