by His Holiness the XIVth Dalai Lama
Translated by Thupten Jinpa
Prior to the Kalachakra Initiation
Barcelona, December 11-13, 1994
Day One, December 11, 1994
His Holiness the XIVth Dalai Lama
Let us recite the verses for taking refuge and generating bodhicitta together.
Today we are gathered here, a large number of people from different walks of life with different languages, different cultural backgrounds, societal backgrounds and so forth. We are not gathered here for a business purpose nor are we here to watch a performance or spectacle. We have all been drawn here together by a single objective which is to participate in a ceremony which is religious and which has to do with the Buddhist path and practice. I would like to extend my greetings to all of you and express my appreciation to those of you who have come here with great interest.
I would like to take this opportunity to express my appreciation to all the individuals who have been involved in organizing this event. They have all worked very hard to make this event possible. So I would like to take this opportunity to express my thanks to them. I am also grateful to perform the Kalachakra ceremony in this famous city of Barcelona. I gather that Barcelona is a city that takes great interest in the diversity of cultures and also in a diversity of religious traditions. Barcelona’s fame has been even made even greater by the staging of the Olympics here. Incidentally this hall where the teachings are being held was built during the Olympics and during the Olympics it was used in some sense to demonstrate the excellence of physical and athletic prowess. Today in contrast although in terms of physical expression we are all sitting here rather relaxed but what we are engaged in here is in an act where we are trying to sharpen and refine our mental, intellectual and spiritual faculties.
In this multitude of faces I can see quite a number of faces which are familiar and those of you may find little new in what I have to say. To those of you perhaps you can use these teachings as something to refresh your memory and reinforce your understanding and commitment. However in the audience there are many new faces and to these I hope my teachings will give something new to think about, something new that they can reflect on, something they can practice.
All of us who have gathered here and in fact all human beings, and also all sentient beings, one thing that is common to all of us is that we have right from birth a natural tendency, instinct to seek happiness and avoid or overcome suffering. It is this basic, fundamental instinct to seek happiness and overcome suffering that in some sense drives us as individuals, living beings and it is on this basis that we also insure our survival. One can also understand the whole process of evolution in terms of this fundamental, basic instinct that is common to all of us.
So what distinguishes us as human beings from other forms of life? One principal characteristic of the human species is that we are gifted with a much higher faculty of intelligence, the ability to understand. Unlike animals we have the capacity, the faculty of intelligence and capacity to determine the long and short-term consequences of our actions. So in this sense of course we are distinct, we are unique but at the same time this unique faculty, this unique gift of intelligence sometimes one could say creates more problems and sufferings. For example many of the pains and sufferings that we experience are in some sense products or constructs of our own imagination. Hopes, aspirations, frustrations, doubts and so on constantly characterize our lives. These are things in some sense products of our intelligence.
Even within humanity if we compare human society and the lives of individuals at our present age with that of the past, it is plausible to say that people in the past where dogged by less anxiety. In some sense their lives were simple and one could say that was because there was less progress, economic development and also less educational development. Even in the current age if we make a comparison between two societies, one where there is high economic development and education compared to a less developed, simpler society, between these two contemporary societies, the more developed one is dogged by more anxieties, frustrations and expectations.
The crucial question arises that since our fundamental aspiration or fundamental desire is to overcome suffering and at least to lessen or minimize suffering, and if we know that our faculty of intelligence often becomes another cause for additional suffering, are we better off without developing our intellectual faculty? So far as I am concerned the answer is definitely no.
The reason why I say that the answer is definitely no is because the degree of calmness, temporary freedom from such anxieties which comes from inadequate knowledge due to a lack of education is a product of ignorance. 0Therefore even though it might be comparatively a more calm state, but it is not reliable; it is not enduring because the potential for disturbance is present. What is required is that to be able to appreciate the faculty of intelligence properly and to see what it is for. If we examine the faculty of intelligence, in itself it is neither positive nor negative; it is neutral. It has the potential to be used negatively or positively at the same time. So what is important is to be able to appreciate its nature and then utilize the faculty of intelligence to understand a situation properly, to be able to look at a problem or suffering through the application of human intelligence. Through this way in some sense transcend the problem by the application of the faculty of intelligence. Once one can confront and overcome suffering through this way then the result is much more reliable and enduring. This is what needs to be sought.
When I look at materially advanced societies the impression I get is that although there has been much human progress made and a tremendous increase in human knowledge there is also a tremendous appreciation of the importance of education and intellectual understanding. But I feel that no comparable emphasis is placed on paying attention to taking care of what could be called the human individual, the person who possesses that faculty of intelligence. In other words there is not enough attention paid to nurturing and enhancing the fundamental human qualities of love, compassion and the feeling of connectedness with fellow human beings and so on.
There is not enough attention or energy expended towards the enhancement and nurturing of that aspect of the human psyche. Not only that but also there seems to be an assumption that when it comes to talking about nurturing these humanitarian qualities, it is something which is private matter of religious practice. It is not something that is the concern of the average person as it were. This I think is a great mistake. When I talk about goodness and positively and negativity in this context, I’m not talking in religious terms; I’m not talking about religious faith being positive and non-religious ideas being negative. Rather I am talking at a much more basic human level. I’m talking about goodness and badness in relation to fundamental human existence such as the qualities of love, compassion and the feeling of connectedness, which form the core of human values. These are values, which can not be neglected and ignored by even non-believers. So long as we are human beings we cannot exist as a fully human being without nurturing and enhancing these qualities. So it is in this respect and it is in these terms that I am talking about positivities and negativities.
