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Verse 108: The root of all goodness

Verse 108: The root of all goodness

Part of a series of talks on Gems of Wisdom, a poem by the Seventh Dalai Lama.

  • The fundamental, innate clear light nature of the mind
  • How the mind is pure
  • How the fundamental mind of clear light is the basis of both samsara and nirvana
  • Concluding the transmission by revisiting the beginning of the text

Gems of Wisdom: Verse 108 (download)

What is the one root of all goodness in samsara and nirvana?
The clear light of one’s own mind, which by nature is free from every stain.

“The clear light nature of the mind.” What we’re talking about here is the fundamental, innate clear light, which is the subtlest level of the mind that exists at the time of death, and at the time when yogis have absorbed all the winds into the central channel and then they use that clear light mind to realize emptiness directly. And by using that very subtlest level of the mind to realize emptiness, then they’re able to purify all the stains from the mind. Why are they able to purify all the stains from the mind? Because the mind—that fundamental, innate mind of clear light—by its very nature is unstained.

This works in two ways.

  1. One: it is unstained—or it is pure—in the sense that it never has been and never will be inherently existent. So it is pure and not stained by being inherently existent. If the mind were inherently existent then it couldn’t change. Because remember, something exists inherently cannot be influenced by causes and conditions, it’s permanent, it can’t change. So the fact that the mind is free from inherent existence is its basic purity. Or what we call the natural purity of the mind.

  2. Then in the second way: the mind is unstained in that the afflictions have not entered into the nature of the mind. That is, that the nature of the mind as being clarity and awareness is different from the afflictions. So the afflictions can exist. They’re a kind of clarity and awareness, too, in the sense that they’re mental factors. So in that sense they’re also clear and aware. But the afflictions have not entered into the nature of the mind, and so therefore they can be separated from the nature of the mind. For example, if you have a cloth that’s dirty, the dirt hasn’t entered into the nature of the cloth. It’s just something that’s on top of the cloth. It looks like the dirt’s right in the cloth and that the cloth is by its nature dirty, but it’s not, because the dirt’s just on top of it. Or its in amongst the fibers. But the thing is that if you take soap, you can wash the cloth and that eliminates the dirt. In the same way, when we use the wisdom realizing emptiness supported by the method aspect of the path then we can remove all of the dirt and all the other defilements from the mind. Whereas if that were its very nature—like the nature of fire is hot and burning, you can never take the heat out of fire and still have fire, but you can take the afflictions out of the mind and still have the clear and knowing nature of the mind.

This fundamental mind of clear light is the basis of samsara and nirvana in the sense that when this mind is covered by the obscurations then beings are in samsara. When this mind is freed from the obscurations those beings then have attained nirvana. When the mind is free from all the obscurations whatsoever then that being has attained full awakening. So this nature of the mind is the underlying basis on which both samsara and nirvana exist. So it’s not like you have one mind when you’re in samsara and then that mind’s totally destroyed and you get a new mind when you get to nirvana. That mind that is pure by nature gets purified.

It’s hard to understand that. They explain it in the Sublime Continuum (Maitreya’s text), “How can it be pure by nature and still get purified?” Well it’s pure by nature in the sense that it doesn’t have inherent existence, and it gets purified in the sense that the dirt that’s on top of it gets removed. So in that we can rejoice.

And then I thought I’d read the first verse again, because we always have this custom when we finish something to start at the beginning all over, indicating that we leave it unfinished the second time so we have to come back and do it again.

The prologue starts, the Seventh Dalai Lama says,

With single-pointed devotion I bow down to Guru Mañjuśrī, the Ever-Youthful one, the supreme deity, the spiritual doctor who serves as an elixir to all beings, bringing them happiness and goodness; himself being a moon full with the all-knowing wisdom, having forever abandoned the faults of every samsaric imperfection.

And then his Homage, which is also the promise to compose the text,

A magician manifests a double, one becomes two.
A questioner and an answerer appear and string this rosary of precious gems.

So he’s become the questioner and the answerer in all these verses.

And then the first verse,

What is the great ocean most difficult to leave?
The three realms of cyclic existence, which toss in waves of pain.

And two,

What is the powerful glue that binds us to the unpleasant environs of worldliness?
Sensory fixations which cling with attachment to the enticing things of the world.

And we’ll do three:

What is the great fire that rages when we approach too closely to others?
Terrible anger that cannot bear even the smallest challenge.

And four:

What is the thick darkness obscuring the truth before our very eyes?
Ignorance that has existed since time without beginning.

So we go from that to a reminder at the end of the text that the very nature of our mind is pure. And that therefore full awakening can be attained.

Venerable Thubten Chodron

Venerable Chodron emphasizes the practical application of Buddha’s teachings in our daily lives and is especially skilled at explaining them in ways easily understood and practiced by Westerners. She is well known for her warm, humorous, and lucid teachings. She was ordained as a Buddhist nun in 1977 by Kyabje Ling Rinpoche in Dharamsala, India, and in 1986 she received bhikshuni (full) ordination in Taiwan. Read her full bio.