The Three Principal Aspects of the Path – The Particular special quality of the Prasangika view – W12

Week 12: The Particular special quality of the Prasangika view

The Particular Special Quality of the Prasangika View
[13] Furthermore, appearance eliminates the extreme of existence

And emptiness eliminates the extreme of non-existence.
If you realize how emptiness manifests in the manner of cause and effect
Then you are not captivated by wrong notions holding extreme views.

The verses that we gonna go through is one of the most powerful verses composed by Lama Tsongkhapa. I would like to go through these verses with few examples so that we can get it easily. I might that I were giving this example earlier in some classes but I would just like to say again to make it more clear.

When we put together two facts – the first fact is that our life is very short, extremely short, the second fact is that generally majority of the ordinary beings are so much distracted by the appearance or taken away by the wave of mundane things – we so much depend on what we see, what we hear, what we taste with the mundane worldly things. Our happiness and suffering also too much rely on the outer phenomena, atmosphere and circumstances and we think that such conditions and circumstances are so real as it appears to us. That’s why we are, in this sort of wave, literally controlled, the way we think and the way that situation appear to us.

With these verses that we will go through, we will be able to understand that appearance is just an appearance, it doesn’t necessary have to be true, or it just is an appearance which has been reflected by your own mind. Thing that appears to you doesn’t mean that the thing exists the way it appears to you. Let me give few examples so that thing can make more sense.

When we look at the sky, we see blue color, when we look at the lake or a sea, we also see a blue color, and we strongly believe and see as it really exists by it own. But if you look closely, if you try to go up there in the sky and try to find if there is really a blue color, you might not find such a blue color up there, doesn’t matter how far you go in the sky. If you look closely to the water, if you look closer to the water, closer to the water, then that blue color will disappear. The more you closer get to the water, if you go closer and closer to the water there will be a time you don’t see blue color anymore. Yet from afar, it looks and appears that blue color whether it’s a sky or a lake or a water. But still we are so much influent by that color that we see from the far and you see it’s so real as it exists by it own.

In reality, we look at the lake, it is no such blue color in the lake itself, it’s just a reflection which you get closer, you might not see that reflection. If you bring a water and try to see very closely, there is no blue color in it, or it might not appear to your eyes. But still, what we see as so real and also the blue color to our eyes, it appears as a blue color. But there are many beings to whom the blue color doesn’t appear to their eyes. There are many animals and beings who don’t see this much of colors, all they see is few colors, we may call it is color-blind, but that is what they see. We cannot say that what they are seen is wrong, otherwise what we see also might be wrong. Suppose our eyes can see one thousand colors, for example, or let’s say example if I see hundred colors but there could be some other eyes, some other beings who see more than hundred colors. So can we say that our eyes are mistaken, just because some others can see more than us in terms of colors? It can’t difficult to say, for example, those cows or some animals what they see is very limited in terms of colors, but still we cannot say what they see is wrong. The same logic applied with what people see.

Many of the Buddhist texts, it says that when we look at the glass of the water, we see water in there, but because of karma, when the Gods – the high, the most superior beings – when they look at the same glass of water that they are holding in their hands, they see it as nectar, they don’t see just original water, they see nectar in it. The same water that we see with our eyes, they see it as a nectar. Some beings, let’s say hunger ghosts, when they look at the same glass of water, what they see is such a blood and all the pus inside the glass of water. So, three kind of different beings see differently and all are real. We see water and it’s true, it’s the water, the Gods see the nectar and it’s also true, it’s the nectar, so the hunger ghosts see it as a sort of blood, it’s also true that’s the blood, which clearly shows that the thing doesn’t exist by it own but rather things are just imputed, created by the mind. It is the mind, because of which we see differently so thing doesn’t exist by it own without depending on its characteristic or the mind which perceives it.

