Commentary on Parting from the Four Attachments
by H.E. Chogye Trichen Rinpoche
The teaching on parting from the four attachments, like many other mind training teachings from all Tibetan Buddhist traditions, is held to epitomize many important instructions received directly from numerous enlightened masters.
In learning this teaching, it is important to know some of the background of the upholders of the lineage, the family known in Tibet as the Khon family, the holders of the Sakya lineage.
The origin of the Khon family is in the realm of the gods of clear light ('od gsal). It is from the heaven of the clear light devas that the Khon family descended to our world. Thus they are known as the descendants of the clear light.
Sometime after their descent, they subdued some of the demonic forces that were circulating in Tibet in those times. They found themselves in a conflict which took place between their own tribe of descended gods and a group of demons of the class known as rakshas.
One of the daughters of the raksha demons was known as Yatuk Silima.. During the course of the battle between the deva gods and the raksha demons, there was a love affair between the raksha daughter Yatuk Silima and a descendant of the gods.
Out of their matrimony, a child was born, and given the name 'Khon Bar-Kye', which means, 'one born between hostility and love', that is, one who is a mixture of these two qualities. 'Khon' means 'hostility'; 'bar' means 'in between'; and 'kye' means 'born into'. This is how the name of Khon came to be known in Tibet.
The Khon family has produced an abundance of holy and blessed descendants throughout the generations. For example, they were holders of many of the earliest Nyingma lineages, masters such as Khon Dorje Rinchen. Numerous great masters came from this family during the initial era of Tibetan Buddhism.
Guru Padmasambhava, who brought the dharma to Tibet during the first spreading of the Buddha's teachings in Tibet, had twenty-five major disciples. Khon Lu'i Wangpo is one of the most prominent of the twenty-five, as well as being one of the original seven Tibetans to be ordained as Buddhist monks.
As Khon Konchok Gyalpo had passed away, the responsibility for Sachen's education and upbringing fell on his mother. She sent Sachen to study at the great seminary of Rong Ngur-mik, which is famed to have as many as ten thousand students studying Buddhist philosophy.
One day in Sakya there appeared a mysterious messenger riding a white horse, who announced that Sachen was seriously ill from small-pox, and undergoing severe health problems. Tradition has it that this messenger was an emanation of Kardud, a protector associated with the deity Vajrakilaya. The divine messenger said, 'How could you people leave him in that state? Why don't you go and visit him?'
At that moment, Sachen's mother, greatly saddened by this news, went back to Rong Ngur-mik to visit him, and she wept at the sight of Sachen in his illness.
However, Sachen's mother was a successful and highly innovative lady. Some time after she rescued her son from the depth of illness, she realized that he should have a special teacher so she appointed Bari Lotsawa so that Sachen would no longer have to attend the seminary. This is how Sachen came to appoint Bari Lotsawa as his personal tutor.
The enthronement of Bari Lotsawa as Sachen's personal tutor coincided with the anniversary of the passing away of Sachen's father, Khon Konchog Gyalpo, so there was an excellent synchronicity of auspicious circumstances. In this way, Sachen's mother was able to exert an important influence on the circumstances under which Sachen was to be raised.
Having been given this highly important task, Bari Lotsawa said to Sachen, 'You are not like an ordinary child going through a conventional religious education. So, although there are many meditational deities, in order to properly succeed in your spiritual training, you must develop wisdom. For this, you should do a retreat of the practice of Manjushri."
With this proclamation, Bari Lotsawa bestowed upon Sachen the empowerment of Orange (gold) Manjushri, and asked the young Sachen to go into solitary retreat. Sachen entered a retreat of Manjushri for about six months. During this retreat, he beheld a beatific vision of Manjushri flanked by two other Bodhisattvas, Akshayamati and Pratibhanakuta.
As Sachen sat enraptured with the vision of Manjushri and the Bodhisattvas, suddenly Manjushri uttered the teaching in four lines which came to be known as 'Liberating the Four Attachments.'
"If you are attached to this life, you are not a person of dharma.
If you are attached to cyclic existence, you do not have renunciation.
If you are attached to your own benefit, you do not have altruism, bodhicitta.
If you have grasping-fixation, you do not have the true view."
Having carefully contemplated the meaning of these four lines, Sachen realized that these lines encompassed not only the sutra teachings, but in fact held the very quintessence of all the sutra and tantra teachings. Thus this teaching came to be revered as a key oral instruction.
Sachen gave a detailed commentary on these verses. Later this was passed down from Sachen to his two sons, Jetsun Drakpa Gyaltsen and Sonam Tsem. Drakpa Gyaltsen held this teaching with utmost regard, and meditated deeply on the four lines. Through this he gained vast and profound realizations, and produced the first written commentary on these four verses of the Bodhisattva Manjushri.
This text is available in Tibetan and English, having been first published both in India and later reproduced by the Singapore Sakya Center, Sakya Tenphel Ling.
Drakpa Gyaltsen's commentary was not written in the erudite language of scholars, but rather, its tone is experiential, the spontaneous expression of one in whom deep realization has arisen through meditation. Since Drakpa Gyaltsen had gained great confidence through his meditative realizations of the meaning of the four lines, they would in the future come to be used as the root verses for vast and comprehensive teachings by scholars.
