HOME      CONTACT US      ABOUT ODN
 

 Photos
  Bhutan Gallery 1 | 2 | 3



In Bookstores Now...

"Portraits of Tibetan Buddhist Masters"
by Don Farber



As a non-profit Tibetan
Buddhist organization,
Osel Dorje Nyingpo relies on contributions
of generous supporters
to accomplish our goals.
Learn More Here


ODN Photo Gallery
Teachings of
Venerable Khempo Yurmed Tinly Rinpoche

Neshe Rinpoche Drulme,
"The Precious Lamp Of Certain Knowledge"

PRELIMINARY REMARKS

Proper Motivation for Listening to a Teaching
Be Practical About It
Check Your Motivation
The Spread of Buddhism
Guru Rinpoche
The Eighty-Four Mahasiddhas
Your Great Good Fortune
The Topic of the Teaching
Mipham Rinpoche

  

GENERAL INTRODUCTION

Classifications of Buddha Dharma Teachings
Classification of the Current Text
Origins of the Prajnaparamita Texts
Nagarjuna
The Mulamadhyamakakarika
Aryadeva
Shantideva
Chandrakirti
Shantarakshita
Transmission to Tibet
The Four Main Indian Buddhist Schools
The Four Main Tibetan Buddhist Schools
Nyingma Scholarship
Mipham Rinpoche and the Neshe Rinpoche Dronme
Views of Emptiness
Divisions of The Precious Lamp of Certain Knowledge

FIRST DIVISION: INTRODUCTION TO THE TEXT

The Title of the Text
The Nature of the Work
Benefits of Certain Knowledge
Who Brings About Certain Knowledge?
Buddha Nature
Disadvantages of Lacking Certain Knowledge
Approaches to Buddha Dharma
Ground, Path, and Fruition
Authentic Standards
Chandrakirti and Dharmakirti
Chandrakirti's Four Lines of Reasoning
Dharmakirti's Four Lines of Reasoning
Lineages
The Mahayana Path

PRELIMINARY REMARKS

Proper Motivation for Listening to a Teaching

Before we actually get to the main body of the teachings, by way of introduction I wish to say something about motivation; about how a student should approach the teachings. When we think of the practice of Dharma, we understand that there is what we call Ngondro, or a preliminary phase to our practice. Taking Refuge and giving rise to Bodhicitta constitute the proper Ngondro for any practice that we undertake. In the context of a teaching where the Dharma is being explained, the Ngondro is your motivation, is checking and establishing a proper motivation for requesting and receiving the teachings. When you are listening to teachings, you should be aware of what the proper motivation is for listening to these teachings. You go through a certain amount of hardship in your life in order to arrive at a situation where you can receive the teachings. As a student, you make efforts to find a teacher and to seek out a situation where you can receive teachings. You should understand for whose benefit you are making these efforts. If you are motivated solely for your own selfish interests; if you think, "well, I'm making all of this effort to go to a teacher, to receive these teachings, so that I can be happy, so that I can feel good, so that I can experience well being," you have the wrong motivation. The difficulties that you are undergoing in order to seek out teachers and receive teachings are for the benefit of all beings, whose numbers are equal to the limits of space. Wherever space extends, there are sentient beings. Wherever there are sentient, unenlightened beings, their experience is permeated by negative Karma and afflictive emotions. And wherever the experience of a being is permeated by negative Karma and afflictive emotions, there is suffering. All of these beings, whose numbers fill space and whose experience is replete with suffering due to negative Karma and afflictive emotions, are connected to you in a very intimate way, because there is not a single being that has not been, in some lifetime or another, your father or your mother. So when you listen to the teachings, and when a teacher gives teachings, it should be from the perspective of a vast motivation that takes the welfare of all beings into account. This is why the Dharma is taught. This is why one listens to teachings: for the benefit of all beings. So our motivation for listening to teachings should take into account all of these beings, who have been our parents, with the understanding that the reason we are listening to and practicing the teachings is to eliminate the suffering of all those beings.

Be Practical About It

But we need to be practical. Can we truly, with any of the means at our disposal now, eliminate the suffering of others? Is there any medicine, any cure-all that we can give to other beings that will free them completely from suffering? There really is no means we have at our disposal - except one. The one way in which we can truly eliminate suffering for beings is to practice the Dharma, attain Buddhahood, and continue to propagate the teachings of the Dharma so that other beings may practice them and attain Buddhahood. This is the single way that we can truly eliminate suffering for all beings. Any other means will ultimately fail. How is it, then, that a Buddha, an enlightened being, eliminates or dispels the suffering of other beings? It is primarily through presenting the teachings of the Dharma. In the case of a Buddha such as the Buddha Shakyamuni, we often hear references to the twelve great acts, The Twelve Great Deeds, of the Nirmanakaya. We should remember that one of the most significant of these deeds was the occasion upon which the Buddha turned the Wheel of the Dharma in Varanasi, teaching the Four Noble Truths. This is the value of attaining enlightenment:. to be able to then turn the Wheel of the Authentic Dharma for other beings.

Check Your Motivation

The important point is to continually check our motivation and develop the best possible motivation for giving teachings and for listening to teachings. In order to best appreciate the teachings that we hear, it is important that we understand how sacred they are, how important they are to our spiritual development. When the Buddha Shakyamuni attained enlightenment in India, he taught in many places in the Indian sub-continent, in Varanasi, on the Vulture Peak near Rajagrha, in Vaisali, and other places. Due to support of patrons, such as kings and rulers of those areas, and due to the collective merit of the beings living in those times and those places, the Buddha was able to present the teachings in a way that benefited an enormous number of beings. We couldn't begin to count the number of beings who benefited directly from the presence of the Buddha Shakyamuni in India more than two millennia ago, turning the Wheel of the Dharma.

The Spread of Buddhism

When the Buddha Shakyamuni turned the wheel of the Dharma due to his enormous motivation to benefit all beings, the collective merit of people in the holy country of India was such that the Buddhist teachings flourished in the sub-continent at that time. But in the surrounding regions, such as Tibet, China, southeast Asia, and so forth, the conditions were not appropriate for beings to receive the teachings while the Buddha was still living in India, while that Nirmanakaya was still manifesting. So even the sound of the Dharma did not arrive immediately in those border regions. Only in the Indian sub-continent were the conditions appropriate. Then, gradually, later on in history, the transmission of the teachings began to spread to the so-called border regions such as Tibet and China.

Guru Rinpoche

When the Buddha Shakyamuni passed into Final Nirvana, he left behind prophecies that, in the future, various other enlightened beings would carry on the task of bringing these teachings from the holy land of India to other areas such as China and Tibet. For example, he prophesied the coming of Guru Rinpoche (Padmasambhava), who would tame those who were to be tamed by Avalokiteshvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion, whose emanation Guru Rinpoche was. In this and other ways the Buddha left a legacy of prophesies concerning the spread of the Buddhist teachings to other parts of the world. To attempt to describe anything like a complete history or biography of Guru Rinpoche would be beyond my capabilities. But just to give you some food for thought as an introduction to these teachings, I will simply note that the miraculous birth of Guru Rinpoche in the milky lake of Danakosha was simply one case of a great master of the Buddhist tradition in India appearing, or manifesting, in a way that contributed to the spread of the teachings to other countries.