So in this very short life, it’s more like we are taken away by the flood of attachment or aversion towards the thing that appears nice to us and doesn’t appear nice to us. We are literally on the flow of the waves, we are on the waves, we are on the flood. We don’t have control of our own mind which is literally running like a flood by the thing that appears nice to us and by the thing that doesn’t appear nice to us. That is what controls us and give us all the pain and sufferings. Attachment towards the things that we like, that appears nice to us, and aversion or anger or uncomfortable feeling because of some strange appearances, negative appearances, but both are not true. If thing appears nice to us is also not true, we are not able to see the reality of that, if thing appears wrongly to us, again it’s not true.

Unless we purify our own mind, whatever we see, whatever appears to us, it is not true. We are not able to see or we are not able to perceive as the thing that really exists. Because our mind is not pure to see those things, our mind is not capable to see the real nature of phenomena, so that’s why when we see something wrong, it always exaggerates towards two extremes, if we like, we see it too good, if we don’t like, we see too bad. That is the situation of our mind, when we are not able to see the real nature of phenomena, we exaggerate all the time.

If the enemy of yesterday becomes friend today, so today you see that person is so good and so nice when become a friend, while yesterday you used to see too bad. So, the enemy that you saw as very bad yesterday was not bad yesterday, and the person that you see as a friend today is not too good as you see today. But both that is just because of the way you see, that’s why we are just controlled by the ignorance that always exaggerate that avoid us to see the reality. When we don’t see the reality, when we fall into one extreme, either when we like thing we see too good, when we don’t like thing we see too bad. When we see too good, attachment arises, then greed, then jealousy. When we don’t like something, aversion, anger, hatred; and based on that, the ego comes later. So, we are in such a way, we are in such a flow or we are driven by such a flow of ignorance and the results.

Although the life we live is very short, we are so much controlled by this ignorance and these negative emotions. To get rid of these negative emotions, we have to get rid of the exaggeration. To get rid of the exaggeration, we have to get rid of this ignorance. The one and only way to get rid of this ignorance is by seeing the real nature of phenomena, which is why in Heart Sutra, it says that “Form is emptiness, emptiness is form, form is not other than emptiness, emptiness is not other than form”.

The meaning is exactly the same as the verses we are supposed to go today. Because of emptiness, because thing doesn’t exist inherently, because thing doesn’t exist by its own without depending on others, the change can take place, because it is interdependence, it relies on causes and conditions. When it relies on causes and conditions, it can be changed with the causes. When the conditions arise and the causes are there, the change can take place. So the extreme thought or the view that, ‘if it doesn’t exist inherently, then it doesn’t exist’, so that view can be eliminated with this understanding. And another wrong view, one extreme we says that ‘everything is inherently existence’, can be removed by the understanding of the law of causality or interdependence. Because everything is interdependent, there is no way it exists inherently. Because if it exists inherently, then there is no change can take place. The causes and conditions won’t be able to make changes to it, because it inherently exists without depending on anything else, then no change take place.

Because of that, nothing exists inherently. The wrong view that everything exists inherently can be eliminated with the understanding of interdependence. That’s why the view of experience which is interdependence and the view of emptiness, these two views can eliminate the two wrong views – the two extreme views which say that ‘nothing exists’ or ‘thing exists inherently’. Because of emptiness, everything exists, the nature or the existence of interdependence take place, or everything exists conventionally. Although it doesn’t exist inherently, but it exists conventionally. So that’s why these verses that we are going through today say.

And also with this understanding, we know that even if there is right or wrong, whatever happens in life because of lots of causes and conditions. We have this idea or like when something happens we say “Oh it is because of this, is because of that”. Even in a sort of relation, we always have this idea that it has to be and fault of particular individual and also we say “Oh, this is a mistake, that is a mistake”. When you think of the nature of interdependence, there is nothing which is wrong by itself, there is nothing wrong or right inherently. Everything depends on lots of causes and conditions. It’s sweet or sour because of lots of causes and conditions, because whatever appears to us, doesn’t matter it is sweet or sour, it’s also because of our own karma, which is the causes, and then the conditions because of whatever it is.

Like the human see a cup of water, but the Gods, they see a nectar. Both are right, because nothing exists by it own, nothing exists inherently. So, everything is interdependent. What we see depending on the mind which perceives it.

