What do Buddhists believe?
So we are talking about the Buddhist view. Suppose you ask a Buddhist “What is it that Buddhists believe in? Do Buddhists believe in karma?” “Mmmm, Yes” DJKR answers his own question with an uncertain tone and manner that indicates he doesn’t fully disagree, but he doesn’t fully agree either. “Do Buddhists believe in doing good things?” “Yes” DJKR answers with the same hesitant and uncertain tone and manner. I'm sort of demonstrating the inner attitude to the view. It’s like this. “Do Buddhists believe in hell realms?” “Yes.” “God realms?” “Yes.” It's a bit like this.
“Come on, be serious. You must have a belief. What is it?” So you're squeezing the other person now. This is what the Buddhists would think or say. They will say, “If you have a wrong view, a partial view, an incomplete view, or a lopsided view, you will suffer”. That much they will say, “If you have a wrong view, that will lead you to disappointment”. This much I’m quite sure they will say. But even that, a very seasoned Buddhist will say that only very reluctantly. Now we're talking about a very fine-tuned version of the Buddhist view.
Because of that, Shantideva said, “Buddhists can have one ignorance for the time being. But only for the time being. And what is that? To think that there is enlightenment.” This really sums up the Buddhist attitude towards the view. Shantideva was one of the greatest commentators from Nalanda University. And if you were to ask him “Why am I permitted to have that ignorance, to think that there is enlightenment?” He would answer “Because I see that you are in pain. You are suffering. You have anxiety. You are not satisfied. That's why. You have to sort of shrug it off. You have to come out from that pain and the cause of that pain. That's why”. This is a very important statement.
Falling from a cliff and hanging onto a branch with your teeth
Let’s articulate this further. To begin with, imagine you have fallen from a cliff. Your hands are tied. And you just managed to grab a branch on the cliff face with your teeth. And somebody is walking above you on the clifftop. You see them and now what do you do? You can’t shout for help because the moment you say “Help”, you have fallen. It’s a bit like this. If you wish to teach the Buddhist view, the moment you speak, you make mistakes.
And by the way, this is what Siddhartha Gautama said after his so-called enlightenment. As he awakened to that state, he actually said, “I have found a brilliant, profound, vast, uncompounded truth. But no one would hear it.” But then the story is that his disciples Brahma and Indra came and requested him to teach. And when they requested this, they told him “There are so many beings who are tormented by suffering caused by delusions. So through your great compassion and wisdom and skillful means, please liberate them step by step in different ways, with different means”. And that's supposedly how the Buddha began teaching the Dharma. He started in a place called Sarnath which is near Varanasi.
In other words, he was trying to articulate something that cannot be articulated.
In the Buddhist philosophical system, Buddhists invented a certain discipline or a certain structure to understand this view that cannot be articulated. And actually they invented many structures. I think this time we will try to use the approach that we call the “two truths”. Many of you know this. I see a lot of old Buddhists here, those who have gone to many of my own teachings, not to mention many other teachings. For many of you, this will be very familiar and probably you are even jaded with this information, after hearing it again and again. But on the other hand, it is always important. It's always refreshing and it’s a reminder. It can help.
Hallucinogenic substances, a horn and a tail
And this time I'm going to use the horn and the tail example a little bit, so that you can comprehend what I'm talking about. Now, let's say you have taken this pill or mushroom or whatever, and then you have the horn experience and the tail experience.
And let's say you're really going through panic. You're really paranoid. Panic. Anxiety. It's not right. It's not nice to have a horn. It's not nice to have a tail. Especially when there are a lot of things at stake. You have a lot of things to do and agendas. And the more plans that you have, the more that the horn and the tail are going to bother you. If you don't have many plans, it doesn't really matter if you have a horn and a tail.
Let's say you just took that pill and you have really forgotten the fact that you don't have a horn. You forgot. You know, the pill is strong. When the effect of the substance hits you, you really forget this truth that you actually don't have a horn and a tail. I don't know whether you you can relate to this. Yes, many Australians would. You just forgot. You’re very much into this panic and anxiety about having a horn and a tail. Your hands are sweating.
