Shewatsel, Leh, Ladakh UT, India, 21 July 2023: People began pouring into the Shewatsel Teaching Area soon after the sun rose this morning. Eventually, an estimated 45,000 filled the ground. His Holiness the Dalai Lama drove from the Shewatsel Phodrang to the teaching pavilion in a golf cart. Before him walked monks in their ceremonial yellow hats blowing horns. A symbolic yellow silk umbrella fluttered over the vehicle as it drove. His Holiness smiled and waved to the crowd as he passed. Meanwhile, before the throne, local schoolchildren displayed their debating skills.
Within the teaching pavilion His Holiness paid his respects and lit a lamp before the image of the Buddha. Assembled guests greeted him as he walked out to the edge of stage before the throne. From there he again smiled and waved to the crowd to the left, right and in front, as well as making a gesture into the space above. Tens of thousands of people folded their hands in response to his greeting.
Local Lamas and Tulkus sat around the throne as His Holiness took his seat. A formal mandala offering was made by officials of the Ladakh Buddhist Association (LBA) and the Ladakh Gonpa Association (LGA) and sponsors of the occasion.
“Today, here in Ladakh, I’m going to give a discourse on the teaching of the Buddha,” His Holiness began. “All religious traditions teach us to be kind and helpful to one another, which I appreciate. I value and respect all religious traditions. When I visit different places in different countries, I try to visit other people’s places of worship if I can.
“People on this earth fight each other for a variety of reasons, but when they do so in the name of religion, it’s really unfortunate. This is one of the reasons why I make an effort to establish inter-religious harmony.
“Here in Ladakh for example, the majority of the population are Buddhist, but there is also a substantial community of Muslims, as well as a number of Christians and others belonging to the non-Buddhist traditions of India. They may all have different philosophical ways of explaining their traditions, but in the end they all come down to different ways of serving other beings. The Christians, for instance, are known for their work to provide education and health care, but all these traditions do good. For that reason, it’s important that they be on good terms with each other. And they can achieve that by gathering every now and then to get to know each other better.
“Today, the weather is better. It’s neither too hot nor too cold. Although they are invisible to us, I feel that local spirits, gods and deities have gathered here to listen to the teachings too.
“Today, we’ll go through the ‘Thirty-seven Practices of All Bodhisattvas’ by Gyalsé Thogmé Sangpo. The author was a bodhisattva who meditated in the Ngulchu caves. Of the many aspects of Buddhist practice in which he engaged, he mostly focussed on bodhichitta, cultivating the altruistic awakening mind. Tomorrow, I’ll give the empowerment of Avalokiteshvara, the Great Compassionate One.
“I received the explanation of this text from the Kinnauri Lama, Khunu Lama Rinpoché. It’s a very beneficial teaching that deals with bodhichitta and the Way of the Bodhisattva. I meditate on bodhichitta every morning as soon as I wake up. There is no better way to fulfil our own goals or those of others. It gives me the courage to work for all sentient beings until the end of space.
“When I think of benefitting all sentient being and not doing anyone any harm, it gives rise to a joyful state of mind. It contributes to my being physically fit and ensures that I get sound sleep.”
His Holiness mentioned that all over the world people talk about peace. The First and Second World Wars of the last century were a period of great violence. So many weapons were used to kill and destroy. But it’s not enough to just declare we need to put an end to war, he said, as long as we aim for our own victory and the defeat of others. He pointed out that we’re all part of human society and we all depend on others.
He observed that even if we have different ways of thinking, that’s no excuse to fight with one another. He emphasized that we need a sense of the oneness of humanity and a wish to establish peace. These days, because we are all so much more interdependent, we need a strong sense of brotherhood and sisterhood.
His Holiness noted that from birth we’re all nurtured with love and affection. Children respond openly to their fellows without any discrimination. It’s only as they grow up that they learn to distinguish one from the other.
