The Questions of the Contemplative Nyimo Gomchen and the Responses of Sakya Pandita
I reverently bow at the feet of the Holy Guru! The glorious Sakya Pandita wrote the following lines to Nyimo Gomchen, a contemplative filled with faith and spiritual aspiration, applying himself earnestly to his practice: In response to your questions:
What is the cause of renouncing this life? It is the awareness that the cycle of existence is devoid of essence.
What is the contributing condition for such renunciation? Seeing the faults of the cycle of existence.
What is the criterion of renunciation? Mentally turning away from the Eight Mundane Concerns.
What is the sign of renunciation? Not being affected by the Eight Mundane Concerns even though one encounters them.
What is the criterion for attaining Enlightenment in one life? Liberating one's body from aging and death and accomplishing the nature of the Four Bodies of a Buddha.
What is unspecified action? Action that is unable to produce either good or bad results.
What is dedication of merit? Something that transforms the causal roots of virtue into whatever result one desires.
What is prayer? The yearning for bountiful results [of spiritual practice].
What is the meaning of auspicious verses? Special words that produce good results by the blessing of truth.
In realizing the nature of the mind, is there a complete grasp of the meaning of the Three Collections of Teachings and the Four Classes of Tantras? There are two realizations:
Realizing the emptiness of the mind, and realizing the union of apparent reality and the emptiness of mind. In realizing the emptiness of the mind, one does not fully grasp the meaning of the Three Collections of Teachings and the Four Classes of Tantras. With such realization one may fully comprehend the Cessation of a Listener (Shravaka), but since that cessation falls to the extreme of emptiness alone, one would not grasp the meaning of the Mahayana teachings. This is stated in all the Mahayana Sutras and Tantras.
In realization of the union [of apparent reality and emptiness], there is no blemish of even the most subtle faults. It therefore holds the basis of morality, and the Collection of Vinaya is complete. Since the Heroic Samadhi and all other states of concentration arise [from such realization], the collection of Sutras is complete. Since it cognizes all knowable things, from form to the Omniscient Mind, the collection of Abhidharma is complete. And due to its comprehension of the special outer and inner dependently-related events, the Four Classes of Tantra are complete.
Are the Three Jewels complete in one's own mind? In the mere emptiness of the mind and the understanding of that emptiness, the Three Jewels are not complete. In the union of the cognition and emptiness of the mind, the seeds of the Three Jewels are complete. If one properly realizes the meaning of that union, the Three Jewels are manifestly complete.
Is the Supreme Accomplishment (Siddhi) attained due to the Guru or the Meditation Deity? It does not occur from either one separately. Rather, it occurs due to the Guru, the meditational Deity, the Buddhas of the three times, one's own mind, and from the realization of the indivisibility of all of Samsara and Nirvana.
What makes a person one's true Guru? The person from whom one correctly receives the four empowerments in accordance with the Tantras in one's true Guru. A Guru from whom one has not received such empowerment - how ever good a person he might be - is one's Guru in name only, For example, the person from whom one receives monastic ordination is one's true abbot, but if one has not been ordained by someone, he is not one's true abbot. And even if he is called "Abbot", he is such in name only.
Thus: "without bestowing empowerment, there is no Guru. Without monastic ordination, there is no abbot. Without precepts, there is no continuum of virtue. Without going for refuge, one is not a spiritual person." That is the meaning of the above verse.
Is it possible for there to be hearing, reflection and meditation concerning one utterance of the Buddha? In reliance upon one utterance of the Buddha, one may practice hearing, reflection and meditation. The nature of such an utterance is that it is an enlightened activity of a Tathagata.
Among all the teachings of the Buddha, which are profound? With respect to the mentalities of individual disciples, all of the teachings are profound. On the other hand, only the Tantric teachings are profound for all disciples in common.
Is a person who realizes the emptiness of the mind a Buddha? One who has realized emptiness alone is not a Buddha. If one comprehends all knowable things, one is fully enlightened. Furthermore, there are two modes of comprehension, the comprehension that there is no realization of an ultimately (i.e. inherently) existent phenomenon; and the comprehension of all distinct, conventionally existent phenomena.
Do you claim to be a realized person? Since I have not ultimately realized any phenomenon, I do not claim to be a realized person. But since I know the Five Fields of Knowledge concerning conventional truth, I claim to be a Pandit.
Among your pupils are there some who ascertain the nature of the mind? I understand that among my pupils there is no one with ultimate realization of the mind, but there are many who are learned in conventionally existent phenomena. The mind being without [an inherent] nature, what is there in the ascertainment of the mind?
