In July of 2000 Ringu Tulku Rinpoche returned to Kagyu Samye Ling in Scotland, at the invitation of Choje Akong Rinpoche, to continue to teach Jamgön Kongtrül Lodro Thaye’s Treasury of Knowledge.
As such, Rinpoche gave his eighth collection of commentary teachings, completing Book Seven, which deals with Wisdom. Set out in four sections, this book emphasizes the steps of understanding/study; followed by reflection/contemplation; then meditation.
Saturday 1st July 2000
Rinpoche elucidates why the View is important. Unless we have wisdom, the antidote to ignorance, liberation cannot occur. The wisdom of realisation gives us the Right View. Thereafter, Right Action comes from our understanding of the Right View. This skilfully guides us how to act. The two are inseparable.
Otherwise, talk of “emptiness” can accidentally lead to the wrong view of nihilism. An understanding of emptiness is important due to our strong habitual senses of “reality”. So, the word “emptiness” provides a “useful shock“! But actually, the term “interdependence” is a better description, as there is no independent existence of any one thing. Instead, there are interdependent multifactorial causes and conditions.
The main purpose of the term “emptiness” is to get a strong reaction against our prior certainty of belief in the permanence of phenomena.
Rinpoche discusses Two Chariots: those of Nagarjuna; and Asanga; the 5 Books of Maitreya; Madhyamaka philsophy and the Middle Way.
Sunday 2nd July 2000 Morning Session
Rinpoche explains why it is necessary to have a pure and right View; how wisdom is generated through Selflessness and the 4 Seals of Dharma; a mark of Buddhist integrity.
Emptiness is best understood by impermanence. Impermanence is best understood by degrees, ideally at the personal, experiential level. This transforms our way of dealing with our experiences and environment. From a gross to a subtle level. From the first moment of arising. We can look at the most minute level, and we will always find: that there’s no single moment of remaining permanence; but we can find evidence of interdependence and impermanence. Like a candle flame; a moment later it looks like the same flame, but it is different. So we apply this to everything, including ourselves, as we change over the months and years, our hair colour changes, and our body ages.
Grasping at wrong assumptions and delusions of permanence, leads to suffering. Suffering can be considered in terms of:
Whereas nothing can prevent change. There is an inability to control or resist change. Only when we understand this, is the realisation of selflessness possible. There is nothing that impermanence and change doesn’t apply to. There is no independence of a self.
However there is the misconception of a self: an autonomous, independent, self-sufficient entity.
Whereas, in reality, selflessness is the truth that nothing exists on its own. Interdependence. Everything is interdependent. So “Selflessness” means “Interdependence” (in this context) in Buddhism. (As opposed to dualistic altruism, as the word “selflessness” is often used in Western society).
This is not the nihilistic rejection that “I don’t exist”, but instead seeing the way we actually are. This then alters our way of reacting. Shifts it a bit, and starts the process of liberation from grasping and clinging. It eventually leads to losing the fear of change, and acceptance and awareness grow instead. This frees us from internal misconceptions and misperceptions. It has a direct effect on our liberation. We realise that nothing binds us except our own grasping. Without this grasping we are free.
The experience of suffering is based on: kleishas; karma; and impermance.
Q&A on the distinction between Shentongགཞན་སྟོང (emptiness of other) and Rangtongརང་སྟོང་(emptiness of self) within Madhyamaka.
Sunday 2nd July 2000 Afternoon Q&A
Q Rinpoche answers numerous questions on the distinction between subjective perceptions/ and objective physical existence. In essence, everything is perceived by the mind; “created” as such; influenced by how the mind habitually experiences.
Q Mindful that students have limitations, how should students asssess a teacher/lama? Under what criteria?
Mind is then discussed in the context of Contemporary Neuroscience cf how mind is discussed within Vajrayana Buddhism. Aspects of consciousness such as 42 peaceful deities and 38 wrathful deities are explained in the context of aspects of consciousness.
Organ donation is also touched upon.
Monday 3rd July 2000 Morning Session
In this session, Rinpoche discusses the importance of The Middle Way or Path (Madhyamaka): not falling into the two extremes. This encompasses all Buddhist practice.
It’s a difficult balance, as we have the dendency to grasp at concepts, which are unhelpful when it comes to transforming our way of reacting
Nagarjuna‘s important quote is cited:
Those who believe in existence are born in higher realms.
Those who believe that nothing exists are born in lower realms.
By completely understanding the truth as it is,
There is liberation without relying on the two extremes.
If we fall into either “trap” (especially nihilstic negation) we misconceive and obstruct our development. As such, using the term “interdependence” is far more helpful to most practioners than “emptiness”.
As our minds have the habitual tendencies to decide on concepts and say “that’s it”, when we talk about more fluid and interdependent concepts, it’s sometimes harder to grasp. The habitual dualistic mind has the tendency to grasp at concepts, but in so grasping, one misundertstands.
Such analytical studies are not an end in themselves within Buddhism. Rather, one needs actual experience. However, such analyses assist meditation and resting in awareness.
Lessening, and eventually disposing of, the fixation to grasp with the intellectual mind, assists subsequent meditation. As such, Madhyamaka study serves as a preparation and assistance for meditation.
With the understanding of Madhyamaka philososphy, then comes assistance with the Middle Path of actions, where we avoid extremes.
But we have to start from where we are. That way we avoid the risks of: excessive expectations of instant complete realisation for ourselves; the dangers of pretending; and the problems of disappointment. Whereas instead we progressively work from where we are. We accept how we currently are, but work to develop and transform with skilful aspirations. We remain patient with ourselves.
