Long-Life Empowerment in Ravangla and Secular Ethics in Gangtok

March 26th 2013

Gangtok, Sikkim, India, 26 March 2013 - The day began brightly after rain the previous evening as His Holiness the Dalai Lama chose to walk to the teaching pavilion in front of the Tathagata Tsal at Ravangla, the better to interact with the thousands who had come to see and hear him. On arriving at the base of the statue, His Holiness took the opportunity to enter the building once more to view the paintings of the 12 deeds of the Buddha’s life and so forth.


His Holiness the Dalai Lama speaking during the Long Life Empowerment in Ravangla, Sikkim, on March 26, 2013. Photo/Tenzin Choejor/OHHDL
In his preamble to the White Tara Long Life Empowerment he summarized the Buddha’s life. More than 2500 years ago he was born into a royal family, renounced that, pursued his spiritual practice, gained enlightenment and taught. In a verse of gratitude to the Buddha for his teaching, Nagarjuna says: “I prostrate to the great Gautama who gave this teaching in order to remove our distorted conceptions.” This shows the Buddha’s compassion which aroused his wish to liberate all sentient beings from suffering. Under the impetus of this awakening mind of bodhichitta he became enlightened, intent on helping others. He taught what to abandon and what to adopt in order that followers could become like him. His Holiness noted that visiting temples and saying prayers will not remove the darkness of ignorance that engulfs us; only wisdom is the antidote to our distorted views.

When the Heart Sutra says the five aggregates are empty of intrinsic nature, form is empty, emptiness is form, it does not mean that there is no form, but that form is dependent on other factors. When we find something attractive, we exaggerate its qualities. As the American psychologist Aaron Beck told him, 90% of our response in such circumstances is our own projection. This accords with Nagarjuna’s explanation. Scientists do not rely on faith, but on experiments and reason.

A warm heart is of fundamental benefit to everyone. If, instead, you cheat, bully and exploit others, you will not feel at ease; you will have no inner peace. Therefore it is better to be warm hearted. Not harming others, but helping them, purifying all the causes of suffering is the path that leads to Buddhahood.


Some of the large crowd attending the Long Life Empowerment bestowed by His Holiness the Dalai Lama at Ravangla, Sikkim, on March 26, 2013. Photo/Tenzin Choejor/OHHDL
As part of the Long Life Empowerment, His Holiness then led the assembled people through a concise ceremony for generating the awakening mind of bodhichitta, the Bodhisattva’s aspiration. He said that he renews his Bodhisattva vows every day and at the start determines to live each day in accordance with the teachings of the Buddha.

Regarding the White Tara empowerment he was giving he said:

“This comes from the close visionary lineage of the Fifth Dalai Lama. I’ve received the empowerments and transmission and done the retreat and I thought to give this here because Sikkim has some connections to the Fifth Dalai Lama’s teachings.”

The Long Life Empowerment was followed immediately by an offering to His Holiness, requesting him also to live long. His Holiness then left directly for Gangtok by road. All along the route, particularly in the towns and villages on the way, the road was lined with people burning incense and holding khatas or flowers eager to greet His Holiness and catch a glimpse of him as he passed. Arriving at the Manan Kendra in Gangtok he was received by members of the Sikkim Government and escorted to the hall where about 1000 school students were gathered to hear him. Mr NK Pradhan, Minister for Human Resource Development gave the welcoming address and two student representatives came forward to offer His Holiness scarves. Just as His Holiness was about to speak, everyone present was taken by surprise as a very small boy, perhaps two or three years old, confidently came forward and walked up to the platform to offer His Holiness his own greetings.


A small boy offers greetings to His Holiness the Dalai Lama at the start of His Holiness's talk to students in Gangtok, Sikkim, on March 26, 2013. Photo/Jeremy Russell/OHHDL
“Firstly, I would like to apologise for coming almost an hour late,” His Holiness began. “Because of the unsettled weather in Ravangla we decided to travel by road instead of helicopter, which takes longer. However, it gave me the opportunity to see the villages, the villagers, tea gardens and beautiful forests; the home of your lovely orchids. This is a very green area and you are all fortunate to live here.

