15 His Holiness the Dalai Lama: Teachings on Lam-rim Chen-mo
Day Five, Afternoon Session, July 14, 2008 at Lehigh University, Pennsylvania, USA. Part two. Identifying the Object of Negation: Grasping at Self. Dream Analogy; Critical Analysis; 5-fold and 7-fold Reasonings. Ways of Avoiding Nihilism. Dependent Origination as the Meaning of Emptiness.
Identifying the Object of Negation: Grasping at Self
His Holiness: [in Tibetan] Thupten Jinpa: So then the second, which is the actual presentation of the ultimate reality, this Tsongkhapa explains in terms of three main subheadings: identifying the object of negation of the reason; and what method should one adopt, whether by means of consequential reasoning or syllogism; and the manner in which the view arises in one on the basis of that method.
And then the first one is explained further in terms of three outlines: “why the object of negation must be carefully identified”; “refuting other systems that refute without identifying the object to be negated”; and “how our system identifies the object of negation.”
His Holiness: [in Tibetan] Thupten Jinpa: So with respect to this, Aryadeva states in the 400 Stanzas on the Middle Way where he says that, “The seed of cyclic existence lies in consciousness and the objects are the sphere of experience, field of experience, of this consciousness.” Therefore when one sees absence of selfhood in these objects then the seed of cyclic existence will come to an end.
So here, what Aryadeva is pointing out is that the seed of cyclic existence really is the grasping at self. So in order to bring about an end to the cyclic existence, we need to find a way of eradicating that seed which is the root, and this can only be done by finding a way to bring about within ourselves a genuine understanding that the ‘self’—the content of this grasping, which is the ‘self’—does not really exist.
So our self-grasping grasps at ‘self’ and what we call ‘self’. And whether or not that exists will have implications. So we need to apply critical reasoning to try to flesh out, “If ‘self’ (as we tend to grasp it to be existent) were to exist, how would it look like? What would be the implications?”
So in this manner when you… so the key point here is to really understand the manner in which we tend to grasp at this notion of ‘self’. And by analyzing this, we need to demonstrate that the ‘self’—as we grasp it—does not really exist.
And this understanding of the total non-existence of this ‘self’ that is the object of our grasping needs to be internalized and that conviction—that ascertainment—can then help us eliminate that grasping. So that’s the only way possible.
His Holiness: [in Tibetan] Thupten Jinpa: So…
His Holiness: [in Tibetan] Thupten Jinpa: So if we were to try to relate this object of negation to our own personal experience, we need to examine how the notion of self tends to arise in us naturally. So when we have the thought of “I am,” the thought that “I am,” which is a very natural sense of selfhood that we all possess, but if we examine this carefully we will see that within our sense of self there is a kind of a supposition (and especially when the sense of self manifests in a strong form, underlying that) there is a kind of an assumption of a self that somehow exists in between our body and mind—something separate and over and above this.
And somehow this object of our sense of self that we call “I”—we assume that it has some kind of concrete reality that is somehow self-defining and self-sufficient. It has some kind of concrete reality.
And not only is it the case in which we relate to our sense of self, but also in fact this is exactly the way in which we tend to relate to everything else. So when we perceive something externally, whether it is something out there, we tend to relate to that object as if that object is existing in its own right out there where we see it. Something that we can point our finger at. Something that is occupying a locus in space, and so…
However, when we talk about the grasping at self as being deluded, we need to understand that the basis upon which the grasping arises—which is the person—we are not saying that does not exist. The person exists—the person that we speak about, the previous existence of the person, the future rebirth of the person. And also on that basis we can also make distinctions between me and others, self and others. So the person as an individual does exist.
So what is being negated is the manner, the way, in which we tend to assume that person to exist. So it’s a particular manner in which we assume that person to exist that is being negated. And here our assumption is that the person exists as some kind of self-sufficient, discreet reality.
