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 samsara and when they arise from their meditative absorption, mental agitations will manifest once again. These beings will thus fall back into unfortunate rebirths where they will be again overwhelmed by all kinds of sufferings. When the merits that result in a rebirth in the « Peak of cycle existence » are exhausted, one falls back to unfortunate existences. Therefore, it is said:

      Although one is now in the highest realms, soon afterwards feet are tormented by the wounds (of hell).

      When the Buddha Sakyamuni saw that the people were taking this erroneous path as the path of liberation, he was full of compassion. That is the reason why he appeared in this world. But he could not teach straightaway the Path that truly leads to liberation. In order to guide the beings, he first gave the appearances of following the spiritual paths that existed in the world. For six years, he practiced ascetism. All this was undertaken in order to gradually show the Path.

      If he had appeared as a Buddha, it would have been difficult for us to engage in arduous practices. Yet when we consider the life of the Great Milarepa, how many hardships did he had to face! We should understand that the Path is not easy.

      Thus, the Buddha displayed the practice of ascetism for six years. Then he gave the appearance to achieve the state of Buddhahood through meditation. Soon after he declared:

      I have found a Dharma that is like ambrosia, not composed, profound and serene, free from any mental elaboration and illuminating. No matter the sentient being to whom I will teach this Dharma, he will not be able to understand it. Therefore, I will stay silent in the forest.

      The Buddha appeared in this world to reveal the Path. But when he considered the beings of the world, he could not see anyone that would be an appropriate vessel for his teaching. None of them was ready to be tamed. It was a difficult and complex situation. How was he going to teach the no self? At that time the Indian masters were holding polar opposite views: not only did they advocate a self but they also strengthened its nature by conceiving it as permanent, unique and independent.

      If the Buddha had taught the non-self, there was a risk that people lost their faith in the Law of causality and in the existence of past and future existences. It was hazardous to teach non-self to people because that could make them fall into extreme views, those of nihilism. The Buddha was aware of the risk.
      The Buddha had said: « I have found a Dharma that is like ambrosia. »

      Ambrosia refers to the absence of ordinary death and thus to the state of Buddhahood. The Buddha had found such a Dharma but to whom could he teach these instructions? He had obtained the ambrosia of the realization of the state of Buddhahood but with whom could he share this nectar? To whom could he give a taste of this nectar? Finding no one, the Buddha first stayed silent.

      His Holiness the Dalai Lama gives the following explanation of the sentence « profound and serene, free from any mental elaboration and illuminating »:

      – « profound and serene » refers to emptiness and more specifically to the « emptiness of an autonomous and substantial existence of the individual » or an « emptiness of real existence of external phenomena » (that is Cittamatra views).
      – « free from any mental elaboration » refers to the profound view of no self (that is Madhyamaka views)
      – « illuminating » refers to the luminosity of the union of bliss and vacuity of the Tantras.

      The three fundamental elements that are antidotes to the grasping of the self are thus indicated. But to whom could the Buddha teach such a profound teaching? It was difficult to find the appropriate audience.

      Yet, the Buddha had appeared in this world to teach the Path. He had to expose the Path unless the beings could not achieve liberation from samsara because they would not be able to eradicate the erroneous conception of the self. The Buddha thus set off in search of the five ascetics that once were his fellow disciples. Previously they had all practiced ascetism together but when these five had seen the Buddha stopping his ascetic practices and having a meal, they had left him. The Buddha set off in search of these five persons who had a link with him and who would thus become an appropriate audience for his teaching. He taught them the Four Noble Truths.

      In this first teaching, he spoke about impermanence, about the nature of sufferings, about emptiness and no self. More precisely, when he taught emptiness, he explained the « absence of existence of a permanent, unique and independent individual ». It was exactly the antithesis of non-Buddhist views. It was a first step. The Buddha was adapting his teaching to the capacity of the audience. If we teach university courses to primary school children, they will not understand anything. It is only progressively, step by step, that more complex courses are given.