High ranking scholars would later be able to give eloquent and dignified discourses based on these four lines, spending an entire week elucidating the meaning of both sutra and tantra based on them. The framework of the four lines became a means of communicating all the fundamental teachings of the Buddha.
These verses could then also be used as a root text for accomplished meditators, whose realizations could then come forth as spontaneous expressions of their own individual meditative experience. Drakpa Gyaltsen's commentary is just this, the expression of accomplished meditation.
This work of Drakpa Gyaltsen is thus eminently practical, since it actually instills realizations in the minds of practitioners. It is capable of evoking realization as it is spoken, listened to, and learned. Drakpa Gyaltsen's commentary is what is known as a nyam yang, a melody of meditative experience. For this reason, we will use his precious words to understand the meaning of Manjushri's four-line teaching.
The well known 'Hundred Thousand Songs of Milarepa' are said to have naturally arisen out of the deep experience of meditation, and were spoken or sung extemperaneously, without needing to plan intellectually what would be said. Milarepa's songs were spontaneously evoked by his realization in meditation. In the same way, this song of Drakpa Gyaltsen is the uncontrived expression of his experience while meditating on the four verses of Manjushri.
Jetsun Drakpa Gyaltsen's work begins with two verses. The first is a supplication, followed by his promise to express the meaning of the four lines. In the first line, he pays homage to the most kind root Guru, and to the most compassionate meditation deities, the yidams or ishtadevatas.
Thus he indicates that one takes refuge from the depth of one's heart and then seeks the blessing of the Gurus and Deities, so that whatever he shares will be fruitful and bear benefits.
This is followed by his second verse, in which he resolves to give this teaching. This is a prelude to introducing the first line of Manjushri Bodhisattva, which refers to not being attached to the affairs of this life. In order to follow the path of Dharma, he says one ought to listen to and comprehend the meaning of the teaching on 'Parting from the Four Attachments'. He asks that we be truly mindful, wakeful, as we listen to his song of experience.
He then alludes to the meaning of the first line, which says that if one is attached to this present life, one is not a spiritual person, a person of dharma. The main point is that a practitioner following the path of the Dharma must behave in a way which conforms to the teaching of the Dharma.
Any contrary behavior, where one squanders one's life engaging in non-Dharmic activities, goes against the very spirit of the teachings. In order to prevent this from happening, one needs to listen to and be heedful of the meaning of 'Liberating the Four Attachments.'
So, we can see that parting from the four attachments means to let go of one's attachment to one's welfare in this life alone. It means parting from being attached to worldly existence. It means parting from the attachment to one's own selfish purposes. And, it means letting go of grasping at and fixating upon a set point of view or dogma, which one believes to be 'supreme truth'.
What this teaching is basically saying is that to be able to remain on the path of the Dharma, whether one is studying, meditating, or expounding the teachings, one's own person should really conform to and reflect the spirit of the Dharma. Remaining true to the spirit of the Dharma means to be untainted, unstained by any of the four traps, or four attachments, spoken of by Manjushri.
If you are attached to this life, you are not a person of Dharma.
First, let us regard what it means to part from the attachment to one's welfare in this life. Even though one may take vows to observe moral precepts, to follow a code of morality, the keeping of precepts should not be used as a means to adorn oneself, meet the needs of this life, or enhance one's name and reputation.
For example, consider someone who upholds one of the three kinds of vows, such as the ten vows of an upasaka lay practitioner, or the thirty-six Shramanera vows of the female novice practitioner, or the two hundred fifty-three vows of the fully ordained monk. It is important that, whatever vows one may keep, they should not be kept with any intentions based on attachment to this life, such as name, fame, status, and so on. To maintain moral precepts simply in order to acquire worldly possessions for one's welfare in this life goes against the spirit of non-attachment to the affairs of this life.
What is being emphasized here is the importance of making the keeping of moral precepts the foundation for any further development of meditation. Whatever practices one may later follow, their success depends entirely on how stable is one's foundation of ethical conduct, whether it be that of a lay person or that of a fully ordained monk or nun. A practitioner must have this ethical foundation, as this is the basis on which all subsequent study and practice can really progress.
Regardless of what follows on this foundation, such as study, contemplating and meditating on the teachings, if one is professing to actually practice, then there must be this ethical basis. One's being must be a fertile soil, which is created in oneself through the foundation of a code of ethics. It is out of this soil that all of the other seeds of listening, contemplating, and meditating can germinate.
Without this foundation, whatever study and practice one may do, these will only be artificial, fake, and will not yield the bountiful fruits of enlightenment.
Jetsun Drakpa Gyaltsen says that you might as well abandon whatever study, contemplation, and meditation you are doing if you have no moral precepts. He asks if it would not be better to simply give up artificial Dharma practice?
In order to further demonstrate the importance of ethics, Drakpa Gyaltsen goes on to explain the distinction between artificial, pseudo-morality, and genuine ethics.
He says that the practice of morality is something one simply cannot do without, whether it be solely for the purpose of attaining higher rebirth within samsara, or whether it is in order to attain ultimate liberation. It is so indispensable that even for one who practices as a lay-person, upholding five or ten precepts, if they maintain them genuinely and without hypocrisy, that very practice will become the root cause for attaining higher rebirth.
For one who wishes to attain a precious human re-birth again in the future, it is said that one could not possibly again gain such a re-birth without the accumulation of virtuous, meritorious deeds in one's present lifetime.
