Sunday, September 30, 2007

Vajra Verses - Part 7

This is the start of the third main section in the beginning of vajra verses. bde bar gshegs pa la.

bde bar gshegs pa is the way Tibetans translated the Sanskrit title Sugata, a synonym for Buddha, or, literally, The One who has Gone to Bliss.

bde ba is bliss, the r at the end is a particle, sub-ordination particle that binds the next word together with the earlier at the left. gshegs pa is to go away, move, depart.

la is an oblique particle that will bind this smaller sentence with something that will come next.

So a rough translation so far is: For Sugatas.... Thus, the support part here is the Sugatas. Next is the cause.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Vajra Verses - Part 6

OK, this is the last section of the second part: nyams kyi snang ba.

nyams means experience or experiential. kyi is a genitive particle, here it starts with k. It binds the right side with the earlier left.

snang ba means appearance, or here it's also a verb, appearances occur.

So this part is experiencial appearances occur.

All together, this section is translated: For yogis with meditative concentration, experiential appearances occur. It mean that as part of developing deep meditative experiences, so called experiential appearances will manifest. And this is nice, as such experiences will make the meditator even more keen to finish the job and become an enlightened being, as they will get a taste of how the ever-lasting continuum of enlightenment will really be.

This is also good news for anyone doing the practices, as one could generate results from the practices that will enforce the practices and make them deeper. Or, compared with sentient beings who constantly experience impure appearances due to mental afflictions, it's a nice break.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Vajra Verses - Part 5

The second line in the second block is this: ting nge 'dzin la.

ting nge 'dzin is meditative concentration, samadhi in Sanskrit. This is usually described for various very deep meditative states of mind. The mind is totally absorbed into another object.

la is again the oblique particle, pointing at something to be described next.

In the lam 'bras tradition, this actually consists of fifteen different meditative experiences all together, and these are taken as the path in the practices. So this is the cause part of this definition, and it will provide a result that we will talk about next.

So far do we have: For the yogi with meditative concentration....

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Vajra Verses - Part 4

This is the second of the three bigger parts in the beginning vajra verses. It starts with: rnal 'byor pa la.

rnal 'byor is yoga, thus 'rnal 'byor pa is yogi, someone who practices yogic practices. This is about Buddhism, so we are talking about Vajrayana practices. The female aspect is rnal 'byor ma, yogini, you could see the difference as pa is used for male constructs, and ma for female. Just to be clear, there's really no bigger difference between male and female practitioners, with the exception in highest yoga where female practitioner could more easily obtain enlightenment with the most deep practices!

We have again the oblique particle la, which will bind the next construct to this one, just now we could roughly translate this as: for a yogin...

So the support in this case are yogic practitioners, there are different kinds, from those who have really obtained very deep meditative experiences, to those who have a a very good mind stream, to those who have a very good body so they could practice.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Vajra Verses - Part 3

This is the third line in the beginning of Vajra verses: ma dag pa'i snang ba.

dag pa is pure, and the ma in front is a negation, so this is impure. This is then bound with the 'i genitive particle to the next part.

snang ba means appearance. So this whole section is impure appearances.

We could now puzzle together the first third of the important Vajra verse opening lines: Impure appearances occur for sentient beings with mental afflictions.

Each of the three has three sections: what is supporting it, what the cause is, and what the appearance is. Here, the support basis is sentient beings. The cause is mental afflictions. The appearance is impure.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Vajra Verses - Part 2

The second line has the following tibetan, nyon mongs pa la.

We have met the word nyon mongs before, in Sanskrit klesha, or mental afflictions. It's basically any mental state that is bothering us every day. It it sometimes easy to notice them, but sometimes they are also very subtle.

nyon mongs pa is another word for the same construct, mental afflictions.

And we have again the oblique pointer particle la, I like to think of it as a pointer particle, as it points out something coming next together with something before, or pointing from right to left. Anyone doing programming would also figure out what I'm thinking about, as there are pointers in computer programming, too.

Anyway, it again points out that there's a third statement that is binding together what we have so far: for sentient beings that have mental afflictions....

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Vajra Verses - Part 1

OK, let's start going through the beginning of the Vajra verses! By the way, you will notice that these verses are not seven or nine syllable verses, rather they each have different syllable counts.

sems can is sentient beings, anyone who possesses a mind.

la is a so called oblique particle, it binds the right side with the left, indicating for what, or takes into consideration time, location and so on.
Here the easiest word to use is for.

So far we have: For sentient beings... and then the next part will explain what is special with sentient beings.

