His Holiness the Dalai Lama Concludes Visit with a Dharma Talk

September 19th 2012

Mussoorie, India, 18 September 2012 - Days of heavy rain gave way at last to clear blue skies, the early morning sun catching the surrounding hill-tops, as His Holiness the Dalai Lama stepped out of the temple where he had been staying to walk down to the Tibetan Homes Foundation School ground. He admired the hibiscus bushes with their white and pink blooms on the way, greeted a 90 year old Tibetan as he reached the school, then took his seat in an armchair before the assembled children. In the front row sat the youngest children, neat and clean in their school uniforms, solemnly trying to pay attention, as, without further ado, His Holiness began his talk.

He told the children that Buddhists from many countries come these days to hear him teach, and he


explains that there are many religions in the world of which Buddhism is only one. The Sanskrit word for religious or spiritual practice is Dharma, which has the sense of protecting us from suffering because it involves restraining how we think and behave. He divided religions into two categories, ancient traditions of spirit worship and animal sacrifice and traditions with a philosophical background. In India, the Samkhyas may have preceded Buddhism by 3000 years and are a source from which Hindu traditions have grown. Buddhism appeared about 2500 years ago at the same time as Jainism and much later came Sikhism. The Middle East was the location of the origins of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, while Persia gave rise to Zoroastrianism. All these traditions have a philosophical background.

A Sufi teacher His Holiness met at an inter-faith gathering in Amritsar once told him that all religions address three questions: What is the self? Does the self have a beginning? And, does the self have an end? In answer to the first question, all religions except Buddhism speak of a self or soul separate from body and mind that goes on after death. Buddhism, however, says that the person or self is only a designation on the basis of the body and mind. His Holiness pointed out that just as a chariot is only designated on the basis of its parts, the self is designated on the basis of our physical and mental aggregates. Designation is relative. If you hold up one finger and ask if it is long or short, you can’t say without relating it to another finger.

“Can you call someone with no child a mother or father? We only designate or refer to people as parents in relation to their having children.”

This relates to our thought processes. We can distinguish between conceptual and sensory

experience. There is a difference between our perception of a flower we look at and the way we think about it. These days scientists too are examining which parts of the brain are involved in this, just as they are beginning to map which parts of the brain are active when someone is angry or filled with compassion.

His Holiness mentioned how he categorizes Buddhist literature into Buddhist science and philosophy, which may be of interest to scientists, and Buddhist religion which is the preserve of Buddhist practitioners. Buddhist philosophy, for example, discusses impermanence and momentary change. At a subtle level, everything is undergoing constant change, nothing remains the same and this can be seen through a microscope. Buddhists understand this subtle change through logical inference, whereas scientists observe it through instruments. Such change is brought about by causes and conditions. As soon as something comes into being, it is bound to disintegrate. Nothing is independent; everything is dependent on other factors. This is why Buddhists talk about causality and interdependence and do not accept a creator god.

“Those who do believe in a creator god also speak of a self or soul that is permanent and unchanging, Buddhists deny this. However, this is not to say there is no self, we talk about the practice of ‘exchanging self with others’, but what we say is that there is no permanent, unchanging self.”

As to the second question, whether the self has a beginning, those who believe in a creator god say he created the self or soul, so that’s its beginning. Buddhists say the self is not separate from the physical body, feelings, recognitions etc., and consciousness. When we die, the body is left behind and feelings, recognitions etc., cease; but a subtle consciousness remains. There is evidence of this when accomplished practitioners sometimes remain in a meditative state after clinical death has taken place. On such occasions their bodies remain fresh, even after their circulation has stopped. Scientists are taking an interest in this phenomenon and instruments for monitoring what is happening have been left in Dharamsala. In a recent case, measurements showed there was some sort of activity going on during meditation after death, but scientists don’t draw conclusions from only one instance. More data will have to be gathered, which will take an unpredictable amount of time, because as His Holiness said,

“We can’t ask people to die and go into meditation just so we can measure the result!”