The Eighty-Four Mahasiddhas

We may also note at this point the Eighty-Four Mahasiddhas, the Tantric Mahasiddhas of India, the teachers of Buddhist India known as the Six Ornaments of the Human Realm, and the two masters who commented on the Vinaya or monastic codes who were known as the Excellent Pair. In the case of the Yogacara or "mind only" school of Buddhism, there were some five hundred masters. In short, the Buddhist tradition of India produced an enormous number of masters who were both learned scholars and also accomplished meditators. It was their activity in maintaining the teachings and helping the spread of these teachings that allowed the transmission of the Dharma from India to places like Tibet and China, and to other areas of the world that became seats of the Dharma in their own right.

Your Great Good Fortune

The circumstances that permitted a living tradition of Buddhism in India have waned over the centuries, so that the Buddhist tradition in India itself is very, very weak. India itself is undergoing a great deal of difficulty economically, socially, and so forth. Due to a lot of circumstances that have come about over the centuries, the Buddhist tradition came to virtually disappear in the sub-continent of India, where it had first flourished. But it continued to develop in the other areas to which it had been transmitted. So Tibet, China, and areas like Vietnam and other parts of south-east Asia continued to be strongholds of the Buddha Dharma. Nowadays, of course, the situation has changed again. In areas that were traditionally Buddhist countries such as China, Tibet, and so forth, the Buddhist teachings are subject to a great deal of repression and difficulty. But for you who live in the west the situation is very fortunate, because truly great lamas such as Chagdud Rinpoche, His Holiness The Dalai Lama, and His Holiness The Karmapa, great teachers of the Buddhist tradition, have been able to come to Europe and North and South America, and to begin to pass these teachings on to you who live in the Western Hemisphere. So from your point of view this is a very fortunate situation. In this present situation, where I am explaining teachings and you are listening to these teachings, let us never forget that it is due entirely to the kindness of Chagdud Rinpoche that this situation has come about; where you do not have to leave your home country in order to receive the teachings of the Dharma. You don't have to make a very great effort at all - you have that good fortune. We have the opportunity to discuss the teachings of the Dharma. All of this is due to the vision, the motivation, and the enormous kindness of Chagdud Rinpoche. So part of your motivation in requesting these teachings should be that of contributing to the long and fruitful life of this great teacher, and the aspiration that you, through receiving these teachings, understanding them, practicing them, and realizing them, that you may bring great benefit to other beings. Do not think of these teaching as something you are taking for yourself. Think of them as something you are receiving in order to truly benefit other beings. You will undoubtedly have some difficulty with technical terminology, new ideas being presented, and words that you are not familiar with. Remember to have patience, and remember to have strength of mind so that you carry through on your motivation to understand these teachings, to absorb them, to realize them, and thus to be able to benefit others on a vast scale. Continue to keep this motivation when you receive teachings.

The Topic of the Teaching

Concerning the topic of my teachings over the next few weeks, it will be, as directed by Chagdud Rinpoche, a teaching on a text known as the Neshe Drulme. The more complete title is Neshe Rinpoche Drulme, "The Precious Lamp Of Certain Knowledge".

Mipham Rinpoche

The author of this text is the great Mipham Rinpoche, who was born, grew up, and taught in the area of eastern Tibet known as Kham, and who was primarily a Nyingma lama in the sense of his personal affiliation. But in terms of his importance as a scholar and a writer, he is recognized, not just by the Nyingma school, but by other schools as well, as being perhaps the most brilliant mind of this century in terms of the way he mastered the various fields of knowledge and was able to explain them and to write them. This is something that not only the Nyingma's, but all who examine his work, hold. All are enormously impressed with the depth and brilliance of his writings. This particular text was written when he was only seven years old. It is a text that concerns seven major questions in the presentation of the Buddhist view, seven thorny points, if you will, seven ways in which it is difficult to really come to grips with the essential view of the Buddhist tradition. And Chagdud Rinpoche directed that I should teach this to you, so my intention over the next few weeks is to present this text to you. In accordance with the customs of my own country and tradition, a short formal introduction is read at the beginning of a series of teachings such as this. With your indulgence, if you will just sit patiently for a few moments, I'll perform this introduction. First, we should begin with the Prayers Before the Teachings, which are found in the Galaxy of Heartdrops compiled, translated, and printed by Chagdud Gompa. These consist of the Seven Branch Prayer, the Offering of the Mandala, and then the formal, specific Request to Turn the Wheel of the Dharma. We'll recite these before each teaching session.

(Chants & Prayer)


GENERAL INTRODUCTION


Classifications of Buddha Dharma Teachings

By way of very general introduction, when we speak of the Buddha Dharma we are speaking of what are traditionally said to be the 84,000 collections of teachings that the Buddha Shakyamuni transmitted in the holy country of India. To speak of these in a more concise way, we very often speak of the Three Turnings of the Wheel of Dharma, because the Buddha Shakyamuni first turned the Wheel of the Dharma of the Four Noble Truths in Varanasi, secondly Turned the Wheel of the Perfection of Transcendent Knowledge, the Prajnaparamita teachings, at Vulture Peak near Rajagrha, and thirdly Turned the Wheel of the Dharma that dealt with Definitive Ultimate Truth in a very precise way in Vaisali and other places around the northern part of the Indian sub-continent. When we speak of the scriptures associated with the Buddhist teachings, we hear reference to the Tripitaka, the three baskets or collections of the teachings, and these are the Vinaya or ethical codes, the Sutras, and the Abhidharma, or the teachings on metaphysics and psychology. In the case of the Vajrayana we have a fourth collection, that of the Tantras. This, from the general scriptural point of view, is the breadth of the Buddhist teachings that will be presented here. If we were to further classify and categorize these 84,000 collections of teachings in a concise way, we could distinguish between the Sutra approach and the Tantra approach. In the Sutra approach there are, on the one hand, the more obscure teachings, those that are not completely evident, which are presented in such a way that much of the meaning is concealed; on the other hand, there are Sutra teachings concerning emptiness, which deal quite forthrightly with the nature of reality as a state of emptiness.

Classification of the Current Text

This particular text, Neshe Rinpoche Drulme, "The Precious Lamp Of Certain Knowledge", is not completely unconnected with the Tantra approach, but it is primarily a text that is based upon the Sutra approach. And between the two divisions of the Sutra approach that were mentioned a moment ago (those with more hidden meanings and those which are more explicit teachings on emptiness), this text is concerned primarily with the more explicit teachings on emptiness.

