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Lions Roar : May 2006
and whatever actions we might be engaged in, these will all leave a karmic impression in our mind that is either positive or negative. A negative impression is left by any action that harms either the one who commits the action or the one who is the object of the action, or both. These are generally actions arising out of hatred, jealousy, aggression, and pas- sion—the negative aspects of our emotions. A mo- ment when your thought is involved in aggression has tremendous energy and power, and the resultant negative seed that is planted in the mind will mani- fest as aggression again. This is as certain as the fact that planting the seed of a chili will lead to the result of a chili plant. When we are under the influence of mental afflic- tions, we are incessantly planting the seeds of con- fusion and restlessness in our mindstream, which, fundamentally, is pure and without any confusion. Thus, engaging in harmful actions that leave nega- tive impressions in our mind is like walking with dirty shoes into a beautiful, clean room. We leave our tracks all over the clean floor wherever we walk. In this analogy, our mind is the spotless floor, our kar- mic action is our mindless walking with dirty shoes, and the negative impressions left in our mindstream are the footprints we track across the clean floor. In this way, we perpetuate the cycle of samsara and in- crease our own unhappiness and suffering. The Truth of the Cessation of Suffering The third noble truth is the cessation of suffering. Although the Buddha taught that suffering pervades our entire experience of samsara, he also taught that this suffering is temporary and that we can go beyond it. When we have discovered the origin of suffering and have relinquished its causes, then our samsaric ego-clinging and disturbing emotions cease. “Cessa- tion” in this context refers to the state of nirvana, in which all delusion and mental afflictions have been overcome and the mind is unconditionally liberated. It also refers to the state of meditative absorption ac- complished by the arhats, those beings who attained the highest level of realization in the Hinayana path. The Truth of the Path The fourth noble truth is the path that leads to the cessation of suffering. When Buddha demonstrated the cause and effect relationships that pertain to the four noble truths, he showed us that neither our suf- fering nor our liberation is a random occurrence. ➣ The Two Truths PONLOP RINPOCHE ON DISTINGUISHING BETWEEN THE RELATIVE & THE ULTIMATE THE TEACHINGS in the second and third turnings approach reality through two truths: relative truth and absolute truth. In order to understand emptiness, it is very important to distinguish between these two truths. Relative truth, or conventional reality, is that which is in accor- dance with ordinary worldly usage or understanding, something on which everyone will agree. It is concerned with the things of our everyday experience and is always conceptual. The reason it is not ultimate truth is because relative phenomena cannot with- stand analysis. When subjected to analysis, relative phenomena disappear, and all you find is absolute truth, or emptiness. For example, if I asked you, “Please hand me my thermos,” you would simply pass it to me without question. We understand each other perfectly and all this works quite well. You would not ask, “Does the thermos exist or not exist? From where does it arise?” If, however, you first wanted to find its essence, its thermos-ness, then you would subject the thermos to analysis. You would look at the whole thermos and then at each of its parts to try to locate its most fundamental entity-ness. As these parts are broken down further and further, you would continue to search for the essence of the thermos until nothing is left at all. At this point, the ther- mos has disappeared and you have come to the realization that it never possessed any true, substantial reality. The thermos before you is only a “mere appearance,” a dreamlike object. It is percep- tible to the senses but its abiding nature is emptiness. Thus the same object has two natures: relative and absolute. This process of analysis produces a clear understanding of emptiness; however, this determination of untrue existence is not the final absolute truth because it is still conceptual. There is still an “I” with a conceptual understanding that this thermos does not exist. In order to go further, there has to be nonconceptual meditation through which one experiences directly the nature of emptiness. What is experienced through nonconceptual medita- tion is the true, genuine, absolute truth. The absolute truth is the real essence, the “suchness” or “isness” of things. It is not refutable. It is not merely temporary. Therefore, it is ultimate and that ultimate nature is the main object of our realization. It is characterized as being indescribable, inconceiv- able, and unable to be signified by any word, gesture, or concept. At the same time, it is important to realize that understanding relative truth is the cause of understanding absolute truth. Thus relative truth should not be thought of as being something inferi- or and unrelated to absolute truth. Relative truth may be concep- tual, but there is no way to realize nonconceptual absolute truth without it. The understanding of either one of the two truths as- sists the understanding of the other. ♦ SHAMBHALA SUN MAY 2006 45