A Mirage Seems To Be Water

History was made last Sunday morning when the Dalai Lama affixed his signature to a document making changes to the constitution of Tibet that bring 469 years of theocratic rule to an end. The changes mandate the transfer of executive power from the Dalai Lama to elected representatives. He is no longer the Head of State.

This move is sure to confound the Chinese, who have hoped to control the Tibet “problem” by appointing a puppet successor to the Dalai Lama’s political position.

This change has actually been a long time coming. When he fled Tibet in 1959, the Dalai Lama pledged to reform their constitution and to replace the reincarnation based selection process for his successor with one based on nomination. You might ask why it has taken so long. The short answer is that Tibet’s situation is complicated and you don’t end centuries long traditions overnight, especially when relatively speaking your people just joined the modern age. The longer answer is too long for this post.

You can read details of the “historic move” in this article.

Elsewhere, Richard Gere says US must do more for Tibet. I agree. How about some friggin’ coverage on CNN and MSNBC for a start.

Thursday both Democrats and Republicans on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs urged President Obama to welcome His Holiness at the White House when he visits next month. The last time the Dalai Lama visited Washington, in October 2009, Obama did not receive him, but they did have an unofficial low-key meeting some four months later.

Because of Chinese objections, having the President of the United States receive the Dalai Lama at the White House has always been a political hot potato. When Clinton was in office, the Dalai Lama met with V.P. Gore and then Clinton joined them in a staged accidental meeting. Bush met the Dalai Lama, not at the White House, but at the Capitol, although to his credit, Bush treated him with the honor he deserved.

It’s been a while since I have posted an excerpt from my transcript of teachings the Dalai Lama gave in 1997 at UCLA on Nagarjuna’s Ratnavalli or “The Precious Garland.”

For newer readers of The Endless Further, I’ll mention again that I taped the entire four days of teachings, some 24 hours worth of tape, transcribed it by hand, and then made a second copy using an ancient writing device known as a typewriter. A rather tedious and time-consuming process, but it really helped to engrave these teaching on my mind. I approached the entire process as a form of practice.

When the Dalai Lama lectures on Buddha-dharma, he speaks in Tibetan and then his words are translated into various languages. This transcript then is of the English translator, and it’s verbatim, so in places it’s a bit redundant.

The Precious Garland entertains the question that if it is the case that things and events are in the final analysis devoid of intrinsic reality and they are empty of independent reality or essence, how is it that to our perceptions there is this multiplicity of appearances that seem to enjoy some sort of uniqueness and distinctiveness in their existences? The verses from 52 onward address that problem.

If the way in which we see the world reflects the true nature of reality, then the deeper that we probe the nature of reality, the clearer the perception of the world should become. However, that is not the case. Just as a mirage appears from far away, but the closer you come the mirage disappears. Similarly, with the perception of the world, the closer you come to the nature of reality, the more untenable it becomes.

As in the case of a mirage,
those far away who (view) the world
see it to be real just as it is,
but being signless, it is not seen by those nearby. 53

In verse 53, it says ‘those far away.’ Far away here is a reference to our ordinary perceptions of the world, which is far away from the actual nature of reality. As we approach close, that sort of perception is dismantled because the actual nature of reality is ‘signless’. These conceptual apparitions that we create do not really reflect the nature of reality.

A mirage seems to be water,
But it is not water, not is it real.
Likewise, the aggregates seem to be the Self,
but they are not the Self, nor are they even real. 54

(Seeing) a mirage, one might think,
‘That is water,’ and then go up to it;
if one still grasped (at the water, thinking,)
‘That water isn’t here,’ it would be quite stupid. 55

In verses 54 and 55, we see that when one first imagines the mirage to be water, then you approach and find that there is no water, you think that that there was water before but there isn’t any now. That is the wrong way of thinking. Rather, one should conclude that the initial perception of there being water was a mistake. Similarly, when one arrives at an understanding of emptiness, one should not feel that the intrinsic reality or essence that existed before has been eliminated or in some sense shown to be non-existent. Rather one should understand that the intrinsic reality that one perceives to begin with is not there at all.

The reference in verse 55 resonates a form of argument that we find in the Madhyamaka Kavatara (“Entrance into the Middle Way), when Candrakirti argues that if one’s understanding of emptiness is that emptiness negates the intrinsic reality, then the transcendent awareness of the Aryan Beings [This is a reference to those who have already become enlightened; “Aryan” literally means “noble.”] would be a cause for the destruction of the empirical world. Therefore, one denies it. So it is the same kind of argument.


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