8 His Holiness the Dalai Lama: Teachings on Lam-rim Chen-mo
Day Six, Afternoon Session, July 15, 2008 at Lehigh University, Pennsylvania, USA. Part one. The Challenge of Maintaining Reality after Negating Inherent Existence. Using Critical Reasoning in Meditative Practice. How Ignorance Is Related to the Afflictions. Two Types of Madhyamaka.
The Challenge of Maintaining Reality after Negating Inherent Existence
His Holiness: [in Tibetan] Thupten Jinpa: In this, Tsongkhapa’s text Lam-rim Chen-mo, at some point in his section on…
His Holiness: [in Tibetan] Thupten Jinpa: …special insight he has integral verses that he writes. In one of them he writes the following.2 He says that, “Oh Learned Ones, who are learned in the Middle Way treatises, although….” So this is on page 325, where he writes that: “My friends who are learned in the profound Middle Way treatises, although it is hard for you to posit dependent origination of cause and effect within the world devoid of inherent, intrinsic, existence, it is better to take the approach by saying, ‘Such is the system of the Middle Way.’ ”
And this is very true because what Tsongkhapa is pointing out is that, in the course of inquiry into the ultimate nature of reality—and when you have negated inherent existence, existence by means of intrinsic nature and objective existence—then one cannot maintain any notion of reality that is objectively grounded. So there is literally nothing left that one can hold on to that is objectively grounded.
Yet at the same time one still needs to accord, one still needs to maintain, functions of harm and benefit, cause and effect and so on. And that is where the challenge really is. How, in the aftermath of negating any notion of intrinsic existence and objective reality—how one still maintains a coherent notion of reality. That really becomes the challenge.
His Holiness: [in Tibetan] Thupten Jinpa: Similarly in Tsongkhapa’s Essence of Eloquence–Differentiating the Interpretable and Definitive Scriptures, there Tsongkhapa also (in dealing with the understanding of the notion of reality in the aftermath of negating inherent existence) there also Tsongkhapa makes a similar point, where he says that if we try to examine the notion of existence, there are only two possible ways in which we can understand the notion of existence.
One is existence by means of inherent nature or inherent reality; or existence by means of some nominal criteria or nominal existence. And between these two, since existence by means of, by virtue of, intrinsic nature has proven to be completely untenable, so there is no alternative left, other than to say… other than to accept that the existence is only nominally defined.
Tsongkhapa also makes similar observations in his Ocean of Reasoning (which is a commentary on Nagarjuna’sFundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way) where he again lists the two possible ways in which one can understand the concept of existence. And having demonstrated that existence by virtue of inherent existence, inherent nature (which is objectively grounded existence) is untenable, he says that the alternative left is a nominal existence. Therefore one should direct one’s mind towards that angle.
So similarly in Gongpa Rabsel (his Clear Elucidation of the Thought) which is a commentary on Chandrakirti’sEntering the Middle Way, Tsongkhapa explains that when we probe into our understanding of the nature of existence of things, he says that, “Although having an ascertainment of emptiness by means of negation—that is comparatively easier. But, in contrast, having an understanding of the reality in terms of dependent origination in the aftermath of the negation—that is a very difficult challenge.”
And so he in fact says that, “This being able to accord reality, a core notion of existence or reality, to things in the aftermath of having rejected existence, any form of objective inherent existence…” here, he says, “…this is the greatest difficulty and challenge in the context of the Middle Way thinking, Middle Way philosophy.”
So here, one thing that is most helpful in enabling us to at least maintain a coherent notion of reality within the Madhyamika context is to look at conventional… the three criteria that Tsongkhapa presented for conventional existence, which we touched upon earlier: that it is known to worldly convention; that the known convention is not invalidated by any other valid conventional cognition; and furthermore…
His Holiness: [in Tibetan] Thupten Jinpa: So the second…
His Holiness: [in Tibetan] Thupten Jinpa: So the second criterion, which is that the known convention should not be invalidated by any other subsequent or any other valid cognition, this may include one’s own, the individual’s own, subsequent cognitions. For example you may perceive something and think that to be the case but your subsequent perception of the phenomenon may in fact invalidate it, if it happened to be a false perception.
