Teachings on Lamrim Chenmo

By His Holiness the Dalai Lama

In July 2008, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama gave a historic six-day teaching on The Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment (Lamrim Chenmo), Tsongkhapa's classic text on the stages of spiritual evolution. Translator for His Holiness was Thupten Jinpa, Ph.D.

This event at Lehigh University, Pennsylvania, marked the culmination of a twelve-year effort by the Tibetan Buddhist Learning Center (TBLC), New Jersey, to translate the Great Treatise into English. The transcripts were kindly provided to LYWA by the Tibetan Buddhist Learning Center, which holds the copyright. Webcast recordings of these teachings are available through His Holiness’ official website.

The transcripts have been published in a wonderful book, From Here to Enlightenment, edited by Guy Newland and published by Shambhala Publications. We encourage you to buy the book from your local Dharma center, bookstore, or directly from Shambhala.

Day Six, Morning Session, July 15 2008

Transcript # 9


Heart Sutra in Chinese and English

Generating the Awakening Mind: Introduction1

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So today, at the beginning of the session, I thought we could do the ceremony for generating the awakening mind.

His Holiness: [begins in Tibetan (translated further below)] I think, since we already have the translation of Lamrim Chenmo, so the…

Thupten Jinpa: …the sections, the specific sections dealing with the ceremony for generating, affirming, our generation of our awakening mind by means of a ceremony— that section maybe, since we already have the translation in English, we could read that section from the translation.

His Holiness: So, instead of repeating after the lama, not necessary to do that. Just read three times. Maybe, I think, worthwhile isn’t it? What do you think? [continues in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: [to the audience] Did you bring volume two? Maybe you didn’t.

His Holiness: Okay. Then the shorter one.

Thupten Jinpa: So in the Heart Sutra, we just heard how the Buddha states that all the buddhas of the past, all the buddhas of the present, and all the buddhas of the future either attained enlightenment, or are attaining enlightenment, or will attain enlightenment on the basis of the engaging in the perfection of wisdom practices. And so the Sutra itself states how it is the perfection of wisdom, the realization of which will lead one to attainment of the full awakening of buddhahood.

So when we talk about the perfection of awakening, the perfection of wisdom, we are talking about a direct realization of emptiness (a wisdom that is a direct realization of emptiness) that is complimented with the factor of bodhicitta, the awakening mind. And so the awakening mind is a very crucial factor for the attainment of buddhahood.

Generally, between the wisdom and bodhicitta, the wisdom of emptiness is a common cause for the attainment of all the three types of enlightenment: the enlightenment of the disciples, enlightenment of the self-enlightened ones, and enlightenment of buddhahood. However, it is the bodhicitta that is the unique condition for attainment of buddhahood.

So without bodhicitta there is simply no possibility of attaining buddhahood. So we have already been speaking about awakening mind, bodhicitta. So most of us have some at least conceptual understanding of what bodhicitta is, what the awakening mind is.

So what we need to do is to try to bring that understanding to our mind and to see if we can have some sense of feeling, accompanied by that understanding. It is not just at the level of understanding, but to have some kind of experiential feeling associated with that understanding.

And then, you know, that kind of experiential flavor that we get, based upon the understanding of the concept of bodhicitta, then that needs to be developed further and further, and enhanced.

And here, one of the methods that is suggested is to reaffirm your generation of the awakening mind by means of participating in a rite. And here it’s known as holding, or seizing, the aspiring awakening mind by means of a ritual, by means of a rite. And this is what is presented in Tsongkhapa’s Lamrim Chenmo.

In Lamrim Chenmo, the main ceremony is really cited from Asanga’s Bodhisattvabhumi (Bodhisattva Levels), and it is fairly extensive. And so we thought that if you had the text we could have read that section. But since you did not bring that volume, we will forget about reading that section, and do the ceremony on the basis of reciting the three stanzas which I normally do. By the way, the translation is in page 45 of the program, the program booklet.

Visualization and the Seven-Limbed Practice

His Holiness: Firstly, now visualize in front of us Buddha Shakyamuni. Visualize as a living person.

Then, surrounded by bodhisattvas. Those bodhisattvas in the form of deities like Avalokitesvara, Manjusri, Maitreya, Samantabhadra—all these.

Then, most important, Nagarjuna, Arya Asanga, Aryadeva, Vasubandhu. Then the other great Nalanda masters, all now here, visualized.

Then, I think it really worthwhile to imagine, like Nagarjuna, is holding his own—those precious texts—which still we can read. We can study. We can contemplate. As well as Arya Asanga. So then it will become something living.

So then Shantarakshita, Kamalashila, and from that, all those lineages, those Tibetan great masters. And also here, our Chinese brothers and sisters, your own lineage from Indian master, again Nagarjuna, like that. So Japanese tradition, Chinese tradition, Vietnamese tradition—all ultimately same lineage. Then Theravada, again from Buddha and Rangjok, Kashyapa…

Thupten Jinpa: ...Subhuti…

His Holiness: …Subhuti, and Ananda…[continues in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: …Katayana.