When we think about these human qualities for example like compassion and love, we know from our own personal experience the significance of these basic human values. For example like compassion, the altruistic and compassionate a person is, not only does it bring about immediate calm and tranquility in the mind of the individual but also that individual creates a peaceful and tranquil atmosphere and them. This atmosphere is enjoyed and benefits by other fellow human beings as well. On the other hand if the person is nurturing ill-will, hatred and so on within themselves, not only does it immediately destroy calmness of the individual and brings about disturbances within that individual’s mind but it also creates a very disturbed environment around that person. It immediately affects other people in a negative and destructive way. So this is something we know from our own experience.
So what happens in such situations is that as you nurture this ill-will, you project it on to others and then you start to see other people in very suspicious terms. You feel that they are hostile towards you; you see in some sense the whole world as being hostile towards you. This is because you are projecting what you feel inside and what you harbor inside. So if on the other hand as societies and as individuals we can pay equal attention to the development and enhancement of these fundamental human qualities like love, compassion and so on along with attention to intellectual and educational development, then not only will we create healthy and more full human individuals but also we will create a healthier society.
On the other hand if you have an individual whose fundamental outlook on life is altruistic, who naturally and from the depths of their heart always takes into account the wellbeing and welfare of other fellow beings, then if that person is in a professional life such as a scientist, economist or politician all of their activities well become humanitarian. All of their activities will become truly human activities. On the other hand if these activities are separated or divorced from these fundamental human feelings then there is no guarantee that they will serve human society in a positive way. As in the case of intelligence they are in and of themselves neutral; they can be used either positively or negatively.
What we are engaged in is trying to find a way, the best way by which we can apply this natural faculty of intelligence that we are gifted with to transcend and overcome suffering, the fundamental problems of existence and so on. But intelligence alone is not adequate, we need another factor that will compliment it. This would compensate for intelligence such that we do not push too far, to the extremes of using our intelligence faculty alone.
The importance of the combination of these two factors can be understood quite clearly if we look at the way we relate to question of objectivity. We all know that when we are analyzing a situation, objectivity is very important otherwise our prejudices, feelings or whatever will color our perception of that situation or event. What is needed in order to understand fully any situation correctly we need a degree of objectivity. Yet at the same time if we go too far in our insistence on objectivity then we may end up in a very absurd situation where we are even detached from our own feelings, pain or suffering. We may end up looking at our own experience like as if it were something “out there”, totally unrelated to ourselves. This is not what we want.
What is needed is an extra factor, a sense of involvement, a sense of engagement or a sense of concern. So the faculty of intelligence should be combined with a sense of involvement or a sense of engagement that in some sense cater to the feeling side of our psyche. At the same time if the feeling side or the sense of involvement is too prominent again we will lose the objectivity and end up looking at the situation in a very prejudiced way. What we need is a fine balance between the use of the faculty of intelligence so we have a degree of objectivity yet at the same time we are not too detached from the subject of our investigation so that it remains a human endeavor. Of course even in ordinary language when we criticize someone as being too cold we are using the word in a pejorative way. We don’t like to be called a person who has no feelings or a person who is cold.
The fact that this supposed objectivity divorced from feeling is impossible can be understood by taking an example of a cultural custom. For example in the West in modern society death is a taboo subject; nobody wants to talk about it. People try to avoid thinking about it. Even to use the word death in some sense is sort of a taboo. What this indicates is that there is this fear, almost subconscious hesitation to take about death as the pain and suffering associated with the idea is so great than you don’t want to be involved with it. So this tells us that as human beings we are an intelligent species, but also we are a species with a component of feelings. So what is needed is a combination of the faculty of intelligence with a sense of involvement or a sense of concern.
Of course when we talk about the sense of involvement or a high motivation, strong motivation, it is possible to see that our selfish instincts or impulses can give us a strong sense of involvement and engagement. But if you examine it carefully such a sense of involvement or concern is very limited and also quite narrow-minded. Whereas if the sense of involvement or sense of concern is derived from an underlying compassion and altruistic attitude concerned for other fellow sentient beings, then that sense of involvement is much more firmly rooted and also reliable. It is because of this that in Buddhism there is this repeated emphasis placed on engaging in a path where there is a combination of wisdom and compassion.
So in the Buddhist context when we talk about wisdom, generally speaking there are two principal types of wisdom that are mentioned. The first is the five principal types of conventional wisdom that deals with matters that are relative and conventional and then the second type of wisdom is the wisdom that principally deals with the ultimate meaning or the ultimate truth. Of these two of course it is the wisdom related with the ultimate truth, which is felt to be more important. However it is only on the basis of the difference of the objects of the two wisdoms that distinctions between the two wisdoms are made. So far as the subjective experience of these two wisdoms is concerned, no distinctions can be made. So because of this there is an emphasis placed on a union of emptiness and compassion.