It is a tradition to memorize this introduction part (and much more) of the Vajra verses, by the way....

rdo rje tshig rkang - Vajra Verses

The text we will use for presenting how sentient beings, meditators, and enlightened beings experience the world is called rdo rje tshig rkang - Vajra verses. This was orally transmitted from Virupa to his closest disciples, and they in turn kept this tradition around as an oral-only translation until it was time for the Sakya tradition to preserve it in writing.

rdo rje is Vajra in Sanskrit, a term used in Tantric teachings to define various things, but in general it is the indestructable reality as it is.

tshig is word, rkang is pith, kind of the core, or primary stuff, it's also the same word for marrow which kind of annotates the usage of this word.

tshig rkang is actually the term verse, so hence the short title of this text is Vajra Verses.

Speaking of this oral tradition, it's a very beautiful one. The student has to memorize the text, and when they know it inside out, they will get in-depth teachings about the topic. So while memorizing and wondering what it's all about, the seeds to really want to get the knowledge is planted. Compare this with today's Internet world with seconds to knowledge, and with a mouse click the end users move to the next topic.

If you want to learn more about the oral tradition, part of lam 'bras in the Sakya tradition, as rdo rje tshig rkang is the root text to the lam 'bras teachings, I recommend to read Cyrus Stearns book Luminous Lives.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

bir wa pa - Virupa

Yes, we are still on the third noble truth! We will take a profound Sakya root text that in the beginning lines explains the difference between ordinary beings, meditators, and enlightened beings. It's a very, very profound verse, even worth memorizing, as with this simple pith instruction the whole overview of practitioners are defined, including what it means to experience reality the wrong way and the right way.

These instructions came originally from Virupa, bir wa pa in Tibetan. He was quite an amazing mahasiddha, you could read about him on Internet, or here in the DharmaDictionary web site.

There has been a long debate if Tibetans had a hard time pronouncing V, and thus used B instead, or if the ancient Sanskrit actually sounded like the B sound for certain words. Anyway, expect to see a lot of B letters used instead of Sanskrit V ones when encountering such Sanskrit words. Another similar example is Vam (E-vam) versus Tibetan Bam in Tantric texts.

Anyway, check out the stories of Virupa, quite fascinating. We will next talk about the oral tradition text that came from Virupa, and became the corner stone of Sakya teachings.

Monday, September 17, 2007

phyir mi 'ong ba - Non-returner

The third classification of those who have seen emptiness directly as a means of personal liberation is phyir mi 'ong ba, non-returner.

We looked at the phyir 'ong ba earlier, so anyone who wants to go through the translation could look at that posting.

Anyway, note the mi in the middle of this word, by placing this negation in front of 'ong ba, to arrive, it makes it the opposite, not to return.

In general, if you learn a term or construct, it's usually easy to find the opposite by the use of negation particles in Tibetan.

Anyone who is a phyir mi 'ong ba is someone who has taken involuntary rebirth into the desire realm. They will achieve personal liberation, Nirvana.

As for where they are headed next, this is a debate topic in the monasteries, usually it's either into the Form or Formless realms, or then not, as they are no longer part of Samsara -- hence the debate! Actually, the only ones that could communicate with these high beings are fully enlightened Buddhas, and this is in form of persuasion and subtle influences -- getting them to wake up from this state with the notion that everything has to be perfected sooner or later, and that is full enlightenment in the Universal Compassion tradition, to benefit all sentient beings.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

phyir 'ong ba - Once Returner

The next title of a meditator which is on the track to personal Nirvana is phyir 'ong ba - Once Returner.

phyir is one of those words good to recognize, again: because, in order to. It usually starts a second meaning, where the first meaning states something, and then the second meaning states: phyir, and then the explanation why the first statement is true is revealed. However, in this context here it means again, or back to.

'ong ba means to arrive. Thus the term is again-arriving, or once-arriving, or better, Once Returner.

This meditator has seen emptiness directly as a personal liberation sequence, and is coming back to this cyclic existence one last time with a physical body in the desire realm, and in that cycle will become an Arhat. Note again, that these terms are not applied to Bodhisattvas, only to the Shravakas and Pratyekabuddhas.

By the way, if you want to read more in detail about all these classifications, Alex Berzin has a good presentation online.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

rgyun zhugs pa - Stream Enterer

To continue with more special titles for future Arhats. rgyun zhugs pa is a so called stream enterer.

rgyun is yet another of those term words good to recognize. It means continuum, stream, or some kind of concurrent series. The moments of mind is such a continuum.

zhugs is a verb, to attend, accept, join. zhugs pa is then entering.

This is a meditator who has seen emptiness directly, but still will be reborn into cyclic existence for a while. But they have entered the stream out from Samsara, or kind of the elevator out from all the suffering.

Another way to look at this is that due to the emptiness experience, any doubts about the Buddhist world view have been removed forever, as a direct experience is the truth compared with indirect pointing of the truth, which at least leads to the direct experience. Anyway, such a person is indeed really established on the path now, as they know what the outcome is, so they diligently work towards this goal.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

dgra bcom pa - Arhat

There's a special term for those who have reached personal liberation Nirvana, dgra bcom pa, Arhat in Sanskrit.

bcom pa is to conquer. dgra is enemy. So the literal translation is foe destroyer.

