Introduction to Four Hundred Verses
Session Two: Overcoming Incorrect Views Concerning the Conventional Truth of Things
Berlin, Germany, June 2007
[The relevant verses from the text have been added for the sake of clarity.]
We saw that the first four chapters of Aryadeva’s text speak about overcoming the four types of incorrect consideration with respect to the body. And this is in the larger discussion of the first half of the text, the first eight chapters, which speak about overcoming our incorrect views about the conventional truth of things and the disturbing emotions that arise from that. And we spoke about the first three chapters already. This was the ridding ourselves of grasping at the body as permanent when in fact it’s impermanent. Then the second chapter, grasping at the body as pleasurable when in fact it’s a source of suffering. And the third was grasping at the body as clean as opposed to being unclean. And we started the background discussion of chapter four, regarding the body as possessing an impossible “self” when in fact it doesn’t. So now we’re ready to begin the actual content of Aryadeva’s presentation in chapter four.
Chapter Four: Indicating Methods for Ridding Yourself of Grasping at (the Body as Having) an Impossible “Self” (about Which to Feel Pride) (continued from Session One)
Aryadeva speaks now in terms of this fourth type of incorrect consideration, in terms of the disturbing emotion that would arise on its basis—namely, pride. Feeling proud about “me” that can be known all by itself, standing on its own. And he addresses himself to a king, the king of this area. And this is quite typical of so many of these texts—like Nagarjuna’s Letter to a Friend and Precious Garland—they are written specifically directed to the king, although they have a much wider application. I would just guess that perhaps kings being the patrons of the monasteries, they therefore elicit a stronger concern in terms of teachings (receiving teachings, I should say).
Do you follow this point? When we have pride, it’s usually based on—in this example—“I am the king,” as if there were a “me” that one could think about independently of any sort of body, or basis, or acts, or how you became king, and so on. That “I am the king” and then you feel proud. Is the body the king? What is the king? But to think in terms of “I am the king,” you have to be in reference to something. Or when we see the king, “There’s the king.” Well, what do you see?
would develop arrogant pride
Thinking, “I (am king and this land is exclusively) mine”?
Why, because all lands are equally (used)
By everybody (on them).
So, addressing the king, Aryadeva says there’s no reason for a king to feel proud of his so-called “self.” The land, after all, he says, isn’t yours; it’s equally shared by everyone living on it.
having been apportioned
one-sixth (as your wage),
What is the reason for your arrogant pride?
Whatever (is to be done), you have to do that.
This comes from your having been
(appointed) under their power.
Also, you are the servant of the people. You are paid for by their taxes; so, in fact, you work for them.
(if you feel you can be arrogant,
Well,) to be able to protect (the people,
even though you’re) the ruler of the land,
You have to be looked after (by those you protect).
Why aren’t you parted from arrogance because of the other (reason,
namely, that you have to be provided for)?
And, in order to be able to protect and take care of them, they have to protect and take care of you. So you don’t just exist as a king all by itself.
at their own karma and work,
It’s difficult to find anyone who makes his livelihood
(without pride and attachment).
If, since (you share one-sixth of the people’s income),
you also receive (one-sixth of their) destructive (karmic debts),
Then, for you, an excellent rebirth shall be rare.
Then he goes on to say: you share not only in the wealth that you gain from them in taxes, but also in the negative karmic force that they build up in your service, such as in war. This is stated quite explicitly in Abhidharmakosha, that the general or the king that orders people into war builds up as much negative karma as each of the individual soldiers builds up when they kill someone.
You (forcefully) extract tribute from the world
And (in the process) you yourself, in fact, commit negative deeds,
(such as by executing those who don’t pay),
Then who can be equal to this in unkindness?
Then you shouldn’t protect
Any childish ordinary being (either, with kindness,
For they’ve all been naughty).
for enhancing your own happiness,
It doesn’t bring this about.
Although (you may justify killing animals, for instance,)
For reasons such as (it’s permitted
according to seemingly correct) scriptural authority,
Nevertheless, as it’s not something positive,
(your negative karmic debts) will have no end.
Also, how can you be so happy about being a king if you punish people and cause them hardship and pain? How could that be a source of your happiness? How can you be happy if you’re constantly exploiting the people who live under you in fighting wars? That’s speaking not only in terms of immediate happiness but long term, in terms of the karmic effects of this type of negative behavior.
For all the methods of livelihood that were.
Therefore, for all limited beings, there are no (truly existing
And definite) caste divisions (from the beginning).
And women’s minds are fickle (often bearing the children
of men of different castes).
Therefore, there isn’t anyone who is from a (definite, pure) caste
Who can say he’s (totally) of the royal caste.
Then even an outcaste, (by protecting others,) should be called
a member of the royal caste,
And by the activity (of reading the Vedas)
Why shouldn’t even an outcaste be considered to have become a brahmin?
In the Indian context, people have a very strong consciousness of belonging to a caste, and that can be quite a source of pride—thinking, “I’m from this high caste or that high caste”—particularly, here, from the royal caste. So Aryadeva addressed the whole caste issue next, and he says: your high position comes from previous karmic causes, not from the caste itself. There’s nothing inherent about your position in life, so think about how your present actions will affect your future rebirths. Furthermore, if your occupation determined your truly existent caste, then even an untouchable could be considered a brahmin or a member of the royal caste if they worked as such. So this whole concept of caste is really very illogical.
Need to look at others who (also) have power –
Their equals or especially their superiors.
(Pride) doesn’t remain in the hearts of sublime ones
(who understand in this way).
Also, if you’re so proud of your authority and power, you should look at other rulers who are even more powerful. This is a general piece of advice that’s always given, in terms of pride, that there’s always somebody who is better or has more of what you think that you are the best at. And, if you think that you are the worst, there’s always somebody who is worse. Although I suppose Bill Gates is the most wealthy person in the world, but, still, national treasuries have more money.
And, you know, these teachings in this chapter are not just applicable to a king, and it’s important when studying this type of material to apply it to our own situation. For instance, one could be proud of being any profession, let’s say being a doctor. But that as well is something which arose dependent on others. You are the servant of others, being a doctor—you have to take care of them. And we share in not only the positive force of helping people to get better, but sometimes doctors make mistakes, their patients die—we have to share in that aspect as well—sadness of the families. And the position of being a doctor comes about through causes—a lot of hard work—it’s not just there all by itself. And there are always doctors who are better and doctors who are worse than we are.
