2 – H.H. Dalai Lama: Commentary on the Rosary of Views

His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama: If one deeply observes the nature of these physical and mental constituents that make up one’s existence then it becomes evident that none of them are permanent; they are all transient, they are all subject to fluctuations, changes and so on.

His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama: If one deeply observes the nature of these physical and mental constituents that make up one’s existence then it becomes evident that none of them are permanent; they are all transient, they are all subject to fluctuations, changes and so on.

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.

Day two.

His Holiness  the XIV Dalai Lama

We left off speaking of the Four Seals of Buddhism.

4) Nirvana is true peace. Nirvana here is the transcendence of all sorrow and refers to a state where one is totally free from conditioned existence, existence conditioned by means of fundamental ignorance. I spoke about how existence is characterized by ignorance and how one’s existence is therefore in the nature of suffering. Here in the phrase ‘transcending sorrow’, sorrow refers to the one’s nature of existence conditioned by the afflictions and fundamental ignorance because for as long as one remains under those conditions, one is under the power of this distorted state of mind. At the root of this distorted mind is the mistaken belief in self-existence or the selfhood of one’s own being.

Therefore by cultivating the wisdom that perceives the nonexistence of this selfhood, by cultivating the wisdom of no-self, one is able to recognize that one’s grasping at selfhood is a mistaken state of mind and in this way, one will gradually be able to, through enhancing this wisdom of no-self, undermine the force of one’s grasping at selfhood. In this way one is able to completely remove ultimately from one’s mind any grasping at selfhood. This state where one is totally free of afflictions and fundamental ignorance is a state of lasting happiness and peace. Therefore in the Fourth Seal it states: Nirvana is true peace. True peace here refers to lasting peace and tranquility.

What is found here in the teachings of the Four Seals is the theoretical basis for the Buddhist understanding of the path to liberation. So the question now arises: “How does one integrate this theoretical knowledge of the Four Seals into one’s actual practice of embarking on the path to enlightenment?” Here there is an actual sequence to how the understanding of one leads to the understanding of the other. Therefore in a text it reads: “Because it is transient, it is in the nature of suffering.” The realization of suffering leads then to the understanding of the absence of selfhood. This suggests that if one reflects deeply upon the nature of one’s own existence, particularly one’s own physical and mental constituents such as body, mind and so on, all of which are objects of one’s own self-cherishing. When one thinks of oneself, one has the instinctive thought of “I am doing this” or “I am …” The object of this sense of selfhood really are the physical and psychological elements that make up one’s existence.

If one deeply observes the nature of these physical and mental constituents that make up one’s existence then it becomes evident that none of them are permanent; they are all transient, they are all subject to fluctuations, changes and so on. The realization of their transient nature, particularly in terms of their moment by moment existence, allows the beginning of an intellectual understanding. Once one gains an intellectual understanding of the momentary nature of the subtle impermanence of one’s own body and mind, then this intellectual knowledge through constant cultivation can be internalized. This recognition, this understanding of the impermanent nature of one’s own existence can then lead to an understanding of their nature of suffering because once one realizes that one’s own body and mind, one’s own existence is momentarily changing, subject to moment by moment transience, realizing their impermanence then one also comes to realize that they are the products of causes and conditions. Once one realizes that they are the products of causes and conditions then one immediately recognizes that they are under the power of their causes and conditions. This is in general for all conditioned things, in particular, in the case of one’s own existence, it is characterized by unenlightenment. This unenlightenment is conditioned by the afflictions and karma. It is karma and the afflictions which have given rise to one’s unenlightened existence, at the root of which is the fundamental ignorance of grasping at the imagined self-existence of oneself.

Once one recognizes this, one comes to realize that one’s existence is under the power of karma and the afflictions. Upon reflecting upon the nature of the afflictions, the cognitive and emotional afflictions, the very term ‘affliction’ or klesha in Sanskrit or nyon mongs in Tibetan, in the very etymology of the term nyon mongs there is the immediate connotation of something that afflicts from within, something that creates a deep disturbance, something that inflicts suffering within one’s mind the moment it arises. Any form of existence which is under the domination of these afflicted states of mind is bound to be in the nature of suffering. Once one recognizes this then one will also come to realize that on the one hand in one’s normal conception of selfhood, one tends to grasp at some kind of eternal, unitary and unchanging self. But once one recognizes that one’s body and mind are in a state of constant flux then one comes to realize that one’s belief in a self as unitary, unchanging and eternal is misguided. In this way one gradually comes to develop insight into no-self, anatman, the absence of selfhood. One will also come to recognize that this ‘self’ one grasps at is not worthy of grasping as this grasping leads to all of the forms of afflictions, suffering and so on.

In this way the recognition, the realization of impermanence leads to the realization suffering nature of conditioned phenomena. And the realization of the suffering nature of phenomena culminates in the realization of no-self. It is this insight into no-self which eventually leads one to gradually overcome the afflictions and the state where one has totally eliminated self-grasping and its effects is the true lasting peace which in Buddhist terms is called liberation or moksha. Once one has this type of recognition of the possibility of attaining such a cessation of the afflictions and attaining liberation, then a genuine aspiration to attain this liberation arises within one’s mind.

