Dharma for life
|The Journey of Madyamika|
My First Learning Journey with Madhyamaka.
by Alan Pek
by Alan Pek
Once upon a time, there was a happily married couple. The husband was from a rich family with reputation. Into the first year of the marriage, they were expecting their first baby boy. Everything looked blissful.
However, possibly due to malnutrition during the pregnancy and fever, the tiny infant had brain damage, which affected his motor functions and speech.
The father decided to abandon the little boy as the latter was considered a foregone conclusion.
Years later, the brain-damaged boy, with the love and care of his foster family, through sheer tenacity and indomitable faith in Buddhism, grew up, graduated, and built his own family cum a successful career. This was indeed a miracle.
However, the general discrimination, stress and also the very negative feeling towards his real parents drove him to alcoholism, ironically he was a vegetarian. This nearly destroyed the miracle and almost resulted in a disaster.
Through a lot of sincere prayers and probably good karma (past and present), especially the compassion of being a vegetarian, studying sutras and kind deeds, he eventually chose to reconcile and build a meaningful relationship with his real parents. He also managed to walk away from alcohol. The boy finally put himself into his parents’ shoes; understood that as a result of the social stigma (having a disabled kid), unexpected shock, and ignorance (not knowing how to manage such a special kid), his parents had done what they did.
Throughout his life, he was cast stares by many and discriminated against. He felt angry and disgusted, but gradually became numb. Ultimately, he managed to transcend, whenever he came across such unfriendly situations, within him, he would silently generate a unique wish towards the opposite party, “May I not cause any discomfort but bring out the compassion in you.”
The above story has the following takeaways:
i) Things/Situations would not happen out of thin air. They do not have a real nature of their own (asvabhava). ii) Things/Situations happen due a combination of variables/factors (hetupratyaya) and a result of the interrelation between the latter; without which, the former will not exist. iii) The only permanence is impermanence (anitya). iv) To rise above and beyond status quo, one has to uplift oneself.
1) 萬法不可能無中生有，一切皆無自性。2) 萬法因緣和合而生，故緣起性空。3) 無常是唯一恆常的真理。4) 提升自我，方能超越現況。
The next part of this journey continues with getting to know one of the greatest theorists in Mahāyāna Buddhism, probably the greatest, second only to Gautama Buddha himself. He is none other than Nagarjuna Bodhisattva, who was born in ancient India, during the second century, about 700 years after Buddha had passed away.
Nagarjuna is considered to be the founder of the Madhyamaka school of Mahāyāna Buddhism. He had expounded the lack of an immutable intrinsic nature within any phenomenon and the true interpretation of the concept in emptiness (shunya). Emptiness does not mean “nothing” in the worldly sense, it actually means something which will not transform.
The advocacy of the Madhyamaka school, according to my humble understanding, is to overturn the wrong view that the innate nature of all phenomena is unchangeable (pradhāna). With the overturning, one could appreciate the impermanence in life and manage one’s daily life.
The story at the beginning of this journey served as a gentle reminder, as a foregone conclusion became a miracle which almost ended up in disaster but finally transcended. There is always a reason for everything. Going one step further, there are three states in all phenomena, one of positivity, neutrality and negativity. Many a time, the full manifestation of the state might not be immediate but could take longer time. The undisputed fact is that one actually reaps what ones sows. For example, when someone planted melon seeds, he/she would not expect to harvest apples. Adding onto such an important perspective, positive thoughts and actions will generate positive outcome. This is extremely helpful in our lives.
It is the observation and interpretation of the world and all phenomenon through Prajna wisdom [intelligence as result of knowledge + experience] that none can self-exist but is a product of circumstances/factors and their interrelationship is of utmost significance. However, one must still have compassion and win by virtue. One might be able to win all the debates, as Nagarjuna did, but more importantly, one should still touch the heart, as such gesture would have impact; deeper, wider and further than one who only walks through with the mind. Some of the great benevolent rulers were King Asoka and Liu Bai.
In essence, wisdom must be complemented by compassion, and vice versa. Such combination will go far and beyond, for anyone with that would be living life more holistically, definitely bringing benefits aplenty to all around, let alone, as rulers.
With such profound wisdom and encompassing compassion, ironically, in today’s Mahayana Buddhism, many practitioners indulged too much into theory and lacked practical doings; whereas others focus on practice but without having the strong foundation and understanding of the philosophy/theory. In general, many Buddhism followers of today need to seriously practice the six pāramitās: (i) dāna, charity, or giving, including the bestowing of the truth on others; (ii) śīla, keeping the command rents; (iii) kṣānti, patience under insult; (iv) vīrya, zeal and progress; (v) dhyāna, meditation or contemplation; (vi) prajñā; wisdom, the power to discern reality or truth.
Along with understanding on schools of thought, such as Madhyamaka and Agama, the Buddhists would be able to pursue their beliefs on such principles, enlightenment for many will definitely come sooner rather than later.
The Madhyamaka School laid the foundation for early Mahayana Buddhism; it does not really advocate either Emptiness (shunya) or Existence (bhava) as displaying a solid phase; as the "Eight Nos" verse illustrates: Neither Create nor Cease, neither Always nor Terminate, neither Same nor Different, neither Come nor Go.
Once one appreciates that all the worldly phenomena have the properties as described above, one will find the enormous possibilities behind all predicaments as they are always changing, and never eternally the same. Thus, one should be aware that negative situations such as incurable illnesses are no longer really that helplessly conclusive. Given the right positive mindset, and probably through combination of actions such as meditation, chanting, and putting effort into the six pāramitās, anything may turn around.
This journey will still continue, to enlightenment. Moving forwards, with such renewed insight, whether positivity, neutrality and adversity, one should be as “indifferent” as one could.
Last but least, Madhyamaka actually transcends other schools of Buddhism. It is but only one of the systems/toolkits, whose purpose is to help wake up from our dream.