It’s About Liberation

In his commentary on Nagarjuna’s Middle Way Treatise, Buddhapalita (470–550) stated that Nagarjuna‘s purpose for teaching pratitya-samutpada (dependent-arising) was to help all beings become liberated from suffering. Chandrakirti (600–c. 650) added a supplement to Buddhapalita’s commentary in which he reaffirmed Nagarjuna’s commitment to liberation. He said that Nagarjuna was not interested in debate or contention; rather he was only concerned about presenting teachings on reality. Chandrakirti further suggested if one guided by that understanding should expose the flaws in another’s views through the natural course of explaining the true aspect of all phenomena, there was no fault.

Nagarjuna stressed the importance of non-contentiousness (anupalambha). Buddha taught that the inclination to seize and cling was the chief source of conflict and suffering. One of the meanings, Nagarjuna gave to the Buddhist term upaya was “skillfulness of non-clinging.” That included being skillful at not clinging to views:

The wayfarer that can understand this does not seize, does not cling to anything, does not imagine that this alone is true (and not that). He does not quarrel with anyone. He can thus enjoy the flavor of the nectar of the Buddha’s doctrine. Those teachings are wrong which are not of this nature (i.e., non-contentious and accommodative). If one does not accommodate other doctrines, does not know them, does not accept them, he indeed is the ignorant. Thus, then, all those who quarrel and contend are devoid of wisdom. Why? Because every one of them refuses to accommodate the views of others. That is to say, there are those who say that what they themselves speak is the highest, the real, the pure truth, that the doctrines of others are words, false and impure.” *

This what Nagarjuna called “The State of Prajna-paramita” – the state of transcendent wisdom, freedom from conflict, the state of mind where all contention ceases. The term anupalambha, used here in the sense of “non-contentiousness”, literally means “non-observing, non-perception”, and refers to the absence of preferences and distinctions (see Seng-ts’an’s Verses on the Heart Mind).

To return to the point made by Buddhapalita and Chandrakirti, we can expand it to say that the purpose of any Buddhist teaching is liberation. The reason for discussing the true aspect of all phenomena is not to present an explanation of reality but to remove the causes for seizing and clinging.

In this way, pratitya-samutpada, the interdependency of all things, has a very practical application. In a recent book on a text by Tsongkhapa (1357-1419), teacher of the First Dalai Lama, English monk Graham Woodhouse translates pratitya-samutpada as “dependent relativity.” He notes,

An object’s dependence on causes and conditions and its dependence on the viewpoint of the observer are just a couple of relationships included in the term dependent relativity. A deep acquaintance with these factors – which can be gained through meditation – will help us to handle our own temper and other’s unreliability with confidence.” **

Nonstop contention, antipathy toward the views of others, and discrimination against teachings and practices not one’s own, does nothing to relieve suffering. It only invites suffering. The diverse teachings of Buddhism are like rivers that flow into the one ocean we call “dharma.” With so many arteries feeding into this ocean, there is enough water to provide sustenance for all people and plenty of different tastes to savor.

I try to stay away from criticism on this blog, in favor of more constructive commentary. Occasionally, I do feel the need to point out something of concern, things that could use some light shed upon them, as I did in my post some months ago about Nichiren and the Soka Gakkai. One of my concerns in that case was exactly what I am talking about here, the tendency in the Nichiren tradition to criticize and dismiss other forms of Buddhism. And I felt I did that in the natural course of explaining dharma, in the manner discussed by Chandrakirti.

But I should also mention that I don’t consider this blog as a forum for me to explain anything, rather I am presenting and restating the explanations of others, teachers who have far more insight and wisdom that I possess. I have nothing particularly original to offer.

There are some on the scene today who might view the teachers whose work I mention frequently as purveyors of New-Agey Self-Help nonsense and Comfort-Food Buddhism. But much of what these folks dismiss are things that scientists and psychologists are proving with new research. For instance, BBC News reports a new study that “suggests being kind might actually be good for your mental health.”

Good mental health sounds like a key factor in relieving suffering. That’s why I am proud to fare on the way of liberation, and say, let’s have a little more kindness, and less contention.

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* K.Venkata Ramanan, Nagarjuna’s Philosophy as Presented in the Maha-prajnaparamita-sastra, Motilal Banarsidass, 2002

** Graham Woodhouse and Losang Gyatso, Tsongkhapa’s Praise for Dependent Relativity, Wisdom Publications Inc, 2012


2 thoughts on “It’s About Liberation

  1. Offering Comfort-Food Buddhism is not a bad thing. I see a lot of intellectualism in Zen, much to my distaste. I offer the ideas of mindfulness to those that might not otherwise experience or read it. It doesn’t have to be a koan or some hard to understand puzzle.

    The lessons of Buddhism can all be taught without even mentioning a single Buddhist text. Offering the ideas and principles in easy to understand methods that are accessible to a wide audience are necessary to keep the vow to save all beings. Buddha didn’t study Buddhism, he studied truth.

    1. Well said, Dan. There’s nothing wrong with intellectualism. Heavy doses can be, well, too heavy at times. And of course, to be an intellectual, you need to be able to make your presentation coherent.

      As far as Zen goes, I suppose you are right, but simplicity has always seemed to me one of the hallmarks of the Zen style that I find attractive.

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