Let’s look at the verses today, it says:

Furthermore, appearance eliminates the extreme of existence
And emptiness eliminates the extreme of non-existence.
If you realize how emptiness manifest in the manner of cause and effect
Then you are not captivated by wrong notions holding extreme views.

1st line: Furthermore, appearance eliminates the extreme of existence

Here, the ‘appearance’ means interdependence, when you understand that everything is interdependent, then it will help you to remove one extreme of existence – inherently existence. Because it is appearance or because it is interdependence, you get to understand or you will be able to eliminate the wrong view of inherently existence, because it is interdependence, there is no scope for inherently existence or the existence without depending on anything.

2nd line: And emptiness eliminates the extreme of non-existence.

Because it is emptiness – which means because it is empty of inherently existence, it doesn’t exist, the law of cause and effect exists in conventional level. When you understand that it exists in conventional level, you get to understand that it depends on cause and effect. When it depends on cause and effect, you understand the existence of the cause and effect. When you understand the existence of the cause and effect, you know everything exist in conventional level. When you understand that, then you will be able to eliminate the extreme of non-existence who says that if it doesn’t exist inherently, nothing exists. But, everything comes to existence because it is empty of inherently existence.

3rd & 4th lines:

If you realize how emptiness manifest in the manner of cause and effect
Then you are not captivated by wrong notions holding extreme views

When you understand or realize the emptiness, the way it goes along with the cause and effect, because of the emptiness which it means because that it is empty of inherent existence, nothing exists inherently. That’s why everything changes, that’s why the causes can make changes and bring a result. Effect is been caused by a cause and condition. These two things go along because it’s empty of inherently existence, things can change because things are not fixed, so that’s why things can change. When you know these two things go along together, then you are not controlled by the wrong notions of all the extremes view that ‘Thing is empty of inherently existence, then thing doesn’t exist’ – such a wrong view; and then ‘Everything exists, that’s why it is inherently existent’ – such a wrong view.

So understanding that it would really be nice if you can go through this text again and again, read through these things and try to understand the meaning of it again and again so that you can get more closer and closer to the view of emptiness. When you get closer towards the view of emptiness, it will literally help you to eradicate the wrong views from which the exaggeration is induced or grown up. It grows that exaggeration because we get attach to the things that we like, or we get uncomfortable, get anger toward the things that we are not happy with or we don’t like, it pushes us towards the wrong activities of body, mind and speech.

By eliminating that, we can totally remove the causes of all the sufferings that we don’t wish and we can feel our mind with the seeds through engaging in the positive actions all the time. When we are not controlled by the ignorance, anger, jealousy, envy, ego, pride, greed – all the negative emotions, then there is no motivation to do something wrong. So, we will not do anything wrong with our body, mind and speech.

When we don’t do anything wrong, there is no cause of suffering, then we won’t suffer. It’s more like if we cut the root of poison tree, there will not be a poison branch, poison leave will not grow anymore, then poison fruits will not grow anymore. Then there would be no sickness or no suffering when the poison tree vanished or no seeds to exist.

Questions and Answers:

  •  Lama, we should see, for example, Covid as the fact or just conventional phenomena?

Yes, Covid is very much conventional, each and every phenomenon is very conventional, the reason of Covid is not inherently existence, Covid is a result of our own negative emotions, Covid is a result of a karma that we all have engaged collectively. Because it’s being caused by some causes, it doesn’t exist by it own without depending on others, it depends on the causes of collective karma, that’s why it happens.

