Thekchen Chöling, Dharamsala, HP, India - As soon as His Holiness the Dalai Lama entered the audience hall at his residence this morning, he saluted the virtual congregation with folded hands. Monks at the Myanmar Temple in Sri Lanka began to chant suttas in Pali. They were followed by members of the Theravada Buddhist Council in Malaysia and then Bhante Santacito in Indonesia.
Addressing the audience His Holiness spoke in Tibetan and Thupten Jinpa translated what he said into English. Meanwhile, interpreters unseen were rendering his words into other languages including Chinese, Hindi, Korean, Japanese, Vietnamese, Russian, Mongolian, Spanish, French, Italian, German, Nepali, Thai, Sinhala, Indonesian and Ladakhi.
“Today, we followers of the Buddha are meeting for the second day, which is wonderful. Generally, there is an understanding that the Buddha’s teaching will last for 5000 years and of those 2600 have passed. The tradition seems firm in traditionally Buddhist countries. What’s more, there is growing interest in Buddhism in other parts of the world as well. Therefore, it’s important for those of us who have traditionally been Buddhist to think about what we can do for the Buddhadharma to flourish.
“We need to better understand our different traditions, which involves our entering into dialogue. I pray that Buddhism will last for long time and I pray that it may be revived in places where it has declined.
“There are two main streams of Buddhism, the Pali Tradition and the Sanskrit Tradition and those who belong to them need to talk to one another. When I visit Bodhgaya, for example, I regularly make a pilgrimage to pay my respects at the Mahabodhi Temple, but I also frequently visit my friends at the Thai Temple as well.
“We need to develop better understanding of each other’s interpretation of the Dharma. We should appreciate that there are also people who are interested in what Buddhism has to teach, less in terms of religious practice and more in terms of psychological and philosophical insight. So, we must work together to uphold Buddhism both in its traditional role and as a science of mind in a secular context.
“Now, let me read from the Maha-Satipatthana Sutta. The preamble sets the scene. The Buddha was among the Kurus in a town called Kammasadhamma. Addressing the monks he stated, “‘There is, monks, this one way to the purification of beings, for the overcoming of sorrow and distress, for the disappearance
of pain and sadness, for the gaining of the right path, for the realisation of Nibbana: – that is to say the four foundations of mindfulness.”
“This is the core of the Buddha’s teaching whose final goal is cessation or Nibbana. It is a path articulated in the progressive practice of the threefold training. The first step is to restrain the coarse actions of body, speech and mind by applying awareness. Next is the training in concentration that is like a foundation for the actual practice of the wisdom of no-self or emptiness, which is the essence of the path. So, this first section outlines the whole path.
“The Buddha explains what the four mindfulnesses are. He describes the physical posture to adopt in a quiet place to settle the mind. Then he introduces mindful breathing, bringing awareness to inhaling and exhaling, whether in short or long breaths. By maintaining such mindfulness and meta-awareness of it there is focus on the breath. This leads to deeper mindfulness.
“Next the body is taken as the object of mindfulness and awareness. There is mention of the four postures: lying down, standing, walking and sitting. Mindfulness and meta-awareness have to be applied constantly, otherwise, when the mind runs free, many problems arise.
“Attention to the body is significant, but more important is applying mindfulness and awareness to the mind. Just as a skilled potter knows whether he needs to give his wheel a short or longer spin, so too an experienced meditator can apply mindfulness and awareness as needed.
“Looking at the nature of different aspects of the body reminds us that existence is conditioned by suffering. And if we ask, what is suffering? what is its origin? It is in the mind.”
With regard to applying mindfulness in our lives His Holiness mentioned that monks and nuns have to attend a confession ceremony once a fortnight when a long or shorter version of the Pratimoksha Sutra (the Individual Emancipation Sutra) is recited. He recalled that his tutor Kyabjé Ling Rinpoché told him that the 13th Dalai Lama had instructed the monks of the great monasteries to recite the Pratimoksha Sutra at least once a year during the Rainy Season Retreat.
His Holiness revealed that having memorized the Pratimoksha Sutra himself he had the opportunity to recite it once during a monastic congregation in Tibet and has done so several times since he came into exile. The sutra surveys monastic activity in detail providing fully ordained monks with guidance on how to live their lives. It demonstrates how important it is that monastics maintain mindfulness and awareness of their day-to-day conduct.
One point to note is that the sutra had to be recited from memory. It couldn’t be read from a book. However, there was a custom that if the senior monk chanting it was unable to complete his recitation, another monk could step in and take it up from where the previous monk left off. His Holiness added that he has advised monks in the great monasteries re-established in South India to maintain what he considers this beautiful tradition of chanting the whole sutra at least once a year.
“The Maha-Satipatthana Sutta goes on to describe reflection on the repulsive aspects of different parts of the body,” His Holiness stated as he continued to read. “Recognition of the parts of the body is likened to recognising different kinds of grain. Ultimately, the text says, the body is composed of impure substances that are unworthy of attachment. Next, the body is reviewed in terms of earth, water, fire and air. Although we think of it as a solid entity, it actually consists of various elements.
“Monks are encouraged to visit charnel grounds to contemplate bodies decomposing and rotting. They are encouraged to compare their own bodies with those before them, thinking: “This body is of the same nature, will become like that, is not exempt from that fate.” This allows for recognition of the nature of suffering and points to the teaching of no-self. Underlying our assumptions about the body is a sense that there is a self, an owner, to be attached to. But these contemplations indicate that there is no body separate from the parts that make it up. Mindfulness of the body has the impact of reducing attachment.
“Next, a monk contemplates feelings. We are naturally attracted to pleasant feelings and averse to those that are unpleasant. Mindfulness of feelings will allow us to be less extreme in our responses. Underlying craving are anxiety and jealousy. If we reduce craving, we will be less anxious.
