Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche
The Way of the Tathagata: Day 2
Note 1: This transcript is not an official publication of Siddhartha's Intent. 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 also see the note on Siddhartha's Intent transcripts.
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. Also, Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche's name is abbreviated to "DJKR" throughout.
Hearing, contemplation and meditation
So even expressions or terms like “hearing, contemplation and meditation” are priceless expressions found in the Indian wisdom tradition in general and especially in the Buddhadharma. [In particular], the words hearing, contemplation and meditation don’t have the connotation of “following”, as in believing and taking things at face value. We often take these words for granted, but they are an important tradition, an important culture, an important habit.
We follow the path, then we discard the path
Yesterday we also talked about how not only do we go through hearing, contemplation and meditation, but in fact we discard them. This is one of the biggest, most interesting, challenging, satisfying and of course unsettling [aspects] of the Indian wisdom traditions in general, and especially Buddhism, and most especially tantric Buddhism. You go through [along] a path, you use the path, and at the same time you have this attitude towards the path that, “Oh, you are to be discarded”.
In the past we used this example a lot. If you want to sharpen a knife, you need to have the metal - which we call “knife” - and also the whetstone. And we rub [these together], and two kinds of wearing out happen: the whetstone gets worn out and the metal gets worn out. And then comes, magically, a phenomenon called “sharp knife”. Likewise, we talked about fire and wood, [and the] fire consumes the wood. Really it’s as if the wood is like the arch-rival [of the fire], like a sworn enemy. The fire burns the wood relentlessly and forcefully, and completely burns it down to ashes. Yet [if there’s] no wood, [there’s] no fire. This [should be] our attitude towards the path.
I don’t know how to say this. Should [our path] be joyful? Yes. Of course. Not only are we followers of the tathagata, we are also followers of the sugata, which means “the one who has gone blissfully”. But there is also a sense that the path is not the object of refuge, I mean not the ultimate object of refuge. This is clearly explained by Maitreya in the Uttaratantra, where he says [that the path is] like a boat1"The Raft Simile" is found in the Alagaddupama Sutta ("The Water-Snake Simile"), MS 22: "Monks, I will teach you the Dhamma compared to a raft, for the purpose of crossing over, not for the purpose of holding onto" (trans. Thanissaro Bhikkhu, available at Access to Insight).. You take a boat to go to the other shore, and once you reach the other shore you step out of the boat. Otherwise you’re still in the boat [and not on the other shore]. Basically a Buddhist must abandon Buddhism. If a Buddhist remains a Buddhist, something is wrong. I think it’s really important [to understand this], even right from the beginning.
But we shouldn’t abandon the path until we have followed it
But of course having said that, [you can’t abandon Buddhism until you have practiced]. It’s like Picasso. I don’t know so much about him and I’m not a big fan of him anyway, because I don’t understand him so much, because of my own lack of ability and merit [to appreciate Cubism], or whatever you want to call it. But I think he knew all the rules of art. When he was beginning [as an artist], he [learned] all the rules. But then he went beyond the rules. Now the reason why I’m bringing [up] Picasso here is because there are a lot of people who pretend. They never really went through all the rules, but then they kind of try to go beyond something, [even though] they don’t even have it. And you can spot those artists miles away, the ones who are pretending to be Picasso.
There are a lot of Buddhists, there are tantric people who are, “Oh well, everything is shunyata, everything is Tathagata”2Ed.: as if to indicate they have transcended all worldly concerns and that none of these supposedly samsaric things matter.. You can smell that kind of practitioner from miles away. You have to go through the hearing. It’s important to go through the hearing, it’s important to go through the contemplation, it’s important to go through the meditation. But then go beyond. Then I think [we will reach] our aim, tathagata, becoming a cabbage. This will happen.
Just on a side note, this is important for you to know, because Buddhadharma is a path. We talked about the tathagata and the six different things that take you away from the tathagata, In this spirit, can you see? [To be a practitioner of the] Buddhadharma is [to be] someone who even wants to disregard and dismantle your own view. Forget about waging war on and destroying other people’s views. We must transcend all views [DJKR gestures with his hand, as if to push them aside]. All views.
Aspiration for the tathagata state
As path-dwellers, we must long for this tathagata state. We must long for it. We must admire it. We should become fans of the tathagata spirit, tathagata state, tathagata qualities. We must aspire [for it]. I think that’s actually the fundamental quality of a so-called practitioner: longing for this cabbage. Especially if you are young in this [i.e. a less experienced practitioner], longing for the salad will take you away a little bit [DJKR gestures pushing it away]. [Whereas] longing for the cabbage [DJKR gestures pulling it towards him] needs to be enhanced. And for that, we do the hearing and contemplation, and also meditation of course.
We need to hear how wonderful it is to be authentic. How soothing it is to be authentic. How calming and relaxing it is to be authentic. And to put it in very mundane ordinary language, that is what is contained in the sutras and the shastras. [For example, the story of] when Shakyamuni Buddha touched the earth. The story is that [while Siddhartha was sitting under the Bodhi Tree just before his enlightenment] Mara came and challenged Siddhartha about his achievement, and [in response to Mara’s challenge] Siddhartha touched the ground [with his middle finger]3This is the final part of the story of "The Temptations of Mara". Mara tried to dissuade Siddhartha from the path of the Buddhahood through various temptations (including his three daughters) and challenges (including attacking him with his ten hosts of armies). Finally, Mara challenged him to prove his right to the seat on which he was sitting. Mara’s host of demonic followers then backed up Mara’s claim by shouting that the seat actually belonged to Mara. Siddhartha had no other witness to bear testimony on his behalf, so he asked the Earth to speak for him by touching the ground with his middle finger. The Earth then shook and roared in response, thundering, “I stand as his witness”. Mara’s defeat was final, and he fled together with his followers.,4This story does not appear in the canonical sutras, but later became very popular in Buddhist art (for example, in Cave 1 of the Ajanta Caves) and poetry, for example in the Jataka Tales and in Ashvaghosha's "Buddhacarita" (c. 2nd century CE) (see verse XIII:68, trans. E. B. Cowell, available at Ancient Buddhist Texts). Ananda Guruge offers a comparative analysis of different versions of the story in “The Buddha's Encounters with Mara the Tempter: Their Representation in Literature and Art”, available at Access to Insight.. In fact, this [mudra of touching the earth] is a gesture depicted in many Buddhist statues.
This has a lot to do with - I don’t know how to translate it - sometimes we call it “lion’s roar”5The Buddha rarely spoke of his own qualities, but one occasion when he did so is the “Great Discourse on the Lion's Roar”, where he rebutted the false claims of a renegade disciple who was trying to dissuade others from following his teaching. See MN 12, “The Great Discourse on the Lion's Roar (Maha-sihanada Sutta)”, trans. Bhikkhu Ñanamoli, available at Access to Insight.. For example, I told you yesterday that one thing I can sort of confidently roar [about], is that I’m a man. That’s about all I can say. The rest I don’t know, actually. I’m a man. That I can tell you. I can easily tick the gender box. For now anyway, but causes and conditions are very [changeable]. They creep in. We never know. I have friends, people who are very close to me who [are going through these changes]. I can see that even that confidence, that lion’s roar that I have right now, it could change. It’s very possible. But for now, yes, my lion’s roar is that I’m a man.
When the Buddha declares “I am gone”, as in TADYATHA GATE GATE PARAGATE PARASAMGATE6”“Gone, gone, gone to the other shore”, part of the mantra that comes at the end of the Heart Sutra - see Heart Sutra., like when Buddha claims or declares “I am tathagata”, “tathagata says this”, “tathagata wants this”, “tathagata did this” and so forth. These are assertions. They are a declaration. And sometimes this [declaration] is referred to as a lion’s roar. At other times it’s also something to do with a declaration of authentic presence or the authentic state. “I am authentic”, “I am not altered”, “My state is not altered”.
Oh by the way, I want to tell you something before I forget. This unaltered state can be experienced now. So don’t think it’s something that we will achieve [only] after many, many years. It’s not like that.
Wanting to not be fake
So, we need longing and admiration and aspiration for the tathagata, but at the same time also it’s important to watch out for this habit of longing for anything that is not tathagata. Anything that is not authentic. We have that [habit] quite a lot.
[So we also have to cultivate] not wanting to be inauthentic. I’m sure all of you don’t want to be fake. Do you want to be fake? I’m sure that many times you are fake, but that doesn’t mean that you want to be fake. I am fake too. Sometimes I’m fake, but it’s not that I want to be fake. I’m sure. Most of the time I’m fake, except that I think that I’m authentic. This also happens. So some sort of not wanting to be fake is important.
