Thekchen Chöling, Dharamsala, HP, India - This morning, His Holiness the Dalai Lama once again took his seat in his residence before the camera and screens that are integral to making this virtual teaching possible. Monks in Thailand proceeded to chant verses from the ‘Mangala Sutta’. When they were finished, a group of monks and nuns in Vietnam led a recitation of the ‘Heart Sutra’ in typical Vietnamese style, to the rhythmic beat of a wooden fish.
“Today is the second day of our teaching,” His Holiness began. “I’m a Buddhist practitioner, a follower of the Buddha, a monk in the Mulasarvastivadin tradition that was established in Tibet by the great Abbot Shantarakshita. There are different vinaya, or monastic discipline, lineages. In China the Dharmagupta tradition is observed. There are minor differences between these traditions, but the major precepts are the same.
“This introduction is part of my service to the teachings of the Buddha. The purpose of such teachings is to subdue the unruly mind. We need to change our way of thinking, and our various religious traditions offer different ways of doing this. In India, before the time of the Buddha, from efforts to explore the mind and emotions non-violence emerged as a pattern of conduct. This was motivated primarily by compassion.
“The Buddha taught his disciples according to their disposition, interest and capacity. This resulted in the Shravaka, Pratyekabuddha and Bodhisattva vehicles. His teaching is replete with detailed methods for taming the mind. I follow the Nalanda Tradition that emphasizes the use of reason and logic. Transforming the mind requires that we use our critical faculty — our intelligence.
“I am not trying to convert anyone to Buddhism. Many of you listening today come from traditionally Buddhist countries, others may live in places where other traditions prevail. It’s very important that our religious traditions live in harmony with one another and I don’t think proselytizing contributes to this. Just as fighting and killing in the name of religion are very sad, it’s not appropriate to use religion as a ground or a means for defeating others.
“I’m happy to be giving this teaching principally to people from traditionally Buddhist backgrounds. I’ll explain the ‘37 Practices’ and the ‘Three Principal Aspects of the Path’, but first I’m going to give you an introduction.
“Most of us who follow the Sanskrit Tradition recite the ‘Heart Sutra’. In it Avalokiteshvara tells Shariputra, ‘Any noble son or noble daughter who so wishes to engage in the practice of the profound perfection of wisdom ... should see perfectly that even the five aggregates are empty of intrinsic existence.’ The word ‘even’, sometimes rendered as ‘also’, does not appear in the Chinese translation of the text and others translated from that. I have checked that it is present in the Sanskrit edition.
“During his first round of teachings, the Buddha explained the selflessness of persons. In the second round, he clarified that the five psycho-physical aggregates, the basis for the designation of a person, were ‘also’ empty of intrinsic existence. Selflessness applies not only to persons, but also to phenomena.
“Although our scriptures use the terms Lesser Vehicle and Greater Vehicle, I prefer to speak of the Pali and Sanskrit traditions to avoid any derogatory tone that the term Lesser Vehicle entails.
“The initial explanation of the four noble truths introduces the idea of a true cessation, and in the second round of teachings this is thoroughly explored in the light of reason. This is one aspect of the importance of the perfection of wisdom teachings. In addition to that, in his work ‘Sublime Continuum’ Maitreya reveals the Buddha nature within us. So, while our exaggerated views are adventitious and can be removed, we can develop the innate qualities of a Buddha that we have within.
“What obscures omniscience for us are cognitive obscurations. These are the latent potencies left by afflictive emotions. We can take counter measures. As the ‘Heart Sutra’ states: ‘All the Buddhas who abide in the three times attained the full awakening of unexcelled, perfect enlightenment by relying on this profound perfection of wisdom’ — an understanding of emptiness.
“In Tibetan we refer to the ‘seventeen mothers and sons’, six mother scriptures and eleven son scriptures, that indicate the collection that included the Perfection of Wisdom Sutras that were translated into Tibetan. Among the six mothers were the Perfection of Wisdom in 100,000, 25,000 and 8000 stanzas. The eleven sons or offerings included the Perfection of Wisdom in 700 stanzas, the Diamond Cutter, the Heart Sutra and the Single Letter. The most extensive is the ‘Perfection of Wisdom in 100,000 Lines’. The shortest is the single letter ‘A’, which is a negative particle indicating that whatever appears to us does not exist in the way it appears.
“So, in his first round of teachings the Buddha introduced the four noble truths and the thirty-seven factors of enlightenment. In the second round he explained true cessation and true path in detail. In the third he revealed that the nature of the mind is clarity and awareness. In the perfection of wisdom, the second round, he discussed the objective clear light — emptiness; in the third he revealed the subjective clear light of the mind.
“It’s possible to see how the teachings progress and how the revelation of the subjective clear light of the mind prepares the disciple for tantra. These are some of the different ways of interpreting what the Buddha taught. It’s important to study comprehensively because the teachings are meant to be practised. Trying to meditate without study and reflection would be like trying to climb a cliff with no hands.”
His Holiness thanked all those attending this virtual teaching for paying attention to what he had to say. He also expressed appreciation of the several Tibetan scholars who are teaching in the various countries these students live in. He noted that ‘Fundamental Wisdom’, ‘Entering into the Middle Way’ and the second chapter of ‘A Commentary on Valid Cognition’ were translated into Chinese. If they were not translated into Vietnamese, for example, now would be the time to do it.
