The Three Essential Points, Day Two, Part II: The Accumulation of Wisdom

The Three Essential Points, Day Two, Part II: The Accumulation of Wisdom

January 21, 2107 – Tergar Monastery, Bodh Gaya, Bihar, India

After teaching the accumulation of merit that leads to realizing the form kayas, the Karmapa turned to the next section of Mikyö Dorje’s instruction that shows how to view and meditate on profound emptiness and achieve the dharmakaya through the accumulation of wisdom. First, the Karmapa gave a reading transmission for this section on view, which unfolds in extensive and subtle detail the line, “The key point of the view is recognizing whatever appears,” and then he gave his own commentary. [A translation of the complete text of the Three Essential Points will be posted on]

“The main point, the Karmapa said, relates to our taking the phenomena that appear to us as being truly existent or truly established just as they appear. This talking them to be real and true (or undeceiving), and then clinging to them as existent things are what needs to be negated by the prajna that realizes profound emptiness.”

The Karmapa then cited the quote from Gampopa in the text: “We must meditate on the essence itself. Meditating on the empty does not help.” It is the phenomenon itself as it now appears to us that we need to meditate upon as being empty of its own essence. We do not need to meditate on an emptiness that is separate from the phenomenon. This is the main point. Here in Mikyö Dorje’s instructions, he does refute the explanation of Je Tsongkhapa and his followers; however, it would be good if we could practice seeing that the emptiness described by Mikyö Dorje and that of Je Tsongkhapa and his followers are not contradictory.

The Karmapa related the story of a lama, who had studied the major texts and went abroad to teach. He had decided that he was going to teach people in the same way that he taught the monks. So, he discussed extensively Chandrakirti’s Entering the Middle Way explicating as well the debates about the pros and cons of subtle points. Over the days, there was a slow attrition of his audience until there was just one person left. This foreigner said to the lama that he had a question. “What’s the benefit,” he said, “of hearing about these disputes from hundreds of years ago? What’s the use of knowing that one person said this and another that? I need something that helps my mind right now.” Sometimes setting out in detail what should be refuted and what refutes it does not help all that much. Instead of undermining and weakening what should be negated, these debates can even increase our ego clinging.

A Gelukpa lama once said if we do not think about what is being refuted, our refutations will be nothing but dry words. What we should do is turn inward to see what the actual thing to be refuted is, and that will bring about a true and effective refutation. If we do not understand what it is that needs to be negated and refute it if without real comprehension, it becomes empty, ineffective words, mere jargon that cannot act as an antidote for ego clinging.

Instead of this, we need to look within and see what it is in us that is being refuted. When studying the texts of the Middle Way, we often emphasize an understanding of the words and the refutations, but leaving it at that would make it difficult for these to be truly effective. What we need to do is identify what should be negated. For example, if we are trying to find a thief and someone tells us it was a human being, a monk, and young, this would not be enough to find the thief. We need to be able to point a finger exactly who it is; otherwise, giving a general description of the thief does not help much.

Similarly, we need to be able to identify based on our own experience what it is that is being refuted and say with confidence, “That’s it!” Most of the difficulties come down to what is being refuted (the negandum). To identify this, we need to recognize how it appears. In this text, Mikyö Dorje gives the view of the earlier Middle Way school, which states that a vase is empty of being a vase. The later Middle Way school, however, asserts that a vase is not empty of being a vase, but empty of being truly established. This is the main difference between the two schools.

The Gelukpa Middle Way school usually asserts that when we are employing the reasonings that analyze the (categorized) ultimate, we must refute at the same time both the self that is established on its own and a self that is posited conceptually or through philosophical views. What this means is that any appearance—tainted by self-clinging and related to the six sense faculties—that might arise is what we take to be negated, or examined by the reasonings analyzing the ultimate. This understanding is all right. We do not need to negate some separate thing (that we think is true and established), set apart from what appears to the six consciousnesses. It is not possible to eliminate something that is posited as being separate from phenomena.

In his “Song of the Middle Way View, Recognizing My Mother,” Changkya Rolpay Dorje states a similar view—what is to be negated is not a separate thing; it is clinging to these appearances as true that we need to negate. This is a very important statement. If we are not able to transform these present appearances, it will be difficult to affect change in our minds.

