Teaching the 'Commentary on the Awakening Mind' and 'Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment'

August 11th 2016

Thiksey, Ladakh, J&K, India, 10 August 2016 - This morning, on his way to the teaching venue below Thiksey Monastery His Holiness the Dalai Lama greeted the local people who were waiting to catch a glimpse of him. Seated on the throne he told the gathering:

"Usually, when I teach the Dharma, I do so in two steps. First, I give a general introduction and then I explain how to do the practice. Today, I have chosen to teach the exalted Nagarjuna's text ‘A Commentary on the Awakening Mind’ (Skt.: Bodhichittavivarana) by way of introduction, followed by Jowo Atisha Dipamkara Shrijnana's ‘A Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment’ (Skt.: Bodhipathapradipa)."


A view of the teaching ground below Thiksey Monastery, venue for His Holiness the Dalai Lama's teaching in Thiksey, Ladakh, J&K, India on August 10, 2016. Photo/Tenzin Choejor/OHHDL
His Holiness reminded the audience that they had not gathered to watch a show or simply to recite prayers and mantras.

"Since you’ve gathered here to listen to a Buddhist discourse, you should understand that the word ‘Dharma’ refers to making a spiritual transformation within ourselves by putting the teaching into practice. This is what our Muslims brothers correctly pointed out yesterday. You can’t expect to make such transformation just on the basis of wishes or prayers. It will only come about by integrating the teaching within ourselves. The source of our problems is our disturbing emotions. Since we all want to be happy and avoid suffering we need to know what needs to be abandoned and what needs to be cultivated in order to fulfil these aspirations. To bring about a transformation we need to apply the teaching within ourselves and in order to do that we need to listen and learn what’s involved. First of all let’s recite the verse concerned with taking refuge in the Three Jewels and generating the awakening mind:

To the Buddha, Dharma, and the Highest Assembly
Until enlightenment I turn for refuge.
Through the store of wisdom and merit accrued by giving and other virtues
May I achieve Buddhahood to benefit all wandering beings.


After explaining the importance of setting a proper motivation for listening to the teaching, His Holiness stressed that Buddhists today need to be 21st century Buddhists. This means understanding what the teaching of the Buddha is, even in the context of rapid material development.


His Holiness the Dalai Lama during the first day of his two day teaching at Thiksey, Ladakh, J&K, India on August 10, 2016. Photo/Tenzin Choejor/OHHDL
Beginning to read Nagarjuna’s ‘Commentary on the Awakening Mind’ His Holiness mentioned that the text has no explanatory transmission. Nevertheless, he had received a reading transmission of it from Kyabje Rizong Sras Rinpoche, current Head of the Gelug Tradition, who His Holiness counts as one of his Gurus. He  remarked that it is sad that treatises like this often sit on our altars as objects of respect rather than being taken down and read. His Holiness deliberately requested the transmission of this text from Rizong Rinpoche so he could teach it and others would read it.

He also mentioned that some scholars have questioned the attribution of the text to Nagarjuna since none of his disciples, such as Buddhapalita, Bhavaviveka, or Chandrakirti refer to it in their philosophical treatises. However, in his ‘Bright Lamp’ (Pradipoddyotana) Chandrakirti explains the initial quotation in the text from the perspective of the completion stage of Guhyasamaja Tantra. He explains these lines in terms of the six alternatives and four modes, which are a way of interpreting the tantras in the Indian exegetical tradition. However, Nagarjuna does not concern himself here with the tantric understanding of the subjective mind of clear light but with the objective clear light, in other words an understanding of emptiness from the Middle Way Consequentialist (Prasangika-Madhyamika) viewpoint.

Although he mostly read through the verses of the ‘Commentary’ His Holiness dwelt some time on the initial citation from the Vairochana Buddha Chapter, the second chapter of Guhyasamaja Tantra, which says:

It has been stated:
Devoid of all real entities;
Utterly discarding all objects and subjects,   
Such as aggregates, elements and sense-fields;
Due to the sameness of the selflessness of all phenomena,
One’s mind is primordially unborn;   
It is in the nature of emptiness.



