3 H.H. Dalai Lama: The Eight Verses of Thought Transformation

His Holiness the Dalai Lama with Mother Teresa from Kulkata

Question. What would we have to do to get to the lowest hell?
His Holiness the Dalai Lama. The point is to develop the courage to be willing to go to one of the hells; it doesn’t mean you actually have to go there. When the Kadampa geshe Chekawa was dying, he suddenly called in his disciples and asked them to make special offerings, ceremonies and prayers for him because his practice had been unsuccessful. The disciples were very upset because they thought something terrible was about to happen. However, the geshe explained that although all his life he had been praying to be born in the hells for the benefit of others, he was now receiving a pure vision of what was to follow—he was going to be reborn in a pure land instead of the hells—and that’s why he was upset. In the same way, if we develop a strong, sincere wish to be reborn in the lower realms for the benefit of others, we accumulate a vast amount of merit that brings about the opposite result.

That’s why I always say, if we are going to be selfish we should be wisely selfish. Real, or narrow, selfishness causes us to go down; wise selfishness brings us buddhahood. That’s really wise! Unfortunately, what we usually do first is get attached to buddhahood. From the scriptures we understand that to attain buddhahood we need bodhicitta and that without it we can’t become enlightened; thus we think, “I want buddhahood, therefore I have to practice bodhicitta.” We are not so much concerned about bodhicitta as about buddhahood. This is absolutely wrong. We should do the opposite; forget the selfish motivation and think how really to help others.

If we go to hell we can help neither others nor ourselves. How can we help? Not just by giving them something or performing miracles, but by teaching Dharma. However, first we must be qualified to teach. At present we cannot explain the whole path—all the practices and experiences that one person has to go through from the first stage up to the last, enlightenment. Perhaps we can explain some of the early stages through our own experience, but not much more than that. To be able to help others in the most extensive way by leading them along the entire path to enlightenment we must first enlighten ourselves. For this reason we should practice bodhicitta. This is entirely different from our usual way of thinking, where we are compelled to think of others and dedicate our heart to them because of selfish concern for our own enlightenment. This way of going about things is completely false, a sort of lie.

Q. I read in a book that just by practicing Dharma we prevent nine generations of our relatives from rebirth in hell. Is this true?
His Holiness the Dalai Lama. This is a little bit of advertising! In fact it is possible that something like this could happen, but in general it’s not so simple. Take, for example, our reciting the mantra OM MANI PADME HUM and dedicating the merit of that to our rapidly attaining enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings. We can’t say that just by reciting mantras we shall quickly attain enlightenment, but we can say that such practices act as contributory causes for enlightenment. Likewise, while our practicing Dharma will not itself protect our relatives from lower rebirths, it may act as a contributory cause for this.

If this were not the case, if our practice could act as the principal cause of a result experienced by others, it would contradict the law of karma, the relationship between cause and effect. Then we could simply sit back and relax and let all the buddhas and bodhisattvas do everything for us; we would not have to take any responsibility for our own welfare. However, the fully enlightened one said that all he can do is teach us the Dharma, the path to liberation from suffering, and then it’s up to us to put it into practice—he washed his hands of that responsibility! As Buddhism teaches that there is no creator and that we create everything for ourselves, we are therefore our own masters—within the limits of the law of cause and effect. And this law of karma teaches that if we do good things we shall experience good results and if we do bad things we shall experience unhappiness.

Q. How do we cultivate patience?
His Holiness the Dalai Lama. There are many methods.10 Knowledge of and faith in the law of karma themselves engender patience. You realize, “This suffering I’m experiencing is entirely my own fault, the result of actions I myself created in the past. Since I can’t escape it I have to put up with it. However, if I want to avoid suffering in the future I can do so by cultivating virtues such as patience. Getting irritated or angry with this suffering will only create negative karma, the cause for future misfortune.” This is one way of practicing patience.

