Objects of Focus and Lines of Reasoning Used in Meditation on Voidness

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Brief Review

Of the six far-reaching attitudes, generosity and so forth, we began discussing the sixth one, the far-reaching attitude of discriminating awareness. Prior to that were the verses concerning a combined state of a stilled and settled mind and an exceptionally perceptive mind in general, and more specifically, the use of a combined stilled and settled mind and exceptionally perceptive mind for gaining the realization of voidness. It is extremely important to gain this discriminating awareness of voidness. This was addressed in the text:

(47) Awareness of the voidness of self-establishing natures that has come to realize that the aggregates, cognitive sources, and cognitive stimulators lack (a self-established) arising has been fully explained as discriminating awareness.

This verse lists the five aggregates and so forth that are the objects at which the mind can be aimed when understanding voidness.

The Five Aggregates

The first of the five aggregates is the aggregate of forms. This refers to all forms of physical phenomena; for instance, the body and so forth. 

The second aggregate is the aggregate of feeling. Feeling is a mental factor. It refers to the feelings of happiness, unhappiness, or a neutral feeling. There are happy feelings that make you feel good and there are unhappy feelings that bring suffering or sadness. There are also neutral feelings. All of these different feelings are a type of awareness or cognition.

The next aggregate is the aggregate of distinguishing. This is the distinguishing that something is this and not that. For example, this is a table, or this is white, and other such distinguishings. Again, this is a type of awareness or cognition. It is a mental factor. 

There are two types of nonstatic, impermanent phenomena that are ways of being aware of something: primary consciousnesses and mental factors. There is a list of fifty-one of these mental factors that are discussed as part of the subject matter known as lorig, or Ways of Knowing. There is a specific reason why feeling and distinguishing are singled out from all the other mental factors and put together to form individual aggregates by themselves. The reason is because, on the basis of our various feelings and the ways in which we distinguish things, we get into a lot of disputes and trouble with other people. Because of this, feeling and distinguishing are singled out to form individual aggregates by themselves. 

The fourth aggregate is the aggregate of consciousness. This includes the different types of primary consciousness that we have: the primary consciousness of the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body and, likewise, mental consciousness. All of these are included to constitute the aggregate of consciousness. 

The fifth is the aggregate of other affecting variables. This includes all the other mental factors outside of the two singled out as individual aggregates: feeling and distinguishing. It also includes all nonstatic phenomenon that are neither forms of physical phenomena nor ways of being aware of something. 

The Eighteen Constituent Components, the Cognitive Sources 

All functional or nonstatic phenomena can be included within the five aggregates. The eighteen constituent components of cognition, or cognitive sources, however, are a more extensive system of classification than what can be incorporated within the five aggregates, since they include static phenomena as well, such as space and voidness. The eighteen constituent components are divided into the six types of cognitions that we can have. There are visual cognitions of the eyes, audio cognitions of the ears, olfactory cognitions of the nose, gustatory cognitions of the tongue, tactile or physical-sensation cognitions of the body, and in addition, all-phenomena cognitions of the mind. 

The objects of visual cognitions, those that involve eye consciousness, are the various sights or forms we see. Included among them are yellow, blue, red, white and all different colors. For audio cognitions of ear consciousness, the object are sounds. The objects of the eyes, sights, cannot be known by the ear consciousness; likewise, the objects of ear consciousness, sounds, cannot be known by an eye consciousness. For the nose consciousness, the object is smells. The object of the tongue consciousness is tastes. The object of the body consciousness is various physical sensations of touch, such as the sensation of something smooth or rough and coarse. It includes all the tactile sensations that the body can experience. Thus, we have the five types of sensory consciousness and the five types of sensory objects. They fit together very nicely to make a group of ten of the eighteen constituent components.

The next is mental consciousness. The objects of mental consciousness are all phenomena. For instance, if we see something with our eye consciousness and then we close our eyes, we can still see an image of it with our mind. In this way, we can understand how any object or knowable phenomena can be an object of mental consciousness. 

