Starting Over: The Dalai Lama’s Commentary on The Precious Garland Part I

In 1997, I was fortunate to be able to attend teachings given by the Dalai Lama on The Precious Garland (“Ratnavalli”) of Nagarjuna. I’ve presented a number of excepts from the transcript I made of the teachings, but I want to start over and post the commentary in the proper order. I’ve had not had a complete computer copy and the first six pages of the transcript have been missing for some time. I just recently found them. That’s what sparked the idea of presenting the transcript from the beginning. I think that once a week, for however long it takes, I will post an except.

As I have explained previously, I taped the entire four days of teachings (some 24 hours worth of tape), transcribed it by hand, and then transcribed it again, using an ancient writing device called a typewriter. Laborious. Tedious. Took almost a month, working full time. But when I was done, I knew these teachings well. That’s how I approached it, as a way to engrave the teachings into my heart and mind.

And here I am, typing it once again, this time into a computer.

The teachings were held at UCLA June 5-8, 1997. It was not the first, or last, time I had attended teachings given by the Dalai Lama. This one I was particularly keen on absorbing, since I was heavily into Nagarjuna at the time. Still am.

The setting was the Pauley Pavilion, which has a seating capacity of 12,829. I don’t believe that many folks attended, but somewhere around 8,000 sounds reasonable. As usual, the audience was an eclectic mix in terms of class, but not so much in ethnic diversity. About a third were Asian, mostly Chinese, and the rest were predominately white. It is always difficult to tell exactly how many are Buddhists or what their level of understanding might be, and for that reason, I am always curious as to just how much of what the Dalai Lama teaches the audience actually comprehends. I was probably more familiar with the subject material than most; even so, because he gives such detailed explanations, some of it was over my head.

I remember two attractive middle-aged women seated below me. They were expensively dressed, even though their attire was casual, with big shiny rings on their fingers and other jewelry that looked it cost a mint. They chitchatted with each other for most of session that first morning, which was a bit annoying, and then didn’t come back for the afternoon session. I figured that was the last we’d seen of those two. They had their glimpse of celebrity and now it was off to something important, like shopping on Rodeo Drive. Nevertheless, the next day they returned and sat through the remaining 3 days, listening attentively, and for the most part, silently. Just goes to show, c’est la vie, you never can tell.

So, here it is. The notes in brackets are mine. Not much deep stuff in today’s except, more in the nature of introductory remarks.  However, I’m including the verses that were recited.

By the way, as you may know, yesterday was the Dalai Lama’s 76th birthday. He is currently in Washington, D.C., where he’s leading the 2011 Kalachakra for World Peace, 11 days of chanting and meditation.

Tenzin Gyatso, His Holiness the Dalai Lama

Commentary on The Precious Garland of Nagarjuna

We are now beginning a series of teachings which will be starting today for 3 and 1/2 days. The first part of the series of teachings will be a lecture on The Precious Garland, Nagarjuna’s text, which I shall present as a lecture – more as a kind of introduction into the basic teachings of Buddhism. The 2nd part of the teachings will be an empowerment ceremony that I will be more of the sort of traditional religious teaching for which there is a requirement for the teaching to be conducted in the traditional format of the guru giving instructions to disciples.

At the beginning of the session today, the elders from the Theravada tradition will be doing a recitation of the Mangala Sutta, which I feel would be very auspicious.

[His Holiness and the Theravada monks, which were led by the late Ven. Havanpola Ratanasara, chant the Threefold Refuge formula, followed by the monks reciting the sutra. See below.]

I feel that it is a great honor that the lecture sessions are being opened with a recitation from the Pali Sutras [the early collection of “scriptures”, written in the Pali language], because I believe that when I reflect on the words of the meaning of the Pali sutras, particularly the one that has been recited here, which began with a salutation to the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha, I feel that this tradition of reciting these sutras has a very early origin in the history of Buddhism. And I believe that many of the sutras that we find in the Pali teachings, many of the ideas and thoughts, that are taught in the Pali Canon really are the foundation and the core of the Buddhist tradition and teachings.

