The compassionate lord Buddha Shakyamuni has revealed us many different levels of teachings. Among all the teachings that he has given, if you know how to take the essence of his teachings in terms of instructions and implement these, this would be the best.
Whether we are involved with listening to teachings or reflecting and meditating upon what we have heard, it is essential to precede such phases of practice by the altruistic mind of bodhicitta. Having thus generated the altruistic mind of bodhicitta, the teachings that we are trying to study and meditate upon can be termed dharma.
If we want to find the essence of the Buddha’s teachings, we should understand the fourfold knowledge of impermanence, the suffering nature, emptiness, and selflessness. If we implement this knowledge in our practice, this will constitute the essential instruction for practice.
During the previous session, we finished talking about the subjects of impermanence and the suffering nature. The law of impermanence and the suffering nature are the characteristics of the relative truth. One should also understand the division of impermanence in terms of the grosser level of impermanence and the subtle level of impermanence. One will realize the subtle form of impermanence by understanding the grosser form of impermanence. For example, the very fact that there is smoke above a hill signifies that there must be fire somewhere behind that hill.
Mere understanding will not allow us to eradicate the root of misery ultimately. In the beginning, it is crucial to gain knowledge of the different levels of impermanence. Based on this knowledge, one should try to attain the actual realization of the grosser and subtle form of impermanence. Mere intellectual understanding of the various types of impermanence will allow us to suppress the conflicting emotions, whereas the actual realization of the various levels of impermanence will will enable us to eradicate the very root of the conflicting emotions.
What we need to eliminate from our mind stream is our fixation on the notion of the four wrong views: the fixation on the idea of purity, the fixation on the concept of happiness, and the fixating onto the idea of permanence and self. These four wrong views should be abandoned. But how do we generate these wrong views? We create them by our psycho-physical aggregates, or the five skandhas. In brief, it can be said to be grasping onto our spirit and matter.
Most individuals claim that I am pure or that I am beautiful; very few will claim that I am impure and I am ugly. And most individuals, while actually being submersed in the midst of suffering, will still feel that they are enjoying happiness. This is the reason these individuals are not willing to separate themselves from the worldly existence of samsara. Because of our grasping onto matter and spirit, we cultivate the notion of a truly existing self. In the same way, the notion of one, or singularity, and the notion of permanence without having to depend on others come about. And, yet again, in the same way, we develop the notion of self being the owner of the five aggregates, and develop grasping onto these aggregates.
Based on these various causes, we hold onto the notion of ourselves being supreme while others are inferior, and from this polarity, we tend to generate the conflicting emotions of hatred, jealousy and other forms of negative emotions. Also, if we fixate onto the idea of not having to depend on others, then the motivation for generating love and compassion for others will not arise.
If we were to look at the reality of matter and spirit from the ultimate perspective, then the question of purity and impurity does not apply at all. Hence, happiness and unhappiness do not exist with regard to matter and spirit. In the same way, matter and spirit elude permanence and impermanence as well as self and others. In other words, they transcend permanent and impermanent, and beyond self and others as well.
Nevertheless, beginners on the path should try to understand the reality of matter and spirit in terms of suffering and impermanence. Why should they do that? Because understanding of impermanence will gradually give rise to an understanding of emptiness. If you, for example, were to realize the impermanence of my hand, or your own hand for that matter, due to the hand being the composition of many atoms and sub atoms, and that on the atomic level the hand is going through a constant change, you would be able to attain certainty of the emptiness of the hand. Also, the hand seems to be single, but it eludes singleness because there are five fingers joined together. Similarly, there does not exist a single finger, because the finger is also a composite of joints and many other particles, and if you were to further dissect the atoms, you will arrive at the partless particles. These particles are not static, but dynamic because they go through a constant change. The most subtle level of atomic particle is not static for even a moment.