      During the first motion of the wheel of Dharma, the Buddha gave a very coarse teaching on no self. Then, when he set the second motion of the wheel of Dharma in front of an audience with sharp faculties, he taught the absence of mental elaborations. In some Schools, the absence of mental elaborations is only established for some elements. But the absence of mental elaborations is vacuity. Saying there is no « absence of mental elaborations » is a complete error.

      When he set into motion the third wheel for an audience of intermediate faculties, he taught the Cittamatra views: dependent phenomena and perfectly established existents truly exist, and purely conventional existents do not truly exist. He taught the emptiness of existence as an external object, the emptiness of a different substance between the form and the proven perception that seizes this form.

      The teachings of the Tantras were given in parallel at other occasions.

      Among the Words of the Buddha, there are 84 000 sections, and among these teachings, those that are excellent, perfect and supreme are those of the Precious Perfection of Wisdom (Prajnaparamita). In the whole corpus of the Prajnaparamitas, we draw a distinction between manifest meaning and concealed meaning.

      The gradual Path embodies the concealed meaning. It was taught by Protector Maitreya in the Abhisamaya alamkara. This teaching was actually given in a divine realm and it was Arya Asanga who taught it in our world. Because he was the one who explained in this world the steps of the Path that embody the concealed meaning, he is venerated as a « Pioneer » or « Pathfinder ». The fundamental point of the steps of the Path of the concealed meaning is the mind of Enlightenment (Bodhicitta). All the meditations that finally lead to the development of the mind of Enlightenment are exposed inside. Arya Asanga was thus one Pioneer.

      As for the manifest meaning, it is emptiness. It was explained in this world by Arya Nagarjuna through works such as Root Stanzas on the Middle Way. Arya Nagarjuna is the second « Pioneer ».

      Why are there « Pioneers » to explain the Words of the Buddha? Because this teaching is extremely complex and profound. It cannot be explained in an ordinary way. The commentators must be true and valid teachers. They must have been prophesized by the Buddha himself: « In the future, Arya Nagarjuna and Arya Asanga will appear in this world. Their instructions should be carried out ».

      Later on, they were many true teachers, like for example Je Tsongkhapa.

      The instructions of Nagarjuna were transmitted to Candrakirti. Both of them are the only true vessels of these teachings and without these genuine instructions on emptiness the Teaching of the Buddha could not be complete. Je Tsonghapa was a commentator of these teachings and he illuminated their meaning.

      Formerly, in a previous existence several eons ago, the one that was going to be Je Tsongkhapa was amid a vast assembly of great Bodhisattvas, when he stood up and made the firm aspiration to spread and clarify the profound view of the Madhyamaka in connection with the Tantras during periods of decay in the impure worlds. He made the promise to give his body and even his life to achieve this goal. The Buddhas and Bodhisattvas of the ten directions were impressed. They praised him and gave him the name « Strength of heart ».

      Later, all long his successive lives, the one that was going to be Je Tsongkhapa only took rebirths as great Pandit. He then appeared in Tibet as Losang Drakpa, that is Je Tsongkhapa. He studied at the feet of all the most genuine and eminent Masters that were living in the Land of Snow at that time. He listened to teachings and he tirelessly studied until he completed study and reflection. Each time he heard a teaching, he pondered its meaning at length until he achieved a sincere conviction. Then he put it into practice. Je Tsongkhapa himself was a native of Amdo, the Eastern province of Tibet. He had come to Central Tibet to study. In Central Tibet there were numerous monasteries where eminent Masters were teaching. Je Tsongkhapa went from one monastery to another monastery, studying, engaging in debates, arousing praises where ever he went. He himself had begun to teach.

      He then happened to meet Lama Umapa. Since a young age, this Master was having direct visions of Manjusri, but Je Tsongkhapa could not yet have this kind of encounters with the Deity. So, Lama Umapa first acted as an intermediary (or a « translator », Lotsawa) between Manjusri and Je Tsongkhapa. When this latter asked the Deity what he should do, Manjusri answered:

      One must remember that at that time, monks were not always staying in the same monastery as they do now. They used to spend a lot of time going from one place to another in order to study or to teach. They were allowed to travel from one monastery to another.

