Manali, Himachal Pradesh, India - As His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s stay in Manali draws to a close, the monks of Ön Ngari Monastery invited him to visit them. After giving audience to several groups of people, many of them elderly and infirm, His Holiness came down from his quarters on top of the Monastery’s new accommodation and classroom block. Abbot Lobsang Samten greeted him and escorted him in a short procession that included monks playing horns and another bearing a ceremonial umbrella to the temple.
Inside, His Holiness paid his respects before the statues of the Buddha and Avalokiteshvara, before taking his seat.
Immediately two monks, one standing and one seated on the floor, opened a debate on the usage of terminology as explained in Dharmakirti’s ‘Compendium of Valid Cognition’. A series of pairs of young monks followed them, including a couple who were still boys, engaging energetically in debate, which His Holiness followed with enjoyment.
Next, His Holiness joined the monks in recitations from the scriptures. They began with the first chapter of ‘Ornament for Clear Realization’, chanting in the style of Gendun Gyatso, the Second Dalai Lama. This was followed by the second chapter of Chandrakirti’s ‘Entering into the Middle Way’ and then his praise to the Great Compassionate One Called Stainless Conch White. The recitation concluded with Gendun Drup, the First Dalai Lama’s invocation of Jé Tsongkhapa ‘Song of the Eastern Snow Mountains’, which begins:
Above the peaks of the eastern snow mountains
White clouds float high in the sky,
There comes to me a vision of my teachers.
Again and again am I reminded of their kindness, again and again am I moved by faith.
To the east of the drifting white clouds
Lies the illustrious Ganden Monastery, ‘Hermitage of Joy’.
There dwell three precious ones difficult to describe, my
Spiritual father, Lobsang Dragpa, and his two chief disciples.
The monks presented His Holiness with a short Long Life Offering based on the Prayer to the Sixteen Arhats, during which tea and sweet rice were served. This ceremony concluded with the chanting of a ‘Sweet Melody for Accomplishing Immortality’, the prayer for His Holiness’s long life composed by his two tutors.
His Holiness addressed the monks:
“Today, we’re gathered here at the re-established Ön Ngari Dratshang. This monastery was originally founded by the Second Dalai Lama, Gendun Gyatso and has a special connection with the lineage of Dalai Lamas.
“I’ve had the opportunity to teach the public and today you’ve offered me a Long Life Celebration. Young monks have demonstrated their debating skills. These are important. The Nalanda Tradition consists of basis, path and result and the basis is an understanding of the Two Truths, leading to an understanding of the Four Noble Truths, especially true cessation. It’s important to be able to prove that it is possible to attain true cessation within ourselves. This involves generating faith in the teaching on the basis of reason.
“The millions who follow the Pali Tradition don’t follow reason as we do, they rely on the authority of the scriptures. Buddhists in other countries like Korea have Buddhist traditions that trace back to the Nalanda Tradition, but without the emphasis on the use of reason and logic.
“Employing reason and logic is a unique quality of the Tibetan tradition. In the 12th century, following the guidelines laid down by the Nalanda masters Dignaga and Dharmakirti, Sakya Pandita composed a thorough treatise on logic on the basis of which Chapa Chökyi Sengey laid out the rules and style of debate we use today. This approach was introduced in the 8th century when King Songtsen Gampo invited Shantarakshita to Tibet. We have kept it alive since then.
“Recently, I’ve met people from across the Himalayan region who are determined to turn their temples and monasteries into centres of learning. I’d like to remind you that the study of Buddhism isn’t restricted to monks and nuns—it’s meant for everyone. Here at this monastery you have a robust program of study. I urge you to introduce opportunities to teach local people, starting with ‘collected topics’, using a couple of texts that summarize these and the workings of the mind. This would be very helpful.”
The monastery’s chief teacher reported to His Holiness that they already plan to teach in seven different locations nearby.