And by the way, not wanting to be fake is the spine and the heart of [being a] sannyasin7संन्यास = renunciant, ascetic - see sannyasa. I want to use this word “sannyasin", because [gestures] where is it - in the east or west or somewhere? We live in the neighbourhood of the sannyasins8Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, also known later as Osho, established an ashram in Koregaon Park in Pune in 1974. His disciples were known as neo-sannyasins. Becoming his disciple meant taking a new name and wearing the traditional orange dress of ascetic Hindu holy men. However, Rajneesh’s sannyasins were encouraged to follow a life of self-expression and celebration, including sexual encounters, rather than the ascetic lifestyle of the traditional sannyasin.. Many of you don’t know, but I think most of the locals know what I’m talking about. Being a sannyasin is nothing to do with wearing orange. I’m not talking about you [DJKR looks at a member of the audience]. It’s nothing to do with [wearing] beads or a shaved head. [The true meaning of] sannyasin is not wanting to be fake. Striving for authenticity. You [might] keep on being fake, but you’re not really happy about it. Yes, sannyasin. Renunciant. You also need to put some effort into this, not wanting to be fake.
Fundamentally you all wish to be authentic. You want to be genuine. You all want to be cool. I want to be cool. How do you lose the coolness? It’s because you don’t have enough wanting to not be fake. You don’t have enough wanting to be authentic. So that will need to come.
Why should we be authentic?
Why should we be authentic? I mean, it’s kind of nice to be fake. Some people may think like this. We live in a fake world. It’s nice to be fake. It saves a lot of trouble to be fake. And a lot our culture has taught us to be fake anyway. Like, you know, political correctness and politeness. There is so much. And we need to learn [them]. And I’m not denouncing them. They are very important. It’s important to say “Hi, good morning, how are you?” In that very moment you [might] feel, “Okay, I don’t want to be fake, I want to be authentic” and [therefore you] don’t say, “Hi, hello, how are you”. If you can maintain that authenticity for a long time, then maybe it’s okay. But if you can’t, you’ll lose friends. And you’ll actually lose more authenticity. So, our culture, our education teaches us to be fake.
I’m not even talking about plastic surgery. Of course, that’s so fake it’s kind of good. I think at the moment in China for instance, maybe also in India, they have reached a state where they all do it, but they all sort of pretend they didn’t do it. Korea went through that a long time ago, and now [people say things like], “Oh, my mother gave me a birthday [present] of plastic surgery”. They say this openly. Fantastic. Wow! That is quite an achievement in a way, actually. Somebody is sponsoring you to be fake and you [are happy about it]. This is becoming the culture. Let’s see where it ends up going. But anyway, I’m not talking about that kind of fake-ness. As I said, it’s so fake that it’s kind of nice. But there are other [kinds of] fake-ness, [things that] we think and we value. All kinds of things. And [a lot] of this fake-ness ends up bothering us, this fake-ness or contrived habits that we have.
Let’s say you’re in the middle of the desert. Nobody is there. But because you are so accustomed to this kind of contrived life, yes, I think even in the middle of the desert you will feel very uncomfortable walking naked. There will always be [a thought of], “What if?” [There’s] so much of that. Of course, this is the human realm. Not much rational thinking. Last night we ate together, about ten of us together, [but it’s] culturally not acceptable if you go to the toilet together, in some places. Things like this.
Why should we be authentic? Because when we have too much fake-ness. [We have too much of] a contrived and fabricated life and values and habits. We have dukkha. And as we talked yesterday, we know that many kinds of dukkha are [indeed] dukkha - like death, loss of job, loss of friend, disagreement with your loved ones and so forth. But there are other kinds of dukkha that we don’t even think of as dukkha. We don’t even know that they’re dukkha. We don’t even label them as dukkha.
I want to tease some of my liberal friends here. This is my habit by the way. I’m trying to really work on this habit. [In our education], we learn the value of freedom, individual rights, democracy, socialism, whatever. Can you see that this is a big cause of dukkha? Of course, not having any choice is dukkha. But when you learn there is choice, that’s [also] dukkha - so much dukkha. When you have just one shop that sells [just] one kind of t-shirt, that’s dukkha. [Even] if there’s [only] one. But when there’s all that fashion and so much choice - all this freedom, individual rights, and free speech - this causes so much suffering. It would be interesting to do a PhD on how many people have been killed for the sake of freedom of speech, or [for being] against it.
Someone told me that the biggest enemy of ecology, the health of [planet] Earth, is education. When people get educated, then people buy things and people do things. And we don’t even consider many of these [kinds of] dukkha as dukkha. In fact, we label them as something to obtain, a target. And as long as you don’t know they’re dukkha, the chances of wanting to be authentic, the chances of not wanting to be fake, are small. Because your interpretation of dukkha is very small. All you worry about is small things like death, old age, loss of job, [downturn in the] economy etc. Many other [kinds of] dukkha are really there, but we don’t even know them.
So, we have been talking about the view in one way, that all views conceal the authentic state. But having said that, for those who wish to be free from all these [various kinds of] dukkha, then we need to apply a certain technique so that we don’t up falling into the trap - the habit - of this fake, contrived, fabricated world. And we need a tool to admire, like, and aspire for the authentic state. So the right view needs to be applied. And [for that, we need] the right practice, the right application. Okay, so I’m going to talk about right view and right application. Usually we say “right meditation” - as in view, meditation, action - but because I’ve been selling you this idea that the word “meditation” is very misleading, [we’ll use the term] “practice”. Right view and right practice. We’re going to talk about these two, kind of together. It’s easier.
Not dwelling in the past, future and present
Many of you, especially those who have gone to Buddhist teachings, have heard the expressions, the idiom, the language, “Don't dwell in the past, don’t anticipate the future, be in the present”. In order to achieve authenticity, we talk about not dwelling in the past, not dwelling in the future, but [instead to] dwell in the present. [Although] that’s just for the sake of communication. Because actually, as Nagarjuna said, “a wise one should not even dwell in the middle”.9This quotation appears in The King of Samadhis Sutra (Samadhirajasutra) IX.34: "‘Existing,’ ‘not existing,’ and both are extremes. ‘Pure’ and ‘impure’ are also extremes. Therefore, rejecting both extremes, The wise do not even remain in the middle." (trans. Peter Alan Roberts, available at 84000). The sutra is dated to c.6th century CE, and is quoted by later authors such as Chandrakirti and Shantideva under the name Chandrapradipasutra (Wylie: zla ba sgron ma’i mdo).. Now remember how I was saying that expressions like hearing, contemplation and meditation are so important? Even this, the expression or the language, “Don’t dwell in the past, don’t dwell in the future” - this is also very precious language. [This is very precious] culture. We cannot lose this.
I’m sure you know this. You know where the intention of this instruction comes from - to not dwell in the past, not dwell in the future, and not even dwell in the present? This statement comes from the fundamental truth or fact that in reality there is no past. There is no future. And also there is no this-moment or present. I want to talk about this a little bit, because sometimes when you hear, “Don’t dwell in the past, don’t dwell in the future”, you may also end up thinking, “Oh, it’s a waste of time to think about the past”. Yes, of course, that is also [part of it], but we aren’t only talking about how it’s a waste of time thinking about the past, [and] it’s a waste of time thinking about the future. We’re not only talking about that. Yes, that’s easy to understand. But we’re [saying] much more - that there is no past [in which] to dwell, there is no future [in which] to dwell, and actually there’s not even a present [in which] to dwell. This really has a strong impact on Indian thinking and the Indian wisdom tradition, especially for the Buddhists. I’m going to tease my western friends here. I think that in the west, and maybe the modern people [in general], they overly believe in the past. Or they overly believe in the future. And they overly believe in the present, in its existence, [and] not only its existence.
You know, [it is said that] in the beginning God did this and that, evolution, Genesis, manufacturing date, expiry date - all this. [These are examples of] overly relying on time. History. Overly relying on the past and overly relying on the future. Materialistic consumer society is not going to like this information, because the materialistic world has to talk about the future and has to sell fear. “If you don’t do this, this will happen - buy insurance” and so forth.
I want to share this with you, because you must have heard so many times, “Don’t dwell in the past, don’t dwell in the future”. But the main reason why this is said is because past is illusion, because present is illusion, because future is illusion. It’s not just thinking, “Oh dwelling in the past, why think about the past? It’s a waste of time”. You know usually we talk like that, “Don’t think about it too much. It’s gone”, “Bygones are bygones”. It’s not only that. Maybe there’s a little bit of that, but the real reason is that time is illusion. So, [there’s] not much point dwelling in the past, present and future. This is the character of the Indian wisdom tradition, the character of the Buddhist wisdom tradition. We cannot lose it.