“We may ask where feelings come from and why we react to them. There are things we are inclined to be attached to and others to which we are averse. That aversion may be expressed as anger, hatred and so on. Looking at a deeper level, we must examine intention, motivation and emotion.
“The meditation moves from mind to objects of the mind. Recognising that many of the things we believe are constructs of the mind brings us close to understanding selflessness or emptiness. Since there’s nothing solid about reality, nothing that has an independent existence, the whole basis for attachment is undermined.
“The sutta reveals a growing understanding that moves its focus from the body to feelings and from feelings to the mind and objects of the mind or phenomena.
“In my own daily practice, I reflect on Nagarjuna’s salutation at the opening of his ‘Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way’ to the Buddha for teaching dependent arising. It presents emptiness from the point of view of the nature of things themselves.
I pay homage to the Perfect Buddha,
The best of teachers, who taught that
Whatever is dependently arisen is
Unceasing, unborn, 1/1
Unannihilated, not permanent,
Not coming, not going,
Without distinction, without identity,
And free from conceptual construction.
“From a realistic point of view, belief in arising and cessation is negated. From a temporal perspective, believing in permanence or annihilation is negated. From the viewpoint of activity, going and coming are negated. And in terms of labelling, grasping at things as being separate and distinct is negated. Nagarjuna declares, ‘I pay homage to the Perfect Buddha, the best of teachers.’ I reflect on these important verses frequently.”
Responding to questions from the virtual audience His Holiness clarified that Dharma practice is based not on faith but on knowledge. And that knowledge arises through study, contemplation and meditation. Jé Tsongkhapa sums this up in a verse from his ‘Destiny Fulfilled’:
In the beginning, I sought much learning.
In the middle, all teachings dawned on me as spiritual instructions.
In the end, I practised night and day.
I dedicated all this virtue for the dharma to flourish.
His Holiness suggested that if individuals can afford the time to study and engage in contemplation, they will lay the basis for a peaceful life. In his kindness, he observed, the Buddha laid out a path on which to make progress that comes close to taking a scientific approach.
Through mindfulness of the breath, we anchor our attention to a natural human activity. We pay attention to something we do effortlessly and so cultivate mental discipline. A quietening of the mind takes place such that we experience what the mind is—awareness.
In the Tibetan tradition yogis recognise the mind’s different levels of subtlety. They learn to recognise the various levels of dissolution. At the time of death altogether 80 conceptions are said to dissolve, 33 associated with stage of appearance, 40 linked with the stage of increase and seven in relation to the stage of near-attainment, culminating in the manifestation of the innate mind of clear light. An experienced yogi maintains awareness right up to this stage.
In reply to a question His Holiness clarified that the difference between ‘samatha’ and ‘vipassana’ is not to be found in the object of meditation but in the style of meditation. ‘Samatha' is about settling the mind in single-pointed concentration. ‘Vipassana' involves analysis and critical enquiry. In the Indo-Tibetan tradition the distinction is between non-discursive and discursive meditation. Both elements can be found in the practice of mindfulness.
In terms of mindfulness of mind-objects attention is paid to the four attributes of the truth of suffering: impermanence, the nature of suffering, emptiness and non-self. His Holiness quoted two verses from Nagarjuna’s ‘Precious Garland’ that he uses in his own practice.
A person is not earth, not water,
Not fire, not wind, not space,
Not consciousness, and not all of them.
What else is a person other than these? 80
Just as a person is not real
Due to being a composite of six constituents,
So, each of the constituents also
Is not real due to being a composite. 81
We make an assumption, because we speak of ‘my body’, ‘my speech’ and so on that there is a person who is an owner of these things. Ultimately, we don’t find such a person, but on a conventional level we can say that you and I exist. The person is a construct. The Mind Only school say it is the continuity of consciousness. The Middle Way School assert that a person can only be understood on a nominal level.
In a key section of his ‘Entering into the Middle Way’, Chandrakirti presents three important consequences of assuming something is objectively real.
If the intrinsic characteristics of things were to arise dependently,
things would come to be destroyed by denying it;
emptiness would then be a cause for the destruction of things.
But this is illogical, so no real entities exist. 6.34
Thus, when such phenomena are analysed,
nothing is found as their nature apart from suchness.
So, the conventional truth of the everyday world
should not be subjected to thorough analysis. 6.35
In the context of suchness, certain reasoning disallows arising
from self or from something other, and that same reasoning
disallows them on the conventional level too.
So, by what means then is your arising established? 6.36
Nagarjuna makes the situation clear in his ‘Fundamental Wisdom’:
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 I mention Nagarjuna and Chandrakirti,” His Holiness divulged, “I feel a close emotional connection, as if I once sat in a far corner of a gathering that Nagarjuna addressed.”
The moderator expressed thanks for the inspiring experience of hearing His Holiness teach. Most Venerable Narampanawe Ananda Nayaka Thero, Chief Abbot of the Asgiriya Maha Piriwena, Kandy, Sri Lanka offered concluding remarks.
“Everyone gathered here was able to get many insights from the teaching. Today, ‘satipatthana’ has become a vital teaching for everyone. I invite all of you to practise every day. I am really thankful to His Holiness for this great teaching at a time when the pandemic is still going on. May all beings be blessed by the teachings of the Buddha.”
“We are all followers of the Buddha,” was His Holiness’s final comment. “And when it comes to the nature of reality, we all embrace the four axioms that all conditioned phenomena are impermanent; all contaminated phenomena are in the nature of suffering; all phenomena are empty and devoid of self. These axioms belong to us all.”
The virtual audience responded in customary fashion: “Sadhu, sadhu, sadhu”.