Monday Talk

The twelfth vajra statement says even the incorrect relative truth is capable of performing functions. Relative truth is what arises dependently. An example of correct relative truth is the moon. and of Incorrect relative truth is the reflection of the moon in water. This is the usual way of presenting the distinction, but this is not correct according to Jigten Sumgon. He says whatever arises from virtue is correct relative truth and what arises from nonvirtue is incorrect relative truth. Everything we perceive is relative truth. That which we do not perceive, emptiness, is ultimate truth. Correct relative truth is what appears when not analyzed, performs a function, arises from causes and conditions, and appears commonly to people.

For example, the moon in the sky, which shines and is cooling. Other traditions say incorrect relative truth does not perform a function, like the reflection of the moon in water. Others divide correct from incorrect as to whether it appears to a distorted or undistorted consciousness. But our tradition says that you cannot make this distinction because a reflection has the four properties of correct relative truth. When analyzed, neither the moon or its reflection exists. Both perform a function, as in this story. In the Vinaya. There was a monkey who saw the reflection of the moon in a well and thought he should rescue it. He called 500 monkeys and they formed a chain from a tree branch. The monkey holding the branch lost his grip and all fell into the well. Also, Saraha was in a forest drinking beer from a skull cup. While looking at the reflection of the moon in the skullcup, he realized all things were insubstantial. Both the actual moon and its reflection commonly appear. And both arise from causes and conditions. So none of the conditions that are supposed to distinguish correct from incorrect relative truth hold up. And that is why it is said incorrect relative truths can also perform a function.

So how does Jigten Sumgon draw the distinction between correct and incorrect relative truth? A verse from Nagarjuna says that without relying on the ladder of the correct relative truth, you cannot reach the ultimate. Since one relies on virtue to reach the ultimate, that is one reason to say virtue distinguishes correct from incorrect relative truth. Shantideva also said the first five paramitas are taught for the sake of the sixth. Because unvirtuous actions lead to rebirth in lower realms, that is one reason to say it defines incorrect relative truth.

The thirteenth vajra statement says that all paths lead through the ten bhumis. The dharma can be divided into the Hinayana and the Mahayana. And the Mahayana can be divided into sutra and tantra. Some say that in the tantra one doesn’t need to go through the ten bhumis, because one can become a buddha in an instant. But this is not what Jigten Sumgon says. If you become a buddha in an instant you still have to go through all ten bhumis. The difference between sutra and tantra is the speed you traverse the path. If you have a book and hammer a nail through it, even though it passes through quickly, it passes through one page at a time.

The fourteenth vajra statements says it is certain that the paths and bhumis are traversed gradually. Some say that they can be traversed in a instant. Jigten Sumgon says even if one traverses them very quickly, one still passes through them one by one. Some practitioners like Saraha attain liberation when first hearing the pointing out instructions. But this only happened because of his training in previous lives. The only difference between instantaneous and gradual attainment is the speed.

The fifteenth vajra statement says that it is possible that the cognitive obscurations are abandoned first. There are two kinds of obscurations, emotional and cognitive. Usually emotional obscurations are abandoned first. But someone of the highest faculties who has accumulated great wisdom in previous lifetimes can abandon cognitive obscurations first. Some had believed that after you realize emptiness you can conduct yourself as you want. But Atisha corrected this mistake when he came to Tibet He was asked if you realize emptiness are you affected by negative karma. He replied, “If you realize emptiness, you have no need to accumulate negative karma.” Atisha integrated the views of emptiness and cause and affect and the practices of sutra and tantra. Guru Rinpoche said your view should be higher than the sky, but your conduct should be a fine as flour.

When Gampopa met Milarepa, he asked him, “What do you know?”

Milarepa replied, “I know that the usual method is relinquishing negative karma on the path of accumulation, relinquishing emotional obscurations on the path of juncture, and relinquishing cognitive obscurations on the bhumis. But I relinquished the cognitive obscurations first.”

Gampopa asked “What happened to the emotional obscurations that were supposed to be previously relinquished?”

Milarepa said that they vanished at the same time the congnitive obscurations did.

Both of these approaches are legitimate.

The sixteenth vajra statement says that valid cognition is the Buddha’s wisdom and knowledge. Some hold the three vehicles are illuminated in the writings of the Six Ornaments and Two Preeminent Ones. These writings create understanding, remove misunderstanding, and remove doubt. Dignaga wrote the Compendium of Valid Cognition. Dharmakirti wrote seven texts explaining it. Many scholars said these texts were written to establish the validity of the Buddhist view when debating other traditions. Other scholars say these texts use reasoning to establish Buddhist traditions because other traditions do not accept citations from Buddhist scriptures as valid. There are similar texts in the Hindu tradition that use reasoning to establish their position. So in one sense these are not religious texts because they rely on reasoning. For this reason some scholars would not treat these texts with the same respect they would give to other Buddhist texts. Jigten Sumgon said these texts are not just for debate with non-Buddhist traditions. Valid cognition is very important and should be respected. Valid means non-deceptive cognition. And the Buddha’s cognition is undeceived. The Confession Sutra refers to Buddha as the one with valid cognition. The opening lines of the Compendium of Valid Cognition say, “I pay homage to the Buddha, the one whose cognition is undeceived.” That’s why it’s said that valid cognition is the Buddha’s wisdom knowledge.

