Transcribed from Chamtrul Rinpoche’s talks at the Lam Rim Centre
Johannesburg South Africa 2017
Buddha Shakyamuni cultivated the mind of enlightenment before Mahashakyamuni Buddha three numberless eons ago and then he continuously accumulated merit and wisdom over this long time. Finally then Buddha Shakyamuni attained the state of complete Buddhahood under the bodhi tree in Bodhgaya in India. He did not teach even one verse over the next 49 days because he felt that people would not understand the realisation of the selflessness of person and phenomena because the topic is very extensive and he himself took so long- three numberless eons to accumulate the wisdom and merit to understand the truth.
But then the Gods of desire realm with temporary contaminated clairvoyance appeared to him. They could see with the divine eye that he had achieved enlightenment and had a strong wish that Buddha Shakyamuni spread the teaching of dharma in the world and so they requested the teachings. This was an auspicious sign to Buddha and so he first taught the 4 Noble Truths in Sarnath, near Bodhgaya. He taught the noble truth of suffering, the noble truth of origination of suffering, the noble truth of cessation of suffering and the noble truth of path to liberation. These formed the basics of the details that would later come from Buddha’s teachings and comprised the first stage of Buddha’s teachings or the first turning of the wheel of dharma.
The second stage of turning the wheel of dharma was at a place called Rajgir in India- Vulture’s peak near the palace of the Indian King. This second turning’s main subject was the perfection of wisdom (prajnamaramita in Sanskrit) or we can say emptiness explanations. Then the third turning of the wheel was taught especially in Yangpachen in India and the main topic was around 10 sutras of the only mind school and the main point was the realization of Buddha Nature and how to find Buddha nature which pervades all beings’ mind.
Why did Buddha teach more than 84 000 different teachings? The reason is because the future follower’s karmic capabilities, faculties, afflictive emotions and obscurations of delusion would be different. So Buddha gave many options. We can say all the abandonment objects can be divided in the 84 000 aspects of dharma. These can be divided into 3 stages which are linked to the 3 poisons- anger desire and ignorance which are at the root of all the various kinds of afflictive emotions. Buddha’s teachings can be divided into 3 baskets, combating the 3 root delusions/levels of obscurations– 21 000 kinds of desire, 21000 types anger, 21000 kinds of ignorance, and a fourth basket (tantra) – 21 000 different aspects which addresses the abandonment objects of the 3 poisons and their imprints and so in total there are 84 000 dharmas.
Here we will discuss the 2nd turning of the wheel- the prajnaparamita teachings (great perfection teachings). Buddha taught these in a detailed way in 100 000 verses. We have 12 volumes of these detailed explanations. Then the second detailed explanation is in 20 000 verses and the third is the 8000 verses on prajnamaramita. Then from these 8000 verses there is a shorter summary of around 100 verses and lastly there is a very brief essential summary – the “Heart Sutra” which is very well known. This all makes up the 2nd turning of the wheel teachings on emptiness.
So what is the benefit of understanding emptiness and what are the problems if we don’t understand emptiness? As you know a dharma practitioner’s main purpose is the attainment of all-knowable knowledge for the sake of all mother sentient beings from when first generating the mind of enlightenment until samsara is emptied.
Therefore how can we benefit others? What bodies can benefit? We can Benefit through two main bodies – the dharmakaya (truth body) and form body (rupakaya).
We need to collect merit and wisdom to attain these bodies to benefit beings. Buddha himself did so over three numberless eons. It does not matter whether you follow sutra or tantra, you still need these collections. If you are missing one of these two you cannot possibly attain buddhahood.
So how do we start? We need to generate the Bodhicitta mind or mind of enlightenment. The compassionate and loving kindness mind is the essence of the mind of Bodhicitta and is the method for collecting merit. If we lack these two- compassion and loving kindness- then there is no way to collect merit. That’s why compassion and love is the essence of dharma for Therevada up to Mahayana practitioners. Then the second is the collection of wisdom. How do we start? We need to understand the emptiness of person or self and emptiness of phenomena.
Therefore emptiness and compassion is the basis of Buddha’s path and the basis from which all the details emerge from sutra and tantra. The accumulation of merit is the actual cause of the rupkaya to benefit sentient beings. The collection of wisdom is the condition of the rupakaya.
