Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche

 

Examination of Cause, the “Diamond Slivers”

-- the First Analysis of Madhyamaka to Explain Shunyata*

 

Published in Thar Lam, April 2007, pages 12-21.

 

Introduction

 

In the 2nd century C.E. the great Mahasiddha Nagarjuna founded the Middle Way School, meaning the middle way between assumptions about eternalism and nihilism. It was the most influential school of Indian Buddhism and has come to be known by its Sanskrit name Madhyamaka, U-ma in Tibetan. This school does hold that phenomena certainly exist on the conventional level while engaging in extensive refutations and proofs to establish that all phenomena – both internal mental events and external physical objects – are empty of inherent existence. To analyse the essence, Nagarjuna presented reasons that validly prove why sameness and difference of what would be said to be an inherently existing object are mutually exclusive. He showed that the true essence of all outer and inner appearances and experiences is
-                     devoid of a cause,
-                     devoid of a result,
-                     devoid of both cause and result, and
-                     that everything manifests as the mere appearance of interdependent arising.
 
Other than these four propositions of the way things can arise, there seems to be no conceivable way that something might arise and appear.
The first verse of “The Five Reasonings of Nagarjuna” introduces the four verses that follow, opening the gateway to knowledge, prajna in Sanskrit, shes-rab in Tibetan, for us. It describes the essence in the lines,
 
Since it is beyond the nature of being one or many,
Suffering has no inherent essence,
Like the suffering in a dream, for example.
The suffering in bardo is also like this. – Nagarjuna
 
In the 7th century, the great Mahasiddha Chandrakirti explained Nagarjuna’s book, entitled Madhyamakavatara, in order to clarify the four logical reasons that Nagarjuna composed to explain the first verse, which speaks of the fact that the essence of all things is beyond one and many. In the last century, Mipham Rinpoche wrote The Gateway to Knowledge and in the chapter on “The Four Analyses” brought together the essential points of the many expositions about these proofs that need to be studied so that we understand the selflessness of both apprehending subject and apprehended objects - shunyata in Sanskrit, tong-pa-nid in Tibetan, translated as “emptiness.” We need to know that if there were a self-essence, then liberation would be impossible, the reason why these instructions on selflessness, shunyata, are so precious, indeed.
Emptiness is not an idea that is easy to accept, therefore we will approach this topic from the standpoint of whether results arise from causes in order to see that, while phenomena certainly function according to a successive pattern, one condition arising out of another, nonetheless the actual arising itself can never be found, i.e., in the ultimate sense there is no reality that can arise. By engaging in careful analysis, we can gain an intellectual appreciation of emptiness, which is very useful. If we acknowledge emptiness intellectually and gain a philosophical appreciation, then we can develop faith and trust that meditation on emptiness is beneficial and does lead to realization.
            In the Mahamudra and Dzogchen Meditation Traditions, it is considered very important to have won the correct view of the way things are and the way things appear. It is truly very difficult to just think about emptiness without having investigated properly. Without sufficient understanding of emptiness, a meditation practitioner can easily make the mistake of taking a slightly similar phenomenon as the result. If we have won a basic understanding of shunyata, then we will tend to make fewer errors in meditation practice. Examining the source of conditioned phenomena and understanding that existents successively arise in dependence upon causes and conditions, bare of any reality, enhance a deeper acknowledgement and appreciation for the truth of being-becoming and all this entails.
            Madhyamaka philosophy teaches us to understand and differentiate between the conventional way things appear and function, the way things appear, and the ultimate nature of all things, the way things are. Should we only understand the first and not the latter, we could mistakenly cling to the false belief that things exist inherently and of their own accord. On the other hand, should we only understand the ultimate truth of emptiness and deny conventional appearances and experiences, we could mistakenly cling to the false belief in nihilism, thinking that everything is useless and that virtuous and unvirtuous actions, virtue and vice, are meaningless. Such an attitude leads an individual to turn his or her back on respecting the integral nature of conditioned existence and only shows an “emptiness of the mouth.” The truth of emptiness does not contradict nor oppose conventional reality and it never interrupts or stops appearances from functioning according to causes and conditions when they prevail.
 

