Three Principal Aspects of the Path (Part 2 of 2)

29 January 2010 - 12:50am Comments Off




The Measure of Having Generated a Determination to be Free

The next verse explains how to gauge whether you have generated a determination to be free of cyclic existence:
    Having familiarized yourself in this way, if you do not generate admiration
    For the prosperity of cyclic existence even for an instant,
    And if you wish for liberation day and night,
    At that time you have generated the determination to be free.

The next verses explain the generation of the mind of enlightenment. First the need and purpose of generating altruism is explained.


The Purpose of Generating the Mind of Enlightenment

    If this determination to be free is not influenced by a pure mind of enlightenment
    It will not become a cause for unsurpassable enlightenment, the perfect bliss.
    Therefore, the intelligent should generate a mind of enlightenment.

However strong your familiarity with the determination to be free of cyclic existence may be, unless you generate an altruistic attitude, a strong wish to benefit sentient beings, it will be impossible for you to attain enlightenment. In this regard Nagarjuna’s Precious Garland says:

    If you and this world wish
    To actualize supreme enlightenment
    Its root is the mind of enlightenment.

The basis for generating an altruistic aspiration for enlightenment is compassion, of which there are many types. One kind of compassion is to think how nice it would be if sentient beings were free from suffering. There are other degrees of compassion which include not only this thought, but also have greater courage. This induces a special resolve to take responsibility personally for getting rid of sentient being’s sufferings. Even the Hearers and Solitary Buddhas strongly wish that sentient beings be separated from suffering. Similarly, we ourselves sometimes generate the kind of compassion which thinks how nice it would be if sentient beings were free from sufferings. For example, seeing the misery or neglected condition of a particular person or animal, we might generate a strong sense of compassion wishing that the sufferings of that particular sentient being be eliminated. It is also important to note that when the object of our compassion is someone we like our sympathy is based on attachment rather than compassion. On the other hand, if, seeing the sufferings of a neglected animal, such as a stray dog to whom you have no attachment at all, you generate compassion, that is pure compassion.

Now, the compassion generated by Hearers and Solitary Buddhas is of a much higher quality than the compassion we normally generate, because, seeing the suffering that pervades the whole of cyclic existence, they generate compassion for all sentient beings. Unable to see the sufferings of all cyclic existence, we see only the sufferings of particular beings, which we see only as some kind of fault or demerit in them. However, Hearers and Solitary Buddhas do not have a compassion that induces them to take responsibility for liberating sentient beings themselves.

The compassion generated by Bodhisattvas is of the highest kind. They not only wish that sentient beings be separated from suffering, but voluntary take responsibility for ridding them of their sufferings, This is called great compassion. It is this compassion which underlies the altruistic aspiration for enlightenment and which induces the special attitude. For this reason we often come across statements in the scriptures that it is compassion which acts as the root of the mind of enlightenment. In order to generate such compassion, on the one hand you must identify the suffering by which the particular sentient being is afflicted. On the other hand you should regard that being as pleasant and dear to your heart.


The Means of Generating the Mind of Enlightenment

    Carried away by the four torrential rivers
    Bound by tight bonds of actions, difficult to undo,
    Caught in the iron net of the conception of self
    Thoroughly enveloped by the thick darkness of ignorance
    Born into boundless cyclic existence,
    And in their rebirths unceasingly tormented by the three sufferings:
    Contemplating the state of mother sentient beings in such conditions,
       generate the supreme mind.

The words ‘mother sentient beings’ here clearly show that suffering sentient beings are not totally unrelated to you. They have acted as your mother in many previous lives and have been extremely kind to you. Therefore, you should see them as very pleasing. Understanding how your mothers suffer will provoke in you a feeling of being unable to bear it. Through the mental process of recognizing how you are intimately connected to sentient beings you will be able to generate the great compassion that gives rise to the mind of enlightenment. This verse says that sentient beings are being carried away by four torrential rives. These four could refer to the four causes that project sentient beings into birth in cyclic existence, and they could also refer to their four results. But, here, the four rivers refer to the four unwanted sufferings that we encounter in cyclic existence: that is birth, ageing, sickness and death. In other words, we are completely under the control of very strong, irreversible contaminated action, because of which we experience these four sufferings.

Such strong contaminated actions also arise from potent delusions like anger and attachment. These in turn arise from a powerful conception of (a truly existent) self. This is compared to a strong iron net, due to which we are ensnared in cyclic existence. A strong conception of self means that it is stable and unchallenged. The stronger the conception of self is, the stronger delusions like anger and attachment will be. And the stronger the delusions are, the stronger the actions that project us into cyclic existence will be. And the stronger the actions that project us into cyclic existence are, the more powerful our sufferings will be.

The misconception of self arises because we are obscured on all sides by the darkness of ignorance. In this context the misconception of self that entraps us in cyclic existence actually refers to the misconception of self of persons, because the next line says that sentient beings are completely confused and enshrouded by the great darkness of ignorance. Usually the misconception of self itself is referred to as ignorance, but when we find two things explained, like the misconception of self and ignorance, the first, the misconception of self, refers to the misconception of self of persons, and ignorance in the next line refers to the misconception of self of phenomena, the misconception of phenomena as truly existent.

