New Delhi, India, November 30, 2011
[Delivered to an audience that included senior members of the monastic communities from all the Asian Buddhist countries]
Transcribed by Diana Yles, slightly edited by Luke Roberts and Alexander Berzin
Respected elder Buddhist brothers and sisters, and all others gathered here:
As a Buddhist monk, this is indeed a very moving, very happy moment. As usual, the person who speaks last has nothing to say. All the good points have already been mentioned.
The Importance of Emphasizing the Equality of Everyone as Part of Humanity
My concern or feeling is that of course I’m a Buddhist; but on a further, deeper level, I’m a human being, one of the now nearly seven billion human beings. I’m one of them. Humanity is a social animal, so each individual’s future entirely depends on the rest of humanity. So for my own self-interest, I have to think seriously about humanity.
On the fundamental level, on the human level, according to my own experience, I know there are about seven billion human beings. Each one wants a happy life, none of them wants suffering; and each one has every right to achieve that. There’s no difference. Whatever religious faith we may be, or as a nonbeliever, or whatever social background we may come from—rich or poor, educated or uneducated, from a royal family or a beggar—we’re the same human being on that level. We are the same. We all have the same right.
I think, with many problems that we, humanity as a whole, are facing, we place too much emphasis on the secondary level, the secondary level differences. If we think on a fundamental level that we are all the same human brothers and sisters, then there’s no basis to quarrel, no basis to cheat each other, or to look down on each other. We are the same. So we really need to clearly realize that we are the same.
A future happier humanity is everybody’s interest, everybody’s responsibility. But we Buddhists—I think maybe nearly a thousand million Buddhists—we also have a responsibility to serve humanity. I think Buddha Shakyamuni’s motivation for gaining enlightenment was meant for all sentient beings. His whole life and his whole teaching were meant for sentient beings, not only for Buddhists.
Looking Back on the Twentieth Century
Look back at the twentieth century. I think the twentieth century has become a very, very important century in the whole of human history. We invented many, many positive things. And at the same time, the twentieth century has become a century of bloodshed, a century of violence. Even in the name of different religious faiths, there was violence and division. So the twentieth century really has become a century of bloodshed, a century of violence. According to some historians, over two hundred million human beings were killed. If such immense suffering really brought about some good things on this planet, brought a more peaceful, happier world, then such an amount of suffering could be justified. But that’s not the case. Even at the beginning of this twenty-first century, there are still some unhealthy things, unhappy things, here and there. These are, I think, the result or symptom of past mistakes, past negligence.
And then also concerning technology, there were immense advances, but that technology also sometimes added to the power of destruction. Science and technology themselves are wonderful; but in order to use them constructively, it ultimately depends on this, our hearts. It depends on the heart of the user of the technology, the user of the science and of the knowledge of science. If you expect a better world to come about from money, to come about from science, to come about from technology, that’s wrong. If you really want a better world, a happier world, it ultimately depends on this, our hearts. Intelligence and education are also not very certain to bring about a better world. All these troublemakers we’ve had —I think, as far as their brains are concerned, these people were very smart. So it’s their motivation here in their hearts—anger, fear, hatred, suspicion – they’re the cause of these problems.
The Necessity for Inner Peace on an Individual Level
So firstly, in order to make this twenty-first century become a peaceful century, we have to think about inner peace. Peace is never achieved through declarations, through resolutions, through slogans. Peace must come through inner peace. That’s the only way. So in order to create a happier world, ultimately you have to look at this, the motivation of each individual. Through a world body like the United Nations, you cannot build peace. Peace must come through people’s inner peace, on the individual level.
Avoiding Religious Hypocrisy
Combined individuals—that’s society; that’s community. But leaders seem to come into society without much concern about moral principles, moral ethics. Society is only concerned about money, power. Then people from that kind of society automatically just think of the importance of money and power. We can’t blame these people. Our whole society is thinking this way.
I think many religious people are just paying lip service, saying “God” or “Buddha,” but in their actual daily lives, they don’t care. We Buddhists pray to Buddha, but in our actual daily lives, we don’t care about Buddha—just money, power, fame. What’s that? I think we religious people are also sometimes learning hypocrisy. We pray for all sentient beings, but real action? We’re not bothered about issues of others’ rights. We just exploit. I think many other religious followers also pray, they pray to God—“I believe in God, our creator”—but we creation don’t listen to the creator’s voice, the creator’s guidance.
