The Dalai Lama’s Commentary on The Precious Garland of Nagarjuna Part 15

In this selection from my manuscript, the Dalai Lama delves into a heavy subject: the nature of reality. He discusses why, if things are deemed to be unreal, they seem to us very real. He also provides some crucial guidance about how we should understand emptiness (sunyata).

Tenzin Gyatso, The Dalai Lama – Commentary on The Precious Garland of Nagarjuna

June 5-8, 1997

Part XIV

One question that can be raised is, if things and events do posses a production caused by their conditionality, then what is the nature of that cause and what is the relationship between that cause and the thing caused? The nature of the cause is then examined in terms of whether it is simultaneous to the result or if it is prior to the result, or if it is distinct from the thing that is produced. Of course, such forms of analysis is taking place from the perspective of ultimate analysis. So a cause that is prior to the object cannot be said to produce an effect, because at the point where the effect takes place, the preceding cause has already ceased and if the cause is said to simultaneous, again, it cannot be causation because simultaneous events cannot cause simultaneous effects and so on.

Therefore [this verse] reads that:

A cause that occurs before (its effect) or simultaneously (with it)
is not really a cause at all,
because (such causes) are not accepted conceptually,
and production is not accepted ultimately.

So this suggests that causation is something that can be maintained on the conventional level but not in the ultimate sense. What this suggests is the understanding of causation in terms of mere conditionality, in terms of dependent origination. So, in [the next] verse, The Precious Garland then gives us two examples of dependent phenomena – one is dependent in terms of dependent designation and one is dependent in terms of dependent causation:

Where this is, that arises,
just as when there is ‘long,’  there is ‘short.’
When this is produced, that arises,
just as, when a lamp’s flame is produced, light arises.

“Where there this is, that arises,” – this is the general principle of dependent origination. The examples are, just as there is long there is short. This is an example of dependent designation. The idea is that when we talk about something being long or short, there is no independent existing longness or shortness, rather the very concept of “long and short” are relative concepts, and it is only in relation to certain frames of reference that we can maintain notions of long and short.

Then the next two lines gives an example of dependent origination in terms of causation. Through understanding of dependent origination, one can understand the existence of the reality of phenomena can only be maintained at the level of conventional truth and only in terms of dependence upon other factors. Nothing, no event enjoys a status of existence that is its own, that is autonomous.

But when there is no short,
there is no intrinsically existent long.
and when a lamps (flame) is not produced,
the light also does not arrive.

Seeing that an effect arises from a cause,
one does not claim that (causality) is nonexistent,
having provisionally accepted (causality) in accord with
the way it arises for the world from conceptual fabrication.

(Ultimate causality is) refuted; it would be absolutistic
to accept that it has not arisen from conceptual fabrication
and that it is truly real, just as it is. (But its ultimate reality) is not (accepted).
Thus, not relying on the two (extremes), one is liberated.

A form that is viewed from afar
is seen clearly by those nearby;
if a mirage were actually water,
why would those nearby not see it?

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 following verses address that problem.

If the way in which we see the world reflects the true nature of reality, then the deeper we probe the nature of reality, the clearer the perception of the world should becomes. 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.

In [this] verse, 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, nor is it real.
Likewise, the aggregates seem to be the Self,
but they are not the Self, nor are they even real.

(Seeing) a mirage, one might think,
“This 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.

In [these] verses, 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 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 [this last] verse resonates a form of argument that we find in the Madhyamaka Kavatara [“Entrance into the Middle Way] where 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.

To be continued . . .

To read previous selections from this teaching, click on the category “The Precious Garland” to the right above.


The Dalai Lama’s Commentary on The Precious Garland of Nagarjuna Part 14

In this section, there is mention of higher and lower rebirths. Some readers may not accept the idea of rebirth in the Buddhist context, or at least may have doubts about it. In those cases, the reader may wish to view to interpret the teachings in this way: lower rebirths correspond to having a low condition of life in the present time, a state of life dominated by suffering, and higher rebirths would correspond to higher conditions of life, a state of life where one experiences a certain amount of freedom from suffering and liberation from the destructive afflictions of the mind. The idea behind the doctrines discussed here work just as well with this sort of viewpoint.

