Commentary on the Rosary of Views by His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama
19-21, 2004, Miami, Florida. Translated by Thubten Jinpa. Sept. Transcribed, annotated and edited by Phillip Lecso.
His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama
I will not be giving the transmission or empowerment for this teaching since in preparation for the Kalachakra in Toronto I had to do a great deal of chanting which was difficult for my lungs. Since you will not receive the empowerment ceremony and the blessing in that form, please do not feel that this is a great loss for you. In fact, it is more important to contemplate, reflect and meditate. Even if one may receive tens, hundreds or thousands of empowerment ceremonies, they will not be of much effect or benefit. So we will be spending two days on teaching the explanation of this text, giving an explanation of the Dharma which in a way is more important than receiving an empowerment blessing.
Of course in very exceptional cases, on the part of the disciple in that all of the karmic conditions have fully ripened and on the part of the teacher, they have a great affinity for the disciple with all of the prerequisites being in place. Under such a circumstance, it is possible/conceivable that by just receiving a simple blessing or an empowerment ceremony, a complete realization can take place in the disciple. But generally speaking, it is only through understanding and hardship that realizations grow.
For example if one looks at the life story of the great Milarepa, one reads that he had once come across a teacher who claimed to have a very special instruction which if practiced during the day, would give enlightenment during the day or if practices at night, would give rise to enlightenment at night. He claimed that it was such a unique transmission that one could in fact attain enlightenment without any meditative practice. He also heard that this practice was especially appropriate for a practitioner who was at a very high state of karmic maturity. Milarepa met this teacher and felt that he must qualify for this practice. He was very pleased and went to bed not practicing as he thought that he must be one of those practitioners who will attain enlightenment without any meditative practice. So the next morning the teacher asked him what sort of indications did he receive in his dreams. Milarepa replied that he did not have any positive dreams. The teacher replied in that case that Milarepa was not an appropriate disciple for that instruction. He told Milarepa to seek teachings from the great disciple of the Indian master Naropa, Marpa the Translator. Milarepa went to Marpa and of course we all know how much hardship Milarepa endured from Marpa. Milarepa’s story testifies to the fact that it is through hardship and constant practice that eventually leads to realization, not through a simple blessing or being touched on the head by another’s palm.
(His Holiness the Dalai Lama in English) As you know, I am one simple Buddhist monk; I am a human being. So basically we are all the same nature. Everyone wants to have a happy life, a successful life. I also have this desire and I think everyone else also has this desire. Certainly we all have the right to have a happy and successful life. Also I believe that each of us as a human being on this planet has a responsibility to think about humanity, about the world as a whole because our future depends on this. The world or humanity will be happier, more prosperous and have fewer troubles. Each individual part of this humanity will automatically get benefit if the world has fewer difficulties. Otherwise there will be more difficulties, more fear, more doubt and more confusion and all the individuals will suffer. This is the reality. Therefore taking care of the planet and humanity is not something holy but realistic.
So I think that a person who has some experience about the inner world or has had inner sorts of experiences, I feel that person has motivation and inner values or qualities and this is something very crucial for a successful life and the betterment of humanity. Therefore my number one commitment is promote human values. I think I may touch on something about this according to this text.
My second commitment is to promote religious harmony. Because I am a Buddhist, I am one of its believers. In today’s world there are various religious traditions which I feel still have an important role for serving and helping humanity. Yet because of these different religious traditions there is sometimes the motivation for more conflict so the effort to promote a closer understanding among the different traditions is I think important and useful. So that is my second commitment. At this point also, I will explain more according to this text.
My third commitment concerns Tibet. I will not cover this in this program, only the first two, to promote human values and to promote religious harmony. With this will be an explanation of the Buddhadharma and its way of practice. Although I feel that I am a poor teacher. Perhaps as a student there is an exception but generally speaking, perhaps I am also a poor student! (Laughs) So the poor teacher, who is also a poor student, benefits no one (Laughs). Now I will speak in Tibetan.
Among the members of the audience here, many of you may already be familiar with my lectures and teachings from before. However quite a number of you may also be listening to me for the first time. So for those of you in the audience who are listening to me for the first time, can you raise your hands? In that case I will share some of my basic thoughts and opinions with you today and for those of you who have heard me teach before and are familiar with these ideas, please do not feel that I am repeating myself.
In a way, just as the Indian master Santideva stated at the beginning of his text, “There is nothing new that I am presenting here.” The point is that from the point of view of spiritual practice, repetition in fact is necessary. It is not sufficient simply to hear something once but rather that understanding needs to be repeatedly cultivated through familiarization. This is essential for spiritual practice.
