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


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