Tenzin Gyatso, The Dalai Lama – Commentary on The Precious Garland of Nagarjuna

June 5-8, 1997

Part XIV

Let’s return to the text:

Having listened to this Dharma
that puts an end to suffering,
the undiscerning, afraid of the fearless state,
are terrified because they do not understand.

In this verse, The Precious Garland states that in actual fact emptiness is the state of fearlessness. Therefore, one should not develop a sense of fear towards it, rather a sense of joy. The reason why the childish feel terrified, sees emptiness as an object of fear, is because of their ignorance. When one doesn’t understand the nature of emptiness, it becomes a source of fear.

In the next verse, The Precious Garland is arguing with the Buddhist essentialists, particularly the Vaibhasika’s [a “Hinayana” school] who maintain that the attainment of nirvana, on one hand constitutes cessation of the continuum of consciousness. So The Precious Garland is arguing that if this is the understanding of nirvana or liberation, then since you do not fear the concept of total cessation of the individual in the continuum of consciousness, then how can you be afraid of the concept of emptiness? Emptiness, or nirvana, from the Madhyamaka standpoint is the state where all the negative afflictions of the mind are purified or calmed within the state of emptiness of the mind. Therefore, if the Vaibhaskika’s maintain that nirvana or liberation constitutes a total cessation, then why are they afraid of the notion of emptiness, where all the afflictions of the mind are eliminated?

In liberation there is neither Self nor aggregates:*
if you are intent upon that kind of liberation,
why are you not pleased with the teaching that
refutes Self and aggregates here as well?

*[Aggregates: Skt. Skandhas; lit. heap or bundle – the five aggregates that make up the individual: corporeal form, feeling, perception, impulse, and consciousness.]

The point about liberation where there is no self or aggregates is that because according to the Madhyamaka understanding, nirvana constitutes the total elimination of all the delusions of the mind within the sphere of emptiness, so from this view of nirvana, no duality can be maintained. Therefore, no self or aggregates or perception can be maintained. All the dualities are calmed or dissolved into a state of emptiness. This is further developed in the next verse:

Nirvana is not even non-existent,
so how could it be existent?
Nirvana is said to be the cessation
of the notions of existence and non-existence.

So this develops the Mahayana understanding of the concept of Dharmakaya, which is the state where all the dualities dissolve into the sphere of emptiness. All forms of dualities, such are subject and object, such as aggregates, and also emptiness, itself, is dissolved here – so therefore, the Madhyamaka school talks about the emptiness of emptiness, as well.

In brief, a nihilistic view
is the belief that karma has no effect,
it is a nonmeritorious, and (it leads to)
low rebirth; it is said to be a false view.

In brief, a realist view
is the belief that karma has an effect.
it is meritorious, and (it leads to)
high rebirth; it is said that it is a proper view.

Through knowledge, one subdues the (notions of) existence
and non-existence, and one thus transcends sin and merit.
Hence, one is liberated from high and low rebirths –
this is what the holy one says.

Here, The Precious Garland is responding to a possible objection against the Madhyamaka concept of emptiness, because this concept rejects any independent existence or objective reality, it is possible for someone to understand it to entail [the rest of this sentence was lost when the tape was changed] . . . the rejection of independent existence does not imply the rejection of everything at the conventional level, therefore it is not a nihilistic view. A nihilistic view involves the total rejection, even in the conventional sense of things and events. Nihilism involves a rejection of the very principle of dependent origination and causation.

Then it [the text] states that sometimes it is possible, because of the principles of dependent origination and causation that someone may infer that there may be some intrinsic essence or some kind of objective reality.

