Introduction to Four Hundred Verses
Session One: Overcoming Incorrect Consideration with Respect to the Body
Berlin, Germany, June 2007
[The relevant verses from the text have been added for the sake of clarity.]
Aryadeva was a very great Indian master who was born in Sri Lanka. There are two accounts of how he was born. One was that he was born to a royal family, and the other account is that he was born from a lotus, like Guru Rinpoche. And he lived sometime between the middle of the second and the middle of the third centuries of the Common Era. At a very early age he became a monk, and he studied the complete Buddhist scriptures, the Tripitaka, very thoroughly before leaving Sri Lanka and going to South India, where he studied with Nagarjuna. Nagarjuna was of course the greatest Mahayana master of the time, and during this period of his life he was living in a kingdom in South India where he was instructing the king, Udayibhadra. This was the king who received Nagarjuna’s Letter to a Friend and also The Precious Garland. So Aryadeva was in fact the greatest and the closest disciple of Nagarjuna and received from him all the Madhyamaka teachings.
He accompanied Nagarjuna a little bit later and continued to study with him at Shri Parvata. That’s a holy mountain; it overlooks modern-day Nagarjunakonda Valley in Andhra Pradesh. This was within the king’s realm. This is very close to Amaravati, the place where Buddha manifested as Kalachakra and taught the Kalachakra Tantra. This is the area where His Holiness the Dalai Lama gave the Kalachakra initiation not too long ago. Actually, this area of South India, Andhra Pradesh, is the area where the Mahayana teachings and the tantra teachings first appeared. So it’s a very famous area, and was extensively Buddhist at that time.
Now, before this, Nagarjuna had been for many, many years in Nalanda monastery in North India. In fact, he was the abbot there. And, at that time, there was a devotee of Shiva called Matrcheta, and he went to Nalanda monastery and he challenged everybody to philosophical debates. And he was excellent at debating—very, very clever—and nobody was able to defeat him. So a big challenge went out to all the great Buddhist masters: Who could come and defeat this non-Buddhist? And Aryadeva, then, decided that he would go and meet the challenge. Now, on the way, Aryadeva met an old woman who was trying to accomplish some special extraphysical powers, and for that purpose she needed to have the eye of a learned monk. Sounds like some sort of magic rite, doesn’t it? But Aryadeva was moved by compassion for this woman, and he plucked out and gave her one of his eyes. But when she received the eye, she merely put it on the ground and smashed it with a rock. But Aryadeva’s compassion was still very strong and he didn’t get discouraged; obviously he was a great bodhisattva master. But, after that, in all the depictions and all the descriptions of Aryadeva, it always speaks of him as having only one eye.
But Aryadeva then went to Nalanda and he engaged Matrcheta in debate, and he was able to defeat him—both in debate and in contests of special powers (they always had those contests as well). And he said, “With my one eye, I can see far more and understand far more than with your three types of Shiva eyes that you claim.” So Matrcheta then had to switch to Buddhism. That was always the rules of these contests—of defeat—whoever won, the other person had to accept their tenet system. And so Matrcheta then accepted Buddhism and became a disciple of Aryadeva, and he went on to become a very famous master. He changed his name to Ashvaghosha, and he was the author of Fifty Verses on the Guru, which is the standard text for how disciples need to relate to a tantric master. That indicates, by the way, that Aryadeva was also a tantric master, which he was. In fact, both Nagarjuna and Aryadeva wrote some very famous commentaries—the earliest commentaries—to the Guhyasamaja Tantra.
So Aryadeva stayed at Nalanda for many years, but later in life he returned to Nagarjuna, who passed on all his teachings to Aryadeva before he passed away. Then Aryadeva built many monasteries in that area in South India, and taught very extensively, and through his efforts and those of his teacher, Nagarjuna, they were able to establish the Mahayana tradition, and particularly the Madhyamaka tenets, in India.
Aryadeva’s most famous text is this particular one that His Holiness the Dalai Lama will be teaching, and it’s considered one of the most important texts on the Madhyamaka theory or teachings of voidness. Its full title is Four Hundred Verse Treatise on the Actions of a Bodhisattva’s Yoga, but it’s always known as The Four Hundred Verses for short.