Now the question may be quickly raised as to why it is considered so important in Buddhism to understand the nature of emptiness. Why is it so important that we should understand and cognize emptiness? This is related to wider questions about our knowledge of the world in general. Generally speaking when we examine the nature of our knowledge we find that even in our ordinary life, the day-to-day experience, we constantly confront situations where we find a disparity between the way we imagine a thing to be like and the way things actually are. There seems to be a constant gap or disparity between the way things appear to us and the way things naturally are. There need not necessarily be a conscious will on the part of a person to deceive us. We often find ourselves in a situation where we are deceived.
So there is this disparity between appearance and reality and this is something quite natural or common. Especially if we were to reflect on the findings of modern science then the disparity between appearance and reality is something that is quite understandable. Similarly in Buddhism emphasis is placed on understanding this point that there is a disparity between the way things appear to us and the way things really are. In order to enable us to deal more appropriately and more correctly with the appearance of things what is required on our part is to have a greater and deeper knowledge of the underlying reality. It is in this respect that the understanding of emptiness is crucial.
We find that from our own experience that there are events and things in which there is a disparity between appearance and reality. There are also events and situations where there is no such disparity. So in order to enable us to determine whether or not there is such a disparity between the way things appear to us and the way things really are Buddhism suggests that we apply a formula of analysis. This is based on looking at the reality in terms of two levels or technically known as the Two Truths.
So far as the technical term of Two Truths is concerned it is not something that is not unique to Buddhism. Other ancient non-Buddhist Indian schools such as Samkhya uses the terminology of the Two Truths and use this model of reality, looking at reality in terms of two levels. For example in the Samkhya philosophy where the entire expanse of reality is divided into twenty-five categories out of which prakrit which is the primal substance or substratum is considered to be the ultimate truth. All the other remaining twenty-four categories are seen as in some sense effulgence or illusory manifestations of the underlying reality. So they have the idea of two truths even in a non-Buddhist school like Samkhya. Using this model of reality where you look at reality in terms of two levels of truth is quite a common feature in other non-Buddhist Indian schools as well.
Similarly of course in Buddhism all the four major schools such as the Vaibhashika, the Sautrantika and so on, all speak about the doctrine of the Two Truths. However it is only in the Mahayana schools that the understanding of the Two Truths in terms of identity or sameness is understood. According to these Mahayana schools the Two Truths are seen in terms of ultimately being identical yet with unique or distinctive features.
As I mentioned earlier although the language of the doctrine of the Two Truths is something common to many ancient Indian schools including non-Buddhist schools, so far as the deepest understanding of the doctrine of the Two Truths is concerned, it is only in the Madhyamika schools of Mahayana Buddhism that we see the fullest development of this doctrine. According to this school the Two Truths has to be understood in terms of an identity of the interdependent world of appearance and its underlying emptiness of intrinsic identity and existence. It is this unity of appearance and reality that is the deepest meaning of the Two Truths.
The essence or the deepest meaning of the doctrine of the Two Truths emerges at the level where one’s understanding of the doctrine is so advanced that by the very perception of the efficacy in the relative world of interdependent origination that in itself will give rise to an understanding of the emptiness of inherent existence or intrinsic reality. Given the validity of the interdependent laws, the laws of interdependent origination we realize that it is only by dependence upon other factors, the multiplicity of causes and conditions, interacting with each other that can give rise to a thing or an event. The very fact that things and events come into being as a result of such a multiplicity of causes and conditions, they lack an independent status. They are absent of independent, intrinsic reality. This absence of independent existence is emptiness.
The world of our everyday reality where we see a multiplicity of things and events, a diversity of causes and conditions where there are distinct phenomena which enjoy distinguishing and unique features and characteristics, the whole multiplicity of our empirical world is in Buddhism known as conventional reality or the relative world. It is a world, which we posit without any metaphysical or philosophical postulations. It is the world of our everyday, lived experience. This is for example when we talk about causes and conditions we do not talk in terms of metaphysical constructions we are talking at the level of the way we experience the world. Our understanding of reality at this level is known as the wisdom cognizing the conventional aspect of reality.
However when we examine the existential status of these things and events, not satisfied by the mere label or convention, if we probe further and try to seek the true reference behind the terms and labels, what we find is the total absence of things and events. This absence or the unfindability when sought in such an analytic process is called the ultimate truth or in other words emptiness. Wisdom or insight understanding this nature is called the wisdom realizing emptiness.
One could say that multiplicity is the world of appearance and unity is the world of reality. In other words they are sometimes described as the multiple appearance and the ultimate world of one taste or single taste. When we think about this contrast between the multiplicity of the world of appearance and the unity and singularity of the world of ultimate reality, here it is important to understand how we generally relate to an object, how it appears to our mind. Generally speaking there are two manners in which we can conceive an object.
Generally when we relate to an object, it appears to our mind in two possible manners, either in affirmative characteristics that the object has definite features and characteristics or in contrast, what it is not in terms of its negation. When we think about the world of ultimate reality we can approach it only in terms of negation. We can not approach ultimate reality in terms of any affirmative or positive characterizations as it is the total absence or negation of independent existence that is ultimate reality.