There is, however, a difference in the way that an object appears to these two types of consciousness. For the eye consciousness, the actual form of the object appears to the eye consciousness. But, when we close our eyes and think, for example, of the form of the table, what appears is not the form of the table but a semblance of the table. It is something that is an appearance that is very similar to the table, but we couldn’t say it is exactly the same as the table. It is a semblance or an appearance, like a mental image. What appears to the mental consciousness is merely an appearance, a mental image, or semblance of what actually appeared to the eye consciousness. To the eye consciousness, we had the actual form and for the mental consciousness, we have a semblance of that form, which appears as a mental image to that mental consciousness. 

Let’s take the example of a forest we’ve been to. We can be aware of the forest with our mental consciousness and have a mental image of the forest that corresponds to the actual forest. If we go to a place where there are no trees, we can still have with us this mental image of a forest, but in this instance the forest isn’t actually there to correspond to our mental image. In this sense, we can see that there is a similarity between a mental image and what it corresponds to. 

Because there is this slight difference in the types of objects that are involved with mental consciousness, the objects of mental consciousness are classified separately and include all knowable phenomena, both nonstatic and static. When we speak of the discriminating awareness that understands voidness, voidness, which is static, is an object of mental consciousness. Voidness can be an object of mental consciousness, but it cannot be an object of any of the sensory types of consciousness and is not included among the five aggregates. 

We have covered a list of twelve thus far. In addition, there are the different types of cognitive sensors. It is by their powers that these objects are known. For instance, for eye consciousness, we have the photosensitive cells of the eyes. Likewise, we have various sensitive cells that are specific for each of the different senses: for the ears, the nose, the tongue, and the body. The mind sensor refers to the cognitive power of the immediately preceding moment of cognition and not to anything physical.

These six are the basis or reliance upon which the cognitions arise. The actual way these are accepted and presented from a philosophical point of view differs slightly according to the four different schools of Buddhist tenets. Since that becomes extremely complicated, we won’t go into a detailed discussion of all these points. Even though it is complicated, it is not something that is difficult to understand. In the future, asking a Geshe questions such as, “What are the six cognitive stimulators and how are they involved in taking an object?” would be very good. 

This completes the list of the eighteen constituent components. 

The Cognitive Stimulators

The cognitive stimulators can be referred to as either the six or the twelve cognitive stimulators. These can be listed as the six cognitive stimulators for the eye, ear, nose, tongue, body and mind. Also, they could be listed as the constituent components of sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, and all phenomena, plus the six types of cognitive sensors. It is just a different way of classifying and dividing the same subject matter that we have just been discussing. 

Understanding Voidness

All knowable phenomena can be included among the eighteen constituent components, whereas the five aggregates only include all nonstatic, functioning phenomenon. They do not include static, nonfunctional phenomena, such as space and voidness. Static and nonfunctional are synonymous, as are nonstatic and functional. These are all the various objects that we focus on with an understanding of their voidness. All of these things lack self-established existence, but they appear to have their existence established by something findable on their own side. Voidness is the fact that their mode of appearance does not correspond to their mode of existence. All of these phenomena are devoid of existing in the way in which they appear. In other words, there is no such thing as a mode of existence that corresponds to their mode of appearance. It is totally absent. Thus, all these things are devoid of having their existence established by a self-establishing nature on their own sides. This is what we need to know when we understand voidness. 

The Debate in Differing Tenet Systems about How to Establish the Existence of Things

All the Buddhist philosophical tenets, apart from the Madhyamaka Prasangika school, accept self-established existence, often translated as “inherent existence.” They say that the existence of things must be established by a self-establishing nature findable on their own sides, because we can actually see them. We can see a tree, a sprout, and things like this. If the tree is blown down by strong wind, we see this. This is evidence that things do have their existence self-established from their own side. Similarly, they state that if we plant a seed in the ground, we can see that a tree will grow from it. They believe that this is proof that these things have inherent, self-established existent. 

