The Far-Reaching Patience of Readily Accepting Suffering
Meditation is a method to overcome the mind being under the control of compelling karmic impulses and disturbing emotions, thereby creating suffering for ourselves. The fact that meditation functions like this shows that not everything is determined by some sort of karmic destiny, because if it were, we wouldn’t be able to improve. Thus, we can make effort. Building up positive potential comes from our own efforts, not from destiny.
There are many kinds of experience (myong-ba) in meditation. Some come through effort, some are effortless; some contrived, some uncontrived. Among the varieties, some can degenerate because of our disturbing emotions, some will not decline. Those meditative experiences that do not degenerate are those that arise from the discriminating awareness that arises from meditation (sgom-byung shes-rab). Such discriminating awareness is gained from attaining a joined pair (zung-’brel) of a stilled and settled mind of shamatha (zhi-gnas) and an exceptionally perceptive mind of vipashyana (lhag-mthong). Like this, there are many stages to developing our mind through meditation and thus preventing further suffering.
But how to deal with the sufferings we see all around us and which we ourselves experience now? The answer is with compassion. We all have naturally arising compassion as part of our natures, but to increase it we need to use reason. It can be somewhat intensified by means of faith and aspiration; but, for it not to degenerate, it needs to be strengthened by discriminating awareness. Desire and aggressivity can also increase based on discriminating awareness – for instance, discriminating someone as attractive and someone else as repulsive – but unlike compassion, these two disturbing emotions don’t arise naturally as parts of our natures. They can be eliminated.
In A Supplement to (Nagarjuna’s “Root Verses for) Madhyamaka,” Chandrakirti explained that compassion is helped through three types of discriminating awareness. These are the discriminating awareness that sees:
- The suffering of all beings and their suffering of not realizing this
- The impermanence of all beings and their suffering of not realizing this
- The voidness of all beings and their suffering of not realizing this.
This last one, called “unaimed compassion” (dmigs-med snying-rje) – compassion not aimed at self-established objects – entails seeing all beings as being like illusions and has compassion for them with this view in mind. It is especially important that we see that the suffering of all limited beings is based on their unawareness, their ignorance, and so is something that can be eliminated.
Constructive actions bring happiness to others and to us as well. In other words, when we want to help others and actually do so, we feel good and experience a sense of satisfaction. We continue to feel happy afterwards, and in the future as well. On the other hand, when we do harmful acts with a harmful intention, it means we have dislike for others. In such a state, we’re unhappy and do not enjoy peace of mind. When we hurt others and feel satisfied in having done so, we still feel dislike for them and continue to be unhappy. This is a cause for experiencing further unhappiness in the future. We need to reflect on the way that karmic cause and effect works like this.
Further, consider two people in the same prison as the comprehensive result of a shared karmic potential. Still, they experience different levels of suffering. Even when subjected to the same torture, they will experience it differently depending on their physical strength and mental attitude. Thus, a wide range of different causes make up the complexity of the way in which we experience anything. The obtaining causes are internal, while the auxiliary, supporting causes can be either external or internal. Also, what we were experiencing prior to any given event affects the way we feel during it.
The patience of voluntarily accepting our suffering is not the same as indifference to suffering. This in no way means that suffering is all right, especially since the main thing we want to do is to eliminate suffering and attain liberation in order to help others. However, since we already have suffering, we should accept it so as to not add to it unnecessarily. There is no need to add more suffering to our present suffering.
The patience of accepting our suffering also does not mean that we want more suffering. Rather, we want to prevent the suffering we already have from becoming an obstacle, so we transform it into a supportive factor for the path. In fact, certain practices require suffering and difficulty in order to overcome obstacles. Just look at Buddha’s ascetic practices and Milarepa’s hardship – they welcomed suffering to gain fulfillment of a greater aim. Thus, we too can welcome minor hardships to achieve greater benefit in the future, just as we would eliminate a threat to our lives by accepting the pain of surgery.
