Thekchen Chöling, Dharamsala, India - On reaching the Tsuglagkhang, the Main Tibetan Temple, this morning, His Holiness the Dalai Lama greeted the Lamas and guests sitting around the throne. Before taking his seat, he came to the edge of the platform, from where he smiled and waved to the audience. The session began with Thai monks reciting the ‘Mangala Sutta’ in Pali and continued as monks and lay-people from Vietnam chanted the ‘Heart Sutra’ in Vietnamese.
His Holiness briskly intoned a ‘Praise for the Perfection of Wisdom’,
Homage to the Perfection Wisdom,
The Mother of all Buddhas of the three times,
Which is beyond words, inconceivable, inexpressible,
Unproduced and unobstructed, in the nature of space,
The objective domain of self-aware wisdom.
Tatyatha - gateh, gateh, paragateh, parasamgateh, bodhi svaha
followed by the verses of homage to the Buddha from Maitreya’s ‘Ornament for Clear Realization’ and Nagarjuna’s ‘Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way’.
“Yesterday, I gave you a general introduction,” he recalled. “And today we’ll go through the ‘Commentary on the Awakening Mind’. Rather than thinking of this as a formal discourse, I prefer to think that I’m holding a class with you. We’ll read the text and later there’ll be an opportunity for you to ask questions.
“The first of the three introductory paragraphs of the text is a verse from the Guhyasamaja Tantra. This was something Nagarjuna studied, practised and wrote about. He explained the generation stage and in the ‘Five Stages’ elaborated on the completion stage. His disciple Nagabodhi composed the ‘Stages of Presentation’ dealing with the transformation of the three states of birth, death and rebirth into the three bodies of a Buddha. Nagarjuna’s disciples Aryadeva and Chandrakirti also wrote commentaries on Guhyasamaja, which are important sources of wisdom.
“With regard to this ‘Commentary on the Awakening Mind’, I received the reading transmission from former Ganden Throne-holder, Rizong Rinpoché, who is sitting here with me. The text begins with its Sanskrit title—Bodhichittavivarana. Since King Songtsen Gampo had commissioned the creation of a Tibetan written language, Shantarakshita strongly advised King Trisong Detsen to translate Indian Buddhist literature into Tibetan. A separate department for translation was created at Samye Monastery. Setting out the original title in Sanskrit, or in a few cases, Chinese, indicated the authenticity of the source.
“Since we came into exile, we Tibetans have made much wider contact with the rest of the world than we enjoyed before. Now, many of the treatises we translated into Tibetan have been translated into an array of other languages. What we have preserved in these books can be of value to the whole world.
“We observe the three trainings in ethics, concentration and wisdom as do these Thai monks. We also uphold the Nalanda Tradition with its focus on the use of logic and reason. Within Tibet we had the early and later disseminations of the doctrine. Jé Tsongkhapa studied the prevailing traditions and founded the Riwo Gandenpa or Gelugpa tradition. In time, the study of classic texts in the context of logic and reason could be found throughout Tibet. We kept alive the entire teaching of the Buddha, including the tantras.
“After his enlightenment, the Buddha observed, ‘Profound and peaceful, free from elaboration, uncompounded clear light, I have found a nectar-like Dharma. Yet if I were to teach it, no-one would understand what I said, so I shall remain here silent in the forest.’ The awakening mind mentioned in the title of this commentary doesn’t refer solely to conventional bodhichitta. It also indicates the mind of clear light. This has degrees of subtlety and at its subtlest refers to the innate, spontaneously arisen mind of clear light. This, not our ordinary coarse state of mind, is what becomes the fully enlightened mind of a Buddha.
“The ultimate clear light mind absorbed in emptiness, which serves as the antidote to the final defilements, is the awakening mind of bodhichitta referred to here.
“There are teachings the Buddha gave in the guise of a monk and others he gave having arisen in the form of a tantric deity, which enabled coarse states of mind and energy to be stopped and the innate mind of clear light to be actualized.”