When the texts of valid cognition were translated into Tibetan they were categorized as one of the five sciences. The other four are the science of inner meaning, healing., material arts, and linguistics. The material arts include everything from needle point to building stupas. Healing involves the techniques for healing the body and mind. Doctors would know whether it was best to give medicine, make offerings, or practice sadhanas. Valid cognition was especially studied in the Gelugpa, but has become studied in the their traditions. Linguistics is the study of the language that Buddhist scriptures were written in.

Q: Is there any reference to a fourth turning of the wheel?

A: There are just three turnings of the wheel, but at times the tantra are considered a fourth section of scripture.

Q: Is there a way to meditate and just have virtue and non-virtue fall into place?

A: if your mind has the correct motivation, virtue will naturally arise.

The seventeenth vajra statement says that the result of valid cognition reveals the profound emptiness. Other traditions believe valid cognition is taught in order to refute wrong views. But since it is the Buddha’s wisdom, it reveals profound emptiness. Valid cognition means non-deceptive cognition, such as direct perception. There are seven types of mind. Two are valid and five invalid. The invalid types are doubt, misunderstanding, perception without ascertainment, correct assumption, and subsequent cognition. The two valid types are inference and direct perception. Within inference there are four types of evidence: evidence through cause, through effect, through the same nature, and through non-observation. An example of valid evidence through effect is inferring fire from smoke. Similarly, from suffering we can infer that it arose from afflictive emotions that arose from ignorance. This ignorance is uprooted by the wisdom of emptiness. So this is inference. Direct perception divided into four: through senses, through the mind, through reflexive awareness, and through yogic direct perception. All ordinary people have the first two. These are only conventionally valid, not ultimately. The latter two arise from shamatha and vipashyana. Reflexive awareness arises through shamatha and yogic direct perception arises through vipashyana. Through these you realize the true nature of phenomena. This is the meditative awareness of the sublime ones, mahamudra. When you realize mahamudra, you see emptiness and cause and effect as a unity. So through valid cognition you realize emptiness. The opening verses of the Compendium of Valid Cognition refers to Buddha as the one who clears the nets of conceptual construct and who is the master of the vast and profound. Clearing the nets of concepts refers to his mastery of mahamudra. The profound refers to the dharmakaya and the vast to the rupakaya, the two form bodies.

The eighteenth vajra statement shows how grasping at philosophies obstructs the view of mahamudra. There are those who have been influenced by spiritual philosophies and those not. Among those who have there are both Buddhists and non-Buddhists. It’s said that there are three hundred sixty wrong views. These can be condensed into sixty two wrong views. These can be further condensed to twenty and then to two wrong views, the views of eternalism and nihilism. These two are both forms of ego clinging. The Buddhist views include the two lower tenet system that hold the world consists of indivisible particles. These practitioners partly realize the view of emptiness because they show that compounded phenomena are unreal. These system say the mind consists of moments of consciousness. One Mahayana tenet system sees the external world as only mind. The Middle Way tenet system sees all phenomena as nothing but a dream, There are two Middle Way Schools. One sees all phenomena as illusion and the other is the non-abiding Middle Way. The non-abiding Middle way says that even illusion is unreal. But these tenet systems are difficult to understand without many years of study. This is just a very short explanation of the tenet systems. Some say that the four tenet systems only existed in India and in Tibet there was only one system. But Jigten Sumgon said there were many different philosophical systems in Tibet. Even in Tibet some Buddhists held partly eternalistic or nihilistic views. Since ego-clinging exists in Tibet, these views must also exist there. You hear people say this is my family or home, which falls into the view of eternalism. Until the view of mahamudra has been realized, there is ego clinging. So that is why there are these philosophies. There can also be doubts about karmic cause and effect and morality. These views are based on ego clinging. These doubts fall under nihilism. As long as we cling to philosophies we won’t have the true view.

The nineteenth vajra statement says non-Buddhist systems also teach many virtuous things. Often Buddhists think there is nothing good about non-Buddhist traditions. What distinguishes between the two is that Buddhists teach how to transcend samsara. But this does not mean that non-Buddhist systems do not teach virtue. Jigten Sumgon said there there is a lot we can practice from non-Buddhist systems. If someone acts from a bad motivation it doesn’t matter if they call themselves Buddhist or not. He also said if there are any good qualities of mind that benefit others, even if it is taught by a non-Buddhist system, we should practice it. For example, the Jains strongly respect life. The tradition of dwelling in one place for the rainy season retreat was copied from non-Buddhist traditions. So if it is a tradition which avoids harm to others and benefits others, it should be emulated. And if it is a tradition that harms others, it should be rejected. Some traditions practice animal sacrifices and that is not something to adopt, because it harms other beings. And that is why Jigten Sumgon said non-Buddhist systems practice virtue.

Q: Could you explain reflexive awareness and yogic direct perception?

A: Reflexive awareness is knowing the nature of your mind. Yogic direct perception is the noble one’s meditation that is the realization of emptiness.

Q: How do phenomena appear to someone who has realized emptiness?

A: It’s not like becoming unconsciousness. It’s the integration of meditation and post-meditation.

Khenpo Choepel
Tibetan Meditation Center
December 31, 2007

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