Teaching on The Three Principal Aspects of the Path 2021-10-24 || 聖道三要開示

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      The Three Principal Aspects of the Path

      Teaching of His Eminence Jangtse Choje Kyabje Gosok Rinpoche

      The essence of the Mahayana Path is included in the Gradual Path leading to Enlightenment, and the very essence of the Gradual Path to Enlightenment is itself condensed in the Three Principal Aspects of the Path: renouncement, mind of enlightenment and excellent View.

      Renouncement, the aspiration to achieve liberation

      At the beginning, renouncement is important. « Renouncement » means repulsion toward the cycle of births (samsara), in other terms, it means the aspiration to free oneself from samsara. Why is renouncement so important? If it has been generated in our mind, our activities will be causes of liberation, but without renouncement, all activities will only be causes of new rebirths in the samsara.

      In fact, we spend our time accumulating causes of samsara. Let alone the non-virtuous acts and bad deeds that we commit, all the virtuous actions and the accumulations of merits that we gather without being motivated by the aspiration to achieve freedom from the cycle of existences are in fact causes of samsara.

      But what we aim at is the liberation from the cycle of existences. Therefore, what is the use of accomplishing acts that will drive us again in samsara. We have to find a way to stop rebirth in the cycle because as soon as we take rebirth in samsara we are endlessly overwhelmed by sufferings. As a matter of fact, no matter what we do, as soon as we take rebirth, we take as a support these seizing and impure aggregates which have a nature of suffering. Therefore, we have to free ourselves from samsara.

      If we develop a strong aspiration to achieve liberation, all the virtuous actions that we will accomplish with such a motivation (be it the recitation of the Six Syllables mantra, OM MANI PADME HUM, or even one recitation of homage to the name of Avalokitesvara), all these acts will automatically become causes that will contribute to our liberation from samsara. In no way, would they become causes of samsara.

      That is the reason why, from the very beginning, renouncement, or aspiration to achieve liberation, is so important. We can meditate on enlightenment Mind (Bodhicitta), we can practice very profound rituals of the Tantras, practice the Glorious Guhyasamaja Tantra and perform the associated recitations, we can practice Anuttara yoga Tantras, try to understand vacuity exposed in the Sutras of Mahayana, or we can endeavor to develop the mind of enlightenment, whatever we may do, if we do not have first generated renouncement as our motivation, we will only accumulate causes of samsara. Thus, it will not be beneficial for us who have the sincere aspiration to achieve liberation from samsara.

      We can see how important is the development of renouncement. It is worth making efforts to generate it as soon as we undertake a practice. This is the first fundamental point.

      Method and Wisdom

      The second fundamental point is to combine method (which is the mind of enlightenment) and wisdom of the profound view of vacuity. This is how are identified the three principles aspects of the Path that are renouncement, mind of enlightenment and excellent or profound view.

      If we have sincerely generated renouncement, that is the aspiration to free ourselves from samsara after having realized it is only sufferings, we still have to follow the path that leads to liberation and to the omniscience of a Buddha. That is the reason why it is said (in Entering the Middle Way by Candrakirti):

      Like a king of swans soaring ahead of other accomplished swans,
      With white wings of conventional and ultimate truths spread wide,
      Propelled by the powerful winds of virtue, the bodhisattva would cruise
      to the excellent far shore, the oceanic qualities of the conquerors.

      We have to follow the Path, to rely on the Path and to put it into practice in order to cross the ocean and reach the other shore. Merely developing an aspiration, a wish to reach the other shore will not enable us to achieve this goal.

      If we want to fly, we need two wings. One wing is not enough, but with two wings, the bird can fly everywhere. In the same way, it is necessary to combine method and wisdom in order to achieve the state of a perfectly enlightened Buddha. Method is the mind of enlightenment and wisdom is the excellent view.

      Wisdom of Vacuity

      In his text, The Three Principal Aspects of the Path, Je Tsongkhapa says (strophe 9):

      Although you might grow accustomed to renunciation and bodhicitta,

      In this verse, he indicates that the first two principal aspects, renouncement and mind of enlightenment, have been explained but they are not enough. Merely developing these two aspects would be similar to possessing only one wing: one could not fly. The second wing, the wing of wisdom of vacuity, would be missing. Without this wisdom, he says:

      You will be incapable of cutting through conditioned existence at its root.