Secondly, as it is stated in the sayings of the great Kadampa masters, “Although there is not anything that I have not heard before, there is always something new that I have not understood before that I understand now.” Because of this, even if I repeat myself perhaps there is no error in this, no disadvantages.
This being the first day and the first session, at the start we will perform some chants, particularly of the Heart Sutra. Tomorrow morning since there are some members of the Chinese Sangha, Buddhist community, it would be wonderful if we were to recite the Heart Sutra in Chinese.
The subject matter of the Heart Sutra is of course the teaching of emptiness. The Heart Sutra belongs to the category of Buddhist scriptures known as the Perfection of Wisdom and it is one of the shortest scriptures in that collection. It is in fact sometimes referred to as the Perfection of Wisdom in Twenty-five Stanzas. The main subject matter is a presentation of the ultimate nature of reality, of all phenomena, including the aggregates, the constituents and so on. It also includes the stages of the path. All of these are presented as being devoid of any intrinsic existence. So this is the explicit subject matter of the Heart Sutra, which is the teaching of emptiness and the implicit subject matter is the stages of the path. The emptiness that is presented in the Heart Sutra is the understanding of emptiness in terms of dependent origination. The essence of the stages of the path is of course the cultivation of bodhicitta, the awakening mind by means of cultivating the thought that cherishes the wellbeing of others as being more important than one’s own welfare.
When we recite the Heart Sutra, those who are familiar with it should reflect upon its meaning and for those who are not familiar with it but are practicing Buddhists, they should utilize this occasion to contemplate on the enlightened qualities of the body, speech and mind of the Buddha, the Fully Enlightened One. Among the members of the audience who are not practicing Buddhists, those who follow other faiths as well as those who are non-believers, please take this opportunity to have a rest as we recite.
We will now recite the verses of salutation from Nagarjuna’s Stanzas on the Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way and also the Maitreya Abhisamayalamkara, the Ornament of Clear Realization.
I prostrate to the Perfect Buddha,
The best of teachers, who taught that
Whatever is dependently arisen is
Unannihilated, not permanent,
Not coming, not going,
Without distinction, without identity,
And free from conceptual construction.
I bow down to all Buddhas and bodhisattvas.
She is the one who – through the all-knowledge – guides the Hearers who search for peace to utter peace.
She is the one who – through the knowledge of the path – enables those who promote the benefit of beings to accomplish the welfare of the world.
Since they are perfectly endowed with Her, the Sages proclaim this variety endowed with all aspects.
I bow to her – the Mother of the Buddhas as well as the assemblies of hearers and bodhisattvas.
This finishes the preliminary prayers. We will not perform a mandala offering or so forth.
Next we will take refuge in the Three Jewels and generate the awakening mind of bodhicitta which will be done on the basis of the recitation of a single stanza. The first two lines of this stanza refer to going for refuge in the Three Jewels and the last two lines pertain to generating and reaffirming bodhicitta or the awakening mind. So in this context, since going for refuge is performed in conjunction with generating bodhicitta, the awakening mind then the form of refuge that we are taking in this particular context is of the unique Mahayana, the Great Vehicle approach. Partly because when one goes for refuge by reciting these lines, one states that “I shall go for refuge until the attainment of full enlightenment.” So one is specifying a time frame; one is expressing the wish to go for refuge in the Three Jewels until one attains full enlightenment. This is what makes it quite unique, a Mahayana form of taking refuge. This is followed by two lines where one says, “Through the power of the accumulations created by engaging in practices such as giving and so on, may I attain Buddhahood for the benefit of all beings.” So these last two lines relate to the generation of the awakening mind.
In both instances there is reference to the person “I”, I shall go for refuge, May I …When reflecting upon these lines, especially when reflecting upon the term ‘I’, it is important here to be aware of the emptiness of one’s own existence as presented in the Heart Sutra which we recited earlier. One should examine one’s own normal sense of selfhood where one tends to believe that there truly is something called “I” which is enduring within oneself; the experiencer of all of one’s subjective experiences. This seems to be the core of one’s being. One has the belief in some sort of enduring, eternal reality within oneself but as pointed out in the Heart Sutra, this is a false conception. The “I” that one perceives does not exist in the manner in which one perceives it. The “I” or one’s own existence is devoid of intrinsic existence, intrinsic reality. So reflect upon the emptiness of this “I”, then go for refuge in the Three Jewels and finally generate the altruistic awakening mind for the benefit of all beings. In this way, if one reflects upon the meaning of these lines, this constitutes the practice of the accumulation of both merit and wisdom. This is why in the last line that through the power of the accumulations created by engaging in practices such as generosity and so on, one says, “May I attain Buddhahood for the benefit of all beings.” So the accumulations here refer to both the accumulation of merit and of wisdom and in this way one’s practice of going for refuge and the generation of the awakening mind will be complete.
