Before we actually get to the main body of the teachings, by way
of introduction I wish to say something about motivation; about how a
student should approach the teachings.
When we think of the practice of Dharma, we understand that
there is what we call Ngondro, or a preliminary phase to our practice.
Taking Refuge and giving rise to Bodhicitta constitute the proper
Ngondro for any practice that we undertake. In the context of a
teaching where the Dharma is being explained, the Ngondro is your
motivation, is checking and establishing a proper motivation for
requesting and receiving the teachings.
When you are listening to teachings, you should be aware of what
the proper motivation is for listening to these teachings. You go
through a certain amount of hardship in your life in order to arrive at a
situation where you can receive the teachings. As a student, you make
efforts to find a teacher and to seek out a situation where you can
receive teachings. You should understand for whose benefit you are
making these efforts. If you are motivated solely for your own selfish
interests; if you think, "well, I'm making all of this effort to go to a
teacher, to receive these teachings, so that I can be happy, so that I
can feel good, so that I can experience well being," you have the wrong
The difficulties that you are undergoing in order to seek out
teachers and receive teachings are for the benefit of all beings, whose
numbers are equal to the limits of space. Wherever space extends, there
are sentient beings. Wherever there are sentient, unenlightened
beings, their experience is permeated by negative Karma and afflictive
emotions. And wherever the experience of a being is permeated by
negative Karma and afflictive emotions, there is suffering.
All of these beings, whose numbers fill space and whose
experience is replete with suffering due to negative Karma and
afflictive emotions, are connected to you in a very intimate way,
because there is not a single being that has not been, in some lifetime
or another, your father or your mother. So when you listen to the
teachings, and when a teacher gives teachings, it should be from the
perspective of a vast motivation that takes the welfare of all beings
into account. This is why the Dharma is taught. This is why one
listens to teachings: for the benefit of all beings.
So our motivation for listening to teachings should take into
account all of these beings, who have been our parents, with the
understanding that the reason we are listening to and practicing the
teachings is to eliminate the suffering of all those beings.
Be Practical About It
But we need to be practical. Can we truly, with any of the
means at our disposal now, eliminate the suffering of others? Is there
any medicine, any cure-all that we can give to other beings that will
free them completely from suffering?
There really is no means we have at our disposal - except one.
The one way in which we can truly eliminate suffering for beings is to
practice the Dharma, attain Buddhahood, and continue to propagate the
teachings of the Dharma so that other beings may practice them and
attain Buddhahood. This is the single way that we can truly eliminate
suffering for all beings. Any other means will ultimately fail.
How is it, then, that a Buddha, an enlightened being, eliminates
or dispels the suffering of other beings? It is primarily through
presenting the teachings of the Dharma. In the case of a Buddha such as
the Buddha Shakyamuni, we often hear references to the twelve great
acts, The Twelve Great Deeds, of the Nirmanakaya. We should remember
that one of the most significant of these deeds was the occasion upon
which the Buddha turned the Wheel of the Dharma in Varanasi, teaching
the Four Noble Truths. This is the value of attaining enlightenment:.
to be able to then turn the Wheel of the Authentic Dharma for other
Check Your Motivation
The important point is to continually check our motivation and
develop the best possible motivation for giving teachings and for
listening to teachings. In order to best appreciate the teachings that
we hear, it is important that we understand how sacred they are, how
important they are to our spiritual development. When the Buddha
Shakyamuni attained enlightenment in India, he taught in many places in
the Indian sub-continent, in Varanasi, on the Vulture Peak near
Rajagrha, in Vaisali, and other places. Due to support of patrons, such
as kings and rulers of those areas, and due to the collective merit of
the beings living in those times and those places, the Buddha was able
to present the teachings in a way that benefited an enormous number of
beings. We couldn't begin to count the number of beings who benefited
directly from the presence of the Buddha Shakyamuni in India more than
two millennia ago, turning the Wheel of the Dharma.
The Spread of Buddhism
When the Buddha Shakyamuni turned the wheel of the Dharma due to
his enormous motivation to benefit all beings, the collective merit of
people in the holy country of India was such that the Buddhist
teachings flourished in the sub-continent at that time. But in the
surrounding regions, such as Tibet, China, southeast Asia, and so forth,
the conditions were not appropriate for beings to receive the teachings
while the Buddha was still living in India, while that Nirmanakaya was
still manifesting. So even the sound of the Dharma did not arrive
immediately in those border regions. Only in the Indian sub-continent
were the conditions appropriate. Then, gradually, later on in history,
the transmission of the teachings began to spread to the so-called
border regions such as Tibet and China.
When the Buddha Shakyamuni passed into Final Nirvana, he left
behind prophecies that, in the future, various other enlightened beings
would carry on the task of bringing these teachings from the holy land
of India to other areas such as China and Tibet. For example, he
prophesied the coming of Guru Rinpoche (Padmasambhava), who would tame
those who were to be tamed by Avalokiteshvara, the Bodhisattva of
Compassion, whose emanation Guru Rinpoche was. In this and other ways
the Buddha left a legacy of prophesies concerning the spread of the
Buddhist teachings to other parts of the world.
To attempt to describe anything like a complete history or
biography of Guru Rinpoche would be beyond my capabilities. But just to
give you some food for thought as an introduction to these teachings, I
will simply note that the miraculous birth of Guru Rinpoche in the
milky lake of Danakosha was simply one case of a great master of the
Buddhist tradition in India appearing, or manifesting, in a way that
contributed to the spread of the teachings to other countries.
The Eighty-Four Mahasiddhas
We may also note at this point the Eighty-Four Mahasiddhas, the
Tantric Mahasiddhas of India, the teachers of Buddhist India known as
the Six Ornaments of the Human Realm, and the two masters who commented
on the Vinaya or monastic codes who were known as the Excellent Pair.
In the case of the Yogacara or "mind only" school of Buddhism, there
were some five hundred masters. In short, the Buddhist tradition of
India produced an enormous number of masters who were both learned
scholars and also accomplished meditators. It was their activity in
maintaining the teachings and helping the spread of these teachings that
allowed the transmission of the Dharma from India to places like Tibet
and China, and to other areas of the world that became seats of the
Dharma in their own right.
Your Great Good Fortune
The circumstances that permitted a living tradition of Buddhism
in India have waned over the centuries, so that the Buddhist tradition
in India itself is very, very weak. India itself is undergoing a great
deal of difficulty economically, socially, and so forth. Due to a lot
of circumstances that have come about over the centuries, the Buddhist
tradition came to virtually disappear in the sub-continent of India,
where it had first flourished. But it continued to develop in the other
areas to which it had been transmitted. So Tibet, China, and areas
like Vietnam and other parts of south-east Asia continued to be
strongholds of the Buddha Dharma.
