Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche
Nonduality: Mandala, Vairochana and Dependent Arising
Given in Taipei, Taiwan
February 2021 (undated)
Note 1: This is an edited transcript of a live teaching, and should not be taken as Rinpoche’s final word. Every effort has been made to ensure that this transcript is accurate both in terms of words and meaning, however all errors and misunderstandings are the responsibility of the editors of madhyamaka.com. Please see note.
Note 2: This transcript includes footnotes with clarifications and more information about Tibetan and Sanskrit Buddhist terms used in the teaching. Please click on the superscript number to read the footnote. Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche’s name is abbreviated to “DJKR” throughout.
[The principle of] mandala is very grand. It’s really vast, it’s deep, it’s really infinite. But for common people or laypeople, I think the easiest way to understand the principle of mandala is [in terms of order and chaos]. There is something called chaos, and then juxtaposing that is something called order. [For example] table, chair, all these are orderly. Now balancing these two – actually, going beyond chaos and order – is what we want. That’s what we need to aim [for].
The word “mandala” has the connotation of the rim or perimeter, and the center2The Tibetan word for mandala is kyilkhor (དཀྱིལ་འཁོར་, Wylie: dkyil ‘khor), literally “center and circumference” – see mandala.. But together. You see, this is very paradoxical. Because usually when we talk about the centre, we are not talking about the perimeter or the boundary or the edge. In our dualistic mind we have this idea that the middle has to be in the middle. You know, the moment the word “middle” is used you are always thinking “here” [DJKR gestures towards his front], not “here” [DJKR gestures towards his side]. But mandala is not really like that. There’s no middle. There’s no perimeter. There’s no edge. It’s just one3The nonduality of centre-perimeter is beautifully expressed in the confession prayer Narak Kong Shak (Tibetan: ན་རཀ་སྐོང་བཤགས་, Wylie: na rak skong bshags), which contains the verse:
Utterly pure dharmata is free from complexity.
Seeing it as dualistic suffering – how exhausting.
Clinging to the duality of center and fringe – how depressing.
We confess this in the expanse of utterly pure dharmata.
(Translation by Vajravairochana Translation Committee)..
So with that in mind [let’s go back to order and chaos]. In one way, you can approach [it] like this. Actually, the fundamental cause of all our pain, our suffering, [and] our dissatisfaction is trying to make order out of chaos. Not being able to appreciate the chaos. Trying to “make” something4Ed.: the very act of “making” involves imposing some kind of structure or order on the world.. Because what it does is it sort of deprives you from spontaneity. It deprives you from being genuine and being not contrived. Basically, lots of fabricated situations arise5Ed.: DJKR uses the term “fabricated” in the sense of the Tibetan word chöpa (Tibetan: བཅོས་པ་, Wylie: bcos pa) = distorted, contrived, artificial, not left “as it is”. It is also worth noting that the words “make” and “fabricate” are synonyms in English.. So this is one way to look at [the principle of] mandala. So now, how do we know this?
Okay, if you look at some of these traditional classic paintings or structures of the mandala, you’ll have let’s say a Buddha such as Vairochana in the middle, surrounded by all their retinue. At times, there are so many of [these retinue deities]. So the central deity is in the middle, and let’s say one of the retinue deities is on the East. As you explore them, let’s say [during] visualization, when you move your mind to the East, that is [now] the center. So [what was previously] the principal, the boss deity, the king, is no [longer] a king. This is exactly what tantra is trying to tell you: that there is no hierarchy.
Because hierarchy is orderly. Again remember [what] I was telling you [about trying to make order out of chaos]. In reality, there’s no such thing as “higher being” or “lower being”. This is what mandala should really be conveying. But most ordinary people don’t think like that. In fact, the opposite. Now we think of mandala as in, “Oh, that is the East part of the mandala, that’s white. This is the South part of the mandala, usually it’s yellow”, and so forth. But if you go deeper into the mandala, it’s not really like that.
Both in Buddhism and also in Hinduism you will find this a lot. For instance, like in Hinduism you will hear things like “Shiva is the mightiest”, but then you also hear some other stories [that] without Kali, Shiva is nothing. Like that. All these kinds of contradictions. The retinue deity becomes the principal deity. The principal then becomes the retinue of the earlier retinue, and so forth. Basically East, West, South, North – all that is just a fabrication. There is no such thing as East. There is no such thing as West. This is what is being taught in mandala6As with the nonduality of centre-perimeter noted above, the nonduality of shape and direction is beautifully expressed in the confession prayer Narak Kong Shak (Tibetan: ན་རཀ་སྐོང་བཤགས་, Wylie: na rak skong bshags), which contains the verse:
The great bindu is free from having corners or sides.
Seeing it as form and matter – how exhausting.
Clinging to the shape of corners and sides – how depressing.
We confess this in the expanse of the perfectly round bindu.
(Translation by Vajravairochana Translation Committee).. I think probably this much may be understandable by ordinary people. Otherwise, it’s quite a big [topic].
