Sun of Wisdom
Teachings on the Noble Nagarjuna`s Fundamental Wisdom
A commentary on Nagarjuna`s Mulamadhyamakakarika, or Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way, by the renowned Kagyu Lama Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso.
Using Nagarjuna's famous root text on the nature of reality and emptiness, and the great modern master Mipham's own commentary as a framework, Rinpoche explains the most important verses from each chapter in the text in a style that illuminates for modern students both the meaning of these profound teachings and how to put them into practice in a way that benefits both oneself and others.
The Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way was written in the second century and is one of the most important works of Nagarjuna, the pioneering master of the Buddha's teachings on the Middle Way view, or Madhyamika philosophy. The subtle analyses presented in this treatise were closely studied and commented on by many realized teachers from the Indo-Tibetan tradition.
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The Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way is composed of twenty-seven chapters. Each is itself a commentary on a different statement made by the Buddha in the sutras comprising the second turning of the wheel of Dharma. Nagarjuna proves the validity of the Buddha's teachings with logical reasoning. The chapters also answer the successive arguments put to Nagarjuna by those who believed that things truly exist. In each chapter, Nagarjuna would successfully refute one such argument; his opponents would then come up with another argument that they thought proved that things were real, and Nagarjuna would refute that, and so on-that is why there are twenty-seven chapters! They are all very beneficial to us because they help us to overcome our own doubts, the same doubts that Nagarjuna's opponents had.
Some of the chapters are long and the logical reasonings they present are quite detailed. This book examines the most important verses from each chapter. It is necessary to proceed in this way because very few people today have the time to study the entire text. People in modern times need concise Dharma teachings that are profound, easily understandable, and readily applicable to daily life. By reading, contemplating, and meditating on the teachings in this book, you will get to the heart of Nagarjuna's text in a direct way that will greatly enhance your precise knowledge of the genuine nature of reality.
There are similarities from one chapter to the next in the methods of logical inference and reasoning used to help you gain certainty in emptiness. This similarity of method makes it easier for you to gain facility with these logical reasonings, and will also help you to see how wonderfully applicable they are to such a great variety of subjects. By reviewing these same basic reasonings as they apply to different subjects, your familiarity with them will grow and you will gain more and more certainty in their conclusions. Emptiness is the deepest and most subtle topic one could ever attempt to understand, so it is never enough to hear or read teachings on emptiness just once. Rather, we must analyze them again and again, apply them again and again, and continually cultivate familiarity with their profound meaning.
Along these lines, this book also includes other selections of texts that will help to deepen your understanding of emptiness and strengthen your certainty. The first is the Heart of Wisdom Sutra, one of the Buddha's most concise teachings on emptiness, yet incredibly powerful and profound. This sutra was actually spoken by the great bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, but since he did so through the power of the Buddha's blessing, it is considered to be the very speech of the Transcendent Conqueror himself. By analyzing the nature of reality with your intelligence in the way that Nagarjuna describes, you will gain stable certainty in the teachings of this sutra. Furthermore, seeing the similarity between the teachings of the Buddha and those of Nagarjuna will increase your confidence in Nagarjuna's words.
Also included here are the verses that describe the twenty emptinesses from the text by the glorious Chandrakirti, called Entering the Middle Way, itself a commentary on the meaning of Nagarjuna's Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way. Actually, within emptiness itself there are no distinctions between different types of emptiness because emptiness' true nature transcends all concepts that differentiate between one thing and another. Therefore, from the perspective of genuine reality, emptiness cannot actually be divided into twenty different categories or classifications. When the Buddha taught the twenty emptinesses, however, he did so from the perspective of the twenty different types of phenomena whose various appearances we cling to as being truly existent. Going through the twenty emptinesses helps us to free ourselves from this clinging step by step. The first sixteen emptinesses are the extensive presentation, and these are then summarized into four. Studying Nagarjuna's reasonings makes the twenty emptinesses easy to understand, and at that point Chandrakirti's verses will be a great help to your meditation practice. You can use these verses to practice analytical meditation by reciting the verses describing a particular emptiness and using the logical reasonings Nagarjuna presents to help you come to certainty in the verses' meaning, and then practice resting meditation by simply resting in that certainty that your analysis has produced. You can repeat this process as many times as you like. Machig Labdrön, the greatest woman practitioner in the history of Tibet, taught her students to meditate on the twenty emptinesses in this way as a method to help them realize prajnaparamita, the transcendent wisdom that realizes emptiness, that is called the Great Mother of all enlightened beings.
Finally, as mentioned earlier, this book includes the vajra song of the lord of yogis Milarepa called An Authentic Portrait of the Middle Way. This is one of Milarepa's most important songs because it teaches from the common perspective of the Autonomy and Consequence schools' views. If studying this great text by Nagarjuna, the basis of the Middle Way, leads you to wonder about the Kagyu tradition's particular perspective on these matters, you will find the answer by referring to this song of Milarepa, one of the founders of the Kagyu lineage. An Authentic Portrait of the Middle Way is a short song, but it contains a meaning that is profound and vast. It teaches that all of the phenomena of samsara and nirvana do not truly exist and yet they stifi appear-there is a mere appearance of things, and that appearance is the union of appearance and emptiness. Therefore, it is very helpful to read or sing this song, to memorize it, and to meditate on its meaning. That will be a very good connection for
you to make with the profound view of the lineage and the one who realized it perfectly, Milarepa.
Milarepa was the one yogi in the history of Tibet who was universally acknowledged to have attained buddhahood in a single life. If you have faith in him, then singing or reciting his Authentic Portrait as you study Nagarjuna's teachings will be of great benefit, because it will help you to overcome your fear of emptiness. If you already have certainty in emptiness, then singing the songs about emptiness that were sung by the realized masters will cause your certainty to grow greater and greater.
In general, all the verses in this book are excellent supports for developing your precise knowledge of genuine reality through study, reflection, and meditation. You should recite them as much as possible, memorize them, and reflect on them until doubt-free certainty in their meaning arises within. Then you should recall their meaning again and again, to keep your understanding fresh and stable. Whenever you have time, use them as the support for the practices of analytical and resting meditation. If you do all of this, it is certain that the sun of wisdom will dawn within you, to the immeasurable benefit of yourselves and others.
Chandrakirti and the Eighth Karmapa
Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche and translated by Ari Goldfield and Rose Taylor
Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche and translated by Ari Goldfield and Rose Taylor