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The Two Truths
Guy Newland
Sravasti Abbey, Washington, USA
6-11 March, 2010


Guy Newland is a Professor of Religion at Central Michigan University and author of books including The Two Truths, Introduction to Emptiness, and Appearance and Reality. He gave this series of talks at Sravasti Abbey in March of 2010.

6 March, 2010 (morning session) [1:27:11] Download mp3 file

Guy Newland introduces the topic of the Two Truths by explaining that this teaching is a “second order” of teachings. It is not a teaching that is practiced but rather explains other teachings. These teachings clear away the apparent contradiction between the wisdom teachings and the method teachings.

6 March, 2010 (morning session) [45:43] Download mp3 file

Venerable Chodron answers questions arising from Guy Newland's teachings on the Two Truths as taught in the four tenet systems of Tibetan Buddhism.
-How does one work with the contradiction one finds during meditation between emptiness and compassion?
-Does realizing emptiness automatically lead you to compassion?
-What does exist? Is everything mind?
-Will understanding relational dependence loosen up our understanding of what exists?
-How is it that when we try to view others with equanimity we aim to let go of personal assessments, but when we view objects we look at them as they are?
-Things exist in two ways; are we then looking at them in two ways, with two minds?

6 March, 2010 (afternoon session) [2:01] Download mp3 file

Guy Newland explains that Tsongkhapa’s major import from the generation that preceded him was stating that what the ultimate wisdom realizes is not something that is ultimately established. In conclusion when a mind realizes emptiness it doesn't refute that things exist conventionally and it doesn't establish the emptiness found as ultimately real.
“You can't see sounds no matter how close you look” said Tsongkhapa. The two truths are similar to two channels on a radio station, or the two images that can be discerned in a drawing such as the rabbit-duck illusion. They are both valid and necessarily.
Whereas there is a basis of imputation, that basis doesn't exist objectively and the karma creates a legitimate way of making designations.
Finally Guy Newland presents an alternative way of explaining how karma works, which is seeing past actions as things subject to disintegration.

Discussion and Q&A:
-A comparison between the two modes of presenting karma (the seed model and the disinterestedness model)
-Where does Chandrakirti talk about the disinterestedness model?
-Are all things in the conventional world the having-ceased-ness of past things?
-Why the seed model is the most popular of the two models?
-Does the analogy also encompass the subtle stains of karma once the afflictions have been removed?
-Is it a mistake to state that dependent arising and emptiness are the same?
-How does the person who is on channel A get the idea that there is a channel B, and how do they get to it?
-More on the existence of other forms of meditation and ways of practicing, and Tsongkhapa’s emphasis on using analysis and the conventional level.

7 March, 2010 (morning session) [1:37:42] Download mp3 file

The two truths as presented in the system of Tsongkhapa changed the course of Tibetan Buddhist philosophy and, by resolving an apparent contradiction between ethics and wisdom, resulted in a great striving in virtue across Tibet. Tsongkhapa based his system on Chandrakirti’s commentaries on Nagarjuna’s Madhyamika texts: it was necessary to have the most radical view of emptiness in order to make conventional things work. Truth refers to something existing as it appears. Conventional truths are not truths; they are falsities. But they do exist. Only ultimate truths exist the way they appear. The two truths are always together (one entity) but they are not the same thing, and, in fact, they are mutually exclusive.

7 March, 2010 (afternoon session) [1:29:42] Download mp3 file

Guy Newland addresses various themes within the topic of emptiness that needed more consideration: why is it important to think about emptiness rather than pursue a non conceptual state; how all things exist only conventionally; whether conventional existence is the majority rule; finally he explains what emptiness is and how it is the root of cyclic existence according to Tsongkhapa.

Discussion and Q&A:
-How to integrate disintegratedness within the view of the two truths?
-Is it that because we can posit generalities that we're able to bring things into existence but not necessarily bring every single individual item establishing it one by one?
-Whose mind is labeling?
-Positing things in terms of change
-There is no now, time is a convention -Impermanence in relation to emptiness
-The emptiness of parts enables the flexibility of the whole
-More on understanding impermanence in relation to understanding emptiness

8 March, 2010 (morning session) [1:27:23] Download mp3 file

Two Truths as presented in the different tenet systems. There are four tenet systems: two “lower” schools, Vaibhashika and Sautrantika, and two “higher” schools, Cittamatra and Madhyamika. These four schools disagree about most things, such as what exists, what practices people should do, and what is the nature of enlightenment. But they have in common the Four Seals. Guy explains the Vaibhashika view: If the awareness of something does not operate after that thing is destroyed or mentally separated into other parts, that thing just exists conventionally (reducible). Phenomenon such that, if it were physically destroyed or mentally separated into parts, the consciousness apprehending it would not be canceled is an ultimate truth (irreducible). The definitions of the two truths, even in this system, are from the point of view of mind.