The followers of the shravakayana can realize the emptiness of personal self because they can analyze down to the most subtle level of the partless particle, but they hold onto the notion that these partless particles are static, that they do not go through change. Even with such a partial understanding, they can attain the realization of the emptiness of the personal self. They are not able to understand the emptiness of the phenomenal self; they realize only the emptiness of the personal self. This is because their arguments bring them to the partless particles, that they hold as static. Whereas the followers of the Mahayana realize the impermanent nature of even these partless particles, and this understanding leads to the realization of the emptiness of the phenomenal self.
For example, to change the grosser aspect of reality, the scientist will delve into the level of the sub-particles that act as building blocks for the gross reality, and will try to do something at this level to produce a measurable result on the gross level. Similarly, by relying on the sword of wisdom, we should try to dissect the reality to arrive at the level of the most subtle particles, and then, at this level, understand that these particles are empty.
To understand emptiness, one needs to understand the mode of emptiness, the manner by which emptiness exists. If one fails to understand the proper mode by which emptiness exists, and persists in meditating on emptiness, then such a meditation can be termed shamatha. It is not meditation of vipashyana. Shamatha meditation will allow us to suppress the conflicting emotions temporarily, but will not eradicate the conflicting emotions.
For example, when we undertake the samadhi, or practice that pertains to the four formless god realms, we begin by conceptualizing that all phenomenal appearances and experiences are equal to space. Similarly, all phenomenal experiences and appearances are thought of as equal to consciousness, without any tangible form. Further, one meditates on the concepts that all phenomenal appearances and existence do not exist at all. One thinks in terms of neither existence nor non-existence. These are the four samadhis that are cultivated in connection with the four formless god realms. But these four types of meditation are worldly meditations that will not bring the meditator beyond the worldly realm.
Instead, when we cultivate emptiness as a pure view, or the antidote to avert the four wrong views, we are not talking about the seeming emptiness as meditation, as it pertains to the four formless god realms. Here, when we talk about emptiness, it should be understood that the phenomena are empty in themselves. There have been created many logical arguments to establish a genuine understanding of emptiness, but all these arguments can be summed up as the four logical arguments.
It is quite difficult to understand these logical arguments, and actually it comes down to the question whether you are familiar with this manner of analysis or not. If you are familiar, it will be easy to grasp their meaning; if not, it will be difficult. When one has understood the different levels of the logical arguments, one should apply this knowledge in one’s meditation practice. The purpose of meditation practice is to familiarize oneself. But it is not necessary to meditate on permanence. Also, it is not necessary to meditate on self. This is because we are already very familiar with the idea of something being permanent and something having a self.
Since I entered the Buddhist academic institutes in Tibet, I have heard many lectures on impermanence, selflessness and emptiness. Because of hearing this and the practice that I put it to, occasionally there would arise a certain understanding. A mere understanding of the classification of reality is not effective in terms of equalizing suffering and happiness, or of equalizing self and others. Only by putting into practice what one has understood on the intellectual level will one attain the equalization of self and others, and purity and impurity and so forth. To start with, to be able to understand the empty nature of the things, one should familiarize oneself with the understanding of the four great arguments and attain certainty on the basis of that. Then one puts it into practice.
Most of us conceive that matter and spirit come into being at some beginning, remain for a while, and then disintegrate at the end. One should try to establish the reality of the unborn by relying on the practice and understanding of the four great logical arguments. If one can do so, one can remove suffering. So we are trying to establish the unborn state.
The first logical argument is the vajra prongs that analyze the cause. Why is one required to meditate on the first argument? Because usually we believe that all phenomena arise because of certain causes. And from the perspective of the individual who has not undertaken the practice of analysis, it seems to be so: that certain phenomena come from certain causes. But if we were to profoundly scrutinize the reality, we would attain the realization of the unborn state.
If something is born as a result of a specific cause, then the birth of that phenomena must occur from itself, or it must come from something else, “from other.” The other options are that the birth of the phenomena comes from both self and other, or that the birth comes from the absence of self and others. These are called the four extremes. One cannot find different manners of birth than these four extremes.
