Thekchen Chöling, Dharamsala, HP, India - Once again, this morning, His Holiness the Dalai Lama entered the room smiling. He waved to people he recognized on the screens in front of him and sat down. He lost no time in resuming his explanation of Chandrakirti’s ‘Entering into the Middle Way’.
“As I’ve already stated, Chandrakirti was a great philosopher and a great practitioner. Like Nagarjuna he’s no longer with us, since human beings live, at most, about a hundred years. However, their writings have survived for more than a thousand years. And among these works, ‘Entering into the Middle Way’ is particularly important.
“I often point out that this country, India, has produced a great number of thinkers and philosophers. They are exemplified by the wonderful Seventeen Masters of Nalanda, each of whom was very sharp. These Indian masters’ writings can be examined from a secular, academic point of view and combined with a modern scientific outlook. What they wrote about is relevant here in the 21st century because they discuss the human mind and emotions and how to cultivate peace of mind. Each of these topics can be examined in an academic way.
“My knowledge is no longer as fresh as a young scholar’s, but I have had the opportunity to meet and talk with scientists, scholars and leaders which has been useful to me. I am attracted to modern science and I’ve encouraged its study in our monasteries. In fact, Drepung Loseling Monastery has established its own laboratories and science has been added to the curriculum of study.
“As I said earlier, ancient Indian knowledge remains relevant today because today’s problems arise from emotions and solutions will not be found through prayer but through analysis.
‘We’ve discussed the importance of understanding emptiness, which belongs to the category of wisdom. Now the text refers to practices that are part of the category of method, generosity, ethics, patience and so forth. (V.1.9) We should give to those who are poor and facing difficulties, as do organizations that are part of the UN. Generosity attracts friendship.
“In today’s world there is a huge gap between rich and poor. And yet our poor brothers and sisters are just as much part of the community as we are. Therefore, it is in the interest of the wealthy to help the poor. Seeing people in poverty stimulates not only a sense of compassion, but also a willingness to help in a practical way.
“The second chapter deals with ethics and self-discipline. Generosity shouldn’t involve exploitation. We should be entirely concerned with others’ well-being, not our own reputation. There is a difference between warm-hearted generosity and a business transaction. Observing ethics is of benefit in this life, but is also the basis for the next life to be good.
“The third chapter deals with patience. If someone does you harm, to get angry with them doesn’t remove the harm or bring you any other compensation. Better to forgive them and set ill-feeling aside. When we are angry it distorts our expression and no one likes to see an angry face. Our ability to make good judgements deteriorates. It’s as if anger makes us blind. Anger is the foremost destroyer of our peace of mind. It even detracts from our physical health.
“If someone criticizes you and you just smile, it makes them pause. Patience creates positive karma that will have good effects in the next life. It has practical benefits in ordinary life.
“Chandrakirti points out that generosity, ethics and patience belong to the practices of method that give rise to the Buddha’s body. (V.3.12)
“In chapter four he observes that since the practice of mental development doesn’t come easily, it requires determination and tireless effort. Chapter five refers to single-pointed concentration.
“Chapter six touches on the special responsibility that one who can see has to guide those who are blind. We are all human beings with a wish and a right to live a happy life. To help those who are blindly ignorant, we have to use knowledge. We generally think that the source of happiness is outside us, when in fact if comes from within. We need to know how to develop inner peace.”
Next Chandrakirti undertakes to explain Nagarjuna’s tradition, as it appears in his treatises. Many Indian masters sought to understand ultimate reality through investigation. This gave rise to four schools of Buddhist thought: The Great Exposition School (Vaibashika), The Sutra School (Sautantrika), The Mind–Only School (Chittamatra) and The Middle Way School (Madhyamika).
The Consequentialist Middle Way School to which Chandrakirti belongs asserts that things exist merely by way of designation. His Holiness remarked that Indian masters like him used their human intelligence to the full. Chandrakirti asserted that Asanga and Vasubandhu did not fully understand Nagarjuna’s exposition. He asserted that things are dependently arisen. They arise in dependence on other factors. They do not exist in and of themselves.
“Scientists today can explain things that are physically evident,” His Holiness observed, “but they don’t have much to say about the mind and other obscure phenomena. Similarly, modern psychology is fairly rudimentary, whereas ancient Indian investigators learned a great deal about the workings of the mind.
