Thekchen Chöling, Dharamsala, India - A group of 25 students, their teachers and Principal, who are taking part in a new six-month course in Ancient Indian Wisdom at the Government College, Dharamsala, came to meet His Holiness the Dalai Lama this morning. They were joined by more than 100 students from several universities in North India, who included 18 Tibetans, 78 Bhutanese, 10 Ladakhis, two Arunachalis and four Africans.
When His Holiness entered the room, he was welcomed with a resounding, “Tashi Delek”.
“Firstly, I want to greet all of you,” he told the students who were seated before him on the floor. “I always feel that the entire 7 billion human beings on this planet are the same, mentally, physically and emotionally. Today’s reality is that in whatever part of the world we live, we are all part of one community. Scientists have evidence that because we are social animals, human nature is basically compassionate. This is a reflection of how we depend on our community to survive.
“Essentially, we need a sense of the oneness of all humanity, but right now there is too much division—we even see conflict and division in the name of religion.
“Many of the problems we face are of our own making, but because that is the case, we can also take steps to solve and reduce them. In this latter part of my life, I am trying to revive interest in ancient Indian thought, especially key values like ‘ahimsa’ (non-violence) and ‘karuna’ (compassion), because the world today needs such standards. Last century, Mahatma Gandhi showed how these principles could be implemented in daily life.
“Education today needs to be extended to include such principles. What’s more, since we are missing something if we are physically fit, but full of anger and anxiety, we need to learn about emotional hygiene, tackling destructive emotions to find peace of mind. Modern education has little insight into how to train the mind. However, in this country, the practices of ‘shamatha’ (concentration) and ‘vipashyana’ (insight into reality) have been pursued for several thousand years. The understanding of the workings of the mind and emotions that have been derived from them are a source of peace of mind and inner strength.
“Modern education enables us to make external development, which is necessary, but it needs to be combined with a better understanding of the mind. I am pleased to know that the Government College here in Dharamsala has recently launched its course looking into ancient Indian wisdom.”
In response to questions from the audience, His Holiness repeated that scientists have observed that human nature is compassionate and that as human beings we first experience care and affection at our mother’s hands. He noted that the quantum physics’ view that nothing exists as it appears corresponds to that of the Nalanda Tradition. Both the Mind Only and Middle Way Schools affirm that there is a difference between conventional appearance and deeper reality.
His Holiness looked at his hand, saying, “The palm, the fingers and parts of the fingers are all part of the hand, but where is the hand apart from them”. He also quoted the Indian philosopher Chandrakirti’s statement that when you analyse a chariot through the sevenfold reasoning and mentally take it apart, there is no chariot to be found. And yet we can still say that on a conventional level there is a chariot before us.
A young Ladakhi woman admitted knowing that emotions like jealousy and hatred are destructive and yet they arise spontaneously. She wanted to hear how to deal with this. His Holiness told her that our various emotions are part of our mind and part of our life. Jealousy that amounts to competitiveness can stimulate us to achieve more—then it’s good. When the result is that we try to harm others to beat them, it’s to be avoided.
His Holiness told a monk from Bhutan, who wanted to know why Buddhists seem to fight less than others, that the Three Trainings in ethics, concentration and wisdom were part of the Buddha’s first teaching. They are fundamental to all Buddhist traditions. He added that the second round of the Buddha’s teaching dealt with emptiness, while the third round explained the nature of the mind that understands it. He also mentioned the different levels of subtlety of consciousness, alluding to the most subtle awareness that manifests at the time of death.
A young Tibetan woman asked about the difference between freedom and indiscipline. His Holiness replied that we have to use our intelligence to judge what it is most beneficial for us to do in the long run. He added that in the 21st century, Buddhists should take the opportunity to develop an understanding of what the Buddha taught, rather than relying on blind faith alone.
Answering a question about vegetarianism, His Holiness clarified that since Buddhist monks traditionally had no personal kitchen and relied on what they were given on an alms round, they were not in a position to refuse or request certain food. In Tibet there was little choice, but in India the common kitchens of the great monasteries and some schools have been vegetarian for many years.
In seeking to balance preserving tradition and modern development, His Holiness suggested that the custom of recognising reincarnate lamas may have had its day. He remarked that no such custom existed in India. There is no reincarnation of the Buddha or Nagarjuna. He wondered what place this institution has in a democratic society.
A teacher from Government College, Dharamsala asked which is more effective in tackling our emotions, meditation or ritual. His Holiness replied by quoting a verse from Nagarjuna’s ‘Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way’:
Through the elimination of karma and afflictive emotions there is nirvana.
Karma and afflictive emotions come from conceptual thoughts.
These come from mental fabrication.
Fabrication ceases through emptiness.
In other words, since afflictive emotions derive from ignorance, they can be best eliminated by meditation on the deeper reality of emptiness of intrinsic existence.
The meeting ended with the students eagerly gathering around His Holiness in their various groups to have their photographs taken with him.