Generally, when in a Buddhist congregation such as this, where there is a substantial representation of the Chinese Buddhist sangha, sometimes I request them to undertake the recitation of a really wonderful and very moving four-line prayer which I found in the Chinese tradition. But since there doesn’t seem to be a substantial number of Chinese sangha here, we will be doing the preliminary recitations in Tibetan. We will be doing the recitations that involve paying homage to the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha – then reflecting on the meaning of some of the sutras, particularly upon the fundamental teachings of the transient nature of life and existence – then this will be followed by a recitation of the Heart Sutra.

So, when we do the recitation, which will be in Tibetan, those who can reflect on the meaning of the sutras, and also, of course, the Prajna-paramita (Heart) Sutra, should not only join in the recitation, but also reflect on the meaning of the words, those who cannot do the recitations by heart, you can reflect on the qualities and the great kindness of the Buddha, the Buddha’s body, speech and mind. And when the congregation engages in the recitation of the Heart Sutra, you can join in by reflecting upon the meaning of emptiness, the teachings of emptiness, as far as your understanding.

[His Holiness then leads the chanting]

We will now recite verses of praise to Nagarjuna, composed by Konchog Tenpey Dronmey – it’s on page 93 of your book. We will do the recitation in English, so you can join in. Let’s do the recitation now.

Light of Centrism – In Praise of the Glorious Protector Nagarjuna

The Dharma that the Victor [Buddha] taught
is for the sake of shining light upon
beings enveloped in the darkness (of ignorance):
hence, victory to the lamp, Nagarjuna!

Beings are exhausted by the proliferation
of perceptions through perceiving. You lead
them to the bliss of peace, the imperceptible;
as such, you are the Great Guide.

The perfection of wisdom and the higher training in wisdom
are the supreme aspects of the wisdom sutras.
Hence, you composed the supreme wisdom treatises –
among all teaching-holders, you are the guru.

Your intellect became fully expanded, eliminating
dark confusion about all sciences and all that can be known;
hence you are called “Nagarjuna, the second Buddha.
Even the Essentialists bow down to you.

Translated by John Dunne and Sara McClintock

[There are nineteen more verses, which restate Nagarjuna’s teachings on emptiness and transcendental wisdom. Rather than post the entire text here, I will save it for another post on another day, especially since some of the material is covered in the Dalai Lama’s lecture. According to the commemorative book, The Light of Centrism was composed by the monk Konchog Te Npey Dronmey (1762-1824) at the request of Halha Rabjampa Sangey.]

The Dalai Lama: Normally when I give teachings on any of the texts of what is know as the Six Analytic Corpus of Nagarjuna, there is another set of prayers which I recite, but we are not going to do that today.

[He is referring to the “Twenty Verse Praise from The Precious Garland”, which will be included in another section of the lecture.]

To be continued . . .

Three Refuges and Mangala Sutta

Buddham saranam gacchami
Dhammam saranam gacchami
Sangham saranam gacchami

I go to the Buddha for refuge.
I go to the Dhamma for refuge.
I go to the Sangha for refuge.

Mangala Sutta

Thus have I heard. On time the Exalted One was living near Savatthi, in Jeta’s Grove, the monastery of Anathapindika. Then, in the middle of the night, a certain deity astounding beauty, lighting up the entire Jeta’s Grove, approached the Exalted One. Drawing near, she paid homage to the Exalted One and stood to one side. Standing thus, the deity addressed the Exalted One in verse:

“Many deities and men have pondered on blessings, desiring their well-being. Tell me the blessings supreme.”

[The Buddha:]

“To not associate with the foolish, to be with the wise, to honor the worthy ones, this is a blessing supreme.

To reside in a suitable location, to have good past deeds done, to set oneself in the right direction, this is a blessing supreme.

To be well spoken, highly trained, well educated, skilled in handicraft, and highly disciplined, this is a blessing supreme.

To be well caring of mother, of father, to look after wife and children, to engage in a harmless occupation, this is a blessing supreme.

Outstanding behavior, blameless action, open hands to all relative and selfless giving, this is a blessing supreme.

To cease and abstain from evil, to avoid intoxicants, to be diligent in virtuous practices, this is a blessing supreme.

