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Buddhadharma : Summer 2012
SUMMER 2 0 1 2 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY 27 of his doctrine of no self. Later, after the Bud- dhist community had taken deep root, we have the second turning of the wheel, which presents even more profound and more subtle teachings on selflessness. Avalokitesvara, speaking on behalf of the Buddha in the Heart of Perfect Wisdom Sutra, said that “all dharmas are marked by empti- ness” (sarva-dharmah sunyata-lakasana). All dharmas, all phenomena, are empty. But in the second turning of the wheel, this teaching on emptiness is vastly expanded. A hidden implica- tion of this and all the Buddha’s other teachings is that, like all things, the teaching itself is an interdependent phenomenon. He’s giving it to you because you’re the one he’s talking to, but ultimately there’s no reality in what he’s saying. It is just something that comes up between you like a dance. And because it’s interdependently arising, it has no ultimate existential status. But he didn’t explicitly say that at first. People might have said, “Well then, why should we listen to you?” Or they might have said, “Why should we practice the moral precepts, if they have no ultimate, existential status?” The Buddha had to establish a strong ethi- cal foundation for his students before he could encourage them to meditate on the selflessness of all phenomena, and many people did attain personal liberation with such ethically grounded meditation. But until practitioners are deeply grounded ethically, buddhas do not bring up the more subtle wisdom teachings that might under- mine the ethical foundation of the community of practitioners. In the Buddha’s first scripture he begins with the wisdom teachings of the Middle Way and the four noble truths and not with teachings on ethi- cal commitment and discipline. I believe the rea- son he could do this for his first students was that they were already very well grounded in ethical discipline, and they had realized deep concentra- tion practices based on that ethical ground. Upon this foundation, it was appropriate for the Bud- dha to offer them wisdom teachings. Over the millennia, Buddhism has become PHOTO ©PETRA PATITUCCI RENSHINBUNCE