Thekchen Choeling, Dharamsala, 25th September 2012 - As soon as His Holiness the Dalai Lama had taken his seat this morning, representatives of the group from Vietnam presented him with a flowering tree that is traditionally grown in pagoda gardens in Vietnam. He thanked them and began his talk,
“ Yesterday, my main theme was secular ethics and today I'd like to talk a little about Buddhadharma. Usually when I talk about Buddhism I like to explain something about other world religions so people can appreciate the unique features of the Buddha's teachings. Great scholars of the ancient Indian University of Nalanda like Nagarjuna, Aryadeva, Bhavaviveka and later Shantarakshita and Kamalashila, who came to Tibet, would compare Buddhist philosophical views with non-Buddhist views for clarity. In India, Buddhist views didn't go unchallenged and the way scholars defended Buddhism are invaluable to us today.”
His Holiness compared the philosophical disputes of the past to the role of science today. He recalled an American friend many years ago warning him to be careful about cultivating an interest in science, because she felt that science was a threat to religion. But he thought, “No, science is about knowledge and, although the fields in which they operate are different, science and Buddhism
“Of course, there are other challenges. My approach is also firmly non-sectarian, but the Shugden group are very sectarian and accuse me of selling out the Gelug tradition to please the Nyingmapas. One of the reasons I encourage the study of texts by Nalanda masters is that they are common to all our traditions. Whereas with the study of texts by Tibetan masters there is a greater risk of developing a sectarian bias.”
His Holiness drew a distinction between spiritual traditions with no philosophical background, that worship the sun and moon, fire and local spirits and traditions with a philosophical background. These can be further divided into those that believe in a creator god and those who don't. Spiritual traditions that have a philosophical background and believe in a creator go d include Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Zoroastrianism, Sikhism and Daoism, while non-theistic traditions include one branch of the Samkhyas, Jainism and Buddhism. The different people of the world, living in different places and conditions, have different dispositions, so it is completely appropriate that there should be different spiritual traditions. For some people belief in God is wonderful, and by totally submitting to him they reduce self-centred arrogance. Buddhists tackle self-centredness by denying the existence of an intrinsically existent self and by cultivating a compassionate concern for other beings.
His Holiness pointed out that among the Buddha's teachings we find he too presented different philosophical views on different occasions. This is because the Buddha recognised different dispositions among his own disciples and taught them accordingly. His Holiness refers to the two major traditions of Buddhism that emerged in India as the Pali and Sanskrit traditions, because of the language in which their scriptures were written.
“The Pali tradition contains the basis of Buddhism and its structure, while the Sanskrit tradition reveals further clarification, enabling the mind to achieve a greater capacity. The nature of the mind is knowing, but just as you cannot see when your eyes are obstructed, so long as the mind is clouded by ignorance, its ability is obstructed. Once ignorance, the negative emotions associated with it and their imprints are removed the mind becomes all knowing.
“ As recorded in the Pali tradition, the Buddha was born into a royal family, but gave up worldly life, strictly engaging in fasting and other austerities for six years. Then he meditated and removed the ignorance and negative emotions that obstructed his mind, revealing the all-knowing quality of enlightenment.”
Referring to the three higher trainings of ethics, concentration and wisdom that are the basis for all Buddhist practice, His Holiness remarked that the Vinaya or monastic discipline are essentially the same in both the Pali and Sanskrit traditions. He talked about meeting a couple of Burmese monks at the World Parliament of Religions in Australia, who agreed that he and they followed the same Buddha, but suggested that there were other differences between them. When His Holiness told them that Tibetans also follow Vinaya according to the Mulasarvastivada tradition, they were surprised and pleased. Reiterating that the three higher trainings are the same in both the Pali and Sanskrit traditions, he clarified that the practice of wisdom in the Sanskrit tradition involves the use of reasoning. Explaining what cessation, the third of the four noble truths, means is what is found in the Perfection of Wisdom Sutras of the Sanskrit tradition. These scriptures thoroughly explain the emptiness of the mind, the nature of cessation and how to achieve it.
The discipline of personal emancipation is fundamental to the Pali tradition. It is also the basis of the Sanskrit tradition, which adds to it a concern for others' welfare expressed as the awakening mind of bodhichitta, the altruistic aspiration to enlightenment. In addition to this is the Tantric tradition and His Holiness's guests clarified that Tantra is also practised in Vietnam. His Holiness had earlier explained that there had been those who challenged whether the Mahayana, the teachings of the Sanskrit tradition, were the teachings of the Buddha and that great masters like Nagarjuna had defended them and established that they were. Historically questions have also been asked about whether the tantras were taught by the Buddha. Great Indian masters like Nagarjuna, Aryadeva and Chandrakirti wrote extensively on tantric topics and the great master Atisha, who came to Tibet in the eleventh century integrated tantra into his practice.
“Therefore,” His Holiness concluded, “ Tibetan Buddhism is the most complete form of Buddhism because it takes the Vinaya of the Pali tradition as the basis, adds to that the Perfection of Wisdom teachings and the Buddhist logic and reasoning of the Sanskrit tradition, as well as the practice of tantra.”
As a preliminary to the refuge ceremony he had agreed to conduct, His Holiness explained,
“The basic structure of the Buddhadharma is the four noble truths. According to the law of causality, positive karma gives rise to happiness and negative karma produces suffering. The 12 links of
“We take refuge in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha because they help us purify our minds' defilements. Taking refuge in these three jewels is the entrance to Buddhism. When we do this, along with the awakening mind of bodhichitta, we don't just seek our own liberation, but the liberation of other sentient beings too. And in order to be of the greatest help to them we need an omniscient mind.”
He then led the group through a simple ceremony of taking refuge and aspiring to achieve enlightenment. At the end he said he includes these prayers every day in his own practice and finds them very helpful, confiding that he only began to take a real interest in practice at the age of 14 or 15. He advised that while there are physical aspects of practice and there are words we say, the most important thing is to practise on the mental level.
“Recite these two verses – of refuge and bodhichitta – daily and think about what they mean. If you can, help others, and if you can't at least don't harm them. And when you feel you are about to get angry, bite your knuckles!”
At the conclusion of his talk His Holiness stated that he considers that in this life he has three commitments: the first is to promote human values by talking about secular ethics, the second is to promote inter-religious understanding and harmony, and the third, since he has devolved his political responsibilities for Tibet to an elected leadership, is to encourage followers of the Buddha to become 21st century Buddhists. He said he hopes his friends will feel naturally inclined to follow these three too.