The text which is being used as the basis for my lecture series is The Garland of Views which was originally given as a series of instructions to the Tibetan monarch Songsten Gampo and his circle of attendants, royal family members and so on. Padmasambhava, the great Indian master who came to Tibet, gave a series of instructions to the king along with his circle. Before he left Tibet he placed these various instructions together in the form of a note. This is why in the title of the text there is an explicit reference to it as being a note that summarizes the different views. So this reference to the term note or kyer ja in Tibetan, indicates this and that this text was specifically composed by Ratnasambhava as a summary of the various instructions that he gave to King Trisong Detsenand his attendants.
It was in the eighth century that the Tibetan monarch Trisong Detsen invited from India the great Nalanda master, one of the greatest scholars of his time, Santaraksita, who was not only a great established and highly respected Nalanda master but he was particularly expert in the fields of Buddhist epistemology and the Madhyamika philosophy of emptiness. This great master was invited along with the greatly realized tantric master Padmasambhava. Through the combined efforts of these two great Indian masters, Santaraksita and Padmasambhava, a complete form of Buddhism was established in Tibet. Not only fully established but also along with a powerful aspiration for its long-term survival. As a consequence of that, to this day, the complete form of Buddhism survives in the Tibetan tradition and this is due to the kindness of these two masters that we are able to see this.
From among the classical commentaries on this root text that is the basis for these teachings, The Garland of Views, the earliest is by Rongzom Pandita who was close to being a contemporary of the great Indian master Atisha so it has nearly been a thousand years since the time of Rongzom. He was a great scholar and his commentary is one of the earliest. Subsequently over a long period of time, it seems that the study and practice of this particular instructional text faded and almost disappeared. The great master Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo (1820-1892) was responsible for reviving the teaching, study and practice of this text. One of the principal disciples of Jamyang Khyentse was Jamgon Kongtrul Lodrö Thaye (1813-1899) who wrote a very clear and explicit commentary on this text. Mipham Rinpoche also wrote a commentary. A student of Dundrop Jengme Pema (SP?) named Tsultrim Zangpo also composed a very short summary commentary that I have also read. Among these various commentaries the one that I will be using as the basis for my own explanation here is Jamgon Kongtrul’s which is very explicit and clear.
As for the transmission of the teaching for this text, I once received a transmission of the commentary Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche and I also later received the transmission of the root text itself from Tushi Rinpoche. So now I will start reading from the text with the English translation.
The title of the text is The Instruction on the Garland of Views. The opening line states that it is: A note summarizing the different views, vehicles and so on. So a difference is made between the two terms ‘views’ and ‘vehicles.’ Here the term ‘views’ refers to philosophical views, the views that are part of the tenets of the various philosophical views. Generally when one uses the term grub mtha’ or philosophical tenet, it refers to established standpoints of a philosophical school or tradition that have been arrived at through the process of reasoning and understanding certain scriptural authorities. So by the combination of scriptural authority and a reasoning process one arrives at certain standpoints. These standpoints are referred to as philosophical tenets so here in this text the term ‘views’ refers to these types of philosophical standpoints or views that a school or tradition has arrived at as a result of reasoning and an understanding of certain scriptural authorities.
The term ‘vehicles’ here refers to the vehicles of the path which are the vehicles of the disciples, hearers, the Self-Realized Ones or Pratyekabuddhas and the bodhisattvas. So in essence the different views are ways of understanding or different standpoints from the point of view of the wisdom aspect of the path and the different vehicles are to be understood from the point of view of the method or skillful means aspect of the path. So from the point of view of the wisdom aspect of the path, for example in the Buddhist tradition, one speaks of four schools of philosophical traditions, the Vaibhashika, Sautrantika, Cittamatra or Mind-Only and the Middle Way or Madhyamika. From the point of view of the method aspect of the path, in Buddhism one speaks of the various vehicles, the Lesser Vehicle and the Greater Vehicle or Mahayana. Within the Lesser Vehicle there are the sravakas and pratyekabuddhas or self-realized ones. Within the Greater Vehicle or Mahayana, there is the Sutra Vehicle or Perfection Vehicle and the Vajrayana or Tantra Vehicle.
