Thekchen Chöling, Dharamsala, HP, India - Today, no sooner had His Holiness the Dalai Lama settled in his seat than a group of students at the White Tara Buddhist Center in Jakarta began to chant the ‘Heart Sutra’ in Indonesian. When they were done, His Holiness thanked them and noted that this was the third day of this set of teachings.
“After I’ve read the ‘Three Principal Aspects of the Path’ I’d like to conduct a ceremony for generating bodhichitta,” he told them. “If you have representations of the objects of refuge, an image of the Buddha and so forth, well and good. Otherwise you can just visualize the Buddha in the space before you.
“Today, Indonesians are the main disciples. There are many followers of Islam in your country, but the existence of the stupa at Borobudur is evidence that Buddhism once flourished there too. There are philosophical differences between our various religious traditions. Indeed, there are four schools of thought even within Buddhism. However, the practice of love and compassion, as well as tolerance and contentment, is common to all these spiritual traditions. People find these traditions and their practices helpful, so I view them all with respect.
“The Buddha gave different teachings at different times and places, but the essence of them all is to be ethical and to have a good heart. Buddhists aim to achieve liberation and omniscience. Followers of theistic traditions seek ways to be one with God. But what we practise in common is love and compassion.
“Generally, because of the historical and cultural connections involved I encourage people to remain faithful to the religion they were born to. These days, as it has become easier to travel, we have more opportunity to meet with people who follow traditions different from our own. The important thing is to maintain friendly, harmonious relations with them. I’d like to request my Indonesian brothers and sisters to reach out to their Muslim neighbours and make friends with them — cultivate harmony between your communities.
“In Buddhism we speak of the three jewels of refuge. Can the Buddha alone save us? The answer is no. But he can teach us the path to liberation and enlightenment. The actual refuge is the jewel of dharma, the cultivation of an experience of the teaching within ourselves. The sangha set an example of treading the path for us to follow. For me, Nagarjuna is a good example of a member of the Sangha. When I read his works, I appreciate his special qualities. We can understand the reliability of the Buddha likewise by developing an appreciation of his teaching.
“As it is said, the Buddhas do not wash unwholesome deeds away with water, nor do they remove the sufferings of beings with their hands. Neither do they transplant their own realization into others. It is by teaching the truth of suchness that they liberate (beings). The Buddha taught on the basis of what he had practised and experienced, and ascended the paths and grounds.
“I am now an aging Buddhist monk, but when I wake up each morning, I first reflect on bodhichitta and emptiness; then I engage in practices of deity yoga. I can see that over the years I have made some progress. I’ve been meditating on emptiness for 60 years and have thought about bodhichitta for more than 50 years. Consequently, whatever adverse circumstances I encounter, I can transform them into opportunities for something helpful. To wear the robes of a monk without engaging in practice would just be a charade. I’m 85 years old and there’s no reason for me to deceive you.”
His Holiness remarked that he has many friends, some of them Theravada monks, who follow the Pali tradition. When they come to listen to his teaching, he teases them that lacking reason and logic is like an old man with no teeth who cannot chew anything tough. He added that he follows the approach established in Tibet by the great philosopher and logician, Shantarakshita in the eighth century. It was he who introduced the vast and profound traditions of Nalanda.
His Holiness feels that it is this training in reason and logic that prepared him to engage in dialogue with modern scientists. In the course of these interactions, Tibetans have learned about matter and quantum physics, while scientists have shown interest in what they had to say about psychology. In the past they had little interest in consciousness or how to achieve peace of mind, but this is changing.
These days some attention is being paid to the phenomenon of experienced meditators who enter into meditative absorption at the time of death and remain in that state for several days afterwards. Clinical death takes place, as well as brain death, and yet their bodies remain supple and fresh. Tibetan Buddhist tradition explains this in terms of energy winds, channels and subtle consciousness. Research is going on to try to find a scientific explanation.
His Holiness read the final dedication verse of the ‘37 Practices of Bodhisattvas’ and then resumed his reading of the ‘Three Principal Aspects of the Path’. It states that a determination to be free, without a pure mind of enlightenment, does not bring forth the perfect bliss of unsurpassed enlightenment. Unless you develop the awakening mind of bodhichitta, you will be unable to overcome the obscurations to knowledge that obstruct the attainment of omniscience. The following verses focus on generating the awakening mind.
