E-letter No. 53: October 2007

By Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche
New York 1990 (Archive #791)
Lama Zopa Rinpoche and Lama Yeshe, Lake Arrowhead, 1975. Photo: Carol Royce-Wilder.

Dear Friends,

Thank you for reading our latest e-letter. Don’t forget to pass it on! Thank you.

What's Been Happening
It’s been a great couple of weeks. LYWA staff from our Boston (Lincoln, actually) office—myself, Jen, Wendy and Sonal—went to New York for His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s wonderful teachings on emptiness and then watched him receive the Congressional Gold Medal live on C-Span (which you can watch on YouTube).

A couple of days later, Wendy and I went to DC for Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s amazing teachings at Guhyasamaja Center.

Speaking of our office staff, we have some changes heading our way. Our dear Sonal has begun her maternity leave as she and her husband Deva await the birth or their baby. Sonal will most likely continue to work for us on a consulting basis from home, helping us with our web site redesign and various other technical projects.

And we are pleased to announce that we will soon have Ani Tenzin Desal joining our office staff in January 2008. She most recently was the SPC at Mahamudra Centre on New Zealand, and she is currently on retreat before tackling the challenges of a new home and two new jobs: Ani Desal will also be taking on the role of SPC at Kurukulla Center. You may have read Ani Desal's article in a recent Mandala Magazine titled Heart to Heart.

Golden Light Advice
On May 4th 2007 Lama Zopa Rinpoche gave this advice:

Please recite the Golden Light Sutra for world peace. Anybody who wants peace in the world should read the Golden Light Sutra. This is a very important practice to stop violence and wars in the world. The Golden Light Sutra is one of the most beneficial ways to bring peace. This is something that everyone can do, no matter how busy you are, even if you can read one page a day, or a few lines and in this way continually read the Golden Light Sutra.

Our parent organization, the FPMT has created a special Web site for the Golden Light Sutra where you can read more of what Rinpoche says about it, download the Sutra itself, report your recitations and share your experiences with the sutra. We have a few hard copies of the book and would be happy to send you one free if you promise to recite it!

New from Lama Zopa Rinpoche
Last month Lama Zopa Rinpoche requested that a recitation of the Manjushri-nama-samgiti (the names of Manjushri) be made available for people to listen to and download, particularly in places where other people and animals could hear it. You can listen online to this oral transmission (lung) and commentary.

We have also added new advices to Rinpoche's Online Advice Book. There are three new advices regarding practicing in prison; many additions to the section on relics and holy objects; and new advices in the Dharma and Worldy Activities section, including advice about the popular mantra hat that Rinpoche has designed.

In Translation
Many of Lama Yeshe's and Lama Zopa Rinpoche's books have been translated into foreign languages. On the LYWA website we have provided links to the publishers of these translations as well to a pdf if we have it. Scroll down to the bottoms of the Lama Yeshe Teachings page and the Lama Zopa Rinpoche Teachings page to find these links.

Most recently we have posted a number of Chinese translations of Lama Zopa Rinpoche teachings: Ganden Lha Gyäma Commentary, Perfect Freedom: The Great Value of Being Human and Burning Offering to Dorje Khadro. Our sincere thanks to translator Lobsang Dhargyey.

Teachings on Emptiness
To celebrate His Holiness’s New York teachings on emptiness and Rinpoche’s Washington teachings, which also included a fantastic teaching on emptiness, here’s an excerpt of a teaching on emptiness by Rinpoche from a forthcoming free book from the Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive.

Much love,

Nick Ribush
Director


Wendy Cook, Lama Zopa Rinpoche and Nick Ribush in South Boston, July 2007.How A Table Exists

Things are empty of existing from their own side. To give a clearer idea of this, I often use the simple example of a table. Even though this way of analyzing is not the correct way to meditate on emptiness, it gives you an idea of the correct way to meditate. Especially if you’re a beginner, it will give you some idea of how the table exists in reality, of what the table is.