When we look at the nature of reality in terms of this model of the Two Truths, we find it very intimately linked with the manner in which we understand reality, the manner in which our consciousness or mind operates when its engages with reality. As explained earlier the multiplicity of the world of appearance is the conventional world or conventional reality and the unity of the underlying absence is the ultimate reality or the ultimate truth. So immediately we find here that the Two Truths are in some sense defined with regard to how we know or perceive reality. It is because of this that we find in Buddhism there is extensive discussion of the nature of knowledge, how we develop knowledge and what means or methods exist in terms of generating such knowledge.
It is in this respect again that the importance of applying our faculty of intelligence comes into the picture. As I stated earlier that in our quest to find solutions to the problems of existence we need to use the faculty of intelligence. For example in the case here when we talk about generating knowledge of the ultimate reality, ultimate truth or the conventional truth and the relationship the relationship between the two of them, what is required is not just mere understanding but rather true knowledge or insight into reality. Then the question is raised as to what means do we have that would help us verify that our understanding is correct, that the understanding we develop is true knowledge and not mere assumption?
Here it may be quite useful to draw a parallel with scientific experimentation. In modern science in order to prove something the scientist needs to go through certain procedures of methodology. Initially the person through experiment thinks that they have come up with a new discovery. Now it is not enough for someone to claim that one has found this through experimentation, the person needs to verify it. One of the ways verification takes place is whether someone else can repeat the same experiment and arrive at the same conclusion, come up with the same result. This is seen as verification that the initial discovery is correct. On the other hand if someone else proves the supposed discovery incorrect the supposed discovery is seen as suspect.
Similarly in the case of our knowledge when we arrive at an understanding we must have means by which we can test the validity of that understanding and to verify that it is a case of true knowledge, not a false belief. But this can not be done by the knowledge itself we need the case of another knowledge, which would be able to put the previous knowledge to a test. Through this way it can be verified. What we find here is the importance of understanding the very concept of knowledge and also verification.
What we find here is the basic standpoint that when we asked a question whether or not something is true or whether it exists, what are the basic criterion that we use in determining whether or not something is true or whether something exists? In Buddhism of course the answer lays with knowledge; anything that is an object of knowledge exists and anything that is not an object of knowledge is non-existent.
Then the question arises how do we know that an instance of understanding is true knowledge and not a false belief? Here some Buddhist schools maintain that there is something called a self-cognizing faculty to all instances of consciousness, that the object is certified by an understanding, which is a state of consciousness, and the validity of that consciousness is certified by a self-cognizing faculty of that mind. This is how the problem of verification of that knowledge is solved in some schools of Buddhism. The main reason they come up with this strategy is because they are uncomfortable with the idea of mutual dependence between subject and object. This mutual dependence from their point of view entails that both subject and object have equal power of validation or verification. So far as they are concerned it is the consciousness or the subject which has greater power in validating or verifying an existence. Therefore they postulate this faculty which is known as the self-cognizing faculty.
Now in other schools of Mahayana Buddhism such as Madhyamika-Prasangika, they do not accept such a faculty, self-cognizing faculty of consciousness. The reason for this is that the acceptance of a self-cognizing faculty, which in some sense is the primary validating faculty, would entail believing in an intrinsic power or reality of consciousness. So far as Prasangika-Madhyamika is concerned all things and events including consciousness, including all states of mind are all dependently originated phenomena. Nothing exists on its own; nothing exists in and of itself. Nothing possesses intrinsic identity or inherent existence. All things and events are dependent; they lack independent status. So because of this it is contradictory to posit a faculty which is self-validating. As far as the Madhyamika-Prasangikas are concerned of course existence is determined in terms of whether or not something can be known or something is an object of knowledge. However Madhyamika-Prasangikas argue that the reality of subject and object can be established through mutual dependence; just as subject is dependent on the object so is the object dependent on the subject. There is nothing seen wrong with this formulation of verification.
So the fundamental criterion of existence that the Prasangika-Madhyamika school comes up with is that something to be conventionally known as long as that convention is not contradicted or negated by another convention or another validating consciousness. In some sense whatever is known should be verified by another instance of knowledge, be it a subsequent state of knowledge or understanding or a third person’s verification. So as far as the Prasangika-Madhyamika is concerned they accept this mutual dependence between subject and object. Just as the object exists dependently and by the power of the subject similarly the subject exists in dependence or by the power of the object; there is a mutual dependence.
Not only this but also Prasangika-Madhyamikas accept that all states of consciousness must have an object even if it be a mental object like an image. All states of consciousness must be a consciousness of something. In this regard or in this respect all forms of consciousness are a consciousness of something; it is a state of awareness. But this is not to say that we can not make distinctions between a false belief and true knowledge. That distinction between false belief and true knowledge is made on the grounds, on the basis of whether or not an understanding that one has is controverted or negated by an instance of knowledge, which would directly contradict it. (Break)
Question: (Not on tape)
Answer: For example Buddhist teachings explain that grasping at the true existence of things and events is at the root of volitional, karmic action. However that does not imply that the grasping at the true and inherent existence of things and events in itself is the product of karma.
Question: Is there a simple example of emptiness that can help a beginner before reaching higher levels of understanding of emptiness
Answer: Discussions on emptiness will come up in subsequent sessions and also during the initiation.
