In 2012 Ringu Tulku gave teachings on Chapter 9 of Shantideva’s Bodhicharyavatra -the Wisdom Chapter – at Kagyu Samye Ling Monastery in Scotland.
One of the most important Mahayana Buddhist texts, H. H. the 14th Dalai Lama has stated: “If I have any understanding of compassion and the practice of the Bodhisattva Path, it is entirely on the basis of this text that I possess it.”
Question & Answer sessions are included here as four standalone recordings. You will find all questions typed under the summary.
A summary (by Philip Jelovsek)
Based on the commentary given by Patrul Rinpoché as written down by Khenpo Kunpal. Only the first 2 stanzas were read out.
1. Introduction to Bodhicharyavatara, benefits of compassion, all Dharma teachings lead to realising wisdom, View, Two Truths
2. View, Two Truths, important to explore wisdom
3. View, How to see ultimate truth, compassion, recognise emptiness before Buddha Nature
4. Meditation, selflessness of self accepted in all yanas, designation, benefits of realising selflessness, how to analyse, compassion
5. Meditation, 2 types of selflessness, 4 Mindfulnesses, benefits of realising emptiness, be at ease and learn from all
1-5 DESCRIBED IN DETAIL
Introduction to Bodhicharyavatara, benefits of compassion, wisdom is most important but most difficult to learn thus is sometimes taught last, progression from Shravakayana to Mahayana, ignorance is the cause of suffering thus wisdom leads to cessation of suffering through realising the Nature of Mind and the nature of all things, brief story of Tenga Rinpoché, all teachings and practices lead to realising wisdom, wisdom is beyond concepts and duality, importance of inquiry, generating wisdom through the Three Wisdom Tools, Two Truths
Chapter 9 – Stanzas 1-2
Two Truths, how to realise the ultimate, impermanence, interdependence, not one nor many, partless particle, the use of logic, emptiness but not nothing, perception, two truths but one truth, suffering is due to wrong view and how we perceive, important to explore wisdom.
How to look at the ultimate truth, how to understand interdependence and emptiness, relative truth is still important, ultimate truth teaches us we don’t need to fear nor be attached to anything, those who do not realise the ultimate still experience suffering needlessly thus compassion arises naturally, for example, seeing someone have a nightmare which only lasts minutes or hours, suffering in samsara continues endlessly until realisation occurs, compassion grows with realisation of the ultimate truth, be careful with wrong view with emptiness, arguments against rebirth using can’t see or don’t remember are not good logic, in Buddhism teachings from higher yanas are not brought in when teaching lower yanas, teachings from lower yanas can be brought in when teaching, Shantideva comes from the Nalanda tradition, 3 Wheels of Dharma, importance of understanding emptiness before Buddha Nature, we have a consciousness continuum through different lives, there are different levels of consciousness – gross, subtle and clear light, the clear light never dies, the nature of this clear light is indescribeable – empty yet cognisant, this is the basis of our mind and consciousness, the basis of all our experiences, benefits of realising the nature of ourselves and all things, the importance of receiving teachings and learning the methods to realise this wisdom, this chapter has two main parts – View and meditation, Rinpoché gave a simplified description of the View.
Remain balanced with the Two Truths, many questions and debates are covered in this chapter, looking into how to meditate on wisdom, looking into selflessness of self and phenomena, selflessness of self is accepted in all yanas, ask who experiences, ask where is “I”, one cannot find any “thing”, quote from Milarepa,
“In horror of death I took to the mountains,
And meditated again and again on the uncertainty of the hour of death.
Have captured the fortress of the deathless, unending Nature of Mind,
All fear of death is done and over with.”
First we have various fears, causing various emotions to rise, we suffer in various ways, but through investigating the “I” we can realise impermanence and selflessness and thus be free from suffering and fear, when a thought or emotion arises then look who experiences it, “I” is merely designation, like forest is merely designation, relax into how things are, the more you know how you are then the more stable you become, you see how fear and suffering are baseless, this is the only way to be free from fear, total security comes from realising there’s no “thing” to secure, great teachers don’t much time teaching on easy things but explain a lot on the difficult points and make them easy to understand, contemplate these points and when some clarity arises then relax into that, or relax when you’re tired, when your mind gets busy again then look into what and where, take care of yourself but make good use of this precious human life, have compassion for those who suffer through ignorance and work to help them be free from suffering, it takes time to realise one’s nature due to our habitual tendencies.