“Dear young brothers and sisters, I am extremely happy to meet with you young people. Time is always moving on, nothing can stop it. The twentieth century has passed and with it much of my own generation. It was perhaps the most important century in history in terms of change and technological development, but it was also an era of immense violence. Some estimate that 200 million people died as a result of violence in the twentieth century. This is why it is important to take the opportunity to make the twenty-first century more peaceful.”

His Holiness pointed out that on a global level the human population is increasing, yet natural resources are declining. There is a huge gap between rich and poor, between North and South. Even when development is going ahead in some parts of the world, in others there is still starvation. He said we have to raise many people’s standard of living, so there is no question about the need for material development. Right now we have a chance to take a new direction; if we make an effort we can transform our past mistakes.

“Those of you here who are not yet 30 years old truly belong to the twenty-first century. The future is in your hands. Whether this century turns out to be happy or full of fear and destruction is up to you.”


His Holiness the Dalai Lama speaking to a gathering of 1000 students in Gangtok, Sikkim, on March 26, 2013. Photo/Jeremy Russell/OHHDL
His Holiness said that he considers himself to be just one among 7 billion human beings, who are social animals, dependent on the rest of the community. As human beings we have a marvellous intelligence, which we should use to close the gap between appearance and reality. The younger generation today are our hope for the future, while the older generation’s, his generation’s, responsibility now is to tell them about the mistakes they have made.

“As social animals a key factor to our living a happy life is friendship, trust and openness. We are all the same as members of the same human family. Trust is the basis of friendship and we’ll find this if, in addition to the knowledge we gain from ordinary education, we develop warm-heartedness. This gives rise to self-confidence and inner strength, which through trust and friendship leads to co-operation with others. If, on the other hand, we are self-centred and preoccupied with ourselves, there will be a lack of trust, which leads to fear and suspicion. Concern for others’ well being reduces fear and suspicion, while bringing the openness and transparency that gives rise to trust and friendship.

“Many well-known scientists are now beginning to acknowledge that warm-heartedness is good for our physical health because it brings inner peace. They have evidence that a healthy mind is a major factor in our maintaining a healthy body.”

His Holiness reiterated that he speaks to others just as another human being. He said the only difference between him and the students he was talking to was that they were young and he was 78. He said he has noticed that the moment he mentions that he is Tibetan, a Buddhist, the Dalai Lama, secondary distinctions, it creates distance from others and causes barriers to come up.

The Sikkimese and Tibetan peoples share common spiritual traditions and the Tibetan tradition derives from Nalanda where study and analysis were prized.


Members of the audience listening to His Holiness the Dalai Lama speaking in Gangtok, Sikkim, on March 26, 2013. Photo/Jeremy Russell/OHHDL
“Don’t think of Buddhism as only about prayers, playing drums and horns or hoisting prayer flags. These all have their place, but there is no record of any of the Nalanda masters being involved in such activities. They studied and applied what they learned in practice.”

A young woman asked whether negative karma can be changed and His Holiness replied that it was a good question, but wondered whether his ‘wild English’ was up to answering it. He said:

“Imagine one morning you lose your temper and say harsh words to someone and hurt their feelings. This creates bad karma. But if in the afternoon you meet that person again and you apologise and make friends again, that will neutralize the bad karma.”

Another student asked, “Many people see you as a god; are they right?”

When His Holiness simply replied, “Some say ‘living god,’ others say ‘demon’ - both are nonsense. I see myself as just another human being,” applause broke out throughout the hall.

Asked how we can overcome greed, His Holiness advised analysing the value of money. Ask yourself if it really brings happiness. Ask if those who live in luxury are really happier. He remembered having spoken before in Gangtok about how the value of material things is limited, while the value of mental development is limitless.

Finally, a student asked whether anger ever brings any benefit. His Holiness’s reply was that it depends what benefit is involved. If taking a harsh attitude or adopting a harsh approach involves securing others’ benefit or defending it, it may be justified. But, he said, this raises the need to explore and learn to deal with our emotions. He recommended that the questioner read Shantideva’s book ‘A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life’ - ‘Bodhicharyavatara,’ which is very good on this topic. He said he had first received an explanation of it in 1967, has read it many times and has taught it maybe 30-40 times since then. He commended chapters 6 & 8 as containing particularly effective advice, saying that the book is readily available in Tibetan and English translations. He said:

“It’s not expensive; get it and read it.”
 

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