Origins of the Prajnaparamita Texts

Teachings on emptiness are primarily derived from the middle turning of the Wheel of Dharma. It at the peak known as Vulture Peak, near Rajagrha, in India, when the Buddha was turning the Wheel of the Prajnaparamita (the "Perfection of Wisdom") that he presented the teachings dealing with emptiness. When these teachings were actually expounded by the Buddha, he taught seventeen primary and secondary Sutras of Prajnaparamita, the Perfection of Wisdom. But, on that occasion, not only were human beings present, but also present were Devas (or Gods) of Samsara, Nagas, and other powerful beings from other realms who received these teachings and took them back to their own regions, so that some of the Sutras that the Buddha presented on this occasion did not spread in the human realm, although there is a record in our literature of them having been transmitted. For example, the Sutra in 10 Million Verses was taken by the Devas to their realm, the Sutra in 2 Million Verses was taken to the realm of the Gandarvas, and the Sutra in 100-Thousand verses was taken to the realm of the Nagas. When we speak of these Sutras being taken, it simply indicates that these beings had total recall. It was as though they made a tape recording of the Buddha speaking. They could simply go back to their realms with all of the teachings that the Buddha had given in their memories. It's not as though a book was there and was taken, but that the teachings themselves, as they were given, were completely remembered by these beings when they returned to their realms. However, these teachings did not spread in the human realm on that occasion.

Nagarjuna

In the teachings of the Mahayana tradition of Buddhism, there is an account of the Buddha, before he passed into Nirvana, issuing a prophecy that some years following his passing into Nirvana there would appear an extraordinary teacher who would bear the name of the Nagas in his name, and who would re-vivify the teachings of the Prajnaparamita, establish the unsurpassable view of the Perfection of Wisdom, and thus establish circumstances for enormous benefit to the teachings and to beings. This is widely held to be a prophecy of the coming of Nagarjuna, the great Buddhist master who did so much too further spread the teachings of the Prajnaparamita. Following the passing of the Buddha into Nirvana, the early history of Buddhism in India was based upon the teachings of the Hinayana, so the earliest schools of Buddhist philosophy and practice in India were Hinayana schools. At that point, the Mahayana did not exist as its own tradition in India. But at a certain point, more than a hundred years after the passing of the Buddha into Nirvana, there appeared in the south of India an individual who grew up to become the great master Nagarjuna. This is not to say that the Mahayana teachings were extinct or absent before this, but there was not an integrated tradition of what we would call Mahayana Buddhism. When Nagarjuna grew up and began to study the Dharma, he was fortunate to come into contact with such great masters as the Siddha Saraha, who introduced him to the teachings of the Mahayana. Through his practice, Nagarjuna achieved a state of deathlessness. His name Nagarjuna means "one who has conquered, tamed, and gained mastery over the Nagas". So one aspect of his spiritual attainment was his ability to control the Naga spirits. Because of his mastery over these Naga spirits, Nagarjuna was invited by the Nagas to visit their realm. Knowing through his spiritual practice that the Sutra in 100 Thousand Verses was present in their realm, Nagarjuna made the journey. His specific purpose in journeying to that realm was to recover the Sutra in 100,000 Verses, because he realized that the absence of this Sutra in the human realm was a great loss. When Nagarjuna was preparing to return from the Naga to the human realm, the Naga spirits offered him great wealth, the Nagas being extraordinarily wealthy, but Nagarjuna refused all of their offers of material wealth. He said that the only suitable offering was the Sutra in 100,000 Verses. So the Sutra was offered to him, and he returned to the human realm with this teaching. But when the Sutra was offered to Nagarjuna, it was offered in an incomplete version. The Nagas offered him twelve volumes containing the bulk of the Sutra in 100,000 Verses, but they held back a portion of the text because they were afraid that, if they gave Nagarjuna the entire text, he'd never return to the Naga realm. So what came back to the human realm was in fact an incomplete version. The original text that Nagarjuna brought back from the Naga realm was written in Sanskrit, which is considered to be the language of the Gods, the language of the Devas. There are extant manuscripts of this Sutra in 100,000 Verses. In one of the libraries in Nepal, for example, there is a manuscript of this text in Sanskrit.

The Mulamadhyamakakarika

When Nagarjuna brought this text back to the human realm, he realized that the volume of the material was so great that people would not be able to absorb all of it because they had short lives, little merit, and very little time to study. So he composed his famous commentaries which are more concise and were based upon the Prajnaparamita. Perhaps the most famous of these is the Mulamadhyamakakarika, "Root Verses on the Middle Way Philosophy", which is one of six major commentaries written by Nagarjuna, each of which was famous for its concise presentation of the view of the Madyamika or "Middle Way" philosophy that emptiness is the true nature of reality.

Aryadeva

Nagarjuna also trained students who carried on his tradition of teaching by writing commentaries on their master's original commentaries. Aryadeva, who was the student of Nagarjuna who wrote most upon the subject of meditation, wrote a text called the Catuhsataka or the "400 Verses", which is a direct commentary on the "Root Verses of the Middle Way" that Nagarjuna wrote. In the presentation of emptiness in Aryadeva's text, the Catuhsataka or the "400 Verses", the emphasis is on meditation upon emptiness, upon the direct experience of emptiness through practice.

Shantideva

Among those who followed the tradition of Nagarjuna were those who commented primarily upon conduct, upon how the Bodhisattva conducts him or herself in the pursuit of enlightenment. Perhaps the most famous student of this type was the great Shantideva, who lived and taught at the monastery and the University of Nalanda, and whose life was marked by seven utterly miraculous events. The most famous text that Shantideva wrote is the Bodhicharyavatara "The Entry into The Path of the Bodhisattva" or "Entry into The Conduct of the Bodhisattva. The primary emphasis in Shantideva's text is upon conduct, upon what kind of ethical choices the Bodhisattva should make: what to avoid and what to encourage in his or her actions.

Chandrakirti

It was a student of a student of Nagarjuna's, the great master Chandrakirti, who wrote a text called the Madyamikavattara, "The Entrance Into the Middle Way", which is held to be perhaps the finest example of a text that comments upon view, meditation, and conduct simultaneously, without emphasizing any one of these. In all of Chandrakirti's discussions there is a very analysis of the different paths of the Mahayana, the Five Paths of the Mahayana and the ten levels of Bodhisattva realization, the Ten Bhumi.

Shantarakshita

Yet another master in the tradition of Nagarjuna was Shantarakshita who wrote a text called the Umagen (Sanskrit Madhyamakalankarakarika), "The Ornament of The Middle Way", which concisely details the teachings on view, meditation, and conduct from the point of view of the understanding and direct experience of emptiness.

Transmission to Tibet

These are the teachers and commentaries that are derived from the Indian tradition of Buddhism, from the original tradition as it developed in India. These commentaries were translated from the original Indian languages into Tibetan and form part of the large collection known as the Tanjur, which contains more than 200 volumes. In fact, the number of Indian commentaries extant in Tibetan translation represent perhaps 25% of what was available in Buddhist India. There was such a wealth of material that not all of it could be translated. The particular text that I will be teaching is written by a Tibetan; however, it is a text by a great master of the Tibetan tradition of Buddhism. There is no comparable collection to the Tanjur for the Tibetan commentaries. Any collection that might be attempted would be much larger than the Tanjur. The Tibetans were so prolific in writing commentaries on the subjects contained within the Tanjur that nobody has ever attempted to put every writing from the Tibetan traditions together in a single collection.

The Four Main Indian Buddhist Schools

In the development of Buddhist philosophy in India, four major schools of philosophy historically have come to be recognized. The first of these is known as the Vaibashika school, which literally means "the analyst", those who analyze things in detail. The second is known as the Sautantrika, which means "those who follow the Sutras". The third is the Cittamatra, or Yogacara school, which literally means the "mind-only" school. And the fourth is the Madhayamika or "Middle Way" school of philosophy. When you hear discussions of Buddhist philosophical schools, these four tend to be mentioned.