Question: Please explain how if one understands dependent arising and cause and effect? Does one see it in a flash, the connection with ultimate truth that objects are like an illusion?
Answer: It is possible in the case of some people that due to their long karmic seeds that the connection between the interdependent world of cause and effect and the ultimate reality can appear in a spontaneous awareness like a flash. But it is not truly a spontaneous awareness in the true sense of the phrase because one needs to take into account that the individual’s having reflected on this in previous lifetimes.
As for my own understanding of the relationship between the interdependent world of causality and the ultimate reality is concerned, I have definitely put great effort with a sense of involvement and engagement into this understanding. So I can say as far as my current understanding is concerned it is more of a sense, an intuition rather than a spontaneous flash of knowledge. But one thing I can definitely say is that such understanding is truly beneficial. It has been nearly thirty years since I first began to take serious interest and effort into developing and refining my understanding of the Two Truths.
Question: Is it possible that emptiness and god are similar concepts?
Answer: Of course I have found that when we talk about the concept of god that there are diverse interpretations. I have heard sometimes god defined in terms of infinite compassion and defined in terms of a creator or absolute being. So far as god understood in terms of an absolute being or creator, then this is very different from the Buddhist understanding of emptiness.
According to the Madhyamika teachings of Buddhism, all things and events without exceptions are absent of intrinsic reality or independent existence. This includes not only samsara, the samsaric world of everyday reality but also it includes Buddha and emptiness itself; nothing is spared.
Sincere Christian practitioners have asked me questions relating to the relationship between Buddhist meditative practices and the contemplative traditions of Christianity. I have told them that it is possible at the initial stages to have in some sense a combined approach of the two traditions. It is possible for a practicing Christian to adopt certain meditative techniques from Buddhism such as techniques aimed at enhancing compassion or one’s capacity for tolerance or overcoming hatred and anger. These techniques which do not necessarily require accepting unique doctrines of Buddhism could be of course be seen as common practices which can be adopted by practicing Christians. So it is possible at the initial stages for a spiritual trainee to seek refuge both in the Buddha Shakyamuni and also Jesus Christ.
However as one specializes in one’s own spiritual quest, as one embarks further and progresses on the spiritual path then at a certain stage, at a more advanced stage I feel one needs to part company. In some sense one needs to pursue a specialized line of practice because the approaches of the two traditions to some sense are fundamentally different. In the case of Buddhism the entire path of meditative techniques and practices are based upon the fundamental Buddhist philosophical tenet of the no-self doctrine where the emphasis is placed on selflessness and relativity. On the other hand in Christianity the entire spiritual approach is based on a single-pointed dedication towards the objective or goal which is seen in terms of absolute being. So at the more advanced stages I feel one needs to part company.
What we see is that the major religious traditions of the world, each of them has its own uniqueness in its approach along the spiritual path. These unique approaches suit different individuals, individuals with differing mental dispositions.
Question: Prasangikas say that the reality of subject and object can be validated through dependent arising but if ultimate reality is a non-affirming negative how can we say that anything is a cause of something else? How can we establish dependent arising?
Answer: Here in the Madhyamika context when we speak about emptiness it is important to bear in mind that we are not talking about emptiness in terms of mere nothingness. We are talking about the emptiness of independent existence, the emptiness of things and events possessing intrinsic reality or intrinsic identity. So emptiness is not a mere nothingness or nonexistence but rather it is the emptiness of an independent status, an independent existence.
When we look at the multiplicity of the world around us we see the fact that things and events come into being due to other factors is quite obvious. We see things and events coming into being as the result of causes and conditions and this is quite obvious to us. Now if we pursue that line of argument or pursue that line of understanding further, we will arrive at the knowledge of the absence of independent existence. Again if we pursue that knowledge, the absence of independent existence further then it will reinforce our understanding of the world of interdependence, the fact that things come into being as the result of causes and conditions.
Perhaps what is important here is to make a distinction. When we talk of emptiness as the ultimate absence of independent existence, when we talk of ultimate truth as being understood in terms of mere negation, a non-affirming negative, what is important here to understand is that when we arrive at such a knowledge of emptiness, in that state of consciousness there is no underlying sense or inference that maybe there is something else. Maybe things exist in such-and-such a manner? What constitutes true insight into emptiness is the full appreciation of the total absence, the negation of independent existence.
Now the understanding of the interdependent nature of reality comes as a subsequent knowledge. When you have gained such knowledge of emptiness then as a consequence of that knowledge, it reawakens in you the full implication of that knowledge. That is to say, if things and events lack independent existence then it is only through the interdependent nature, it is only through the nature of interdependence that they can come into being. So it is a subsequent knowledge.
When we think about the relationship between or the mechanism or process of our understanding emptiness and also the validity of that knowledge, it is quite a complex issue. Generally speaking when one develops a knowledge of something, one negates a false belief. When one develops insight into emptiness what is being negated is the false belief, which is grasping at the true existence or inherent existence of things and events. This knowledge of emptiness in itself can not apprehend the existence of emptiness nor can it apprehend the validity of the knowledge itself.
