Synopsis of Arya Nagarjuna’s ‘In Praise of Dharmadhatu’

‘In Praise of Dharmadhatu’ is a classic treatise written by Arya Nagarjuna in first century CE to explain the comprehensive nature of the teachings given by the Buddha Shakyamuni.  Reading and reflecting on the meanings as conveyed in this text unveils the mist of mental disturbance from within our minds. It clears the mystery of the great panacea for all ills of our life. It gives an enormous hope and relief for us from the fears and anguish of our daily lives and of the world.

The text begins with meticulous explanation of Dharmadhatu in the context of Buddha nature. Dharmadhatu is the real treasure which you and me, with no one cast aside, posses. All miseries we go through – dissatisfactions, fears, anguish and lamentation, are due to the lack of the awareness of this treasure. The miseries are repulsive and contaminated. Dharmadhatu which is so pure and freed of any stain of contamination abides in us.

The same Dharmadhatu, when seen through the lens of ignorance, appears contaminated, thus designated as  samsara. But when seen with pure lens, it is nirvana. Arya Nagarjuna says in this text:

I bow to the Dharmadhatu,
Which resides in every sentient being.
But if they are not aware of it,
They circle through the three realms.

Covered by the web of the affliction,
It is called a sentient being.
Once it is free from the afflictions,
It is referred to as Buddha.

Just as the same water, when viewed through sloppy spectacles, will see it as murky.  Correspondingly, unpleasant feelings are triggered in us as a result of defiled perceptions. Whereas, the same will be seen as extraordinarily pure when looked at through a fine and clean spectacles.  A feeling of lightness and upliftment will arise in us as a result.  This is like the peaceful experience of nirvana and Buddhahood  when one sees the same dharmadhatu through the lens of the pure wisdom of emptiness.

Here we need to make a distinction between dharmadhatu which you are viewing, and how that is seen by us — whether as murky or pure. Correspondingly, feeling of aversion or peace arises respectively. As to what you are viewing, i.e. the same dharmadhatu, when it is seen as murky and undesirable it is known as samsara. Whereas in the second case, when the same dharmadhatu is seen as so pure and desirable, this perception will spontaneously give rise to peace of mind which is known as Nirvana. Whether it is samsara or nirvana, it arises on the basis of the same dharmadhatu.  In this context, the dharmadhatu as the object to be seen, is described as Nirvana or Buddhahood depending on the degree of purification of the mind through which this dharmadhatu is seen.

What is seen as murky and what is seen as pure is the same object – the dharmadhatu.  Whether you see this dharmadhatu as murky and as imperfection of samsara or, as pure and as peacefulness of nirvana is determined by the state of the mind with which you are looking at it — whether with deluded mind or with the pure pristine awareness of emptiness.

In this sense, we see that objectively nirvana is already there even while we are in the worst state of impurity. The difference lies in the purity of the subject which views this dharmadhatu.

Therefore discovering the dharmadhatu in its true form without the perceiver being sullied by mental stains of afflictions is actually the discovery of nirvana. And the subtler version of the discovery where the dharmadhatu is seen through the perception which is freed of even the subtlest of the stains is seeing the full enlightenment which is Buddhahood.

This takes us to the next step. How to cleanse the lens of our perception through which we see the dharmadhatu if we are to see this dhatu in its purest form.  The author unfolds another secret. Just as the fire-proof garment which is soiled, when put into fire, the fire will burn the stains but not the garment. Likewise subjecting the afflicted mind to the fire of the wisdom, the afflictions are burned and the mind not. This frees the mind from the mental stains known as afflictions, amounting to achieving an untainted lens of mind through which Enlightenment will be seen. The author says:

A garment that was purged by fire
May be soiled by various stains.
When it is put into a blaze,
The stains are burned , the garment not.

Likewise, mind that is so luminous
Is soiled by stains of craving and so forth.
The afflictions burn in the wisdom’s fire,
But its luminosity does not.

This will naturally take us to the next question.  What is this wisdom which burns the mental defilements? How can we cultivate it? This will take us to study, reflect and meditate on the meaning of ultimate reality as expounded in Heart Sutra. 

by Ven. Geshe Dorji Damdul

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