In this debate, the Prasangika school says that this is not a sufficient reason to prove that things have self-established existence. The other schools hold their position because they think that for something to arise, it must be something that has self-established existence, because of the equivalence: “Something that arises is an object with self-established existence.” Prasangikas answer, saying, “They are not the same; these are two different things. The arising of something and the arising of something having self-established existence are two different things. They are not the same.” 

If we look, both sides in this debate accept the fact that things do arise, because both sides can see that things arise. One side in this debate is saying that because they can see with their eyes that things arise, these things that arise are doing so on the basis of them having self-established existence; whereas, the Prasangika side says in reply, “Yes, we agree that we can see that things arise. However, because things arise and because we can see that things arise, this in fact proves that they do not have self-established existence. If things arise, they can only arise devoid of having self-established existence.” 

Three Lines of Reasoning Relied upon to Understanding Voidness 

We need to rely on many lines of reasoning to understand voidness. By thinking about these, we can develop the mental factor of discriminating awareness to actually understand and cognize voidness. Firstly, we have to hear and learn about them. There are many lines of reasoning understood by means of the mental factor of discriminating awareness, but specifically, three are discussed here. 

Prasangika states that we see things arise and this proves that they do not have self-established existence. In this argument, we are not just blindly saying, “Things don’t have self-established existence.” We are saying, on the basis of logic, that things do not exist by the power of a self-establishing nature findable in them. What types of lines of reasoning are involved? They are as follows.

The Line of Reasoning from the Point of View of a Result, Refuting the Arising of Something Already Existent or Nonexistent

Firstly, we would say that if a flower were to have existence self-established from its own side and have an arising based on being a self-established object, then, being self-established, the flower should already exist at the time of the seed. In other words, the flower comes out of the seed and, if it arose as something already having self-established existence, it should already have existed like that at the time of the seed, inside it. This is because if it had self-established existence, it should have existed there in the seed all the time in that same manner. Therefore, it should have already existed there at the time of the seed. 

On the other hand, if the existence of the flower is only established as what the word “flower,” designated by convention on it, refers to, then it is not necessary for it to have existed already at the time of the seed. It is only in terms of what a designation refers to that it exists as a flower. But if its existence were not established merely as what the designation for it refers to, then it would have had to already have had self-established existence at the time of the seed. Then again, instead of it already having self-established existence at the time of the seed, if it did not yet exist at the time of the seed, then because its not-yet-existing would have to have been self-established, the flower would be a self-established nonexistent phenomenon, so how could it ever have arisen? 

If it already had self-established existence at the time of the seed, then there would be no need for it to arise, because it would already have existed. There is no reason for it to have to grow because it is already there. We see that both logical alternatives will not do. It can’t be self-established as existent at the time of the seed, nor can it be self-established as nonexistent at the time of the seed. Since both of these alternatives, which form a dichotomy, are illogical, the flower does not have self-established existence at all, because there is no such thing. In this way, we establish the total absence of the arising of a flower being based on self-established existence. This is because something – in this case, self-established existence – has to either exist or not exist. There can’t be a third alternative.

To clarify this a little bit more, there is nothing that can have self-established existence at the time of its cause and there is nothing that can have self-established nonexistence at the time of its cause. If both of these are illogical, there can’t be something self-established that has both self-established existence and self-established non-existence at the time of its cause. Likewise, there can’t be something that is neither of these two, something self-established as having neither self-established existence nor self-established nonexistence.

In this way, we analyze the four logical possibilities, and we find that there isn’t anything that can satisfy or fit into any of these four categories. For instance, generally speaking, there isn’t anything that can be both me and Alex. There is nothing that can be both you and me; however, there are things that can be neither you nor me, because all of you here are neither me nor Alex. But Alex and I do not constitute a dichotomy – not all phenomena have to be either me or Alex. Existence and nonexistence, however, do constitute a dichotomy. Something has to either exist or not exist.