I’m talking about the view and the practice, by the way. You know, [the practice for] what I just said [i.e. the view that we should not dwell in the past or the future because they are illusion], the practice or the technique is to sit straight, don’t think about the past, and don’t think about the future. Okay, maybe for beginners [we can say], “Just whatever you are thinking, just knowing that”10Ed.: i.e. the practice instruction is simply to be aware of thoughts as they come and go, without trying to make them stay by clinging to them and without trying to make them go.. So it sounds like you just watch the present. That is the technique. But [what is] the view [underlying this practice]? Why this technique? It’s because [in reality, there is] no past, no future, no present. That’s how the view and the practice must blend. Because otherwise, if the view remains somewhere [i.e. in one place] and the practice goes somewhere [else], it won’t work11Ed.: in our practice, we aim to get closer to the truth, reality, the authentic state. So the practice of just sitting - of not dwelling in the past or the future - makes sense because there is no past or future in reality. If the past and future were real, then the practice of not dwelling in the past or the future would be a denial of reality. In that case, our practice would be taking us away from the truth, reality, the authentic state.. [You practice] because you don’t want dukkha. That’s your aim isn’t it? To be free from dukkha, to be liberated from dukkha, to be awakened from dukkha. That’s your aim.
Let me put this another way. Maybe this is more like a tantric thing. And this is also reflected in many [texts in the] so-called Hindu religion. I’m sure many of you are quite familiar with this. If you read “Praise to Kali”, it’s as if the others [the other gods] are like nobody, “Shiva, Vishnu, Krishna, who are they? But you Kali, you are everything. Without you, they are nothing”. Are you familiar with this, Indians? Then you read [another a Praise to Shiva], it’s the same thing [but this time, praising Shiva as supreme]. But this fits in Indian’s heads. They never even think, “Oh, yesterday I was reading Praise to Kali, [and it said] Kali is the most [supreme]. Why is Shiva the biggest today?” Indians don’t think like this. This is a value that you are going to soon lose when there’s too much Amazon and too much Netflix. Really, I’m telling you.
And I’ve always told you [the example of] Ganesha riding a mouse. What a ridiculous thing! [Ganesha is a] big elephant. But you never think, “Oh, that mouse [should be] squished”. You don’t think like this. Similarly for Buddhists, Avalokiteshvara is a man in India, and when you visit China she’s a woman. Have any Buddhists from China and India had a big war about “No, he is she, she is he”? It’s fine. Just cross the immigration [border] and then Avalokiteshvara will change sex all the time. It’s totally fine. And if a modern person is reading all this, of course they will use the word “mythology”. [They will say all this] is a legend, it’s mythology, it’s a story. But these are important stories, really important. This elephant sitting on the mouse and the mouse still alive - that is important wisdom.
In the mind and the brain [of a person] who can fit this kind of mind-boggling information, there is some room for authenticity. You have to have this12Ed.: i.e. authenticity is about realising the truth, which is nonduality. If we get stuck in dualistic thinking and a limited conception of "rationality", we will not be able to realise the authentic state. The examples of Kali and Shiva, Avalokiteshvara and Guanyin, and Ganesha riding a mouse all indicate a less dualistic way of thinking. This approach is also an important part of the Chan tradition of gong'an and the Zen tradition of koan - see koan..
Yes, [we also have the] same thing in tantric Buddhism. Sometimes Vajrasattva is in the middle [of the mandala] and he is the boss of everybody, [and others] like Vajrapani and Avalokiteshvara are doorkeepers with vajra and with lotus. They are like servants. At other times, Avalokiteshvara is sitting on top of some amazing deity, as he is the lord of the family and so forth. And if you read the sutra of Maitreya, you will read about how the Buddha taught of the power and the length and the width and the quality of Maitreya. So many incredible qualities13”The Sutra of Maitreya Bodhisattva’s Attainment of Buddhahood” (digital Chinese canon T14n0456: 彌勒大成佛經, Mi le da cheng fo jing), translated into Chinese by Kumarajiva: “His body will be purple-tinged golden, complete with the thirty-two physical marks of a great man. He will be seated on a jeweled lotus flower, and sentient beings will never tire of beholding him. His radiance will be unsurpassed, something gods and humans have never before seen. His strength will be immeasurable: the strength of each section of his body will surpass that of all the powerful dragons and elephants. The inconceivable radiance from his pores will illuminate across infinite space, unhindered. The light of the sun, the moon, and the stars, as well as the light of water, fire, and gems, will all become inconspicuous like dust. His height will be eighty times the length of Shakyamuni Buddha’s forearm. His chest will be twenty-five forearms wide. His face will be twelve and a half forearms long. His nose will be tall and straight, in the center of his face. His appearance will be sublime, complete with the unexcelled marks.” (trans. Rulu 如露, available at Sutras & Mantras)..
But in another sutra, the Mañjushri-Sutra, Maitreya himself [offers a very similar praise to Mañjushri]. Maitreya talks about, “Look at Mañjushri, gaze at him, gaze without blinking your eyes. Even in blinking your eyes, you are wasting your time. During that time of blinking you are missing [out on him]. Don’t blink. Gaze without blinking, because even [in a single] step that Mañjushri takes when he walks, ten thousand buddhas and bodhisattvas can talk about what happened during that step for eons and eons of time. And still they [will not be able to] finish telling [about the] stories, legends, teachings, how many people become enlightened, how many teachings [are] taught”.
All these [kinds of teachings] exist because [the people] who are talking about these things don’t believe in quantity. They don’t believe in gender. They don't believe in the hierarchy of master and servant. None [of this]. They think it’s all a game. It’s a bit like children. They have small rice cookers [as toys]. They have small kitchens. They cook, they chop vegetables, they make things, and for them it works. When it’s not working they go bananas. And if you are a good mother, you taste [their imaginary food], “Ah that’s really good, delicious”. You must have done this many times. It’s like that. We’re talking about the view of authenticity, and [the] practice [based on this view]. [They must] fit in your head.
Not falling into nihilism and eternalism
One of my teachers was Chatral Rinpoche, from whom I received a lot of mahasandhi teachings in Sikkim. There was always news about the politics in Kalimpong and Darjeeling, and he loved [to talk about that]. Whenever we would bring up things like bodhichitta or anything dharma-related, he just refused to talk. But [he loved] politics. And in those days, you had a prime minister who drank his own urine. Yes, Morarji Desai. We had to talk for hours and hours about these guys [politicians] and their politics, and none of us knew much about it, and he loved it. And he believed all of it. He believed all of them. It didn't matter [to him]. And there was another master, Nyoshul Khen Rinpoche, who told us that, “Even if someone says the whole city of Pune is upside down for one hour, it should fit in your head”. Because right now most of you are overly believing that it’s not upside down. Too much. You’re overly believing that we’re sitting like this14Ed.: i.e. we are placing to much faith in our ordinary perceptions and intuitions about "reality", and forgetting that it is all a magical illusion, a projection constructed by our minds. As DJKR mentioned earlier with the example of Ganesha and the mouse, our willingness to question our ordinary rationality is a necessary precursor to practicing the path that leads to the authentic state..
We’re talking about view and practice must gel together. Yes. Buddha, Siddhartha, Gautama, Shakyamuni, 2500 years ago. When we talk like that, “Buddha is dead, gone.” If you think that Buddha came 2500 years ago, if you think like that, you’re becoming a nihilist. If you think you have a head on your neck right now, you’re becoming eternalist. If you think [about your head], “It’s there, but I suppose it’s not there”, that’s a little bit better. It’s getting a little bit better. I’m trying to explain everything that we talked [about] yesterday. It’s there but it’s not there. This is really difficult. You need to hear it from many different angles. Hearing is good, but hearing is not enough.
It’s like if you are hungry or thirsty, it’s not enough for me to [drinks cup of coffee] and say, “This is really good, it must be Ethiopia or Kenya, AA, pour over, pressed”. Telling you that this is mocha - there’s no point. It’s not going to help you much. You’ll [develop] a good knowledge of coffee and brewing and all that, but [to experience the taste of coffee] you have to drink. And by the way, you may think that drinking is difficult. You may think, “I don’t have the time, I don’t have the right conditions”. But actually no. It’s not really difficult. The very longing, I would say that even the fact that you came back this morning to hear this [teaching] is already a practice. You’re sacrificing your time and energy. You’re getting closer. You’re valuing this state of authentic.
