Parent Category: Tibetan linage Gurus
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How should I start now? This is going to be academic sometimes, sort of very intellectual.
"What is Buddhism and what is not?"
Maybe a more appropriate way of saying it is, "What is the path of Gautama Buddha and what is not?"
Often I have been asked by people, "What is Buddhism?" "What is Buddhism in a nutshell?"
"What is the unique view or philosophy of Buddhism?"
I'm sure you've also encountered these kinds of people, asking such questions...




Now before we talk about this, I think it's good to talk about the classic Buddhist way of categorising things. They categorise things into three departments: view, meditation and action. And this is quite a good way of understanding the path. And this view, meditation and action, even though we may not use them in our mundane, day-to-day life… Actually, we do have this view, meditation and action if you think about it carefully. For instance, what's the best car we have now? BMW, let's say. We have this BMW. It's advertised as the best car, the fastest, the most sleek, posh, the most comfortable and all of that. And the view, in this case, is somehow trusting in all those advertisements and thinking that, "Yes, BMW is a good car." That's the view. Having an idea. From an academic point of view, when we say "view", we're talking about an idea. BMW is a good car. That's it. That's the view. And then, when we say meditation, contemplating it, admiring this car, the colour, the shape, the way it runs… I don't know. I've never owned a BMW, so I don't know how it works. But usually those who are obsessed with whatever view you have… Or learning or beginning to become obsessed with whatever idea you have, that's the meditation actually. Getting accustomed to this obsession or, in better words, getting accustomed to this idea. Getting familiar with this idea. That's the meditation. That's all there is. And then the action is actually going out and buying a BMW, driving it, inviting friends to ride in it and flaunting it. Those are what we call action. So that's it. So when we talk about view, meditation and action, this is how we understand it. So this way of categorising is quite helpful in understanding the Buddhist philosophy…


So now we ask the question, "What is the unique Buddhist view that Buddhists are trying to get accustomed to?" So this is where our subject begins. There are four different views that are unique to Buddhism, that you cannot find anywhere else. If you find all these four views within a path, within a philosophy, within an idea, then whether it is called Buddhist or not really doesn't matter, because the word Buddhist or Buddhism is very unimportant. You can call it whatever you like. But if this path contains these four unique views, then that is what someone like me would consider the path of the Buddha, the path of Siddhartha, the path that is taught by Siddhartha Gautama…


Briefly, I'll run through them. Anything that is compounded is impermanent. Now that's unique. We will talk about why it's unique later. The second one (slightly more complicated than that and also painful to listen to) is that all emotions are pain, all emotions are suffering, all emotions are dukkha. Now that's something we don't want to hear. And it's something unique to Buddhism. I think only Buddhists talk about this. Many other religions or philosophies worship things like love, celebration, songs and things like that… Buddhists think this is all suffering. We will talk about that later. And then the third view is much more difficult. No phenomenon has inherent existence. Some of you worn-out, jaded Buddhists must have heard this thousands of times. But for those who are new it might be quite interesting. But it's also quite difficult to chew because there's a lot of blockage within us. The fourth one (and the most difficult to understand and the most difficult to accept) is nirvana is beyond extremes. Now that is a very, very difficult one. Not only difficult to understand, but difficult to accept because, as religious people, we all think that we will somehow go to a place where we have a better sofa, a better shower system, a better sewerage system… Something like that. Some kind of a nirvana where you don't even have to have a remote control, where everything works the moment you think. And when Buddhists begin to say that nirvana is actually beyond extremes, that's something quite difficult to accept...


So let's talk about the first one, all compounded things are impermanent. That's a big statement, this one. For instance, when we talk about impermanence, there are certain things that we human beings accept as impermanent, like weather. That's quite easy to accept… There are a lot of gross things that are impermanent that we accept quite easily. But then there are certain gross things that we do not accept even though they are visibly impermanent. We still don't accept them as impermanent things, such as our body. It's visible that every day, every year, we're getting older, we're getting more deformed, more crooked, but we cannot accept it...


