8 H.H. Dalai Lama ‘08: Teachings on Lamrim Chenmo

His Holiness the Dalai Lama: Asanga says that: “An affliction is defined as a phenomenon that, when it arises, is disturbing in character and that, through arising, disturbs the mind-stream.”

His Holiness the Dalai Lama: Asanga says that: “An affliction is defined as a phenomenon that, when it arises, is disturbing in character and that, through arising, disturbs the mind-stream.”

8 His Holiness the Dalai Lama: Teachings on Lam-rim Chen-mo

Day Three, Morning Session, July 12, 2008 at Lehigh University, Pennsylvania, USA. Part two. Deeper Understanding of the Three Jewels. The Truth of Suffering. The Sufferings of Change and of Conditioning. The Four Seals and the Suffering of Conditioning. The Origin of Suffering: Afflictions and Karma.

Deeper Understanding of the Three Jewels

His Holiness: Now… [continues in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So, yesterday we were talking about taking refuge in the three jewels, and, generally, when the object of the refuge is described in the texts, Buddha is described as the supreme among the two-legged human beings. And the Dharma is described as the supreme teaching or supreme truth that is devoid of, or that is free from, attachment and that is tranquil. That is peace. And the Sangha is described as the supreme assembly.

However, if we confine our understanding of the nature and characteristics of the three jewels only at that level, that kind of characterization need not necessarily be very uniquely Buddhist. Because there is some form of taking refuge in other spiritual traditions as well. And also we can apply these qualities to the object of refuge in other spiritual traditions as well.

For example, maybe all the other spiritual traditions would see their own teacher, original teacher, as being supreme among the two-legged human beings. And they will all acknowledge that their dharma, their own spiritual teaching, represents truth that is free of… that is tranquil, peaceful, and that is free of attachment. And similarly they will also have a notion of community because, if it is a spiritual tradition, there will also be a notion of a community.

So in that sense understanding the nature and characteristics of the three jewels only on that level doesn’t really make one’s understanding very deep. And also, if that is the case, then it becomes very difficult to maintain the position that it is the taking… the going for refuge in the three jewels that defines someone as a practicing Buddhist.

So now how do we understand this? And here, a deeper understanding of what is the nature of the Buddha, what is the nature of Dharma that we seek to cultivate within us? What is the nature of the Buddha that we go for refuge to? And what is the nature of the Sangha that we perceive to be the supreme community here?

So with respect to the Buddha, as explained before, of course within the Buddhist tradition there is a divergence of opinion, as explained before. Some schools maintain that when the Buddha attained final parinirvana, nirvana without residue, the entire continuum, continuity, of the Buddha’s existence came to an end. However there is also another opinion on this which is the understanding of buddhahood in terms of the theory of the four kayas, the four embodiments of buddhahood. And in this case, the idea of an absolute end to the continuity of the Buddha’s existence is rejected.

For example in Nagarjuna’s writing, particularly in the Sixty Stanzas, Nagarjuna presents a very explicit argument against the idea that the final parinirvana of buddhahood, Buddha, constituted the absolute end of the Buddha’s existence. And Nagarjuna here says that if that is the case, then the whole concept of someone attaining…The whole notion of someone attaining the nirvana without residue becomes incoherent. Because when the person is alive, the nirvana without residue is not present, and when the nirvana without residue is attained the person is no longer there. So someone attaining… The idea of someone attaining the nirvana without residue just doesn’t make any sense if the continuity of the existence of the individual comes to an absolute end.

And furthermore, the point he raises is that if you look at the various mental states, it is understandable that those mental states that are distorted—that are grounded in a false way of understanding the world and a false way of perceiving the world—since these distorted mental states have powerful antidotes that can bring these distortions to an end, so these distorted mental states will have an end.

However, so far as the essential quality of mind itself is concerned, mind as this mere luminosity and knowing, there is no force, or there is no reason why the continuity of this would not carry on. And there is no force that undermines the continued existence of the essential quality of the mind itself.

