In this 18-course series you will learn the same material taught in the great monasteries of India and Tibet. You will learn the essence of the Six Great Books of Buddhism as taught in the traditional “Geshe” program—presented in modern English with lots of great stories, examples and practical advice. Each course contains 10 audio classes, readings translated from the Buddhist classics, and homeworks and quizzes to help you learn and integrate the material.
Cracks in the Wing: Learning to see the signs that things aren’t quite like that
Click anywhere in the outline and the link will take you to the exact spot in the video.
0:00 – Opening and intro.
13:20 – In Geshe Michael’s translator program they’re working on a series of 108 books, and his current favorite is by Arya Nagarjuna. First he’ll give some background on Arya Nagarjuna and then jump into some of the most important ideas.
13:42 – Nagarjuna is sometimes called the second Buddha. The Buddha lived ~500 B.C., and taught constantly throughout his life until he was in his 80s. There are 990 texts based on his teachings that survived and a rumor that thousands more were lost.
14:23 – After Lord Buddha passed, a grand meeting of 500 of his students formed a committee and wrote out the teachings as they remembered them. That record is called Abhidharma. It’s an extremely dry and boring presentation of the Buddha’s teachings.
15:38 – For 700 years after the Buddha, the Abhidharma school was the predominant school of thought in Buddhism. Buddhism got very dry until Nagarjuna came along in 200 A.D..
16:53 – Story of the apostle Thomas who went to India and died in Madras. Geshe Michael thinks perhaps South India and Nagarjuna were influenced by Christianity and Western thinking. There are also some beautiful stories of Buddhist monks meeting Greek kings. In fact, one of the greatest early teachings on emptiness is record of a conversation between a Buddhist monk named Nagasena and the Greek king Menander.
21:54 – Nagarjuna hungered for the original and deeper teachings of the Buddha, specifically those on emptiness. He is said to have seen emptiness directly. Sometimes he’s called The Arya, which means a person who has seen emptiness directly. He wrote poetry, and according to the higher schools of Buddhism, he revived the original teachings of Lord Buddha 700 years later. This came to be called Mahayana, the Greater Way, and specifically the Middle Way – Madhyamaka.
22:56 – Nagarjuna wrote 6 books of poetry and commentaries upon his own writings. Geshe Michael’s translator group are translating a lot of them. He’s an extraordinary writer. Because he was an Arya, someone who saw emptiness directly, he was so different than normal humans. This genius is reflected in his writings. Aryas love to do things short, sweet, and profound. So in this talk we’ll go for a dip inside Nagarjuna’s brilliant ideas.
28:46 – Beginning of exploration of Nagarjuna’s most important ideas. Explanation of the photo on the front of the reading. At the beginning of commercial jet travel there were many accidents caused by tiny cracks in the wings which were ignored by mechanics because they seemed inconsequential. However, these cracks grew larger while airborne and the planes would crack in half during the flight. Because of this there was a custom of people who began to watch for cracks on airplanes and test with X-rays to try and detect them. Suddenly people got interested in micro-cracks that they weren’t interested in before.
31:57 – The lesson is that we need to look for cracks in our reality. This is the theme with Nagarjuna. He keeps saying over and over again in his writings, “don’t you notice the cracks?” “Don’t you notice something weird going on?” Geshe Michael will follow this theme through 3 of Nagarjuna’s writings. (1) First book is called String of Precious Jewels (Ratnavali), and (2) is called Wisdom – which is the most famous book on emptiness ever written and is the source of everything since then. (3) is called The Sixty Verses on Reasoning. This teaching will be like a Whitman’s sampler of Nagarjuna chocolate.
37:08 – Verse 1
The person is not their solidness
Nor their wetness, nor their warmth,Nor the motion inside, nor the space within,Nor even their awareness of the world—Nor all of these together.And how could you find themSomewhere else?
—Arya Nagarjuna (200AD)A String of Precious Jewels
37:25 – This is a reference to the ancient idea of the elements which make up the human body. In modern times we often think they are crude pre-scientific ideas. If you study it deeper, in the Abhidharma for example, you will learn that they’re actually quite sophisticated descriptions of the basic energies of the universe – like gravity, electricity, and mass. (1) Solidness, the earth element, is obviously not dirt inside you body, but the quality of solidity in the human body which keeps you upright. If you didn’t have the earth element you’d be like a jellyfish.
39:30 – (2) Water element is the wetness in your body or other matter. According to the ancient teachings there’s even some wetness (wafter element) in metal. This element is fluidity.