Okay. Let’s recap. “Hearing, contemplation and meditation” is a priceless expression. And then, “Not to dwell in the past, not to dwell in the future, not even to dwell in the middle”. That’s another priceless expression. The wisdom tradition of India. You have to treasure this. Just like that. “Not to fall into the eternalist state, and not to fall into the nihilist state”. And I have already given you the example: Buddha came and gone - nihilism. My head is on my neck - eternalism. That is a really important [part of the] wisdom tradition of India and especially Buddhism. You have to jot it down. If you look at many other religions, they don’t think like this. They want to fall into eternalism. They don’t consider being eternalist as wrongdoing. And there are other people who want to fall into nihilism, those who read Nietzsche, buy berets, drink thick coffee and chew cigars. They may not necessarily smoke [the cigars]. It’s fashionable to fall into nihilism, [as then] you’re a thinker, you’re a critic, you’re an intellectual. It’s also fashionable to fall into eternalism. You’re a religious devotee, a righteous person, a moral ethical person, isn’t it?
But if you are a Buddhist, your fashion is not to fall into eternalism and not to fall into nihilism. The whole point of madhyamaka, the whole point of Siddhartha saying, “Enough is enough, I’m not going to fast. I’m going to drink that milk.” Yes. These is the spirit of the way of the tathagata. I have to come back to this title, “The way of the tathagata”. So yes, don’t just go away thinking “He came 2500 years ago and he’s gone now”. Don’t. And don’t be too confident that there is a head on your neck. There isn’t. Okay. Let’s see whether it works when we go to the toilet.
[END OF TALK 1]
We talked about six different kinds of defilements or obscurations that conceal our authentic state, tathagata15तथागत = "thus come / thus gone", syn. the Buddha. DJKR has been using "authentic" and "authentic state" to describe this - see tathagata., tathata16तथाता = suchness, thusness, as it is - see tathata., dézhin nying. They conceal “as it is”, “whatever it is”, the uncontrived state. And we talked about how the sixth concealing force is [having] any kind of view. Nevertheless in order for us to awaken from this endless entanglement of dukkha, we [need to] train ourselves to get closer to the truth, and to not get caught and imprisoned by anything that is not truth. So therefore there’s a path.
So similarly, [we train ourselves] not to fall into any extremes of eternalism or nihilism. Not to fall into the past, not to fall into the future. For most of us, it is important to build this kind of right habit. We are fighting with [bad] habits, but we’re using another kind of [good] habit [to do so]. [But] both must go [eventually]. So for a lot of us, we need a step by step, gradual path or procedure. We need some sort of procedure.
So there’s the technique of shamatha, which is basically to make your mind malleable. Basically shamatha is a training to make your mind do whatever you want [it to do]. Shamatha, and what it means, has nothing to do with vipassana, not even [if it is] accompanied with the motivation of doing shamatha for the sake of enlightenment, Just simple shamatha on its own is not aimed at awakening ourselves. The aim is just to make the mind malleable and workable. I think that many of the so-called vipassana [practitioners] these days, actually most of them they are doing shamatha, but it’s okay to label it vipassana.
As I said, vipassana is any kind of tool that helps you get closer to the truth, so I can even claim that [it is vipassana if I] offer a candle with the motivation, “Through this act of offering a candle, may I be able to accumulate merit. And through this, may I be able to fight with this habit of getting distracted, and may I be able to long for and appreciate and be able to remain in the authentic state as much as possible”. [If I] begin with this kind of aspiration and I just simply offer a candle, even that act - technically speaking - can be considered as vipassana. But I know that many [people] are accustomed to thinking that vipassana is basically sitting - just sit, sit, sit - which is the popular [understanding]. There’s nothing wrong with that. I’m just giving you information.
And as I said yesterday, sitting is a user-friendly technique. Safe. Economical, so to speak. In one sense. On the other hand, it’s quite challenging because our character does not want to sit. Most people, especially the younger generation, the last thing they want to hear is the word “sit”.
Mindfulness is a practice of remembering
Okay, now I’m going to use another technical term - drenpa17དྲན་པ་ = mindfulness, memory, recollection, presence of mind, remembrance, calling to mind. Drenpa is the Tibetan translation of the Pali sati and Sanskrit smriti - see drenpa. or mindfulness. The English word “mindfulness” is now overused, and the word "drenpa" almost has its own different connotation of “remembering”. For beginners, especially, [the practice of mindfulness is a practice of] remembering.
(1) Mindfulness of the body
We’re gradually aiming [to realise and remain in] the view-less [state]. So we begin with the most close and gross and tangible [object of mindfulness], the most next-to-you so to speak, which is your body. And we can begin with the very fundamental mindfulness or remembrance that my body is like - how to say this? - an already-plucked flower. The moment you pluck [the flower] from the stem, that’s the beginning of its decay. You have to remember this. The permanent damage was done on the day you were born. It cannot be fixed now. Yes, [you can put] Scotch Tape a little bit here and there, paint over some of the mould, [apply] foundation - that you can do. But fundamentally, [your body was already] permanently damaged on your birth day. Remembering that.
Yes. For a lot of people, this may sound very negative, pessimistic and sad - but, well, what is your aim? To be authentic. What does that mean? Facing the truth. Vipassana. Insight, the true colour, the real colour. And the reality is that you’re like a plucked flower. The reality is that it cannot be fixed. You need to remember this. So that’s the most gross level of mindfulness or remembrance or whatever you [would like to] call it.
But even more importantly, just [remembering] the fact that you have a body. Just awareness of your body. Did you know that you have a body yesterday, this morning, even now? It’s a bit like having a very loyal servant that you take for granted. [They are] sitting next to you all the time and you never see [or notice them], only when there’s too much masala and you need to run to the toilet, then [there’s] a little bit of remembering, “Hey there’s this thing called “body” that’s grumbling”. [Or] maybe when you look in the mirror, especially if you are conscious of six-pack and stuff like this. Awareness of the body. I’m talking about simple awareness, not thinking about things like whether you have a six-pack or not - that’s not mindfulness of body, that’s mindfulness of six-pack. [It’s remembering] “I have a body”. That’s it.
I think it’s kind of important to do this. [The experience can be] very interesting and kind of scary. Wow, isn’t it strange that I have one here [DJKR looks at his arm] and suddenly it becomes a little bit thinner and thinner [wrist] and then becomes five [fingers]. It’s quite amazing and elastic here [wrist]. And actually it moves. And you can put this thing through your shirt. You have some sort of bump here. Things like that, just simple awareness. Can you relate that with the authentic [state]? It does [relate]. The pursuit of the authentic state [includes] not forgetting that you have two nostrils, you have an upper lip and lower lip. I’m not talking about [whether or not they’re] beautiful, perfect all that. No. Just [that you] have it. It’s really strange that there is a mouth.
Do you watch animal shows? I think [your practice of mindfulness of the body] should be a bit like [watching] the Discovery Channel, with all those strange looking animals. Something like that. You just watch the animals. Apply this [attitude to watching] your own body. Can you notice [it]? There’s nothing religious or mystical about this. It’s really scientific actually. I was telling somebody that 800 years ago, maybe less - maybe 500 years ago - the followers of the tathagata considered themselves [like this]. You know, just like the way you [refer to] yourself, “I’m a mathematician” or “I’m a plumber” or “I’m an electrician”. That is what [the Buddha] means [when he says], “the tathagata said this, the tathagata said that, the tathagata is doing this” etc. But for whatever reason, it ended up becoming a religion18Ed.: i.e. tathagata refers to the authentic state, which is not anything magical or mystical. It is as "natural" as being a plumber. But over time, it has acquired supernatural connotations and become a religion.. Just imagine if after 500 years the biochemistry department of Pune University ended up becoming a religion, being considered a religion by a group of people [in what will be] by then the AI (artificial intelligence) department, “Oh, those religious people, those biochemists, that cult of incense burners”.