Let's concentrate more on the word "compounded"… It's the Buddhist view that all compounded things are impermanent. Now that includes a lot. Every compounded thing! … When you are talking about compounded things, you are talking about more than one. You are assembling or gathering. Anything that is assembled, anything that is gathered, anything that is joined or put together, sooner or later, it's going to fall apart! That's the common language. And when we say, "Anything that is joined", this is where Buddhists include things such as time, space, dimensions. Even time! When we talk about time, we are talking about past, present and future. So we are talking about impermanence. That's the Buddhist logic, the Buddhist way of thinking. Time is a compounded thing. That's why it's impermanent. This is also where the Buddhist logic of karma comes in here. For instance, today, this moment is impermanent. Why? Because this moment is made out of many things, especially it's made out of the past and the future. If the past does not exist, this present does not exist. If the future does not exist, this present does not exist. This is the Buddhist logic. Therefore, this present moment is impermanent. That's how the Buddhists would put it. There's quite an important logic to it, because if this present becomes permanent, there will be no future because present is always there. So we will never know how to plan. There is no system of programming, making appointments. Even having a date is not possible if time does not exist. But time does exist. But when time exists, it exists only as a compounded thing...


Let me tell you this in another way. When Buddhists talk about compounded things, they are talking about three things: the beginning, middle and end. Every act that you do, let's say you plant a flower or sing a song, has a beginning, a middle and an end. Now again, you're talking about time: beginning of singing a song, while you are singing and the end of the song. If one of these three does not exist, such as the middle, then there is no such thing as singing a song. So to sing a song you need to have a beginning of the singing of the song, the middle of the singing of the song and the end of the singing of the song. So that makes it compounded. Compounded of what? Three things: the beginning, the middle and the end.


So now we ask questions like, "So what?" "Why should we bother about it?" "What's such a big deal about it?" "Okay, it has a beginning, it has a middle, it has an end. So what?" Well, it's not so much that Buddhists worry because it has a beginning, a middle and an end. That's not a problem here. The problem is when there's impermanence involved, when there's compounded matter involved, when there's time involved, for instance, then there is so-called uncertainty involved. When there's uncertainty, that's the cause of the insecurity. And this is what you have to know. That's all they're saying. Many people think that Buddhism is pessimistic, always bringing bad news like death, dying, everything's impermanent, ageing. It's not. In fact, as I always say, the word impermanence is a relief. It's a big relief… For instance, we were talking about a BMW. Today I don't have a BMW. And it's thanks to this uncertainty, and it's thanks to this impermanence, that I can have one tomorrow! If this so-called impermanence does not exist, I'm stuck with the non-existence of the BMW. So I can never have it! So impermanence is not necessarily bad news. But it's the way you interpret it and the way you understand it that's important.


So what do we meditate on? When we meditate, we contemplate this reality, this fact, this truth. That's all there is. We try to contemplate this truth of impermanence, the fact that everything is changeable. And what is the action? The action is very interesting here. The action is when you begin to know and accept the truth, even if your BMW gets scratched by some juvenile, you will not care that much. You understand, that kind of "couldn't care less" attitude will come. And this is where the person is quite happy. Why? Because, you see… Okay, Buddhists also talk about enlightenment. And what is enlightenment? Enlightenment is freeing oneself from a net of delusion. And what is the delusion? The delusion in the first category is when you don't know that all compounded things are impermanent. That is the delusion. When you know this, not only intellectually, but actually with meditation and you practise it, then you will be free from this delusion.


Let's go to the second one. All emotions are pain. All of them! Why? Because they involve dualism. This is a big subject now. This we have to discuss for a while… From the Buddhist point of view, as long as there is a subject and object, as long as there is a separation between subject and object, as long as you divorce them so to speak, as long as you think they are independent and then function as subject and object, that is an emotion, which includes everything, almost every thought that we have. This is why the great master Jigmé Lingpa said, "We human beings, the moment we part our lips and utter words, it's all contradiction. The moment we think something, it's all confusion." …


You see, I think when you guys talk about emotion, you're talking about a bigger level, like crying, having aggression, things like that. But that's just the maturity of a subtle emotion. That's what Buddhists would say. And, in fact, Buddhists would think that these are the least dangerous. The real ripened dualistic mind, which is like anger or jealousy actually manifesting. By then it's almost going to exhaust itself! It doesn't need any other antidote! It's going to tire itself out! But the cause of that, which is the real emotion, which is the dualistic mind, all of that is pain…As long as there is dualistic mind, that is emotion, and that emotion is pain…


Why does dualistic mind create pain? You see, as soon as there is dualistic mind, it also creates a lot of preconceptions, a lot of expectations, a lot of fear, a lot of hope. As soon as there is dualistic mind, there is hope and there is fear. And when there's hope and there's fear, isn't that pain? Hope is very much a pain. Think! Hope is a very systemised, organised pain! And then, of course, fear we don't even have to explain.


