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Six-Session Guru Yoga Commentary by Geshe Tashi Tsering of Chenrezig Institute

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SIX-SESSION GURU YOGA Geshe Tashi Tsering Interpreted by: Ven Losang Zopa Chenrezig Institute Transcribed by Annis Dickson (Any mistakes in this text are entirely the fault of the transcriber)

Tape 8 – 4.3.2003

Side A

There are 18 root downfalls and 46 secondary offences (and we are dealing with how to) keep or guard the bodhisattva vows. Of these different divisions we are still dealing with some of the 18 root downfalls. The root text itself has a division of four so the first section deals with the way to obtain vows that have not been obtained. The second section deals with the way to guard the vows from degeneration. The third deals with the way to restore or repair these vows should they degenerate. And the fourth section details the benefits and virtues of guarding them.

Now we have already covered the first section. The second section on how to guard the bodhisattva vows and prevent them from degeneration reads – ‘You should learn the basis of the bodhisattva training by properly relying upon a sublime spiritual guide who is learned in the bodhisattva canon and it’s commentary.’ In particular you must know the 18 root downfalls and the 46 secondary offences and we have a presentation of what is primarily emphasised.

Now the primary root text referring to six session guru yoga details these 18 root downfalls saying – Praising myself and belittling others Not sharing my wealth of the Dharma Not forgiving even if others should apologize

Doubting and denying the Mahayana
Taking offerings intended for the Triple Gem
Abandoning the Dharma through sectarianism
Disrobing monks and nuns
Committing the five heinous crimes
Holding distorted views
Destroying places such as towns
Teaching voidness to those untrained

And finally Discouraging others from full enlightenment That’s as far as we have got.

Geshela’s introduction to these points accords with that which is found in six session guru yoga. His intention behind doing this is so that by participating here we gain some understanding so that then it will later impact on us when we later engage in the practice. After all everyone who has taken a highest yoga tantra empowerment has to recite this text on a regular basis.

The tenth root downfalls related to the bodhisattva vows is the one about destroying places such as towns. We have covered up to and including this one.

Last week Geshe-la did indeed speak a little bit about this eleventh root downfall – teaching voidness to those untrained – but we might have to go over it again.

Teaching voidness to those untrained refers to teaching emptiness to someone who is an unsuitable vessel or recipient for such teaching.

How should we distinguish between the untrained and the trained? After all this is what the text is saying – it’s inappropriate to teach emptiness to the untrained – so how do we make the distinction? Sometimes the term mature or ripened is used for, instance in the context of secret mantra – that is tantra – there is this statement about how one should not share secrets with the immature or the unripened. How do we distinguish between the untrained and trained, the immature and the mature?

Emptiness or selflessness of person has different levels of subtlety according to the different tenets to which tenets school you are speaking about. One type of selflessness of person refers to the fact that the person is empty of being self sufficient and substantially existing. Alternatively if we want to speak about emptiness particularly from the Middleway Consequence perspective then emptiness applies also to selflessness of person. So if the selflessness of person is understood to refer to the fact the person is not inherently established – the person is not established from its own side – the person is not established by way of its own character.

These are some of the different points that are an issue in discussing this root downfall.  Geshe-la was told about someone in Bendigo - it might have been a hospice worker or somebody who worked with the aged or elderly or something.  This person was speaking about or introducing the topic of selflessness of person to some of these people who were ill.  (You can ask Chodron what those sorts of people talk about – she does that kind of work – (Geshla laughing)).  Anyway they were obviously blabbing on about selflessness for what reason Geshe-la does not know because there’s no reason why selflessness should have to be brought up in such a situation.  In any case, this person was bringing up selfessness – Geshe-la suspects that they might even have been mistaken in their presentation, so that this person who was already on the verge of passing out of existence became scared by this notion that the self does not exist.  Feeling scared – they said ‘Please don’t talk to me like this’, which then eliminated the opportunity for this person to be of assistance to the one who was being cared for.  

Whatever the case may be this is an instance of inappropriate vessel for this teaching. Because here you have a person whose mind does not agree with that teaching at that moment. In short a person who is displeased with or dislikes that idea.

When the persons mind is not in agreement with this notion of selflessness or emptiness – the fact that the person does not exist from its own side – does not resonate with that persons sensibilities, that person is considered untrained or you might even say unprepared in mind. Speaking about such issues to such a person runs the risk that the person might develop wrong views and therefore to do so would incur a root downfall.