If you go through the list of vipassana of just watching the body19Ed.: i.e. if you go through all the different possible ways of watching, being aware of, and remembering the body as a whole and in all its parts., it’s amazing. We built a toilet seat according to this body. This is so amazing, isn’t it, that we have come up with a toilet seat20Ed.: this builds on DJKR's answer to a question on Day 1 about whether people might become disengaged and nihilistic if they cultivated the view that "it's happening, but it's not really happening". The example of the toilet seat shows that instead of encouraging disengagement and passivity, Buddhism encourages mindfulness - i.e. seeing and accepting what's there in reality, as it is. In this case, accepting the reality of our bodies. And once we accept this reality, we can work with it, for example to design a toilet seat. There is nothing wrong with "changing" reality and designing a toilet seat. However, it would not be helpful to design a toilet seat that is not based on the reality of our bodies. We might term this kind of unskilful action as "ignorant", but it is not unethical or evil. This example also helps us understand why the Buddhist approach to compassion and skilful means places such emphasis on wisdom.. Have you thought about it? And then there’s the Indian style [of toilet], which people are now finding more healthy. And have you been to Japan? Some of the toilet seats are amazing. In about two or three years I don’t think you’ll have to make much effort. Whenever the time is ready, there will be a machine that will take out everything that needs to be taken out. I’m talking about mindfulness of the body. There’s amazing stuff, really. Chopsticks are so amazing. Spoon. And of course because of that, when you lift the teacup from the saucer, the pinkie [i.e. little finger]21Ed.: some people believe that one should hold out the little finger when drinking a cup of tea, i.e. not have it touch the teacup. However the etiquette authority Miss Manners considers it “an affectation of the rich and pretentious”. See "Raising pinkie raises an issue of etiquette" in her syndicated column.. Stuff like that. All fashion. [Mindfulness of the body is] the door to the fake, inauthentic, contrived world that we invest so much in. And, by the way, you know Prada and all these? The fake, contrived world of fashion? The great, amazing thing is that none of this fundamentally satisfies you, no matter what kind of fashion or how well-dressed you are. There’s always a sense of awkwardness, [a sense] that you can do better. The quest for better.
And, not only do I think this, but Maitreya thinks that this is because fundamentally even though we really always end up [getting] swallowed by the contrived world, there is always the authentic state - at least on the subconscious level - kicking us and telling us, “Come on, come to me”. And I think this makes us sad - the war between this unconscious wish to be authentic, but not knowing what it is, but it’s sort of there and it’s sort of kicking from time to time. And then [on the other side, your] friends and family and the world [are] grabbing you [and pulling you] into this contrived world. I think it makes us sad. And by the way, we can invest properly on this sadness, and that can lead us to something right. Anyway, I’m getting a little carried away with some other things. So [the first practice of] mindfulness is the remembrance of the body. That’s a big one.
(2) Mindfulness of feelings
Okay, the next one. [And remember that] I’m talking about the view and the practice together. All our feelings, no matter what kind of feelings you have - whether pain or bliss - no matter what feelings we have, underneath there is the ingredient of unsatisfactoriness. Of course, you have pain [and you know this is unsatisfactory]. It’s blatantly painful. But even bliss [has the characteristic that we call] “mi tsim”22མི་ཚིམ་པ་ = not satisfied, not contented - see mi tsimpa in Tibetan. The word “tsim” means “satisfies” and “mi” is the negative word. There’s no sense of enough, contentment. All our feelings have this ingredient of not enough, not complete. Therefore, all our feelings are dukkha23Ed.: in his first book “What Makes You Not a Buddhist”, DJKR talked about this using the phrase “All emotions are pain”.. Especially those feelings that are prone to living in the past or living in the future, feelings that are living in eternalism, the eternalist world, or feelings that are dwelling in the nihilist world.
Dukkha, unsatisfactoriness, [being] unsatisfied - again, for some people this might sound very negative and pessimistic. Actually for the human ear, all truths are pessimistic. If you tell the truth, it’s bad news. You can’t tell somebody who’s celebrating a birthday “Oh, you’re getting old”. You can’t even say this much. And of course you can’t say, “You’re getting closer to death”. [Likewise when we celebrate] New Year, for instance. The truth. When we hear the truth, we end up receiving all truths as negative because we don’t have the merit (punya)24पुण्य = merit, virtue - see punya. of receiving the truth as something liberating, something [that can bring us to] freedom. [However], if you train your mind, you will end up hearing [the truth] as liberation.
By the way, even on practical level, I heard as recently as a week ago that a very close friend of mine is dying. And [one of] her family members couldn’t tell her she had a terminal disease, and I told him, “Oh well, we will have to tell her now”. It took a lot of courage [for him to accept this]. I was trying to joke. Of course, it’s very sensitive. But I said, “Well, it looks like you have to really make a very big plan”. I was talking about bodhichitta, and anyway at the end I was able to say, “You have to wrap up this chapter now”. And of course he didn’t take it very well that day, or the next day. But after two or three days he called again and said “it’s really liberating, all this time [I had so much] anxiety about what’s happening”. I think if we have the ability - which is merit or punya, if you’re blessed by lady Lakshmi25goddess of prosperity, good fortune and beauty, very popular in Hinduism. to hear truth as liberating - then I think then [you will hear] all these seemingly pessimistic and negative dukkha [as liberating]. Unfortunately [right now] you are hearing the word “dukkha” as something negative. But it doesn’t have to be. It’s just how it is. The truth. Anyway, you’re already climbing quite high now [in your mindfulness practice, if you can practice remembering the truth of both] the body and feelings.
(3) Mindfulness of mind / thoughts
Now [we take a] really big jump to [mindfulness of] mind. Okay, so with body, you remember that [your body is already] permanently damaged, that it’s not perfect. That’s what you remember. With feelings, you remember that no matter what you go through - joy, pain, bliss, no matter what - you remember that it’s all dukkha.
Now with mind, you have to remember that it’s impermanent. And this is so obvious. [Because] of impermanence and uncertainty, therefore [thoughts arise] unexpectedly. I don’t know what you’re going to think next. Do you know? You don’t know. [A thought] will come [seemingly] out of nowhere, and not necessarily for some logical reason. It will just come. Some may seemingly have some logic, for example you might suddenly remember the face of Rajesh Khanna26Ed: Rajesh Khanna was an Indian actor, referred to as the “first superstar” of Indian cinema. just because you happen to bump into a taxi driver who looks a little bit like Rajesh Khanna. I don’t know, stuff like that. And that Rajesh Khanna image could lead you to all kinds of [other thoughts]. That’s how the mind works. Oh by the way, for those who don’t know, Rajesh Khanna is food. It’s a Pune delicacy.
Anyway, we don’t know what [will] come into our mind. Never. Some [thoughts] we can control, but anyway it comes and it goes. Not a single thought or mind that you have had in all your lifetime has stayed, frozen, in a paused situation. None. They come and they go. This [is something that] you need to know. And again, this is nothing mystical, nothing religious. Just watch your mind now. Okay, right now, you know - thought comes and goes. You just have to acknowledge that. You just have to remember this. Not just intellectually, remember. I can’t just talk about coffee, you need to drink it. You need to observe the thoughts. You immediately want to ask the question, “Okay, I’m going to observe thought, then what?” [There is] no "then what”! Observe a thought. Then what? Observe [the] next one, because there’s going to be [a next one]. [Thoughts are] endless. That’s one thing you don’t have to worry about. You will never run out of thoughts. This is one thing that’s guaranteed. The next thought will come. And that thought will go. You need to acknowledge this and get used to this. If you don’t then [a thought] becomes a big deal, or it gets stuck.
It’s a bit like this. I think all our so-called values and meaning comes from this. It’s very possible that next year I will like Lady Gaga. Very possible. At the moment, I don’t. When I was around 20, I never even knew that Karnataka music exists, but now when I hear Karnataka or Tamil music, especially when I hear Karnataka classical music, it takes me somewhere. I don’t know where, but it really takes me somewhere. Like some ancient India. And then there’s a certain value. This is what the thought does. And then Indian music, I’m such a big fan. I joke with my Chinese friends, if ever there is a war between China and India using pop music, Chinese will lose it within one minute. One minute. I’m sorry to say this, but this is my point of view. Classical music, maybe each has. But pop music, Hindi music, Maharashtra, the pop music is just amazing. Where are they coming from? The rhythm, the sound. And one of the reasons for me is that it’s not westernised so to speak. Maybe it is here and there, but you don’t hear it. Whereas most of the Chinese pop music is basically western music, and 1980s western music at that.
When I hear Indian music, I can really understand why Hindus talk about Nataraja27नटराज = "Lord of the dance", a depiction of the Hindu god Shiva as the cosmic ecstatic dancer. His dance is called Tandavam or Nadanta, depending on the context of the dance., and how music comes from him. I think, “Ah, that makes sense”, because it’s endless and it’s just so rich. And then you go to the desert music from Rajasthan, and they can sing something wonderful. And then the Bauls of Bengal, with one string they can come up with something amazing. But that’s [what I] value. Who knows, maybe after two years I’ll be totally not in love with it. This is what thought and mind does. It comes and it goes. If you’re not remembering and being mindful, [your thoughts and thinking] will become concrete. It will become a thing. Then it will become like, “Ah, Rajasthani music forever. That’s the best”. Like this.