This is a really profound title. What is destroyed are not external enemies, those are not a problem. The hard work is to get rid of mental afflictions, so those who have done this have conquered the enemy, or the mental afflictions that are present in ordinary sentient beings.

lhag med myang 'das - Nirvana Without Remainder

The other form of Nirvana is then lhag med myang 'das, Nirvana without remainder.

lhag is residue, here is indirectly refers to lhag bcas, the physical being forced by one's own karma to be experienced. So if you ever wonder what is the reason your body looks how it looks, there's a past cause behind it.

med is a negation particle -- working on lhag, so it then negates this, there's no residue, or remainder left.

This refers to the state where for someone who has Nirvana, elimination of all mental afflictions, the karmic causes behind the body are finally exhausted, so there's no need for the body any longer. This then leads to a state called in Sanskrit pari-nirvana.

This specific case was one reason me as a teenager read the wrong idea about Nirvana in religious text books, as the principle was not understood by the author(s), resulting in an explanation that rather sounded like an implosion of a being. There are some things that will continue forever, and have been around forever, and that's the mind stream. However, it's a changing thing, moment by moment. This is why you translators or future translators need to understand the key concepts before attempting to translate or explain Buddhist topics. If there's a misunderstanding, then someone else will reject the idea based on misinformation.

As for where the pari-nirvana beings really reside, that's an interesting debate topic in the monasteries!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

lhag bcas myang 'das - Nirvana with Remainder

lhag bcas myang 'das means Nirvana with remainder.

lhag here means residue. bcas is another good particle you should try to recognize this one, it's used in combination with other words to bind them together, so it's together with. The whole expression lhag bcas means physical residue, in other words the body we have in Samsara.

myang 'das means Nirvana.

This Nirvana is Nirvana with remainder. Even if the person has achieved exhaustion of all mental afflictions in his or her mind stream, the body -- part of past karma that has to still trigger in the mind stream -- is present. So this defines the state of someone who has reached Nirvana, but is still occupying a body, until the karmic causes for the existence of this body are exhausted.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

rdo rje theg pa - Vajrayana

So what about the Vajrayana vehicle - rdo rje theg pa in Tibetan?

theg pa is vehicle, yana. rdo rje is vajra. Vajra is the thunderbolt Indra is carrying. It's also another name of diamond, at that time the most indestructible material that existed. It is symbolizing that something is indestructible, such as reality such as it just is.

rdo rje theg pa is actually classified as a branch of Mahayana! A practitioner who wants to help all sentient beings, and want to do it as quickly as possible, would do whatever means it takes to get to this point. As part of this wish, such practitioners are searching for quick paths to full enlightenment, of which rdo rje theg pa indeed provides it.

There's a certain responsibility when doing such practices, as they are profound, touches the core of the mental continuum, and could easily be misunderstood, and not practiced properly. This is the reason such practices are and should only be communicated between a qualified teacher and a trusted student. Today, with Internet and book stores in every town, a lot of wrong information is published, this is why the qualified Vajrayana teachers actually have provided accurate information, so this path will not go away or be misunderstood.

Friday, September 07, 2007

mi gnas pa'i myang 'das - Non-Abiding Nirvana

The reason it was important to classify the practitioners to the two main groups, and three kinds, is that for the lower two they will reach Nirvana, the definition of no more mental afflictions in their mind stream.

For the higher level practitioner, they need omniscience to benefit all beings, so they will go beyond this Nirvana, and achieve full omniscience in addition of no mental afflictions in their mind stream. The blockage for omniscience is obstacles to full knowing, and these will be removed from the mind.

This kind of Nirvana has a special name, mi gnas pa'i myang 'das - Non-abiding Nirvana.

gnas pa is abiding, and the mi in front of it is a negation, so it's non-abiding. myang 'das is the shorter form for Nirvana in Tibetan.

What this term really means is that fully enlightened beings don't abide in Samsara, nor in the Nirvana of just removal of all mental afflictions.

Anyway, this is important to know in general, as there could be confusion about Nirvana and various practitioners, and as you have seen, there's a difference. Actually, according to Mahayana sooner or later the lower practitioners will wake up to the universal responsibility and through Mahayana practices reach mi gnas pa'i myang 'das.

Next, even more about Nirvanas!

Thursday, September 06, 2007

byang chub sems dpa' - Bodhisattva

Those who are in the Mahayana path are called byang chub sems dpa', or bodhisattva in Sanskrit. If there's a word you see over and over again in Tibetan Buddhist literature, this is it. There are other short forms of this, too, such as byang sems dpa'.

byang chub is enlightenment, bodhi.

sems dpa' is spiritual warrior, sattva. The interesting part here is that sems is mind, so it's like someone who is doing a battle against one's own mind, and has conquered it, far more difficult than conquering external enemies.