      Samsara is produced by mental agitations (klesas). The roots of mental agitations lie in ignorance, the ignorance that grasps at the self, the ignorance of the real mode of existence of the self. Therefore, without wisdom, « You will be incapable of cutting through conditioned existence at its root ». That is how we should understand the first three verses of the 9th strophe and the importance of the verb « You will be incapable »: without associating wisdom to method, without combining the two, one cannot achieve liberation from samsara.

      Since the two wings of method and wisdom are needed, only exerting oneself in method is not sufficient. We also have to cultivate the profound view that understands vacuity.

      Conventional Existence and Interdependence

      Therefore, we would have expected that in the 4th verse of this strophe, Je Tsongkhapa would urge his disciples to develop the profound view of vacuity, but he writes:

      Exert yourself, therefore, in the methods for realizing interdependence.

      What does this mean?
      Lord Manjusri told Je Tsongkhapa:

      Supplicate with sincerity the Guru inseparable from the Deities, strive in the accumulation of merits and in the purification of negative karmas, carefully study the great texts such as the works of Nagarjuna and Candrakirti, reflect deeply on their meaning and meditate on them. Combine these three activities and you will quickly achieve a thorough understanding of emptiness.

      When Je Tsongkhapa asked him on which subject he should particularly focus his attention, Manjusri answered:

      Focus on conventional existence.

      At that time, most of the practitioners thought that vacuity was vacuum, that nothing exists, that nothing exists since the origin. They had fallen in the extreme of nihilism.

      That is the reason why Manjusri urged Je Tsongkhapa to develop understanding of interdependence, comprehension of relative truth. Therefore, in the 4th verse of the 9th strophe Je Tsongkhapa does not speak of cultivating the profound view of emptiness but says: « Exert yourself, therefore, in the methods for realizing interdependence ». His use of the term « method » is very important. It must be connected with the use of « method » in this strophe (from the Entering the Middle Way composed by the Glorious Candrakirti):

      The conventional truth is the method,
      The ultimate truth is produced by the method.
      Those who fail to know the distinction between the two
      will enter wrong paths through false conceptualization.

      We should not engage in the wrong path of false conceptualization, isn’t it?

      In the 4th verse of the 9th strophe, Je Tsongkhapa did not mention the terms « emptiness » or « vacuity ». He did not urge to cultivate the comprehension of vacuity but the comprehension of dependent-arising, and some verses below, he refers to « appearance which is undeceiving dependent origination  » (cf. 1st verse of the 11th strophe). This is very important. It is based on a valid and profound reasoning. Indeed, dependent-arising is labelled as « the king of arguments » because it is the best argument to assert the absence of inherent existence. To understand vacuity through interdependence leads to the development of a correct understanding free from the two extremes. So, in order to prevent his disciples from falling into the two extremes, Je Tsongkhapa urged his disciples to cultivate the comprehension of interdependence.

      If you lack the wisdom that realizes the nature of things,
      Although you might grow accustomed to renunciation and bodhicitta,
      You will be incapable of cutting through conditioned existence at its root.
      Exert yourself, therefore, in the methods for realizing interdependence.

      This 9th stanza, on which we will focus this teaching, conveys clear instructions: on one hand, it is absolutely primordial to combine the mind of Enlightenment with the profound view on emptiness of Madhyamaka; on the other hand, it states that the development of the profound view is necessary and fundamental.

      Conventional Truth and Ultimate Truth

      Let’s go back to the strophe of Candrakirti:

      The conventional truth is the method,
      The ultimate truth is produced by the method.
      Those who fail to know the distinction between the two
      will enter wrong paths through false conceptualization.

      This stanza tells us that we need to distinguish the two truths. This comprehension is essential. We then can understand Je Tsongkhapa’s exhortation toward the cultivation of the « methods for realizing interdependence « .

      Consider the two first verses of the citation of Candrakirti:

      The conventional truth is the method,
      The ultimate truth is produced by the method.

      The meaning of these verses is that we must first cultivate a correct understanding of conventional truth which encompasses all phenomena whatever they may be. We need to develop a complete knowledge of the qualities of all the dharmas whatever they may be. This is the method. Then, when we will be introduced to the absence of inherent existence, to the emptiness of real nature of the dharmas, conventional phenomena will appear as illusions, dreams and we will generate a certitude about this.