Our misconception of the true existence of phenomena, in other words our strong grasping for the attractions of our physical body, acts as the foundation for generating too much attachment towards our own person. Therefore, the misconception of phenomena acts as a foundation for the misconception of the person. When you observe the ‘I’ in your continuum and generate a feeling of ‘I’, a conception of a truly existent self, that is called the view of the transitory collection. So, the misconception of self of phenomena give rise to this view of transitory collection and this in turn stimulates the accumulation of action. And because of the misconception of self of persons, we involuntarily take birth in cyclic existence and for an immeasurable time experience an unceasing chain of suffering like birth, ageing, sickness and so forth.

Now, the cessation of subsequent results depends on the cessation of the preceding causes. If strong causes have been created then you have to experience their results, no matter how reluctant you are. If you think in this way then the more you resent your sufferings the more you will loath their causes. These verses explain two ways of generating renunciation and a determination to be free through thinking about true suffering. These are to think about the faults and sufferings of cyclic existence and to reflect on the true origins of suffering. When the verse explains the four levels of sufferings and so forth, it is explaining true suffering, and when it explains factors-like the conception of true existence, ignorance and contaminated action, it is explaining the true origins of suffering. In this way it explains the first two noble truths.

If you think about this cycle of suffering and its origins with reference to other sentient beings, it will lead to training in compassion. But if you think about these sufferings and their origins with reference to yourself it leads to generation of a determination to be free.Yesterday we were discussing the different levels of suffering and how to generate an altruistic attitude wishing to benefit all sentient beings. In this context the text says:

    Seeing the sufferings of the mother sentient beings
    That are in such a situation we should generate the supreme mind.

In other words we must first observe the sufferings of sentient beings and then generate a strong feeling of closeness and affection for them. The closer you feel to other sentient beings the easier it will be to generate a feeling of being unable to bear their suffering. Therefore, we should view all sentient beings as our relatives, such as our mother.

In order to generate this mental attitude of concern for other sentient beings we must first understanding the beginningless nature of cyclic existence. The sentient beings who have taken birth in cyclic existence are also beginningless; therefore, there is no sentient being who you can say has not been connected to you as a relative such as your mother.

In order to generate a strong sense of affection and closeness to all sentient beings, you must first generate a strong sense of equanimity towards all sentient beings. Based on this feeling you can generate a sense of kinship with the rest of sentient beings and view them as your mother. Then, you will be able to reflect on the kindness of these sentient beings, which is the same as the kindness of your present family which sustain you now. When you see them as your own relatives and remember their kindness you will be able to generate an attitude of cherishing them, taking them to your heart.

Another method of generating an altruistic attitude is to exchange yourself with others. This is possible because all other sentient beings are the same as you in wanting happiness and not wanting suffering. They are also the same as you in having the capacity and the opportunity to get rid of suffering and attain happiness. Like you all sentient beings have the right to eliminate suffering and attain maximum happiness. Although you are the same from all these perspectives, all other sentient beings are countless. And yet you are not unrelated to them, because in worldly terms you are very much dependent on them. Even when you meditate on the path you do so by focusing on sentient beings. Finally, ultimate enlightenment known as the effortless spontaneous achievement of others’ purposes is achieved in dependence on them. Thus, we are related to and dependent on sentient beings when we are in cyclic existence, during the path and finally at the time of the fruit.

Now, seeing that you have this close connection with all sentient beings, it is foolish to neglect their welfare to pursue the interest of only one being – yourself. On the other hand, it is wise to neglect the interest of one for the benefit of the rest who are the majority of sentient beings. All the pleasures and facilities that we enjoy in this life, such as wealth, possessions, fame and friendship, are all obtained in dependence on other beings. We cannot think of enjoying anything by our own efforts alone without their help. In this modern age especially, everything we enjoy, food, clothing and everything else, is produced by various manufacturing companies in which other people work. Almost nothing is grown or produced in your own small garden or courtyard.

We eat tinned fruit which is produced by the hands of other human beings. When we travel in an aeroplane we depend on the work and facilities provided by the many people who are involved in running that aeroplane. In our modern society we cannot think of surviving without depending on other human beings. Equally, without other human beings you would have neither reputation nor fame. Even though you may have acquired certain qualities that are the basis of your fame and reputation, if other people do not know about them there is no question of your becoming famous.

If you think carefully, even your enemy, who you usually view as an opponent and completely dislike, gives you the chance to generate many qualities like patience, courage and strength. There is a teaching by Shantideva in his chapter on patience that is pertinent here about how to generate patience with respect to your enemy and to regard him as precious. This is especially important for a Buddhist practitioner. If you are able to see how you can gain these kinds of qualities from your enemy, you will also be able to generate kind feelings towards him.

If you are able to generate such a positive mind towards your enemy, who is normally an object of contempt, you will have no trouble in generating a feeling of care and concern towards neutral beings or of course to your friends. In order to generate such a mental attitude, it is not necessary that you recognise all the sentient beings individually. You can for example, infer that all trees have certain common characteristics from the qualities of one particular tree without having to know each and every individual tree. Similarly you can conclude that all living beings are the same in wanting happiness and not wanting sufferings, by examining your own situation. By doing so you will easily generate compassion, which is an aspiration thinking how nice it would be if all sentient beings could eliminate suffering. If you are able to generate a clear understanding of the sufferings of sentient beings, you will also be able to generate love, which is to think how nice it would be if all sentient beings met with happiness.