Nagarjuna accepts the possibility that such absolutist interpretations of dependent origination can function as a basis to act in a positive way, thus creating karma for attaining a higher rebirth. Therefore even virtous actions can take place as a result in such a belief. However, if one understand these principles in terms of conditionality with no objective inherently real basis, then one will be able to not only undercut the commitment of negative actions, but also the very karma that gives rise to rebirth in the cyclic existence. Thus the understanding of emptiness acts as an antidote to undermine the process of rebirth in the cyclic existence. When dependent origination is viewed in the correct way, then that understanding can act as a counterforce against both the extremes of nihilism and absolutism.

Seeing that production has a cause,
one transcends (the notion) of non-existence.
Seeing that cessation has a cause,
one does not accept (the notion of) existence.

Because things come into being as a result of causes and conditions, one can transcend the nihilistic tendency to accept that they are non-existence. Because cessation comes into being as a result of causes and conditions, one transcends the possibility of a defined existence.

To be continued . . .


The Dalai Lama’s Commentary on The Precious Garland of Nagarjuna Part 13

The Chinese government recently passed a new law that bans Tibetan lamas, or monks, from reincarnating without Chinese government approval. The Chinese government wants to have the right to approve reincarnations of living Buddhas or senior religious figures in Tibetan Buddhism.

This is so ridiculous, and utterly petty, on the part of the Chinese. You would think a world super-power might have better things to do than go around “approving” reincarnations and bickering with a 76 year-old monk. Yet, there may be a method to their madness. After all, it does divert attention away from the Chinese government’s ongoing campaign in Tibet of ethnic cleansing through population transference and their reign of violence and terror.

The ruling has forced the Dalai Lama to make a formal pronouncement on the subject of his reincarnation. He says that when he reaches the age of ninety, he will decide for himself about the matter.

Despite his well-constructed argument in favor of reincarnation, logical from the particular point of view of Tibetan Buddhism, I would not be a bit surprised if personally the Dalai Lama didn’t have a more practical approach to the subject. For one thing, he is an astute scholar of Buddhist philosophy and he must realize that “reincarnation” does not comport with Buddhist teachings, which deal with the subject of “rebirth,” a somewhat different sort of thing. But I think his “reincarnation statement” is more of a political statement, using reincarnation as an expedient. He may be retired as head of state, but he is in no way removed from politics. As long he is Beijing’s rhetorical crosshairs, he’s in the game.

Were it not for the Chinese government, the Dalai Lama might have made a pronouncement of another kind. Several years ago, during a visit to the U.S., he made quite a point of denying his status as a “living Buddha.” It was a courageous thing to do. For many years, it has been the Dalai Lama’s special status that alone has held the Tibetan community together. By undercutting the mystique surrounding him, and which he is reportedly uncomfortable with, he gambled that his people and the world would see and accept him for the human being he is, and not as some sort of living god in the way others and his tradition has proclaimed. In this way, he helped move his culture in a more modern direction.

I suspect that Tenzin Gyatso would much prefer having a reasonable and fair dialogue with the Chinese over the issues, but since, from the Chinese side, it doesn’t seem possible, he feels compelled to perpetuate some of these old myths and superstitions. By putting a “final” decision off for fourteen years, he buys some time, for the situation to become diffused, or perhaps for both sides to grow up. But, don’t be surprised if someday, he ends up disavowing or radically changing this reincarnation message.

In the meantime, the Tibetans have the right to believe in any damn fool thing they wish. The Chinese have taken everything else from them. You can’t begrudge them trying to hold on to their idea of reincarnation.

Tenzin Gyatso, The Dalai Lama – Commentary on The Precious Garland of Nagarjuna

June 5-8, 1997


We will begin the session. First, I would like to thank the members of the Chinese Sangha for their recitation . . . So we begin the questions.

Previously questions were submitted on pieces of paper, which the translator reads in English and then in Tibetan. Several of the questions concern virtuous and non-virtuous actions in which the Dalai Lama basically repeats the points about these kinds of actions he has already made in the previous session.