And furthermore, from the highest yoga tantric point of view, when we understand consciousness at a very subtle level, we understand consciousness as having dual characteristics. One is the knowing aspect of it. The other one is the kind of moving aspect of it, which we can call energy. And this energy and the knowing aspect of consciousness, they are an inseparable unity. And so on that basis, the continuity of consciousness at this very subtle level, together with this energy, will continue to exist.

And in fact when…. And another point Nagarjuna raises is that…sorry. So in terms of the continuity of this subtle consciousness and the energy that is part of its unity, then one can understand when the individual gains full enlightenment, the consciousness itself, being dependently arisen, its essential nature is emptiness, and this essential nature of emptiness is the ultimate nature of the mind. And so when the individual attains Buddhahood this essential nature of mind, this emptiness of mind, evolves into the natural embodiment of the Buddha, the natural body of the Buddha, svabhavivakaya.

And so at that point, although the mind is by nature unpolluted, but it is tainted by adventitious pollutants and stains. So when one attains buddhahood, the adventitious pollutants are removed. So at that point the natural purity of the mind becomes accompanied by a purity that has been attained through cultivation of the path.

At that point, the emptiness of the mind, the nature of the mind of the individual, becomes the natural embodiment of the Buddha, svabhavivakaya. And the consciousness itself becomes the wisdom dharmakaya, and the energy that is accompanied by that wisdom mind becomes the form embodiment of the Buddha, the Buddha’s rupakaya, and within the rupakaya you can also have the speech and the physical body of the Buddha as well.

So in that sense, from this point of view, one understands that when we talk about buddhahood, it is a state where body, speech and mind, all three of them, have become totally inseparable, a single unity. And in this way, at the state of Buddhahood—because they are all expressions of this single unity of subtle mind and energy—so the Buddha’s body, speech and mind become a single unity.

And then also Nagarjuna explains that, given that there is such a tremendous difference between the arhats and buddhahood, therefore it is untenable to maintain that, as far as the path is concerned, the entirety of the path of buddhahood is exhausted by the practices of the thirty-seven aspects of the path to enlightenment and the only difference between the arhat and buddhahood is a matter of, a function of, time difference.

Nagarjuna rejects that notion and says that, because there is a tremendous difference between the two levels of fruition of attainment of arhat and attainment of buddhahood, therefore there must be differences in the actual path that leads to these two fruitions. So therefore in addition to the path of the thirty-seven aspects of the path to enlightenment, the path to buddhahood must also include the six perfections, the practices of the six perfections, and so on.

And also the attainment of Buddhahood is fundamentally motivated by an altruistic intention to bring about the welfare of an infinite number of sentient beings as long as space remains or until the furthest reaches of space. When buddhahood is attained the Buddha cannot cease to exist because, just as the motivation projects that kind of time frame, the buddhas continue to exist to bring about the fulfillment of their aspiration to be of benefit to countless numbers of sentient beings until the end of space.

So if you understand the Buddha in this manner, then there is a difference in your understanding of the Buddha as the object of refuge. And similarly, therefore in Uttaratantra (the Sublime Continuum) Maitreya gives, identifies, eight main qualities of buddhahood. And similarly, when he identifies the key qualities of the Dharma, he does not characterize Dharma purely as freedom from attachment, but he characterizes Dharma as being beyond concept, beyond thought, beyond verbalizations and so on. So again he lists different qualities there. And similarly he explains Sangha as a community of practitioners who embody this Dharma with such characteristics.
So when you have that kind of understanding of the nature of the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, and when you seek refuge in those three objects of refuge, then going for refuge has a very different quality about it. And in this sense, not only it’s an act of going for refuge to the three jewels, but also that act is accompanied by acceptance of what is called the four fundamental seals of Buddhadharma.

So in that sense then, the philosophical approach to becoming a Buddhist (from the point of view of the philosophical view) and the act of going for refuge then converge together.