The truth can be realized without language
Now this is important. Suppose that suddenly a gust of wind blows and the window bangs. Or there’s a sound of someone flushing the toilet. Or your phone rings. DJKR slaps his hand. This takes you to reality. “Oh, the phone is ringing. This is not too bad. Maybe this is not true.” You understand? Coming back to the real truth. Because the phone rings. You touch behind you, “Yes, no tail”. But then you still feel the tail because the impact of the pill or mushroom is still there. But then you think, “Maybe it's not happening”.
No words and no language are necessary. This happened just through the ringing of a phone or a window banging. Or more likely your wife or husband or dog just came in. And that made you realize you don't actually have a horn and tail. I'm talking about something quite exotic in a way. I'm talking about so-called “blessing”. We will not talk about this too much here, because it's not really the time.
What I'm talking about is the view, the truth. And to realize this truth, actually, there are some amazing ways. But to really appreciate these amazing ways, or the amazing coincidence, or the amazing incredible cause and condition, you need to be sober. At least partially sober. You need to be sort of daring. You need to be critical and at the same time receptive.
So in Buddhism, we hear stories like Tilopa just hitting Naropa’s head. That's it. He gets it. But that’s Tantra, so let’s not talk about it as Tantra is too risky these days. So let's not talk about this. But even in the Mahayana there's a story about how the Buddha picked up a lotus and looked at it and smiled, and guys like Kashyapa get it. What does he get?
He gets “no horn, no tail”, basically. That's what he got, “Oh, okay. No tail, no horn actually”. And he got this just because of the fact that Buddha picked up a lotus flower and smiled. There are many, many accounts like this. And a little bit less than that, there are also other methods. For example, I think this is very much in the Mahayana tradition, especially in the Zen tradition, they ask very ridiculous, strange questions, and through those questions the one who has the dilemma gets it.
So here we are talking about a very particular way of getting that right view. Now I'm using the term “right view”, but bear in mind that the aim of Buddhism is to get away from the view. But for the time being, since we realize that having a wrong view is only going to lead us to pain, at least let's have the right view. So we are talking about the right view, and achieving that right view. If you are someone who has special faculties, you can even get it through the sight of a dead leaf falling.
Now I know it sounds really mystical, but it's actually not. It's really not. It's just causes and conditions. It can happen. Even in our mundane life, I think it happens. I'm not talking about some sort of spiritual experience, but just the shifting of your ideas. The shifting of your values. It happens. But anyway, that is special, but it's very individual. And it's very subjective. We don't know.
But for people like us, using language is the only way
Okay, so practically, academically, intellectually, scientifically, as a human, what can we do to really actualize that truth? Buddhists have only found three ways. Hearing, contemplation and meditation. That's the only way for people like us. In other words, we need to use language. You know, hearing, language. We are not happy about it. It's not like hearing is so holy or something. It's out of no choice, reluctance. Reluctantly, in order to get rid of suffering, we need to use language because this is the only way.
Somebody needs to say, “It's okay, don’t worry, calm down”. It helps. And then once you calm down, this person says, “You know, can you feel it on your head? Why don't you put on your hat? See? It fits on your head. Don't you think that means that you have no horn?” You know, logic. Logic is always like this. It's very pathetic. It's actually really vague. And it’s very limited. But nevertheless it works.
So the only thing we can use is hearing, contemplation and meditation. I keep on using the word “meditation”, which I really don't like, but we will talk about that more tomorrow. So what's happening right now is that we are doing the hearing, meaning we are using logic. And yes, in the study of Buddhist philosophy, there is a big section where we study Buddhist logic. A lot.
It’s not that logic is something that we really trust. Underneath, we always have a little bit of mistrust towards logic. In fact, there's a guy called Chandrakirti who actually has a very different attitude towards logic. He said, “Well, I don't have my own logic, but I'm going to use your logic to defeat you”. And this system became a really popular system of Buddhist philosophy in Tibet. It’s called Prasangika Madhyamaka. They call it consequentialism. It's really famous.