However that is not to say that in order to gain knowledge, in order to understand the existence of emptiness, in order to understand the validity of that knowledge, one needs further consideration or reflection. This is not the case. They come about in some sense as a natural by-product of subsequent awareness to one’s awareness of emptiness. So in the aftermath of one’s full realization of emptiness, this total absence, the knowledge that emptiness exists, the knowledge that one’s understanding of emptiness is valid, come naturally and spontaneously subsequent to one’s understanding of emptiness.
Question: How does one remain aware of compassion and tolerance despite all the problems of daily life and the clashes between people?
Answer: When we think about the true meaning of tolerance, I don’t think we should understand tolerance in terms of a meek acceptance of harm and suffering. What is meant by true tolerance is an active principal whereby you deliberately adopt a standpoint not to retaliate against a harm or infliction of pain. So when you understand tolerance in such a way then of course when you practice tolerance it further strengthen your capacity to withstand sufferings and problems.
So when your understanding of tolerance is such I as just described then in some sense one could say that your tolerance or your choice to be tolerant is based on an understanding which is that you see retaliating is foolish and also has no benefit. You will then be a position in fact when you see someone inflicting harm on you, because of your tolerant standpoint you will develop a sense of empathy or compassion towards the perpetrator of the harm. You see that person whose is perpetrating the crime is doing something which is totally stupid and self-destructive.
Question: How can one be sure that one is not going crazy or beyond reality when considering reality?
Answer: One basic rule or a rule of thumb that is used in Buddhism especially in regard to examining one’s analysis in Madhyamika is to check whether or not as a result of one’s analysis of emptiness and ultimate nature of reality, whether or not it effects one’s attitude and relation towards other areas of practice. These include love, compassion, tolerance and also whether or not your attitude towards the law of karma and causality is effected. If one finds that as a result of one’s understanding of emptiness, as a result of your analysis that your respect towards the subtle laws of karma and causality is increasing even to the point where one is so mindful of the consequences of even the slightest negative action, this is a positive indication that one’s analysis is going in the right direction. On the other hand if one finds that as a result of one’s long meditation or analysis on emptiness one is beginning to feel more apathetic, thinking that there is nothing out there and one’s commitment to the laws of karma becomes more lax then that is an indication that one’s analysis is going in the wrong direction. This is the basic rule of thumb.
So when you find yourself in such a situation, then it is very important not to be totally confined into meditating on emptiness alone but rather combining and balancing one’s meditation on emptiness with other practices. These include generating a genuine aspiration to seek liberation from cyclic existence based on developing insight into the suffering nature of samsara and also enhancing one’s capacity for compassion and bodhicitta. So it is with these other aspects of the path that one must balance one’s meditation on emptiness.
Not only that but it is also important to bear in mind that as a result of one’s reductive analysis, one finds things and events can not be found when sought through an analytic process. This unfindability in itself alone does not constitute a full understanding of emptiness. If that were the case then it would be rather limited. This is something one can derive even in respect to things that are totally non-existent. So what is required is that in addition to the insight that things and events, although they may seem solid and enjoying a discrete reality, when sought in an analytic way they are unfindable. Yet they must exist in some way because the reality of their existence is something that is incontrovertible; it is something one’s valid experience, in some sense, speaks for their reality.
If this is the case then in what manner do they exist? They must exist; there must be some level of reality. However they do not exist in an independent or inherent way, as they seem to appear to us. What is the status of their existence? Through this two-pronged approach, when one arrives at a point where one’s understanding of their status is that they truly lack independent existence although they exist in some sense, therefore their existence must be understood only in terms of conceptuality, label or imputation. So it is through this way that one can steer away from falling into the two extremes and stay in the middle, arriving at the true middle way understanding of emptiness. So it is rather a profound insight.
Question: Are we born with a soul? Do we have a soul at the moment of birth or do we build our soul day by day? What do you think of Jesus Christ?
Answer: As a Buddhist and from a Buddhist point of view, since Jesus Christ played such an important role in bringing a spiritual message and spiritual solace and taught on love, compassion and tolerance to millions of people one can not view him as an ordinary person. Definitely a Buddhist would have to say that he was a Noble Being. Now as to what exactly is the status of such a Noble Being, Buddhism would have different explanations. Although the philosophy, the metaphysical teachings of Jesus is very different from the Buddha’s teachings and as practicing Buddhists would consider their own metaphysical or philosophical teachings as reflecting the truer nature of reality, however there is no contradiction for a Buddhist perceiving Jesus as a manifestation or emanation of a Bodhisattva or even the Buddha. In Buddhism there is no contradiction in accepting a teacher whose own personal standpoint may be different from the teachings the person has given because the Buddhist hermeneutic tradition makes a distinction between the author’s intentional standpoint and the scriptures standpoint. They need not be identical.
For example in the Buddhist tradition if one looks at the thangka immediately behind me, on the two sides of the Buddha Shakyamuni there are two figures. On his left is Nagarjuna and on his right is Asanga. Asanga who is considered by Mahayana Buddhists as someone who has attained the Third Bodhisattva Bhumi, the third Bodhisattva level, in some of his writings such as the Bodhisattva Grounds and also his Compendium, he criticizes Nagarjuna’s philosophy as being nihilistic. Yet we accept that Asanga was a Bodhisattva on a very high level of realization. There is no contradiction in this as we make a distinction between Asanga’s own ultimate standpoint and Asanga’s intended standpoint in a particular text which may be addressing an issue for a particular perspective.
