Teaching Buddhism in the Morning, Secular Ethics in the Afternoon

May 12th 2014

Rotterdam, Holland, 11 May 2014 - His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s second day in Rotterdam began with rain beating against the windows. Before leaving for the Ahoy Stadium he gave three interviews: the first to Floris Harm van Luyn of NOS National News, who asked him about his meeting yesterday with the Dutch Foreign Minister.


His Holiness the Dalai Lama being interviewed by Bettine Vriesekoop for Buddhist Broadcasting in Rotterdam, Holland on May 11, 2014. Photo/Jeremy Russell/OHHDL
Jacobine Geel who presents a talk show on religious matters was persistent in her questions about the relevance of temples and the traditional trappings of religion, and why His Holiness thinks people need to hear his message. He told her his listeners are all fellow human beings who want to be happy and that he regularly advises them, if they are interested, to think about what he says. If they find it useful, put it into effect; if they don’t, then forget it. Bettine Vriesekoop for Buddhist Broadcasting asked His Holiness about the renewal of interest in Buddhism in China. He told her that compared to Tibet, China is the senior student of Buddhism, that there is clear evidence of interest in Tibetan Buddhism among many Chinese in the context of a revived interest in Buddhism in general.
Arriving at the Ahoy Stadium His Holiness was welcomed by several Geshes resident in Holland and members of the organizing groups. When he appeared on the stage cheerful applause broke out among the 11,000 strong audience.

“Dharma Friends, spiritual brothers and sisters,” His Holiness responded, “I’m very happy to be here with you. Wherever I go I always talk about how all 7 billion human beings are the same. We all want to live a happy life. We need to remember that we all belong to one human family.”

He said there are two groups of religious traditions, those that have a concept of a creator, and those that like Buddhism do not. Buddhism also does not accept the existence of an independent self, a self apart from the body and mind. He mentioned that he likes, whenever possible to begin teachings with a recitation of the Mangala Sutta in Pali. Today, he invited members of a Zen group to recite the ‘Heart Sutra’ in Japanese.


The audience of over 11,000 people at the Ahoy Stadium listening to His Holiness the Dalai Lama's teaching in Rotterdam, Holland on May 11, 2014. Photo/Jurjen Donkers
“The Buddhist approach to explaining reality is to use our intelligence to the full. Nagarjuna and other masters of Nalanda also employed reason. They followed the Buddha’s advice not to accept his teachings out of faith and devotion but to investigate and test them. During the three Turnings of the Wheel of Dharma, the Buddha taught according to the capacity of the disciples he was teaching. To some he spoke about the psycho-physical aggregates as a load carried by the self, as if they were separate.”

His Holiness said that as sentient beings we all want happiness not suffering, so we need to know how suffering and happiness come about. He quoted Nagarjuna’s saying that suffering is a result of nothing other than our own actions. The Buddha said, ‘Suffering must be known, the origin must be overcome, liberation must be achieved and the path must be cultivated.’ The Buddhist concept of dependent origination expresses the law of causality that results depend on their causes. But, a cause also depends on the existence of the result. A cause is a cause because there is a result. This does not mean that a cause comes from a result, but that without a result it is not a cause. His Holiness compared this to explanations of material things in Quantum Physics.

Madhyamakas say that things do not exist objectively; they only exist by way of designation. We experience suffering because of ignorance, because of the gap between appearance and reality. His Holiness related this to what the American psychiatrist Aaron Beck told him, that when we are angry about something the object of our anger seems entirely negative and yet 90% of that is our own mental projection. This also corresponds to Nagarjuna’s explanation.


His Holiness the Dalai Lama speaking during his teaching in Rotterdam, Holland on May 11, 2014. Photo/Jeppe Schilder
“We have two goals,” His Holiness said, “higher rebirth and liberation. What binds us in cyclic existence is ignorance. Understanding selflessness is what leads us out of it. Virtue, the cause of higher rebirth, can be found in common with other spiritual traditions, but dependent origination is the king of reasonings that eliminates the ignorance that clings to intrinsic existence.”

He said that to attain enlightenment, we need an understanding of emptiness supported by the awakening mind of bodhichitta and the practice of the six perfections. To attain omniscience we need to overcome the obstacles to knowledge.

