Rinpoche will be teaching from the Samdhinirmocana sutra this year. The following blog post is a brief overview of the 10 chapters of the sutra. The topics are incredible. Don’t miss out! Register for the 2022 Nitartha Summer Institute here: https://bit.ly/si22mind
The 10 chapters of Samdhinirmocana sutra
The name of the sutra itself tells us a great deal about what studying this sutra holds for us. At the 2021 Summer Institute, Dzgochen Ponlop Rinpoche kindly shared with us the inspiration that the title itself transmits. This sutra is called Arya Samdhinirmocana Mahayana Sutra.
Arya means noble, exalted or above. What does this mean? It signifies a state of being beyond the dualistic phenomena of samsara. It means to have transcended that. The word Arya is in the name of the sutra because it is far beyond or has gone far beyond the non-virtuous phenomena of negative actions!
Samdhi can be translated as intention, or intent, or wisdom intent. This refers to the intention of an enlightened being, in this case, the intent of the Tathagata, the Buddha. And that intent is a direct wisdom intent.
Nirmocana means definitively elucidating or unraveling. This teaching will settle whatever is the Buddha’s direct intention, with finality. This can also be understood as cutting through all completely, in its entirety. Thus, “by elucidating or unraveling or unlocking all the profound wisdom intentions of the Buddha, the knots of the two obscurations are completely cut through. Therefore it is nirmocana, definitive elucidation or completely cutting through” (DPR, 2021 Summer Institute).
Mahayana sutra, that is what this sutra is. Sutra can mean concise presentation, and it can also mean to hold. “For example, , a string or thread can hold together a garland of flowers. You can have all kinds of different flowers present and they are all held by the string. In the same way, this sutra brings together and holds many points from the abhidharma pitaka, or section, of the Buddha’s teachings” (DPR, 2021 Summer Institute).
What do the chapters tell us?
Chapter 1: In the beginning of this chapter, the bodhisattva Vidhivatparipṛcchaka asks the Victorious One about the meaning of all phenomena being nondual. He asks him what those phenomena are and how are they nondual. This chapter discusses the meaning of all phenomena and their non-duality. And not only that, the characteristic of their inexpressibility.
Chapter 2: The bodhisattva Dharmodgata told the Blessed One how in ancient times in Kirtimat he saw millions of non-Buddhist students and teachers discussing the ultimate defining characteristic of phenomenon. He was saddened by their harsh words, their changing opinions and their uncertainty. But then, he thought how the realization of the Tathagatas is so marvelous, that the defining characteristic of the ultimate is beyond all speculation. Indeed, this chapter explains how ultimate reality is beyond the experience of logicians or intellectuals, how it perfectly transcends intellectual speculation.
Chapter 3: Then, the bodhisattva Suviśuddhamati told the Blessed One about how he heard many bodhisattvas discussing whether the defining characteristic of condition phenomena is different or the same as that of the ultimate. Some claimed the former to be true, others claimed that the latter is the case. Who is correct? Are any of them correct? The sutra then explains how it is that the ultimate transcends whether these are the same or different.
Chapter 4: Then, the Blessed One asked Subhūti if he knew how many beings conveyed their knowledge through conceit and how many conveyed it without conceit. Subhūti said there were many who expressed what they knew through conceit and only a few who did so without conceit. He describes the many ways in which they show their knowledge. Nevertheless, the defining characteristic of the ultimate is that it is of a single nature. Then the Blessed One answers.
With this fourth chapter, the sutra concludes the discussion of ultimate reality as being inseparable, non-dual, beyond speculation, beyond same and different and of one taste. And here is where Rinpoche concluded his teachings at the 2021 Summer Institute.
The remaining chapters discuss relative reality, starting with the first defining characteristic of relative reality: the mind. Followed by the defining characteristics of phenomena, the essencelessness of phenomena and the yogas of shamatha and vipashyana. The sutra concludes with the result and includes a precise classification of the vehicles.
Join us at this year’s Summer Institute to discover more about the intent of the Buddha!