Thekchen Chöling, Dharamsala, HP, India - A group of friends gathered in Taiwan this morning to celebrate His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s 85th birthday tomorrow. He conceded to their request that he give a short teaching to mark the occasion. Representatives of the Taiwanese hosts were still introducing the event in Chinese when His Holiness first entered the room. Once he had sat down, he could see on the screens in front of him many of the one thousand people in the audience waving and smiling at him. He laughed and waved back.
“So, today you’ve organized this event and requested me to teach,” he told them. “Since I first visited Taiwan, you have all been close to my heart. I think of many of you as old friends and you remain constantly in my mind. Today, I’ll explain Geshé Langri Tangpa’s ‘Eight Verses for Training the Mind’. It’s a short text focussed on the awakening mind of bodhichitta that has its source in Nagarjuna’s ‘Precious Garland’. Towards the end of that work are twenty verses dealing with bodhichitta. They conclude with the following:
May I always be an object of enjoyment
For all sentient beings according to their wish
And without interference, as are the earth,
Water, fire, wind, herbs, and wild forests.
As long as any sentient being
Anywhere has not been liberated,
May I remain [in the world] for the sake of that being,
Though I have attained highest enlightenment.
“Shantarakshita, one of the foremost scholars of the Nalanda Tradition and a follower of Nagarjuna first taught this in Tibet. Later, Dipankara Atisha, whose disciples were known as Kadampas, because they took every letter of the teaching as an instruction to practise, taught it again.
“Geshé Langri Tangpa constantly cultivated bodhichitta and was so moved by the suffering of sentient beings that he regularly wept and was known for his doleful expression. I too have cultivated bodhichitta for more than 50 years on the basis of teachings I received on Shantideva’s ‘Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life’. However, I don’t pull a long face like Langri Tangpa because the ‘Guide’ advises:
Your own nature mastered in this way; you should always have a smiling face. You should give up frowning and grimacing, be the first to speak, a friend to the universe.
“I try to cultivate bodhichitta all the time and I recite the ‘Eight Verses’ every day, but I still laugh and smile. I consider all sentient beings to be my friends and think of them with compassion and affection. Combining such an attitude with some understanding of emptiness brings me peace of mind. In chapter six of his 'Entering into the Middle Way' Chandrakirti describes the bodhisattva’s combination of relative and ultimate bodhichitta:
And like the king of swans, ahead of lesser birds they soar,
On broad white wings of relative and ultimate full spread.
And on the strength of virtue's mighty wind they fly
To gain the far and supreme shore, the oceanic qualities of Victory.
“As I said, the practice of bodhichitta brings me peace of mind. It’s a thought that again Shantideva summarizes:
And so, today, within the sight of all protectors,
I summon beings, calling them to Buddhahood.
And, till that state is reached, to every earthly joy!
May gods and demigods and all the rest rejoice!”
His Holiness explained that the first seven of the ‘Eight Verses’ reveal the awakening mind of bodhichitta. The last verse deals with the view of emptiness. As he read the first line of the first verse, ‘May I always cherish all beings’, he recommended that his listeners ask themselves, “Who is this ‘I’? Where is this ‘I’ to be found?”
“When I first wake up in the morning, I reflect on a verse from Nagarjuna’s ‘Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way’.
Neither the aggregates, nor different from the aggregates,
The aggregates are not in him, nor is he in the aggregates.
The Tathagata does not possess the aggregates.
What else is the Tathagata?
“Then I often rework it to refer to myself and reflect on it accordingly:
I'm neither one with the aggregates, nor different from the aggregates,
The aggregates are not in me, nor am I in the aggregates.
I don't possess the aggregates.
What else am I?
“When you search for this ‘I’, this ‘self’, you can’t find it. Chandrakirti makes this clear in his ‘Entering into the Middle Way’:
We cannot claim a chariot is other than its parts,
Nor that it is their owner, nor identical with them.
It is not in its parts; its parts are not contained in it.
It's not the mere collection of the parts nor yet their shape.
Thus, this sevenfold reasoning reveals,
In ultimate or worldly terms, that nothing is established.
But if phenomena are left as found, unanalysed,
They are indeed imputed in dependence on their parts.
“We can’t find anything we can point out as being the self, and yet it exists by way of designation. Why do we analyse things this way? Because we have inappropriate misconceptions about the self, which give rise to afflictive emotions. Nagarjuna refers to this in his ‘Fundamental Wisdom’:
Through the elimination of karma and afflictive emotions there is liberation.
Karma and afflictive emotions come from conceptual thoughts.
These come from mental fabrication.
Fabrication ceases through emptiness.
“When you think of yourself, thinking ‘I’m Chinese, or I’m Tibetan’, and you look for this self that seems like the controller of your body, speech and mind, you must ask, ‘Where is it?’ ‘Where is this ‘I’ that you have a sense is independent of your body and mind?’ It’s this misconception of an independent self that provides the basis for afflictive emotions like attachment and anger.”
His Holiness stressed the importance of employing logic and reason to delve into reality. He pointed out that followers of the Pali Tradition rely on scriptural citation, but those who follow Nagarjuna and the Nalanda Tradition depend on logic and reason. He reiterated the great importance he places on Nagarjuna’s ‘Fundamental Wisdom’ and Chandrakirti’s ‘Entering into the Middle Way’, remarking that he always keeps copies of these books on his desk.