The Four Main Tibetan Buddhist Schools

In the case of the Tibetan tradition of Buddhism, the earliest school of thought established in Tibet is the one that we know as the Nyingma, "the early translation" or "ancient school". Then, in chronological order, the Sakya school, the Kagyu school, and the Gelugpa school developed. Again, if we were to try to count, or assess, the number of commentaries written by the masters of these four schools of Tibetan Buddhism on Madhayamika, on emptiness, all we can say is that there are a lot. Nobody's ever sat down and actually figured out how many, but there are an enormous number of commentaries. In ratio to the amount of commentary about the Middle Way philosophy of emptiness, there was a profusion of controversy among the various schools of thought as to who had the right view, who had the correct interpretation, and so-forth. There has been quite a history of spirited controversy and debate in Tibet.

Nyingma Scholarship

In the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism, from the very inception of this school (in the eighth century of the common era) when Guru Rinpoche (Padmasambhava), the abbot Shantirakshita, and the King Trisong Deutsen collaborated to bring the teachings to Tibet - from that time forward, from the time of the Twenty-Five Intimate Students of Guru Rinpoche to the later generations of great tertons and translators - there have been throughout history a great number of people associated with this Nyingma tradition who are noted for their scholastic excellence and their deep learning of the teachings of Buddhism. In the eastern part of Tibet known as Kham, some of the great Nyingma monasteries became centers of learning where these scholars were trained. For example, Dzogchen Monastery, Shechen Monastery, and Palyul Monastery. In Dzogchen Monastery, in the last century, there was a very great scholar named Jelsa Shinventiy. Jelsa literally means "a child or son of the Buddhas", that is to say, a Bodhisattva. This name was more of a title; Shinventiy, "limitless benefit for others", was his personal name. Shinentiy established a college known as the Sri Singha College, because on the occasion that he was undertaking to found this college he was graced by a vision of the great Dzogchen master Sri Singha. The course of studies in the college also emphasized the Sutra (as well as the Dzogchen) tradition to a great degree. Of the many fine scholars produced in the last century from that college, the greatest was Mipham Rinpoche, who is also known by the name Adyita, which is the Sanskrit version of the Tibetan Mipham, literally meaning "the invincible one."

Mipham Rinpoche and the Neshe Rinpoche Dronme

During his lifetime, Mipham Rinpoche was a prolific writer. His collected works run to thirty-two volumes of texts - not thirty-two separate titles, but thirty-two volumes of any number of titles within any given volume. It is within this thirty-two volume collection of writings that you will find the text that we will be studying, the Neshe Rinpoche Dronme, "The Precious Lamp of Certain Knowledge". He did not compose his own commentary to this root text, which wrote in verse at the age of seven, when he himself was a student. He sat down and wrote the "bones" of this root text and then later on in his life he edited and published it. He also wrote a structural analysis that simply gives headings in order to bring philosophical order to presentation of the text, which is a long poem in verse. As to why Mipham wrote this text: Given that there were four major schools of Tibetan Buddhism - the Nyingma, the Sakya, the Kagu, and the Gelug, and given that there were any number of masters in these schools who commented upon the Middle Way philosophy, there was much controversy and an enormous amount of detail regarding the different ways in which emptiness could be understood.

Views of Emptiness

There was the so-called "self-empty" school versus the "other-empty" school. There were people who attempted to describe reality from the point of view of negation, of what it was not, whether these were flat out negations or provisional negations, and so-forth. The controversies went on and on and on, resulting in a plethora of arguments that were difficult for people to understand. In a certain sense, there was a great deal of secrecy about emptiness, because it seemed so abstruse. So Mipham formulated seven questions in his own mind, as the one writing the text; seven questions which deal with the issues that create difficulty in people's minds when they are attempting to study and understand emptiness as the view of the Middle Way. It is said that Mipham wrote this text while inspired by and under the guidance of Manjushri. This is only natural, because Mipham was in fact an emanation of Manjushri. So, with this divine inspiration of the Bodhisattva of Wisdom, Mipham composed this text of seven questions.

Divisions of The Precious Lamp of Certain Knowledge

When explaining a text of this nature, a text such as "The Precious Lamp of Certain Knowledge", we can approach it from the point of view of three main divisions of the text. It is said that the Buddha Dharma is virtuous in the beginning, virtuous in the middle, and virtuous at the end. The introductory part of this text is that which is virtuous in the beginning. The main body of the text is that which is virtuous in the middle. And the concluding verses, the colophon, constitute the section that is virtuous at the end. So these are the three main divisions: introduction, main body of teachings, and conclusion. The introduction, then, the part that is virtuous in the beginning, deals with the title, why the text is called what it is called, what the meaning of the title is, and also something of the subject matter to which the title is referring.


FIRST DIVISION: INTRODUCTION TO THE TEXT

The Title of the Text

Just to be thorough, I'll discuss the title. The title of this text in Tibetan is Neshe Rinpoche Dronme, which literally translated would mean "The Precious Lamp of Certain Knowledge".

When a teacher writes a treatise that comments upon one aspect or another of the Buddhist teachings, there is a certain value to, or meaning inherent in, the title. The title is not just something arbitrary. It is something, in both a general and specific sense, that has a pertinent meaning. It is chosen for a reason. In a general sense, the giving of a title to a text of this nature is similar to the way in which people are named. When we are born into this world, we don't go through life nameless, but we are given a name. The name we are given becomes our identification and the focus of all of our hopes and dreams, of all of the happiness that we're seeking to achieve, and of all of the suffering that we're attempting to avoid through our personal efforts in this life. This is derived from the fact that we are named something. It gives us some kind of identity. And, in fact, this derives, in a more profound sense, from the fact that all words, names, and labels in the world, all language in the world, exits due to the blessings of Buddhahood, due to the blessings of awakened mind being felt on some level in this ordinary world as the phenomenon of language. In the case of a specific name being given, in this instance to a specific text, there are three levels upon which this can be understood. There is the value of naming a text from the point of view of someone who has the very highest degree of acumen and perception; from the point of view of someone who has a middling degree; and for someone who has an ordinary degree of perception. For someone of the very highest level of acumen or sensitivity, just to hear the name or to utter the name of the text "The Precious Lamp of Certain Knowledge" would in that person bring about an understanding of everything that is implied by the term "certain knowledge", from A to Z, from the very beginning to the very end of that whole spectrum of understanding. All of this would be completely evident to that person simply upon hearing the name of the text, if that person were of the very highest degree, highest caliber. In the case of someone with a more middling level of understanding and sensitivity, the name is at least some kind of marker, some kind of identification. It gives a general idea of the subject matter of the text. One example we might use is that of the various standards which are carried by different battalions or companies in an army. By looking at a standard, you know exactly which battalion, company, or division it belongs to. In the same way, when you hear the name of a text, if the name has been chosen wisely it indicates to you whether it's a text about ethics, metaphysics, Sutras, and so forth. To use a name like "The Precious Lamp of Certain Knowledge" identifies for someone of a middle level of understanding at least what part of the Buddhist teachings are being talked about in the text. And for someone of an ordinary level of understanding, the title just indicates which book you're talking about. It's like going to the medicine chest and being able to read the labels on the bottles. If someone says to you "go get me some aspirin, I've got a headache," you can go read the labels and, at the very least, just by reading the label, you know which one they want, so you can bring them the right one. So at the very least, if someone were to say to somebody "go get Neshe Rinpoche Drunme" you'd know which book to go and get. At the most ordinary level of understanding and perception, at least the name is valuable from that point of view. The point here is that there is a certain value to, a necessity for, giving a name to a text such as this.

