Second part of His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s teachings in Klagenfurt Austria May 18-20, 2012 translated from Tibetan into English by Mr Tenzin Tsepag. Trascript by Dr. Peter Lawrence-Roberts, first revision and editing by Dr. Luciano Villa within the project “Free Dalai Lama’s Teachings” for the benefit of all sentient beings. We apologize for possible errors and omissions.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama
The Heart Sutra
The Heart Sutra belongs to a group of sutras known as the Prajnaparamita sutras. It consists of 17 sutras. The most extensive is in 100,000 verses, the middle one has 25,000 verses and the short version has 8,000 verses. This version has 25 verses.
Commentaries to the Heart Sutra were written by both Indian and Tibetan great masters.
The title of the sutras is Perfection of Wisdom Sutras. Sherab means the essence of wisdom. Wisdom should be cultivated, as, for Buddhist practitioners, the main goal to be achieved is the actualisation of the cessation of suffering. This cessation can only occur through the attainment of wisdom that realises emptiness.
The second Noble Truth, the origin of suffering, deals with two things in detail, karma and afflictions. There are two types of afflictions. First, wrong view, intellectual but wrong, a wrong view that is distorted. This kind of wrong view must be abandoned as it is the root of suffering. Second, anger. The antidote is to cultivate love and compassion.
If we have strong difficulty with attachment, an antidote would be to visualise revulsion for things and events to which we are attached.
A further antidote is to get rid of completely the root of the difficulty. This is done through the cultivation of the wisdom realising emptiness. In this way afflictive emotion can be uprooted.
The Heart Sutra shows that if we combine shamata and vipassana meditation we can eliminate the root of cyclic existence.
Aryadeva https://www.sangye.it/altro/?p=5610, https://www.sangye.it/altro/?p=5619, https://www.sangye.it/altro/?p=5625 said ‘If things exist inherently then we don’t need to understand emptiness. But if there is no inherent existence then it is very important to understand emptiness’. To actualise cessation the only way is to cultivate the wisdom realising emptiness.
Why is it necessary to cultivate wisdom? There are different types of wisdom – the wisdom realising ultimate truth, the wisdom realising conventional truth etc. Within the different types of wisdom we are talking here of the wisdom realising emptiness. It can be cultivated gradually. Initially we can do it through listening and studying. We can gain a certain understanding in this way.
Through rigorous analysis using our intelligence we can analyse whether things and events exist inherently or not. We can listen to explanations from all four philosophical schools. Through these different explanations we can determine which is free from the two extremes of eternalism and nihilism. Eventually we can gain a direct realisation of emptiness. This is what is meant by the perfection of wisdom.
Also, it is perfection of wisdom that leads us to the resultant state of realising emptiness. Lama Tsong Khapa in his Golden Rosary said there are two types of perfection of wisdom. In the main it refers to the resultant perfection of wisdom. The secondary types refers to the process of listening, reading and meditation.
This short sutra captures the essence of the Buddha’s teachings, which is the perfection of wisdom.
The sutra talks of profound perception. There are four Kayas – rupakaya, dharmakaya, nirmanakaya and sambogakaya. It is in the emanation body (nirmanakaya) that we can perceive the historical Buddha. We see him going in and out of meditation. In reality this is not the case in the other kayas. In these he stays in permanent meditative equipoise.
Profound refers to emptiness. Perception refers to dependent arising. These work together. The more we understand one the more we understand the other.
Nagarjuna https://www.sangye.it/altro/?cat=9 stressed that emptiness and dependent origination are linked.
Ordinary beings cannot see Manjushri, Avalokiteshvara and the other bodhisattvas that are mentioned in the sutra.
The word ‘also‘ is missing in Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese versions of the sutra. This word is important since it is not only the ‘I’ that is empty of inherent existence but also the five aggregates on which the ‘I’ is designated.
Often in our everyday experience ‘I’ does not feel as if it is dependent on body and mind. We say ‘when I was born’ and yet the body we have now didn’t exist at that time. The ‘I’ doesn’t seem to change. It seems permanent. That is the basis of our wrong conception. The ‘I’ seems permanent and independent, something solid.
When we develop strong emotions like anger and attachment, the object of anger can seem very real and very negative. But it is not really there. It is our projection, our perception.
In Nagarjuna’s Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way https://www.sangye.it/altro/?p=513 he says that our actions which are motivated by afflictions are what keep us caught up in cyclic existence. This is due to delusion. Delusion arises in us due to elaborated, distorted thoughts. When we see something we dislike we see this very strongly within the object. When we develop attachment we see great merit or attraction in the object. This is what Nagarjuna calls elaboration. He says that when this grasping is eliminated then we can be free of cyclic existence. This grasping is the root of all afflictions. We need to be free of all our elaborations, both in terms of the subject and the object.
‘Form is emptiness, emptiness is form. Form is not other than emptiness. Emptiness is not other than form’. This is known as the four rounds of the explanation of emptiness.