“I don’t want you to proselytize,” His Holiness clarified, “nor am I suggesting that Buddhism is any better than other spiritual traditions. Followers of the Mind Only School think their point of view is the best, but to those inclined towards the Middle Way School, they appear to fall to extremes. The Buddha taught different points of view according to his disciples’ different mental dispositions.
“Philosophically, Buddhism is a profound tradition and our reliance on reason and logic has enabled us to enter into fruitful dialogue with modern scientists. I encourage Buddhists today to be 21st century Buddhists, employing reason and following the path of the intelligent.”
Scrutinizing the murals on the back wall of the temple, His Holiness noted a depiction of Nechung, Dorje Drakden on one side of the door and the Sixteen Arhats on the other. He asked if there are any references to them in the Tengyur Collection and was told there are, but they are unclear. His Holiness remarked that the Sixteen Arhats are reputed as guardians of the Buddhist tradition and as such should be attired as bhikshus, whereas they are commonly depicted in Chinese robes. As far as protecting the Buddha’s teaching is concerned, it consists of scripture and experience. Preserving it involves study and practice.
His Holiness recalled a saying that if you are the true reincarnation of a Lama, you should be able to contribute to the Dharma. When someone is recognised, adopts a dignified demeanour, but turns out to be a disgrace, it’s very sad.
Regarding the ‘Stages of the Path’ texts, particularly the Panchen Rinpoché’s ‘Path of Bliss’ and ‘Swift Path’, His Holiness observed that they seem to lead disciples through a path for those of less intelligence. The ‘Stages of the Path’ genre is not enough, he said. It’s necessary to understand what the Buddha taught on the basis of the Two Truths, the Four Noble Truths and the qualities of the Three Jewels, as is presented in the ‘Ornament for Clear Realization’. He repeated that in the past Tibetans seem to have been following paths for those with dull faculties.
“Study and debate are important. First you need to study, then you should reflect on what you’ve learned, day and night, until you achieve conviction. This is not a case of affirming what you read because that’s what the teacher said. You need to reflect over and over again, employing the fourfold reasoning. Reflect until you gain a conviction that there is no other option. Overcome all your doubts and applying your conviction within you. Gather merit and insight. It was through study, reflection and meditation that Jé Rinpoché gained insight into emptiness.
“As his single-pointed concentration grew, he had visions of Manjushri. This first occurred at Gadhong and he put questions to him. However, he found Manjushri’s terse replies difficult to understand. When he mentioned this, Manjushri advised him to engage in purification and accumulation. Subsequently, Jé Rinpoché had a vision of Nagarjuna and five of his disciples. From among them Buddhapalita stepped forward and touched Jé Rinpoché’s head with a book. The following day he received a copy of Buddhapalita’s commentary to Nagarjuna’s ‘Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way’. He read it and it is said that when he reached chapter 18 he gained insight. Thukhen Chökyi Nyima suggests it was a different section of the book, but that he achieved insight he doesn’t dispute.
“What we learn is that Jé Rinpoché engaged in study, reflection and meditation and augmented this with practices for purification and accumulation.
“As for myself, I’ve been meditating on emptiness since I was 15 years old, that is, for about 70 years. When I received an explanation of ‘Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life’ from Khunu Lama Rinpoché, it really helped my practice of bodhichitta. I do deity yoga of course, but my main focus is on cultivating bodhichitta and an understanding of emptiness. If I make the effort I can achieve some experience. If you try, you can succeed. That’s all I have to say—thank you.”
The occasion was concluded with a recitation of the prayer by Trulshik Rinpoché recounting the incarnations of Avalokiteshvara in India and Tibet, a prayer to Palden Lhamo, a prayer to Amitayus, the ‘Words of Truth’ and the prayer for the flourishing of the Dharma.
The monks of the monastery gathered round His Holiness to have their photograph taken with him, as did volunteers and others in the yard outside. His Holiness waved to the crowd of people pressed up against the gate to see him. Tomorrow, he will leave Manali en route for Delhi.