Then the collection of wisdom is the actual cause of the truth body (dharmakaya) and the collection of merit is the condition for the fully ripened result of dharmakaya. So if we miss one of these collections then we cannot attain the final aim of Buddhahood. So we must know the view of Buddha dharma.
Conventionally we must know that all compounded phenomena are originated interdependently. This is just conventional truth. When you understand conventional truth clearly, then by this logic you can further understand in a deeper way the reality of the conventional truth, which is selflessness or emptiness of person and phenomena – which is ultimate truth. So if you gain certainty of these two truths then you have found the excellent, authentic view.
After you have found the view you need to practice and train your mind with this view and enter into the path of liberation. The BASE is the view, PATH is the accumulation of the two collections (merit & wisdom). We need to continuously train in emptiness and compassion mind – to gain familiarity and step by step increase mental-spiritual qualities on the path of dharma. Within PATH there are 5: the path of accumulation, the path of preparation, the path of seeing, the path of meditation, and the path of no more learning.
How can you enter the first step? By accumulation of wisdom and merit. Then continuously become more familiar and then you can cross to the path of preparation and so forth. Then at the path of seeing the ordinary being becomes the Arya being (noble being) but this is not yet Buddhahood. Then if you continue these accumulations continuously with the view, you cross to the path of meditation and then the path of no more learning.
There is no way of leaving out one of these stages, you need to complete all the accumulations but the methods are different and so with some methods you can collect these more quickly.
So first we need to understand generally the objects of knowledge. There are two- the objects of knowledge of conventional truth and objects of knowledge of ultimate truth. We need to know both. Both are true, both born of perfect logic and excellent investigation and reasoning. If you follow wrong logic then you find the wrong path and wrong result. So its important to follow right logic, reasoning and right path and result. Truth is undeceptive.
Every object of knowledge can be divided into these two truths, for example our life: Maybe we are 40 years and at this time we seem like our life is stable, permanent. But the reality is that our life is impermanent changing moment to moment. So which is true? Yes we are 40 years old and our life has reached this point, but actually this stability has come about through many moments of change. So conventionally we can say we have lived for 40 years- that is true, but ultimately we cannot say our life is longer than one instant (from an ultimate truth point of view).
The appearance is different from the ultimate reality.
So the definition of conventional truth is that what appears to us, but the actual nature of what appears to us is non-existent, selfless, or empty- that is ultimate truth. To find this ultimate truth you cannot only follow the logic of conventional truth, but if you follow the logic of ultimate truth then you can find the object of ultimate truth, the reality of emptiness. So by following these two logics you find two different kinds of truth. So therefore these two truths of appearance and emptiness are not contradictory- both are true depending on what logic you follow.
For example someone may say “I had a very bad dream last night and my body was burning in a fire. It was so painful…it was a terrible dream!” Is this true? We can divide this experience into two kinds of truth. Conventionally we can say yes true you did burn in the fire and it was terrible- you experienced this. But actually it was not reality because it was just a dream. In reality your body was sleeping comfortably on your bed, you were not burning and there was no fire- there was no problem at all.
So both are true. But then you may ask how can both be true? One must be true, not both because one was burning and one was not- they are opposite. But if your reasoning only follows one kind of logic and reasoning then you can say that there is a contradiction. So you must separate your logic into two logics, one conventional and one ultimate. So everything is like this- all phenomena and objects of knowledge can be divided into these two truths.
So now what does emptiness mean? In Buddhist philosophy emptiness is introduced step by step because it is not easy to comprehend the deeper level. For example start with impermanence and permanence. First you think life is permanent (that is the object of negation) then you realise that it is impermanent and you understand the truth of our life. So first you had misunderstanding that life is permanent then you realize that permanence is not existent (permanence is empty) but something else is there- impermanence. Your life is not non-existent. Your life exists, but not permanently- only impermanently.
So there are 4 great philosophical schools that explain these two truths and emptiness:
All of these schools teach truth. The first class teaches tiny truth, not the very vast truth of emptiness and then becomes vaster and deeper as you go from school to school. The last school is more complicated and the deepest level.
