Transcription of teachings by Chamtrul Rinpoche, Johannesburg 2017
Ok, so we continue from the morning class, explaining the 4 great philosophical schools. We have completed the first 3 schools, Vaibasika, Sautrantika, Cittamatra and now we will go on to the Madhyamaka.
So as we said, the other views fall into some extreme of existence and non-existence. If the view is not these, then what is the view? For this we need to know the 5 characteristics of the dharma sphere that we discussed earlier, inexpressible, non-dual, not an object of logicians, one taste, signless.
Madhayamaka means middle way because it is beyond ordinary perception and it does not fall into the extreme of one side, existent or non-existent. The meaning is beyond ordinary person’s perception, but still we use the name Middle Way. This Madhyamaka can be divided into two levels: the subschools and highest school. We need to follow step by step.
The subschool’s teaching briefly has two different classes: Svatantrika and Yogacarya. The first one, Svatantrika believe that conventionally external sense-source objects can exist separately. This is similar to the Vaibasika and Sautrantika schools.
Ultimately they believe all is empty.
Then the other, the Yogacarya believe that conventionally all exists as appearances- like Cittamatra School, but ultimately they believe that all is empty- even the ultimate realization of the absolute self & object is empty.
This is the subschool view.
Then the highest view is the Middle Way Consequentialist Class: Again there are 2 different levels: Nominal ultimate truth and actual ultimate truth.
So now we talk about the first one – nominal ultimate truth:
Eg: We can follow the Heart Sutra as it addresses one of the five aggregates, form: ‘Form is emptiness, emptiness is form, form is no other than emptiness, emptiness is no other than form.’ This means there are 4 stages or categories of understanding to traverse in order to reach the highest meaning step by step.
So first Buddha says: ‘Form is emptiness’ because in the beginning we believe that form exists inherently. This is ordinary people’s perception- we apprehend true existence, but Buddha says it is mistaken. Then if you ask why? Because form originates interdependently (the king of logic). First we need hearing wisdom then contemplation wisdom and then we need to meditate. But if you stop there and think form is empty, then maybe you feel that form is like space or nothingness.
So then Buddha says, “Emptiness is form”. Now you feel maybe there is a contradiction. Form is apparent, but emptiness is nothingness…so how can appearance and nothingness not be contradictory? If you ask why is it not contradictory, then the answer is because appearances arise interdependently…so emptiness means interdependence. Finally they become the same nature. According to ultimate logic you say emptiness and according to conventional logic you say interdependence. When you first hear these two statements you could feel like these are like two horns- separate emptiness and separate form is still not pure view…so at this stage you are not yet on the middle way, you are falling to extremes. So how can you be free of falling to extremes? You continue onto the next verses of the Heart Sutra:
“Form is no other than emptiness. Emptiness is no other than form”. This means union, but not that two are related, but rather the equality of form and emptiness…the nature of form and emptiness is one taste. Your view is equanimous – free from elaborations and concepts. The reality is equal. This equality of suchness is the middle way. Middle way does not mean a center of something- otherwise you need a right and a left. The Middle Way sounds like it means between, but this is not the meaning…it actually means beyond…beyond subject, object and perceptions. This view equally pervades everything- the impure appearances of samsara and pure appearances of nirvana. This is the fourth stage. So if we go step by step, then finally we can reach the fourth stage of equality.
So how can you find this view and practice, meditate etc? Through the Nominal Truth Madhayamaka teachings. First you can separate conventional and ultimate truth…conventionally the appearance of form and ultimately emptiness. Then you realize that they are just different aspects in union and then finally you realize the union is equal. It is easier to reach the understanding of final emptiness to go this way via the nominal truth.
Then the Actual Ultimate Truth of Madhayamaka (Consequentialist school)- the highest most profound view, is a direct view, not step by step. There is no higher view. They explain the dharmadatu directly. The explanation is direct. Chandrakirti and Nagarjuna are the main teachers of this Madhayamaka.
(Rinpoche quotes Chandrakirti in Tibetan):
There are not two different explanations of ultimate and conventional truth. Equally they can both be explained…both are of unborn nature.
We have used two truths until now because ordinary mind has dualistic grasping and so hard to explain this equality from the beginning. So finally there is no difference between ultimate and conventional truth…no self-existent conventional or ultimate truth…emptiness is empty.