His Holiness: …these three main Buddha’s disciples who, collection of these three, like that, so visualize all these great masters. Then… [continues in Tibetan]

Now first, the…[continues in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So the first limb is to recall to your mind all the enlightened qualities of the body, speech and mind of the entire assembly of refuge in front of you, including principally the Buddha Shakyamuni and reflecting upon their qualities of body, speech and mind—and particularly their quality of the realization that they possess which is the bodhicitta—the awakening mind, that cherishes others’ welfare as more important than one’s own.

And complemented by that, the realization of emptiness, the ultimate mode of being of all phenomena. Thus the realization embodies a wisdom that is endowed with the essential essence of compassion.

And so imagine, bring these qualities to your mind. And then imagine making prostrations to the assembly.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So the second limb is making offerings. So here you imagine making offerings to the assembly, all the things that you yourself possess and those things which are not possessed by anyone, common objects. You make offerings to the assembly, and particularly you should make the offering of your entire being in the service of all the buddhas and bodhisattvas, those who, right from the beginning, dedicated their lives for bringing about the welfare of infinite numbers of sentient beings.

And so you offer yourself for their service, so that you make a kind of a determination that, “I offer myself so that I may contribute towards the fulfillment of the aspirations of these buddhas and bodhisattvas.”

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So with this also, then you should imagine making offerings to all the buddhas and bodhisattvas—all the virtuous activities that you may have engaged in. Particularly the virtues that you may have accumulated on the basis of even having a slight understanding of the concept of bodhicitta, the awakening mind, and emptiness. And then this is the most important form of offering. Here you are offering your own personal practice and realization.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So next you should make the determination that, “I shall declare and purify all the actions that I may have engaged in that have been harmful to other sentient beings. And particularly those actions that I may have engaged in which have been motivated by self-cherishing thoughts”—a state of mind, an attitude, that shunned the welfare and interest of other sentient beings. And motivated by that sense of obliviousness to others’ welfare, a self-cherishing thought may have led to all forms of activities. So you declare these actions and also purify them from the depth of your heart.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So next is the limb of rejoicing. Here you should bring to your mind all the great enlightened qualities of the body, speech and mind of the buddhas and bodhisattvas and cultivate a deep sense of admiration towards them.

And also you should cultivate a sense of rejoicing and admiration towards all the virtuous and wholesome activities that other sentient beings have engaged in. And including the practices of loving-kindness and compassion and altruistic actions that members of other religious traditions also represent. So develop a deep sense of admiration for all of them and rejoice in them.

And also bring up to your mind all the virtuous actions, wholesome actions, that you may yourself have engaged in, for example, as a result of meditating upon loving-kindness, or bodhicitta, awakening mind, or cultivating the view of emptiness. And as a preliminary towards these, all the actions of body, speech and mind, the virtuous actions that you may have engaged in—bring these to your mind, and cultivate a deep sense of rejoicing in these.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So then the next limb is making a request to all the buddhas and bodhisattvas, particularly the buddhas, to turn the wheel of Dharma in accordance with the needs and mental dispositions and capacities of diverse sentient beings.

And then, on that basis, making an appeal to the buddhas not to enter into final nirvana, but be present.

And finally, the final limb is the dedication. And here you dedicate all your merits and virtuous karma towards the attainment of buddhahood for the sake of all beings so that your merits and virtue are dedicated towards the realization of the welfare of all sentient beings—which is the aspiration of the buddhas.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So these are the seven-limbed practices.

Ceremony for Generating the Awakening Mind

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So for the actual ceremony of generating the awakening mind, at first you should contemplate, reflect, bring to your mind, the following points that Shantideva makes in his Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life, when he states the following.

He states that, “Whatever happiness there is in the world comes about on the basis of the thought cherishing others’ welfare. Whatever problems there are in the world, they come about on the basis of self-cherishing. And what more needs to be said? Simply compare between the Buddha who has cherished others’ welfare and the ordinary beings who have cherished their own welfare.”

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: To summarize the main points that Shantideva is making, he then states the following: “If one does not exchange one’s own happiness with that of the suffering of others, there is no possibility of attainment of buddhahood. And even in the world, there will be no joy.”

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So whether it is on the level of nirvana—transcendence—or whether it is at the level of samsaric everyday existence, in both of these contexts the most precious thing, something that is akin to a jewel, is really this bodhicitta, the awakening mind.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: This precious mind, the awakening mind, bodhicitta, is a quality that we as a human being who possess the human intelligence are capable of cultivating.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: At this juncture today we have attained, obtained, this human existence.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So we should make the determination that, “I shall ensure that this obtainment of human existence is made purposeful, meaningful.”

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: In making this human existence meaningful, there is no more effective way of doing this other than cultivating bodhicitta—the awakening mind.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So for example, Shantideva states in his Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life, where he says that for many eons, “The buddhas, who have contemplated for many eons, have found that this is the most beneficial thing to do.”

