Transcription of teachings by Chamtrul Rinpoche
So now we continue our topic of Emptiness according to the 4 great philosophical schools, Vaibasika, Sautrantika, Cittamatra and Madhyamaka. Yesterday we mentioned the first two philosophical schools and some of the third school and today we will go further with the third school.
To understand emptiness, we must first know there are two types of objects of knowledge: the objects of knowledge of conventional truth and objects of knowledge of ultimate truth. So these two truths must be clearly distinguished. The conventional truth means just the appearance of phenomenal objects like illusions or the reflection of the moon in the water or like reflections in the mirror or like objects in a dream…various aspects like sound, smell, form, taste and tactile sensation appear clearly. All these compounded phenomena originate interdependently, not independently and that’s why they just appear like an illusion. So this is conventional truth.
What is the ultimate truth of these phenomena? The nature of phenomena is empty, completely unborn from the time of their appearance. This empty nature equally pervades all appearing phenomena, so we can say all is of single taste or one taste, which means emptiness. Appearances are thousands, countless different aspects conventionally, but ultimately they are of one taste. So this is the view, which is important to know.
Buddhadharma view is that all appearances are interdependent and their nature is emptiness. These two are different aspects, but one nature. So how can we get this certainty of the view from our heart? We need to follow valid cognition with perfect logic and reasoning until certainty arises. Then when we clearly understand this view, we need to practice. Practice means we need to meditate and train the mind to become more familiar so that the meaning can become more and more clear and we can experience the general view of emptiness. Even on the path of accumulation and the path of preparation you can experience the general meaning of emptiness. Then finally at the end you will realise the selflessness of person and the emptiness of phenomena. So when you directly realize these two emptinesses with your primordial wisdom mind then you enter the path of seeing and your ordinary perception becomes the extraordinary wisdom mind and you become a spiritual, holy being (Arya Being).
If you then meditate further during the path of meditation, not only will you be free of obscurations of karma and delusions (suffering) but you will also finally be free of the obscurations to omniscience which means you achieve the state of the omniscient mind – with no imprint – and this we call Buddhahood. So everyone has the potential to eventually achieve this state.
Now we go further with our explanation. Within the first 2 schools, Vaibasika and Sautrantika, the coarse level phenomena are existent conventionally and then the partless particle and partless moment are the ultimate truth. They believe the object and subject exist separately. The subject (internal mind) and the object (the external physical objects) are composed of partless particles so both are existent conventionally at the coarse level and ultimately as partless particles and partless moments.
So now how do we perceive the 5 sense-source objects with the 5 sense-source consciousnesses? The Vaibasika school believes that in order to perceive the 5 sense objects you need the 4 conditions:
-Dominant condition: the faculties
-Observed object: the external form,
-Immediately preceding condition (which needs some explanation): It means both the continuity of external physicality and the internal mentality (mind) must both just have past the last moment or have disintegrated. If there is no disintegration yet, then we cannot perceive anew.
-The actual causal condition: one’s own mindstream-continuity. The mind itself is the substantial cause for receiving sense objects.
So in this way for example when you are perceiving an object of form, what is the dominant condition? Your eye faculty. If there is no eye faculty you cannot receive the object of form. If you lack the external observed object, then you cannot perceive. For example there must be a flower or tree to be perceived. Even if you have the eye and the object, you still need the preceding condition to have disintegrated or passed otherwise you cannot perceive the form. If you have these three but you don’t have consciousness’s clarity and awareness then you also cannot perceive the form. So if these 4 conditions are there then you can perceive an object successfully. In the same way for example to perceive sound you need an ear (dominant condition) and sound (external object) and the other 2 conditions – the third and fourth condition- stay the same and the same for the other senses. So this is the same for all sense faculties. Medical science believes something similar.
There is however a slight difference between the Vaibasika and Sautrantika schools. Sautrantika is a higher school than the Vaibasika and so their explanation is a bit more advanced. The first school, Vaibasika, believes that the outer object and inner faculty must meet and connect and then you will be able to directly perceive for example the form with your eye at the time that they meet. Generally this is what we all believe.