That are not causes (for benefiting others).
Even their breath is issued
Only for the sake of (acting as a) medicine for limited beings.
Chapter five deals with indicating the behavior of bodhisattvas. Aryadeva starts out with a very central point: there are no actions of a Buddha that are not causes for benefiting others. This is because Buddhas are omniscient and know what’s of benefit and what is not. So anything that a Buddha—and, by implication here, that a bodhisattva does—is for the benefit of others.
When) to act and not to act,
What to teach and not to teach.
Therefore, what reason is there to say
that the Omniscient One is not omniscient?
Sometimes people look at certain aspects of the Buddha’s teachings and say, “Why in the world did Buddha teach that? This seems really strange,” but if one analyses more deeply, the only reason Buddha taught anything was to benefit others, and if we don’t see what the benefit of a particular teaching is, that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have some benefit for someone. Like, for instance, Buddha taught many different philosophical positions, and one could say “Well, why did Buddha teach these other philosophical positions that were not so accurate, that could be faulted?” But, in fact, Buddha taught them because they suited specific individuals who were at the point at which they were. Aryadeva comes back to this point several times—here, and later in the text.
Such as going and so forth, (becoming) positive and so on
Except through the thought (that motivates it),
Therefore the mind is established as crucial for all karma.
Then Aryadeva makes a very important point here that requires really further understanding. He says that all actions become beneficial depending on their motivation and intention.
Constructive (actions) and even (normally) destructive ones
Become constructive and good through their intentions.
Why? Because these (actions) are controlled
(in accordance) with their minds.
Thus, bodhisattvas can make even ordinarily destructive actions into constructive ones through their motivation and intention.
So then one can debate about this point. Let’s say if you look at euthanasia. You basically kill somebody in order to—who is close to death, and has no chance of recovery, and is experiencing extreme pain. Whether it’s a person or your pet dog or cat. And, if your motivation is good, in the sense that I have compassion for this person or animal and I want to save them from terrible pain, does that make killing the animal a constructive action from a karmic point of view? Well, we also have to take into consideration that we’re killing the animal or the human being—that we’re not doing it simply because it’s too much for us, and we can’t deal with it, and this is the easier way out. But we’re talking about if it’s really motivated by compassion.
And the classic example for this is in one of the Jataka stories of a previous life of the Buddha in which he was—everybody knows this story—that he was the navigator on a ship with 499 merchants. And the oarsman of the ship was going to kill everybody, and there was no way to stop him except to kill the oarsman, which the Buddha did out of great compassion to save all the other people, the passengers, from being killed, and also to help prevent this oarsman from going to some horrible hellish rebirth. Was that a virtuous, constructive action of the Buddha—the killing, itself? And, if we look at the teachings, it says that one needs to differentiate the action from the motivation, and each of them will have their own result, karmic result. And so the result of the motivation was that Buddha, through this, completed building up his first countless eons (or zillion eons) of positive force or merit. But, by the negative force of the killing, which by nature is destructive, Buddha—I forget if he got a headache or a thorn in his foot, something like that. So, because of the very strong positive motivation, it weakened the consequences of the negative act of killing, but it didn’t completely transform that negative, destructive action into a constructive one.
So, when we look at the bodhisattva vows, one of the secondary vows is that a bodhisattva, when necessity calls for it, mustn’t say, “Oh, I can’t do this or that action, because of my vows,” and so on. Like, for instance, a woman is drowning and a monk bodhisattva says, “Well, I can’t touch a woman. That’s against the vinaya.”—that this is incorrect. And so at certain times when, as a bodhisattva, we have to do something which is destructive, that there’s no other way to prevent harm—and we’re not talking here about this example that I used from the vinaya because, in general, touching a woman is not by nature something which is destructive, but if we think of something a little bit more serious than that—then a bodhisattva has to be willing to take on the negative karmic consequence of the destructive action upon themselves, be willing to experience even a hellish rebirth in order to be able to benefit others. That’s the point. Nevertheless, the motivation and intention is the most important factor, in terms of our behavior.
Alex: Right. He’s pointing out that in some commentaries on these bodhisattva vows, it says that what we’ve been explaining is the case for the seven destructive actions out of the ten that are normally described—these are the three of body and the four of speech—because this aspect is not dealing with destructive ways of thinking, since that’s not affecting anybody else directly.
But, concerning those, this is only permitted—to engage in these actions—if you have the extraphysical powers in order to be able to—if you take the life of some being, that you’re able to bring them back to life. And I think the classic example of that was Tilopa with Naropa. Remember, Naropa was the most learned, educated abbot of Nalanda when he went off and met Tilopa. And so, in order to convince Naropa that he had really something special to be able to teach him, then Tilopa would eat fish alive and then lay their bones out on the ground and snap his fingers and bring it back to life. Now I don’t think that what was involved here was compassion for the fish. So I think that this explanation deals with perhaps the demonstration—I mean, there’s another bodhisattva vow: in order to convince others into a positive course of action, that if it’s necessary to use extrasensory powers, extraphysical powers, you don’t refrain from that on the grounds of being too humble and so on. Perhaps it’s more in reference to that. I don’t know.
Participant: It wasn’t exactly in that vow, but maybe it’s specific to a particular monastery that says it’s like this or like that.
Alex: I don’t know whether the interpretation that you gave of that is from some special monastery or not. That, I don’t know. But certainly one has to be on a fairly high level to be able to act out of pure compassion when you commit a destructive action for the benefit of others. Because if, in acting in a destructive way, it’s not pure compassion, and in fact there is some anger involved, and so on, then the action itself becomes far more destructive. And this goes back to other abhidharma points on karma, which is that the effect of an action is influenced not just by the motivation with which it is intended (before you do the action), but the accompanying emotional state with which you commit the action. And even though, let’s say, you are motivated by compassion for your children to kill the malaria mosquitoes—to slap at the malaria mosquito that’s biting your child—when you actually hit it, usually there’s a lot of aggression and anger; you really want to kill the thing. So one has to be very careful. Or exterminating. Exterminating is a good example. And you’re actually into exterminating the insects in your house. Even though there’s a good motivation to start with, you really get into killing, and you start to have very negative thoughts—that you really want to kill these things. And then also there’s the negative emotion with which you end the action. You feel good. “Ah, I got them all. I killed them all!” You feel proud and happy, so you rejoice in it. So that’s even worse. So, even if we have to do some negative action out of compassion to help others, you shouldn’t feel proud about it or feel happy that we did this, or that we had to do this.
