Thekchen Chöling, Dharamsala, HP, India - His Holiness the Dalai Lama began his teachings for young Tibetans this year by harking back to the origins of Buddhism in Tibet. He recalled that in the 7th century a Tibetan written script was created based on the Indian Devanagari alphabet. Subsequently, Indian Buddhist literature was translated into Tibetan. The result was a collection of about 100 volumes of translated sutras and another 220 volumes of mostly Indian treatises. This meant that Tibetans did not have to rely on any other language to study Buddhism. Many great scholars and adepts came about as a consequence.
“Studying the Buddha’s teachings in the light of logic and reason,” His Holiness remarked, “is now only preserved in the Tibetan tradition. Chinese Buddhism doesn’t take this approach. Followers of the Pali Tradition study what the scriptures say, but I tease them that lacking the tools of reason and logic means they are toothless when it comes to chewing over difficult points.
“Familiarity with reason and logic has enabled us to engage in discussions with scientists for many years now. And we enter into such discussions with confidence. Ancient Indian tradition had thorough knowledge of the workings of the mind and emotions. Add to that a command of reason and logic and an understanding of reality as outlined in the Middle Way thought and we are well-prepared for discussion with scientists. Traditionally reason and logic and Middle Way thought are characterized as two lions yoked at the neck.
“In exile we requested the help of the Government of India headed by Pandit Nehru in setting up schools for Tibetan children. Religious and philosophical teachers were appointed. In those early days many great scholars who had escaped Tibet were working on road construction in the Chamba area. I remember visiting them once and engaging in debate with some of them by the side of the road. Things were really critical at that point, but in due course we were able to re-establish monastic centres of learning, mostly in South India. Today, these institutions are radiant stores of knowledge. We have augmented the traditional course of study with science.
“Today, for young Tibetans, I will explain Jé Tsongkhapa’s ‘Destiny Fulfilled’ in which he reveals the progress he made in study and practice.
“All of us, human beings and animals, want to be happy and not to suffer. But only we human beings have the kind of marvellous brain that enables us to make choices. In ancient India meditative practices for cultivating single-pointed concentration and special insight prevailed before the appearance of the Buddha.
“One of the things that made the Buddha unique was his encouraging his followers to carefully examine what he said. ‘As the wise test gold by burning, cutting and rubbing it, so, bhikshus, should you accept my words— after testing them, and not merely out of respect for me’. Such advice is unprecedented.
“In India Nalanda University became a centre of learning where the thought of masters like Nagarjuna and Chandrakirti thrived. Nevertheless, towards the end of his ‘Entering into the Middle Way’ Chandrakirti suggested that Dignaga and Vasubandhu had failed to uphold Nagarjuna’s view.”
Turning to the text, His Holiness indicated that the first verse expresses homage and the second extols the benefits of rejoicing. Tsongkhapa, His Holiness explained, studied extensively in those monasteries that existed in Central Tibet. Later, Manjushri told him in a vision that mere study was not enough, so he planned to go into retreat to meditate with eight close disciples. When he faced criticism for curtailing the teachings he’d been giving, Manjushri counselled him to be patient, telling him, ‘I know what’s best’.
In retreat Tsongkhapa dreamt of Nagarjuna and his five close disciples. In the dream one of them, who he guessed was Buddhapalita, stepped forward and touched a book to Jé Rinpoché’s head. The following day, reading Buddhapalita’s commentary to Nagarjuna’s ‘Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way’, he gained insight that prompted him to compose ‘In Praise of Dependent Arising’.
In this text, ‘Destiny Fulfilled’, he recounts what he studied and how scripture dawned on him as spiritual instructions. He studied the great Indian treatises in the light of logic and reason. “You may be intelligent,” His Holiness remarked, “but unless you study like this, you’ll have no real confidence in the teaching.”
Verses 5-11 refer to Jé Rinpoché's examination of the various classes of tantra—action, performance, yoga and highest yoga tantra—and conclude the section about how he initially sought out extensive learning. The next section deals with how the scriptures, especially those dealing with the Perfection of Wisdom, dawned as spiritual instructions.
His Holiness clarified that the explicit content of the Perfection of Wisdom is emptiness. The implicit content includes generating the awakening mind of bodhichitta.
Verse 14 mentions that some people in Tibet observed that there was little in Dignaga’s ‘Compendium of Valid Cognition’ or Dharmakirti’s seven treatises on logic that dealt with the stages of the path to enlightenment. However, it is recorded that Manjushri gave his approval to the composition of these texts. Moreover, the lines of salutation from the ‘Compendium of Valid Cognition’ state that the Buddha is an authoritative guide who brings benefit to all beings.
The second section—showing how, in the middle, all the scriptures dawned as instructions—concludes with verses praising Guhyasamaja Tantra, the commentaries to it, as well as Samvara, Hevajra and Kalachakra.
What Tsongkhapa discloses is how he gained extensive learning, entered into the life of a hermit and acquired experience of the stages of the path, including the profound and extensive paths.
His Holiness noted that Tsongkhapa composed five texts on the Middle Way: 'Ocean of Reasoning' - an extensive commentary on Nagarjuna's 'Fundamental Wisdom'; 'Elucidation of the Thought' - an extensive commentary on 'Entering into the Middle Way'; the Special Insight Section of the 'Great Exposition of Special Insight''; the Special Insight Section of the 'Medium Exposition of Special Insight'' and 'Essence of Eloquence' - a treatise differentiating the provisional and definite meanings of the scriptures.
When he set about writing the ‘Golden Rosary’, his commentary to the ‘Ornament for Clear Realization’, he read all 21 existing Indian treatises about it first.
