Buddha Heart, Buddha Mind: Living the Four Noble Truthsby Dalai Lama
Addressing deep spiritual concerns by asking key questions such as How can we end our suffering? How can we become truly compassionate? and Does the potential for happiness lie in our own hands?, this collection of meditative dialogues by the Dalai Lama expands and illuminates the Four Noble Truths in his characteristic voice, known for its sharp yet/i>/i>… See more details below
Addressing deep spiritual concerns by asking key questions such as How can we end our suffering? How can we become truly compassionate? and Does the potential for happiness lie in our own hands?, this collection of meditative dialogues by the Dalai Lama expands and illuminates the Four Noble Truths in his characteristic voice, known for its sharp yet compassionate charm and good humor. Each passage is a skillful transcription of the Dalai Lama’s eight famous addresses at the Institute Karma Ling in Savoie, France in 1997, and includes the question-and-answer exchanges that followed each speech. Speaking to advanced Buddhist practitioners, each address receives the full benefit of the Dalai Lama’s measureless experience in clear, useful terms.
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Read an Excerpt
Questions and Answers I
* * *
How does one know that the real and apparent modes truly coincide? Someone perceiving the coincidence of the real and appearance can also entertain illusions.
Intellectual analysis leads to a conclusion pursued in thought by meditation. If this conclusion is not mistaken, and corresponds to reality, then the more we meditate, the deeper the experience of our sensory apparatus will go. There you have a general explanation. I think, then, that we must count not on ordinary consciousness but on wisdom to guide our reflection.
Indeed, when we have reflected well on such a thing, and have come to a conclusion not subject to modification by any other reflection, we gradually increase our experience. We might then experience a certain disquietude, a sense of contradiction. But that will depend on the degree of perfection attained by the analysis. If the analysis has truly been followed to its term, regardless of the angle from which we envisage its conclusion, and regardless of the object to which we apply this conclusion, we no longer can experience the least annoyance. Perhaps this is how we ought to think.
Generally speaking, existence and nonexistence have a value on the level of conventional truth, and what is conventionally true, we hear, cannot be refuted by a different conventional truth. Then is there at present another thought that could contradict the thought emerging from an individual conclusion? For if there were another thoughtthat could provisionally contradict it, there would inevitably be a third to contradict the second. This is how we should look at things.
Belief in the self, for example, contradicts the thought that being-in-itself does not exist. The existence of being-in-itself, then, is absolutely inadmissible. One can still tell oneself that things really exist, on the pretext that we are bound to them by benefits and burdenswhich they indeed presentand for other, analogous, reasons. Belief in the real existence of things, then, contradicts the thought that has concluded their unreality, but this is only provisional. After all, meditation on the thought that sees that things do not really exist can develop ad infinitum, while the prejudice according to which they really exist, examined from all viewpoints with the help of many reasonings, does not find many opinions to support it. If the conclusion we have reached is contradicted by a different truth, this truth will probably be refuted in turn. Conventional truth concerns what occurs in each mind-that which a particular consciousness perceives.
As for knowing whether a perception is correct, or authentic, that depends on yet another perception, which must not invalidate it. But will a particular conventional object presently accepted be refuted by another conventional truth? Will it be refuted by the reasoning that analyzes the ultimate state of the object? It will be necessary to decide on its existence by proceeding to these two types of analysis.
I and those like me, think according to our abilities and add to the analysis of which we are capable the conclusions of experienced, reliable scholars. This is how we must proceed: by comparing and associating their experience with our own. These people, as accomplished as they are scholarly, are not simply those we find reliable in a general way. In order to guide our analysis rightly, they must be reliable, scholarly, and accomplished in the precise domain of this analysis. For if they were expert in another domain, one would have the right to ask whether it is correct to refer to them in the case at hand.
Indeed, if we examine an object in light of the ideas of Nagarjuna and Aryadeva, it is only to the writings of Nagarjuna and Aryadeva scholars that we must compare our thought. For, however reliable the texts of Asanga and Vasubandhu are, for example, the matter at hand does not, properly speaking, relate to their domain.
When you speak of "apparent mode," of the relative truth of all phenomena, and of their "real mode," their absolute truth, what do you understand by "all phenomena"?
The numerous metamorphoses that contribute to the appearance of things. We can think that what arises not from multiplicity, but only from the aspect of a single foundation, belongs to the absolute level. As we have said, we must distinguish what reason finds at the conclusion of the analysis of the ultimate and what it finds at the conclusion of the analysis of the conventional.
Take these flowers. What we can say of their forms and colors, their primary and secondary, causes, and so onall of this relates to relative truth. If we methodically seek the ultimate flower of these flowers endowed with forms and colors, we can find nothing. Accordingly, nothing exists that is not relative. Would these flowers actually be something else? No. But then how do they exist? They do not have objective existence, but they exist from the coming together of certain conditions.
