Key To the Highest State

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For reasons of auspiciousness and to declare my focus, I open with a quote from His Holiness the Dalai Lama:

I am frequently asked what the Buddhist outlook is, and I respond by saying its view is dependent-arising, and its prescribed behavior is nonviolence. Nonviolence means to be motivated by compassion, which calls for helping others and, if that is not possible, then at least doing no harm. Dependent-arising and compassion are the essence of the Buddhist religion and the keys to its highest state: enlightenment.[1]

Here, at the very start is intimation not of twin blog themes but one in which compassion and insight into the nature of reality (dependent-arising) are found  dynamically  intertwined. Actually, upon investigation, they will be established as the meaning and nourishing source of each other. As the great Buddhist scholar Nāgārjuna (c. 150-250 CE) writes:

In brief from empty phenomena
Empty phenomena arise;
Agent, karma, fruits, and their enjoyer–
The conqueror taught these to be [only] conventional.

When this emptiness [as explained]
Is thus meditated upon by yogis,
No doubt there will arise in them
A sentiment attached to others’ welfare.[2]

Similarly, In Āryadeva’s Four Hundred we find (verse 298):

In brief Tathāgatas explain
Virtue as non-violence
And emptiness as nirvāṇa–
Here there are only these two.

Gyel-tsap comments: “In brief Tathāgatas say that the principle through which one attains a high rebirth is non-violence. The principle through which liberation is attained is natural  nirvāṇa, the emptiness of inherent existence of all phenomena. By directly experiencing this and recognizing that all suffering will never arise again, there is separation from adventitious stains–the nirvāṇa of separation from adventitious stains. Here [in this system] there are only these two.”[3]

Surely this is the direct scriptural source of  the Dalai Lama’s own pivotal statement quoted above.  Gyel-tsap is inviting us to conclude that in virtue and emptiness the entire Buddhist path, from woe to go, is presented. What we have here is Enlightenment in a nutshell.

So certainly, unashamedly, this is to be a a blog about ideas—indeed, it will positively, joyously, over-brim with them. Simultaneously it will be  a passionate call to a unique form of social engagement, a plea to answer a pressing communal imperative, what the Dalai Lama calls “universal responsibility.” The key question around which universal responsibility constellates is all too pertinent right now: how can we live ethically and in ways serving not just our own but the needs and aspirations of all others in a world that is shared? [4] This is not the time for walls. And biased distrust and hatred.

By relying on the texts and teachings of great Buddhist philosophers and meditators, and particularly the oral discourses of my own precious Guru, Lama Zopa Rinpoche (which at his instigation,  I have drawn from the official archives and edited) I invite you to at least dip your toe into a challenging yet unbelievably rewarding universe in which circulate the most provoking concepts (involving rigorous interrogation of what we consider “reality”) together with practices and meditation techniques perfectly tailored  to enhance daily life.

I make no claim to Buddhist scholarship nor realization. However, navigating  a life-threatening cancer has coaxed me to toss aside caution (is fear an invidious form of pride?) and simply launch this blog on behalf of my own and hopefully also your  own endlessly-spiralling curiosity, especially concerning the profoundly difficult-to-approach topic of emptiness which, as will be elaborated in the posts ahead, is none-other than dependent-arising.

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In his commentary on the Heart Sūtra, Geshe Sonam Rinchen describes how, after obtaining enlightenment on the vajra seat under the bodhi tree in Bodhgaya, Śākyamuni declared,

I have found something nectar-like: profound,
Peaceful, unelaborated, unproduced, the clear light.
Since none to whom I may explain it will understand,
In silence I shall remain hidden in the forest.

Geshe Sonam Rinchen describes how, for forty days the Buddha “hesitated to teach…because of the danger that it might be misunderstood or overwhelm those of inferior intelligence and insufficient enthusiasm.” “For this reason,” he adds, “the gods Indra and Brahma are said to have offered the Buddha a golden wheel with a thousand spokes, fervently requesting him to teach about the nature of reality.”[5] We are, of course, also uniquely positioned to make a similar and always timely request. It is always timely because we are evanescent, as tremulous as a moon in rippling water.  And also, as  Lama Tsongkhapa enthuses from within a state of ecstatic realisation:

“Whatever depends on circumstance is empty of nature.”
What greater teaching is there than this![6]

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[1] The Dalai Lama, Becoming Enlightened, (New York: Atria, 2009), 5.

[2] Verses 63 and 73 from Nagarjuna’s A Commentary on the Awakening Mind (Tibetan Classics Org) translated by Thubten Jinpa, revised version’ 2007. In Guy Newland’s fine and pungent little book A Buddhist Grief Observed, these verses are rendered as one:

From what is empty, comes what is empty–
Including living beings, all they do,
And everything they come up against.
When we meditate on this,
It is inevitable that we become attached
To the welfare of others.

See Newland, A Buddhist Grief Observed  (Somerville, MA: Wisdom Publications, 2016), 42. As in the quote from the Dalai Lama wisdom is yoked to compassion as the heart jewel of the wise person.

[3] See Āryadeva and Gyel-tsap, Yogic Deeds of Bodhisattvas (Ithaca: Snow Lion, 1994), 249. Commentary by Geshe Sonam Rinchen. Translated and edited by Ruth Sonam.

[4] See the Dalai Lama, Universal Responsibility and the Good Heart (Dharamsala: LTWA, 1995) for extended discourses on this theme.

[5] Sonam Rinchen, The Heart Sutra (Ithaca: Snow Lion, 2003), 4.

[6] “Dependent Arising: A Praise of the Buddha” in Tsongkhapa, The Splendor of an Autumn Moon: The Devotional Verse of Tsongkhapa. Translated and edited by Gavin Kilty. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2001, 219.

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