In those days there were many great masters belonging to the Sakya, Kagyu and Nyingma traditions. There were also Kadampa masters and Nyingma masters like Longchen Rabjam who wrote the ‘Seven Treasuries’.
“Jé Rinpoché travelled from his native Amdo to Central Tibet, a bag over his shoulder. He enrolled in the various centres of learning he came across. Eventually, he established his own Ganden Monastery and once he was gone, his disciple Gyaltsap succeeded to his throne.
“These days the excellent pattern of study Tsongkhapa laid out is upheld at the Three Great Seats of Learning. Scholars who complete their training there then proceed to one of the Tantric Colleges to study tantra. After that, they may rise through the ranks of scholarship to become head of the tradition, the Ganden Throneholder.
“Jé Gendun Drup, the first Dalai Lama, was Tsongkhapa’s disciple. He founded Tashi Lhunpo Monastery, where the study of logic was especially encouraged. In ‘Song of the Eastern Snow Mountains’ he laments the religious disharmony he observed at the time.
These days in our remote snow mountains
There are many men who would uphold their own lineages
While looking down upon other doctrine holders
Verily as their deepest enemies.
Watching how they think and act, my heart fills with sadness.
“Since Tibetan Buddhism represents the most complete tradition of Buddhism today, we should feel grateful to past masters like Jé Tsongkhapa and follow their example by sharing our knowledge with others.”
Geshé Lobsang Drakpa from Namgyal Monastery, who is also a leading teacher in Dharamsala’s Organisation to Introduce Buddhism, thanked His Holiness for his teaching and told him that twelve young Tibetan students had questions to ask.
The first concerned avoiding mental distress in relation to the Covid pandemic.
“If you are anxious and fearful, even if you are not ill” His Holiness advised, “as a Buddhist who believes that we live life after life, you can reflect, as is mentioned in the ‘Three Principal Aspects of the Path’, that we are born and reborn in boundless cyclic existence, ceaselessly tormented by the three miseries. We are afflicted by desire, anger and hatred, as well as ignorance. We can overcome these by generating a firm determination to attain enlightenment. We can see overcoming sickness and disease as part of our journey to enlightenment.
“We experience disease as a result of karma and mental afflictions. As Nagarjuna writes:
“Through the elimination of karma and mental afflictions there is liberation.
Karma and mental afflictions come from conceptual thoughts.
These come from mental fabrication.
Fabrication ceases through emptiness.
“The sufferings of birth, aging, sickness and death are part of life. By thinking ‘May I be free of karma and mental afflictions and the sicknesses they provoke,’ you can strengthen your determination to attain enlightenment. This involves transforming difficulties into the path as outlined in the Offering to the Spiritual Master (Lama Chöpa).
“Though the world and its beings be full of the fruits of misdeeds,
And unwished for sufferings pour upon me like rain,
Inspire me to see them as means to exhaust the results of negative actions,
And to take these miserable conditions as a path.”
With regard to purifying unwholesome actions, His Holiness noted that there is a practice of confession before the Three Jewels. However, since the main purpose is to purify and transform the mind, the best practice to adopt is the cultivation of the awakening mind of bodhichitta. If you can do that, you can purify defilements and accumulate merit and wisdom. His Holiness also remarked that practices such as prostration and circumambulation without the context of the three trainings of ethics, concentration and wisdom have little more than mundane value.
His Holiness clarified that if you commit unwholesome deeds such as killing insects in the course of your work, the key point is whether you did so intentionally. He added that such imprints can be purified by reciting Om mani padme hung.
His Holiness declared that he doesn’t pray for the seven billion human beings alive today to become Buddhists, but he does work to create a peaceful world in which people cultivate love and compassion for one another.
“If you practise love and compassion,” he said, “harmful actions come to an end. We need peace of mind within us. If we’re full of anger and other negative emotions, not only will we have no peace of mind, but there will also be no peace in the world. As Shantideva wrote in his ‘Entering into the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life’:
“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
“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. 8/129
“We are all the same in wanting happiness and not wanting suffering. We are social animals dependent on each other. Learning to tackle our disturbing emotions, we need to reduce anger and attachment and cultivate love and compassion.”
His Holiness supported the compilation of a handbook for creating a more amicable society. It would make clear how to achieve peace of mind in ways that ordinary people, monastic and lay, women and men, could implement. Its focus should not be religious, but concerned with tackling negative emotions.
Asked how to curtail a hankering after the pleasures of this life, His Holiness referred to verses seven and eight of Tsongkhapa’s ‘Three Principal Aspects of the Path’ that nominally describe how to develop bodhichitta. However, by applying them to yourself, you can use them to strengthen your sense of renunciation and determination to be free.
His Holiness reported that he sometimes reflects that since he is not caught in the iron net of self-centredness, and he is not completely enveloped by the darkness of ignorance, he has a real hope of reaching true cessation.
“Reflecting on my own condition, I feel my ignorance is becoming thinner and thinner. Not being ceaselessly tormented by the three miseries, I think of all beings, my mothers, who are in this condition and generate the awakening mind.
“The solution to not having a disciplined mind is to observe emotional hygiene as described in ancient Indian tradition. This involves learning to tackle disturbing emotions like attachment and anger. I don’t say become a Buddhist, but learn from Buddhism. Read chapter six of ‘Entering into the Bodhisattva's Way of Life' and learn about the shortcomings of anger. Read chapter eight and discover the drawbacks of a self-cherishing attitude and the advantages of learning to cherish others.
“Learn, reflect and gain conviction. Then meditate and integrate what you’ve understood within you. Such an approach over centuries has had the effect that Tibetans are, for example, resistant to taking life. Our culture is such that we believe it is possible to create a more peaceful world.
“See you tomorrow.”