In fact when one speaks of the Buddhadharma, the true definition here of the Buddhadharma relates to the quest for seeking liberation from cyclic existence. Any form of spirituality that is grounded upon and inspired by an aspiration to seek liberation that is Buddhadharma. For example many of the basic ethical practices such as avoidance from the ten negative actions [of body, speech and mind], this practice alone cannot be characterized as a specifically Buddhist path as it is common to all religious traditions.

Also, deliberately abandoning the act of killing out of fear of its legal consequences cannot even be characterized as religious practice. On the other hand if one deliberately takes a vow not to kill on the basis that one is afraid of the karmic consequence such as being reborn in a lower realm of existence, this is a common ethical practice to both Buddhist and non-Buddhist traditions. However if one’s practice of an ethical discipline which is a deliberate vow to abandon the act of killing is motivated by or grounded upon the aspiration to attain liberation as I defined earlier as the total freedom from the mental afflictions, fundamental ignorance and so on, then this type of ethical practice can be described as a truly Buddhist ethical practice.

For example, generally when one speaks of taking refuge in the three Jewels this is mainly the Dharma Jewel. The Dharma Jewel in the context of the Three Jewels is defined in terms of the cessation of the afflictions. Within the three objects of refuge, the Three Jewels, the Dharma Jewel is the most important. However in the actual sequence of going for refuge, one first goes for refuge to the Buddha, secondly to the Dharma and finally to the Sangha or the Spiritual Community. This reflects their chronological order as they came into being in the context of the specific historical Buddha. For example in the case of the Buddha Shakyamuni, he first came into the world, then he gave teachings which constituted the scriptural Dharma and on the basis of the practice of those teachings realization took place in the minds of the disciples. Together the scriptures and the realization in the minds of the disciples constitute the Dharma Jewel. These individuals who have gained the direct realization of the truth of the Dharma, they become the Arya Sangha, the Noble members of the Sangha. So in this approach it follows a chronological order.

In the case of Buddha himself, in order for him to become fully enlightened, it was necessary for him to internalize the knowledge of the Dharma and the same holds true for the Noble members of the Sangha, the Arya members as it is the embodiment of this Dharma knowledge which makes them Aryas or Noble Beings. Therefore to indicate the importance of the Dharma Jewel, it is stated in the scriptures that even the Buddha when giving teachings to demonstrate his respect and reverence for the Dharma he would arrange his own cushion on the seat.

To go back to the text, I was discussing the distinctions between the non-Buddhist philosophical schools on the one hand and the Buddhist on the other and how these are distinguished on the basis of whether one followed the Four Seals among which the most important one is that of no-self, the denial or rejection of the belief in an eternal and independent self. This becomes the characteristic mark of Buddhism which is the rejection of any notion of independent self-existence, in an independent, eternal and unchanging self. Historically if one looks at the many philosophical schools in ancient India, there is a clear line between the Buddhists and the non-Buddhists based on the position of whether or not there is self-existence or selfhood. On the one side are the Buddhists who on the whole rejected any notion of an eternal, unchanging and independent self and on the other hand were the non-Buddhist schools on the whole who believe in one form or another in a version of self-existence or in the atman which is eternal, unchanging and unitary. Other than this, within the non-Buddhist schools there are theistic schools, non-theistic schools; there are some who believe in rebirth and others who do not; some who believe in liberation or moksha and those who do not and so on. So the distinction between the Buddhists and non-Buddhists centers around their position on the nature and/or existence of the self.

The text reads: The extremists uphold the existence of an eternal self for they reify all phenomena through conceptual imputation. The reference to conceptual imputation here suggests that this is a reasoned, philosophical standpoint or postulate so here this does not refer to the innate, natural conception of selfhood. This refers to a reasoned, philosophical standpoint where on the basis of analysis and reflection, one comes to adhere to a standpoint that upholds a belief in eternal and independent self-existence or selfhood. This is common to all non-Buddhist schools.

Within this group of non-Buddhist schools who uphold an eternal self doctrine, there are differences so the text reads: [The extremists are comprised of] those who view the presence of effects where there is no cause. This refers to the Indian school called the Charvaka which rejected any notion of [causation,] rebirth and so on. Although they believe in the existence of an eternal, enduring, unchanging self, they do not espouse the doctrine of rebirth [or causation]. They accept effects such as the existence of a self but they reject the notion of rebirth [or a previous existence] which is the cause.

The next reads: those who view cause and effects erroneously which refers to those schools such as the Samkhya who understand the origin of the cosmos in terms of what they call the primal substance or prakrti. This primal substance is viewed as permanent, unchanging and so on. This also refers to the Indian theist schools who believe in an unchanging and eternal First Cause or self-causation or the naturally-arising cause. The problem here from the Buddhist point of view is that if the cause is characterized as eternal and unchanging then how can one account for the origin of the world of effects, all of which very evidently reflect the fact of change, fluctuation and transience. How can one account for the origin of these ever-changing effects from a cause that is unchanging and eternal?