The ten virtuous deeds are: Refraining from the following ten actions: 1) taking life, 2) taking what is not given 3) sexual misconduct, which are the three virtuous actions of body. Refraining from 4) lying, 5) slander, 6) harsh speech, and 7) idle speech, which are the four virtuous deeds of speech. Refraining from 8) envy, 9) ill will, and 10) holding wrong views, which are the three virtuous deeds of mind.
One restrains oneself from these ten non-virtuous actions while strengthening one's conduct with positive actions, such as saving life instead of killing, giving to the poor instead of stealing, and so on.
If any ethical precepts relating to the ten virtuous deeds are practiced in this lifetime, they become like a ladder upon which one will be able to ascend to the citadel of liberation. Virtue is an absolute requisite.
If ethics and virtue are practiced properly, not only does it guarantee a higher rebirth in the future as well as the possibility of attaining ultimate enlightenment, it also serves as an antidote for all the miseries and dissatisfaction one encounters in this life.
One's practice of genuine ethics gives a solace which actually pacifies and 'cools us down', allowing us to relinquish whatever sufferings may torment us. This is why it is so essential to persevere in the practice of ethics.
Although ethical conduct is so important, there are those who practice a kink of pseudo-morality, without having genuinely ethical intentions. So, Drakpa Gyaltsen goes on to give us some idea of how practitioners of pseudo-morality would behave.
It is said that for one who practices ethics simply due to attachment to one's welfare in this life, his or her practice of virtue will only be the cause for accumulating the eight worldly dharmas of attachment to gain and loss, pleasure and pain, praise and blame, and fame and infamy.
If one uses one's adherence to moral conduct as a means for attracting respect, honor, a good reputation, and personal happiness in the present lifetime, then it follows that one's practice of ethics would suffer if any conditions contrary to these were to befall oneself. If our ethical conduct is for worldly concerns of this life alone, all we are really demonstrating is how trapped we are in samsaric attachments.
Not only this, but it is clear that one who practices pseudo-morality, with attachment to this life alone, would be very critical of others who do not observe moral conduct. Such a one may be very judgemental and condescending toward those who make even minor transgressions.
They would be neither understanding nor forgiving towards transgressors, since in reality their own moral conduct is practiced solely to attract respect, gain, and happiness in this life. Thus will they chastise others for the terrible weight of their sins.
Even further, the practitioner of pseudo-morality may actually become very jealous of others who are known to keep strict moral discipline. They may say, 'Oh, he or she is very true to the precepts, butíK.', and then go on to list their defects, such as greed, and so on, proceeding to slander the person.
Although the ethical discipline of the person they are criticizing may be very strong, the pseudo-practitioner may be unable to tolerate the person and proceed to look for faults in the person's affairs. In this way, they have become slanderous and jealous.
An additional result of this is that one's own practice of ethics will thus suffer from hypocrisy. For example, if one is practicing the hypocritical type of ethical conduct, then one may act in the presence of others as if one never touches alcohol. But then, when no one is around, one may enthusiastically drink up, all the while pretending that one never indulges! One who practices moral conduct for this world alone will accumulate heaps of hypocrisy.
For this very reason, Drakpa Gyaltsen asserts the importance of abandoning such artificial morality, since it becomes not only the cause for one to be reborn in the lower realms in the future, but it also becomes the cause of present suffering. The practice of pseudo-morality not only cannot ever become the antidote to one's suffering and miseries, but in fact it actually increases and fans the flames that cause suffering in this very life. Isn't it better to abandon such phoniness?
Not only is there a difference between genuine and artificial morality, but there are also varieties of moral conduct associated with physical actions, verbal behavior, and mental attitudes. If one wishes to be skillful in determining whether an action is moral or immoral, not only in regard to outer physical actions, but also in terms of internal mental attitudes, one must examine whether or not one's attitudes are contrary to the spirit of true ethics.
For example, if we are trying to follow the moral discipline of body, then we should keep to and preserve even the most minor actions of the prescribed physical conduct.
Likewise, in regard to one's speech, we should not overlook even short, simple requests or instructions given by our spiritual teacher. If one overlooks them, one may instead think that such and such is only a minor thing, so it doesn't really matter; even if it contradicts the teacher's wishes, it is O.K. to disregard it. If one says this to oneself, then one is disregarding the verbal aspect of moral conduct.
One who is not careful and scrupulous in following morality will certainly overlook minor things and so end up accumulating many negative results or demerit as a consequence of such careless negligence.
This can be illustrated by the story of Ellapatra. Ellapatra was a naga, a serpent being, who in a previous lifetime had been a disciple of Buddha. He was an ordained monk who was following the Buddha's teaching.
Over the course of Buddha's lifetime, the number of vows and precepts governing the conduct of monks increased, as Buddha added further prohibitions. One such prohibition was that a fully ordained monk should not uproot trees or pull out grass from the soil.
In his birth as a monk, Ellapatra had criticized Buddha, saying, 'This is such a small thing, what is he going on about?' Disregarding Buddha's instruction, Ellapatra uprooted a tree.
In the monk's next lifetime, he was born as a naga, a snake, and this naga has a huge tree growing on his head. Whenever a storm or winds blew the tree, the naga's brains and internal organs were completely shaken up.