I often tell my Indian friends that Indian people are comparatively more religious people. They pray to Shiva, Ganesh—I think to Ganesh mainly for wealth. So they’re really used to worship, prayer. I think every home has some god statues there. But in their actual lives there’s a lot of corruption. How? No god, no Buddha, said corruption is okay. We should be honest and just. No great teacher said, “Oh, you should exploit as much as you can. I will bless you.” No god said that.
So therefore if we accept a higher being like Buddha or Jesus Christ or Mohammed or others, then we should be honest people, truthful. Through that way you yourself also gain more self-confidence: “I have nothing to hide; I can tell anyone what I think and answer anything honestly.” Then you get trust from others. So from your own selfish viewpoint, being honest and truthful is a very important source of inner strength, self-confidence. Yes, there are people who speak very nicely and smile, but when you look at their motivation, it’s something different. How can you develop trust or respect for them?
Being Sincere in the Practice of Buddhism
I’m Buddhist, and I want to say to my Buddhist brothers and sisters that Buddha’s teaching of course is more than two thousand five hundred years old; but still Buddha’s teaching is very much relevant in today’s world. A number of top scientists are now really eager to get more information and more methods to tackle destructive emotions. The teachings are wonderful, but I really feel now there are signs that there are lamas [spiritual masters] or tulkus [reincarnate lamas] or teachers whose quality has degenerated. This I really feel some concern about. If you yourself don’t have a disciplined life, how can you teach that to other people? In order to show others the right path, you yourself must follow the right path.
Now I think all the positive things have already been stated, so now the only thing left is for me to say more negative things. We must be very, very serious. I myself am a Buddhist monk. I always watch myself. Every morning, as soon as I wake up, I remember Buddha and recite some of Buddha’s teaching, sort of shaping my mind. Then the rest of my day I should spend according to those principles: being honest, truthful, compassionate, peaceful, nonviolent. So I hope, my Buddhist brothers and sisters here, when you talk about “Buddhadharma [the teachings of the Buddha], Buddhadharma” and promote Buddhadharma, propagate Buddhadharma, first you yourself propagate here in your hearts. So that’s something very, very important, one thing—Buddhadharma.
Of course all the other major world religious traditions have the same potential to build inner peace and, through that way, to create a better world. But then one unique thing about Buddhism, Jainism, and part of the Samkhya tradition is the emphasis on the importance of individuals. The ultimate theory or view is that of self-creation. And we believe in the law of causality: If you carry out right actions, positive results come. If you carry out wrong actions, negative things happen. So because of the law of causality, if you do wrong actions, Buddha cannot save you. Buddha taught: “I’ll show you the path to go to nirvana [freedom from all suffering], but whether you can achieve that or not is entirely up to you. I cannot lead you through blessings.” Buddha never said that.
So you are your own master. That way of teaching I think is very, very helpful. Everything depends on one’s own actions. Actions, whether positive actions or negative actions, entirely depend on motivation. So Buddhadharma can make, I think, a significant contribution for inner peace like that.
Harmony among the Different Buddhist Traditions
Now, as I mentioned yesterday when we met the leaders from Burma and Laos and some others, in the past, because of the names so-called “Hinayana,” “Mahayana” and “Tantrayana,” people got the impression these three yanas [vehicles] are something really different and separate. That’s totally mistaken. As I mentioned briefly this morning, the Theravada tradition, or Pali tradition, is the foundation of Buddhadharma; and the practice of vinaya [monastic vows and discipline] is the foundation of Buddhadharma.
Look at Buddha himself, his own story. He cut his own hair and then became a monk. That’s the practice of sila [ethical self-discipline]. Then he did six years of meditation. That’s the practice of samadhi [absorbed concentration], and also the practice of vipassana [an exceptionally perceptive mind]. Through that way, finally he reached enlightenment. So the three trainings are sila, samadhi, pannya [discriminating awareness, wisdom] or vipassana. So we, his followers, must follow that way. Without the practice of self-discipline, without the practice of vinaya, how can we develop samatha [a stilled and settled mind] and vipassana? Difficult. So the Pali tradition is the foundation of Buddhadharma.