To be very technical, only someone who has developed ultimate compassion, or bodhichitta, is considered a byang chub sems dpa', and is on the Mahayana path. So again, it has nothing to do with tradition, monastery, and so forth.

We will go through sa lam (stages and paths) later in this series, and we will use the byang chub sems dpa' spiritual path for this purpose. Buddhist texts also cover the shravaka and pratyekabuddha paths, but it's auspicious to take this one as the main path when describing the various levels a practitioner will go through.

Anyway, according to the lower Middle way school, those who have developed bodhichitta, and later experience emptiness directly, they will get the seeds to not only having a realization of no self, and no subject-object differentiation, they also get the realizations of all phenomena lacking any self-existence. This is needed, as the goal is to help all sentient beings, and only an omniscient being could properly do that. The higher Middle Way school do not disagree about the result, but they still insist on the futility to classify emptinesses as self-existent boundaries.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

theg pa chen po - Mahayana

The second part of the vehicles is theg pa chen po, or Mahayana as it is known in Sanskrit. HH Dalai Lama's translation of this is the Universal Vehicle, and I actually like this translation, more about it later.

theg pa means vehicle, yana in Sanskrit. chen po means great, or maha in Sanskrit. So now you should recognize more Sanskrit words with maha in them, such as mahasiddha, mahasukha and so on...

Sometimes this term is also shortened to theg chen.

Those who are in this vehicle have as their motivation the universal responsibility to get everyone enlightened. This means that they have to do extraordinary practices and try to not just remove all their mental afflictions, but also generate all the possible qualities in order to help any sentient beings. That implies full knowledge of all beings and phenomena, including transcending time. You need to know how someone got to a point in order to help them to progress.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

rang sangs rgyas - Pratyeka Buddhas

The second kind of practitioner that obtains a somewhat different kind of Nirvana in the Hinayana tradition is rang sangs rgyas, Pratyekabuddha in Sanskrit.

rang is a very good word to learn inside out, it means self, and is used in various permutations in Tibetan texts. sangs rgyas is Buddha.

Now, this is not the same as what is considered a Buddha, a perfect enlightened being. rang sangs rgyas have reached Nirvana, based on the meditational experience of directly experiencing the emptiness of self. In addition to realizing the emptiness of self, they also realize the emptiness of the subject-object different, but nothing else, not the emptiness of all phenomena and things. This is of course the lower Middle Way school interpretation, in the highest Middle way emptiness is emptiness, there are not classifications. Anyway, just based on this somewhat bigger realization they are classified higher as the earlier mentioned nyan thos.

As for the name itself, it's based on the way how the meditators act. They get to a point where they want to get the realization all by themselves, so like rhinos they isolate themselves and just figure it out. The irony is that in past lives they have had help from teachers, and full enlightened beings could teach from the sound of trees, wind, and so on...

Anyway, another English term used is Solitary Realizer. It's somewhat clunky, and does not reflect the Sanskrit original term, pratyekabuddha, neither the Tibetan term, so I prefer again to just use the nice Sanskrit term and in a foot note describe this practitioner class.

And as mentioned earlier, you don't belong to a certain school, monastery, tradition and so on. It all depends on the inner motivation if someone is a rang sangs rgyas or not.

Monday, September 03, 2007

nyan thos - Shravaka

The first of the two practitioners in the Hinayana tradition that reaches Nirvana is called in Tibetan nyan thos, or Shravaka in Sanskrit. As how it's really translated into English, that's an interesting story, as you will see next.

nyan is to listen, and thos is to hear, such as listening while hearing teachings. One way this has been translated to English is Listener, but this then is odd when you look at the two words the Tibetans used for this kind of practitioner. One explanation I have heard, but I lost the reference to it, is that these practitioners first listen to teachings, actualize Nirvana with remainders (i.e still around with their body until it's worn down), and then they start teachings and others will hear their teachings, hence the double-word usage in Tibetan. Anyway, I used the Sanskrit term Shravaka in the title as maybe it's best to use this one when translating just now.

This practitioner will experience the emptiness of self, and by this force will reach Nirvana. There are different interpretations of experiencing emptiness. For example, the highest school states that there are no levels of emptiness, emptiness is emptiness. Anyway, the lower Middle Way school is using this as the way to define nyan thos practitioners. *)

Note again that someone does not need to belong to a certain clan, school, or monastery, to be this kind of practitioner. It's rather the mind set. For example, a nyan thos practitioner could teach bodhichitta, but not be able to directly practice this.

*) As a foot note, the philosophical schools of ancient India were really defined by the Tibetans. In ancient Tibet there was no formal system, rather, the teacher could teach on different levels based on the needs of the students.