Four Diamond Slivers: Examination of Cause

 
Since it does not arise from itself, other,
Both of them, or without a cause,
Suffering does not arise.
Present suffering is also like this. -- Nagarjuna
 
 

1.  Does a result arise from itself?

 
The first possibility we want to consider for something to arise is that it might have arisen from itself. But, having been what it was, a phenomenon no longer recurs after it no longer exists, and it certainly need not reduplicate itself. This can be illustrated by the example of a child: Once born, a child need not be born - an absurd supposition. If this notion is upheld, though, it would be conclusive that a result would merely be a repetition of one and the same thing, again and again, the duplicate necessitated to repeat itself in an uninterrupted repetition of being and not of becoming. This never happens. Should things reduplicate endlessly, nothing would ever become; every phenomenon would be itself. This is never the case, and therefore the assumption is unfounded. Take the example of a seed planted in the earth that grows into a sprout that eventually grows into a tree: Branches grow on the tree, leaves grow on the branches, fruits also spring forth that yield new seeds, that can be planted and grow into many new trees. We see that a cause, the initial seed, becomes something quite different and leads to a similar cause, a seed, but by the time this seed is what it has come to be, it is quite different than the first seed that was planted and has ceased existing a while ago. The new seed is similar but certainly not the same as the one that has ceased existing. This example shows that nothing arises from itself; things do not repeat themselves and become the same phenomenon.
            There was a school of philosophy known as Samkhya in ancient India. They taught that things arise out of themselves by reproducing themselves. Even though this school is not widespread today, some people may come to a same conclusion all on their own. Looking at the clay a potter uses to make a pot: The clay is kneaded, turned, and formed into an object on the potter’s wheel through the endeavour of the potter. Adherents of Samkhya would say that the clay is the same while the appearance has changed. They tried to prove their point of view by saying that a rice seed grows into a plant and later the rice seed appears again. The Samkhya School used these two examples to defend their position and insisted that although appearances undergo a change, phenomena remain the same. However, this can never be so. Why? Taking a rice seed as an example, the seed and sprout are obviously quite different; the seed is tiny and pale, the plant is tall and green. Should we think they are the same, we can just as well claim this of other phenomena that do not resemble each other in the least, just as a rice seed does not resemble the green plant that grew out of the seed, which exists no more when the plant has become a plant. Can we claim that water and fire are the same or vice and virtue are alike? Certainly phenomena just as dissimilar can never be said to be identical, as was asserted by Samkhya philosophers in the past.
            Someone may wonder, “Well, doesn’t the cyclic relationship of a rice seed and a rice plant imply that they are somehow the same?” The answer is, no, just like water that flows in a river is never the same as the river. Water is never the river, rather the term “river” connotes “continuously flowing water,” and no substance can ever be found to rightfully be identified as flowing water, e.g., a river or stream. Without needing to resort to lengthy commentaries, even an illiterate person can see that a rice plant and a rice seed are not identical, that a cause and a result are never the same, and that the cause has ceased when the result appears. Every housewife knows that she cannot just look at a rice seed laying on the table and hope it will turn into a rice plant; the seed must be planted so that a plant can grow, in which case the initial seed has disintegrated. The same is true for everything that exists: In order for a result to unfold, the original cause can no longer be.
            We understand that a source and a result can never be the same and that a source always ceases in the process that makes way for a result to arise. Without needing sophisticated logic, anyone can understand that a cause and result are never the same.
 