Nowadays, of course, the situation has changed again. In areas
that were traditionally Buddhist countries such as China, Tibet, and so
forth, the Buddhist teachings are subject to a great deal of repression
and difficulty. But for you who live in the west the situation is very
fortunate, because truly great lamas such as Chagdud Rinpoche, His
Holiness The Dalai Lama, and His Holiness The Karmapa, great teachers of
the Buddhist tradition, have been able to come to Europe and North and
South America, and to begin to pass these teachings on to you who live
in the Western Hemisphere. So from your point of view this is a very
In this present situation, where I am explaining teachings and
you are listening to these teachings, let us never forget that it is due
entirely to the kindness of Chagdud Rinpoche that this situation has
come about; where you do not have to leave your home country in order to
receive the teachings of the Dharma. You don't have to make a very
great effort at all - you have that good fortune. We have the
opportunity to discuss the teachings of the Dharma. All of this is due
to the vision, the motivation, and the enormous kindness of Chagdud
Rinpoche. So part of your motivation in requesting these teachings
should be that of contributing to the long and fruitful life of this
great teacher, and the aspiration that you, through receiving these
teachings, understanding them, practicing them, and realizing them, that
you may bring great benefit to other beings.
Do not think of these teaching as something you are taking for
yourself. Think of them as something you are receiving in order to
truly benefit other beings. You will undoubtedly have some difficulty
with technical terminology, new ideas being presented, and words that
you are not familiar with. Remember to have patience, and remember to
have strength of mind so that you carry through on your motivation to
understand these teachings, to absorb them, to realize them, and thus to
be able to benefit others on a vast scale. Continue to keep this
motivation when you receive teachings.
The Topic of the Teaching
Concerning the topic of my teachings over the next few weeks, it
will be, as directed by Chagdud Rinpoche, a teaching on a text known as
the Neshe Drulme. The more complete title is Neshe Rinpoche Drulme,
"The Precious Lamp Of Certain Knowledge".
The author of this text is the great Mipham Rinpoche, who was
born, grew up, and taught in the area of eastern Tibet known as Kham,
and who was primarily a Nyingma lama in the sense of his personal
affiliation. But in terms of his importance as a scholar and a writer,
he is recognized, not just by the Nyingma school, but by other schools
as well, as being perhaps the most brilliant mind of this century in
terms of the way he mastered the various fields of knowledge and was
able to explain them and to write them. This is something that not only
the Nyingma's, but all who examine his work, hold. All are enormously
impressed with the depth and brilliance of his writings.
This particular text was written when he was only seven years
old. It is a text that concerns seven major questions in the
presentation of the Buddhist view, seven thorny points, if you will,
seven ways in which it is difficult to really come to grips with the
essential view of the Buddhist tradition. And Chagdud Rinpoche directed
that I should teach this to you, so my intention over the next few
weeks is to present this text to you.
In accordance with the customs of my own country and tradition, a
short formal introduction is read at the beginning of a series of
teachings such as this. With your indulgence, if you will just sit
patiently for a few moments, I'll perform this introduction.
First, we should begin with the Prayers Before the Teachings,
which are found in the Galaxy of Heartdrops compiled, translated, and
printed by Chagdud Gompa. These consist of the Seven Branch Prayer, the
Offering of the Mandala, and then the formal, specific Request to Turn
the Wheel of the Dharma. We'll recite these before each teaching
(Chants & Prayer)
By way of very general introduction, when we speak of the Buddha
Dharma we are speaking of what are traditionally said to be the 84,000
collections of teachings that the Buddha Shakyamuni transmitted in the
holy country of India. To speak of these in a more concise way, we very
often speak of the Three Turnings of the Wheel of Dharma, because the
Buddha Shakyamuni first turned the Wheel of the Dharma of the Four Noble
Truths in Varanasi, secondly Turned the Wheel of the Perfection of
Transcendent Knowledge, the Prajnaparamita teachings, at Vulture Peak
near Rajagrha, and thirdly Turned the Wheel of the Dharma that dealt
with Definitive Ultimate Truth in a very precise way in Vaisali and
other places around the northern part of the Indian sub-continent.
When we speak of the scriptures associated with the Buddhist
teachings, we hear reference to the Tripitaka, the three baskets or
collections of the teachings, and these are the Vinaya or ethical codes,
the Sutras, and the Abhidharma, or the teachings on metaphysics and
psychology. In the case of the Vajrayana we have a fourth collection,
that of the Tantras. This, from the general scriptural point of view,
is the breadth of the Buddhist teachings that will be presented here.
If we were to further classify and categorize these 84,000
collections of teachings in a concise way, we could distinguish between
the Sutra approach and the Tantra approach.
In the Sutra approach there are, on the one hand, the more
obscure teachings, those that are not completely evident, which are
presented in such a way that much of the meaning is concealed; on the
other hand, there are Sutra teachings concerning emptiness, which deal
quite forthrightly with the nature of reality as a state of emptiness.
Classification of the Current Text
This particular text, Neshe Rinpoche Drulme, "The Precious Lamp
Of Certain Knowledge", is not completely unconnected with the Tantra
approach, but it is primarily a text that is based upon the Sutra
approach. And between the two divisions of the Sutra approach that were
mentioned a moment ago (those with more hidden meanings and those which
are more explicit teachings on emptiness), this text is concerned
primarily with the more explicit teachings on emptiness.
Origins of the Prajnaparamita Texts
Teachings on emptiness are primarily derived from the middle
turning of the Wheel of Dharma. It at the peak known as Vulture Peak,
near Rajagrha, in India, when the Buddha was turning the Wheel of the
Prajnaparamita (the "Perfection of Wisdom") that he presented the
teachings dealing with emptiness.
When these teachings were actually expounded by the Buddha, he
taught seventeen primary and secondary Sutras of Prajnaparamita, the
Perfection of Wisdom. But, on that occasion, not only were human beings
present, but also present were Devas (or Gods) of Samsara, Nagas, and
other powerful beings from other realms who received these teachings and
took them back to their own regions, so that some of the Sutras that
the Buddha presented on this occasion did not spread in the human realm,
although there is a record in our literature of them having been
For example, the Sutra in 10 Million Verses was taken by the
Devas to their realm, the Sutra in 2 Million Verses was taken to the
realm of the Gandarvas, and the Sutra in 100-Thousand verses was taken
to the realm of the Nagas.
When we speak of these Sutras being taken, it simply indicates
that these beings had total recall. It was as though they made a tape
recording of the Buddha speaking. They could simply go back to their
realms with all of the teachings that the Buddha had given in their
memories. It's not as though a book was there and was taken, but that
the teachings themselves, as they were given, were completely remembered
by these beings when they returned to their realms. However, these
teachings did not spread in the human realm on that occasion.
In the teachings of the Mahayana tradition of Buddhism, there is
an account of the Buddha, before he passed into Nirvana, issuing a
prophecy that some years following his passing into Nirvana there would
appear an extraordinary teacher who would bear the name of the Nagas in
his name, and who would re-vivify the teachings of the Prajnaparamita,
establish the unsurpassable view of the Perfection of Wisdom, and thus
establish circumstances for enormous benefit to the teachings and to
beings. This is widely held to be a prophecy of the coming of
Nagarjuna, the great Buddhist master who did so much too further spread
the teachings of the Prajnaparamita.
Following the passing of the Buddha into Nirvana, the early
history of Buddhism in India was based upon the teachings of the
Hinayana, so the earliest schools of Buddhist philosophy and practice in
India were Hinayana schools. At that point, the Mahayana did not exist
as its own tradition in India. But at a certain point, more than a
hundred years after the passing of the Buddha into Nirvana, there
appeared in the south of India an individual who grew up to become the
great master Nagarjuna.