As for how to deal with problems that come up, Shantideva advised in Engaging in Bodhisattva Conduct:
(VI.10) If it can be remedied, why get into a foul mood over something? And if it can't be remedied, what help is it to get into a foul mood over it?
When we suffer, we can also see it as our negativities being purified. With our suffering, we request that the hardship we experience will lessen our future suffering.
Shantideva expressed this with a strong example:
(VI.72) Why would a man about to be put to death be unfortunate if, by having his hand chopped off, he were spared? So why would I be unfortunate if, through human sufferings, I were spared joyless realms?
(VI.73) If I'm unable to bear even this minor suffering of the present, then why don't I ward off the rage that would be the cause of hellish pain?
With this type of thinking, we can also take on the sufferings of others, as in the practice of tonglen, giving and taking.
The Far-Reaching Patience of Bearing Hardship While Engaging in Dharma Practice
The practice of Dharma often entails many difficulties. Bearing in mind the aims for practicing Dharma helps us to develop the far-reaching patience of bearing the hardships involved. Such patience is needed for instance, when facing the following eight types of hardships while engaging in Dharma practice:
- When becoming a monk or a nun, having to wear poor-quality clothing
- Being ostracized from society if we decide not to lead an ordinary lay life but to practice Dharma intensively. Even if people don’t encourage us or look down on us as strange, we need to make our decision on our own. The Kadampa masters of old taught that it is improper to conform with everyone’s expectations because of concern for the eight worldly dharmas – praise or criticism, and so on.
- When engaging in strict Dharma practice – for instance, during a three-year retreat – not getting much sleep and having to sleep sitting up
- Needing to show respect for the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha by standing when a text is brought into a room and, before a teaching, prostrating to the lama, or performing a hand gesture if we’re sick. Prostration is an excellent way to eliminate arrogance, since it is a way to show respect and pay homage. It is therefore also important for a lama to make prostration to the Triple Gem before teaching, thinking, before doing so, of impermanence, the suffering of change and selflessness, and then snapping the fingers to dismiss any arrogance.
- When becoming a monk or a nun, having to shave our heads, stop singing and dancing, beg for our food and accept whatever is given
- Needing to concentrate with no mental wandering when reciting prayers and meditating, and needing to maintain mindfulness during walking meditation
- When thinking of the suffering of all beings and meditating on compassion, bearing the emotional upset and sadness that come. When Buton taught, he told jokes that made people laugh, but when Langri Tangpa taught, he told sad stories that made everyone cry. This kind of sadness and emotional upset, however, when feeling compassion is not like ordinary disturbing emotions. This is because, in the depths of our minds, we have strength. We are not overwhelmed by the suffering we experience from our feelings of sadness when thinking of the sufferings of others. We readily accept the suffering that comes when thinking of the sufferings of others.
- Suspending our ordinary pleasurable leisure activities when working to help others.
These, then, are the eight types of hardship we need patience to bear when engaging in Dhama practice.
There is one further situation requiring this type of patience that is helpful to mention. The actual possibility of attaining enlightenment is established by lines of reasoning regarding extremely obscure phenomena. For verifying our perception of something obvious, our perception needs to not be contradicted by valid, non-conceptual bare cognition. For obscure phenomena, our understanding must not be contradicted by valid inferential cognition. For extremely obscure phenomena, our understanding must not be contradicted by valid quotations from authoritative sources.
What about, for example, the teachings in the Buddhist texts about Mount Meru? The main point in the Buddhist teachings is the four noble truths and, as part of the subject matter regarding the first noble truth, true suffering, there is a discussion of the environment. The main emphasis in it, however, is on the limited beings who live in this environment. Buddha, however, talked about the environment in terms of the current views of his time. Since this description of Mount Meru and so on is contradicted by valid perception, therefore, it is not to be accepted.
Regarding extremely obscure phenomena, like karma, we need to find nothing contradictory to them in the Buddha’s teachings. So, we need the patience to investigate many scriptures to check that there are no internal contradictions. In that way, we’ll be able to accept these extremely obscure topics, including the attainment of enlightenment.