These distinctions or these differences in views or philosophical schools are to be understood on the basis of the philosophical views held by individuals. The differences between the vehicles are to be understood from the point of view of the courage or motivation of the practitioners. There can therefore be individuals whose philosophical inclination maybe that of say the Mahayana understanding of emptiness according to the Middle Way or Madhyamika but their primary spiritual motivation may be to attain liberation rather than Buddhahood for the benefit of all beings. So these individuals from the point of view of vehicles, they are followers of the Lesser Vehicle but from the point of view of their philosophical tenets, they are followers of the Greater Vehicle. Similarly there can be individuals whose philosophical inclinations may be that of the Vaibhashika, which belongs to the Lesser Vehicle school of philosophy but from their courage and motivation they may belong to the Mahayana Vehicle where their spiritual motivation is to seek Buddhahood or full enlightenment for the benefit of all beings even though their philosophical views are within the Vaibhashika or the Sautrantika.
One therefore should have the understanding that the differences between the Greater and Lesser Vehicles in terms of their ‘views’ may not exactly correspond to their motivation in terms of the ‘vehicles.’ So in this regard of understanding the differences between vehicles and views, it is important to keep in mind that because of the language of the different vehicles such Greater and Lesser and within those the subdivisions of hearers, self-realized ones and so on, there is sometimes a tendency on the part of some individuals to think of these as distinct and unrelated to each other. This is a completely incorrect understanding of the Buddha’s teachings.
This is because if one looks at all of teachings of the vehicles one will see that all of the key teachings of the Pali tradition which were all established on the basis of the Buddhist councils which took place following the death of the Buddha. The main subject matter of these scriptures based on the Pali language is the Four Noble Truths, the Thirty-seven Aspects of the Path to Enlightenment, the Twelve Limbs of Dependent Origination. All of these teachings represent the basic structure and the framework for the Buddhist path to enlightenment. It is only on the basis of such a foundation that one can then speak about the relevance or validity of the teachings presented in the Mahayana or Great Vehicle scriptures such as the teachings on emptiness, the six or ten perfections and so on. So it is upon the foundation presented in the Lesser Vehicle scriptures that one can then add the other practices such as the six perfections and so on.
Similarly, it is on the basis of the foundational teachings of the Pali scriptures as well as the foundational teachings of the Sutra or Perfection Vehicle that one can then build on to those the uniqueness of the Vajrayana teachings and its practices such as deity yoga and so on. So without the foundational practices of the other teachings, there is simply no relevance or place for the teachings or the practices of the Vajrayana. So to have an understanding that somehow the Vajrayana is totally independent from the other vehicles or that the three vehicles are independent of each other is mistaken. Sometimes there is also a tendency on the part of some individuals to proclaim themselves as being a follower of the Great Vehicle or a tantric practitioner of the Vajrayana and then belittle the teachings of the ethical discipline found in the Pali scriptures or to dismiss them as only for the followers of the Lesser Vehicle. Also some practitioners of the Vajrayana dismiss the teachings of the Sutra Vehicle claiming that they apply only to the Sutra Vehicle and they are followers of the Vajrayana. There is also a tendency to belittle the practices of the Sutra Vehicle as unnecessary or irrelevant. Such an attitude is not only mistaken but it also reflects a fundamental flaw in their understanding of the Buddha’s teachings. It reflects an ignorance on the part of those practitioners.
So it is important to understand that the teachings found in all of the various vehicles and the terminology used in all three vehicles is all found in the scriptures themselves. The Lesser Vehicle is divided into the hearer vehicle of the disciple or sravaka and the vehicle of the pratyekabuddha or self-realized ones. The Mahayana Vehicle is divided into the bodhisattva vehicle and the tantric vehicle. So this way of understanding the vehicles itself indicates that the Vajrayana is not independent of the Mahayana but rather it is a subset or subdivision of the Mahayana or Great Vehicle. Therefore it is important to understand the actual relationships between the vehicles.
Furthermore in terms of the attainment of the realizations presented in these scriptures, the realizations that are described in the Lesser Vehicle scriptures can be attained on the basis of practicing and following the teachings found in the Lesser Vehicle scriptures. However in order to gain the realizations and experiences that are described in the Greater Vehicle, the Mahayana and Vajrayana, it is impossible to have such realizations without having the basis of the realizations as they are presented and described in the Greater Vehicle. Therefore to gain the realizations described in the Lesser Vehicle there is no need to rely upon the teachings described in the Greater Vehicle but in order to gain the realizations described in the Greater Vehicle, the foundation of the realizations described in the Greater Vehicle are indispensable.