Geshe-la – This clear, understand?

A person who is untrained or unprepared in this regard will have absolutely no understanding of emptiness such that when you introduce the ideas and the person thinks for instance – oh if a person is not established by its nature then it has not nature, if a person is not established from its own side then its not established at all. They make these types of jumps, misunderstanding the material. In that case you incur this downfall of teaching voidness to the untrained, teaching emptiness to an untrained mind as it says in this text. If for instance it doesn’t make a difference to the person what you say to them, you don’t incur the root downfall, even if they have never heard of emptiness and don’t understand anything about it.

Geshe-la was a little bit concerned about this issue, concerned enough in fact to bring it up with His Holiness the Dalai Lama. In an audience with His Holiness he mentioned that we have this root downfall of teaching emptiness to the untrained and although there are many people who are interested in emptiness when you have a large assembly it is difficult to tell really who amongst them are trained and untrained.

Geshe-la says this is an important point – isn’t it?

His Holiness’s response was that there are indeed many different levels and degrees of subtlety to selflessness and emptiness. So perhaps – His Holiness suggested – if Geshe-la would teach some of the different levels of subtlety then even if there are some amongst the audience whose minds do not agree with the teachings – there are some who might benefit as a result. Indeed it is important.

It is important to take care with the way we speak about these things with others. We should make sure that what we are talking about finds a somewhat receptive audience – so keep this in mind particularly with relation to selflessness and emptiness. And also Geshe-la adds that there’s no need to address these points with people who are on the verge of dying. In fact if you do you run the risk of having the police called on you. You can imagine (the patient) ringing the police and saying – come and get this person – I’m on the verge of dying and this person is sitting here harassing me. (laughter).

Learning about emptiness is quite important particularly for Buddhist practitioners. After all they say that the root of cyclic is the misapprehension of the self or self-grasping and in order to counteract or apply the antidote to this misapprehension of self we must gain an understanding of selflessness, of emptiness.

The text reads –

Teaching voidness to those untrained,
Discouraging others from full enlightenment,

We’ll go on to ‘Discouraging others from full enlightenment’

So the text reads – ‘if a person who has generated the mind of supreme enlightenment, turns away from generating that mind because you have said – you are capable of training in the six perfections and attaining buddhahood – if you were to generate the mind of a hearer or solitary realiser you would be liberated from cyclic existence. It is a root downfall of causing others to turn away from supreme enlightenment.’

Is this clear? This is the 12th.

A person might enjoy the practice of generating the mind of enlightenment but you might say to them that it is difficult to generate the mind of enlightenment someone like you isn’t capable of practicing the six perfections and attaining supreme enlightenment. Whereas if you were to pursue the hearer or solitary realiser vehicle then you could make progress along the path to eventually abandon all of the disturbing emotions – that’s easier – why don’t you do that? If that person were to hear this and generate the mind of a Hinayanist then a root downfall would occur. Is that clear?

Question: Does the person need to have generated uncontrived bodhicitta or can it be before that?

Answer: No it does not need to be uncontrived. We are speaking in Tibetan terms ????? which means – mind generation – sometimes called the awakening mind. What it takes to awaken the mind in this regard is to have an affinity for enlightenment and think that I have to attain enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings. In fact even that is perhaps more than necessary. All that is required is to develop the intension to attain enlightenment.

It’s a bit like the intention to definitely emerge this notion of renunciation. As Geshe-la has explained – when a person develops this state of mind in which they are no longer striving primarily for the pleasures of this cyclic existence but are rather striving for the pleasures of liberation then some intention to definitely emerge has come about. Correct? Some semblance of renunciation has arisen. Correct? So similarly as Geshe-la explained in terms of what occurred while one is still a trainee. A person might begin to strive to attain for instance the absorption states of hearer or perhaps the give rise to the wish to attain the resultant state of a solitary realiser arhat. Alternatively they might give rise to the intention to attain enlightenment. When a person give rise to the intention to attain enlightenment then the mind has been awakened, the mind has been generated. In this case it is the mind that’s aiming towards complete enlightenment. When the person gives rise to the intention to obtain the resultant state of a solitary realiser a person has awakened the mind in relation to that.

Generating the mind of a hearer, generating the mind of solitary realiser, generating the mind of enlightenment.