We also need far-reaching perseverance or effort. Perseverance, here, is the type of effort we put into constructive actions when we delight in doing them. It is not like the ordinary effort we make when engaging, for instance, in destructive actions. We can’t just sit back and admire all the good qualities of the mind – love, compassion, wisdom and so on. We need to make a sustained effort to accomplish them. What hampers our constructive effort, however, is laziness, so we need to also make effort to overcome that.
There are three types of perseverance:
- Armor-like perseverance
- Perseverance applied to constructive actions
- Perseverance in working for the benefit of others
We need armor-like effort, where it doesn’t matter if we have to practice for a day or an eon, where we will make an effort for countless eons to help even one single sentient being – we will never give up. We can all develop this relentless, undefeatable armor-like perseverance that never fatigues or becomes discouraged.
In doing this, Nagarjuna advises in Precious Garland (Rin-chen ’phreng-ba, Skt. Ratnavali):
(V.83) Like earth, water, fire, wind, medicine and likewise forests, may I always be of use to all sentient beings as they wish, without any obstruction.
Shantideva wrote something similar:
(III.20) And eternally, like earth and so on – the great elements – and space, may I serve, in a plenitude of forms, as the basis for life for fathomless numbers of limited beings.
(X.55) For as long as space remains, and for as long as wandering beings remain, may I too remain for that long, dispelling the sufferings of wandering beings.
Ordinarily when we suffer, a short time seems very long, but when we are satisfied and happy, time flies by and we could stay in that state forever. Therefore, it is a huge benefit to develop bodhichitta and persevere in that state working for the benefit of others. No matter how long we persevere with bodhichitta in our hearts, time will fly quickly and joyfully. We will not feel that helping others is a burden.
When we read in Precious Garland Nagarjuna’s delineation of the progressively greater numbers of eons over which we need to build up of the positive force (the merit) to achieve the various features of a Buddha’s physical body, we might feel that these are really overwhelmingly difficult to achieve. But when we focus on benefiting a limitless number of sentient beings and attaining enlightenment to be able to do this forever, then even though the amount of positive force this will require is even greater, we will not be daunted. If we are already helping others and if, when we attain enlightenment, we’ll be continuing to help all others, what difference does it make if it takes so long?
As Bhavaviveka wrote in Heart Essence of Madhyamaka (dBu-ma’i snying-po, Skt. Madhyamaka-hrdaya):
(I.29) Who, as a hero working for the sake of others with the actions of a great person, would not remain in samsara, even without an end, as if it were for a single day.
So, because we have compassion for all limited beings, we remain in samsara to help everyone; it’s not that we wish to remain in samsara because of our attraction to its faults. Thus, with discriminating awareness and by seeing the faults of samsara, we do not become tainted by them, but rather we see that it is all right to stay in samsara so long as we are helping others as much as we can.
Before we cut the grass, we need to sharpen the sickle. In the same way, we need to make strong effort to develop bodhichitta and a correct understanding of voidness. Once we have gained sharpness in both, we will be able to make all our actions be for the benefit of others and in accord with the Dharma. Doing so will bring us great satisfaction and will be of great benefit both to us and to others. But, to do this, however, we need to overcome laziness.
The best preliminary practice (sngon-’gro) is to meditate on bodhichitta (compassion) and wisdom (emptiness), and to read and study the teachings. The Kadampa masters of old have said that when we are well fed and comfortable, we can look like great practitioners, but when hardship comes, our true nature shows, especially when we are dying.
Death happens in two stages. First, in the process of dying, we stop breathing when our consciousness no longer gives rise to the 80 types of universally occurring subtle conceptual mental activity (kun-rtog brgyad-cu). But we still have the three types of subtlest appearance-making conceptual mental activity (snang-ba gsum) – [white appearance (snang-ba dkar-lam-pa), red increase (mched-pa dmar-lam-pa), and black near attainment (nyer-thob nag-lam-pa).]