And there are many, many examples that we can think of this. If you think back into World War II: The people who hid either Jews or other people who were being hunted down by the Nazi regime, if they were a bodhisattva and if the special forces came to the house and said, “Are you hiding anybody?” would they, as a bodhisattva, say, “Oh, yes”—because to lie is a negative action—“Oh, yes. There they are. Over there, behind that wall.” So there are conceivable situations in which this teaching is applicable.
Participant: What is the role of regret? If somebody regrets a negative action.
Alex: Oh, regretting a negative action helps to lessen the negative consequences of it. So, if we’ve had to act negatively—or even if we didn’t have to, but we did because of our disturbing emotions—then we can lessen the consequences by acknowledging that it was something that was wrong and mistaken. We regret doing it. That doesn’t mean feeling guilty, but “I wish I hadn’t done that,” and to promise to try our best not to repeat it, and to reaffirm the positive direction that we’re going in life, and to apply some sort of counteracting opponents to balance out and outweigh the negative things that we’ve done—so, doing a lot of constructive things.
In that example, by the way, of hiding the Jews, the person who says that “No, we don’t have any here” would be doing this not out of hatred for the special forces that are searching for the Jews, and it’s not because… I’ll put it another way: and they would be doing it with the willingness to accept the consequences on themselves if they were found out, what they were doing. And then it becomes a bodhisattva type of action.
Well, Monica points out the important point—that we need a combination of compassion and wisdom. And so engaging in a destructive action is only when we use our wisdom to see that there’s absolutely no other means to save the situation.
Now the example that you give in terms of the malaria mosquitoes and, if you have the money, buying a mosquito net or a mosquito repellent, that’s all very nice as a preventive measure. But when the mosquito is actually on your sleeping child’s face, you don’t say, “Well, let me go out to the store and buy a mosquito net, and then I’ll come back and put it up.” You can’t press the pause button on the mosquito. Of course that becomes an interesting question—do you slap the baby in the face in order to kill the mosquito or not? And, in some cases, you may have to. That sometimes—this is another aspect of karma—sometimes you have to do a small destructive action for the sake of a larger positive one.
Participant: Only a small percentage of mosquitoes carry malaria, and…
Alex: Surely one has in this situation, if you’re living in a malaria infested area and… I’m not an entomologist, but I think that there are certain types of mosquitoes that specifically carry malaria. But let’s not get into a discussion of insects. I think that all of this is covered in the topic of combining wisdom with compassion.
Question: What if you wish a good rebirth for this insect?
Alex: That is also helpful. But just to kill anything that you don’t like with the wish “Better luck next time” is dangerous. But of course it’s important to make prayers for whatever it is that you might have to kill.
Needs to show deference to his (inclinations and needs).
Because he knows not (how) to benefit himself,
(A disciple) is called “one who’s to be taught.”
Then Aryadeva goes on to say that bodhisattvas, then, need to help tame disciples in accordance with the disciples’ inclinations and needs. In other words, you teach others in accordance with what they need, like a doctor would.
Seized by demons and rage;
Likewise, a sage sees the disturbing emotions as the enemy,
Not the person who’s possessed with these emotions.
And you don’t fight with them; the enemy is not the patient but the sickness. So the same applies to when we’re trying to help somebody as a spiritual teacher. The important thing is to see that the thing that we’re trying to overcome is the disturbing emotions of the disciple. Because it’s very easy to get upset with the disciple when they are lazy and they don’t follow what we tell them to do—we get angry with them, and so on. The person isn’t the problem; the disturbing emotion is the problem.
He should be (taught to) act (in accord with) these first.
By no means is (someone a) vessel for (the profound)
If they would cause him (spiritually) to decline
(if he were taught them prematurely).
Therefore, in terms of teaching disciples or helping others, Aryadeva says that it’s best to teach others first the topics that they have preference for and that they are most suited for, and not immediately the most profound topics, when they’re not ready for hearing them and hearing about them would cause them to decline spiritually. So this is important to keep in mind, so that we avoid prematurely teaching others about voidness or tantra practices, etc.
Now, again, when it says, “teach others what they have preference for,” I don’t think that’s saying specifically that when somebody comes and says, “Oh, teach me tantra!” and you know that this person has completely crazy ideas and is completely without any background, that you just teach them that first, on a deep level. You might say something very superficial about it, or say… Like I remember with my own teacher, Serkong Rinpoche: Somebody who was completely spaced out, a hippie on drugs, came to see him and said he wanted to be taught the six yogas of Naropa. And Serkong Rinpoche took him very seriously and said, “That’s very good, that you’re interested in that. That’s really wonderful. And, if you want to study this, then this is the way that you start, as preparation,” and then he directed him to more basic teachings. He didn’t just say, “That’s stupid. You’re not ready for that.”
concerned and loving
Toward a child afflicted with a sickness;
Likewise, the loving affection of bodhisattvas
For those not nice is especially (great).
Just as a mother would be especially caring and kind toward a child when the child is sick, likewise a bodhisattva treats especially kindly those who are emotionally troubled. And, in fact, there isn’t anybody that a bodhisattva doesn’t try to help. That’s why bodhisattvas are willing to remain for as long as the universe endures, leading everyone to liberation and enlightenment. A lot of people, when they are confronted with somebody who is very emotionally upset, get very frightened and, in a sense, reject them or push them away, perhaps because of a feeling of inadequacy, that “I can’t really deal with this type of person or this type of situation.” But Aryadeva points out that this is the type of person that a bodhisattva would be the most kind towards, the most gentle towards. And obviously in this type of situation, if we don’t know how to handle this, with kindness we would direct them to somebody who could.
An example comes to my mind. When you encounter somebody who is a heroin addict or a complete alcoholic, sometimes, again, the type of attitude that many people might have is to reject this person as really being totally hopeless and no good. “I can’t deal with this, and I don’t want to deal with this.” And then especially you identify the person themselves as being bad. That, one has to really be careful of. And so this of course underlines the point that was made just shortly ago, which is that together with compassion we need wisdom or discriminating awareness—to know what would be the best means to help this person, or who would be the better person to help them, or who would know who would be the better person to help them.
Question: Is there anybody that really we can’t help? And what about somebody who wants to have some distance from us?