Meditation on wisdom, 2 types of selflessness, selflessness of phenomena using 4 Mindfulnesses, description of Goenka Vipasyana Meditation which is non-analytical meditation, the 4 Mindfulnesses taught here are analytical forms of meditation, with the body investigate the different parts to see if it is the body and see the emptiness of it and rest in that, one can meditate in any situation but sitting is more conducive to meditating, body on seat then mind in body then mind at ease which helps to bring the mind to the present, the importance of a support with shamatha meditation, help the mind to settle and remain, some ought not meditate as they can go crazy if they don’t know how, you need to learn to be at ease, meditating with tension is not useful, meditation helps us to experience emptiness and go beyond concepts, learn to look and see deeply so as to learn to see things differently with calm clarity and spaciousness, through the 4 Mindfulnesses you learn to let go of attachment to anything, then fear reduces, we don’t recognise how much attachment we have and how it affects our lives, happiness comes with satisfaction and contentment, this comes with a relaxed mind that is at ease, learn to simply observe and look deeply without getting lost in the object, you can see how all thoughts, emotions and stories arise and dissolve, ordinarily we add fuel to these and make them bigger than they are, due to our habits we need to train slowly step-by-step, don’t have too many expectations with your practice, in the Tibetan tradition there is a greater emphasis on mindfulness of the mind, it’s our mind that experiences, if we have control of and understand the mind then we have control over all, no matter which of the 4 Mindfulness practices we do the result is the same – we recognise impermanence, interdependence and emptiness, this is difficult to experience and realise since we have strong habits to see things concretely but a little bit of understanding helps the mind be less clinging and more relaxed, the benefits of realising emptiness, careful not to become judgemental through realising more, remember beings are in samsara and be accepting of this, learn to see the good qualities in others, then we develop humility and willingness to learn from all and see everything as a teaching, there are many different ways to perceive and deal with things, learn to see the unborn nature of all, there are 10 similies of unborn nature, such as a mirage, no need to come to a conclusion, be open when you don’t understand, the more you relax then the more you will understand.
Each teaching begins with and some end with prayers chanted in Tibetan.
Q&A session1 (recording number 6)
00:00 Q. You mentioned that emptiness is not the same as nothingness. Can you say some more about that please?
06:28 Q. With regards to emptiness: is it that I do exist; but as part of an interconnected web of reality?
08:27 Q. I have problems with the term “emptiness” because it causes so much misunderstanding. I was reading the book “Quantum and the Lotus” by Matthieu Ricard, where he, instead, uses the term “infinite potential“; which I now think of, whenever I hear the word “emptiness“. Is this going to be ultimately helpful for me, or lead me down the wrong path?
16:32 Q. You talked about the three steps of: listening; reflecting; and meditation. It seems to me, that reflecting can easily be an intellectual exercise where we can get stuck on concepts and ideas. Is there a way of reflecting, where we can let go of concepts and ideas?
20:34 Q. We’re about to do a gallery show about Metamorphosis; like from a caterpillar to a butterfly. Around the time of Buddha, Ovid wrote a book about how everything changes. In The Myths, those who are punished are transformed into stone or animals and stay fixed- they don’t change. I was wondering, in Buddhist texts, are there any passages about why there is change? Why this actually happens? A motivation; perhaps an adaptation to changes in our environment?
27:40 Q. Does time have an indivisibility, in the way that matter has? Is that analogous to a fractal figure?
29:42 Q. Is there something beyond cause & effect and constant change?
33:33 Q. I see children, that look like Buddhas, inside of me. Do you know what they are?
34:44 Q. Can you describe what Dewachen is like, and how easy or difficult it is to go there?
43:15 Q. You talked about relative and ultimate reality. How does this dual aspect become one? Is it because relative reality is just a concept?
Q&A session 2 (recording number 7)
00:05 Q. When you say that there’d be no change in realising ultimate truth, only the way that we perceive; do we still experience emotions, but just don’t get drawn in, or pulled in, by them?
02:34 Q. I’m thinking more in reference to sadness…
08:22 Q. I was thinking more about the sadness that arises when we witness others suffering. Does that change?
22:33 Q. When HH Dalai Lama was giving a public talk this year, He said something that I wanted to ask you about. He was talking about inner value, and how important it is that children are exposed to care and compassion when they’re little, to help build their confidence. My two questions about that are: is it possible to completely heal that in a lifetime; and is it possible to apply relative/ultimate truth to an example like that; where there are many causes and conditions coming together to create that situation? Is it that the person themselves had previously witheld love from others, to subsequently experience such conditions themselves?
36:48 Q. Please can you give me some more clarity regarding the Bodhisattva Vow? One suspends their own liberation until all sentient beings are liberated? My question is if one has taken the Vow, but reincarnates in the animal or hungry ghost realm, do you keep the memory that you’ve taken the Vow? Do you have to renew the Vow each lifetime?
45:30 Q. Can you talk about subtle obstacles that arise, in the form of “phantom stress”, that cause destructive emotions? Traumic repressed memories from this life, or potentially past lives, that get triggered in the present. Some people are angry, but they don’t know the source of the anger. Are there Buddhist techniques for dealing with this?