The next question deals with religious tolerance, in which he makes the following points: 1) He feels that is more appropriate for people to follow the religious tradition of their own society or culture, but there can be exceptions to that; 2) if someone does decide to change religious traditions, this should be done only after careful consideration; 3) the differences between traditions especially between Buddhism and other traditions, reflect the richness of spiritual diversity and should be a cause for greater admiration; 4) it is possible in the beginning for a person to be able to follow both the Buddhist path and the Judeo-Christian path, but at some point one must choose between one or the other, since the Buddhist concept of emptiness and the Judeo-Christian concept of a creator god do not really fit together; 5) this last point may hold for people in the Buddhist tradition also, since there are some concepts from the various schools that, also, do not fit together. But no matter what, one should never become overly critical of religious tradition different from your own.

Q: How can we maintain faith when so many of the lamas and teachers misbehave?

A: If one is able to cultivate a faith that is grounded in a personal understanding, then there is no possibility of developing such a faith towards a lama or teacher who misbehaves.

It is very important when you relate to someone who is a dharma-teacher to use your critical faculty to subject that person to close scrutiny, so that you are aware that if not all the qualifications that are commented on in the scriptures are not found in that person, at least most of them are found in that individual.

Sometimes people select a dharma-teacher or choose a particular tradition during a very low period in their personal life. When that happens, when someone chooses a person or a tradition because they have a need to lean on someone or they lack confidence or self-esteem, then there is a real vulnerability for abuse and when that dependence is placed on someone, given that you are not really able to use the critical facility, then there is scope for abuse and disappointment.

Often when it comes to choosing a spiritual path or a teacher, our tendency is to be hasty and take on anything that comes near you, like a dog who will eat any food that comes its way and that is not how we should approach the question of choosing the dharma or a teacher.

As I say to members of the media, that they should have as long noses as possible, sort of sniffing around [laughter] and also this is true for the students-you should be able to sniff around so that you can see from both the front and the back. Sometimes what happens is that things may look very impressive from the front, but from the back they may be sort of empty, just hollow. [laughter]

If a teacher is able to maintain a good kind of integrity, then, of course, that person is worthy of your admiration and trust.

Judging the integrity of a teacher should be approached in the context of the three higher trainings on morality, meditation and wisdom or insight. That is what the Buddha taught in the Tripitaka, the Three Spiritual Collections . . . So, this means that since I am also a teacher, you should subject me to such investigation as well. [laughter]

Q: What is the quickest and easiest way to realize selflessness or no-self?

Both the Dalai Lama and the audience laugh, but it soon tapers off into a rather long pause.

A: Let us be serious, now. Even though I cannot claim to have any high levels of realization in relation to the understanding of selflessness, the little realization that I have is a product of effort over thirty years of time and also –

It was difficult to follow the translator here. Even after listening to the tape repeatedly, I am unsure exactly who the Dalai Lama via the translator is referring to here, whether it is himself or some other lama.The Milarepa story below seems separate from this.

Translator: Tenzin Gyatso [?], after he met with [? name unclear] and he had a long discussion with him  . . . later, he happened to write a biography of [?] and in it Master [?] mentions . . . that the realizations that he attained were a result of intensive effort and commitment of over a period of forty years, and now he’s reached . . . a point where he is on the threshold of gaining a high liberation.

The Dalai Lama says something to the translator in Tibetan. There is another long pause. Silence. The Dalai Lama then begins to cry. He wipes his eyes. The entire hall is completely hushed. The Dalai Lama muttering to himself, continues to wipe his eyes.

Translator: His Holiness was saying that Milarepa [one of the most revered teachers in the history of Tibetan Buddhism], when Milarepa was giving his last instructions to one of his foremost disciples, sGam-go-pa, he showed his behind to him – ah, he showed the calluses on his behind that were the result of his long sitting in meditation and said, “Look that this! This is what I’ve endured. This is the mark of my practice.” And this is how, you must remember that the realization of dharma requires effort and commitment –

The Dalai Lama breaks in, speaking for the first time in English:

So don’t think easiest, best, cheapest!

The rest of his comment is drowned out by applause.