Alex: Well, to answer the second part first, that can be a great help to someone—to give them space, to give them distance, and not push ourselves on them. Is there anyone that we can’t help? Well, we might not be able to help them right now, but ultimately, as a bodhisattva, we have the wish to be able to help everybody, to bring everybody to liberation and enlightenment. So, if we can’t help now, as I said, if they come to us… I remember very clearly the case when I was translating for the old Serkong Rinpoche: Somebody came to him with a problem and he said, “I don’t have the karmic connection with you to be able to help you with this problem, but this other person does, this other lama does,” and directed him to the other person. So sometimes we have to admit that “I don’t have the ability to help you.” This is if they come to us. If they don’t come, we don’t go around pushing ourselves on others when they don’t want our help, because that would be counterproductive. But we have the willingness to help. And, in situations in which we can help and they would be receptive to our help, then, if it’s possible, we do help. But of course helping or not helping, or entering into any situation, is dependent on (or relies on) many, many, many different factors.
If somebody is hit by a car, for example, and we see it in the street, and there are already various passersby or doctors who know something about how to take care of an injured person, and an ambulance is on the way, and so on—and we have no idea how to take care of an injured person, but we’re a bodhisattva and we want to help—well, perhaps the best way of helping is to not have yet another person standing around, and to give space to those who know how to deal with this situation.
extrasensory abilities for (helping) all beings
(Will assume even) inferior forms,
Like those of lowly (animals, in order to help others.
Such are) their extremely difficult actions (to benefit others).
Bodhisattvas take on any form to be able to help others, even that of an animal. Therefore, it’s important not to deprecate or put them down, or to put anybody down, because you never know who’s a bodhisattva. Now we might say that this is fairly irrelevant to our ordinary experience, but I know, having been interpreter for various lamas, that they act completely differently with different people. With some people they are very friendly and warm and kind and loving, and with others they are completely stern and strict, and scold them, and so on. And they are able to change instantly from one to another. And so when we are trying to help others, we need to be very flexible and not insist that “This is the way that I am. And I want to be true to myself, to my character, and I am only going to act in this one way.” We take on whatever form, whatever type of appearance is necessary to be able to help the other. You know, the Shakespeare line, “This above all: to thine own self be true.”
and (opportunities for) other lives –
(All these) are indicated by the (single) word giving.
Therefore, every time bodhisattvas hear the word giving
(It gives them great joy).
Bodhisattvas are the happiest when they’re able to be giving and they can give to others, even just hearing the word “generosity” makes them joyous.
Thinking great (enjoyment) will come about in this (lifetime)
as the result from generous giving,
Is just like selling and so forth,
And is despised (by the hallowed ones).
So we need to avoid the attitude of giving to others in order to receive something back in return. Because to act in that way is no different from a business transaction.
So an example that is often given (it’s not given here in this text) is that if we have trained to be a doctor or a nurse, or something like that, then we would be very happy if we could actually use what we have been trained to do to help others; it’s not as though we would resent that. So, likewise, when a bodhisattva is asked to give something to somebody or to do something to help somebody, they don’t resent that, but actually they’re very happy to be of some help. And, if we apply that in a very practical sense, then we might not be such an advanced bodhisattva that we can work for everybody day and night without taking a rest, and so sometimes we have to say, “I’m very happy for your request,” and so on, “I can’t get to it right now, but I will.” And so, in this way, we don’t feel resentment that they’ve asked us to do something. But, on the other hand, you don’t just put it off till tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow. We say, “I’m very busy this week, but next week I’ll get to that. So please be patient.” I’m thinking of the example of all the emails that I get with questions because of the website.
And painful things cause anger to expand,
Why are pleasurable things not included as ascetic practices
And why are painful things included as (these) practices?
Now chapter six: Indicating Methods for Ridding Yourself of Disturbing Emotions. And this is speaking about not the deepest method for getting rid of disturbing emotions—namely, the understanding of voidness—but is speaking about temporary measures that we can use. Aryadeva speaks primarily here about the three poisonous emotions which cause the greatest suffering; that’s longing desire, anger, and naivety.
The activity of anger is to dispute;
And the activity of naivety is like wind
for all the elements (such as fire) –
It causes (the other disturbing emotions) to flare up.
The activity of desire is to gather things to us. So we have desire. Attachment. Desire is to get things that we don’t have; attachment is to keep what we have and not let go. Anger, its activity is to dispute and get things away from us. And the activity of naivety is to act as the basis that causes the other two to come up or flare up. That’s naivety specifically about cause and effect, behavioral cause and effect, and naivety about reality—how things exist, either conventionally or ultimately.
you have suffering due to desire.
From not having the force (to overcome enemies),
you have suffering due to anger.
From not fully understanding (reality),
you have naivety.
(Being overpowered) by those (three poisonous attitudes),
you don’t comprehend those (sufferings they cause you as suffering).
Aryadeva then speaks a little bit further about what these three poisonous attitudes are. And he says: not meeting with what you like, you experience desire (so you want to have what you like); and not having the force to overcome what you dislike, you experience anger (“I have to get rid of it!”); and not fully understanding reality, we experience naivety.
With phlegm and bile;
Likewise, you see that (people) do not simultaneously meet
With desire and anger (toward the same object).
But Aryadeva points out that some people experience desire and some people experience anger towards the same object, so the emotional response is not inherent in the object itself but has to do with the state of mind of the person. That’s something which is very easy to understand from just very simple everyday examples, like certain kinds of food. Some people will hear that “This is what we’re having for dinner,” and they have great desire for it because they like it very much; and another person will get very angry because they don’t like it, and they wish very much that it wasn’t being served and they could get something else. So the response is not in the object itself but in the individual person. That’s because everybody is different and individual.
And because different people (and specifically here disciples) are different and have different emotional responses to things, then, as a spiritual teacher, we need to treat disciples differently, Aryadeva says, depending on the disturbing emotion that they suffer from the most. And I think this applies not just to disciples or students if we’re a teacher, but perhaps some of these points could also be applied to our children if we’re raising children—that you need to deal with each child as an individual, in terms of the personality, the type of disturbing emotions that that child might have. Some children have a lot of anger and are very aggressive. Other children are very greedy and selfish. You treat them differently.
Why? Because not to be deferential (with them)
is a medicine for their (desire).
But for those with anger, he should treat them as lords,
Because the medicine for their (anger) is (showing them) deference.