The subtlest mind is said to have no beginning and no end. The logic texts say that something that is not mind cannot be the cause of mind, which is how Buddhists explain the existence of past lives. His Holiness remarked that one of his scientist friends told him that the Buddhist explanation of consciousness seems to accord with the facts. We have to examine these facts further, but because we say that there is no beginning to consciousness, which is one of the main factors in the designation of a person, there is no beginning to self.

Regarding the third question, whether self has an end, while theistic religions talk about a judgement day and an after-life, Buddhism says we continue up to enlightenment and liberation, so there is no end to the self. His Holiness commented,

“I asked a Christian friend where God came from and he replied that Christians don’t ask such questions, they don’t do such analysis. However, we Buddhists do and we ask what are the causes and conditions of suffering and happiness. We ask whether the self has a beginning or an end, and most Buddhist schools say there is no end to consciousness.”

His Holiness discussed some of the differences found among Buddhist traditions. He said that the explanation of the Four Noble Truths that all Buddhists accept is included in the Pali collection of scriptures, but that there are also Mahayana teachings that the Buddha did not give in public. For example, the Heart Sutra, which presents a conversation between Shariputra and Avalokiteshvara, who is a bodhisattva in the form of a deity. Some people deny that the Buddha gave the Mahayana or tantra teachings, but great masters like Nagarjuna examined them and say that he did. In the Four Noble Truths the Buddha taught about suffering and its causes, liberation and the path to it, but His Holiness stated that without the Mahayana explanation it’s difficult to understand what liberation is. Switching his attention to actual practice, His Holiness said,

“I thought we might hold a brief ceremony to generate the awakening mind of bodhichitta. We’ll use the verse you all know that begins, ‘To the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha I go for refuge, ...’ In Ladakh I asked how many knew this verse and everyone raised their hands, but when I asked how many understood what it meant, far fewer hands went up.

“The first line is about taking refuge in a Mahayana way, ‘I take refuge in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha until I am enlightened’. The Buddha appeared in the world, gave his teaching and his followers practised it. When someone has a true experience of the Dharma, the teaching, we say he or she has become a member of the Sangha. We take refuge in these three, which is a causal refuge. There are also the resultant refuges, Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, that we attain through reliance on them. Buddha Shakyamuni is referred to as an Emanation Body, which came from a Complete Enjoyment Body, which came from the Truth Body. These can be achieved because the mind is empty of intrinsic existence and the defilements that obscure it can be cleared away. This factor that enables us to attain enlightenment is called Buddha nature.


“So, what we are saying is ‘this mind, which is empty of intrinsic existence takes refuge in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, not just to be free of sickness, or to achieve success in this life, but until enlightenment’. Faith has three aspects, admiration, confidence and aspiration. When we understand Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, we generate admiration and an aspiration to attain them ourselves. We say, ‘by the merit and wisdom, not just the merit, collected through my practice of the perfections, giving etc.,’ may I become a Buddha. As you say this remember that you have no permanent nature, the ‘I’ is empty. Recite these lines in groups or by yourself.”

His Holiness then led his audience in reciting the verse he had explained to ceremonially generate the aspiration to attain enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings, the awakening mind of bodhichitta. At the end he expressed satisfaction that he had been able to give a little explanation of emptiness and bodhichitta, which are the essence of the Buddha’s teaching, adding that the practice of ethics is non-violence, not harming others. He said it is best to help, but at least don’t do harm. He then gave the transmission of Manjushri, the wisdom bodhisattva’s mantra - Om ara patsa na dhi - which he said had helped him when he was studying, and led the students in saying 100 syllables dhi in one breath. Finally he said,

“Let’s not forget to dedicate the merit of this - May I become enlightened for the sake of all sentient beings, and may we enjoy the fruit of all our prayers. Thank you.”

And with that he said goodbye, passing students and staff as he left the school, their hands folded in front of them, beaming smiles on their faces, climbed into his car, drove to Dehra Dun’s Jolly Grant airport and took a flight back to Dharamsala.
 
 

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