Good Afternoon! It’s wonderful to have a talk on the Mahayana be so anticipated. (laughter) the plot thickens.
There are so many ways to think about how to present this material, which is the whole path. We are trying to answer fundamental questions, such as “who are these people!?” (in the long seven-branch offering we have been reading every morning.) For many pages, there are a lot of names. Occasionally, we recognize a name or place. “Who are these people, what is there story, what were their contributions to dharma, how is what they taught transmitted now?” Finally, “what are the pith essence teachings, how do we hold them, and how will they affect us in this time and place?”
Today, we are continuing down the river of lineage, the exciting important development based on 1st teaching, which then came to Tibet, and then to us as practitioners. But first, we wanted to share a deep practitioners’ perspective of this morning. Sharing a timeline which will be the basis of going forward. We said in beginning we would attempt to present the highlights of 1200 years in 5 days, which is laughable. Even the last 50 years would take a week. For reference, on the chart in Deki Gyatsal (a timeline of world history from 3000 B.C. to the present day), we are on the first line of the timeline- still at the orange dot of Buddha. This was the time between Buddha’s enlightenment, and the story of Buddha’s death. Nothing was written for a couple hundred years. The Mahaparanirvana sutra contains elements of the first and second wheel turnings. The point is not to go into which is right, or conspiracy theory. It’s a flowing lineage, flowing manifesting depending on river bends. Depends on trickle, flood, muddy, etc. Us receiving this is a river bend.
Right- key moments, events teachers in this timeline- between parinirvana and Buddhism to Tibet.
Buddha – Not agreement on when Buddha lived, but we will work with: Conventional history says he lived 566- 486 B.C.E. More recent research says he lived 490-410 B.C.E. The rest of the dates we use today are based on conventional dates.
First Buddhist council – at Rajagrya in 486 B.C. At the council, Ananda was reciting, and 100 arhats listening and agreed that it was what Buddha had taught. The early Buddhist cannon as we know it was agreed upon here. This is what was recited every year for rainy season retreat for several hundred years.
Second Buddhist council – at Vesali in 386 B.C. (or 100 years after parinirvana). This was where 1st schism in sangha occurred. When we say schism, it is a loaded word. It was not about doctrine, was about Vinaya, the rules of the monks. It was between the Sthaviravadas, who wanted more Vinaya, and the Mahasanghika, who wanted to make the teachings more available to the lay community. It was over just 10 vinaya rules! This wasn’t acrimonious. Whenever a school of monks wanted to follow more rules, they reached critical mass, then pulled way and became their own school. It was common for those holding same vinaya having wildly different views. What bound them was Vinaya rules.
Reign of Ashoka – 272-231 B.C. – Ashoka only lived for 41 years. Between the 2 councils. Ashoka was a king who was often involved in bloody warfare. One morning, he walked out on a battlefield after a slaughter, and the violence, aggression etc. sickened him. So he strove to take in the Buddhist teaching and actually tried to rule as a Buddhist. He was the first person (in the history of the world?) to build public highways, public rest stops, and the famous edicts – columns with Buddha’s words on them – the first billboards! (laughs) So people could learn.
Third Buddhist council – 250 BC. The three baskets were essentially complete. Nothing in writing yet, but there was agreement on the 3 baskets.
Beginning of Mahayana – 200 BC- We begin to see the composition of the Prajnaparamita literature.
First Writing – In 35 BC, the entire scriptural canon was committed to writing for first time, on palm leaves. Paper is the shape it is in because it is shape of palm leaves._
Now we skip ahead to the 2nd century AD, starting with:
Nagajuna– 150 AD. This is the beginning of the age of the Indian Buddhist philosopher. This was before Yogacharian school, which came about in the 3rd century.
Asanga – 310-390 AD.
Vashabandu – 420-500 AD.
Also during 4th century AD was the development of Vajrayana Buddhist practice in India.
Nalanda was founded, also around 400 AD. This was a great Buddhist university.
Construction of Potala begins. 7th century- 650 AD.
Padmasambhava comes to Tibet – 8th century. In 749, he builds Samye.
