Teaching About Emptiness and Dependent Arising at Likir, Ladakh

July 2nd 2014

Likir, Ladakh, J&K, India, 1 July 2014 - His Holiness the Dalai Lama arrived early at the newly prepared teaching ground below Likir Monastery this morning. Light cloud filled the sky providing shade for the estimated 15,000 people who had come to listen to him. When the recitation of introductory prayers was over, he advised that whenever Buddhist teachings are given it is important for teacher and disciples to cultivate a good motivation. His Holiness then led the assembly in reciting the verse for taking refuge in the Three Jewels and generating the awakening mind of bodhichitta.


His Holiness the Dalai Lama acknowledging the audience at the start of his teaching in Likir, Ladakh, J&K, India on July 1, 2014. Photo/Tenzin Choejor/OHHDL
Remarking that this teaching would be a kind of preparation for the impending Kalachakra Empowerment, His Holiness told the rapt crowd that about 12 years ago he composed a set of verses in praise of the 17 Masters of Nalanda, which he proposed to explain.

“Our practice is derived from the written works of Nalanda masters such as Nagarjuna, Aryadeva, Chandrakirti and Shantideva. The treatises they wrote are what we study in the great monasteries. These 17 masters are very important to our tradition. The differences between our various traditions, Nyingma, Sakya, Kagyu, Jonang and Gelug lies in the teachings they observe that were originally intended for particular individuals, whereas the teachings of Nalanda masters, as I said yesterday, are common to all. Consequently the core of Tibetan Buddhism is derived from the Nalanda tradition.”

His Holiness explained that of the Buddha’s activities of body, speech and mind, the most important had been his speech. Although we commemorate his body with beautiful statues, it is what he said that is of greater import. It is his explanation of dependent arising, the view that negates the two extremes of nihilism and eternalism, the middle way, which is of greatest importance. The masters of Nalanda wrote numerous treatises to make this view clear. 

His Holiness said that in this invocation of the 17 Masters of Nalanda he has named them all starting with Nagarjuna. The very first verse praises the Buddha for teaching dependent arising, while the second lauds Nagarjuna for his clarification of that view. Aryadeva elaborated on what Nagarjuna had said. After him came Buddhapalita who resolved unclear points and introduced the school of thought known as the Consequentialists or Prasangika Madhyamaka. Bhavaviveka, who wrote the ‘Blaze of Reasoning’, established an alternative view known as the Svatantrika Madhyamaka or Autonomy Middle Way School, which asserts selflessness, but accepts an inherent nature. This is disputed by Consequentialists. Although what Bhavaviveka wrote was very clear, Chandrakirti made the view even clearer, explaining how things exist on a conventional level despite lacking any inherent existence. Shantideva was also a Consequentialist, who composed the ‘Compendium of Training’ based on quotations from the scriptures. In his ‘Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life’ he outlined the path of a bodhisattva and the practice of the six perfections on the basis of reason and logic.


View of the teaching ground, venue for His Holiness the Dalai Lama's teaching in Likir, Ladakh, J&K, India on July 1, 2014. Photo/Tenzin Choejor/OHHDL
Next is Shantarakshita who established his own school of thought, the Yogachara Svatantrika Madhyamika or Yogic Autonomy Middle Way School, which accepted inherent nature but denied the existence of external objects. This is challenged by the Consequentialists. When he was about 70 years old, the Tibetan Emperor, Trisong Detsen invited Shantarakshita to come to Tibet, which he did, teaching Buddhism for the remaining 19 years of his life. He also crucially initiated the project to translate Indian Buddhist literature into Tibetan and even at his advanced age learned Tibetan in order to be able to participate in the process himself. It is a result of his inspiration that we have more than 100 volumes of the Kangyur (translated words of the Buddha) and 220 volumes of the Tengyur (translated treatises of subsequent masters) today.

Samye was the first monastery built in Tibet and comprised different sections dedicated to meditation, tantric practice, translation and so forth. It happened that Chinese monks in the meditation section introduced a mode of meditation focused on non-conceptuality that they declared to be most effective. Trisong Detsen invited Kamalashila, Shantarakshita’s disciple, to come and challenge these monks in debate about the efficacy of this practice. He defeated them and they were expelled from Tibet. His Holiness remarked:

“Even today I meet Buddhists in Japan for example who tell me that Buddhahood can be attained through non-conceptual meditation, but there seems little room for wisdom. I feel it’s important to know that it is the perfection of wisdom rather than the perfection of meditation that is stressed as the key to attaining enlightenment.”

His Holiness pointed out that the lineage from Nagarjuna to Kamalashila is known as the lineage of perfect view. Another lineage beginning with Asanga, founder of the Mind Only school of thought, is the lineage of the path. Asanga’s brother Vasubandhu was a great scholar of Higher Knowledge (Abhidharma). After him came the great logicians Dignaga and Dharmakirti, who were especially effective in refuting non-Buddhist views. Vimuktisena explained the ‘Ornament of Clear Realization, while Haribadra was an outstanding scholar of the Perfection of Wisdom literature. Gunaprabha wrote the principal commentary on monastic discipline or Vinaya, followed in studies of discipline by Sakyaprabha.


