Generally speaking, three stages of analysis are taught: the stage of no analysis, the stage of slight analysis, and the stage of thorough analysis.
In our ordinary lives, in the relative world, we usually engage in the first stage. There is no sense of deep contemplation or analysis. Of course, we do engage in a mundane sense of analysis, but in terms of the nature of mind and the nature of phenomena, we do not engage in much of an analysis.
In analytical meditation, we are applying the second stage of slight analysis. At the stage of slight analysis, we begin to explore a deeper sense of reality or genuine meaning of things. When we search for the genuine meaning of things and a deeper sense of reality, then we are engaging in a profounder type of analysis, for example, the analysis of our thoughts. In that analysis, we ask: Where do thoughts arise from, where do thoughts stay, and where do they go? How do thoughts arise, how do thoughts stay, and how do they dissolve? To do that analysis, we can apply many different layers of profound analysis from the Middle Way tradition, such as the five reasonings of the Middle Way School.
The last stage of analysis is the stage of thorough analysis, and it is the end of analysis or the ultimate analysis. The analysis at this point refers to analysis at the level of wisdom mind. At this point, there is no movement of dualistic thought. It is simply the experience and realization of reality. In other words, thorough analysis is the analysis of non-duality, whereas with slight analysis, we analyze with a certain quality and element of dualistic mind. These are the three stages of analysis, and our practice of analysis here is from the second stage.
To elaborate on these three stages a little more, Nagarjuna says in Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way:
That there is a self has been taught,
And the doctrine of no-self,
By the Buddhas, as well as the
Doctrine of neither self nor non-self.
These three ways of the Buddha’s teachings are related to Nagarjuna’s approach of the three stages of analysis.
Stage of No Analysis
When Buddha taught self, and when Buddha taught teachings and methods to turn oneself away from non-meritorious actions, that is related to the stage of no analysis. We do not do much analysis at that stage, we are just basically looking at conventional, relative reality, how it manifests. There is no analysis needed here.
We all know that if you throw stone, it is going to hurt. There is no mystery about that. There are no different theories about whether it will hurt or not. We do not have to argue about that. That is relative reality. There are no different views between East and West on that. There are no different views between Shravakas and Mahayanists, Christians and Buddhists; it is the same. If you throw stone, it will hurt. There is no different view between farmers and Wall Street stock brokers. Everyone agrees: If you throw stone, it will hurt. And everybody agrees that if you throw water, it will make you wet, it will wake you up; it is refreshing, you can wash dirt with it, you can quench thirst—there is no mystery about that.
This is exactly what we are calling here karma, the cause and effect in the relative truth of the Buddhist view. It is nothing sophisticated, nothing mystical. It is basic conventional experience of the world and that does not need any analysis. We do not need any analysis, we do not need any religious beliefs, we do not need any kind of conceptual theory—it is just straightforward. That is why it is called the stage of no analysis. It is very simple.
At that level nobody analyzes what the stone is we are throwing, who the person is who is throwing this stone, and who the person at which we are throwing this stone is—we are not analyzing that. If you analyze that, then science will have all kinds of answers: stone is atomic existence, or non-atomic existence, particles or no particles, quark up, quark down, what have you; you can discuss all kinds of things about the stone. And you will not really find the stone.
From Vaibhashika-Sautrantika point of view, it is particles, you are just throwing particles, you are not throwing stones, if you analyze. And from Cittamatrin point of view, you are not throwing stone, you are throwing a piece of mind, and from Madhyamaka point of view, you ask: what is the stone? What stone are you talking about? Where is it? And who is the person who is throwing? How does that person exist? How does that action exist? That is why there is a whole chapter in Nagarjuna’s Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way called Examination of Motion.
Therefore, for Nagarjuna, if you analyze, it comes to that point. There are so many different views and at the end you cannot find anything. There is no convention here if you analyze. You lose all the conventions of the world and therefore you will lose all function of communication, any level of functioning does not work. It will not perform, if you go to that kind of analysis. If someone asks you, please hand me that cup, if you keep asking what cup? Is it your mind’s projection cup or my mind’s projection cup? Or: Where is the common basis of our projection? You will spend the whole day doing that, but you will still not get the cup. So what’s the point? In relative, it does not work. That is why Nagarjuna’s Madhyamaka teachings say: do not analyze the relative truth. It cannot withstand any analysis. If you keep analyzing, you waste the whole day not getting anything out of it. If you want some relative things to get done, do not analyze.