This is not to say that the Mahayana teachings were extinct or
absent before this, but there was not an integrated tradition of what we
would call Mahayana Buddhism. When Nagarjuna grew up and began to
study the Dharma, he was fortunate to come into contact with such great
masters as the Siddha Saraha, who introduced him to the teachings of the
Mahayana. Through his practice, Nagarjuna achieved a state of
deathlessness. His name Nagarjuna means "one who has conquered, tamed,
and gained mastery over the Nagas". So one aspect of his spiritual
attainment was his ability to control the Naga spirits.
Because of his mastery over these Naga spirits, Nagarjuna was
invited by the Nagas to visit their realm. Knowing through his
spiritual practice that the Sutra in 100 Thousand Verses was present in
their realm, Nagarjuna made the journey. His specific purpose in
journeying to that realm was to recover the Sutra in 100,000 Verses,
because he realized that the absence of this Sutra in the human realm
was a great loss.
When Nagarjuna was preparing to return from the Naga to the
human realm, the Naga spirits offered him great wealth, the Nagas being
extraordinarily wealthy, but Nagarjuna refused all of their offers of
material wealth. He said that the only suitable offering was the Sutra
in 100,000 Verses. So the Sutra was offered to him, and he returned to
the human realm with this teaching.
But when the Sutra was offered to Nagarjuna, it was offered in
an incomplete version. The Nagas offered him twelve volumes containing
the bulk of the Sutra in 100,000 Verses, but they held back a portion of
the text because they were afraid that, if they gave Nagarjuna the
entire text, he'd never return to the Naga realm. So what came back to
the human realm was in fact an incomplete version.
The original text that Nagarjuna brought back from the Naga
realm was written in Sanskrit, which is considered to be the language of
the Gods, the language of the Devas. There are extant manuscripts of
this Sutra in 100,000 Verses. In one of the libraries in Nepal, for
example, there is a manuscript of this text in Sanskrit.
When Nagarjuna brought this text back to the human realm, he
realized that the volume of the material was so great that people would
not be able to absorb all of it because they had short lives, little
merit, and very little time to study. So he composed his famous
commentaries which are more concise and were based upon the
Prajnaparamita. Perhaps the most famous of these is the
Mulamadhyamakakarika, "Root Verses on the Middle Way Philosophy", which
is one of six major commentaries written by Nagarjuna, each of which was
famous for its concise presentation of the view of the Madyamika or
"Middle Way" philosophy that emptiness is the true nature of reality.
Nagarjuna also trained students who carried on his tradition of
teaching by writing commentaries on their master's original
commentaries. Aryadeva, who was the student of Nagarjuna who wrote most
upon the subject of meditation, wrote a text called the Catuhsataka or
the "400 Verses", which is a direct commentary on the "Root Verses of
the Middle Way" that Nagarjuna wrote.
In the presentation of emptiness in Aryadeva's text, the
Catuhsataka or the "400 Verses", the emphasis is on meditation upon
emptiness, upon the direct experience of emptiness through practice.
Among those who followed the tradition of Nagarjuna were those
who commented primarily upon conduct, upon how the Bodhisattva conducts
him or herself in the pursuit of enlightenment. Perhaps the most famous
student of this type was the great Shantideva, who lived and taught at
the monastery and the University of Nalanda, and whose life was marked
by seven utterly miraculous events. The most famous text that
Shantideva wrote is the Bodhicharyavatara "The Entry into The Path of
the Bodhisattva" or "Entry into The Conduct of the Bodhisattva. The
primary emphasis in Shantideva's text is upon conduct, upon what kind of
ethical choices the Bodhisattva should make: what to avoid and what to
encourage in his or her actions.
It was a student of a student of Nagarjuna's, the great master
Chandrakirti, who wrote a text called the Madyamikavattara, "The
Entrance Into the Middle Way", which is held to be perhaps the finest
example of a text that comments upon view, meditation, and conduct
simultaneously, without emphasizing any one of these. In all of
Chandrakirti's discussions there is a very analysis of the different
paths of the Mahayana, the Five Paths of the Mahayana and the ten levels
of Bodhisattva realization, the Ten Bhumi.
Yet another master in the tradition of Nagarjuna was
Shantarakshita who wrote a text called the Umagen (Sanskrit
Madhyamakalankarakarika), "The Ornament of The Middle Way", which
concisely details the teachings on view, meditation, and conduct from
the point of view of the understanding and direct experience of
Transmission to Tibet
These are the teachers and commentaries that are derived from
the Indian tradition of Buddhism, from the original tradition as it
developed in India. These commentaries were translated from the
original Indian languages into Tibetan and form part of the large
collection known as the Tanjur, which contains more than 200 volumes.
In fact, the number of Indian commentaries extant in Tibetan
translation represent perhaps 25% of what was available in Buddhist
India. There was such a wealth of material that not all of it could be
The particular text that I will be teaching is written by a
Tibetan; however, it is a text by a great master of the Tibetan
tradition of Buddhism.
There is no comparable collection to the Tanjur for the Tibetan
commentaries. Any collection that might be attempted would be much
larger than the Tanjur. The Tibetans were so prolific in writing
commentaries on the subjects contained within the Tanjur that nobody has
ever attempted to put every writing from the Tibetan traditions
together in a single collection.
The Four Main Indian Buddhist Schools
In the development of Buddhist philosophy in India, four major
schools of philosophy historically have come to be recognized. The
first of these is known as the Vaibashika school, which literally means
"the analyst", those who analyze things in detail. The second is known
as the Sautantrika, which means "those who follow the Sutras". The
third is the Cittamatra, or Yogacara school, which literally means the
"mind-only" school. And the fourth is the Madhayamika or "Middle Way"
school of philosophy.
When you hear discussions of Buddhist philosophical schools,
these four tend to be mentioned.
The Four Main Tibetan Buddhist Schools
In the case of the Tibetan tradition of Buddhism, the earliest
school of thought established in Tibet is the one that we know as the
Nyingma, "the early translation" or "ancient school". Then, in
chronological order, the Sakya school, the Kagyu school, and the Gelugpa
Again, if we were to try to count, or assess, the number of
commentaries written by the masters of these four schools of Tibetan
Buddhism on Madhayamika, on emptiness, all we can say is that there are a
lot. Nobody's ever sat down and actually figured out how many, but
there are an enormous number of commentaries.
In ratio to the amount of commentary about the Middle Way
philosophy of emptiness, there was a profusion of controversy among the
various schools of thought as to who had the right view, who had the
correct interpretation, and so-forth. There has been quite a history of
spirited controversy and debate in Tibet.
In the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism, from the very
inception of this school (in the eighth century of the common era) when
Guru Rinpoche (Padmasambhava), the abbot Shantirakshita, and the King
Trisong Deutsen collaborated to bring the teachings to Tibet - from that
time forward, from the time of the Twenty-Five Intimate Students of
Guru Rinpoche to the later generations of great tertons and translators -
there have been throughout history a great number of people associated
with this Nyingma tradition who are noted for their scholastic
excellence and their deep learning of the teachings of Buddhism.
