The unwieldy title of this book may be a roadblock, but what's inside is remarkably easy to follow. Rabjam is from the second generation of Tibetan Buddhist teachers who were born outside Tibet yet part of a significant spiritual and familial heritage. He is the grandson of Buddhist master Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche. This book, a commentary on a traditional text that is also included, is based on talks given by Rabjam. In unpacking the text, he manages to link it to a range of key Buddhist practices and concepts. Bodhichitta—the "great medicine" of the title, which means the intention to become enlightened—is not the simplest Buddhist teaching to understand, but the author gives a focused and cohesive interpretation. An appended glossary is exceptionally comprehensive and helpful. Despite several removes from the original oral presentation through translating, transcribing and editing, the content is clear and well-organized. Rabjam is not as easygoing as some of the second-generation Tibetan teachers who are more bicultural, but the simplicity and economy of his expression of advanced Buddhist teaching is praiseworthy. Serious Buddhist students will welcome this fresh opening to an important Tibetan Buddhist text—it's good medicine. (June 12)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
The Great Medicine That Conquers Clinging to the Notion of Reality: Steps in Meditation on the Enlightened Mindby Shechen Rabjam, Matthieu Ricard
In these inspiring teachings on how to open the heart, a contemporary Tibetan Buddhist master shows us how to change our self-centered attitude and develop concern for the well-being of others. He teaches that when we acknowledge our own wish for happiness, we realize that all beings wish for the same. With a broader perspective, we can develop the strength to extend gratitude and kindness first to those we love, and eventually to everyone.
In his warm and informal style, Rabjam offers accessible Buddhist teachings that will appeal to anyone who would like to find more meaning in life. Based on classical Tibetan teachings, his commentary is fresh, humorous, and sharply insightful. Here is a modern Tibetan teacher who appreciates the challenges of living in today’s world. The Great Medicine will help contemporary readers draw on ancient teachings to find their way to wisdom, freedom, and joy amid the struggles of real life.
For more information about the author, Shechen Rabjam, visit his website at www.shechen.org.
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Read an Excerpt
From Chapter 8: Stages of Training in the Ultimate Awakened Mind
Identifying the Object of Clinging
Clinging to the notion that a self actually exists
Is taking the thought of “I” to be an actual entity
And results from a mistaken apprehension
Of the perishable five aggregates.
The “I” is a transitory collection of the five aggregates, which constitute our psychophysical system. We mistakenly take the gathering of mind and body—the skandhas of form, feeling, perception, mental formation, and consciousness—to be the self. The aggregates are, in essence, multiple and ephemeral. Yet we create the idea of a self that is whole and perpetual. Ego-clinging is the concept of a distinct “I” that we superimpose on these aggregates.
If one examines properly
The collection of these five aggregates—
Which are multiple and impermanent,
Like lightning, a waterfall, or a butter lamp—
One sees, as when mistaking a rope for a snake,
That the self is nothing but a misperception:
It is nonexistent, devoid of intrinsic reality.
We need to deconstruct our notion of self. When we say “I” or the self, we think of a lasting and united entity. But in fact, that “I” is only a collection of aggregates, and these aggregates are ephemeral and change every instant like a waterfall or the flame of a butter lamp. A waterfall appears to be continuous, but it is actually composed of an ever-changing flow of drops of water. Likewise, the flame of a butter lamp is just a continuous series of flickers of light rather than a permanent flame.
Examining and analyzing our perceptions is essential. In the dark, we can easily mistake a coil of rope for a snake and become frightened. But upon investigation, we discover that there never was a snake. All the fear and dread we felt came from our misperception of the rope as a snake. The fear disappears as soon as we recognize our mistake. We were frightened, but experiencing that fear did not turn the rope into a snake. Likewise, if we properly examine the self, we discover that it does not truly exist. We are not getting rid of anything; the self simply did not exist in the first place. It is nothing but a misperception.
When we say, “Someone pushed me,” it indicates that we associate ourselves with the body. When we say, “I’m sad,” we are associating the “I” with the mind. This places the self in two different locations. So where is the “I”? Is there a specific “I” in the body? Since we are unable to find it, we generally associate the “I” with a kind of mental or physical experience.
What is that experience? Past thoughts are gone; future ones have not yet arisen. The stream of consciousness is just a succession of present moments. So how can anything be permanent or exist separately when these moments disappear?
The feeling of “I” is natural as long as we do not believe it denotes a permanent entity. It is legitimate to give the label “I” to a continuous stream of consciousness that is a constantly changing dynamic process. That process has characteristics and its own history. We can call it “I” if we know that is merely a name, just as we call a river by a name according to its characteristics. But as we mentioned in chapter 5, the river is understood to be a changing phenomenon. No one thinks that if we call “Ganges,” a small head will come out of the river saying, “That’s me. I am the Ganges.” Likewise, there is no “I” swimming in the stream of consciousness.