40:04 – (3) Fire element is warmth, but warmth relative to absolute zero. Ice has some fire element in it because you can always make ice colder. Fire element is the quality of heat. Inside your body it’s life, when you die you get colder.
41:02 – (4) Air element or motion. The fact that you can move your body. The legs move, the heart moves, etc..
41:27 – You are made of these elements: solidity, water, warmth, motion, the (5) space in which these other elements occupy, and you have (6) awareness – you think and are aware of the world.
41:48 – These elements are the basic parts to a human being. Nagarjuna could have said arms, legs, head, and brain but he’s different. He’s going to an atomic elemental level. At the most fundamental level, you’re made of 5 or 6 energies, but then Nagarjuna says you’re not! Then he says that we’re not made of anything else either.
42:33 – You are not made of what you’re made of individually – each part is not you. All the parts together are not you, and you’re not anything else either. Something weird is going on and you should have noticed cracks. What do you mean we’re not all our parts? Are you less “Michael” if you get your arm amputated? How many parts do you have to lose to not be “Michael” anymore? How much of “Michael” can you lose until you’re not “Michael”? There’s a problem.
43:19 – Is the seat you’re sitting on part of you? Let’s say someone takes your seat during the break and you get angry. Try to take a baby from a mother and tell her it’s not part of her. Can “me” extend to another person? Nagarjuna is trying to tell us that our idea of “me” is a little bit strange. Who is “me”? How much of “you” is you? You can cover a baby with “me”, and you can reduce “me” with an arm and you’re still “me”, so what is “me”? “Me” can’t be all the parts together because you can add or subtract parts. Your idea of self or “you” is elastic. That’s a crack in the plane. This means “Michael” is separate from the body. We even say, “it’s my body”.
50:03 – Michael’s mind? Wait, Michael is the mind. No, Michael is the one who has the mind or body. You can lose a piece of your body and you’re still “Michael”. Therefore, the body is not “Michael”, otherwise when you cut a foot off and throw it in the garbage then “Michael” got thrown in the garbage. Something weird is going on because you say, “Connie’s hair needs fixing”. When you say “the hair of Connie” it means it’s not Connie. If Michael can have a body and Michael can have a mind, then who is “Michael”?
51:18 – “It’s just a crack in the window, it’s no big thing.” Geshe Michael was so happy to find the picture that’s used on the cover of the reading because it’s showing those tiny cracks in the wing and it’s labelled Origin of Failure. Nagarjuna is saying the same thing! If you don’t figure out the “Michael” thing – if you don’t figure out who you are, you will fail in life. If you figure out the cracks, then you can become incredibly successful.
52:38 – There’s something about “Michael” and the pieces of Michael that you need to figure out. If you figure it out, you can do anything and your whole life changes. Then you can fly to LA and you won’t fall down. If you don’t figure it out, you’ll never be successful and keep having crashes. You’ll never figure out why. There’s something about this question which your whole life depends on. If you figure out the emptiness of “you”, you can do amazing things.
55:51 – Verse 2.
Understand every living beingIn the same way you understand yourself.Understand every existing thingIn the same way you understand beings.
—Lord Buddha (500BC)A Brief Presentation of the Perfection of Wisdom
56:00 – This is a very famous statement from Lord Buddha about emptiness. If you figure out the emptiness of you, then everything else becomes clear. Geshela shows a chart of all the things in the universe which was inspired by a very famous teaching by Dharmakirti. We’ll go through all the things in the universe box-by-box and point out all the cracks. If you figure out and admit that something strange is going and find out how to fix it, then you can have a jet plane that flies around the world.
57:43 – The definition of existence in Buddhism is: anything which can be perceived through a valid perception (tseme mikpa yupay tsennyi). If a tree falls in the forest and nobody hears it, did it fall down? You can divide all things that exist into 2 categories. (1) Things that exist and change, and (2) things that exist and don’t change. 99.9% of things in the universe are changing moment by moment.
59:33 – There are 3 basic categories of changing things. (1) Physical things. The Abhidharma says you spend most of your life in the visual arena of physical things. About 90% of your total experience are things you can see. Now Geshe Michael will turn to a verse from Nagarjuna pointing out the cracks in physical things.