The third subdivision is described as: those who view the absence of effects where there is a cause. This refers to another category of a non-Buddhist philosophical school who while accepting the existence of the self that is unchanging and permanent, they believe that the basis of this selfhood which is the body and mind to be transient and fluctuating. The objection here is that there is a contradiction between the characteristics of the cause on the one hand and the characteristic of the effect on the other.

Having described the various forms of non-Buddhist philosophical views, it sums them all up saying: All of these are views of ignorance.

As a summary of the discussion up to this point, one finds something very similar in Tsongkapa’s Praise to the Buddha Shakyamuni where he states the following in reference to the Buddha:

The truth that you have revealed on the basis of your own insight

The truth of no-self and the emptiness of inherent existence

And those who follow your teachings and example in the understanding of these


For these individuals

They will go further and further away from all sources of downfall.

However those who are contrary to the path reveled by you

Even though they may resort to all sorts of hardship and ascetic practices

They will continue to proliferate the basis for the afflictions.

This is because they continue to reinforce their grasping at selfhood.

Here the idea is that in addition to the innate grasping at selfhood that we all naturally possess, sometimes as the result of philosophical analysis one may further reinforce this innate grasping and solidify it through the process of philosophical reasoning. In that case, in addition to the already present innate grasping at selfhood, one will also have a powerful grasping that is philosophically acquired. Here the distinction between the Buddhists and the non-Buddhists is made on the basis of whether or not one affirms or rejects the object of self-grasping.

Here Jamyang Shayba has summed this up in his root text on the Indian philosophies (The Great Exposition of Buddhist and Non-Buddhist Views on the Nature of Reality) by saying: “It is on the basis of whether one is affirming or rejecting the object of the grasping at selfhood, the distinction between Buddhists and non-Buddhists schools is made.”

Then the question can be raised, “Why is there such a proliferation of so many philosophical standpoints, so many philosophical schools, including the various forms of Buddhist philosophy?” In response to this form of questioning, one finds in the Lankavatara Sutra reference to many different forms of spiritual vehicles. It refers to vehicles of the celestial beings, humans and so on. The point made in the Lankavatara Sutra is that so long as sentient beings exist, there will be a multiplicity and diversity of spiritual inclinations, mental dispositions and so on.

Chapter Two: The Deva vehicle, the Brahma vehicle, the Sravaka vehicle, the

LVI Verse 203 Pratyekabuddha vehicle and the Tathagata vehicle, of these I speak.

Verse 205. There is really no establishment of various vehicles, and so I speak of the one vehicle; but in order to carry the ignorant, I talk of a variety of vehicles.

From the Buddhist point of view, if one observes the diversity of the world’s religious traditions present in the world today, all of them emphasize the practice of ethical discipline. All of them emphasize the importance of cultivating love and compassion, warm-heartedness aimed at the creation of a better human being, a kinder more compassionate human being. Many of these traditions also teach spiritual practices which are aimed at a higher level of attainment such as being reborn in heaven and so forth. Therefore ethical practice is at the heart of all of these religious traditions. So from the Buddhist point of view this multiplicity of faith traditions can be seen as what is referred to in the scriptures as the vehicles for humans and divine beings.

In ancient India there were also non-Buddhist spiritual traditions where in addition to ethical practices there were also highly developed and refined meditation techniques all of which were aimed at the cultivation of deep, single-pointed and heightened states of mind. These were described as formed and formless states. Many of these meditative practices which emphasized the cultivation of single-pointedness of mind are also known as samatha or tranquil abiding and special or penetrative insight (vipasyana). These were developed in conjunction with reflecting deeply upon the defects of existence within the Desire Realm and by transcending the level of the senses, moving beyond the formed and formless states. These types of practices and the religious systems which enshrine them from the Buddhist point of view, from the Lankavatara Sutra’s point of view would be understood as the Brahma Vehicle.

There are other paths such as one primarily aimed at the attainment of liberation from cyclic existence and the elimination of the fundamental ignorance grasping at selfhood. These paths are described in the scriptures as paths transcending the world and have further subdivisions. For example, there is the Sravaka Vehicle or the Disciple’s Vehicle, the Pratyekabuddha Vehicle or Self-realized Ones and the Bodhisattva Vehicle which are listed and described here in this text.

As the Lankavatara Sutra states, so long as the diversity of human thoughts remains, there will be a diversity of spiritual paths which will be appropriate for individual human beings. This suggests a recognition at a profound level that given the diversity of the mental dispositions, spiritual inclinations and interests of sentient beings, there is a need for a diversity of spiritual paths. So in correspondence with the diversity of the mental dispositions, spiritual inclinations and interests of sentient beings, paths will evolve that are appropriate and suited to these varying dispositions, inclinations and interests of sentient beings.

If this is the case, if this is a fact then there is simply no basis to argue or make the claim in one way or another to say that this is the best path [for all beings] or that is the worst path. This is because the evaluation of the validity of a path really needs to be performed on the basis of whether or not a particular path is beneficial and suited for a given individual. Simply because from a certain point of view of a certain religious tradition or philosophical standpoint may be described as higher that does not mean that it is the “best.” Because depending upon the need of the individual, there is a specific path which is best suited for that individual. As a Buddhist, once one comes to recognize that kind of understanding then one will immediately appreciate the need and importance of inter-religious understanding and harmony.