His Holiness the Dalai Lama with some Tibetan bread during a tea break in his teaching in Likir, Ladakh, J&K, India on July 1, 2014. Photo/Tenzin Choejor/OHHDL
Last is Atisha Dipamkara, who composed his most important text the ‘Lamp for the Path’ in Tibet, in which he delineated the three categories of spiritual practitioners. His Holiness reiterated that the treatises of these 17 Masters of Nalanda are the foundation of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition.

“What I want to say is that these great masters of Nalanda studied extensively and put what they had learned into practice, as we, following their example, did in Tibet.”

There are extensive, medium and short editions of the Perfection of Wisdom literature, among which the Heart Sutra is one of the shortest. His Holiness mentioned that the Heart Sutra is revered and recited across the Northern Buddhist World of China, Korea, Japan, Vietnam, Tibet, Mongolia and the Himalayan Region. On the basis of what it says, whatever practice we do must be qualified by an understanding of emptiness, otherwise we will not reach enlightenment. The sutra tells that at one time the Buddha was engaged in absorption on an aspect of wisdom when the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara too was thinking about how the five aggregates, which are the basis of the person, are also empty. His Holiness pointed out that the word ‘also’ in this context, which is found in both the Sanskrit original and the Tibetan versions of the text, is missing from the Chinese versions and those that derive from it.

When the text says ‘Form is empty, emptiness is form,’ His Holiness explained that it means that no intrinsic entity can be found. It is empty because it exists on the basis of other causes and conditions. We can also say that things appear and yet lack any intrinsic existence. To help understand and interpret this we need to think about Nagarjuna’s explanation that things have conventional existence but lack intrinsic existence. Emptiness implies dependent arising. A result depends upon a cause, but in terms of dependent arising we can also say that the cause depends on the result, much as action, agent and object depend on each other.


Some of the more than 15,000 people attending His Holiness the Dalai Lama's teaching in Likir, Ladakh, J&K, India on July 1, 2014. Photo/Tenzin Choejor/OHHDL
His Holiness also mentioned that the mantra of the Heart Sutra, ‘Tayata Gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi soha’ indicates the changes that take place as a practitioner makes progress on the spiritual path. He said that our practice should steadily improve until we too eventually become a perfect Buddha. The key is the understanding of emptiness, because this is the only opponent to the ignorance and the disturbing emotions that give rise to suffering. The Perfection of Wisdom teachings have two aspects: emptiness, upon which Nagarjuna expounded, and the stages of the path, explained by Asanga.

His Holiness then announced his intention to give a transmission of Je Tsongkhapa’s text, ‘In Praise of Dependent Arising’ which emphasises the importance of both emptiness and dependent arising. He suggested that it would be good to recite the Heart Sutra followed by this text daily. He said that emptiness and dependent arising are complementary. If dependent arising makes you think of emptiness and emptiness makes you think of dependent arising at the same time you have a proper understanding of emptiness.

Je Tsongkhapa was dissatisfied with explanations he had received sought out and read all the extant texts on emptiness and their commentaries and analysed what he read to reach the correct view. In retreat he had a vision of Manjushri, after which he read Buddhapalita’s commentary and came to a full realisation of emptiness. He understood that because things are dependent on other factors they are empty of inherent existence; but they are not non-existent. Neither non-existent nor inherently existent, they exist as functional phenomena, but only by way of designation. Scientists of His Holiness’s acquaintance appreciate this explanation.

His Holiness pointed out that when we see anything it appears to exist of its own accord; we don’t see it as dependent on other factors. He said that when we see him, he appears to exist concretely and yet reasoning tells us this is not the case.


Some of the many monks that attended His Holiness the Dalai Lama's teaching leaving for their monasteries after the teaching in Likir, Ladakh, J&K, India on July 1, 2014.
Photo/Tenzin Choejor/OHHDL

The teaching concluded with a short prayer for the long life of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. He remarked that such rituals are not what we should consider to be most important. Our real need is to study in order to comprehend dependent arising. When the prayers were over he thanked everyone who had contributed to making the event possible.

During the drive back to Leh, His Holiness stopped to visit a nunnery at Basgo where a centre of learning is being established. He was pleased with all he saw and encouraged the nuns and some Dutch supporters he met to continue their good work.

Ritual Preparations for the Kalachakra Empowerment will begin from 3rd July while preliminary teachings will begin on 6th July.

For those interested a translation of ‘Illuminating the Threefold Faith: An Invocation of the Seventeen Great Sagely Adepts of Glorious Nalanda can be found here:
http://www.thubtenchodron.org/PrayersAndPractices/illuminating_the_threefold_faith.html
and a translation of Je Tsongkhapa’s ‘In Praise of Dependent Arising’ can be found here:
http://www.berzinarchives.com/web/en/archives/sutra/level2_lamrim/advanced_scope/voidness_emptyness/praise_dependent_arising.html
 

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