His Holiness: So now we are going to determine,

“From now on I am going to practice this altruistic mind.” So whenever the possibility is there, serve others. Help others. If not, at least restrain from harming others. We are determined, not only in this life, but life after life, eon to eon. “I am determined now to follow this way.”


So I myself also practice that as much as I can. That really brings immense sort of pleasure, immense sort of happiness. And also, how to say, gain much inner strength. So also this is, I think, best offering to Buddha. And not only Buddha. I think best offering to entire sentient beings. So remember that. With that, now repeat.

Thupten Jinpa: So we will now read the three stanzas together three times:

With a wish to free all beings I shall always go for refuge
To the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha
Until I reach full enlightenment.

Enthused by wisdom and compassion,
Today in the Buddha’s presence
I generate the awakening mind
For the benefit of all sentient beings.

As long as space remains,
As long as sentient beings remain,
Until then, may I too remain
And dispel the miseries of the world.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So then, immediately after generating the awakening mind, Shantideva says that, “Today, I have made my human existence meaningful.” And, “I have been born in the family of the buddhas.”

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: And then, “I have become a child of the buddhas.”

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: And then this is followed by the other following lines, where he says, “From now on I shall never indulge in deeds that are unbecoming of that family. And I shall engage in activities that are becoming of that family. And I shall ensure that this unsullied family is not sullied.”

(Back to text)

Avoiding Nihilism (cont.)2 3

His Holiness: Now, difficult text…[continues in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So yesterday we were talking about the importance of identifying correctly the object of negation. And this is a very important point. Because if we fail to identify the object of negation (what is being negated) correctly, then although in the context of our meditation we may have some experience of a form of an absence or emptiness, but that emptiness or absence need not necessarily be true emptiness, the final emptiness.

For example, when we meditate on no-self (selflessness of a person), although we may assume that what we are meditating upon is the selflessness of a person in terms of emptiness of inherent existence of the person, but in reality our understanding of that may only remain at the level of the negation of the person in terms of self-sufficient, substantial reality of the person, but may not be the full emptiness of inherent existence of the person.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So another possibility of kind of veering into a different understanding of emptiness is, of course, often in the text emptiness is characterized as the total pacification of conceptual elaboration (as Nagarjuna presents in Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way). So there is the possibility of understanding emptiness, or the ultimate reality, to be the mere pacification of the conceptual elaborations.

And also when you, in the course of understanding emptiness by means of the reasoning process, whether through application of the Diamond Slivers analysis, which examines phenomena from the point of view their causes, or through the reasoning of the absence of identity or difference, which is a reasoning that looks at the phenomenon itself, or a reasoning that examines the phenomenon from the point of view of its effects—whatever forms of reasoning that one employs—as a result, at the end, nothing can be found. Because when we subject phenomena to that kind of analysis, they are all revealed to be untenable, unfindable.

So because of this, there is the possibility that someone might take that to be the ultimate reality. And because the reality, ultimate reality, is this unfindableness, therefore when mind relates to that truth, the way in which it should relate to that truth is to suspend any form of determination, and say that nothing exists. Because nothing can be found, therefore nothing exists. So the mind, when it engages with reality, should do so from… without making any determination. And in fact this is the understanding that Tsongkhapa himself had when he was young, when he was composing for example, his Golden Rosary (a commentary on Abhisamayalankara).

And similarly, the same point, the same position, is presented in Tsongkhapa’s poetic retelling of one of the bodhisattva stories, Tak du ngo. And in that story, Tsongkhapa explains that although all phenomena are illusion-like and they are unfindable, however, for the sake of others’ perspective, one does assume the validity of dependent origination. So in other words he is according validity to the dependent origination world only for the sake of others. So that kind of perspective is there in early writings of Tsongkhapa as well.

And also later in The Three Principal Aspects of the Path, Tsongkhapa explains how, so long as the perspective of dependent origination, which relates to objects at the level of perception (at the level of appearances), and the perspective of emptiness (which relates to phenomena at the level of their ultimate reality) so long as they remain at odds with each other (and the metaphor that is used is like the two feet of a weaver which are never pressed together, they are always kind of alternating)—so long as these two perspectives remain alternating and never really converge—then Tsongkhapa says that, for example, he says that the appearance (which is the infallibility of dependent origination) and emptiness (which is devoid of all forms of propositions or standpoints) so long as these two remain alternate, then until that point, one hasn’t arrived at the final intention of the Buddha.

Dependent Origination and Emptiness (cont.)4

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So this dependent origination that Tsongkhapa is talking about (which relates to the appearance level of reality) Nagarjuna explains in the Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way (that we discussed yesterday), where he says that, when identifying the meaning of the term emptiness, he identifies it in terms of the meaning of dependent origination. So he writes in the Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way, he says, “That which is dependently originated, that I describe to be empty.”

So compared to other forms of reasoning, such as Diamond Slivers and so on, when you look at the reasoning of dependent origination, the reasoning of dependent origination does not lead you to a point where it demonstrates that nothing can be found. But rather it demonstrates that thing’s emergence or origination by means of dependence. So in that sense the reasoning of dependent origination has the power to transcend both the extreme of absolutism and also the extremes of nihilism or non-existence.