Based on these two aspirations – love and compassion – you will generate the special attitude of taking responsibility for getting rid of these sufferings yourself and this will induce the mind that wishes to attain the highest enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings is called the mind of enlightenment. The way to measure your generation of the mind of enlightenment and determination to be free was explained earlier.


The Need to Realise Emptiness

From this point on the text explains the nature of emptiness and the wisdom that realizes it. The first verse explains the need to generate this wisdom realizing the nature o emptiness. There are various kinds of wisdom: wisdom understanding conventional phenomena such as the various sciences and wisdom understanding the ultimate, real nature of phenomena. If you do not possess wisdom realizing the ultimate mode of existence, no matter how strong your determination to be free or your aspiration for enlightenment may be, you will not be able to shift the conception of true existence, the root cause of cyclic existence. Therefore, you should make an effort to realize dependent arising.

    Without the wisdom realizing the mode of existence
    Even though you familiarize yourself with the determination
       to be free and the mind of enlightenment
    The root of cyclic existence cannot be cut.
    Therefore make an effort to realize dependent arising.

Common explanations of the meaning of dependent arising such as the dependent arising of cause and effect are accepted by all Buddhist traditions. But this verse refers to subtle dependent arising; something’s coming into existence in dependence on its parts. In other words there are conditioned relations in which particular effects or phenomena arise merely in dependence on a particular cause and condition. Another meaning of dependent arising is the existence of things relative to others. For example, when we talk about the part of a whole body, we call it a part in relation to the whole, similarly the whole is only a whole in relation to its parts. From this point of view the part and whole are related to and dependent on each other. Likewise, qualities like long and short have a relative sense, because we use these terms to describe objects in relation to other objects.

At another level phenomena are also called dependent arisings because they arise in dependence on their basis of designation and they are dependent on the mind that designates them. The first meaning of dependent arising applies only to conditioned phenomena, whereas the last two meanings apply to phenomena, conditioned impermanent phenomena and unconditioned permanent phenomena.

The dependent arising referred to in this line is the subtlest one, in which it is explained in terms of existing merely by name and designation by thought. In other words when we say that phenomena exist through the power of terms and designations in dependence on designations, we are explaining dependent arising as it appears, as mere existence due to the power of name. From the ultimate point of view that is mere emptiness of inherent existence. This means that since a phenomenon cannot come into being from its own side, it lacks inherent existence and is dependent on other conditions. Here other conditions refer to designation and the designating thought. The phenomenon exists merely by the power of that designation and as such it is empty of self-sufficient existence. Conversely, since it is empty of self-sufficient existence it exists through the power of designation.

So these are explanation of subtle emptiness. When we talk about the meaning of emptiness, we are talking about something being empty of its object of negation. Phenomena are empty of independent existence, inherent existence, and existence from their own side. These three: independent existence, inherent existence, existence from its own side are the objects of negation. Emptiness thus means being empty of these objects of negation. This is said because phenomena are dependent on something else; they are dependent on the name and the thought by which they are designated.

When we explain that they are dependent on their parts, name and designation, we are also stating that they do not have inherent existence, because dependence and independence are opposite terms. Phenomena are either dependent or independent, they cannot be both. Since these terms are mutually exclusive, a phenomenon can only be one or the other; it cannot be something in between. For example, human being and horse are opposites but not direct opposites, because there can be a third category, such as a dog, which is neither horse nor human being. But human being and non-human being are direct opposites if we say that there are only two categories of phenomena, those that are either human being or non-human being, there cannot be a third category. So through the reasoning of dependent arising, lack of inherent existence can be established.

When we use the term emptiness, it has some similarity to our idea of absence of something or voidness. But if you think that emptiness is the mere absence of anything, then your understanding is incomplete. We should understand emptiness as absence of inherent existence. Because they lack inherent existence, phenomena do not have an independent existence, yet they are existent. This understanding of emptiness can be gained through understanding the meaning of dependent arising, because dependent arising means that phenomena are dependent on something else. They do not exist independently nor do they exist from their own side. If phenomena exist in dependence on something else, this clearly shows that they do exist.

Sometimes emptiness is explained as the meaning of the middle way, which means the centre that has eliminated the two extremes. One extreme is to think that if phenomena do not exist inherently, they do not exist at all – the extreme of nihilism. The other is to think that if phenomena exist, they must exist inherently – the extreme of eternalism. If we have a good understanding of emptiness, on the one hand we will understand that, since phenomena exist in dependence on thought and name and so on, they have nominal existence, that is they do exist. This avoids the extreme of nihilism. On the other hand, when you think about how phenomena exist in dependence on thought and name, it is clear that they do not have independent existence. This avoids the extreme of eternalism. If it were something that did not exist at all, then to say that it depended on something else would not make any sense. The next verse clarifies this point.

    One who sees the infallible cause and effect
    Of all phenomena in cyclic existence and beyond
    And destroys all perceptions (of inherent existence)
    Has entered the path which pleases the Buddha.