1:00:07 – We have a feeling, and science has taught us since we were kids that physical things are made of little pieces. In Geshe Michael’s time it was atoms. Atom comes from Sanskrit. A means not, and Tom means divisible. Parts of the town that were set aside from the rest of the town from worship were called Tom Ple – temple. So atom means cannot be split further. In modern physics terms it means when you split an atom one more time it doesn’t act the same anymore. Atom means the smallest piece of something which retains its unique action. When you divide it further it then behaves like something else.
1:02:17 – This is what science has taught us. One of the other texts the translation group is translating is called The Schools of Philosophy. This traces the ideas of 22 different Hindu schools. Nagarjuna is at the very top and then you go down from there. The secret teachings of Buddhism are based on Nagarjuna’s teaching of emptiness. In total there are 8 different Buddhist groups of ideas, then 22 non-Buddhist schools are below that. Then below all that is a belief system which is similar to Science. According to Buddhism, it is a primitive belief that the world is composed of tiny pieces of self-existent things glued together which are the smallest functioning version of a thing.
1:04:04 – Why is this idea at the very bottom? Because the idea of an atom is cracked. An atom is the smallest possible thing – cannot be divided further or it will lose its properties. That means that each part of the atom has to be acting the same. The left side has to be acting the same as the right side. If you split them into left and right, the left or right side by itself cannot function and do its thing. That’s what atom means.
1:04:48 – it doesn’t matter what religion you say you are, the real religion of modern people is science. They believe there is something in the copper which carries electricity. There’s some quality in a copper atom that glass doesn’t have, and that’s why wires are made out of copper. The smallest piece of copper touches another piece of copper. The copper atoms are nested together inside a wire and they have the ability to transfer electricity. Each atom is like a ball and you must have a whole atom for it to work as copper. The left side of the copper atom which is touching the right side of the copper atom next to it has to act as if it were the whole atom. This means that the only way copper would work is if all the atoms of copper were in the same space and were touching every part of each atom. If you only touch one side of a copper atom it can’t act as a copper atom because a copper atom split in two can’t act as copper.
1:09:16 – Something weird is going on. Things don’t exist out there, the way you thought. There’s a point to teaching all this. It’s not just some weird philosophy. If you really understand it you will be truly happy and successful in life. Geshe Michael teaches the punchline (The Pen) before the break in case people don’t come back. There’s another reason to understand this if you’re a Buddhist. If you reach a strong understanding of emptiness, then you can’t be born in one of the lower realms after you die. This is real protection. Geshe Michael doesn’t tell this to business audiences, but he teaches them over and over again because not only does he want to make them successful in this life, but he wants to protect them even after this life.
1:21:04 – Example of how to plant a karmic seed with the 4 steps to make sure it ripens quickly and powerfully. Karma, in this example of giving money to someone, means your mental tape recorder (mind / awareness) saw yourself give the money. This touches your mind and makes an imprint. Karma is the impression on your mind created by the awareness of yourself being generous. You must help another person.
1:24:47 – The most important step in planting a powerful and quick-ripening karmic seed is the last step. Everyone has done countless kind things to other people in their life and planted good karmic seeds. These karmic seeds multiply and double every day. Everyone has been generous and should be rich by now, but the problem is a karmic seed will not open unless it gets all of the necessary conditions. It’s just like a tree seed, even though the seed is there it will not ripen unless all of the supporting conditions are present – water, sunlight, temperature, soil, etc..
1:25:23 – The supporting conditions to make the good karmic seeds you’ve already planted is the following secret practice. Every night when you go to bed and lay your head down on the pillow, think to yourself about all the sweet things you did for other people and just be happy you did those good things. You can also rejoice and be happy about good things you saw someone else do. Once planted, a karmic seed cannot be destroyed and must ripen, but it may take a very long time. So this is the method to water it – providing the perfect conditions for it to ripen fast. Never go to sleep thinking something negative. Always control your mind and fight to put it on something good you did to help other people – this fight is the meaning of meditation. If you can fall asleep this way, your mind will cook these good seeds all night long. If you don’t do this practice the seeds will just sit in the mind dormant.
1:28:38 – The old way of making money and getting the things you want has cracks in it. (1) Some people work hard and make money. (2) Some people work hard and don’t make money. (3) Some people don’t work at all and get money. (4) Some people don’t work at all and stay poor. There’s a crack there, didn’t you ever wonder about it!? If you see a crack in the window tell someone.
1:29:54 – If you plant good karmic seeds and you do that special meditation before you sleep, this will bring all the perfect conditions to the karmic seeds and they will open. If you don’t do this, the karmic seeds will open randomly and without control. You can control the priority of which seeds open first and fast if you do this practice of thinking about the sweet things you’ve done to help other people before you go to sleep.