Similarly it could be invalidated by valid cognitions of some other third person. So in this sense this is very similar to the form of verification that occurs in the scientific method where repeatability and inter-subjective verification (in other words verification by some other third person) also becomes an important factor. So the second criterion is very similar to the need for inter-subjective verification in the scientific method.
And the third criterion is added, which is that the known convention should not also be invalidated by ultimate analysis. So the point of including that is to provide a way of adjudicating between claims that are metaphysically grounded. For example, the Mind-Only School’s claim that…
His Holiness: [in Tibetan] Thupten Jinpa: The Mind Only School, particularly those following after the scripture, their postulation of alaya, foundational consciousness, although they may not see themselves as having made this postulation from the point of view of ultimate analysis, however, from the Madhyamika-Prasangika perspective, postulation of thealaya, or foundational consciousness, will be seen as having been made in the aftermath of ultimate analysis.
Because the whole motivation for postulating alaya (foundational consciousness) to be the true essence of the person, from the Madhyamika point of view, is motivated by a form of an ultimate analysis. Because they were not satisfied with the everyday level convention which operates at the level of perception and everyday appearance. Rather they were looking for a true referent of the term ‘person’, something that would have an objective basis, and looking for that kind of essential… the real ‘person’.
So pursuing such a line of analysis, then they postulate the idea of alaya, (foundational consciousness) as being the true identity of the person. And here for example, the proponents of foundational consciousness are uncomfortable with the idea of the sixth mental consciousness as being the ‘person’ because they run into… they see that it runs into problems. So therefore they seek a more… a consciousness that has a more stable basis. And then they identify, they postulate, this alaya to be the true identity of the person. So from a Madhyamaka point of view, that whole line of thinking and quest involves a form of ultimate analysis because it operates beyond the boundary of everyday normal convention.
His Holiness: [in Tibetan] Thupten Jinpa: So in terms of actually how to bring these understandings into actual meditative practice, the way in which one can do this is to proceed in the following manner, which may be very helpful. We proceed with employment of, or application of, a particular form of reasoning, whether it be the seven-fold analysis of person, or whether it is the Diamond Slivers analysis, the chatuskoti, the four cornered argument, which examines the arising of a phenomena in terms of self, another, both, or neither.
And so whatever of the reasoning process that you use, as you apply this form of reasoning which negates or rejects all the other possibilities then, you know, one will arrive at a point where you will come to recognize that the subject under analysis is unfindable when we search for them by means of such critical analysis. So at that point you will arrive at a point… a kind of awareness, a sense of non-existence of the thing under investigation when subject to such critical analysis.
And at that point you must then bring to your mind the recognition, the fact that things do exist. It is incontrovertible—because things do make an effect, impact. They can cause harm; they can bring benefit. The fact that these phenomena do have an effect in terms of benefit and harm is an incontrovertible proof that they do exist. They possess some manner of existence.
The question then is how do we understand that status of existence? In what sense can we say they are existent? And here one then comes to understand that, given that objective, inherent existence becomes untenable, the notion of existence that we accord to them must be at some kind of nominal criteria, on the basis of nominal reality.
And here it is helpful to then relate this understanding to the principle of dependent origination. And therefore the principle of dependent origination is often referred to as the king among all reasoning. Because the principal of dependent origination… when you use dependent origination as a rationale for arriving at the understanding of emptiness, then the fact that things are dependently originated indicates their lack of any independent status.
And because of their dependent nature, they are thoroughly contingent. And because they are contingent, their nature is such that they can be real only in relation to some other thing. And once you come to recognize that, then there will be a kind of a realization that the existence that we can accord to reality can only be this relational existence. They can only be understood in terms of dependent designation. And because they are dependently designated, their coming into being and their existence can only be understood in these relational terms. And because they possess this thoroughly relational, contingent nature therefore they are thoroughly dependent on others.
And once you come to recognize that, then you will come to recognize that the status of existence that we can accord to them is only on this nominal level. And for example Buddhapalita states in his text, he says that, “If things were to exist by means of their own intrinsic nature and if things exist in their own right, then we can point our finger to that thing and say, ‘That is the essence!’ So then if that is the case, then there is no need for things to be dependent upon any other factors.”