And this is made even clearer in Nagarjuna’s Precious Garland, where he writes the following. He says that, “The person is neither the earth element nor the water element” and so on. “Nor is it the consciousness,” and then “However, where is the person over and above these elements?” Then the question is raised.

Then immediately after that, Nagarjuna does not then give us the conclusion, ‘Therefore the person is devoid of inherent existence.’ Rather, he provides an intermediate line where he says that, “The person exists in relation to the collection, aggregation, of the six elements.” And then having said that, then he says, “Therefore it possesses no final reality.”

So what Nagarjuna does is, he does not jump straight from the unfindability of the person (when you subject it to critical analysis) to emptiness. But rather, having revealed the unfindability of the person when subjected to critical analysis, he then brings up the understanding of dependent origination—that the person does exist. So it rejects the notion of total non-existence of the person and then, because the existence of the person is understood by means of dependence, therefore the person is devoid of any final reality of its own or inherent existence.

And this is also made very clear in Chandrakirti’s Entrance to the Middle Way, where he says that, “The person does not exist….The person cannot be found, when subject to sevenfold analysis, both on the conventional level (both in worldly terms) nor in terms of its reality. However, without such critical analysis and on the level of worldly convention, the identity of the person is posited. And therefore the person…” sorry, he is talking about the chariot, “…therefore the chariot is dependently designated in relation to its various components.” And in this way Chandrakirti also explains the meaning of emptiness to be that of absence of inherent existence, any form of existence grounded in its own reality.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So in this regard we will read from Tsongkhapa’s text. This is Volume 3 on page 132, the first paragraph, when he writes the following:

“The twenty-sixth chapter of Nagarjuna’s Fundamental Wisdom teaches the stages of production in the forward progression of the twelve factors of dependent origination and the stages of their cessation in the reverse progression. The other twenty-five chapters mainly refute…”

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So in fact this is the reason…

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So in fact this is the reason why, when I teach Nagarjuna’s Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way, I begin with the twenty-sixth chapter, because the twenty-sixth chapter presents the teaching on dependent origination in terms of cause and effect, particularly within the framework of the twelve links of dependent origination. By doing so, then you establish the basis—which is the understanding of the law of cause and effect—and also provide an understanding of the basis upon which emptiness can then be established.

And this is also in the spirit of Nagarjuna himself when he writes in the Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way, where he says that, “Without reliance upon the convention, the ultimate cannot be realized.” Similarly Chandrakirti states in The Entrance to the Middle Way that, “The conventional truth,” the truth of worldly convention, “is the means and the ultimate truth is” the fact derived through such a means, “arrived at through such a means.”

So when you present the understanding of dependent origination in terms of cause and effect, then you can utilize that as the premise and the rationale for then moving on to understanding of the emptiness of inherent existence, intrinsic existence.

So Tsongkhapa writes in the text we read,

“The other twenty-five chapters mainly refute intrinsic existence. The twenty-fourth chapter analyzes the four noble truths. It demonstrates at length that none of the teachings about cyclic existence and nirvana— arising, disintegration, etc.—make sense in the context of non-emptiness of inherent existence, and how all of those do make sense within the context of emptiness of intrinsic existence. Hence, you must know how to carry the implications of this twenty-fourth chapter over to other chapters,” as well.

“Therefore, those who currently claim to teach the meaning of the Middle Way are actually giving the position of the essentialists when they hold that all causes and effects—such as the agents and objects of production—are impossible in the absence of intrinsic existence. Thus, Nagarjuna the Protector holds that one must seek the emptiness of intrinsic existence and the middle way on the very basis of the teachings of cause and effect—that is, the production and cessation of specific effects,” (the arising and cessation of this and that effect) “in dependence upon…” (this and that condition). “The twenty-fourth chapter of Nagarjuna…”

Then Tsongkhapa cites from Nagarjuna, the passage that we already cited, “That which is dependently originated, this I explain…I describe as emptiness.”


The Two Truths and the Four Noble Truths6

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So this actually points towards the important understanding that it is when you have a developed understanding of the two truths, then you have the basis for a deeper understanding of the significance for the four noble truths. We already discussed that earlier.

So for example, Tsongkhapa here writes on page 135, second paragraph, he says that, “This being the case,” (he is referring to the understanding of emptiness in terms of intrinsic existence) he says that, “…dependent origination is tenable within emptiness of intrinsic existence, and when dependent-arising is tenable, suffering is also tenable—for suffering may be attributed only to what arises in dependence on causes and conditions.”

So in other words Tsongkhapa is making the connection that once it becomes possible for you to maintain an understanding of ultimate reality in terms of emptiness of intrinsic existence, this then enables you to understand dependent origination. When dependent origination becomes tenable then the notion of suffering becomes tenable because suffering is a dependently arisen, causal phenomenon. And when suffering becomes tenable, understandable, then the origin of suffering becomes understandable. And among the origins of the suffering, the root really is the ignorance with relation to the ultimate nature of reality. So because of this, one also, as explained before, comes to the understanding of the possibility of its cessation.

