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Third Session of Gyalwang Karmapa’s Teaching on Madhyamika

Wednesday 17th December, 2008

Madhyamika is noted as being a very difficult area of study, yet, each day, the number of people attending the teaching has grown, and this prompted His Holiness to tell a funny story. Looking around the large assembly hall at Tergar, he told how a Geshe had gone abroad to deliver a teaching on the Middle Way approach. The first day there was a good number of people present. The following day there were fewer, and this continued until the final day, when the Geshe found himself addressing an empty room. His Holiness concluded that this was definitely not the case at Tergar.

Gyalwang Karmapa began by relating the life of Aryadeva, comparing the Chinese and Tibetan versions of his life story. Aryadeva is famous for his “400 Verses”, and for his skills in debating with non-Buddhists. According to some sources, he came from a royal family in Sri Lanka, studied with Nagarjuna in South India, and became his direct disciple.

His Holiness then returned to the previous day’s discussion of what it means when the Middle Way school says it does not make any assertions of its own while making assertions in others’ frames of reference . He emphasized again that it does not mean the Middle Way school adopts the view of the other school. It was important to recognize that accepting others’ assertions for the sake of argument did not mean accepting their views per se. As to the question of what is meant by ‘self’ and ‘other’, the ‘other’ referred to was not as we normally understand ‘other,’ but referred to one who is not in the state of meditative equipoise i.e. someone in the post meditative state. There were three phases of others’ frame of reference: no analysis, partial analysis, complete analysis.

He explained how he had found it useful in his own life to remember “I have no assertions”, because, not only did this lead to a decrease in pride, it also reduced clinging to one’s own religion or sect. Such clinging was dangerous because it could lead to prejudice and many problems, as witnessed by events in the 21st century. In the end, it was not being a Buddhist which was so important, but what we do. There were people from many different religious traditions who were doing good in the world, and it was not good to criticize people for not being Buddhist.

With reference to Tibetan Buddhism, it had developed into four schools, but the important thing to remember was their commonality not their differences: all studied the Middle Way approach, all practised the Vinaya, and all followed a Vajrayana practice.