 
2. Does a result arise from a completely different cause, i.e., from something referred
to as “other” in the texts?
 
Let us consider the supposition that something arises from something different, from something totally distinct, like a child and its mother or a plant and a seed.
In conventional terms, a result looks different than its cause, but the idea that there is production from something completely “other” than the cause will not pass the test. Why? If cause and result were totally distinct and different, then the two would have to co-exist as distinct and separate in order to uphold their feature of being “other.” Now, a cause needs to exist before its result can manifest; by the time a plant has become a plant, the seed is no more. We see that cause and result cannot co-exist, proof that they are different and distinct. Also, should a cause and result co-exist, how could the one be defined as a “cause” and the other as a “result” that never became what it is? If a mother and her child co-existed, how can there be birth? If two phenomena co-exist, how can the one be the source of the other? While identity is valid in a consistent relationship, a relationship that is “other” would have no consistency, i.e., a cause-and-effect relationship could never prevail between totally different entities. In such a case, plants could not only grow from seeds but also from iron, and darkness would be the feature of light. If “other” entailed an arbitrary relationship, i.e., if results were totally other than their sources, events could arise without any consistent pattern or structure. Since this is not the case, we can clearly see that the assumption that results are completely other than their cause is a fallacy.
Some people may argue that what was just stated does not prove that things do not arise from things that are completely different than a cause. They may think that there is a purpose extended from the one to the other, for instance, a source intends to express itself in the result. Such a supposition merely attempts to justify arbitrariness. We all know that there must be a consistent pattern involved in being and becoming, e.g., rice does not grow from a barley seed or from a stone. There is definitely a constructive principle involved when phenomena arise, a consistency that some people interpret as an intention to fulfil a purpose. And without a doubt, a seed and a plant are different and therefore, as the one ceases and the other appears, there can be no purpose extending from the one to the other. We can observe specific events in the cycle of being-becoming, but imputing a purpose is an assumption we can set aside. This is not denying that the cause of a particular event leads to specific results through a consistency that does take place and, without a doubt, functions. Events occur, appearances appear but become subject to interpretation if their consistency is deemed an intention, while, all along, shunyata remains the ground that is the lack of impediment for spatial existents to arise, abide, and cease again when causes and conditions prevail.
            Looking at the topic “purpose” from another angle: Just as the cause no longer exists when the result manifests, a purpose that is assumed to be part of a cause would also have ceased when the result manifests. For example, a silversmith who created a beautiful chalice with a pure motivation 600 years earlier cannot relate to the silver we may now hold in our hands because he died a long time ago. Just so, if the substance and purpose of the cause and the result co-exist, the one could never be the other; furthermore, the cause would have ceased to be when the result appears. Therefore, the notion that some sort of conscious purpose is contained in appearances and in events is wrong.
            Someone may protest and argue that although the cause ceases before the result arises, it is still possible for a result to arise from a completely different cause, like what happens when a weight is placed on the one pan of a measuring scale and, as a result, the pan at the other end of the rod automatically springs up. They may conclude that the cause sank down and the result instantaneously sprang up, attempting to prove that there is an uninterrupted succession of ups and downs, the cause simply disappearing as the result pops up. Again, such a proposition cannot stand the test of there being self-existence since we will never find a direct, causal connection of events within or without but only conditioned situations and experiences that reveal results. For example, a teacher cannot transplant his or her knowledge into a pupil; their knowledge will never be the same, but they can recite the same words of a text and there would be no difference between the two texts. Now, nothing happens to our face when we see its reflection in a mirror, and nothing happens to a seal when we use it as a stamp. Other examples: Sun rays only ignite a piece of paper held under a magnifying glass without burning the glass, and our echo in a valley or cave does not affect our speech. These examples show that results arise in reliance upon specific conditions and are not necessitated to be a result that is caused by those conditions.
As to the mind, the six consciousnesses never simultaneously perceive and conceive objects that are appropriate to be perceived, nor is a conception of a perception a given, rather a perception triggers a thought that arises and becomes mental events that are based upon conditions that are not only dependent upon what was apprehended as different and other. Certainly, it seems as though one moment or event gives rise to another because things follow an order, but we can never find the moment something arises, and therefore the notion that one thing gives rise to the next can only lead astray. This does not mean to say that things do not function according to causes and conditions, rather that the source of production and arising can never be found.
In Buddhism, it is taught that the accumulation of merit and wisdom on the path is the source of realization, but we will not be able to find the direct relationship between the former and the latter. As it is, everything is empty of solid reality, also the accumulation of merit and wisdom - they are also only ideas.
Appearances and experiences have no self-essence. Since this is the case, nothing can arise and abide and nothing can cease. Apprehension and what is apprehended are like a hallucination or dream. Dreaming of an elephant while asleep, for example, is brought on by various conditions and seems real for the person incapable of realizing he or she is dreaming while asleep. Searching for the elephant and other visions that arose in a dream when awake would be absurd, a meaningless endeavour since there never was an elephant to begin with. Similarly, all phenomena arise due to specific conditions; they seem to arise, abide, and cease again but only do so as mere appearances. Examining appearances in this fashion, we can see for ourselves that all dharmas, i.e., all appearances, are devoid of an own, self-existing essence and have no inherent reality. Nothing arises from itself or from anything other than itself. Nothing has an inherent reality, a self-essence, of its own.
 