I don't know. It’s something to think about, especially for those who have studied. It's something that you need to think about, especially for philosophy students or history students. I don't know so much about Western thought and history, but I have heard a little bit about rationalism. I have a feeling that after rationalism, the West should have invited Chandrakirti, because he was very critical towards rationalism. Logic. He sees faults in that. I think there's someone called Karl Popper who also talks about this. Anyway, let’s not get too intellectual here.
這是一個需要思考的問題，尤其是對於那些學過中觀應成派的人來說，尤其是對於哲學系學生，或者歷史系學生來說。我對西方思想和歷史的了解不多，但對理性主義還是有所耳聞的。我有一種感覺，理性主義之後，西方應該請月稱來，因為他對理性主義是非常批判的（譯：這裡說的理性主義，實際上就是批判主義，仁波切認為，月稱才是真正意義上的批判主義大師）。尤其是邏輯，他看到了其中的錯誤。好像有一個人叫 Karl Popper（卡爾波普），他也談到了這個問題。總之，我們不要在這裏搞得太智力化。（譯：卡爾波普就是前面講到的「可證偽性」的提出者）
The two truths: relative truth and ultimate truth
So when we are using the technique of hearing and contemplation, Buddhists have invented the idea of what we call relative truth and ultimate truth. Let's use the horn and tail analogy. In the horn and tail analogy, relative truth is basically what goes through the mind of the person who has taken the hallucinogenic substance. He can feel it. It's really bothering him. So it's true to him, and in fact if more than 51% of Australians take hallucinogenic mushrooms every day, your parliament will be different. Because relatively relative truth has got a lot to do with consensus and quantity, the percentage of the population that accepts something as true.
所以我們在運用聞思修的技術時，佛教徒發明了所謂的相對真理和究竟真理的概念。我們用角和尾巴來談這個，在角和尾巴的比喻中，相對真理基本上是指服用了致幻物質的人心中的想法。他能感覺到，這真的讓他很煩惱。所以對他來說是真實的，事實上如果有超過 51% 的澳洲人每天都在服用致幻蘑菇，你們的議會就肯定與現在不同了（眾笑）。因為相對真理跟共識有很大的關係，跟接受某件事情的人數和人口比例，有很大的關係。
But nevertheless, the Buddhist idea is that relative truth is okay, it's respected. This is what you think. This is what you see i.e. Buddhists do not deny your subjective experience. They accept that these experiences are “real” for you.. But the absolute truth is that on the absolute level, the horn and the tail do not exist i.e. the horn and the tail do not exist in objective reality outside your subjective experience. Just because you feel it doesn’t mean it’s real.
但盡管如此，佛教的觀念是，相對真理也是對的，是被尊重的，是你所想的，是你所看到的。但是，究竟真理的意思是：在究竟的層面上，角和尾巴是不存在的。（譯：仁波切時而使用 absolute truth 時而使用 ultimate truth，這只是語言上的技巧，以下都翻譯為「究竟真理」）
I need to define this more precisely. Actually the absolute truth is not that the horn and tail do not exist. On the most absolute level there’s neither existence nor nonexistence. There is not even talk about “It does exist before, and it does not exist later” i.e. it’s not that there’s a need to deconstruct of the horn and tail. Because the whole burden of the existence of the tail or its nonexistence is simply obsolete. The tail is fundamentally not there i.e. because there is no tail there on the absolute level, there’s nothing real that needs to be deconstructed. However, there is nevertheless a need to realize that the subjective experience of horn and tail in the relative truth does not correspond to the objective reality that there is no horn and tail, i.e. the absolute reality as it is.
Only someone who has taken the substance can talk about the subjective experience of horn and tail, “After you take the substance, you have the horn and the tail, and then when the impact of the substance is waning, then the horn and tail are slowly moving and fading away”. Only on that level can you talk about the existence of the tail or not.
So that’s the absolute view and the relative view. I'm sorry to have to speak like this, because I wish I could sort of water this down this and simplify this. But there's also a danger of making it too simple. And if you do that, then the core essence and authenticity of Buddhism gets lost. We need to approach it this way.