When, during the second stage, our consciousness no longer gives rise to these three and the clear light mental activity of death arises, technically we should be dead, although there have been cases of some people reviving from that state. But most don’t revive and actually die. For most people, when the breath stops, their brain functioning also stops. But if they are on a respirator and brain function is still present, they probably are still alive.
Overcoming Different Types of Laziness
In any case, while we are still alive, we need to make effort in constructive activities with armor-like perseverance, even in the face of our impending deaths. There are three types of laziness that obstruct our constructive efforts:
- Attachment to trivial activities, always being busy with meaningless things
- Being discouraged and feeling that “I don’t have the capacity,” or feeling that enlightenment is impossible.
This last one has two types. The first is when, for instance, we get very excited upon hearing that we can attain enlightenment within a three-year retreat. However, when we hear that it might take three countless eons, we feel it is impossible and give up. This is a case of becoming discouraged when we gain detailed knowledge.
The second type is becoming discouraged at our progress by not remembering impermanence and so on. If, from the beginning, we generate firm conviction (mos-pa) in our ability to attain the goal on the basis of impermanence and so on, we will never have the problem of getting discouraged. We can also meditate on our Buddha-natures to avoid discouragement.
As Shantideva pointed out:
(VI.14ab) There isn't anything that doesn't become easier once you've become accustomed to it.
Basically, no bodhisattva became a Buddha without effort. When the Kalachakra texts speak of Adibuddha (dang-po sangs-rgyas, first Buddha) and the Guhyasamaja ones speak of Adinatha (dang-po mgon-po, first Guardian), or a “Buddha from the first” and a “Guardian from the first,” this doesn’t mean that anyone started out as a Buddha. These terms are referring to the fact that all pure and impure appearances arise from the clear light mind and dissolve back into it. The clear light mind is not a location, but refers to the nature of each individual’s mind, whether in samsara or nirvana. Once impurities have all dissolved and pure appearances start to arise from the clear light mind, this marks the start of Buddhahood. The attainment of Buddhahood is from this first occasion and that is what the expressions “Buddha from the first, first Buddha” and “Guardian from the first, first Guardian” refer to. Also, it isn’t that once we attain Buddhahood, we can fall from that state.
According to one account, Maitreya developed bodhichitta before Shakyamuni, but Shakyamuni worked harder and so gained enlightenment first. But “first Buddha” doesn’t refer to that either.
Furthermore, when we make effort, we need confidence. Both confidence and arrogance are uplifting states of mind, but arrogance looks down on others. Shantideva describes three types of confidence:
- Confidence in action – we think, “I alone will do this.” We don’t just follow others but make a commitment to take responsibility.
- Confidence regarding our own power and capacity – we aren’t sure what others can do, but regardless, we don’t look down on them. We commit to helping others, and so on, even if others can’t or won’t.
- Confidence in regard to our minds – we are sure of our victory over disturbing emotions and will not let them overcome us.
Thus, bodhisattvas have a strong sense of self – “I will do it!” Therefore, there are two kinds of ego – positive and negative. One is a troublemaker and the other has the self-confidence to revolt against our disturbing emotions. The latter has the power of steadfastness (brtan-pa’i stobs).
We also need the power of joy, where we take pleasure in working to help others, but without letting ourselves get totally exhausted. We take rests when appropriate so that we can continue working with joy. If we are too tired, we fall prey to discouragement; so, we must recognize our own physical and mental limitations. However, we shouldn’t get too relaxed, in other words, we just take a rest when we are tired and need it. Then during our actual meditation practice, we’ll be able to maintain our mindfulness.
Far-Reaching Mental Constancy
Regarding mental constancy – or mental stability, concentration – there are four levels of mental constancy, the four dhyanas (bsam-gtan). These are progressively deeper states of meditative absorption, in which there is no distraction from sensory objects of desire and the focus in meditation is on ethereal, subtle objects of the mind. In formless states of even deeper absorption, the meditative object is even subtler.