Similarly in the case of the Buddha he has taught so many sutras and in some sutras for example in the sutra the Unraveling of the Buddha’s Intention, which is a hermeneutical sutra, Buddha discusses reality in terms of what are called the Three Natures. This is in contradiction with other sutras that the Buddha has taught but again the hermeneutic tradition in Buddhism maintains that a sutra taught by the Buddha need not necessarily represent the ultimate standpoint of the Buddha. So one can make a distinction between the author’s ultimate standpoint and a particular scripture’s intentional standpoint. This hermeneutical explanation could be applied to other cases as well.
As to the first part of the question concerning the question of a soul, generally speaking if one conceives of a soul in terms of an eternal principle, which is unitary, eternal and indivisible, then this is synonymous with the atman theory of the non-Buddhist schools. There the soul is characterized in terms of an eternal principle. So far as that concept is concerned all Buddhist schools deny the existence of such a soul or self. Such a soul or atman or self would be naturally something that is independent from the psychophysical constituents of the person; it would be independent of both body and mind. This type of self or soul is definitely not accepted by any Buddhist school.
However the Buddhists’ position as to the identity of the individual is explained in terms of the five aggregates. Even on this there is a divergence of opinion within the Buddhist schools themselves. Some schools of Buddhism will accept the identity of the individual or the identity of the person from within the five psychophysical constituents, something identifiable either with the collective or one of the individual aggregates. This is different from another category of Buddhist schools that accept the personal identity of the individual only in terms of dependence upon the five aggregates. It is not identifiable either with the collective of aggregates or any of the individual aggregates; it is seen purely in relation or as a dependent phenomenon.
One of the non-Buddhist ancient Indian schools has a conception of the soul which according to them; the soul is co-extensive with the body of the individual. In this concept although the soul is independent of the body but is co-extensive such that when the body grows, the soul also grows. When a child grows … increase in its size. There is such a conception.
What we find in Buddhism is that the whole motivation behind this complex analysis of the nature of reality is to try and see if it is possible to fulfill one’s basic aspiration to seek happiness and overcome suffering. The very analysis of the nature of reality is connected with a purpose and that purpose is to seek fulfillment of this basic aspiration. Through analysis of the nature of reality and through developing one’s insight and awareness, the idea is that one will be in a better position to seek happiness and the causes of happiness while overcoming suffering and prevent the causes of suffering. Because of this Buddha in his first sermon taught the doctrine of the Four Noble Truths. In some sense one could say that the doctrine of the Two Truths arises from the doctrine of the Four Noble Truths.
One could roughly say that when we are discussing about the nature of the Two Truths in some sense we are in a philosophical domain or realm. We are not talking about a religious idea. However when we go on to a discussion of the Four Noble Truths then we are talking about something that is directly related to our experiences of pain, pleasure, suffering and happiness. We are then talking within the realm of religion or spirituality. So although one could make an arbitrary distinction between the two, the separation of the two, however when we talk about the Four Noble Truths we are talking about a means and a way of overcoming suffering and means and ways of achieving happiness. When we are talking about experiences of pain and pleasure we are talking about events and phenomena which are directly related with the law of causality; pain and pleasure do not come into being from nowhere or without any cause. They come into being as the result of causes and conditions.
Although we are talking about something that is a spiritual matter, something related to our spiritual life, yet at the same time we can not totally divorce it from a discussion of the nature of reality. Because in order to understand fully how the causal mechanism works that gives rise to suffering and happiness, we have to understand the natural laws of causation. In order to understand that fully, we have to understand the nature of reality. So we are already in the realm of the Two Truths. One can not really make such a separation.
One of the reasons why this is such an intimate connection between the teachings on the Two Truths and the Four Noble Truths is that the deeper one understanding of the Two Truths the deeper and more refined becomes one’s understanding of the interrelationships between the Four Noble Truths. One is also in a stronger position to overcome seeming contradictions that might arise in one’s understanding of the Four Noble Truths. On the other hand if one has a rather superficial knowledge of the Two Truths or if one lacks an understanding of the Two Truths, then one’s understanding of the Four Noble Truths will remain on a very superficial level. One’s understanding may only be on the level of everyday reality such that if one tries to probe deeper then one will confront constantly situations where one simply can not understand or come up with seeming contradictions.
For example if one reads the Madhyamika writings by Candrakirti one finds that because of Candrakirti’s very advanced and very highly developed understanding of the doctrine of the emptiness of inherent existence or inherent reality, he’s whole understanding of the Four Noble Truths is very sophisticated and deep. One finds that because of his understanding of emptiness his identification of the fundamental ignorance and its mode of apprehension is very different. Because of this and his whole understanding of the nature of derivative delusory states along with their interactions is again very deep. Because of this his conception of True Cessation is much deeper and because of this his understanding of the true nature of the path that leads to such cessation is also very deep. So one sees that one’s understanding of the Two Truths deepens one’s understanding of the nature of the Four Truths. As one’s understanding of the delusory states of one’s mind deepens then also one’s understanding of the nature of suffering and the basic unsatisfactory nature of existence also deepens.