We now have this basic landscape. Even learning the timeline, we always study going from most solid to more solid. (? – ed note) But it is interesting to learn that Nagarjuna taught Madhyamaka centuries before Vashabanu taught the Yogacarin. This has been the Basic timeframe. Now, to transition from this morning.
The Mahaparinirvana sutra is considered a 1st turning sutra and also the start of 2nd turning sutra. It has the 37 limbs, which is everything one needs. We will keep coming back to that map. That map is embodied in 4 noble truths – but we need to experience that.
Right around 100 BC was a very interesting time.
Since the time of Buddha, everyone got together once a year and recited. For a couple hundred years. The first year, everyone was inspired. 2nd year, everyone was still inspired still by Buddha. After a few years, the novelty would wear off. We like a teacher that can resolve all questions. But what happens when the teacher who everyone agrees is the teacher is gone? It was held together by the Vinaya, by all the monastics coming together every 2 weeks to confess for sojong.
But the river began to manifest according to the river beds. There is the human need for novelty. It was felt like it (the Dharma) was getting stale. This was right before it got committed to writing, when supporters of 1st turning were worried they could lose it. If a community commits it to writing, why come together as a community any more rather than read book in own room?
Then, around 200 BC, we see the emergence of Mahayana literature. What are the first couple words you think of when you heard “Mahayana”?
A- – Compassion, paramitas. Bodhisattvas.
Historically, the prajnaparamita literature came first. There simply wasn’t emphasis of compassion like in Shantideva. Instead, you had the Prajnaparamita in 100,000, 10,000, 1000 stanzas and the super condensed version, the Heart Sutra.
To justify something new, have to denigrate the old. Say the old was inadequate. Was it? No. but sometimes, culturally, the form may seem inadequate. If it seems stale, it needs to be unpacked again. In the Mahayana, said “well, the Buddha taught this, but in another realm of existence. Unseen beings? Avaolkiteshvara? Gods and goddesses? Then it is Mahayana. To establish as needed, made fuller.
Some of Buddha’s top students are denigrated. Shariputra made to ask common questions, like he doesn’t know. How they explain historical gap is that the Buddha taught at Rajagryia, but people couldn’t handle them, so they were hidden till they could be heard without fainting. This is the Mahayana device. The Buddha exclaimed “I have found that which is uncompounded, peace. How can I communicate this to others? I can’t.” He clearly attained realization of two-fold emptiness. But in a couple hundred years of reciting “I will look at eye, mind, etc.” while this lead to realization of emptiness of self, they were not cutting out realization of external world. Don’t leave conventional reality that can still grab you.
So, somebody decides ‘Let’s take “right view, right thinking” and drill down to where there is nothing left.’ If you don’t have right view, you aren’t liberated. Because of wisdom veils, let’s go to town. Debate, logic- use abidharma, but look for no posit point. For those who loved logic, debate, it was heyday! But for others- skillful means for different times.
I support that Lotus Garden be a place in the West where we DON’T use the word “Hiniyana.” It is inaccurate and unfair. We can call them “Foundation teachings.” HH Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche used “basic teachings.” We can also use Theravadas, Southern school, or Way of the Elders. But banish the word Hiniyana. It infers it is lesser, that arhats didn’t have realization, that Mahayana is superior. That kind of bias is relatively recent.
The Northern schools viewed arhats view of self-realization was limited. It wasn’t. The Northern Schools’ critique was “What good are you? You aren’t trying to make society a better place!” They added a radical element of altruism. The Bodhisattva vow was never explicitly part of the 1st turning.
Three main trends of the Mahayana.
- Focus on prajnaparmita sutras. Went after Vasabhva. In the first turning, they do reduce things to sinews, bones, blood. Not just gross parts of body, go into the body to see if it really is solid, existing – where is it? Savahna- seems like a body, but isn’t a body. 1st turnings. Mahayana critique is that they are subtly really positioning a true existence. Saying there are atoms is still saying something is there. (No mention of compassion) all about accurate understanding of absence of existence.
- Changing status of Buddha responding to need to have visionary contact w/ Buddha. Buddha said “don’t take refuge in me, do it in dharma”, don’t make stupas, images. So much time had passed, people needed to reconnect with jewel of Buddha. In the Supreme Sage- visualization is introduced- a way to relate to Buddha. Buddha now had a retinue- a pantheon –Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. (How many times have we written “Bs and Bsas” in our notes?) There is an ornate quality.
