We the Admin Team are not big on generalisations, but when it comes to our Coronavirus Updates, no news certainly is good news. You will be happy to hear there is still only one case in the monastery.
The old adage doesn’t hold up for our Corvid Updates, or as Julie so cleverly coined in her comment on last week’s post, the Crows Nest News (CNN). We don’t know how long you brooded over this, but we are grateful you decided to wing it, and we’re very happy to let it fly. A big thank you, Julie! So, on CNN this week, Geshe la investigates care and concern amongst the crow families, with a special on the emptiness of our homes. Geshe la has been examining how he sees their nests, and wonders, in turn, how do they see the buildings we live in?
In this Practising in a Pandemic section, we are now looking at two verses on emptiness from Maitreya’s Prayer of Love: the emptiness of phenomena (v.14), and the emptiness of persons (v.15). Geshe Tashi asks us, why are we studying emptiness? He quotes from Chandrakirti’s Entering the Middle Way, giving the following translation:
“The teaching on selflessness is taught in order to liberate living beings.
It is taught based on phenomena and persons,
Where the selflessness of persons and phenomena are explained.”
We need to remember, Geshe la says, that emptiness is taught so we can free ourselves from our destructive emotions, not just to enhance our intellectual standing. This is a consistent message from Geshe Tashi, one that is emphasised throughout his Foundation of Buddhist Thought Course, that many of us are studying at present. The dharma is not for acquisition, but for personal transformation.
Why did the Historical Buddha teach the selflessness of self and other? Geshe la explains that this covers all phenomena: self and other than self; “I” and “mine”. It is put this way to emphasise that we are not talking about sterile hypotheticals here – things that are not related to us – we are talking about things such as our five aggregates. The Buddha is referring to all things we are in a relationship with, because all understanding occurs in relation to “I” and “mine”. As ever, Geshe la encourages us not just to follow along with whatever others have said, but to conduct a serious analysis of our own. We should draw our own conclusions, not the answers we are supposed to find.
In verses 14 and 15, Geshe Tashi is very careful to frame the context in which these statements are being made. In this way he is guarding our minds against nihilism. For this reason, once again we recommend today’s episode for everyone, but especially all those approaching the topic of emptiness in The Four Noble Truths and the Two Truths modules of The Foundation of Buddhist Thought Course. Verse 14 covers the three times: past, present and future. It is not that these don’t exist. They exist, but only in dependence on other things. In verse 15, so there can be no doubt, all the Tibetan terms are synonyms given for who we are: (literally) mind havers, life havers, persons. It is not that these manifestations of sentience do not exist, only that they do not exist without depending on mind and all other things. Do you have a mind, are you alive, are you a person? Then this teaching is for you.
Once again, we have a note from Geshe la about the English text we are using. In the last line of verse 15, the Tibetan word chö, which is translated here as “phenomena”, has many different meanings, such as “dharma” or “nature”. According to Geshe Tashi then, the last line is better understood as:
“May I realise the nature of the selflessness of persons.”
Since Geshe la mentioned the three verses we posted last week as being important to review, we will list them again below. As a reminder, these are our quickly edited versions of Geshe la’s off the cuff translation.
A verse from the Ma Tros pa Sutra
(The Sūtra of the Questions of the Nāga King Anavatapta)
Whatever arises dependent on conditions,
That thing has not arisen intrinsically.
This is the sure sign that phenomena
Do not have intrinsic arising nature.
A verse from Ayradeva’s Four Hundred Stanzas
Whatever comes into being dependent on others,
That thing will not have any independent nature.
All things lack this inherent nature,
Therefore, there is no inherent self.
A verse from Lama Tsongkhapa’s In Praise of Dependent Arising
Whatever is dependent on conditions
These things are empty of inherent nature.
Proclaimed by the Buddha, what an amazing statement!
Among all great teachings, what teachings are greater than this?
While watching this recording, you may notice that Geshe la is in full flow, but then there is a jump. Just to put your minds at rest, we lost our internet connection at that point, but Geshe la then returned to pick up where he left off, so nothing was lost as far as we know.
We hope you enjoy!
With best wishes as ever,
Your Admin Team
Maitreya’s Prayer of Love (Verses 14 & 15)
Not born and not coming, self-nature non-existent,
Abiding non-existent, awareness of appearance non-existent.
The non-true existence of things themselves.
I wish to realise the emptiness of phenomena.
Buddha is like a great lord;
Yet sentient beings do not exist, life does not exist.
No being at all is there that exists; even healing does not exist.
** I wish to understand the phenomena of the non-self-existent ego.”
FPMT, translator unknown
** Better translated as, “May I realise the nature of the selflessness of persons.”
Khen Rinpoche Geshe Tashi Tsering taught in London for over 25 years and is currently Abbot of Sera Mey Monastery in Karnataka State, India.