This week Zoe is reading a commentary on one of the classics of Buddhist literature by one of the great Tibetan masters, Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso. The Sun of Wisdom is itself a study of a text written in the 2nd century by Nagarjuna called Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way. The Buddha prophesied that someone would come 400 years after his death and give a perfect explanation of his teachings, and Nagarjuna fulfilled the prophecy.
Nagarjuna’s text is a commentary on the Buddha’s teachings on the nature of appearance and emptiness. Khenpo Rinpoche uses this text and modern master Ju Mipham’s commentary as a framework to explain the most important verses. He deconstructs the ideas and shows how they apply to your everyday experience, and how you can put them into practise.
Buddhist teachings are usually divided into three stages. Each stage is called a Turning of the Wheel of Dharma, and the teachings are aimed at different levels of analysis:
- The first turning is the stage of no analysis where you learn about the causes of suffering and the self, and you take appearances to be real.
- The second turning is the stage of slight analysis where you start to want to change, to let go of suffering and long for liberation. Here is where you learn about emptiness and how nothing really exists because it lacks inherent nature.
- The final turning is the stage of thorough analysis where you learn that the true nature of reality transcends both of the above stages. It neither exists nor doesn’t exist.
So if a teaching is a refutation of existence then it’s helping you to let go of things as being real. If a teaching talks about freedom from concepts then it’s helping you understand that reality exists beyond concepts. The Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way is a teaching on emptiness and the true nature of reality and the mind. It’s called the Middle Way because it lies between all possible extremes and beyond all concepts.
Emptiness can’t be grasped by the intellect and can only be experienced directly. Nagarjuna uses logical reasoning to point in the direction of this truth. He shows how you can use the rational mind to analyse everything that appears, and so gain clarity and certainty in your understanding.
Needless to say, this book isn’t for beginners! If you haven’t come across the philosophy underpinning emptiness and non-being, you may struggle – but don’t let that put you off. This is a brilliantly lucid book and richly rewarding. One to return to and study over time as your practice and understanding deepens.