The Dalai Lama’s Commentary on The Precious Garland of Nagarjuna Part 10

First, a follow-up to Tuesday’s post: A Chinese court has sentenced 46 year old Buddhist monk Lobsang Tsundue to 11 years imprisonment for allegedly “killing” his nephew, Rigzin Phuntsog, a 16-year old monk who set himself on fire last March. Tsundue was found guilty of hiding Phuntsog which prevented the boy from receiving emergency medical treatment for 11 hours. Eyewitnesses claim that that after Chinese security personnel doused the flames, they severely beat Phuntsog’s charred body. Tsundue, they said, was trying to save his nephew from any further beating. Tsundue’s supporters also claim that young monk Phuntsog died as a result of the beatings and not from his self-immolation.

In related news, the former Tibet Communist Party chief Zhang Qingli who led China’s hard-line policy against the Dalai Lama and his supporters, has a new job and a new target.

Zhang Qingli, aka “The Tibetan bulldog”, has been appointed Communist Party Secretary of Hebei province, home to about one quarter of China’s Roman Catholics.  According to the independent.co.uk, Hebei province is “where tensions between the state and the Vatican run at their highest.”

Although there is no evidence that Zhang Qingli plans to mercilessly persecute the Catholics, and perhaps unfair to suggest that he will, it’s still a safe bet things will be no picnic for them in the foreseeable future, because if you know anything at all about modern day China, you know that the government has no use for religion or spirituality.

And now, here’s another exciting episode featuring the guy the Chinese government just loves to hate:

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

June 5-8, 1997

Part X

Day Two – Morning Session

After leading the audience in a short sutra recitation and a series of mantras, the Dalai Lama begins the morning session with a long question-and-answer period. Since some of the questions dealt with specific topics within the Tibetan tradition, they have not been included. Some of the answers have been condensed and summarized.

Q: When you are talking about finding the nature of one’s mind, clear and knowing, in relationship to the past, present and future; and finding the empty space and consequently expanding it, as a concentration – how does this assist the attainment of one’s understand of selflessness?

A: When we are talking about the nature of the mind or consciousness, we must bear in mind that there are two different levels. One is the relative level and one is the ultimate level. So when we are talking about the possibility of actually defining the nature of the mind through a meditative process of preventing the arising of thoughts of the past and anticipation of the future and remaining in the present, then we are dealing with the nature of the mind at the conventional or relative level.

Of course, through such a meditative approach if one is able to develop a greater degree of awareness of the relative nature of the mind in the form of mere knowing or luminosity, then it could have positive benefits. When you reflect upon the emptiness of the mind, you can have a greater clarity, a clearer identification of mind itself.

As far as the actual nature of emptiness is concerned, which is the absence or the negation of the intrinsic reality, one cannot make a distinction between the emptiness of vast space and the emptiness of the mind. However, the difference in the subject or object upon which you meditate on emptiness – there is going to be a difference in the impact or effect it will have on your mind. For example, compared to the reflection on the emptiness of [? Word unclear.] certainly reflection on the emptiness of mind will have a greater effect. Also, in the Madhyamaka commentaries, in their discussions of how all the negativities of the mind are, through meditation, calmed or purified or dissolved into emptiness – the reference here is to the emptiness of mind. Similarly, when we talk about the qualities of the Buddha’s wisdom and transcendent mind, one of the dimensions of the dharma-kaya [dharma body] is said to be the emptiness of the mind.

Q: When people ask if Buddhist believe in soul, I don’t know how to answer them. It seems that they are asking about spirit, a belief in a higher power than the ordinary human being’s consciousness. Is the biggest problem semantics?

A: There is probably an element of semantics. Although I use the English word ‘spirit’ or ‘soul,’ I must admit that I do not really know the full implications of these English terms. However, when Buddhists talk about whether or not there is ‘self’, we must take into account the context in which this discourse on no-self takes place. Within the historical context of Indian Buddhism the discourse is about whether or not atman [Brahman concept of a permanent self that is one essence with Brahma or god.] exists. By rejecting atman, Buddhists are not rejecting existence or any basis on which the natural sense of ‘I’ or ‘I am’ arises. Buddhist are not rejecting that. What is being rejected, in the anatman theory, is the metaphysical concept where atman is said to be a metaphysical reality that is eternal and permanent. The problem arises for certain philosophers to accommodate that never-ending continuum with the transient nature of life.