We may have differences of economic system, but we still need to live in peace and cooperation with our fellow human beings. We should think in terms of mutual benefit, not in terms of ‘us’ and ‘them’.
He reiterated that just talking about peace isn’t enough. Real world peace will only come about when we reduce arrogance and jealousy, anger and hatred and increase our sense of love and compassion. His Holiness stressed that we all suffer from the climate crisis and global heating, therefore we have to help one another.
“It’s basic human nature to be affectionate,” His Holiness continued. “Right at the beginning of our lives we have no wish to fight. But as we grow up, we learn to think in terms of ‘us’ and ‘them’. Instead, we should think of all human beings as part of ‘us’. World peace will not fall from the sky or spring up from the earth of its own accord. In his ‘Entering into the Middle Way’ Chandrakirti praises the value of bodhichitta at the beginning, middle and end of the path. Therefore, we should increase compassion and reduce negative thoughts in our minds—that’s what’s taught in this text.
“As far as I’m concerned, bodhichitta is my main practice and my daily prayer is:
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.
“Let’s look at the text. As I said earlier, I received an explanation of it from the Kinnauri Lama, Khunu Lama Rinpoché, Tenzin Gyaltsen. When they were both still in Tibet, my Senior Tutor, Kyabjé Ling Rinpoché studied poetry with him. So, when I expressed a wish to receive teachings from Khunu Lama Rinpoché, Ling Rinpoché said it would be good to do so.
“On meeting him, I asked Khunu Lama Rinpoché if he had studied Shantideva’s ‘Bodhicharyavatara’, the ‘Way of the Bodhisattva’ and he told me it was his principal practice. In due course, he taught it to me and it has been very beneficial to my mind. Since I received his explanation of it, I’ve always kept a copy close at hand next to my bed.
“We have deity practices according to which we imagine ourselves as deities, but it is the ‘Way of the Bodhisattva’ that has really been beneficial to my mind.”
Turning to the ‘Thirty-seven Practices of All Bodhisattvas’ His Holiness noted that the very first lines consist of a homage to Avalokiteshvara, who embodies compassion just as Manjushri embodies wisdom. It’s because of past prayers that we now feel close to Avalokiteshvara and recite his mantra.
The next verse includes the author’s promise to compose the text. His Holiness remarked that countless Buddhas have made bodhichitta their main practice and have consequently been of service to sentient beings. So, as followers of Buddha Shakyamuni, we too should cultivate bodhichitta.
His Holiness stated that we all say, ‘I take refuge in the Buddha’, but we have to ask ourselves what the word Buddha means. The first syllable of the Tibetan term ‘Sang-gyé’ indicates someone who has overcome all defilements that comprise destructive emotions and their residual stains. The second syllable represents seeing everything there is to be known, such as the Two Truths, clearly. The Buddha, therefore, is someone who has overcome all negativities and gained full and clear knowledge of everything to be known.
Achieving perfect enlightenment, His Holiness went on, does not occur without gathering the causes and conditions. We not only need to be determined to achieve Buddhahood, but also need to eliminate all destructive emotions and obscurations to knowledge. And to do that we need to employ the innate mind of clear light.
“If you make an effort,” His Holiness advised, “you’ll be able to develop these qualities and day by day you’ll make progress. My own experience is that I was born in Siling and came to Central Tibet to find out about the Buddha. I’ve learned and practised and now have some experience of bodhichitta and emptiness. I’ve not only become familiar with them, but engaging with them has become easier.
“If you acquaint your mind with these practices, you will be able to see a transformation within. Along with the practice of bodhichitta, we should meditate on emptiness. All schools of Buddhism teach about it, but it is only the school of Middle Way Consequentialists (Prasangika Madhyamaka) that teaches that nothing whatsoever has any inherent existence. Things only exist by way of designation; by name. Things function as this or that, but they only exist by name or designation.