In the eastern part of Tibet known as Kham, some of the great
Nyingma monasteries became centers of learning where these scholars were
trained. For example, Dzogchen Monastery, Shechen Monastery, and
Palyul Monastery. In Dzogchen Monastery, in the last century, there was
a very great scholar named Jelsa Shinventiy. Jelsa literally means "a
child or son of the Buddhas", that is to say, a Bodhisattva. This name
was more of a title; Shinventiy, "limitless benefit for others", was his
personal name. Shinentiy established a college known as the Sri Singha
College, because on the occasion that he was undertaking to found this
college he was graced by a vision of the great Dzogchen master Sri
Singha. The course of studies in the college also emphasized the Sutra
(as well as the Dzogchen) tradition to a great degree.
Of the many fine scholars produced in the last century from that
college, the greatest was Mipham Rinpoche, who is also known by the
name Adyita, which is the Sanskrit version of the Tibetan Mipham,
literally meaning "the invincible one."
Mipham Rinpoche and the Neshe Rinpoche Dronme
During his lifetime, Mipham Rinpoche was a prolific writer. His
collected works run to thirty-two volumes of texts - not thirty-two
separate titles, but thirty-two volumes of any number of titles within
any given volume.
It is within this thirty-two volume collection of writings that
you will find the text that we will be studying, the Neshe Rinpoche
Dronme, "The Precious Lamp of Certain Knowledge".
He did not compose his own commentary to this root text, which
wrote in verse at the age of seven, when he himself was a student. He
sat down and wrote the "bones" of this root text and then later on in
his life he edited and published it. He also wrote a structural
analysis that simply gives headings in order to bring philosophical
order to presentation of the text, which is a long poem in verse.
As to why Mipham wrote this text: Given that there were four
major schools of Tibetan Buddhism - the Nyingma, the Sakya, the Kagu,
and the Gelug, and given that there were any number of masters in these
schools who commented upon the Middle Way philosophy, there was much
controversy and an enormous amount of detail regarding the different
ways in which emptiness could be understood.
Views of Emptiness
There was the so-called "self-empty" school versus the
"other-empty" school. There were people who attempted to describe
reality from the point of view of negation, of what it was not, whether
these were flat out negations or provisional negations, and so-forth.
The controversies went on and on and on, resulting in a plethora of
arguments that were difficult for people to understand.
In a certain sense, there was a great deal of secrecy about
emptiness, because it seemed so abstruse. So Mipham formulated seven
questions in his own mind, as the one writing the text; seven questions
which deal with the issues that create difficulty in people's minds when
they are attempting to study and understand emptiness as the view of
the Middle Way.
It is said that Mipham wrote this text while inspired by and
under the guidance of Manjushri. This is only natural, because Mipham
was in fact an emanation of Manjushri. So, with this divine inspiration
of the Bodhisattva of Wisdom, Mipham composed this text of seven
Divisions of The Precious Lamp of Certain Knowledge
When explaining a text of this nature, a text such as "The
Precious Lamp of Certain Knowledge", we can approach it from the point
of view of three main divisions of the text. It is said that the Buddha
Dharma is virtuous in the beginning, virtuous in the middle, and
virtuous at the end. The introductory part of this text is that which
is virtuous in the beginning. The main body of the text is that which
is virtuous in the middle. And the concluding verses, the colophon,
constitute the section that is virtuous at the end. So these are the
three main divisions: introduction, main body of teachings, and
The introduction, then, the part that is virtuous in the
beginning, deals with the title, why the text is called what it is
called, what the meaning of the title is, and also something of the
subject matter to which the title is referring.
The Title of the Text
Just to be thorough, I'll discuss the title. The title of this
text in Tibetan is Neshe Rinpoche Dronme, which literally translated
would mean "The Precious Lamp of Certain Knowledge".
When a teacher writes a treatise that comments upon one aspect
or another of the Buddhist teachings, there is a certain value to, or
meaning inherent in, the title. The title is not just something
arbitrary. It is something, in both a general and specific sense, that
has a pertinent meaning. It is chosen for a reason.
In a general sense, the giving of a title to a text of this
nature is similar to the way in which people are named. When we are
born into this world, we don't go through life nameless, but we are
given a name. The name we are given becomes our identification and the
focus of all of our hopes and dreams, of all of the happiness that we're
seeking to achieve, and of all of the suffering that we're attempting
to avoid through our personal efforts in this life. This is derived
from the fact that we are named something. It gives us some kind of
identity. And, in fact, this derives, in a more profound sense, from
the fact that all words, names, and labels in the world, all language in
the world, exits due to the blessings of Buddhahood, due to the
blessings of awakened mind being felt on some level in this ordinary
world as the phenomenon of language.
In the case of a specific name being given, in this instance to a
specific text, there are three levels upon which this can be
understood. There is the value of naming a text from the point of view
of someone who has the very highest degree of acumen and perception;
from the point of view of someone who has a middling degree; and for
someone who has an ordinary degree of perception.
For someone of the very highest level of acumen or sensitivity,
just to hear the name or to utter the name of the text "The Precious
Lamp of Certain Knowledge" would in that person bring about an
understanding of everything that is implied by the term "certain
knowledge", from A to Z, from the very beginning to the very end of that
whole spectrum of understanding. All of this would be completely
evident to that person simply upon hearing the name of the text, if that
person were of the very highest degree, highest caliber.
In the case of someone with a more middling level of
understanding and sensitivity, the name is at least some kind of marker,
some kind of identification. It gives a general idea of the subject
matter of the text. One example we might use is that of the various
standards which are carried by different battalions or companies in an
army. By looking at a standard, you know exactly which battalion,
company, or division it belongs to. In the same way, when you hear the
name of a text, if the name has been chosen wisely it indicates to you
whether it's a text about ethics, metaphysics, Sutras, and so forth. To
use a name like "The Precious Lamp of Certain Knowledge" identifies for
someone of a middle level of understanding at least what part of the
Buddhist teachings are being talked about in the text.
And for someone of an ordinary level of understanding, the title
just indicates which book you're talking about. It's like going to the
medicine chest and being able to read the labels on the bottles. If
someone says to you "go get me some aspirin, I've got a headache," you
can go read the labels and, at the very least, just by reading the
label, you know which one they want, so you can bring them the right
one. So at the very least, if someone were to say to somebody "go get
Neshe Rinpoche Drunme" you'd know which book to go and get. At the most
ordinary level of understanding and perception, at least the name is
valuable from that point of view.
The point here is that there is a certain value to, a necessity
for, giving a name to a text such as this.
In addition to simply noting the name of the text, we should
examine why those particular words were chosen - Neshe, Rinpoche, and
Dronme. Why Neshe? Why Dronme? Why "certain knowledge"? Why "lamp"?