This means that if you are able clearly to assert the infallibility of dependent arising, such that you are able to generate an ascertainment of it, and if, without harming the presentation of dependent arising, you are able to destroy the perception that things exist inherently, then you have entered the path that pleases the Buddha. The first two lines clearly explain that one who sees cause and effect, within and beyond cyclic existence, as infallible, who can posit the existence and actual function of cause and effect, rather than their nonexistence, is able to eliminate the extreme of nihilism. The next two lines explain that through understanding the function of cause and effect, you will understand that although things exist, they do not exist independently or inherently, you will be able to destroy the conception that things exist inherently.

So, these lines explain that although cause and effect function, they do not function in an inherent way. In fact inherent existence is the object of negation and it is what should be destroyed by true perception. This eliminates the extreme of permanence. In general, the whole of Buddhist teaching can be subsumed under four statements: all conditioned phenomena are impermanent, all contaminated things are suffering, all phenomena are empty and do not have self-existence, and nirvana is peace. From these four, it is clear that most schools of Buddhist tenets, with the exception of certain sub-schools such as the Vatsiputriyas, accept the explanation of selflessness.

The selflessness that is accepted by all the four different schools of tenets is the lack of a self-supporting or self-sufficient person. The meaning of lack of substantial, self-supporting person is that there is no person who is completely independent of the mental and physical aggregates. If you view the mental and physical aggregates as the subject to be controlled and the person as the controller, and if you view this controller, a person, as something completely independent of those aggregates, you are maintaining a view of the existence of a substantial self-supporting person.

All four schools of Buddhist tenets accept that there is no such person independent of his physical and mental aggregates. This understanding weakens our strong yearning for the person, the enjoyer of happiness and suffering, to be something solid, but it seems that it is not very effective in weakening the attachment, anger and so on, that is generated by observing other objects of enjoyment. In general, attachment, hatred and so on, which are generated in relation to ourselves are stronger, so we think of my object of enjoyment, my relative, and my rosary.

If the object of enjoyment does not belong to you, then you may not have a very strong sense of an independent self-supporting person, but if you possess something, then that feeling is stronger. This is clear if you compare the two attitudes before and after buying something, let us say a watch. First you buy it, then you start thinking, ‘this is my watch’ and ‘these are my clothes’ and so forth. So because of that feeling of ‘mine’, the feeling of possessing that thing, you generate a very strong sense of the person to whom it belongs. Such a person is call substantially self-sufficient person. If you talk about nonexistence of such a substantial self-sufficient person, to people who have a strong sense of the existence of such a person, it will help reduce their attachment to their possessions.

In addition to this explanation of the selflessness of persons, when we study the highest schools of tenets, that is the Mind Only and Middle Way schools, we find subtler explanations of the selflessness not only of persons, but also of phenomena. With respect to the Mind Only school’s explanation, when we relate to different objects of enjoyment, such as form, and sound, they appear to us due to the awakening of imprints on our consciousness. So, according to the Mind Only explanation, all the various phenomena appear to us and we experience and enjoy them merely due to the awakening of the imprint left on the mind. In other words, all phenomena are of the nature of the mind and do not have any external existence.

This is one explanation of the meaning of emptiness, and is a means to reduce attachment towards objects of enjoyment. But the Middle Way explanation is that no phenomena, whether the person, the enjoyer, or the object of enjoyment, exist inherently from their own side, because they are merely designated by thought. Thought designates the name and then the phenomenon comes into being. Phenomena do not have an existence from their own side, other than being designated by the terms and thoughts of the mind. According to this explanation all phenomena have their own character and their own nature, but all these characteristics of specific phenomena exist in dependence on something else, they do not have a specific mode of existence from their own side.

The subtlest explanation is found in the Middle Way Consequentialist school, which says that although there are things like form, sound, mountain, house and so forth that we can point to, they do not exist in the way we ordinarily perceive them. Usually phenomena appear to our consciousness as if they existed from their own side, but the Consequentialists say phenomena do not exist from their own side at all. They have only a conventional and nominal existence. Therefore if phenomena existed in the way they appear to us, when we try to analyse, examine and find the object of designation, it should become clearer and clearer. But this is not so. When we try to analyse and examine the nature of phenomena we have perceived, we are unable to find them, instead they disappear. This shows that phenomena do not have any inherent existence and do not exist from their own side.

According to the Autonomy School the measure by which to prove that things exists, is existence from their own side. But the Consequentialists say things do not exist from their own side at all, because they are merely designated by the mind. For them a phenomena’s existence from its own side is the object of negation and the lack of such inherent existence or existence from its own side is the meaning of emptiness.

If you are able to perceive the real nature of phenomena by realizing that they do not exist inherently, but in dependence on causes and conditions, such as designation by name and thought, you will have entered the path pleasing the Buddha. Usually when an object, form or sound, appears to us, it appears as if it has an independent or solid existence not dependent on causes, condition, names, thoughts and so forth. But that is not real mode of existence. Therefore if you understand that they exist in dependence on these things and you thereby eliminate the misunderstanding that phenomena exist independently, you have understood the right path.