- Relevance of lay vs. monastics. 500 monastics and 400 laypeople. Buddha always taught everybody. Over time, there was more emphasis on monastic traditions. There was resurgence around 100 BC reasserting that the lay people are important. Lay people and women attained realization. BUT there is no evidence of a denigration of monastic life. Nor that laypeople created the Mahayana sutras- that was all monastics.
Unique features of the Mahayana sutras are as follows: Buddhavacana
- They are Very, very long. (laughter)
- They are set at time of Buddha, but there is no evidence the historical Buddha said them. Buddha said that “if a later teaching could liberate your mind, you can consider it my words.” This is known as “Buddhavacana.” Look in the Heart of Prajnaparamita sutra: Buddha didn’t say a word.
- The Pantheon is elaborate. If there are Devas and ashuras, and nagas and all kinds of gods around, it’s a Mahayana sutra.
- Practitioners are encouraged to do more than confess, analyze, and beg for alms. They were now making beautiful offerings, and celebrating virtues. There are much more expansive enriching rituals.
The Northern Mahayana schools were in the minority around the start of the millennium at the time of Christ. But they were in the north, by the trade routes (such as the Silk Road). And they were willing to blend with other traditions. They were willing to be exported. So, the Mahayana got exported to Japan, China, and Tibet from where it came to us. There wasn’t an internet back then, so only now do we have access to all these traditions, and able to understand.
How are we doing? Is this Interesting? (laughter) (Group responses affirmative).
To give a flavor of the thing, here is a bit by DT Suzuki on the Avatamsakra sutra, showing how things are on a gigantic scale.
You are aware in “Supreme Sage,” (Mindrolling Shakyamuni Buddha guru yoga sadhana) we have visualization of Buddha as “mountain of gold radiating light.”(Jann reads beginning of Avatamsakra sutra). Here, we have a jeweled ground, a magic talking tree, a massive retinue, and it just goes on from there. (laughs)
As you feel claustrophobia or “I want to know!” let that dissolve into the totality. They are Mahayana skillful means is trying to blow your mind, to shatter your concepts. Some find it totally over-the-top, but it is supposed to be. Some find it all too busy, or ask “who counted”? Or ask “I get the point, why are we going on?”
There is a discomfort of vastness, of the boundaries of our concepts. There is a Skillfulness to do that makes some people very uncomfortable. These sutras have nurtured millions and created whole cultures. Look at Japan for example. The environments of the monasteries are of people that were completely awash with the magnificence of Buddha’s teaching.
Buddha’s teaching is all about pulling the rug out from under you. Just when you get comfortable, it pulls out. When you get comfortable with Mahayana, then you get the Vajrayana to pull that ground out. And then after that, you get to the Ati teachings to dissolve all that as well.
Trungpa Rinpoche said, “My job is to weave beautiful rugs to pull out from under you.” (laughter)
Now I want to talk about some of the main brilliant jewels.
The Brilliant Jewels of the Dharma Teaching
We have to start with…
Nagarjuna. 150 AD.
Nagarjuna was born a Hindu and converted to Buddhism. He was one of earliest Buddhist teachers to write in classical Sanskrit. In his eyes, the Buddha was the founder of the Madhyamaka system. Nagarjuna was considered to be the most brilliant example of Indian philosophy that could refute any arguments. He brilliantly deconstructed all things one could take for granted. Why is this important? We all have these things that we drag around, subtle ignorance, which obstructs our attainment of enlightenment. Wouldn’t you want to remove the last bit of a cataract?
He was the one who could.
Khenpo Tsultrim Gyatso told a story about Nagarjuna in “The Sun of Wisdom.”
You have gone through analysis, know things conceptually, but couldn’t give up last trace.
(QUOTE FROM THE CHAPTER ON AGGREGATES)
If aggregate of forms truly existed, then the causal forms – the 4 great elements, and what results from those four elements – the five sense faculties and their five objects, would have to exist in relation to each other in these ways. (pg 30)
For example, that gomden there.