And very interesting, what Aryadeva recommends, especially to think about how skillful this might be with somebody from a Western background. Or is this general advice that applies to anybody from any cultural background? He says it is best to treat disciples who have a great deal of desire as servants and not be deferential to them—in other words, don’t praise them and don’t give them preference, and so on—because that just increases their desire for more. But disciples with anger, we should treat as lords and be deferential to them so that we don’t aggravate their anger.
So I think it takes quite a lot of thinking to see how good a piece of advice this is in terms of our modern situation as well. If somebody is very desirous and wants something all the time and is greedy—not giving it to them, does that help them to overcome the desire or does it make them want it even more? It’s clear that if you give it to them all the time, they will never be satisfied and always want more; but not giving it to them at all, does that help them to overcome their desire?
Participant: They might say, “Stupid teacher! I’ll leave you.”
Alex: I don’t know. I’m not thinking only in terms of student-teacher. I’m thinking in terms of parent-child, or in a relationship if somebody is very greedy and desirous for a lot of affection and all of your time. For instance, if you give it to them all the time, it’s clear that they will want more; it’s never enough. But if you don’t give them the affection and kind words that they would like, often they feel even worse, more starved, don’t they? So I think that one has to be quite careful in this situation.
And I’m thinking back on my own situation, my own experience. And I think in a Dharma student-teacher relationship, in which the basic contract from the beginning, if it’s really a serious type of relationship, is: “No matter what you do, I’m not going to get angry with you. I will see whatever you do, teacher, as a method to benefit me or help me,” then it can work and can be quite effective. In my own case, certainly I wanted to help, and so on, and serve my teacher, and do all of these things, with attachment to being appreciated, and thanked, and stuff like that. And my teacher thanked me twice in nine years. He never said thank you. And that was very helpful for me to realize why am I helping him to help others. Is it, as Geshe Dhargyey always used to use the example, just so that I’d get a pat on the head, like a dog, and wag my tail? So it works when there’s this contract—when there’s this understanding.
by dependently arising, (they cannot be truly existent).
Seeing (this), naivety will not arise.
Therefore, you should make all efforts (in this,
Since) only this topic shall be related in this (text).
Aryadeva goes on to explain how each of the three poisonous emotions has great disadvantages. And therefore those who have naivety need to study dependent arising, so that they understand how cause and effect and reality works.
Should in all ways give up having
excellent good food, clothing and shelter,
And should always abide
In the vicinity of their spiritual mentors.
And those with desire need to stay away from food, entertainment, and so on, that they’re attached to, and stay close to their spiritual teacher. Again, one needs to think quite carefully about that.
Only makes your face ugly.
And not to have love for someone you have the ability (to help) –
This is said to be vile.
And those with anger need to think about how becoming angry with someone or something is never helpful. I think a good example of that is when we are in a friendship or relationship with somebody and they haven’t been paying enough attention to us. If we get angry and make a scene with them, is that going to make them want to spend more time with us, or just turn them off even more? “I’m so angry with you. Why don’t you like me more? Why don’t you want to be with me more?” And then you scream and yell at them. They just want to run away, don’t they?
This point about if you have a lot of attachment to food and entertainment, staying away from that and staying with your teacher, I think we need to understand that in a monastic context. That living in your teacher’s house, you’re not going to have all sorts of entertainment going on. You might not necessarily get all the kinds of chocolate and other kinds of foods that you actually like. And usually, because you have such respect for your teacher, you don’t act in a very greedy type of way. If you’re sitting at the table with your teacher, you don’t just make a pig out of yourself with all the food. You’re naturally a little bit shy out of respect.
Many of the points here that Aryadeva says about the disadvantages of anger, and how to overcome it, are repeated by Shantideva and elaborated in his chapter on patience. Many of the points are derived from here.
That consciousness (itself) is perfectly devoid
of (a truly existing) abiding and so on
Will have no place in his intelligent (mind)
For disturbing emotions to reside.
So, in conclusion, Aryadeva says a bodhisattva needs to rid himself or herself of these three disturbing emotions and help others to do the same.
Chapter Seven: Indicating Methods for Ridding Yourself of Craving for Pleasurable Objects that People Desire
Chapter seven speaks about indicating methods for ridding ourselves of craving for desirable objects of enjoyment. That’s the title of the chapter, but actually it’s speaking about craving for worldly pleasures. Obviously, worldly pleasures would come from—or at least we think it comes from—desirable objects of enjoyment, like food, entertainment, beer, and so on.
Has no end at all.
Childish one, why do you not generate fear
At being immersed in it?
Aryadeva starts out by pointing out that the ocean of suffering from uncontrollably recurring samsaric rebirth will be endless unless we work to get out of it.
(your old age of the past)
And will come once again ahead (of it, just after death).
Even if (you’re proud of your youth, thinking) it’ll last,
Yet, in this world, (youth, old age, and death) are like
competitors in a race (vying to come) first.
It just repeats over and over again. Youth comes before old age, and then it comes after it again in one’s next lifetime, so it’s pointless to cling to youth and feel proud about it. And youth, old age, and death are like competitors in a race to see which one will come first. Will death come before old age? This type of thing.
To guarantee) another (better) rebirth as you wish,
What intelligent person would not have fear,
Being under the power of something else,
(namely, karmic impulses and disturbing emotions)?
And there’s no guarantee about what kind of rebirth will follow from this one, and so it’s proper to live in fear and dread, he says, while under the influence of disturbing emotions and karma, and to renounce them, and to renounce recurring samsaric rebirth under the control of them.
rebirths, if you make no effort now) –
Indeed, in all lives (you’ve remained) an ordinary being –
So, make your life (be not meaningless) like that.
Don’t become the same as you’ve been in the past.
And one to explain them is extremely rare to find.
Therefore, in short, though recurring samsara won’t be endless
(if these conditions come together),
It’ll have no end (if they’re not).
So what we need to do instead is to make effort in listening to the Dharma, thinking about it, and meditating on it.
