New York, NY, USA, 3 November 2014 - His Holiness the Dalai Lama arrived in New York’s Beacon Theater early to fulfil the invitation of Tibet House US and the Tibetan Buddhist Learning Center to teach from Je Tsongkhapa’s ‘Essence of True Eloquence’. Prof Robert Thurman dispensed with introducing His Holiness formally to the audience on the grounds that there was a written introduction in the brochure for the event. He also wanted to make as much time as possible available for His Holiness to speak.
“Thurman first came to Dharamsala in 1964,” His Holiness told the capacity crowd of almost 3000. “He was dressed as a monk and had only one eye like Nagarjuna’s disciple Aryadeva. We’ve been close friends since then. He became a professor and has dedicated his academic career to elucidating Je Tsongkhapa’s teachings and aspects of the Gelugpa tradition. I often think we should look more at what unites us, like our common Nalanda University heritage rather than our diversity of meditational deity lineages and practices. The Sakya, Kagyu, Gelug, Nyingma, Jonang and Bonpo traditions all study the great classic Indian Buddhist texts. Je Tsongkhapa wrote about the great Indian texts and Thurman has taken special interest in that body of work. I’d like to acknowledge that here and thank him.”
Following a brisk recitation of the Heart Sutra in Tibetan, His Holiness, seated in a comfortable armchair, surrounded by monastics resumed his address:
“Firstly, my greetings to these good scholars, Abbots, former Abbots and Geshes. I wonder if you have come to my lecture to check up on me. I appreciate that nearly all of you on the basis of 30 years serious study have dedicated your lives to the Buddhadharma. As masters of monastic discipline you’ve observed ethics, with regard to shamatha or concentration, we might say that you haven’t had time to develop it. But with respect to the third of the three higher trainings, you great scholars not only have wisdom, but have also related it to your own experience. To have this opportunity to teach from this important text in your presence is a privilege.
“All the Buddha’s activities are inspired by great compassion. We say he developed an aspiration to enlightenment, collected merit and wisdom for three countless aeons and finally attained full enlightenment. Thus, he became a valid teacher, someone who could really benefit others. As well as aspiring to benefit others through compassion, the main aim for Buddhists is to dispel all wrong views.”
|A view of the stage at the Beacon Theater during His Holiness the Dalai Lama's teachings in New York, NY, USA on November 3, 2014. Photo/Jeremy Russell/OHHDL|
His Holiness explained that it is through his peerless teachings, expressed in speech, that the Buddha liberates sentient beings. He also mentioned that all religious traditions stress non-harm and doing good, which is the method aspect of the path and, the source of good future rebirth. The source of the other goal, liberation and enlightenment or definite goodness is correct view. The ‘Essence of True Eloquence’ deals with two aspects of the view, that of the Chittamatra or Mind Only School and that of the Madhyamaka or Middle Way School.
In his ‘Praise of Relativity’, Tsongkhapa suggests that to begin with, as he delved into the writings of Indian masters, he became more confused. He is said to have received a vision of Manjushri and described his understanding of the view asking whether this or that understanding was correct and Manjushri answered, “Neither”. He asked him to clarify.
His Holiness recalled a great master who lived into the 1950s who remarked that if those who aspire to enhance their wisdom were to spend a month reciting Manjushri’s mantra or studying ‘Collected Topics’, the latter would be of more benefit. He was a Gelugpa master, who also took an interest in Dzogchen. His Holiness remembered another Nyingma master, who took an interest in Je Tsongkhapa’s writings. He said these are the sort of non-sectarian masters who can really contribute to the Dharma.
|His Holiness the Dalai Lama speaking during his teaching at the Beacon Theater in New York, NY, USA on November 3, 2014. Photo/Sonam Zoksang|
His Holiness stated that he had received the transmission of ‘Essence of True Eloquence’ from Ling Rinpoche on the basis of a commentary by the 2nd Dalai Lama, who, like the First, was a truly great master. The Second was known as a non-sectarian with a yellow hat. His Holiness clarified that he was not going to be able read the entire text and asked who had made the textual selections in the brochure, remarking that he would depend on his own selections and follow his own way.
The early verses include a salutation to the Buddha, homage to Manjushri, and to the pioneers Nagarjuna and Asanga. That done, Tsongkhapa makes a pledge to compose the text. He quotes Dharmakirti as saying, “If it’s opaque to you, how can you explain it to others?”
Prompted by the Buddha’s remark:
The way is empty, peaceful, and uncreated.
Not knowing that, the living beings wander.
Moved by compassion, he introduces them
With hundreds of reasons and technical procedures,
His Holiness recalled the verse in the Three Principal Aspects of the Path:
Swept by the current of the four powerful rivers,
Tied by strong bonds of actions, so hard to undo,
Caught in the iron net of self-centredness,
Completely enveloped by the darkness of ignorance,
Born and reborn in boundless cyclic existence,
Ceaselessly tormented by the three miseries
All beings, your mothers, are in this condition.
Think of them and generate the mind of enlightenment.
He said we all grasp at a self, and only by employing our intelligence can we attain liberation and enlightenment. We have to understand and realize emptiness. “Although,” he joked, “some might find it easier to remain in cyclic existence, thinking that it’s not too bad and that they are enjoying it; especially American samsara.
If, on the other hand, you aspire for liberation, there is no choice but to discard the view of intrinsic existence.”
His Holiness highlighted the distinction between destructive emotions like anger that requires a specific target and constructive emotions, like compassion, that can be directed to a general target. As an example, he suggested that as each of us desires happiness, there are grounds for generating compassion for all beings. He remarked that the most effective antidote to destructive emotions is an understanding of emptiness. The text says:
“the discriminating should exert themselves in the techniques for realizing Thatness. This depends on the discrimination between the interpretable meaning and the definitive meaning of the teachings of the Conqueror.”
|His Holiness the Dalai Lama speaking at the Tibet House Art and Freedom Award luncheon in New York, NY, USA on November 3, 2014. Photo/Jeremy Russell/OHHDL|
Continuing to read the text after attending the Tibet House Art of Freedom Award luncheon, to illustrate the power of disturbing emotions such as attachment His Holiness asked his listeners to imagine being attracted to a particular object in a shop. “If somebody were to drop and break it you might not mind, but it you’ve already bought it, you might even cry out in distress.” Understanding emptiness is the most effective way of loosening the grip of disturbing emotions.
His Holiness touched on the Mind Only School’s dependence on the ‘Unravelling of Thought Sutra’ as a prime source. In it the Buddha says:
“I teach the intrinsic unreality of all things intending the following three types of such unreality: identity-unreality, production-unreality and ultimate-unreality. “
The Middle Way Consequentialist School (Prasangika Madhyamaka), the position that Tsongkhapa expounds, explains that there are two types of sutras according to whether or not they discriminate between existence and non-existence of intrinsic reality. The discriminating sutras are definitive in meaning, as they cannot be interpreted otherwise, and the non-discriminating are interpretable in meaning, since they must be interpreted otherwise.
His Holiness drew attention to the fact that Asanga was said to have been a 3rd ground bodhisattva, someone who had directly experienced emptiness. He speculated that he had chosen to expound the Mind Only School in order to help his brother Vasubandhu, who was initially disdainful of the Mahayana, but later converted to it.
His Holiness touched on the tradition of ‘other-emptiness’ expounded by the Jonangpas. He mentioned several views of emptiness that some regard as contradictory to each other, but quoted Khunu Lama Rinpoche’s comment that for someone with a profound understanding and the experience of a yogi these different views converge on the same point.
“That’s all,” he said, “good night.”