Then the Sautrantika believes you cannot perceive the object directly in the present moment as the conditions meet. The object and subject meet first in a preceding moment and in the moment you have perceived the object, that present moment of meeting has already passed. So they say you can never directly perceive an object- you only experience the reflection aspect of the object. This is similar to scientific explanations…if you see a shooting star, that star exploded maybe many years ago and so what you see is just an aspect or reflection of the actual object. So the Vaibasika is similar to what we normally perceive in the moment- we think that all is there and experienced in the moment, but the Sautrantika is similar to the scientific view.
Cittamatra school does not believe that there is any external materiality. They only believe in mind. They don’t believe in partless particle or partless moment. Therefore the external object and internal moment cannot exist inherently – all is just illusion like in a dream. The subject and object in a dream don’t exist substantially, they are only dream characters. For example if you dream of a big elephant, you can experience fear of it and run away. In fact the object elephant is not true and therefore nor are you as the perceiver. Both appear illusorily in the dream, but both are not true. So why do we experience subject and object separately? This separation is an illusion. Why do they appear in an illusory way? Because they appear interdependently. Dependent on what? Dependent on our imprint from past – we have an imprint of a subject and an imprint of a subject karma. We grasp at a separate self and other and this is stored on our consciousness life after life. So in the dream, what and how do we dream? Again, all is interdependently appearing – depending on our imprints during our daytime and our life from the time of our birth. These imprints go with us into the dream and simply appear as subject and object.
So in the Cittamatra school, they describe 3 different characteristics of self and phenomena:
-the imaginary self,
-the relational or dependent self
-and the absolute or ultimate self.
The same for the object: imaginary, dependent and absolute object. What does this mean? Cittamatra says everything is only mind…meaning the imprints (conditions) and the mind (cause) create our reality. So when we apprehend an external object as inherently existent then we also perceive the subject as inherently existing- this is dualistic grasping born of ignorance of all ordinary beings. Both outer and inner are not truly existent. So according to the misunderstanding we can say there is an imaginary self. We apprehend a true existence where there is not one and this gives rise to dualistic grasping. Like a dream- it exists imputedly, but not inherently. We totally mistake the reality.
Then if someone understands that this self is just imaginary and imputed and that conventionally the reality only exists interdependently then this is the second self- the dependent self.
When someone observes the ultimate truth of emptiness of self then that is the third self- the absolute self. There are two different aspects of absolute self: absolute self of object and absolute self of subject. These are only aspects of the same thing- one nature actually. This is ultimate truth.
The absolute aspect of object is Buddha nature and the absolute aspect of subject is wisdom- different aspects of same thing and when you realize Buddha nature with wisdom mind you see they are same nature. So this is the absolute self in the Cittamatra school.
So now we go to the highest philosophical school, Madhayamaka. What is the difference between Cittamatra and Madhayamaka? Cittamatra believes in selflessness of self and also the selflessness of phenomena, like Madhyamaka. So what is different in the view of these schools?
Although the only mind (Cittamatra) school does not believe in the inherent existence of subject or object – they believe all is illusion created by mind, they do believe that the absolute (ultimate) self- the 3rd characteristic (absolute self)- is substantially existent…it forms the basis of samsara and nirvana.
This absolute self forms the foundation of reincarnation- how we go from life to life. The impure appearances of samsara and the pure appearances of nirvana are displayed from this Buddhanature or absolute self. They believe that Buddhanature exists inherently and is permanent.
However if Cittamatra says that all phenomena are empty, but they say Buddhanature is ultimately existent then actually there is some contradiction because Buddhanature is also a phenomenon and so the Madhyamaka cannot accept this. They say there is a tiny contradiction.
So Vaibasika and Sautrantika schools come from the Theravada tradition and Cittamatra and Madhayamaka come from the Mahayana tradition. All are Buddha’s teachings though.