Shamatha – a stilled and settled state of mind – is the “indispensable preliminary stage of the first state of mental constancy” (bsam-gtan dang-po’i nyer-bsdogs mi-lcogs-med, the indispensable preliminary stage of the first dhyana), not an actual first state. More fully, shamatha is a mind that is stilled of all distracting thoughts and which remains firmly settled single-pointedly on a constructive object. Non-Buddhists also train their minds in concentration and are able to attain shamatha and the four dhyanas, so these are common to both Buddhists and non-Buddhists.
To constantly make improvement in our spiritual practice, we need concentration. If there is no concentration, there won’t be any mental development or progress either.
The purpose of developing shamatha is to use it as the basis with which, and on which, to achieve a state of vipashyana (lhag-mthong). Vipashyana is an exceptionally perceptive state of mind. Whether its object is conventional or ultimate, vipashyana investigates it fully, based on analysis to unravel its nature.
Shamatha practice emphasizes stabilizing meditation (’jog-sgom), while in sutra practice, vipashyana emphasizes analytical, discerning meditation (dpyad-sgom). In the practice of the three lower tantras, vipashyana is just an analytical, discerning meditation, whereas in anuttarayoga tantra, Kagyu mahamudra, Nyingma dzogchen, and Gelug clear light meditation, vipashyana is a stabilizing meditation.
It is only when the term “vipashyana” is used in a loose sense that it refers to meditation on voidness. Both shamatha and vipashyana can be focused on a wide variety of objects. But the two are differentiated not by their objects of focus, but by the types of mental state with which they focus on the object.
Vipashyana has both gross detection (rtog-pa) of the rough details of its object of focus and subtle discernment (dpyod-pa) of the fine details, as well as two levels of a sense of fitness (shin-sbyangs, mental pliancy). The first sense of fitness is induced by stabilizing meditation, the second by analytical, discerning meditation. The joined state (zung-’brel) of shamatha and vipashyana can be focused on either the conventional truth or deepest truth of its object. Shamatha is single-pointed and does not analyze an object, while vipashyana analyzes and unravels the details of its object.
Both shamatha and vipashyana are equal in that both require first gathering together the causes and circumstances for their practice. We need an isolated, quiet place free of noise. Once we are accomplished in the practice, noise with not be a problem. We should begin with many short sessions, day and night, taking frequent breaks so as not to become discouraged. If we push too hard so that our meditation becomes faulty, we will only be wasting our time.
We should end our meditation sessions when we still wish to continue, then we will be happy to resume again. We should be moderate in our food and adhere to pure morality and self-discipline by practicing mindfulness about our actions with external objects. In meditation, our mindfulness is aimed at our internal behavior in order to avert inner distraction.
Shamatha can focus, as just mentioned, on the conventional truth or deepest truth of any phenomena. But which is more effective to focus on – the deepest truth of the vase or of the mind as in mahamudra meditation? Obviously, the mind. Thus, in the complete stage of Guhyasamaja, the practice of isolated mind (sems-dben) is emphasized far greater than that of isolated body (lus-dben) or isolated speech (ngag-dben). In terms of conventional truth, we can focus externally on some sound or visual form, or internally on the position of our body or on deities visualized either inside or outside our bodies.
Although when we start to meditate, we can focus on an external object with sensory consciousness, such objects are not the actual ones for developing concentration. This is because they are objects of just one moment of sensory non-conceptual cognition and, as such, they change from moment to moment. To develop concentration, we need a stable object and so we use a mental object derived from such a sensory cognition. We need to focus conceptually on a mental hologram (rnam-pa) that is a reflection of the sensory object, representing it as a commonsense three-dimensional object that extends over time and over all its sensory information. The same is the case when we meditate on a visualization of a deity. That is also a conceptual process.
But, as I mentioned, beginner practitioners, particularly of mahamudra meditation, start out by focusing on external objects. This is a skillful method. Similarly, in Kalachakra meditation on devoid forms (stong-gzugs), we meditate with our eyes looking upwards toward the middle of the brows, and so the object of focus is both external and internal. But the actual meditations for attaining shamatha are done with conceptual mental consciousness, not sensory consciousness.