Even in the context of Buddhism, one speaks of four philosophical schools, Vaibhasika, Sautrantika, Cittamatra and Madhyamika. One also speaks of the Three Vehicles, Two Vehicles, the Lesser and Greater Vehicles and so on. All of these are attributed to a single teacher, the Buddha Shakyamuni. If one were to ask, “What is actually the Buddha’s own final standpoint?” “Why did the Buddha teach in such a diversity and at times contradictory teachings in his scriptures?” The Buddha’s own final standpoint is from the point of view of the Madhyamika is that of the Middle Way philosophy but it is a fact that the Buddha taught the philosophy behind the schools of Vaibhasika, Sautrantika and the Cittamatra. He also taught the practices of the Lesser and Greater Vehicles.

One can see even within the Buddhist context a recognition of how the Buddha’s teaching of the Dharma needs to be understood in a context of its appropriateness to a given audience. It is not the case that the Buddha as an enlightened being only wanted to reveal a single truth to everyone. The Buddha selected what was most beneficial, effective and suitable in a given context for a given situation. It is understood that the profundity, value and validity of a particular teaching is based on the evaluation of how beneficial it is. If the teaching is beneficial in its given context, it is profound. If it is not beneficial, even though it may be a very profound teaching, it has no value. So the validity and value of a spiritual teaching needs to be judged on the basis of its effectiveness and its benefit in its own particular context.

From this point of view, one cannot really say one teaching is more profound than another as its profundity and validity needs to be evaluated contextually. If one can use this as an example from one’s own tradition, one can extrapolate this perspective extending it to other religious traditions. If one looks at other religious traditions, generally speaking, one can observe two dimensions to any spiritual tradition; there is the ethical dimension and the philosophical or metaphysical dimension. In the realm of metaphysics/philosophy, there can be great differences between the various religious traditions. However on the level of ethics, there is a uniformity of methods between all of the great traditions of the world. All of them carry the same message of love, compassion, forgiveness, tolerance and the need for discipline, simplicity and contentment. All of these are common methods of the ethical teaching of all religious traditions. So from this perspective one cannot say that this is a better religion than that one. One cannot make any such simple statement because they all carry the same message.

On the philosophical side, one can see that the philosophy/metaphysics is the premise or explanation that culminates in the outcome which is the core of the religious teaching, the ethical teachings. The ethical teachings are the outcome of the philosophical analysis. So in the realm of philosophy, obviously there are many differences as the differences lay in how one explains the importance of love, compassion, forgiveness and so on; how one grounds the importance of these ethical practices and what explanations or reasons are given for following them. This is where the differences lay between the different religious traditions.

For example in theistic religions, there is the belief in an all-powerful creator or divine being is the foundation of the philosophical understanding and the ethical teachings are grounded upon this fundamental belief. If one is grounded in this kind of belief system then the premise for one’s entire ethical practice is to try to live one’s life in accordance with fulfilling the wish or will of the all-powerful creator. So for some individuals, this theistic approach has a sense of immediacy or power where for other individuals an explanation bases on a non-theistic approach would be better suited. Here the importance of love, compassion and so on may have to do with understanding one’s own individual responsibility towards others based on cause and effect and so on. This non-theistic approach, where is emphasis is on understanding oneself as one’s own ultimate salvation, may be more effective and carry a greater resonance.

Therefore, one cannot truly say that one particular approach is best or better as “best” and “better” need to be judged on the basis of an individual context. However purely on the philosophical or metaphysical level one can identify certain ideas as being more sophisticated, refined or logical than others. This is possible but in evaluating a tradition as a whole, there is simply no basis for making a judgment as one being better or another worse.

I often use the example of medicine. When one looks at medicine, one can make various distinctions based on cost. However when one is asking what is the best medicine for a certain condition, one cannot decide based on cost. The value of any medicine lays in its ability to cure or treat a particular illness. Whatever is the most effective medicine for that particular illness, it is from that point of view that one decides regardless of the cost. One can certainly say that one medication is more valuable than another in that it is more expensive but in the proper sense the value of the medicine is judged on the basis of its effectiveness with respect to a specific ailment.

However when one tries to define medicine, the defining characteristic of a medicine is its ability to cure or treat an illness. One cannot define medicine in terms of how much it costs. One can only define it in terms of its effectiveness in relation to a particular ailment. Similarly when one speaks of a spiritual practice or teaching, one can only define the value of a spiritual teaching in relation to its effectiveness in transforming one’s emotions and thoughts.

When the Buddha was in India, he lived within a cultural context where there were many other spiritual traditions. Within this context the Buddha developed his own method of no-self, the rejection of the belief in an eternal, enduring, abiding self and so on. In some instances the Buddha had debated with his contemporaries on the virtues and drawbacks on believing in selfhood and so on. However the Buddha never stated anywhere within his teachings nor did he expect all the people of India to turn to Buddhism. He never imagined or claimed the possibility or demanded that everyone should follow his path.