We do not perceive these flowers as "existing from the coming together of certain conditions." A flower is a flower "in itself." That the flower does not exist independently of absolutely everything elsethat is its real mode. Finding the thought that theorizes without analyzing permits one to classify flowers in white, yellow, and so on. This relates to the apparent mode of relative truth. What do we find when we analyze a flower to know its real mode? We discover a flower without real existence; we discover the impossibility of finding any flower at all. And that regards its absolute truth.
How can we have relationships with others if we have no self?
As I have explained, we must begin by assuring ourselves of the self. No one has ever said that there is no self. You see, it is like the flowers we have just considered: When we say that the self, the substance, and the flower do not exist really, or by themselves, we simply wish to say that things are produced in interdependence.
The four philosophical systems of BuddhismVaibhashika, Sautrantika, Chittamatrin, and Madhyamikawere they created by Indian intellectuals, or were they taught by the Buddha?
In our days, at the university the name Buddha evokes a historic personage who did not officially teach the Greater Vehicle. The Greater Vehicle did not appear in his "complete works." And, because the Greater Vehicle scarcely appeared in the collections of the Triple Basket, the Svatantrika Bhavaviveka boldly wonders, in his Brazier of Logic, whether the discourses of the Greater Vehicle attributed to the Buddha have not been compiled by Maitreya, Manjughosha, and other bodhisattvas.
For the university, and especially for the Hearers of his entourage, the Buddha set the wheel of teachings turning. The Hearers, then, are the principal depositories of his doctrine. Then the laity who had faith in the Teacher felt a certain discontent, the university continues. Gradually, and solely so that the laity could consolidate their spiritual practice, the Basket of the Bodhisattvas appeared. In this Basket it is clearly written that ordination is an excellent thing, but the professors still dispute whether the bodhisattvas are monks or not. So some of them go so far as to claim that the absolute body of the Buddha is an invention of the laity.
I believe that these things deserve reflection. What I have just said follows the "university opinion," according to which the Dharma was woven of the thread of historical evolution. The Buddha, in this opinion, would have begun by teaching in an extremely condensed manner. Later, the Indian intellectuals made additions, and these teachings continued to be amplified. But what is the purpose of those who make this claim? They are convinced that the Buddha is merely an ordinary person. And the noble declarations of this ordinary person were elaborated by his disciples until the Greater Vehicle progressed to the present point. So much for a historical analysis according to the university.
When you are a Buddhist, you wonder whether it is possible, from a very general viewpoint, to reach buddhahood. Are there such things as samsara and nirvana? Should one seek them? If samsara and nirvana exist, is it possible to eliminate the negative emotions? What does the individual who has eliminated his or her negative emotions have that we do not have? The essential thing is to know whether liberation is possible. Here, I think, we have the real questions.
If we perceive the Buddha as an ordinary being, then we are actually much better instructed than he. If we represent the Buddha as a simple historical personage, we are forced to admit that Nagarjuna was better instructed than he. But we ourselves are better instructed than Nagarjuna. Most of us have computers. And so, with our superior knowledge and our intelligence, we ought not enter the school of the Buddha. These two ways of thinking turn out to be radically different.
I mean that, if we consider Buddhism from the sole standpoint of evolution, the Buddha is but a human being, albeit a very warm one, who taught something very simple. Later, Nagarjuna arrived, and on the basis of teachings of the Buddha, invented certain new ideas. Next came Asanga, then Chandrakirti, who did likewise. If this is how things really happened, then, as I have just said, we are much better equipped nowadays, enormously better, at least with regard to the university. We live in a far richer era. These, then, are the viewpoints that differ. The ultimate view is: Is there a shunya, is there a nirvana, is there the possibility of eliminating all the emotions that afflict us, and all the ignorance? Here are the essential questions.
If it is possible to eliminate the emotions that afflict us, then people have done this. But naturally we cannot compare ourselves with them. Certain phenomena seem to us difficult to understand because we still lack spiritual experience. But there are other factors to consider. Those who speak to us of their liberation should have no reason to lie, and they inspire our trust. Nor should there be a contradiction among the various declarations by all those who deserve our trust concerning these hidden phenomena. In order to judge these facts, in certain domains we have recourse for the moment to the declarations of a third party. It is very complicated. I shall conclude this subject tomorrow, because it merits further explanation.
The Self and Karma
* * *
I shall begin by repeating what I always say. All of the teachings of Buddhism can be reduced to two things: the practice of nonviolence and the philosophy of interdependent production.