To be reverent and humble, content and grateful, to hear the Dhamma at the right time, this is a blessing supreme.

To be patient and obedient, to visit with spiritual people, to discuss the Dhamma at the right time, this is a blessing supreme.

To live austerely and purely, to see the noble truths, and to realize nibbana, this is a blessing supreme.

A mind unshaken when touched by the worldly states, sorrowless, stainless, and secure, this is a blessing supreme.

Those who have fulfilled all these are everywhere invincible; they find well-being everywhere, theirs is a blessing supreme.

Bhavana Society Translation


The Dalai Lama’s Commentary on The Precious Garland of Nagarjuna Part II

Here is the second part of my transcript of the Dalai Lama’s commentary on the Precious Garland of Nagarjuna. My motivation to present these teachings is solely to share them with others. I got quite a lot of out this commentary and I want others to be able to benefit from them as well.

As some of you may know, the Dalai Lama has a slew of books that have been published under his name. Quite a few of these are merely polished transcripts of teachings he’s given, such as this one. However, as far as I know this particular commentary has not been published. If it were, then out of respect for the Dalai Lama, I would not post the transcript publicly.

Since that’s not the case, and considering that the Dalai Lama is a historic figure, I believe posting the transcript is in the public interest. I might also mention that I have no advertising here and do not make any profit from this blogs operation. So, I am presenting this transcript as a public service due to its historical importance.

In this section, the Dalai Lama offers some standard remarks that he has made at nearly all his teachings that I have attended. These remarks speak to a certain prejudice that I have encountered often with Asian Buddhists, particularly teachers. There are some who feel that Westerners will never be able to truly “get” Buddhism. In several recent posts, I have suggested how we in the West could improve our understanding of the flavor of Buddhist philosophy. Nonetheless, these Asian are correct, in one sense. We will never grasp Buddhism in the same way they do. We will get it in our own way. Just as the Chinese understood dharma a bit differently than Indian Buddhists, and in the way the Japanese understood it differently from the Chinese.

That’s just one reason why I could not disagree more with some of the Dalai Lama’s comments here. As you will read, he is saying that it is more suited to the temperament and inclinations of Western people to follow the teachings of our own traditional religion. I want to have a John McEnroe moment here and ask, “Are you serious?” I consider my “traditional” religion to be a fairy tale. In fact, I think it’s possible to construct a reasonable argument that it is irresponsible to encourage people to continue such belief. In any case, His Holiness does leave a door open for those of us in the West with different temperaments, but it seems like a rather small opening.

Finally, let me also mention that this is not a “polished” transcript. This was copied verbatim and that accounts for some of the jumbled, run-on sentences. Hopefully, that does not greatly interfere with reading.

Tenzin Gyatso, His Holiness the Dalai Lama

Commentary on The Precious Garland of Nagarjuna

June 5-8, 1997

Part II

Among the audience here, those who practice Buddhism, when you listen to the lecture you should listen with the motivation of having reaffirmed your Refuge in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. Also to reinforce your compassion towards all sentient beings and your aspiration to attain Buddhahood for the sake of all sentient beings.

Generally speaking, on this world there are so many major religious traditions and I feel that is more suited for individuals of different societies and cultures to follow their own traditional religion. For example, in the United States, since the European settlers came here and formed the dominate membership of the American community, the traditional religion of the United States is the Judeo-Christian tradition. I feel that for the majority of the American people, it is better, and also, in fact, more suited to the temperament and inclinations to follow the teachings of your own traditional religion. However, out of many people there might be a few individuals who, due to some factors, it is possible that, although you have been brought up in a community and culture where there is a traditional religion, for some reason you have never been able to develop any sense of an affinity or any faith in the traditional forms of practice. Then such an individual might at some times find a greater attraction or closer inclination to other forms of religious teachings, like Buddhism. In any case, it is surely your choice and it is also up to you to adopt certain forms of teaching, such as Buddhism. However, it is very important that one you adopt such teachings that you never succumb to the tendency of being overly critical of one’s own traditional religion.

Such individuals, even after having had, as a result of one’s own personal investigation, come to the conclusion that Buddhist teachings are more suited to one’s temperament and inclination – then it is very important to insure that you never lose respect and reverence to other religious traditions. That is something to bear in mind.