And how does pain manifest? … You know, the first thing Buddha said after he achieved enlightenment was, "Know the suffering." That's the first noble truth. (You know, he taught about the four noble truths.) The first noble truth was "Know the suffering." He never said, "Abandon the suffering." Neither did he say, "Adopt the suffering." He only said, "Abandon the cause of the suffering." He said, "Know the suffering." That is a very important message because many of us misunderstand the pain as pleasure… How does this pain manifest? I'm afraid for people like you and me, probably more for me than you, it manifests as pleasure for the time being...


When we talk about the definition of pain, all that you have said is good. But there's something that we have to add here. The definition of pain is all the things you have said like impermanence, something you don't want, something unpleasant and all of that. But on the top of that, something that does not have an inherently existing quality. That's what Buddhists add. That's a good one, actually, because it's like a mirage. You are thirsty here, you understand? You're in the desert and finally you see this big mirage, you know, like water. And you feel relief. "Ah, there's the water." And then you go there. The closer you get, the more the true quality of this water, this mirage, will disappear. And that's the ultimate disappointment, isn't it? That's it. That's one quite important aspect of the definition of pain according to Buddhism. Something that does not have anything that is essential. Something that does not have independent existence. Therefore, now that you have heard the definition of pain, you can see why Buddhists conclude that all emotions are pain. Because they're impermanent, which means they're uncertain. And because there's hope and fear, which is always in itself a bit of a paranoia, (quite a lot of a paranoia in fact). And then towards the end it never has inherently existing nature. So there's nothing that is worthwhile, so to speak. Almost every effort that we create by this emotion, at the end it's for something completely futile.


That's why it's pain.  

Now the third view. This one is much more difficult now. And this is the ultimate teaching of the Buddha. All phenomena do not have inherently existing essence, truly existing essence…All phenomena do not have an inherently existing self. We're talking about shunyata, emptiness. Let's study this word by word. All phenomena do not have inherently existing essence… First of all, let's talk about "all". Everything! It does not exclude Buddha! It does not exclude enlightenment! It does not exclude the path! It includes everything, everything. It includes, for instance, just an example, all compounded things. It includes all the emotions. And then the second word is "phenomena"… Basically, what you need to hear is that as long as there is involvement of subject and object, function of subject and object, then that is what we call phenomena. So what does subject do? Subject sees things. Subject sees the object. Subject looks at the object. And when the subject looks at the object and separates the object as something external, something independent from the subject, this is what Buddhists call ignorance. What does this ignorance do? This ignorance makes you not see the truth of phenomena. And the truth of phenomena is what is called shunyata. But when this deluded subject sees things, looks at something, this object is interpreted by this subject as something truly existent…


Okay, you have heard the Buddha's life story? The twelve deeds? Some of you have. He taught three sermons, right? The first Wheel of the Dharma, the second and the third. Actually, the deeds of the Buddha are a very, very interesting study. They're actually a very, very profound study that you should explore because normally when we talk about the first sermon, the second sermon, we only talk about the historical story. But, in fact, these so-called three sermons are very metaphorical. Actually, a phrase of the Buddha has all these three sermons in it, the first, the second and the third. Just in one phrase. Someone asked him the question, "What is the definition of the mind?" He said the definition of the mind was, "Mind, there is no mind, mind is luminous."


"Mind, there is no mind, mind is luminous." The first sermon, the second sermon and the third sermon. It's a very interesting approach. The first sermon - one word, "Mind". See, Buddha is not a nihilistic guy. He accepts mind. That's the first word, "Mind". That's the first sermon. And that is a very important sermon because it denies all nihilistic approaches. All the things like, "There's no heaven, there's no hell, there's no karma, there's no cause, there's no effect." All these are dispelled by one word, "Mind". He said that, "Yes, there is mind. Yes, there is karma. Yes, there's cause and condition. Yes, there's love and devotion. Yes, there's lust and anger. Yes, there's all of that."