And actually, this influences all kinds of things. It can really get emotional. I never used to like tea. And also, these three are related - remember we talked about body and feelings, and now the mind. When I was younger, when my body was so-called younger, [I didn’t like] tea. Now the body is [showing signs of] the permanent damage and decay, [I like] afternoon tea. Darjeeling tea. It should be served properly. All that has become a big deal, and actually I even get emotionally stirred every time I go to Japan. Even in a train station if you order Darjeeling tea, they always serve it properly with tea leaves and separate milk, in a proper saucer. Not in a tea bag. And I always find Darjeeling tea in Japan to be much better than in many Indian tea places. And this makes me [despair a bit], because growing up in India there’s a bit of a tea patriotism here. So how can the Indians lose this? What’s wrong with these Indians that they can’t even preserve their tea? It’s unfair that anywhere you go in Japan, there’s perfect Darjeeling tea. I’m giving you an example. This is how mind works. But if you just observe, [thoughts] come and go, then you know its not-big-deal-ness. It’s not a big deal.
Remember those days when we [complained about] George Bush? Now nobody is even talking about him. If anybody is talking about him, it’s with a little bit of a melancholic and sentimental feeling. Now we have a different subject. Who knows, in 20 years maybe they’ll be remembering him as, “That guy, the hero, one those of saints that saved us from all sorts of calamities.” We don't know. This is how our minds work.
So just simply watching that [thought] as it comes. We’re talking about the authentic. Watching, not making a big deal, not judging.
I’ll let people ask some questions now.
Q & A
[Q]: Time is an illusion. My question is why do we have this illusion? And is space an illusion as well?
[DJKR]: That sounds like a very tricky question, how come we have the illusion of time? Okay, first, space is also an illusion. I’ll just finish answering this [part of your question]. You know, even in the dream, fruits get ripened. Even in the dream, Mumbai is three hours drive [from Pune]. Even in the dream, India has about a billion people. If you’re having a normal dream, that is. You could be having a nightmare that there are only five people in India. This is kind of interesting, because first of all the whole dream does not really exist. But at the same time, there’s an illusion of time, space, quantity, distance, colour, shape, falling down, flying up and so forth. What I’m trying to say in answering your question is that if there’s no dreamer, there’s no dream. Then distance, quantity, colour, and shape in the dream don’t exist.
So why is there an illusion? [It’s because] we’re talking about a subject. It’s because there is a knower of the illusion. If you’re not satisfied, think about it and maybe we can discuss it later.[There’s an illusion because] there’s an observer of the illusion, a knower of the illusion.
[Q]: With the examples of tea and music you explain how our preferences and interests are impermanent, they keep changing. In that case how could we make long-term lifelong commitments like marriage or a professional career?
[DJKR]: Because there’s an illusion, so you can have that [i.e. so you are able to make that commitment]. [Laughter] No, really, this is the proper answer actually. Because if there’s no illusion, then you cannot plan. That’s how Nagarjuna would answer.
[Q]: But there’s a risk of the illusion getting broken any time. That’s the problem.
[DJKR]: Ah. Good. That’s your homework. But you’re talking about “broken”, and “broken” is [also] an illusion, so it’s not guaranteed. Who knows, maybe it will not break? This is what Nagarjuna said, "For those who can accept shunyata, that everything is illusion, everything fits in"28Ed.: On previous occasions, DJKR has expressed this as, "For those who can accept emptiness, everything is acceptable". He taught this as part of his commentary on verse VI.75 of Chandrakirti's Madhyamakavatara..
As I said yesterday, this is why if you go to places like Burma and Sri Lanka, they talk about anatta (selflessness), yet they also give alms, go to the temple, and so forth. You should never hear [these teachings on emptiness as], “The Buddhist message is everything is illusion, so let’s not get married”. You should not hear [it] this [way]. Because [if you say that], “Everything is illusion, let’s not get married”, [that] means that everything is not illusion29Ed.: In this case, you would be distorting the view of emptiness to derive a nihilistic conclusion. As DJKR taught in Talk 4 on Day 1, nihilism is one of the three ways (i.e. eternalism, nihilism and union) that we lose the understanding that everything is emptiness, i.e. that "everything is simultaneously there and not there".. Yes, “Everything is illusion, let’s get married”. That’s how it should be. Then actually the marriage also works. I think the main reason why most marriages don’t work is because people forget it’s an illusion. Then they strangle each other.
[Q]: [When we make] statements like, “We should abandon all views, or go beyond all views”, this statement is said from the point of view of the two truths. Is that also on the conventional level?
[DJKR]: Yes, it’s also on the conventional level.
[Q]: The view that we should go beyond all views is also a view?
[DJKR]: Of course.
[Q]: We cannot understand such statements. They go beyond [rest of question is inaudible, presumably the questioner is saying something about how they go beyond our ability to understand conceptually].
[DJKR]: Of course. It’s a bit like this. You fell from a cliff. And your hands are bound, because you’re a culprit or something, I don’t know. And as you fell, there’s a tree or something, and you managed to grab a branch. So you’re just hanging [by your mouth]. And while you’re still hanging, somebody is walking by. Now what do you do? [If you shout] “Help”, you’ll drop. Teaching Buddhism is like this. The moment you open your mouth you’re making a mistake.
[Q]: Yesterday you said that somebody told you that the negative aspects of free speech, education, ecology, etc., are because of eduction. My counter to that would be that this person could [only] come to this understanding because he was educated and exposed to all these ideas through his education. He could [only] say this to you because he could exercise the right of his free speech. You understand it because you are educated and well read. [Without education and free speech, we wouldn’t know] what we are doing and the harm we are causing.
[DJKR]: I will ask you. Let’s say Kim Jong-un only gives you pig shit to eat. That’s the only food to eat, you’re forced [to eat it]. Let’s say I [now] give you a choice between chicken shit and dog shit. Would you be happier in the second [situation]? That’s what I’m saying.
[Q]: You say it’s a free choice, but you only give two options. And secondly, there’s only freedom if you allow everybody else to free. It’s an illusion to think that I can be free by feeding off the oppression and suffering of other people. [Questioner becomes passionate].
[DJKR]: I thought [you said] you have a voice problem?
[DJKR]: Okay. There are many questions, I guess.
[Q]: When a child is brought backstage, and sees that the actors are dressing up [rest of question inaudible].
[DJKR]: It’s hard to go to the backstage, is that what you are saying?
[Q]: It’s not easy.
[DJKR]: Yes, of course, you’re right. Many people don’t even know there’s a backstage. That’s why hearing [is important] somebody has to shout, “Hey, there’s a backstage”.
[Q]: But people are aware there’s a backstage.
[DJKR]: But we are talking about [talking] to a child, aren’t it? Probably, maybe, you should not tell your child immediately that there is a backstage, because also it’s not a nice thing to spoil his fun. Maybe as a mother you should say, “Let’s go to the toilet” and [then] pretend that you made a mistake and then somehow bump into the backstage.
[Q]: [Question is mostly inaudible. Attempted reconstruction follows]: How should we do this?
[DJKR]: With a lot of skilful means I think, that’s why there are all these teachings like the Jataka [Tales], the Jatakamala Sutra.
[Q]: The tradition of Advaita Vedanta is quite close to Buddhism. I was wondering what’s the difference between them?
[DJKR]: I don’t know. I’ve only read two or three pages about Advaita Vedanta, but as I answered somebody yesterday, I feel that relative bodhichitta most probably plays a very important role.
[Q]: My question is about the three-fold path that you talked about - hearing, contemplation and meditation. When we talk about zhiné and lhaktong, shamatha and vipassana, it seems to me that English is a problem. In English, the word “contemplation” is used i to mean “reflection”. It seems that the second and third [i.e. contemplation and meditation] seem to be like zhiné and lhaktong, but in the opposite [order]. In other words, “contemplation” is more reflection and analytical meditation, and “meditation” is more resting in that understanding?
[DJKR]: You know, the Tibetan word “gom”30གོམས་ = familiarisation, habituation, becoming accustomed to - see gom. is quite nice, isn’t it? Gom is derived from the word "khom"31ཁོམས་ = familiarise, condition to, familiarisation - see khom.. Gom means “getting acquainted, getting accustomed to, getting used to”. So it doesn’t really matter how you get used to the truth, [whether] you are sitting on a cushion or dancing or I don’t know. As long as it’s taking you closer to the [truth].
[Q]: So would that be equivalent to zhiné, resting in that knowledge?