 
3. Does a result arise from both itself and other?
 
Let us just consider the possibility that events and experiences arise due to a combination of both an identical cause and a completely different cause. Having discovered that nothing arises out of itself and that nothing arises out of something completely different, we may think that things arise out of a combination of both. This, however, cannot be the case due to the evidence presented in the first two points above, namely, that nothing arises out of itself or from existing others. Believing they do would entail the flaws of the wrong views refuted above.
 
 
4. Does a result arise without a cause?
 
The fourth possibility for arising, i.e., production, to occur is that phenomena arise with no cause at all, a view propounded by the Charvaka School of ancient India and by the hedonists living in ancient Greece.
The Charvakas asserted that phenomena appear without a particular cause and without a specific result, simply in accordance with their own nature. That is how they concluded that vice and virtue as well as previous and future lifetimes are not true. They presented many examples to illustrate that there is neither cause or result: When it rains, mushrooms just sprout up from the ground and without a cause; when it is windy, dust is blown about haphazardly and without fruition. That is how they concluded that when an action is dispersed, it is simply finished. Charvakas taught that nothing exists other than through its own nature and said that seeds are round due to their own nature, thorns are sharp due to the nature of thorns. They also used the peacock as an example to argue that no one had to paint its feathers nor did the peacock need to develop its beautiful feathers, but peacocks simply have colourful feathers because of their own nature. They continued and said that the sun rises in the east in the morning and no one has to pull it up; the Ganges River flows into the ocean and no one has to push it down. That is how they argued that everything is subject to its own nature, without a cause, without a result, rather arbitrarily.
The Charvakas stated that mind derives from the male and female elements that unite at conception. They then defined life to be like the mixture of grain and yeast, called ghee, which has the nature to make someone drunk. Ghee was their symbol of good living and served as their idea of the road to fulfilment. The example they set for their followers is illustrated in a story they told: Once upon a time there was a very old and destitute beggar who was determined to become rich before he breathed his last. He went into the forest, found the paw of a dead wolf, and made many footprints with the paw along the track that led back to his village. Then he summoned all villagers, told them that he had seen a demon roaming around, and showed them its footprints. The beggar-man told the villagers that he would be willing to perform a ceremony on the seventh coming day in order to free the village of the evil spirit and that they only needed to place all their belongings outside their houses, to lock their doors, and hide inside for a while. On the seventh day all villagers did as told, the old beggar-man easefully packed the riches that were so readily available in front of the houses and huts, and, while nobody was watching, he quickly became rich. They used this story to justify their accusations, “The Buddha preaches a doctrine of merit that does not exist in order to become famous and rich. There is no previous life and no life after death. The Buddha says he sees such things but only does so to aggrandize himself.” The Charvakas did not like Buddha Shakyamuni very much.
The philosophy of the Charvaka doctrine states that everything ends at death, the body dissolves back into the four elements (they did not accept the fifth element of space), and then the mind simply ceases to be. So their only recommendation was to enjoy life and live merrily. They believed that only what can be seen with the eyes is valid and set up one premise to prove everything. They summarized their instructions very simply: There is no previous life, there is no future life, there is no hell, and there is no heaven. Such statements certainly do not accord with the teachings Lord Buddha asked us to reflect.
Lord Buddha taught that everything originates from causes and conditions; there must be causal and secondary conditions for anything to appear or occur. For example, if a seed is planted in the ground (causal conditions) and there is enough rain and warmth (secondary conditions), plants will grow; if there is not enough rain and warmth, i.e., if the secondary conditions are missing in the winter, plants will not grow. Needless to say, no plant will grow on the table in front of me because there is no seed, no earth, and no rain. We certainly know that in the absence of causes and conditions that provide consistency, nothing can arise. Should things arise arbitrarily, there would be no consistency and flowers could grow out of sticks and stones. Anyone with common sense can see for himself that this is impossible.