      For example, if we consider the Lamrim, before the section explaining the profound view of vacuity (that is the perfection of wisdom), there are the sections on renouncement, on the mind of Enlightenment, and then gradually, on the six paramitas. The nature, the potential, the function, etc., of these different points are first analyzed in details. Only after these explanations comes the teaching on the perfection of wisdom that is the emptiness of true existence.

      Only after the qualities and characteristics of the different points have been explained comes the teaching on the fact that are devoid of a real nature. This leads to the understanding that they are similar to mirages, to dreams. This analysis should then result in certainty about the fact that all conventional phenomena are without real existence.

      Firstly, we should strive to understand the unfailing interrelation that exists between conventional phenomena by reflecting on how they mutually benefit and affect each other: what is the cause of this? What are the conditions of this? What is the result of this? How does this rely on that to exist?

      We first develop a certainty toward the fact that all conventional phenomena are only established in dependence of numerous causes and conditions. Then, by reflecting and meditating on this, the comprehension that phenomena are devoid of an autonomous existence arises. This is what Candrakirti tells us when he writes:

      The conventional truth is the method,
      The ultimate truth is produced by the method.

      Because they are produced in dependence, phenomena are devoid of a nature established by its own characteristics. They are devoid of a true nature. They are devoid of an independent nature. Thus, the reflection on conventional phenomena is the « method » that leads to an easy understanding of the fact that ultimately phenomena do not have their own autonomous existence, that they are devoid of inherent nature. That is the reason why Candrakirti wrote (in Entering the Middle Way):

      The conventional truth is the method,
      The ultimate truth is produced by the method.

      If we rely on these instructions given by Candrakirti, we will be able to develop a correct comprehension of the profound view, an understanding that does not fall into the two extremes and more specifically a comprehension that does not fall into the extreme of nihilism. It will lead to the development of the correct view of the median path. Thus, it is very important; it is a requisite.

      We can also connect these instructions with the necessity to combine method and wisdom. For each phenomenon, there is an ultimate truth and a conventional truth. Indeed, there are two ways to apprehend phenomena: the conventional view and the ultimate view. We have to know both. That is, we need to combine method and wisdom.

      Thus, it is very important to understand that in order to cultivate the profound view of vacuity of Madhyamaka, we must first apply ourselves to the method which is the comprehension of the conventional truth, or in other words, the comprehension of dependent-arising.

      Why do we need to develop the comprehension of the profound view? In his Praise of Dependent-Arising, Je Tsongkhapa said:

      Ignorance is the very root of all troubles in this transitory world. (stanza 2)

      Inside this world, we are continually experiencing all kinds of sufferings and difficult circumstances that we do not want. It never stops as if a rain of sufferings was relentlessly pouring on us. The root of all these sufferings is ignorance. Among the two kinds of ignorance (ignorance of the law of causality and ignorance of suchness), we are speaking here of the ignorance of suchness.

      The source or the root of all our sufferings is thus ignorance. In fact, among the twelve links of dependent-arising, the first link is ignorance: because of ignorance, we take rebirth in samsara. Therefore, it is utterly appropriate to speak of « roots ». To eradicate them, we must develop the wisdom of emptiness.

      In Tibetan, « emptiness » is « tong nyi » or « tongpa nyi ». Looking at the meaning of these syllables is important.

      First, we have « tong » or « tongpa » which means « empty », that is, « empty of self ». But empty of which self? In a commentary of The Four Hundreds of Aryadeva, it is said:

      When we speak of « self », it refers to all phenomena whose essential nature does not rely upon something else. When such a phenomenon does not exist, it is « no self ».

      This quote clearly identifies the object which is negated. It is not the conventional self but the self which is inherent and independent. We are trying to assert the inexistence or the emptiness of an inherent and independent self.

      In the Tibetan word for vacuity (« tongnyi » or « tongpa nyi »), « tong » or « tongpa » refers to the emptiness or inexistence of the object that is being negated: phenomena are empty of independent nature; they are empty of a nature established by itself; they are empty of true existence; they are empty of an existence established by its own characteristics.

      Currently, how do phenomena appear to us? They appear as entirely established by their own characteristics; they appear as being established on their own side. A self with such a mode of being is the self which is being denied. It is the absence of such a self that we are trying to prove. We are establishing the emptiness of such a self.

      In the Tibetan word for vacuity (« tongnyi » or « tongpa nyi »), the second part « nyi » means « thus », « only like this », « simply like this », « exactly thus ».