The three principal aspects of the path are renunciation or the determination to be free, bodhichitta or the altruistic aspiration for enlightenment and wisdom. To begin with we generate the determination to be free. Extending this aspiration to others is bodhichitta, but without understanding dependent origination, the determination to be free and bodhichitta will not be fulfilled. We need to realized that, existing in dependence on other factors, things do not exist the way they appear; they exist only as designations.

His Holiness said he would like to begin the afternoon session by taking questions from the audience. During the lunch break he gave an interview to respected journalist Floris van Straaten in which he talked about positive developments in China, including the attention paid to the needs of ordinary poor farmers and judicial reform in the recent 3rd plenum. He also mentioned Xi Jinping’s remark about Buddhists taking responsibility to revive Chinese culture, which he said was an unusual observation for a communist party leader to make. He said it is too early to say where it may lead, but he noted that Xi Jinping, like Hu Yaobang before him, seems to have adopted a more realistic approach.


Erica Terpstra and His Holiness the Dalai Lama enjoying a moment of laughter during his talk in Rotterdam, Holland on May 11, 2014. Photo/Jurjen Donkers
Erica Terpstra, who His Holiness has known a long time, introduced the afternoon session. She said it was a real pleasure to be here in his presence. She recalled an occasion when His Holiness was asked who he thought of as his spiritual peer and thinking for a moment he replied: “Everyone in the world.” She asked the audience to welcome ‘Our Holiness’.

His Holiness began as he usually does by acknowledging that all human beings are the same, mentally, physically and emotionally. All want a happy life. He said:

“If we could appreciate that all human beings are brothers and sisters belonging to the same human family, there’d be no room for conflict, no division between ‘us’ and ‘them’. There’d be no violence, no cheating or exploitation. People involved in education should think seriously about how to introduce such values into education. We are social animals, like bees who, without religion, laws or police, work together for their own survival.”

Answering questions from the audience, he suggested that in introducing Buddhism to children, if they belonged to a Buddhist family the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha could be explained to them. If not, it might be easier to talk about the mind and emotions. Asked how he relaxes he replied - sleep, going on to say that when he has time he reads and generally what he reads are the works of the Nalanda masters. Someone else wanted to know how His Holiness deals with mosquitoes and he said, to laughter from the audience, that his relationship with them is not very good. He added that he wonders what size of brain is needed to develop appreciation, because he sometimes allows a mosquito to drink his blood, but it flies off without showing any appreciation.


Audience members lined up to ask His Holiness the Dalai Lama questions during his talk at the Ahoy Stadium in Rotterdam, Holland on May 11, 2014. Photo/Jurjen Donkers
About euthanasia he said that like abortion it is generally better to avoid it, but that you would have to weigh the pros and cons of each case. Beginning his talk about secular ethics he said that all religious traditions teach about love, tolerance, forgiveness and self-discipline. However, in today’s world, in which at least 1 billion people have no interest in religion, there is a need for a system of ethics that has a universal appeal; a system of secular ethics beyond the limits of this or that religious tradition.

He said that the effects of climate change and the global economy extend beyond national boundaries. To deal with problems like corruption and the huge gap between rich and poor requires secular ethics. He mentioned that pilot projects are going on to design a curriculum to incorporate secular ethics into the education system. He does not expect to see the results of this work, but, if it is successful, those belonging to the 21st century generation may see a new way of thinking emerge that will result in this really becoming a century of peace.

His Holiness answered further questions from the audience, advising that peace of mind is the most important thing for those who are dying, and that what the Buddha taught is more important than works of art. He clarified that the teaching about there being no independent self does not mean there is no self at all, but that it is designated on the basis of the body and mind.

Regarding pro-Shugden demonstrators on the street outside, he said:

“They chant “Stop lying”, but I don’t know what they are referring to lying about. I have been very straightforward about this. “


A view of the stage at the Ahoy Stadium during His Holiness the Dalai Lama's talk  in Rotterdam, Holland on May 11,2014. Photo/Jurjen Donkers
Asked if it was true that he would be the last Dalai Lama he said that as early as 1969 he had made it clear that whether or not there would be another Dalai Lama would be up to the Tibetan people to decide.

Finally, to a question about climate change he pointed out that we have to be more alert. Whereas the sight of obvious violence makes us recoil, damage to the environment and climate change take place more stealthily. We are often not aware of it until it has already happened and it is difficult to restore.

The organizers thanked His Holiness profusely for coming to warm and extended applause from the audience and he left the stage. Tomorrow he will go to The Hague to meet parliamentarians and participate in a seminar on ‘The Heart of Education.
 

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