So this is a paradox. This is how the whole world is. All phenomena. The paradox between the relative truth and the ultimate truth.
Relative teachings and absolute teachings
There is another thing. Maybe I'm confusing this too much. You know how we were talking about the Abrahamic approach? There is something to think about here. Not only in the Abrahamic approach, but in most of the modern approaches to studying anything such as science, technology, physics. These methodologies and approaches to studying the truth do not have obvious distinctions of relative truth and ultimate truth Ed.: DJKR is using “absolute truth” and “ultimate truth” interchangeably. Definitely most religions. This is just an assumption. I may be wrong, so please correct me. In my view, most religions seem to claim that whatever they're teaching is the ultimate truth. I will give you more examples. Whereas in Buddhism, not all the teachings are ultimate truth. In other words, there are lots of Buddhist teachings that are taught by the Buddha, and he never “meant it” i.e. not everything taught by the Buddha is meant as a statement of absolute truth.
It's all in the category of, “It's okay. Don't worry”. “It's okay. Just drink some water”, as if the water is going to shrink the horn, the non-existing horn. There is a lot of that in Buddhism. And under this section falls all the teachings about things like meditation, karma, and reincarnation. All these teachings fall under that category of teachings that are not meant as a statement of absolute truth.
There are teachings that are taught by the Buddha where he really “meant it” to be taken literally. There are many sutras such as the Heart Sutra, Prajñaparamita Sutra, Vimalakirti Sutra, Vajracchedika Sutra. There are quite a lot. But even amidst these absolute sutras, there are so many relative teachings.
The relative truth and ultimate truth are always in union
I'm going to illustrate this a little bit. It's like this. Suppose you go to a place where the most pure or fundamental Buddhist teachings are taught, such as Thailand or Sri Lanka, because that's where Theravada Buddhism is taught. Theravada Buddhism is the oldest, most fundamental. It’s actually the root of Buddhism. It’s really important. If you go there, you can observe something very paradoxical, very contradictory.
The monks will teach you teachings such as Abhidharma, which includes teachings such as anatta where we hear that there is no self. But then these Theravadins are also the ones who are crazy about conduct, ethics, discipline, robes, merit, begging alms. You're supposed to offer alms, to bow down. “You can't do this. You can't do that”. There is so much of that. Can you see the contradiction? Even in the most pure fundamental Buddhist traditions you find this. Why? Why is it like that? Because in the Buddhist view, the relative truth and ultimate truth are actually in union. This is always the challenge.
Now, if you shift to places like Tibet or Bhutan, it's really so confusing. You meet monks who have shaved their head, as if there’s something wrong with hair. They zealously and diligently shave their hair as part of their discipline. But right there you also meet yogis who only worry about dropping i.e. losing their hair. They keep their hair. Every lock of hair, they say, is like dakinis, like mandalas. So they keep their hair. Some of them they keep their hair throughout their whole lives. I don't know whether you have seen any of them, with really smelly and really long, big dreadlocks.
There are many varied expressions of nonduality in Buddhist culture, lifestyle and symbolism
The fact that there can be such divergent and seemingly contradictory approaches to the path and practice of Buddhism is perfectly fine for Buddhism. It's really a nondual view. That's why it permeates all this culture, all this sort of Buddhist lifestyle, if you like. The lifestyle. The symbolism. Even the symbolism.
As I've said many times before, if you go to a Buddhist temple, there is iconography there. Monks. The image of serene, simple, renunciant monks or nuns is very much venerated. The idea that a savior or a master, especially a spiritual master, has to be serene, simple, renunciant, ascetic, with begging bowl and bare feet. There's a lot of that in the Buddhist temples, especially in Tibet. On another side, there are not-so-serene figures. Wrathful deities. Not so simple. Bodhisattvas with earrings, nose rings, anklets, adorned with all sorts of garments. And then, if it is a tantric temple, there are some amazing figures which are also equally venerated and appreciated. And there are many followers of each of these different approaches to Buddhist culture, lifestyle and symbolism.