The Truth of Suffering

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So we’re now in the second part of the main section of the Lam-rim Chen-mo, which is the stages of the path relevant to the practitioners of… a person of intermediate capacity or middle capacity, medium capacity, and the main practices, teachings, here are the four noble truths. And so these have been explained yesterday so we’re not going to repeat them.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So here, to give a broad outline, we can cite from Tsongkhapa’s Songs of Spiritual Experience, a lam-rim in verse, where he writes the following. He says that if one does not strive in the contemplation of the faults of the truth of suffering, then the genuine aspiration to seek liberation will not arise in one.

And this is true because, for example, if we happen to believe that existence in samsara is not a big problem and that it is actually quite joyful and so on, then the genuine wish to seek freedom out of it simply wouldn’t arise. So he…So therefore Tsongkhapa explains that, without striving to contemplate the faults of the truth of suffering, the genuine aspiration to attain liberation will not arise.

Similarly, if one does not contemplate upon the process by which one revolves in cyclic existence on the basis of the origins of suffering, then one will fail to have the knowledge of how to sever the root of cyclic existence. And therefore what Tsongkhapa is saying is that even if you have recognized the nature of suffering, if you do not contemplate upon the origins that lead to the suffering, then simply making a wish, some kind of prayer, is not going to do the task. So therefore Tsongkhapa says that one must therefore cultivate a sense of disenchantment towards cyclic existence and recognize what are the factors that bind us in samsara, in cyclic existence.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: Now on the question of contemplation on the nature of suffering, in Lam-rim Chen-moTsongkhapa provides three broad sections: the first one reflecting, contemplating upon the eight types of suffering; the next one on the six types of suffering; and then the third one on further meditations on suffering.

So we will read from the eighth of the first eight types of suffering. So this is on page…

His Holiness: [in Tibetan, including brief un-translated discussion with Thupten Jinpa]

Thupten Jinpa: It’s on page 279 (279 of the English translation).

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So here we will read from Tsongkhapa’s text. It’s on page 279, second para, sorry, the first para, where he writes the following:

The Buddha said, ‘In brief, the five appropriated aggregates are suffering.’ Reflection upon the meaning of this teaching again takes in five points. It is the nature of the five aggregates appropriated by karma and the afflictions to be:

(1) vessels for future suffering;
(2) vessels for suffering based on what presently exists;
(3) vessels for the suffering of pain;
(4) vessels for the suffering of change; and
(5) vessels for the suffering of conditionality. Reflect on these again and again.
Here, with regard to the first point, you induce suffering in future lives by taking up these appropriated aggregates.”

So the point Tsongkhapa is making here, by commenting upon these five aspects, is that the first one, with relation to the first one, he’s explaining that the fact that our aggregates have come into being conditioned by karma and afflictions, they have a characteristic and nature that is very close to the, kind of the, forces of karma and afflictions. Therefore one can see they are much more conducive to further aggravation of karma and afflictions. Therefore they are very receptive to suffering, and…

His Holiness: [Begins in Tibetan] …biological factors…[continues in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So here, you know, we can understand this even in biological terms, and this in fact reminds me of a story. There was a Mongolian scholar, a very learned scholar in Tibet during the Thirteenth Dalai Lama’s time, and he happened to be involved in something which led to him being reprimanded, so was kind of slightly disgraced. And he was at that point feeling really sorry for himself. And it is said that he then touched his own body and said, “Well, all of this pain and all of this misery becomes possible because I happen to have this karmically conditioned, appropriated body.”

And similarly, if you look at all the problems in the world, whether it is societal or individual, all the problems exist because, from the Buddhist point of view, we happen to possess an existence that is karmically conditioned and conditioned by afflictions, and there is… we have the basis for all these sufferings to arise.

Then Tsongkhapa writes: “As for the second, the appropriated aggregates form the basis for states, such as illness and old age, that are grounded in the already existing aggregates. The third and the fourth both come about because the appropriated aggregates are linked with dysfunctional tendencies toward these two types of suffering,” referring to the evident suffering and suffering of change. “As regards the fifth, the very existence of the [appropriated] aggregates constitutes the nature of the suffering of conditioning, conditionality.” Then he gives the reason why this is so. He says that, “because all of the compositional factors which depend,” all of the motivational factors “which depend on previous karma and afflictions are the sufferings of [conditionality],” conditioning. Then basically that final point deals with the fact of suffering at this the third level, the suffering of conditioning.

