Dharamshala: The principal recipients of His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s online teaching were assembled in a large hall in Taipei, Taiwan. They commenced their recitation of the ‘Heart of Wisdom’, the ‘Heart Sutra’, in Chinese the moment His Holiness appeared on their screens. This they followed with a short mandala offering, after which His Holiness asked them also to chant a further verse, which encapsulates the practice of the Dharma:
May I be able to dispel the three poisons
May the light of insight shine brightly
May I be able to overcome all obstacles
May I be able to engage in the deeds of Bodhisattvas.
“Today, my dharma friends in Taiwan,” His Holiness began, “there are disciples who wish to hear the teaching, so I have a responsibility to give it to you, and I’m happy to be able to talk about the ‘Heart Sutra’.
“Buddhism is one among the many religions in the world. The difference is that the Buddha counselled his followers not to accept what he said at face value, but to examine his words as a goldsmith analyses the quality of gold. All religious traditions teach the importance of love, but only the Buddha encouraged his followers to scrutinize what he taught. He said when you understand the teaching as reasonable and beneficial only then follow it.
“The Buddha identified the four noble truths as suffering, its origin, cessation and the path. He explained them again in terms of function—what to do. He observed that no one wants suffering, so we have to explore why we suffer. This is like when we fall ill and consult a doctor to discover what’s wrong. The causes of suffering lie in the actions we perform impelled by disturbing emotions or mental afflictions such as anger and attachment. The Buddha taught that this origin—karma and afflictions—should be overcome.
“With regard to the result he taught that suffering is to be known and yet there is nothing to be known. Though its origin must be overcome, there is nothing to overcome. While cessation must be achieved, there is nothing to be achieved and despite the need to cultivate the path, there is nothing to be cultivated. He clarified that suffering, origin, cessation and path have no independent existence.
“Nagarjuna explained emptiness thoroughly and Chandrakirti demonstrated the truth of that explanation with reason and logic. Jé Tsongkhapa refers to this succinctly in his ‘In Praise of Dependent Arising’.
When, through the kindness of my lamas, I saw
this unsurpassed vehicle of yours leaving behind
extremes of existence and nonexistence,
elucidated by the prophesied Nagarjuna,
his lotus grove illuminated by the moonlight
of the glorious Chandrakirti’s teachings,
whose globe of stainless wisdom moved
freely through the sky of your words,
dispelling the darkness that holds to extremes,
outshining the stars of false speakers—
it was then that my mind found peace.
“I continue to read and study Chandrakirti’s ‘Entering into the Middle Way’ and his auto-commentary, as well as Nagarjuna’s ‘Six Collections of Reasoning’. ‘Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way’ states:
There does not exist anything
That is not dependently arisen.
Therefore, there does not exist anything
That is not empty.
In his ‘400 Verses’ Aryadeva observes:
As the tactile sense [pervades] the body
Ignorance is present in all [mental afflictions].
By overcoming ignorance, you will also
Overcome all mental afflictions.
“All distorted views are rooted in ignorance. Through understanding dependent arising we will overcome the two extremes of nihilism and eternalism. This involves listening to or reading instructions and reflecting on them over and again until you reach conviction. Practising the dharma is about transforming the mind—just listening to teachings will not achieve that.
“I myself memorized ‘Ornament for Clear Realization’ and ‘Entering into the Middle Way’ when I was a child, but mere memorization is not transformative. What is effective is reflecting on the teaching over and again.
“The awakening mind of bodhichitta is a mind intent on enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings, but as Shantideva says:
For those who fail to exchange their own happiness for the suffering of others, Buddhahood is certainly impossible – how could there even be happiness in cyclic existence? 8/131
“It’s necessary to be determined to generate the awakening mind. So doing will help purify negativities while accumulating merit. We need to focus on the one hand on the awakening mind and on the other on understanding emptiness. In the following verse Chandrakirti defends Nagarjuna’s position and in effect rebukes Vasubandhu and Dignaga for failing to understand and so abandoning it.
“This suchness just explained is most profound and terrifying, yet people with past habituation will certainly realize it;
others, however, despite vast learning, will fail to comprehend.
