Thekchen Chöling, Dharamsala, HP, India - This morning, Mrs Dewi Lestari, an Indonesian writer and singer, welcomed His Holiness the Dalai Lama to a conversation with more than 1000 Indonesian students. The theme of the conversation was the Jataka Tales or stories of the Buddha’s previous lives, which are recorded in the book the ‘Jatakamala’, or ‘Garland of Birth Stories’, and are depicted on the Borobodur Stupa. The event was to launch the Nusantara Dharma Book Festival which is taking place in collaboration with the Indonesian Kadam Chöling community.
His Holiness began by thanking an Indonesian actor who had made a traditional mandala offering and wished his listeners “Good morning”.
“Today,” he continued, “I’m looking forward to holding discussions with young Indonesians, some of whom have an interest in Buddhism. I’m a Buddhist practitioner, and one of my commitments is to promoting inter-religious harmony. All our different religious traditions, whether we’re talking about Hinduism, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, or Buddhism carry a common message about the importance of loving kindness. They each employ different philosophical views to strengthen a sense of altruism, a concern for others. Some say there is a God, others focus on the law of causality. The real aim of them all is to help their followers become kinder, more compassionate people.
“With regard to a creator God, Christianity describes him as a being of infinite love. Islam speaks of God the compassionate and merciful. Judaism refers to God the just. Jainism and Buddhism on the other hand have no concept of a creator God, but they still aim to train genuinely compassionate human beings.
“In India where I live, all the world’s major religions are present. And they have lived side by side in harmony for more than a thousand years.
“Today, I’m happy to meet brothers and sisters from the world’s most populous Muslim nation. Whether we accept religion or not is a matter of personal choice. We are all human beings. We benefited from our mother’s compassion and care from birth. Indeed, without her affection and loving kindness we would not have survived.
“In today’s world, we face problems and conflicts because we lack a proper sense of brotherhood and sisterhood. We neglect our basic human values. We try to resolve disputes and differences of opinion by the use of force. However, I believe most human beings are fed up with violence and war. As a consequence, our religious communities have a responsibility to promote loving-kindness. We have to live together on this one planet, so we have to work to make this a more peaceful world.
His Holiness acknowledged the special interest some Indonesians have in the 34 Jataka Tales that recount previous lives of the Buddha. The author, Aryashura, was originally not a Buddhist, but an astute scholar of another tradition. At the time, the scholars of Nalanda University were nervous that he might defeat them in debate so they called on Nagarjuna for help. He sent one of his most skilled disciples, Aryadeva, who convinced Aryashura of the validity of the Buddha’s teaching. Subsequently, at the end of his life, Aryashura, who was also a renowned poet, composed this ‘Garland of Birth Stories’ in mellifluous Sanskrit.
His Holiness remarked that the stories are beautiful to read, but he sometimes feels they are somewhat over-embellished. The important point to note is the moral of the story, which of the perfections, generosity, ethics, and patience, the Bodhisattva was exemplifying. Underlying all the stories are the ancient Indian concepts of ‘karuna’ and ‘ahimsa’—compassion and doing no harm. These themes, he noted, are common to most religions, but whether we follow a religious tradition or not, we all need to be warm-hearted and compassionate if we want to be happy.
In answering questions from the audience, His Holiness explained that sacrificing your life for the sake of others, as the Bodhisattva does in several of the stories, is worthwhile if real benefit results. He added that it takes intelligence and a clear mind to assess what that benefit will be.
With regard to the critical difficulties the world is facing today, the corona virus pandemic and global heating, there are steps we can take to reduce their gravity. But we need to be brave and determined. We cannot give up hope or abandon taking action.
His Holiness recalled that he has visited Borobodur. He described the stupa as a wonderful temple, but declared that even more important is the inner temple of our heart where we cultivate compassion and loving-kindness. If we combine that with our marvellous human intelligence we can create a happier world, not just by saying prayers, but by engaging in practical action.
He was asked how to deal with negativity and advised holding to the moral principles of honesty and compassion. He mentioned the difficulties he has faced in his own life, in Tibet and later as a refugee, but disclosed that he has kept up his practice according to the Nalanda Tradition that Shantarakshita introduced in Tibet.
“We Tibetans are determined, courageous people,” he declared, “but that doesn’t mean we resort to violence. Our Tibetan spirit is firm and compassionate, qualities that have attracted admiration even among some Chinese.”