One of the principal implications of the teachings on the Four Noble Truths is that pain and pleasure or suffering and happiness come into being as the result of the interactions of causes and conditions. They do not come into being without any cause or from nowhere nor do they come into being because they were created by some external force or absolute being. Nor do they come into being as a result of some totally unconnected or unrelated cause. The moral one should take from the teachings on the Four Noble Truths is that pleasure and pain, suffering and happiness come into being only and merely as a result of their related causes and conditions.
What we see in the teachings on the Four Noble Truths is two sets of causation; the causation between suffering and its origin and the causation between cessation and the path. When these two sets of causation are further elaborated then we find the teachings on the Twelve Links of Dependent Origination. The whole causal mechanism that gives rise to suffering and existence in the samsaric world when it is elaborated in its fullest form one has the Twelve Links of Dependent Origination starting with fundamental ignorance and so on. Similarly when you try to understand the mechanism that leads to in some sense the unwinding of samsara, putting an end to samsara one finds the reverse order of the Links of Dependent Origination. So the teachings on the Twelve Links of Dependent Origination are in some sense elaborations on the teachings of the Four Noble Truths.
In the sutras where Buddha taught the sermon on the Twelve Links of Dependent Origination he made the statement, “Because there was the cause, the effects ensued. Because the cause was produced, the effect was engendered. For example because there was ignorance, then the volitional actions followed”. Asanga in his Abhidharmasamuccaya, The Compendium of Manifest Knowledge, when he elaborates and comments on these three statements, he identifies three characteristics of dependent origination. He states that these characteristics are that dependent origination entails that effects do not come into being as result of being created by an external agency, force or some entity’s design nor do they come into being due to a permanent, eternal cause, but rather come into being only as the result of related causes and conditions. So these three characteristics are fundamental features of the laws of dependent origination. So it becomes quite clear when Asanga makes such comments on the three cryptic statements by the Buddha.
In his Fundamentals on the Middle Way Nagarjuna raises a point and responds to the objections raised his opponents who are realists and criticize Nagarjuna’s philosophy as being nihilistic. They put the objection in the following manner. If as you [Nagarjuna] accept that all things and events are devoid of independent, intrinsic reality, intrinsic reality and existence, then that means that one can talk about reality only in terms of a mental construct, that means whatever the mind creates, becomes reality. If this is the case then there is no room for accounting for natural law in the relationship between causes and effects. If this is the case then there could not be any causal laws operating and if that is the case there can’t be any laws of Dharma. If this is the case then there can not be Sangha members practicing the Dharma and if that is the case then one can not have Buddhas, fully enlightened beings as there is nothing to practice. If this is the case then there are no Four Noble Truths; there is no possibility of the Three Objects of Refuge and so on and so forth. So in other words you [Nagarjuna] deny everything.
To this Nagarjuna responds by stating that on the contrary it is you [the Realists] if one pursues the line of argument that you adopt who would be faced with all those consequences. According to you since things and events posses intrinsic reality, they posses independent existence therefore they are absent the nature of dependence. If they are independent how can you talk about their being dependent on causes and conditions. If they are absent of dependence on causes and conditions then there are no causal laws operating and if that is the case then the charge of nihilism that you level against me will be reversed.
Candrakirti in his Prasannapada or Clear Words when he comments on this particular section of Madhyamikakulakarika or Fundamentals on the Middle Way states that what is being stated here by Nagarjuna is that when the Madhyamika’s talk of emptiness they are talking about emptiness in terms of dependent origination. It is not an emptiness in terms of mere nothingness; it is an emptiness in terms of dependent origination. It is only when one accepts emptiness can one fully account for the laws of interdependent origination. Whereas if one denies emptiness then one denies interdependent origination therefore one denies the nature of dependence so therefore one can not account for any of the conventionally valid world of relativity. Therefore one would not be able to validate all of the Buddha’s teachings like the Four Noble Truths, the Three Jewels, taking refuge so on and so forth. So what this discussion indicates is that it shows a clear connection between the understanding of the Two Truths on the one hand and how a deep understanding of the Two Truths contributes towards a deeper understanding of the Four Noble Truths.
Let us meditate for five minutes or so. One object of meditation that would be quite convenient is to examine one’s own self of self. One thing that is certain for all of us who are here is the feeling that “I” exist that “I” as an individual exist here. So far as sense of self and existence is concerned it is quite incontrovertible. However underlying this sense of self, if we search for the true referent of that term self then we find we have this sense that there is something which is solid or concrete, something that is me, a core, my being. Now in our meditation let’s seek whether that appearance is true or whether it is mere illusion.
Transcribed and typed by Phillip Lecso from audiotapes obtained from QED Recording Services entitled Kalachakra for World Peace: Kalachakra Initiation Preliminary. I take full responsibility for all mistakes that have occurred, through hearing and writing incorrectly what was taught, for these I apologize. May all be auspicious. May any merit from this activity go to the long life and good health of His Holiness. May all sentient beings quickly attain the state of the Glorious Kalacakra even through these imperfect efforts.