Mipham himself commented in his writings that if you are
attempting to practice the Dharma, you can only practice the Dharma
effectively when you have a certainty about what you are doing; when
there is a certain knowledge in your mind concerning the nature of
practice and the nature of reality; about what exactly it is you're
doing when you practice. He said that, as long as you don't have that
certainty, you're like someone fumbling around in the dark trying to
find something, and not really sure what you're looking for or where to
look for it. As soon as there is a lamp lit in that darkness, he says,
you can find your way to what you want. Then you have gained some
certainty of where you're going and what you're looking for. So his
text is like this lamp of certain knowledge that provides the means for
one to practice in an effective manner.
If we think about it, this kind of certain knowledge is
necessary, not only in the spiritual realm, but in the worldly realm as
well. If we're going to do anything constructive and effective on the
worldly level, we need to have some certain knowledge about what we're
doing. If we don't have some degree of wisdom or transcendent knowledge
or certainty about what we're doing, whether it's in the spiritual
realm or the ordinary, mundane realm, we're not going to be effective.
The particular object of the certain knowledge we're referring
to here is the teaching of the Buddha Dharma, both the Sutra and the
Tantra approaches. And in particular the seven questions addressed by
this text concern key issues in coming to this certain understanding of
emptiness, this certain understanding of view. If you do not have this
certain knowledge, if the lamp is not lit in your experience, there is
great danger that you will make errors in your practice.
When an author such as Mipham is writing a text like this and
choosing a title for it, the process isn't arbitrary. The title may be
chosen from the point of view of what the actual meaning of the text is.
It may be chosen from the point of view of the kinds of words and
terms that are used in the text. It may be chosen in reference to a
particular time period in which the text is written, a particular
location, a particular set of circumstances, or, as in this case, a
particular metaphor. The title is a metaphor for the ultimate meaning
of the subject matter of the text.
In choosing this title for his text, the title that you see on
the front page of the Tibetan book Neshe Rinpoche Dronme, "The Precious
Lamp of Certain Knowledge", Mipham was motivated in all of the three
ways that were mentioned earlier: to approach those of the highest
caliber, to approach those of the middle level of sensitivity, or to
approach those of very ordinary understanding. For all of these cases,
he chose a title that would suit his purposes for writing this text.
The Nature of the Work
In our discussion of this introductory part of the text, which
is the part that is virtuous in the beginning, we've already dealt with
the title. Now we need to say something about the nature of the work
that bears this title.
First, there is a discussion of the way in which one approaches
the vast and profound topics of the Buddha Dharma in general, and
secondly, the way in which the seven questions contained in this text
constitute the specific way in which this text is approaching these
Regarding the general way in which one approaches the vast and
profound topics of the Buddha Dharma, first and foremost we need to
understand what the benefits and advantages are of the kind of certain
knowledge that is being talked about here - the kind of certain
knowledge that you arrive at both through inductive reasoning and
through direct experience.
Second is the value of such certain knowledge. Given that there
are benefits and advantages, what are the specific values? What is the
specific necessity for the practitioner of arriving at that kind of
Let us examine at this point the benefits and advantages of this
kind of certain knowledge that we arrive at both through our reasoning
and through our direct experience. This must take into account the kind
of faith or confidence that we feel when we understand that this kind
of certain knowledge is really that which illuminates our path, like the
Benefits of Certain Knowledge
On one hand there is the faith and confidence that one feels in
attempting to arrive at certain knowledge. We also need to understand
the disadvantages of being devoid of it. The benefits and advantages on
the one hand, and the disadvantages on the other hand, can be explained
from the point of view of various metaphors - the text makes reference
to certain metaphors that illustrate the benefits and advantages of
having certain knowledge and the disadvantage of not having it.
Once you have understood and appreciated that this certain
knowledge is the single factor that more than anything else illuminates
your Dharma path, you gain confidence in seeking that certain knowledge.
In the first verse of Mipham's text known as the "Lamp of Certain
Knowledge", he states,
For those whose minds are ensnared,
Caught in the web of doubts,
That which cuts through that web
Is the lamp of Manjushri, the lamp of wisdom.
When this enters into your heart,
in the sense of being a profound inner sense of certain knowledge,
then that lamp is illuminated
and you then have the eye that allows you to see
the noble path that unfolds in front of you.
And in that eye which comes about through the opening provided by certain knowledge, he says, I express my faith.
In the first verse, the point the author makes is that any
sentient being's mind, any being that has consciousness at all, is
ensnared, caught in a web or an enveloping veil of doubt. The fact that
we are ordinary unenlightened beings means that we are completely
subject to doubt in the sense of being unable to come to any clear or
definitive understanding of the nature of reality. We are continually
caught in this web of doubt.
The teachings of the Buddha Dharma are geared toward bringing
about a state of liberation or omniscience - of eliminating suffering,
of bringing greater states of happiness and well being, to ultimately
bring about states of liberation and omniscience. Because we are caught
in a state of ignorance of those means and an ignorance of the way in
which to bring about that liberation, we are in darkness.
Or, if you think of this idea of a web, we are caught in a web
of doubt, and we need to cut through that ensnaring web.
That which illuminates the darkness is each individual's own
certain knowledge, arrived at through his or her own efforts in
contemplation and practice. Light is the opposite of darkness. Where
there is light there is obviously no darkness. Where the lamp of
certain knowledge has been illuminated in the mind of an individual, the
darkness of the 84,000 kinds of afflictive emotions, and the ignorance
and suffering derived from these afflictive emotions are dispelled.
Who Brings About Certain Knowledge?
Who dispels this darkness? You do! As the practitioner, when
you study, train, and practice, you light the lamp of certain knowledge
in your own mind and dispel the darkness.
Certain knowledge means understanding something you did not
understand before. Certain knowledge is referred to here as the lamp of
Manjushri, which cuts through the web of doubt. In a certain sense
Mipham is mixing his metaphors here, because on the one hand there is
the idea of the lamp dispelling the darkness and on the other hand there
is the idea of the sword of transcendent knowledge held by Manjushri
cutting through the web of doubts. He's combining both of these
metaphors in these lines where he says "For those whose minds are
ensnared in the web of doubt, the lamp of Manjushri is that which cuts
through that web or veil". And so when we use a term like Manjushri,
the Bodhisattva of Wisdom, this name indicates nothing other than one's
own certain knowledge gained through study and practice.
It is you who yields that sword, who lights that lamp through
coming to that certain knowledge in your own mind.
All of the doubts that exist in your own mind stream right now,
all doubt due to ignorance, afflictive emotions, and the non-recognition
of your own intrinsic awareness, and the afflictive emotions and
negative karma that is a result of those doubts must be cut through.
This whole web, which is here referred to as the web of doubts, must be
And the way you cut through is by giving rise in yourself to
your own experience of certain knowledge. This, as the Buddha taught,
is your support, is your aid, is your Ally, in your quest for liberation
The fact that, in the case of each and every sentient being the
mind stream of that being can be brought to certain knowledge is proof
positive that the being has Buddha Nature. It is because that being has
the potential for enlightenment, has Tathagatagarba as it's essence,
that the being can come to a state of certain knowledge in the first
But it is necessary for each individual being to take charge of
his or her situation, to take charge of his or her own Buddha nature, as
it were, and to make it obvious through study and practice. This is
the implication of what he is saying.