Now of course a lot of people in the West, particularly, take objection to this word “fear” and using fear as a motivation, because that can become quite neurotic when it goes to an extreme. But I think we need to examine that a little bit more closely. When you are engaged in some sort of dangerous work—let’s say you are handling high-power machinery, an electric saw or something like that, that could easily cut your hand off—to just say, “Well, I really hope it doesn’t happen, that I cut my hand off with this,” (which would be dread: “I really wouldn’t like that to happen”) is perhaps not strong enough in the beginning. In the beginning, certainly I am afraid of cutting my hand off, and so I’m going to be really, really careful about how I use this machine. I don’t want to hurt myself with it and I don’t want to hurt anybody else. I’m afraid that I’m going to hurt somebody else, and so I’m going to be really careful. This I think is not necessarily neurotic. It could become neurotic of course if it goes to an extreme.
But if we’re speaking about levels of motivation, I think as Westerners we have to be a little bit careful not to dismiss the helpfulness of fear on a beginning level. And fear is introduced in Buddhism only as a beginning level motivation. Fear of worse rebirths and, here, Aryadeva points out, fear of coming under the influence of your disturbing emotions. “I’m afraid if I really come under the influence of my anger, I’m going to kill you”—there are some people whose anger is so strong—“And so I am really going to control myself not to do that.” Because what is the context in which fear is introduced in lam-rim (the graded stages of the path)? It’s in the context of exercising self-control not to act disruptively, not to cause harm. Then of course compassion etc. as motivations are something that we develop on a more advanced level.
So, for instance, we have to make a big difference here between, let’s say, when I’m afraid that I’m going to make a mistake… Well, the Buddhist usage of that type of state of mind would be: “I’m afraid that I’m going to make a mistake, therefore I will be very careful and not just recklessly do things.” Buddhism is not recommending that: “I’m afraid I’ll make a mistake, therefore I won’t do anything; I won’t even try.” When our fear gets to the point where we don’t even try to do anything—we just basically conclude, “I’m no good. I’m incapable”—that’s not really appropriate or helpful. Now obviously we don’t try to do things that we don’t have the skill to do; that is something else. But the point here is to develop, through fear, some sort of self-control and taking care—being careful—and training ourselves more and more deeply, as Aryadeva explains.
(which is) the ripening of their negative karmic debts,
Is seen to vie only (with that of the joyless hell realms).
Therefore, compulsive samsaric existence appears
The same as a slaughtering ground to the hallowed (aryas).
From your mind not remaining (under your control),
What wise person would consider as not mad
Someone still living a compulsive samsaric existence?\
of (excessive) walking and so on (by sitting down and so forth,
The pleasure of relief) is seen (eventually) to decline.
Therefore, those with intelligence should enhance their minds
To exhaust all their (throwing) karma.
One of the main points in this chapter is the emphasis on renunciation. Renunciation of worldly pleasures. Samsaric pleasures. And so Aryadeva speaks about how the various types of suffering of samsaric rebirth, the suffering of suffering, the suffering of change—that no worldly happiness or pleasure is ever satisfying.
does not appear,
At such a time, at seeing the extensive (results)
Of even a single (negative action),
In whom would the fear (of recurring samsaric existence) not arise?
And also how there is an increase of karmic results—from one negative action, it can bring about many repeated disastrous results.
(Such as prosperity) will come about.
And since even if they do come about, they will come to an end,
Why destroy yourself for their sake?
And it’s not even certain that we’ll get worldly happiness from constructive behavior, because we could destroy the positive force from acting constructively by getting angry—particularly anger toward a bodhisattva or somebody who is working like a bodhisattva to help others.
Will disintegrate without any effort.
As this (naturally) happens,
Won’t you ever distance yourself from attachment
to (worldly) actions?
(since it’s already ceased),
Nor is there in that of the future (for it hasn’t yet occurred).
It’s (the same) with that of the present too, since it will come to pass.
Therefore, for what reason do you (make all this effort)
in karmic actions (for worldly pleasure)?\
The same as (they do) for the joyless hell realms.
It’s rare for them not to generate fear
For any situation anywhere in compulsive samsaric existence.
In any case, worldly happiness—whether it’s the past, or present, or future worldly happiness—can never satisfy, because it’s impermanent (it doesn’t last). So don’t make effort merely for worldly happiness and to obtain pleasurable objects of desire; the wise renounce that aim.
Now these are topics that are not the most pleasant and nice things to think about. But I think it’s very important—I mean, I don’t just think it’s very important, but obviously, within the context of the Dharma, it’s very important to think about renunciation and what the role of the pursuit of worldly pleasures plays in our life. And think of a very easy, simple example, like, “I want to have a good time.” That’s a type of worldly pleasure. And most of us would like to have a good time, and have a good time with our friends, our loved ones, and so we are very much craving to have a good time with this one or that one, to do this or that. But the person doesn’t have time, they’re busy, they’re seeing somebody else, and we get annoyed. And, even if we’re having a good time—a so-called “good time”—it comes to an end, or maybe it lasts too long and we get bored or tired, or the person starts to get on our nerves. And, when we’re frustrated that I’m not having a good time with this one, or this one doesn’t have time for me to have a good time with them, then we are looking for somebody else. And, when we no longer have a good time with that new person, then we look for somebody else. And we’ve been doing this for countless, countless lives. When are we going to wake up and realize that it’s not going to work? This is futile, to have this as the main aim in our life—to have a good time: “Okay, I have to do my work. I have to do this or that. But at least there’s the hope of having a good time on the weekend, or a good time at night, or a good time on my vacations, and so on.” So one needs to apply these meditations on renunciation of worldly pleasure to very, very ordinary everyday experience, our own personal experience. I think this particular example of wanting to have a good time—entertainment, whatever—is very relevant to a lot of people.
So the wise renounce that aim. That doesn’t mean that we purposely try to have a bad time. We aim for some more lasting goal.
(7.17) When you turn your mind (from pleasurable objects) in this (life)
(Because of wishing for higher rebirth),
It’s well known that (in future lives) you’ll still
be focused on them.
As this is a distorted Dharma (practice),
for what reason should this be accepted as correct?
Just to renounce working for worldly happiness and pleasurable objects in this lifetime, though, is not enough, Aryadeva says, because we could cling to have worldly happiness in our future lives. So he’s saying that the initial level of motivation in the graded path (lam-rim) is not enough.
The same as (being attached to) a salary.
How could anyone who accepts that any constructive actions
(done like that are also only causes for further samsara)
Ever commit destructive acts?
So don’t perform constructive Dharma actions simply for the award of having a good time in future lives, in some godly, heavenly rebirth. If we do that, it’s no better than being attached to receiving a salary for doing good work.