‘Form is emptiness’ does not refer to form that is inherently existent being empty. What it means is that form itself is empty of inherent existence. ‘Emptiness is form’ – if form is empty of inherent existence does it mean that it doesn’t exist? No. However, the existence of form depends on causes and conditions and many factors. It is dependency arisen. It doesn’t have any intrinsic identity. Inherent existence and lack of inherent existence are mutually exclusive.
‘Emptiness is not other than form. Form is not other than emptiness’. These two statements show that emptiness and emptiness of form are one entity. For example, we can take a coin. Side A is form and side B is emptiness of form. We can look at it from different angles. The Two Truths (form and emptiness of form) are two sides of the same coin. This is clearly explained by Nagarjuna and others.
If we have negative emotions we can try to distinguish different minds within ourselves. As soon as one part of our mind tries to watch another the negative emotion diminishes.
In general, attachment and aversion are both present within us, but if we deliberately try to raise anger or attachment and at that moment observe how we perceive the object of our attachment or anger, and how our mind itself sees, we will see the distortion. So we can compare our ordinary mind with a mind affected by strong anger or attachment. We will see the clear differences between the object itself and how the mind perceives it.
There are always differences between appearance and reality. We see this in our daily lives. Scientific research is often intended to bridge this gap.
In Buddhist philosophy ignorance and distorted views are the causes of all negative emotions. So, to rid ourselves of negative emotions we need to understand the very nature of this ignorance. The Two Truths is one of the Buddha’s most important teachings. He touches on this often in the Prajnaparamita sutras.
When we talk of conventional truth we are trying to understand dependent arising. A verse in the King of Concentrations Sutra describes clearly that things come into existence through dependent arising. If things come into existence through other external factors then they do not exist independently.
Dependent arising is the main way to prove to ourselves that things don’t have inherent existence. We can do this by analysis. As we go further and further we will see that nothing really exists inherently. However, the best way to understand emptiness is through the teaching of dependent arising.
Nagarjuna often praises the Buddha’s amazing teaching of dependent origination which helps us to understand the nature of reality. When we talk of dependent origination we can approach it on two different levels. First, there is the dependent origination that applies only to impermanent things and events and how they come into being entirely dependent on causes and conditions. The second level of dependent origination is called ‘designated’, or dependent arising through designation.
The existence of the whole is dependent on parts. The whole cannot exist without the parts. A collection can only exist because of the parts that are collected together. This could also apply to permanent things as it is not dependent on causes and conditions.
At a deeper level we have the concept of dependent origination in terms of mere designation. There are two aspects to this – what is designated and the basis of that designation. These two are mutually dependent on each other.
So here we see dependent origination only in terms of mere designation. This was very clearly explained by Kamalashila when he wrote a commentary on the work of Shantarakshita explained valid cognition.
Shantarakshita clearly explained the importance of understanding dependent origination. This greatly raises our awareness of the law of cause and effect and leads to our respect for it, so seeking to give rise to positive results through practicing wholesome causes.
On the second level, designation brings us to the Four Noble Truths. In order to actualise the third Noble Truth, the truth of the cessation of suffering, we have to cultivate the way of the path that leads to that sensation, the fourth Noble Truth.
This is also explained by Nagarjuna. There is a verse in which he argues with the Madhyamaka Svatantrika and the Cittamatrins who assert that things and events have intrinsic nature. He says that if you believe this then how do you explain that causes bring about results? This rule can only apply due to a lack of inherent existence.
Different minds – negative and positive – arise in us due to the causes and conditions we create. Take, for example, a young child. He can eventually become a great scholar through teaching. Or take someone with anger. With practice he can overcome this. So this shows that there is no inherent nature as the mind moves to different stages when the causes and conditions come together.
In his Commentary on Bodhicitta Nagarjuna said that the purpose of understanding emptiness is to get rid of wrong views and distortions. The fact that distortions can be removed from the mind shows that liberation is possible on an individual basis. When we extend this to all sentient beings we can see that the aspiration to benefit all sentient beings can be cultivated.
Shantarakshita said clearly that the main purpose of the teachings on emptiness is to understand the possibility of realising liberation. There are two types of practitioner. First, there are the sharp scholars who seek to understand emptiness and then practice bodhicitta. Second, there are those who are not so sharp and who first cultivate bodhicitta and eventually understand emptiness.
Initially people may have completely the wrong view, but as they read, study and listen that absolute view can weaken and allow questions and doubts to arise. From the doubts and questions can arise assumptions that things may be different from the original absolute view. As we then apply reason and logic, such as that of dependent origination, then we start to understand and achieve valid cognition, which ultimately moves to the direct realisation of emptiness.
From the Heart Sutra consciousness, feeling and compositional factors are empty. We have to understand emptiness in relation to an object or a phenomenon. We cannot talk of emptiness without this. The Heart Sutra lists phenomena that are empty.
