As with any thing else in life, the study of Buddhist philosophy involves a certain ability in jump various sized hurdles. In so far as I have noticed with the progress of our studies, some of the topics that we have studied present the purpose of sharpening ones reasoning facilities, like the topic called “Substantial and Isolate Phenomena” (rdzas ldog) where part of the object is to apprehend how various existent phenomena fit into certain categories. Within the topic of Substantial and Isolate Phenomena there are eight different types of phenomena that each have their own defining characteristics of four requirements that needs to be fulfilled in order for a certain phenomena to be it. For a phenomena to be a substantial phenomena it must be “that which is a common locus such that: 1) it is an established base (meaning that it exists), 2) it is itself, 3) non-it is not it, 4) its isolate is not mutually exclusive with substantial phenomena- translated by Daniel Perdue, (khyod gzhi grub, khyod khyod rang yin, khyod ma yin khyod ma yin, khyod kyi ldog pa rdzas chos dang mi ‘gal yang yin pa’i gzhi mthun pa) .
WTF! If you brain is not spinning like mine was when I first read this then treat yourself for a rocky road ice cream cone right now! There are seven more of these to digest on, each having four requirements as the above but with the words shifting slightly to change the meaning. In short “it” (khyod) acts as an unknown variable that must be figured out. The classic example of a substantial phenomena is “pot” (bum pa) because it fulfills all four of the requirements: 1) pot is an established base (it exists), 2) pot is it itself (pot is not something other than pot), 3) non-pot is not a pot (like this laptop is non-pot so it is not a pot), 4) the isolate of pot (meaning: the reverse of being non-pot, [bum pa ma yin pa las ldog pa]) is not mutually exclusive (meaning that it shares a common locus) with substantial phenomena. This last requirement is quite strange because it is a part of the defining characteristic of substantial phenomena; this makes the logic circular and causes it to fold with in itself. This fourth requirement is also the hardest to prove on the debate courtyard.
So far in my brief experience with debate and the study of our first introduction into Buddhist reasoning, Collected Topics (bsdus grwa), most of our study contain many turgid statements as the one above and once one figures out the logic of that topic then the rest is manageable. But other topics are at a whole different level, like our current topic on the “Advance Presentation of Cause and Effect (rgyu ‘bras che ba) ”; this topic has been a royal pain in the butt for most of us and in debate it is like we are just shooting in the dark blindly. As compared to the monasteries in South India where Collected Topics is studied for three years or more, IBD does it in one. This is quite fast, some topics we just breeze through without really getting a good handle on them. With this topic which forms one of the main foundations for Buddhist practice and philosophy; if this is not understood, Buddhism as it is presented by long gone Indian Buddhist through Tibetan interpretations will not be understood.
Luckily, since it is such a crucial topic it resurfaces over and over again throughout ones dialectical studies. But at this point as a beginner it is like straight hitting ones head against a wall. This week I have spent hours just reading over and over the same four or five lines to not get a damn thing out of them. It is quiet frustrating, but we were all forewarned by Gen la that this would happen. He said that with the process of dialectical study, one always runs into things that make no sense at first, but that something is happening in the mind nonetheless. He compared it to drawing an elaborate painting, at first one draws the sketches of a figure which is not so detailed yet, but the general shape of the drawn object is known. Then as one wrestles with it, it is like the artist adding more strokes and colors of varying intensities giving depth and clarity to the painting. And so too do our studies progress and now we are all at such a point where a whispering glimpse of the figure it just starting to appear, but if you stare too hard one gets nothing. I do know that after this topic there are many such topics ahead, one that thing that is important is not to push oneself over the limit. Jeremy gave me this advice and I have been trying to stick with it, but sometimes I keep on going anyways. We all want to understand but we can not kill ourselves in the process, ‘nuff said.
We have lost some students within the last couple of months, some might return and others it seems won’t be which is really surprising. Our Taiwanese guy who knew no Tibetan has been gone for more than a month now. I thought that at first that he was going to take a few days off because he was under a lot of stress, since he only had two months of Tibetan before entering the course, he was not understanding a lot of things. As the lessons got progressively harder so did his stress. I wonder if he is still planning on coming back. Our Korean ex-genetic engineer monk just recently took a month and a half leave of absence because his elderly father got very ill. A Chinese/ Australian nun is rumored not to be returning which is the saddest of them all. For most of the last year she received private lessons on Collected Topics from the top student of the class above ours, she studied so hard and when we got into the course from the beginning she was rocking out and ahead of the game. Her mother became ill and she had to leave to tend to her but I won’t have figured that she would not be coming back.
Two other student’s mothers have gotten sick and we have been reciting prayers for them almost every evening before debate. One student just contracted malaria, probably when he went to visit another part of India recently; I have never heard of malaria being contracted up here in the mountains but that will change as the climate warms up. He had missed some class but luckily though he looks weak and has lost some weight, overall he seems to be doing OK and he is resuming his studies. He has help around here and we all hope that he will do fine. He is a sharp and friendly person; I hope that he gets well soon.
In this realm and in life in general there are always obstacles to ones goals, some controllable others not, some external others internal. But when one arises of either form how is one suppose to handle it especially if it’s an obstacle that it blocking ones path for something that one has placed a lot of time, effort, money, and sweat into? I thought about this a lot when I thought that I was not going to receive my student visa to return back to India. I was rather distraught. I had felt like all the years I had spent studying Tibetan and being in India had all gone to waste. It was quite frightening. I had to look at all of my options and luckily after finally heading to the Indian consulate in Washington, D.C. I was able to procure the visa, but man, that was sure close! I still think, what if? As we traverse through the mental hurdles of dialectical study and whatever obstacles that may come our way, I think that ones mental attitude is the most important to maintain (which is one of the hardest thing for me to do) and on top of that, to be surrounded by the influences of peers who have a steady mental attitude to provide support. In both situations I have been fortunate to have had the influences more of the latter (I hope that all of know who you are). I noticed that because I kept checking on my thoughts, like a pesty knight always putting his opponent’s king into check, throughout my visa ordeal I was a lot calmer than I would have been otherwise. If I won’t have done so I would have been very panicky. Did checking my thoughts and being more mentally calm help me in getting the visa, probably not but who knows? But I do hope that all of you who have high hopes and aspirations in life accomplish all that you seek and more even more and that it aids in progress. I do wish for this aspiration to become a possible really for this world.
P.S. The above picture has written in Sanskrit, Tibetan and English the four conditions (rkyen bzhi) which are apart of the “Advance Presentation of Cause and Effect” which “represents the conditions needed for the production of a (dualistic) consciousness. Such a consciousness is then the basis of all compounded (impermanent) phenomenon of cyclic existence” – as explained by Tony Duff and has been a pain to figure out!