On the basis of self-established existence, then, if we speak about the flower and the seed, then if there is such a thing as self-established existence, then either the flower has to have self-established existence at the time of the seed or self-established non-existence at the time of the seed, or both or neither. None of these four possibilities make sense; they are all illogical, and we can’t think of a self-established flower that is in any category other than that. So, self-established existence doesn’t make any sense, and therefore there is no such thing. Therefore, we have to say that there is no such thing as a self-established flower at the time of the seed. In this way we establish the voidness of self-established existence. 

This is covered in the text by the line:

(48) If (things had self-established) existence, it would be illogical for them to have to arise. Further, if (they were self-established as) non-existent (at the time of their cause, they could not be made to arise), like a flower out of space. Moreover, because there would be the absurd conclusions of both these faults, things do not come about from having both (self-established existence and non-existence) either.

The Vajra Droplet Line of Reasoning from the Point of View of a Cause, Refuting Arising from Self or Other

The next line of reasoning is known as the “vajra droplet” line of reasoning. The verse in the text states:

(49) Phenomenal things do not arise (self-established) from themselves, nor from something different, nor from both. Neither do they (arise) from no causes at all. Because of this, by their essential nature (everything) lacks a self-establishing nature.

This line of reasoning deals with another set of four possibilities if something were to have self-established existence and arise as a self-established object. If everything had self-established existence, a self-established object would have to arise from an object that was: 

  1. Self-established as being the same as itself
  2. Self-established as being different from itself
  3. Self-established as being both the same as and different from itself
  4. Self-established as something that was neither the same as nor different from itself. 

These are four possibilities: something having self-established existence arising from itself, from something other than itself, from both or neither. 

This refers to specific philosophical positions as asserted by non-Buddhist schools of Indian philosophy, such as the Samkyas. They assert that self-established things arise from themselves. They say this based on a cogent way of thinking that, at the time of the cause, the result must already exist in an unmanifest form that later becomes manifest. They say, for instance, the flower does exist inside the seed at the time of the seed, but just not manifested, and that, later on, the flower existing with self-established existence already, but unmanifest, in the seed will become manifest and arise. At that time, we will be able to see the flower clearly. 

In response to them in debate, we reply, “If this is the case, let’s consider an ant standing on top of a blade of grass. Suppose this ant has the karmic potential to be reborn as an elephant a hundred times.” We then ask, “If this ant has the karmic potential to be reborn as an elephant a hundred times, and if all of these hundred elephants exist with self-established existence in the ant, we just can’t see them, then, when the ant is standing on top of the blade of grass, are a hundred elephants standing on this blade of grass? There would have to be a hundred elephants standing there because you say that the result exists at the time of the cause. You say it is just because they are not yet manifested that we don’t see a hundred elephants. But the logical conclusion of your assertion is that a hundred elephants are standing there in the place of that ant.” We don’t accept this philosophical position.

The non-Prasangika philosophical tenets within the Buddhist schools accept self-established existence and assert that self-established things arise from something self-established that is different from themselves. The example that they give for this is children and their parents. It is quite obvious that children arise from two people other than themselves, namely their parents. They assert this, but on the basis of self-established existence. 

We would, of course, agree that the child does arise from the parents who are different from the child, but it can’t be said that they are different self-established people. It can’t be that a self-established child arises from self-established parents and thus the two are different from each other on that basis. If we were to assert self-established objects arising from other self-established objects, then all the logical faults that we were citing before would likewise have to apply here. In this case, there would be something with self-established existence inside of something else, also with self-established existence, and self-established as something different from it and coming out of it. Likewise, this would be illogical. Therefore, although we do accept that things arise from other things, we do not accept the premise that they are self-established objects, self-established as different from each other.