[DJKR]: Yes, that’s what I’m saying. Don’t take this seriously but, but once I was watching Ozu, you know Yasujirō Ozu’s films? There’s a film called “Late Autumn”. It’s such a beautiful film. You should watch this, those who have time. At the end, two girls are talking, and one of them says something like, “Is that all there is? This so-called life?” I have to say, this stayed so long in my head, and actually I was even very convinced at that time that she assisted me in understanding some of the vipassana-related [teachings]. [Vipassana means] really seeing the truth. And sometimes hearing these vipassana teachings, you know [about the nature of this so-called] life [and] all of that - sometimes it does a really good job [i.e. just hearing the teachings]. But at other times, a film like this [can really help]. You’re already conditioned [by] the characters [in the story] and the music, and then suddenly you really reflect on your life. [This is gom or meditation:] reflection, getting used to, bringing yourself closer to the truth.
[Q]: You mentioned something about a meditation which we could do instead of vipassana, something that is more dynamic, because it’s more logical and easier to do. Are you referring to Osho meditation? And what do you think of that, what are the good and bad sides?
[DJKR]: I didn’t hear the second part.
[Q]: Overall, are you talking about Osho meditation?
[DJKR]: Osho? I see. I know many Buddhists are going to really raise their eyebrows, but I’m a really big fan of his. For me, I like him much more than like Krishnamurti. You know, it’s really good. I never really did any [Osho] meditation or anything, but I have heard his [recordings] and read his books. [He wrote] something to do with the Diamond Sutra, a commentary, and when I visited somebody’s place it was there - Osho’s commentary on the Diamond Sutra. This is true. So I went to the toilet, and sometimes you read in the toilet right? It’s not a Dharma book for me. So I just grabbed this [book] and I read it for a long time, until I had a numbness on my legs, because it’s really good. That guy has a really good understanding, I thought. I think especially for Indians, they should read this. I think he can really make Indians realise that they have so much wisdom culture, and that they are losing [it]. The mouse, Ganesh, stuff like this. These are Indian wealth.
[Q]: You were talking about nihilism and eternalism ,and I can understand when you say that when you think that Buddha was born and now he’s dead, that’s nihilism. [The belief that] he’s not there any more. But I don’t understand when you said [that if] you think your head is on your neck, that’s eternalism. Yes I also know it’s changing all the time, I will die, all those things …
[DJKR]: Okay. I’m going to give you a very intellectual academic answer to this. [I’ll give the] definition of nihilism and eternalism from the Tibetan philosophical perspective. What is the opposite of exaggeration? Subtraction? Understatement?32Ed.: DJKR has previously used the word “underestimation”.. Addition and subtraction. [Here we come to] another thing that’s very important in Indian wisdom and especially Buddhism. The Indian wisdom tradition comes in the format of relative truth and ultimate truth. I think that although [this distinction] may actually exist in the process [of western philosophy], generally western philosophy and especially western religion don’t really talk [about truth using] the format or relative truth and ultimate truth. Yesterday I was [talking about] this a little bit, [when I said that] the Buddha didn’t really mean a lot of things that he said, but he still said them. [We term these] relative teachings. [Whereas] a lot of the things he said, he meant it, like the Heart Sutra. He really meant it.
How do you define what is eternalism? It’s if you exaggerate or put an addition to anything that is ultimate truth. Think about it. [Saying something like] “this truly exists” - [that is] an addition, an exaggeration on the ultimate level. That is eternalism. And when you subtract or understate during the relative truth, that is nihilism. This is something to think about for philosophy students. And I think it’s quite a profound definition. So this is why [we have] concepts such as karma and reincarnation in the Buddhadharma. I know that many people think that reincarnation is more like a Mahayana teaching. That’s not true. First of all, Buddhists don’t believe reincarnation exists ultimately. Buddhists don’t even believe there is ultimately a soul or inherently existing self that gets reincarnated to begin with. In the Heart Sutra, even enlightenment is not inherently or ultimately existing. [So for something like reincarnation], when are you talking about it? If you’re talking about it on the relative level and you say that reincarnation does not exist, then you’re understating or subtracting something, so that becomes nihilism.
In the relative world, you have to say a lot of things, such as “See you tomorrow”. What does that mean? What is tomorrow? But it works. My head is on my neck. You can’t really argue [with this by taking an analytical approach like] “What is “neck”? It’s those two things …” If you go on analysing like that, then you are approaching the ultimate truth. Then there’s no head, no neck, and no head sitting on the neck. This is very academic and very intellectual, I guess. Okay we’ll take a break now for lunch.
[END OF TALK 2]
So before the lunch break, someone asked a question and somehow that led to the discussion of relative truth and ultimate truth. And we are going to cover this a little bit, because I think it’s kind of necessary. We have also been talking about how to go beyond the view, knowing that [we must transcend] the view itself, any view. But nevertheless, in order for us to liberate ourselves from all kinds of dukkha, for the time being we need to have a view. And because of that, there are subjects such as right view. The Eight-Fold Noble Path begins with the right view. But keep in mind that [eventually] we need to transcend right view, wrong view, all of that we. This is of course more of a Mahayana explanation.
Paradox, nonduality and union
Just to recap a little. We have been talking about paradox and nonduality. I think the paradox is just a manner of explanation, a different angle of understanding nonduality. This is really important by the way, the thing that we have been discussing, “it’s there but it’s not there”. But [the paradox] is not just that. [It’s also things like] arising and cessation.
Arising and cessation are also a paradox. While things are arising, the very thing that is arising is also ceasing. Of course. This is a very Buddhist way [of thinking]. Everything [is like this]: while it's abiding, it is ceasing. If you want to read a little bit more, there’s a very extensive explanation and analysis in the Mulamadhyamakakarika33The Root Verses on the Wisdom of the Middle Way, the most famous and important treatise on madhyamaka philosophy, written by Nagarjuna in approximately the 2nd or 3rd century CE - see Mulamadhyamakakarika. by Nagarjuna, and so forth. Arising is cessation, cessation is arising. There is no such thing as the “real” arising, the beginning. While it’s beginning it’s also ending, and while it’s ending it’s also beginning.
The Tibetan word for this is zungjuk34ཟུང་འཇུག་ = union, indivisibility - see zungjuk., which is translated as “union”, although I don’t know if the word “union” does justice [to the Tibetan]. But anyway, you might ask why are we talking about this union of arising and cessation, of existence and nonexistence? Why are we talking about arising and cessation? This is very obvious [when we think about] samsara35संसार = cyclic existence, birth-and-death, worldly life - see samsara. or samskara36संस्कार = mental formation, compounding, conditioned existence - see samskara.. For us ordinary deluded beings, one of the definitions or explanations of samsara is that it is something to do with the three elements of arising, abiding and cessation. That is a story, actually. It is a story of samsara. Of everything. Even in a single moment of thought, there’s the arising of that [thought], the abiding of that, and the cessation of that. And that makes a complete sort of story.
Samsara also has the connotation of going round and round, and on a much deeper level when we talk about going round, we’re talking about [how] the very ending is also the beginning. When we talk about moksha37मोक्ष = liberation, emancipation, release from - see moksha. (liberation), we really want to go beyond not just cessation, but also beyond arising or genesis. We want to go beyond all of that time. Anyway, the paradox of the union. I think this may help you understand a little bit.
Ground, path and result
This is classic Mahayana now. In some of the classic Mahayana texts when we talk about the path of the Buddhadharma, it’s categorised into three: the ground, the path, and the end or the result. The base, the path and the result. So let’s say you want to wash this cup because you think it’s dirty. The ground is the cup. The path is when there is dirt and therefore the process of cleaning. You can say that is the path. And the result is actually the clean cup.
Ground = union of ultimate truth and relative truth
Here again there’s categorisation for the sake of communication. [You should] never think there’s actually a solid ground, path and result. I’m sure many native Indians here know the word “tantra”38तन्त्र = continuity, continuum - see tantra., and one of the connotations in Tibetan we call “gyü”39རྒྱུད་ = tantra - see gyü., which means “continuum” or “continuity”. The cup that you’re washing - [which is] the base [or the ground] - before washing, while washing, and after washing [it] is continuous40Ed.: during the process of washing, the dirt is removed. But the cup itself is unchanged.. Nothing has changed. That’s the whole point of tantra. That’s the tantric attitude, so to speak. When we talk about the base or the ground, we talk about the union of relative truth and ultimate truth, which is why I thought that question was quite timely.