And this also suggests that if things possess objective reality, some kind of existence by means of their own essence or intrinsic nature, then one should, even before the label is given, the thought that ‘this is so’ should arise. So this is in fact a reasoning that Nagarjuna uses in one of his texts, finally in a kind of crushing…
His Holiness: [in Tibetan] Thupten Jinpa: So this a reasoning that is used by even Mind Only School and others as well, but Nagarjuna in fact uses that argument in his text finally kind of, you know, crushing or pulverizing the arguments of others. So there Nagarjuna also presents this argument.
So when you use these kinds of analyses, then you will come to recognize that the thought that something is such-and-such (that kind of identity-based thought) can only arise if the thing is dependently designated. If a thing exists only… if a thing exists by means of its own intrinsic nature, then the arising of a thought that this-is-so should not depend upon that thing being labeled before. So in this way we will come to recognize that the only reality that we can accord to things is really a nominal, dependent reality.
When you come to understand this and you cultivate your understanding further and further, then you relate that then to the way in which normally things tend to appear to you. So now as a result of contemplating emptiness you have come to recognize that things and events do not possess existence by means of intrinsic nature or inherent existence. Yet, when you relate that to your own everyday perception of the world, you also recognize, in your everyday perception, you tend to perceive things as possessing such objective existence.
And in this way you will come to recognize there is a disparity between the way things appear to you and the way things really are. And in this way one can get an experiential flavor to what is called the process of identifying the object of negation. In a sense the object of negation will be… the identification will have an experiential dimension almost as if you are touching something in a naked way.
And so in this way we need to basically kind of combine and use interchangeably various processes. First applying critical reasoning to demonstrate the un-tenability of, unfindability of, anything when you subject it to critical analysis. You then move on to dependent origination and relate that to their own dependent existence, and then from there you compare that to your own personal everyday perception of the world. And in this way one will be able to see how understanding of dependent origination leads to emptiness, and how understanding of emptiness leads to dependent origination so that they mutually compliment each other and reinforce the understanding of each other.
And when this happens then, as Tsongkhapa points out in his Three Principal Elements of the Path, where he says that, “At that point when, without any temporal sequence, simultaneously, at the same time, the instant… the moment you see infallible reality of the dependent origination, if the object of your grasping is totally dismantled, at that point one has arrived at the culmination of analysis.”
How Ignorance Is Related to the Afflictions
His Holiness: [in Tibetan] Thupten Jinpa: So here in page 183, Tsongkhapa, citing from Chandrakirti’s Commentary on the “Four Hundred Stanzas”, he cites the following: he writes (in fact before that he writes) “Ignorance superimposes an intrinsic nature on things; from this, attachment, hostility, and so forth arise, further superimposing features such as attractiveness or unattractiveness upon that intrinsic nature. Therefore, reason can also be used to eradicate the way that attachment and such apprehend objects.”
Then he cites from the Chandrakirti commentary which reads: “Attachment and so forth superimpose features such as attractiveness or unattractiveness only upon the intrinsic nature of things that ignorance has superimposed. Therefore they do not work apart from ignorance; they depend upon ignorance. This is because ignorance is the main affliction.”
So here Chandrakirti identifies two ways in which ignorance is related to the afflictions. In one, he writes they do not work apart from ignorance, and then in the second he says they depend upon ignorance. So this may relate to a more subtle understanding of the levels of some of these afflictions: in some cases ignorance serving as the basis for the afflictions to arise; and in some cases the grasping at true existence being actually present within, concomitant within, the complex of the affliction itself.
His Holiness: [in Tibetan] Thupten Jinpa: So in these cases of subtle afflictions, since the ignorance grasping at true existence is concomitant within that complex of the affliction, then the question arises, “Does that mean that these afflictions themselves are also a form of ignorance?” And here the response has been given that the grasping at inherent existence that is present within that affliction is not by their own accord but rather through the power of ignorance. So therefore they grasped at inherent existence because of the presence of ignorance with them.
His Holiness: [in Tibetan] Thupten Jinpa: So then having dealt with the problem of over-negation and under-negation, then the third major outline Tsongkhapa presents is the way in which one’s own position identifies the object of negation.