For instance, to establish the existence of fire, we would say that fire exists over there because there is smoke. “Because there is smoke,” is a logical reason for asserting the existence of fire at the place where there is smoke. Likewise, people who assert the arising of self-established phenomena state as proof that self-established things arise from themselves because things arise from themselves in general, like a longer blade of grass growing from a shorter one. Likewise, those who assert the arising of self-established phenomena from other self-established phenomena state as proof that self-established things arise from things that are self-established as different from them simply because things arise from something different in general, like smoke from fire. 

For instance, if somebody were trying to prove to us the existence of fire where there is smoke, and their premise is that both fire and smoke have self-established existence, then if we say, “No, there is no smoke over there,” then we don’t accept their reasoning because we don’t accept the existence of self-established smoke and fire. Therefore, their assertion is not proven to us, but that doesn’t mean that we deny that where there is smoke, there is fire.  

Likewise, here, the opponents say that self-established things arise from themselves because things arise from themselves. They are taking the two as being totally equivalent, thinking that to arise from itself as something with self-established existence and to simply arise from itself mean exactly the same thing. So, they assert that where there is fire, there is smoke because the self-established smoke that comes out of fire existed as unmanifest self-established smoke inside the fire. What we reply in return is, “No, we don’t accept your reason because we don’t accept that for something to arise from itself means that it is a self-established object that is arising from itself.” 

Of course, in general, we would accept that things arise from themselves, just as we accept that things arise from our self. We can say that the hair on my head is arising from a part of me, and so, in a sense, it is arising from my “self.” However, we would not say that the two positions – self-established hair arising from a self-established “self” and just, in general, hair growing from me – are equivalent. 

The same argument applies in terms of our opponents’ reason for establishing that self-established things arise from other self-established things. They say that self-established things arise from objects that are self-established as different from them, meaning that self-established things arise from other self-established things and simply things arising from other things are exactly the same. We deny the line of reasoning because we say, “No, things do not arise from others with the meaning that self-established things arise from other self-established things.” Nonetheless, of course we accept in general that things arise from other things, because children are born from parents. 

The crux of this argument is whether or not we take as being equivalent the two positions: things arise from self and self-established things arise from themselves, and the two positions: things arise from other things and self-established things arise from other self-established things. This is the important point to see, that the proponents of these views accept these two as being exactly the same. We say, “No, they are different.” 

It is like the example that we just mentioned. If someone is trying to prove that there is a fire outside and we ask, “What proof do you have for that?” and they say, “There is smoke over there.” If we say, “I don’t see any smoke,” then what they are trying to establish has not been proven to us. We can say, “You were just joking when you said there was fire there, because I don’t see any smoke and therefore there isn’t any fire there.” Likewise, because the reason that they set for establishing the arising of self-established objects from self or other is something that is illogical and something that we don’t see, because it is not the case, then what they have tried to establish cannot be the case. 

This line of reasoning known as the “vajra droplet” line of reasoning, then, refutes the four logical possibilities that self-established things arise: 

  1. From themselves
  2. From something self-established as different from themselves
  3. From something that is self-established as both the same as themselves in some respects but also different in others
  4. From neither something self-established as the same nor different from themselves, which is equivalent to self-established things arising from no cause at all.

There are some Indian philosophical schools that assert that last position. This is very easy to refute, because there isn’t anything that arises without a cause. The other philosophical positions can be refuted by the lines of reasoning that we have just been outlining.

This line of reasoning, called the “vajra droplet” line of reasoning, has “vajra” as part of its name because it resembles a vajra, the ritual implement that has four spokes that make up each end. Just as these four spokes can destroy something when this type of vajra thunderbolt is hurled, likewise this line of reasoning destroys the four logical possibilities. Each part of it can destroy a wrong view. It is like, for instance, there is a destructive substance such as gunpowder in a bomb or plutonium in an atom bomb and, just as each little piece of the plutonium, can explode and destroy something, likewise with this vajra thunderbolt, each spoke, or side of the argument destroys an illogical point of view. 