Turning to the ‘37 Practices of Bodhisattvas’, His Holiness reported that he had been unable to find out who he received instruction on it from. He said that he remembers that Lhatsun Rinpoché had something to do with it. Yongzin Ling Rinpoché received teachings from him. Lhatsun Rinpoché reprinted this text and gave him a copy, but His Holiness did not receive teachings from him.
The last time they met, Lhatsun Rinpoché told His Holiness that he would live a long life. Having made a statue of White Tara and arranged it alongside a photograph of His Holiness, he had a vision of a ray of light beaming out from the Tara image into the photograph. His Holiness added that he prays he will live long.
The verses of the text advise us that seeing suffering as illusory, giving generously, safeguarding ethical discipline and cultivating patience are all practices of bodhisattvas. Because disturbing emotions are destroyed by special insight combined with calm abiding, bodhisattvas cultivate concentration which surpasses the four formless absorptions. Bodhisattvas don't mention the faults of those who have entered the great vehicle and give up harsh words. They destroy disturbing emotions like attachment as soon as they arise and whatever they do, they ask themselves, "What's the state of my mind?"
Tsongkhapa’s ‘Three Principal Aspects of the Path’ provides a succinct summary of the path to enlightenment. The principal aspects are a determination to be free, the awakening mind of bodhichitta and a correct view of reality. Written after he had studied and practised rigorously for many years, it was sent in response to a request from Tsakho Ngawang Drakpa. A note attached to the work promised, ‘If you practise as I’ve advised, when I manifest Buddhahood in the future, I will share my first teaching with you’.
The first verses make clear that without a pure determination to be free there is no way to still attraction to the pleasures of cyclic existence. There is no time to waste. If day and night you remain intent on liberation, you will produce a determination to be free. Although verses six to eight encourage generation of the excellent awakening mind, His Holiness explained that he often reworks verses seven and eight to reinforce his own determination to be free.
Swept by the current of the four powerful rivers,
Tied by strong bonds of actions, so hard to undo,
Caught in the iron net of self-centredness,
Completely enveloped by the darkness of ignorance,
Born and reborn in boundless cyclic existence,
Ceaselessly tormented by the three miseries
Reflecting on the sufferings I face
I generate a determination to be free.
His Holiness stopped there and invited questions from the audience. He told a retired teacher that if her motivation to help others was sincere when obstacles arose, it would be time to exercise courage, effort and patience. Practice of the six perfections can be combined with cultivating love and compassion for others.
Asked how to develop renunciation or a determination to be free in a world fraught with desire and attachment, His Holiness acknowledged that there has been extensive material development, but asked if, as a result, people are happier. He suggested that what many people seek is peace of mind, which comes about as a result of acknowledging how we depend on others and dedicating ourselves to their well-being.
With regard to which style of meditation is the most beneficial, His Holiness clarified that meditation is of two kinds — focussed and analytical. Focussed mediation involves withdrawing the mind from distraction by the five senses and focussing it on a chosen object. The mind can then be employed in an analytical way. For followers of Nagarjuna the most favoured object of analysis is emptiness. However, other objects on which to meditate with a single-pointed mind include the determination to be free, the awakening mind and the correct view, besides the clarity and awareness of the mind itself.
When it seems that cultivating compassion for others leads to your being taken advantage of, His Holiness recommended strengthening the practice of love and compassion by combining it with patience and contentment. Review the reasons why you practise love, generosity and morality.
A question about relying on a spiritual master prompted His Holiness to consider the qualities required of a good school teacher. He or she should be knowledgeable and easy for children to listen to. But he or she should also respond to their students with warmth and affection and be able to take the children’s long-term interests into account.
A dharma teacher is often referred to as a virtuous friend. Jé Tsongkhapa mentioned that one who will tame others should first be tamed themselves. This means he or she should have a sense of ethics, compassion and wisdom. Such a teacher should be someone who can lead disciples along the complete path. He or she should be able to present the two truths leading to an understanding of the four noble truths and the role of the three jewels. A dharma teacher needs to be both learned and experienced.
With regard to experience, His Holiness pointed out that Milarepa did not become enlightened as a result of a three-year retreat, but because he practised his whole life. Similarly, another great master, Khedrup Norsang Gyatso, a student of the first Dalai Lama, lived as a hermit for forty years. Making progress on the paths and grounds is not easy.
A young man asked His Holiness how, in the present circumstances, normal life can be restored. First of all, His Holiness recalled that the scriptures describe the universe emerging from emptiness, abiding and then being destroyed. He wondered whether the emergency of global heating indicates that in this cycle the world will be destroyed by fire.
In connection with the pandemic, His Holiness once again expressed his appreciation of the efforts of so many doctors and nurses caring for patients suffering with this disease. He advised that reciting Tara’s mantra can be effective in relieving suffering, mentioning that he does this practice himself every day. He added that he also prays that as long as space endures and as long as living beings remain, until then may I too abide to dispel the misery of the world.
Lastly, His Holiness was asked if it is possible to develop the awakening mind of bodhichitta if you don’t have a sense of renunciation, a determination to be free. He replied that the three principal aspects of the path do not come about in a single day. The determination to be free is rooted in reason. Bodhichitta too is grounded in reason and a correct view, insight into how things actually exist is also founded on reason. Therefore, these realizations will grow as a consequence of study, reflection and meditation, combined with actually reaching out to be of help to others.