      The two syllables « tong nyi » thus mean: « simply empty » or more precisely that all phenomena are « exclusively empty of an inherent self » and that they are not empty of something else. It is like a mark, a limit which enables to distinguish which object is being negated. It is capital to understand which object is being negated. Otherwise, instead of trying to assert the emptiness of a real, independent and inherent self, one might try to establish the emptiness of the conventional self and this will lead to the abyme of error for a long time.

      Let’s go back to the 2nd stanza of the Praise of Dependent-Arising:

      Ignorance is the very root
      of all troubles in this transitory world.
      These are averted by understanding
      The dependent-arising which you have taught.

      To eradicate the ignorance of the grasping to the self, we need to understand vacuity, and to understand vacuity, the Buddha has taught dependent-arising. The causal link is obvious: Buddha taught interdependence in order to eradicate the ignorance of the grasping to the self.

      There are several levels of interdependence. Among them, we will mention (from the coarser to the subtler):
      – causality
      – dependence on the parts
      – existence as a mere designation

      In the context of the method leading to the comprehension of vacuity, the interdependence is not the subtler form (existence as a mere designation) but the coarser form, and more specifically the interdependence as the principle of causality.

      We will find the subtler form of interdependence in verses like this one from the Salistambha sutra:

      He who sees the dependent arising, he sees the Dharma. He who sees the Dharma, he sees the Tathagata.

      But here, when we speak of dependent-arising as the method leading to the comprehension of vacuity, we are speaking of interdependence as the Law of causality.

      Because the root of all sufferings lies in ignorance, it is necessary to develop the view of « no self ». Before Buddha Sakyamuni manifested in this world, no one ever had taught the view of « no-self ». During hundreds of years, the philosophical positions of Hinduists had spread and they were practiced by Brahmans. For them, sufferings were produced by mental agitations like desire.

      Actually, if we take a sharp look at ourselves, we will clearly see that mental agitations are confusing and disturbing us. If we were sincerely doing an introspection, we would easily come to that conclusion. But are we doing this analysis?

      Indians were trying to pacify these agitations. To this end, they were going in the forests, they were practicing all kinds of ascetism, they meditated and developed high levels of concentration. They were undertaking earnest efforts and thus they were achieving calm-abiding. Then, they gradually came up with each of the high level of concentration until they reached « the peak of existence », the highest part of samsara. But they had not yet eradicated the roots of mental agitations (klesas). They only had suppressed the obvious forms of klesas.

      Yet, these people did not spare any effort and left no stone unturned. They were fervently practicing and really worked hard. Full of compassion, the Buddha Sakyamuni could not bear to see them going through such great endeavors without any real results. If these persons had devoted their time and energy to develop great compassion, mind of Enlightenment and the profound view, not to mention liberation, they would have achieved the state of complete Buddhahood.

      If we compare with what we are doing, these people were really making considerable efforts. We are not even capable of developing concentration. We do not make efforts. If we were really making efforts, we could develop concentration (samadhi) in six months. But now who has developed such a realization? And yet it only requires six months! We should think about this!

      The Buddha Sakyamuni was then in Tusita. Full of compassion for the beings of this world, he announced that he would manifest in this world in order to teach the Path. The deities that were staying with him implored him not to go: « Do not go in the world. It is full of heretics who will be jealous of you and will create difficulties for you ». The white conch was thus blown and its sound filled up the entire world. It was extremely auspicious. This is the reason why now days we are blowing into white conches.

      Thus, the Buddha appeared in this world. At that time there were thousands of thousands of practitioners that were engaged in the Hinduist path.

      When the Buddha as a prince went outside the palace of his father, he sat under a tree and contemplated the sufferings that endlessly overwhelm beings: ploughing, exhausting work, illness, old age, death. What he saw was only sufferings. Sitting under the tree, he thus developed a true repulsion for samsara and he entered into meditation under this tree. At this time, he developed calm-abiding (samatha). Thereafter, he enters religious life, that is, he started his spiritual quest.

      As all the great events of the life of the Buddha, the episodes of the departure from the palace and the development of renouncement are only « deeds » or « gestures ». The Prince was already a Buddha. He had already generated renouncement, but was giving the appearances in order to show the Path.

      The Buddha then followed the teachings of the most eminent Hinduist masters of the time. He listened to their instructions and put them in practice.

