Thekchen Chöling, Dharamsala, HP, India - People all over the world were able to watch as His Holiness the Dalai Lama performed preparatory rituals for an Avalokiteshvara empowerment for almost three-quarters of an hour this morning. While he remained seated at his residence, what he did and said were webcast over several platforms. Translation of his words in Tibetan was provided simultaneously in thirteen other languages: Chinese, English, French, German, Hindi, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Mongolian, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, and Vietnamese.
“As I mentioned yesterday,” His Holiness began, “Avalokiteshvara’s mantra, Om mani padme hum is full of blessings. During the course of the empowerment this morning we’ll also meditate on the awakening mind of bodhichitta and the wisdom understanding emptiness.
“May the sound of the great dharma drum
Dispel the misery of sentient beings.
May you live to give teachings
for inconceivable billions of aeons.
“This empowerment belongs to the vehicle of secret mantra or tantra. Tantra was not revealed in public but in secret. The first round of the Buddha’s teachings, the first turning of the wheel of dharma, concerning the four noble truths and so forth, was taught in public. The second round, dealing with the perfection of wisdom teachings was given to a more select group of people who were not discomfited by the concept of emptiness. Since these teachings were not given openly, some have later questioned whether the Buddha gave them at all.
“The practice of tantra or secret mantra was directed towards disciples with sharp intelligence. The word mantra implies ‘protection of the mind’, protecting it from ordinary perception. It is practised in secret.
“With regard to the ‘I’ or sense of self, the Buddha has a sense of ‘I’, but it is not as ordinary beings think of it. For those who have an experience of emptiness, bodhisattvas as well as the Buddha, the ‘I’ is a mere designation. Ordinary beings misconceive the self as something solid. If it were, then the more you looked for it the clearer it should become, whereas, in fact, the harder you look for it, the harder it is to find. The self or ‘I’ doesn’t exist as it appears to us. Changkya Rölpai Dorjé said that the self appears to exist in and of itself—but that’s not the case. It seems as if it should be tangible, yet it can’t be found.”
His Holiness led the virtual congregation in taking the bodhisattva vows. He encouraged them to imagine an assembly of the Buddha and the great masters of India and Tibet in the space before them bearing witness to their pledge and aspiration. He quoted Khunu Lama Rinpoché, who said, “To reach your own goal, you need bodhichitta; to serve others, you need bodhichitta; to purify negativities, you need bodhichitta.” He also cited a verse lauding the Buddha from Jé Tsongkhapa’s ‘Praise for Dependent Arising’:
Becoming ordained in the way of the Buddha
not being lax in study of his words,
and by yoga practice of great resolve,
this monk devoted himself to that great purveyor of truth.
His Holiness mentioned that he renews his bodhisattva vows and tantric vows daily, thinking, “Not carried away by selfish thoughts, I’m determined to serve all sentient beings—I will become enlightened for their sake.” If you follow such a practice, then day by day, month by month, familiarity will grow. His Holiness remarked that conventional bodhichitta involves an aspiration to become a Buddha for the sake of all sentient beings; ultimate bodhichitta involves meditation on emptiness.
He repeated several verses from Shantideva’s ‘Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life’:
All those who suffer in the world do so because of their desire for their own happiness. All those happy in the world are so because of their desire for the happiness of others.
Why say more? Observe this distinction: between the fools who long for their own advantage and the sage who acts for the advantage of others.
For those who fail to exchange their own happiness for the suffering of others, Buddhahood is certainly impossible—how could there even be happiness in cyclic existence?
“Because, most of us are driven by selfish motives, even the thought of bodhichitta has a calming, restful effect; it is the source of all happiness and joy. Bodhisattvas have two aspirations, to become enlightened and to help other beings. They focus on enlightenment through wisdom and on sentient beings with compassion.
“Wisdom involves the two truths, conventional and ultimate. Things appear to us, but they don’t exist as they appear. Quantum physics observes something similar—nothing has any objective existence. As the Middle Way School says, things are merely designated. Nagarjuna elaborates on what the Buddha taught, making it clear that nothing exists independently and that the king of all reasons is dependent arising. The ‘I’ or person is designated on other factors. As Aryadeva states in his ‘400 Verses’:
Anything that has dependent arising
Is not independent.
All these are not independent,
Therefore, there is no self.
“Dependence and independence are mutually exclusive. Things exist in relation to other factors. Until you examine them, things appear to have objective existence, but when you analyse them, they can’t be found. They exist conventionally as mere designations. Because it has no foundation, ignorance can be overcome. Consequently, bodhisattvas see that cessation is feasible and feel compassion for those without protection. As Chandrakirti says, bodhisattvas cultivate the two wings of wisdom and compassion.
“‘Us’ and ‘them’, ‘you’ and ‘me’ exist as designations, but not independently as they appear.”
His Holiness explained the meaning of the words ‘dependent arising’. Dependence does not refute emptiness; arising does not deny causality. He cited a verse from Jé Tsongkhapa’s ‘Three Principal Aspects of the Path’:
Appearances refute the extreme of existence,
Emptiness refutes the extreme of nonexistence;
When you understand the arising of cause and effect from the viewpoint of emptiness,
You are not captivated by either extreme view.
Guiding the congregation through the ‘all-encompassing yoga’, which focuses on conventional and ultimate bodhichitta, His Holiness summed up with a verse describing bodhisattvas from Chandrakirti’s ‘Entering into the Middle Way’:
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.
Once he had completed the Avalokiteshvara empowerment, His Holiness gave the Simhanada (Lion’s Roar) permission. He concluded by declaring that he had made a special determination to dedicate whatever blessings arise from the two days’ teaching to everyone on the planet, both human and other kinds of beings. He noted that the Buddha’s teachings consist of scriptural transmission and realisation derived from experience. As Vasubandhu affirmed, the only way to preserve the dharma is through study and practice, which entails hearing or reading the teaching, reflecting on what you’ve understood, then familiarizing yourself with that conviction through meditation.
“I have meditated long on the Buddha’s teachings and I’ve shared what I’ve learned with you. You should do the same, share what you’ve understood with your family and friends and encourage them to do likewise. Because of the coronavirus pandemic we cannot actually meet together, but we’ve been able to create a virtual gathering and have completed the discourse. Please take care of yourselves”.
His Holiness rose from his seat, scanned the faces on the screens before him, and with a laugh and a wave he left the room.