The cause exists before result- if none is logically possible, then we can conclude they don’t exist.
1) Cause can’t exist before result. Huh? (laughter)
Your mind would be blown. This is taking logical reasoning to the point of exhaustion. You will see that the history of Buddhism is certain cultures taking certain aspects and making them complete.
Asanga, Vashabhandu, and Nagarjuna were the perfect representatives of right view.
Asanga was born of shampruiatea mother and Brahman father. His half-brother was Vashabhandu. The mother was a nun. “I have no skill, the best I can do is stop being a nun, and pray for creating expounders of doctrine. “ She then had two kids, and was reviled. But later she was revered. She was not following the arhat rules, this was skillful means. This was a time of decline.
Asanga is best known for writing the Maitraya treatises, including the Uttataratantra. He went into retreat wanting to see Maitraya. After several years, he left dismayed. But he saw a man striking a mountain, which inspired him to go back to retreat. After 12 years of retreat, he left. Soon afterwards, he saw a dog coated with maggots suffering greatly. To remove the maggots without hurting them, he was going to lick them off. But as he closed his eyes and leaned forward with his tongue, the dog vanished, and Maitraya appeared. This is totally a Mahayana story! After his encounter with the Buddha to come, he went to maitreya’s realm, studied for 8 years, came back with the Uttataratantra. This text needs to be combined with emptiness so we don’t go to nihilism.
Vashabandu was famously known as master of abhidharma, dharmic logic.
Araydeva wrote 400 verses
Dignaga was one of the “6 ornaments of Jampuvida,” a disciple of Vashabandu and a master of logic.
Dharmakiriti was in 7th century. I’ll end with a story about Dharmakirti. At that time, Nalanda was bustling, but weeds were growing around the stupas. Dhamrakiriti was not a monk, but was a great scholar. He held the mind stream as beginingless, and said there are no true beginnings or endings. His works include the ascertainment of valid cognition. They were brilliant, but his community tied his text to a dog and let it run through the streets!
Nalanda was burnt to the ground the last time in 1150 AD.
As a western student, I received my teachings mixed together for decades. I couldn’t say who did what when. I believed that the 2nd turning appeared in Rajagrya exactly as described in the Heart Sutra.
Some of us went on pilgrimage with Rinpoche in 1998. Went to vulture peak, and we all went to take a picture. I was looking up in awe, thinking “This is the place where it all happened!”, and Jetsunla asked, “Why is Jann looking off into space?” (Lopon) Rita went into the historical record at Rinpoche’s suggestion, and she said ‘it never happened.” Gasp! (laughter) It is important as we talk to understand there is room to understand things are different than we think.
Never forget that we all need to get over the naiveté that because the teachings are brilliant, those of us who carry it don’t do things we do. Everything they could do, they’d also done. It doesn’t make it less true.
Here’s an analogy to suggest how to hold the made up stuff and the blaming of blameless people in the dharma. Let’s say you are someone who is “not thin and not fit.” (laughs) You have been saying, “This is not a problem.” Or you have been justifying it with “in past times, people idolized people that look like me.” (laughter) But you know that something is not right, and it will lead to very serious health problems later. You are not quite motivated to change it, but you do go look for someone to give some wisdom you WILL listen to. Not easy, because as soon as you do something, you are like the monkey with rice wine. (ed. Note – context?) But you find somebody that makes sense, and you get with their program. Then, in the middle of your program to get fit, where you have made all the sacrifice, and are starting to see results, in the middle of this painful process to get fit and renouncing to not be unthin, the teacher does something outrageous. He eats five cakes in front of you! Where does our attention go? Doubt of teacher.
“Samsara is finding fault with others.” This was the last words of the 16th Karmapa. Why?
There is so much material, we can’t plumb the depths. It absorbs you. Will always be out of control. Applies to taming mind, but our bodies is an analogy. We are “not fit and not thin” in our minds. We are not manifesting the fullness of our potential. It is fine to find lots of different people, but you need to find the one you will listen to when they say “eat less, exercise.” You can make a chart- “here’s how this goes back, etc.” YOU are the one who needs to change your actions of body, speech or mind and view. Once you have met a teacher you will listen to, follow their instructions. YOUR diet and exercise has nothing to do with the teachers’ behavior. They don’t need to be fit, thin, or anything but kind. That is the basis of gratitude, the basis of devotion. Important to meet someone with the patience. So, it is interesting to see a chart of the medicine throughout time, but it doesn’t change that you need to take the medicine.