            Concerning previous lives, we can see the continuum of our mind based upon our mind forms, i.e., today’s impressions and expressions are based upon yesterday’s, and the mind of this year is based upon last year’s mind. Mind flows continuously. Everyone experiences his or her own mind as a continuum of own feelings and thoughts. We never experience that our mind is new or another instance in our lives, rather we experience the continuum of our mind. Even when born, our mind is a continuum from the time we spent in the womb. Since we see no disjunction in our mind stream, we may ask, where did the mind come from at the moment of birth? If we state that it arose suddenly, wouldn’t this deny its presence at the moment of our conception? Should it have arisen arbitrarily at that time, what about the continuum we experience in life? It must have come from a previous life. Not even a tiny seed suddenly springs forth without a continuum of being and becoming that plants are always subject to, too. Not even mushrooms spring into existence haphazardly, rather they grow from spores. So, the Charvaka’s example of mushrooms is silly.

            Concerning future lives, we know that a cause brings a result. For example, we do not fear that we will not have a mind tomorrow because we have it today; experience has taught us that having a mind today means having it tomorrow and the day after that. We are assured that the mind is not in danger of suddenly disappearing or of being blown away like a speck of dust in the wind. A lit candle certainly renders light. In the same way, mind flows in a never-ending continuum. Mind, too, yields a result and that result is the mind, which will continue after death, so there must be a future lifetime.

The “one analysis” that the Charvakas used to justify their view is certainly not very convincing. The simple fact that something cannot be seen does not mean it doesn’t exist. If this were the case, a blind man would be right when he denies the existence of things he does not see. If we accept the Charvakas’ arguments and deny knowledge won from deduction and inference, then it would be conclusive to deny the existence of our hearts, lungs, and other internal organs that we cannot see for ourselves. However, being able to perceive the outer form of our bodies and knowing that the body consists of those organs, we do indirectly “see” them. This is the reasoning to prove the existence of past and future lives. Through inference and deduction, we are able to acknowledge the truth of being-becoming and to accept the existence of past and future lives.

            Logically examining the possibility of past and future lives in order to gain an intellectual appreciation of the continuum from lifetime to lifetime is analogous to the case of a travelling businessman. When he arrives in another country to sell his goods, he is not really interested in the country but is only concerned about selling his ware and about buying things he can sell when back home. He is not really concerned about his own welfare since he knows he will be home again soon. Similarly, by gaining an intellectual appreciation of our continuum from lifetime to lifetime, we develop a feeling much like the businessman in this example, that we are here on a temporary visit and will soon move on to a new lifetime, i.e., we acknowledge the fact that this lifetime is certainly not permanent. As a result, our attachments to this life are reduced, and this is very beneficial.
 
 

Conclusion

 
We have now concluded our short discussion about the “Four Diamond Slivers,” the investigation of the only possible causes that can be imagined concerning how any phenomenon can arise. We looked at each point as to whether anything can arise
 
-                     from itself,
-                     from other,
-                     from both itself and other, or
-                     from neither self nor other, i.e., without a cause.
 
