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 What it Means to be Lucky

Emptiness And Appearance
Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche,
translated by Ari Goldfield
Excerpted from the transcript of "A Commentary On What It Means To Be Lucky" (Vancouver 1998)
Originally published in Bodhi Issue 3
4 of 4 | 1, 2 , 3, 4

Eighth verse of Lucky:

    Everything in samsara and nirvana,
    Without exception, is neither one nor many
    So all phenomena are empty of essence
    And knowing that, if you meditate on profound emptiness
    Then you are so fortunate–
    This is what it means to be lucky.

In the tradition of the hearers, the sravakas, and the pratyekabuddhas, the solitary sages, the only aspect of emptiness that is taught is the emptiness of the self, of the individual.  However, that is not the tradition of the great vehicle. The great vehicle explains that everything, without exception, in both samsara and nirvana, is empty of being either one or many. Whatever it is, be it something in existence or something involved with the state of enlightenment, everything is empty of any inherent existence. Its existence transcends being either one thing or many and, therefore, it does not truly exist.  It has no essence. It is like something that appears in a dream.  It does not truly exist. If we can know that and then meditate on profound emptiness, that is what it means to be lucky. 

Now, why is this adjective "profound" used in front of the word "emptiness?"  Because, if we do not listen to the teachings on emptiness, and if we do not analyze them with reasoning, then there is no way we can understand them.  It is profound in that way.  It's not something that is accessible without applying our intelligence towards trying to understand it.  But if we can actually meditate on this profound emptiness, meaning that we use our intelligence and we listen to the teachings and we analyze with reasoning, then we are fortunate. After first giving rise to relative bodhicitta, then by meditating on the selflessness of the individual as the basis, we meditate on the emptiness of all phenomena. Through that process we can gain the enlightenment of the Buddhas. Therefore, to be able to meditate on emptiness is something that makes us incredibly fortunate, and that is what it means to be lucky. 

If we were to examine this from the perspective of logical analysis, the object of our inquiry would be whatever we are looking at, whatever we want to understand more about, whatever we are focusing on in order to find out its true nature. In technical terms, this can be called the object of inquiry or it can be called the basis of inference. So the focus of our logical reasoning is this object whose nature we are trying to discover.  And, by reason of the fact that it is neither one thing nor many things, we can determine that it is of the nature of emptiness. It has no existence. Therefore, we can create a logical reasoning, a seamless reasoning, a flawless reasoning. The way we do that would be to say that:

    Given all of the phenomena in samsara and nirvana,
    all are empty of inherent existence,
    because they are neither one nor are they many.
    This proves to us that our object of inquiry is empty of inherent existence.

We can also make a reasoning like this:

    Given any and all of the suffering that we experience as sentient beings,
    none of it really exists,
    because all of it is neither one thing nor is it many one things.

An example is the suffering we experience in a dream.  Why is suffering neither one nor many? If we look at suffering, all the past suffering is finished.  It is completely gone.  So that suffering doesn't exist. The suffering of the future hasn't happened yet. So that suffering doesn't exist either. What's left is the suffering of the present.  And if we try to find this suffering of the present, what happens?   We look, and we find a smaller and smaller moment of it, as our analysis gets more subtle. We try to find this precise moment of the present suffering, and we just find smaller and smaller and smaller moments.  In our search, we can never find one truly existent indivisible moment of suffering. Therefore suffering is not one indivisible thing, and since you can't even find one thing, how could you have many things? Therefore, suffering is neither one, nor is it many, and consequently it is empty of any inherent existence. 

We might, in response to this, advance the following type of reasoning.  We might say:

    Suffering does too exist. 
    Suffering is not beyond being one or many. 
    It really does exist, because I experience it, because I experience it directly, manifestly. 

But that's not a good reason.  It does not follow that, just because you experience suffering, the suffering is real.  An example is the suffering we experience in a dream.  The suffering we experience in a dream, however bad it might be, does not exist really.  It's neither one nor is it many.  Even though it looks like it's real, even though we think it's real, even though we experience it, it does not really exist. So the fact that it looks real, the fact that we are attached to it as being real, and the fact that we experience it: none of these things prove that it really exists.  It's just a dream. Similarly, even though our daytime experiences of suffering look and feel real to us, and we are attached to their reality, this doesn't turn our suffering into something real. It is not real.

Rinpoche has composed a verse to help us to understand this easily. Rinpoche says that:

    Because it is neither one nor many  
    Anger does not truly exist
    Just like the anger in a dream. 
    Because it transcends being one or many
    Desire does not truly exist
    Just like the desire we experience in a dream. 
    Because it transcends being either one or many
    Stupidity does not truly exist
    Just like stupidity in a dream. 

    Because it transcends being one or many
    Pride does not truly exist—pride has no self- nature
    Just like pride in a dream. 
    Because it transcends being one or many
    Jealousy has no self-nature
    Just like jealousy in a dream. 
    Because it transcends being one or many
    Doubt has no self-nature
    Just like doubt in a dream. 
    Because they transcend being either one or many
    Wrong thoughts, bad thoughts, have no self-nature
    Just like bad thoughts in a dream.

We need to know well how it is that kleshas have no inherent existence. Then it will be easy for us to have kleshas or mental afflictions, and be very relaxed and very open. 