Without wisdom, the realization of emptiness, you cannot cut the root of cyclic existence, therefore, the author of the text encourages striving to understand dependent arising. By comprehending dependent arising it’s possible to gain insight into emptiness. Two verses from Nagarjuna make this clear.
That which is dependently arisen
Is explained to be emptiness.
That, being a dependent designation,
Is itself the middle way.
There does not exist anything
That is not dependently arisen.
Therefore, there does not exist anything
That is not empty.
His Holiness remarked that whatever we see has the appearance of intrinsic existence, and yet when we search for that intrinsic identity, we can’t find it. When you understand that things are dependently arisen, you understand the law of causality.
“If you look at me, you see the Dalai Lama as someone who appears to exist from his own side, as someone with objective existence. But if you analyse what you see through the seven-fold or five-fold reasoning you can’t find anything you can point to and say - that’s the Dalai Lama.”
He reiterated this in terms of a verse from Nagarjuna’s ‘Fundamental Wisdom’.
Neither the aggregates, nor different from the aggregates,
The aggregates are not (dependent) on him, nor is he (dependent) on the aggregates.
The Dalai Lama does not possess the aggregates.
What else is the Dalai Lama?
It is the appearance of things being objectively existent that is the object to be negated.
When these two realizations are simultaneous and concurrent,
From a mere sight of infallible dependent arising
Comes certain knowledge which completely destroys all modes of mental grasping.
At that time the analysis of the profound view is complete.
Appearances refute the extreme of existence,
Emptiness refutes the extreme of non-existence;
When you understand the arising of cause and effect from the viewpoint of emptiness,
You are not captivated by either extreme view.
Observing that this text is short and easy to memorize, His Holiness encouraged those listening to him to do so.
“Then, when you have time, you can reflect on what it says. And if you have difficulty sleeping at night, you can ponder these verses and, since you will have virtuous thoughts as you nod off, they will render your sleep virtuous. If it isn’t available in your language, arrange to have it translated.
“I received explanations of this work from Tagdrag Rinpoché, Ling Rinpoché and Trijang Rinpoché — three great masters. The ‘37 Practices of Bodhisattvas’ I received from Khunu Lama Rinpoché.”
By way of an auspicious conclusion to the series of teachings, His Holiness then conducted a brief ceremony for generating bodhichitta. He encouraged his listeners to visualize the Buddha before them accompanied by his eight close disciples. He invited them to repeat the three verses essential to the ceremony and urged them, at the end of the third repetition, to feel determined that they had developed the awakening mind.
I seek refuge in the Three Jewels;
Each and every wrongdoing I confess.
I rejoice in the virtues of all beings.
I take to heart the state of Buddhahood.
I go for refuge until I am enlightened
To the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Supreme Assembly,
In order to fulfil the aims of myself and others
I develop the awakening mind.
Having developed the aspiration for highest enlightenment,
I invite all sentient beings as my guests,
I shall enact the delightful supreme enlightening practices.
May I become a Buddha to benefit all sentient beings.
After this, His Holiness recited the celebratory verses from the end of chapter three of the ‘Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life’.
'Today my birth is fruitful. My human life is justified. Today I am born into the family of the Buddha. Now I am the Buddha's son.
'So that there may be no blemish upon this spotless family, I must now act as becomes my family.
'As a blind man might find a jewel in heaps of rubbish, so too this Awakening Mind has somehow appeared in me.
'This is the elixir of life, born to end death in the world. This is the inexhaustible treasure, alleviating poverty in the world.
'This is the supreme medicine, curing the sickness of the world, a tree of shelter for weary creatures staggering along the road of existence;
'The causeway to cross over bad rebirths, open to all who travel; It is the rising moon of the mind, mitigating the defilements of the world;
'It is the brilliant sun, dispelling the mist of ignorance from the world. It is the fresh butter risen up from churning the milk of the true Dharma.
'For the caravan of humanity travelling the road of existence, hungry for the enjoyment of happiness, this is a feast of happiness offered as refreshment to all beings who approach.