One thing – there is a grammatical particle here which makes a slight difference. In English it comes out sounding the same – there is no distinction. But it’s more about generating the intention for enlightenment as opposed to generating the mind of enlightenment. So to make that distinction more clear in English the first line of line 12 might read –

‘If a person who has generated the intention for supreme enlightenment’ this might remove some of the ambiguity.

A person might become disillusioned with the pleasures of cyclic existence, recognising that they are not reliable and so they think – ‘Oh I ought to attain enlightenment’ and then you come along and you say – ‘It’s very difficult to attain enlightenment. Whereas if you were to for instance strive to attain the hearer or solitary realisers liberation you would indeed go on to abandon suffering and attain unchanging type of pleasure or happiness.’ When you say that to a person, it’s possible that the person sees some truth in that and if they see some truth in that then you have incurred the downfall.

You understand?

Question: ??

Answer: It’s possible that a hearer would practice the six perfections but it’s not the case that the attainment of liberation is impossible without this practice. The six perfections is the main practice of bodhisattvas. Hearers or solitary realisers do not practice the six perfections they can however practice the six – generosity and so on.

Question: ??

Answer: Geshe-la would take issue with the English translation of ‘perfections’ for the Tibetan term ??? or the Sanskrit – parramita. In fact it means to have gone to the otherside. To have gone across. Now to have gone across then implies to have taken something to the end. If something is a parramita, something has gone across then something is necessarily taken to the end. On the basis of that understanding of this term then you might be able to see how it’s said that the hearer does not have the perfection of generosity and so forth. That is to say that the hearer does not have generosity that has gone across. For those of you who studied the 70 Topics you might remember the definition of Prajna Parramita or ???? which translates as Wisdom Gone Across which is the sixth of these parramitas. Now for our purpose we can understand the definition to be – the exalted knower that has gone to the end. This is in fact what - wisdom gone across – means with the Prajna Parramita otherwise known as the Perfection of Wisdom – means – an Exalted Knower Gone to the End. Now there is this debate between the Autonomous School and the Consequence School. The Consequence School says that a person on the bodhisattva grounds has the various paramitta’s – the various perfections or has gone across. Whereas the Autonomous School says – ‘no they don’t’. Now the Autonomous school might take issue with the consequentialists saying –

Geshe-la (interrupts): Needs to be clear – not clear…

A bodhisattva has the practice of generosity in his or her continuum – correct? Now according to the Consequence School, the practice of generosity in the continuum of a bodhisattva is the paramitta of generosity. It is the generosity gone across. And the Autonomous school says that although they have the practice of generosity, that practice of generosity is not the paramitta of generosity. It is not the generosity gone across. So we have a point of dissension – correct?

So the autonomists make the distinction by saying that that is not the paramitta of generosity but it is the practice of the paramitta of generosity. That’s very very clear OK?

You will not hear the discussion of how the hearers and solitary realisers have the paramitta of generosity or the paramitta of ethics. You will not even hear discussions of how the hearers and solitary realisers have the practice of the paramitta of generosity or the practice of the paramitta of ethics. They have the practice of generosity and ethics. Hearers and solitary realisers do not have the practice of the paramitta of ethics and generosity – is that clear? It’s what I said – yes?

Question: Why is it ‘gone across’? Is it ‘gone across’ because it refers to all sentient beings (which may have to be explained at greater length) or does it (what was the other alternative?) because of the realisation of emptiness?

Answer: If you were to practice generosity for the purposes of attaining enlightenment it would be the practice of the paramitta – it is the perfection of generosity. If you were to practice generosity for the purposes of attaining the liberation of a hearer that would not be the practice of the paramitta of generosity.

So the text actual mentions - gone across, paramitta, perfection – by name. This is mainly a practice of the Mahayana. Perhaps that phrasing is misleading – this is in fact a main practice of the Mahayana. If you were to practice generosity or ethics for the purposes of attaining buddhahood – enlightenment then that constitutes the practice of the paramitta of the perfection of generosity, ethics and so on.

A question arises – what is the difference between practicing generosity for the purpose of attaining enlightenment that is buddhahood and practicing generosity for the purposes of attaining the liberation of a hearer?

If you practice generosity for purposes of attaining buddhahood, you are doing so for the purpose of freeing all sentient beings from suffering. If you are practicing generosity for the purposes of attaining this lesser liberation, you are doing so for the purposes of merely freeing yourself from suffering.

So in terms of extent or scope – there is a great difference, isn’t there? The reason this is coming up if it’s not already becoming clear is that to Geshe-la’s ears - hearer and Hilary sound the same. (laughter) She used to be a nun…….