Disadvantages of Lacking Certain Knowledge
The next verse in the text deals with the flaws, or
disadvantages, of lacking this certain knowledge. The question that's
basically being asked at this point is, "Suppose you don't have this
certain knowledge? What's the problem? What are the flaws? What are the
shortcomings of not having that kind of certainty?".
This question is answered by Mipham in the next verse, in which
Alas, because you, you lack,
Because you do not have
This precious certain knowledge
That brings you into contact
With the fundamental nature of reality,
You are still deluded
And you are caught
In all of the causes of delusion,
Caught in this state of ordinary conditioned existence.
That's the problem, when you lack that knowledge your mind
remains ensnared and deluded in this cycle of ordinary existence. The
verse opens with the word "alas", kye ma in Tibetan, which is a cry of
pity. For example, if you are walking along and you see somebody who is
so sick or starving, or broken down, obviously in a state of utter
misery, you would utter some involuntary cry of pity. Mipham Rinpoche
is looking at all of us and saying, "alas!".
It's entirely appropriate that he do so, because, as ordinary
beings in the cycle of existence, we tend to react solely in the basis
of what we perceive our immediate needs to be. We're like animals. All
we think of is what to eat, where to sleep, and what to wear. That's
it. That constitutes our main focus in our lives - all these little
petty issues that really are of little consequence in terms of our
future destiny. So it is only fitting that someone of Mipham Rinpoche's
realization look at us and say, "Alas!". He can see the fundamental
contradiction between what we try to do through our efforts and what we
In the Bodhicharyavattarya, referred to earlier, Shantideva
notes that, in seeking happiness, because of our delusion, we act in
such a way that we defeat our own happiness as though it were our worst
enemy. We ensure that we will never be happy by the very way in which
we try to go about being happy.
For someone who lacks this certain knowledge, Mipham has only
"Alas!" to say. "Alas!" because you lack this precious quality of
certain knowledge that would bring you into contact with the fundamental
nature of reality, because you fail to understand the words of the
Buddha, because you fail to understand the ethical consequences of what
you are doing. You will never understand the fundamental nature of
reality without certain knowledge. You will continue to wander, deluded
and caught in this illusory cycle of conditioned existence.
We're like a bee caught in a jar going around in a circle with
no escape. The word "illusion" comes up often in Buddhist teachings.
It refers to the fact that, in ancient India, there were powerful
magicians or sorcerers - who knows maybe you have them in this culture
too, I don't know, I'm new here - who through the very power of their
minds could create a hallucination in the minds of their audience. For
example, they could make people see water where there was no water, they
could make them see fire where there was no fire, they could create an
image that didn't actually take place, but seemed to for vast numbers of
Appearances, the apparent phenomena of ordinary existence, are
very much like this. They seem to be happening, but nothing is
ultimately there. The point he's making is that the disadvantage of not
having such certain knowledge is that you will never be able to dispel
your suffering; you will never be able to attain any true happiness; you
will never be able to awaken to Buddhahood.
Approaches to Buddha Dharma
In the next verse, Mipham Rinpoche uses a metaphor to indicate
the difference between two ways of approaching the Dharma. He says with
respect to the teachings concerning ground, path, and fruition that
either you may come to a conviction due to this certain knowledge or you
may simply have a kind of basic faith due to some superficial contact.
But he says that the difference between these approaches is the
difference between the true path and a mere shadow or reflection of the
Ground, Path, and Fruition
In the teachings of the Buddha Dharma, depending upon the
particular level of teachings we're talking about, there will always be
some description of the ground, the beginning situation that we start
from as sentient beings; the path, which is the process of moving toward
enlightenment; and fruition, the actual goal or state that we arrive
For example, in the Abhidharma teachings there is an extensive
description of the skandhas, the mind-body aggregates of the individual,
the sense consciousnesses - all of the different elements of the
individual's ordinary experience. That, from the point of view of the
Abhidharma teachings, is the ground situation, that is the beginning.
The path and the fruition are described in terms of the various factors
that constitute the process of arriving at enlightenment and the actual
features, qualities, or characteristics of that path.
So whether we're talking about the Abhidharma teachings of the
Sutra tradition; the Mahdyamika, the middle way teachings of the Sutra
tradition; or the Vajrayana, there is always some description of ground,
path, and fruition - where we start from, how we proceed, and where we
In the case of the Middle Way philosophy this text is concerned
with (as referred to earlier), there are the more abstruse, hidden
topics, and there is the more direct teaching on emptiness. So the
"ground" is the true nature of reality, which is described as being free
from, or beyond, all limits or extremes.
In one of the most famous verses from the "Root Verses on the
Middle Way" (the Madyamikakarika), Nagarjuna states "Whatever arises in
interdependence is, by it's very nature, such that it neither is nor is
not, neither comes nor goes, is neither one nor many", and soforth".
He goes through an analysis in which he says that you cannot
describe the true nature of reality from the point of view of any of
these extremes: is, is not, comes, goes, one, many, identity, or
separateness. None of these extremes works when you are speaking of the
true nature of reality.
That is the ground, the basis of the Middle Way teachings.
There are two approaches to the teachings concerning ground,
path, and fruition. You can study these teachings, hear these teachings
thoroughly, contemplate them, and meditate upon them to come to a
certainty and a conviction; or you can simply say "Oh! These seem like
very wonderful teachings! I have faith in them!", in a superficial,
The difference is between one who is entering the true path and
one who is just going through the motions - what is a mere shadow or
reflection of the path.
Once you have studied and contemplated and meditated, you come
to such a level of conviction that nobody can ever convince you
otherwise. You have incontrovertible proof in your own experience of
the truth of the Buddha Dharma, and it doesn't matter how many people
try to shake your faith: it cannot be shaken.
On the other hand, if you have an initial sense of faith or
attraction but don't pursue it to come to any real understanding, and
somebody comes along and says "Well, I hear Buddhism is just a pile of
nonsense. You should probably try something else," you are easily
swayed in that direction because your faith is not based upon an inner
conviction but is superficial and weak.
As practitioners of the Buddha Dharma in general, and the
Nyingma tradition in particular, this whole question of faith is
important for us. On what do we base our? Do we base it on an
unshakable level of certainty which has come about through hearing
teachings, through contemplation, and through meditation? Or do we base
it on a superficial attraction to the teachings?
If we truly have the kind of certainty that Mipham is talking
about, nobody can change our mind, because we have proven it to
ourselves through our efforts at hearing teachings, contemplating them,
and meditating upon them.
But if we have very little exposure to the teachings and have a
superficial attraction to them, we are easily swayed. We may go through
the motions of following the path, but it isn't the true path, because
we could lose it at any moment.
The next verse of the text by Mipham is concerned with the
necessity for authentic standards.
What constitutes certain knowledge? If we're going to use a
term like "certain knowledge", we need authentic standards to determine
what we mean by "certain knowledge" - it can't be willy-nilly. There
must be standards against which we can test our knowledge and say "Is
this certain knowledge or not?".
In order to clarify what constitutes certain knowledge, the
first approach Mipham takes is to discuss the historical tradition of
Buddhism and how certain lineage's of teaching developed.