So Chandrakirti was—well, Aryadeva’s main disciple was called Rahulabhadra, and then in the next generation of disciples was Chandrakirti. Chandrakirti wrote the most famous Indian commentary to The Four Hundred and he also was the author of another extremely important early text on Madhyamaka, Madhyamakavatara, which is a supplement to Nagarjuna’s Root Stanzas on the Middle Way; in other words, it’s a commentary on Nagarjuna’s most basic text on voidness. In Tibet, this text, The Four Hundred, together with Chandrakirti’s commentary, were translated from Sanskrit into Tibetan by Patshab Lotsawa. This was in the end of the eleventh century, so in the new translation period. This Patshab Lotsawa was a very famous translator. He was the major translator of Nagarjuna’s works as well as Aryadeva’s works, and also of Chandrakirti’s works. And he translated texts not only on Madhyamaka, but also on the Guhyasamaja Tantra. According to the Gelug tradition, he was the main person responsible for bringing the Prasangika view of Madhyamaka to Tibet.
Of course, modern scholars would discuss this in great detail, because the term “Prasangika” wasn’t actually used in India. But this particular interpretation of Madhyamaka was established in Tibet through the efforts of Patshab Lotsawa. That means that during the old translation period—the initial period when Buddhism came to Tibet with Guru Rinpoche, which formed the basis of the Nyingma tradition—at that time, the Prasangika view was not transmitted yet to Tibet. It came only in the new translation period. And even when Prasangika was established in Tibet, there evolved two quite distinct lines of interpretation of its teachings. One, which was a carry-over from the old (Nyingma) tradition, asserts that Prasangika doesn’t make any actual positive assertions—that all it does is use the logic of absurdity to refute all conceptualization. This is the way that in the non-Gelugpa traditions of Tibet—the Sakya, Nyingma, and Kagyu—this is the way that they explain Prasangika. It’s very, very different from the Gelug interpretation of Prasangika. According to the Gelug interpretation, Prasangika uses this type of logic of absurd conclusions simply in order to help others to overcome grasping for truly existent logic and lines of reasoning, but in fact they do make positive assertions. This is a very important distinction, I think, to be aware of, since many people that study with only one or the other of Tibetan traditions think that the way that Prasangika is presented by their tradition is in fact the only way of understanding Prasangika. That’s not so.
Concerning our text here, The Four Hundred Stanzas (or Verses), there were two main commentaries that were written to it, one each from these two styles of explaining Prasangika. The earlier one was by Rendawa, a great Sakya master. He was actually one of Tsongkhapa’s teachers. And he wrote an explanation of this text according to the view that says that Prasangika doesn’t make any positive assertions. The other commentary was written by Gyeltsabjey, and he was a disciple of Tsongkhapa, and he wrote it from the Gelug point of view, with which Prasangika does make various assertions. So there’s no guarantee of which way His Holiness is going to explain this text. He might explain it from one or the other, or from both.
I think this is very important to understand when studying what is known as a root text. Root texts are these very terse Indian early texts that are written in very concise style using a lot of pronouns, basically the words “this” and “that.” And they’re called the “root text” because they are a root from which many branches of explanation or commentary can grow. Because of that, they allow for all the different commentarial traditions all to come back and develop out of this one early authentic source. So because of that, then, when we read translations of these texts, very often what happens is that in parentheses the references of “this” and “that” are filled in and the grammar is constructed in such a way that it makes sense with what’s in the parentheses. But you have to realize that that’s just according to one commentarial tradition of explanation. Other things could fit into the parentheses, and the grammar can be slightly rearranged, in order to give other explanations. If you don’t realize that, then you often would get very, very confused when we read different commentaries and different translations of the same text. So, just because the text is explained and even translated from the point of view of one commentarial tradition, that doesn’t discount the validity of other ways of translating it and interpreting it.
Sometimes His Holiness will go on and on about all the different ways of interpreting various verses, or sometimes His Holiness will just follow one traditional way. But I’m explaining this so that you don’t get confused if His Holiness does start explaining different ways of understanding a verse. This custom of the way in which these texts were written, these Buddhist texts were written, is not limited to just this Four Hundred Verses. It’s the style of most of the major texts that were written by the great Indian masters. And Tibetan masters as well wrote texts like this. And, again, I think another point you have to keep in mind is that they wrote all these root texts in verse—poetry—with very, very strict, complicated meters, and so for the sake of the meter, and the sake of the poetry—and this is both in Sanskrit and Tibetan—they had to abbreviate and say things in very concise ways. And this text is also written in very beautiful verse.