We saw that nothing is really produced, nevertheless things appear, which accords with the mode of perception and experience, namely that things unceasingly arise and function in a structured interrelationship with a source and with conditions that are prerequisites and necessary for a source to come to fruition. If we do examine carefully, we discover that whatever arises is empty of a self-essence, i.e., an inherent reality of its own. This being the case, it follows that nothing abides or ceases the way it appears to do.
In Buddhist scriptures, the analogy of horns of a rabbit are presented to describe our illusory mode of perceiving the world and being within. If rabbits have no horns, investigating how long a rabbit can have horns is rather foolish. Understanding that ultimately nothing can arise, it is conclusive that nothing abides or ceases. All appearances are mere appearances that do occur but have no solid, self-existing reality of their own. Since nothing abides, nothing can arise, nor can things be stopped from arising when causes and conditions prevail. Ultimately, everything is beyond conceptuality, the meaning of shunyata, the ultimate truth that is the ground for the relative truth of being and becoming.
 
 

Questions

 
Student: In the example of the travelling businessman, what is analogous to the homeland?
Thrangu Rinpoche: The future lifetime is what corresponds to the homeland in the example. If a businessman were to go to a foreign country, neglect his business, and just have a good time, he would probably return home broke and may run in to trouble. Like this, if we are not concerned about our future lives now, we will find ourselves in very unfavourable circumstances later.
 
Student: What came first, the flower or the seed?
Rinpoche: I have heard this question stated, “What came first, the chicken or the egg?” I have never found an answer to this question in any of the many books I have read. One thing is certain, though, chickens have been born from eggs and have laid eggs for a very long time now, and flowers have grown from seeds and have given rise to seeds for more than many years, too. Samsara is infinite, without a beginning and consequently there is no beginning to any successive appearance in time. No matter which phenomenon is taken into consideration, a cause will be found that arose from another cause. No matter what we examine, we will always find an unending series of causes and effects. There is no first cause. Let us again look at a seed of rice: The seed came from a plant that came from a seed that came from a plant that came from a seed – an unending succession stretching back over a very, very long period of time. If we burn the seed, its potential to produce a plant is destroyed.
            An end of samsara depends upon our point of view. Seen from ordinary experiences, it is impossible to fathom an end to samsara. For samsara to end totally, we would have to bring all sentient beings to perfect realization, a very difficult task. As to ourselves, there is the potential for samsara to end for us through realization of Buddhahood.
           
 
Student: Isn’t there some problem of duality, with a mind that goes on and on and a body that stops?
Rinpoche: It’s not really a problem because when the body disintegrates then only the connection between the body and mind has been dissevered. The mind continues to a future lifetime and the physical body is left behind as matter, if burned as ashes that can be scattered on the ground to continue as a physical phenomenon.
Question: Mind and body are different categories?
Rinpoche: Yes, the body can be perceived with the physical sensory organs, whereas the mind cannot be touched, or heard, or seen, and the like. Right now body and mind occur simultaneously, but they are quite distinct.
Question: How and when does the mind go from a dead body to a new one? Is it at the moment of conception?
Rinpoche: What usually happens is that the body is afflicted with a disease, so that the mind no longer remains attached to it. Then the mind leaves the body, death occurs, and the body deteriorates. After either a short or longer period of time, the mind perceives another body, identifies with it as, “This is my body,” and feels attached to it. The relationship that sets in when attachment arises is the time that mind and body become connected. According to the scriptures, semen cannot enter an ovum unless an attaching mind is present, so a mind is a necessary condition for conception to occur. Therefore it is logical that the moment of conception takes place when the mind becomes attached to the physical form of the semen entering the ovum, and a being is alive from the moment of conception.
Question: It sounds as though the mind chooses the body.
Rinpoche: In fact, there is no choice. When the mind is separated from its body at death, visions appear to that mind, and these visions are very disturbing and erratic. In that state, the mind actually has no possibility to choose.
 