When we talk about a certain phenomena being born from itself, no individual will be ready to accept such a proposition. For example, one can not claim that the father is born from the father himself. The example of the father is used in order to establish that self is not born from itself or that certain phenomena are born from the particular phenomena themselves. If the father is born from the father himself, then the initial birth of that father becomes meaningless, because the father is born twice.
Question: But the definition of a father is that somebody else is born so that the father is born as a father.
For example, you cannot say that I am born from myself. If it were so, the initial birth becomes meaningless. If the initial birth is meaningless, then the subsequent birth also becomes meaningless. This logical argument should be applied to all classifications of the reality. If self were to be born from itself, then there comes about two faults: The birth becomes meaningless and the birth becomes ceaseless. Not only one birth becomes meaningless, but hundreds of subsequent births become meaningless as well. Actually, this logical argument is actually rather sharp. If one is not able to grasp it, one should try to think about it, and you will grasp the meaning.
Meditating in this manner will allow you to refute the notion of fixating onto the self. Particularly, it refutes the notion of holding onto a self that is permanent, like some non-Buddhist schools propose. If the self would be permanent, then a static phenomenon could not perform any function, as opposed to a dynamic phenomenon. If a function is being carried out, then that very performance implies impermanence.
Now, we have refuted the first extreme, the birth of self from itself. We shall try to refute the birth that occurs from others, as for example, the birth of a son from a father. If something is born from other, then there comes the fault of the birth of light from darkness. Examples of these are the birth of misery from the performance of virtuous acts, and the birth of happiness from the performance of negative actions. Another example is a man giving birth to a child, as only women can do this. The main point is that all this falls into the category of birth from other.
If the phenomena are not born from self and neither born from others, then it will be easy to deny the third extreme that proposes that phenomena are born from self and others.
When we were investigating the first logical argument of the vajra prongs, we were primarily analyzing the cause of the phenomena. During the second logical argument, we are primarily investigating the result of the phenomena regarding existence and non-existence.
Question: What are the relationships between the logical arguments and the four extremes?
In the analysis of the first logical argument, one primarily analyzes the first two extremes. When one understands the two first, it is easy to understand the third and fourth. The purpose of the logical argument is to prove that birth does not happen from any of the four extremes.
We shall now examine the second logical argument concerning existence and non-existence. We shall consider the characteristics of matter and spirit. Matter and mind will be either cause, result or essence. For example, the pear in my hand is either cause, result or essence.
By establishing the cause, the result or the essence of a particular phenomenon, we tend to fixate on these. By the first argument that analyzes the cause, we established the emptiness of that cause or the non-characteristics of that cause.
By the second logical argument, one tries to establish that the result is free from desire. If there is a result, we usually aspire to attain that result. And by this argument, we try to cut through the hope that wants to achieve that result.
The third logical argument is the argument of being neither one nor many. The first three logical arguments are sometimes called the three doors of liberation. The fourth logical argument is said to be the king of all logical arguments and is the logical argument of interdependent origination.
Let us suppose that we vaguely understand what is meant by analyzing the cause through the first logical argument. Let us go back and delve a little deeper into the second logical argument of analyzing existence and non-existence, or production and cessation. If a result is born from a cause, does that result truly exist or does it not exist? If the newly formed result was said to exist prior to its birth, it becomes meaningless to give birth to a new existence. Conversely, the cause cannot give birth to something that does not exist, because than there would be nothing. It would not be very meaningful to say that something that is non-existent has been born. In that case a lotus flower could be born in the midst of space. It follows that all non-existent things would come into existence by following this line of reasoning. Do you understand?
Question: Is this where one talks about the hair of the tortoise?
Yes, and the horn of the rabbit. Both are examples of things that do not exist. If a result is being born by relying on the cause, what kind of result is born? Is it non-existent or existent? Do you understand the question?
Question: Is this where we say neither, and you go on refuting this also?
