Thekchen Chöling, Dharamsala, HP, India - After a surprisingly stormy night, His Holiness the Dalai Lama walked from the gate of his residence to the covered temple courtyard under the shelter of an umbrella. Tibetans in traditional costume offered him the ‘Chema Changpu’. He tossed a pinch of tsampa and flicked a drop of tea into the air by way of auspiciousness. Female students in green chubas holding white silk scarves lined the central pathway. In the open area beyond, Tashi Shölpa dancers sang and danced to welcome him. His Holiness went out of his way to wave to members of the crowd in the yard and seated round the temple. Once he had taken his seat, he smiled at the small group of students standing before him and said, “Let start,” which was the cue for them to begin debating the definition of the mind as clear and knowing.
His Holiness opened his own remarks by observing that today young Tibetans were the main focus of the teaching. There were 985 students from several local TCV schools, 181 from college and 200 from the Dharamsala Buddhist class, besides 5695 members of the general public, including citizens of 58 different countries. He told them that what he wanted to do was conduct a simple ceremony for cultivating the awakening mind of bodhichitta.
“I generate the thought of bodhchitta every day from the moment I wake up,” he told them. “I pray for the welfare of all sentient beings, but most especially for the human beings of this world. Doing so brings me peace of mind. I support this thought by reflecting on emptiness of inherent existence. I recite and reflect on a verse from Shantideva's 'Entering into the Way of the Bodhisattva':
“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
“This also gives me courage to work for all sentient beings. It relaxes my mind. It enables me to sleep soundly. As a result, my mind experiences no agitation. In the evening, I visualize Avalokiteshvara on the crown of my head, recite manis and fall asleep. When you are at ease like this, you find peace of mind and you are physically well.
Tea and bread were distributed among the congregation. Having torn off and eaten a little, His Holiness shared his bread with the delighted students before him. At this point he was formally offered a mandala by senior staff and teachers.
“Today, we’ll talk about bodhichitta and tomorrow I’ll give the permission to practise Manjushri, which helps increase intelligence and so is very helpful to those of you who are studying.
“Shantideva's 'Entering into the Way of the Bodhisattva' describes bodhichitta as worthy of our respect and homage. Even if someone harms them, someone who has bodhichitta declines to retaliate. Having a good heart is a source of happiness and joy for all. It enables you to sleep well. It brings you peace of mind. It is a source of lasting happiness.
“Others may misinterpret what you say or do, but if you have a good motivation, you won’t be angry. If others criticize you, you won’t be upset, you’ll remain at ease. Because I regularly meditate on bodhchitta, I’m familiar with it. Even when images of the Buddha are being destroyed, my sense of bodhichitta means I retain my peace of mind.
“In Tibet, the land blessed by Avalokiteshvara, we don’t harm even small insects, although I admit that if a mosquito disturbs my sleep, I’m likely to swat it away. I feel compassion even for the Chinese who have made life so hard for Tibetans. I try to be kind in return.
“I generate bodhichitta day and night. All spiritual progress is dependent on it. If you have bodhichitta, you can accumulate immense merit moment by moment. We should be enthusiastic about developing this aspiration for enlightenment.
“Of course, we need to be cautious about those who would do us harm, but hatred will not help us overcome them. Bodhichitta will. This is why warm-heartedness is precious and valuable.
“We may chant prayers, say mantras and beat drums, but generating compassion is the real key to spiritual practice. To cherish ritual implements but to disregard bodhichitta is a mistake.
“Tibetans are generally regarded as kind-hearted, so to cultivate bodhichitta and simple kindness is to help the Tibetan cause.
“I don’t claim to be anyone special, but because of bodhichitta, as long as beings endure, I am determined to serve them as best I can. Bodhichitta isn’t something that is only of benefit to others, it ensures our own well-being. If you follow me, you should be enthusiastic about bodhichitta too.”
His Holiness reported that he’s heard that increasing numbers of Chinese take interest when he teaches about bodhichitta. He explained that he wasn’t going to conduct a long and complicated ritual, but would give guidance about meditating on conventional and ultimate bodhichitta. He declared that beings suffer because of karma and they create that as a result of their unruly minds. Animals, he said, may not be able to distinguish right from wrong, but as human beings we can. And we can develop a sense of warm-heartedness towards all sentient beings. He encouraged his listeners to think for a while about bodhichitta and to ponder the wish, “May all sentient beings have happiness and its causes and may they all be free from suffering.”
“The suffering we experience is because of attachment,” he went on. “So, we have to ask ourselves, where is this ‘I’ I am so attached to. Is it in my head? Is it in my heart? We talk about my body, my head, but where is the ‘I’ that possesses these things. Our self, our sense of ‘I’, appears to be something solid, but if we really search for it, we can’t find anything so solid. What we can say is that the ‘I’ exists as something designated on the basis of our psycho-physical aggregates.
“My name is Tenzin Gyatso, but when I seek him out, I can’t find any Tenzin Gyatso as something independent and set apart. I’ve just eaten some bread, but I am unable to find the ‘I’ who ate it. The ‘I’ exists only as a designation, not according to its own characteristics. Let’s think about this lack of an independent, solid ‘I’.
“If we search from the crown of our heads to the soles of our feet, we can’t find an independent, distinct self or ‘I’. Although it doesn’t exist from its own side, it does exist as a mere designation. Everything in existence and peace appears to exist objectively and yet actually exists only by way of name, label or designation. This doesn’t mean things don’t exist, only that they exist as no more than designations, as no more that worldly conventions.
“The form body of a Buddha, his physical aspect, comes about due to bodhichitta, while his omniscient mind arises from meditation on wisdom. Everything arises in dependence on other factors.
“Please pass this on. Ultimately a good heart is important. Tell your family and friends His Holiness the Dalai Lama counsels us to cultivate a good heart. Tell them, this is the foundation of my practice.”
In answering questions from amongst the students His Holiness advised those who feel they are too distracted to practise focussing on a single object to gain familiarity with it. He suggested that by cultivating single-pointed resting meditation and analytical meditation you can limit distraction.
His Holiness discussed how in the past Tibet had little contact with other countries and how its material development had been limited. In the West, on the other hand, there was abundant material development but little understanding of the workings of the mind and emotions. These days, scientists especially are taking great interest in the extensive explanations of the mind and emotions that Tibetans received from India.
Invited to explain bodhichitta, His Holiness remarked that it is the benchmark of the Mahayana path. He repeated that by cultivating it we gather merit, whereas by developing an understanding of emptiness we accumulate wisdom.
Finally, His Holiness was asked what the experience of great compassion is like. He revealed that because of his habituation with it in past lives even as a small child he was inclined to protect small insects and not to harm them.
“As I grew up I studied books like Shantideva’s 'Entering into the Way of the Bodhisattva' and learned about the logical rationale on which compassion is founded. I learned about and put into effect powerful practices like equalizing and exchanging self with others. The result has been that when I think about it, the very idea of bodhichitta moves me to tears.”
The chant-master brought the session to a close by beginning to chant the ‘Prayer of the Words of Truth’. The students and the majority of other members of the audience joined in. Before leaving the temple, His Holiness came to the edge of the platform and spoke to the students directly, encouraging them to study hard and making a point of telling them that engaging in debate sharpens the mind.