In addition to simply noting the name of the text, we should examine why those particular words were chosen - Neshe, Rinpoche, and Dronme. Why Neshe? Why Dronme? Why "certain knowledge"? Why "lamp"? Why "precious"? Mipham himself commented in his writings that if you are attempting to practice the Dharma, you can only practice the Dharma effectively when you have a certainty about what you are doing; when there is a certain knowledge in your mind concerning the nature of practice and the nature of reality; about what exactly it is you're doing when you practice. He said that, as long as you don't have that certainty, you're like someone fumbling around in the dark trying to find something, and not really sure what you're looking for or where to look for it. As soon as there is a lamp lit in that darkness, he says, you can find your way to what you want. Then you have gained some certainty of where you're going and what you're looking for. So his text is like this lamp of certain knowledge that provides the means for one to practice in an effective manner. If we think about it, this kind of certain knowledge is necessary, not only in the spiritual realm, but in the worldly realm as well. If we're going to do anything constructive and effective on the worldly level, we need to have some certain knowledge about what we're doing. If we don't have some degree of wisdom or transcendent knowledge or certainty about what we're doing, whether it's in the spiritual realm or the ordinary, mundane realm, we're not going to be effective.

The particular object of the certain knowledge we're referring to here is the teaching of the Buddha Dharma, both the Sutra and the Tantra approaches. And in particular the seven questions addressed by this text concern key issues in coming to this certain understanding of emptiness, this certain understanding of view. If you do not have this certain knowledge, if the lamp is not lit in your experience, there is great danger that you will make errors in your practice. When an author such as Mipham is writing a text like this and choosing a title for it, the process isn't arbitrary. The title may be chosen from the point of view of what the actual meaning of the text is. It may be chosen from the point of view of the kinds of words and terms that are used in the text. It may be chosen in reference to a particular time period in which the text is written, a particular location, a particular set of circumstances, or, as in this case, a particular metaphor. The title is a metaphor for the ultimate meaning of the subject matter of the text. In choosing this title for his text, the title that you see on the front page of the Tibetan book Neshe Rinpoche Dronme, "The Precious Lamp of Certain Knowledge", Mipham was motivated in all of the three ways that were mentioned earlier: to approach those of the highest caliber, to approach those of the middle level of sensitivity, or to approach those of very ordinary understanding. For all of these cases, he chose a title that would suit his purposes for writing this text.

The Nature of the Work

In our discussion of this introductory part of the text, which is the part that is virtuous in the beginning, we've already dealt with the title. Now we need to say something about the nature of the work that bears this title. First, there is a discussion of the way in which one approaches the vast and profound topics of the Buddha Dharma in general, and secondly, the way in which the seven questions contained in this text constitute the specific way in which this text is approaching these Topics. Regarding the general way in which one approaches the vast and profound topics of the Buddha Dharma, first and foremost we need to understand what the benefits and advantages are of the kind of certain knowledge that is being talked about here - the kind of certain knowledge that you arrive at both through inductive reasoning and through direct experience. Second is the value of such certain knowledge. Given that there are benefits and advantages, what are the specific values? What is the specific necessity for the practitioner of arriving at that kind of certain knowledge? Let us examine at this point the benefits and advantages of this kind of certain knowledge that we arrive at both through our reasoning and through our direct experience. This must take into account the kind of faith or confidence that we feel when we understand that this kind of certain knowledge is really that which illuminates our path, like the lamp.

Benefits of Certain Knowledge

On one hand there is the faith and confidence that one feels in attempting to arrive at certain knowledge. We also need to understand the disadvantages of being devoid of it. The benefits and advantages on the one hand, and the disadvantages on the other hand, can be explained from the point of view of various metaphors - the text makes reference to certain metaphors that illustrate the benefits and advantages of having certain knowledge and the disadvantage of not having it. Once you have understood and appreciated that this certain knowledge is the single factor that more than anything else illuminates your Dharma path, you gain confidence in seeking that certain knowledge. In the first verse of Mipham's text known as the "Lamp of Certain Knowledge", he states,

For those whose minds are ensnared,
Caught in the web of doubts,
That which cuts through that web
Is the lamp of Manjushri, the lamp of wisdom.
When this enters into your heart,
in the sense of being a profound inner sense of certain knowledge,
then that lamp is illuminated
and you then have the eye that allows you to see
the noble path that unfolds in front of you.
And in that eye which comes about through the opening provided by certain knowledge, he says, I express my faith.

In the first verse, the point the author makes is that any sentient being's mind, any being that has consciousness at all, is ensnared, caught in a web or an enveloping veil of doubt. The fact that we are ordinary unenlightened beings means that we are completely subject to doubt in the sense of being unable to come to any clear or definitive understanding of the nature of reality. We are continually caught in this web of doubt. The teachings of the Buddha Dharma are geared toward bringing about a state of liberation or omniscience - of eliminating suffering, of bringing greater states of happiness and well being, to ultimately bring about states of liberation and omniscience. Because we are caught in a state of ignorance of those means and an ignorance of the way in which to bring about that liberation, we are in darkness. Or, if you think of this idea of a web, we are caught in a web of doubt, and we need to cut through that ensnaring web. That which illuminates the darkness is each individual's own certain knowledge, arrived at through his or her own efforts in contemplation and practice. Light is the opposite of darkness. Where there is light there is obviously no darkness. Where the lamp of certain knowledge has been illuminated in the mind of an individual, the darkness of the 84,000 kinds of afflictive emotions, and the ignorance and suffering derived from these afflictive emotions are dispelled.

Who Brings About Certain Knowledge?

Who dispels this darkness? You do! As the practitioner, when you study, train, and practice, you light the lamp of certain knowledge in your own mind and dispel the darkness. Certain knowledge means understanding something you did not understand before. Certain knowledge is referred to here as the lamp of Manjushri, which cuts through the web of doubt. In a certain sense Mipham is mixing his metaphors here, because on the one hand there is the idea of the lamp dispelling the darkness and on the other hand there is the idea of the sword of transcendent knowledge held by Manjushri cutting through the web of doubts. He's combining both of these metaphors in these lines where he says "For those whose minds are ensnared in the web of doubt, the lamp of Manjushri is that which cuts through that web or veil". And so when we use a term like Manjushri, the Bodhisattva of Wisdom, this name indicates nothing other than one's own certain knowledge gained through study and practice. It is you who yields that sword, who lights that lamp through coming to that certain knowledge in your own mind. All of the doubts that exist in your own mind stream right now, all doubt due to ignorance, afflictive emotions, and the non-recognition of your own intrinsic awareness, and the afflictive emotions and negative karma that is a result of those doubts must be cut through. This whole web, which is here referred to as the web of doubts, must be cut through. And the way you cut through is by giving rise in yourself to your own experience of certain knowledge. This, as the Buddha taught, is your support, is your aid, is your Ally, in your quest for liberation and omniscience.