Ninth verse of Lucky:

    Meditating on emptiness cuts the root of existence
    Love and compassion free you from the extreme of peace
    When you bring together wisdom and means
    That are stuck in neither existence nor peace's extremes
    Then you are so fortunate–
    This is what it means to be lucky.

Meditating on emptiness cuts the root of existence. Love and compassion free you from the extreme of peace, of clinging to a one-sided, static kind of peace that is only for one's own benefit.  The union of compassion and the wisdom realizing emptiness results in the union of skillful means and wisdom in a way that is stuck in neither the cycle of existence nor in a one-sided selfish kind of peace. Bringing these two, wisdom and skillful means, together in this way is a practice that makes us very fortunate.  If we can do that, that is what it means to be lucky. 

Tenth verse of Lucky:

    When you've made the Mahayana path your sturdy base
    And you know so excellently
    The way that the totality of appearance
    Is an infinite expanse of purity
    Then the four empowerments
    Will ripen your continuum
    When you practice profound creation and completion–
    This is what it means to be lucky.

The first step is to make the Mahayana path your sturdy base in the way it has been explained in the verses above.  It is the base for the practice of Vajrayana because, before practicing the Vajrayana, we must be able to bring together emptiness and compassion.  If we don't bring together the understanding of emptiness and the practice of compassion before beginning the practice of Vajrayana, then Vajrayana practice is a practice absent of profundity.  Vajrayana becomes a practice that lacks any type of profundity. That's why the Mahayana practices of loving kindness, compassion and emptiness must come first. Then, when we begin to practice the Vajrayana, the basic view is that the totality of appearance is the infinite expanse of purity.  This means that the vessel, the outer physical environment, is the immeasurable palace, and the beings who live in this vessel are all deities, male and female.  When we know this very well, when we know it correctly, when it is not just an opinion, but when we know that this is the actual way things really are, then the four empowerments (the vase empowerment, the secret empowerment, the wisdom empowerment, and the word empowerment), which are the introduction to the true nature of mind, will ripen our continuum.  This is the practice of profound creation and completion meditation. When we practice these two stages, then this is what it means to be lucky. 

The verse speaks of profound creation and completion, so we could ask the question,  "Is there such a thing as creation and completion practice that is not profound?" And the answer is: "Yes, there is."  If we meditate on merely the deity's form and color, that is creation stage practice that is not profound.  Also, if we meditate merely on bindu and ashe, then that is completion stage practice that is not profound.  Creation stage practice becomes profound when we connect it with meditating on bindu and ashe.  Completion stage practice becomes profound when we meditate on the true nature of mind, which is bliss and emptiness. 

Eleventh verse of Lucky:

    The fruit of this creation and completion
    Must ripen at the appropriate time
    This depends on your pure vision
    Of your vajra brothers and sisters--it must increase!
    So if pure vision dawns in your mind–
    This is what it means to be lucky.

The fruit of this creation and completion must ripen at the appropriate time, but this depends on your pure vision of your vajra brothers and sisters. It must increase. If pure vision dawns in your mind, this is what it means to be lucky.  How can pure vision dawn in a practitioner's mind?  Pure vision arises when the practitioner knows:  that whatever appears is just of the nature of appearance and emptiness, undifferentiable, that all the appearances of the outer physical environment, whatever they might be, are the same in that they are just appearance-emptiness, undifferentiable, that the physical forms of all the beings in the environment are appearance-emptiness, undifferentiable, that the minds of all sentient beings are of the nature of clarity and emptiness, undifferentiable.  Knowing these things causes pure vision to arise and when that pure vision arises, then that is what it means to be lucky. 

In short, all the appearances of this life are just like a dream. They are just like the moon's reflection on a pool of water.  They are just like a rainbow.  The mind is radiant clarity.  It is clarity and emptiness undifferentiable.  When we realize these two things, the nature of appearances and the nature of mind, pure vision arises.  The reason for this is that when we realize that appearances are just appearance-emptiness undifferentiable, how could it be possible that any one appearance would be impure or that there could be something wrong with it, because it is all just appearance-emptiness.  So the absence of any more thoughts of something being impure prevents any type of wrong thought occurring, because we view everything to be just pure appearance-emptiness, and that is what pure vision or sacred vision is all about. 

With regard to our own minds and the minds of others, we come to understand that the mind's basic nature is clarity-emptiness, undifferentiable, and is completely free from any stains.  Thoughts may be confused conceptual mental activity, but this mental conceptual activity doesn't really exist. When we know that, there is no way to be judgmental about the minds of others, and pure vision with regard to mind arises as well.

Twelth and thirteenth verses of Lucky:

    Another reason you might be lucky–
    The freedoms and resources, this excellent base
    Is hard to find, and what's harder than that
    Is using it to practice Dharma correctly
    So if you are on the path of correct practice–
    This is what it means to be lucky.

    Knowing what it means to be lucky
    Day and night, without distraction
    In order to accomplish great benefit
    For the teachings and for all beings
    May all of us practice
    The Dharma of the lucky ones.

This last verse is Rinpoche's aspiration. Knowing what it means to be lucky day and night without distraction in order to accomplish great benefit for the teachings and for all beings, may all of us practice the dharma of the lucky ones. 

This talk was given on September 11, 1998, to the Nalandabodhi and Karma Thekchen Choling sanghas in Vancouver, B.C., Canada.

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