Trust is NOT same as devotion. That is where we get into trouble. This is how the Mahayana happened. (laughter) We try to be available to students to help. We hope this will help fill in gaps of how this comes together.
We need a different word for devotion. Let’s use “irrevocable confidence” instead. It includes the recognition that you need to apply the methods, and rely on the teachings.
When you receive the teachings, don’t lie. You have an obligation to not lie to the teacher. There is nothing stopping you from implementing the dharma then and there. Don’t need faith that teacher will not do anything to hurt you.
Like the 10 questions that Buddha wouldn’t answer.
There are student-teacher relationship issues.
It is easier to trust in the beginning with a compassionate gentle teacher. The point is to grow up to be unconditional. All the great relationships are mature practitioners. The story of Naropa is like a Dean of Harvard running off and studying with a homeless man who ate fish guts! His teacher beat him, told him to run off a cliff.
We are with the teacher that is speaking to our heart-mind in a way right now. And she holds no pinches. But if you need a teacher that says to jump off a building, or build a 9-story building and rip it down, you will know. The vajra master relationship is NOT a parent-child relationship!
A little more about Devotion and views of the student-teacher relationship. I’ve watched the western sangha. My goodness, are we externally focused! (note: Lopon Jann was implying “myself included”) “My teacher! My dharma center!” External, external, external… If something is a little off, we can’t do practices. We all have such a Picky picky picky mind, looking for if situation not right, trying to find any drama- “did you hear what happened? What’s the latest that teacher has done?” It doesn’t matter.
We have fewer obstacles than any generation before us ever. For us to pick apart what sangha is doing, it just breaks my heart.
We have an expectation of a teacher that can do no wrong. There is no room for the teacher to make a mistake. This attitude comes from both sides. The only way to get past that is a combination, and an acknowledgement that a teacher made a mistake. We know of highly venerated teachers that have done horrible things. That doesn’t make the diet wrong. There needs to be an external recognition that they aren’t perfect. Khandro Rinpoche would say she isn’t perfect (and has said as much many times through the years).
The Buddha had a first insight, which he came back to. We all have had an insight; we need to come back to it. The teacher can say things that are quite shocking. What works best is not to dwell on it, but reflect on whatever was said/done related to the first glimpse that brought me here. Whatever was there. It is complicated because we are the setting stage in the Mahayana to changing relationship to teacher, which is intensified in Vajrayana. We as humans need to see examples of fruition. If you lived in Buddha’s time, he was there. No problem. Mahayana created a cosmic Buddha, always there – a visualization to allow him to be present with you. When visualized, one can’t separate the seeing and seeing. In the Vajrayana, one sees the teacher and it purifies your defilements.
It’s only pure if/when the teacher…your view of sacredness. It is not about turning red to blue. We are not talking about “my teacher wacked me, this is outrageous.” As a person baking bread, we can say “if I am practiced in pure perception, this is fantastic”. It is only fantastic if they choose to make part of path. But if it isn’t, it is a crisis. Opening the door to these conversations. At the end of the day, you are the one who is in it through thick and thin. You have a mind to work with. Watch how your mind gets absorbed with drama. 1st and foremost- take as much as you can to the path.
One story of devotion by one of the true masters: His Holiness Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche was the dharma Superman of our lifetime. An old man took a text that was written by Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche’s teacher and brought it out of Tibet. His Holiness Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche put it on his shrine then and there and wept.
The medicine of emptiness is that the basis of your manipulation is empty, that’s the cause of suffering. Emptiness has been described as the bitter medicine that needs to be given before the Vajrayana. The bitterest medicine is that “the self that holds your opinion doesn’t exist.” It’s very tricky. You need to have enough trust to settle into practices, but can’t be too comfortable. It is like surgery isn’t comfortable, but if you are dying of cancer, you need to have the surgery.