It is important for modern science to investigate conceptual and non-conceptual cognition. It would also be very helpful to examine the non-Buddhist Indian explanations of cognition to see if they can explain any of the cognitive processes more clearly. It’s always helpful to see things from different viewpoints and challenge our own beliefs.
When focusing on an object, we need to rid ourselves of five faults, as Maitreya outlined in Differentiating the Middle from the Extremes (dBu-mtha’ rnam-’byed, Skt. Madhyanta-vibhanga). These are:
- The laziness of not wanting to meditate
- Forgetting the object of focus
- Gross and subtle mental dullness, and flightiness of mind toward objects of attachment
- Not applying opponent forces when needed
- Not stopping applying opponent forces when no longer needed.
Through reading about meditation, we can gain the intention to meditate and will make effort in it, thereby overcoming the laziness of not wanting to meditate. By becoming familiar with the object of meditation so that it is clear to our minds, we will not forget it. We’ll be able to keep our minds on it, freshly in each moment. To keep our mental hold on the object and not forget it and let it go, we use mindfulness (dran-pa). With alertness (shes-bzhin), we know when we need to apply an opponent to correct some fault in our meditation, and we employ intention (’dun-pa) and a mental urge (sems-pa) to reapply our attention (yid-la byed-pa) once more.
When we are able to concentrate perfectly for four hours straight, we develop a blissful sense of physical and mental fitness. With it, we have a powerful tool to apply in anuttarayoga tantra practice to the meditations on tummo (inner heat), subtle energy-drops (thig-le) and mahamudra focused on the mind.
The Fourth Panchen Lama pointed out in A Root Text for the Precious Gelug/Kagyu Mahamudra (dGe-ldan bka’-brgyud rin-po-che’i phyag-chen rtsa-ba):
For this (sutra tradition of mahamudra), there are two methods, namely seeking a meditative state on top of having gained a correct view (of voidness) and seeking a correct view on top of a meditative state.
The first style is for those of sharp faculties. They develop a correct view of voidness first. But in the anuttarayoga tantra tradition of Kagyu mahamudra, you develop shamatha on the first stage, “single-pointedness” (gtse-gcig). On the second stage, called “free from mental fabrication” (spros-bral), you attain vipashyana. The third stage, “single taste” (ro-gcig), applies the previous attainments to the higher complete stage practices.
Far-Reaching Discriminating Awareness
There are three types of far-reaching discriminating awareness:
- The discriminating awareness of conventional truth
- The discriminating awareness of deepest truth
- The discriminating awareness of the different dispositions of disciples.
The main emphasis is on how to use our intelligence to eliminate our disturbing emotions. For this, we need a correct understanding of selflessness and voidness. What differentiates the Buddhist view from non-Buddhist Indian ones is whether it refutes or affirms a static self of a person, an atman. As The King of Absorbed Concentrations Sutra (Ting-nge-’dzin rgyal-po’i mdo, Skt. Samadhiraja Sutra) states:
Although someone is able to meditate with absorbed concentration, if they do not perish (from their minds their) distinguishing (of things) as having a (truly established) self, their disturbing emotions will return and disturb them, as (happened with) Udraka when he meditated with absorbed concentration. But if someone meditates, having observed in detail, with detailed observation (so-sor rtog-pa), the selflessness of phenomena, it will be the cause for the result, the attainment of nirvana. No pacification will come about through anything other as the cause.
So, we need to meditate on selflessness by relying on reason and investigation, not just on scriptural quotes about it.
We also need to identify and refute the correct object to be refuted. As Dharmakirti said in A Commentary to (Dignaga’s “Compendium of) Validly Cognizing Minds” (Tshad-ma rnam-’grel, Skt. Pramanavarttika):
For ridding oneself of attachment and repulsion in association with (objects having) good qualities or faults, don’t look at those objects. It won’t come about by (examining) whatever external manner of existence (they may have).