So when you understand the possibility of its cessation then you will also understand the possibility of a path that would lead to that cessation. And path, true path, and that cessation together constitute what we call the true Dharma, the Dharma jewel. And when the Dharma jewel becomes tenable, possible, then one can also envision an individual who can embody that Dharma, and that person would be the Sangha. And if there is a Sangha then the perfection of that Sangha would be the Buddha.

So in this way, the four noble truths become tenable and also the three jewels become tenable. So we can see how, when you understand the relationship between the understanding of the two truths and the four noble truths, then the entire mode of procedure of the Buddhist path becomes clear.

Finding the Middle Way: Analysis Refutes Intrinsic Nature7

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So the next major outline that we will be dealing with is…

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So in the next major outline we read from page 156 here… sorry, it starts from page 155, where the main outline that Tsongkhapa is discussing now is, “Showing that the Madhyamaka critique does not eradicate conventional existence.”

So within this, we read (from page 156, the first para) where Tsongkhapa writes:

“A proper analysis of whether these phenomena—forms and so on—exist, or are produced, in an objective sense is what we call ‘a line of reasoning that analyzes reality,’ or ‘a line of reasoning that analyzes the final status of being.’ Since we Madhyamikas do not assert that the production of forms…” (and so on or the arising of forms and so on) “…can withstand analysis by such reasoning, our position avoids the fallacy that there are truly existent things.”

“…If these things cannot withstand rational analysis, then how is it possible for something to exist when reason has refuted it?”

So that is the question, and the reply that is given is, “You are mistakenly conflating the inability to withstand rational analysis with invalidation by reason.”

So this is an important point that Tsongkhapa is making—the distinction between something that is incapable of withstanding critical analysis and something that is proven to be invalidated by that critical analysis. So in other words he is saying that, for example, when we subject things like arising and so on to critical analysis by means of analyzing whether things come into being from themselves or from others and so on, then already we are entering a domain of analysis that is really an ultimate form of analysis.

And since the existence of things is not posited from the ultimate standpoint, Tsongkhapa is saying that… so these arisings and so on—facts—cannot withstand ultimate analysis. And the fact that they cannot withstand ultimate analysis is not the same as ultimate analysis somehow invalidates them or negates them. So one should be able to make a distinction between that which is negated by reason and that which is not found through that critical reasoning.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: And here… and this is made clear. For example yesterday we cited from Gung-tang Rimpoche when he says that, “In the context of the philosophical view of emptiness, because we are searching for the intrinsic nature, so in that context, when we do not find that intrinsic nature, this constitutes the negation of intrinsic nature.”

Reliable Means of Knowledge8

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So the next outline that we will look at is the second one, which is: you cannot eradicate conventional phenomena by refuting them through investigating whether valid cognition establishes them or not.

So here the main point being made is whether Nagarjuna’s standpoint, or Nagarjuna’s system, accepts any notion of valid cognition. And for example, there are citations from the sutra where… which state that the eyes, the nose, and the ears, are not valid cognitions. And here Tsongkhapa explains that these statements in the sutras are not rejecting valid cognitions in general but rather…

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So in fact immediately after the statement of this line where eyes… the sensory perceptions are not to be taken as valid cognitions, in Chandrakirti’s Entering the Middle Way, he then follows that up by saying that if these are valid cognitions then what need is there for the minds of the…

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So this is actually in the sutra where it says that if these sensory perceptions are valid, then what need is there for the paths of the noble beings, arya beings, and their perspectives? So the subsequent lines already explained suggest clearly in what context the notion of valid cognition is being negated here and in relation to what the valid cognition is being negated here.

So Tsongkhapa explains that these statements in the sutra do not reject the notion of valid cognition in general, but rather reject the validity of the sensory perceptions in relation to the ultimate nature of things, because it is the perspective of the arya noble beings, whose cognitions are valid when it comes to the ultimate mode of…ultimate reality of things.

And so if you look at the sensory experiences, the sensory perceptions, even at the perceptual level there is an appearance of things as possessing some kind of inherent existence. So on that level there is an element of deception. There is an element of an error, but that does not mean that these perceptions are somehow totally invalid. They may be erroneous at the level of their perceptions, but that does not mean they are totally invalid.

And also in Nagarjuna’s own writing, we find mentions of at least four different classes of valid cognition. He speaks of direct perception as a form of valid cognition, inferential cognition, cognition based upon testimony, and cognition based upon analogy, analogical cognition.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So this analogical… or cognition in the form of analogy is sometimes also referred to as cognition derived from perception of likeness, similarity.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So in general, in fact all forms of valid cognition can be subsumed into the two classes: one is the direct perception; and the inferential cognition. So for specific… because of their specific functions, the valid cognition based on testimony, or testimonial cognition, or analogical cognitions, are listed separately because of their specific functions. Because the immediate kind of premise that gave rise to these valid cognitions are either analogy, analogical reasoning, or reasoning based on testimony, but indirectly they are also a form of inferential cognition.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: And then there is, on page 164, Tsongkhapa cites from Chandrakirti’s Commentary on the “Four Hundred Stanzas on the Middle Way,” and then on page 165 he then comments upon this in the following: “How do you interpret this general refutation of the position that visual consciousnesses and such are valid cognitions?”