When a person first enters this hall, they see that there is a table here in front of me. But what makes the person decide to give the name “table” to this particular object and not to the steps or to the throne? What makes the person decide to give this object the label “table”? There has to be a reason before deciding on the label “table.” The reason is that the person sees, first of all, a material object that performs the function of supporting things, or of allowing things to be put on top of it. The person first seeing that becomes the reason to label “table.” That is what makes the person decide, among the numberless labels, on this particular label, “table.”

Seeing this object that performs the function of supporting things is the reason in the mind of the person for applying the label “table.” There has to be a reason before the label is applied, and the reason is seeing the basis for the label. You see the base first, then you apply the label, “It’s a table.” Therefore, this material object that you first see, which can perform the function of supporting things, is not table. This is the base. You see the base first, which is the reason to give the label “table.”

Otherwise, if seeing the base doesn’t come first, you haven’t got any reason to label “table.” There’s no reason in your mind for you to label this “table,” that “steps,” or that “throne.” There’s no reason to make you decide to give a particular label.

If the first thing you see is the table, if you see the table before giving the label “table,” there would be no reason to label “table.” Since it’s already table, why would you label “table” on the table? There would be no reason to do that.

For example, when parents name their child Jeff, they label on something that is not Jeff. Labeling “Jeff” on something that is not Jeff has meaning. But if the base, the aggregates, were already Jeff, there would be no purpose in labeling “Jeff” on Jeff. You would then again have to label “Jeff” on Jeff; then you would again have to label “Jeff” on Jeff…. It would become endless.

This is one logical reasoning used in the four-point analysis.* The first of the four points is recognizing the object to be refuted. The second point is that of ascertaining the pervasion, that if anything exists it should exist either one with its base or separately from its base. If the I is truly existent, it has to exist either one with the aggregates or separately from the aggregates.

If the I is one with the aggregates, various mistakes arise. The I is the receiver and the aggregates, this body and mind, are what is received. So, the receiver and what is received would then become one. In other words, the I, the possessor, and the aggregates, the possession, would become one. So, there is no way that the possessor and the possession can be one. They have to be different.

Anyway, if you see the table first, what reason do you have to label it “table”? There’s no reason to label “table” on that which is already table. It has no meaning, no purpose. Normally, you see the base and then say, “I see the table.” In order to see the table, you have to see the base of the table first. Otherwise, there’s no reason for you to say, “I see the table.” By seeing the base, this object that you can put things on top of, you then label “I see the table” and believe in that label.

By seeing the base of these steps, you say, “I see the steps,” and by seeing the base of this throne, you say, “I see the throne.” By seeing a particular object and the particular function that it performs, you then label, “I see the table,” “I see the steps” or “I see the throne.”

Seeing the base has to come first. This thing that performs the function of supporting things is not the table. This thing that you climb up is not the steps. This thing that you sit on is not the throne. The thing that performs the function of supporting things is the base to be labeled “table.” This is one point to meditate on to find out what the table is. Since you use this base as a reason to label “table,” it’s not the table, just as this is not the steps and this is not the throne.

Even from this analysis, you can see that the table and the base to be labeled “table,” the steps and the base to be labeled “steps” and the throne and the base to be labeled “throne” are different. They don’t exist in the way we normally think they do, which is that this concrete thing itself is the table and that is the steps and that is the throne.

Another point is that you talk about the parts of a table. When you say “the parts of the table,” it means the parts of the table are not the table. This top is not the table, this leg is not the table, this leg is not the table, that leg is not the table, and that leg is not the table. Just from the language, you can tell that saying “the parts of the table” means they’re not the table.

Even the whole group of all these parts gathered together is not the table. What is it? It is the base to be labeled “table.” None of these parts is the table, and even the whole group of all the parts is not the table. This is clear.

Another point is that the table is nowhere on this. There’s no table here or there or there. There’s no table on this base.

The first point is that the base is not the table. When you come into the room, how do you come to apply labels to things? You can see that the reason you use to apply a label to something is not that thing. You use seeing the base of the table as the reason to label “table,” but this object that can be used to put things on is not table. You apply the label “table” after seeing the base. It’s clear that the base and the label are different.

