Higher training in morality, in meditation, and in wisdom.

The teaching on the Four Noble Truths, which was the Buddha’s first teaching following his attainment of full awakening, represents the foundation for the practices of emptiness and the cultivation of compassion. This teaching underpins everything that the Buddha taught subsequently and helps us to establish a fundamental understanding of the way that things really are. On the basis of such an understanding we can successfully engage in the practices embodied in the Three Higher Trainings. These are the higher trainings in morality, in concentration, and in wisdom. The higher training in morality serves as the foundation for the cultivation of single-pointedness of mind, which is a key component of the second higher training, namely the higher training in concentration.

There are different categories of precepts in the higher training on morality. Broadly speaking, there are the layperson’s precepts or morality and the ordained member’s precepts or morality. Altogether we can list seven or eight different classes of precepts that combine to embody the teachings on morality. Taking morality or the practice of ethical discipline as a foundation, the individual practitioner cultivates single-pointedness of mind and thus develops the second higher training, which is the higher training in concentration.

The reason why Buddhist texts refer to these three as “higher trainings” is to distinguish them from ordinary practices of morality, single-pointedness, and insight, which by themselves are not unique to Buddhism. What is required in the Buddhist context for such a practice to be considered a higher training is for it to be based on an appropriate motivation, such as seeking refuge in the Three Jewels. The Three Jewels are the Buddha, who is the teacher, the Dharma, which is the teaching, and the Sangha, the community of sincere practitioners. Of these three, a Buddhist practitioner must particularly take refuge in the Dharma as the actual means to end suffering and attain liberation. In addition to going for refuge, a Buddhist practice of developing single-pointedness must be grounded on a deep sense of renunciation transcending all mundane concerns. On the basis of these two—morality as the basis and single-pointedness as the method—the actual path is enshrined in the higher training of wisdom.

The Buddha’s teachings on wisdom are presented in the texts of the first turning of the Wheel of Dharma within the framework of the “thirty-seven aspects of the path to enlightenment.”

In the teachings of the second turning of the Wheel of Dharma, great emphasis is placed on two essential points of practice: the first of these is bodhicitta which is the generation of the altruistic mind of awakening—that is, the intention to attain buddhahood for the benefit of the infinite number of sentient beings—which forms the focus of our later chapter on Langri Thangpa’s Eight Verses on Training the Mind. The second essential point of practice is the cultivation of a deep insight into the ultimate nature of reality. This refers to the cultivation of a deeper understanding of the third noble truth—the truth of the cessation of suffering. The true nature of cessation refers to cessation of the afflictive emotions and thoughts, which we can achieve as a result of applying the appropriate antidotes or remedies.

If we are to truly understand the cessation of suffering, we first need to recognize what lies at the root of our mental and emotional afflictions, and then learn to discern which states of mind act as direct antidotes to them. Furthermore, we need to investigate whether or not these afflictive emotions and thoughts have any sound basis, and whether or not there is a genuine possibility of uprooting them from our mental continuum. In brief, the teachings of the second turning of the Wheel can be seen as representing further elaborations on the themes presented in the first turning of the Wheel, especially with regard to the third and fourth noble truths—the truth of cessation, and the truth of the path leading to cessation.

As for the third turning of the Wheel of Dharma, a key definitive text belonging to this class is the Essence of Buddhahood (Tathagatagarbha Sutra), which is the primary source text for Maitreya’s well-known work The Sublime Continuum (Uttaratantra) in which we find a comprehensive discussion of the ultimate nature of mind. The teachings of this turning of the Wheel constitute a very profound understanding of the fourth noble truth, the truth of the path leading to cessation.

These teachings help deepen our understanding of the emptiness of mind as opposed to the emptiness of external objects like vases, pillars and so on. Although both the mind and external objects are mostly empty space by nature,

A hydrogen atom is made from a single proton that’s circled by a single electron. How big is a hydrogen atom? The radius of a hydrogen atom is known as the Bohr Radius, which is equal to .529 × 10-10 meters. That means that a hydrogen atom has a volume of about 6.2 × 10-31 cubic meters.

How big is the proton at the center of a hydrogen atom? Recent studies indicate that protons have a radius of about .84 × 10-15 meters, giving them a volume of about 2.5 × 10-45 cubic meters.

We need to do a little more math to find out how much of a hydrogen atom is empty space:

Percent Full = 100 × (Volume Filled / Total Volume)
Percent Full = 100 × (2.5 × 10-45 m3 / 6.2 × 10-31 m3)
Percent Full = 100 × (4 × 10-15)
Percent Full = 4 × 10-13 %
Percent Full = 0.0000000000004%

If 0.0000000000004% of a hydrogen atom is full, then the rest of it must be empty:

Percent Empty = 100% – Percent Full
Percent Empty = 100% – 0.0000000000004%
Percent Empty = 99.9999999999996%

A hydrogen atom is about 99.9999999999996% empty space. Put another way, if a hydrogen atom were the size of the earth, the proton at its center would be about 200 meters (600 feet) across.

there is a vast difference insofar as the impact of understanding their emptiness is concerned. For when we examine the ultimate nature of mind carefully, we find it to be not only empty—that is, devoid of intrinsic reality—but naturally luminous as well. This leads us to realize that all the mental afflictions that pollute our mind, such as attachment and anger, are in principle separable from the mind. What this suggests is that these afflictions of the mind are in some sense adventitious. Since these pollutants are separable or removable from the mind, they cannot together constitute its essential nature. Rather, the essential nature of our mind is the potential for buddhahood which is inherent in us all.

So, as Maitreya points out, the various afflictions of our mind are separable from the mind’s essential nature—whereas the potential for the perfection of enlightenment, the realization of omniscience and the perfection of many of the enlightened qualities of buddhahood, lay naturally in the form of a seed in the very mind that we all possess. This seed or potential is referred to in the Buddhist texts as buddha nature, the essence of buddhahood. These qualities of the Buddha are not something we need to cultivate from outside ourselves but, rather, the seed or potential that exists naturally in all of us. Our task as an aspirant to buddhahood is to activate and perfect this potential for full awakening.