[Back to Tibetan and the translator]: What one Tibetan master [? name unclear] said is very true. He said that someone who, at the initial stage is so enthusiastic about the practice that he or she doesn’t have time to eat properly, but this lasts only three or four days, then they are distracted and go on to something else and loses interest – such a person expects to have results immediately, but then loses interest – such a person will never achieve anything. therefore, it is important to always maintain a steady flow of effort, a steady flow, like a stream, always continuous.

[The Dalai Lama in English]: You agree? [audience applauds] That’s good!

Two days later, at the very end, following the empowerment ceremony on the last day, the Dalai Lama offered his only other words spoken in English: “I hope that you will reflect deeply on these teachings, so that the next time I come you won’t have to ask about best, fastest, easiest.”

To be continued . . .


The Dalai Lama’s Commentary on The Precious Garland of Nagarjuna Part 12

For the sake of some readers, I thought it might facilitate understanding to provide a bit of background to today’s presentation of the Dalai Lama’s Commentary on The Precious Garland of Nagarjuna.

He refers to the 12-link chain of Dependent Origination (pratitya-samutpada). This doctrine is one of Buddhism’s core concepts, thought to have been taught by the historical Buddha himself. It describes the way existence characterized by suffering comes into being. Essentially, it is the Buddhist conception of how Samsara, the world of birth and death, the mundane world we live in, “works.”

Dependent Origination is envisioned as a chain of causes and conditions with 12 links: the fundamental state of being is (1) ignorance, which gives rise to (2) volition, which conditions (3) consciousness, which is joined to (4) name-form (the psycho-physical entity); then the (5) six-senses are activated, and they come into (6) contact with objects of desire, and as a result, (7) feeling, (8) craving, and (9) grasping arise; all of these factors cause and further condition the (10) becoming of life; and all that is becoming is subject to (11) birth, (12) old age and death.

According to Dependent Origination, all persons are interrelated through these causes and conditions, so there is no independent self-being or self-essence to be seized.

Early Buddhism accepted the selflessness of the person but not of phenomena since they promoted the idea of “dharmas” (or things) as pieces of existence that were atom-like particles. While there was some difference of opinion within the Madhyamaka school and Mahayana early on, in general the Mahayana branch of Buddhism acknowledges the selflessness, or emptiness, or both the person and phenomena.

The Dalai Lama launches into a discussion of the degrees of subtlety of these two selflessnesses or emptinesses. As far as I understand this discussion proceeds within the context of consciousness, which in Madhyamaka consists of three levels: gross (or coarse), subtle, and extremely subtle. Gross consciousness is limited to the senses. Subtle consciousness is cognition and the mind dealing with concepts, forming judgments, etc. Extremely subtle consciousness is nonconceptual in nature and is said to be “clear light”.

There’s also a reference to Sravaka and Pratyeka-buddhas. In early Buddhism these were considered as different stages of the path. The Sravaka or “voice-hearers” are disciples. This is the level of “stream entry”; they have entered the stream that flows to nirvana.  Pratyeka-buddhas are private or lone buddhas, who realize awakening on an individual or solitary basis. In Mayahana, Sravaka and Pratyeka-buddhas are viewed more as separate vehicles or ways, and are contrasted with the Bodhisattva, which is considered to be a higher path. The Bodhisattva vehicle also has various levels or stages (bhumi).

With that out of the way, we wrap up the morning session of the second day of the teachings.

Tenzin Gyatso, The Dalai Lama – Commentary on The Precious Garland of Nagarjuna

June 5-8, 1997

Part XII

Verse 31 reads:

Depending upon a mirror,
the reflection of one’s face
is seen, but it does not
ultimately exist at all.

In verse 35, The Precious Garland argues that without the existence of the physical and mental aggregates, the natural sense of “I” cannot arise. In the next verses, Nagarjuna explains why:

With these three phases mutually causing each other,
the circle of samsara whirls around,
like the circle (formed by a whirling torch)
without beginning, middle or end.

But that (samsaric process) is not attained from itself,
from something else, or from both; nor is it attained in the three times.
Therefore, (for one who knows this) the fixation on “I” ceases,
and hence also karma and birth.