Student: Since one mind goes with one body and the world population is increasing, does this mean that certain animals with good karma are taking a higher birth or beings from other planets or world systems are taking rebirth in our plane of existence?
Rinpoche: My opinion on the matter is that nowadays - compared with the past - the objects of desire are increasing, and yet the general level of happiness seems to be decreasing rapidly. Seeing that happiness is sinking in modern times, in karmic terms it is therefore much easier to be reborn in our world. Although there were less objects of desire in ancient times, it is said that beings were happy. It is conclusive that if circumstances have become more favourable and demanding, it would be harder to be reborn here and there would be less human beings. But this is not the case. In fact, when people were happier in ancient times there were less people on earth. Now people are unhappy and there are more of them.
 
Student: So, where do the Tulkus come from?
Rinpoche: Do you think they are new ones?
Sentient beings go from one birth to the next, from one realm to another. Some humans die and are reborn as animals or in a distant realm; some animals are reborn as humans. If you watch a fly trapped in a closed jar, you will notice that it will not stop flying from the top to the bottom of the jar, around in the middle, and back to the top and bottom again, never resting, always on the move. Just so, sentient beings wander from one realm to another, from the highest to the lowest, but as long as they are caught in samsara, they never stop moving around. Buddha Shakyamuni referred to sentient beings as “movers,” because they go from one condition to the other, never remaining the same - they just keep on moving.
Student: But the Buddha taught that the highest form of rebirth we can take is as a man or woman because we can only reach liberation in the human state. So it would seem that more and more beings have accumulated the good merit to be born as men and women in our world.
Rinpoche: Buddha Shakyamuni referred to the “precious human rebirth” as the most favourable state of incarnation. Just having a human body does not fulfil the definition “precious.” The extremely favourable and precious rebirth as a human being that Lord Buddha meant was a human body endowed with the potential and ability to practice the Dharma. It is just this potential to practice the Dharma that is so difficult to obtain and that is so very precious. There are so many human beings who have no connection and do not even have the inclination to practice the precious Dharma. The increasing population is not evidence for positive merit that is needed in order to attain a precious life.
Student: But more and more Lamas are coming to the West and more and more people are practicing the Dharma.
Rinpoche: It is possible that a general interest in the Dharma is increasing, but realization of Dharma is certainly not increasing. In the small area where he was, 500 Arhats (“realized practitioners of the Hinayana, the noble beings who had eliminated the klesha of obscurations”) surrounded Lord Buddha. Find one noble Arhat in any area nowadays.
 
Question: Is family planning right or wrong from a spiritual point of view?
Rinpoche: I have no fixed opinion on this matter. Only a Buddha can see the karma of other living beings. Personally, I see no fault in preventing conception, but, of course, once conception has occurred, it would be a great non-virtuous act to kill the foetus or embryo of a living being.
Student: But wouldn’t family planning prevent a mind from taking rebirth?
Rinpoche: Is it unvirtuous to be a nun, then? Would it be unvirtuous for a woman who could have given birth to five children to become a nun and have no children as a result?
Student: Maybe that is why the Buddha hesitated to allow ordination of women and said that the Dharma would disappear 500 years earlier due to the order of the nuns.
Rinpoche: Lord Buddha said that if women did not take ordination the Dharma would last longer, but if women were ordained, although the Dharma would not last long, it would be much more widespread. This should not be taken to mean that women cannot achieve enlightenment to the same degree as men. In fact, reaching enlightenment only depends upon having a mind and making the effort to practice the Dharma. There is absolutely no difference in this regard between women and men.
 
Thank you very much.
 
 
 
 


* Instructions on chapter 6 of “mKhas pa’i tshul la ‘jug pa’i sgo – The Gateway to Knowledge” by Mipham Rinpoche, presented at the Namo Buddha Seminar in Kathmandu, Nepal, 1978, translated from Tibetan by Shakya Dorje. Revised excerpt from Venerable Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche, An Open Door to Emptiness. Translated by Shakya Dorje, edited by Michael L. Lewis, Clark Johnson, Ph.D., & Jean Johnson, 3rd ed., Namo Buddha Publications, Crestone, Co., 1997, pages 33-52. (First ed. published by Lhungdrub Teng, Kathmandu, 2nd ed. published by Tara Publishing, Manila.) Revised by Gaby Hollmann, 2006,