The subtitle reads: A note summarizing the different views, vehicles and so on. The ‘and so on’ refers to possible further subdivisions such as within the Vajrayana, there are the various classes of tantra.
The text itself opens with a statement: The countless erroneous views that exist in the realm of the world may be subsumed into four categories. In the world of human beings, among the various individuals there are countless philosophical inclinations and points of view. Many of these points of view are erroneous and also many of them are based on a lack of understanding or ignorance. Therefore these various points of view, if they are subsumed, the text states that they can be subsumed into four categories. These are: 1. the unreflective which refers to the persons who simply do not have an understanding. 2. The materialists 3. The nihilists 4. The extremists.
The text then goes on to define the first type of erroneous view which is referred to as the ineffective. It reads: The unreflective do not understand whether or not all things and events have causes and conditions. They are thoroughly ignorant. So the text here does not refer to a simple understanding of everyday events as if one were to plant a seed that one would then expect a sprout to develop. This type of causal condition everyone can understand and everyone knows this. However what are referred to here in the text are persons who apart from everyday experience, they have no tendency to be reflective; they simply do not engage in contemplation of the ultimate origins of things. They are not interested in tracing back the chain of causation or wonder as to the beginning of the cosmos or life. The majority of people do not have the tendency to deeply reflect on the causes and conditions that give rise to everyday things and events. Also the text states that this type of person does not reflect as to whether or not there is a creator as the origin of the universe or whether there is life after death.
Although this particular type of standpoint is referred to as an erroneous view, strictly speaking, it is more accurately described as a form of ignorance; simply a lack of interest or reflection. In a sense this characterizes the standpoint and persuasion of many people who simply do not want to reflect on such issues.
The second view is that of the materialist and the text reads: Materialists do not understand whether or not there exist previous or subsequent lives, and relying upon the words of mundane secrets, they acquire wealth and power only for this single life. The Tibetan for materialist is rgyang ‘phen which is the same term used for an Indian philosophical school called Charvaka but in this context here, it does not refer to this particular Indian philosophical school but a general materialistic standpoint. These are persons whose main concern is the affairs and concerns of this life. They are reflective and are deeply concerned about their wellbeing in this particular life. They reject any notion of a pre-existing life or of future lives. However for the sake of this life, they rely upon what this text calls “mundane secrets” which probably refers to rituals of propitiation to spirits, nagas and so on, commonly believed to exist in early times. So these individuals rely upon these types of ritual propitiation, seeking the various ways in which their aspirations and concerns for this life can be fulfilled. Therefore this standpoint is described as a materialist standpoint.
This second view when compared with the first view is not so much an erroneous view but again more of a lack of reflection, an unwillingness to probe beyond a certain level. This view is more accurately described as a lack of understanding.
The third view is of the nihilist which is definitely a philosophical standpoint as it is commonly understood. The text reads: The nihilist views all phenomena to be devoid of cause and effect and maintain that all elements of existence that have come about in this one life do so accidentally, thus it is called nihilism. This refers to philosophical schools such as the Indian Charvaka School. This is not a matter of unwillingness to be reflective but is an active persuasion of rejecting any long-term causality to things and events. Rather through using philosophical analysis and reasoning, they come to the conclusion that all of the elements of existence that come about in this life, come about randomly, accidentally without any underlying deeper causes. So in this way they are said to follow a form of nihilism. This is from the Buddhist point of view an erroneous view.
In this context it is important to understand and relate these observations to one’s own personal views. Leaving aside any questions of rebirth, life after death, future existences and so on, even in the case of one’s own everyday experience of happiness and wellbeing in this life, there is a tendency on the part of many to believe that the conditions for happiness lay exclusively in external circumstances and conditions. These include the acquisition of wealth, property and so forth. Quite often people tend to believe that the sources of happiness really lay outside of themselves. On the basis of such a premise, they tend to expend their energies and dedicate themselves to fulfilling this aspiration to attain happiness by focusing their attention exclusively on external causes and conditions.
However if one reflects in a deeper fashion, one will come to understand that although everyone has the natural disposition to seek happiness and to overcome suffering, this happiness one seeks and this suffering that one seeks to avoid, exist on two levels. On the one level is the experience of happiness or suffering primarily related to one’s physical existence or one’s body. On the other level, one has the experience of pain and suffering or happiness and joy that primarily relate to one’s thoughts and emotions, a mental level of experience. How do we know this?