Vairochana Buddha7Vairochana (Sanskrit: वैरोचन, IAST: vairocana, literally “coming from or descended from the sun”) = a celestial buddha; as one of the five buddha families of Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism, Vairochana is at the centre – see Vairochana. is one of the five buddha families. Now let’s say I’m speaking to any Tom, Dick, or Harry, which is difficult. It’s not like there [are] are actually five buddhas sitting there somewhere. Basically the five buddhas are the five elements, or the five objects of consciousness which are forms, [sounds, odors, tastes and tactile objects]. [For example,] form is the object of eye consciousness. Sounds like music [Ed.: there is music playing in the background] [are the object of ear consciousness and] are usually Amitabha Buddha. Again, it changes. But generally, Vairochana Buddha is always form. So anything that is form, color, shape – like this building, these colors – all this is Vairochana.
This is most beautifully explained in one sutra, which talks about the shape and size of Vairochana. This is how they explain [it]. Vairochana Buddha is like this [DJKR sits straight]. He is sitting here, and on his hands rests a begging bowl. On top of the begging bowl are 25 lotus flowers sitting on top of each other. And counting from the top, now this is something that I forgot, one of the flowers is one universe. And in this universe, there is a planet called fearless planet, and this is where we are. So there’s a lot of story going on like that8Ed. DJKR’s description of Vairochana Buddha corresponds to the one given by Dudjom Lingpa in the text “The Hidden Sacred Land of Pemako” (sbas gnas padma bkod). As Barbara Hazelton writes in Chapter 5 of “Hidden Lands in Himalayan Myth and History” (2020):
“This text explains that the world of ‘Dzam bu gling is inside the begging bowl of Vairocana, which contains countless universes. In his bowl are 25 lotus branches and from among these, on the 13th lotus branch there is another branch with a lotus flower and many other flowers, and they are all joined together. In the centre of this flower there is the world of ‘Dzam bu gling, with four continents and Mt. Meru, plus 100,000 other systems also with continents and Mt. Meru. These are the indestructible worlds where thousands of Buddhas come. This world is called the “fearless world,” meaning that the beings who live there have no basis for fear. This text may remind us of the Avatamsaka Sutra’s view of the cosmos as seen by a Buddha or Bodhisattva. The Buddha in that tradition is also Vairocana, and the cosmos is depicted as full of magical and astonishing characteristics.”.
Then, like many tantric teachings, it talks about how this Vairochana Buddha is just so big. Imagine. One lotus is just the whole universe, and one of them is our world. And then in each pore [of] his body is that whole set (i.e. the universe with all its planets). And [the sutra] talks about how even then, the original Vairochana hasn’t become bigger, to fit in [all these Buddha fields in each pore]. And [likewise] this Buddha field, the whole set that is inside [each of] his pores, they are not small, tiny, minute, trying to fit into a pore.
We’re now talking about how shape, color, size [are] just so depriving. The idea of size, the idea of color, the idea of shape is actually making you poor. You’re stuck with things like white, yellow, green, square, rectangle. [Whereas Vairochana is] just infinite. So that I think is probably the easiest [way to introduce] Vairochana. That’s it.
Mantra of Dependent Arising
The mantra I recited [during the glass blowing9DJKR gave this teaching after blowing a glass womb to appear in the 2021 art installation “The Womb & The Diamond” by Charwei Tsai. The installation is made of handblown glass, mirrors and a diamond, 300 x 600 cm, commissioned by Live Forever Foundation, Taichung, Taiwan. See: Emptiness and Form, Form and Emptiness: Interview with Charwei Tsai and announcement on Facebook.] is called the Dependent Arising Mantra10The mantra is known as Ye Dharma Hetu (Sanskrit: ये धर्मा हेतु), also known as the Mantra of Dependent Origination. The complete mantra in Sanskrit is:
ye dharmā hetuprabhavā
hetuṃ teṣāṃ tathāgato hy avadat,
teṣāṃ ca yo nirodha
It is chanted with “OM” at the beginning and “SVAHA” at the end. The pronunciation of the complete mantra in English is:
OM YE DHARMA HETU-PRABHAVA HETUM TESHAM TATHAGATO HYAVADAT TESHAM CHA YO NIRODHA EVAM VADI MAHASHRAMANAH SVAHA
This means “Of those phenomena which arise from causes, Those causes have been taught by the Tathāgata (Buddha), And their cessation too – thus proclaims the Great Ascetic” – see Ye Dharma Hetu.. Basically, in Buddhism [the] fundamental view is that everything is dependent arising. Nothing comes accidentally. Nothing is created by some almighty creator. Things appear when there are causes and conditions. So fundamentally it’s very important to be aware of causes and conditions.
Therefore you kind of “fiddle around” with causes and conditions, if you like. Maybe that’s the most mundane way of putting it. You try to monitor, to be conscious of causes and conditions, so that the result [of your fiddling around] will be favorable for the time being, [and] ultimately the result will be liberating for yourself and others.
This Dependent Arising Mantra is actually quite a popular mantra that you can find in the Theravada tradition, also in the Mahayana tradition and obviously in the Vajrayana tradition. Following the Dependent Arising Mantra, I also recited three auspicious words, which were actually uttered by the Buddha himself, where Buddha said there are three things that appear on this earth that are the most auspicious, which are:
- (1) An enlightened, awakened being appeared on [this] earth, meaning the Buddha came.
- (2) He taught. There is a teaching.
- (3) There is a living community that upholds that teaching.
These are the three auspicious words that are very popular both in the Sutrayana and the Mantrayana.
Note: to read footnotes please click on superscript numbers
Transcribed and edited by Alex Li Trisoglio