{His Holiness in English] This is the basis for mutual respect among the different traditions and in fact, mutual admiration. I am a Buddhist. Sometimes I described myself as a strong Buddhist so I disagree with some of the views [of others]. But I respect them sincerely because they worked for humanity in the past. They gave immense benefit to millions of people so there is plenty of reason for respect, to admire, to appreciate. So this I feel is the proper way to develop and promote genuine harmony among the [various] spiritual traditions.

Going back to the text, it is now going over the Buddhist path. The path that transcends the world also consists of two categories, 1) the dialectical vehicle and 2) the indestructible vehicle of the Vajrayana. The dialectical vehicle in turn is three-fold, 1) the vehicle of the disciples, 2) the vehicle of the Self-Realized Ones and 3) the vehicle of the bodhisattvas.

Of these, the view of those who have entered the vehicle of the disciple is as follows. So the text will now refer to those who hold the philosophical views of the Lesser Vehicle, the sravakas. Their view is explained as: They maintain that the nihilistic view denying everything and the eternalistic view asserting the existence of eternal reality which are postulated by the extremists and so on by means of reification and denigration are as untrue as perceiving a coiled rope as a snake. The nihilistic view here refers to the standpoints of the unreflective, the materialists and the nihilists who on the whole reject the notion of previous lives, rebirth and so on. Here the eternalistic view refers to the belief in an eternal, enduring and independent self that was discussed earlier.

Those who adhere to the philosophical viewpoint of the Disciple Vehicle maintain that these kinds of postulates, the rejection of rebirth and so on, constitutes denigration. A belief in an eternal self and so on constitutes a form of reification. These are as untrue as seeing a coiled rope as a snake.

After having explain what they reject, the text goes on to explain what the Disciple Vehicle actually espouses: In contrast they view the aggregates, elements and the sources as being comprised of the four great elements and as well as the consciousness as being ultimately real. The text is pointing out their philosophical understanding of the nature of reality where they see the physical world as being constituted by indivisible and partless particles which are devoid of any spatial dimension. It is through the aggregation of these indivisible particles that they understand the material or physical world. They understand the origin and nature of the consciousness in terms of an aggregation of moments of consciousness or mental states that are indivisible temporally. They understand both of these, external material objects and internal mental states, to be ultimately real.

The text goes on: It is by means of meditating upon the Four Noble Truths that in due course, the four kinds of results are realized. Therefore the followers of the Sravaka Vehicle or Disciple’s Vehicle maintain that it is through the basis of practicing the Four Noble Truths that one will in due course, the four types of result, the Stream Enterer, Once Returners, Never Returner and the Arhat.

Next follows the explanation of the view of the followers of the Pratyekabuddha Vehicle, which is the Self-Realized Ones. The text reads: The view of those who have entered the vehicle of the Self-Realized Ones is as follows. With respect to viewing the eternal self and so on that are postulated by the extremists by means of reification and denigration to be nonexistent, they are similar to the Disciples. The point made here is that in relation to the teaching on no-self or anatman, for both the adherents of the Pratyekabuddha Vehicle and the Disciple Vehicle, they share the same position. With respect to anatman, they share the same view.

The difference is that they understand the aggregates of form and one aspect of the reality-element to be devoid of self-existence. This is a reference to the uniqueness of the viewpoint of the Pratyekabuddhas. Here the reference to one part of the reality-element refers to the understanding of the absence of selfhood for the object as opposed to the subject. Within the world of subject and object, the adherents to this viewpoint reject the self-existence of objects but not of the [perceiving] subject. They believe in the ultimate reality of subjective experiences.

This way of differentiating the sravakas from the self-realized ones is similar to the one found in Maitreya’s Abhisamayalamkara or Ornament of Clear Realization. In this text, the wisdom of the three vehicles are clearly differentiated and the primary wisdom of the sravaka vehicle is that of insight into no-self of person and the primary wisdom of the pratyekabuddhas is that of insight into the nonduality of subject and object which is similar to the Mind-Only School’s standpoint. The primary wisdom of the bodhisattva is that insight into the no-self of persons and phenomena.

Verse 76: Within the scope of the knowledge of the path

Through not observing the aspects

Of the four realities of the Noble Ones –

This path of the Hearers should be known

Verse 80: Because they realize the self-originated essential character

They do not even need teachings from others.

The wisdom of those who are like a rhinoceros

Is expressed to be definitely more profound.

Verse 81: In certain people, who wish to listen to

Certain subjects in certain ways,

These certain subjects

Will appear accordingly even without words.

Verse 82: Because conceptions about apprehended objects are relinquished,

Because the apprehender is not relinquished,

And through the support, the path of those who are like a


Should be known to be perfectly summarized.

The text continues: Also, at the time of attaining the fruit of Self-Realized One’s state, unlike Disciples, they do not depend upon a spiritual mentor. So the self-realized are able to gain realization without depending upon the presence of a teacher. [Rather] due to the force of their past habituation, they realize the profound ultimate reality by means of the twelve links of dependent origination and attain the fruit of Self-Enlightenment. In the scriptures, the pratyekabuddhas are particularly associated with a deep understanding of the mechanism and the dynamics of the twelve links of dependent origination. This deep understanding is both in terms of forward causation from the first link of the chain leading to the second link and so on as well as the understanding of how by bringing about the end of the earlier link one can bring about the cessation of the latter link in the chain. So this understanding of the twelve links of dependent origination in the context of the vehicle of the self-realized is both in terms of its forward dynamic of creation and also how to bring about its end.