1:31:25 – It’s very frustrating for Geshe Michael because he spends his whole life traveling around the world teaching this to other people to try and make them successful, and only a small percentage actually try it. The ones who sincerely try it have amazing results and the others just drift off and he never sees or hears from them again. So please pay attention and try it. It doesn’t cost anything so just give it a try. (1) Pick something you want to happen. (2) Find someone else who wants something similar. (3) Do something to help them on a regular basis and get them the thing they want. (4) At night before you sleep, be happy and consciously think about the good things you doing in step 3 to help other people get the things you want. This is all you have to do!
1:34:01 – The atom of copper is coming from you. It cannot be what it seems to be. Scientists are wrong. Copper doesn’t act like copper because copper cannot act like copper because the atoms of copper cannot act like copper unless the whole atom is acting like copper, but the whole atom can’t touch another atom because they can only touch one part of an atom. If only one part of an atom can touch the other atom, then it can’t do anything. It’s not true. Learn a new idea of where the world comes from and try to notice the cracks – try to notice that the things you try don’t work.
1:34:51 – If you spend a lot of money for business school they will teach you many methods and give you a degree, then after all that maybe you will fail and maybe you will succeed. You can see this with your own eyes because what they’re teaching isn’t correct. Don’t just sit there and see cracks and don’t question it, try to see what’s really happening.
1:35:50 – What’s really happening is the pen has parts – it has a top and bottom, but when you put those parts together it’s not a pen yet because a dog doesn’t see a pen. If it were a pen when you put the top and bottom together, then a dog would see a pen. Try to understand. The fact that the dog chews on it, and the fact that your mouth doesn’t water when you see it proves that “pen” is not coming from its own side.
1:36:33 – This is Nagarjuna and it sounds very confusing. Either he’s totally crazy or he’s correct. Your whole opinion of where the world is coming from is cracked. There are small cracks in your life and that’s why things don’t happen the way you want them to. Problems in your finances, relationship, health, and the politics of your country are all coming from you. Don’t blame other people. Notice the things you try to do to make other things happen don’t work. Just admit it.
1:38:16 – Listen! Pushing the button doesn’t start the car. Why? Because it doesn’t always work. That means it never started the car. Try to grasp that there’s something weird going on. Does the light always turn on when you flip the switch? No. Nagarjuna would say that this proves there’s no connection between turning on the light switch and the light going on. Pushing the button in your car doesn’t make the engine start because it doesn’t always make the engine start.
1:41:47 – In the theoretical case that Nagarjuna and Geshe Michael are right and pushing the button doesn’t start the car, then what does start the car? A picture coming out of your mind starts the car in the same way that a picture coming out of your mind creates the pen. It’s that simple. There’s a small picture of a starting car coming out of your mind and projected onto the parts of the car. If you want it to start, then you need to have a karmic seed in your mind from helping people to get where they need to go.
1:42:15 – There are atom parts – there’s a left side and a right side, but if you want it to act like copper then you have to have copper atom seeds in your mind from helping other people to communicate who were having trouble communicating. That’s why copper acts like copper. It cannot act like copper if it has atoms which come from their own side.
1:43:00 – A phone works because you helped other people in the past who were having trouble communicating. If you don’t do that, your phone won’t work. If you don’t give rides with your car, if you’re selfish and take all the world’s oil for your country, your cars won’t work.
1:43:25 – The whole of reality is based on kindness towards other people. Reality itself only functions if you’re nice other people. Atoms don’t work if you’re not nice to people because the pen is coming from you. Everything is coming from how you treat other people. Every religion is based on kindness for this reason – they want you to be nice and take care of other people because the very functioning of your reality depends on it.
1:45:24 – Do the 4 steps, it’s not so hard and what’s the worst thing that could happen? If all of this doesn’t work then the worst thing you did was make someone else happy. If what Geshe Michael and Nagarjuna are saying is true, then reality is flowing from you and it comes from being kind and helping other people.
1:46:09 – Try to notice that the way you’ve been doing things since you were a kid doesn’t always work, but you still try and you don’t question it. Try to notice and fix it. Wouldn’t it be nice if everything you tried worked? First you have to notice that what you tried so far doesn’t always work. Do the 4 steps. Step number 4 is the key, but somehow people have a block with doing this most important step. People have a problem with having good thoughts before they go to bed. So do it!