Another thing you can do is meditate on the suffering nature of the body: “This body and mind are the basis for all kinds of suffering; it is natural and by no means unexpected that suffering should arise from them.” This sort of realization is very helpful for the development of patience.

You can also recall what it says in the Bodhicaryavatara:

Why be unhappy about something
If it can be remedied?
And what is the use of being unhappy about something
If it cannot be remedied?
11

If there is a method of overcoming your suffering or an opportunity to do so, you have no need to worry. If there is absolutely nothing you can do about it, worrying cannot help you at all. This is both very simple and very clear.

Something else you can do is to contemplate the disadvantages of getting angry and the advantages of practicing patience. We are human beings—one of our better qualities is our ability to think and judge. If we lose patience and get angry, we lose our ability to make proper judgments and thereby lose one of the most powerful instruments we have for tackling problems: our human wisdom. This is something that animals do not have. If we lose patience and get irritated we are damaging this precious instrument. We should remember this; it is far better to have courage and determination and face suffering with patience.

Q. How can we be humble yet at the same time realistic about the good qualities that we possess?
His Holiness the Dalai Lama. You have to differentiate between confidence in your abilities and pride. You should have confidence in whatever good qualities and skills you have and use them courageously, but you shouldn’t feel arrogantly proud of them. Being humble doesn’t mean feeling totally incompetent and helpless. Humility is cultivated as the opponent of pride, but we should use whatever good qualities we have to the full.

Ideally, you should have a great deal of courage and strength but not boast about or make a big show of it. Then, in times of need, you should rise to the occasion and fight bravely for what is right. This is perfect. If you have none of these good qualities but go around boasting how great you are and in times of need completely shrink back, you’re just the opposite. The first person is very courageous but has no pride; the other is very proud but has no courage.

8. Undefiled by the stains of the superstitions of the eight worldly concerns, may I, by perceiving all phenomena as illusory, be released from the bondage of attachment.

This verse deals with wisdom. All the preceding practices should not be defiled by the stains of the superstitions of the eight worldly dharmas. These eight can be referred to as white, black or mixed.12 I think it should be all right if I explain this verse from the point of view of the practices being done without their being stained by the wrong conception of clinging to true existence—the superstition of the eight dharmas.13

How does one avoid staining one’s practice in this way? By recognizing all existence as illusory and not clinging to true existence. In this way, one is liberated from the bondage of this type of clinging.

To explain the meaning of “illusory” here: true existence appears in the aspect of various objects, wherever they are manifest, but in fact there is no true existence there. True existence appears, but there is none—it is an illusion. Even though everything that exists appears as truly existent, it is devoid of true existence. To see that objects are empty of true existence—that even though true existence appears there is none, it is illusory—one should have definite understanding of the meaning of emptiness: the emptiness of the manifest appearance.

First one should be certain that all phenomena are empty of true existence. Then later, when that which has absolute nature14 appears to be truly existent, one refutes the true existence by recalling one’s previous ascertainment of the total absence of true existence. When one puts together these two—the appearance of true existence and its emptiness as previously experienced—one discovers the illusoriness of phenomena.

At this time there is no need for an explanation of the way things appear as illusory separate from that just given. This text explains up to the meditation on mere emptiness. In tantric teachings such as the Guhyasamaja tantra, that which is called illusory is completely separate; in this verse, that which is called illusory does not have to be shown separately. Thus, the true existence of that which has absolute nature is the object of refutation and should be refuted. When it has been, the illusory mode of appearance of things arises indirectly: they seem to be truly existent but they are not.15

Q. How can something that is unfindable and exists merely by imputation function?
His Holiness the Dalai Lama. That’s very difficult. If you can realize that subject and action exist by reason of their being dependent arisings, emptiness will appear in dependent arising. This is the most difficult thing to understand.16

If you have realized non-inherent existence well, the experience of existent objects speaks for itself. That they exist by nature is refuted by logic, and you can be convinced by logic that things do not—there is no way that they can—inherently exist. Yet they definitely do exist because we experience them. So how do they exist? They exist merely by the power of name. This is not saying that they don’t exist; it is never said that things do not exist. What is said is that they exist by the power of name. This is a difficult point; something that you can understand slowly, slowly through experience.