On the other hand, you might think about how all phenomena appear and the infallibility of their dependent arising, but be unable to generate the realization that they are empty of inherent existence, or when you think about the emptiness of phenomena or their lack of inherent existence, you might be unable o accept the infallibility of their dependent arising. When you have to alternate these two understandings and are unable to think of them simultaneously, you have not yet realized the thought of the Buddha. As the following verse says,

    Appearances are infallible dependent arisings;
    Emptiness is free of assertions.
    As long as these two understandings are seen as separate,
    One has not yet realized the intent of the Buddha.

Although phenomena do not have inherent existence, they have nominal existence. When we see the reflection of our own face in the mirror, the reflection is not the face itself. In other words, the reflection is empty of the real face, because it is only a reflection and not the real face at all. Even though the reflection of the face is not the face, because of the assembly of causes and conditions, the reflection of the face arises. The reflection is completely empty of being the real face and yet it is very much there. It was produced by causes and conditions and it will disintegrate due to causes and conditions. Similarly, phenomena have a nominal existence, although all phenomena appear to exist inherently, no phenomena exist from their own side or as they appear to us. However, they do have nominal existence which produces results, is functional and its activities are infallible.

    At the time when these two realizations are simultaneous
       and don’t have to alternate,
    From the mere sight of infallible dependent arising comes ascertainment
    Which completely destroys all modes of grasping.
    At that time, the analysis of the profound view is complete.

If you familiarize your mind with this, a time will come when you do not have to alternate the two understandings: the understanding of the meaning of dependent arising and that of emptiness of inherent existence. Then you will understand the meaning of emptiness of inherent existence, by merely understanding the meaning of dependent arising without relying on any other reason. Merely by seeing that dependent arising is infallible, you will be able to destroy completely the misconception of the true existence of phenomena without relying on other conditions. When you are able to generate an understanding of dependent arising or emptiness of inherent existence as meaning the same, you have gained a complete understanding of the view of the real nature of phenomena.

Now, we will complete the rest of the text of The Three Principal Aspects of the Path. When we think about phenomena’s lack of inherent existence, we should start our investigation with our own person and try to find out whether this ‘I’ or person has inherent existence or not. Find out who the person is and separate out the whole physical and consciousness aggregate by asking whether my brain is me, or my hand is me, or whether the other parts of the body are me. When analysed in this way, then the ‘I’ is unfindable. You cannot identify the ‘I’ with any of these factors, neither the whole physical body, nor parts of it nor consciousness and its various levels.

If you think about the physical body itself and try to find out what it is, whether it is the hand and so forth, it will be unfindable. Similarly, if you analyse a particular table to find out what it is, whether it is its colour or its shape or the wood of which it is made, you will not be able to point to any particular quality of the table as the table.

When you are not able to find things through this mode of analysis, it does not mean that they do not exist. That would contradict reason and your own experience. Phenomena’s unfindability under scrutiny indicates that they do not have any objective existence from their own side and they do exist as posited or designated by the mind. There is no other way of establishing them. Since they do not have any objective existence independent of thought, their existence is dependent on the power of the object, the designation. Therefore, phenomena have a conventional or nominal existence.

But when you are not analyzing or experimenting or studying in that particular manner and phenomena appear to you in their usual way, they appear to exist independently from their own side. It does not appear to you that they have only a nominal or conventional existence. But since you have some understanding through analysis and study, when things ordinarily appear to you as existing independently, you will be able to think, “Although phenomena do not have inherent existence, to my impure mind they appear to exist independently and inherently.” In other words, if as a result of your study you compare phenomena’s ordinary mode of appearance and the way things appear under investigation, you will understand the wrong way in which phenomena appear when you are not analyzing them and then you will be able to identify the object of negation, inherent existence. Therefore, when you are in an actual mediation session, it is important to ascertain through reasoning that things exist merely by designation and do not have an independent existence from their own side. However, as soon as you arise from meditation things will appear in the ordinary way. Then, due to the understanding you generated during the meditation session, even thought phenomena appear as if they exist inherently or independently you will be able to confirm that although they appear in this way, this is not how they exist.

It is from this point of view that the next verse says:

    Also, the extreme of existence is eliminated by the appearances
    And the extreme of nonexistence is eliminated by emptiness
    And if the mode of the arising of cause and effect from emptiness is known,
    You will not be captivated by the view that grasps at extremes.

The means that if you are able to understand that all phenomena exist conventionally, you will be able to eliminate the extreme of permanence, and by understanding that things do not have inherent existence, you will be able to eliminate the extreme of total nihilism or annihilation. In other words, you will be able to understand the nature of phenomena, that they exist conventionally and nominally but are empty of inherent existence. Due to their not existing inherently, things appear as causes and effects. If you are able to generate an understanding of such mode of existence, you will not be overpowered or captivated by the wrong view of the two extremes, that is permanence and nihilism.

Finally, the concluding verse says:

    Thus when you have realized the essentials
    Of the three principal aspects of the path accordingly,
    Seek solitude and generate the power of effort,
    And quickly actualize your ultimate purpose, my son.

The concluding advice is that it is not enough to have mere scriptural understanding. Having understood the meaning of the three principal aspects of the path, it is your responsibility to retire to an isolated place and put them sincerely into practice. Having understood the meaning of practice, you must engage in it with clarity because the aim and purpose of study is the attainment of omniscience, but it can only be gained through practice. So Jey Tsongkhapa advises us to practice well.