One young man asked his question about the relationship between Indonesia and Tibet in Tibetan. His Holiness replied that the Indian master Dipankara Atisha sailed from India to Sumatra to learn about bodhichitta with a master called Dharmakirti. In due course, Atisha accepted an invitation to visit Tibet where he spent the remaining years of his life. Dharmakirti is remembered by Tibetans today as Lama Serlingpa, Master of the Golden lsle. His Holiness commented that in the light of Atisha’s extensive travels, it is today much easier to exchange views and share knowledge with each other.
His Holiness declined to say which of the ‘Jataka Tales’ he thinks is the most inspiring. The key point, he stressed, is to acknowledge the oneness of humanity; to recognise that we are all the same in being human. From a practical point of view, we are all dependent on each other and we can serve one another on that basis.
“I’m a Tibetan, who lives in India. I consider every human being I meet is like a brother or sister to me. Fighting is useless and self-defeating. We must find ways to co-exist and live together in peace.”
Invited to comment on how a minority community might conduct itself in the face of extremism His Holiness accepted that among isolated peoples in the past it might have felt appropriate to speak of one truth and one religion. Today, however, the situation has changed and we are all aware of a variety of religious traditions as well as many aspects of the truth.
One of the qualities of Buddhism is that it takes a scientific view of our minds and emotions and is able to explain ways to achieve peace of mind. The Nalanda Tradition includes methods to reduce negative emotions and increase those that are positive. Buddhist psychology can be useful to anyone interested in exploring it without having to make any religious commitment. This, His Holiness averred, is one of the ways Buddhism can contribute to creating a more peaceful world.
Responding to the observation that it seemed to be easier to attain realization at the time of the Buddha, His Holiness maintained that he does not believe that anyone became spontaneously enlightened as they listened to the Buddha. He pointed out that the Buddha himself had spent six years in rigorous meditation before achieving Buddhahood. He suggested that people listened to what the Buddha had to say and reflecting on it improved their understanding. Then they meditated on what they had understood, applying concentration and insight, which enabled them to make an inner transformation.
His Holiness suggested that the Middle Way (Madhyamaka) is a powerful way of reducing wrong views. Think about how we think of ‘my body’, ‘my speech’ and ‘my mind’, he said, and then ask yourself where is the ‘I’ that possesses these features. His Holiness affirmed that he asks himself where is the ‘I’ every day and is unable to find an independent, inherently existent self. This has the powerful effect of reducing his anger and attachment. He quoted three verses from Chandrakirti’s ‘Entering into the Middle Way’ that give him encouragement that he’s on the right track.
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
Asked how to respond to people who fail to meet our expectations His Holiness revealed that the Buddha explained that all sentient beings have Buddha nature. The body is less important, he said, it’s the mind that is essential. Within the mind are different levels of consciousness. It’s because everyone has Buddha nature that ultimately it’s possible for everyone to achieve Buddhahood.
Dewi Lestari wanted to know what we can do to remain fresh and sharp like His Holiness. He replied that we spend a lot of time distracted by sensory input, however, it is also possible to pay attention to our mental consciousness and gain experience of the nature of the mind. As we develop tranquillity and concentration it becomes easier to apply the mind to analysing where is the ‘I’ and what are the negative emotions. As we develop inner strength, we achieve a firmer peace of mind. And as we gain deeper experience of the mind and its subtler levels, the mind of clear light will manifest. It’s that subtle mind of Buddha nature that ultimately becomes the mind of the Buddha.
Invited to offer some final words of advice, His Holiness highlighted the special opportunity his listeners have to share the idea of loving-kindness, which is something we all need. Similarly, we all need compassion and forgiveness and by encouraging the development of these qualities we can contribute to creating a more harmonious, compassionate society. The potential for compassion is something all human beings have in common. It’s the basis for mutual respect and being able to learn from one another.
Dewi Lestari offered thanks to His Holiness who spontaneously asked everyone in the audience to join him in a minute’s meditation on compassion. Following that he extolled the virtues of the awakening mind of bodhichitta and its incredible benefits. We need compassion to be able to help others, he said. We need compassion to purify our negativities and accumulated positive energy. All the altruistic deeds described in the ‘Jataka Tales’ are rooted in bodhichitta, the aspiration to achieve Buddhahood to help others.
His Holiness quoted verses from Shantideva’s ‘Entering into the Way of a Bodhisattva’ that praise the practice of equalizing and exchanging self and 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? 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
He added that when you are determined to be of service to others, you’ll be able to follow Shantideva’s great aspiration:
As long as space endures,
And as long as sentient beings remain,
Until then, may I too remain
To help dispel the misery of the world. 10/55