Thekchen Chöling, Dharamsala, HP, India - This morning saw the second day of teachings given by His Holiness the Dalai Lama to Buddhists in Russia and Mongolian regions of the Russian Federation. As soon as His Holiness appeared on their screens, devotees began to recite the ‘Heart Sutra’ in the Kalmyk language from the Golden Abode of Buddha Shakyamuni Monastery in Kalmykia. This was followed by a second recitation in Russian from Kuntsechonei Datsan in St. Petersburg led by the Abbot, Buda Badmaev.
His Holiness began by explaining that although he had received the transmission of the ‘Ornament of Sutras of the Great Vehicle’, the book he had been requested to teach, because of its length he would be unable to complete reading it. He announced that he would give an introduction to Buddhism, go over the All-encompassing Yoga again and answer questions from the audience.
“The Buddha began his teaching by presenting the Four Noble Truths,” His Holiness disclosed. “These refer to true suffering, its true origin, true cessation and the true path, their nature, function and result. After describing the nature of these four truths, when he stated that suffering must be known, he didn’t just mean obvious painful experiences, but also included the underlying, pervasive suffering of conditioned existence. Once suffering was known he made clear the need to recognize its origin. Having done so, the question was, can the origin of suffering be overcome and the answer was that it can.
“In early life you may be full of destructive emotions, but if you recognize how destructive they are, you can set about dealing with them. This involves embarking on the three trainings, of which the first is morality. Once you acknowledge the three poisons, attachment, anger and ignorance, and you ask whether they can be changed, you see that they can be counteracted by positive factors such as love. Negative emotions arise instinctively due to long habituation, but they can be transformed. They do not stand the test of reason.
“The origins of suffering are karma and mental afflictions, which can be reduced and eliminated by cultivating positive factors. Because of this, cessation can be actualized.
“In tantra there is discussion of the dissolution of coarse aspects of the mind, followed by the three visions and the mind of clear light that manifests at the time of death. The mind of clear light may also be revealed during sleep. At that time, you can see the drawbacks of mental afflictions. These are distorted states of mind, but they are also adventitious and temporary. Understanding this and that the nature of the mind is clear light, we have the potential to develop excellent qualities.
“Cessation is possible because the mind’s defilements are incidental and adventitious. When you see that ignorance can be surmounted, you’ll understand the Buddha’s statement that the path must be cultivated.”
His Holiness remarked that all religious traditions teach about the importance of love and compassion and are helpful for human beings. Buddhism, he explained, is concerned not just with prayers to the Three Jewels, the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, but with taking corrective measures to transform the mind. It teaches how to actualize true cessation by overcoming the origins of suffering.
“Texts by Indian masters like Nagarjuna’s ‘Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way’ elaborate on dependent arising. When you understand that everything is dependently arisen, not only does it enable you to avoid dwelling in either of the extremes of existence or non-existence, but it also reveals that things do not exist as they appear. When you seek the identity of things in and of themselves, you can’t find anything. They have no independent existence. Indeed, they exist in dependence. Nagarjuna’s disciple Aryadeva wrote:
As the tactile sense [pervades] the body
Ignorance is present in all [mental afflictions].
By overcoming ignorance, you will also
Overcome all mental afflictions.
"In other words, when you understand dependent arising, ignorance does not arise.
“In his third account of the Four Noble Truths, in which he reviewed the results, the Buddha stated, ‘Suffering should be known, yet there is nothing to be known; the origin should be overcome, yet there is nothing to be overcome, and so forth.’ Each of us appears to be someone possessing a body, speech and mind but, if we try, we can’t pinpoint the ‘I’ to which that body, speech and mind belong.
“Emptiness is something we can think about, meditate on and develop experience of. We can thereby overcome grasping for true existence. Buddhism is based on logic and reason. By relying on books like Nagarjuna’s ‘Fundamental Wisdom’ and Chandrakirti’s ‘Entering into the Middle Way’ we can develop confidence in emptiness and ascend the paths and grounds referred to in the ‘Heart Sutra’ mantra.
“After studying and familiarizing ourselves with the path we see that it can be integrated within us. The Buddha summarized this when he advised that suffering must be known, the origin must be overcome, cessation must be actualized and the path must be cultivated.
“Study the Buddha’s teaching. Reflect on it. Develop conviction. Apply it within you. This—study, reflection and meditation—I have done since I was a child, and I can see there has been change within me as a result. I appeal to you, my Dharma brothers and sisters to go through the same process.”
In answering questions from the virtual audience in different parts of Russia, His Holiness suggested that basic texts concerning Awareness and Knowledge (Tib. lo rig) and Signs and Reasoning (Tib. ta rig) could be studied from an academic perspective.
With regard to taking refuge, he pointed out that we say the words “I go for refuge to the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha”, but we need to ask ourselves what the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha are.
A question about attaining Buddhahood in one lifetime prompted His Holiness to explain that this is not taught in the perfection vehicle. It’s part of Highest Yoga Tantra and has to do with a very specific kind of practitioner. Milarepa underwent great hardship and undertook great exertion gradually attaining realization and attained enlightenment in that one life.