Therefore, as explained above, first establish some understanding of the view that phenomena lack inherent existence, then repeatedly make your mind familiar with the understanding so that through familiarity your ascertainment will become clearer, deeper, and stabler. Moreover, as our mind at present is strongly influenced by distraction and excitement, it is very difficult for it to stay calmly on one object even for a short time. Under such conditions even if you have realized the ultimate view it is difficult to make it manifest.

In order to have a direct perception of emptiness it is important to develop a calmly abiding mind through meditation. There are two techniques for doing so: one accords with the explanation you find in the sutras, and the other, which is found in the tantras, depends on deity yoga. This latter method is the more profound. In the tantras too, there are two levels, according to the deity yoga found in the lower classes of tantra and in the highest class of tantra.

In the Highest Yoga Tantra there is a special mode of doing deity yoga and achieving a calmly abiding mind by employing the subtle wind and the subtle mind. When you actualize a calmly abiding mind through that process, what is known as a union of calm abiding and special insight into emptiness is achieved.

If we explain this union of special insight and calm abiding merely according to the nature of the meditative stabilization, there is no certainty that it will become a cause of enlightenment. No doubt because of the attainment of special insight it is a Buddhist practice but it is less certain that the mere union of calm abiding and special insight will become a cause of enlightenment. Whether it becomes a cause of liberation or omniscience depends on the motivation. Therefore we need a determination to be free from cyclic existence, as a foundation, and then, based on care and concern for the benefit of all sentient beings, an altruistic aspiration for enlightenment. If you then practice the yoga of the union of special insight and calmly abiding mind, it will become an active force for attaining enlightenment.

In order for such a practice to be fruitful, it is important that you first receive tantric teachings. In order to achieve tantric teaching to ripen your mental continuum, you must first receive initiation to make your mind fertile. Therefore, it is important to practice a combination of method and wisdom. When we engage the altruistic aspiration to attain enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings, it will influence and support the view understanding the real nature of phenomena, and in turn our realization of emptiness, the real nature of the phenomena, will also influence and support our aspiration for enlightenment. This mode of practice is known as the union of method and wisdom.

When you follow the tantric path, you first generate a mind wishing to attain enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings, and then influenced by this altruistic aspiration, generate the wisdom realizing emptiness, the real nature of phenomena, and on the basis of this realization generate the deity. If you again focus on the nature of the deity itself, you will find that even the deity does not exist from its own side. Then you visualize the deity as the Truth Body that you will ultimately attain when you attain enlightenment.

So, the technique for meditating on both method and wisdom is very important and includes meditation on the extensive circle of the deity as well as on its profound emptiness. The unity of both method and the wisdom is emptiness. The unity of both method and the wisdom is involved in this tantric practice, because on the one hand you think about the nature of the deity itself, which is visualizing the real nature of phenomena, and then on the other hand you think of the deity itself as the Truth Body that you will attain when you become enlightened, which is to think about the object of your attainment. So this is also a meditation on the aspiration for enlightenment.

Through this process of deity yoga you are practicing both the method and the wisdom at the same time. This is what makes the path so quick and successful. When you follow the Highest Yoga Tantra especially, there are techniques to make manifest the subtlest wind and subtlest consciousness. Through special techniques you will be able to stop the coarser, defiled levels of wind and consciousness and make their subtlest level manifest.

Whether you follow the sutra or tantra path, if you want to practice in this way, you should first lay a solid foundation in the practice of morality or disciple.

There are many levels of discipline to be observed, starting from the discipline of individual emancipation, which is like the foundation of all the higher levels of discipline. It is sometimes referred to as the discipline of the Hearers, and it is on the basis of this that you generate the discipline of the Bodhisattva, on the basis of which in turn you generate the discipline of Mantra.



Questions and Answers

Would Your Holiness clarify whether the determination to achieve liberation is not linked at all with the conception of true existence or the conception of phenomena as inherently existent?
Usually, when we talk about generating a strong wish to be free from cyclic existence, a mind wishing to attain liberation, with reference to a person who has really understood through study that there is such a thing as liberation and that it is something that can actually be achieved, who has a deep understanding based, on reason, then we can say that his wish to attain liberation is not defiled by a conception of true existence or a conception of phenomena as inherently existent. This is because a person can usually have a valid cognition of liberation only after realizing emptiness. If you have understood the meaning of emptiness, then even though you may not have uprooted the conception of true existence completely, neither the liberation that has to be established nor the path that establishes it are polluted by the conception of true existence. Therefore, we can say that the wish to attain liberation is not assisted by the conception of true existence or the conception of phenomena as inherently existent.

However, in the case of ordinary beings like us, who do not have a correct or authentic understanding of liberation’s mode of existence, but merely a wish to attain it, while no doubt the wish is genuine, due to not understanding the real nature of phenomena, we might see liberation itself as truly or inherently existent. In other words, not having a good understanding of phenomena’s lack of inherent existence, the wish to attain liberation is polluted by the conception of true existence

In a verse of sutra the Buddha says that if on seeing the illusory image of a beautiful woman you feel a desire for her, it is foolish to regret it later when you realize that she was only an illusion, because there was no woman there in the first place. Similarly, if you think of liberation as truly existent, although it is not, then it is true to say that your aspiration towards liberation is not authentic.