The teachings that are given now are a commentary on Nagarjuna’s Precious Garland. The teachings have been requested by Geshe Gyeltsen [a Tibetan teacher centered in Long Beach, CA who passed away in 2009]. I myself have received transmission on these teachings from [name unclear] Rinpoche, who in turn received it from [name unclear] Rinpoche, and beyond that I cannot trace the lineage. It is something that perhaps you could find out. (laughter)

The point is that in the Tibetan tradition there is a general perception that when one receives a commentary or a particular text – if you receive a commentary from someone who is part of an unbroken lineage of transmission, tracing back to the original author of the text – there is an added dimension of spirituality. And it is also said that for some individuals, when you approach a Buddhist philosophical text – this is something that you may find difficult to understand at the initial stage – but as a result from receiving a commentary on a teaching which has an unbroken lineage of transmission, it is said to really enhance the understanding of the text so that you approach the text in a different light.

There has been a slight change in the program today, for although the morning session was to last up to 12 noon, there is quite a lot of members of the Sangha who observe the monastic precept of not eating after mid-day. So we will be ending the morning session at 11:30 and to make up for the half an hour lost, we are going to resume the afternoon session at 1:30, rather than 2 o’clock.

So, given that this morning’s session is going to be rather short, we are not going to have a question and answer session. But in the afternoon, either at the beginning or the end, we will seek to have an half an hour for question and answer.

Tomorrow, I will post another except in which the teachings on The Precious Garland begin in earnest.


The Dalai Lama’s Commentary on The Precious Garland of Nagarjuna Part 3

After having offered some introductory remarks, the Dalai Lama now begins his commentary on Nagarjuna’s Precious Garland in earnest.

The “Middle Way” school mentioned here is the Madhyamaka (Middle Way) stream of philosophy based on Nagarjuna’s teachings. In terms of doctrine, all the schools of Tibet are within the Madhyamaka tradition.

The Dalai Lama – Commentary on The Precious Garland of Nagarjuna

June 5-8, 1997

Part III

We will now begin with a reading from the text. I think that all of you have a copy of the commemorative volume. The name of the text is The Precious Garland, an Epistle to a King. There is a salutation from the translator, in Tibetan, which reads, “Homage to all Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.” And the actual homage from the text itself is in the first verse, which reads,

Completely free from all faults
and adorned with all good virtues,
the sole friend of all beings –
to that Omniscient One I bow.

The Precious Garland was composed by the Indian master Nagarjuna. Nagarjuna was not only a great, accomplished scholar but also he was a highly realized adept. Someone who was revered and admired universally by the Indian Buddhist world and also by masters who may have shared a philosophical persuasion of a different kind, such as the Mind-Only school, and so on. But so far as the admiration and reverence of Nagarjuna and the condition of his contribution to Buddhism in India, he was universally acknowledged. The Precious Garland is part of a class of texts, composed by Nagarjuna, known as the “Six Analytic Corpus.” Within that, the most fundamental text is of the Middle Way school is, of course, the Madhyamaka-karika [“Fundamentals of the Middle Way”], and the “Ratnavali” or Precious Garland is part of that category.

Of course, some people count Five Analytic Corpus and the Precious Garland separately. Regardless of whether you count the “Ratnavalli” as part of the “Six Analytic Corpus” or not, the uniqueness of the “Ratnavali” lies in the fact that it not only addresses many of the fundamental philosophical issues of the Middle Way philosophy, but also it deals with many aspects of the skillful means [Skt. Upaya; Jp. Hoben] and the dimensions of the Buddhist Path. In addition, the Precious Garland was explicitly written in the form of a letter, in the form of advice, and deals with many issues, such as compassion, social justice and so on. So, in that sense, the Precious Garland, as a text, is very unique in the Buddhist literature.

If you look at some of the sections of the text, particularly the sections on the two selflessnesses, the no-self of person and the no-self of phenomena, the way in which the concepts are introduced and taught in this text, I personally find not only to be very profound, but when you relate them to your own understanding and personal experience, I find them to be highly penetrating and also effective. Similarly, when you read the section that talk about causes and conditions for obtaining certain qualities of the Buddha and also the accumulation of merit – there is also a section that talks about the Four Limitless Practices – and when I reflect on those points, I find them not only deeply inspiring but also a tremendous source of courage.