And then in response Tsongkhapa writes, “Unlike the passage ‘Eye, ear, and nose are not valid,’ this passage has been a source of grave doubt. Therefore, I will explain it in detail.”

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So in commenting upon this particular statement from Chandrakirti’s Commentary on the “Four Hundred Stanzas” then Tsongkhapa goes on to write that (this is on page 165):

“As we will explain,…” this is the last paragraph, second to last, “…the master Chandrakirti does not accept even conventionally that anything exists essentially or by way of its intrinsic character. Thus, how could he accept this claim that the sensory consciousnesses are valid with regard to the intrinsic character of their objects? Therefore, this refutation of the claim that the sensory consciousnesses are valid is a refutation of the view that they are valid with regard to the intrinsic character of the five objects.”

So Chandrakirti… commenting upon Chandrakirti here, what Tsongkhapa is explaining is that when we talk about a certain perception or perspective as being erroneous or invalid or deceptive, I think we have to understand—in relation to what? And also for example, generally speaking (at the level of conceptual thought) the understanding is that even the realization of emptiness, at least with relation to the kind of appearance, on the level of appearance, even there, there is an element of distortion, there is an element of error. However, with relation to the actual object that is being comprehended, then it is valid. So one needs to make a distinction between the mode of apprehension of something and the way in which that object is perceived. So the perceptual level and the comprehension or apprehension level.

However here Chandrakirti is really negating the notion of valid cognition proposed by other masters like Bhavaviveka for whom, when they say that sensory perceptions such as visual experiences, auditory and so on are valid with relation to their objects, they are also claiming that they are valid in relation to the intrinsic nature of these objects as well, rang tsen, which is svalakshana.

So what Chandrakirti is pointing out is that even with relation to the intrinsic character of the object that they are perceiving, they are erroneous, because when they perceive the objects, they perceive the objects to possess an objective, inherent existence.

However, the content of that perception, which is the inherent existence of the object, is untenable. Because, if it is the case that they do possess reality, then when we subject them to critical analysis and seek their essence and seek their intrinsic nature, that intrinsic nature should become clearer and clearer—more obvious.

And here, for example, Nagarjuna in his Precious Garland gives the analogy that if a mirage is truly water, then the closer you get to it the more obvious the water should become. However, the closer you get to it the perception of water begins to dissolve. Similarly, if intrinsic natures that we perceive in the objects do truly exist, then the more we search for them the clearer they should become to our mind—which is not the case.

So in this way, Chandrakirti points out that even our visual and sensory perceptions are erroneous when it comes to the intrinsic nature of the objects themselves, because the objects do not possess the intrinsic nature (as our visual sense perceptions tend to perceive). So in this way, what Chandrakirti is pointing out is that there is a disparity or a gap between the way we perceive objects and the way objects truly exist or really are. And because of this disparity or gap there is an element of distortion—there is an element of invalidity in our perception.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: Sorry, actually, I forgot something. So in fact just as we… At the level of our sensory perceptions, we perceive things and objects to possess some kind of intrinsic nature. And it is on that basis of our perception, we then assume they possess this objective, inherent existence. And in fact it is this very perception of reality of the intrinsic-ness which we use as a rationale for believing in their objective, inherent existence.

For example, the Mind Only School, when they propound the notion of arising from another, other factors, they say that, “We don’t need to establish the validity of the notion of arising from other because arising from other factors is something that we can directly perceive.” And so what they are presenting is the very fact of something that we perceive as being the basis for their possessing intrinsic nature.

So, and then to read further from Tsongkhapa’s text, so then he writes on p. 165, the last para:

“This refutation is made by way of the Bhagavan’s” (the Blessed One’s) “…statement that consciousness is false and deceptive. The statement that it is deceptive refutes its being non-deceptive, and this in turn refutes its validity because ‘that which is non-deceptive’ is the definition of ‘valid cognition.’ In what sense is it deceptive? As Chandrakirti puts it, ‘it exists in one way but appears in another.’ ” (So here, pointing out about the disparity between the perception and reality) “This means that the five objects—forms, sounds, and so forth—are not established by way of their intrinsic character, but appear to the sensory consciousnesses as though they were. Therefore, those sensory consciousnesses are not valid with regard to the intrinsic character of their objects.”

