Teaching the Heart of Wisdom and the Commentary on the Awakening Mind
[dalailama.com] Tokyo, Japan 12 April 2015: The weather was bright once more today and, being a Sunday morning, the streets were relatively empty as His Holiness the Dalai Lama drove across Tokyo to the Showa Joshi Women’s University. People waiting outside to enter the Memorial Hall that was the venue for the teachings were taken by surprise to see him arrive in a car. Many bowed and then waved.
His Holiness took his seat punctually at 9.30 before a capacity audience of 2100. They included 370 Koreans, 120 Mongolians and about 1000 Chinese, mostly from Taiwan with some from the mainland.
“Since most of us customarily recite the Heart of Wisdom Sutra, we’ll have recitations in your various languages,” he announced at the beginning. “Today, let’s have the Korean monks and tomorrow the Japanese.”
After the Korean recitation, His Holiness invited the Chinese to do the same and 1000 voices chanted in steady unison. He explained that at the beginning of teachings he likes to recite the verse of homage from the ‘Ornament for Clear Realization’, in praise of the Perfection of Wisdom. He follows this with the verse of homage from Nagarjuna’s’ ‘Fundamental Wisdom’ in praise of the Buddha and his explanation of dependent origination.
“I’m pleased to see Japanese, Koreans, Mongolians, Taiwanese and Chinese here for these two days of teachings. This hall is part of the Showa Joshi Women’s University, which seems an appropriate setting to explain Perfection of Wisdom teachings, since they are often referred to as the mother of all Buddhas. I also understand that these teachings are being broadcast over the internet and will be available in 39 cinema halls elsewhere in Japan. Welcome to those of you joining us there. The Buddhas teachings refer to phenomena as being like an illusion, so there’s a reminder of that as you pay attention to teachings from an illusion like image of me.”
His Holiness clarified that he would briefly explain the ‘Heart of Wisdom’ and the ‘Commentary on the Awakening Mind’ whose explicit meaning is wisdom. He pointed out that the Madhyamaka view of emptiness combined with the awakening mind of bodhichitta is the antidote to the obstructions to knowledge. He also expressed an intention to read the middle volume of Kamalashila’s ‘Stages of Meditation’, which is apt because it contains a complete survey of the path with special emphasis on concentration and special insight. He also mentioned that tomorrow he intends to give an empowerment and permission of Avalokiteshvara as well as an explanation of the ‘Three Essential Moments’.
Starting with his customary introduction to Buddhism His Holiness said:
“In this 21st century all of us 7 billion human beings are the same in wanting happiness and not wanting to be miserable. This is true of us all, whether we are religious or not. Many of the problems we face we make for ourselves, because we are self-centred and tend to see things from a narrow, short-sighted point of view, which only increases our frustration.”
He said that although there is a stress on education in today’s world, it tends to focus on materialistic goals, preparing students for a materialistic way of life in a materialistic culture. Society all but ignores the mind’s contribution to being happy. We are inclined to anger and frustration because we are not at peace within. What we need is a grounding in inner values. All religious traditions emphasize love and compassion the idea of brotherhood and sisterhood and they take different philosophical approaches to that goal.
Religious traditions are either theistic, stressing a belief in a creator god, or non-theistic, and believing in causality instead. Among the non-theistic traditions, only Buddhism advocates the absence of an independent, intrinsically existent self, asserting that there is no self separate from the body and mind. He said that within Buddhism there is the Pali tradition and the Sanskrit tradition. Both teach about the three trainings in ethics, concentration and wisdom, but differ on how wisdom is defined.
The ‘Unravelling of Thought Sutra’ explains the three Turnings of the Wheel of Dharma. The first refers to the teachings recorded in the Pali tradition, while the second and third belong to the Sanskrit tradition. His Holiness clarified that during the first Turning of the Wheel, the Buddha taught the Four Noble Truths to do with suffering, its origin, its cessation and the path that are the foundation of his teaching. He went into some detail to explain their 16 characteristics, four characteristics of each truth. He focused particularly on understanding selflessness, the possibility of undermining ignorance and attaining a cessation of suffering. When an understanding of the 16 characteristics of the Four Noble Truths is applied in practice it gives rise to the 37 factors of enlightenment.
Coming back from lunch His Holiness explained that the Heart of Wisdom Sutra belongs to a collection of texts known as the Perfection of Wisdom teachings that in their most extensive form comprise the sutra of 100,000 lines in 12 volumes. In their briefest form they consist of one syllable, ‘ah’. The Heart of Wisdom is generally regarded as consisting of 25 lines. Their explicit meaning of the Perfection of Wisdom is emptiness of intrinsic existence and its implications for the truth of cessation.
“Nagarjuna describes the meaning of cessation as occurring when emptiness overcomes the destructive emotions. Khunu Lama Rinpoche on the other hand explained, and I prefer this, that the destructive emotions dissolve into emptiness. Whereas the Buddha expounded the meaning of emptiness during the second Turning of the Wheel, during the third, he introduced the clear light nature of the mind.”
His Holiness made clear that during his explanation of the Four Noble Truths, the Buddha referred to cessation and liberation in relation to an understanding of the selflessness of persons. One of the key points in the Heart of Wisdom is where it says:
‘Avalokiteshvara … beheld those five aggregates also as empty of inherent nature.’
The key word also, which is absent from the Chinese translation, but is found in the Sanskrit original and its Tibetan translation, indicates the selflessness of phenomena in addition to the selflessness of persons. To say that persons and phenomena are empty of inherent existence is not to say they do not exist at all. The words in the sutra, ‘Form is empty’ refer to the ultimate reality of the object, while the words ‘emptiness is form’ refer to its conventional existence. This is reiterated by the statement: ‘Emptiness is not other than forms and forms are not other than emptiness.’
The reason for seeking an understanding of emptiness is, as Chandrakirti states in his ‘Entering into the Middle Way’, ‘All faults, shortcomings and disturbing emotions arise from the misconception of [an intrinsically existent] self.’ On the basis of such a misconception we grasp at the intrinsic existent of things and generate disturbing emotions towards them, which His Holiness quotes his friend, American psychiatrist, Aaron Beck as saying is 90% our own mental projection.
His Holiness quoted Nagarjuna saying that without understanding the selflessness of phenomena you can’t really understand the selflessness of persons. In conclusion he cited the Heart of Wisdom itself:
“All the Buddhas of the past, present and future have depended, do and will depend upon the perfection of wisdom. Thereby they became, are becoming and will become unsurpassably, perfectly and completely awakened Buddhas.’
Turning to Nagarjuna’s ‘Commentary on the Awakening Mind’, His Holiness gave a concise outline. In verses 4-9 the text refutes non-Buddhist points of view. Verses 10-24 repudiates the views of Buddhist lower schools of thought and verses 25-44 address the views of the Mind Only school. In verse 48 Nagarjuna shows that emptiness is the view that cuts off misconceptions at the root.
Therefore constantly meditate on emptiness:
The basis of all phenomena,
Tranquil and illusion-like,
Groundless and destroyer of cyclic existence.
From verse 63 there is an explanation of the Madhyamaka view, exemplified by verse 68:
The conventional is taught to be emptiness;
The emptiness itself is the conventional;
One does not occur without the other,
Just as [being] produced and impermanent.
From verse 72 the practice of generosity and the cultivation of the awakening mind of bodhichitta are described, showing how understanding of emptiness becomes a motive factor for developing bodhichitta. Then, from verses 76 – 85 is an account of how to develop the practice of exchanging self and others. At which point, His Holiness announced:
“That’s all for today. Good night. We’ll meet again tomorrow.”