As a result of the monk's negative karma of speech, saying ' We can overlook this statement of the Buddha since it is such a small thing', he ended up creating powerful demerit. This story illustrates that one who wishes to practice ethics must be sincere as well as very careful, remaining conscientious about even little things, in order to remain true to the original sense and spirit in which the precepts were first laid out.
Jetsun Drakpa Gyaltsen is telling us that one should not trouble oneself with the practice of artificial morality.
Whether one studies or meditates, if one is actually just interested in this life's welfare, wishing to appear to others as a great practitioner, then it is artificial morality. Wouldn't it be better not to go through so much trouble for nothing?
We can also understand this principle in relation to the practice of studying the dharma, which is traditionally known as 'listening' or 'hearing'. We ought to study dharma properly and with great intent, unstained by attachment to out welfare and honor in this life, but rather in order to liberate ourselves from such attachments.
If we learn and study in this way, then this process of study becomes the most skillful method of acquiring the splendor and wealth of knowledge. Through such wealth, one becomes truly contented with whatever knowledge one has acquired.
For a person who studies with such genuine intentions, anything he or she may learn will serve to dispel the darkness of ignorance. Anything such a person may study will serve to ennoble and humble them, increasing their clarity and luminosity. Thus it will eliminate the slumber of darkness, through the light which has been lit within their being by authentic study.
For this reason, it is said that one who studies properly and with sincere intentions becomes an irreplaceable guide to illuminate the ignorance of others, leading them along the path to enlightenment. Such a person's knowledge becomes something which they can pass on to others in order to dispel their ignorance, guiding them to the citadel of liberation. This is what makes study so important, provided it is not tainted with the motive of enhancing one's own honor and respect.
If instead one studies with worldly motives, then instead of becoming a cause for liberation, one's study merely increases the wealth of one's arrogance. Anything that one learns serves to bloat the ego, making one pretentious and haughty. Not only will such a person's learning cause them to suffer from pride in themselves, but it will create problems for them as far as how they perceive others who study and learn.
It is said that one who has studied with the mistaken attachment to one's welfare in this life alone will look down on those who have not studied as much as themselves. They may say, 'Oh, well, even though he may have done this or that, he hasn't really studied and doesn't know what he is talking about.' Having put themselves on a pedestal, they are unable to see any quality whatsoever in others, blinded by their own arrogance.
Even further, in relation to those who are known to have truly studied and learned, such a person will actually be very jealous. They will try to look for weakness in the person, saying, 'Even though they may be very learned in this, still she is lacking in such and such other qualities.' This is simply due to the person's own sense of insecurity and inferiority, which causes them to disparage others, regardless of whether their knowledge is greater or lesser than one's own.
Study of Buddhadharma is provided as a means for one to gain liberation, to attain enlightenment. But for one who studies while remaining attached to this life's welfare, rather than their knowledge becoming the cause for liberation from cyclic existence, instead it becomes the cause for them to acquire a larger entourage, a bigger following and greater accumulation of wealth. Their knowledge only serves to prove their importance. Rather than becoming a cause of liberation, their knowledge becomes an obstacle to liberation.
For one who professes to study but harbors these sorts of improper motives, he or she will use their popularity as a means of demonstrating their own importance. They will behave as though no one could match their success. Swooning in their own wealth and abundance of followers becomes a cause for their descent into the lower realms of existence.
This song of experience of Drakpa Gyaltsen has great teachings for practitioners of all different levels, such as those who are climbing the ladder of knowledge. One's own study and knowledge should not serve to inflate the ego, which will cause one to suffer from the worldly dharmas. Rather, study should become an antidote to exactly such problems.
Now Drakpa Gyaltsen's song moves on to the next topic, the practice of meditation. This is also relevant here, for if our practice of meditation comes out of attachment to this life's welfare, this can have serious consequences.
He first highlights how essential meditation practice is for anyone's life. He says that for someone who practices meditation properly, it becomes the antidote, the direct remedy, which nullifies the suffering and misery of life's problems. This is for one not motivated to seek their own welfare in this life alone.
The role of meditation is not only as an antidote to the suffering and travails of life. Regardless of how much one studies, regardless of how much one may train in moral discipline, if one does not practice meditation, they will not gain enlightenment.
Thus, meditation is the root cause of attaining liberation, moksha, a state which is totally free from the cycle of existence. The practice of meditation is the crucial factor which enables one to gain liberation and ultimately Buddhahood. Meditation is paramount, not only on order to alleviate day to day misery, but to reach ultimate enlightenment, Buddhahood.
The attainment of the stages of enlightenment known as the paths and bhumis is solely determined by the practice of meditation, never by intellectualizing. The degrees of enlightenment can only be perfected by one's own efforts in maintaining the practice of meditation.
Although meditation is absolutely indispensable, still, it is said that one who meditates while seeking benefits, honor, and rewards for this life alone, will suffer serious consequences. It is said that even though such a person may physically place themselves in seclusion, in a place of great solitude, still their mind will be set loose into even more distraction than ever. They may discover a greater throng of discursive thoughts than they had ever known before.
Seeking the benefits of meditation mainly in this life, they may close the door and shut their eyes while their mind roams free. Instead of being able to center the mind, instead their mind may run wild like never before. Hence such a practitioner will fail to gain any realization at all.
Drakpa Gyaltsen's view is also shared by Zapa Tulku, who comments that even if one places oneself in a meditation room, closing the door tightly and claiming to be in retreat, although the eyes may be closed, the mind may be set loose.