“The Buddhist tradition we have preserved in Tibet and the Himalayan Region is a complete presentation, all of which comes down to cultivating bodhichitta and the view of emptiness.
“First we study and then reflect on what we’ve learned. That leads to an understanding based on reflection and by meditating on that we generate a genuine experience of the teaching. I’m not just repeating empty words to you, this has been my own experience. You can develop bodhichitta and insight into emptiness in your own mind. As observed by a Bodhisattva on the path of accumulation looking towards the path of preparation, practice is about transforming your mind.
“When we take refuge in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, the main thing to understand is that we should become the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha ourselves. We should ultimately embody the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha ourselves.”
After the promise to compose His Holiness read through the verses of the text, highlighting their essence as practices of Bodhisattvas—giving up homeland, cultivating seclusion, and because consciousness will eventually leave this body, letting go of this life. The next verses counsel, give up bad friends, followed by cherish spiritual teachers, take refuge in the Three Jewels and never do wrong.
“Attachment and anger,” His Holiness observed, “are not in the nature of the mind. If they were, we’d never have any other experience. But, as it happens, negative emotions are only temporary, while love and compassion become stronger with acquaintance. The basic nature of the mind is clarity and awareness.
“Is it possible to curtail mental afflictions and overcome them? It is. Ignorance, for example isn’t of the nature of the mind, but it is because of ignorance, seeing things as being inherently existent, that anger and hatred arise in us. Examine your own experience and you’ll see that you can overcome destructive emotions and develop positive states of mind such as bodhichitta.
“It is clear that we can transform our minds. Here’s an example: Chinese communists have brought Tibetans so much trouble, but instead of feeling anger towards them, we can remember that they act out of ignorance and we can feel compassionate towards them. A verse in the ‘Offering to the Spiritual Master’ (Lama Chöpa) that summarizes this.
Therefore, O venerable compassionate gurus,
Bless me that all the obstructions from misdeeds, and sufferings
Of mother beings ripen upon me right now,
And that I may give my happiness and virtues to others
In order that all sentient beings have bliss.
His Holiness then read briskly through the remaining verses, noting that where verse 22 refers to not taking to mind inherent signs of subject and object, it can apply to the views of both the Mind Only and Middle Way schools.
The colophon notes that the text was composed by the Bodhisattva Thogmé Sangpo. In the copy from which His Holiness was reading that was published by Lhatsun Rinpoché in Tibet, the publisher wrote:
Wishing to be of help to others but feeling incapable of doing so,
Streams of tears and compassion
Moisten my face and heart.
Thus, I give this advice to my disciples from my heart.
I am publishing this text with the intention of benefitting others, which is the foundation of training in the aspiring and engaging bodhichitta of the Great Vehicle. By the virtue of doing so, may the wishes of all who uphold, preserve and spread the teachings of the omniscient Buddha Shakyamuni, and in particular the supreme tradition that unites the explanations and realizations of Sutra and Tantra, taught by the Gentle Protector Tsongkhapa, be spontaneously fulfilled. May his lotus feet remain steadfast until the end of the cycle of existence.
He ended with an aspiration that the wishes of the patron of the publication, one Dorjé Tsewang, be fulfilled.
“I knew Lhatsun Rinpoché,” His Holiness revealed. “He told me that once when he was performing a rite of longevity based on White Tara, he had a vision of rays of light radiating from the heart of Arya Tara and striking an image of me nearby. He assured me that this was an indication that I would live a long life.
“We’ve finished the teaching for today. Tomorrow I’ll give the empowerment of the Great Compassionate One. Because this practice belongs to the category of Action Tantras, you should avoid meat, eggs and fish for breakfast.”
Once again, His Holiness came to the edge of the stage to wave to the crowd. And before boarding the golf-cart below to the door to the pavilion, he made a point of saluting the people gathered nearby, including a group of Ladakhi drummers. Then he climbed into the vehicle and was driven steadily back to his residence acknowledging members of the public on each side as he went.