Principles of Disintegration

Today, another excerpt from my transcript of the Dalai Lama’s teachings on The Precious Garland by Nagarjuna given at UCLA in 1997.

As I’ve mentioned before, I taped the entire four days of teachings, some 24 hours worth of tape, transcribed it by hand (a rather tedious process), and then made a second copy using an ancient writing device known as a typewriter. Many of these primitive machines had a “white-out” function, which meant that if you made a typo, you could go back, sort of erase your mistake and then type over it. In this way, when you pulled the paper out of the typewriter, it would look as nearly perfect as it was possible for it to look.

Unfortunately, for me, the machine I used was not only primitive but defective. The white-out function didn’t work so good. And I always hate using that white-out paste. So, when I made a mistake (almost always at the bottom of the page), I had to start all over and retype the entire page.

Anyway, it took about a month to complete the entire process. I like to tell people that when I was done, I knew these teachings well. While that may be true, it does not necessarily mean that I remember them well. After all, that was thirteen years ago. So, I like to go back to this transcript from time to time (a lot recently) and savor these teachings once more, and because I feel that they are valuable, I present these excepts for you:

When the Buddha taught the Four Noble Truths , he taught the first truth, the truth of suffering, in terms of a description of the four characteristics of suffering; the first being impermanence. The fact that existence in the unenlightened state is transient and ultimately unsatisfying, there is emptiness (sunyata) and there is an absence of self-existence. When we talk about impermanence, in a conventional sense, one can have a rough understanding in terms of the continuum of life. But that is a coarse understanding of the transient nature.

The transient nature that is being taught here [in the Precious Garland] as one of the cardinal characteristics of existence, should be view in terms of its dynamic process, its every changing nature. It is momentary but even the individual instances themselves, the moment they come into being are in the nature of disintegration. It is not as if things come into being first and then some third condition or some other factor causes it to cease to exist. It’s not the case. Whatever phenomena comes into being, the very instance they are born, they are born with the full mechanism for their disintegration.

One could say that the very cause that creates them also creates the destruction of the phenomena, so that the seed or mechanism for disintegration is built within the phenomena itself. So now we apply that subtle meaning of impermanence to ourselves in an unenlightened form. We are then talking about an understanding of the causal process, where the two primary causes are negative karma and the afflictions of the mind. Underlying all of the afflictions of the mind is the cardinal root cause, which is described in the sutras as avidya or ignorance.

The very word avidya or ignorance in itself shows a state that one cannot really endorse as positive. It is said to be fundamentally confused, so, surely it cannot be a state that is desirable. The point is that if our existence  is said to be completely determined and conditioned by that fundamentally flawed way of viewing the world, how can there be scope for lasting freedom or lasting peace? Therefore, it becomes crucial to see whether avidya or fundamental ignorance can be eliminated.

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