And so therefore, when we perceive everything, even at the visual sensory level, the kind of perception of discreetness, the perception of solid, concrete reality, is already there, although some Madhyamaka masters contend that that perception of true existence occurs only at the level of thought, not at the level of the senses, sensory experiences.
But here Chandrakirti’s line of thinking, where what is being negated is very subtle, even at the sensory, perceptual level, the perception of inherent existence is already there. So based upon that perception, then we tend to follow after this with thought—grasping at it. So we affirm our perception. And on the basis of that, we view whatever we perceive to possess exactly the reality that we perceive in them.
So in the case of a person, our own self, just as the self appears to us as possessing this inherent existence, we also affirm that perception, and we grasp at it. And it is this grasping at inherent existence that needs to be negated. And also the content of that grasping at inherent existing self, that is what needs to be negated.
His Holiness: [in Tibetan] Thupten Jinpa: So with respect to this, there are some very powerful lines in the Seventh Dalai Lama’s writing. In one of which he says that,
“Just as in a mind that is intoxicated with sleep, various events and objects arise in that dream. And just as they appear, they appear so real in that dream. However, the reality of all the things that appear in the dream is that they cannot be demonstrated to be real. They are unreal.”
In the same manner, he says that in our every-day perceptions, when things appear to our mind, they appear to possess… as if they possess inherent existence just as if our mind, our perceptions, are intoxicated by this grasping at inherent existence. However, the perception that we have of things possessing objective existence is unfounded. And even though this is the case…
His Holiness: [discusses with Thupten Jinpa in Tibetan, then continues in Tibetan] Thupten Jinpa: So he says that even though they do not possess any reality at all, but to the mind (the six-fold consciousnesses of ordinary sentient beings which are intoxicated by the deep sleep of delusion) each of these things appears as if each of them possess a self-defining reality of their own—as if existing in their own right, objectively, from outside.
And so he says that for the ordinary mind, when we perceive something outside, we perceive that phenomena as if existing right there from the side of the object itself. And so therefore he says that this distorted perception… so the content of that distorted perception (which assumes that things possess some kind of objective existence in their own right)—this is the subtle object of negation, and this must be negated without any residue, without leaving anything behind.
And then similiarly Gung-tang Rinpoche says in one of his writings…
His Holiness: [in Tibetan] Thupten Jinpa: In Gung-tang Rinpoche’s writing he says that through the cultivation of the view of emptiness, one seeks to understand the nature of things. However, in that process one does not find inherent existence, and that not-finding of inherent existence through this process constitutes the negation of inherent existence.
So generally, not finding something is not equivalent to negating something or finding its non-existence. But in the context where, if it is something that when we search for it, it should be findable, yet when we search for it, it cannot be found, then in such a context, then non-observance, or non-finding and finding its non-existence coincide.
So in the case of inherent existence—if it is real—when we search for it, it should be findable. So when you… through emptiness reasoning when you do not find it, you are negating the inherent existence. And then he says that, “However, that does not reject…that does not imply the non-existence of the basis upon which you understand emptiness.” So the designated bases are left untouched.
And so the only reality that one can affirm in the aftermath is the nominal existence. So only mere label and mere designation. And it is on that level of nominal existence one should be able to accord all the functions of cause and effect and so on. And the fact that the functions operate and they exist—the relationships and functions still exist—is something that will be affirmed through one’s own personal experience of the world. And if one follows this line of processes then Gung-tang says that, “One has arrived at the right point.”
And so when talking about subjecting inherent existence to critical analysis and not finding it, this process may involve the application of, or employment of, five-fold reasoning: of identity; absence of identity (difference); basis and the support; and the supported; and inherence of relations that we find in Nagarjuna’s text. And if we add two more, the shape (or configuration) and the collection, then it becomes a seven-fold analysis.
So when you subject ‘person’ or ‘self’ to this kind of five-fold or seven-fold analysis and when you do not find that… Because if, say for example, a person does exist objectively in its own right, then when you search for it, it should exist either as identical with the aggregates, or as separate, or as the support, or as the supported. However, when you search through such analysis we do not find it. And that is an indication that the person does not exist objectively in its own right.