If the answer is that the result is non-existent, then it follows that it will be possible to find hair on a tortoise and horn on a rabbit. Because through this kind of logic we would be able to make everything that is non-existent become existent. You are welcome to analyze it, examine it, and comment on it.
The main thing is that we usually experience many discursive thoughts and conflicting emotions, and that one meditates on the logical arguments to lessen the impact of these thoughts and feelings. The meditation works by challenging our discursive thoughts and emotions.
Sometimes the audience will ask the teacher how one should proceed with one’s meditation. Should one meditate on analytical or concentrative meditation? To answer, one must prepare with some analytical meditation; otherwise there is actually nothing to concentrate on. When we talk about performing analytical meditation, we are not talking about analyzing how to subdue our enemy, how to win a victory over the enemy, or how to accumulate wealth and so forth. If we focus on this, it can seem like it is analytical meditation, but it lacks the true meaning of true meditation. For example, the leopard walks very quietly when hunting. Its intention is to capture the prey and devour it. The real nature of the leopard can be very non-peaceful. A mere adoption of physical postures does not imply a peaceful nature of an individual.
We try to attack the enemy that holds onto the notion of a truly existing self, as well as the conflicting emotions, by using the arrow of the logical arguments. So try to grasp and be mindful of the logical arguments.
The third logical argument is termed neither being one or many. Generally, we perceive the skandhas, matter, and spirit, as being truly existent. To avert such wrong views, we contemplate on the third argument. If such phenomena exist, they exist either as one or many.
The phenomena do not exist in terms of one, and the body does not exist in terms of one single lump. In the same way, we can analyze the spirit or the mind. The mind does not exist in terms of one lump, because from birth up to this point, how many conceptual minds, thoughts and attitudes have we not generated in our mind? All these patterns constitute our mind, and there is no single entity that exists within the mind or the body. Now, forget about the time from birth up to this point; just look from one month ago up to this moment, or one week up to this time, or from yesterday up to this moment. The number of discursive thoughts and conflicting emotions that we have generated are limitless. All this constitutes our mind. If “one” cannot be established, then naturally “many” cannot be established as well.
The forth logical argument is the argument of interdependent origination, or interdependent connectedness. According to this logical argument, all phenomena are shown to be interdependent-originated; therefore, phenomena are said to not be truly existent. This presentation is unique to Buddhism and is not shared by other spiritual traditions. Hence, the logical argument of interdependent origination is said to be the king of all logical arguments, and there is no phenomenal experience that lies beyond the law of interdependent origination.
The great logical argument of interdependent origination analyzes the cause of the phenomena, the result of the phenomena, and the essence of the phenomena.
If you have not heard this before, it is rather difficult to comprehend. But if you grasp the meaning of these logical arguments, then it will be easy for you to actually meditate on the true meaning of emptiness. If you realize the view of these logical arguments, you will not find a more superior view than this, even within the presentation of Mahamudra or Dzogchen. Therefore Lama Mipham said, “In order to truly realize the meaning of the primordial purity, one needs to understand the meaning of the presentation of the Prasangika-Madhyamika.”
You are welcome to ask questions concerning the four logical arguments.
Question: Can you please give an example of the fourth logical argument?
(Rinpoche strikes the bell sharply with the vajra.) The sound that is produced comes from striking the bell with the vajra. Therefore, the sound is interdependent on the vajra, so the sound is the result of many causes and conditions coming together. Its actual nature is emptiness. That is the reason the bell is rung quite often: to teach you interdependent origination. (Rinpoche jokes.)
Question: But does this not show that something can arise from something that is different than itself? Indeed the sound is different from the vajra.
It seems like the sound is born from something else other than the sound, but that is just how it looks. If you delve deeper into this seeming reality, you will arrive at the fact that the sound is not born from other. For example, in that case, say, if the vajra were placed as it is, without being used to strike the bell, then the vajra is the other, right? Then the vajra should be able to produce the sound by itself.
