Madhyamika

My Two Borrowed Pennies

During the Fall semester of 2021, for the Khenpo class on Candrakīrti’s Madhyamakāvatāra, we were tasked with making a group presentation on a topic of our choice. So, I asked Dominic whether he would be interested in exploring the topic that I have long wanted to explore – how to apply Madhyamaka in day-to-day life.  

If I now try to recall the reason behind why this topic was of special interest to me, the first thing that pops up in my head is Chökyi Nyima Rinpoche’s constant admonition against becoming a “dry-scholar” who over-intellectualizes the Buddhist teachings. Similarly, I cannot pretend not to have seen the dramas that go in some Buddhist internet forums, where Madhyamakāvatāra and other Madhyamaka texts are frequently quoted and bitterly debated. However, I have also met some people who shared how these texts profoundly changed their way of viewing the world.  

So, when I heard about the presentation, I thought this would be a great chance to prepare myself to better understand the text. Luckily, Dominic also agreed on the topic of our presentation and suggested that it would be even better if we conduct interviews with some people for our presentation. The idea was to have at least one monastic and one non-monastic interviewee. So, we approached and booked appointments with one of the senior lopons of Ka-Nying Shedrub Ling Monastery, Tokpa Tulku; and Mr. Ishwor Shrestha, who is a Harvard graduate and RYI alum.  

Tokpa Tulku & Ishwor Shrestha

Both interviews were fascinating and insightful; however, if I were to pick two important points from the whole array, then I would say the first important idea is what Ishwor highlighted –to treat all the teachings (no matter how profound they might be to oneself) as being a mere tool, which is specifically meant for certain particular purpose. He stressed that people who only seek for the best or the highest method, path, and teachings usually tend to cling to that particular teaching such as emptiness and subconsciously regard anything lesser than that as unworthy of time, study, and practice.  

The teachings on Emptiness are meant to counteract clinging to appearances; however, he explained that if we fail to recognize its purpose then, we have extracted emptiness out of its context, and thereby end up clinging to emptiness. Thus, it becomes the cause for nihilistic tendencies and the subject of unnecessary debates and arguments. The effect of nihilistic tendencies can sometimes be visible in our behaviour as well; for instance, a loss of interest in and emotional numbness to other beings and their suffering and happiness.  

The second point that struck home was Tokpa Tulku’s highlighting of the need to accomplish the middle way in our day-to-day life. He explained that the Madhyamaka (the middle way) can be applied to any context. For instance, in the case of work-ethics, he pointed out that people today are either too workaholic consumed by their work, or altogether too careless and indolent. He said the middle way is to avoid both extremes by simply letting go and enjoying whatever we are doing. He explained that when we enjoy doing our work, it eases up our stress of being a workaholic; likewise, it also counteracts carelessness and losing focus in the work we do. 

These two points stood out for me, given their applicability to the situations that I face as a student. Sincere thanks to Tokpa Tulku and Mr. Ishwor Shrestha from the depth of my heart for their valuable time and sharing these profound teachings. Lastly, I would also like to thank my instructor Inka Wolf and my dear classmate Dominic for his wonderful idea and support throughout the process.   

~Raj Kamal Thokar

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