Geshe Jamphel’s answers to questions by Vens. Drolma and Irene on the Dharma wheel
Question: is this just for monasteries? Could this wheel also be placed within Dharma centres?
Geshe Jamphel: the fact is simply that there has been no precedent for this in Tibet, nor in ancient India. This is because there were no Dharma centres, only monasteries. In fact, in Sogyal Rinpoche´s retreat centre here in France - which is a lay place - there is indeed such a wheel.
One interesting fact about this wheel is that in the depictions found in ancient Buddhist sites in India, such as Ajanta and Ellora, the wheel is facing sideways, that is, turned towards the entrance of the temple. The way we do it now is for aesthetic reasons, because it looks nicer: placing the wheel facing forward shows what it looks us, for instance, the eight spokes.
Question: what would the benefit of seeing the wheel be for those who don´t know its meaning?
Geshe Jamphel: it would be difficult to posit that there could be benefits from just looking at the wheel, in the same way that I personally don´t see that there are great benefits of just looking at a stupa. (I say this because it is completely fine in Buddhism to express one´s own opinion!) In Afghanistan - in Banyan – several old giant Buddhist statues have been destroyed recently. The question is: were the people there accruing merits by seeing those statues? The Chinese have destroyed countless statues and holy objects – did they accumulate merits just by looking at what they were destroying?
It seems that also His Holiness is of the same opinion. In a recent teaching in Tso Pema, India, He mentioned the big Padma Sambhava statue in the middle of the lake. His Holiness said: “This Guru Rinpoche is always smiling, whether it is raining, whether the sun is shining or whether the birds are making poo-pooh on its head. This statue never speaks, never gives any teachings – it just sits there smiling.” The village around it is actually very poor – so what is the benefit here?
Then there are the Chinese, who have produced T- shirts or even skirts with a depiction of deities such as Buddha Shakyamuni, Chenrezig and so forth. Just because the people wearing these things then walk around, does it mean that everyone that sees them will accumulate virtue? If a Buddhist sees this, most likely he or she will even get angry...
Question: what is the symbolism of the deer and wheel as depicted above the doors of the mandala?
Geshe Jamphel: it has exactly the same meaning: it represents the teachings of the Buddha. The divine palace with all its different elements symbolizes the 37 harmonies to enlightenment. This is especially true in relation to the Vajrabhairava mandala, and these meanings can be found in the long sadhana. For instance, the two horns of Yamantaka are the two truths; the 34 arms together with body, speech and mind make up the 37 harmonies to enlightenment, and so forth.
Question: on some of these deer there is only one horn. What is the meaning of this?
Geshe Jamphel: I haven’t really seen an explanation in any of the texts. But if you look from the side, you would see the two horns as one.
Translator: isn’t it that these deer are indicating the place where the first Buddhist teachings took place, Varanasi?
Geshe Jamphel: in some texts it says that these teachings happened in a forest situation where there were many meditators, this being a wilderness place called “The Thick Forest of the Deer”. But this is not taken as an explanation of why these two deer are there. If you go to Sarnath, next to the archaeological excavation there is actually an area with real deer in it.
To sum up: from this explanation, we can see the importance of understanding the meaning of things, because, without a proper understanding, no benefits will arise. This is especially clear because we are shrouded in ignorance - so it is very important to understand things well!
For instance, let´s talk about someone taking refuge: if he or she has no idea about refuge, and why it is important, but nevertheless has a strong faith in the Three Jewels that feels that whatever happens to them, whether they go to hell or the upper realms, it all comes from the Three Jewels, then what is this? This kind of attitude - placing responsibility of everything that happens onto an outside entity - does this really fit a Buddhist? It is more like relating to a creator god. Is this a pure Buddhist? In fact, it would be difficult to call this person an actual Buddhist, because he or she is someone that accepts the Three Jewels as objects of refuge in the same way that others accept a creator God.
Therefore, we need to really understand what is the Dharma, the Sangha and the Buddha; then, on the basis of knowledge and insight, we need to generate faith in the Three Jewels.
Question: there are other teachers who say that merits are obtained by merely looking at holy objects.
Geshe Jamphel: Lama Zopa Rinpoche, for instance, places a strong emphasis on accumulating virtue, and shows many ways to do this. There are so many people who have no opportunity to go deeper, so he gives them many possibilities of creating virtue. This is actually a path that he offers to people. We, on the other hand, are studying the Dharma, so we should really make an effort to understand things well. If we didn´t work on developing this kind of understanding, our lives would be quite empty of meaning!
During the first turning of the Wheel of Dharma, the Buddha was already teaching the Four Noble Truths. These are teachings for the level of a middle-scope being, which is where the Buddhadharma actually starts. Within these teachings on the Four Noble Truths, the main focus is to generate the mind of definite emergence. And if you want to engage in the Mahayana, you continue by generating bodhicitta and emptiness. Really, we need to focus on all these three: definite emergence, bodhicitta and emptiness.
If you are interested in identifying what is the Buddhadharma, you need to focus on the Four Noble Truths. What is the Dharma? It is true cessations and true paths, and you can only understand this from the teachings of the Four Noble Truths.
The main thing about the Dharma is the true cessations. So what is this? Regarding the mind, a true cessation means that a certain portion of suffering has been eliminated. This comes back to the statement of what the mind is: clear and knowing. The beginning of true cessations means that within this, a portion of suffering has been eliminated. How does this happen? It happens by following the true paths.
In the first truth – the truth of suffering, its four aspects (impermanent, misery, empty and selfless) show us how to proceed on the path. By focusing on the first three of these aspects - impermanence, nature of suffering and empty - you will be able to understand the meaning of selfless. If you don’t understand the first three, then the last attribute will also not be understood. If the last one is understood, you can see Buddha!
This is an understanding of dependent arising (or dependent origination). Relating to this, there is a quote that says: “whoever sees dependent arising sees emptiness, and whoever sees emptiness sees the Buddha”. How? You understand that things are dependently arising, and this becomes the reasoning - the “royal proof” or logic for emptiness. If you see emptiness, you also see that there is a path to Buddha, to buddhahood!
The nature of the mind is such that any kind of fleeting stains can be eliminated, which is the meaning of true cessations. All this can be achieved through the realization of emptiness.
Question: during our recent retreat in Nalanda, the importance of our perfect human rebirth was strongly emphasized. This is quite scary for me, because if a precious human rebirth is so rare, then what happens to us who are trying to study the Dharma? Is this a teaching for beginners, or does the rarity of it apply to anyone?
Geshe Jamphel: you are a nun, doing studies to the best of your ability. You accumulate virtue, which means, if you don´t become human again in future, then who will? Although it is difficult to attain a perfect human rebirth, it is not that it applies no matter what… I am positive that we have all accumulated the causes to attain another perfect human rebirth in the future. For instance, we are not accumulating any of the 10 non-virtues anymore, are we?
Student: I´m not so sure about this – take harsh speech, for instance – so easy to do.
Geshe Jamphel: things such as divisive speech and harsh speech are not something we do in a strong way. In order to jeopardize our next perfect human rebirth, these would have to be of a very strong kind…