Application of Philosophy – Reflections from Summer University 2019
The Indestructible Dagger
Each year in July, Khenpo Chodrak Rinpoche settles in at Dhagpo with Buddhist Treasures of Knowledge for three weeks of study of philosophical texts. Fifty students of all ages and many nationalities came together to continue the study of the Diamond Sutra, also known as the Discourse of the Indestructible Dagger. In this instance, the word diamond refers to discernment: this higher knowledge is indestructible, as it eradicates the states of mind that hinder the realization of the enlightened state of a Buddha—the state we wish to actualize! The daggers brings the idea of putting an end to something; in this case, it is putting an end to all of the obscurations that prevent us from seeing reality as it is.
The prajnaparamita is at the heart of this particularly profound teaching. The prajnaparamita? It is the discernment that allows us to reach the other shore. The other shore? This means that which is beyond misunderstanding and confusion, when the causes for suffering have been exhausted and the qualities to help being are actualized. The prajnaparamita is accomplished when wisdom and compassion are fully matured. This is what every practitioner tries to do by following the Buddha’s path. In last year’s chronicles on the summer university, I talked about the context of the teaching, the meaning of the text, and the process of translation.
From Study to Reflection
This time, I suggest we return to the process that allows the prajnaparamita to ripen in the current of our being and to become a personal experience through study, reflection, and meditation. Khenpo Rinpoche redefined these terms. Study, according to the Buddha, means memorizing what we have understood. In general, it refers to learning by heart what is called a “root text,” a text that brings together the meaning of the text to be studied in dense and concise stanzas. Then, it means regular recitation of the text to help us not to forget it, all while cultivating understanding of the meaning of the words. In addition to recitation, the Buddha advises us to read the text calmly and regularly to help develop our understanding. This is the first step. It allows us to immerse ourselves in an initial understanding of the text.
We might have the impression that this type of study is inaccessible for us! In the long run, it means cultivating four complementary aspects: 1) memorization, 2) keeping it at hand through regular recitation, 3) reading, and 4) doing so in a calm way in order to understand. Khenpo Chodrak explained to us that, obviously, if we do not speak or understand Tibetan, we can carry out this process in our own language (once we are sure to have a quality translation). This reminds me of a piece of advice from Lama Jigme Rinpoche. He says that the best way for him to memorize a text is to read it daily. What all of this tells us is that this first step, become familiar with the meaning of the text, takes time. Knowledge from studying does not come simply from listening to the teaching. It requires a period of development. Then comes reflection.
Reflection or contemplation comes down to deepening the knowledge acquired through study in order to cultivate an understanding of the meaning of the teaching that goes beyond words. It means analyzing what we have studied to acquire a personal understanding. Reflection involves carrying out an investigation in order to discover for ourselves all the aspects of the instructions and to arrive at an inner certainty by exhausting doubts through study and contemplation. For example, the Buddha explained that it is necessary to generate and cultivate enlightened mind to actualize the dual benefit, that of oneself and others. Once we have studied this idea, we must ask ourselves questions to delve into the meaning. What mind? What enlightenment? Who are the beings? What benefits does this mean? What am I within all this? Why should I give rise to this state of mind? How do I do so? What is the point of focus? Etc. In this way, we develop a progressive understanding within ourselves, accompanied with a natural need to fill out our knowledge with other instructions.
If we carry out this process correctly, all of the instruction that we receive nourish our reflection, as we can then connect all the various instructions. What does compassion have to do with awareness? How are ethics and higher knowledge connected? How does reflection lead to meditation? In fact, “good questions” arise naturally.
Khenpo comes back to the process, “The ancient masters of our tradition all said that study, reflection, and meditation must go hand in hand. No one ever said, ‘Now that you have heard my instructions, forget them and go home!’ Try daily to see if your understanding of the instructions you have received is correct or not, if what is said is factual or not. We must reach certainty on the basis of our knowledge and personal reflection and not because the teacher said so.”
From Meditation to Action
So where does that leave meditation? During study and reflection, many thoughts are in motion, but once we have achieved certainty, this becomes our focus and following the thoughts is no longer necessary. The process of reflection is not infinite; it leads us to a point of certain knowledge of the teachings we have received, a profound and personal understanding. We must cultivate this through meditation with a mind that is more and more clear and peaceful. This is how the knowledge that the Buddha pointed to becomes an inner and intimate knowledge.
This is the process that we try to apply during the summer university. But, looking closely, this is what each of us must apply, whatever the instructions we receive. Now, when we say, “I’m going to practice,” this does not only mean, “I’m going to meditate.” It is up to us to choose between a session of study, a period of reflection, or a time of meditation. And as Khenpo added, when we are not doing any of these three things, then we apply ourselves to accomplishing virtuous actions that nourish the current of our being. Action picks up where the other practices leave off. In this way, every aspect of our lives becomes spiritual practice.
Puntso, program director for Dhagpo