Now in the second sermon he says, "There is no mind." Now he's talking about a higher level because a mind is just a concept. There is no such thing as truly existing mind. This is what he's saying. This is the second sermon. And he was saying this to a much more accomplished group of people. The first sermon on the word "mind" he taught to only some thick, ordinary people. But the second one he said to much more accomplished people. "There is no mind." It does not have inherently existing essence. The third… Now there's a debate about that one. Many, many scholars in Tibet say the third is the highest teaching. He just said, "Mind, there's no mind, mind is luminous." Now he's saying, "Mind is luminous." He's talking about Buddha nature now. Clarity. Luminosity is maybe not the best word. Undeluded, spontaneously arising, primordially existing wisdom. Now he's talking about Buddha nature.


Now let me support these three again with a different explanation. This is actually a remark made by Nagarjuna, a great commentator. He's incredible. He asked, "What is the purpose of the first sermon of the Buddha, when he said, 'Mind'?" What was the purpose? The purpose was to dispel everything that is non-virtuous. Where does non-virtue come from? When you become eternalist or nihilist. Then you become non-virtuous. So in order to stop these non-virtuous deeds and thoughts he gave the first sermon. The second sermon… What is the purpose of the second sermon? In order to dispel self. Self. Ego. I. Self. Anyway, like table, chair, house, the self, himself, this self. The second sermon is to dispel this clinging or this very self. That's where he taught emptiness. The third sermon… Actually, all his sermons are to dispel something, never to get something, always to clear something away, to wash something away. The first one was to wash away non-virtuous thoughts and actions, the second one was to dispel self, self-clinging, ego. The third, a very, very profound teaching, was to dispel all views, including the view of no self. Even things like, "Oh, there's nothing that exists." Even that has to be dispelled. That's where he brought back this idea of Buddha nature.


A few more words on this third view. This is actually the main, the ultimate view of Buddhism, as you must have noticed… See, we talk about all compounded things being impermanent. By understanding that, what does it do? It makes us see the truth that every compounded thing is impermanent. So when you actually go through this experience of losing something, you are already prepared to accept this fact that since everything is impermanent this happens, since it's a compounded thing this is what is already expected. So that benefits. It has a benefit. And then, when we talk about the second one, that every emotion is pain, by understanding that, we get motivation to control our emotion or to transform it or make it more workable. For that we do shamatha meditation, vipashyana meditation and all sorts of meditation. But it benefits. There's the benefit of losing the grip, the fixation… When we have a fixation, a very tight fixation, a tight grip, by understanding this second view, we loosen up a little bit of that grip. So there's a little bit of benefit.


Now the third one… The benefit of understanding that everything is emptiness… It's slightly unimaginable for the time being, I think. How does it benefit? Why does it benefit? What does it do to you? Okay, all phenomena do not have inherently existing essence. What does it do when you hear this and when you contemplate it? Not many of us know the value of the actual realisation of this emptiness. Even if we do have a little inspiration towards this understanding of emptiness, it's usually very limited. So the Buddhist concept of emptiness is very limited, very narrow for most of us. I can tell you some of the signs or indications of lack of understanding of emptiness. Of course, generally speaking, when there's no understanding of emptiness, you either become eternalist or you become nihilist. Of course, that's the standard, classic Buddhist approach… They always say that if you do not understand emptiness, you will fall into these extremes. But this is such a big, philosophical language. We do not know what that means, falling into eternalism. This is where I'd like to expand this a little bit because this is quite important.


The devotion that we have, for instance, like guru devotion… If you're not careful, if you don't have this third view, it can fall into eternalism. And after ten years, when things go wrong, it can throw you back to nihilism. So there's a grave danger there… His Holiness the Dalai Lama always says a word which means "the downfall of not understanding emptiness". For instance, as a Buddhist we practise compassion, love. When you have a lack of understanding of emptiness, a lack of understanding of this third view, this compassion can become goal-oriented compassion. Then this compassion will backfire on you, I think. This compassion will destroy your confidence instead of developing confidence. This kind of compassion can make you sick. This kind of compassion can make you hopeless, or co-dependant if you will.