Buddha Nature

The fact that, in the case of each and every sentient being the mind stream of that being can be brought to certain knowledge is proof positive that the being has Buddha Nature. It is because that being has the potential for enlightenment, has Tathagatagarba as it's essence, that the being can come to a state of certain knowledge in the first place. But it is necessary for each individual being to take charge of his or her situation, to take charge of his or her own Buddha nature, as it were, and to make it obvious through study and practice. This is the implication of what he is saying.

Disadvantages of Lacking Certain Knowledge

The next verse in the text deals with the flaws, or disadvantages, of lacking this certain knowledge. The question that's basically being asked at this point is, "Suppose you don't have this certain knowledge? What's the problem? What are the flaws? What are the shortcomings of not having that kind of certainty?". This question is answered by Mipham in the next verse, in which he states,

Alas, because you, you lack,
Because you do not have
This precious certain knowledge
That brings you into contact
With the fundamental nature of reality,
You are still deluded
And you are caught
In all of the causes of delusion,
Caught in this state of ordinary conditioned existence.

That's the problem, when you lack that knowledge your mind remains ensnared and deluded in this cycle of ordinary existence. The verse opens with the word "alas", kye ma in Tibetan, which is a cry of pity. For example, if you are walking along and you see somebody who is so sick or starving, or broken down, obviously in a state of utter misery, you would utter some involuntary cry of pity. Mipham Rinpoche is looking at all of us and saying, "alas!". It's entirely appropriate that he do so, because, as ordinary beings in the cycle of existence, we tend to react solely in the basis of what we perceive our immediate needs to be. We're like animals. All we think of is what to eat, where to sleep, and what to wear. That's it. That constitutes our main focus in our lives - all these little petty issues that really are of little consequence in terms of our future destiny. So it is only fitting that someone of Mipham Rinpoche's realization look at us and say, "Alas!". He can see the fundamental contradiction between what we try to do through our efforts and what we accomplish. In the Bodhicharyavattarya, referred to earlier, Shantideva notes that, in seeking happiness, because of our delusion, we act in such a way that we defeat our own happiness as though it were our worst enemy. We ensure that we will never be happy by the very way in which we try to go about being happy. For someone who lacks this certain knowledge, Mipham has only "Alas!" to say. "Alas!" because you lack this precious quality of certain knowledge that would bring you into contact with the fundamental nature of reality, because you fail to understand the words of the Buddha, because you fail to understand the ethical consequences of what you are doing. You will never understand the fundamental nature of reality without certain knowledge. You will continue to wander, deluded and caught in this illusory cycle of conditioned existence. We're like a bee caught in a jar going around in a circle with no escape. The word "illusion" comes up often in Buddhist teachings. It refers to the fact that, in ancient India, there were powerful magicians or sorcerers - who knows maybe you have them in this culture too, I don't know, I'm new here - who through the very power of their minds could create a hallucination in the minds of their audience. For example, they could make people see water where there was no water, they could make them see fire where there was no fire, they could create an image that didn't actually take place, but seemed to for vast numbers of people. Appearances, the apparent phenomena of ordinary existence, are very much like this. They seem to be happening, but nothing is ultimately there. The point he's making is that the disadvantage of not having such certain knowledge is that you will never be able to dispel your suffering; you will never be able to attain any true happiness; you will never be able to awaken to Buddhahood.

Approaches to Buddha Dharma

In the next verse, Mipham Rinpoche uses a metaphor to indicate the difference between two ways of approaching the Dharma. He says with respect to the teachings concerning ground, path, and fruition that either you may come to a conviction due to this certain knowledge or you may simply have a kind of basic faith due to some superficial contact. But he says that the difference between these approaches is the difference between the true path and a mere shadow or reflection of the path.

Ground, Path, and Fruition

In the teachings of the Buddha Dharma, depending upon the particular level of teachings we're talking about, there will always be some description of the ground, the beginning situation that we start from as sentient beings; the path, which is the process of moving toward enlightenment; and fruition, the actual goal or state that we arrive at. For example, in the Abhidharma teachings there is an extensive description of the skandhas, the mind-body aggregates of the individual, the sense consciousnesses - all of the different elements of the individual's ordinary experience. That, from the point of view of the Abhidharma teachings, is the ground situation, that is the beginning. The path and the fruition are described in terms of the various factors that constitute the process of arriving at enlightenment and the actual features, qualities, or characteristics of that path. So whether we're talking about the Abhidharma teachings of the Sutra tradition; the Mahdyamika, the middle way teachings of the Sutra tradition; or the Vajrayana, there is always some description of ground, path, and fruition - where we start from, how we proceed, and where we arrive. In the case of the Middle Way philosophy this text is concerned with (as referred to earlier), there are the more abstruse, hidden topics, and there is the more direct teaching on emptiness. So the "ground" is the true nature of reality, which is described as being free from, or beyond, all limits or extremes. In one of the most famous verses from the "Root Verses on the Middle Way" (the Madyamikakarika), Nagarjuna states "Whatever arises in interdependence is, by it's very nature, such that it neither is nor is not, neither comes nor goes, is neither one nor many", and soforth". He goes through an analysis in which he says that you cannot describe the true nature of reality from the point of view of any of these extremes: is, is not, comes, goes, one, many, identity, or separateness. None of these extremes works when you are speaking of the true nature of reality. That is the ground, the basis of the Middle Way teachings.

There are two approaches to the teachings concerning ground, path, and fruition. You can study these teachings, hear these teachings thoroughly, contemplate them, and meditate upon them to come to a certainty and a conviction; or you can simply say "Oh! These seem like very wonderful teachings! I have faith in them!", in a superficial, casual way. The difference is between one who is entering the true path and one who is just going through the motions - what is a mere shadow or reflection of the path. Once you have studied and contemplated and meditated, you come to such a level of conviction that nobody can ever convince you otherwise. You have incontrovertible proof in your own experience of the truth of the Buddha Dharma, and it doesn't matter how many people try to shake your faith: it cannot be shaken. On the other hand, if you have an initial sense of faith or attraction but don't pursue it to come to any real understanding, and somebody comes along and says "Well, I hear Buddhism is just a pile of nonsense. You should probably try something else," you are easily swayed in that direction because your faith is not based upon an inner conviction but is superficial and weak. As practitioners of the Buddha Dharma in general, and the Nyingma tradition in particular, this whole question of faith is important for us. On what do we base our? Do we base it on an unshakable level of certainty which has come about through hearing teachings, through contemplation, and through meditation? Or do we base it on a superficial attraction to the teachings? If we truly have the kind of certainty that Mipham is talking about, nobody can change our mind, because we have proven it to ourselves through our efforts at hearing teachings, contemplating them, and meditating upon them. But if we have very little exposure to the teachings and have a superficial attraction to them, we are easily swayed. We may go through the motions of following the path, but it isn't the true path, because we could lose it at any moment.

