Manali, Himachal Pradesh, India - Before leaving for the teaching ground this morning, His Holiness gave an interview to Hakka Television from Taiwan. Among a range of topics touched on, the interviewer wanted to know if His Holiness is the most optimistic of the Dalai Lamas and how he is able to keep smiling.
“I’m a human being,” His Holiness replied, “and we human beings are social animals. The 7 billion of us alive today are emotionally, mentally and physically the same. We all have a right to live a happy life. The ability to smile is something only human beings can do—it comes naturally. However, I also remember that the 8th century Indian Buddhist master Shantideva advised that if you are a practitioner of bodhichitta, you should smile at everyone you meet.”
Asked if everyone can achieve peace of mind, His Holiness noted that whereas in the past education had largely been in the hands of religious institutions that instilled inner values in their students, modern education has materialistic goals and fosters a materialistic way of life. It does not equip students to tackle their emotional problems. He suggested that just as children are taught from kindergarten onwards about physical hygiene, they could also be taught how to tackle their emotions—a kind of emotional hygiene. That would make their education more complete.
Conceding that in a choice between faith and scientific findings he would be more inclined to accept what science said, His Holiness pointed out that the approach of the Nalanda Tradition based on reason and investigation is scientific. He added that destructive emotions are rooted in accepting appearances as real and that to reduce them it’s useful to understand reality.
Asked what is special about Tibetan culture, His Holiness responded:
“Tibetans are spread over a large expanse of land and yet all of them employ classical written Tibetan language, which was created at the behest of King Songtsen Gampo in the 7th century. It was modelled on the Indian Devanagari script. In the 8th century, Shantarakshita advised Tibetans that since they had their own language they should translated Indian Buddhist literature into that. Consequently, this language is used in Mongolia and throughout the Himalayan region too.
“Although the original Nalanda University is now in ruins, the knowledge that Shantarakshita brought with him has been kept alive in Tibet. Chinese Buddhists are aware of the Nalanda Tradition because the pilgrim Xuanzang studied there too, but they did not adopt Nalanda’s logical and epistemological approach. In the future, Chinese can give Tibetans support with their physical development and we can help them spiritually. Meanwhile, I am committed to trying to revive interest in ancient Indian knowledge of the workings of the mind and emotions here in India with a view to combining it with modern education. The more people learn to tackle their afflictive emotions, the more individuals will achieve peace of mind, and the more individuals achieve inner peace, the greater are the prospects for peace in the world.”
Very heavy rain overnight had left the teaching ground waterlogged, but by the time His Holiness arrived the worst of the water had been dispersed and the rain had let up. To begin the session, monks led a recitation of the first chapter of Chandrakirti’s ‘Entering into the Middle Way’.
“Does everyone have a book?” His Holiness asked. “Then, today, we’ll go through the ‘Commentary on the Awakening Mind’ by Nagarjuna, the second Buddha, whose writings reveal his great qualities. In addition to his philosophical treatises, he also wrote about tantra, Guhyasamaja Tantra in particular, as did his followers Chandrakirti and Aryadeva. There is a story that Nagarjuna retrieved the Perfection of Wisdom teachings from the Nagas, but I wonder if that isn’t just a legend.
“This text, ‘Commentary on the Awakening Mind’ emphasizes the importance of ultimate bodhichitta, a direct understanding of emptiness, but also the need for it to be combined with the conventional awakening mind, the wish to become a Buddha for the sake of all sentient beings. This wish is preceded by the development of great compassion. Chandrakirti praised great compassion in the beginning, middle and end of the path. He describes it as the seed, the moisture that allows it to grow and the final harvest.
“Sentient beings are bound by ignorance, because afflictive emotions are rooted in distorted views. At the end of his ‘Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way’, Nagarjuna praises the Buddha saying:
“I prostrate to Gautama
Who, through compassion,
Taught the exalted Dharma,
Which leads to the relinquishing of all distorted views.
“At the beginning of the same text he pays homage to the Buddha for teaching that
"Whatever is dependently arisen is
Unannihilated, not permanent,
Not coming, not going,
Without distinction, without identity,
And peaceful-free from conceptual fabrication,
"In so doing he countered the eight extreme views.”
His Holiness opened the book that had been distributed and began reading the ‘Praise to the 17 Masters of Nalanda’ with which it began.
“The verses of praise begin with the Buddha, who because of his unique philosophical position is called unparalleled in speech. Next is Nagarjuna, who explained the perfection of wisdom teachings, elucidated dependent arising and was the trail blazer of the Middle Way School. Aryadeva was his disciple, as was Buddhapalita who clarified the Consequentialist or Prasangika view. After him comes Bhavaviveka, another student of Nagarjuna, who asserted that things have some objective existence within conventional truth.