Question: But cannot happiness be born from suffering?
Well, then, in the same way, one must conclude that suffering is born from happiness. In the process of trying to establish emptiness, there is a risk that one does away with karmic causations. This is very serious. In his Entering the Middle Way, Chandrakirti objects to the meditator meditating on the emptiness of the karmic law of cause and result. When the meditator focuses his meditation on emptiness of the law of karmic causations itself, this form of meditation can cause the practitioner to disregard karmic law; therefore, the author objects to the meditator to meditate on the emptiness of the law of causation.
In the beginning, we tried to establish emptiness through negatives, using terms as “non-existence” and so forth. This negative emptiness can be further analyzed in tögal (Tibetan), a state completely free from any form of elaboration. But if the negative emptiness remains, there is a risk that one falls into the pitfall of nihilism, where nothing exists, and there is no meaning. To prevent the meditator from falling into the nihilistic state, one should establish the negative emptiness by tögal.
Like Shantideva said, “When the meditator becomes familiar with emptiness, the meditator will cast away his familiarity with materialistic clinging to the solidity of the phenomena.” He further stated that he had “familiarized with nothing whatsoever,” meaning leaving even the familiarization of emptiness behind.
In the Uttaratantrashastra, the author says that even the dharma or the sangha are not the ultimate objects of refuge. In this treatise, the path is compared with a boat. When the path is traversed—when the boat has been used to cross the river, and one has arrived safely on the other shore—the boat can be left behind; you don’t need it anymore. Having realized emptiness, there is no point in holding onto the idea of emptiness, because one goes merely beyond the realization of emptiness. But to understand emptiness, one needs to acheive the meaning of emptiness.
But if we claim that we are meditating on a state that is free from fixation, it actually becomes very difficult to meditate and sustain such a state, because even the claim that “I am meditating without fixations” is a subtle fixation in itself. In the beginning, one usually meditates with a certain amount of fixation, and then, gradually, one leaves the fixations behind and enters into a state free from obsession.
As long as we possess a belly, we need to eat because we get hungry. Similarly, we have to think in terms of conceptual thoughts and fixations because we have a mind. But when we talk about cultivating fixations in meditation, we are not talking about cultivating negative fixations; we are talking about cultivating positive fixations in the initial state of one’s meditation. Positive conceptual thoughts or states of mind are compared with a very fertile ground, on the basis that on this fertile ground one can reap a very prosperous crop. But cultivation of negative thoughts and emotions can be compared with an infertile ground, making it impossible to give rise to a prosperous crop. By basing the cultivation on wholesome or positive thoughts and emotions, there is a possibility to give rise to the wisdom that knows the nature of the reality. On the other hand, the possibility of generating the wisdom that knows the reality as it is by relying on negative thoughts and emotions is nil. Hence, it is important to attempt to cultivate a noble mind or heart.
Generally, when we understand emptiness, it becomes rather easy to understand what we mean by selflessness. Emptiness tries to establish the emptiness of the phenomenal self, whereas selflessness tries to establish the emptiness of the personal self. Therefore, selflessness should be understood in terms of cultivating the emptiness of the personal self. For example, if you mistake a statue for a real person at a distance, then as you get closer, you will realize the suchness of the statue to be a statue, and the mistaken idea will disappear. If we, by examining the body and mind, understand the emptiness of the person, this is said to be the realizing selflessness, the realization of the emptiness of the personal self.
I will stop here. Maybe your bladder is full. This is a common problem during the teaching sessions in Tibet. When I used to attain the teachings, certain khenpos would be a little inconsiderate and continue their lessons for several, maybe three hours.
Question: If you understand selflessness and the fact that things are not truly existent, like we have been going through—if you have a good understanding of this, if you have a very full bladder and a lot of pain, how will that remove the suffering of the bladder? (laughter)
That means you haven’t understood the true meaning of emptiness and selflessness. (Everybody is laughing.) If you were truly able to understand the true meaning of emptiness, not only understanding it, but also realizing it, then the fullness of the bladder will not be a problem.