What I have just explained is in following with the style of teaching from Vikramashila monastery, one of the great Indian monasteries. And that style of teaching is to explain some of the features and biography of the author of a text and then some of the features of the text itself, in order to help people to develop respect for the text and for its source before they start studying it. So, again, His Holiness might do this. The lam-rim texts in Tibet, particularly Tsongkhapa’s tradition, always start out with this type of initial presentation, so His Holiness may or may not do that as well. The Nalanda tradition of teaching, by the way, was to, when you are actually receiving teachings, to regard the teacher as a Buddha (because the teacher is transmitting the Buddha’s teachings) and yourself as an arya bodhisattva in a pure land. This is not tantra—this is from a Mahayana point of view—but that certainly was emphasized a great deal when receiving tantra teachings.
Now let’s go on to the actual text itself.
The text consists of sixteen chapters, each of which has twenty-five verses, therefore making four hundred. The first eight chapters discuss how to build up the positive force or merit for understanding voidness by indicating how to correct distorted views regarding conventional truth and how to overcome disturbing emotions and attitudes. Then the second eight chapters indicate how to gain a correct understanding of the deepest truth (or voidness) according to Prasangika. So, in short, the first half speaks about understanding and dealing with conventional truth of things, or the relative truth of things, in order to then build up the positive force for understanding the deepest truth or voidness of things, which is explained in the second half of the text.
Now the text is very deep—quite difficult to understand, particularly the second half—and His Holiness will cover it in only a few days. Now I’m quite sure that His Holiness will cover the entire text, but there’s no way of predicting where he’ll put the emphasis. He may emphasize one aspect or another aspect, one chapter or another chapter. He might just read through many verses at a time and not explain any of them, or just explain certain points that he thinks are of interest. I think we need to realize that in such a short period of time you can’t really cover such a deep text in great detail. When I myself studied this text in Dharamsala at the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, it took a year, with five classes a week, to go through the text. So don’t be discouraged if His Holiness goes through quite quickly, because he’ll have to.
Also, remember from Aryadeva’s biography that he was a very famous debater and he debated with all the various non-Buddhist schools, not only the school of this Matrcheta. And so in the second half of the text when Aryadeva explains various aspects of voidness, he picks out certain assertions of many, many non-Buddhist schools to refute. So, obviously, there won’t be time for His Holiness to explain the background of the basic assertions of all these various schools. And it’s not only the non-Buddhist schools that Aryadeva refutes, but he also refutes the non-Prasangika schools within Buddhism. So, again, don’t be frustrated because His Holiness may just mention, “And the Samkhya position is this, and Aryadeva refutes it in this way. And Nyaya is that,” and so on. It requires quite a bit of background to really understand the depth of this text.
Now of course we might listen to these types of refutations of the various non-Prasangika Buddhist and non-Buddhist schools and think, “What is the importance of this? What is the relevance of this type of approach?” And I think for this we need to recall that Buddhism speaks about two types of disturbing emotions and attitudes. There are those which are doctrinally based and those which automatically arise. The doctrinally based ones are those which arise on the basis of having been taught certain doctrines or teachings from a non-Buddhist school or from a lower set of Buddhist tenets. The automatically arising ones are the ones that just everybody has, including animals.
Now, on the basis of learning certain points about, for instance, how a soul exists, and these sort of things, you could get attachment to that type of view; you could get pride on the basis of that view; of course, you could have close-minded naivety; you could have anger against anybody else who holds a different view and you want to burn them at the stake or something like that. So there’s a whole set of disturbing emotions that are doctrinally based on these concepts that one gains from studying a less sophisticated or imprecise or incorrect set of philosophical theories. So these have to be overcome first (and they are overcome first) in the course of understanding voidness, the correct view of reality. Then you can work on the type of automatically arising disturbing emotions that everybody has. A dog gets angry, for instance, when somebody tries to take its bone. So we could also of course develop disturbing emotions based on our attachment to non-Indian views that we might have been taught in the West. So it’s a relevant discussion.
Now let’s get on with the various chapters of the text. And what I thought to do was to just briefly go through the content of each of these chapters, but only in brief.