Ultimate reality here refers to the self-realized’s understanding of the absence of duality between the [perceiving] subject and the [perceived] object. The text continues: they realize the profound ultimate reality by means of the twelve links of dependent origination and attain the fruit of Self-Enlightenment.

Next is the bodhisattva vehicle and here the text reads: The view of those who have entered the vehicle of the bodhisattva is as follows. All phenomena of the thoroughly afflicted and enlightened classes are on the ultimate level devoid of intrinsic nature while on the conventional level they possess their individual characteristics in a clearly distinctive manner. This sentence explains the philosophical viewpoint of the Middle Way School which represents the bodhisattva’s standpoint.

Historically among the commentators on Nagarjuna’s teachings on emptiness, there broadly emerged two distinct approaches. On the one side are the great master such as Bhavaviveka, Haribhadra, Santaraksita who visited Tibet and Kamalashila. While all of these masters reject the notion of true existence on the ultimate level, they do accept some notion of svabhava or self-nature on the conventional level. On the other side are the great masters such as Buddhapalita, Candrakirti and Santideva who reject the notion of … (Interruption by His Holiness) His Holiness was disputing my use of the word self-nature to translate svabhava because by rejecting the concept of svabhava, which is sometimes translated as intrinsic being, self-nature or own-being, His Holiness pointed out that they are not rejecting the individual characteristics of phenomena. For example, solidity is the defining characteristic of the earth element. (Interruption again by His Holiness) One is not rejecting any notion of nature, individual phenomena having their own defining nature such as solidity being the defining nature of the earth element or heat as the defining characteristic of fire and so on. These kinds of defining natures are not being rejected but is being rejected is any type of intrinsic being or svabhava.

So on the other side are the great masters like Buddhapalita, Candrakirti and Santideva who not only reject any notion of true existence on the ultimate level but they also reject the notion of svabhava, intrinsic being or self-nature or own-being even on the conventional level. So one can see that historically there emerged different interpretations of Nagarjuna’s teachings on emptiness and the differences lay in either the acceptance or rejection of the notion of svabhava or self-nature on the conventional level. They also differ as to whether or not the disciples or sravakas and pratyekabuddhas realize the emptiness of phenomena in order to gain liberation. There is also a difference of opinion as to whether or not there is a difference in subtlety between the selflessness of persons and the selflessness of phenomena. On these details broadly speaking, there emerged two distinct approaches to the understanding of Nagarjuna’s understanding of emptiness.

The text continues: The bodhisattvas aspire to seek the unexcelled enlightenment which is the culmination of traversing the ten levels and the fruit of practicing the six perfections one by one. The text here is pointing out that in terms of the path, bodhisattvas traverse through the ten bodhisattva bhumis or grounds by means of practicing the ten perfections. When one speaks of the ten perfections, in addition to the usual six, the sixth perfection, the perfection of wisdom, is further divided into the wisdom of skilful means, power, aspiration and transcendent wisdom. It is on the basis of practicing these ten perfections that a bodhisattva finally aspires to attain unexcelled enlightenment going through the ten bodhisattva bhumis one by one.

Next the text discusses the Vajrayana and reads: The indestructible vehicle of the Vajrayana has three classes: 1) the vehicle of Kriya Tantra, 2) the vehicle of Ubhaya Tantra and 3) the vehicle of Yoga Tantra. Kriya Tantra is also called Action Tantra. Ubhaya Tantra is both external activities and internal yoga. Here Yoga Tantra is a generic term which is used for both Yoga and Highest Yoga Tantras.

Next the text discusses the first class of tantra saying: The view of those who have entered Kriya Tantra is as follows. Whilst there is no origination or cessation on the ultimate level, on the conventional level, one visualizes oneself in the form of a deity and cultivates the deity’s image. The text here is pointing out that in general, one of the defining characteristics of the Vajrayana path is the practice of deity yoga. Here the text explains the heart of the deity yoga practice which is to generate oneself into the deity on the basis of a deep insight into the ultimate nature of oneself. This is pointed out in the text with the phrase “no origination and cessation on the ultimate level.” Of course in reality there is no origination or cessation on the ultimate level but what is being emphasized here is that one must cultivate the recognition, the awareness of this truth. Then using the same mind that has understood or gained this realization, it arises in the form of a deity.

The text next says that “on the conventional level, one visualizes oneself in the form of a deity and cultivates the deity’s image” (or body) and the attributes –the hand implements (which symbolize the deity’s mind) and the mantra repetitions (which symbolize speech) on the basis of the power of the coming together of the necessary ritual articles and other conditions. Therefore, the key characteristic of Kriya Tantra is the emphasis upon the need for external activities, the ritual articles and so on as an aid for bringing about the realization of the inner deity yoga state.

