Clarifications on The Great Treatise

Chapter 3: How to Listen to and Explain the Teachings

Page 66 lists individuals to whom one should not give teaching.
For the most part these are self-explanatory and easy to understand.

However, can someone clarify the prohibition attributed to Gunabhadra against giving a teaching to someone whose head is wrapped in a cloth?

I'm assuming this refers to an individual of another religious group (perhaps Sikh or Muslim) and relates to the proscriptive prohibition in Chapter 12 from the MPN sutra against befriending non-Buddhist philosophers (p 194).

If this is the case I assume it could also relate to the unfavorable rebirths listed in Chapter 7 from Nagarjuna's Friendly Letter, "an uncultured person in a border region" (p118).

Gregory Hamilton Schmidt's picture

Meditative Posture

Tsonghkapa quotes Asanga's Sravaka Levels giving five reasons for sitting the the eight-point full lotus posture.
The third of these is that "the posture is not common to non-Buddhists and our opponents."

Here is an image of a jina, a meditating Jain ascetic, from the Crow Collection of Asian Art here in Dallas.
It's hard to imagine that Asanga would not have been aware of the common use of this posture....

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Tsonghkapa includes "choosing not to speak" as a type of lying under the heading of the ten non-virtuous actions.

His Holiness the Third Dalai Lama writes in The Essence of Superfine Gold that “actions not taken will not produce a result.” (p 34)

There seems to be a conflict here if we understand choosing not to speak as an action not taken, though, at least according to Tosngkhapa, it will certainly produce a result.

Is this resolved by considering action as cetana, such that choosing not to speak in the context of lying is an intentional act to deceive, thus producing a result?

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Pabonka Rinpoche

Pabonka Rinpoche appears to address this indirectly in Liberation in the Palm of your hand.

While he does not specifically address lies of omission, in discussing the eight kinds of things you can lie about, he mentions the components intention involved in lying. (p 402)

Gregory Hamilton Schmidt's picture

Karma is not deterministic

On page 307 of the Great Treatise, the ways we die and reborn are listed
Under causes of death are listed as exhausting the life span projected by previous karma; from exhaustion of merit; failure to avoid danger.

This last point appears to account for the fact that one's death - like other effects - is not wholly or exclusively dependent on karma. Poor choices (free will) in addition to the determination of previous karmas and stores of merit are both causes and not mutually exclusive.

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Prescriptive Precepts

Listed first among these in Chapter 12 is to treat images of the Buddha as objects of reverence.

A recent article in the Guardian addresses this issue, asking the question "What do Buddhists Think?" about the use of Buddha images for branding, diets plans, chains of bars, and so on.

The article presents positions, including those of ordained monks, with varying degrees of approval for this modern reality. Certainly worth a read.

With regard to the Lam Rim, it would appear difficult to justify "Buddha-branding" in light of this precept.
Going back to the time of the Buddha and immediately following His demise, the total lack of images of the Buddha would suggest that treating the Buddha with respect originally included not even representing Him with anything but a symbol (footprints, empty throne, etc.).

Furthermore, one question that is not addressed in the article is what our obligation is (if any) to return service or make offerings to the triple gem based on our financial gain from their use.


Gregory Hamilton Schmidt's picture

Proscriptive Precepts

Listed first in this category in Chapter 12 is "not going to other deities for refuge".
From a modern perspective, how do we evaluate this knowing that deities in the Vajryana have been integrated from other existing Indian, and in the Tibetan tradition, Bon traditions?

I take it in context to mean that the author or the audience were either not consciously aware of this fact or, more likely, that the presenting of this precept is an instance of skillful means.

This also may help us interpret the significance of this precept without reducing its significance, as our current age allows for a more broad-based historical understanding of the development of Buddhism and its expanded pantheon in the Mahayana.

sociological step

To me it's simply a sociological requirement. Christianity, too, insisted on allegiance: there are many lords and many gods, sure, but do not go to the ritual meal of those other gods as for us there's only one god the father and one lord Jesus Christ. Pagans, on the other hand, practiced synchretism and adored plural gods.

According to Garland1, however, from the I century CE, polytheists were increasingly in search of a personal relationship with one of the gods of the pagan pantheon (=the Hindu concept of Ishta Devata, personal deity). Aesculapius the divine healer was an ideal candidate, as Garland compares him to Jesus: both divine, compassionate and suffering in the flesh like men.

Scarcity and exclusivity boost word of mouth by making people feel like insiders. If people get something not everyone else has, it makes them feel special, unique, high status. And because of that they’ll not only like a product or service more, but tell others about it. Why? Because telling others makes them look good. Having insider knowledge is social currency. (Berger 2013:33).

Exclusivity is tied closely to identity. Your clients or people that you hope to persuade want to be distinguished in a certain way. They go well out of their way to be sure people know who they are and for what they stand. -...-The more exclusive you can make someone feel, the more likely they are to be persuaded. Exclusive groups are easier to persuade than generic groups. Exclusivity is one of the keys to building a cult, whether a cult of customers or of brands. Exclusivity is closely tied to identity. Reinforce the tie between people’s identities and the exclusivity and you move them much more quickly and easily to your point of view. (Lakhani 2005:106,110).

Buddha spent all night conversing with deities. Gods are of ultimate assistance, not ultimate refuge because they are within the web of samsara, too.
In Japan, gods are reinterpreted as Bodhisattvas.
Which is not foreign to conventional Hinduism, too, as in THE HUMBLING OF CHIEF GOD INDRA.
Vishnu and Shiva in disguise humble Indra who had become too self-absorbed and show him an army of ants: all former Indras...


Gregory Hamilton Schmidt's picture

8 States Lacking Leisure

Chapter 7 refers details the 8 States that lack leisure.

The last - being born deaf and mute - would seem to be problematic and perhaps inapplicable in the modern era.
I am assuming that this is on the list as at the time there would have been little skill or technology to assist one unable to speak vocally or hear to learn and practice the dharma.
As neither of these conditions are present today, I would assume that the modern practitioner of the Lam Rim would disregard this particular element as no longer relevant.

I'd also point to the explanation on page 118 "that you are not able to know what to adopt and what to cast aside... being mute, stupid and having incomplete sensory faculties".

Implicit in the clarification provided by this statement, as the condition of "being mute" or "having limited sensory faculties" is no longer a barrier to instruction, learning and the accumulation of knowledge, one so endowed would no longer be unable "to know what to adopt and what to cast aside."