In East Tibet, in the early stage of the Chinese occupation, one Tibetan boastfully claimed that he had realized the profound meaning of emptiness. From now on, he would not be harmed by anything. When a Chinese leader heard of this, he had the man tied to a post and shot him in his hand. Of course, the bullet pierced the hand, and the man began to scream. Finally, the man was killed. In reality, he had not understood the meaning of emptiness; he had simply proclaimed it. During those days, the Communists were very hostile towards religious proclamations like this.
Question: The shravakayanas can realize the emptiness or the absence of self by reducing the self to partless particles, but why are they not able to use this argument to understand the inherent emptiness of the phenomena?
The fundamental reason is that the followers of the shravakayanas are fearful of realizing the emptiness of the phenomenal self. This underlying fear prevents them from fully understanding the emptiness of the phenomenal self.
Question: What is the difference in realizing the emptiness of the self and the emptiness of the phenomena?
Mipham Rinpoche gave a perfect example of this; if there is a rope lying in a very dark room, and a person happens to enter the room, the rope can be mistaken for a snake. This is confusion. The mistake can be eliminated by lighting a lamp and realizing the absence of the snake in the rope. This liberates the person from the fear of encountering a snake. But the person has not understood the suchness of the rope itself. The rope is not realized to be empty of real existence.
Followers of the shravakayana analyze the body-mind phenomena to its most subtle level and attain the realization of the emptiness of the personal self. The reason they can realize the emptiness of the phenomenal self is because they have arrived at particle at the subtlest level, that of the permanent partless particle. But they fixate onto their notion of this, and because of this, they are not able to move further. This is the reason they are not able to realize the emptiness of the phenomenal self.
Question: Why do they believe that these particles are permanent? Does it not say in the sutras that everything is impermanent?
This is because one single teaching of the Buddha is being interpreted on many different levels. Also, the speech from one single person can be heard in many different ways. For example, what I have taught today could be understood in many different ways by many different people.
Question: Does everything come from the mind? It has to start somewhere, or we would not have to do all these things.
When you say where all these things are coming from, do you mean all the dharmas or what I spoke about?
Same person: I mean everything, it has to start somewhere.
All things come from emptiness. Your thoughts also come from emptiness. Your very thought is emptiness.
Question: Is this Madyamika?
Yes. All the explanations that I have given to you are based on my personal understanding of the scriptures.
Question: How would you meditate on selflessness?
To meditate on selflessness, first one has to establish the selflessness by analytical meditation. For example, if you want to meditate on the selflessness on the phenomena, the emptiness of the self of the phenomena, then you need to go through the different phases of these four great arguments. You have to conduct analytical meditation, the medium of these four great arguments. And you should analyze the meaning of the selflessness of the phenomena until you gain profound certainty with regard to selflessness of the phenomena. Once you gain profound certainty, you should stop further analysis and let your mind rest within that certainty.
The presentation of the four logical arguments is like a handle that you can hold onto while trying to establish the selflessness of phenomena, but this does not mean that you should not use your intelligent mind to analyze the selflessness of the phenomena. If we can come up with our own version of logical arguments in order to establish and validate the selflessness of phenomena, we are welcome to do so.
We should also alternate our meditation with the sutra tradition of the Buddha and the tantric presentation of the Buddha. According to the sutra tradition of the Buddha, we analyze and experiment, but according to the tantric tradition, we primarily allow our mind to rest within the state of certainty.
Question: Can you recommend a book on the four logical arguments?
You will find the presentation of the four logical arguments in the books known as Entering into the Middle Way by Chandrakirti and The Root Verses of the Middle Way by Nagarjuna. Among many of the treatises on this subject, these two are considered most important.
So we will stop here and conclude with the prayers.
Translated by Lama Changchub at Karma Tashi Ling Buddhist Centre, Norway