A view from the stage during His Holiness the Dalai Lama's teaching at Thiksey, Ladakh, J&K, India on August 10, 2016. Photo/Tenzin Choejor/OHHDL
His Holiness explained this stanza as referring to the objections of one philosophical school to another. In the first line the Buddhist realist schools, the Particularists (Vaibhashika) and Sutra Followers (Sautrantika) refute the non-Buddhist idea of an enduring, unchanging, single, autonomous self, asserting that the mental and physical constituents of a being are impermanent. Clinging to such a misconception of self does not occur naturally in ordinary beings; it is acquired through philosophical speculation. The second and third lines represent the Mind Only (Chittamatrin) refutation of the Realists’ view of selflessness, which asserts that things have an external reality. According to the Mind Only School everything is a reflection of our own perception and nothing whatever has external reality. Therefore, they assert an emptiness which ‘discards all duality of object and subject’ and maintain that ‘the aggregates, elements and sense-fields’ are mere reflections of our mind.

However, the Mind Only explanation of emptiness is not feasible from a Middle Way (Madhyamika) point of view because of the ‘sameness’ of all inner and outer phenomena in being devoid of any true essence. Therefore, perceptions, like other objects, are ‘selfless’ because they are dependent on other factors such as sense objects. Hence, from the Middle Way point of view, ‘One's mind is primordially unborn’ since the mind and its object are interdependent. They are equally 'in the nature of emptiness', which does not mean that they do not exist at all, but that they are dependently originated and so lacking any essential independent existence.


Tibetan monks in the audience following His Holiness the Dalai Lama's teaching at Thiksey, Ladakh, J&K, India on August 10, 2016. Photo/Tenzin Choejor/OHHDL
With regard to the Mind Only School’s rejection of external existence, His Holiness mentioned the quantum physics understanding that nothing existing objectively. He quoted it as saying that there is an object as long as there is an observer, but when there is no observer objects cannot be said to exist. This is similar to the reasoning of 'the simultaneous observation of the object and subject' that Mind Only proponents use to prove that things have no external reality.

However, within the Middle Way School the Autonomists (Svatantrika), Practitioners of Yogic Conduct (Yogachara~) and Followers of Sutra (Sautrantika~), assert an objective existence that is utterly rejected by Middle Way Consequentialists. They maintain that all misconceptions of an objective identity in things, persons and experiences are to be discarded. If even the slightest reification or objectification remains, it will not be possible to dissolve the disturbing emotions because of which we are bound in the cycle of existence. Cyclic existence is rooted in the fundamental misconception that things have intrinsic existence, which is how they appear to consciousness.

His Holiness remarked that the main theme of the text is the generation of conventional and ultimate bodhichitta. He stressed their cultivation on a daily basis, for without them our Dharma practice and deity yoga practice mean nothing. If bodhichitta is our principal practice, all obstacles will be eliminated and all virtues accrued. Conventional bodhichitta must compliment our understanding of emptiness if we are to reach Buddhahood. Without the altruistic heart of bodhichitta we may be able to enter the path of Hearers, but not path of a Bodhisattva.


Volunteers rushing to serve tea to members of the audience during His Holiness the Dalai Lama's teaching at Thiksey, Ladakh, J&K, India on August 10, 2016.
Photo/Tenzin Choejor/OHHDL

Having completed his reading of ‘Commentary on the Awakening Mind’ His Holiness turned to the ‘Lamp for the Path’. He narrated the hardships endured by the later descendants of the ancient Tibetan Emperors, Lha Lama Yeshi Ö and his nephew Lha Lama Jangchub Ö, who were instrumental in inviting Atisha to restore Buddhism in Tibet in 11th century CE. When Jangchub Ö requested a teaching which would benefit all Tibetans, Atisha composed the ‘Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment’.

Subsequently, all Tibetan Buddhist traditions have composed texts that follow the pattern of the stages of the path. In the Nyingma tradition there is Longchen Rabjampa's ‘Resting in the Nature of Mind’; in the Kagyu tradition Gampopa's ‘Jewel Ornament of Liberation’ ; and in the Sakya tradition the ‘Three Visions’, and so forth. Je Tsongkhapa’s ‘Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment’ and its shorter editions follow Atisha’s style except in that he elaborated the Special Insight Section in both the Great and Medium Treatises. His Holiness encouraged his listeners to study Tsongkhapa’s five major texts on the Middle Way view of emptiness thoroughly: the two Special Insight sections of his ‘Stages of the Path’ texts; the ‘Ocean of Reasoning: A Great Commentary on (Nagarjuna’s)’ ‘Fundamental Wisdom’; ‘Elucidation of Thought: An Extensive Commentary on ‘Entering into the Middle Way’ and ‘A Treatise Differentiating the Interpretable and Definitive Meanings of Sutra’.

His Holiness read from the beginning of the ‘Lamp’ to the end of the stanza pertaining to the beings of intermediate scope, saying he would complete the teaching tomorrow before the Long Life Initiation that will precede a Long Life Offering to His Holiness.
 

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