Can we use a term like the bliss of liberation?
Yes, of course, because when we attain liberation, it is only the complete cessation of delusions. Otherwise one is still a person with a physical body. There is a feeling of pleasure and happiness of having attained liberation, although there is no craving for that blissful feeling. For example, if we speak in tantric terms then a superior individual being who has eliminated the conception of true existence has the wisdom of great bliss within his mental stream and that bliss is a real bliss. I think it is also appropriate to speak of the bliss of an individual at the stage of no longer training. So, we can say that even the Buddha has a feeling of pleasure and therefore we can speak of the bliss of liberation.

But if you are asking this question from the point of view of whether liberation itself is bliss, then it is not, because it is an impersonal phenomenon. Actually, liberation or cessation is a quality, a complete cessation of delusion within the particular person who has attained and actualized liberation. With reference to that person and when he or she attains liberation, it is the person himself or herself who experience bliss. So, if you ask whether the person experiences the bliss of liberation, the answer is yes, but if you ask whether liberation itself is bliss, then the answer is negative.


How is meditation related to getting rid of the suffering of sentient beings?
When a bodhisattva actually engages in the training prior to enlightenment, he not only meditates on qualities like compassion and altruism, he actually engages in putting the six perfections into practice. Of the six perfections, giving and ethical discipline are directly related to the benefit of sentient beings. Similarly, a bodhisattva also engages in the four means of gathering disciples, such as giving things that sentient beings need, speaking pleasantly and so forth. The generation of compassion and love in meditation actually generates the intention and the practices of giving, observing ethical discipline and so on are the actual expression of that intention in action. Therefore, practical application and meditation go together side by side. You will also find mention of the state of equipoise and the subsequent achievement. During meditative equipoise you engage in meditation and during the post meditative state you arise from meditation and engage in collecting merit. This means practically engaging in activities that directly benefit sentient beings.


How is one’s aspiration towards liberation related to the experience of suffering?
In order to generate a wish to attain liberation, you should first be able to see the faults of cyclic existence. But at the same time if you do not have an understanding of the possibility of attaining liberation, then merely seeing the faults and sufferings of cyclic existence is not enough. There are many cases where people are faced with suffering, but are unaware of the possibility of attaining liberation. Not finding a solution to their problems, in frustration they commit suicide or harm themselves in other ways.


When the Hearers and the Solitary Buddha have destroyed delusions completely and become Foe Destroyers, do they possess a neutral mind?
Yes, they have neutral consciousness. After having attained the status of a Foe Destroyer, the Hearers and Solitary Buddhas not only have a neutral consciousness, but also employ other qualities like harsh speech and referring to others as inferior persons and so on. Although these kind of actions are not provoked by delusions like anger and attachment, they arise as a result of being well-acquainted with negative qualities in the past, which now expresses itself physically, verbally and mentally in bad ways.


People who have not realize emptiness see all phenomena as existing inherently and because of that they generate anger, attachment and so forth. But how do those people who have realized emptiness generate anger and attachment since the realization of emptiness is a direct antidote to the experience of the conception of true existence?
The demarcation between these two experiences is that those who have realized emptiness do not have a conception of true existence which views things as inherently existent. Although things appear to them as inherently existent, they do not have a conception of true existence. Even to those who have attained higher grounds and become Foe Destroyers things appear to exist inherently. So there is no certainty that those for whom things appear to exist inherently should have attachment and anger. Therefore, anger and other delusions are generated not only when things appear to exist truly, but when there is also a determination that things have true existence. It is not possible to eliminate delusions and afflictions completely, merely by seeing emptiness or merely by realizing selflessness. You have not only to realize emptiness or selflessness; you also have to become well acquainted with it. When you not only understand emptiness but also see it directly, you attain what we call the path of seeing. And when you attain the path of seeing, you are able to temporarily to suppress all superficial manifestations of delusions. Still you have only suppressed the manifestations of these delusions and have not finally eliminated their seeds. The innate delusions are still present.

Even after you have gained direct realization of emptiness there are higher paths such as the path of seeing and path of meditation. Intellectually acquired delusions are those that are eliminated by the path of seeing and are thus eliminated when one sees emptiness directly. They come about as a result of studying mistaken philosophical ideas. In other words they are product of wrong view. When you see emptiness or ultimate reality directly, naturally intellectually acquired delusions, products of wrong view are automatically eliminated. Therefore, you have to become thoroughly familiar with this realization of the true nature of phenomena. Then gradually as you attain the path of meditation, you will be able to eliminate the very root cause of delusions. Now, how is this conception of true existence, or the conception that things exist inherently, responsible for generating delusions like anger, attachment and so forth. Normally speaking it is not necessarily the case that wherever there is a conception of true existence delusions like attachment and anger are generated because there are occasions when you have only a conception of true existence. But wherever there is attachment or anger it follows that it is due to a conception of the true existence of phenomena. When you generate attachment, you not only see the object as something interesting or attractive, but you see it as something totally attractive, totally interesting, and existing inherently from its own side. Because of that kind of misconception of phenomena, you generate strong attachment.