The person who creates it, is just a condition. If we all don’t have a karma to suffer from the Covid, then we won’t be suffering from it, doesn’t matter if a person creates that. You see it’s really strange, a person might be living in the same room, same place, have been in the same place but some people get it and some people don’t get it, it very much depends on when it is one’s time to catch it, when your karma is ripening, then you will catch, when your karma is not ripening, you won’t catch. If you don’t have karma, you won’t get it. If you have karma, you will get it. But if you have a karma, then you will not get unless the karma or the cause encounters with a condition. Getting infected by a Covid is just a condition, if you have a cause, if you have a karma to get the Covid, if you never go somewhere, if you just disappear in some mountain just by yourself there is no way that you can get Covid because you are not letting the seed to attach, to come near moisture or the water. The seed itself doesn’t grow unless it is accompanied by the condition. So when you have a seed, you have to have a condition. I think many of us also have the cause to get Covid, it’s just not our time to ripen, or we have not met with such a condition through which that karma ripen.

I’m sure that if we stay together with someone who has Covid, very much likely that we also get it, like 99% we will get it, but this is just because we have that karma. Let’s say, Buddha appears as a doctor and help in the hospital, the Buddha may not get it, simply because Buddha has eliminated all the bad karma. When we have the bad karma, supposed we are doctor and we don’t use any equipments, then we start to treat the patients, we will be sure to get it. Because our karma, from the beginningless of the time, we have all the negative karma, we have done pretty much bad things. We get angry, get jealous, envy, ego, greedy, pride… all these things and because controlled by those negative emotions, we have done pretty much enough bad things in our past lives.

To get rid of those karma, there are two ways: either you purify or you experience the result. If you experience the result when you are a human, from one side, you should be happy because now you don’t have to suffer because that karma – In next life maybe we’re born is some animal, maybe it’s much more difficult for us to get rid of that. If we experience the result now, when we are human, we have condition, we know what to do, we know how to care and then we can eliminate that karma.

So, many of the great practitioners, they rejoice, they are happy when they have some sickness, when they have some difficult time, when they are human, because it’s easier to deal with the problem when we are human, any day all of us have the bad karma, so it’s easier to get rid of because we have medicines, we have care and lots of good conditions as a human.

Generally, all the sickness, each and everything that comes along our path, we don’t appreciate or we are not happy with. Any suffering is because of the karma, they all are just conventionally existence, not inherently existence. They all are emptiness – empty of inherently existence. In short, each and every phenomenon, whatever you see, hear, feel, taste or experience, everything is emptiness.

If you have more doubt or anything else regarding emptiness, pile up today, it is very nice, because many of people, they have certain wrong ideas about emptiness, they think that emptiness like “OK nothing exists”, they say the form is empty, no eye, no ear and all these, everything is no like that doesn’t exist. So that is a bit extreme, of course the eye exists, the nose exists. You all say no happiness, no Buddha, then why we need to practice, that is no happiness, then why we have to strive. With that view that is no salary then people will not go and work. Everything exist in a conventional level, not inherently but conventionally. So that is the difference that one should be able to have correct idea of this one.

  • We say that the eyes, ears, mouth and nose… the boat to samsara, because when we open our eyes, we see things and we get attach. But it is possible to also use all the five senses to practice, it means we use our eyes but instead of going to samsara, on the other way go to nirvana?

We have five senses, we have marvelous human brain, wonderful time, a correct understanding of dharma. It’s like when you have a million dollars, you can use it to all the best things, you can use it to something positive; it is totally in your hand, whether you use something positively or negatively.

So, the human rebirth, it is entirely up to you whether you use it positively or negatively, you have this wonderful, marvelous chance. In many sutras, the human rebirth has been explained as a wonderful boat, the human body is like a boat or a ship, through which you can go out of the samsara, you can literally get to the other shore of nirvana. For example, the physical body, instead of using it towards bringing or earning the wealth, fame, all the mundane things, mundane achievement of this world, if you can use this to practice then it is wonderful opportunity through which you can practice all the good things. The speech, instead of using that speech in all the mundane things, you can use that speech to say prayers, to say mantras, to help others, to advice, to teach. Exactly the same way, the ear consciousness, instead of using it in listening to all the mundane things, listening to other people go shopping or listening to the song and all thing, you can use this ear sense to listen to the teachings, to listen to the advices, to listen to those things which help you to improve and enhance yourself in dharma.