Chandrakirti indicated the order for refuting the objects to be refuted – first the misconception of “me” and then of “mine.” In A Supplement to (Nagarjuna’s “Root Verses on) Madhyamaka,” he wrote:
(I.3) I prostrate to the compassion developed for those who, first cling to an atman, thinking, “me,” then develop attachment to things, thinking, “These are mine,” and thus wander (up and down in samsara), without any control, like buckets on a waterwheel.
Grasping for a truly established “me” is something that automatically arises and, based on it, the feeling of “my” body and so on also automatically arises. We feel that there really is a concrete “me” and a concrete body. Sometimes we identify this “me” with our aggregates, and sometimes we conceive of it as completely different from the aggregates and separate. But, more usually, we regard whose body this is as “mine,” as if there were a separate “me” as the possessor of this body as “mine.”
Such a “me” does not exist, even if conventionally there is a self, called “me.” But usually we see a false “me” as a controller, something not dependent upon the aggregates at all. Even if our idea of ourselves is vague, still when someone causes us trouble, the idea of “me” comes up strongly and seems much more concrete and substantially existent and self-sufficiently knowable (rdzas-yod) as a controller.
Svatantrika and the other Buddhist tenet schools below only see this independently existing and self-sufficiently knowable controller “me” as the object to be refuted for attaining liberation. Grasping at the self of a person to exist like this causes disturbing emotions and thus is an emotional obscuration (nyon-sgrib) preventing liberation. Chittamatra and Svatantrika in addition speak of grasping at phenomena as a cognitive obscuration (shes-sgrib) preventing omniscience, although grasping for the self of a person is still the root of samsara.
To overcome samsara, Svatantrika and Chittamatra assert that we do not need to rid ourselves of grasping for the self-established existence (rang-bzhin-gyis grub-pa, inherent existence) of all phenomena. Prasangika, however, holds that as long as we grasp for the self-established existence of all phenomena, we will be unable to rid ourselves of grasping for an impossible self of persons, and therefore liberation will be unattainable. As long as there is grasping for the self-established existence of the aggregates that are the basis on which the self, “me,” is an imputation phenomenon, there will be grasping for the self-established existence of that “me.”
Therefore, Prasangika speaks of a subtler grasping at a self of persons and phenomena than that identified by the Svatantrika or Chittamatra schools. If we rid ourselves of the subtler form of grasping at the self of persons, then by means of that, we will also have rid ourselves of the grosser forms defined by the Svatantrika and below.
From the Prasangika viewpoint, the object to be refuted is the same for persons and phenomena; there is no difference in the subtlety of the voidness of persons or of phenomena. If we are unable to first rid ourselves of grasping for the self-established existence of phenomena, specifically the aggregates, we will be unable to stop our grasping for a self-established person. Thus, according to Prasangika, grasping for the self-established existence of phenomena is included as an emotional obscuration preventing liberation.
In Seventy Verses on Voidness (sTong-nyi bdun-cu-pa’i tshig-le’ur byas-pa, Skt. Shunyatasaptati-karika), Nagarjuna made clear that grasping for the self-established existence of phenomena is the first of the twelve links of dependent arising, ignorance:
(8ab) The twelve links do not (self-existently) arise but are born dependently arising on each other.
(11) If affecting variables (the second link) did not exist, there could be no ignorance (the first link), and if there were no (ignorance), it (the link of affecting variables) would be something non-existent as well. As phenomena that are the causes of each other, they are not phenomena that are established by a self-establishing nature (rang-bzhin).
Therefore, we need to rid ourselves of this grasping, and the ignorance and naivety (gti-mug) of not knowing it is incorrect. Aryadeva explained why in The Four Hundred Verse Treatise:
(VI.10) Just as the cognitive power of the body (pervades the whole) body, naivety abides in all (disturbing emotions). Therefore, by destroying naivety, all disturbing emotions will be destroyed.
Thus, antidotes to naivety, referring to ignorance, are also antidotes to all other disturbing emotions. If we can see dependent arising, then anxiety and all other sufferings will not arise. Therefore, dependent arising needs to be understood from the very beginning.