Simply observe a situation where although one may have the best physical facilities, even in this context of great physical comfort, one’s state of mind can still be deeply disturbed, be in great pain and suffering. Similarly that same individual with the same type of physical comfort surrounding them can have a mental state that is joyous and happy. This shows that in terms of one’s own experiences, there is a level of experience based upon physical conditions and a level of experience based on one’s thoughts and emotions.
Generally speaking, in terms of these two levels of experience, even animals possess these levels to some extent, the physical and the mental. What is unique to human beings is level of sophistication of their faculty of intelligence as well as imagination. Human beings have a much greater scope for the experience of the mental level and also these experiences of pain or joy on the mental level have a deep impact on one’s own experience. The fact that this is so, that this is a fact in reality can be observed which have a great impact on one’s own experience of pain and happiness. This is easily seen on simple reflection.
Therefore it is important to understand that when one thinks of the happiness that one seeks or the suffering that one seeks to avoid, there is this more nuanced and deeper understanding of the true nature of suffering and of happiness. Now given these two levels of the experience of happiness and suffering, the one on the physical level consists mainly of the five senses or sensory experience and the other is based on emotions and thoughts. Now ask yourself the following question, “Which level of experience is more acute or powerful?” If one reflects deeply on this one can see that if one’s state of mind is contented and happy with a deep sense of satisfaction, even if that person faces great hardship on the physical level, because of that person’s state of mind is contented and happy with a sense of satisfaction, that mental experience can override the physical level of discomfort and pain. On the other hand, even though one may be surrounded by the best of facilities needed for comfort, if that person’s mind is agitated and disturbed then even though that person is listening to their favorite music, wearing their favorite clothes, being served the most delicious food, wearing the best of fragrances and so on, because of the power of the mental disturbance, none of these external sensory experiences can be enjoyed. This indicates that the mental level of experience of happiness or pain can override and supercede any physical experience of comfort or pain. The physical level of comfort or happiness cannot supercede or override one’s mental pain and suffering on the basis of emotions and thought.
Once one understands these differences between the two levels of experience, one comes to recognize that the experience of pain or happiness on the level of emotions and thoughts is much more acute and powerful than experiences based on the level of the senses. Given that no matter how pleasurable or comfortable one’s physical surroundings may be in terms of possessions and facilities, since they cannot override or supercede the experience of pain and suffering on the level of one’s thoughts and emotions, and since the experience of pain and suffering on the level of one’s thoughts and emotions is so dominant for us as human beings, this indicates that one needs to find a way or method whereby one can learn to overcome this level of suffering and pain.
So one comes to recognize that many of the external factors such as material wealth, money and so forth pertain only as factors necessary to create a level of comfort for the body, for bodily sensations. However in relation to one’s aspiration to overcome suffering and pain on the mental level of thoughts and emotions, they do not play much of a role. One needs to find a method or means that is more appropriate for overcoming the suffering and pain on the level of one’s own emotions and thoughts. What is required here is the cultivation of certain ways of thought or attitudes, states of mind which are appropriated resources to help one overcome mental suffering and pain. In conclusion, this suggests that to place all of one’s hopes and trust into external conditions for the elimination of suffering is truly misplaced; one needs to seek more appropriate means in addition to material facilities to help one overcome the suffering that each one of us seeks to avoid. Primarily, what is required here is a way in which to cultivate calmness and peace of mind, tranquility within oneself.
Strictly from the point of view of this life alone, as I explained before, to entirely place one’s trust and hope into external factors is a misplaced hope; one needs another method, another means. Here I personally believe that although on a deeper level the practice of the various religious teachings and faiths may be important, but purely from the point of view of the wellbeing of this life alone, my own personal view is that one can find a method or a means by which one can bring about the mental resources needed to overcome one’s suffering and promote the happiness that we all aspire to without resorting to any traditional religious faith or belief.
The key here are the basic human values, particularly loving-kindness and compassion. I believe that it is not necessarily a question of religious faith but I believe that by the simple biological constitution of our bodies, we humans have a natural capacity and seed for affection. The natural capacity and seed for generating affection lies within all of us, by nature. This is because all of us have the capacity to appreciate when other fellow human beings express affection towards us. No matter how evil, no matter how negative an individual person may be, if this person has a friend or family member who shows affection for this person, this person is capable of responding to that affection. This simple fact reflects that even in this individual there is the seed for affection and compassion. This is because my belief is that we human beings did not have a seed or natural capacity to express affection then in that case, even if someone else shows affection to another, that person would not be able to respond to that as there would simply be no basis for appreciating the expression of kindness or concern. So the fact that we all have this natural capacity to respond to affection from others indicates that each one of us possess within us the seed for affection and compassion. And I believe that it is through the enhancement and cultivation of this seed for compassion and affection that really is the key for bringing about happiness and overcoming suffering on the level of thoughts and emotions.