The first line of reasoning, refuting the arising of something already existent or nonexistent, is known as the line of reasoning that analyzes and refutes from the point of view of something being a result. When we analyze a result, it leads to the refutation of the arising of a result that, at the time of its cause, has either self-established existence or self-established non-existence. This needs to be analyzed first, because we can see a result arising from a cause. 

The second one, the vajra droplet line of reasoning, is analyzing and refuting, from the point of view of the cause of something, that the cause of a self-established object is either itself or something self-established as different from itself. 

The Line of ReasoningParted from Being Either Singular or Plural,” Analyzing the Essential Nature of All Phenomena Involved

The third line of reasoning refutes the arising of self-established phenomena by analyzing the essential nature of the actual phenomena involved. Specifically, it is a refutation of the position that self-established things exist as one or many such things, which means singular or plural, or both or neither, as was previously discussed. 

These various lines of reasoning are extremely difficult to understand, but if we exert a great deal of effort, it is possible to understand them. When we understand voidness in relation to one particular object, then we can understand how all other objects are likewise devoid of self-established existence. It is not that the way of being devoid of self-established existence differs among objects. In other words, once we’ve understood voidness in relation to one object, we can understand it in exactly the same way with reference to anything. 

To repeat, the first line of reasoning in the text is: 

(48) If (things had self-established) existence, it would be illogical for them to have to arise. Further, if (they were self-established as) non-existent (at the time of their cause, they could not be made to arise), like a flower out of space. Moreover, because there would be the absurd conclusions of both these faults, things do not come about from having both (self-established existence and non-existence) either.

The second line of reasoning is given in the following verse:

(49) Phenomenal things do not arise (self-established) from themselves, nor from something different, nor from both. Neither do they (arise) from no causes at all. Because of this, by their essential nature (everything) lacks a self-establishing nature.

The third line of reasoning in the text reads:

(50) Furthermore, when you analyze all things if they are (self-established as) one or many, then since their essential nature is the lack of anything that can be aimed at, you can become certain of the total non-existence of self-establishing natures.

These are the ways of establishing voidness from the point of view of logic.

Furthermore, voidness can be established on the basis of scriptural authority, namely from the scriptural texts of Nagarjuna, such as the Root Verses on the Middle Way, Called “Discriminating Awareness,or Prajna-nama-mulamadhyamakakarika in Sanskrit. The verses in the text that cover this point of establishing it by scriptural authority are as follows:

(51) Furthermore, the lines of reasoning in 70 Stanzas on Voidness and from Root Verses on the Middle Way and so forth explain as well how the self-nature of phenomenal things is established as voidness.
(52) However, because this text would have become too long, I have therefore not elaborated here. What I have explained has been for the purpose of meditation on merely a proven system of philosophical tenets.

Meditation on Voidness

The actual way to meditate on voidness is given in the next verses:

(53) Thus, since you cannot be aimed at the self-establishing nature of anything, without an exception, meditation on the lack of (self-established) identities is meditation on discriminating awareness.
(54) With discriminating awareness, a self-establishing nature of any phenomenon is never seen; and it is explained that the same is true regarding the reality of discriminating awareness itself. In this (way) meditate (on voidness) non-conceptually.
(55) This compulsive existence which has come from conceptual thoughts (grasping for self-established existence) has an identity nature (merely fabricated) by conceptual thought. Therefore, the state of being rid of all concepts, barring none, is the supreme Nirvana State Beyond Sorrow.

The Unawareness That Is the Cause of Suffering

This unawareness of reality, this ignorance – the conceptual thought of self-established existence – is the cause of our uncontrollably recurring existence. If we get rid of this ignorance, we get rid of the suffering that follows from it. It says in the text:

(56) Like this as well, the Vanquishing Master Surpassing All has said, “Conceptual thought (grasping for self-established existence) is great unawareness, that which makes you fall into the ocean of uncontrollably recurring existence. By abiding in absorbed concentration devoid of such concepts, you will make clear, like space, a non-conceptual state.”