To be like illusory people, similar to
(Creations from) a collection of mechanical devices,
Go to a hallowed, extremely radiant state of
The supreme achievement (enlightenment).
find no joy whatsoever
In any (pleasurable) object of recurring samsara,
Joy in any situation in it
Is something totally inappropriate
So Aryadeva concludes that, if we can see all worldly happiness and pleasurable objects to be like an illusion, we can overcome clinging to them and attain liberation and enlightenment. So he’s giving a hint that actually, in order to achieve the aim of liberation on the basis of renunciation, we need to gain the understanding of voidness. In fact, it’s with the understanding of voidness that we can intensify our renunciation.
So renunciation is necessary for understanding voidness, and voidness helps us to develop renunciation. What does this imply? This implies—if we bring it back to our practical example—that when we are having a good time with somebody, or a good time with entertainment, even if it’s by ourselves, that we see it to be like an illusion. It appears to be something which is permanent and solid, and that it’s really going to make us happy, but it doesn’t exist that way, in the way in which it appears. It’s like an illusion, in that sense. And therefore we can enjoy it for what it is; don’t try to enjoy it for what it is not. What it is is just some sort of ephemeral thing—changes from moment to moment, it’s not going to last, it’s not going to satisfy. And, on that basis, enjoy it, and we will gain liberation from clinging to it and all the suffering that comes from that, and the disappointment that follows afterwards when it doesn’t satisfy. You know, when we’re with somebody and having a good time and they say, “Well, I’ve got to go now,” if we cling, we say, “But couldn’t you just stay another half hour? Couldn’t you just stay another hour?” as if at the end of that half hour, or an hour, it will have been enough. That doesn’t work.
Chapter eight concerns training disciples. And there’s a great emphasis here in Aryadeva’s presentation on how to, as a teacher, how to help others, how to help disciples.
Will not stay close friends for long
(when their attachment is gone);
Likewise, desire will not stay for a long time
In those who realize the faults of all (things).
He says that, just as dissimilar people will not remain friends for long, likewise, those who see the faults of samsaric phenomena will lose all desire to stay with them. In other words, if you have some sort of friend and you don’t really have anything in common, you won’t find anything attractive that keeps you together. So, likewise, when you see the faults in worldly pleasure and so on, and that is dissimilar from your more spiritual aims, then you won’t want to stay with that pursuit of worldly pleasure. Well, basically that’s saying we have to see that this is not really what I want, and then, if you see that this is not really what I want, you won’t want to stay with it. This is in reference to worldly pleasures.
I think also to understand the whole discussion of renunciation, we need to put it into the context of the lam-rim. And in lam-rim (the graded stages of the path), what follows from renunciation is becoming a monk or a nun—taking vows for individual liberation. That’s what the word pratimoksha means—for individual liberation. You see that the pursuit of worldly happiness and pleasure of having the perfect relationship with this one or partnership with that one, and so on—the perfect job, the perfect home, the perfect wardrobe, etc.—this is ridiculous, and it doesn’t lead to anything. Therefore, with renunciation, you turn completely to the spiritual aim. That’s why someone becomes a monk or a nun. And that’s the context with which it’s always presented in the lam-rim, and I think we need to not belittle that context or forget about it. Does that mean absolutely everybody has to become a monk or a nun in order to gain liberation? No. But certainly is much easier that way.
Some have repulsion for that very same (thing);
And some are insensitive toward it.
Therefore, an object of desire is not (truly existent as such).
Aryadeva goes on to explain that because any object can be an object of attraction, repulsion, or indifference for different people, then objects and persons don’t exist by their own power as truly attractive.
Without conceptual thought (incorrectly considering them to be so).
Who among those with intelligence would hold
(Both) perfectly established deepest (existence)
and (existence established by merely) conceptual thought?
The desirability of an object or the desirability of a person is established merely by mental labeling and dependently arises based on that.
being (inherently) bound together
With any (female).
If you were (truly existently) bound together to someone else,
It would be illogical for you ever to become separated.
So the consequence of that is that in any relationship between two persons, he explains, there’s no such thing as a truly existent connection between them that can last forever. This is one of the strongest aspects of clinging that we have, is to other people that we find so attractive, and we fall in love with, and we become obsessed with. And usually, when you fall in love with somebody and you become obsessed with them, you become totally out of balance and ignore all the other aspects of your life, not only your spiritual life, but even your other friends, your work, your other responsibilities, and so on. You just want to stay with this person, as if, as we say in the West, this relationship was made in heaven. But there’s no truly existent inherent connection between any two people that can last forever. So it brings in the whole teachings, again, on impermanence, and seeing the body as unclean and a source of suffering, and so on. And without some impossible “soul”—“I” love “you.” So, to really help disciples, we need to help them to overcome this type of clinging. Which means, of course, we don’t want to establish them clinging to us as a teacher. Remember Marpa kicking Milarepa out of his house. “It’s time for you to go to the mountains to the cave and meditate!”
By pointing out that the desirability of a person or an object is something which arises dependently on mental labeling, that for one or another reason we label and regard somebody as desirable, this leads of course to the understanding of voidness, and that’s the main topic of this chapter, is how to teach voidness to disciples. That’s the prelude to the second half of the text, which speaks about the actual teachings on voidness.
Won’t even entertain doubts about this teaching (on voidness).
But merely by entertaining doubts (about it),
Your compulsive existence will become threadbare.
One of the most important factors in being able to understand voidness correctly is having built up a sufficient amount of positive force or merit, so that the mind is open and receptive and clear enough to be able to understand voidness. Otherwise you have a lot of mental and emotional blocks. And so Aryadeva says, in a very famous verse, that those who’ve built up little positive force or merit will not even have doubts about the teachings on voidness. They won’t even wonder, “Could this possibly be true or not?” But those who have positive force, for them their samsaric existence becomes threadbare, like an old piece of clothing that has worn out and will very easily have a hole broken in it. All of this implies that we need to understand fully the deepest teachings on voidness; Aryadeva says there’s no other way to gain liberation.
But, without seeing void (phenomena) to be devoid (of true existence),
The Thusly Gone (Buddha) has said that
You can’t pass beyond sorrow with a distorted view.
But don’t think that the teachings on voidness mean that everything is totally nonexistent. This is often the accusation that the other Buddhist schools, even, accuse Prasangika of saying—that the Prasangika position is equivalent to nihilism, that nothing exists. So Aryadeva warns against that—by doing actions that you understand lack true existence you can gain liberation—but he also points out that we must be careful to avoid all sectarian views and not grasp at different actions or different positions on voidness as being truly existent so-called “things” that are to be either accepted or rejected.