Thus, seeing those other traditions as constructed by the authors’ own minds, as akin to the treatises that set forth propositions on self,
forsake admiration for treatises and systems contrary to this one.” 11.55
His Holiness cited three verses from chapter six of ‘Entering into the Middle Way’ that mention the four logical absurdities that ensue if it is asserted that things and beings exist inherently. They are that a noble being’s mind, totally absorbed in emptiness, would be a destroyer of entities; that conventional truth would withstand the analysis of a reasoning mind; that the absolute production of things could not be denied, and that the Buddha’s statement ‘phenomena lack self-existence’ would not hold true.
His Holiness suggested that having given thought to these ideas for many years he feels he may be able to achieve some insight into emptiness.
Turning to the ‘Heart Sutra’ he remarked that he wouldn’t give an entire oral transmission of the text. He noted that to prove its authenticity it begins with the title in Sanskrit and in Tibetan. Recalling that there are editions of the perfection of wisdom in 100,000, 25,000 and 8,000 verses he mentioned that the ‘Heart Sutra’ is also known as the ‘Perfection of Wisdom In 25 Verses’.
His Holiness explained that the reference to the Buddha’s ‘having entered the meditative absorption on the varieties of phenomena called the appearance of the profound’, indicates that things lack inherent existence. They exist in dependence on many other factors. Next, Avalokiteshvara ‘saw that even the five aggregates are empty of intrinsic existence’. The word ‘even’ implies that not only are persons empty of intrinsic existence, but the psycho-physical aggregates that are the basis of the designation of a person are empty too.
The ‘fourfold emptiness’— ‘Form is emptiness, emptiness is form, emptiness is not other than form, form too is not other than emptiness’— reveals that form, a physical object, is the basis of emptiness. We can’t talk about emptiness apart from such an object. How does a physical object appear to us? It appears to exist solidly and objectively, but it is actually empty of such a mode of existence. Emptiness is not nothingness. We establish it in relation to an object. There is something we can point at, the designated form, but it is empty of any independent or intrinsic existence.
Things do exist, but when we search for their identity, there is nothing we can pinpoint. Yet, we can’t assert that nothing exists at all. Because things affect us, and are helpful or harmful, we cannot deny their existence as such. They do not exist in and of themselves, from their own side, objectively, they do exist by way dependence on other factors and by way of designation. If form were not empty, it could not undergo change. Because it does change, we know that it has no intrinsic existence. When we say ‘emptiness is not other than form, form too is not other than emptiness’ it indicates that form and emptiness—appearance and emptiness— are of the same nature, but differ conceptually.
His Holiness noted that the quantum physics view that things do not exist as they appear, and that the appearance of an observed object depends on an observing mind resonates with the Mind Only view.
Although it is asserted that things have no intrinsic existence, we accept that we have hands, a head and make speech. Yet nothing can be pinpointed as ‘that’s me’. When it comes to reflecting on the nature of self, another verse His Holiness relies on can be found in Nagarjuna’s ‘Fundamental Wisdom’.
Neither the aggregates, nor different from the aggregates,
The aggregates are not (dependent) on him, nor is he (dependent) on the aggregates.
The Tathagata does not possess the aggregates.
What else is the Tathagata? 22.1
He added that he often reworks this to refer to himself and reflects on it accordingly:
I am neither one with the aggregates, nor different from the aggregates,
The aggregates are not (dependent) on me, nor am I (dependent) on the aggregates.
I don’t possess the aggregates.
What else am I?
“We are afflicted by disturbing emotions that are rooted in an innate sense of intrinsic existence. By coming to understand emptiness and thinking it over again and again we can reduce the intensity of these afflictions. This is how we tread the path. “
His Holiness briefly mentioned the mantra that refers to making progress on the path. ‘Gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi svaha’ means, ‘Proceed, proceed; proceed beyond; thoroughly proceed beyond and be founded in enlightenment’.
His Holiness once again stressed the importance of listening to teachings and reflecting on them. He reported that he had received explanations of the Stages of the Path and Mind Training from Trijang Rinpoché. Ling Rinpoché, on the other hand, taught him the great classic treatises.