So, this is from my own personal experience. I feel that the Precious Garland is not only very profound as a Buddhist scripture but also something that has direct relevance to our day-to-day life, our day-to-day experience.

Although I don’t claim to have – it is not only me, but also a lot of people here when they approach a text like this, we tend to deal with the text in a manner that reflects a real arrogance that we are actually, in a sense, more skilled and have greater intelligence than the text. So we don’t follow each and every word that is taught in the text. Rather, we select what we think is the most appropriate to us and then feel that we have really penetrated the insights that are taught in the text. But I feel that when I read and reflect on the meanings of the teachings of this text and the teachings found in Shantideva’s Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life – when I compare the two, I find this combined effort deeply moving and also very effective.

So when I read the text, where there are sections that I feel is important, I will explain the meaning of the text.

Now, when we reflect on the meaning of the first verse that pays homage and makes salutations to the Buddha, immediately a question arises: whether it is possible at all to realize such a state? A state that is utterly free from all faults, a state that is said to be where all the positive aspects of our psyche or nature have been effective. Also a state where the individual has attained the highest perfections of universal compassion. So immediately the question arises as to whether or not the attainment of such a state is possible.

So, one could say right there is a need for understanding of the basic tenets of Buddhism.

Since a reflection of the first verse demands an introduction to the basic teachings of Buddhism – however, I feel that the majority of the audience here are already familiar with some of the lectures I have given on the introduction to Buddhism – and given that now we live in an age where there are technological facilities which makes it possible for these lectures to be immediately available in the form of audiotapes or transcripts or books and so on . . . So, I feel that the majority of the audience here is already familiar with the basic ideas of Buddhism, so, in one sense, there is no need to repeat.

I will approach the question of the introduction of basic teachings and concepts from, perhaps, a different angle. Let us now reflect on our own present state of mind. Say that I, as a lecturer, and you, as the listener – we are all united in certain fundamental facts of existence as human beings, such as we all share this instinctive thought of “I’m here, I’m doing this.” There is a sense of self-awareness in all of us and similarly, all of us are united by the fundamental fact that we have certain motivations, our human actions are motivated by certain intentions. These mental events that we all posses, we can label them as states of mind or consciousness. But if we probe deeper, what is this consciousness? What is this mental event? We know that it is the agent with which we cognize the world. It is the agent through which we know things. In some sense, one could say that consciousness or mind is that which enables us to be aware, which enables us to know and see, so it is a form of potential.

Now, if we go further and try to observe the process of this mental event and consciousness, we know that from our own personal experience that there is a capacity to go through rapid change. Change in the form of various modifications and also a change in the sense of being able to focus, to be able to direct focus on different objects. This indicates that we call consciousness and what we call mind is a dynamic process, it’s not a static entity.

Even in the more absorbed states of mind, say in a meditative state of mind, there we feel there is a degree of stability, a sense of absorption into a particular state of mind. Even in that state, although on the surface it seems as if the mind is not in a dynamic process – it is in some sense stationary, fully focused on a chosen object – even in that state, if you probe deeper, you will find that there is indeed a process going on. There are stages when you are applying certain antidotes to insure, to protect that your level of concentration does not diminish as a sort of distraction or as a sort of lowering down of the intensity of your focus. Similarly, you will also find stages when you mind is able to remain in a state of equalization, where there is no need for such applications or vigilance. So these processes themselves, even in levels or states of meditative mind – even within these states there is a constant process that one is going through.

