The Purpose and Importance of Philosophical Studies
by Loppon Jamyang Lekshey
One who can bless the mind into Dharmakaya just by remembering him,
One who can bestow the accomplishment and blessings like stream of water,
One who is the excellent savior during the Bardo, present and future lives,
May my Guru with such qualities remain on my crown forever.
Generally speaking, it is an attribution of a scholar to learn every field of knowledge. But the aim of studies are different, in the sense that some long for the well-being of this life, some aim at a life hereafter, and yet some particular people just do not aim for any of the above! Their goal is to attain liberation from all samsaric problems.
In any case, the actual goal of all these selections of people is happiness. Nevertheless, due to one's ignorance people are mistaken in recognizing the actual happiness and the cause of that happiness. Therefore, out of attachment and hatred they seek happiness, but instead create miserable circumstances. For this reason, Buddha Shakyamuni, out of compassion, gave the teachings of the three vehicles in order to dispel our ignorance and lead us to the right path that leads to liberation. These teachings explain what actual happiness is and how to achieve it.
Therefore, it is a unique opportunity to avail yourself of such circumstances and facilities for learning the teachings of the three vehicles. Despite having such an opportunity, if one is caught in laziness and distraction, it will be an unrecoverable loss. It is like walking with golden-soled shoes. One will never recover the lost gold during that walk. Besides, the role of motivation becomes very important in order to make your Dharma study meaningful.
As the 21st century approaches people seem to depend more on modern technology. Yet, at the same time the effect of the degenerate age becomes more evident among religious people. The reason I say this is because more and more religious people ignore the conditions of past and future lives as well as the law of karma. The Tibetan scholar Gyalsay Thogme said, "With the physical form of religion one may create the non-religious act." I would say that this is now becoming true as we find several people who, while working hard in the name of Dharma, aspire to gain wealth, high position, a large following and a great reputation etc. without any sense of shame and hesitation. One should rather enter the business field or even become a politician.
The value of the Dharma is immeasurable and so is its fruit. It is clearly stated in the Pramanavarttika of Dharmakirti that the teaching of Buddha Shakyamuni is un-deceivable. It is ironic that even some Buddhists doubt the efficacy of the Dharma just because they do not find results immediately. Such a thought arises on account of the lack of proper understanding and confidence in the law of karma. Their karma, in general, is of three types depending on the strength of the causes they have made; there is karma that ripens in this life, that which ripens in the life hereafter and that which ripens in the following lives. If one expects the results of one's meritorious acts to ripen immediately, as in the case of eating food and thus getting rid of hunger, then he or she does not have a proper knowledge of how the inter-dependence of cause and result really works.
However, virtuous deeds can never be wasted. It also depends on how purely one is committed to virtuous deeds. These deeds must be done according to the Buddha's teachings; otherwise it will not result in great benefits. If one is not able to practice Dharma purely, motivation-wise etc., one should not blame the Dharma.
In order to practice pure Dharma, of course one must be free from the eight un-favorable conditions and be endowed with the ten obtainments plus the renunciation thought. But these are not enough. Apart from the above things, one must have the right opportunity of learning and concentration on Buddha Dharma. With such an opportunity one must also have the right motivation. To the real followers of the Buddha the purpose of learning Dharma is how to relinquish Samsaric problems and how to attain Nirvana. Buddhism is not a way to acquire worldly contentment. The purpose of learning Buddha Dharma is to be able to practice the right path and to teach the right path to other sentient beings.
It appears to be quite common these days for some people to jump into a particular practice without doing enough study. Later they claim to have accomplished high realization as great meditator's or to have become realizers of the perfect view. In fact it is not as easy as it is often made out to be. Sakya Pandita said, "A meditator without hearing (Dharma) is like a maimed person trying to climb up a rock." Of course it is not possible for an ordinary person to judge the inner qualities of other persons. Nevertheless, one must be able to judge the physical gestures and signs of inner attainment, which are mentioned in both the Sutra and Tantra. Yes, there are occasions, such as during the fourth consecration or through the Guru's blessings, that one may recognize the true view or reality, but this is very rare. This is possible only for extraordinarily fortunate people.
Therefore it is important for ordinary people to clear the mind of wrong view, to cut doubts on improper view and to clarify the right view before going for meditation training. So before one goes to meditate on view, one must first be able to confirm what the right view is. For that, one must go through the study of Buddhism or Buddhist philosophy. The right view is the view of the Madhyamika School. It was accepted by the past-qualified scholars that there is no difference in terms of the view between Sutra-yana and Vajray‚na.
Though the Madhyamika view is interpreted differently by the scholars, it is not wise to praise one and criticize the other. One must analyze which is more reasonable with one's own wisdom. Having analyzed intensely, one must then meditate on that view. Some of today's scholars, who are so by name only, do write critical books, but they do not possess even a fragment of the knowledge of the past scholars. I find that these books reflect their ignorance, hatred, pride, etc. and also ultimately result in giving a discriminatory tendency to one's followers and readers. However, I do not mean that today's scholars should not write books but it is important for them to research thoroughly on the subject they are going to write on.
Again, if one thinks that one can first study and practice later, then it is a big mistake. Fundamentally, all compounded things are impermanent. There is no certainty that one will live on as planned. Practicing Dharma can never begin too early because we have been roaming in samsara from beginning-less time. So the present birth is not our first one in this samsara. Since this is the case, one should engage in the practice of Dharma from right now. What I mean here by 'practice of Dharma' is meditation on compassion and Bodhicitta or altruistic thought. When one's mind becomes absorbed with the nature of compassion and Bodhicitta, then it becomes the source of Buddha's qualities.