First we thought emptiness was the antidote to grasping at existence. So emptiness is the object of extraordinary minds of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, but if you think emptiness exists inherently this is also an error. Emptiness itself is empty. We need to understand the object of negation in Madhyamaka. If you can perceive any inherently existent thing- either from conventional or from ultimate point of view, this is not reality. If you think something is not existent this also is an error. If you only think all is emptiness except emptiness then this is denigration. In the beginning you must pass this step, its fine, but finally even emptiness should be empty. How do we know emptiness is empty? What is the logic?
(Rinpoche quotes Nagarjuna):
If in case there are some existent things out there, then they should depend on emptiness. But finally if you see there is nothing inherently left, then even emptiness cannot exist, because emptiness depends on objects. Eg if there is nobody sick, then there is no medicine. So finally we understand that all is unborn, not inherently existent- directly, then you also understand that emptiness was just an antidote and was not itself existent. Finally emptiness is empty.
(Rinpoche quotes Nagarjuna):
Nagarjuna says that the promise of emptiness is not his final traditional view. Emptiness only depends on the others who believe there is something existent and acts as an antidote. So therefore he himself has no commitment and therefore you cannot find any fault with his view because there is no final view/commitment.
So when you clearly get this conviction and certainty and you practice the view then you have less obscurations to the omniscient mind – Buddha’s mind. This omniscient mind does not mean you are all powerful, but it means that what sentient beings need, you can offer. You can lead beings to liberation, free from faults, karmas and delusions. This is the final Mahayana purpose. It is not enough for just you to be liberated. Buddha knows exactly these methods, views, results and paths clearly without error because he experienced the path and result. This is the meaning of Buddha’s mind is omniscient.
Everyone sooner or later has this power to attain the omniscient mind because everyone has Buddha nature. Buddha nature means emptiness wisdom and essence of luminosity. The luminosity and emptiness wisdom are inseparably one nature, the unity of wisdom and compassion. This Buddha nature pervades everyone. The perfect seed of Buddhahood is there.
So when will we attain Buddhahood? This differs from person to person. For someone it could be this year, or this life, but we never know. We do know that one day everyone will attain this state because the obscurations are not the nature of our mind. So this is the Madhyamaka view.
In the beginning its easier to think of emptiness if you think of zhentong: emptiness of others eg: an empty airoplane with nobody in it. Then if you go deeper you can say Buddha nature is empty of pure appearances of nirvana and impure appearances of samsara, but this is still not pure emptiness- it is still the emptiness of other. Buddha nature is the self and impure/pure appearances is other – in this case. Then you can say that Buddhanature itself is empty – like an aeroplane itself is empty of itself or the 5 aggregates are empty of themselves.
As we mentioned from the heart sutra: “Form is emptiness, emptiness is form, form is no other than emptiness, emptiness is no other than form”. You can use this verse with all the other aggregates, not just form, like feeling:
“Feeling is emptiness, emptiness is feeling, feeling is no other than emptiness, emptiness is no other than feeling…and so forth with all the aggregates until you have equality without concepts.
And then if you find an object of knowledge other than these aggregates then you can use this object and continue with this contemplation.
Finally we say that great compassion is the essence of emptiness (of self and phenomena). This is very important. Why do we say this? At the beginning we cultivate love and compassion dependent on other’s problems, your feeling and energy etc, even though we don’t know emptiness. If you train your mind like this then love and compassion arises and this is necessary, but not very pure. When you understand emptiness then you know how and why sentient beings are suffering and wandering in samsara clearly. You know because you yourself saw the root of the suffering- self-grasping and you understand that all beings can be free. You know that if they are free of self-grasping, they can be free of karma, delusions and the sufferings of samsara. This compassion is a very strong wish to benefit- you don’t want only to temporarily benefit, but ultimately through your experience. So this compassion is born from wisdom mind.
Then maybe you ask; if someone has already realized selflessness of phenomena then to whom do you generate compassion? If the answer is ‘to sentient beings’ but then you say they are empty so there is nobody to generate compassion to. This is again a misunderstanding. It does not mean that Buddha’s focus on suffering beings existing inherently. They understand clearly that all exists as illusion. Illusorily you can have compassion to illusory sentient beings. Illusorily you can lead others on the path.
Actually attaining Buddhahood is finally also not true, because there is no inherent Buddhahood. There is no inherent samsara. If samsara is inherent, then how can we have nirvana? Samsara transforms into nirvana, which means ordinary perception transforms into enlightenment therefore Buddhahood can’t exist inherently. But don’t worry- you can illusorily attain Buddhahood. If you understand this you are close to attaining Buddhahood.