So now how do we check whether the absolute self can exist ultimately? Who knows? Does anyone know this- have they recognized that the absolute self that exists inherently? Cittamatra says that they know, but the fault is that if they believe that subject and object are interdependent, then it is not possible that only one exists dependently, like right and left- to have right then left must be there and here and there, etc. So Cittamatra does believe that everything appears like a dream, and the absolute self is selflessness of self and reality. After you have exhausted object and subject – you can’t find them- then they say the only remaining ultimate truth is this. If someone knows then this becomes an object of knowledge, then it can’t be ultimate truth because there is subject and object -dualism- ultimate truth and a knower.
So if you ask again who knows and they say that nobody knows the Buddhanature then that’s impossible- you can’t debate anything at all. It is like someone saying there is a creator god, but sorry we can’t prove this because nobody knows this. It is not logical. These faults are recognized by Madhyamaka.
This means that the absolute self is selflessness- the absolute truth is beyond ordinary perception/speech. This can only be understood through the extraordinary primordial wisdom. This Madhayamaka understands. Besides this Cittamatra is very wonderful, beautiful and logical until this point.
Everyone has the right to debate in Buddhism… they always open the door to everyone to debate, but all must follow perfect logic. All reality of phenomena eventually comes down to only one if you follow perfect logic and reasoning. The pure view must be only one – it doesn’t matter who is talking. Reality must be reality- there can’t be two pure views, one must be right and one wrong. In the end Buddha’s view can only fully be understood from Madhyamaka emptiness point of view.
Madhyamaka (Uma) means Middle way. So what does Middle way mean? Except for the Madhyamaka view all the other views fall into one extreme. They fall either into the extreme of existence or non-existence, even non-Buddhist traditions do this. Some fall into the extreme of existence, permanenece, inherent existence, automatic existence…like Cittamatra falls into the extreme of existence of inherent Buddhanature. The Vaibasika and Sautrantika partless moment and partless particle also fall into extremes of existence. Some views fall into the extremes of non-existence. This is important to distinguish clearly. Falling into the extreme of non-existence means that according to ultimate logic you find something inherently existent and then during your meditation you focus on a kind of nothingness or blankness.
Some traditions believe in both existence and non-existence. Some believe in neither existence nor non-existence. So according to the Madhyamaka:
Ultimately existent is wrong view
Ultimately non-existent is wrong view
Ultimately both existent and non existent is wrong view
Ultimately neither existent nor non-existent is wrong view
So what is the pure view according to Madhyamaka? You must be free of these 4 extremes or elaborations. Your realization of wisdom mind is non-conceptual therefore you must be free from extremes of wrong view. The pure view is not existent, not non-existent, not both existent and not neither existent nor non-existent. That is the absolute reality of phenomena. It doesn’t matter if Buddha comes or not or whether we recognize it or not, it is the reality.
This truth is not nothingness. It is free from concepts and elaboration.
The dharma sphere (Choying or Dharmata) is the object of this knowledge and the perceiver is suchness wisdom or primordial wisdom (extraordinary wisdom). Subject and object are aspects of the same nature. When you realize true nature then at that time it becomes one taste, but when you talk and explain then it seems like two. When you meditate in one- pointed equipoise on this reality then its one nature. This is beyond ordinary people’s perception.
So what are the characteristics of dharma sphere, how to explain? Difficult- even Buddha did not speak of the reality for 49 days and when he did, he did so at Vulture’s peak and taught the prajnaparamita and he used analogies- like sky, like space. Buddha can speak heart to heart but this is not ordinary speaking. To us ordinary followers he must use words.
There are 5 characteristics of the Dharma sphere:
-First aspect: unexpressible
-Second aspect: Non-dual
(Its not dualistic, zero dualistic- that is why you cannot think or talk about it because the object is zero).
-Third aspect: Not an object of logicians
Even if you are very smart as long as you use ordinary perception you cannot find the dharma sphere
-Fourth aspect of dharmata: One taste, single taste. In Tibetan we say, ’Ro chigpa’ like sour and sweet is two, but the reality is one.