First you have to analyze whether things exist truly or not, actually findably or not: you can’t find them. But if we say that they don’t exist at all, this is a mistake, because we do experience them. We can’t prove through logic that things exist findably, but we do know through our experience that they exist. Thus we can make a definite conclusion that things do exist. Now, if things exist there are only two ways in which they can do so: either from their own base or by being under the control of other factors, that is, either completely independently or dependently. Since logic disproves that things exist independently, the only way they can exist is dependently.

Upon what do things depend for their existence? They depend upon the base that is labeled and the thought that labels. If they could be found when searched for, they should exist by their own nature, and thus the Madhyamaka scriptures, which say that things do not exist by their own nature, would be wrong. However, you can’t find things when you search for them. What you do find is something that exists under the control of other factors, which is therefore said to exist merely in name. The word “merely” here indicates that something is being cut off: but what is being cut off is not the name, nor is it that which has a meaning and is the object of a valid mind. We are not saying that there is no meaning to things other than their names, or that the meaning that is not the name is not the object of a valid mind. What it cuts off is that it exists by something other than the power of name. Things exist merely by the power of name, but they have meaning, and that meaning is the object of a valid mind. But the nature of things is that they exist simply by the power of name.

There is no other alternative, only the force of name. That does not mean that besides the name there is nothing. There is the thing, there is a meaning and there is a name. What is the meaning? The meaning also exists merely in name.

Q. Is the mind something that really exists or is it also an illusion?
His Holiness the Dalai Lama. It’s the same thing. According to the Prasangika Madhyamaka, the highest, most precise view, it is the same thing whether it is an external object or the internal consciousness that apprehends it: both exist by the power of name; neither is truly existent. Thought itself exists merely in name; so do emptiness, buddha, good, bad and indifferent. Everything exists solely by the power of name.

When we say “name only” there is no way to understand what it means other than that it cuts off meanings that are not name only. If you take a real person and a phantom person, for example, both are the same in that they exist merely by name, but there is a difference between them. Whatever exists or does not exist is merely labeled, but in name, some things exist and others do not.17

According to the Mind Only school, external phenomena appear to inherently exist but are, in fact, empty of external, inherent existence, whereas the mind is truly existent. I think this is enough about Buddhist tenets for now.18

Q. Are “mind” and “consciousness” equivalent terms?
His Holiness the Dalai Lama. There are distinctions made in Tibetan, but it’s difficult to say whether the English words carry the same connotations. Where “mind” refers to primary consciousness it would probably be the same as “consciousness.” In Tibetan, “awareness” is the most general term and is divided into primary consciousness and (secondary) mental factors, both of which have many further subdivisions. Also, when we speak of awareness there are mental and sensory awareness, and the former has many subdivisions into various degrees of roughness and subtlety. Whether or not the English words correspond to the Tibetan in terms of precision and so forth is difficult to say.

Notes
1. See Lama Zopa Rinpoche, The Everflowing Nectar of Bodhicitta, for a complete meditation practice on the Eight Verses.

2. See Geshe Rabten’s teaching on the twelve links.

3. From Nagarjuna’s Precious Garland, verse 169 :

There is pleasure when a sore is scratched,
But to be without sores is more pleasurable still;
Just so, there are pleasures in worldly desires,
But to be without desires is more pleasurable still.

See Buddhist Advice for Living and Liberation: Nagarjuna’s Precious Garland.

4. This does not mean that these beings’ fundamental nature is unchangeably evil but refers more to their character or behavior.