(Quotes Shakyamuni Buddha)
If someone believes Buddha is form, smell, taste etc then you are mistaken. Buddha is beyond these, ultimately.
Conventionally all is true from path of accumulation until path of no more learning…conventionally I am saying. Finally you understand there is no samsara and no nirvana, then you understand that which is hard to understand, but if you say this too early people get a headache, or don’t practice because they say there is no Buddhahood, but at the end you found the meaning so we can say this now, but not always.
I will tell one story. One Tibetan man is a very positive traditional practitioner and he has the commitment to not kill. He has yaks and sheep but does not kill them because he has a vow. One day he asks his teacher; ‘Master can you tell me what is the highest of Buddha’s teachings?’ The master says, ‘Ok, I will tell you’ and gives him a teaching like this so he says, ‘ok thank you I now understand’ and he went away and killed a yak. His wife had a fit and said, “Are you crazy? Why are you killing?” The man says, “Oh before I was mistaken, but now I understand there is no subject, no object and no action- I mistook the 3 spheres. There is no subject of killing, no object and no act of killing therefore I can kill.”
So this is a great mistake and danger- especially in tantra and great perfection, but even in sutra. So we need to understand well.
Great Compassion is born from the realization of Emptiness. Also the realization of Emptiness depends on Compassion. If we ask how do we achieve Buddhahood? We need to cultivate the mind of Enlightenment. What is the mind of Enlightenment? It is wish or attitude to benefit other mother sentient beings, so therefore I will attain the mind of enlightenment. These two are the Bodhicitta mind. This means if there is no compassion then there is no reason to attain Buddhahood, but even if you have strong compassion, if you don’t attain Buddhahood then you can’t really benefit. These two mutually support each other.
Then, finally if the pure compassion is born from the realization of emptiness. How can we collect merit? Great compassion is the main method. How can we collect wisdom? Realise emptiness. These two can be the base- view, the path and the final result of Buddhahood. Pure wisdom and compassion is the meaning of Enlightenment or Buddhahood. Ok, this is enough for the moment to introduce emptiness. There is the self emptiness and emptiness of others. Emptiness of other is a bit easier to understand, but then you must understand the emptiness of self. Finally you must go beyond emptiness of self and other and this is the final view of Madhyamaka.
So does this make sense? Good so try…sometimes study and meditate on compassion and wisdom. This talk on emptiness is the foundation for sutra and tantra…sometimes people think oh I want to practice tantra, not know this, but you need to have a general point meaning of emptiness to practice pure tantra. For example in the sutras we can say appearances are empty or the union of emptiness and appearances and in tantra we say clarity and emptiness of the deity. Emptiness is always there. If you ask “how do I visualize the deity?” I say you must visualize it clearly and its nature is empty. This ‘empty’ is all that we have been talking about. A biit higher you say bliss, emptiness. This bliss you find, you must know the nature of bliss, which is emptiness. If you only practice bliss and enjoyment, then this is desire. Then in Dzogpachenpo we talk of the emptiness of self-awareness. If you only know self-awareness as existent then this is an error, you must know the empty nature. So as I said before, the prajnaparamita teachings can have a direct, indirect and hidden meaning. Direct meaning is emptiness, indirect – the stages of the path and the hidden meaning is tantra. So this teaching is important for sutra and tantra practitioners. However if you only follow the Therevada tradition, then it is enough to only understand emptiness of person and the coarse level of emptiness of phenomena. This is the antidote to the obscurations of delusions. But if you want to reach complete Buddhahood, you need to understand selflessness of phenomena to destroy the obscurations to omniscience.
Between the Tibetan Buddhist schools, Geluk, Kagyu, Sakya and Nyingma there can be tiny differences in the philosophical view of emptiness, but we are dharma practitioners and so no need to understand these. If we do understand then good, but no need. We need to know what the cause of suffering is and the cause of happiness… how we cultivate the cause of suffering and happiness and get higher rebirth, liberation and so forth. Then we don’t need the details. Why are there differences? Because of lineage. There cannot be the same father for everyone. That is not possible. Right? So it’s a family true- its natural. But it doesn’t matter what kind of tree you belong to, your object is the same. So we must respect all the traditions of Buddhism. Buddha says you can keep faith to your tradition, but respect all traditions. Unfortunately some people even don’t respect within their own tradition. The dharma is always meant to be an antidote to negative emotions like jealousy. If dharma is used to cultivate jealousy then what is the use of dharma teaching and practice? Dharma should be the antidote to jealousy, but if you found a new jealousy from dharma then I think this is wrong.