If one does not ascertain the mind, even though one accumulates merit, doesn't that [just] lead to temporary happiness? If one does not realize the mode of existence of the mind - the meaning of emptiness - one cannot attain the joy of Liberation by means of one's collection of merit. Although that may act as a cause for the joys up to the Peak of Cyclic Existence, the collection of merit is not perfected, And, on the other hand, if one does not have knowledge of know able objects but only realization of the emptiness of the mind, how can one be a Buddha? If that were possible, there would be Buddhas in the Nirvana of Listeners, for which there is realization of emptiness alone, and there would also be Buddhas in empty space. But how could there be Buddhas there? Thus the assertion of all the Sutras and Tantras is that Buddhahood occurs through knowledge of all knowable objects and through realization that there is no inherent nature to be realized, i.e. knowing that of which there is nothing to be known,
At what point does one have the certainty of attaining Enlightenment? Some people realize the emptiness of the mind alone, but have not perfected the qualities of the Method aspect of the training. Some have such qualities, but do not realize the emptiness of the mind. Some have both, but they are not able to guide their practice of the Method with their knowledge. Some have the other qualities, but since they lack the lineage of blessing, they are unable to generate the Clear Appearance. Thus, I fear that Buddhahood is far from them. Since I have a number of these attributes, I hope to attain Enlightenment, but not by the swift means.
Who is your Root Guru? My Root Guru is the Great Sakyapa Drakpa Gyaltsen, the Vajradhara, who is the nature of the body, speech and mind of all the Tathagatas of the three times.
For what reason is he your Root Guru? He has granted me the four empowerments of the vase, and so on; he has shown me the four paths of the Stage of Generation, and so on; he has set forth the dependent relationships of the Four Bodies, including the Emanation Body, etc.; in short, since he practices in accordance with the Buddha's teachings in the Sutras and Tantras, he performs the deeds of a perfectly enlightened being; and thus I regard him as my Root Guru. On the other hand, one who does not grant empowerment according to the Buddha's teachings, does not reveal the Path and does not set forth dependent relationships, but does ascertain the mind, is limited in his teachings to those leading to the Cessation of a Listener - regardless of whatever merit he accumulates. Such a kind of person is not fit to be regarded as the Root Guru of a Mahayana practitioner, for that path is not a Mahayana path.
Thus from the treatise called Synthesis (sDud pa): "With Wisdom alone, without the Method, one falls to the state of a Listener." Thus, those who give little emphasis to the Method and great emphasis to Wisdom slip down to the Nirvana of the Listener.
Which path to Enlightenment is shorter: that of a learned pandit, or that of a "kusulu"? In general, the acts of a "kusulu" are impure. "Kusali" means "a virtuous person". There are kusalis who do not rely on the Buddha's path, and there are also pandits who do not rely on that path. Neither of them become Buddhas. There are both pandits and kusalis who are Buddhists. Among them there are both pandits and kusalis following the Vehicle of the Perfections who attain Buddhahood, and it takes them three countless eons to do so - a long time. There are also tantric pandits and kusalis who establish internally certain dependent relationships and thereby swiftly attain Enlightenment.
Now it is said that the task of a pandit is to become learned in the outer and inner field of knowledge. And it is said that a kusali supremely devotes himself to inner practice, after discarding all external affairs. To attain perfect Enlightenment, one first becomes knowledgeable regarding all knowable objects and cuts through false assumption by means of hearing and reflection. Then by taking Samadhi as one's essential practice, one cuts through false assumptions by means of meditation and thus achieves the Dharma of Insight. In this way one gradually attains Enlightenment. Therefore, it is necessary to be both a pandit and a kusali. In terms of those approaches taken separately the pandit is closer to Buddhahood. Now one might object to that, citing the Sutra, Mound of Jewels (dKon mchog brtsegs pal): "If one meditates for one moment, the merit from this is greater than that of listening and explaining to others for ten eons."
I think there is no contradiction here. The meaning of that citation is that meditation [has such benefits] if one already knows the object of meditation; but without such knowledge, how could there ever be such benefits? The Vinaya scriptures also state that one should not meditate in a hermitage without having understood the Collections of Teachings. The Treasury of Phenomenology (mNgon pa mdsod) also states: "Endowed with proper hearing and reflection, Devote yourself to meditation."
Arya-Deva also states: "Without relying upon conventional reality, One will not realize ultimate reality. Without realizing ultimate reality one will not attain Liberation."
Thus, in all the Sutras it is frequently said that by hearing certain points of Dharma, one is liberated from certain obstacles. There fore, if hearing and reflection liberate one, one is advised to meditate afterwards. It is wonderful that you dwell as a contemplative, and I think it would be good if you continue in your efforts on the path of the Tantric method.
I realize that there is no realization of the answers to the question of this realized person (i.e. yourself), I understand that there is no understanding, and I know that there is nothing to be known.
This concludes my responses to the questions of the contemplative Nyimo Gomchen.
(This unedited translation was prepared under the guidance of Lama Tashi Namgyal by B. Alan Wallace (Gelong Jhampa Kelsang) at ©Sakya Thubten Kunga Choling in Victoria, B.C., August 1984.)