The first four chapters show how to rid ourselves of the four incorrect considerations (tshul-min yid-la byed-pa). We’re talking here about overcoming our incorrect views about conventional truth of things, how things actually appear to exist to us. These four incorrect considerations are: to consider something impermanent by nature to be permanent, something in the nature of suffering to be in the nature of happiness, something unclean by nature to be clean, and something lacking an impossible “soul” or “self” to have an impossible “soul” or “self.” And Aryadeva presents all of this in terms of the human body. Regarding the human body as permanent rather than impermanent, as in the nature of happiness rather than in the nature of suffering, in the nature of being clean rather than in the nature of being unclean, and as having an impossible “soul”—which he explains in terms of having pride about yourself, rather than lacking an impossible “soul”—this he does without going into the specific refutation of the impossible “soul.” Those are what the first four chapters speak about, one for each of the incorrect types of consideration.
Incorrect consideration, by the way, is not a disturbing emotion or attitude. This is a form of one of the ever-functioning mental factors. This is the mental factor of—it can be translated in many different ways—paying attention; literally, it’s how you take something to mind. This can be understood and is explained in two ways. You can take things to mind, as an object of mind, either with a great deal of effort, or over and over again, or without any effort. These are ways of taking something to mind, or paying attention to it, that are discussed in gaining single-minded concentration or absorbed concentration. But there’s another aspect, which is how you take something to mind, which means how you consider it. Do we consider it as impermanent, or permanent, or clean, or unclean, etc. So it can either accord with reality or not accord with reality; in other words, it could be correct or incorrect. And although this is something which we need to overcome, it’s not included in the disturbing emotions and attitudes. Actually, it’s listed as one of the main causes for the disturbing emotions to arise.
One thinks that the body, for example, is permanent, and then you get attachment to it. Now you could ask, “Where does this incorrect consideration come from?” and you’d have to say that it comes from naivety. Naivety and close-mindedness, or ignorance, unawareness; there’s many words that we could use for it. But, just as from the habits of unawareness of how things exist causes the mind to make things appear in a way that’s incorrect—particularly in terms of making things appear to be truly existent—likewise, one could discuss with respect to the conventional appearance of things (not in terms of the deepest appearance of how things exist) that, likewise, the habits of this unawareness would make the mind cause things to appear as permanent rather than impermanent; so that’s the way that you take it to mind, the way that you consider it.
That’s, by the way, important to understand, because your mind could make—out of habit of unawareness—your mind could make somebody else’s body look very attractive and very sexy, but you wouldn’t necessarily have to develop longing desire for it. Those are two separate things. “Oh, it looks so beautiful, so attractive.” Okay, so what? So they’re two stages that one needs to overcome. The first one is the disturbing emotion based on that appearance, and then the deeper one of the mind making things appear in that way, deceptive way—appears to exist in a way that it doesn’t. So here we’re talking about appearing to exist, not in a manner of existence, true existence (talking about dealing with the deepest truth), but making things appear conventionally, in terms of what they conventionally are—clean, unclean, permanent, impermanent, etc.
I think that’s important to understand, actually, in our own spiritual development, the course of how that unfolds. Because if we’ve been working on overcoming longing desire (attachment), for example, to beautiful people, people that we find beautiful and attractive, you might not develop so strongly anymore that longing desire to do whatever with various people that you find attractive, but still what happens is that, because of the habits of this, your mind will make others appear, certain ones—from familiarity, from previous lives, or whatever—will make certain types of bodies look very attractive and sexy—and remember this mental factor “taking to mind”—so, compulsively you’ll look at these kind of people when you’re walking in the street, or you’re on the U-Bahn (the subway). That’s just from habit. And that doesn’t mean that, even though your mind looks at these people, that either you have to become obsessed and stay focused on it, or, a further step, that you develop the longing desire, “Oh, if I could only have this person. If I could only do this or that with this person.”
So there are these steps. And in working on oneself spiritually to overcome these type of things—and it could be not only with longing desire, it could with anger and certain things that make you angry, or certain things that make you frightened; it’s the same thing—one needs to be patient with oneself. And you can gain that patience by knowing the stages with which you overcome not only the disturbing emotion but this incorrect consideration which is a cause for the disturbing emotions to arise.
The first chapter is called “Indicating Methods for Ridding Yourself of Grasping at the Body as Permanent.” So the first chapter deals with overcoming the incorrect consideration of your body as being permanent—it’s going to last forever, not change, etc.—as opposed to its actual conventional truth, which is that it is impermanent. Instead of seeing the body as permanent, you understand it as impermanent.
The Lord of Death, by self-nature, is without a creator,
What could be more improper than to fall asleep
While the real situation is that
he will definitely come.