He asserted that the view of emptiness enables us to understand that we can put an end to afflictive emotions. He mentioned that since the ‘Sublime Continuum’ states that we all have Buddha nature; mental afflictions can be completely overcome. They are merely adventitious, but the clarity and awareness of the mind remains naturally within us.
“We all want happiness, we don’t want suffering, but both relate to our mental state. Transforming our minds is the root of happiness. Today, the world is mostly focussed on external development. However, ancient Indian traditions emphasise the mind as the real source of happiness and that to achieve it it’s our minds we have to transform. This is the basis of the longstanding traditions of ‘ahimsa’, non-violence, and ‘karuna’, compassion. The Buddha Shakyamuni practised these and after his enlightenment taught them along with the view of emptiness.
“Nevertheless, he also advised his disciples to be sceptical: ‘"As the wise test gold by burning, cutting and rubbing it, so, bhikshus, should you accept my words — only after testing them, and not merely out of respect for me." “
His Holiness declared that if we examine our afflictive emotions, our destructive emotions, we’ll find that they have no sound basis. Compassion and so forth are not only firmly rooted in reason, but can be strengthened through practice. Destructive emotions like ignorance arise from the confusion to which we are customarily habituated. Still, he said, the practice of dharma is not primarily about saying prayers, such as those Chinese and Japanese Buddhists like to address to Amitabha. Practice of dharma entails using our marvellous human intelligence to distinguish right from wrong and tackle our negative emotions.
Turning back to the first of the eight verses, His Holiness remarked:
“We have a connection to sentient beings. It’s in relation to them that we cultivate bodhichitta and compassion and can develop them infinitely. Nagarjuna’s ‘Precious Garland’ expresses the connection vividly:
May sentient beings be as dear to me as my own life,
And may they be dearer to me than myself.
May their ill deeds bear fruit for me,
And all my virtues bear fruit for them.
“Cultivating compassion for sentient beings is comparable to the way we do business, when we invest a small amount of capital with a view to making a profit. The key to the second verse, ‘Cherish others as supreme’ is a recommendation to overcome pride and arrogance. The third verse reminds us that responding to the smallest provocation with destructive emotions is so familiar to us. Even in dreams we should learn to check them as they arise — ‘May I forcefully stop them at once’.
“In tantra there are ways to take anger and attachment into the path of spiritual development, but they are based on our first understanding the conventional path.
“The fourth verse counsels us to see all sentient beings, even those who are ill-natured, as pleasant and attractive. Make them an object of love and compassion.”
His Holiness explained that the following verses commend accepting defeat and offering the victory to those who’ve wronged us, seeing them as excellent spiritual friends. As the ‘Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life’ points out, without an enemy to test us, we’d have no context to really develop patience. The seventh verse continues, ‘May I give all help and joy to my mothers, and may I take all their harm and pain secretly upon myself’.
Finally, verse eight turns to a view of reality — ‘May I see all things as illusions’. Whether it’s related to pain or pleasure, everything appears to be independently existent. Quantum physics distinguishes between appearance and reality stating that things appear to be objectively existent, which they are not. Our friends and enemies appear to have such an objective status, but when we seek the basis of this appearance, we can’t find it. And yet, it’s because we think they exist intrinsically in this way that we generated anger or attachment towards them. Learning to see all things as illusions is what leads to gaining freedom from bondage.
His Holiness declared that Shantideva’s ‘Guide’ is the best book to read if you want to know about the conventional awakening mind of bodhichitta, but when it comes to the view of ultimate bodhichitta, it’s best to read ‘Fundamental Wisdom’ and ‘Entering into the Middle Way’. He had particular praise for chapter eight of the ‘Guide’ for its presentation of the practice of exchanging self and others and for chapter six’s discussion of patience.
“When I was still in Tibet, I thought the practice of bodhichitta was marvellous and admirable, but very hard to achieve. Later, in India, after I’d received explanations of the ‘Guide’, I began to realise that it was feasible if you worked hard enough at it.
“Tomorrow is my birthday and I have suggested that if you want to make me a gift, what you could do is to recite at least one thousand ‘manis’, or six syllable mantras, without allowing your mind to drift. The first syllable, ‘Om’, consists of three letters A U and Ma, which represent our body, speech and mind. It’s on the basis of body, speech and mind that we designate the ‘I’, which is generally under the influence of afflictive emotions. We can purify them and attain the mind of a Buddha.
“The way to transform our impure body, speech and mind is to employ the awakening mind of bodhichitta represented in the mantra by ‘mani’, or a jewel, and wisdom represented by ‘padme’ or a lotus. The syllable ‘hung’ at the end represents the combination of bodhichitta and wisdom.
“If each of you recites the mantra one thousand times, the benefit will multiply. And if you dedicate the merit to my long life, it will help me to live to be 108 or 110 years old.
“As the political scenario changes it may be that I’ll be able to visit you in Taiwan again. I hope so. Whatever happens I’ll remain with you in spirit. Please keep well — Thank you.”
The organizers thanked His Holiness, the thousand people in attendance, and the three hundred volunteers who had helped out. They thanked the Chinese interpreter, Jamyang Rinchen. Finally, they announced the donation of six ambulances. His Holiness smiled and waved goodbye.