[The three times: past, present, and future]

True understand of no-self of person requires a deep understanding of phenomena. This is because the natural thought of “I” or “I am” cannot arise independently of the physical and mental aggregates. Therefore, what Nagarjuna is suggesting is that so long as one subscribes to a belief in selfhood, there is no possibility of arriving at true insight into emptiness.

This passage seems to reinforce the Madhyamaka-Prasangika [a sub-school of the Madhyamaka; also refers to the ‘reductio ad absurdum’ argumentation used by the Madhyamaka schools]. So far as the true selflessness is concerned there is no real difference in terms of subtlety. The difference really lies in the difference of the object in which the two selves are presented, no-self of person is the emptiness of the person. No-self of phenomena is the emptiness of phenomena. So far as the selfhood that is being negated, there is no real difference between selfhood of person and selfhood of phenomena. And this difference reinforces the Madhyamaka position against, or in contrast, to other interpretations of Nagarjuna, where there is an acceptance of the real substantive difference between the no-self of person and the no-self of phenomena, in that the no-self of person is understood in terms of negation of self as a substantial reality rather than self as devoid of intrinsic reality and there is no-self of phenomena  – it is posited differently. So it seems that this passage from The Precious Garland supports the Prasangika, in as far as the two selves are concerned, there is no difference in subtlety.

Of course, there are very important commentators of Nagarjuna, such as Bhavavineka, a Madhyamaka philosopher who read Nagarjuna in a different way.  For example, Bhavavineka accepts that there is no real substantive difference between no-self of person and no-self of phenomena, but there is a difference in subtlety. There is also a difference of subtlety of the two forms of grasping – grasping at selfhood of person and grasping at selfhood of phenomena – given that one of the implications of that kind of position is to accept that the root of unenlightened existence, the root of samsara, is really the grasping at the selfhood of the person, not the selfhood of phenomena. Therefore, in order to obtain liberation from samsara, we need to gain insight into the no-self of phenomena. According to Bhavavineka, it is perceived that the insight into the no-self of phenomena is more related to the attainment of omniscient states, than attainment of liberation from samsara.

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The Dalai Lama’s Commentary on The Precious Garland of Nagarjuna Part 11

Here’s another installment in this series. If you want to read any of the previous entries, just go to “Categories” on the right and click on “The Precious Garland” and they’ll be displayed in reverse chronological order.

Tenzin Gyatso, The Dalai Lama – Commentary on The Precious Garland of Nagarjuna

June 5-8, 1997

Part XI

Since we have already had a little discussion about the nature of mind as part of one of the questions, I would like to cite here from the Prajna-paramita [Transcendent Wisdom] Sutra which reads “mind is devoid of mind, because the nature of mind is clear.”

When we talk about the nature of mind being luminous or clear light of course we can understand it at two levels: one, in the context of the Transcendent Wisdom Sutra and also, in context of Hevajra Tantra [a key Tantric or Vajrayana text]. One could say that the understanding of clear light, the nature of mind according to the Hevajra Tantra, could be seen as a perfection or culmination of clear light, according to the Wisdom sutras.

Yesterday we had discussions, from the Precious Garland, about the various dharmas and how, many of these dharmas could be present through the three doors of body, speech, and mind.

Generally speaking, when we talk about the practice of dharma, one should know that we are talking about a form of practice and training at the level of body or heart. Aryadeva [Nagarjuna’s closest pupil] in his Four Hundred Verses on the Middle Way, identifies three principle approaches to religious life: one is ritual, which has more to do with physical action and moral conduct; a second type is a more basic form of verbal action, which has more to do with the recitation of mantra sounds and so on; and a third type which approaches at the level of mind through thought and contemplation. He states that so far as dharma practice of the Buddha is concerned, it is the third approach that one should pursue.