The Sufferings of Change and of Conditioning

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: Then we will move to the next one, the six types of suffering… but we will move on to the next one after that, which is the contemplation on the three types of suffering.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So, on the contemplation on the three types of suffering, which is on page 289 [vol.1], Tsongkhapa writes, first talking about the suffering of change, he writes the following: “Pleasant feelings experienced by beings in cyclic existence are like the pleasure felt when cool water is applied to an inflamed boil or carbuncle: as the temporary feeling fades, the pain reasserts itself.” So that’s the reason why even what we conventionally identify as pleasurable experiences are recognized to be ultimately in the nature of suffering.

And another consideration is here, as Dharmakirti points out in his Pramanavarttika (Exposition of Valid Cognition) where he writes the following line. He says that, therefore, on the basis of impermanence, one must recognize our existence to be that of suffering. And the point he’s making here is that, given that our existence is transient and impermanent, then anything that is impermanent is subject to change, and not only subject to change, but subject to change on a moment by moment basis.

And this nature of being susceptible to change on a moment by moment basis is really not created by some other third condition. But rather, the very causes and conditions that brought that phenomenon into being also brought that phenomenon into being equipped with that transient nature.

So although the Vaibhashikas, when they explain impermanence, they explain it in terms of the continuum, continued existence, of something, so they speak of what is known as the four characteristics of conditioned phenomena, which includes arising, abiding, enduring, and decay and then cessation. All the other Buddhist schools, including Sautrantika, they understand impermanence in terms of the moment-by-moment existence, this momentariness.

And this momentary nature of phenomena is not contingent upon phenomena coming into contact with a third factor. Rather, the very cause that brought the phenomena into being also brought that phenomena into being with this nature of transitoriness, this nature of momentariness. And therefore anything that has that kind of character, that nature, by its very nature demonstrates itself to be dependant upon causes and conditions. And therefore any transient phenomena are governed by their causes and conditions. They are under the power of causes and conditions.

Now here, particularly in the context of our conditioned existence, then the question is: what are the causes and conditions under whose power our existence is governed? Then here the causes and conditions are karma and the afflictions. And when we talk about particularly the afflictions, then from the point of view of the teaching on the twelve links of dependant origination, then the first in the chain is fundamental ignorance.

So even the very term ignorance or ma rig pa, avidya, suggests something inauspicious because it is an ignorant state of being. And therefore a fundamental cause that is inauspicious, its result or its consequence is bound to be inauspicious as well. So possessing such a conditioned existence, caused by such an inauspicious existence, an inauspicious cause, there is, if you think carefully, there is really no basis for having any sense of satisfaction in that kind of existence.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So in explaining the suffering of conditionality, Tsongkhapa writes the following: he says that (this is on page 290, second para):

Contaminated neutral feelings are like an inflamed boil which is in contact with neither soothing nor irritating substances.” (So he’s carrying on the same metaphor that he used earlier), “Because these feelings coexist with dysfunctional tendencies, they constitute the suffering of conditionality, which, as explained above, does not refer to the feelings alone. Insofar as…”

And then, earlier Tsongkhapa explained that it’s not just the feeling but also all the mental states, the mind and mental factors that are concomitant together with the feeling, that also belong to the category of suffering. So he writes that [p. 289]:

This is called the suffering of change and includes not only the feeling itself, but also the main mind and other mental processes,” or mind and mental processes, “that are similar to it, as well as the contaminated objects which, when perceived, give rise to the feeling.”

So in other words Tsongkhapa identifies not only the three types of feelings (pleasurable, painful and neutral feelings) but also all the various mental states that are concomitant with that experience of a feeling, including the sensory faculties that are involved in that experience as well as the objective condition that gives rise to the afflictions—all of these, since they all have the potential to engender suffering, they are all perceived to be belonging to the class of suffering.