So it is better to go step by step. First there are two kinds of emptiness:
Emptiness of person &
Emptiness of phenomena
Or we can say
Selflessness of person &
Selflessness of phenomena
Why are there two stages? We need to know the abandonment object. The first abandonment object is the obscuration of karma and delusions
Second abandonment object is the obscuration to omniscience
If you want to attain the state of Nirvana (ultimate peace and satisfaction) then you must at least understand how to cut the root of delusions and samsara, which is Ignorance. What is the meaning of ignorance? Ignorance or ‘Marigpa’ in Tibetan means not knowing or seeing the opposite of reality (misunderstanding) What is the object of misunderstanding?
First it is yourself- the person. It is an object of knowledge that can be divided into two truths. What is the conventional truth of a person? A person can exist interdependently. We are dependent on our karma and ignorance and delusions. We are born this way thousands of times and if we don’t liberate then this will continue for many reincarnations. This is conventional truth… like illusions…the appearance is true but we add something on top of appearance. We apprehend substantial or inherent existence. This is not true. This is ignorance of conventional truth. If you recognize that something is a reflection of a form in the mirror then that is conventional truth. If we only believe that all is like illusion appearing interdependently then this is conventional truth.
So now what is the ultimate truth of yourself- the person? Completely empty, non-existence of a person. So now we need to examine how we can say that the ultimate truth is emptiness of the person.
Self-grasping or ego clinging is at the root of suffering of samara. That is ignorance. Is this object of clinging true or not? If you want to jugde you must follow ultimate logic, not conventional. Usually the self-grasping is two types: innate/co-emergent and imputed (imaginary) self grasping. Imputed self is learned as we grow up and learn things about how we exist, but what is the innate/coemergent self?
The innate self is born in everyone’s mind, even animals. There is self-grasping- like when we are thirsty we feel uncomfortable then try find drink or when threatened we move away etc- this is our natural predisposition and as long as we have this self-grasping, then the next stage of problems arise- self-cherishing. I, I, I, I want I need etc more, more, more…endless desire stems from this self-cherishing. All you want to accept and want to reject for yourself is based on self-cherishing. Then this self-cherishing is the root of desire, anger and ignorance- the 3 poisons and these are the root of contaminated karma. Then when contaminated karma is created we will experience the fully ripened result of suffering of samsara. So if you want t be free of samsaric suffering then need to be free of contaminated karma, if want to be free of contaminated karma must be free from delusions- the 3 poisons. Then if we want to be free from the 3 poisons then we must see that these are born of misunderstanding and we must be free of ego-clinging and self-grasping. So its clear that the root of all suffering comes from the self-grasping. So now is it possible to be free from self-grasping or not?
If you see the possibility of changing self-grasping then you can see the possibility of changing delusions, karma and samsaric suffering. How to change self-grasping? We must at least realize selflessness of the person or self. Is the person or ‘I” truly existent or not from the point of ultimate truth?
(Rinpoche quotes Nagarjuna & Chandrakirti)
General meaning of quotes: From the beginning we have self-grasping. As long as self-grasping is there then we cling to others. Then we have dualistic grasping mind. Then ignorance, attachment and aversion will be there. Contaminated karma is there and whether positive or negative it will always lead us back to samsara. So if you want to be free from suffering of samsara you need to be liberated by realizing selflessness of self.
So now lets check if the person is truly existent or not by using our excellent investigation and analytical faculties. If self is truly existent then there is no hope of being free of samsara. If not truly existent then there is a chance.
Our natural perception is to think that self is true. That’s why we say we are angry because they hurt me or I love them etc. We believe naturally that I myself am one single entity- that’s why we say “when I was a teenager this and that happened” or why we believe in one incarnation of the same being eg HH Dalai Lama. So now lets check- where is this person? We never check where this person is. Is this person material or non-material? Maybe you say I am material, look I am sitting on the cushion in front of you. But if that is you then you don’t come from a past life because your physical body comes from your parents. Maybe some of you say “I don’t believe in reincarnation anyway.” Then we check further- what is the basis of a person? In a human we have 5 aggregates that form the basis. The aggregate of form- we can all see each other, feeling- you all have sensation, perception/recognition- you can understand what I am saying clearly, mental compositional factors- anger, compassion, jealously can arise and then consciousness- clarity and awareness.
These are the foundation of a person. We grasp that this is ‘me’ or that is ‘you’.