Now if we observe the world of our consciousness, the world of mental phenomena, we will see that within all categories of our mental world, there are many states of consciousness, which are very obvious to us. They are contingent upon the physical and psychological conditions. For example, like all of our sensory perceptions, such as the visual or the audio and so on, they arise as a result of interaction between our sense organs and also the objective conditions, visual form, signs, and so on. Similarly, they are also what can be called mental consciousness, which may require such immediate external conditions and physical organs for their arisal. But even then, they can be said to be contingent upon our physical basis. One could say that our human consciousness – that we have a human consciousness – it is the consciousness of a human being in the sense that it is contingent upon the human body that we have and also given that, as human beings, we have certain psychological constitutions, according to the Tibetan tradition, psychological conditions described in terms of energy, channels, and also vital essential elements. Such psychological constitutions then give rise to a certain kind of mind or consciousness, which is called human consciousness, because they are contingent upon the human body.

However, that is not to say that these – rather, let us say, that if we think deeply we find that although the occurrence of thoughts and many emotional states are dependent upon a physical base, such as a body or a brain, this is not to say that these emotional states and thoughts are reducible to states of the body. Just because their occurrence or arisal is dependent upon physical conditions, there is not enough evidence or proof to conclude that they are reducible to a physical state. For example, one could argue that, in the case of human beings, the occurrence of anger, hatred, attachment within our mind, and so on, require physical conditions such as the human body, certain brain activity, and so on. However, the existence of such activities doers not guarantee the occurrence of these states within our brain. For example, as human beings we all posses the potential for these strong emotions, but it is only on occasional stages within our daily life that we have conscious manifest forms of emotion. Also, we may posses the potential for the occurrence of these emotional states, yet no single person is angry for 24 hours a day, no person is gripped by a strong attachment or greed 24 hours a day. This indicates that although there are emotional states that are dependent upon physical conditions, they are not identical with the physical state, which gives rise to them. This suggests, in a profound sense, that they are distinct from the physical evidence.

To be continued . . .


The Dalai Lama’s Commentary on The Precious Garland of Nagarjuna Part 4

More from my transcript of the Dalai Lama’s commentary Nagarjuna’s Precious Garland, held at UCLA June 5-8, 1997. If you need to catch up here is Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

In this excerpt, it is still the morning session of the first day of teachings and the Dalai Lama is discussing the nature of consciousness:

The Dalai Lama – Commentary on The Precious Garland of Nagarjuna

Part IV

I can say that from one’s own meditative experience, there is a possibility of getting a glimpse of what consciousness is. For example, when one enters into a deeper level of the mind by maintaining a degree of focus of consciousness, with an attempt to insure that your thoughts, or mind, is not swayed by thoughts of past memory or thinking about this happened or that happened, and also insuring that your mind is not swayed by thoughts of the future, such as anticipation or hopes or fears, rather trying to remain in the state of that present or just mere presence. Once you are slowly able to do that, then you notice that previously in your normal state of consciousness, your mind is always consumed with competing forces or thoughts and sensory perceptions, which are all to a large extent driven by object orientation, always outward-looking, driven by chasing after objects.

But if you are able to isolate your mind from such object oriented activity and insure that there is no thinking about the past or anticipation of the future, by trying to remain in the present, then gradually you are able to sense an absence, an emptiness, and that through persistent practice of meditation, slowly, I feel that you can begin to realize, experientially, what is this consciousness, which is the mere nature of experience and knowing, a form of luminous phenomena.

If you approach in this manner, I feel that there is a tremendous scope for discovery. I feel that at a certain point you will get, through your own experience, a sense of what conscious really is.

According to the Buddhist explanation, consciousness or mind is said to be non-obstructive – there’s no physical properties, there’s no shape, it’s colorless, and it is in the nature of mere experience. And it is the form of knowing and awareness. Also we find in Buddhism that there is an appreciation of the existence of different levels of reality. First of all, in Buddhism, whether or not that object or phenomena exists or not is considered from the point of view of whether the perception of an object or phenomena is a valid experience.

Considering this, it is possible that you can get a glimpse of emptiness, given that consciousness is a phenomena that is dynamic, that is in the form of a process. Consciousness is transient, it goes through various stages of changes and that, in itself, is an indication that it is a product of causes and conditions. In the case of human consciousness, or mind, if we trace the path of causation we find that within the category of causes there are certain types of causes which can be described as material causes or substantial causes which can be described as material causes or substantial causes. It is these factors that actually turn into the phenomena. There are other types of causes which are more corporative or contributing conditions. In terms of consciousness or mind, since it must posses a substantial cause, one could argue that the continuum, in terms of it’s origin, the continuum of the substantial cause must remain. Therefore, the substantial cause of any sense of consciousness must necessarily be consciousness, either in a manifest form or in potential.