The Four Seals and the Suffering of Conditioning

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So therefore in the statement on the four seals of Buddhadharma, the first statement is that, “All conditioned phenomena are impermanent or transient,” and the second is that, “All contaminated phenomena are in the nature of suffering,” so this is the point Tsongkhapa is making.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So if you look at the statement of the four fundamental seals of Buddhadharma, after having explained that all conditioned phenomena are impermanent and all contaminated phenomena are in the nature of suffering, then Buddha does not stop there, because, otherwise, it can just result in further depression and a feeling of discouragement. However, then the question is raised that, “Is suffering that we are concerned about here, is it endless or is there a possibility of an end to it?”

So here the third seal becomes very important. Here the Buddha states that, “All phenomena are empty and devoid of selfhood.” And of course there are different ways in which, depending upon the philosophical understanding of the Buddhist schools, the teaching on no-self is explained differently. But generally all Buddhist schools accept that it is the grasping at self-existence or selfhood that lies at the root of our suffering, that lies at the root of our distortion.

And furthermore this grasping at the self-existence can be demonstrated to be a distorted form of perceiving and experiencing the world that is not consonant with the reality. And so therefore there is a powerful antidote that exists which can be cultivated. And it’s not only that there is a powerful antidote, but also this powerful antidote, when applied, can eliminate and eradicate this grasping at self.

Therefore he makes the fourth statement which is: “Nirvana is true peace.” And so by applying the powerful antidote against the root of suffering, which is the grasping at self, then one can cultivate insight into the nature of reality which then leads to attainment of nirvana, which is true peace. So when you correlate these four seals and understand them in an integrated manner, then, of course, the teaching becomes very beautiful.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So in this context Tsongkhapa writes the following, where he says that, “Insofar as the suffering of conditionality is affected by previous karma as well as the afflictions, and coexists with seeds that will produce future suffering and affliction, it coexists with persistent dysfunctional tendencies.”

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So then Tsongkhapa goes on to explain why the suffering of conditionality is so pervasive. And in that context, explaining the pervasive nature of this degree of… this level of suffering, he provides two citations from the sutra Descent into the Womb, known as the Descent into the Womb. And here (this is on page 291) and in the citation the Buddha states the following:

Nanda,” (referring to Buddha’s own brother) “ the physical activities of walking, sitting, standing, or lying down must each be understood as suffering. If meditators analyze the nature of these physical activities, they will see that if they spend the day walking and do not rest, sit down, or lie down, they will experience walking exclusively as suffering and will experience intense, sharp, unbearable and unpleasant feelings. The notion that walking is pleasant will not arise.”

And then, in the next quotation, citation, then towards the end there is a conclusion when Buddha states that,

Nanda, when this contaminated feeling of pleasure arises, it is only suffering that is arising; when it ends, it is only this nature of suffering that ends. When it arises yet again, it is only ‘conditionality’ that arises; when it ends it is only ‘conditionality’ that ends.”

So in other words, the suffering of conditioning pervades every aspect of our existence, and that’s what’s being pointed out.

His Holiness: So now that is the… [continues in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So therefore, in order to really follow the Buddha’s advice that we must recognize the truth of suffering—unless we contemplate on these explanations of suffering—we will not be able to put that into practice.

The Origin of Suffering: Afflictions and Karma

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So now having covered the first statement of the Buddha— that we must recognize the truth of suffering, the next one is— we must abandon the origin of suffering. So here Tsongkhapa explains this in the following outlines.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So here Tsongkhapa explains this section in three broad outlines. The main outline is, “Reflection on the process of cyclic existence in terms of its origin” which is explained in three broad outlines, these being “How the afflictions arise,” “How you thereby accumulate karma” and “How you die and are reborn.”

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So the first one is identifying the nature of the afflictions, and here Tsongkhapa cites from Asanga’sAbhidharma-Samucaya.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So in explaining the nature of the afflictions, Tsongkhapa cites from Asanga’s Abhidharma-Samucaya (Compendium of Knowledge) where Asanga writes the following, he says that, “An affliction is defined…” (so this is on page 298, last para), “An affliction is defined as a phenomenon that, when it arises, is disturbing in character and that, through arising, disturbs the mind-stream.”