“Chandrakirti’s innovation was that describing things as based on conditionality avoids the two extremes of nihilism and eternalism. It is the basis for understanding appearance and reality. He also explained the entire teaching of sutra and tantra.
“After Chandrakirti comes Shantideva. Although Nagarjuna and Aryadeva dealt with the awakening mind of bodhichitta, the most profound and extensive rendition of it is found in Shantideva’s ‘Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life’. There is no other text to rival it.
“In my childhood,” His Holiness remarked, “I had some interest in bodhichitta, but I felt it would be very difficult to achieve. I admitted as much to my tutor Tagdrag Rinpoché. He advised me not to feel discouraged and confided in me that he had some experience of bodhichitta. In exile I received an explanation of the ‘Guide’ as a result of which, if I make an effort, I feel some closeness to bodhichitta.
“I composed this Praise to the 17 Masters’ because although there was already a praise to eight Indian masters, I realised there were still others whose writings we rely on, who were not included.
“Next is Shantarakshita to whom we are grateful for establishing the tradition of study based on reason and logic in Tibet. He’s followed by his student Kamalashila, who wrote the ‘Stages of Meditation’.
“Asanga was founder of the Mind Only School. Vasubandhu, his younger brother, was a master of Higher Knowledge (Abhidharma). His student, Dignaga was a master of logic, followed by another logician and epistemologist, Dharmakirti. Although Vimuktisena was Vasubandhu’s disciple, he explained the perfection of wisdom from a Middle Way point of view.
“Haribadra too was a celebrated commentator on the perfection of wisdom. Many students memorize his treatise, ‘Clear Meaning’. I remember a group of nuns from Kopan in Nepal who had memorized it and I told them they had surpassed me by doing so.
“Gunaprabha and Shakyaprabha were both masters of monastic discipline. Finally, Atisha was the kind lord who caused the Conqueror's teaching to flourish in the Land of Snows.
“The praise concludes, ‘May I be blessed that I may mature my mindstream and achieve liberation. May I be blessed to establish the root of the path to liberation, May I be blessed to perfect an uncontrived awakening mind of bodhichitta, and May I develop a quick and easy conviction about all the paths of the Perfection of Wisdom and the Vajrayana.’ In the colophon I stressed that we should examine the reasons for the Buddha’s teaching with an unbiased and inquisitive mind, analysing it closely. I composed this praise at the request, among others, of Trulshik Rinpoché.
“Don’t be satisfied with rituals and prayers. Try to understand what the Buddha taught on the basis of the Two Truths and the Four Noble Truths. If you follow the Nalanda Tradition and rely on reason and logic, the Buddha’s teachings may last long into the future.”
His Holiness began to read the ‘Commentary on the Awakening Mind’ verse by verse. He remarked that we have a notion that things exist from their own side, but when we investigate and try to find what appears to us, we cannot pinpoint it. So, nothing exists objectively; it only exists by way of convention or designation. Even a moment of mind cannot be pinpointed.
Discussion of the ultimate awakening mind finished at verse 72 and from verse 73 began an explanation of the awakening mind of bodhichitta, the aspiration for enlightenment. The Tibetan word for enlightenment is in two parts—chang-chub. The first refers to purifying the mind of defilements by applying antidotes; the second indicates that once all the defilements have been overcome the nature of the mind as clarity and awareness becomes manifest. You are able to see everything as it is.
A commentary to ‘Ornament for Clear Realization’ mentions bodhisattvas observing sentient beings with compassion, a compassion that wishes to rid them all not just of the suffering of suffering or the suffering of change, but of pervasive suffering. This is explained in terms of the 12 links of dependent arising. Once the first link, ignorance, is overcome, the other 11 links cease. This depends on an understanding of emptiness.
In contrasting altruism and selfishness, His Holiness cited lines from Panchen Lobsang Chögyan’s ‘Offering to the Spiritual Master’:
This chronic disease of self-centredness
Is the cause of unwanted suffering...
Caring for my mothers and seeking to secure them in bliss
Is the gateway to infinite virtue.
Cultivating bodhichitta is to dedicate yourself solely to serving sentient beings.
When he completed his reading of the text, His Holiness announced that there would be a break in the teachings tomorrow and the following day. On Saturday, 17th August he will read the ‘Eight Verses for Training the Mind’ and ‘The 37 Practices of Bodhisattvas’, in addition to giving an Avalokiteshvara empowerment.