“(If things were devoid of true existence)
Everything would be (totally) nonexistent,
And so what is the use (to make effort to gain liberation)?
Well, if actions (actually) had truly established existence,
(Realization of) this teaching (of voidness)
could not bring the action about of reversing (samsara).
Nihilism implies that, as Aryadeva explains, you think that voidness of true existence means that nothing exists, and if nothing exists then there’s no use in working for liberation, so you don’t do anything. That’s the consequence of the nihilist fallacy.
He spoke about moral discipline for those who are middling
And, for those who are of supreme (capacity), he spoke about
(voidness, the method) to pacify (all suffering).
Therefore, always (aspire to) make yourself supreme.
Disciples need to be led according to their capacity. And so here we find a forerunner of the whole structure of lam-rim, of graded levels of capacity, and what you teach first, second, and third—you need to teach in stages. Although it’s not exactly the same way that it’s formulated in the lam-rim (the graded stages of the path). He says that Buddha taught generosity for those of least capacity, ethical discipline for the middling, and voidness for those of supreme capacity. So that’s interesting to think about, in terms of how you can actually help others. He says you don’t start out with telling them to develop more self-control and discipline, but help them by saying, “Be more generous. Be more giving and kind.”
Although it might seem to us that, well, that’s the advanced level of motivation of Mahayana, but actually that’s a very simple teaching. If you see what His Holiness the Dalai Lama always teaches on the simplest level to the general audiences—to be a kind person. That’s the most basic, introductory thing. At least you could try to be a nice person, a kind person. Then, if you’re a little bit stronger, some ethical discipline to control your wild actions or disturbing emotions and destructive behavior. And then for those who have supreme capacity, teach them voidness.
Intermediately, you turn away from (grasping at a gross) self;
And, finally, you turn away from all views (of true existence).
Anyone who knows (these stages for leading a disciple) is wise.
Then Aryadeva outlines three stages of teaching. And actually this is very, very similar to lam-rim, what we find in the three stages, just the emphasis is just slightly different. He says: first teach them, other disciples, to turn from destructive actions; that’s what one does for the initial scope of motivation. Then, intermediately, to turn from grasping for a gross “self” is what you need in order to gain liberation. And, finally, to turn from all views of truly established existence. This is what you need to gain enlightenment.
Now this is according to the non-Prasangika schools, that we find it presented like that, and so actually this teaching could be understood in both a non-Prasangika and Prasangika manner. According to non-Prasangika—this would be within Mahayana Chittamatra and Svatantrika schools—then it’s a different understanding of voidness that you need for liberation than what you need for enlightenment; you just need to understand the lack of a more basic form of impossible existence with respect to persons—yourself—to gain liberation, but then a more sophisticated level of understanding of voidness of all phenomena in order to become a Buddha. Or we could understand this in a Prasangika sense, which is that you see you need to have the same understanding of voidness for gaining either liberation or enlightenment, but first you apply it in terms of persons or selves and then you apply it to all phenomena. So this is a good example of how this text functions as a root text. You can get either with it; even within Madhyamaka, either the Svatantrika or Prasangika manner of explaining it.
of (the voidness of) one phenomenon,
That (person) is the seer of (the voidness of) everything.
That which is the voidness of one (thing) is, by nature,
(The same as) the voidness of all (things).
Also he has a very famous line here: if you’ve understood the voidness of one thing, then you’ve understood the voidness of everything, so it’s not necessary to go through every single item of existence in order to understand the voidness of all phenomena.
Non-(true) existence, both (true) existence
And non-(true) existence, and neither of the two.
In accordance with the sickness, can’t anything be called a medicine?
Then the last major point of this chapter, and the last major point for today, is that Buddha didn’t teach voidness in the same manner to everyone. One medicine doesn’t suit every sickness. So, for some disciples, Buddha taught that phenomena have truly established existence. To other disciples, that some phenomena have truly established existence and some phenomena lack it. And to yet other disciples, that nothing has truly established existence. And what we can recognize here is probably the earliest formulation of what’s called, usually, the three turnings of the wheel of Dharma. The three rounds of transmission of the Dharma teachings.
I don’t want to go into detail about what they are, but it’s on this basis—And, mind you, in different groups of teachings Buddha taught differently. And this is referring to different tenet systems within Buddhism, and in each of the tenet systems—for instance Vaibhashika (that everything has true existence), Chittamatra and also Sautrantika (that some do and some don’t), and in Madhyamaka (that nothing has true existence)—in each of these schools, truly established existence is defined differently. But, in any case, this is one of the earliest sources of that whole division of Buddhist teachings and the whole basis for dividing the teachings of Buddha into various philosophical tenet systems.
you go) to a supreme abode (of liberation),
And if you see it a little, (you go) to an excellent rebirth state.
Therefore, those who are wise should always enhance their intelligence
To reflect on (the voidness of) their inner selves.
And Aryadeva points out that even an understanding of the less sophisticated views of voidness is of great benefit, since it will at least enable us to get higher rebirth states or better rebirth states.
Although (the line it has come from) has no beginning;
Likewise, (when you’ve eliminated unawareness,)
Rebirth indeed will not come to happen,
because its causes will not be complete.
But the full understanding of voidness—with that, all the seeds of karma are burned, and you gain liberation. And, with that, he ends the first half of the text.
I think we can see from this brief summary of the main points of even just the first half of this text, that it’s a very important early source for so many of the themes and points that are developed later in the Indian and Tibetan literature. And there are many, many points within it that His Holiness may choose to elaborate very deeply—like, for instance, these three rounds of transmission of the Dharma—or His Holiness might just read over the verses very quickly and go on to something else. But if we have at least an idea of the scope of the subject matter, then we can appreciate the importance of this text and develop interest in studying it in more detail in the future.
So we’ll end here for today, and then tomorrow we’ll speak about the second half of the text, in which Aryadeva goes into great detail about the application of the understanding of voidness (the Prasangika understanding of voidness) in order to overcome distorted, mistaken views about how various things exist.
So let’s end with a dedication. We think whatever positive force, whatever understanding has come from this, may it go deeper and deeper and act as a cause for reaching enlightenment for the benefit of all.
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