Chandrakirti confirmed this in Clarified Words (Tshigs-gsal, Skt. Prasannapada):
By (Buddha) having said that longing desire is to be depleted, that doesn’t mean it will cause anger to get depleted, and by having said that anger is to be depleted, that doesn’t mean it will cause longing desire to get depleted. What is the reason why, when (Buddha) said arrogance and so on are to be depleted, the other stains do not get destroyed by just that? This, he said, is because these do not pervade (all) phenomena and so they and their effect are not so great.
But when he said naivety is to be depleted, that causes all disturbing emotions, without exception, to get destroyed. The Triumphant Ones explained that every disturbing emotion depends on naivety.
What is it that one needs to see so that what dependently arises from naivety gets depleted by (depleting it)? It is the real nature of everything (de-nyid). That real nature of everything has become well-known by the Blissfully Gone Ones as the middle path (Madhyamaka). That, which is accepted as being the very nature of the Able One’s Dharma, is spoken of as voidness.
Thus, if we can see dependent arising, our naivety will no longer arise. Therefore, we need to understand dependent arising from the very start. As Aryadeva said in The Four Hundred Verse Treatise:
(VI.11) When (it’s the case that things) come about by dependently arising, (they cannot be truly existent). Seeing (this), naivety will not arise.
The Vaibhashika and Sautantrika systems do not speak about the selflessness of all phenomena. Chittamatra does, but only to the extent of refuting the existence of phenomena being established externally, separately from the mind that cognizes them. However, Chittamatra accepts the true, unimputedly established existence of the mind and of thoroughly established phenomena. But how can they claim that some phenomena have independently established existence, and some do not? Asserting like that, they fall to both extremes – absolutism and nihilism.
Nagarjuna stated clearly in Root Verses for Madhyamaka:
(XXIV.18) We declare dependent arising as voidness. It (means) dependence on imputation – that indeed is the middle path.
The fact that things can only be known by depending on names is not a nihilist position. As Nagarjuna went on to say:
(XXIV.19) There does not exist anything that does not dependently arise. Because of that, there does not exist anything that is not devoid.
The Vaibhashika and Sautrantika systems accept dependent arising only in terms of affected (nonstatic) phenomena – they all arise dependently on causes and conditions. Chittamatra further accepts dependent arising in terms of wholes and parts – parts arise dependently on a whole, and a whole arises dependently on parts. Prasangika adds to this that everything arises dependently on the names with which they are designated. In terms of these three levels of dependent arising, the grasping for a self of phenomena that is not a dependently arising one goes, starting with the Prasangika view downwards, from subtle to gross.
[For Prasangika, the manner of existing it refutes is one of not arising dependently on mental labelling — in other words, truly established existence. Chittamatra and below accept truly established existence. For Chittamatra, the manner it refutes is one of not depending on parts, so partless particles and partless moments. All phenomena, both static and nonstatic arise dependently on parts. Sautrantika and Vaibhashika accept these partless phenomena. The manner they refute is one of nonstatic phenomena arising without depending on causes and conditions. The non-Buddhsit Samkhya and Yoga schools assert that primal matter is static and unchanging. So, the manner of not dependently arising that each Buddhist tenet system refutes goes from subtle to gross.]
The manners with which each of these graspings cognitively take their objects (’dzin-stangs), however, is the same, whether they are grasping for the self of persons or the self of phenomena. Thus, grasping for the self of phenomena gives rise to grasping for the self of persons, and that leads to compelling karmic impulses, which then bring on uncontrollably recurring rebirth, samsara.
Thus, we need to see the second noble truth, the true origins of suffering, as being disturbing emotions and karmic impulses, based on grasping for a non-dependently arising self of all phenomena, including persons. Thus, the first noble truth, true suffering, has two levels, gross and subtle, depending on how deeply we define the second noble truth in terms of that grasping and the fourth noble truth in terms of the opponent discriminating awareness.