Thekchen Chöling, Dharamsala, India, 7 June 2016
A mixed audience of about 7000 awaited His Holiness the Dalai Lama at the Tsuglagkhang, the Main Tibetan Temple, opposite his residence this morning. They comprised 450 people from the Himalayan Region, mostly Lahaul & Spiti; 350 members of the Young Buddhist Society (YBS), from UP, Bihar and Rajasthan; 30 from Tamil Nadu and 400 from other parts of India. They were joined by 1700 foreigners from 78 countries, 1500 Tibetan monks and nuns and 3500 members of the Tibetan public.
This series of teachings has been requested and organized by members of the Nalanda Shiksha, a group of Indian friends who have studied with eminent teachers from all authentic living Buddhist traditions. They declare an avowed interested in keeping alive in India today the practices of listening, contemplation and meditation that were an integral part of the Nalanda tradition. They have organized four previous opportunities for His Holiness to teach—in Dharamsala in 2012 and 2013, in Mumbai in 2014 and in Sankissa in 2015. At their request His Holiness has taught from two significant Indian treatises: Kamalashila’s ‘Stages of Meditation’ and Shantideva’s ‘Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life’. The Nalanda Shiksha professes a commitment to work for the entire Buddhadharma and its authentic traditions and teachers, without bias to any specific school or lineage.
Once His Holiness had taken his seat on the throne, Indian monks of the Pali tradition chanted the Mangala Sutta in Pali. Next, on behalf of the Nalanda Shiksha, Veer Singh announced an intention to present His Holiness with a set of offerings, derived from Indian traditions of hospitality, including water to drink, water to wash the feet, flowers, incense, light, perfume, food and music. Trays bearing these substances were then brought forth in a short procession. His Holiness remarked:
“We make these kinds of offerings in tantric rituals too. These offerings remind us that Buddhism is an Indian tradition. And in India today we have both people for whom Buddhism is their longstanding heritage and others who have adopted it anew, among them followers of Dr Ambedkar.
“Buddha Shakyamuni lived in India and what he taught was subsequently preserved in great learning institutions like Takshashila, Vikramashila and Nalanda. When the Tibetan Emperor Trisong Detsen invited Shantarakshita to Tibet in the 8th century CE, he brought the Nalanda tradition to the Land of Snow. Tibetans have been custodians of this tradition for more than 1000 years. We can say that historically you Indians were our teachers, but since then, we the disciples have kept the tradition alive. So, it stirs special feelings in me to be able to share it with you now.”
His Holiness mentioned that something that distinguishes India, the Land of the Aryas, is that all the world’s major religions have flourished here for 1000 years. There are the indigenous traditions like the Samkhya, Jain and Buddhist traditions, and they have been joined by Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. He said this is where we can find all these traditions living together in mutual respect and as such is a model for others to follow. He observed that India’s contemplative traditions, including Buddhism, possess ancient understanding of the workings of the mind that continue to be relevant and of interest today.
His Holiness emphasised that while some religious traditions are theistic and stress the existence of a creator god, others are non-theistic and instead focus on causality, the law of cause and effect. Nevertheless, they all convey the same message of the importance of love and compassion and the need to protect these qualities with tolerance, contentment and self-discipline. These are traditions that have been of benefit in the past, are of benefit now, and will continue to be of benefit in the future. They may assert different philosophical points of view, but all foster the practice of love and compassion. For this reason it is important to promote inter-religious harmony amongst them.
“The Buddha’s unique teaching,” His Holiness added, “the Four Noble Truths is based on the law of cause and effect and ultimately leads to lasting happiness. He asserted the existence of neither a creator god nor an inherently existent self. Those who came after him like Nagarjuna and Asanga and their followers wrote explanatory treatises in Sanskrit. In due course, the words of the Buddha translated into Tibetan came to comprise the 100 volumes of the Kangyur and the translations of those treatises made up the 220 volumes of the Tengyur.
“It was on the basis of these volumes that study of the Five Major Sciences: the inner science of Buddhist doctrine and practice, language, logic, medicine and arts and crafts and the Five Minor Sciences of grammar and so forth were maintained. My tutor taught me Sanskrit grammar, but now that knowledge has dissolved into emptiness.”
During a short break, His Holiness invited the audience to ask questions and the first was about death. His Holiness observed that impermanence was referred to in the first discourse on the Four Noble Truths. He said there is subtle impermanence, which refers to the momentary change, and coarser impermanence that is manifest when a flower blooms, withers and dies. He said it is useful to reflect on the fact of death every day as part of your spiritual practice. He mentioned that it is a routine part of tantric practice to visualize the process of death, the eight stages of dissolution every day, which may serve as some preparation for the actual event. He concluded:
“Death is a part of life; we should accept that.”
Another questioner wanted him to talk about a monk’s robes and he explained that generally they should be blue, red or yellow, but not black or white. Red is a more practical colour for a cold climate like that of Tibet, whereas monks in Thailand, Sri Lanka and Burma wear saffron coloured robes. Whatever the colour, the robes are supposed to be made of patches or pieces of cloth. Monks are permitted one set of robes that they may think of as belonging to them. If they have any more they should think of them as belonging to the community. Similarly, there are 13 articles a monk may possess and there is a procedure for blessing them.
Concerning relations between the Himalayan Region and the Nalanda Tradition, His Holiness said:
“I received important teachings from masters from that part of the world. From Khunu Lama Rinpoche I received transmission and explanation of ‘Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life’ and from Geshe Rigzin Tenpa I heard Je Tsongkhapa’s ‘Golden Rosary’. These days there are about 400 monks from the region studying in our monastic institutions. Many of them will become teachers.
“Vasabandhu said that the teaching of the Buddha has two aspects: scriptures and realizations. Only through study and practice will we preserve them. In relation to the scriptures that entails giving and listening to discourses and in relation to realization it means engaging in practice of the Three Trainings. People from the Himalayan Region should study and practise as well as they can. This means not only the monks, but the nuns and lay-people too.
“When we say ‘I take refuge in the Three Jewels, we need to understand what the Three Jewels are; what their causes are. And our understanding needs to be supported by reason.”
Turning to Shantideva’s ‘Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life’, His Holiness repeated what Khunu Lama Rinpoche had told him, which was that since Shantideva composed it in the 8th century CE, there had been no greater text on generating the awakening mind of bodhichitta. He said:
“Shantideva’s sources were Nagarjuna’s ‘Precious Garland’ and ‘Commentary on the Awakening Mind’, which is a commentary on a chapter of the Guhyasamaja Tantra. Nagarjuna’s sources for how to generate the awakening mind include the ‘Array of Stalks Sutra’ and the Perfection of Wisdom Sutras.
“After the Buddha attained enlightenment he remained silent thinking that no one else would understand what he had discovered—his profound insight into emptiness. Eventually he taught the Four Noble Truths, their 16 attributes and the 37 Aids to Enlightenment in public. A more thorough explanation of emptiness he gave to a select group at Vultures’ Peak. So of the three Turnings of the Wheel of Dharma, the first dealt with the Four Noble Truths, the second with the Perfection of Wisdom and the third with Buddha nature and the nature of the mind.”
His Holiness said he would not read everything in the book, but would try to shed light on what it has to say about method and wisdom and the two truths. He said that things do not exist in the way they appear and our misconceptions about this are what give rise to our negative emotions. He pointed out that we can counter our tendency to self-cherishing by cultivating a concern for others. He noted that although Chapter 9 of the ‘Guide’ deals with emptiness, to understand it properly requires reading and studying other books too.
The teachings will continue tomorrow.