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
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 . . .