Similarly, when you see something as uninteresting or unattractive, you do not see it just like that, you see it as totally uninteresting and unattractive, you do not see it just like that, you see it as phenomena. The principal cause of al these different delusions, like attachment and anger, is the conception of ‘I’ and ‘mine’. First you generate attachment towards the ‘I’ and because of this you start to generate all kinds of other delusions. Usually, you actually do not think about what this ‘I’ is, but when it arises automatically, you have a strong sense of an ‘I’, which is not just nominally existent, but a solid ‘I’ existing inherently from its own side.

Recognizing the existence of a conventional ‘I’ is all right, but when you exaggerate it as having an independent existence it is wrong. That is the wrong view of transitory collection. Because you have that kind of conception of the ‘I’s’ true existence, you generate other delusions like the conception of ‘mine’ thinking, “This or that is mine”. When you have this conception of things as ‘mine’ you divide everything into two classes: those that you like, which you think of as mine, as interesting, as my friend and so on, based on which you generate a lot of attachment: and those that do not belong to you or that have harmed you or are likely to harm you, you classify into a different category and neglect them. Because of your conception of the ‘I’ and the feeling that you are somehow supreme, someone very important, you become proud. Due to this pride, when you don’t know something you generate deluded doubt and when you encounter a challenge from people who have qualities or wealth similar to your own, you generate the delusions of jealously and competitiveness towards them.


What is the meaning of a definite action and an indefinite action?
A definite action is one all of whose requisite parts are complete. For example, having made the preparations for doing a particular action, actually doing it and finally thinking that you have done the right thing. If you have committed an action through such a process, the result will be definite, so it is called a definite action.

On the other hand, if you have not generated the intention to commit a particular action, then even if you have done something, the result will not be definite. So, it is called an indefinite action. In general, there are many kinds of actions explained in the Asanga’s Compendium of Manifest Knowledge (Abhidharma Samuccaya): actions that are committed and accumulated, actions that are accumulated and not committed and actions that are both committed and accumulated. Actions that are accumulated and not committed are definite actions. Actions that are committed and not accumulated are indefinite actions because, for example, of not being motivated.

Now, to explain this point more clearly, let us take the example of killing an animal. Generally speaking killing leads to bad rebirth. But if you kill a particular animal without intending to kill it, for instance if you unknowingly trample on an insect and kill it, but then realizing what you have done you generate a strong sense of regret, the result will be indefinite. Because you have actually killed the insect you have committed the action of killing, but you have not accumulated the action because you did not intend to kill it. In this case the result is not definite, which means that this act of killing will not lead to the normal result, bad rebirth, because of the absence of intention and having subsequently felt regret. However, since the act of killing was committed it will bear its own fruit. It does not lead to profit.


How is it possible, especially for a person who comes from the West to generate a sense of renunciation, an unwillingness to enjoy the pleasures of the world in which we are living?
It is not likely that everyone would generate a spirit of renunciation, nor is it necessary because of people’s diverse mental interests and inclinations. Some take rather a fancy to cyclic existence. So what should we do? If we take the point of view of a Buddhist and strive to attain liberation, then we have to train the mind in this way. If you just glance at the Western way of life, you may see many superficial attractions, the ample modern facilities and so on. But if you examine it on a deeper level, Westerners are not immune to the general worldly sufferings of birth, old age, sickness and death, and are especially stricken with feelings of competitiveness and jealousy. I am sure that these disturb your happiness, so they are termed the sufferings of cyclic existence.

We can also classify suffering into three levels: the suffering of suffering; the suffering of change and pervasive compositional suffering. This last one, pervasive compositional suffering, refers to the fact that our physical body, projected by contaminated actions and delusions, itself acts as the basis for experiencing all the different levels of suffering. It is important to know the various levels and stages of suffering and how to do meditation. In general, if you have no anxiety, no troubles and no worries, that is best. We think of practicing the Buddha’s doctrine because we have some suffering, some anxiety, but if you don’t have these then there is no need to practice; just enjoy yourself.


Since we have this conception of a truly existent self, is it possible to benefit other beings?
It is possible. Actually there are two kinds of mistaken attitude with regard to the self: one is to hold it as inherently existent, the other is the self-centered attitude. If you have a very strongly self-centered attitude, perpetually concerned about your own wellbeing and nothing else, you will automatically neglect the welfare of other beings. The conception of a truly existent self is difficult to get rid of, but while you are doing so you can also train in the altruistic attitude concerned with the welfare of other sentient beings and engage in activities to benefit them. Hearer and Solitary Buddha Foe Destroyers have destroyed the delusions with their seeds and have realized the real nature of phenomena. Thus they have eliminated the conception of true existence, but because of their self-centered attitude, they may not care much for the welfare of other sentient beings. However, it is also possible for a Bodhisattva, to belong to the Vaibhashika school of tenets, which does not assert emptiness of true existence. So, although that Bodhisattva may not have eliminated the seed of the conception of true existence, but because he has trained in developing an attitude of concern for others, he will work with total dedication for the benefit of other sentient beings.



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