So…and once objective existence becomes untenable then the other option left is the subjective existence. So then subjective existence also becomes a problem because then you will have to identify the existence of something in terms of one’s own state of mind. So therefore, neither the subjective existence nor the objective existence becomes tenable so the only alternative that is left is the nominal existence. So you accord existence to phenomena only in nominal terms.
His Holiness: [in Tibetan] Thupten Jinpa: So then Tsongkhapa identifies incorrect ways of identifying the object of negation, which includes two ways. One is over-negation, and the other one is under-negation. And in the context of over-negation there is quite a good summary, presentation, of this in one of Gung-tang’s writings where basically Gung-tang points out that there are those who, while upholding the Middle Way view of philosophy and emptiness, share with the Buddhist essentialists basically the premise that if things do not possess inherent existence then they will not possess any existence at all. And so for example, the whole premise of the essentialist critique of Madhayamika presented in the 24th chapter where Buddhist essentialists leveled against Nagarjuna that the emptiness teaching implies a rejection or a negation of the existence of the four noble truths and so on.
So what Gung-tang is pointing out is that those who uphold this position—that absence of inherent existence implies absence of any existence—share the same kind of views with the Buddhist essentialists. Yet at the same time they maintain that they are upholding the teaching of emptiness.
So here… so this would include particularly those who understand Nagarjuna’s tradition of the Madhyamaka school to be rejecting any notion of valid cognition of things. So when they understand Nagarjuna’s teaching that everything is kind of mere label, mere designation, and no degree of inherent existence can be accorded to things, they also assume this to mean that no existence can be accorded.
So Gung-tang explains that for those who maintain this, for them there will be no differentiation between good and bad, right and wrong. None of these distinctions can be maintained. And in a sense one can understand this because when we define a perception to be valid, one of the key criteria, a defining characteristic, of a valid understanding is it’s non-deceptiveness, that it is non-deceptive in relation to its perception. And non-deceptiveness ties into the notion of a truth, something being true.
So therefore these Madhyamika interpreters reject the notion of this kind of truth in the Madhyamaka system, and therefore they reject any notion of valid cognition. And Gung-tang is saying that if you reject that notion of valid cognition, you will be basically sharing the same position with the essentialists who maintain that if there is no inherent existence then nothing will exist. And in that case one will not be able… one will fall into the extreme of nihilism. And if that is the case, then one will not be upholding the true middle way, which Nagarjuna identifies with his emptiness.
And in fact emptiness is the natural kind of basic middle way of the ground ‘shi’ ‘uma’ and the fact that emptiness is characterized as the middle way means it needs to be free from both extremes of absolutism and extremes of non-existence or nihilism.
And here it is important to relate this to Nagarjuna’s own explanation of the meaning of emptiness. For example, the one that I’ve cited when he says that the essentialists do not understand the purpose of the teaching on emptiness, they do not understand what is emptiness, and they do not understand the meaning of emptiness. And in that context, Nagarjuna explains that:
“When I say something is empty, I do not mean emptiness to be equivalent to total non-existence. Nor is emptiness equated with the unfindability of things when you search for it. However, the meaning of emptiness is dependent origination.”
And in fact in Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way, Nagarjuna says, “That which is dependently originated, that I describe as emptiness.” So there, he is equating emptiness with dependent origination and saying that the meaning of emptiness is dependent origination.
And this is based upon the Buddha’s own statement in a sutra where Buddha states that, “That which has arisen from conditions is devoid of arising,” and “Such a thing is devoid of any intrinsic arising,” and “Therefore that which is dependent upon, that which has arisen from, conditions is presented to be empty.”
And so therefore Tsongkhapa equates the meaning of emptiness with dependent origination. And furthermore he then goes on in the Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way that, “ This in turn is dependently designated and this is the true middle way.” So… and the expression he uses is “dependently designated,” and this is a very powerful expression because it is formed of two elements: dependent and designated.