So the point Asanga is making here is that if you compare your own state of mind to its kind of natural state of equilibrium, then, when a certain state of mind (or thoughts or emotion) arises in you that has a tendency to immediately kind of dislodge that equilibrium and disturb it—that’s the kind of idea Asanga is getting at. So afflictions are those mental states, thoughts and emotions, when— the moment they arise— they have this tendency to bring about a disturbance within one’s mental equilibrium of the mind.

And of course, when we talk about the nature of afflictions, we also need to know that there are various levels of subtlety in the afflictions themselves. In fact within the Buddhist schools, Buddhist tradition, one can broadly characterize two classes: one group of Buddhist schools that on the whole accepts some notion of intrinsic nature, some notion of inherent existence; and then there is another group, which is principally Prasangika Madhyamaka, which rejects even the notion of inherent existence.

And so the first group of Buddhist schools have a broader consensus on understanding the nature of afflictions. However, in the Prasangika Madhyamaka school that rejects the notion of inherent existence, given that they have a much more subtle way of understanding what constitutes a form of grasping at true existence, therefore associated with that level of subtle grasping at true existence there is also a way of understanding various classes of afflictions such as attachment, aversion, delusions and so on.

However, maybe Asanga’s definition of affliction provided here, maybe we can say this has to be understood at a very broad level. Or we can define what he means by causing this “disequilibrium,” causing this “disturbance” within the mind—we can understand that corresponding to different levels. So, in any case—this is my own guess, supposition.

In fact, recently, when I was giving teachings in Australia where Geshe Damdul was translating, I ended up making a series of these lists of my own guesses and suppositions. In fact I numbered them. This is my first guess, this is my second guessing and third guessing and so on. So here this will be one of my first guesses.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So in fact if you read on page 300, the third paragraph, Tsongkhapa writes that, “I have explained these ten afflictions in accordance with the Compendium of Knowledge and Levels of Yogic Deeds,”Sravakabhumi, “and with Vasubandhu’s Explanation of the Five Aggregates.” One can read this to suggest that Tsongkhapa accepts that there may be a different way of understanding the nature of afflictions in a subtle way.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: Sorry, so with relation to this, one of the aspects of the definition of affliction that Asanga gave, which was, “creating this sense of disturbance and dislodging the equilibrium,” maybe we need to add a caveat here, which is ‘causing this disturbance and dislodging the equilibrium without any control on our part’ may be important. Because, for example, when a practitioner cultivates compassion and when the compassion becomes strong as a result of the experience of compassion (sharing in someone’s pain) there is an element of disturbance within the person, but that kind of disturbance does not arise without any control on one’s part. In fact there is a voluntary dimension to this because one chose to share in others’ suffering and actually cultivate that compassion for the other.

His Holiness: There are two kinds of emotion. One emotion, although some cases this is due to some reason, but basically spontaneous. So that category of emotion usually, most cases, negative by nature. Then another category of emotion, through reasoning, through training. So these emotions with reason or through training, these are usually positive. Like that.

So, full stop. Lunch.

In July 2008, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama gave a historic six-day teaching on The Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment (Lam-rim Chen-mo), Tsongkhapa’s classic text on the stages of spiritual evolution. Translator for His Holiness was Thupten Jinpa, Ph.D.

This event at Lehigh University, Pennsylvania, marked the culmination of a 12-year effort by the Tibetan Buddhist Learning Center (TBLC), New Jersey, to translate the Great Treatise into English.

These transcripts were kindly provided to LYWA by the Tibetan Buddhist Learning Center, which holds the copyright. The audio files are available from the Tibetan Buddhist Learning Center’s Resources and Linkspage.

The transcripts have been published in a wonderful book, From Here to Enlightenment, edited by Guy Newland and published by Shambhala Publications. We encourage you to buy the book from your local Dharma center, bookstore, or directly from Shambhala. It is available in both hardcover and as an ebook from Amazon, Apple, B&N, Google, and Kobo. http://www.lamayeshe.com/article/chapter/day-one-afternoon-session-july-10-2008