The Great Import



Candrakīrti writes, in Clear Words (Prasannapadā),

Among the extensive teachings in nine forms—the sets of sūtras and so forth—rightly proclaimed by the Buddha
Based on the two truths and corresponding to the forms of behavior of worldly beings,
Those spoken for the sake of removing desire do not remove hatred;
Also, those spoken for the sake of removing hatred do not remove desire;

Moreover, those spoken for the sake of removing pride and so forth do not overcome other defilements.
Therefore, they are not very pervasive, and those teachings are not of great import.
But those spoken for the sake of removing bewilderment overcome all afflictive emotions [from the root],
For the Conqueror said all afflictive emotions thoroughly depend on bewilderment.

“Thus,” glosses Tsongkhapa, “You must meditate on suchness as an antidote to ignorance.”[1] Tsongkhapa’s point is emphatic, “if ignorance is not identified, you will not know how to cultivate its antidote; therefore, identification of ignorance is extremely important.”[2]  To leave such ignorance unidentified, and thus untouched,  is therefore implicitly perverse. As Śāntideva observes,

Although wishing to be rid of misery,
They run towards misery itself.
Although wishing to have happiness,
Like an enemy they ignorantly destroy it.[3]

Across many posts, Lama Zopa Rinpoche will describe  and  insist, over and over, how we must dig deep in order to progress away from ignorance  towards wisdom:

It is not just a matter of generating some blind faith in emptiness. To practice Buddhadharma on the basis of blind faith means to do things without understanding their meaning. By comprehending this profound topic you know that there is something, in terms of experience, to be realized. As I always mention, you are responsible.

In its turn, such responsibility is unique, going way beyond the usual notion of assuming externally visible or socially-endorsed roles, agency or tasks. Why? Because required is a powerful and courageous internal probing of the very nature of our cognitive experience together with the dismantling and collapsing of conceptual investments so deeply habituated as to blended into a state of invisibility, surrendered or spilled all over, as it were,  the (apparently) infinite surface of the ordinary.   When Candrakīrti talks of “removing” our “bewilderment” this invidious form of blindness, this endemic confusion that obscures–in the sense of pervasively covers–comprehension and penetration of the ultimate reality of things, is what he means.

Jeffrey Hopkins notes, “The perception that inherent existence does not exist does not occur without rejecting the object of the apprehension of things as inherently established.”[4] It follows that working directly with our own minds is the only way forward. And we must support our investigation with a comprehensive understanding of the “evolutionary” manner in which afflictive emotions arise from root ignorance. This is why Tsongkhapa insists we must “value realizing suchness” in dependence “upon having understood the stages of how you enter into and disengage from cyclic existence” in the way described by Nāgārjuna in his Treatise on the Middle Way:

By extinguishing actions and afflictive emotions [which are the causes producing cyclic existence], there is liberation.
Actions and afflictive emotions [arise] from conceptualizations [that is, improper mental application superimposing beauty and so forth on objects].
They arise from proliferations [apprehending true establishment in objects].
Proliferations cease by [proper knowledge of the mode of] the emptiness [of inherent existence].[5]

In summary, our responsibility for “comprehending this profound topic,” as Lama Zopa Rinpoche repeatedly observes, requires precisely “knowing” that “[T]here is something, in terms of experience, to be realized.” It is not a case of idle speculation. Casual thought. The stakes are high. Even a moment’s pause will propose how examining and determining just what this “something” might be constitutes an immense task precisely because it is one we have never set ourselves, or if set, never successfully, before. We are talking of countless former lifetimes.   From this perspective, if we find ourselves becoming quickly perplexed,  frustrated, head-scratching as to the meaning of “proliferations” (arising from inappropriate conceptualisations and how they might ceased by proper knowledge of the mode of the emptiness of inherent existence existence which alone extinguishes  actions and afflictive emotions  thus bringing liberation or peace!) don’t jump to blame this blog. Don’t throw it away. Allow  instead, the scope and freedom to be more judicious, more patient than the proverbial dog who  quickly  gulps down, without chewing, without tasting,  a lump of meat before, just as unthinkingly, regurgitating it, still steaming, onto the grass. Another famous classical Buddhist analogy: don’t toss the jewel nestled in the palm of the hand into the mud where, lying obscured, besmirched,  it is next to impossible to exhume.

[1] Tsongkhapa, Medium-Length Exposition of the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment, in Jeffrey Hopkins, Tsong-Kha-Pa’s Final Exposition of Wisdom (Ithaca: Snow Lion, 2008), 37–38. Note that “suchness” (de bzhin nyid/de kho na nyid, tathatā) is a frequent synonym of emptiness (stong pa nyid, śūnyatā)—the ultimate nature (gnas lugs) of phenomena. Some translators translate tathatā as “thatness.” See the Dalai Lama, The Middle Way (Boston: Wisdom, 2009), x. Atiśa also says, “The most final among all teachings is the emptiness that is endowed with the essence of compassion….For example, in the world there is a medicine called ‘the powerful single remedy’ that counteracts all illnesses. In the same manner, like the powerful single-remedy medicine, if you realize the truth of emptiness, which is the [ultimate] nature of reality, this becomes an antidote against all afflictions.” See Thupten Jinpa, The Book of Kadam (Boston: Wisdom, 2008), 561.

[2] Hopkins, Final Exposition, 38.

[3] Shantideva, A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life (Dharamsala: Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, 2007), ch. 1, v. 28.

[4] Hopkins, Final Exposition, 55.

[5] Ibid., 58.


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