Authentic Standards

The next verse of the text by Mipham is concerned with the necessity for authentic standards. What constitutes certain knowledge? If we're going to use a term like "certain knowledge", we need authentic standards to determine what we mean by "certain knowledge" - it can't be willy-nilly. There must be standards against which we can test our knowledge and say "Is this certain knowledge or not?". In order to clarify what constitutes certain knowledge, the first approach Mipham takes is to discuss the historical tradition of Buddhism and how certain lineage's of teaching developed.

Chandrakirti and Dharmakirti

Mipham writes,

The superb teachers Dharmakirti and Chandrakirti
In their excellent explanations
Brought illumination that instantly illuminated
The entire path of the Buddhist teachings,
Thus completely overcoming the darkness of doubt.

Mipham also refers to the great masters Chandrakirti and Dharmakirti as charioteers of the teachings. Chandrakirti, whom we heard reference to earlier, was a student in the lineage of Nagarjuna, and was enormously famous in his own time in India as a scholar and master of the Middle Way teachings. Chandrakirti was also credited, due to his insight into the nature of reality, with quite miraculous deeds. On one occasion, for example, he took a mural of a cow, and actually milked milk from the cow. Because of his knowledge of the emptiness of phenomena, he was not subject to the ordinary boundaries of physical reality. In many ways during his life he demonstrated an ability to transcend ordinary physical limits. The other great charioteer, Dharmakirti, was perhaps the greatest logician that Buddhism ever produced. During his lifetime he was undefeated in debate. There was a custom in India at that time for monasteries and schools of different religions to debate one another in public. A great deal hinged on the outcome of the debate, because, when someone won the debate the entire community represented by the defeated opponent would convert to the religion of the winner. Dharmakirti was undefeated in debate, and in fact defeated many people who held extreme spiritual views and brought them to the teachings of Buddhism. It was impossible to defeat him even through the use of magical powers, or by employing miraculous feats to daunt him and cause him to lose his precision in debate. He was magnificent. Chandrakirti, as was mentioned earlier, wrote the text known as the Madyamikavattara, "The Entrance into the Middle Way", which, from our point of view, is perhaps the definitive work on the Middle Way philosophy. Dharmakirti wrote a text called the Pramanavartika (in Tibetan Sema Ngondra), "The Definitive Explanation of Valid Cognition", i.e., what it means to have correct knowledge or valid cognition about something. How do we know when we really know something? That is the subject matter of his text. Following this, Mipham explains how the two traditions coming through these two masters Chandrakirti and Dharmakirti make evident the nature of reality from the point of view of correct knowledge, in the sense that there is a thorough understanding, on the one hand, of the ordinary level of phenomenal reality, and, on the other, an understanding of the true nature of phenomenal reality, Dharmata. Each of these teachers presented specific lines of reasoning in his writings that allow a person to come to a more definitive understanding of either the phenomenal level of reality or the more ultimate level, the true nature of reality. And these are known by technical terms. The work of Dharmakirti on valid knowledge, valid cognition, gives the most definitive understanding of conventional reality; and the work of Chandrakirti and the Middle Way philosophy gives you the most definitive understanding of the true nature of reality, the ultimate level of reality.

Chandrakirti's Four Lines of Reasoning

The first line of reasoning used in the Middle Way philosophy of Chandrakirti is called "The Examination of Causes", which is called "the diamond slivers", literally, because it's the idea of taking something that seems as hard as a diamond and shattering it into slivers. This convincing reality that we experience is analyzed or examined from the point of view of it's causes, and that shatters the ordinary view of reality, so it's called "the diamond slivers". The next line of reasoning is that which examines the results that derive from the causes. It is called the "The Examination That Determines Whether Things Exist or Do Not Exist". The third line of reasoning in Madyamika is "The Examination of All Phenomena to Determine Their Interdependence", what is called tendrup in Tibetan. For example, the Buddha states, "There is no phenomenon that has not arisen in interdependence with causes and conditions. Similarly, there is no phenomenon that is arisen that is not empty by it's very nature." That's the kind of question addressed by this third kind of reasoning. One of the distinctive features of the Buddha's teachings is the question of interdependence. From among all of the spiritual traditions that have arisen in this world and have been propagated by various masters or enlightened beings, the Buddha Dharma is perhaps unique in terms of its presentation of interdependence as that which accounts for the whole world. In various philosophical systems a creator god is posited, who is responsible for making the world. In some other philosophies a self is responsible. The Buddha stated that phenomena arise because of interdependence; that this accounts for their arising. This is one of the unique features of Buddhist teachings, which is a direct expression of the Buddha's direct experience of the fundamental nature of reality. The fourth line of reasoning in the Madyamika approach is known as the "Examination of the Four Alternatives". The four alternatives are: is, is not, both, and neither. Can you say that something is? Can you say that it is not? Can you say that it both is and is not? Can you say that it neither is nor is not? These are the four alternatives that are examined in the fourth line of reasoning. The four lines of reasoning mentioned above are the lines of reasoning adopted in the Middle Way school that follows the teachings of Chandrakirti, who in turn follows the teachings of Nagarjuna.

Dharmakirti's Four Lines of Reasoning

In the case of the school of thought that follows the teachings of Dharmakirti, the logician, the first line of reasoning is known as "The Examination of Phenomena as Arising from Causes". This line of reasoning determines that the only way a given phenomenon can be accounted for is by looking at it's causes, not by some external agent having any influence over it, but only because certain causes are in place bringing about a certain result". The second line of reasoning is "The Examination of the Nature of the Result by the Nature of its Causes". For example, if you have good causes you have a good result, if you have bad causes you have a bad result. The fact that the quality of the result must rely upon the quality of the causes is the second level of reasoning adopted by this school. The third line of reasoning is "The Examination of the Nature of Phenomena by their Qualities". This line of reasoning concerns the nature of any given phenomenon in the sense of the kind of qualities or properties that it exhibits, the fact that these properties are it's nature, that they alone account for its nature. For example, in the case of the hotness of fire, it is a pseudo-question to ask why fire is hot. Fire is hot because it is fire. The nature of fire is to be hot, that is why it is fire. It's that kind of reasoning of identifying the specific properties of some phenomenon as being the nature of that phenomenon. That's it, we don't have to then ask, well why is it? How do we account for the fact that fire is hot? We account for it in that it is fire, and fire is hot.

The fourth line of reasoning that is followed in the school of Dharmakirti is "The Examination of Phenomena by the Logical Consistency of Causes and Results". For example, if you prepare a field of ground well, you till it, you plant it, you water it, and you fertilize it, it is entirely fitting that there be a good crop. There is a logical consistency there, between causes and results. In the same way (and this is where it has real impact for us as practitioners) if we pursue the practice of virtue and establish good causes, there is every reason to believe that there will be a good result, i.e. that we will progress toward enlightenment. It gives a logical consistency to one's practice. In the same way, if we behave in non-virtuous, negative ways, we have only our own and others suffering to expect as a result. These four lines of reasoning are more concerned with the conventional, or relative level, of reality, just as the four from the Madyamika school of Chandrakirti are more concerned with ultimate reality. The master responsible for formulating these lines of reasoning about conventional reality was Dharmakirti in his Pramanavartika, his text concerning the definitive understanding of what constitutes correct knowledge.