And then he continues:

“In brief, what Chandrakirti intended in this passage is that the sensory consciousnesses are not valid with regard to the intrinsic character of the five objects because they are deceived in relation to the appearance of intrinsic character in the five objects. This is because those five objects are empty of intrinsic character yet appear to have it. For example, it is like a consciousness that perceives…” a double moon.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: And then Tsongkhapa makes a kind of a concluding statement. He says:

“Therefore because these statements negate the sensory perceptions and so on, as being valid with respect to the intrinsic nature, therefore, they do not negate these perceptions as being invalid… negate these perceptions as being valid in general.”

So therefore these statements do not negate the conventional cognitions as being valid in general.9

Svatantrika School and Intrinsic Existence10

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: Then the question is how do we… on what basis can we infer that the master Bhavaviveka actually subscribes to the notion of intrinsic existence, existence by means of svalakshana, self-defining characteristics?

So here, one could cite two examples. One is the well-known statement from Blaze of Reasoning (which is an auto-commentary on his text, Essence of the Middle Way) where Bhavaviveka says that, “In our case we accept the sixth mental consciousness to be the true referent of the term ‘person.’ ” So the implication is that he accepts identity of a person that can be found when you search for the true referent of the term ‘person.’

Secondly, Tsongkhapa points out here (in Bhavaviveka’s commentary on Nagarjuna’s text, Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way)—Bhavaviveka in negating or in refuting the Mind Only position vis-a-vis the interpretation of the Perfection of Wisdom sutra.

Mind Only School interprets the Buddha’s turning of the wheel in the following manner. For them the first turning of the wheel of the Dharma is non-definitive. And the second turning of the wheel of Dharma, although its content is definitive, which is emptiness, however, this is a sutra that should not be read on the literal level. Because on the literal level the second turning of the wheel of Dharma, the Perfection of Wisdom sutras, negate intrinsic existence across the board—from form (in the list of enumeration) from form to the omniscient mind of the Buddha.

So on the literal level, although the sutra negates intrinsic existence across the entire spectrum of phenomena, the Mind Only School argues that this sutra needs to be interpreted on the basis of the Samdinirmochana Sutra (Sutra Unraveling the Intent of the Buddha), the third turning.

So therefore when we read the Perfection of Wisdom sutra, we read the negation contextually by identifying different natures of phenomena. So they speak in terms of imputed phenomena…sorry, the imputed nature, the dependent nature, and the consummate or ultimate nature. And so when Buddha states in the Perfection of Wisdom sutra that all phenomena are devoid of intrinsic existence and identity, this identityless¬ness of phenomena is understood contextually in relation to dependent phenomena, imputed phenomena, and the ultimate phenomena.

So with relation to the dependent phenomena, what is being negated is intrinsic arising, or ultimate arising; and with relation to imputed phenomena, intrinsic existence is negated (or existence by means of self-defining characteristics is negated); and with relation to the ultimate or consummate nature, existence by means of ultimate mode of being is negated. So in this way they contextually interpret the Buddha’s teaching on emptiness as presented in the Perfection of Wisdom sutra.

In commenting upon this, Bhavaviveka states that if your statement [is] that the imputed phenomena are devoid of existence by means of self-defining characteristics, then when you say ‘imputed phenomena’ we can analyze that in terms of ‘that which imputes’ and ‘that which is imputed’.

And if you reject intrinsic existence to ‘that which imputes’ then you are talking about language and concepts, because it is the language and concepts that impute characteristics. So if you reject language and concepts to possess inherent existence, then you will be falling into an extreme of nihilism.

So by making that allegation or accusation, Bhavaviveka,… the implication is that Bhavaviveka himself accepts intrinsic existence to language, concepts and so on, conceptual thoughts and so on.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So similarly…

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So similarly Kamalashila, when commenting upon the Samdinirmochana Sutra, he qualifies all the negation with a caveat that, ‘in the ultimate’, ‘from the ultimate point of view,’ or ‘on the ultimate level’. So Kamalashila also explains that it is the Samdinirmochana Sutra, this Unravelling the Intent of the Buddha, that establishes the definitive reading of the scriptures. So in other words, Kamalashila also accepts the Samdinirmochana Sutra to represent a definitive sutra. So this implies that both Kamalashila and Shantarakshita also subscribe to the notion of svabhav or svalakshana.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So in this way we understand that, among the Middle Way thinkers, there were two camps: one camp that accepts the notion of svalakshana on the conventional level, existence by means of self-defining characteristics; and another camp that rejects the notion even on the conventional level.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So then later there is a section in the text where also Tsongkhapa points out Bhavaviveka’s position vis-a-vis the concept of atomic structure of material things. And he makes distinctions between aggregation and collection and also teases out that Bhavaviveka’s position represents some form of acceptance of intrinsic nature.

Of course these sections are very difficult, quite tough. So, and then there is an expression that when it comes to reading, you know, the more difficult sections of the text, you should be like an old man without teeth trying to eat something.

So when you cannot bite, you just swallow it. So for me also these sections would be very difficult. But for you also maybe even more difficult. So we will skip those sections.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So, when we come to that kind of part of the text, then it’s better to kind of give a little time off for both the teacher and the student.