As a Buddhist you have to be a good boy or girl, so what does that mean? Have compassion! And because you don't have an understanding of emptiness, what does that mean? It means you are very attached to the goal. The goal of compassion is usually that you look at beings who have a problem, like family problems, alcohol problems, depression problems. And as a good Buddhist boy or girl, you try to solve this problem. And because you do not have an understanding of emptiness, you're attached to the goal. The goal is your interpretation! You think of your interpretation of managing to solve the problem. And that then becomes your ultimate aim. Oh, oh. You are a victim of hope, which will bring fear, which will then bring disappointment. Or you become a good Mahayana practitioner. Once, twice, you try to help sentient beings, but because you have a lack of understanding of the third view, you can get tired, tired of benefiting sentient beings. Why? Lack of understanding of emptiness. This is one kind of major problem.


Now there's another kind of problem which also arises from lack of understanding of emptiness, from lack of understanding this view, which happens more to jaded Buddhists. Somehow, because they happen to be receiving teachings from great masters like the Dalai Lama again and again about emptiness and they read books about emptiness, they think about emptiness and somehow… You know, this is what they call a trendy thing. I guess young people they do that. Like when you are sixteen or fifteen, you go to a party and when everybody is having drugs, if you don't, you feel you don't belong to this group. And this happens among Buddhists a lot. If you don't accept emptiness, you are not a good person there. So somehow we pretend that we love this emptiness. We also sort of practise this emptiness. But there's a bad side-effect when you do not understand it properly. You violate a lot of karmic details! You say, "Everything is emptiness. We can do what we like." You violate the karmic details and you become completely unelegant. You will become the source of loss of inspiration for a lot of people!


The third view, as I was saying, is a very important subject. I can say, actually, the three other views are grounded on this third view. The third view is actually like the quintessence of all the views. We can talk in a very simple way about this emptiness - which is what you think is not what it is. How it appears is not what it is. That's it. That's it very simply expressed. You may think he is a very good man, but that's only your idea. This good man, this white, black, pink or whatever man, this is only your idea. This is not what he is. That's a simple way of approaching emptiness…


What is emptiness? Emptiness is understanding that what you think is not what it is. That's very simplified. It will not do for the long run, but it will do for a while. It will lead you somewhere. Okay, are you happy with the third view now? This is indispensable and this is unique. Very unique because no one talks about this now. In almost all philosophies or religions they might say that things are an illusion, like the world is a maya or an illusion. But always there are one or two things left out as something truly existent like god, cosmic energy or whatever. They always leave one or two entities as something supreme. Not Buddhists. Everything, from samsara to nirvana, from the Buddha's head to a piece of bread, everything is emptiness. Everything! Nothing is how you imagine, how you think, how it appears. That is not the ultimate truth. Whatever you see, however it appears, that's not the ultimate truth. This is the view…



Now, the last one… Nirvana is beyond extremes. Now having heard all this emptiness business, you will understand this more easily. But even after we talk about everything being emptiness, we still stress the last view, the fourth view, that nirvana is beyond extremes because it is a unique thing about Buddhism. In many other philosophies or religions your final goal is not beyond extremes. Your final goal is something that you can hold on to and keep. But the final goal of Buddhism, enlightenment, is also beyond all kinds of fabrications, all kind of extremes. When I say "extremes", it's fabrication. Fabrication, as I was saying earlier, like a good shower system, a comfortable life. That's what we imagine. Whatever you imagine, it is not that enlightenment. So enlightenment is, again, back to "not what you think". This way of thinking of enlightenment, it's not that! Again, that makes the Buddhist path unique because another philosophy or religious system would say heaven or whatever, the final goal, is the only true thing that exists. It sounds like a pointless thing to do from the emotional point of view.

So these four, whoever holds these four in their heart, in their head, contemplates on them… This person is a Buddhist and he or she doesn't have to be referred to as a Buddhist, but he or she is a follower of the Buddha. Someone who goes beyond that, outside these Four Pillars of Buddhism, then they are not a Buddhist.

They have not taken refuge to the Buddha, Dharma and the Sangha.