Studying the Teachings

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Correct understanding comes from becoming familiar with the teachings.

Characteristics of Buddhist teaching

Buddhist teachings are supposed to have four characteristics, according to Mahayanauttaratantra:

  1. the quality of leading sentient beings to enlightenment
  2. the words that express the meaning are devoid of any linguistic imperfections
  3. the function to eliminate mental afflictions
  4. the purpose of pacifying suffering of sentient beings. Any teachings that fail to meet these requirements would then be the cause of engendering wrong views.

Through familiarizing ourselves with teachings that have these four characteristics we develop a proper understanding that does not simply remain on an abstract level.

By studying and becoming familiar with the teachings, we appropriate their content into the continuum of our own experience. In that way, the teachings and our own inner experiences become inseparable. This is why it is sometimes said that there are the outer expressions of the teachings and the inner expressions of the teachings — the outer expressions being teachings in written or spoken form and the inner expressions being one's own experiences. This is called lung dang tog pa in Tibetan.

The teachings of the lung, which means "the written and oral traditions," are contained in the Buddhist canon in the form of the Kangyur and Tengyur. The Buddha's own direct discourses are known as Ka, while the commentarial material on these discourses are known as Tenchoe (the Tengyur contains the general commentarial texts, while the Tenchoe contains commentaries strictly related to Ka). Tog pa means "the inner understanding that develops from having appropriated their content into our own continuum of experience."

One develops through appropriating the teachings into one's being.

In Buddhism we practice meditation through understanding the teachings and placing our own experiences in the context of those teachings. We have to appreciate the fact that they cannot be separated. The understanding that one develops through appropriating the teachings into one's being is liberating in itself. It is not the case that we first have to understand the teachings, then do certain practices and then find liberation.