Lineages

In the next verse of his text, Mipham Rinpoche praises those who come to this kind of understanding through following these teachings. We are discussing teachings that were first promulgated by the Lord Buddha Shakyamuni; and that were then further refined and presented by Nagarjuna on the one hand and the great Buddhist master Asanga on the other. From the lineage of Nagarjuna, it was Chandrakirti who formulated the lines of reasoning that were discussed above in the Madyamika approach. From Asanga, the lineage of teachings passed through Dharmakirti the logician and his presentation of reasoning concerning conventional reality. From the point of view of the Nyingma school, of the school that we follow in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, this is the root of the path. These are the fundamental teachings concerning ultimate and relative reality. Mipham says that someone who has gained certain knowledge about these teachings is a praiseworthy individual, someone who has accomplished something of great note.

So Mipham refers in his verse to the superb teachers Dharmakirti and Chandrakirti. The term "superb" (mejum in Tibetan), is in reference to two teachers of Buddhist India. Some people will say that this refers to Chandrakirti and Shantideva; others, as in the case of Mipham, will say that it refers to Chandrakirti and Dharmakirti. There are various classifications of the masters of Buddhist India such as "The Six Ornaments of the Human Realm" we referred to earlier, "The Excellent Pair", and, in this case, the "two superb teachers". The word "superb" here means "marvelous", means that the likes of them was never seen before. These two teachers, Chandrakirti and Dharmakirti, were such revolutionary teachers in the way they presented the Buddhist teachings that the likes of them have never been seen before. They stand out among all the other teachers of the Indian Buddhist tradition for the magnificence of their presentation. Again, the two texts that are primarily being referred to here are the Madyamikavattara or "Entrance Into The Middle Way" by Chandrakirti and the Pramanavartika or "The Definitive Explanation of Valid Cognition", what constitutes authentic knowledge, by Dharmakirti. These two are often compared to the sun and the moon, our two sources of illumination in this world. And, as he says here, the light from the excellent speech of these two superb teachers, Dharmakirti and Chandrakirti, instantly illuminates the entire path of the teachings of the sage."

The Buddhist teachings are being compared to the sky in which the light of the sun and the light of the moon brings illumination. Those who follow in the footsteps of these teachers and their teachings, not in a superficial sense of just being alive with, but someone who truly follows their example in terms of studying, contemplating, and meditating is someone who, as he says, completely overcomes the darkness of doubt in his or her mind. So, again, a metaphor is being used to indicate the necessity for authentic standards, and the way in which one can actually approach these authentic standards. The next verse of the root text is again concerned with how one uses correct reasoning and correct understanding to arrive at certain knowledge. Mipham says that through the kinds of reasoning that investigate the ordinary level of phenomena (conventional reality) you come to an unerring understanding of the kinds of ethical choices you must make, which actions to encourage in yourself and which to avoid in order to thoroughly understand conventional reality. This is the single avenue through which you can gain real confidence in the teacher and the teachings, in the Buddha and the Buddha Dharma. Then, by examining the main texts that teach correct reasoning, and by employing these lines of reasoning to arrive at a definitive understanding of the nature of reality, you are following the path of the Madyamika, the path of the middle way, which is the most sublime vehicle. To emphasize: when you use the lines of reasoning that investigate and examine ordinary reality, the ordinary level of phenomena that we experience in the world around us, you gain an unerring precision in the ethical choices you make, in the ethical consequences of what you should engage in, what you should avoid because of the effects to which they lead. This approach is highly praised in the Buddhist tradition, not treated as inferior just because it concerns itself with conventional reality. It is considered a course truly worthy of being pursued. The more one uses this kind of reasoning about conventional reality to come to a precise understanding of ethical choices, the more one gains a confidence in the Buddha and the teachings of the Buddha. As those who are following the example of the Lord Buddha and following the teachings of the Lord Buddha we need this kind of confidence. We need to be completely confident in the teacher and the teachings that we are following. We arrive at this confidence through these kinds of contemplation and reasoning. Otherwise, we remain in delusion, completely caught in the confusion that we have experienced from time without beginning. So, first and foremost, there is the kind of reasoning that makes sense of the operationa of the conventional level of reality. Then he states that in order to come to a definitive understanding of the fundamental nature of reality, you employ the reasoning concerning ultimate truth. So there's a shift here. The teachings of Dharmakirti are primarily concerned with conventional reality. The teachings of Nagarjuna, Chandrakirti, and the middle way school are primarily concerned with the fundamental nature of reality in the ultimate sense - the fact that conventional phenomena arise in interdependence and are by their very nature empty of ultimate reality. That is the topic with which this reasoning of ultimate reality is concerned. Through these lines of reasoning, on the conventional level and on the ultimate level, you come to a flawless and illuminated level of correct understanding. Then you are following the tradition of the Two-fold Path of the Mahayana, the profound teachings of the Mahayana which are found in the middle way or Madyamika system and in the extensive teachings of the Mahayana which are found in the Yogacara or mind only school. By approaching one's practice from the point of view of these two levels of reality and by investigating these two levels of reality, one is coming to a thorough understanding of both, of the profundity and the vastness of the Buddha's teachings.

Referring again to the case of an individual who has thoroughly trained and practiced in and understood these levels of teachings and the praiseworthy nature of such an individual, Mipham says, "someone who is endowed with the mind and the eye", not literally, but the vision, "that comes about through training thoroughly, this person then is able, without relying upon any other support to engage in the path taught by the teacher" - meaning the Buddha in this case - in a completely authentic way. "I praise such an individual," he says - someone who has opened the eye of their knowledge and developed their mind to the point where they can enter into this path taught by the teacher, the Lord Buddha, without relying upon any other support, in the truest and most authentic way possible.

The Mahayana Path

In the Buddhist tradition, as you are aware, there are two traditions, or two Yanas (vehicles), known as the Hinayana and the Mahayana. We are following, at this point in our practice, the Mahayana path of Buddhism. But a person who follows the Mahayana, a Mahayana practitioner, may be a person of very high caliber or may be a person of somewhat duller sensibilities and still follow the Mahayana. A person who is of the highest caliber who is following the Mahayana, is someone who has entered the path in the most authentic way possible. This means that they have thoroughly trained in the teachings of Chandrakirti and Dharmakirti, the two great masters and come to a certainty about conventional and ultimate reality. When they have trained in this way, such individuals have opened their eyes. It's as though they were blind before and now they have sight. And, just as you have two eyes and use both of them, we have two levels of truth, ultimate and conventional, and we must examine both of them in our practice. We must rely upon both systems of teaching. Then, he says, we can enter into the path taught by the teacher, the Buddha. Without having to place our hopes in anything else, without requiring any other kind of support, we can enter in on the basis of our own certainty arrived at through this kind of training. And we can enter into it in the most authentic way possible. The reason it is an authentic way is that it does not rely upon any other external support. You have all that you need to follow this path in the purest possible manner because of the thoroughness of your own training. This is the kind of individual he is praising: the person who's following the Mahayana path, who is of the very highest caliber, and who is following the teachings of Chandrakirti and Dharmakirti.

home founder projects events translations

 2001 - 20011 Osel Dorje Nyingpo Organization. All rights reserved.