Do you want to be a toothless Buddhist?
Having no analytical abilities is like having no teeth, joked HH Dalai Lama on yesterday’s teaching – when you come to the hard part, you have to just swallow it. On the other hand, the Sanskrit Nalanda tradition has teeth, he said, it has developed rigorous training in logic and reasoning, which the Dalai Lama always recommends to contemporary Buddhists, emphasizing the importance of study. I love the expression of being toothless, as it implies blind faith or rejection of something that is totally edible and nutritious, simply because one is not equipped for digesting it. But differently to adult teeth which do not grow back, analysis can be trained at any stage of one’s life through appropriate study. We don’t have to be toothless Buddhists if we don’t want to.
His Holiness spoke about the importance of study, logic, reason and དཔྱད་སྒོམ་, analytical or investigative or meditation, like he often does. This time I noticed that དཔྱད་སྒོམ་ is often translated as analysis or analyzing, omitting the term meditation (དཔྱད་: to investigate, to analyze. སྒོམ་ meditation), which makes a disservice to the meaning, opening the door to a very common misconception.. It has suddenly dawned on me: “Aahhh, now I understand why so often westerners talk about opposition between meditation and study, as if they were truly opposite
(འགལ་བ་).” They are not. Investigative meditation IS meditation.
Investigative meditation is imperative to untangle our habitual way of thinking and penetrating beneath the appearance.i “Investigation sets the foundation to see if something is true or not,” as Geshe la Jampa Kunchog says. དཔྱད་སྒོམ་ is like seeing everything better, while its counterpart, འཇྒོག་སྒོམ་, stabilizing or formal meditation, is stabilizing one’s understanding obtained through analysis. ii Not understanding that leads us in trouble.
If only stabilizing meditation is understood as meditation and the investigative meditation is understood as its opposite, how can one possibly transform one’s mind and move forward in one’s practice? If one thinks that study and logic are an obstacle to meditation and realizations, how can one possibly cut through delusions and achieve one’s goal? Without learning how to analyze effectively, one can stabilize one’s present understanding, but how can one go beyond that? This reminds me of giving a tranquilizer to a sick person, who then does not feel the symptoms, while the sickness remains untouched.
Some people are keen to spread the above-mentioned misconceptions and propagate anti-study ideas. Twisting dharma can damage one’s path and sometimes also lead others astray. Sometimes inadvertently. Please keep in mind that very few translators are skilled and confident in both, English language as well as Buddhist philosophical doctrine.
Ideally, one can learn Tibetan language and philosophy as they are taught in monastic universities. If this is not possible, one can still support such endeavor in others, which consequently benefits Buddhist community at large. In any case, we can remain vigilant to not take anything for the face value but to investigate the meaning of the teachings as deeply as we can. It takes effort, but it pays off on the long run. We don’t have to be toothless Buddhists, if we don’t want to.
- Ani Wangmo
i Monlam dictionary definition of དཔྱད་: སེམས་ཀྱི་དཔྱད་པ་ཞྱིབ་མྒོའྱི་སྒོ་ནས་ལུས་ཀྱི་ཕྱི་ནས་ནད་མངྒོན་སུམ་འབྱིན་ པའམ་འཕྲལ་དུ་ཞྱི་བར་བེད་པའྱི་ནད་བཅྒོས་ཐབས་ཤྱིག ནང་གསེས་སུ་དབེ་ན་འཇམ་དཔྱད་དུགས་ལུམས་བྱུག་པ་གསུམ་ དང༌། རྩུབ་དཔྱད་གཏར་བསེག་དབུག་པ་གསུམ། དྲག་པྒོ་འདྲལ་གཅྒོད་འདྲུད་འབྱིན་བཞྱི་བཅས་སྒོ། །
ii Even if you take other possible divisions into account, investigative meditation is essential. In case of śamatha - vipaśyanā (ཞྱི་གནས་ - ལྷག་མཐྒོང་, calm abiding and penetrative or special insight), analytical meditation is a necessary condition to accomplish penetrative insight. Mere settled mind does not overcome any delusion, to get insight beyond deceptive appearances, one needs to genuinely engage in study, one needs to rely on the explanations of a teacher and reflect on what one has learnt, said Kamalaśīla very clearly in his Stages of Meditation (Bhāvanākrama, སྒོམ་རྱིམ་). And if you divide the types of meditation on compassion and wisdom, the latter again implies study (the cause of obtaining wisdom) and accompanying training in logic and reasoning. You cannot avoid it if you take Buddhism seriously.