Can you imagine now? I don't know if you can imagine. Let’s suppose you are a follower of Buddhism and you are looking at three different examples. There's the St. Francis of Assisi-like Shariputra. And then there is a limousine-driving multimillionaire with gold rings and gold plated teeth, someone like Avalokiteshvara. And then there is a prostitute, a half-time prostitute half-time arrow maker like Saraha’s guru Ed.: she is known as the Arrow-Making Dakini. So you have these three. Now as a follower of Buddhism, can you see the seeming contradiction? But all this fits in the mind of people who can appreciate the culture of nonduality.
It's there but it's not there (it's there and it's not there)
Why is all this diversity and seeming contradiction accepted? Because of the view of Buddhism. Let’s go back to the horn and the tail. Is the horn there? Yes, it's there, but it's also not there, at the same time. Is the tail there? Yes, it's there, but it's also not there, at the same time. This is called the union of appearance and emptiness. This is one of the most important ways to understand the Buddhist view.
Basically, everything is there, but it's not there i.e. we experience phenomena as subjectively real in the relative truth, even though they are not objectively real in the ultimate truth. Just like the experience of the horn and tail, which feels very real as a subjective experience, even though they are not there in reality. This is really difficult to understand. Not intellectually, but habitually.
You are looking at me right now. And actually, I'm here but also not here. How can you make sense of this? It's difficult. “He's there. He's sitting there. He’s talking nonstop. When is he going to stop talking?” Why do you experience me in this way? Because you have drunk something. You have been eating something endlessly. That's why. Even worse than your horn and tail, I'm here. In your mind. This.
But by the way, this experience is not too foreign though. It's not too foreign. This kind of experience does exist, just like the hallucinogenic experience. It’s like when you are watching a movie. Whatever is happening in the movie, it's there. And therefore it really makes you cry. It makes you angry. It makes you feel nervous. It makes you feel suspenseful. And so forth.
But you also know it’s not there. And what does this awareness do? It releases you from a lot of unnecessary problems. For instance, while you're watching a movie, if you need to go to the toilet, you go, don't you? You don't hold it back and think “No I can’t go yet, first I have to sort this out". Because you know that it's there but it's not there. Especially you can pause it these days, and you can even rewind it and play it back. Because you know that it's there but it's not there.
That’s why you are awakened. Buddha. Enlightened from this delusion of thinking that it’s there or not there.
The Buddhist view is taught using different words, but all of them are inadequate
I really needed to express this first, because this is sort of the more classic way to understand the Buddhist view. I'm going to break it down a little bit, as I'm sure there are a lot of people here who are completely new to the Buddhist path. So, for their sake, those who have received many Buddhist teachings, you have to bear with me a little bit.
This is really important to know. The Buddhist view. The fact that it’s there but it's not there. This view is taught using many different yet inadequate expressions in words and language, but we have no choice but to use language.
One such form of language is “Everything is illusion". You have heard this many times. This is one of the Buddhist views. Many people present it that way, “In Buddhism, life is an illusion”. It's fine this way. But you have to be careful, because I think that the way we are conditioned means that when we hear the word “illusion”, we immediately come to the conclusion that “It does not exist”. But that's not what Buddhists are saying. Always go back to “It's there but it's not there”.
Another approach is that we hear the Buddhist view expressed using terms such as shunyata or emptiness, “Everything is emptiness”. And again, this has led a lot of people to a lot of misunderstanding. Especially if you read classic sutras with words such as “No nose, no eyes, no ears", it really sounds like a negation. But as I said when I gave you the example of somebody falling from the cliff but managing to grab a branch with their teeth, it’s like this. All words are not good.
But when I say this, again you may immediately think that the truth must be something mythical or mystical, something very exotic. No, we're not talking about that at all. We are talking about something raw. This moment. What's happening.
It's fairly easy to understand this intellectually, but really difficult to understand habitually. Very difficult. There are many reasons. There is lots and lots of denial. And there are lots and lots of causes and conditions to make you forget that it's there but it‘s not there. In fact, all our endeavors, everything we buy, everything we possess, and everything we do is somehow related to forgetting this fact that it’s there but at the same time it’s not there.
