Teachings: Dalai Lama on Nagarjuna Pt. 5

Some more from my transcript of teachings by the Dalai Lama on Nagarjuna’s Precious Garland (“Ratnavali”) given at UCLA in 1997. Previous excerpts may be found here, here, here, and here.

Because it may be a lengthy excerpt, I think I will break it up into several parts. So, more  to come shortly. Eventually, I will get the entire transcript from my typewritten pages into a Word file and I will make it available, as long as I am not running afoul of any laws by doing so.

Although most of the Dalai Lama’s books are just transcripts of teachings such as this, to my knowledge this particular instruction on the Precious Garland has not been published. There are/were some tapes, but I do not know where they might be available. An earlier commentary by the Dalai Lama, The Precious Garland and The Song of the Four Mindfulnesses, was published in 1975 and used copies are probably available on Amazon.

I provide some explanations in brackets.

Having listened to the 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 and see 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 Vaibhaskika [a “Hinayana” school] who maintain that the attainment of nirvana constitutes cessation of the continuum of consciousness, so the Precious Garland is arguing that if this is the understanding of nirvana or liberation, and since you do not fear the concept of total cessation of the individual in the continuum of consciousness, how can you then be afraid of the concept of emptiness?

Emptiness or nirvana from the Madhyamaka [Middle Way school of Nagarjuna] 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 maintain that nirvana or liberation constitutes a total cessation, they 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 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 nonexistent,
So how could it be existent?
Nirvana is said to be the cessation
Of the notions of existence and nonexistence.

So this develops the Madhyamaka understanding of the concept of Dharmakaya [Dharma-body; an undifferentiated state of being], which is the state where all the dualities dissolve into the sphere of emptiness. All forms of dualities, such as subject and object, such as aggregates, and also emptiness itself, is dissolved here. Therefore, the Madhyamaka school talks about the emptiness of emptiness, as well.

Here, we are encouraged not to be fearful of emptiness.  Emptiness does not equate to nothingness. It is not nihilistic or negative in its implications. As the Dalai Lama says, we should look upon emptiness with a sense of joy. Emptiness is openness, freedom, happiness, equality, liberation. All positive qualities.

Wayfarers on the Buddhist path should have a clear understanding of emptiness. This is one reason why I talk about it quite often. I want to help people lose their fear of this concept and not mistake it for nothingness or think that it is too complicated to understand. To understand emptiness intellectually is not that hard. To live in emptiness is not that easy.

To be continued . . .

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