There are different ways to identify uncontrollably recurring existence. Previously, we spoke about the three types of suffering in general. One of these was all-pervasive suffering. There are those who identify this all-pervasive suffering as samsara itself, uncontrollably recurring existence. Also, we can say that consciousness under the power of karmic impulses and disturbing emotions goes on without any control. It has no control of what it generates. This vicious cycle of the consciousness being impelled by karmic impulses and disturbing emotions can also be asserted as uncontrollably recurring existence, samsara. 

We can understand this from the example of a thief who steals a cow with a rope through its nose, and then wherever that thief leads that cow by the rope, the cow has to follow. Likewise, our mental continuum is being led by the force of karmic impulses and disturbing emotions and we have no control over it. We have to wander around in uncontrollably recurring existence like this without any control. 

When the text talks about the conceptual thoughts of self-established existence that lead us into uncontrollably recurring existence, it is these conceptual thoughts of self-established existence that come about from the force of karmic impulses and disturbing emotions. 

The Eight Worldly Feelings 

The great master Lingrepa, the guru of the founder of the Drugpa Kagyu lineage, was a disciple of the guru Pagmodrupa. Lingrepa composed a song to his guru on the following occasion. His guru said that he would travel from Tibet to India on a pilgrimage to Suwaytsel, the cemetery of Mahakala near Bodh Gaya. He wanted to go to this famous cremation ground to do intensive meditation on death and impermanence. The disciple, Lingrepa, composed the following song. He said, 

In the cremation grounds of our conceptual thoughts of self-established existence, the zombies of the eight worldly feelings roam about. Therefore, O guru, if you meditate on getting an equal taste toward all things, this can be overcome. 

With this song, he requested that his guru not go to India on pilgrimage to be able to meditate because we have cemeteries and cremation grounds within our own minds. 

What are these eight worldly feelings referred to in this song? Normally, as worldly beings,

  1. When we are happy, we like it
  2. When we are not happy, we don’t like it. This is the first set of two. 
  3. When we hear that things have worked out as we wanted them to, we are happy 
  4. When we don’t hear that, we don’t like it and are unhappy. This is the next set of two.  
  5. When we are praised, when someone comes along and says how nice we are, we like that
  6. When someone criticizes us or says bad things about us, we don’t like it. This is the third set.
  7. When we gain things, we are happy 
  8. When we don’t gain things, we are upset. This is the fourth set.

They are sometimes given in a different order, but it doesn’t matter as long as we have the eight.

If we are a genuine Dharma practitioner, then we are exactly the opposite. We don’t like it when we are praised, and we like it when we are criticized. The reason is that praise is the result of constructive things that we have done in the past. Being praised exhausts the good results of positive things that we have done, and we don’t want to exhaust these results. The reason that we should like to be criticized is that if we are criticized, we learn about our faults and our shortcomings and, in this way, we can correct ourselves and improve. Also, if we are criticized, this is the result of destructive actions that we have done in the past and we should be very happy that we are exhausting the results of these destructive actions by being criticized now. The same line of reasoning can be used with all eight worldly feelings.

In Lingrepa’s song, he speaks about gaining an equal taste in the line, “O guru, if you meditate on getting an equal taste toward all things, this can be overcome.” This refers to equalizing our attitudes to all these eight worldly feelings and getting a taste of equanimity with respect to them. In terms of how to practice like this, we need to look at the biography of the great Geshe Ben Gungyal.

In Tibet, in the district of Pembo, there was a great Geshe or master whose name was Ben Gungyal. Previously, he was a very notorious bandit. He also had a farm of about forty acres. He spent a great deal of his time plundering here and there, becoming very notorious as a bandit. Near his house, there was a high mountain pass where many caravans and nomads would pass, and it was a famous place for encountering bandits. One day, there was a nomad traveler up on this mountain pass. He met Ben Gungyal but didn’t recognize him and asked, “Do you know if this bandit Ben Gungyal is around here?” Ben Gungyal said, “I am Ben Gungyal,” and the nomad got so frightened that he fell off his horse and down the mountain. 