Conventional Knowledge11

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: Then Tsongkhapa then talks about, “If our perception of everyday objects is erroneous with respect to intrinsic nature of things, then how is it that they are referred to as conventionally true?” So here Tsongkhapa is explaining what is meant… the meaning of the truth in the context of conventional truth and ultimate truth.

He explains that when we use the word ‘truth’ in the context of conventional truth, ‘truth’ here does not have a connotation of objectivity but rather truth from the perspective of the subjective mind. So in this way, therefore, calling a conventional truth a ‘truth’ does not imply the acceptance of some kind of objective intrinsic-ness to the phenomenon.

And then Tsongkhapa goes on to explain that, if we fail to recognize, identify, the object of negation correctly, and then understand, falsely understand, that all the reasoning that negates, the critical analysis,… the reasoning that negates intrinsic nature even on the conventional level—if we come to understand that these reasonings undermine all the validity of everyday transactions and conventions—then one will fall into a position where no distinction can be made between a correct view and an incorrect view, and where both of them will be either false or either true. And therefore one will fall into a standpoint that would represent a grave, erroneous view.

And then he writes:

“As a result, prolonged habituation to such a view does not…” (this is on page 178, second para), “As a result, prolonged habituation to such a view does not bring you the least bit closer to the correct view. In fact it takes you further away from it, for such a wrong view stands in stark contradiction to the path of dependent origination, the path in which all of the teachings on dependent origination of cyclic existence and nirvana are tenable within our system.”

Then Tsongkhapa cites from Chandrakirti and then… So the question is how do we then understand that if our perception of all phenomena as possessing intrinsic nature is erroneous—they do not possess any objective inherent existence—then how do we adjudicate what is correct and what is incorrect understanding? So for example between… And the question then becomes, “Does that mean that anything that the mind creates becomes real?”

And so if that is the case then, with relation to the horn on a rabbit’s head, a rabbit horn, we can have a thought of that, and the thought of the rabbit’s horn actually conjures the image of a rabbit’s horn, but that doesn’t make the rabbit’s horn to be real.

Similarly the question is how do we adjudicate between the following two perceptions– one false and one correct? So for example, on the basis of a coiled rope, if someone instinctively feels there is a snake there, that perception, based upon the seeing of the coiled rope, is false. However, on the basis of the body of a real snake one can also have the perception of a snake there.

Now in so far as the perceptions of inherent existence of the objects existing in their own right, outside, is concerned…

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So, in so far as the fact that, on the basis of the coiled rope, the snake does not exist in and of itself, and also on the basis of the snake’s aggregates (the body), on the part of the aggregates, there is no intrinsically real snake, so in so far as that fact is concerned, they are both exactly the same. However, one perception is erroneous, incorrect, and the other perception is a correct perception.

So the question is, how do we adjudicate between these two forms of perception? Because, although we can only accord nominal existence to all phenomena—but that does not mean that anything goes—that the reality equates with our concepts.

So here Tsongkhapa then writes:

“How does one determine whether something exists conventionally?” (This is on page 178, third para):

“We hold that something exists conventionally (1) if it is known to a conventional consciousness; (2) if no other conventional, valid cognition contradicts its being as it is thus known; and (3) if reason that accurately analyzes reality—that is,” that which “…analyzes whether something intrinsically exists—” or not “does not contradict it. We hold that what fails to meet those criteria does not exist.”

So he provides the criteria by which one can adjudicate a form of perception that is false and a perception that is correct.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So although nothing possesses inherent existence, but there is still, at the level of everyday experience, harm and… benefits and harm.

So that means we need to go and eat!  


1 See also Guy Newland’s From Here to Enlightenment, ch. 8 “The Spirit of Enlightenment,” pp. 109-115. [Return to text]

2 When His Holiness is reading from the original Tibetan Lamrim Chenmo, Dr. Jinpa sometimes translates directly from the Tibetan and sometimes reads from the Great Treatise English edition of Lamrim Chenmo. Occasionally he provides his own terminology so there will be some small differences between his translation and the English edition. Two differences are his use of “dependent origination” instead of the Great Treatise “dependent arising” and “Middle Way” instead of the Great Treatise “Madhyamaka.” [Return to text]

3 See Guy Newland, From Here to Enlightenment, ch. 13 “Reality and Dependent Arising,” p. 155. [Return to text]

4 See Newland, ch. 13: 156-159. [Return to text]

6 See Newland, ch. 13: 159. [Return to text]

7 See Newland, ch. 14 “Finding the Middle Way,” pp. 161-162. [Return to text]

8 See Newland, ch. 14: 162-166. [Return to text]

9 Here Thupten Jinpa translates directly from the Tibetan text. Great Treatise reads in vol. 3:166 bottom, “Therefore, since Chandrakirti is refuting the logician’s position that sensory consciousnesses are valid regarding the intrinsic character of objects, he need not refute the position that they are simply valid cognitions.” [Return to text]

10 See Newland, ch. 14: 166-168. [Return to text]

11 See Newland, ch. 14: 168-170. [Return to text]