Chandrakirti and Dharmakirti
The superb teachers Dharmakirti and Chandrakirti
In their excellent explanations
Brought illumination that instantly illuminated
The entire path of the Buddhist teachings,
Thus completely overcoming the darkness of doubt.
Mipham also refers to the great masters Chandrakirti and
Dharmakirti as charioteers of the teachings.
Chandrakirti, whom we heard reference to earlier, was a student
in the lineage of Nagarjuna, and was enormously famous in his own time
in India as a scholar and master of the Middle Way teachings.
Chandrakirti was also credited, due to his insight into the
nature of reality, with quite miraculous deeds. On one occasion, for
example, he took a mural of a cow, and actually milked milk from the
cow. Because of his knowledge of the emptiness of phenomena, he was not
subject to the ordinary boundaries of physical reality. In many ways
during his life he demonstrated an ability to transcend ordinary
The other great charioteer, Dharmakirti, was perhaps the
greatest logician that Buddhism ever produced. During his lifetime he
was undefeated in debate. There was a custom in India at that time for
monasteries and schools of different religions to debate one another in
public. A great deal hinged on the outcome of the debate, because, when
someone won the debate the entire community represented by the defeated
opponent would convert to the religion of the winner.
Dharmakirti was undefeated in debate, and in fact defeated many
people who held extreme spiritual views and brought them to the
teachings of Buddhism. It was impossible to defeat him even through the
use of magical powers, or by employing miraculous feats to daunt him
and cause him to lose his precision in debate. He was magnificent.
Chandrakirti, as was mentioned earlier, wrote the text known as
the Madyamikavattara, "The Entrance into the Middle Way", which, from
our point of view, is perhaps the definitive work on the Middle Way
Dharmakirti wrote a text called the Pramanavartika (in Tibetan
Sema Ngondra), "The Definitive Explanation of Valid Cognition", i.e.,
what it means to have correct knowledge or valid cognition about
something. How do we know when we really know something? That is the
subject matter of his text.
Following this, Mipham explains how the two traditions coming
through these two masters Chandrakirti and Dharmakirti make evident the
nature of reality from the point of view of correct knowledge, in the
sense that there is a thorough understanding, on the one hand, of the
ordinary level of phenomenal reality, and, on the other, an
understanding of the true nature of phenomenal reality, Dharmata.
Each of these teachers presented specific lines of reasoning in
his writings that allow a person to come to a more definitive
understanding of either the phenomenal level of reality or the more
ultimate level, the true nature of reality. And these are known by
The work of Dharmakirti on valid knowledge, valid cognition,
gives the most definitive understanding of conventional reality; and the
work of Chandrakirti and the Middle Way philosophy gives you the most
definitive understanding of the true nature of reality, the ultimate
level of reality.
Chandrakirti's Four Lines of Reasoning
The first line of reasoning used in the Middle Way philosophy of
Chandrakirti is called "The Examination of Causes", which is called
"the diamond slivers", literally, because it's the idea of taking
something that seems as hard as a diamond and shattering it into
slivers. This convincing reality that we experience is analyzed or
examined from the point of view of it's causes, and that shatters the
ordinary view of reality, so it's called "the diamond slivers".
The next line of reasoning is that which examines the results
that derive from the causes. It is called the "The Examination That
Determines Whether Things Exist or Do Not Exist".
The third line of reasoning in Madyamika is "The Examination of
All Phenomena to Determine Their Interdependence", what is called
tendrup in Tibetan. For example, the Buddha states, "There is no
phenomenon that has not arisen in interdependence with causes and
conditions. Similarly, there is no phenomenon that is arisen that is
not empty by it's very nature." That's the kind of question addressed
by this third kind of reasoning.
One of the distinctive features of the Buddha's teachings is the
question of interdependence. From among all of the spiritual
traditions that have arisen in this world and have been propagated by
various masters or enlightened beings, the Buddha Dharma is perhaps
unique in terms of its presentation of interdependence as that which
accounts for the whole world.
In various philosophical systems a creator god is posited, who
is responsible for making the world. In some other philosophies a self
is responsible. The Buddha stated that phenomena arise because of
interdependence; that this accounts for their arising. This is one of
the unique features of Buddhist teachings, which is a direct expression
of the Buddha's direct experience of the fundamental nature of reality.
The fourth line of reasoning in the Madyamika approach is known
as the "Examination of the Four Alternatives". The four alternatives
are: is, is not, both, and neither. Can you say that something is? Can
you say that it is not? Can you say that it both is and is not? Can
you say that it neither is nor is not? These are the four alternatives
that are examined in the fourth line of reasoning.
The four lines of reasoning mentioned above are the lines of
reasoning adopted in the Middle Way school that follows the teachings of
Chandrakirti, who in turn follows the teachings of Nagarjuna.
Dharmakirti's Four Lines of Reasoning
In the case of the school of thought that follows the teachings
of Dharmakirti, the logician, the first line of reasoning is known as
"The Examination of Phenomena as Arising from Causes". This line of
reasoning determines that the only way a given phenomenon can be
accounted for is by looking at it's causes, not by some external agent
having any influence over it, but only because certain causes are in
place bringing about a certain result".
The second line of reasoning is "The Examination of the Nature
of the Result by the Nature of its Causes". For example, if you have
good causes you have a good result, if you have bad causes you have a
bad result. The fact that the quality of the result must rely upon the
quality of the causes is the second level of reasoning adopted by this
The third line of reasoning is "The Examination of the Nature of
Phenomena by their Qualities". This line of reasoning concerns the
nature of any given phenomenon in the sense of the kind of qualities or
properties that it exhibits, the fact that these properties are it's
nature, that they alone account for its nature. For example, in the
case of the hotness of fire, it is a pseudo-question to ask why fire is
hot. Fire is hot because it is fire. The nature of fire is to be hot,
that is why it is fire. It's that kind of reasoning of identifying the
specific properties of some phenomenon as being the nature of that
phenomenon. That's it, we don't have to then ask, well why is it? How
do we account for the fact that fire is hot? We account for it in that
it is fire, and fire is hot.
The fourth line of reasoning that is followed in the school of
Dharmakirti is "The Examination of Phenomena by the Logical Consistency
of Causes and Results". For example, if you prepare a field of ground
well, you till it, you plant it, you water it, and you fertilize it, it
is entirely fitting that there be a good crop. There is a logical
consistency there, between causes and results. In the same way (and
this is where it has real impact for us as practitioners) if we pursue
the practice of virtue and establish good causes, there is every reason
to believe that there will be a good result, i.e. that we will progress
toward enlightenment. It gives a logical consistency to one's
practice. In the same way, if we behave in non-virtuous, negative ways,
we have only our own and others suffering to expect as a result.
These four lines of reasoning are more concerned with the
conventional, or relative level, of reality, just as the four from the
Madyamika school of Chandrakirti are more concerned with ultimate
reality. The master responsible for formulating these lines of
reasoning about conventional reality was Dharmakirti in his
Pramanavartika, his text concerning the definitive understanding of what
constitutes correct knowledge.
In the next verse of his text, Mipham Rinpoche praises those who
come to this kind of understanding through following these teachings.