And, under the power of other (things), having the situation
of going (ever closer to your end),
It would appear as though you were going to die,
Not as though you were going to live.
Aryadeva discusses this first in terms of death, and this is the gross impermanence, and he speaks about the certainty of death, that death will come to everybody, we are moving closer and closer to death, similar to how Shantideva later describes it.
You might feel, “I am permanent.”
Yet nevertheless, at some time,
The Lord of Death is going to ravage you.
And also speaking about the uncertainty of the time of death, and he warns against the naivety of thinking that we’re going to live forever. Again, we find in this text, as we found in Nagarjuna’s Letter to a Friend, the very early sources of the famous quotations that are always used in the later lam-rim texts concerning basic lam-rim meditations—here specifically death and impermanence.
Why do you (grieve) about (the death of) your children?
You yourself are going to be snatched,
But if you (only) carry on (about others) why should you not be ridiculed (by the wise)?
In pointing out the impermanence of the body, Aryadeva doesn’t limit himself to the discussion of just our own bodies, but also he extends this to the bodies of our loved ones. And so he talks about understanding the death of loved ones, and he uses the particularly difficult case of our own son or child dying, and he says that it’s very important to overcome attachment to loved ones because attachment only causes pain.
At gathering with someone,
Why isn’t there (the same) happiness at parting?
Don’t gathering and parting come one with the other?
Everybody has to part; parting is the natural conclusion of meeting. So even your children are only there for a temporary, short time, and either you will have to depart first or your loved one will have to depart, but the parting is inevitable. So this is true not only with family relations but certainly with friendship and partner relations, even more so.
Then for sure you will go (into retreat) in the forest,
Well, no matter what you have attended to,
You’ll have to give up (when you die),
So what advantage is there in having attended to it?
Has fully abandoned attachment,
And because of this, what fear has he
Even for the Lord of Death?
So, if we rid ourselves of attachment, Aryadeva says, even to our own body, then there’s nothing to fear about death; we’ll be able to go off happily into forest retreat. Shantideva, by the way, speaks very similarly (in his chapter on mental stability or concentration), that the biggest hindrance to gaining concentration, being able to go into retreat for that purpose, is attachment to the body, and attachment to childish people, he says, infantile people. Also, if we think that we’re going to live forever, we put off doing intensive meditation practice, but we need to understand the conventional truth about our precious human rebirth, that it is available only for a very, very brief, short time—death will come at any moment—and we need to take advantage of it now.
Yet, you need to take care of it.
Living a long life with ethical discipline,
You can do many positive (deeds).
In chapter two, Aryadeva speaks about methods for ridding ourselves of grasping at the body as pleasurable. And he starts by saying that although our bodies are impermanent, still we need to take care of them. But remember, Aryadeva says or he warns, that the body is like an enemy, because it brings us suffering and pain, as well as pleasure and happiness.
In as great a proportion as suffering (does),
How can you think that this greater (amount of) suffering
Is less (than your happiness)?
And then he has a very famous verse in which he says that it’s extremely easy to find suffering and unhappiness in life but very difficult to find happiness. This is because the causes for suffering are many and the causes for happiness are few. So why do we only emphasize the happiness part when the unhappiness and suffering is the majority?
Acts as a container for (much more) suffering.
Therefore, being devoted to your body
and being devoted to your enemy –
These two seem to be the same.
And then he points out the types of suffering—hunger, sickness, old age, death, these type of standard things that are always discussed in the Buddhist teachings. And so, because the nature of the body is that it brings us suffering like that, why are we so devoted to it?
So does your suffering increase.
Because of that, it appears as though happiness
Is but like an incongruous (guest) of the body.
Also, these types of suffering only increase as we get older, Aryadeva points out. As we get older, we get more pains in the body, we get sicker, the sense organs start to fail—all these sorts of things come—and we have much more fright about death as it approaches as we get older. So it’s not that the body grows more and more pleasurable as we get old, but it just grows more and more as a source of suffering and pain. And ugly, yes; that is true.
And your thoughts can be dictated by your suffering.
Because of that, nowhere is there anything
More powerful than suffering.