“Once, when I informed Ling Rinpoché about my practice, he responded, ‘Well, before long you’ll be a space-yogi’. Why am I telling you this? in order to make clear that if you reflect on the teachings and make yourself familiar with them, you will be able to generate an experience of emptiness within you. And the best books for you to read about this are Nagarjuna’s ‘Fundamental Wisdom’ and Chandrakirti’s ‘Entering into the Middle Way’. Study, reflection and meditation are so important.”
In answering questions from the audience His Holiness made clear that the Buddha referred to emptiness right from the beginning of his teaching. As different schools of thought emerged different interpretations occurred. Finally, the Consequentialists (Prasangikas) declared that things are empty of inherent or intrinsic existence.
With regard to emptiness and dependent arising he made clear that for emptiness to imply nothingness would entail falling to an extreme of nihilism. Things appear to have a solid existence, but don’t actually exist that way because they are dependent on a multitude of other factors. Emptiness means they are empty of intrinsic existence. They are empty of existing from their own side.
His Holiness cited Choné Lama Rinpoché as saying, “Dependence does not deny suchness; arising does not deny worldly convention.” The Buddha taught dependent arising and the two truths. Things appear to exist, which is conventional reality. Ultimate reality is how they exist.
His Holiness declared himself sceptical that there was a great deal of difference between Buddhist practitioners today and at the time of the Buddha. Conventionally monks and nuns wear robes, but there is no reason why you can’t practise wearing a suit. Practice is about transforming the mind; not how external appearances have developed. Whether or not they can do intense practice of the dharma, His Holiness requested his listeners to be kind to others and to help them in any way they can.
“If you meditate on emptiness merely to achieve liberation,” he clarified, “that will entail the path of a Hearer or Shravaka. But if your meditation on emptiness is supported by the awakening mind, you’ll not only be able to eliminate mental afflictions but also their imprints—and that is practice intent on Buddhahood.
“We have a marvellous human intelligence. Faced by problems, don’t let yourself be easily disturbed. Of course, we pray for the welfare of all mother sentient beings. The key is to be driven to actually bring them happiness. Performing prayers and rituals is of secondary importance to the main practice of cultivating the awakening mind and an understanding of emptiness. When you are motivated by altruism, your mind is naturally open.
“If you can study the great treatises, your meditation will be more profound and extensive. But if you can only study a little, you should at least find out what the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha mean. When you understand that the Buddha is a teacher, a fully awakened being, that the Dharma is the principal teaching leading to enlightenment and that the Sangha are those people who integrate the teaching within themselves, you’ll be able to take refuge in these Three Jewels. When Atisha taught the ‘Lamp for the Path’ he acknowledged that people have different capacities for approaching the path.
“As I mentioned before, the perfection of wisdom teachings exists in volumes of greater or lesser length, but they can be summarized in a single verse attributed to Rahula, Siddhartha Gautama’s son:
Homage to the Perfection of Wisdom,
the Mother of all Conquerors of the three times,
Which is beyond words, inconceivable, inexpressible
Unproduced and unobstructed—in the nature of space,
The objective domain of the self-aware wisdom.”
His Holiness advised that whether you study with one or many teachers is a matter of personal inclination. He remarked that he had more than twenty teachers and each of them had their own special quality, which he valued. On the other hand, someone like Milarepa relied principally and effectively on a single teacher, Marpa Lotsawa.
Finally, a questioner asked how to be less short-tempered and His Holiness replied that anger is rooted in self-cherishing attitudes. He recommended keeping a copy of Shantideva’s ‘Entering the Way of a Bodhisattva’ close by and consulting it regularly. Chapter six outlines the shortcomings of anger, while chapter eight explains the advantages of cherishing others.
Representatives of the audience in Taipei offered thanks to His Holiness for his teaching and expressed the hope that they will be able to welcome him to Taiwan next year. His Holiness then announced that before closing the session he would lead a brief ceremony for cultivating the awakening mind of bodhichitta. He based it on repeating the common verse:
I go for refuge until I am enlightened
To the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Supreme Assembly,
In order to fulfil the aims of myself and others
I develop the awakening mind.
He concluded with Shantideva’s verses celebrating bodhichitta:
This is the elixir of life, born to end death in the world. This is the inexhaustible treasure, alleviating poverty in the world.
Today I summon the world to Buddhahood and to worldly happiness meanwhile. In the presence of all the Saviours, may gods, titans, and all rejoice.