The second point is that none of the parts of the table is the table. And even the whole group of all the parts is not the table. It is the base to be labeled “table.” It now becomes clearer that the table is different from its base.

The third point is that you cannot find the table anywhere on this base. But that doesn’t mean there’s no table in this room; it doesn’t mean the table doesn’t exist. The table exists in this room—there are actually many tables here in this room. There’s no table here on this, but there is a table in this room. This makes clear what the table is.

This is not the correct way to meditate on emptiness, since this way of searching for the table is related to the merely imputed table and leaves out the truly existent table. We haven’t touched the object to be refuted, the truly existent table, which we are supposed to realize is empty. Therefore, according to Lama Tsongkhapa and many other great pundits, this is not the correct way of analyzing.

In this way of analyzing, when you search for the table among all its parts, you find that none of the parts is the table, and even the whole group of all the parts is not the table but the base to be labeled table. But it doesn’t mean that the table doesn’t exist. The table exists.

So, what is that table? Because we see this object that performs the function of allowing things to be put on top of it, we merely impute “table” and believe it is a table. Because this object is here in this room, we believe that there is a table in this room. By seeing this object, we believe, “I see a table.” It is a concept. By seeing this object in this room, we merely impute, “There is a table.” We leave it just at that; we are satisfied just by that. There’s no table anywhere on this, but there is a table in this room.

You can see now that the way the table exists is extremely subtle. When you really analyze what the table is, it is extremely subtle. It is not that the table is nonexistent, but it is like it is nonexistent. It is not nonexistent because you can make the table, use the table, break the table. If you make this base, you believe, “I made a table”; you simply believe, “I made a table.” If you use the table, you believe, “I’m using the table”; you simply believe, “I’m using the table.” And if you break the table, you believe, “I broke the table.”

The table is not nonexistent, but it is not the concrete thing that we normally think it is. We normally think of the table as something concrete that is oneness with its base, undifferentiable from its base. We can’t split the base and the label “table.” There is something concrete there. So, that is not table. There’s no table on this, but there is a table in this room.

You can now see how the table is completely empty. It has no existence from its own side. There’s no real, concrete table from its own side. From this you can get an idea of how the table exists. It is extremely subtle.

After this analysis, you know that none of the parts is the table and even the whole group of the parts is not the table. There’s no table anywhere here on this base, but there is a table in this room. By analyzing like this, you see that the way the table exists is extremely fine, extremely subtle, but when you check what is appearing to you, you find that a real, concrete table is left there, oneness with its base. This is what is called the object to be refuted. That real table appearing from its own side, that truly existent table, that independent table, is the object to be refuted. That concrete thing left there is the object to be refuted, and it is a hallucination. In reality it is completely empty.

This is the correct way to meditate on the emptiness of the table. By recognizing that the table appears to you to be independent, unlabeled, real from its own side, you then search for that table to see whether or not it exists. When you don’t find it and you see that it’s empty, at that time you’re seeing the emptiness, or ultimate nature, of the table. By seeing the ultimate truth of the table, that it is completely empty of existing from its own side, as a result you then realize the conventional truth of the table, that the table exists in mere name, being merely imputed by the mind. This is subtle dependent arising.

The fourth of the four schools of Buddhist philosophy, the Madhyamaka, has two divisions, Svatantrika and Prasangika. This is the Prasangika view of the subtle dependent arising of the table, the conventional truth of the table: the table exists in mere name, being merely imputed by the mind

*Note: That is, if the I were one with the aggregates, labeling “I” would be superfluous. It would simply be one more name for the aggregates. The four points are (1) recognizing the object to be refuted, (2) ascertaining the pervasion of the two possibilities of oneness and difference, (3) ascertaining the lack of oneness of the I and the aggregates, and (4) ascertaining the lack of difference of the I and the aggregates.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche gave this teaching at the Great Enlightenment Temple, New York, in 1991. It appears in the forthcoming book How Things Exist, edited from the Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive by Ven. Ailsa Cameron.