His Holiness was asked how to reconcile the advice of the ‘Eight Verses for Training the Mind’ to regard yourself as the lowest among all with the notion of divine pride in tantric practice. He replied that that such tantric practice begins with dissolution into emptiness. Your body and the appearance of it dissolve into emptiness. They’re gone. Then there is the dissolution of coarse states of mind into subtler ones, leading, after the dawning of the three visions, to the mind of clear light. Ultimately, it’s that mind of clear light that is the basis for the arising of the deity in which you cultivate divine pride.
Another questioner wanted to know how, faced with so many distractions, to prevent the mind from becoming separated from the Dharma. His Holiness’s response was that the discipline of Individual Emancipation (Pratimoksha) involves embarking on a homeless life. However, there have also been practitioners, such as Marpa Lotsawa, who did not forsake the householder’s life. The key is to train the mind not to become attached to things.
Regarding what to do to help those who have died, His Holiness acknowledged that there is a custom of mixing the deceased’s remains with clay to make small, stamped images, ‘tsa-tsa’, but, he said, that’s not strictly necessary. He recommended chanting the six-syllable mantra Om mani padme hung 600,000 times, which is what he did when his mother passed away.
Invited to clarify how a practitioner relies on an external guru, but also cultivates an inner guru within, His Holiness asserted that he visualizes masters of the lineage of extensive conduct and thinks about bodhichitta and its associated practices of love and compassion. In connection with masters of the lineage of profound view he reflects on emptiness and dependent arising. When it comes to the great lineage that has come through Shantideva, he reflects on the extensive path and especially the practice of equalizing and exchanging self and others. Such external gurus remind us of bodhichitta and emptiness. Verses such as the following by Shantideva can serve a similar purpose.
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
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
Asked to comment on non-sectarianism His Holiness wondered whether the context was all religious traditions, bearing in mind the good work Christian brothers and sisters have done all over the world to help others. Or was the context Buddhism in general and the Pali and Sanskrit traditions or the different traditions of Tibetan Buddhism. In terms of the latter, he remarked that they might recite different prayers, but all come down to the same essential teaching. They all make bodhichitta their foundation.
The Buddha taught that in order to attain enlightenment it is necessary to overcome both mental afflictions and cognitive obscurations. This is not achieved by just saying prayers, but by engaging in practice of the path, which involves applying the teaching within yourself.
Restrictions on gathering together in groups associated with the Covid-19 pandemic have meant that students have not been able to meet each other or their teachers. However, His Holiness pointed out that in his own case most of his teachers have passed away, but these days he relies on books such as ‘Entering into the Middle Way’ and its auto-commentary. He encouraged Russian Buddhists to study, reawaken and preserve their own Buddhist traditions.
Finally, a question was raised about the relationship between cultivating bodhichitta and taking care of the environment. His Holiness mentioned that we commonly speak about helping all sentient beings, but in practical terms those we can really help are the human beings with whom we share the planet. He agreed that in the context of the oneness of humanity and the fact that climate change affects us all, taking care of the environment is crucial.
By way of conclusion His Holiness led the audience through the steps for cultivating the All-encompassing Yoga. It culminates in visualizing a white vajra, representing the wisdom understanding emptiness, standing on a white moon disc, representing the awakening mind of bodhichitta, at the heart.
In his closing remarks Telo Tulku informed His Holiness that the pandemic continues to affect communities around the world and that the Covid situation in Russia has worsened lately. Over the last year and a half many friends have been lost due to Covid 19. Buddhists across Russia continue to recite the mantra of Green Tara, but they also request His Holiness to pray for the deceased, those infected and the members of their families. He remarked that many people across Russia are struggling emotionally, mentally and financially because of this crisis.
Telo Tulku assured His Holiness that Russian Buddhists will do their best to read the ‘Ornament of Sutras of the Great Vehicle’ he had introduced them to. He thanked him for his kindness and attention. He also thanked Geshé Lhakdor for leading the review sessions after the teachings. He also expressed gratitude to those who have cooperated in making these teaching sessions possible over the last 13 years.
His Holiness brought the session to an end as he recited dedication verses from the King of Prayers:
In order to train just like
The hero Manjushri, who knows reality as it is
And just like Samantabhadra as well,
I completely dedicate all this goodness, just as they did.
With that dedication, which is praised as greatest
By all the buddhas gone to freedom in the three times,
I, too, dedicate all my roots of goodness
For the attainments of the bodhisattva practice.
And from the Words of Truth:
Thus, the protector Chenrezig made vast prayers
Before the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas
To fully embrace the Land of Snows;
May the good results of these prayers now quickly appear.
By the profound interdependence of emptiness
and relative forms,
Together with the force of great compassion
in the Three Jewels and their Words of Truth,
And through the power
of the infallible law of actions and their fruits,
May this truthful prayer be unhindered
and quickly fulfilled.