This philosophy begins with a rough understanding that is gradually refined to the point of knowledge of interdependent production in all its breadth. Interdependent production, on which all Buddhists are in agreement, denotes the production of manifold metamorphosesthat is, of the variety of effects, from the sole fact of the interaction of causes and circumstances. The Four Noble Truths and the two fundamental truths, of which we spoke yesterday, are therefore explained in terms of interdependent production.
The one who brings together the philosophy of interdependent production and the practice of nonviolence is the person, the self. The one who establishes the view of interdependent production and experiences its benefits and drawbacks is, once more, the self. Likewise, the one who believes in nonviolence and puts it into practice is to be sought in terms of the self.
THESES CONCERNING THE SELF
Many in India before the Buddha had already pondered the question of the self, or atman. For certain Indian non-Buddhists, the self is a distinct entity from the aggregates. Now no Buddhist will ever admit the existence of a self of this kind. But within Buddhism itself there are numerous theses concerning the self. For certain branches of the Buddhist school of the Vaibhashikas, the aggregates constitute the substrate, or the basis, of the qualities of the self. Other Buddhist thinkers believe that the self has its substrate not in the five aggregates but in the aggregate of the consciousnesses alonenot in the sensory consciousnesses but in the mental consciousness only.
For the adepts of Mind-Alone [the Chittamatrins], who prefer the criterion of the scriptures to that of logical argument, once it is posited that the mental consciousness is the substrate of the self, it becomes impossible to put one's finger on a mental consciousness that is not sullied, so it is necessary to posit the existence of a "fundamental" consciousness, external to the six psychosensory consciousnesses. Thus the Chittamatrins propose that this neutral fundamental consciousness constitutes the substrate of the qualities of the self. And so, besides the six psychosensory consciousnesses, or associations, the adherents of Mind-Alone postulate the existence of a fundamental consciousness and an emotional mental consciousness.
The tantras as well distinguished eight consciousnesses. See, for example, The Diamond Necklace, the tantra that explains the Guhyasamaja, the Assembly of Mysteries. Still, we must recall that the fundamental consciousness of the tantras is not the same as the fundamental consciousness as the Chittamatrins conceive it. In their Chittamatrin writings devoted to the eight consciousnesses, Asanga and his brother, Vasubandhu, describe the fundamental consciousness as a totally neutral entity, while in the tantras the fundamental consciousness is most often an intentional metaphor for the clear light, and thus it loses its neutral character and becomes essentially positive.
Now all these systems of thought demand that we find something or someone real when we seek the object that the word individual denotes. In these systems of thought, one does not rest content with the appearance of things that would exist by essence, but one recognizes that something real must be found when one seeks the designated object, which comes down to admitting the existence of objective realities beyond appearances. In other words, each school of Buddhist thought will explain in its own way that the existence of an entity is twofold: nominal and concrete. It is nonetheless necessary that the real substrate, the designated object whose existence is purely nominal, also exist really, or by essence. In all these systems, then, nominal existence is also inherent in the object named.
In brief, I mean that, in each of these systems of thought, in which phenomena can exist as designations and as realities, there must be real things functioning as bases of designation for the things designated. Necessarily, then, the designation individual depends on an actual referent, a really existing substrate. Now, in identifying this substrate one must of course agree that it is a matter of the mental consciousness. And if we are not yet satisfied by this thesis, we shall propose that it is a matter of the fundamental consciousness.
In a word, all these systems refer to one or the other of these categories. And so, with the exception of the Madhyamikas-Prasangikas, all the systems of Buddhist thought admit the existence of an object, a reality whose essence is to exist, an individual that, indeed, has only nominal existence but that, when it is a matter of putting your finger on it, will be for some the mental consciousness and for the others the fundamental consciousness.
In their commentaries on the extraordinary thought of Nagarjuna, his close disciple Buddhapalita and the two Prasangika authors Chandrakirti and Shantideva cite the same passage from the sutras:
Just as one speaks of the chariot
In dependency on the ensemble of its parts,
So one speaks, in relative truth, of the animate being
In dependency on its aggregates.
In other words, chariot is but a designation attached to the ensemble of the elements that, conventionally, constitute what we call a chariot. Never does one find any chariot as such in one or another of its constituents, in its parts, its particles, its form, and so on. Meanwhile, the Buddha teaches that, just as one calls chariot the ensemble of the elements that constitute it, the designations self and individual depend on the aggregates, or again on the body and the mind. This fact permits Buddhapalita to write:
Did things exist by essence, it would not be
Necessary to assign them dependent names.
This certainly proves that they do not exist by virtue of their essence. Let us repeat the words of the sutra:
One speaks, in relative truth, of the animate being
In dependency on its aggregates.
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