If you want to reach absolute truth, then yes, please analyze. Do not sit and take everything for granted, but analyze. As far as we want relative truth, as far as we want to hit that person with stone, do not analyze. Just pick up the stone and hit. It is also very clear why we want to hit that person. We want to hurt that person. That is why we want to throw this stone. So we know the cause and effect. Cause and effect is clear—not much analysis.
Stage of Slight Analysis
As far as we want to go beyond such confusion of relative truth, of ego and its fixation and clinging, then we do analyze, which we call slight analysis. So the second way of Buddha’s teaching say there is no self, and that is slight analysis. There is still involvement of conceptual mind, analyzing, there is subject, object and an act of analysis, therefore it is still relative, and still happening within relative truth. But what we are analyzing, what we are experiencing here is going further away from relative truth, going beyond relative truth, but we have not yet taken that leap, we are still within the range of relative truth.
Therefore, slight analysis is usually the Madhyamaka analysis. All the Madhyamaka analyses we are doing are done from slight analysis—the five reasonings of the Middle Way, and all the rest—we are analyzing about emptiness, all these reasonings are from this second stage of analysis, slight analysis.
Stage of Thorough Analysis
But when we reach the final stage, the result of this slight analysis, when you go further, and analyze what is “me,” what is “I,” what is the self, and what is other, when you go deeper and deeper into these subtleties of the true nature of phenomena, when you reach the level of shunyata, finally reaching the level of experiencing shunyata—at that point it goes beyond conceptual analysis. It becomes just experience of shunyata, experience, pure experience. And that pure experience is then the third stage we are talking about here; it is neither self, nor no-self. At that point it goes beyond all. There is no word to express that reality. And when we try to express that reality, then we are using such words as “neither self, nor no-self,” which then does not make much sense to our conceptual mind. It needs to be either this or that in our mind. We want that clarity, we want that polarity. Without that polarity, we usually cannot understand function in our world. That is why we always want clarity. Usually our sense of clarity has a very dualistic approach, if you think about it: either this or that.
Therefore the absolute reality goes beyond the polarity of duality and goes beyond any conceptual element of theory or view or even conceptual experience. So it is a pure experience of shunyata, selfless, egoless reality. At that stage, then there are no words to express it. Buddha said in Prajnaparamita Sutra:
Unspeakable, inexpressible Prajnaparamita
Unborn, unceasing nature of space,
Sphere of individually experienced wisdom,
I prostrate to the mother of the Buddhas of the three times.
Therefore, absolute reality cannot be expressed in words.
Do not to mix the stages
It is important not to mix these three stages at the beginning. Don’t mix the mundane level of analysis with the other stages of analysis. If you mix them half and half, you will get really confused. Lama Mipham, the great Dzogchen master, said that we should never mix the two truths. He is saying that we should never mix the analysis of the two truths and apply relative analysis to absolute truth or absolute analysis to relative truth. If we mix the analyses of the relative and the ultimate, then all the reasonings we do in our mind will become totally confused, totally mixed up and entangled. It is having a bunch of different threads that have become totally entangled. You end up with a big ball of tangled threads. Then you don’t know where to find the beginning or the end. That’s how it is. When you have a completely chaotic ball of threads, you don’t even know where something begins and where something ends.
Once I was teaching Heart Sutra, or at least trying, and I was saying that nothing exists and everything is emptiness, emptiness, emptiness, emptiness. You know how Heart Sutra goes: no, no, no, no. No eye, no ear, no nose, and so on. At the end, one student asked, “If everything does not exist, then you don’t exist, right?” I said yes, according to this text. And he said, “In that case, how can you sit on that chair and not fall?” I thought about it and I realized that he was trying to put my relative body on an absolute chair. So he confused the two levels. If I don’t exist, then the chair also doesn’t exist. If the chair doesn’t exist, then I don’t exist. But as long as I exist, then the chair also exists and I won’t fall down. Therefore, we should not mix the different levels in our analysis.
This article is based on a class on ‘Self and No-Self’ class taught by Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche at Naropa University.