He says that the mind may actually become more innovative in devising distractions than ever before. It may concoct all sorts of plans and scheme. One may write, read, and involve the mind in any number of interests which suddenly blossom, rather than actually persevere in the practice to which one has dedicated oneself. Whatever one may chant, in the name of meditative recitation, may be disrupted by ordinary discursive mind chatter. He says that somehow this happens to him as well!
This shows us that we need to understand how important meditation is, and that the quality of our meditation should not suffer from mental distraction. However much one may recite, it must be practiced with the appropriate degree of concentration, of sustained attention. If such attention is lacking, regardless of being in seclusion, the practice will not be effective.
No matter how important meditation may be, yet for one afflicted with attachment to their own welfare in this life, his or her meditation becomes a cause of slandering others. Such a person may say of another, for example, 'Oh, their form of meditation is not quite right. They don't have the transmission, they don't have the lineage'. In this way, the person may slander the validity of others' meditation practice.
While they may do this, at the same time their own meditation practice is very distracted. The moment such a person tries to meditate, all they notice is how scattered their mind is, how they are unable to develop any concentration.
Due to this fact, meditation should not be tainted or defiled by the concerns of the eight worldly dharmas, but rather it should be directed toward genuine dharma practice. Then meditation can truly become the root cause of alleviating the sufferings of this life, as well as leading one through the stages of enlightenment. For this to occur, we must be able to distinguish between artificial meditation and genuine meditation which brings about realization.
What we have discussed up to his point essentializes the meanings contained in a quote from the Abhidharmakosha, which speaks of the importance of ethical conduct, of study, and of meditation. This trinity of factors, that is, conduct, study, and meditation should go hand in hand with one another. One's practice should not involve just one or two of these aspects.
Thus far we have covered the commentary through the explanation of the first of Manjushri's four lines, 'If you are attached to this life, you are not a person of dharma.' The general Buddhist teachings referred to by this first line are the teachings on the difficulty of obtaining a precious human birth as well as those on realizing the truth of impermanence and death. We will not go into the details of explaining these two now, as you may have already heard teachings on this subject.
Let us now move ahead to the meaning of the second line.
If you are attached to cyclic existence, you do not have renunciation.
The meaning of this line is that in order to attain the state of nirvana, beyond sorrow and beyond the causes of suffering, one must abandon one's attachment to the three realms of worldly existence, also known as the three existences.
These three realms are the desire realm of the six types of beings, the form realm of the gods with form, and the formless realm of the formless gods. What are known as the six realms of existence are sub-realms within the desire realm. The 'three existences' refers to extraterrestrial or celestial existence, terrestrial or planetary, and subterranean or chthonic. These three are similar to the three realms of existence.
In order to be liberated from the three realms and attain nirvana, one has to cease to attach oneself to these three realms of existence. In order to know why one needs to detach oneself from the three realms, we need to understand the shortcomings and disadvantages of worldly existence.
If we are to develop renunciation with a sense of revulsion for worldly existence, first we need to know the nature of dwelling in worldly states of existence, and to know just what sort of experiences worldly beings are forced to undergo. If we carefully consider the nature of worldly existence, we can find that it is stained by three kinds of suffering: the suffering of suffering, the suffering of change, and the suffering of all conditional phenomena.
To briefly look at the suffering of suffering, it mainly concerns the suffering of the three lower realms of hell, the realm of spirits, and the animal realm. If one truly ponders what it would be like to exist in these realms, it can cause one to tremble in fear. It is almost impossible to imagine what it would be like to have to endure such a life. And regardless of how severe the suffering in those states is, due to the weight of their karma, beings born there are unable to die as long as their karma lasts.
If one carefully contemplates such extreme suffering within the three lower realms, it can engender a sense of urgency, causing one to strive not to create any karma that would lead one to such a rebirth. To even really imagine that one could actually be there physically experiencing such a life causes our fllesh to tremble in fear and insecurity.
Drakpa Gyaltsen asks us why instead of seriously finding ways to restrain ourselves from non virtuous deeds, which are the direct cause of throwing oneself down into the three lower realms, whay are we instead actually cultivation the very causes that will take us there?
Thus it is necessary not only to hear about and begin to fathom and know about these realms, but to actually give rise to a great sense of renunciation. This renunciation needs to be so great that one feels a deep sense of revulsion toward any actions that would lead to such painful experiences. We must learn to restrain ourselves from such deeds that lead to this primary type of suffering, the suffering of suffering.
Next, let us look at the suffering of change. This kind of suffering principally afflicts beings of the higher realms of existence. Drakpa Gyaltsen says that if one were to consider the meaning of the suffering of change, we can start by just observing the transitory nature of all beings.
There are countless examples of beings taking birth in the higher realms and nonetheless falling into the lower realms. Even the Lord of the gods or angels, Indra, who rules over our physical world, actually later ends up being enslaved by different beings of lowly birth.
Not only this, but those gods who are born as the spirits of the sun and moon, which have the power to illuminate the darkness of the world, will later be born in a place so dark that one could not see one's own outstretched hand.
Likewise, even the most powerful universal monarchs, who ruled over the entire world, have in later births been enslaved and imprisoned. There is no definite certainty in regard to favorable circumstances, from the condition of the highest world ruler down to the pleasant conditions which ordinary beings enjoy. All these conditions are transient; they fade away. As soon as they are gained, they begin to slip away through our fingers.