5. This is the 16th secondary vow: “The auxiliary vow to abandon not dispelling another’s negative actions with wrathful methods that you know will be effective” (Lama Yeshe & Lama Zopa Rinpoche. The Bodhisattva’s Precepts: Golden Ornament of the Fortunate Ones, Pleasing All Sentient Beings. Kopan Monastery, 1974).

6. See A Guide to the Bodhisattva Way of Life, Chapter 5, and Shantideva, Shiksa-Samuccaya: A Compendium of Buddhist Doctrine, translated by Cecil Bendall & WHD Rouse; Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1971.

7. See A Guide to the Bodhisattva Way of Life, Chapter 6, and note 10, below.

8. See Advice from a Spiritual Friend, pp. 92–93.

9. See A Guide to the Bodhisattva Way of Life, Chapter 8, verse 126.

10. See His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s book Healing Anger: The Power of Patience from a Buddhist Perspective, a commentary on the sixth chapter of Shantideva’s Guide.

11. See A Guide to the Bodhisattva Way of Life, Chapter 6, verse 10.

12. The eight worldly dharmas are attachment to (1) everything going well, (2) fame, (3) receiving material goods and (4) praise, and aversion to their opposites. According to Pabongka Dechen Nyingpo, such actions are black when done with attachment to the happiness of this life, mixed when done without attachment but with self-cherishing and white when done without self-cherishing but with clinging to the I as truly existent. Another explanation has it that black are actions that both look non-virtuous and are done with non-virtuous motivation, mixed are actions that look virtuous but are done with non-virtuous motivation, and white are those such as this example: a monk who is not a particularly good one acts very properly, as if he is always like that, when he is in public so that people will not criticize the Sangha. (Notes 12 through 17 are from clarifications made by Lama Thubten Zopa Rinpoche.)

13. His Holiness chooses to explain “without their being stained” here from the point of view of the practices being done free from the wrong conception of holding things as truly existent as well as free from attachment to this life. The other way they can be stained is by self-cherishing.

14. “That which has absolute nature” is the interpretive translation of the term chhos.chan used by His Holiness, where chhos means absolute nature.

15. A mirage appears to be water but it is not. When we understand the reality that what we are seeing is an optical illusion caused by atmospheric conditions, we still see the water but it appears illusory.

16. Take, for example, “I am going to Kathmandu.” How are the subject I, and the action, going, dependent arisings? Why do you say “I am going”? Your aggregates are going to Kathmandu and you merely label them “I”—the subject is dependent upon the aggregates, as are the subject’s actions. When you consider how the I exists dependent upon being imputed by thought to its basis, the aggregates, and how actions too depend upon thought and the basis of imputation, you can see the subject and the action as dependent arisings. While you reflect on this—that subject and action exist dependent upon the aggregates (the basis of imputation), the label and the thought—you lose the truly existent I on the aggregates and the truly existent I going to Kathmandu. By realizing that the aggregates are empty of the truly existent I and its action of going, automatically you realize that the I and its actions exist dependent upon the aggregates and their actions, and by the power of name.

17. The real person and the phantom person are both merely labeled, but the real person actually exists because his basis of imputation, the aggregates that are labeled “person,” exists. The phantom person does not exist because there are no aggregates, no consciousness for him to depend on; he does not exist in name. In a dream, the appearance of a person serves as a basis of imputation but it is not a proper base as there are no aggregates.

18. For more on tenets, see Geshe Lhundup Sopa & Jeffrey Hopkins. Cutting Through Appearances. 1989. Daniel Cozort & Craig Preston. Buddhist Philosophy: Losang Gönchok’s Short Commentary to Jamyang Shayba’s “Root Text on Tenets.” 2003. Both Ithaca: Snow Lion Publications.

This teaching was translated by Alexander Berzin, clarified by Lama Zopa Rinpoche, edited by Nicholas Ribush and first published in the souvenir booklet for Tushita Mahayana Meditation Centre’s Second Dharma Celebration, November 5-8 1982, New Delhi, India. Published in 2005 in the LYWA publication Teachings From Tibet.

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