So now check whether the aggregates of a person are the same nature or different? Naturally we say yes they are same and I am one. But if you investigate say the body then you see your have 5 limbs so which part is yourself? One limb, or all 5? If you say the whole body is me then if you lose one part then you have lost yourself eg: you loose a leg you loose yourself because you say you are the whole. So now if you say a part is you then you have to say one arm is you, one leg is you and if you count all the limbs then you have 5 persons. So a part can’t be you either. So maybe you can say this body is ‘yours’, not ‘you’. We often say my body is unhealthy or fit- we refer to it as ‘my body’. This is true because your body comes from parents but you are coming from a past life. This body will exhaust into the 4 elements, but not you because you believe the 15th Dalai Lama is coming in the future therefore you know the body is not self.
Now lets check feeling? You say ‘my feeling is comfortable or uncomfortable’. Then this is not you because you change. Today you may be an angry person and tomorrow you may be happy and enjoy life, so you feel its my feeling- not me. Also the same for my regognition/perception. Then secondary mind has 51 factors therefore you would be divided into 51 persons. So usually people say, “but I am consciousness because mind is the basis of reincarnation” so you feel consciousness is the basis of the person. If you say consciousness is the person then you can divide consciousness into 6 sense-source consciousnesses, so therefore you should have 6 persons. If the whole of the consciousness is you then if you lose one sense eg you are blind or deaf then you must say you have lost yourself, but this is not true. But usually we say ‘my consciousness”. Maybe we say mental consciousness is me because that is what travels from life to life. The base of all consciousness has many different kinds of seeds planted in it- good and bad karmic seeds and so if it is you then you are changing moment to moment as each seed ripens and is exhausted. Then that means you lose yourself when each moment rises and ceases.
So we can say the 5 aggregates are MY aggregates but not ME.
But now we still are looking for me. Where are you? Where am I?
So we have established that self is not residing within the 5 aggregates. So now we may say the self exists separately – it is remaining separately like a host, but where? How far from the aggregates? Can you measure? Why can you not find a separate self apart from the 5 aggregates. The reason is that a separate self does not exist. If someone finds an inherently existent person then they must explain what it looks like- colour, shape, particles etc.
So a person is not existent within the body, separate from the body, or interdependently with the aggregates or independently from the aggregates.
You feel that the person must be there like you see shoes so you assume there are feet, or you see a house and you assume there is a host. But how do you know that the 5 aggregates belong to a person? Without proof of a person, you cannot say the person is there. So finally you cannot even say ultimately these 5 aggregates are mine.
Conventionally the person is there, but ultimately if you look you can’t find a person. So finally you have the perfect view.
If you say there is absolutely nothingness like the horn of a rabbit- then you fall into extreme of nihilism. Madhyamika is free from extremes of existence and non-existence. There is someone who is there who can practice, get married, have children and can die. So like in a dream all these are possible conventionally, pleasure and suffering, but ultimately there is no person, no dream, no suffering or pleasure. We are suffering conventionally in samsara not ultimately, because we misunderstand conventional and ultimate truth. We should understand first conventional and then ultimate truth and then its not enough to understand but we must practice and realize selflessness of self.
First you hear what is said today and then you need to collect the wisdom of contemplation to gain some conviction and then once you have gained these two understandings then we need to start meditation . If you have hearing, contemplation and meditation experience of emptiness then you will have more experience of selflessness and then finally if you can become more and more familiar then at the end you will directly realize the true nature and achieve the realization of true nature of selflessness by primordial wisdom. Then you will be completely free of ignorance, free of contaminated karma and free of delusion. You are then a noble being (Arya being). You are not an ordinary being any more. Then you can be born into samsara through wisdom and compassion power only- like His Holiness Dalai Lama and not through karma and delusions.
This is the view of all 4 schools – that emptiness is the true nature of the person. If someone has renunciation to samsara and attachment to nirvana then this is the only way- to realize selflessness of self. Emptiness is the actual way to be liberated. You can practice many things like generosity, morality and so forth and these can lead you to the higher realms, but can never lead to liberation. To attain liberation we must be free of contaminated karma. To collect uncontaminated karma we must hear, contemplate and realize selflessness of the person otherwise we only accumulate contaminated karma. Okay clear?