A story about the master Pakmo Drupa (1110-1170) illustrates this point. He first studied with many Kadampa masters but a question remained: What is the one thing that keeps us circling in samsara? He went to the famous Chapa Chokyi Senge (1109-1169) who answered, “Ignorance.” Since such general Dharma language can be found in many texts, it did not help Pakmo Drupa. He asked the same question of a Sakya Master and though the answer was better, it did not move him deeply. Finally, Pakmo Drupa went to see Gampopa, who replied, “The cause of samsara is your present consciousness.” Pakmo Drupa recognized the meaning, it immediately benefited his mind, and he saw its nature.

And so we do not need to search outside ourselves or go through all the hoops of reasoning and search outside ourselves; we simply relate directly to the appearance that is arising right now. If there is a lama with blessings and a student with good fortune, that student will be able to see into the nature of mind and know that the confusion is what is not truly established: it is not some other thing outside that needs to change.

We might manipulate appearances, deciding that this one is delusive and that one is not. We might pull out the delusive one and go through numerous presentations of why this one is so imperfect. Since this is not related to us inwardly or directly, we come to think that what is faulty is separate from us. This way of thinking is not helpful.

As mentioned earlier, the Karmapa said that there are two types of self: the illusory self that is imputed by thought, which exists conventionally, and the truly established self, which does not exist even on a conventional level. Since it is difficult for beginners to distinguish these two as separate things to be negated, many manuals of instruction state that both types of self (the conventionally existent and not) are negated together.

“Here is an essential point,” the Karmapa stated. “We need to look within our mind streams and recognize what needs to be negated, pinpoint what should be altered: this is what will undermine and weaken our massive clinging to a self. We might look at or teach hundreds or thousands of presentations about the Middle Way view or we might recite the root of Fundamental Verses of the Middle Way hundreds or thousands of times, but if these do not help us to change our minds and recognize their nature, they are of little use.” That was a brief presentation of the views of the Gelukpa school.

In his way of thinking, Mikyö Dorje emphasizes the three phases: pre-analytic, slightly analyzed, and fully analyzed. Even right now in our 21st century, these three are important. In the General Discussion of Validity, the Sixth Shamar, Chökyi Wangchuk, combines all his discussions of the philosophical schools from the Vaibashika onward with these three phases of analysis.

“In my view,” the Karmapa explained, “when we are studying the Middle Way, the three phases are connected in the following way. The first pre-analytical phase relates to conventional reasoning and conventional appearances. The second phase of partial analysis works with inference and the reasonings analyzing for the ultimate.” The Karmapa mentioned in passing, “When we analyze what we have made certain through partial analysis, it would have to be called the categorized ultimate (rnam grangs pa’i don dam), not the uncategorized ultimate (rnam grangs ma yin pa’i don dam).” This is because partial analysis remains within a conceptual world.

The Karmapa continued, “The third phase of full analysis comes naturally out of the second one as it becomes increasingly strong. The third phase relates to direct valid cognition and the perception of emptiness through the wisdom of the Noble Ones’ equipoise. At this point, we see that all phenomena are free from all elaborations, free from the four extremes, the eight elaborations, and so forth.”

Through this presentation, we can see that the five great Middle Way reasonings are used during the second but not the third phase, because inference is applied in the phase of partial analysis. If we examine the three phases in this way we can also see that the presentation of the Geluk school, and our presentation of the three phases eventually establish a similar point; the ultimate thought or intent of both come down to the same thing.

“When studying the Middle Way view,” the Karmapa cautioned, “it is important to be able to distinguish the borderlines of the phases and how we move from one to another. If we jump from the ordinary first phase to the complete analysis of the third, then when it is said there is nothing existing, nothing not existing, and so forth, it would be difficult to develop a true understanding. It is important to move along step by step, therefore, knowing how to distinguish between the frontiers of each phase.”

Through wielding inferential validity during the second phase, we come to discover the categorized ultimate. On the question of whether the essential nature of the categorized and non-categorized ultimate is different or not, there is a difference between the earlier and later presentations of the Middle Way. There is a lot more that could be said here, the Karmapa noted, but time does not allow it.

“Basically what we need to understand,” the Karmapa summarized, “is that we should turn our attention inward so that our practice becomes an antidote to clinging to things as real and clinging to a self.” In a lighter tone, the Karmapa remarked, “The original idea was to give a reading transmission of the One Hundred Brief Instructions, but I became a bit too talkative, so you now have these extra instructions.”