We are discussing teachings that were first promulgated by the Lord
Buddha Shakyamuni; and that were then further refined and presented by
Nagarjuna on the one hand and the great Buddhist master Asanga on the
From the lineage of Nagarjuna, it was Chandrakirti who
formulated the lines of reasoning that were discussed above in the
From Asanga, the lineage of teachings passed through Dharmakirti
the logician and his presentation of reasoning concerning conventional
From the point of view of the Nyingma school, of the school that
we follow in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, this is the root of the
path. These are the fundamental teachings concerning ultimate and
relative reality. Mipham says that someone who has gained certain
knowledge about these teachings is a praiseworthy individual, someone
who has accomplished something of great note.
So Mipham refers in his verse to the superb teachers Dharmakirti
and Chandrakirti. The term "superb" (mejum in Tibetan), is in
reference to two teachers of Buddhist India. Some people will say that
this refers to Chandrakirti and Shantideva; others, as in the case of
Mipham, will say that it refers to Chandrakirti and Dharmakirti.
There are various classifications of the masters of Buddhist
India such as "The Six Ornaments of the Human Realm" we referred to
earlier, "The Excellent Pair", and, in this case, the "two superb
teachers". The word "superb" here means "marvelous", means that the
likes of them was never seen before.
These two teachers, Chandrakirti and Dharmakirti, were such
revolutionary teachers in the way they presented the Buddhist teachings
that the likes of them have never been seen before. They stand out
among all the other teachers of the Indian Buddhist tradition for the
magnificence of their presentation. Again, the two texts that are
primarily being referred to here are the Madyamikavattara or "Entrance
Into The Middle Way" by Chandrakirti and the Pramanavartika or "The
Definitive Explanation of Valid Cognition", what constitutes authentic
knowledge, by Dharmakirti.
These two are often compared to the sun and the moon, our two
sources of illumination in this world. And, as he says here, the light
from the excellent speech of these two superb teachers, Dharmakirti and
Chandrakirti, instantly illuminates the entire path of the teachings of
The Buddhist teachings are being compared to the sky in which
the light of the sun and the light of the moon brings illumination.
Those who follow in the footsteps of these teachers and their teachings,
not in a superficial sense of just being alive with, but someone who
truly follows their example in terms of studying, contemplating, and
meditating is someone who, as he says, completely overcomes the darkness
of doubt in his or her mind. So, again, a metaphor is being used to
indicate the necessity for authentic standards, and the way in which one
can actually approach these authentic standards.
The next verse of the root text is again concerned with how one
uses correct reasoning and correct understanding to arrive at certain
knowledge. Mipham says that through the kinds of reasoning that
investigate the ordinary level of phenomena (conventional reality) you
come to an unerring understanding of the kinds of ethical choices you
must make, which actions to encourage in yourself and which to avoid in
order to thoroughly understand conventional reality.
This is the single avenue through which you can gain real
confidence in the teacher and the teachings, in the Buddha and the
Then, by examining the main texts that teach correct reasoning,
and by employing these lines of reasoning to arrive at a definitive
understanding of the nature of reality, you are following the path of
the Madyamika, the path of the middle way, which is the most sublime
To emphasize: when you use the lines of reasoning that
investigate and examine ordinary reality, the ordinary level of
phenomena that we experience in the world around us, you gain an
unerring precision in the ethical choices you make, in the ethical
consequences of what you should engage in, what you should avoid because
of the effects to which they lead.
This approach is highly praised in the Buddhist tradition, not
treated as inferior just because it concerns itself with conventional
reality. It is considered a course truly worthy of being pursued. The
more one uses this kind of reasoning about conventional reality to come
to a precise understanding of ethical choices, the more one gains a
confidence in the Buddha and the teachings of the Buddha.
As those who are following the example of the Lord Buddha and
following the teachings of the Lord Buddha we need this kind of
confidence. We need to be completely confident in the teacher and the
teachings that we are following. We arrive at this confidence through
these kinds of contemplation and reasoning. Otherwise, we remain in
delusion, completely caught in the confusion that we have experienced
from time without beginning.
So, first and foremost, there is the kind of reasoning that
makes sense of the operationa of the conventional level of reality.
Then he states that in order to come to a definitive understanding of
the fundamental nature of reality, you employ the reasoning concerning
ultimate truth. So there's a shift here. The teachings of Dharmakirti
are primarily concerned with conventional reality. The teachings of
Nagarjuna, Chandrakirti, and the middle way school are primarily
concerned with the fundamental nature of reality in the ultimate sense -
the fact that conventional phenomena arise in interdependence and are
by their very nature empty of ultimate reality. That is the topic with
which this reasoning of ultimate reality is concerned.
Through these lines of reasoning, on the conventional level and
on the ultimate level, you come to a flawless and illuminated level of
correct understanding. Then you are following the tradition of the
Two-fold Path of the Mahayana, the profound teachings of the Mahayana
which are found in the middle way or Madyamika system and in the
extensive teachings of the Mahayana which are found in the Yogacara or
mind only school.
By approaching one's practice from the point of view of these
two levels of reality and by investigating these two levels of reality,
one is coming to a thorough understanding of both, of the profundity
and the vastness of the Buddha's teachings.
Referring again to the case of an individual who has thoroughly
trained and practiced in and understood these levels of teachings and
the praiseworthy nature of such an individual, Mipham says, "someone who
is endowed with the mind and the eye", not literally, but the vision,
"that comes about through training thoroughly, this person then is able,
without relying upon any other support to engage in the path taught by
the teacher" - meaning the Buddha in this case - in a completely
"I praise such an individual," he says - someone who has opened
the eye of their knowledge and developed their mind to the point where
they can enter into this path taught by the teacher, the Lord Buddha,
without relying upon any other support, in the truest and most authentic
The Mahayana Path
In the Buddhist tradition, as you are aware, there are two
traditions, or two Yanas (vehicles), known as the Hinayana and the
Mahayana. We are following, at this point in our practice, the Mahayana
path of Buddhism.
But a person who follows the Mahayana, a Mahayana practitioner,
may be a person of very high caliber or may be a person of somewhat
duller sensibilities and still follow the Mahayana. A person who is of
the highest caliber who is following the Mahayana, is someone who has
entered the path in the most authentic way possible. This means that
they have thoroughly trained in the teachings of Chandrakirti and
Dharmakirti, the two great masters and come to a certainty about
conventional and ultimate reality. When they have trained in this way,
such individuals have opened their eyes.
It's as though they were blind before and now they have sight.
And, just as you have two eyes and use both of them, we have two levels
of truth, ultimate and conventional, and we must examine both of them in
our practice. We must rely upon both systems of teaching. Then, he
says, we can enter into the path taught by the teacher, the Buddha.
Without having to place our hopes in anything else, without requiring
any other kind of support, we can enter in on the basis of our own
certainty arrived at through this kind of training. And we can enter
into it in the most authentic way possible.
The reason it is an authentic way is that it does not rely upon
any other external support. You have all that you need to follow this
path in the purest possible manner because of the thoroughness of your
own training. This is the kind of individual he is praising: the person
who's following the Mahayana path, who is of the very highest caliber,
and who is following the teachings of Chandrakirti and Dharmakirti.