-Fifth: is signlessness
So with these 5 together can you feel something?
Even if we talk like this we can get the general meaning of dharmata and we must do this if someone wants to meditate on emptiness. So then you meditate on this certainty of the view.
Wisdom we can divide into 3:
Hearing, contemplating and meditation wisdom.
First you must hear the perfect view, word by word, with no mistake. Then if you can clearly heard the view, you must contemplate and judge this and follow perfect logic and analysis until you have doubt ,which is a good sign. Then research further until real certainty from your heart is born… selflessness of self and phenomena is true. Then there is conviction- wisdom of the reflection of the word.
Now you must cultivate the third wisdom, meditation, which is the only way. You must train your mind with the view of emptiness- habituate your mind to this view. Like medicine: First you can hear how to cure and recognize what is good medicine and then you need to use the medicine, which is practice- meditation. What is the object of meditation? There are so many objects of meditation, but here it is emptiness, what you understand about emptiness from hearing and contemplation wisdom. Then if you one-pointedly focus on this without concepts, elaboration and without falling into the extremes of wrong view and keep this for as long as you can, eventually you will become more habituated and finally you will realise the dharmasphere with primordial wisdom.
So it is different to understand and to realize. Maybe some of you understand already from the teachings, but this is not the same as realising the truth. So if you do this and one day realise the true nature of your mind, then you become an extraordinary person.
Maybe some of you are on the first two paths of accumulation and preparation- this is very beautiful, you are an ordinary holy person, but still you are ordinary. You are holy because you understand how to benefit sentient beings and have trained trained your mind over lifetimes and are collecting merit, but still ordinary. When you directly realize your true nature directly your wisdom mind, you reach the path of seeing and become an extraordinary holy being, noble being or arya being.
So therefore the king of logic for emptiness is interdependence. If someone asks how everything is empty, you can say all originates from interdependence. This interdependence can be seen in science, which is very useful. Scientists usually use the word ‘dependence’, and Buddhists use the word ‘interdependence’, which is more vast, but they related to each other. Why do we say it is the king of logic? Emptiness does not mean just nothingness. Complete nothingness is nihilsm. Conventionally things appear interdependently. If there is nothingness then nothing can appear. But phenomenal appearance is like an illusion- like when you recognize during your dream that you are dreaming, you can say your dream is illusory, but if someone has not woken up from the dream then they misunderstand the dream- they can only understand the dream as real. So this is conventional truth- all is like a magical illusion.
When we research and try to find an inherent thing, we can’t find anything, but all is there interdependently. You cannot find even atom existing independently. When we look at coarse things we can understand interdependence more easily for eg: without the sun there is no earth and maybe no moon because their circulations depend on each other- they link up. Even at the subtle level of the single atom- we cannot say it exists independently as we said before, the atom depends on electrons, protons, quarks and finally perception. Therefore there is no thing that exists independently or inherently. It can only appear interdependently.
The magic elephant and the real elephant are both appearing- but how? They appear interdependently. So by this logic you can understand yes, ultimately magic and real elephant are the same. All phenomena are all like this, so the dharmasphere pervades everything- samsara and nirvana, from ordinary mind until Buddha’s omniscient mind. Buddhanature pervades all equally. One taste.
Answer to a question:
The difference between an empty house and emptiness in the dharma sense:
Tibetan: ‘Tongpa’- means nothing/nobody is there- empty of other things eg: the house is empty of people. This is ordinary emptiness.
‘Tongnyi’ means suchness empty- empty of inherent existence. ‘Nyi’ means empty of itself.
Suchness emptiness means the house itself is empty, or space itself is empty of inherent existence. The nature of each is the same- all is one taste, but if you meditate that earth is like space for example, then you fall into extreme of nihilism- this is not emptiness of inherent existence.
Emptiness is very beautiful and wonderful, but takes time to get conviction. Need to keep on analysing and meditate one-pointedly on your conviction.