Thekchen Chöling, Dharamsala, HP, Indi - This morning, Jo Young Ok introduced the occasion on behalf of the Labsum Shedup Ling Dharma Centre in South Korea and requested His Holiness the Dalai Lama to address the virtual audience. In response he declared that he was honoured to have the opportunity to explain the Buddhadharma to them.
“Buddhism as it spread in Tibet was established by Shantarakshita on the basis of the Nalanda Tradition. We study the canonical treatises from India and engage in the practice of the three trainings. This is the process that I, as a monk, also followed. I studied the texts, reflected on what I’d understood and gained experience of it in meditation. And what I’m going to explain today is based on that experience.
“I respect all religious traditions. We have different ideas and philosophical approaches suited to the aptitude of different followers. The Buddha also gave different explanations in accordance with his listeners’ needs. However, all these different traditions emphasize the importance of cultivating love, compassion and non-violence. Historically some people have fought and even killed in the name of religion, but that kind of behaviour should now be left in the past.
“All the world’s great religious traditions have flourished in India and have customarily regarded each other with the utmost respect. This is an attitude that could well be adopted in other parts of the world.
“The Buddhas do not wash unwholesome deeds away with water,” His Holiness declared, “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 Buddhas first generate the awakening mind of bodhichitta. Having accumulated the two collections (of merit and wisdom), they attain enlightenment and then share their experience with sentient beings. It’s on this basis that the Buddha stated, ‘You are your own master.’ Whether or not you choose to engage in the practice of Dharma is in your hands.
“The root of suffering is the unruly mind, so the practice of Dharma is to transform the mind. The Buddha has said that the compassionate ones lead beings through multiple means. Since beings are ignorant of the nature of things, he taught emptiness, which is peaceful and unborn. Over the decades that I have studied the Dharma and applied what I understood, I’ve seen a transformation in myself.
“It is possible to overcome adversity by training the mind. We develop concentration on the basis of the practice of ethics and then employ the single-pointed mind to examine how things exist. Developing insight as a result, we make progress on the path.
“The Four Noble Truths are the foundation of the Buddhadharma. The Buddha taught about suffering and its cause, but he also showed that suffering and its cause can be overcome; cessation can be attained. He taught about emptiness, as affirmed in the ‘Heart Sutra’, ‘Form is empty; emptiness is form. Emptiness is not other than form; form also is not other than emptiness.’
“The practice of Dharma entails the use of our mental consciousness and the threefold process of study, reflection and meditation. This is how to bring about change within yourself. If you develop bodhichitta, even adverse circumstances can be turned to advantage. Similarly, someone you view today as an enemy, can tomorrow become your friend.
“Every day, when I wake up, I invoke bodhichitta and reaffirm my understanding of emptiness. In that connection, I take great reassurance from the following three verses from Chandrakirti’s ‘Entering into the Middle Way’:
“Thus, illuminated by the rays of wisdom's light,
the bodhisattva sees as clearly as a gooseberry on his open palm
that the three realms in their entirety are unborn from their very start,
and through the force of conventional truth, he journeys to cessation. 6.224
“Though his mind may rest continuously in cessation,
he also generates compassion for beings bereft of protection.
Advancing further, he will also outshine through his wisdom
all those born from the Buddha's speech and the middle buddhas. 6.225
“And like a king of swans soaring ahead of other accomplished swans,
with white wings of conventional and ultimate truths spread wide,
propelled by the powerful winds of virtue, the bodhisattva would cruise
to the excellent far shore, the oceanic qualities of the conquerors. 6.226"
In briefly clarifying emptiness His Holiness alluded to three key verses (6.34-6) of ‘Entering into the Middle Way’ in which Chandrakirti outlines the four logical fallacies that would occur if things possessed objective existence; if they had an essential core in and of themselves. These are that an Arya being's meditative absorption on emptiness would be the destroyer of phenomena; that it would be wrong to teach that things lack ultimate existence; that the conventional existence of things would be able to withstand ultimate analysis into the nature of things, and that it would be untenable to state, as the Buddha does, that things are empty in and of themselves.
He mentioned two further verses from Nagarjuna’s ‘Root Wisdom of the Middle Way’:
That which is dependently arisen
Is explained to be emptiness.
That, being a dependent designation,
Is itself the middle way. 24.18
There does not exist anything
That is not dependently arisen.
Therefore, there does not exist anything
That is not empty. 24.19
“When you gain some conviction about this,” His Holiness declared, “you’ll see some transformation within yourself. Buddhism is not just concerned with reciting prayers or sitting in thoughtless meditation, it is founded on compassion. This is why Chandrakirti opens his ‘Entering into the Middle Way’ with a eulogy to compassion:
Buddhas are born from bodhisattvas.
The compassionate mind and non-dual cognition
as well the awakening mind: these are causes of bodhisattvas. 1.1
As compassion alone is accepted to be
the seed of the perfect harvest of Buddhahood,
the water that nourishes it, and the fruit that is long a source of enjoyment,
I will praise compassion at the start of all. 1.2
His Holiness clarified that enlightenment is won through a combination of compassion and wisdom. All mental defilements, mental afflictions and cognitive obscurations, are eliminated by employing them both.