Here the text is discussing the various levels of the path of the Vajrayana Vehicle and here it is important to understand what is meant by Vajrayana or the Indestructible Vehicle. The term vajra here has the connotation of indivisibility so in this sense one is referring to a vehicle that has indivisibility as it central characteristic. What is this indivisibility? It refers to the indivisibility of the method aspect of the path with the wisdom aspect of the path so it is the indivisibility of these two aspects of the path, method and wisdom, which is the essence of the Vajrayana path.

However, in so far as the need for the union of method and wisdom is concerned, this is also emphasized in the Perfection or Sutra Vehicle as well. For example, one finds in Nagarjuna’s text there is an aspiration at the conclusion of the text where Nagarjuna draws a parallel or correlation between the two accumulations: the accumulation or merit and the accumulation of merit as corresponding to the two Buddha Kayas, the Form Body of a Buddha and the Truth Body of a Buddha. It is through relying upon a path which has both the accumulations of merit and wisdom that one aspires to attain Buddhahood which is the embodiment of the two Buddha Kayas or the two Buddha Bodies of Form and Reality.

Similarly, Candrakirti explains in his text The Supplement to the Middle Way or Madhyamakavatara in which he compares the two aspects of the path, method and wisdom, as being the two wings of a bird that glides across the ocean to reach the shore of enlightenment.

Verse 226: And like the king of swans, ahead of lesser birds they soar,

On broad white wings of the relative and ultimate fully spread.

And on the strength of virtue’s mighty wind they fly

To gain the far and supreme shore, the oceanic qualities of Victory.

So again there is an emphasis on the need for the union of the method and wisdom aspects of the path.

However in the context of the non-Vajrayana path, the Sutra Vehicle, the union of these two accumulations is understood in terms of one complementing the other so the method aspect of the path and the wisdom aspect are seen as two independent streams of realization. Method is primarily characterized by the five perfections of generosity, cultivating the awakening mind and so on whereas the wisdom aspect of the path is primarily characterized by the wisdom of emptiness. It is the through the complementarity of these two aspects of the path that one develops the union of method and wisdom.

In the Vajrayana context however, the union of these two accumulations is understood at a much more profound level where their union is not a matter of two factors with one complementing the other but rather their union is in the form of their indivisibility. In other words, both the method and wisdom aspects of the path need to be present within a single event of a mental state. How is this achieved? This is reflected in the early stages of the practice. For example in deity yoga meditation, the core of its practice is to first generate the understanding of emptiness and then this wisdom of emptiness is imagined as arising or taking the form of a deity. Therefore within a single mental event there is both the realization of emptiness and the visualization of oneself as a deity and these are seen as inseparable.

But ultimately the true meaning of the indivisibility of method and wisdom arises at the level of Highest Yoga Tantra where within a single instant of the clear light state of mind, both the factors for the attainment of a Buddha’s Rupakaya or Form Body and of a Buddha’s Dharmakaya or Reality Body are present within a single instant of the experience of clear light. This is the ultimate meaning of the indivisibility of method and wisdom. However even on the lower classes of tantra such as Kriya or Action Tantra, their deity yoga meditation truly conveys this indivisibility of method and wisdom though at the level of the imagination as it is at the level of visualization. But still within a single moment of visualization, both aspects of the path present.

The reference to the absence of origination and cessation on the ultimate level, as I pointed out earlier, implies the need not just for understanding this factually but actually cultivating this understanding within oneself as the basis for deity yoga meditation. Generally speaking as it is stated in Nagarjuna’s Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way, in a system where emptiness is possible then everything is possible and in a system where emptiness is not possible then no functioning is possible. From this point of view generally speaking, if one’s standpoint embraces the understanding of emptiness, then within this standpoint, the entire functioning of the everyday world of cause and effect is tenable. However in this context here, the understanding of how one on the conventional level comes to be a deity even though on the ultimate level there is no origination or cessation. The meaning here is the deeper one which is explicitly brought out in Jamgon Kongtrul’s commentary on this particular section. He says that while mental abiding in equipoise on the absence of origination and cessation on the ultimate level. This reference to one’s mind being in equipoise refers to the need for a deep understanding of the emptiness of origination and cessation on the ultimate level.

This is an important point because normally there are quite a large number of people who perceive themselves as practitioners of the Vajrayana. They perform sadhana practices, mantra recitations and visualize themselves as deities. It is important to understand what the core of deity yoga meditation is. What is supposed to happen when one generates oneself as a deity? Because during the course of deity meditation not only must one visualize oneself as a deity but one must also cultivate an identification of oneself as a deity. So in addition to visualizing oneself as a deity, there is also the need for cultivating the identity of a deity (divine pride). A form of identification takes place here and if there is no deep understanding of emptiness as the basis for the meditation then what may happen is a further reinforcement of clinging to a sense of “I” based on one’s ordinary sense of selfhood. This ordinary sense of selfhood is grounded upon one’s bodily existence composed of flesh, bones and so on.

