La Via Del Nirvana by Gedun Tharchin - English translation of the Second chapter
It is of fundamental importance to deepen the topic of Dharma: the ultimate Dharma is the one called Nirvana. Nirvana can be considered the end of suffering; the Dharma is therefore the pathfinder for the attainment of Liberation. It is nothing else than the oneness of all means that lead to Liberation, to Enlightenment: studying, listening and contemplating. There is another term in Sanskrit called Abidharma, which stands for the supreme realization of the nature. Abidharma is the direct understanding, the sublime appearance of the ultimate awareness of phenomena. Abidharma is what we call supreme Dharma, which is the ultimate way to achieve Nirvana. By analysing the term Dharma we notice that it possesses different meanings. In the beginning, in order to start apprehending it, we have to study what is in relation with it and find out about what we need to do to connect to the supreme, the ultimate Dharma. When we talk about Dharma it means that we are dealing with the way that can lead us to the cessation of suffering, to liberation from Samsara.
Samsara and Nirvana are two very distinct entities: Samsara is chaos; Nirvana is a mental state of realisation in which everything is clear and lucid and in which there is no confusion left. The fact that we seek Nirvana means that we find ourselves in a state of disorder. The instruments that allow us to change that state and to attain realisations, and the clarity of Nirvana, are referred to as Abidharma.
Abhidharma is the profound realisation of emptiness, it is the final perception of reality, it is the ultimate understanding of the real nature of things. The process is linear: Samsara, Abhidharma and after that Dharma, that is to say Nirvana.
From the moment we find ourselves in Samsara, in a confused state, we try to understand and study the Abidharma. This is the conventional level of Abidharma; the ultimate level or the level of real understanding of the true nature of things is different. Therefore, what we call the conventional Abidharma, which is connected to the traditional Abidharma, are all the instruments allowing us to achieve the definite one. These instruments are studies and contemplation which both allow us to understand the nature of reality.
Presently we live in Samsara no matter if we are a Buddha, an Arhat or a Bodhisattva and want to exit that state. The means that allow us to do so are interdependent with the essence of Karma.
We live in Samsara due to Karma. The willingness to exit Samsara implies our wanting to change our Karma. By Karma we mean our personal work, the concrete action to take. Everything that happens in Samsara depends on Karma. Sometimes we wonder how it is possible that so many events can be produced by Karma, and this is difficult to imagine.
The Buddha stated that grasping the various levels and subtle ways in which Karma works is more difficult than understanding the concept of emptiness. Besides, he also explained that all superior beings, Bodhisattvas and Arhats, may have realised the concept of emptiness but only the Buddha is really able to know how emptiness and the subtle levels of Karma function. Therefore we cannot expect to understand everything that has to do with Karma, it would be impossible. I will do my best to try and explain it though.
How can we grasp the concept that each event is produced by Karma? Let us start with the definition of Karma. According to traditional Buddhist scriptures it is a state of awareness. For this purpose there are two mental levels: one is the temporary mind or the mind which appears and disappears, the other one is the primary mind. Karma is connected to the secondary mind. The secondary mind is the mind that, according to a western definition, could be said to be “volatile”. Anger for example belongs to the secondary mind and not to the primary one because we are not constantly angry. The angry state of mind arises or not depending on the circumstances.
This does not mean that when we are not angry we have abandoned anger: anger is within us, in subsoil, as if it were in a state of drowsiness. This characterizes the temporary mind which, as I have mentioned before, appears and disappears depending on the events that manifest. The secondary mind can be more clearly understood as a process of intention.
Intention accompanies every mental function and there are five generating states: the first one is feeling, the second one is concept, the third one is intention, the fourth is inspiration, and the final one is contact. The five omnipresent mental factors accompany every mental function.
When it comes to feeling we distinguish three types: pleasant, unpleasant and neutral. About intention we can say that every action we undertake is always accompanied by intention, by motivation. Positive states of mind like understanding and goodwill are also accompanied by these mental states. Even negative states of mind like anger and hatred respond to such a mechanism of functioning. When we are upset there is always an intention behind our anger. The intention bears the principal aspect of what we call Karma. From a psychological point of view it is quite obvious how Karma is created. For instance, if we give money to a beggar in the street this creates good Karma. But how does this come about? It comes about from the positive intention that motivates our action.
Dedicating oneself to spirituality is a lot more important than dedicating oneself to the material aspects of life. Buddha uses the example of a tiny sesame able to produce a big tree though. The same has validity for us: a small positive intention can produce big things.
Therefore it is clear how it is possible to produce good Karma. It is not blind faith or something we have to attribute a similar connotation to. Positive Karma creates positive results, negative Karma creates negative results.
There are four characteristics of Karma:
The first one is certainty, it is certain that a positive Karma creates a positive result and vice-versa. The second one is the fact that we will not experience any type of Karma we have not created ourselves. The third characteristic is that if we create positive or negative Karma, it will not disappear and will not be lost. The fourth characteristic is that a small positive Karma can generate a big result. These four characteristics of Karma are the bases of Buddha’s teachings. They can be condensed into three simple verses: doing virtuous actions, not doing non-virtuous actions and trying to train the mind.
It is very simple, if we commit a negative action we will experience the consequent result. The result of wickedness is suffering, the result of kindness is happiness. The events, be they positive or negative, depend on our intentions and therefore they depend on Karma.
Trying to train or dominate our mind means to address our intentions, to change them into something virtuous. So, in the verse where the Buddha says “not to commit unvirtuous actions” he summarizes all of his teachings about ethics (sila). If one abides by the rules of morality, by ethical principles, it will be impossible to commit negative actions.
The first verse reads: “Do virtuous actions, do good things” this verse sums up Buddha’s teaching about concentration (samadhi). The major substance of concentration is the awareness of the mind. If one is consciously vigilant one will commit virtuous actions. When we lose our mindfulness we act in the wrong way.
The third (verse) reads: “Try to dominate your mind”. This verse contains Buddha’s teachings about wisdom (prajna) in the sense of development of good qualities. Having wisdom means to try to determine what is right and what is wrong. We make mistakes because we do not have a pure view. If we had an unambiguous understanding of what is positive and what is negative we would refrain from making mistakes. One therefore needs to have a solid base founded on ethics, be rooted in morality and develop concentration. Once morality and concentration are attained wisdom is developed.