Aryadeva then points out what controls our state of happiness and unhappiness; and it is dictated by our thoughts, he says, our state of mind. But, for samsaric beings, our thoughts are dictated mostly by our suffering and unhappiness. If you reflect on that, how much of our time is spent in complaining, complaining that this isn’t good enough, that suffering has happened, that unpleasant thing has happened, this little pain, and so on? We don’t think so much about pleasant things; we think much more about the unpleasant. And nothing is more compelling in a samsaric state than disturbing emotions and unhappiness. The complaining is based on a lot of disturbing emotions as well. So this contributes to the fact that we experience unhappiness so much more than we experience happiness as ordinary samsaric beings with this kind of body. Therefore, basically, we need to have a realistic attitude about our bodies. Being unhappy, we tend to think even more about our unhappiness—“How depressed I am,” and so on. How much do we think “Oh, how happy I am?” We don’t. The unhappiness and disturbing emotions reinforce each other, so that our lives are filled with, basically, suffering.
When there’s gathered together all its (four) elements,
which (individually) lack the ability (to produce it).
As these (elements by nature mutually) clash,
In no way is it proper to regard them as happiness.
Further, Aryadeva points out the body is made up of the four elements—that’s earth, water, fire, and wind or air—which by nature clash with each other, so of course the body brings suffering, like sometimes feeling too hot and sometimes feeling too cold.
(at the expense of some small and ephemeral pleasure)
Negative karmic debts for this or other (lives).
In no way is it proper to regard as happiness
That which will have (you reborn) in one of the worse states.
Then Aryadeva goes on to say it’s important not to build up negative karmic force from acting in a destructive way in a futile hope that it will bring us some temporary, ultimately unsatisfying, physical pleasure; like, for instance, getting drunk or going out and indulging in appropriate sexual behavior, and so on. Even the small physical pleasure that we get from the body, like, for instance, after we’ve eaten a good meal and feeling satisfied from the meal, or after having a sexual experience—we might think, well, the body is a source of pleasure for that, but then there is the suffering of change: that it never lasts, it’s never enough, and we want always want more. Aryadeva doesn’t actually mention that, but that’s to be understood from this discussion.
You’ll not become free from attachment” –
This has been taught for ordinary beings.
Therefore, it’s certain that the Thusly Gone (Buddhas) have said
(That such a distorted view of the body) is the lowest (type) of all naivety.
And whatever can be harmed cannot be (a source of) happiness.
Therefore, that which is impermanent (such as the body)
Would be called, by everyone, suffering.
What Aryadeva does say is that if we regard the body as a source of pleasure then we’ll never overcome attachment to it. Then he connects this with impermanence. He says that impermanent things inevitably receive harm and fall apart. So, because the body is impermanent, then it’s going to fall apart, like with death. And why will it fall apart? Because of harm and the suffering that comes together with that. You don’t die from happiness, do you? Not usually. One usually dies from some harm and suffering that is inflicted on the body—sickness, old age, an accident, and so on. Therefore, he concludes, we need to regard the body as suffering. First noble truth.
There’s never an end (when you’re totally satisfied).
Like a bad doctor, the exhausting (efforts
You make) for your body will have no effect.
There is not the slightest difference at all
in having intercourse (with any of them).
As their bodies will be enjoyed by others as well
(for instance, by vultures and worms when they’re dead),
What can a woman of superior (beauty) do for you?
Chapter three is “Indicating Methods for Ridding Yourself of Grasping at the Body as Clean.” Aryadeva starts by saying that if you’re attached to your body or (addressing himself to heterosexual men) if you’re attached to the body of a woman as pleasurable, why are you attached to such a body? It’s because we consider it clean. And this is incorrect. Aryadeva says you’ll never find lasting happiness from your attraction and attachment to a body.
And become infatuated with them and rejoice (in their beauty).
But as this is common even among dogs and such (with respect to their mates),
O dull-witted one, why are you so attached (to yours)?
And now a famous verse: Even dogs find their mates attractive and are attached to them, so there’s nothing special about the person you find so alluring.
And those who are opposite as the reverse,
Well, as no one can be categorized (as having only good qualities or only bad),
Of the former or the other, which one is truly (attractive or repulsive)?
Although people have attractive good qualities, they also have unattractive aspects. So don’t forget about those. In other words, the outside might be attractive, but the inside of the stomach and the intestines might not be so attractive.
With the woman to whom you’re so devoted.
Therefore, to hold on to the notion that this one is mine
And not anyone else’s – what is this for?
then there would be no purpose
For (Buddha to have taught) purifying oneself
of (attachment to) women,
(since it would eliminate happiness);
And no matter how much (you look),
you don’t see (in the scriptures),
“Happiness is to be given up.”