      When Manjusri told Je Tsongkhapa to go to a place of solitude, the Master was greatly working for the Dharma, travelling long distances to teach in numerous monasteries. So, he was hesitating and through the medium of Lama Umapa, he asked the Deity if it was really the good time, if it was really beneficial. Manjusri answered:

      I know what is good. I know what would benefit the Buddha’s Dharma and sentient beings! Go for an intensive retreat, go to a place of solitude.

      Thus, Je Tsongkhapa left for an intensive retreat with his eight close disciples (4 from Khams and 4 from Central Tibet). Before he left, Manjusri told him:

      Supplicate with sincerity the Guru inseparable from the Deities, strive in the accumulation of merits and in the purification of negative karmas,

      Indeed, although we might be eagerly studying, if we have negativities, it will not bear results. That is the reason why gathering the accumulations and purifying negative karmas have such an importance. Manjusri also said:

      Carefully study the great texts. For those that deal with the steps of the Path, do « unfolding meditations » (sharkom). Study, reflect and meditate on the great texts that will lead you to the realization of the profound view of emptiness. By following these instructions, you will quickly achieve realizations. Go and seek solitude as a hermit.

      Je Tsongkhapa who had already developed some realizations asked Manjusri:

      – What about the view I have already developed?
      – The view you have developed is the view of both « non-existence » and « non-non-existence ».
      – To which School does it relate?
      – it is neither Madhyamaka, nor Cittamatra!

      This kind of views is developed by some practitioners. In the past, during a prayer assembly, Je Tsongkhapa had entered meditative absorption (samadhi) and when the assembly was over, the other monks thought he had fallen asleep but he had entered a deep concentration and it was at that time that he had developed the view of both « non-existence » and « non-non-existence ».

      Now days, one can still venerate the pillar against which Je Tsongkhapa leaned during this meditation.

      So, Je Tsongkhapa went into solitude. At that time, he was about 35 years old. He made an intensive retreat for some years. One night, he had a vision of Arya Nagarjuna with His spiritual sons: Aryadeva, Candrakirti, Bhavaviveka and Buddhapalita. They were discussing the issue of the profound view of emptiness. Among them, Buddhapalita who had a huge body and a beautiful beard like Indian people might have. He came near to Je Tsongkhapa. He was holding a pothi written in Sanskrit of the commentary of Nagarjuna’s Treatise on the Middle Way that he had composed. He touched the top of the head of Je Tsongkhapa with the text thus giving him a blessing. The next morning, when Je Tsongkhapa woke up, he immediately read the commentary of Buddhapalita.

      When he read the 18th chapter, he achieved a direct realization of emptiness. We can see that numerous causes and conditions need to be gathered to achieve such fruits.

      By reading and reflecting on this text, Je Tsongkhapa totally eliminated the conception of phenomena existing through their own characteristics. At this moment, there was a feeling of void, an overwhelming void. Later, when Je Tsongkhapa taught emptiness to his disciple Je Sherap Gyatso, the latter grabbed his own monastic dress as if he had lost balance, as if he was losing ground. It is rather like when a plane is passing through an area of turbulence, we feel the need to grab the armrests of the seat. These are sensations that we may experience when meditating on emptiness.

      Je Tsongkhapa thus achieved the direct understanding of vacuity.
      In his Praise of Dependent-Arising, he writes:

      My mind only found relief and rest when through the kindness of my Lamas I saw the multicolored lotus garden of the compositions of Nagarjuna of which you prophesied they will rightly explained /
      The method of Your unsurpassable vehicule free from the extremes of existence and non-existence. And this garden was illuminated by the luminous white rosary of the excellent explanations of Candrakirti who is a vast mandala of immaculate omniscience. /
      (This rosary) is moving freely across the sky of scripture, dispelling the darkness of extremist views and outshining the shooting stars of wrong speech. (strophes 49-51)

      From these three lengthy strophes, just look at these two verses:

      the multicolored lotus garden of the compositions of Nagarjuna was illuminated by the luminous white rosary of the excellent explanations of Candrakirti

      In his Praise of Dependent-Arising, Je Tsongkhapa praises Buddha Sakyamuni through His teaching on dependent-arising. In the first verses of the first strophe of eulogy of his Root Stanzas on the Middle Way (Madhyamaka karika), Nagarjuna also praised the Buddha through his teaching of dependent-arising:

      To Him who taught that things arise dependently,
      Not ceasing, not arising, …

      But it is only the beginning, the first strophe of this work. But Je Tsongkhapa devoted a whole text to the praise of the Buddha through interdependence. In his Praise of Dependent-Arising, he says:

      You have seen it and have taught it, O Omniscient One, O unexcelled Teacher!
      I bow down to You Victorious, You who have seen dependent-arising and have taught it.
      (strophe 1)

      O wondrous teacher! O wondrous refuge! O supreme wondrous speaker! O wondrous protector! I pay homage to You, Guide who so perfectly explained dependent-arising. (strophe 8)

      Then Je Tsongkhapa himself perfectly commented the works of Nagarjuna and Candrakirti and illuminated their meaning in accordance with the thought of Buddha Sakyamuni. He thus taught and explained dependent-arising without confusion.

      And actually, we are really fortunate to have the opportunity to study the great works composed by Je Tsongkhapa such as Essence of Excellent Speeches (Lekshe nyingpo), the great commentary of the Root Stanzas on the Middle Way by Nagarjuna, The Illumination of the Thought of the Middle Way, and the chapters on penetrative insight of the Great and Small Lamrim.

      In the first strophes of the Illumination of Definitive and Provisional meanings, Je Tsongkhapa wrote:

      Although I undertook extensive efforts and studied a lot, I had not understood.

      While I was in such a situation my Guru and Protector Manjusri looked at me with infinite kindness and gave me explanations (summarized translation)
      …..
      Because sentient beings do not know the method of emptiness, of peace and no birth, they roam in samsara. The Buddha full of compassion toward them displayed numerous methods and various reasonings in order to guide them. (summarized translation)

      Indeed, moved by great compassion for beings, the Buddha used a great variety of methods to guide them and lead them to the liberation of samsara.

      He notably exposed the philosophic views of the Yogacara School. He also taught the philosophic views of the Sautantrika School and the view of the Prasangika Madhyamaka.

      As for Je Tsongkhapa he has brought to light the following points:

      – The ultimate meaning which is the emptiness of inherent nature has for crucial point to manifest without doubts under various provisional meanings (that is to say: emptiness is dependent-arising)
      – Whatever are the multi-faceted appearances of dependent-arising which is the provisional meaning, their crucial point is to provide certainty about the definitive meaning, which is the emptiness of an existence established by its own nature

      Thanks to Je Tsongkhapa, we now have the opportunity to understand the definitive and the provisional meanings and we have the opportunity to understand how they are combined.

      Dependent-arising is translated in Tibetan by « tèn drèl » or « tèn djoung ».
      The first syllable « tèn » has the meaning of « depending upon », « relying upon ».
      If phenomena were inherently established, they would not need to rely upon something else.

      If they are independently established, by their own characteristics, it is obvious that they do not rely on something else.

      Therefore, because they are not inherently produced or established, they depend upon causes and conditions to exist. By nature, they are « free of an independent arising ».

      The second syllable « djoung » is here synonym of « being established » (grub), « being born or generated » (skyed). « Generated » is in the sense of « milk is generated by the cow ».

      « Being generated » means there is an interaction between two things. Like the concepts of « unique and multiple », « good and bad », « samsara and nirvana », they do not exist by their own nature, they rely upon the other. Thus, they are empty of true existence.

      Dependent-arising is praised as the king of the arguments that assert the emptiness of true existence. The king was the person who took the final decision after the ministers had met and discussed about an important matter. The king was the one who knew what needed to be done. Similarly, there are numerous reasons or arguments that lead to the assertion of the emptiness of the self and to the emptiness of phenomena, but ultimately, all these arguments rely upon dependent-arising. No matter what argument we use to substantiate the absence of inherent self, this argument draws his strength, his power from dependent-arising. For example, when we cut a tree, the strength of the axe depends upon its sharpened part. Dependent-arising is like this sharpened part. The perfect assertion of emptiness of true existence depends on it.

      The argument of dependent-arising has the capacity to eliminate the two extremes.