His Holiness: [in Tibetan] Thupten Jinpa: So we have already actually dealt with this topic of the question of how to identify the object of negation.
His Holiness: [in Tibetan] Thupten Jinpa: So in this context, when we are talking about the object of negation of reasoning, we have to understand that when the wisdom of emptiness is cultivated and arises in one, it undermines the grasping. So the manner in which it undermines the grasping at true existence is to really directly oppose the perspective of the grasping, and in this way it undermines that grasping. But as far as the content of that grasping is concerned, the reasoning and the wisdom realizing emptiness… what it does is that it demonstrates the non-existence of that content, which is the true existence.
His Holiness: [in Tibetan] Thupten Jinpa: So next we will deal with the outline that touches upon the question of, “What kind of method one should employ to negate that object of negation,”—whether one should rely on consequential reasoning or that of syllogism.
His Holiness: [in Tibetan] Thupten Jinpa: So this is presented in two main outlines. One is the refutation of other’s position, and the second is the presentation of one’s own standpoint. So we will read with the second one, which is the presentation of one’s own standpoint:
His Holiness: [in Tibetan] Thupten Jinpa: So here the main point being discussed is whether or not, in one’s own understanding of Madhyamika, one should accept the notion of autonomous syllogistic reasoning. And so the term that is being used is svatantra (which means autonomous) and autonomous syllogism, or autonomous reasoning. And the supposition here, made by the proponents of autonomous syllogism, is that any form of inference must occur on the basis of the use of a form of valid reasoning that possesses the three modes of validity.
And the idea here is that the subject that is being analyzed must be something that has been verified by a valid cognition that is non-deceptive, un-deceptive, with relation to its own intrinsic nature. So in other words the proponents of autonomous syllogism operate from the assumption that when two parties are involved in a debate, the subject that they choose must be commonly verified on the basis of a certain assumption of the criteria of validation.
And from the Madhyamika-Prasangika’s point of view, that kind of validation becomes untenable because any notion of a valid cognition that is non-deceptive to the intrinsic nature of phenomena becomes untenable. So therefore the Madhyamika-Prasangika reject the supposition that in order for a discourse to take place, the subject under discussion must be verified on the part of both parties, where the validation… the process of validation is accepted by both parties. So that is being rejected here.
His Holiness: [in Tibetan] Thupten Jinpa: So Tsongkhapa explains here that when we try to understand what is at issue here on the question of whether or not one should accept autonomous syllogism, he says that it is more helpful if you understand the two standpoints as: one representing a group that subscribes to some notion of svabhava, intrinsic existence; and the other group that rejects the notion of intrinsic existence even on a conventional level.
So Tsongkhapa’s suggestion is that it is better to characterize the two camps in this way rather than as Madhyamika-Svatantrika vs. Madhyamika-Prasangika, and generally… because otherwise this raises, opens up, all sorts of complex questions about how do we define what is a Madhyamika-Svatantrika and what is a Madhyamika-Prasangika and so on. Historically, for example, if you look at the masters like Buddhapalita, in his treatises the primary form of reasoning that is used is a form of reasoning that draws consequences by revealing internal contradiction in others’ position. So the debate sometimes is…
His Holiness: [in Tibetan] Thupten Jinpa: In contrast, if you look at the writings of Bhavaviveka (and Shantarakshita for that matter) we will also recognize that they tend to use primarily a form of syllogistic reasoning rather than an argument in the form of a consequence.
His Holiness: [in Tibetan] Thupten Jinpa: So these masters like Bhavaviveka and Shantarakshita, their underlying assumption really is an acceptance of a notion of intrinsic nature, svabhava.
His Holiness: [in Tibetan] Thupten Jinpa: So we already discussed that earlier. So the discussion really… one of the aspects of the discussion is whether it is indispensable to use a syllogistic reasoning in order to generate inference, inferential understanding; or whether one can also… by means of a reasoning that takes the form of consequence one can also generate inference. So that’s one aspect of the debate.