There are lots of wonderful qualities that we have and that we can use in all the positives. Most importantly, our mind is so capable, the human’s intelligence is very capable. Even though it is so capable to think about positive, to think about good things, to think about dharma, in 24 hours, we rarely use it, general people rarely use it toward positive. If you track, even all general persons track one’s mind, it is so ready to think something wrong. Thinking wrong is like running water effortlessly, but thinking positive is more like climbing a mountain, you really need effort, because that’s something you are used to. From the beginningless time, always that beings doing wrong, thinking wrong, doing wrong physically, verbally, mentally. That’s why thinking positive is more like climbing a mountain, while thinking negative, it’s more like water is flowing downward effortlessly.

Nobody can control one’s mind. The one and only person who can treat our mind, one and only person who can control our mind is just oneself. So, that’s why it’s very important to avoid our mind from negativities and direct our mind into positivities. If you definitely be like climbing a mountain, that’s why you are supposed to do, because that is when you can improve yourself, not just for this life, but for many lives, not just for oneself, but for the sake of all sentient beings. If we don’t do now, then the time, opportunities get lesser and lesser. If we don’t try to transform ourselves into better, more positive, then the chance that you have, the time that you have is getting lesser and lesser, because every moment we get closer and closer to our death.

We never know when it happens, but we can sure that we are getting closer and closer logically, doesn’t matter how long we live. It’s more like we are jumping from somewhere sky, we know that we are getting nearer and nearer to a death because when we crash on the ground, the moment we reach the ground, we gonna die. We are just in the space falling towards the earth. Last time there was a piece of thing that was falling from the sky, maybe a satellite or some parts of satellite, I don’t know, so the people literally watching it in the TV or internet, how far it is that it gonna fall. We are exact like that thing in the sky, we are falling, we don’t know when we gonna reach to the ground, maybe after one minute, maybe two minutes, maybe one hour or maybe two hours we are on the way to hit the ground.

Our time is getting lesser and lesser. So, instead of occupying your mind with negativity, instead of engaging in negativity, in saying negativities, thinking or doing negativities, we should try our best, even if just one positive action, we should to do it because that also counts. Maybe our human rebirth that we have now is also because of one positive action, one positive matter, because of this one positive action now, you may have a human rebirth in next life, very much possible. One negative thought, one negative speech, one negative physical action can literally make us blind for the next life. Next life you may be born in a human but you are blind, it’s very possible. So, each and every action, matter count.

In Islam, Sikhism,… they look at like majority, if you have done 51% of positive, then you go to the heaven, 49% doesn’t count. If you have 51 negative and 49 positive actions, the positive doesn’t count.

In Buddhism, everything count, it’s very logically. If you have 51 apple seeds and 49 mango seeds, if you put all in the field, not just 51% of the apple grow also 49 % of mango grow, because that is the seeds, as long as the seeds will grow, when the seed encounters with the condition, it will grow definitely. Each and every action of body, mind and speech count. That’s why we have to be very careful, even if is one negative action, try to avoid, even if is one positive action, even if is one positive thought, try to engage, even if is one negative thought, try to remove it.

Many of the things that we hear, see, feel, we always exaggerate. So, it’s very important to literally check our speech, physical action, what we do in day-to-day life and try to engage as much as possible. Because that’s the only thing that we will be able to carry to the next life. Even in this life, if we’re still very positive, happier, we can literally minimize many of the problems.

Suppose there are two people and there was a flood, the house of both persons is taken away by the flood. The one be stay positive, the other be stay negative. The one be stay positive, he can be calm, he can be happier, he can have the strength to work, to do again, to do this and that. The negative one, he will blame everyone like “because of you, because of this, oh I might…”, he will regret all these, bear all problems in his mind. The one be stay positive has more stand to recover. That one is wasting so much, he’s so hard energy into thinking negativities, this one is still using those energy into negativity, he can like literally start taking step towards positivity, yeah it can happen to anyone.  Not just with this flood, but each and every case, we can exactly use the same thing.


Noted down from the Dharma Talk by Nawang Kunphel, on July 13th 2021, organized by Aura of Wisdom.