The Two Truths talks of one entity but different isolates, as with the two sides of the same coin.
In this way, to aspire to attain and experience enlightenment, it is best to undertake our spiritual journey. We can see the benefits of the teachings and then reduce and finally eliminate wrong views and grasping and achieve the wisdom realising emptiness.
There are two factors – skilful means and wisdom. Skilful means – compassion, love etc – these aspirations are supported by wisdom. When the two come together we have the Five Paths:
Path of accumulation
Path of preparation
Path of seeing
Path of meditation
Path of no more learning
We can consider these in connection with the three types of practitioners – hearer, solitary realiser and bodhisattva. The Ten Bhumis for a bodhisattva start from the Path of seeing, ie when the bodhisattva directly realises emptiness.
The Prajnaparamita Sutras are particularly important here. Their explicit subject is emptiness. The implicit subject deals with methods such as the cultivation of bodhicitta.
Nagarjuna and Asanga are very important for this. Nagarjuna explained the explicit subject of emptiness. Asanga explained the implicit factors such as the cultivation of bodhicitta in great detail in his Five Treatises. One of the most important of these treatises is the ‘Ornament of Clear Relisation’, a very important text for the understanding of the hidden topics of the Prajnaparamita Sutras. Asanga received the Five Treatises from Maitreya.
‘Ornament of Clear Realisation’ expounds the Five Paths. In the Prajnaparamita Sutras the Five Paths are repeated again and again in the context of different subjects.
In the Heart Sutra the explanation of the Five Paths is straightforward. This helps explain the mantra.
Tayatha – thus, therefore
Gate – refers to bodhisattvas who are on the Path of Accumulation. They can be located in three stages – small, middling and great. So, this refers to bodhisattvas just entering the Path of Accumulation. Their understanding of emptiness is very weak but they do have genuine bodhicitta.
Gate – from the middling path up to the end of the Path of Preparation, bodhisattvas cultivate bodhicitta and wisdom realising emptiness, developing special insight, the union of shamata and vipassana.
Paragate – ‘over there’. For as long as we haven’t realised emptiness we are ‘over here’. When the practitioner first directly realises emptiness they are ‘over there’.
Parasamgate – the first seven Bhumis are called unclean or impure grounds. Although bodhisattvas have realised emptiness directly, they haven’t rid themselves of all obscurations. Then come three pure grounds where all obscurations are abandoned.
Bodhi Svaha – ‘fully awakened’. To be so we need to understand the four Kayas.
The eradication of obscurations is here based on the sutrayana system. The obscuration of affliction can be removed, but this is often difficult. Many texts say that to be free of the obscuration of omniscience we need to be free of three appearances – white, red, black – which precede clear light. This powerful mind is explained in the Vajrayana teachings, particularly the Highest Yoga Tantra. To actualise innate clear light mind we need to eradicate completely the three appearances. For us to understand the subtlest nature of things and events we need to have a clear understanding of clear light mind and this is only possible through the tantrayana teachings, and even then only in the Highest Yoga Tantra.
The sutrayana teachings do not teach the subtlest level of clear light mind.
The union of the clear light mind and the illusory body when training in Highest Yoga Tantra is the preparation for realising the Four Kayas. Again, this is not present in the sutrayana teachings.
Medicine Buddha belongs to the Kriya Tantra.
Questions and Answers
Question: If all things are empty, where does love come from?
His Holiness the Dalai Lama. We should always bear in mind that we are using the term ’emptiness’ in the context of dependent arising. We use the term ’empty’ often, but in the Buddhist context we must remember that it is closely linked to dependent arising.
If we don’t have the ability to eliminate concepts of eternalism and nihilism then it is good to meditate on the concept of emptiness and what it means.
The Buddha explained that the person and the aggregates are very closely linked.
Madhyamaka schools consider emptiness differently. Both Madhyamaka schools assert that all things arise dependently yet some Madhyamaka Svatantrika masters assert that some phenomena have intrinsic existence. When we progress to the Madhyamaka Prasangika then all things are ‘merely labelled’. They simply have a designation. However, this is complex to understand so it may be better first to meditate on the gross levels of emptiness.
Nagarjuna says that impermanence, suffering and selflessness are three trainings for the mind. Obviously he is here referring to the gross level of selflessness, so we need to start with these in order to train our mind.
Question: Does Buddhist teaching help when you think about the Chinese and what they are doing?
His Holiness the Dalai Lama. When we face problems that disturb our mind that is the best time to practice Dharma. A monk who spent 18 years in a Chinese gulag said that he often faced great danger. His Holiness asked what kind of danger, imaging torture, starvation etc. The monk replied, danger of losing my compassion for the Chinese. That for him was the greatest danger.
One of the lojong texts makes the statement that ‘when we have sufficient food and the sun is warm we pretend we are a Dharma practitioner’. So, when we face dangers and problems, this is the best time to practice Dharma.