In this respect there is no difference whatsoever between the educated or uneducated, the wealthy or the poor, ethnicity or whether or not one is a religious believer or a non-believer in so far as this seed for compassion is concerned. Also there is no difference as to the potential for the cultivation and enhancement. We are all fundamentally equal in this respect. So long as one is a human being, born from a mother’s womb, nourished on mother’s milk, one will share this basic capacity, nature and disposition to appreciate affection and compassion. Because of this fundamental belief, I always make the effort to share with as many others as possible the tremendous importance of recognizing these fundamental human values and the need to cultivate and enhance them. This is what I refer to as the promotion of the perspective of secular ethics.
In actual fact, among the more than six billion human beings who live on this planet today, the majority of human beings probably belong in this category of secular ethics. The majority of human beings fall into the category of being unreflective, not overly concerned with the deeper meaning of existence or the deeper causes and conditions but they are rather primarily concerned with only the wellbeing of this life, everyday experience. This even includes members of the monastic order who, although they wear robes and who may claim to explicitly be followers of the Buddha Shakyamuni, but deep down, many of us who wear these clothes and claim to be a religious practitioner are actually following this path of the unreflective where they are only concerned with the wellbeing of this life, of everyday experience.
[His Holiness in English] So I am giving an explanation about nirvana but most are more interested in the dollar! (Laughs) So in order to get some dollars, they sell the Dharma. So in this case even though one appears like a follower of the Buddha Shakyamuni but in practice one is more concerned with this life. Theoretically we say we belong to the Mahayana or Tantrayana but practically we belong to this group. (Laughs) I think it is very important from time to time to remember, observe and check one’s own thoughts and motivation, one’s own behavior. This is very important. Therefore the observation of one’s own body, speech and mind is extremely important. Although police are very important, it is most important to have internal police and from time-to-time watch one’s concepts. [Back to Tibetan]
When thinking along these lines it resonates deeply with the sayings of the old Kadampa master. For instance the master ‘Ban gung-rgyal stated that so far as his own spiritual practice was concerned, there was really only one thing to do which is to stand guard at the entrance to his mind with spear in hand. When a mental affliction arrives he then needs to immediately challenge it and as the mental afflictions are becoming increasingly clever, he needs to strengthen his own vigilance being equally clever in his response. It is said that this master was formerly a thief. He of course later became a monk and became a great practitioner. One day as a monk because of his old habit of stealing, he reached with his right hand to steal something without thinking. He instantly recalled his mindfulness, reached out with his left hand grabbing his right hand and shouted, “There’s a thief here!”
The fourth view is called the extremists and the text defines this as: The extremists uphold the existence of an eternal self for they reify all phenomena through conceptual imputation. These extremists are comprised of those who the presence of effects where there is no cause, those who view cause and effect erroneously and those who view the absence of effects where there is a cause. All of these are views of ignorance. This view, called here as the extremists, refers to an adherence to a philosophical school. Generally speaking, within human beings, there are those who adhere to a philosophical school and those who do not. Many of the views described earlier are strictly speaking, not truly philosophical schools as such but rather represent a certain mental inclination of individuals. From here on though, a view refers to the standpoints of various philosophical schools.
When one speaks of philosophical schools in this context, broadly speaking there are the Buddhist schools on the one side and the non-Buddhist schools on the other. The demarcation between Buddhists and non-Buddhists is made on the basis of whether or not an individual uphold what are called the Four Seals or Axioms of Buddhism. Those who uphold these Four Seals are grouped as belonging to the Buddhist philosophical school and those who reject these Four Seals and uphold different axioms are referred to as the non-Buddhists.
The Four Seals of Buddhism refer to the following:
1) All conditioned things are impermanent. Generally speaking, when one refers to impermanence or the transient nature of things, this can be understood on two levels: in terms of a continuum of a phenomenon or thing, or in terms of the moment by moment existence of a phenomenon. We are all aware of the transient nature of things if one reflects on the nature of things over time. For example in the case of one’s own existence, one is born, grows and then at some point one dies. Even in relation to objects one understands that over a period of time these things change and eventually perish. However this is not the true meaning of impermanence here in the Buddhist context. The true meaning of impermanence in the Buddhist context is the understanding of impermanence in terms of the moment by moment existence of a phenomenon. Because if there is no process of change on a moment by moment basis then one cannot account for change over a period of time.