Even though one may have faith in these teachings on the law of impermanence and the transitory nature of all things because they come from the sutras and the teachings of the Buddha, ordinary people are not ready or willing to fathom the deep meanings of the transient nature of existence.
Drakpa Gyaltsen says that if you have difficulty gaining realization of the changing nature of things, why don't you take some time to observe how the human condition is always changing. Look at the case of those who have been so rich becoming very poor, those who were very powerful and became weak and impotent.
Observe for yourself situations where once there were many and now there are few, large families where only one member is still alive. Look at the condition of others who have had a great sense of power, honored by many, who are now left unattended with no one to take notice of them.
From this enquiry, we can see that there is no certainty whatsoever within the human condition, no circumstances which will be sure to remain pleasant, so that one ought to aspire to experience them. For, as soon as one has them, they may vanish.
There is no end to the examples of the changing nature of all things. There is not a single sentient being who is unaffected by the transitory nature of all phenomena. Whatever pleasant conditions we may acquire, they will only last for a short while. Nothing remains.
Due to this fact, we need to meditate on the transient nature of all things, and through this, to let go of attraction to any of the states of existence one might otherwise become attached to. As soon as one attains different circumstances, one should not be trapped by the situation, but rather it is better to learn to let go immediately upon reaching them. This is in regard to the suffering of change.
However, what primarily afflicts human beings is the suffering of all conditioned things, the suffering of all phenomena. Everything is conditional, but, not understanding this, we become the victims of our own ceaseless activities. Regardless of whether we gain any real satisfaction from them, we fall victim to the endless busyness of trivial pursuits.
Let us briefly consider the suffering involved in always having to do things, of one's mind constantly occupied with so many things to do. All of these lists of things to do concocted by our minds are never really finished, no matter how much attention we give to them. They never seem to be done by doing; they only seem to be done when we don't!
Until one realizes that we don't gain satisfaction by doing more things, at least one should not be compelled to do things simply for the sake of keeping ourselves busy, regardless of whether we get any satisfaction from it.
Whether there are many people in your life or only a few, neither case seems really satisfactory. When you have many people in your life, you have many people problems. When you have few people, there seem to be much that is missing, unattended to.
It is the same with wealth. Whether you have great wealth or very little, it doesn't really matter. There aren't really any cases of people becoming happy due to becoming wealthy. The rich suffer just as the poor do. There are simply different problems lurking there as soon as one has wealth. It is really not the case that being wealthy means being happy, and that being poor means being unhappy.
Since there is no such certainty, why bother with ceaseless trivial pursuits which bring us neither satisfaction nor realization of any kind. Otherwise, doesn't our whole life stray into all sorts of preparations, only to end up ultimately being wasted? Don't we really spend our time preparing for the sake of preparing more?
An ordinary lifetime is so utterly consumed planning and preparing for this and that, so that even at the moment of death, we really haven't finished our tasks. We are simply at the beginning of a new task---dying! All these endless preparations only lead us, at the time of death, to the point of having to start another lifetime, where we will once again be caught up in the endless busyness which never brought us any satisfaction in our previous lives
What good does it do us to gain yet another lifetime, if the life we have just spent has not brought us real satisfaction, in spite of all we have done. Therefore, Drakpa Gyaltsen speaks of the necessity of being able to restrain oneself, to abandon and relinquish all one's endless activities, all of our racing here and there without actually getting anywhere. Why can't we actually pause for a moment and truly reconsider how meaningful all our activities really are.
He is speaking of developing renunciation. What we must renounce is our attachment to doing things. If we ourselves do not put a stop to our activities, they will never cease on their own.
It is said that one who understands how trivial, how hollow of meaning our activities actually are, would also understand that all these activities are how we deliberately heap more suffering upon ourselves. How pitiful it is that beings do not realize this. Rather, they arouse all the efforts of their body, speech, and mind toward doing just those things which amount to nothing.
Up to this point our commentary has now covered the second line of Manjushri, 'If you are attached to cyclic existence, you do not have renunciation.' Implied in this teaching is the general Buddhist principle of considering the meaning of the law of cause and effect.
If one understands the futility of all activities which also bring no ultimate happiness, then one learns to restrain oneself from these deeds which bring only suffering. One who knows how to refrain from deeds which cause suffering therefore also learns to adhere to the infallible law of cause and effect.
If you are attached to your own purpose, you do not have bodhicitta, the thought of enlightenment.
Now Drakpa Gyaltsen, in his spontaneous expression of meditative experience, goes on to explain the meaning of the third line, 'If you are attached to your own purpose, you do not have bodhicitta, the thought of enlightenment.'
He says that in order to attain nirvana, one must develop non-attachment; one must genuinely part or separate oneself from the attachments that have been explained. In order to help us to understand how to attain nirvana, he says he is compelled to give further spontaneous expression to his meditative realization.
Drakpa Gyaltsen informs us that it would do no good at all for oneself alone to attain liberation, would it? What would there be to gain from oneself being the first to reach the 'finish line' of enlightenment? One would be leaving behind in the three realms of existence all sentient beings, who at one time or another had been one's own kind mother and father.
Would it not be a shame for oneself to reach a state of enlightenment while abandoning all sentient beings, who have been our own mothers, in a dense forest of suffering? One who seeks liberation for themselves alone is pitiful indeed.