“The Nalanda Tradition has dwindled away in the land of its origin, but the knowledge it entails has been kept alive down the centuries by Tibetans and to some extent Mongolians.
“The text here refers to those who, because of past dispositions, feel a surge of joy when they hear emptiness explained. Their hair stands on end, which is a sign of interest. They are the perfect vessels for this teaching. Verse seven (V.6.7) ends, ‘all those who thus aspire, pray listen to this path.’
Next His Holiness invited questions from the virtual audience and the moderator for today, Dr Anita Dudhane, asked what can certify that conventional objects exist. His Holiness acknowledged it was an important point, which touches on the demarcation between what does and what does not exist. The Consequentialists assert that under sevenfold analysis nothing is found. If you search for the real identity of something, nothing can be pinpointed. And yet things exist by way of worldly convention.
His Holiness cited the first verse of Chapter 22 of Nagarjuna's 'Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way':
Neither the aggregates, nor different from the aggregates,
The aggregates are not in him, nor is he in the aggregates.
The Tathagata does not possess the aggregates.
What else is the Tathagata?
He then mentioned that he often reworks this to refer to himself and reflects on it accordingly:
I am neither one with the aggregates, nor different from the aggregates,
The aggregates are not in me, nor am I in the aggregates.
I don't possess the aggregates.
What else am I?
Things are functional even though we can’t find their identity. Things have no existence in and of themselves when we analyze them, but we conclude they exist by way of convention. His Holiness noted that Jé Tsongkhapa stated that this is the most difficult point in the Middle Way view — objective existence is refuted; mere designation alone remains. Otherwise four logical fallacies are entailed.
An Assistant Professor from Gangtok wanted to know how cognitive obscurations prevent us from seeing all phenomena simultaneously. His Holiness replied that the two truths are distinct. Understanding dependent arising involves recognition that it does not deny conventional existence since things exist in dependence on other factors. Form and emptiness are of the same nature but are conceptually distinct. Until Buddhahood is attained things appear to have objective existence. Even of a tenth ground bodhisattva, when he or she emerges from meditative equipoise, still sees such an appearance due to cognitive obscurations.
A student from Gangtok asked whether dependent arising is also a mere mental imputation. His Holiness responded that when you search for the identity of things you fail to find it, but on the basis of experience you cannot deny their existence. How do they exist? — by way of worldly convention. You don’t have to prove their objective existence, although the Autonomist Middle Way School (Svantantrika Madhyamaka) asserts such an existence and the Mind Only School while rejecting external existence, still asserts that the mind has some true existence. Only after you have eliminated the object of negation will you gain insight into the Consequentialist view that things exist nominally by way of designation.
Answering an enquiry about the whole and parts of things, His Holiness stated that external phenomena are made up of parts and even consciousness consists of moments. He mentioned compounded and uncompounded phenomena, adding that mind is described in terms of 51 mental factors.
“Whatever exists,” he added, “exists in terms of a whole and its parts. They are mutually dependent, just as cause and effect are mutually dependent. Without an effect there is no cause.”
A question about space-like and illusion-like meditation prompted His Holiness to remark that during such experiences there is no appearance of objects, only emptiness. When you emerge from such a meditation, you may see things as like illusions. Nevertheless, emptiness can only be posited in relations to an object.
He suggested taking the example of a person, thinking, “I don’t exist as I appear to my mind, but I’m not non-existent. This is my body, but it’s not me. The thoughts in my mind are part of my mind, but they’re not me.” When I see that I do not exist within this complex of body and mind, he remarked, I sometimes have to touch my own hand. When you do this kind of critical analysis, you don’t find yourself, but you can say ‘I do exist. I move, I do things.’ So conventionally there’s no denying your existence, whereas you can’t assert that you exist because of this or that quality of your body and so forth. When you search for your identity, you can’t find it. Without doing critical analysis into how things exist, you can be content with the convention, ‘I do exist’.
A final question came from a student in Ladakh who asked how to resolve the border problems and the covid pandemic peacefully with compassion and love. His Holiness laughed and declared that compassion and love cannot dispel the threat of the pandemic. However, he said, that does not mean we should become demoralized or discouraged, because to do so would risk weakening our immune system. He noted that even Buddha Shakyamuni took medicine when he needed to.
“The calmer you are,” His Holiness advised, “the less anxious you’ll be. Bodhichitta will give you courage and the determination to work for others.”