However what is required in the Vajrayana deity yoga meditation is not only a clear perception of oneself as a deity, a visualization, but also a strong identification with the deity on the basis of a purified aggregate. So what is required here is not only the dissolution of grasping at the inherent existence of oneself but also the dissolution on the level of ordinary appearance of oneself as an ordinary human being composed of flesh, blood and so on. One therefore goes through a process of dissolution into emptiness and Jamgon Kongtrul writes that from within that state devoid of origination and cessation on the ultimate level, one arises on the conventional level in the form of a deity. The point made here is that not only on the level of apprehension does one need to negate one’s own inherent existence but also on the level of perception as well, one must dissolve the perception of oneself as an ordinary being. Then from within that state of emptiness, one assumes the form of a deity. So it is from the realization of emptiness that one arises or assumes the form of a deity. When this happens there is a real union [of method and wisdom]. Otherwise, no matter how many mantras one may recite or how many times one visualizes oneself as a deity, none of those practices are truly Vajrayana as the core element of … (End of recording) [the practice of deity yoga is missing.

No matter that one may have done a three year retreat or one may have recited the mantra of the deity so many times and so on, none of them will truly become Vajrayana practice. The point being made here as explained before is that as a foundation for the practice of Vajrayana, to engage in a successful practice of Vajrayana, it is indispensable to have at least some form of experience in the understanding of emptiness. Without an understanding of emptiness, there is simply no basis for the cultivation of the deity yoga practice. When one speaks of the understanding of emptiness here it could be according to the Cittamatra (Mind-Only school) or according to the Middle Way School. Historically in India, there have been yogis, followers of the Cittamatra, Mind-Only School or Middle Way School who have been great Vajrayana realized masters.

An understanding of the ultimate nature of reality either according to the Cittamatra or the Middle Way is indispensable as a foundation for a successful deity yoga meditation. In order for the understanding of emptiness to become an effective antidote to overcoming the subtle obstructions to knowledge which is the primary obstacle to the attainment of full enlightenment, it is indispensable that the realization of emptiness is complemented with the factor of bodhicitta, the awakening mind.

The point I am making is that in order for one to successfully engage in the Vajrayana practice, it is indispensable to have a realization of the sutra system of the path, particularly the realizations of emptiness and bodhicitta. For a follower of purely the Perfection Vehicle, the Sutra system of the path, there is no need for any realizations of the Vajrayana path. For the practitioners of the Vajrayana, it is indispensable to have the realization of emptiness and bodhicitta, the awakening mind as presented in the Perfection Vehicle.

If one’s practice of the Vajrayana path, the deity yoga meditation, is truly grounded upon a deep understanding of emptiness as presented in the Sutra Vehicle and complemented with bodhicitta, the practice of awakening mind, then that very understanding of emptiness at the level of imagination assumes the form of whatever particular deity one may be practicing or emphasizing. Once one has a clear visualization of the deity, one needs to reflect upon the emptiness of that deity. When one has that kind of combination, of a clear visualization of the deity on the basis of the understanding of emptiness and then once again reflect on the emptiness of the deity then truly in one’s practice there will be the union of what is called the profound aspect of the path as well as the luminosity or clarity aspect of the path as well.

In terms of the sequence of the path or practice, when one speaks of one’s realization of emptiness being complemented with bodhicitta, the awakening mind, it is not the case that when one actually has the experience of emptiness, bodhicitta is consciously present at that moment. When one actually has the experience of emptiness at that moment, at that point, in terms of the content of one’s thought or one’s mental state, there will be the mere simple negation of intrinsic existence.

Initially what is required is to cultivate bodhicitta, the awakening mind, and once one’s experience of bodhicitta, the awakening mind, becomes very strong and intense, then at that point one should reflect upon the ultimate nature of the individual, this “I” who is aspiring for the attainment of Buddhahood for the benefit of all beings or on the nature of the sentient beings for whose benefit one wishes to attain enlightenment, or the nature of enlightenment itself. So one subjects these and ultimately or eventually one’s own self to critical analysis and examine whether or not they possess inherent existence and once one arrives at the realization that the self as well is devoid of intrinsic existence, at that point, one dwells with one’s mind single-pointedly on that conclusion that one has arrived at where one has totally negated any possibility of intrinsic existence of one’s own self.

Then that state of mind which is the state of realization of emptiness of one’s own self is then on the level of imagination seen as transforming into a deity (whatever form of deity one may be visualizing). Once you have a clear visualization of the deity, then once again reflect upon the emptiness of that deity. What you see here in this process is the two stages or two instances of meditation on emptiness, at the initial stage you meditate on the emptiness of yourself and at the culmination you meditate on the emptiness of the deity.

Insofar as both of these are realizations of emptiness, they are equal. The difference is that in the former case, the object of meditation of emptiness is a contaminated object which is the unenlightened existence of your own self, whereas in the latter case, the object of the meditation on emptiness is an enlightened form albeit on the level of imagination but it is the form of the deity.

There is a difference between these two types on the level of imagination. Although both of these are meditations on emptiness, there is a difference in terms of the object upon which the meditation on emptiness takes place.]

A paraphrase of verses 31 -32. See Thurman’s translation in Life and Teachings of Tsong Khapa.

Literally: “The two, Outer [non-Buddhist] and Inner [Buddhist, respectively] establish and refute the referent object of the view of self.”