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Lions Roar : May 2006
SHAMBHALA SUN MAY 2006 46 There is a cause for our suffering and, equally, a cause for the end of that suffering—for liberation. Therefore, we can direct the course of our actions toward the result we wish to obtain. When we enter the path that leads directly to the cessation of suffering, we are following the methods for realizing inner peace and wisdom recommended by Buddha. The path that Buddha presented in this context is known as the noble eightfold path. In general, the eightfold path consists of perfecting our training in the three areas of discipline, meditation, and wisdom (in Sanskrit shila, samadhi, and prajna). Specifically, the eight branches of this path are the trainings in right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration. Altogether, the path provides us with many methods for working with and overcoming our ego-clinging and disturbing emotions. This is called the path of individual salvation and it is the path of the arhats. Renunciation and Egolessness When we are following this path, it is important to develop a genuine sense of renunciation, of wanting to free ourselves from samsaric existence altogether. True renunciation is the result of understanding the truth of suffering and recognizing its perva- siveness—that wherever you are born, whatever your circum- stances are, samsara is basically an experience of suffering. In the sutras, samsara is described as a “nest of poisonous snakes” and “a valley of lava.” Shantideva calls it “a party given by an executioner.” Of course, it is not an actual physical location that we are try- ing to escape but a mental state—the convoluted and tortuous quality that is inherent in our individual experience of samsara. It is the wish to be free of such suffering that is the basis of ear- nestly seeking liberation. While there are many practices that will lead one gradually to liberation, the Buddha said that the principal cause for achieving liberation is the realization of egolessness. That is what frees us from suffering. Therefore, without realizing egolessness, there is no way one can achieve any degree of real freedom. In the first turning of the wheel of dharma, the Buddha began to teach the view of emptiness. When he taught the four noble truths, he said, “Suffering is impermanent, impermanence is emptiness, and emptiness is selflessness.” This can also be stated as, “Impermanence is suffering, suffering is emptiness, and emp- tiness is selflessness.” In this way, Buddha taught emptiness in a way that was very accessible. While it is generally difficult to experience emptiness directly, right away, it is not so difficult to recognize our own suffering, which is a very vivid experience. Once we have seen the truth of suffering, then it is also not so difficult to see its momentary, impermanent nature. This leads to a deeper understanding of the impermanent nature of all phe- nomena, which is the basis for realizing emptiness. The way in which the Buddha taught emptiness in the first turning accords with the gradual, or indirect, way of understand- ing the ultimate nature of reality. Buddha simply taught that “the self,” or entity identified as “I,” is impermanent in nature and does not exist inherently; it is empty of any true, solid existence. There- fore, in his first teachings on emptiness, Buddha taught the nonex- istence of a personal self or individual ego on the ultimate level. Second Turning: Selflessness WHEN THE BUDDHA turned the wheel of dharma for the sec- ond time, on Vulture Peak Mountain, he taught the Perfection of Wisdom sutras to an assembly of bodhisattvas. This is the turn- ing known as the “vehicle of non-characteristics.” At this time Buddha presented the complete teachings on emptiness: not only is the individual self empty of inherent existence, but all phenomena are empty as well. This means that the totality of our experience—both subjective and objec- tive—is empty of true existence. All living experiences—from our thoughts, emotions, and perceptions to the appearances of external forms and events—have no solid basis in ultimate real- ity. Relatively speaking, things do appear and function; however, there is no self-nature anywhere to be found on the level of ul- timate reality. When we fully transcend ego-clinging, when we realize the state of egolessness or selflessness, then we completely cut the root of samsara and of suffering. The emptiness teachings of the second turning are known as “the great mother prajnaparamita” because the perfection of wis- dom, or transcendental knowledge, to which they refer is nothing less than the complete realization of emptiness. This view of emp- tiness is taught very clearly in prajnaparamita sutras such as the Heart Sutra, which says: Form is emptiness; emptiness is also form. Emptiness is no other than form; form is no other than emptiness. It is just this realization that is the source of all realizations, of liberation or enlightenment. Therefore, the essence of prajna- paramita is known as the mother of the four noble beings: the Shravakayana arhats, Pratyekabuddhayana arhats, the bodhisat- tvas on the bhumis (levels, or stages of the bodhisattva path), and the buddhas. From the perspective of some Mahayana schools, the second turning of the wheel of dharma is seen as the most ultimate, or definitive, teaching of the Buddha. In addition to the teachings on emptiness, Buddha also pre- sented teachings on bodhicitta, which literally means “enlight- ened attitude” or “awakened heart.” It is the heartfelt wish that all sentient beings—not just oneself—may be established in the state of enlightenment, and it is the commitment to help lead them to that state. Developing bodhicitta is viewed as the key to entering the Mahayana path, which is characterized by the great- er vision of liberating all beings and transforming this samsaric existence into an enlightened world. However, in order to possess such a pure motivation and such vast compassion and love for others, we must have some under-