Thekchen Chöling, Dharamsala, India - Walking from his residence to the temple this morning, His Holiness the Dalai Lama was unrestrained in his efforts to engage with members of the public. In the temple yard people pressed against the railings in their eagerness to catch his eye. He clasped hands, exchanged words with a few, patted some children on the cheek and bumped foreheads affectionately with others. He responded similarly to people seated outside the temple as he made his round.
When the Chinese recitation of the ‘Heart Sutra’ was complete His Holiness asked the chant master to continue chanting the additional final verse with its moving tune while he completed preparatory procedures for the Mahamayuri permission he was to give later.
“First I’ll go through the first chapter of the ‘Precious Garland of Advice to the King’,” His Holiness announced. “Because the book teaches about emptiness it is sometimes referred to as ‘Establishing Conventions’. It explains the causes of high status or good rebirth, which is important because without it you wouldn’t have the intelligence to tell right from wrong. As human beings we have a marvellous brain, one of the reasons why human life is precious. Nevertheless, we still need to aim for definite goodness because although there are benefits to be had from high status, even a good rebirth is under the influence of karma and delusion, so is still subject to the sufferings of conditioned existence.
“It’s not enough to accumulate merit, we also need to purify our delusions. When the Buddha taught about true suffering, origin, cessation and path, he also taught that we need to clear away the faults in our minds. By coming to understand the nature of reality we can overcome afflictive emotions and afflictive intelligence.
“Forms appear to us as if they have a solid independent existence, but analysis reveals that they don’t exist in that way. To achieve definite goodness you need to understand the nature of reality. The more you delve into the correct view, the more compelling it becomes. Nothing that appears to us has any intrinsic existence and the final reality is that ultimately everything dissolves into suchness or emptiness, like a cloud dissolving into the emptiness of the sky. Under analysis the appearance of intrinsic existence disappears leaving nothing we can point at and say “This is it”. Abiding in meditation on emptiness is like resting in a state of great bliss.
“What brings us misfortune is our unruly, restless mind. Mental afflictions are rooted in ignorance, the misconception of reality. Put an end to that and you put an end to all afflictive emotions. As Aryadeva writes in his ‘400 Verses’:
As the tactile sense [pervades] the body
Confusion is present in all [afflictive emotions].
By overcoming confusion you will also
Overcome all afflictive emotions.
“To overcome confusion we need to understand dependent arising. Teaching about emptiness, Nagarjuna and his followers explained it in terms of dependent arising because dependent arising overcomes both extremes at once.
“It’s crucial to recognise the object to be negated. Chankya Rolpai Dorjé says, “People in our system talk about emptiness, but continue to cling to a kind of objective existence”. The Seventh Dalai Lama wrote that we see all kinds of things, like horses, in dreams that appear to exist, and yet they don’t exist as they appear. What appears as a solid, independent object out there, is the object to be negated.”
His Holiness summed up with a well-known verse from early in the text:
As long as the aggregates are conceived,
So long thereby does the conception of I exist.
Further, when the conception of I exists,
There is action, and from it there also is birth.
He mentioned that when it comes to emptiness there are coarse and subtle levels of understanding. A bodhisattva on the first ground understands emptiness directly, but is said to outshine the Superiors of the Hearer Vehicle only on the seventh ground.
Jumping to the end of the book, His Holiness noted the twenty verses from verse 466 that spell out the benefits of bodhichitta. He remarked that he recites them himself every day along with the ‘Eight Verses for Training the Mind’ after reciting the ‘Foundation of All Excellence’.
“I’ve given you the essence of this text,” he told the audience. “You have copies of the book, so you can read it yourself, but whether you transform yourselves within on the basis of what you read is in your hands. It’s like going to a market where there are so many things on sale—whether you actually buy any of them is up to you. The Buddha also said, “I’ve shown you the path, but liberation is in your hands”. Masters like Nagarjuna have written excellent explanatory treatises. Read them over and again, and think about what you read.
“I told Tagdag Rinpoché that I found the prospect of developing bodhichitta very difficult. He told me to persist and that eventually the experience would arise as he said it had for him. In exile I’ve been able to study, meditate and cultivate the practice and I think I could bring it to fruition if I were to spend time in an enclosed retreat. Gendun Drup, the first Dalai Lama, declared that if he’d remained in his hermitage, he might have gained higher realization. However, as the overall purpose was to serve others, he gave up that option and founded Tashi Lhunpo Monastery. I try to follow his example by teaching the importance of bodhichitta and understanding emptiness.
“Those of you here today have established a teacher-disciple relationship with me and I consider you to be my brothers and sisters in the Dharma. Serving the 7 billion human beings alive today is something practical we can all do.”
His Holiness outlined his four commitments, that as a human being he is committed to reminding people that social animals like us need a sense of compassion. We all want to be happy and being kind is beneficial to ourselves and others. He explained that he tries to encourage harmony and respect among religious traditions. They may take different philosophical points of view, but their intent is to develop love and compassion.
As a Tibetan with the name Dalai Lama, His Holiness observed, the great majority of Tibetans place their hope and trust in him. Although he has retired from any political involvement, he remains committed to drawing attention to the urgent need to protect Tibet’s fragile environment. He is also deeply concerned to preserve the Nalanda Tradition of education that Tibetans have kept alive since Shantarakshita introduced it in the eighth century.
Shantarakshita advocated the translation of Buddhist literature into Tibetan so Tibetans could study in their own language. In the process of translation, Tibetan was profoundly enriched. These days in Tibet, hard-line Chinese officials associate the Tibetan language with the Tibetan identity and try to suppress it. Here in exile, with the help and support of the Government of India Tibetans have set up schools and re-established monasteries as centres of learning, which have a key role in keeping it alive.
The Tibetan spirit remains strong and Tibetans continue to be dedicated to non-violence. More than 160 people who could have harmed others, have instead sacrificed themselves in acts of self-immolation. His Holiness added that since 1974 he has proposed adopting a Middle Way Approach to relations with the PRC.
His Holiness mentioned that he is in addition committed to trying to revive appreciation of ancient Indian knowledge, including a thorough understanding of the workings of the mind and emotions, here in India. He suggests that India is the only country that could combine insights from ancient India with modern education. He pointed out what an effective example Mahatma Gandhi set in the 20th century with his determined reliance on non-violence. Nelson Mandela, Bishop Desmond Tutu and Martin Luther King took this example to heart. Perhaps compassion can be as effective in this 21st century.
Finally, His Holiness gave the permission of Mahamayuri, one of a group of five female deities known as 'Five Protectors' or Pancha Raksha, which is popular in China and Japan. In the course of the ritual he also conducted a ceremony for cultivating the awakening mind of bodhichitta.
“These last three days we’ve focussed on the ‘Precious Garland’. I hope you’ll find what you’ve heard beneficial. Although I do maintain an extensive deity yoga practice, my primary concern is to cultivate bodhichitta and the wisdom understanding emptiness. Sometimes I even dream that I’m teaching other people about bodhichitta. Just as Tibetans nurtured what we learned from Shantarakshita, I invite you deepen your understanding of what I’ve told you.”
The audience brought the series of teachings to an end with the chanting in Chinese of the ‘Song of Immortality’, a prayer for His Holiness’s long life composed by his two tutors, Ling Rinpoché and Trijang Rinpoché. After sitting for photographs to be taken with the students in smaller groups, His Holiness walked down to the car waiting at the foot of the temple stairs and drove home to lunch.