Mahayana Explorations (online class)

January 16th—April 17th

Date details +
    Room: Online using Zoom

    Mahayana Explorations

    12 week online course, Sunday mornings 8:00 am to 9:30 am.
    By donation.

    PART I: Jan 16, 23, 30 & Feb 6, 13, 20
    PART II — Mar 13, 20, 27 &  Apr 3, 10, 17

    The emergence of Mahayana, which began sometime in the first century BCE, brought us one of the world’s most powerful spiritual traditions. With its ethic of working for the benefit of others, it accelerated the spread of buddhadharma throughout the world, eventually giving birth to Chan and Zen, and providing the seedbed for the Vajrayana. It incorporates all of early Buddhism, but supercharges it with deep inquiry on the view, coupled with a daring approach to working with others. It is not simply an intriguing and vital path within Buddhism. It holds its own as one of the world's most profound—and yet practically oriented—philosophical traditions. We will explore in presentations and discussions, the breadth and depth of this path, from a practitioner’s point of view.

    This program is hosted on Ocean, an online community of students of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche. Most teachers are based in Halifax, so classes begin at 8 am Pacific time. 

    For details and to register:

    Price: by donation

    Teachers: Adrienne Chang, Andy Karr, Barry Boyce, Daniel Nguyen and Tillie Perks


    1. Four Truths for Noble Ones: This teaching is the core of the entire buddhadharma. If we understand bondage and its causes, and liberation and its causes, we will know which causes lead to which results. In the Foundational Vehicle, the causes of bondage are said to be craving or attachment, particularly attachment to an illusory self. In the Mahayana, this analysis is taken further. By deeply examining the objects of our craving and clinging, we see that they are nothing other than our own projections. Because all phenomena are empty of these projections, liberation occurs when we recognize their true nature.

    Reading: The Truth of Suffering and the Path of Liberation (NB: while the reading mentions both Hinayana and Abhidharma, it’s definitely a Mahayana perspective.)

    2. Three Trainings: We travel the path to liberation by using three complementary methods—training in conduct (aka discipline or action), training in view, and training in meditation. Because not knowing the true nature of our experience is the cause of bondage, the remedy is knowing the true nature.

    Reading: Progressive Stages of Meditation on Emptiness

    3. Buddha Nature As the Ground: The true nature of mind is always the true nature, whether we recognize it or not. That’s why it’s said that all beings have buddha nature. Sometimes it’s explained that all beings are “buddhas with stains.” The purpose of the path is to remove the stains, not to produce some new thing called “enlightenment.”

    Reading: Uttaratantra 1

    4. Two Truths: Conventional truth, or relative truth, accurately explains how causality functions, from the perspective of conceptual mind. In that sense it is true. However, conceptual truth also obscures the true nature of phenomena. In that sense, it is deceptive truth. Ultimate truth reveals the true nature.

    Reading: Samvirti Satya

    5. Madhyamika Investigations: The Eighth Karmapa, Mikyo Dorje, wrote, “Nagarjuna’s approach is similar to having an executioner order his or her own execution.” That’s exactly what the Madhyamika reasonings do to the conceptual mind.

    Reading: Great Reasonings of the Middle Way

    6. Sunyata: The experience of the empty luminous nature of genuine reality is sunyata. There are lots of other terms for this experience, but the experience itself is beyond speech and thought. This is indicated by the metaphor of the finger pointing at the moon.

    Reading: Emptiness, Branching Streams Flow in the Darkness

    7. Yogacara: The Mahayana developed in India during the early centuries of the Common Era. Nagarjuna emphasized the empty nature of phenomena. Following in his footsteps, two half brothers, Asanga and Vasubandhu, emphasized the luminous nature of phenomena. They explained that all phenomena were merely appearance; the storehouse consciousness was the source of these appearances; and that genuine reality was free from duality.

    Reading: Vasubandhu Three Natures (Gold Trans.), Vasubandhu Three Natures (Brunnholzl Trans.)

    8. Karuna: Compassion becomes more profound as we progress along the path. In conventional compassion, the object of compassion, the compassionate person, and the suffering, are all taken to be truly real. When you recognize that the object of compassion, the suffering, and you, yourself, are all illusory, you practice compassion for the mere appearance of suffering beings. Ultimately, compassion is non-referential. For buddhas, there is no one cultivating anything, but there is spontaneous, effortless radiation of warmth and benefit for others.

    Reading: The Karmapa’s Middle Way

    9. Bodhicitta: There are two types of bodhichitta. Relative bodhicitta is the intention to attain enlightenment, to be able to bring the powers and wisdom of buddhahood to the aid of suffering beings. Absolute bodhicitta is the realization of the true nature of reality.

    Reading: The Way of the Bodhisattva

    10. Bodhisattva Vow: The bodhisattva vow is the formal rite of entry into the Mahayana.

    Reading: The Heart of the Buddha up to page 119.

    11. Paramitas: Mahayana training in conduct is the practice of the six, or ten paramitas. Paramita literally means “gone to the other shore.” This is a metaphor for transcendent action. These practices are transcendent because they transcend self-concern. For these actions to be truly transcendent, they need to be free from concepts of the three spheres: thoughts of an actor, an action and an object of the action.

    Reading: Continue reading The Heart of the Buddha

    12. Buddha Nature as the Fruition: Our nature has always been perfect buddhahood. Not recognizing our nature, we wandered in samsara. Recognizing it, we are liberated. That nature has never changed. For this reason, Uttaratantra could be translated as the Sublime Continuum.

    Reading: Uttaratantra 2