Certainly your point that sometimes the difficulty being semantics is very true. If we were to understand by the word ‘soul’ a basis upon which the natural sense of thoughts of ‘I am’ arise within the individual being, then we could say that soul exists. However, if one understands by the word ‘soul’ a metaphysical reality, like the atman theory, and is independent of mind and body, independent of mental and physical aggregates, something  that is self-sufficient, autonomous, and so on – then, of course, that concept is not tenable in Buddhist thought.

Q: What do you recommend as a daily meditation for a lay person who is not skilled in meditative practices? Something to use in the morning after waking up and at night before falling asleep.

A: There is a set of verses from the Ratnavali, The Precious Garland [see below] which could be used as a daily recitation and also as seeds for thought. So that you read through and reflect on the meanings of these verses on a daily basis. Or one could personally select certain extracts from a text like The Precious Garland, certain key passages as a basis for daily practice.

However in the 20 verses [from The Precious Garland] I would like to warn you about a passage that reads “may all women be reborn as males.” [Laughter.] When you read that passage it is important to bear in mind the culture and the context that those kind of sentiments are being expressed. If we are to take that literally and that aspiration comes into realization, then it’s going to be rather silly, because if the entire world is going to be populated by men then that means the human species is going to end at some point. [Laughter.] There’s going to be no possibility of procreation. [Laughter.] So, the point is that if one feels that in the form of a female existence one can make a great contribution, be more effective and be of greater service, then reverse the thought and pray that all men be born as females! [Laughter and applause.]

In the Buddhist scriptures, there is another type of sentiment that I have reflected on: when you read the Buddhist scriptures that deal with altruism and compassion, there is always a reference to sentient beings as mother sentient beings, never as father sentient beings. This suggests that within the Buddhist tradition, women are seen as the symbol of compassion and affectionate perfection. It is very rare that a man is the symbol of affection. Women, in the form of mothers, are also the embodiment of kindness.

To be continued . . .

Nagarjuna’s Twenty Verses

Respecting in all ways the buddhas,
the dharma, the community, and
the bodhisattvas, to them I go for refuge
and pay honor to those worthy of honor.

Turning away from all negativity
and embracing all meritorious actions,
I rejoice in all the merits
of all sentient beings.

With bowed head and joined palms
I implore all excellent Buddhas
to turn the wheel of dharma and
remain as long as beings remain.

Through the merit of having done this
and the merit I have already done and will do,
may all sentient beings aspire
to realize the highest bodhicitta.

May all sentient beings have stainless faculties
and transcend all states of bondage;
may they be free to choose their own actions,
and live by good livelihood.

May all sentient beings
have jewels in their hands,
and may limitless necessities of life remain
bountiful as long as samsara endures.

May all women
become superior persons.
May all sentient beings have
wisdom-minds and the limbs of ethics.

May sentient beings have a good complexion,
good physique, great radiance,
a pleasant appearance, freedom from sickness,
good strength, and long life.

May all be skilled in the means
of liberation from sufferings.
May they come to respect the Three Jewels,
and have the great treasure of the Buddha’s dharma.

May they be arrayed with love, compassion, joy,
and the quality of even-mindedness in the face of hardship,
generosity, ethics, patience, heroic endeavor,
meditative concentration, and wisdom.

Thus arrayed, may they complete the two collections of merit and wisdom,
and realize the brilliant marks and wonderful features,
and as they fare on the path, may they cross without hindrance
the ten inconceivable stages.

May I also be so arrayed
with those and all other good qualities;
may I be freed from all defects,
and have supreme love for all sentient beings.

May I perfect all the virtues
to which all beings aspire,
and may I always dispel
the misery of all sentient beings.

May beings in all worlds
who are anxious from fear
become wholly fearless
merely by hearing my name.

Through seeing or thinking of me
or merely hearing my name
may beings acquire clear minds,
great relief and peace.

May I awaken and in future lives
attain all powers, and in all ways
may I always do that which
brings help and happiness to all beings.

May I always prevent
any and all beings from any world
who wish to commit ill deeds.
without doing them harm.

As are the earth, water, fire, wind,
medicinal herbs, and the trees of nature,
may I always be of benefit to all sentient beings
according to their wish.

May I be as precious to sentient beings as their own life,
and may they be even more precious to me.
May I bear the results of their negativity
And may they share in the virtue of my compassion for them.

As long as even a sentient being
anywhere has not been liberated,
may I remain in the world for that being’s sake,
even if I have attained unexcelled awakening.

Verses adapted from the translations by
Jeffrey Hopkins, Buddhist Advice for Living & Liberation, Nagarjuna’s Precious Garland &
John Dunne and Sara McClintock, commemorative book of Dalai Lama teachings, June 1997

Note: Where the original text reads “May all women be reborn as males,” both translations replace “male” with “superior/supreme persons.”

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