      If we go back to the 9th strophe of the Three Principal Aspects of the Path,

      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.

      The interdependence Je Tsongkhapa urges his disciples to develop is the one that enables to achieve a correct view of emptiness. Indeed, interdependence prevents us from falling into the two extremes of nihilism and eternalism. It enables to achieve the view of the Middle way.

      Eternalism is the extreme of existence. When the limit of existence is known and when we exceed this limit, it is the extreme of existence or eternalism.

      Similarly, when the limit of inexistence is known, and when we exceed this limit, it is the extreme of inexistence or nihilism.

      When we speak of « limit », think about the peak of a high mountain with steep slopes. When we are on the summit and go near the edge, we are close to the limits and when we go beyond, we fall into the abyss. Exceeding the limit means falling into the precipice.

      Similarly, when we go beyond the limit of existence, we fall in the precipice of the extreme of existence, and when we go beyond the limit of inexistence, we fall in the precipice of inexistence.

      There is the extreme of overstatement or extreme of addition, when one adds on the reality of things. In everyday language, we speak of excess weight, like for example a bird who cannot fly because he is overweight, or like a person who exaggerates and overstates the reality by claiming the existence of something that does not exist.

      There is also the extreme of negation when one claims that things that exist do not exist, like for example those who say that Buddha do not exist or that the Law of causality does not exist.

      In the context of the Prasangikas (or Consequantialists) Madhyamaka Schools or in the context of Sautrantikas Madhyamaka Schools, the claim:  » Phenomena truly exist « , is an extreme of overstatement, an extreme of existence. What about the claim « there is not a single phenomenon, nothing exists »? There are some people who assert such view and who meditate on it. They meditate on nothingness because they think noting exists. But their claim is an extreme of inexistence!

      Therefore, it is really crucial, fundamental to identify, to ascertain the object we are negating in order to avoid the extremes of existence and inexistence.

      In the Prasangika Madhyamaka School, « empty » means absence of existence from its own nature, absence of true existence. Phenomena do not exist by their own characteristics. They do not truly exist. If they were truly existing, they should not rely on something else.

      We thus should strive to reach the median view of Madhyamaka which is free from the two extremes.

      This the reason why in the 9th strophe of the Three Principal Aspects of the Path, Je Tsongkhapa urges his disciples to cultivate the method of dependent-arising in order to achieve the correct view of vacuity, free from confusion, free from extremes.

      I will end the teaching here.

      Now, I will give the transmission of the practice of Mahakala. Listen carefully, do not speak during the transmission.

      There are still several strophes of the Three Principal Aspects of the Path to be explained. I will do it in a concise way in the future and then, I will ask some Geshes among my disciples to give further explanations.

      Tashi delek to all of you!
      Study well.
      Some time ago, some of you asked me for instructions on the meditation of concentration.

      But if you rush at once in the concentration that focus on one object, you will not be able to maintain clearly and tightly the object. As a first step, the preliminaries are essential and we have to devote time and energy to them. What are the preliminaries? Meditation on the movement of breath. But if we do it only one or two times for several minutes, it will be of no use. We have to do it regularly.

      Besides, whatever activities we are engaged in, whether we are walking, eating, or studying, our mind must focus on what we are doing. This is especially important when we are doing our recitations. We often have a lot of texts to recite but from the first text to the last one, from the first word to the last word, we have to reflect on the meaning of the recitation, we must be concentrated on the meaning. When you are able to do this, then you can engage in the meditation of concentration, the meditation of focalization on one object. Without these preliminaries, you will not achieve very much. Do you understand? First devote yourselves to the preliminaries!

      Tashi delek to all of you!

      You have a sincere interest for Dharma. And I am greatly pleased of this. Keep on working hard. Most importantly, do not let your mind be distracted, or more precisely do not let your mind wander under the influences of mental agitations. Do not let your mind go in the direction of mental agitations. You have to stop this process and make sure your mind is directed toward what is virtuous.
      Do what you can to go in this direction.

      Offering of the mandala.

      Translated from Tibetan by Francoise Wang with help from Geshe Tsultrim Sangye and Geshe Thoupten Tsultrim

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