We won’t be able to stay together with the person we’re so attached to, and any happiness we find is not the supreme happiness that Buddha taught. So Aryadeva connects it back to his discussion of impermanence. That also connects it with the discussion of the body of oneself or others not being the source of lasting happiness.
(Everyone) would look down upon a vessel of filthy (vomit and excrement).
Therefore, why don’t you consider
as something to be looked down upon
That from which this filth comes?
(After it’s come in contact with a woman’s body, such as the food she eats),
What intelligent person would say,
“This (body of a woman) has(a nature of) cleanliness”?
Where, if there weren’t this (filthy liquid)he couldn’t stay (there),
Such (a person, who as a foetus is) like a filthy worm,
Could only develop arrogant pride(that his body is clean)
because of his thick-headedness.
Then we have a series of verses that are very similar to what we find in Shantideva’s discussion of overcoming attachment to somebody else’s body and our own body, in order to be able to go into forest solitude and meditation to gain absorbed concentration. He says, “Consider the filth inside your partner’s body. Isn’t it absurd to be so attached to a vessel full of excrement?”
(If it’s) into a golden pot,
Likewise, think of your happiness
As (petty) relief from suffering.
He uses a very famous example [in the previous chapter]: Some people even take pleasure if, when they vomit, they could vomit into a golden pot.
Question: Shantideva was later, wasn’t he?
Alex: Yes, Shantideva was much later. Aryadeva lived from the middle of the second to the middle of the third century, and Shantideva lived in the beginning of the eighth century. But, as we found with Letter to a Friend by Aryadeva’s teacher Nagarjuna, there are many quotes and topics, and ways of discussing topics, that we find in this text as well, which are the sources for how Shantideva discusses the same points.
You cannot make the innermost parts of your body be clean.
If you want to make efforts (to clean) the inside (of your body),
It will not (come about by directing your efforts) on its outside like this.
Aryadeva then points out that you can never make the inside of the body clean, no matter how much you wash the outside. Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey used to give a variant on this. He said, “No matter how much you wash a piece of excrement, you can never make it clean.” This is sort of indirectly poking fun at the Hindu idea that, if you wash your body in the Ganga, you can purify and clean yourself of all negative karmic force.
So that’s the chapter on methods for ridding rid ourselves of grasping at the body as clean.
Chapter Four: Indicating Methods for Ridding Yourself of Grasping at (the Body as Having) an Impossible “Self” (about Which to Feel Pride)
Then chapter four speaks about indicating the methods for ridding ourselves of grasping at the body as having an impossible “self” about which to feel pride. When we speak about an impossible “self” here, we can understand this in, of course, many different levels of depth or sophistication. But, in the most general sense, we first have the concept or idea of a “self” which we would learn from some sort of non-Buddhist set of teachings. And then, on the basis of those type of teachings, and the concept of a “self” that you would get from these type of teachings, then you could feel very proud of yourself.
So the main characteristics that one learns from specifically the various non-Buddhist Indian systems is that we have a soul (an atman) that is static. In other words, it never changes. It’s a little bit misleading to translate that as “eternal” because—or “permanent” in the sense of eternal—because Buddhism says the conventional “self” has no beginning and no end, just as the mental continuum has no beginning and no end, so you can impute on the mental continuum the conventional “me.” But the point here is what’s impossible is that there is a “soul” or a “self” that is unaffected by anything, so it’s static (it never changes); and it has no parts, according to some Indian schools; it’s the size of the universe, like “atman is Brahma” type of way of thinking; or it is the size of a tiny little particle, like a spark of life, that has no parts; and also that it is totally separate from any system of aggregates (a body and mind) and it travels from one lifetime to another like that, totally something completely separate from a body and a mind. So we could have pride about “me” as this “Oh, I’m so wonderful,” this type of concept of a “self.” That would be doctrinally based.
What is an automatically arising form of grasping for an impossible “self” is to think that there is a self or a person that can be known self-sufficiently, all by itself. Even if we understand that a “self” or a conventional “me” is something that can be labeled on a continuity of aggregates (a body and mind), still it automatically arises that we think—and it seems—as though I can just know somebody independently of, at the same time, knowing or seeing or thinking about their body, or the sound of their voice, or something like that. When we speak on the telephone with somebody, for instance, it really does seem—and we think like this—“I’m speaking with Monica,” “I’m speaking with Daniel.” It doesn’t seem as though I’m speaking with a body that is producing sound and, on the basis of that, I’m labeling it “Daniel” or “Monica,” does it? Or, when we see somebody, it doesn’t appear to us that I am seeing a body that, on the basis of the body, then can be labeled “Ursula” or “Christian.” You think, “I’m seeing Ursula or Christian.” Or “I know Mariana.” “I know this person.” Well, what do you know? You know something about their actions, something about their personality, something about what they look like, their history or whatever—and, on the basis of that, you can impute a person.