Therefore, Drakpa Gyaltsen goes on to highlight the importance of cultivating altruism, which is the intention to benefit sentient beings, as a far more important reason to practice than merely in order to gain one's own liberation. To gain one's own liberation alone should be the least of our priorities.
He is showing us how one benefits others as well as oneself through altruism, generating the bodhicitta wish to attain enlightenment for the sake of others. It is the most important of all endeavors, which we should definitely pursue from here onwards.
All the failures and sufferings we have experienced in our past have mainly occurred due to our failing to practice altruism, failing to pursue the welfare of others. This is because all of one's suffering is derived from one's own selfishness. All happiness stems from unselfish acts. This has been taught well in the Bodhicharyavatara by Shantideva, as well as in many other teachings.
In such teachings they explain the importance of shifting one's focus off of one's own personal welfare and on to the welfare of others. We have habitually become so accustomed to thinking of our own benefit, and yet have not truly succeeded. Would it not now be better to consider the matter differently?
For this reason, the Bodhisattvas have put forward the idea of changing one's priorities. Rather than putting one's own welfare at the highest priority, they have suggested putting the welfare of other living beings above one's own. If all suffering originates from selfish motivation, and has failed to bring happiness but instead has led to suffering, one might now try the opposite.
While practicing thus, the great exponents of altruism, those who follow the teachings and try to emulate the deeds of the Bodhisattvas, have made prayers and aspirations in accord with these lines.
They have prayed,
May the sufferings of all living beings
Of the three realms of existence
Ripen upon myself.
May the merit and virtue which I have earned
Be taken from me and given to other sentient beings.
Such verses of aspiration echo the significance of exchanging one's own happiness for the sufferings of others.
First of all one must aspire, making strong wishes and prayers, before one becomes capable of actually being able to bring this about practically. In order to train oneself through prayers such as those just mentioned, one must dare to change and become truly different, just to be able to say such prayers. This is because one must actually be willing to accept such a fate if one's prayers were to actually come true!
Not only this, but one must aspire to have an abundance of merit and happiness, vast enough to actually have something to give to all sentient beings. Then one can wish that all the meritorious deeds already accumulated may be taken away and enjoyed by all sentient beings. This aspiration must first be developed through training oneself in prayer.
Then, later, if it would actually happen that someone were to take something of virtue from us, we would never experience any suffering from this, since this is exactly what one has prayed for.
In this way, the entirety of the teachings of the Bodhisattvas as contained in Lam Dre and other teachings in very elaborate detail, is actually contained in these two lines, which teaches us to exchange our current focus upon our own welfare for a newfound concern for the welfare of other living beings. If one continues to care for the welfare of other living beings, there will definitely be less suffering and more happiness coming one's way.
Drakpa Gyaltsen concludes his verses on the meaning of Manjushri's third line by saying,
Let the sufferings of the three realms of existence
Ripen upon me,
And let my merits be taken by sentient beings.
By the blessings of this merit
May all sentient beings attain Buddhahood.
In summary, the meaning of the third line of Manjushri is about abandoning attachment to one's own purpose, since otherwise one does not follow the practice of the Bodhisattvas. This line not only shows the importance of practicing Bodhicitta, but also of exchanging one's happiness for the suffering of others.
If one lives one's daily life according to these priorities, one will find for oneself a state of happiness which appreciates whatever one has, however small it may be. These wishes enable us to dedicate whatever we have to all other living beings.
However dreadful the suffering of other living beings may be, one has the courage and determination to be able to take it upon oneself through this idea of the Bodhisattvas. This concludes our discussion of the meaning of the third line of Manjushri.
If grasping-fixation arises, you do not have the view.
Now we come to Manjushri's fourth line, 'If grasping-fixation arises, you do not have the view.' In order to elucidate the meaning of this, Drakpa Gyaltsen goes on to say that however I may consider myself, I should dwell in the nature of Dharmata, the truth of absolute reality, just as it abides in itself.
If truth or reality, Dharmata, abides in itself, then it is free from the duality or the dichotomy of grasping at 'existing' or 'non-existing'; when there is grasping-fixation, non-attachment is impossible.
Since grasping-fixation or clinging is the cause of suffering, therefore it is important to know how to avoid the grasping onto the two extremes of 'it is' and 'it is not'. If one grasps on to some sort of real existence, there can be no liberation, can there, since one is holding on to something which is actually not there?
On the other hand, nihilists who deny a real 'existence' and hold on to the view of the non-existence of things will not attain a higher rebirth, since they deny that any good results come from the practice of virtue.
Since it is virtually impossible to adhere to both the existential or eternalist view as well as the nihilist view at the same time, it is much better for us to abide in a state which nullifies this dichotomy of 'existing' and 'not-existing'. Therefore, Drakpa Gyaltsen says, 'Why shouldn't I dwell in a state of mind which is free from these two extremes of eternalism and nihilism?'
What is being spoken of here is the importance of following the middle way, which avoids these two extremes. This is Madhyamika, the centrist viewpoint of Buddhist philosophy.
Next, Drakpa Gyaltsen goes on to demonstrate the 'mind only' or Cittamatra viewpoint of Buddhist philosophy. He says that everything is created by one's own mind. There is no component of our experience which does not hinge on, or depend upon, the mind itself.