On top of that, comes the practice, I think, of the Prajnaparamita Sutras [The Perfection of Wisdom Sutras], from the Sanskrit tradition, with their emphasis on nirodha [the true stopping of suffering and its causes, true cessation], the third noble truth. So this further explanation is important. What is nirodha? Buddha explained the possibility of eliminating our ignorance. Once we completely eliminate ignorance from our minds, that’s nirodha, or moksha [liberation]. So that’s a further explanation. And then also magga [the path or understandings for achieving that true stopping, the fourth noble truth] is a further explanation.
So, on the basis of the Pali tradition, then comes the Sanskrit tradition, like the first floor. In other words, first comes the ground floor; that’s the Pali tradition—bhikshu [monk] practice, self-discipline, sila. Then comes the first floor, the Prajnaparamita Sutras and also abhidharma [special topics of knowledge], a kind of abhidharma—the teachings about wisdom, the six paramitas [far-reaching attitudes, perfections] or ten paramitas. Then on top of that, the Buddhist Tantrayana—visualization of deities based on practice of vipassana, samatha, and bodhichitta [a mind aimed at attaining enlightenment for the benefit of all]. So these are the ground floor, first floor, and second floor, like that. Without a ground floor, you cannot build the others. So I think the Buddhist brothers and sisters here should know that.
Of course I have no authority. I consider myself a student. Whenever I have time, I always study and read, read, read. As far as Tibetan Buddhism is concerned, about three hundred volumes were translated into Tibetan from Indian languages—Pali, Sanskrit, and some Nepalese. So whenever I have time, I read, think, and study these three hundred volumes. Certainly my knowledge is a little better compared to those people who have never even touched these three hundred volumes. [Based on that knowledge,] as I study these books, I develop the full conviction that the practice of these three trainings is very, very essential.
Becoming Proper Monks
So firstly we Buddhists, whether Theravada or Mahayana or Tantrayana—we must be genuine followers of Buddha. That’s very important. Clear? In order to become Buddha’s followers, we cannot just put on some monk’s robe, some bhikshu’s robe. We cannot call such people Buddhist monks. We cannot say these are good monks or good bhikshus. Just changing dress is very easy. We need to change here, in our hearts and minds, in order to become a genuine follower of the Buddha. In order to become a Buddhist monk, you must seriously practice self-discipline. Sometimes it looks like: “Oh, let Buddha do all the hard work. We can have a luxurious life.” How? How can you? If you’re a Buddhist, you must follow Buddha’s own way—six years of very hard practice. We must follow his example.
Now, as I mentioned yesterday, a friend spoke about there being some kind of gap or wall between the Pali tradition and the Sanskrit tradition. This wall is to nobody’s benefit. We must come together and exchange. There are a lot of things for us to learn from your traditions, from your pratimokshas [monastic vows]. You also can learn some of our Sanskrit pratimoksha. So more regular sort of meetings—not just in a ceremonial way, but serious meetings, serious discussions—are very, very essential. This is one thing.
The Issue of Reviving the Full Nuns’ Ordination
Then concerning bhikshunis [fully ordained nuns], as you know, right from the beginning I’ve supported the revival of bhikshunis in the Mulasarvastivadin tradition [that we Tibetans and Mongolians follow]. But we have to follow the vinaya texts. If I had some kind of special right to act like a dictator, then I could say, “Oh, you must do that.” That we cannot do. We must follow according to the vinaya texts—the Mulasarvastivadin texts and also the Dharmagupta texts [followed in East Asia] and the Theravada texts [followed in Southeast Asia].
You see, this is one important subject we have to discuss very seriously. This decision is beyond my control. What I can decide is to introduce into all the nunneries in the Tibetan community the same level of study that these big monastic institutions can study. And now we already have some nuns becoming geshema [doctors of Buddhist philosophy], good scholars.
From time to time we’ve discussed the bhikshuni issue and now on this occasion we are doing that as well. I showed the latest letter of appeal to the Laotian Buddhist leader and also to the Burmese Buddhist leader. We will carry on our serious discussion, and I am quite sure eventually we will reach some agreement.
I think that’s all. Thank you.
[Video of the address can be viewed here.]