Seeing the disastrous results of just saying his name, he decided that he would give up his bad ways and stop being a bandit. He followed intensive Dharma practice and kept an account of all the constructive and destructive things that he did during the day. For every constructive thing that he did, he would write down a white mark, and for each destructive one he would write down a black mark. In the beginning, he got all black and hardly any white marks. Later, he got more and more white marks each day. Eventually, he got only white marks. 

At the end of the day, if he had more white marks, he would take his left hand in his right hand. He would shake his own hand and congratulate himself and say, “Well done, you did well today.” If he had done more destructive things, he would take his right hand in his left one and shake it very severely saying, “Oh, you naughty man! You did very badly today!” He would criticize himself very strongly. 

After he became a great practitioner, he became very famous, and many people would come to see him. He told them, “In the past I was a bandit. Even though I plowed forty acres and fished and hunted, yet I had a very difficult time getting enough food. My mouth could not find enough food to fill it; but now, after I have given all of this up and have practiced the Dharma very intensively, all of the food that is offered to me cannot find enough of a mouth to get inside.” 

One day, someone invited him to their house. Because of his strong instincts of being a thief in the past, when he saw the large box where they kept tea, he stuck his hand in and took some. He immediately noticed what he was doing and grabbed his hand with the other hand, and shouted out to the mother of the house, “Mother, come quickly! I’ve caught a thief!” 

Another time, he was invited with a group of other monks to someone’s house. The patron was serving everyone yogurt, giving very large ladles of it to everybody in front of him. He got quite worried and thought, “This patron is really giving out a large amount to everybody in the front. I wonder if there will be any left for me.” He immediately recognized this improper thought and when the patron got around to him, he turned his bowl upside down and said, “No thank you. I’ve already eaten my yogurt.” He was asked, “Why do you refuse?” and he said, “It is because I had such bad thoughts about the yogurt, being so worried about it, that I have already eaten it in my mind.”

Another time, he received a message that his patron was going to come visit him at his house. He made a great fuss in the morning to clean his house very well and swept everything out and made everything nice. He put up a very nice-looking altar and offerings of butter and incense and made it as nice as he could. After he finished, he looked at himself and analyzed his motivation for making his house so nice and clean. He discovered that he had only done so because his patron was coming to visit him. Seeing this, he went to a fireplace and scooped up a load of dust and ashes and sprinkled that all over the room. 

Conquering the Eight Worldly Feelings by Meditation on Voidness  

This is the way of practicing to gain a taste of equanimity with respect to the eight worldly feelings. If we meditate on voidness, we will get rid of all these conceptual thoughts of self-established existence that we have discussed here. This instruction is given in the line:

(57) Also, from The Dharani Formula for Engaging in the Non-Conceptual, he has said, “If the Offspring of the Triumphant involved in this pure Dharma practice were to contemplate this state of no conceptual thoughts (grasping for self-established existence), they would transcend these concepts that are difficult to pass beyond and would gradually attain a non-conceptual state.”

In short, the whole meaning or purpose of meditating on identity-less-ness is as follows:

(58) When you have become certain, by these quotations and lines of reasoning that all things are devoid of self-established existence and without a (self-established) arising, meditate in a state of no conceptual thoughts (of self-established existence).

If we meditate like this, the result is that we will be able to attain enlightenment quickly. This is given by the line:

(59) When you have meditated on the facts of reality like this and have gradually attained the heat (stage) and so forth, you will then attain (the stage of) extremely joyous one and so on, and the enlightenment of Buddhahood will not be far.

[The recording of the last session has been lost.] 

Read and listen to the original text “Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment” by Atisha.