'Today I summon the world to Buddhahood and to worldly happiness meanwhile. In the presence of all the Saviours, may gods, titans, and all rejoice.'
The virtual audience were given an opportunity to ask questions. The first concerned the ever-growing number of human beings in the world in the context of rebirth. His Holiness replied that just as there were relatively few human beings in this world to begin with, so there were fewer animals too. In fact, even plants, which are inanimate, have probably increased in numbers over time.
The next question related to the text His Holiness had just been reading. Although it might seem like common sense to say that appearances refute non-existence, Tsongkhapa states: ‘Appearances refute the extreme of existence’. His Holiness observed that generally whatever we see, we think there’s something there. From that point of view, appearance counters non-existence. However, in the Mind Only view the external existence of things is rejected and the Autonomist Middle Way School says things exist the way they appear. The Consequentialist Middle Way view, reflected in ‘Three Principal Aspects of the Path', asserts that appearances, existing merely by way of designation, refute the extreme of existence.
To say that things exist merely by way of designation implies that they have no objective existence. Non-Buddhists assert the existence of a person or self independent of the psycho-physical aggregates. The Mind Only School suggests it is synonymous with the foundational consciousness, while the Autonomist Middle Way School identify it with the sixth, mental, consciousness. Nagarjuna writes in the ‘Precious Garland’:
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.
His Holiness reported his own experience from 50 years ago. He had been thinking about how the person is designated on the basis of the aggregates and he was struck by the fear that he didn’t exist. On further reflection he came to understand that he did exist, but not as something independent of the aggregates.
Asked how to help those, especially members of the older generation, who have only their strong faith to rely on, His Holiness pointed out that there are two kinds of Buddhists. There are those who follow faith alone and those guided by reason. Among Tibetans and other Asians there are many who have a firm and single-pointed faith in the Buddha and so forth. It’s difficult to introduce them to reason, but if you can it will lay useful imprints in their minds for the future. Otherwise, it’s good to be 21st Buddhists whose faith is based on reason and understanding.
“I have been taking refuge in the three jewels since I took the upasaka vow in front of the Jowo in the Jokhang in Lhasa as a small boy,” His Holiness recalled. “To begin with, my taking refuge was rooted in faith. But as I came to understand the possibility of true cessation and the path, I also came to understand the value of the three jewels. And I understood that spiritual progress is a matter of inner transformation.”
As our way of life and the results of industrialization become less and less sustainable, His Holiness was asked what can be done. He cited an example friends in Stockholm had told him about. Industrial effluents flowing into the local river became so bad that no fish lived in it any more. Because of the public outcry, industry adopted better practices and stopped polluting the river. Consequently, the river recovered its natural qualities and fish returned.
“We need industry and a healthy economy,” His Holiness declared, “but not at the expense of damaging the environment. Monetary returns are not the only factors to consider. Acting on studies of the potential consequences of industrial processes cannot but be beneficial for the environment.”
A Thai monk asked how, in the midst of our busy lives, we can find peace of mind.
“When you get up in the morning,” His Holiness advised, “set aside half an hour or so. Usually we are preoccupied with sensory perceptions, but for half an hour or an hour, withdraw the mind from distraction by external objects. Place your attention on the mind itself. Develop an experience of its clarity and awareness. Focus on that with a calmly abiding mind. Then, apply that to analysis. This is how to examine your mind.
“I have asked the monks of Namgyal Monastery, who engage in deity yoga and who regularly rehearse taking the process of death into the path, to remain for some time in the state of dharmakaya, rather than just pressing on with the ritual. I remember a Thai monk, Buddhadasa Bhikkhu, who was an accomplished meditator who could remain in absorption for three hours or so. The important thing is to cultivate focussing and analytical practice.”
The moderator on behalf of the organizers thanked His Holiness for his teaching. She expressed the hope that it will be possible to visit him again soon. She expressed the wish that he stay healthy and safe.
His Holiness replied that at present he cannot go out because of the threat of the pandemic, but he hopes that next year it will be possible again. He speculated that he might be able to visit Singapore and go on from there to Taiwan where people have invited him too. He thanked his audience and the session came to an end.