In responding to a series of questions from members of the audience His Holiness agreed that humanity is facing a number of crises including the Covid pandemic and climate change. Nevertheless, as human beings, he said, we must use our unique intelligence to make our lives meaningful. He noted that the variety of difficulties he’s faced since leaving Tibet and becoming a refugee have actually contributed constructively to his practice of the Dharma.
Asked how to prepare ourselves for coming face to face with death, His Holiness described the dissolution of the elements and the occurrence of the three visions: whitish appearance, reddish increase and black near-attainment culminating in the manifestation of the mind of clear light. He recommended that we familiarize ourselves with these stages of dissolution. In tantra there are references to transforming the three states of death, intermediate state and rebirth into the three bodies of a Buddha.
His Holiness mentioned the phenomenon known as ‘thukdam’ that takes place when an accomplished meditator dies. Although their bodies are recognised to be clinically dead, they remain fresh and don’t decay. He recalled that his tutor Ling Rinpoché remained in this state for 13 days and that recently a monk at Gyutö Tantric College maintained his meditation on the clear light of death for 32 days. His Holiness noted that people with experience of the stages of dissolution at death can recognise them as they occur. Then, the dawning of the clear light of death provides an opportunity for profound meditation on emptiness.
His Holiness answered a question about how children should cope with feeling angry with their parents with the advice to consult Shantideva’s ‘Entering into the Way of a Bodhisattva’. Chapter six, he pointed out, gives explicit guidance about the disadvantages of anger and learning to deal with it, while chapter eight extols the advantages of cultivating an altruistic attitude. The goal is to cultivate a relaxed state of mind. Learning to tackle anger and develop kindness are part of the practice of emotional hygiene.
His Holiness told a woman who asked about the meaning of emptiness in ordinary life that a summary of the quantum mechanics view can be helpful. Quantum physicists state that things appear to have an objective existence from their own side, but under examination they are found not to exist in that way. In the Buddhist account things are empty of inherent existence. That this profound view is difficult to accept is indicated by Chandrakirti’s rebuke of Vasubandhu, Dignaga and Dharmakirti, masters celebrated for their accomplishments in other areas, because they rejected Nagarjuna’s position.
Another question about anger prompted the same response as before. Read Shantideva’s ‘Entering into the Way of a Bodhisattva’, especially chapters six and eight. His Holiness commended reflecting on the virtues of love and compassion, the shortcomings of anger and the advantages of patience. He quoted Shantideva:
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? 8/131
Proceeding in this way from happiness to happiness, what thinking person would despair, after mounting the carriage, the Awakening Mind, which carries away all weariness and effort? 7/30
A young woman described feeling fearful when she tries to practise ‘giving and taking’ and generating the bodhisattva vow. His Holiness explained that we are so used to being guided by a self-cherishing attitude that trying to take on the unwholesome deeds of others or giving them our virtue feels dauntingly unfamiliar. He compared it to beginning to learn to read at school. To start with it feels difficult, but the more you become familiar with it, the easier it becomes.
His Holiness told a young man, who was concerned about engaging in analysis and coming to a different conclusion from his teacher, that so long as it didn’t involve a decline in respect for the teacher, disagreeing with him was fine. His Holiness suggested that discussing your conclusions with your friends can be very instructive.
Asked why students are encouraged to study the great Indian Buddhist classics and ‘Collected Topics’, His Holiness reminded his listeners that during the Buddha’s first round of teachings he laid out the Four Noble Truths and the Vinaya without any recourse to reason. During the second round he taught the profound view of emptiness and the extensive conduct of a bodhisattva, both of which rely firmly on reason.
Studying Madhyamaka texts such as the ‘400 Verses’ and ‘Entering into the Middle Way’, as well as ‘Collected Topics’, makes for an incredibly powerfully system of education. It was maintained for more than a thousand years in Tibet and has been replicated and enhanced in the centres of learning in monasteries re-established in South India. In Tibet, students would study for forty years before they were considered fully qualified. Today, many students qualify in twenty years, but the curriculum remains rigorous.
Questioned about how to keep good family relations in the context of different religious traditions, His Holiness declared unequivocally that we are all the same in being human. What is most important is to cultivate a warm heart, maintain close contact and help one another.
In connection with cultivating the awakening mind of bodhichitta His Holiness quoted a verse from Nagarjuna’s ‘Precious Garland’:
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. 483
The Abbot of Labsum Shedup Ling, Geshé Tenzin Namkhar, thanked His Holiness for the profound teachings he had given. He assured him that the students who made up the virtual audience will do their best to put what they had understood into effect. He informed His Holiness that the first volume of the series ‘Science and Philosophy in the Indian Buddhist Classics’ had been translated into Korean and is currently at the printers. He ended with a wish that His Holiness visit Korea.
His Holiness replied that when he gave the centre the name Labsum Shedup Ling he hoped that members would be able to support their practice through study, reflection and meditation to engage in the three higher trainings. The purpose is to make progress on the path to enlightenment and His Holiness told his listeners that he continued to pray that they will be able to do this. Finally, he mentioned that he is confident that those who have made a connection with him in this life will be able to renew that connection in the future.