Dependence already conveys the idea that phenomena do not possess a status that is independent. Therefore the phenomena are dependent. They are contingent upon others. They are dependent upon others. So therefore the expression ‘the dependent’ already negates any notion of independent existence, any notion of inherent existence.
And then the second element of the expression, ‘designated’, conveys the notion that it is not nothing, it is not non-existent, but there is an identity of something which is kind of, you know, emergent from this dependent relation. So together this expression, ‘dependent designation,’ points towards the Middle Way. Therefore Nagarjuna says that this is the true middle way.
His Holiness: [in Tibetan] Thupten Jinpa: So continuing with the explanation that the meaning of emptiness is really to be understood in terms of the meaning of dependent origination, and within the dependent origination, as explained before, there are two levels. One is the dependent origination in terms of causes and conditions, and one is dependent origination in terms of dependent designation. So Tsongkhapa explains (he writes on page 129, the final paragraph, in the middle of the final paragraph) he writes the following: “This attainment, as explained earlier, is based on their having amassed along the path immeasurable collections of merit and sublime wisdom, collections within which merit and wisdom are inseparable. That, in turn, definitely relies upon attaining certain knowledge of the diversity of phenomena. This profound knowledge understands that the relationship of cause and effect—conventional cause and effect—is such that specific beneficial and harmful effects arise from specific causes.”
So here Tsongkhapa is referring to the dependent origination in terms of cause and effects and using that as the basis, one then arrives at the understanding of the second level, which is the dependent designation. And so he writes that: “At the same time, amassing the collections of merit and wisdom also definitely relies on attaining certain knowledge of the real nature of phenomena. This means reaching a profound certainty that all phenomena lack even a particle of essential or intrinsic nature. Certain knowledge of both diversity and the real nature is needed because without them it is impossible to practice the whole path, both method and wisdom, from the depths of your heart.”
“This is the key to the path that leads to the attainment of the two embodiments when the result is reached; whether you get it right depends upon how you establish your philosophical view of the basic situation.” How you establish your view of the ground of reality. “The way to establish that view is to reach certain knowledge of the two truths as I have just explained them. Except for the Madhyamikas, other people do not understand how to explain these two truths as non-contradictory; they see them as a mass of contradictions.”
So he is talking about the cause and effect, dependent origination and the dependent designation: “However…” those who are learned and who are “…possessed of subtlety and wisdom and vast intelligence—experts known as the Middle Way followers, Madhyamikas—have used their mastery of techniques for knowing the two truths to establish them without even the slightest trace of contradiction. In this way they reach the final meaning of what the Buddha has taught. This gives them a wonderful sense of respect for our Teacher and his teaching. Out of that respect they speak with utter sincerity, raising their voices again and again: “You who are wise, the meaning of emptiness—emptiness of inherent existence—is dependent origination; it does not mean that things do not exist, it does not mean that they are empty of the capacity to function.”
His Holiness: Full stop.
In July 2008, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama gave a historic six-day teaching on The Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment (Lam-rim Chen-mo), Tsongkhapa’s classic text on the stages of spiritual evolution. Translator for His Holiness was Thupten Jinpa, Ph.D.
This event at Lehigh University, Pennsylvania, marked the culmination of a 12-year effort by the Tibetan Buddhist Learning Center (TBLC), New Jersey, to translate the Great Treatise into English.
These transcripts were kindly provided to LYWA by the Tibetan Buddhist Learning Center, which holds the copyright. The audio files are available from the Tibetan Buddhist Learning Center’s Resources and Linkspage.
The transcripts have been published in a wonderful book, From Here to Enlightenment, edited by Guy Newland and published by Shambhala Publications. We encourage you to buy the book from your local Dharma center, bookstore, or directly from Shambhala. It is available in both hardcover and as an ebook from Amazon, Apple, B&N, Google, and Kobo. http://www.lamayeshe.com/article/chapter/day-five-afternoon-session-july-14-2008