His Holiness mentioned that the mind of clear light manifests for ordinary people at the time of death, but, because there is no memory following the vision of black near attainment, it does not serve as a path. Experienced practitioners, on the other hand, are able to manifest it within the central channel at the heart chakra. Through the power of meditation, at the time of the dissolution of the elements during the process of death, practitioners can put a stop to the 80 conceptions and manifest the mind of clear light. Due to the influence of practice during their lives they can sustain memory and awareness and actualize the mind of clear light.
Such practitioners can also actualize the mind of clear light during the course of sleep and employ it to meditate on emptiness. Meditating on the dissolution process and manifesting the subtlest mind of clear light can serve as the antidote to the subtlest mental obscurations. Such a subtle mind is taught in tantra. It arises as a consciousness realizing emptiness that counters the subtlest defilements.
Non-Buddhist schools assert a self that, being single and autonomous, has no basis. Buddhist schools assert that the body-mind combination is the basis for the designation of a person. However, the body-mind combination does not exist the way it appears and so long as there is clinging to it, emptiness cannot be fully realized.
“The subject of this text,” His Holiness clarified, “is the ultimate mind of clear light and its engagement with emptiness, which is an instruction common to sutras and tantras. A mind free of defilements, free of afflictive emotions, is a special state of mind. The Foe-Destroyers of the Hearer Vehicle have not overcome the subtle defilements of the cognitive obscurations. To do that you need to cultivate bodhichitta combined with the mind of clear light. As I said yesterday, the view of emptiness and cherishing others more than yourself brings peace and placates the unruly mind. This text states that you have to serve others.
“When you employ the clear light mind to meditate on emptiness, you can adopt the view of the Mind Only School, but as the mind becomes subtler and the meditator reaches the isolation of mind, it is said that a proponent of Mind Only view transforms into a Middle Way philosopher. As Nagarjuna writes in ‘Fundamental Wisdom’,
That which is dependent origination
Is explained to be emptiness.
That, being a dependent designation,
Is itself the middle way.
There does not exist anything
That is not dependently arisen.
Therefore there does not exist anything
That is not empty.”
His Holiness alluded to Avalokiteshvara’s statement in the ‘Heart Sutra' that the four-fold emptiness— ‘Form is empty; emptiness is form. Emptiness is not other than form; form also is not other than emptiness' applies to the body-mind combination.
This reminded him of a story about Jé Tsongkhapa. During his stay at Kyormolung monastery, where he was focussed on the study of Vinaya, Tsongkhapa joined the monastic community for their prayer sessions. Often, during these sessions, when the congregation recited the ‘Heart Sutra’, he would enter into deep meditation and remain in single-pointed concentration. At times he was so deeply absorbed that he would be left alone in the hall after the rest of the congregation had completed their prayers and left. The particular pillar near where Tsongkhapa sat during these sessions later came to be revered as "the pillar of concentration."
“When you realize emptiness directly,” His Holiness remarked, “you enter the path of seeing. Then you ascend the bodhisattva grounds. At the seventh ground you do away with all afflictive emotions.”
Reading the verses of the text His Holiness pointed out that from verse 22 arguments are laid out that counter the Mind Only view. From verse 55, the Middle Way view is presented. Noting that emptiness is not a nihilistic view, because all things are dependently arisen, His Holiness stopped for the day at verse 59.
In answering several questions individuals put to him, His Holiness clarified that the fourfold emptiness mentioned in the ‘Heart Sutra’ means that emptiness is an attribute of something—there must be something that is its basis. He added that form and emptiness are of the same nature, but are conceptually distinct.
He further made plain that when we say that something can’t be found, we’re not saying it doesn’t exist. He quoted Dromtön-pa’s analogy that fire and a hand are free of inherent existence, but if you put your hand in the fire it’ll get burnt. Under analysis you can’t find an intrinsically existent fire or hand, but both have a conventional existence.
Asked about cultivating the altruistic awakening mind of bodhichitta on a day to day basis, His Holiness stated that when you understand that there is a means to overcome suffering, you can generate a wish to help others do just that. Bodhichitta is rooted in the sense of love and compassion that we see expressed by all religious traditions, but specifically involves an aspiration to attain enlightenment in order to be best able to be of help.
His Holiness will continue to read the ‘Commentary on the Awakening Mind' tomorrow.