Quoting these lines of Drakpa Gyaltsen, some Buddhist dialecticians have alleged that the Sakya school are followers of the Cittamatrin or 'mind only' school of philosophy. However, Drakpa Gyaltsen's view doesn't stop at the view of 'mind only', when one considers more deeply what he is saying.
Buddha himself said in the sutras that all things are mind only. One who discovers the key point that mind is the cause of all problems as well as all 'non-problems' learns to unlock or disentangle all things that are associated with mind.
One finds no other culprit than the mind itself. Mind is the perpetrator, mind is the projector of all things which manifest, everything that happens. All phenomena are projected by our own mind.
If we realize that everything is a projection of our own mind, then all we have to do is transform this very mind. But, if we busily believe things to exist outside our minds as some sort of objective phenomena, stemming for example from a divine authorship where 'god' creates 'the world', then we are at the whim and mercy of things which are outside of, or other than, ourselves.
If we say that our own experience is caused or authored by others, then we are always just waiting for things other than ourselves to change in a way favorable to us. This is going to take a long time, for certain!
In reality, all the phenomena we experience are neither created by gods or supernatural beings, nor are they only material.
The materialistic view is the scientific view, which only upholds that which is based on material elements. They say that only when material elements come together do things manifest. Or, they may say that phenomena only exist when different material particles interact. Materialists hold a view of 'existing' which is based on matter.
Another point of view ascribes the authorship of reality to a supreme being or beings who somehow create the world. One who believes this is not at all free, since their experience is created by something other than themselves.
Because these views are neither logical nor in fact true, what is the point in entertaining such fallacious views of reality, imagining phenomena to be created by something other than oneself.
Therefore, these dharma teachings highlight the key fact that everything is actually created by one's own mind. Why wouldn't one then allow the mind itself to just be as it is? In this way, one is able to withdraw from being constantly conditioned, and instead let the mind rest in supreme peace.
Allowing the mind to remain at ease enables us to realize the nature of relative truth, as it has just been shown according to the 'mind-only' school of the Cittamatrin. Through this one can actually enhance one's realization of the middle way viewpoint of the Madhyamika school. Due to this, one will realize the true nature of all phenomena.
This view is also taught in the Lam Dre teachings of the Hevajra tradition. There the view is not left simply at saying that everything is mind. Rather, if everything is mind, then all these mental appearances are in fact illusory, since they are only being created by our minds.
Through this, one will be able to dissolve manifest reality easily, since once the mind deeply accepts this truth, it is able to completely stop all projections.
Instead, one's mind takes full responsibility, knowing it is the creator. If one's mind is the creator of all experiences, one's mind is responsible for all the illusions it creates. In this way, our minds become independent, uninfluenced by the illusionary nature which we had previously perceived as 'reality'.
In truth, the one who had been influenced by the mental illusions was actually the one who has been watching them. In reality, this one is the observer of an illusory, magical display.
If one is an observer at a magic show, the magician is actually just playing with some mundane object or prop. However, due to having his spectators spellbound, in combination with the other elements of his show, he can create an illusory magical display. If there is no spectator observing the show, the magician is simply playing with his mundane props, but no magical illusion is created.
From this we can see that what appears as a magical illusion does not exist in reality. Magical illusions arise from various factors, a central factor being the spectators who are willing to be spellbound.
This means that one who is able to withdraw from being spellbound by the illusory creations of their mind can then be independent from, no longer identified with, these illusory experiences.
These illusory experiences depend on causes and conditions which are distinct components constituting what we perceive as our 'reality'. Through this understanding, one will be able to realize the law of dependent origination.
Phenomena are so dependent on factors other than themselves that nothing happens on its own, nothing functions independently. If something comes solely from itself and for itself, it would be redundant, since it would have no need to manifest, already being itself.
On the other hand, if phenomena only come from somewhere or something other than themselves, then we have again reverted to the fallacy of everything being created by some other or others.
Avoiding either extreme, one can understand and realize the nature of the law of dependent origination. This law of dependent origination is, in the final analysis, simply inexpressible.
When one considers deeply the meaning of dependent origination, one can notice that as soon as we state anything or assert any point of view, we have once again presented ourselves with new causes which will project more mental confusion.
On the other hand, one may remain in the inexpressible state, looking at the nature of their experiences. Then, however near to one these experiences may be, yet no word whatsoever is eloquent enough to be able to truly express our experiences.
Choosing not to speak rather that to say something, one is nearer to the realization of the ultimate view.
This is why in the Hevajra tantric texts, it says, 'It is so near to us that words do not qualify to describe it.' Once you use a word to describe experience, this has already distorted the immediate presence which you actually feel at every moment.
This completes our commentary on Drakpa Gyaltsen's song of experience based on Manjushri's four-verse teaching.
Drakpa Gyaltsen concludes his song with the final lines:
By the merit of this virtue of explaining
The parting from the four attachments
May all the seven realms of living beings
Be established upon the stage of Buddhahood.
Normally we do not hear of seven realms, but only six. The realm that is added here is that of beings who dwell in a state of limbo or bardo, unable to take birth in any of the six realms.
I have not given this teaching on Parting From the Four Attachments in such detail previously. It has been a source of great happiness today to be able to share this with all of you, with whom I have a very strong spiritual connection. We can all rejoice that the karma we share has allowed us to hear these teachings.
Translated by Lama Choedak Yuthok
Edited by John Deweese