8 March, 2010 (afternoon session) [1:27:23] Download mp3 file

Potential for Buddhahood as discussed in the Lotus Sutra. Use of conceptual thought to eventually transcend that. Keystone of Tsongkhapa’s thought is the compatibility of dependent arising and emptiness because it maintains a valid basis for ethical distinctions. What it means to be conceptually imputed. Sautrantika tenet system: ultimate truths are those things that are perceived by the senses and can perform functions, such as tables, whereas conventional truths are those things that are mentally constructed.

9 March, 2010 (morning session) [1:25:48] Download mp3 file

Guy Newland continues some previous topics by commenting on Tsongkhapa's saying that “All virtue everywhere arises from reflecting on facts with an undistracted mind.” He then starts the presentation of the Sautrantika system. He introduces the terms conceptual consciousness and direct perceiving consciousness (conception / perception); he gives the definition of and explains the two truths in the Sautrantika; finally he shows how the Sautrantika is a set up for the Prasangika and where it differs from it.

Discussion and Q&A:
-Would the Sautrantika not believe in the Buddha because they can't perceive him?
-How is wrong consciousness different form mistaken consciousness?
-What's the use of studying tenets once one understands the Prasangika?
-Is it that in the Sautrantika things that exist ultimately exist, and things that don't ultimately exist are conventional truths?
-Why do they use ultimately in “ultimately able to perform a function?”
-Are there any problems that arise from holding views other than the Prasangika?

9 March, 2010 (afternoon session) [1:22:20] Download mp3 file

This teaching has an extensive discussion of the similarities of view of the four schools of Tibetan Buddhism citing writings by current and past Dalai Lamas and others. It delves into the issues surrounding understandings of the mind, of emptiness, and historical reasons for differing views. The influence of the various traditions, particularly Nyingma & Dzogchen teachings, on Lama Tsongkhapa and the current 14th Dalai Lama is addressed. Next a discussion of mind - where it arises, where it divides and where it goes as a means to ascertain the absence of inherent existence of the mind, is elaborated. A discussion of Shentong follows as defined by His Holiness the IVX Dalai Lama.

10 March, 2010 (morning session) [1:14:18] Download mp3 file

Ways of approaching inter-religious harmony and applying that to inter-tenet system harmony. In Mahayana tenet systems ultimate truths and conventional truths are two aspects of the same entity whereas in the Fundamental Vehicle tenet systems the two truths are entirely different entities. Cittamatra tenet system asserts there is no external world; everything exists as one entity with mind in the sense that both the one perceiving and the object perceived arise from the same karmic seed. Cittamatra is helpful because it loosens our attachment to the idea of an external world and is a stepping stone to the Prasangika view that there is an external world but it is merely imputed by mind.

10 March, 2010 (afternoon session) [1:34:03] Download mp3 file

Madhyamika (Middle Way) school asserts that ultimately things exist merely by being imputed onto a basis. Originally the two sub-schools within Madhyamika were derived from the method by which each debated other views: Svatantrika (Autonomists) used autonomous syllogisms and Prasangika (Consequentialists) used reductio ad absurdum. Tsongkhapa reinterpreted the distinction between these sub-schools and attributed to Svatantrika a view that, at the conventional level, things do exist inherently. Guy impersonates Bhavaviveka, considered the main proponent of Svatantrika, to illustrate that system’s position: The coming into existence of knowledge is a collaborative process between the object and the consciousness. It’s not just a one-way street where the consciousness confabulates anything it wants to as mere imputations by thought; rather, things have a certain character but that character is not ultimately findable. They have a distinct nature that exists conventionally. This allows us to validly know what things are.

11 March, 2010 (morning session) [1:58:34] Download mp3 file

Guy Newland continues to talk about Chandrakirti as interpreted by Tsongkhapa and addresses two major topics. The first is on ultimate cessation (nirvana) as being a conventional truth and both an object and an attribute. The second topic is on the debate between Tsongkhapa and Bhavaviveka, why Bhavaviveka was wrong when accusing Tsongkhapa of being a Svatantrika and when accusing Chandrakirti of being a nihilist.

Discussion and Q&A:
-While the validity of the basis of designation comes form a conventional agreement, how can one account for the qualities that the object has?
-In Bhavaviveka's view, how can there be a permanent conventional character that can be dissolved when going into ultimate analysis? What do the Svatantrikas mean when they say that there's got to be something on the side of the mind, it's not 100% on the side of the object?
-Why aren't cessations produced?
-While Tsongkhapa was addressing mostly the nihilists, was he concerned about the Jonangpa being more nihilistic about conventional reality rather than ultimate reality?
-How can the basis of designation be established by unimpaired senses, since the senses are impaired by afflictions?
-What volume do the quotes in this talk come from?

 

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