In the same way, the idea of “mine” is just a label. Let’s examine how labeling phenomena as “mine” transforms the way we perceive things. Imagine that you are looking in a shop window at a beautiful and expensive vase. Then a cat knocks the vase over, and it breaks. You think, “What a pity. It was such a nice vase,” and you go on walking. Now imagine that a friend has given you an expensive vase. It is on your mantel, and your cat knocks it down. You say, “My vase is broken! Oh, no!” and that is a catastrophe, simply because of the label “mine” that you put on the vase. The label made a big difference.
Establishing the Emptiness of Inner and Outer Phenomena
Clinging to the notion that phenomena truly exist
Is clinging to the notion of subject and object.
All the objects one apprehends, outer and inner phenomena,
Are illusory appearances resulting from habitual tendencies.
Like visual aberrations,
Like reflections of the moon on water, and like mistaken perceptions,
When unexamined they are taken for granted;
When examined they are seen to be nothing at all.
Just as we found that our personal identity has no true existence, we also need to examine the nature of outer phenomena to determine whether they are also empty. We habitually accept phenomena as they appear. The world seems solid because we do not analyze what we see. By carefully examining external phenomena, such as houses, we discover that they too have no inherent existence. A house is a composite of parts made up of atoms. But a proper analysis of atoms reveals that, no matter how small they are, no indivisible particles of matter truly exist. By probing like this, we find that there is an absence of identity in everything.
The appearance of phenomena is inseparable from emptiness. The interplay of emptiness and appearance is like the example of the reflection of the moon on water. To think that the moon is actually in the water is a mistaken perception. The reflection can be seen, but it is empty of a solid moon.
The main point of the union of appearance and emptiness is that emptiness is not the absence of phenomena, but the absence of its nature. That is why things can appear in so many different ways even though they are devoid of intrinsic reality. The inseparability of appearance and emptiness is the most essential and direct way of describing reality.
Phenomena are not definable entities
As atoms and seconds would be.
Therefore you must conclude that subject and object
Cannot in any way be said to exist.
All phenomena are constantly changing. They never remain the same for even an instant. However, in our distorted perception, we do not notice the constant occurrence of minute transformations. We must therefore conclude that both external objects and the grasping mind that perceives them have no fixed inherent existence.
By continuously turning the wheel of investigation,
You will gain confidence
In the nonexistence of both beings and phenomena
And a time will come when you achieve certainty
That the two truths,
The illusory arising of interdependent events
And the emptiness that is devoid of all assumptions,
Are not contradictory but, in essence, one.
Analyze the personal self as well as phenomena until you are certain of their inherently empty nature. When you have truly taken this to heart, you will fully understand that the two truths are essentially one. The are not two separate things like the horns of a bull. Absolute truth is the ultimate nature of all phenomena, and relative truth is how all phenomena appear. The ordinary, deluded mind perceives a difference between the way things seem and their true nature. But at the end of your journey, you will directly perceive the ultimate nature of phenomena in which all disparity between appearance and reality vanishes.
It is said by the Kadampa masters that “even if you do not have a complete understanding of emptiness, if just a genuine doubt regarding the solidity of phenomena arises in your mind, this thought has the power to turn the delusion of samsara into dust.”
When I was in Los Angeles, I visited a film studio and saw the sets. Everything—the houses, the streets, and so on—looked so real from the front. But when I walked around to the back of the buildings, I saw that nothing was there. They were empty. I visited a hospital set and saw doctors and nurses walking around as if it were a real hospital. I was wearing my monks’ robes, and an actor came up to me and said, “Are you real?” Now when I watch movies, I keep remembering that there is nothing behind the facades, and I don’t get so emotionally involved.
When all preconceptions that assert separation
Between manifestation and emptiness collapse,
Investigation comes to an end.
Then what is the use of conceptual reasoning?
The certainty that both beings and phenomena lack an inherent self, which we gain through investigation, will allow us to realize that phenomena appear through interdependent origination. Like a dream or mirage, they appear as the results of complex relationships between countless causes and conditions, none of which truly exist.
We will stop clinging to notions of subject and object once we understand the nonduality of appearance and emptiness. At that point, we will no longer need to analyze these concepts.
Meet the Author
Born in 1966, Shechen Rabjam is an accomplished Tibetan Buddhist teacher. The grandson and spiritual heir of the great twentieth-century meditation master Dilgo Khyentse, Rabjam is the abbot of Shechen monasteries in Nepal and India, supervises the Shechen Orgyan Chozong Nunnery in Bhutan, and leads various humanitarian aid projects in Tibet, Nepal, and India.
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