Monday 3rd July 2000 Afternoon Q&A
In this session Rinpoche takes some time to helpfully discuss:
The Criteria for Choosing a Lama/teacher:
A lama, appropriate to be relied upon for guidance, requires to have:
One has the option to distance oneself, if one has doubts regarding a teacher in these regards.
At the time of death, we take: our habitual tendencies with us; personality aspects, such as reactions to things and situations. So if we positively transform these, during any given lifetime, we carry forward more skilful tendencies to benefit all beings.
Tuesday 4th July 2000 Morning Session
Rinpoche discuses the 4th section: The Madhyamaka Philosophy of Emptiness
Nagarjuna emphasized that he had no assertions, so wasn’t entrenched in any theory. Instead he encouraged: the examination of phenomena; the removal of wrong views; to then arrive at wisdom free from assertions. Nagarjuna indicated that absolute reality had to be experienced directly; a philosophy beyond all extremes.
Rinpoche then discusses this perspective in the context of The Two Truths: Relative Truth; and Absolute/Ultimate Truth.
Rinpoche then further discusses the distinction between Shentongགཞན་སྟོང (emptiness of other) and Rangtongརང་སྟོང་(emptiness of self) within Madhyamaka.
This is not a “fight” where two philosphies criticise each other; more a debate regarding the best way of expression, to avoid misunderstanding. As the language of expression can be more or less prone to result in a misunderstanding. In Rangtong (where one has no personal assertions) if everything is empty of itself; there is the danger that “empty” can be considered “a thing”. Whereas in Shentong, which is more from the meditative experience of the practitioner, if an ultimate state of being is genuinely that, then it can’t be empty of itself? Shentong is often described as empty of everything (misconceptions) other than itself.
Truth cannot be empty of itself; it can only be devoid of untruth.
In these explanantions, True Nature means our experience of it. What we fundamentally are, when freed from dualistic concepts and conditioning. In essence: “unconditioned experience” free from misconceptions. Both views are actually useful and important, in conjunction, en route to real experience.
Tuesday 4th July 2000 Q&A Session
Questions in this session discuss consciousness and memory. Consciousness is momentary; moment to moment perception.
Rinpoche also discusses Buddhist Discipline, which is wisely based on recognising and anticipating the resulting effects of our our actions, rather than a punishment and reward system. Self-discipline informs what it’s then useful to do and useful not to do.
Dreams are then discussed in respect of our deeper levels of experience and consciousness. Rinpoche delineates how they can represent:
In general, how we react in a dream gives an indication of how we will react in the bardo state. In dream yoga, one uses dreams as practice, thereby both lessening: aversion/fear and attachment; and clinging/grasping to appearances.
Wednesday 5th July 2000 Morning Session
Rinpoche then discusses True Selflessness, the use of logics and analytical exercises. We explore true selflessness to directly experience the Ultimate Truth off how we are. Our tendency to grasp can thereby become progressively less. Step-wise we look at objects of phenomena: experientially; their subtle impermanance; their interdependence; their non self-existing nature (ie selflessness).
Everything we encounter is not independent but dependent; arising through causes; and not unchanging, but impermanent. Everything has many different causes and conditions. Not one thing, but many things. Not an independent entity, but dependent.
Rinpoche then re-emphasizes the importance of listening, analysing/reflecting; and meditating; as a means to understanding the way we are. The ignorant delusion that we are a separate independent “I”, is at the core of a samsaric view, which then leads onto self/other distinctions, and aversion/attachment in cyclic existence. One needs to cut this root of ignorance, if one wishes to cut the root of samsara. As this is the source of all suffering.
That way one can go beyond suffering. The more attachment we have, the more anxieties we will have. It is vital for us to understand that link (if we cling to something, we will have the fear of losing it).
Rinpoche then discusses schools of Indian Philosophy; in relation to eternalism and nihilism.
CAUTION IS ADVISED regarding “wrathful compassion”, where in practice, the ego can conveniently justify anything.
Wednesday 5th July 2000 Afternoon Q&A Session
Rinpoche discusses the correct recitation of mantras, and Atisha Dipamkara Shrijñana ( ཨ་ཏི་ཤ་མར་མེ་མཛད་དཔལ་ཡེ་ཤེས་) before giving practical advice on the useful application of teachings on emptiness.
The arising of thoughts is a continuous phenomenon. If we have an approach of View/Meditation/and Action it helps us to relax and let be. When an emotion arises, if we have the knowledge (described herein) in the background, it gives us the strength to not hold on too much. When we know that anger is merely a fleeting thing, we are able to just let it subside. We have the confidence to let it be. As such we can become more relaxed when dealing with thoughts and emotions.
If we are going through a difficult time, this helps us to be more stable as a result. There is less need to panic, as we can see that such experiences are merely fleeting. So we just let them go naturally, rather than reacting with grasping, clinging, aversion or fear. Greater stability leads to more understanding of how to simply let go.
On a practical level:
Resource Guide (external links):
Now available as an English translation, thanks to the peerless translation skills of Richard Barron (Chökyi Nyima), Book Seven elucidates the various keys needed to correctly interpret, understand, and contemplate Buddhist teachings, including the secret teachings of the Vajrayana.
Snow Lion hardback covers illustrated by Chris Banigan. Photography of Ringu Tulku with Nagarjuna by Conrad Harvey. Notes taken contemporaneously by Conrad Harvey in 2000.