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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 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.

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

By Denma Lochö Rinpoche in London, England 2001

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

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

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

Part 1: Renunciation

Motivation

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

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

The Benefits of Listening to the Dharma

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Root Text

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

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

The Three Principals

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

Prostration

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

I bow down to the venerable lamas.

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

The Promise to Compose the Text

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

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

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

Renunciation

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

Bodhicitta

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

Correct View

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

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

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

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

The Cycle of Existence

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

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

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

So then the next stanza of the text reads:

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

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

Contemplation on the Preciousness of Human Existence

So then the next stanza reads:

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

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

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

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

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

Contemplation on Death

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

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

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

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

So the second line then:

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

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

Contemplation on the Karmic Law

So then the text goes on to tell us to:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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