I want you to remember, and this is important, that when we talk about relative truth and ultimate truth we’re only asserting this for the sake of communication. There’s no such thing as “real" relative truth and real ultimate truth. Those two do not exist. It’s so frustrating isn’t it? These two do not exist. But just like arising and cessation, you know that arising is of course different from cessation. One is the beginning, one is the end. Of course, they’re total opposites. Really? For Buddhists they’re [only] seemingly opposites, they’re not real opposites41Ed.: these pairs of seeming opposites, like beginning and ending, are distinctions made in language and concept, i.e. in relative truth, for the sake of communication and functioning in the world. However if we analyse them, we see that there is no "real" or "ultimate" beginning or ending. We realise that, for example, different people have different views on when a human life begins and ends, when abortion should be allowed and when life support machines should be turned off. Our relative truths collapse under investigation. We cannot find a single, unchanging, ultimate truth. So we conclude that our seeming opposites are not real opposites. This way of investigating relative phenomena and concepts to demonstrate their lack of ultimate existence is central to the approach of Buddhist madhyamaka philosophy.. And this is also called maya42मय = illusion, magical display, magic, artifice - see maya.. Maya. Magic. They act as if they are opposites, but they’re actually not opposites. And when I say they’re not opposite, it’s not like they’re friendly and harmonious together. No. Because there is no [“other” person] there [for them] to be together [with]43Ed.: the notion of "opposites" requires that we have two separate things to compare and contrast. In this case, there are no "two separate things".. This is the union of relative truth and ultimate truth, and therefore keeping that in mind, the path is the union of wisdom and method.
Path = union of wisdom and method
Wisdom is prajña, [the realisation that] everything is shunyata, everything is there but it’s not there, etc. We have been talking about it again and again. But what about method? Things like water offerings, incense, sitting straight etc. There are so many newer Buddhists who laugh at rituals like making offerings of candles and incense, “Oh that’s Indian, ancient, like something shamanist. It’s Indian cultural stuff”. They look down on [these methods]. But [when it comes to] sitting [they think], “Now that is the thing to do. It’s non-religious.” It’s so embarrassing to talk like that in front of the buddhas. It’s so embarrassing. They are both [equally methods].
If you think that making a havan44हवन - fire offering, rooted in the Vedic tradition - see havan. - a cow dung hearth and all of that - is superstition, then sitting straight is also superstition. This is what we are talking about. Method has to work with people [i.e. with the specific audience]. If there were a Martian sitting here right now listening to my teachings and they [wanted] to develop vipassana, then probably I might have to ask them to sit upside down. I don’t know. Whatever works. As long as it takes you to the truth. Lying down, walking around, you understand? But this is how human beings are, especially nowadays. Because for some reason sitting straight doesn’t look like [something] religious, I guess. I think [this idea] comes more from the modern and western world. I guess that if you’re living in a certain situation, then you might not even dare to sit straight45Ed.: i.e. our attitudes towards different practice methods are strongly coloured by our social and cultural predispositions and constraints. DJKR notes above that it is "so embarrassing" to consider oneself a practitioner of the nondual path and yet to be so strongly limited by dualistic conventional mindsets.. But that’s how it is.
So the base [or the ground] is the union of ultimate truth and relative truth. Therefore the path is the union of wisdom and method. Methods from cow dung to sitting straight, from Zen gardens to chaotic Indian havan pujas. [Methods are] infinite. Everything is accepted. But without wisdom, all of that is just binding spiritual materialism. A golden temple is [just as much] spiritual materialism as is being fanatical about how one should sit straight. That is also spiritual materialism. We’re talking like this now.
Result = union of dharmakaya and rupakaya
And the result is the union of dharmakaya46धर्मकाय = the "truth body", "reality body" or absolute body: one of the three bodies (trikaya) of a buddha in Mahayana Buddhism - see dharmakaya. and rupakaya47रूपकाय = the "form body" or physical manifestation of a buddha. In Mahayana Buddhism the rupakaya includes both the sambhogakaya and the nirmanakaya - see rupakaya.. This is very important. Okay, because there are a lot of newer people here, so for their sake I’ll [talk about this] in a very mundane way. What’s the union of dharmakaya and rupakaya? It’s the union of very special and absolutely non-special. Union. That’s what it is. Because many of you think that after three countless eons of sitting and sitting and sitting, you’ll then become special. And what does that usually involve? A halo, golden coloured skin, incredible clairvoyance, [becoming someone who] never gets hungry, remembers all their past lives, smiling all the time - you understand? Mostly people who are wishy-washy aspire for this kind of smiling-all-the-time enlightenment state.
Usually this is how people think, [that enlightenment] is some kind of exalted [state] with light shining [and so forth]. I don’t blame them so much, because the moment we make a statue or [painting of] an enlightened being, [we] always [include] a halo and light exuding and all this kind of thing. So I understand where this is coming from. But actually it’s the union of the very special, the sacred, and the mundane. It was depicted so well by Shakyamuni Buddha. He was begging alms. He folded robes. He coughed. He asked Sujata48सुजाता = a milkmaid, who is said to have fed Gautama Buddha milk and rice, ending his six years of ascetism - see Sujata., “Can you bring me some milk?” Remember all those things? So it’s really important that we don’t think we’re suddenly going to have three extra arms. The union of formlessness and form, dharmakaya and rupakaya. That is the aim. The union of the sacred and the mundane.
We are talking about the union of ultimate truth and relative truth. This morning we talked about remembering that our body is imperfect or that it’s permanently damaged, like a plucked flower. That’s one view. And then remembering that our feelings are basically dukkha. And the third is remembering that mind and thoughts are impermanent. These three are what I would term the "relative view".
Now the fourth view is that nothing has a truly existing nature. Everything is inherently empty. That is the ultimate view. And don’t forget the [relative and ultimate views] are only a paradox. They’re not like two separate stark opposites. They are union. I don’t know whether the Chinese audience might compare this with concepts like yin-yang49陰陽, literally "dark-bright", "negative-positive" = a concept of dualism in Taoist philosophy that describes how seemingly opposite or contrary forces may actually be complementary, interconnected, and interdependent in the natural world, and how they may give rise to each other as they interrelate to one another - see yin-yang. and that kind of thing. I don’t know much about Taoism, but you might want to make a note here about when we talk about “paradox” in Buddhist philosophy whether it is similar to the Taoist concept of yin-yang and all those teachings. Because here we are not talking about interdependence. We are talking about dependent arising.
The very fact that things are dependent arising is the fact that everything is shunyata. That part is probably more exclusive [to Buddhism], because I haven’t really heard Chinese Taoist philosophy talking about yin-yang as something like emptiness. Although I have to be careful here, because the Taoist concept of “chaos"50混沌, literally "muddled confusion" = both the "primordial and central chaos" in Chinese cosmogony and a "legendary faceless being" in Chinese mythology - see hundun. is something so profound. Those who wish to explore [this further], you should. It is really profound. Chaos. It’s so good. It’s like everything went wrong the moment we tried to make it orderly. From chaos comes all this. [It’s] really profound. Both these two great nations of China and India have produced incredible wisdom, and they have to be careful as they’re losing it. They’re really losing it.
Emptiness and compassion
Okay, so where does compassion fit in? I don’t want to use the word [compassion as a translation of] karuna51Ed.: DJKR talked about how "compassion" is an inadequate translation of the Sanskrit word "karuna" during the Q&A on Day 1, Talk 2 - see also karuna., but for the sake of communication [I'll use it]. Where does it fit in? When you understand that things do not have inherent existence, especially when you understand that the self that you cling to does not exist inherently, that’s it. That’s the king of empathy. Actually it’s even more than empathy, because as long as there’s a self that’s doing the compassion, then it becomes so limited, as then there’s the hierarchy of the one who is compassionate and the object [of compassion] who is lower, who somehow has more suffering and so forth.
For instance, there are people who are going round saving dogs because they have a certain lopsided compassion towards certain beings called dogs. But they use mosquito repellent when a mosquito comes. I guess maybe this is because the dog is big, you can see it wagging its tail, and we human beings have decided that a dog wagging its tail means that the dog actually likes you. We don’t really know whether that’s true or not. Who knows? Maybe there’s some kind of masochism going on there? I know I’m getting into trouble here. And when the mosquito make a sound, maybe it means, “Oh, I really like you. I really want to hug you. You’re warm, let me kiss you”. Whatever. But when there’s no understanding of this union of relative truth and ultimate truth, all acts of virtue and compassion become very lopsided and selective. It’s very easy [for some of us] to choose to have compassion towards Rwandan and Syrian refugees, but towards Trump and his administration? Or wealthy billionaires? Obviously not. They’re not an object of compassion.
So anyway, for someone who is dwelling on the path, the very act of generating wisdom to understand that there is no truly existing self - that is the practice of compassion (karuna). Yes, that is compassion (karuna) - when you begin to taste [the understanding and realisation] that the notion of “self” that you cling to and cherish so much is just a notion that you have labelled [based on] your form, your feelings, and your aggregates. Beyond that, there is no truly existing soul or entity or substance that you can actually pinpoint as a self.
[transcript in progress]
Note: to read footnotes please click on superscript numbers
Transcribed and edited by Alex Li Trisoglio