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The Dalai Lama: On Approaching the Profound

An excerpt from His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s book The Middle Way.

1. Approaching the Profound

Today, here in the twenty-first century, humanity has reached a highly advanced stage of material development and of knowledge of various fields, and we continue to progress in these areas. However, the demands on our attention are never-ending, and in such an environment, it is vital for the Buddhists to obtain genuine confidence in the Buddhadharma grounded in understanding and reason.

How do we go about obtaining a faith grounded in understanding? As I wrote in the colophon to Praise to Seventeen Nalanda Masters:

It is with an objective mind endowed with a curious skepticism that we should engage in careful analysis and seek the reasons. Then, on the basis of seeing the reasons, we engender a faith that is accompanied by wisdom.

Now, whenever we engage in an analysis, such as on the nature of mind or reality, if we proceed from the start already convinced that “It must be so and so,” then due to our biases, we will be unable to see the actual truth and will instead see only our naïve projection.

It is therefore essential that the analyzing mind strive to be objective and not swayed by prejudices. What we need is a skeptical curiosity, our mind moving between the possibilities, genuinely wondering whether it is thus or some other way. We need to begin our analysis as objectively as possible.

However, if we maintain an objective stance unswayed by bias yet have no feeling or interest in the analysis, this too is incorrect. We should cultivate a curious mind, drawn toward all possibilities; and when we do, the desire to deeply investigate naturally arises. If this mind drawn toward possibilities is absent, we just abandon the inquiry and simply say, dismissively, “I don’t know.” This way, then, brings no real benefit because we are not open to new insights.

Therefore, a curious skepticism is extremely important. For where there is such skepticism, constant inquiry also takes place. One of the reasons science progresses is because it persistently inquires and performs experiments on the basis of a genuine objectivity, “Why is it like this?” with a curious mind that is drawn to all sorts of possibilities. In this way, the truth becomes clearer and clearer, allowing these truths to become correctly understood.

“Careful analysis” indicates that a rough or incomplete analysis is not adequate. For example, in the method of analysis presented in Buddhist logic and epistemology texts, it is not adequate to rely on a proof that is based only on partial observation of a fact, on additional observation of the fact in a similar class, or on mere nonobservation of the fact in any dissimilar class. To base your conclusion on such partial grounds is inadequate. Buddhist logic and epistemology texts emphasize the need for proving the truth of an assertion based on sound reasoning rooted in direct observation. With a careful analysis, our conclusions are more stable and sound.

As we become more aware and understand the reasoning presented in a text, these should be related back to our own personal experiences. Ultimately, the final proof is a direct valid experience.

Buddhist texts speak of four types or qualities of intelligence: great intelligence, swift intelligence, clear intelligence, and penetrating intelligence. Because we must analyze the subject matter carefully, we need great intelligence; because we cannot naïvely conclude that something is the case except on the basis of a meticulous analysis, we need clear intelligence; because we need to be able to “think on our feet,” we need swift intelligence; and because we need to pursue the full implications of a line of inquiry, we need penetrating intelligence.

By analyzing in such a manner and seeking what consequences and significance we can draw from our understanding, we will come to see those results. Here, we must first systematically organize the lines of reasoning presented in the texts and then correlate these with our own personal experience so that the reasoning is supported by direct observation and empirical evidence. When, on the basis of relating these lines of reasoning to our own personal experience, we feel “Yes, they are truly helpful” or “This is truly wonderful,” we have gained a decisive sense of conviction in the Buddhadharma. Such a confidence is called a faith grounded in genuine understanding.

Sequence of analysis

As for the actual sequence of engaging in analysis, in Praise to Seventeen Nalanda Masters, I wrote:

By understanding the two truths, the nature of the ground,
I will ascertain how, through the four truths, we enter and exit samsara;
I will make firm the faith in the Three Jewels that is born of understanding.
May I be blessed so that the root of the liberating path is firmly established within me.

Here, when we speak of practicing the Buddhadharma, we are speaking of observing the ethics of refraining from ten nonvirtues and cultivating compassion and loving-kindness within a context of seeking liberation. Merely refraining from the ten nonvirtues or cultivating of compassion and loving-kindness alone do not constitute a specific practice of the Buddhadharma; such practices of ethics and compassion are, after all, a feature of many spiritual traditions. When we speak of Buddhadharma in this context, the term Dharma (or spirituality) refers to the peace of nirvana—liberation—and to definite goodness, a term that encompasses both liberation from samsara as well as the full enlightenment of buddhahood. We use the term definite goodness because the peace of nirvana is utterly excellent, pure, and everlasting. When practices such as avoiding unwholesome, harming actions and cultivating love and compassion are part of a quest for gaining liberation from cyclic existence, then they truly become Dharma in the sense of being Buddhist spiritual activity.

“Liberation” here is defined as the cessation of the mind’s pollutants through the power of applying their corresponding antidotes. The main pollutant, the very root of our unenlightened existence, is the grasping at selfhood, at self-existence, and all the associated psychological and emotional factors that accompany and proceed from grasping at self-existence. The direct antidote to the self-grasping mind as well as its associated mental factors is insight into selflessness. Therefore, it is on the basis of realizing selflessness that we attain true liberation.

This is how the method of attaining definite goodness is presented, and the spiritual methods associated with the attainment of such liberation are the unique way of Buddhism. Therefore, I wrote, “May I be blessed so that the root of the liberating path is firmly established in me.”

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