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Padmasambhava - Life and Liberation Cantos 37 and 39

by Sangharakshita

All hyphens were missing from this file. Spellchecking replaced some of them.
Questions and Answers with the venerable Sangharakshita on Canto 37, The Life and

Liberation of Padmasambhava; Rivendell, June-July 1987.
PRESENT: Sanghadevi, Vidyasri Vajragita, Sridevi, Vidyavati, Punyamegha, Dayamegha,
Ratnamegha, Tessa Harding, Christine McCluskey, Caroline Gutt, Maggie Graeber
6 July 1987Sangharakshita: What are we going to do? Are we going to go round the circle reading a bit at
a time, or what?
Sanghadevi: I think if we read the whole of that first section, and going back through it,
maybe a few lines at a time.
S: That's what I mean, doing a few lines at a time. OK. It's going to go on to that little design
in the middle of p. 236. Do you want someone to read it all through first, to get an idea of the
section as a whole?
(Passage read.)
S: So the canto is called 'The Glance of the Region to be Converted'. I think here as elsewhere
in the work we must not forget that it is a translation of a translation: it is an English
translation of a French translation of the original Tibetan text, so it is natural, perhaps
inevitable, that there should be some obscurities, sometimes obscurities of language,
sometimes grammatical obscurities. We will deal with those as we come to them.
So first of all:
"Now having seated himself on Mount Ghrdhrakuta, Padma said:' - "
What do you think is the significance of that? Padmasambhava seating himself on Mount
Ghrdhrakuta? What and where is this Ghrdhrakuta?
Sanghadevi: Is it meant to be the summit of mundane existence?
S: It could be regarded as that, but it isn't really. It is not like Kailas, because it is a peak in a
range of mountains near Rajgriha. It is not very, very high.
Punyamegha: [Does not] the Buddha sometimes speak from Mount Ghrdhrakuta?
S: Oh, yes. The White Lotus Sutra was delivered by the Buddha, according to the sutra itself,
on Mount Ghrdhrakuta, and there are many other important sutras. So, if it is said that
Padmasambhava seated himself on Mount Ghrdhrakuta, it is equivalent to saying that
Padmasambhava functions as a Buddha. He exercises the functions of a Buddha, or he is the
Buddha. In Tibet, of course, the Nyingmapas called him the second Buddha. So the fact that
he seats himself there has this suggestion, at least, about it.
Then he says:
[2]
"I have looked where there was a region to be converted. It is like a rising sun in a mirror."
It is not quite clear whether the phrase 'It is like a sun in a mirror' refers to the region to be
converted, which is more likely, I think, or to Padma's looking at the region. Do you see what
I mean? Because, all right, there is a region to be converted. A region of the earth which is to
be converted to the Dharma; so, if one takes it to mean that that region is like a rising sun in a
mirror, what does that actually mean? In what way is that region like a rising sun in a mirror?
Sanghadevi: It's got a lot of potential.
S: In what sense would you say that a rising sun reflected in a mirror had a lot of potential?
Vajragita: When the sun is in a mirror, it makes the light stronger.
: I wondered if it meant it was difficult to get hold of - I mean you can't get it, the rising sun in
a mirror.
S: Yes, that's true; you can't get at any reflection. But in that case, what would it mean that the
region was difficult to grasp hold of?
Christine: They would be difficult to convert?
S: It could mean that, yes, even though it is a little far-fetched; but then in this text lots of
things are rather far-fetched. Yes, it is like a rising sun in a mirror: difficult to catch hold of,
difficult to convert. You could look at it like that. But also, of course, in Mahayana generally,
reflection is a sort of symbol for conditioned existence, isn't it? It isn't absolutely real, because
it depends on causes and conditions. The reflection depends upon there being a mirror: in the
same way, conditioned existence depends on conditions. At the same time, even though the
reflection is a conditioned thing and therefore only relatively real, you do perceive it, so it is
not absolutely non-existent. So the fact that the region is like a rising sun in a mirror - or
perhaps just like a sun, or anything, reflected in a mirror - suggests that it is to be regarded as
neither absolutely existent nor absolutely non-existent; it has a relative reality. You could
look at it like that.
So 'I have looked where there was a region to be converted. It is like a rising sun in a mirror.'
On the other hand, as I have suggested, you could see it as meaning that Padma was looking