So through this analysis of the causal origin of mental phenomena, then the question arises if there is a beginning point of whether the chain of causation goes on infinitely. If we were to choose the first option, which is to say that there must be a beginning at some point, then this immediately throws up conceptual problems about the status of the first cause – whether that first cause comes into being relatively or if it comes into being through self-causation. So, it throws up all sorts of conceptual problems.

The Buddhist option is to choose the second option of accepting the infinity of the causation. Although one could, in a conventional sense, accept or talk about origin or a beginning point of some particular object, like the objects of everyday life, but in a deeper sense, consciousness or mental phenomena are beginningless in terms of their continuum. And since this is the case, according to Buddhism, the continuum of the individual or person can said to be beginningless, because being or person is designated upon the continuum of consciousness or designated upon the phenomena that makes that person a knower or expeierencer or agent. Since the basis, which is the continuum of consciousness is beginningless, therefore the continuum of the individual being is also said to be beginningless. However, when we conceptualize it in individual situations, we can say that, in a conventional sense, there is a beginning and there is an end.

Therefore, let us take a break and try to end our empty stomachs.

End of the 1st morning session

To be continued . . .


The Dalai Lama’s Commentary on The Precious Garland of Nagarjuna Part 5

I hope you are finding this commentary by the Dalai Lama to be of interest. Just to remind you, this is a verbatim transcript, so in places it is a bit redundant. As far as I can tell, when he gives teachings, the Dalai Lama speaks extemporaneously. I’ve included his asides along with short descriptions of the action taking place, which hopefully will give you a sense of the atmosphere.

This is a long section so I will cut to the chase and merely add that in this excerpt, the Dalai Lama discusses suffering and happiness, the Four Noble Truths, karma, and motivation.

The Dalai Lama – Commentary on The Precious Garland of Nagarjuna

June 5-8, 1997

Part V

1st Day – Afternoon session

The second half of the day’s teachings were opened with sutra chanting in Japanese, led by Rev. Noriaki Ito, Abbot of Higashi Hongwanjii Temple in Los Angeles.

I would like to express my appreciation to the members of the Japanese Buddhist sangha for their wonderful recitation. I was not able to follow the meaning of the verses, though. [Laugher.]

Now, I will resume our discussion where we left in the morning session.

We were talking about beginninglessness and the continuum of consciousness and also the continuum of the individual being, which is designated upon the basis of this beginningless continuum of consciousness or mind.

However, in the Buddhist schools of thought, as far as whether or not there is a possibility to an end of this continuum, all Buddhists schools converge on the point that it is beginningless. But, as far as whether or not there is a cessation or an end to the individual, which is designated in the continuum of consciousness, there are divergent opinions among the Buddhist thinkers on this point.

In any case, as human beings or as sentient beings, we all posses this fundamental fact of our own existence, which is the ability to discern or perceive things. And similarly, as human beings, we all have the natural capacity to experience pain and pleasure and the natural capacity for feelings. Within the realm of feeling or sensation, we can, generally speaking, distinguish between two principle forms: those types of feelings which are pleasure or joy, and those other types of experience that are undesirable in the sense that when they occur within us it creates a sense of disturbance or affliction.

So, as human beings, as sentient beings, we are all naturally drawn towards happiness. We wish happiness and we wish to overcome suffering. We would like to avoid suffering. That is a natural disposition we all have.

And within the sphere of joyful experience, or pain and pleasure, one could say there are certain types of experiences which may be uncomfortable or painful in the short term, but in the long run it could lead to greater experiences of joy and fulfillment. Within the category of pleasurable experience, there could be certain sorts of joyful states, which in the short run could, temporarily, lead to a sense of joy or pleasure, but in the long run, it could lead to dissatisfaction or suffering.

So, one could say that there are four types of sensation: ones that are joyful in the short term and also in the long term; ones that are joyful in the short term but lead to suffering in the long term; ones which are not only painful in the short term but also in the long term; and others which are temporarily painful but in the long term lead to more joyful or lasting happiness.