Side B …(laughter) Question: Your reasons for asking are not just antagonistic but rather sincere because within the hearers path, they themselves refer to the practice of these six as paramittas.

Answer: Geshe-la: Where have you heard that? In the bodhisattva vehicle you find discussion of the ten paramittas, the ten perfections in connection with the ten grounds – the ten bodhisattva grounds. Geshe-la himself hasn’t heard anything about the ten paramittas in connection with the hearers.

The root of this discussion comes down to the differences that exist between practicing generosity or ethics for the purposes of attaining buddhahood for the benefit of all beings and practicing generosity ethics and so on in order to attain liberation so that you yourself may be free from suffering.

Of course here the discussion is framed in the context of the root downfalls related to the bodhisattva vows. So the person in question is specifically one who has the intention of the thought to attain buddhahood. If we were to say to such a person, that you should strive instead for the liberation of a hearer for instance, then you can incur this root downfall. It might be that the advice is well intentioned but even so it is still a basis for incurring this root downfall. Even if a person doesn’t appear to have the capacity, if they have the affinity towards the Mahayana vehicle there are still incredible benefits and great gains to be had in pursuing that.

The name of this root downfall is – discouraging others from full enlightenment or alternatively -.causing others to turn away from supreme enlightenment. So in order to incur this root downfall, the other person has to turn away from complete enlightenment. If they don’t listen to what you say and continue to strive for complete enlightenment then the root downfall does not occur.

The next is – causing others to break pratimoksha vows – correct? The thirteenth root downfall reads – When you cause another who abides correctly in the ethics of individual liberation, to turn away from those ethics by saying – what’s the use with the ethics of individual liberation, arouse the mind of supreme enlightenment, return with the Mahayana and all faults with the three doors will be stopped – is the root downfall of causing others to abandon the vows of individual liberation.

This is also quite a dangerous one – isn’t it? It might be that such talk is true! The faults of the three doors are stopped by practicing Mahayana, aren’t they? Do you think there is truth in this statement? If the faults of the three doors can be stopped by practicing Mahayana, then there is no need to take the vows of individual liberation – correct? Because by practicing the Mahayana the faults of the three doors can be stopped and so in effect you have the same outcome.

Student comment: The Mahayana includes the practices of ……(words not clear)

These are the things we have to think about. What is the purpose of becoming a monastic? What is the purpose of getting ordained?

If you don’t understand for instance the purpose of getting ordained then becoming a monastic can be difficult. It just tires you out – you think – I can’t drink alcohol, I can’t do all this, I can’t sloth off. It’s just as this other person has said – you can’t drink alcohol, you can’t go dancing – it’s just like being in prison.

If you were to purely practice the Mahayana Dharma then indeed the faults of the three doors would be stopped. Which means that you would stop or eliminate these stains of desirous attachment. In order to do so then clearly you have to apply the antidote to desirous attachment.

The purpose of the pratimoksha or in English the (vows of) individual liberation is to encourage of the arousal of the intention to definitely emerge – renunciation. In other words we have to try and overcome our attachment to the pleasure of cyclic existence. When a person is unable to overcome this attachment for instance as in the Mahayana then they take vows of individual liberation – for instance they get ordained – they don’t dance, they don’t dance without purpose, they don’t drink alcohol and so forth. This type of approach is an approach that begins by abandoning the more coarse levels and the more coarse until you are able to abandon the more subtle levels.

In Shantideva’s text engaging in the conduct of a bodhisattva – ‘The Way of the Bodhisattva’ he says that there is not a single thing that does not become easier with familiarity. Whereas it’s difficult to just jump into something that we have never encountered before. Taking those statements – we begin by working with the more and more coarse until we have those under control and then we can move to the more subtle.

It’s possible that with time one’s practice of the Mahayana will indeed include all the practices of individual liberation but that happens with time - to just do that straight off is very very difficult. It’s like in the Mahayana – we speak about practicing to alleviate the suffering of all sentient beings but the fact is that most of us still hold mainly to alleviating our own suffering. There’s a Tibetan expression that basically says (if I put this into a kind of English colloquial) you might say that the benefit of others is on you lips, written on your brow, whereas the actual application is for your own benefit. You make out as if you are aiming to accomplish the wellbeing of others when in actual practice you are doing so for your own welfare.

Geshe-la: Benefit self – isn’t it?

You notice in the process

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