at that region and was himself reflected, as it were, in it just like a rising sun, because he was
thinking of converting it, being reflected in a mirror. I think that interpretation is less likely.
But in a work of this sort, sometimes a phrase or a sentence or a whole passage has more than
one meaning. So 'I have looked where there was a region to be converted. It is like a rising
sun in a mirror.
It has the form of Cintamani which does not set.
Now what is this Cintamani?
Voices: A wish-fulfilling gem.
S: Mm, a wish-fulfilling gem. It is usually represented, in at least Tibetan Buddhist art, in a
definite way, isn't it? So it is further said that this region to be converted is not only like a
rising sun in a mirror; it also has the form of [3] Cintamani. You may remember that the
world, or India, is called, Jambudvipa in Sanskrit, and this Jambudvipa is surrounded by four
sets of islands. Do you remember this from your cosmography? And these are of different
shapes:, one set of islands is like the shoulder-blade of a sheep; others are like crescents. So
the shape of this region, apparently, is that of Cintamani, the wish-fulfilling gem. Because the
Cintamani itself, the wish-fulfilling gem itself, represents something else: what is that? Do
you remember? (Silence.) It represents the Bodhicitta; because, just as the wish-fulfilling gem
fulfils all worldly desires, the Bodhicitta fulfils all spiritual desires.
But why should it be said that the Cintamani 'does not set'? There has just been a comparison
to a rising sun; so here there is a reference to something which does not set, as the sun sets.
The Cintamani does not set. So how is it that the Cintamani does not set, if you compare it to
a sun? Well, one, you could say it is inexhaustible, and if you compare the Bodhicitta to the
Cintamani, the Bodhicitta having really arisen never ...
Sanghadevi: It never fades.
S: Never fades, yes. So: 'I have looked where there was a region to be converted. It is like a
rising sun in a mirror. It has the form of Cintamani which does not set.' Then comes another
section:
Versed in the Tantras of the wisdom born of tradition,
I do not fear to uphold the Dharma which rules over beings.
Versed in the Tantras of the wisdom born of reflection,
I do not fear the debate of the dogma with the unfaithful.
Versed in the Tantras of the wisdom born of contemplation,
I do not fear to test the limits of the spiritual faculties.
So here there is incorporated a well-known list; do you notice this? The three what?
Sutamaya?
S: Yes, the three prajnas. There is the wisdom born of tradition, the wisdom born of hearing,
comes first; then the wisdom born of reflection, the wisdom born of pondering; and then the
wisdom born of contemplation in the sense of meditative experience.
Sanghadevi: In the Survey you talk of the wisdom born of thinking first.
S: Do I? One might have ...
Sanghadevi: I'm (?not) trying to catch you out.
S: It might be that one is missing, but it shouldn't be.
Sanghadevi: Well, it seems slightly different from here. Here it's the other way round; it
seems to have the reflecting on the suttas ...
S: No: the sutamayi prajna is wisdom born of hearing, so hearing and tradition correspond.
Because tradition is something just handed down, something factual, something that you hear,
usually. Then there is the wisdom born of reflection, cintamayi, and then there is the wisdom
born of contemplation or bhavana. So what have I got in the Survey?
[4]
Sanghadevi: Well, you give a quote from Buddhaghosa, which is: '"Based on thinking" is that
knowledge... one has acquired by one's own cogitation, without having learned it from others.
"Based on learning" is that knowledge which one has learned (heard) from others. "Based on
Meditation" is the knowledge that one has acquired through "mental development" '
S: Yes, it is expressed in a roundabout way, but the sequence is the same. Where is it? Ah.
'"Based on thinking" is that knowledge (or wisdom) which one has acquired by one's own
cogitation, without having learned it from others. "Based on learning" (literally "hearing") is
that knowledge which one has learned ("heard") from others. "Based on Meditation" Is that
knowledge which one has acquired through "mental development" in this or that way...' Yes,
Buddhaghosa condenses it quite a bit. So '"Based on thinking" is that knowledge (or wisdom)
which one has acquired by one's own cogitation, without having learned it from others.' This
does not mean that one doesn't hear anything to begin with. Do you see what I mean? You
hear something from others; you learn something; ...

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