Whatever we feel in the nature of experience, if it is a painful experience, it is something we instinctively want to avoid. It is something that we do not desire. And if it is a joyful experience we are naturally drown toward it and it is something that we instinctively desire. So the point that I am making here is that, insofar as the basic disposition of wanting happiness and wishing to overcome suffering is concerned, it is something that is so fundamental to all of us as sentient beings, and each of us has a right to fulfill this basic aspiration. Not only do we wish to overcome suffering, but if there is any possibility at all of remaining in a state that is totally free of suffering, then it is natural that we seek such a goal.

Now it is crucial for us to think whether or not the attainment of such lasting states of freedom from suffering is possible, and it is something that can be understood only on the basis of examining where the root or the causes of happiness and suffering lie. It is only through causal analysis that one can address this question. So, when going through such a line of thinking, then the Buddhist teachings on the Four Noble Truths becomes immediately relevant to one’s question.

The procedure of the Four Noble Truths becomes established. That is, at the first stage one must recognize the nature of suffering, to define suffering as suffering. The second stage is to then seek where the suffering comes from, where does the principle source of suffering lie. And, when you find that, then the third stage is to investigate whether or not it is possible to bring about a cessation of suffering. Once you have gained real confidence about that, then the fourth stage is to search for the way, or path, by which one can attain the cessation of suffering.

Another fact of existence is that within the spectrum of reality you find that certain phenomena or certain facts – if their causes or origins have other opposing forces or antidotes and if through the development and enhancement of those opposing forces, can the origin of suffering be diminished? We know that such facts as suffering and pain, are in some sense, occasional, that they come into being as a result of certain conditions and they come into cessation as a result of certain causal positives.

At this point, all the lights on the stage go out, along with most of the lights of the hall. The audience beings to chuckle, but the Dalai Lama continues talking.

Let us take the example of physical illness, if there are opposing forces to the conditions that lead to certain symptoms, if there are antidotes or medications which can counteract the agents that cause the illness, then there is a real chance that one can bring about a cure for that particular illness. If there are no counter-forces or antidotes which counteract the agents that lead to illness, then it would mean that once we are sick there is no chance of a cure.

In fact, many of the tasks that we engage in our everyday lives, such as the plans that we have or projects we undertake – these everyday activities require a degree of comparison and investigation into the competition between different forces of opposing elements.

The lights come back on in the hall but not on the stage.

Earlier the lights were unequal and certain parts of the hall were quite dark, but now it’s completely qualitative. [Laugher.] Except for the stage. [More laugher.]

The Dalai Lama continues to speak in the dark for several minutes before all the lights are restored.

According to Buddhism, the causal process of pain/pleasure or happiness/suffering is understood in terms of a particular kind of process. Of course, many of our experiences have their conditions in circumstances that are really immediate. However, in Buddhism, there is an appreciation of deeper underlying causes that make these immediate conditions to give rise to a certain form of experience, be it painful or joyful. And if these underlying causes are certain potentials or dispositions planted in the psyche of the individual as a result of certain deeds committed by the individual in the past, and these deeds may not be present right now but they retain their potency, retain their potential and this potential then causes immediate conditions to create either a joyful or painful experience.

Among deeds or actions – we are talking about karma now – of the individual, there might be certain types of actions or deeds that may not be potentials, may not be motivated, but occur in context of certain situations only and these may not be important. But there are many other types of actions which are motivated by certain forms of thought or intention, and these can be said to be very important, in the sense that they are motivated action. Because of these distinctions, the Buddhist scriptures mention certain types of actions, certain kinds of karma, which are definitely coming into fruition, certain types of karma that are not determined.

Given that it is on the basis of intensity and the nature of the motivation that makes a kind of action important or powerful, motivation becomes very crucial in determining the nature of the action. Therefore, when we talk about motivation, we are talking about virtuous states of mind that create virtuous actions and non-virtuous states of mind which create negative actions. Given the cardinal importance of insuring the outcome of motivation, it becomes central in Buddhist practice to target the disciplining of mind as the key objective in one’s religious life.

More to come soon . . .