A true practitioner of dharma constantly checks one’s own mind, subjects it to analysis. Given that dharma is like a medicine of the heart and mind, one must utilize it in the correct manner. When we are ill, we use medication and the medication is aimed at not only eliminating the symptoms but also by getting at the root of the conditions that cause the illness. Similarly, we should be able to use the dharma at the right instance, when it is needed the most, through constant self-awareness, mindfulness, and self-investigation. When one confronts a situation where, within the mind, there is any possibility of even an inkling of an arisal of negative emotions or non-virtuous thoughts – it is at that moment the dharma should be able to counter-act these disruptive forces.

Because negative action is an expression of the negative motivation or negative states of mind, if you are able to apply dharma at the right instance, before it becomes expressed in negative action, then you will be able to deal with it at that time. Otherwise one’s practice will become as [ Word unclear] master said, “sometimes for some people, the dharma can only be seen when things are fine.” There is a verse that reads that some can only be a practitioner when their stomach is full and everything is like sunshine, but the moment he or she encounters a crisis, the dharma goes out the window and they are complaining and blaming everybody and they act worse than someone who has no belief in dharma practice. This is not how we should do.

Some of you may have heard this story, but I will tell it again. Once there was a master who was previously a thief but was transformed and became a great dharma teacher. One day, in his meditation cell, he remembered that his benefactor was coming to visit, so he thought ‘I’d better prepare myself to look more impressive.’ So he arranged the altar in a more impressive way and laid down the offering of the water and so on. When everything was arranged properly, he sat down and examine his motivation to do this, and he realized that he was doing it not out of commitment to his spiritual practice, but rather so he could impress his benefactor. He realized his motivation was not really dharmic, it was out of worldly concern, to impress someone so that he would continue to support him financially. So, at that moment, he picked up a handful of dust and threw it on the altar and spoiled the whole thing. So when the benefactor came, there was no welcoming greeting and the benefactor looked around and the meditation cell was messy and the altar was covered with dust and he was rather shocked. And he went back and the story was heard by a great Kadampa master, who said: “That is the mark of a true practitioner!”

Also when you read the life story of the great meditation master, Milarepa, you also see that the true spirit of Buddhist practice is to constantly examine one’s motivation when one does something, so that the motivation becomes pure. Otherwise sometimes it is possible that one may engage in non-virtuous acts, even if on the surface such activity may seem like spiritual work.

We are looking now at verses 28-30. Yesterday the verses that we read, spoke about how the concept of no-self can cause fear in the minds of the childish and cause delight in the minds of the wise. The reason why no-self can cause joy in the minds of the wise is because the wise understand the nature of no-self and also see the potential of that insight, in the sense that this insight can lead to liberation. [In The Precious Garland] we find further explanation on why the wise find the doctrine of no-self joyful and it expands on what is meant by no-self:

Ultimately, the notions “I exist” and
“What is mine exists” are false, because
from the perspective of knowing (things)
as they truly are, there is neither “I” or “mine”.

The aggregates arise from fixation on “I”;
the fixation on “I” is ultimately unreal.
How then can there really be any production
of that whose seed is unreal?

Seeing in this way that the aggregates
Are unreal, one forsakes fixation on “I.”
And due to forsaking fixation on “I”
the (afflicted) aggregates do not arise again.

Our problem is our habit of grasping at things. Whatever appears to our mind, whatever we perceive, we generally tend to view as enjoying some kind of objective reality. Because of this, when the thought of “I” arises in us, the self appears to us, to enjoy some kind of intrinsic reality. However, when we analyze the nature of such existence, we find that the self or “I” is unreal, and if the self or “I” is untenable, how can the object we are grasping at, which is our physical and mental aggregates, which is seen as mind – how can this be maintained?

Through this way, we will realize that, in the ultimate sense, the self, as we perceive it, does not exist. Similarly, the physical and mental aggregates also do not exist. Once that is realized, then we understand that there is a real possibility of eliminating the root of unenlightened existence, which is this grasping at the intrinsic nature of self and mind. This becomes possible through the constant reaffirmation and re-understanding of no-self for long periods of time. In this way, there is no possibility of the arisal of that process of unenlightened existence.

To be continued . . .