GROUNDS AND PATHS
… It was good to be revisiting Grounds and Paths. The topic is extracted mainly from the Perfection of Wisdom sutras and Maitreya’s Ornament for Clear Realization (Abhisamayalamkara). Therefore, it takes the point of view of the Middle Way Autonomy (Madhyamaka Svatantrika) school, and presents three final vehicles – the Hearer, Solitary Realizer, and Bodhisattva vehicles – whereas the Middle Way Consequence (Madhyamaka Prasangika) school presents only one final vehicle, the Bodhisattva vehicle.
I had barely finished translating the definitions when it was time to go. Ven. Dondup, a friendly Australian monk, met me at Brisbane airport. He loaded my bags into the back of a huge Jackaroo 4WD. My laptop and backpack fit nicely under his surfboard. A surfboard, I was to find out, is nearly as standard for Australian monks as an alms bowl and razor for Sri Lankan monks.
At the seaside home of Chenrezig education director Kathy Vichta near Mooloolaba, I walked up and down the beach, already feeling a deep attachment to Australia. At dinner I met a group of folks who have not been out of my thoughts since. Primary among them was the impressive resident lama, Geshe Tashi Tsering, the current director, Colin Crosbie, who came to Chenrezig for a weekend and remained for 28 years, and Ven. Tenzin Tsepel, the senior nun of the Chenrezig Sangha, whose intelligence and maturity radiated throughout the room. An American monk, Ven. Lozang Zopa (Bob Miller), Geshe Tsering’s translator, seemed very young for such an important job, but it was not long before I came to regard him as one of the most talented Dharma interpreters working in English today.
Our conversations were filled with a proliferation of international accents. Geshe-la with his Khampa slush, the Scotsman with his thick Scots burr, the Aussies with their cheeky twang, and Bob and I, from Chicago and New Jersey. But it was Geshe-la who held my attention the most. As a teacher he is a demanding taskmaster; as a friend and lama he is loving and gentle, always caring for each student…
… The teaching style that Geshe-la employs is remarkable. He does not just present the material – any teacher can do that. Rather, he debates it with the students. This is a startling achievement in a Western academy of Buddhist studies, where a level of proficiency in debating generally has not been attained …
… Geshe Tsering’s method was to present a section of the Grounds and Paths text, using a profoundly informative expository style. Since the text includes numerous debate points, Geshe Tsering would explain these, or refer students to other classes where he had explained them. He would then go over the material again, using the syllogistic format familiar to debaters. His voice and attitude would become more commanding and he would single out an individual for a debate.
The first one went something like this:
“Tsepel, it follows that the definition of a ground is ‘a clear realization of one who has entered a path that serves as a basis for the many good qualities that are its effect.’”
Ven. Tsepel said, “I agree.” The Geshe looked stern.
“In that case,” he pressed, “it follows that the definition of ground is not ‘that which is hard and obstructive.’”
Here Ven. Tsepel frowned. “The definition of ground is ‘that which is hard and obstructive,’” she recalled.
Geshe-la doubled back. “Then it follows that the definition of ground here is not, ‘a clear realization of one who has entered a path that serves as a basis for the many good qualities that are its effect’ because the definition of ground is ‘hard and obstructive.’”
Ven. Tsepel thought for a second. “There is no pervasion,” she said. “Just because the definition of ground is ‘hard and obstructive’ does not mean that the definition of ground here is not ‘a clear realization of one who has entered a path that serves as a basis for the many good qualities that are its effect.’”
“Why not?” thundered the Geshe.
Ven. Tsepel was home free. “Because it is the definition of ground from within a division of grounds and paths that is posited as ‘a clear realization of one who has entered a path that serves as a basis for the many good qualities that are its effect.’”
Geshe Tsering nodded benignly. “That is correct,” he said sweetly. Then he shifted his aim and began another debate with another monk or nun or lay student. This terrifying process continued for six weeks …