      It may be recalled here that three realms are distinguished inside this world: Desire realm, Form realm and Formless realm. We are in the Desire realm where we find six categories of gods such as the Thirty-Three. In the Form realm, there are 17 categories of gods, and in the Formless realm there are 4 categories that correspond with the 4 kinds of meditative absorptions.

      In the Formless realm, the highest level of meditative absorption is called « Peak of cyclic existence ». You cannot go father, higher. But even when you have reached this level, at some point, you will emerge from meditative absorption and then you will fall into the unfortunate rebirths because the root of mental agitations has not been eradicated. Only the manifest forms of klesas have been suppressed.

      The Buddha asked instructions at the feet of the most eminent Hinduist Masters and he carefully put them into practice. It should be kept in mind that these activities were only ordinary appearances. The Buddha had already achieved the state of Buddhahood.

      Faithfully following the path that had been taught to him, the Buddha cultivated concentrations and progressed along the 4 level of meditative absorptions of the Formless realm. In seven days, he had browsed all these levels. He thus asked his masters: « What else can you teach me? What is there after this »?

      « We do not have anything else to teach you », said the masters. « There is nothing more. You have achieved liberation. »

      Among Hinduist Schools, some believed in a Creator God, others did not. Among the latter, some believed in liberation, others did not. For those who believed in liberation, liberation was conceived as the realization of the « Peak of cyclic existence » where all the manifest forms of mental agitations have been eliminated. For them, there was not higher or better achievement. For them, there was no path that leads to the complete and true eradication of samsara.

      The Buddha was not satisfied with this goal. It was not sufficient. But the masters he was following did not have anything else to teach him. They told him he had truly achieved all realizations and they asked him to stay with them in order to teach disciples. But the Buddha told them:
      — No, there is certainly something else.
      — You are exceptional, but we do not have anything more to teach you, answered the masters.

      Let us consider for a moment the calm abiding (samata) that is common to Buddhists and to non-Buddhists.

      When we develop concentration to the point of achieving mental and physical pliancy, we have realized calm abiding. If we regularly uphold this concentration, the focus on the object becomes firm and stable. Then we will strive to develop special insight. When special insight on mundane wisdom is combined with calm abiding, mental and physical bliss are produced. It is the mundane yoga of the combination of calm abiding with special insight.

      Desire realm is compared to a thick and inextricable forest. This forest is the forest of mental perturbations who are like countless diseases. Difficulties are numerous and hard to remove. It is definitely hard to generate qualities. Such are the huge defects of the Desire realm. Above are the Form realm and the Formless realm.

      For the masters who had first taught the Buddha Sakyamuni, it was sufficient to progressively eliminate mental perturbations through meditative absorptions to achieve liberation. For them, through meditation, one first achieves the preparation level of the First concentration (dhyana), then one achieves the actual meditative absorption of the First dhyana.

      The next step is to understand that investigation and analysis involve deceit. This leads to the level of preparation of the Second dhyana and then, progressively, one achieves the actual meditative absorption of the Second dhyana. Then step by step, one achieves the preparations and then the actual meditative absorption of the Third and Fourth dhyana. These four levels of concentration are in the Form realm.

      But Form realm also has defects. Merely having to take rebirth with a form implies that the mind will not be calm and pacified. Therefore, understanding that regardless of their level of grossness all forms have defects, the practitioner will engage in the meditation on the emptiness of the limitless space in order to appease his mind. This is the first meditative absorption of the Formless realm. It is called « Limitless space ».

      But to focus on an outer object means the mind is directed outside. This being seen as a fault, the next step is to stop all outer directed thoughts. The attention of the mind focuses on the inside. The mind takes himself as the object of focus. This leads toward the second meditative absorption of the Formless realm: « Limitless consciousness ». Then through concentration, one stops discrimination and volition, then gradually one stop all mental activities. In this process, all manifest forms of mental agitations are eliminated. When we speak of « eliminating manifest forms », it means mental agitations are not irrevocably eradicated. For example, right now, we are not feeling anger, that is, there is no manifest form of anger, yet, anger has not been definitively eradicated. Similarly, the development of different levels of meditation appeases the manifest forms of mental agitations, they do not appear. But their roots, their seeds have not been eradicated.

      Because the roots of the mental agitations are not eradicated, the beings in these high levels of meditative absorption are still in