We usually focus on just one of the two aspects, either "it's there" or "it's not there"
It's really difficult to talk about. It's there and it's not there. We speak about this in terms of two truths and using two phrases, “it’s there” and “it’s not there”. Even though they are one. It’s the same thing. It's like the reflection of the moon in the water. It’s there and it’s not there at the same time, and it's exactly one thing.
But we're talking about the view. And when we talk about a view, we're talking about the viewer, the subject. So depending on the subject, when the subject faces something or experiences something, he or she make not see both aspects of “it’s there” and “it’s not there” together. Let’s suppose we face a situation or we look at something or we encounter something. What is your first experience? If you are really good at it, you can swallow these two aspects together, because you know that it's one.
But if you are not really good at it, then sometimes you end up stumbling towards the “It’s not there” part first. The first thing you hear or experience when you encounter a life situation is the “It’s not there” aspect. What does it do? It makes you nihilist, hopeless, depressed. It’s not there. You become critical. You begin to read things like Nietzsche. You will smoke cigars and drink thick coffee. Broadly speaking, if you were to make a sweeping statement, all that comes out of that “It’s not there”. Everything is deductive and reductionistic.
And it's very strange actually. Many times we also feel very proud of being nihilist, proud of having that kind of negative, nihilistic depression. It's a style. These kind of people have a different and unique smell also. They have their lifestyle. They hang different things on their walls. They wear different kinds of perfume. I'm serious. Their shoes. They wear different shoes. They hang out with that same kind of people. They love each other, but they also hate each other, because the other one is more nihilist than you.
Sometimes in our life, or some people, when they face a life situation, the first thing they encounter is the “It’s there” part. They fall into being eternalists. Then they become righteous. Maybe they become fascist. They end up becoming believers in things like free speech. They end up becoming believers in things like democracy. They have their style.
You should observe this. If you're good at it, you can almost tell “Yes, that's a nihilist person” or “That's an eternalist person”. It’s a bit like liberal and conservative. You can almost tell who is who. But sometimes things get confusing, because maybe in the morning you are nihilist but in the evening you become eternalist. It really permeates every aspect of our life.
Okay, we'll take a break, and then we’ll come back with some questions and answers.
仁波切在最近幾年的課程中，不斷提到「It’s there but it’s not there」這句核心觀點。but 在這裡也有 and 的意思。剛開始，我只是按字面簡單地翻譯成「它在那又不在那」，或有時翻譯成「它存在，但又不存在」。但我一直覺得，這種表述不夠好，並沒有對理解這句話有什麼幫助。
這讓我一直有點點負罪感。這句話承載了仁波切對整個佛法見地體系的總結，卻被我翻譯成了「存在又不存在」這種鬼話，只會徒增讀者的困惑。因此，在我糾結了很長一段時間之後，在本文中，我把「It’s there but it’s not there」翻譯為「它在那兒，但又不存在」。
所謂正確的見地，其實是依錯誤的見地而說。錯誤的見地有兩種，一是認為某人某事是真實存在的，由此而產生愛恨情愁；二是簡單地認為某人某事不存在，是幻象，因而失去興趣，退縮逃避。對於前者，佛法的教育是 It’s not there（它不存在），而對於後者，佛法的教育則是 It’s there（它就在那兒）。
後一種教育法，也被稱為「它有作用」或「它有現象」。合在一起，就是「只有現象沒有本質」，或「無自性而有作用」，甚至「明空雙運」等說法。所以我才覺得「它在那兒，但又不存在」能更好地理解「It’s there but it’s not there」。
宗薩欽哲仁波切，於 2020年1月25-27日（農曆新年）在澳大利亞悉尼的新南威爾士大學，給予了為期三天的教授，題目為《見修行》。英文部分由 Alex Li Trisoglio（仁波切指定的佛法老師）聽寫，並分段和添加標題，發布在 Madhyamaka.com。中文部分由 孫方 翻譯。並在翻譯過程中，根據視頻做了文字上的修訂，所以中英文部分可能會有可忽略不計的微小差別。照片為課程現場。