His Holiness: [in Tibetan] Thupten Jinpa: So we will now read from the section where Tsongkhapa cites from Chandrakirtri’s Clear Words (Prasannapada) where Chandrakirti really rejects… kind of, you know, critiques one of the principal suppositions of the syllogistic reasoning, where the assumption is made that when two parties enter into a dialectical analysis, at that point the subject upon which the discussion, the discourse, is taking place must be commonly verified. It should not… the subject should be something that is… must be accepted at a common level, that does not include imposition of one’s own distinct philosophical or metaphysical views about its existence.
So when two parties enter into a debate, whatever subject it may be whose characteristics you are discussing, whose properties you are discussing, the subject itself should be accepted at the level where both parties share a notion of its existence. And when you do that, both parties should not bring their own specific metaphysical views about its existence.
So now Chandrakirti is critiquing that basic assumption of Bhavaviveka, and he writes (this is on page 262) and he writes, “The same method that was used to show that the position is defective insofar as its basis is not established should be used to show the defect that the reason, “because it exists,” is also not established.”
His Holiness: [in Tibetan] Thupten Jinpa: I think that was the translation. And there are two ways in which this particular passage, critical passage, from Clear Words of Chandrakirti is explained in Tsongkhapa’s writing. One here in the Lam-rim Chen-mo text; the other one in his Essence of Eloquence text. And the reading is slightly different.
Here, Tsongkhapa reads it in the following. He reads it so that, for example, he says that when in the context of a Madhyamika critiquing the notion of self-arising that has been postulated by say, for example, Samkhya philosophers, or any other form of essential arising that Buddhist essentialists have presented, so in that context Bhavaviveka himself employs the following form of reasoning, syllogism. He says that sprouts and so on do not possess ultimately real arising because they are so and so.
And when he uses that kind of reasoning, what Chandrakirti is pointing out is that because you take it for granted that sprouts and so on do not possess ultimately real arising or ultimately real existence therefore you are already accepting that the sprouts and so on, which are the subject, are things which are posited only by conventional validation. And because they are not objects of ultimate analysis, therefore, given that they belong to the conventional reality, therefore the cognition that posits their reality is a form of a distorted cognition. They are not a cognition that perceives the ultimate nature of reality.
Given that you assume that, however, when you use that reasoning against a Samkhya, there will be no commonly shared subject because, so far as the Samkhya (the opponent) is concerned, the subject that is being examined is a phenomenon that is verified and established by…
His Holiness: [in Tibetan] Thupten Jinpa:…because the opponent against whom the critique of self-arising is being directed is the Samkhya School, and the Samkhya of course would maintain that the sprouts and so on, which are being presented, are verified by valid cognition which is true to their nature. So when Samkhyas and the Madhyamikas enter into a discussion pertaining to the status (ultimate status) of sprouts and so on, there will be no commonly shared understanding of the subject. So it is in this way Chandrakirti points out a contradiction in Bhavaviveka’s position.
In Lek Shay Ning Po, however, in Essence of Eloquence, Tsongkhapa reads this passage in a slightly different way, where he says that when a proponent of intrinsic nature and the proponent of a standpoint that rejects intrinsic existence enter into a debate, there cannot be a commonly verified subject because the proponent of intrinsic existence is going to make the assumption that any valid cognition of the subject …
His Holiness: [in Tibetan] Thupten Jinpa:…so any validation of the subject will presuppose that that valid cognition is non-deceptive with relation to the intrinsic nature of the thing. Whereas the proponent of the standpoint that rejects intrinsic nature, when they enter into debate, is going to assume that the subject that is being examined has no intrinsic nature. So therefore any perception that relates to it as if it possessed intrinsic nature is going to be distorted.
So therefore there is no commonly accepted criteria that validates the subject that is being analyzed. So here, in this reading, Tsongkhapa is pointing out that Bhavaviveka himself becomes the object of critique. So there are slightly… two different way of reading this passage.
His Holiness: [in Tibetan] Thupten Jinpa: So the main point of contention really is whether or not one accepts the notion of inherent existence; and when a valid cognition perceives an object, whether or not that valid cognition is erroneous with relation to its intrinsic nature, or whether it is not erroneous in relation to its intrinsic nature. So the main point of contention is whether or not one can accept intrinsic nature of things, intrinsic existence of things.
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.