Sutra

This is talk eight from Tibetan Buddhist Path seminary at Naropa, 1974

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This is talk eight from Tibetan Buddhist Path seminary at Naropa, 1974

The following ground, path, and fruition notes are from Carolyn Gimian’s Tibetan Buddhist Path Study Guide.

Date of Talk: June 28, 1974

Body of Talk: 53 min. Overall: 79 min.

An overview of the sutra teachings of the Buddha. The Vidyadhara emphasizes the vastness of these teachings, more than 108 volumes, of which only a fraction have been translated into English.

Ground: Understanding the nature of sutra teachings.

• In sutras, intellect is brought together with a sense of commitment, faith, and devotion.
• We can understand the sutras as up-to-date communication rather than just historical documents. They speak to our experience now.
• We may have an attitude of pride, or ignorance, towards the teachings; or our style is passionate, grasping; or we have an aggressive attitude towards spirituality in which we want to punish unbelievers. Taking advantage of or encouraging those tendencies are improper ways of propagating dharma. In the sutras Buddha does not indulge our passion, aggression, and ignorance. Sutra is immaculate proclamation of the doctrine, which is intelligent, dispassionate, and nonaggressive.
• Sutra, [Tib: mdo], literally means confluence or juncture. Sutra brings together openness, or an aerial view, with practicality. Or we could say, this is joining prajna (wisdom) and upaya (skillful means).

Path: Although the sutra teachings are vast and we have limited access to them, they are extremely potent. What is available in translation applies to our own experience and has had a big impact in the West.

• The sutras were compiled after the death of the Buddha. They are named after a place, situation, or person. Examples of different types of sutras.
• The basic point of the sutras is communicating to us how to relate to the teaching and the teacher.
• There are 108 volumes of sutras. A small percentage have been translated (as of 1974). We only have access to a fragment of the Buddha’s teaching.
• However, from just this microcosm of teachings, we can experience that the teachings of Buddha make sense. We can understand what Buddha taught. That’s the working basis.
• Buddhism has been presented in America for about a century. We can judge how much it is taking root, not by the quantity of teachings or converts, but by how much chaos Buddhism has introduced into the Western theistic system of thinking.
• We wouldn’t accept the teachings of the three marks from just anyone, but the Buddha is able to teach those and to show us the four noble truths and the need for becoming a refugee.

Fruition: An examination of the sutras that make up the three turnings of the wheel will help us to see how enormous Buddha’s realization was. It humbles us and makes us less likely to pervert spiritual teachings for our own gain.

• The First Turning: approximately 452 sutras that present the principles of the four noble truths and monastic discipline.
• The Second Turning: Many volumes of mahayana teachings on bodhisattva action and principles. Based on Prajnaparmita teachings on egolessness and shunyata.
• The Third Turning: In the last ten years of Buddha’s life, he presented discourses based on the luminosity of experience. The last turning tells us how great and magnificent the path is, the extent of its openness and the principles of enlightenment. Buddha speaks here of the “lion’s roar,” the bravery of the bodhisattva. Not based on fighting somebody else but self-existing bravery.

Questions for discussion:

1. The Vidyadhara speaks here about sutra as dignified and deliberate communication. What do you think about this in the age of e-mail and internet chats?
2. The Dharma Ocean series expects to include 108 volumes of the Vidyadhara’s own teachings. What do you think about the vastness and depth of his work, vis a vis the discussion here of how overwhelming Buddha’s teaching was, yet how accessible it is to us, even in small amounts?
3. What are the three turnings and how would you characterize the sutra teachings for each?
4. What is the literal meaning of sutra? Why is this word appropriate, or is it?

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