56:57 Q. If you meet somebody, who you feel you’ve known from before, how do you prevent that from forming attachment?
01:00:18 Q. In the Mahamudra training: Ocean of Definitive Meaning text, you only start doing insight meditation when you have a stable experience of shinay; with explanatory reasoning given. I was wondering why not develop an insight into neuroses, before you get to having a stable shinay state?
01:04:33 Q. Can I ask a question about the clear light? When it says “even the Buddhas have not seen it”, is there light or not?
Q&A session 3 (recording number 8)
00:00 Q. In the Sakya teaching, “Parting From The Four Attachments”, it indicates that if we don’t abandon attachment we aren’t real Dharma practioners. How do we abandon attachment in this life?
07:15 Q. Before, you discussed the “fiction of the self” that doesn’t ultimately exist. How then should we understand the concepts of merit and karma, if the self doesn’t ultimately exist?
11:01 Q. I understand the changing collection making up the whole. What aspect of the collection actually passes from our one life to the next, if we leave our memories behind?
16:55 Q. There’s more of a consistency of continuum from milk to yoghurt, than there is for milk to wine. There is a common element in both. So, what is it that reincarnates? What is that continuum, that goes from one life to another?
21:45 Q. The test of if the Dalai Lama is the Dalai Lama, or not, involves recognition of objects. So hasn’t memory carried from one life to the next?
23:28 Q. Can you say a bit more about the subtle consciousness of the dreaming mind?
26:58 Q. Rinpoche, can you say more about why we should have compassion, on the basis of the understanding that you have described? If I find that I have developed some understanding, I don’t feel that I need to worry as much about things. However, when I see suffering in others who don’t have that understanding, I can see there’s a risk that a sense of patronising pity might arise?
32:48 Q. Rinpoche, I’d like to know more about the process of contemplation, in the sense of investigating and reflecting, and how to do it in a more contemplative way.
37:03 Q. Rinpoche, before you talked about the Dreaming Mind and other types of mind: Deep Sleep and Samadhi. Can you explain them more?
38:17 Q. The observer quality of mind still feel perceptual. Awareness beyond that is difficult to articulate. How is it possible to let go of the observer as well?
42:06 Q. If I see myself a river, always changing, I still have a sense of self within me. Does that sense or experience of self change as well?
46:50 Q. I attended a teaching recently where it was taught that, once we have worked on our negative emotions, we still have a tendency to grasp onto our own space or territory. Is that just using different words to describe holding on to a sense of self?
49:19 Q. Even when we don’t experience strong emotions, we can still have a sense of MY compassion or wisdom! Does the Mandala Offering practice work on that?
53:44 Q. Where does forgiveness play a role in compassion?
Q&A session 4 (recording number 9)
00:04 Q. Rinpoche, can you tell us again about the commentaries on this text?
00:59 Q. Is there any technique for realising samadhi? Or does it just happen by chance?
03:27 Q. Can you say anything about the levels of samadhi?
04:15 Q. Is samadhi a state beyond thoughts?
05:43 Q. Rinpoche, can you please say something about post-meditation practice associated with the 4 Arm Chenrezig practice, please?
06:34 Q. You use the term mindfulness a lot. What is the word in Tibetan? (tenpa) Mindfulness is defined as being aware of what we’re doing. Is meditation more about absorption or concentration? Is there a risk of losing touch with what meditation is (relative to mindfulness)?
13:04 Q. In respect of insight meditation; is it a particular technique, where we use mindfulness to do it? Do we use mindfulness within insight practice?
14:22 Q. When we talk of of Dren in shinay, is that the same as Tempa? (A question about awareness cf mindfulness).
15:17 Q. Can someone liberate someone else? There is a story of Tilopa liberating a fish, and Buddha Shakyamuni liberating his mother. Can it be done?
27:05 Q. Can we help others’ liberation, by offering them our forgiveness?
29:29 Q. Can you say something about how karmic imprints are carried in consciousness? Such as the physical marks of the Buddha?
Rinpoche has given teachings on this Chapter on a number of occasions; most extensively at Naropa University, Colorado in the Spring of 1997; transcribed by Maggy Jones as “Introduction to Madhyamika: the Wisdom of Shantideva“.
Additionally, this Archive includes an extensive collection of resources, both audiovisual and text, on the Bodhicharyavatara:
Major translations and commentaries published in English includes three excellent publications from The Padmakara Translation Group (Shambhala Publications covers included below):
1. The Way Of The Bodhisattva
(also available as an Audible Audiobook)
2. The Nectar of Manjushri’s Speech
3. The Wisdom Chapter
All photography taken by Dr Conrad Harvey at the teachings in 2012.