And so this is the automatically arising form of grasping for an impossible “self.” And, on the basis of conceiving of ourselves in that way, we can develop pride. “How wonderful I am.” Because also we think about ourselves that way, don’t we? “I know myself,” “I see myself in the mirror,” “I hear my voice on the answering machine,” “Here’s a picture of myself. That’s me.” This is obviously false.
Ah, our doctor points out that she would diagnose a mental illness if we didn’t recognize ourselves on the picture. We’re not saying that you don’t recognize yourself on the picture. What we’re saying here is that you think that there is a person that can be known all by itself, independently of a basis for labeling it. In that sense, you make it into some sort of solid “thing.” When we see the picture, we see both colored pixels in the shape of a body and we also see a conventional “me” that can be labeled on it. Colored pixels aren’t even our body, are they?
This is actually a very deep and profound point that is very, very important to really work through and to see how much our disturbing emotions arise dependent on this misconception about ourselves. We think, for instance, “Oh, I’m so unhappy,” “I’m so stupid,” or “I’m so wonderful,” or “You’re so wonderful,” or “You are so terrible.” Now here we’re not talking on this level yet, in terms of how the “self,” “me,” or “you” exists; we’re talking about how it can be known. But we make something—I mean, the way that it’s known of course implies how it exists, but it’s not directing itself specifically about the manner of establishing its existence; it’s talking here about the manner of knowing something.
“I’m so wonderful.” Well, what is that based on? Based on thinking, “This and this. I did this, I did this, I did this.” But then we think in terms of a “me,” that “I’m so wonderful.” I know—I can think about—this “me.” I can feel proud about this “me,” as if it were separate. Or, “I feel so sad.” Well, there is a mental continuum, and the mental continuum has a feeling of sadness or unhappiness accompanying it while looking at the wall or sitting here and thinking. And, on the basis of that, there’s a “me,” a conventional “me,” that can be labeled on that, and that’s what I’m thinking about. But of course the “me” can be known on the basis of many other things, many other experiences. Or, “You. You’re so terrible.” Well, what? The body is so terrible? The voice of the person is so terrible? The what? The various actions? Everything is terrible? Or, “You’re so wonderful.” So we think about such persons all by itself. We don’t really take into account the other things that have to be present that same time when we’re thinking, or when we’re seeing, or when we’re hearing. And, on that basis, we have attachment to a person, or anger, or attachment to ourselves, pride, and so on.
The Prasangika analysis of the concept of an impossible “soul” that automatically arises is more subtle than this, but we’ll get into that when we discuss the last eight chapters. See, this is going to be part of the difficulty in being able to understand the profundity of His Holiness’s explanations. The problem is that there are many different types of impossible souls, many types of incorrect view, many different levels of grasping for impossible ways of existing, grasping for impossible souls, and so on, and they are all referred to in Sanskrit and Tibetan with technical terms which, when they get translated, and even in their original, somehow seem to become like jargon. And so you hear these words and if you are, for instance, a Tibetan monk or nun who has trained in debate, and you’ve memorized the definition of each of these terms in each of the tenet systems—because different tenet systems will define the same term, like “true existence,” differently—then when you hear the jargon word and you hear the context, you know what His Holiness is talking about. You won’t always get a very detailed definition when His Holiness is speaking about this and when it’s being translated.
So the type of impossible existence or “self” that I’ve just been speaking about sometimes will be translated as a “substantial self.” Well, that doesn’t quite convey it, although literally you have that type of terminology. The literal translation is “a substantially established self that can stand on its own legs,” implying that it can be known by itself. So don’t be thrown off by these jargon words because, especially during a teaching like this, the translator (and His Holiness as well) undoubtedly will not be able to explain them. But there’s a lot behind all these jargon words. That’s why one has to, in order to understand the Buddhist teachings on voidness, do a very deep, thorough study.
So let’s take our lunch break now and then we’ll continue.
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