For example, take one’s own body. From the very moment of conception until the final moment at death, one’s body undergoes a tremendous process of change in terms of development and decay. In the case of the body on the cellular level, there is a constant dynamic process of change taking place. These changes on a moment by moment basis are responsible for the observable changes. At times some of these changes even reflect in visible changes in one’s own appearance such as when one ages and so on. The mechanism that gives rise to this visible change is on the subtle or microscopic level.
It is by understanding this dynamic, the moment by moment changing nature of things that one comes to understand the subtle impermanence of conditioned things. Of course within the Buddhist tradition the question is asked, “What is the factor that compels conditioned things to change, decay and eventually disintegrate?” The Vaibhasika School explains this in terms of a temporal process where things come into being, then they abide or endure for a period of time and finally enter the process of decay, disintegrating and ceasing to exist. However most Buddhist schools understand the mechanism for this change in a subtler manner where it is understood that the very causes and conditions bring about a phenomenon into existence that is subject to change, subject to decay. So in a sense the seed for a conditioned object’s own destruction is produced in the very moment that the conditioned object itself is produced. Therefore in order for a phenomenon to come into being, decay and cease to exist, there is no need for a third factor. Any thing that comes into being as a result of causes and conditions over time will eventually decay and cease to exist.
So it is the understanding of this subtle impermanence, the moment by moment process of change that is understood in Buddhism, that all conditioned things are subject to impermanence, that all conditioned phenomenon are transient and impermanent. This is the First Seal.
2) All contaminated phenomena are in the nature of suffering. This does not suggest that all conditioned phenomena are subject to suffering. Within conditioned phenomena one can make a distinction between those that are contaminated and those that are uncontaminated. Any phenomenon whose causes and conditions are contaminated is subject to the nature of suffering. Here this primarily refers to those phenomena which come into being say from the fundamental ignorance that lies at the heart of one’s existence. Although some Indian master such as Asanga understand this fundamental ignorance as a mere unknowing, it is otherwise understood to be an active form of mis-knowing or distorted understanding. This distorted understanding of the nature of reality lies at the heart of one’s causes and conditions so any effects that are produced by such a distorted state of mind are bound to be distorted themselves. Therefore in the Second Seal, the Buddha states that all contaminated phenomena are in the nature of suffering.
3) All phenomena are empty and devoid of selfhood or self-existence. This refers to one’s understanding of the nature of one’s own existence and phenomena. For example, if one observes one’s normal sense of selfhood, one tends to believe that underlying one’s physical and mental constituents, which change through time, there is something constant, something enduring called “me” or “I.” If yesterday one was ill and today one is well and one has a memory of that experience of being ill, instinctively one remembers that experience as “When I was ill …” One has this underlying sense or assumption that there is something constant, something that endures through that period of time. Although one’s body has gone through change somehow there seems to be this “I” that remains unchanged through this time period of illness and health.
If one pushes this temporal framework further to the case of some yogis who are capable of recalling their past life experiences, in these cases one’s memory will reach much further back through the distance of time. These individuals will immediately have the thought, “I was born from such-and-such.” Here again the temporal reach of one’s memory and the reference to the term ‘I’ becomes much longer.
The point is that one, in one’s normal conception of selfhood, tend to have the idea that underlying all of these mental and physical processes which change over time, there is something enduring, something that is lasting; there is something unchanging, something that is one which is the real ‘me.” This is something that is entirely natural for one to believe [; it is not a matter of philosophical training]. Of course one can then have learned philosophical ideas which reinforce this [innate] idea which will then examine the nature of this sense of selfhood and come to the understanding that given that the body and mind are constantly changing, therefore neither the body nor the mind can be identified with this unchanging self. Therefore there must be something independent of both the body and mind, a self that is unitary, unchanging, permanent and so on.
Here Buddhism is saying that the belief in such an enduring, unchanging, eternal and permanent self is a misconception. This is because apart from one’s body and mind, one’s physical and mental constituents, there is no independent self that is outside or independent of those two. So in the Buddhist tradition, the idea of a self that is independent, unitary, permanent and unchanging is rejected. This is not only in relation to one’s own existence but also in relation to all phenomena as well. Therefore the Third Seal is stated as: All phenomena are empty and devoid of self-existence. (End of day)