Dharamshala: This morning (5 March) saw the opening of a virtual international conference on the Tisikkha or Trishiksha, the three trainings in the Pali and Sanskrit traditions of Buddhism. His Holiness the Dalai Lama was invited to give the inaugural address from his residence in Dharamsala.
Ms Ng Wee Nee opened proceedings, welcoming guests and participants and explaining that the event had been organized by the Tibetan Buddhist Centre of Singapore supported by 12 other Buddhist organizations: the Oxford Buddhist Vihara, Singapore; the Theravada Buddhist Council of Malaysia; the Vajrayana Buddhist Council of Malaysia; the Buddhadasa Indapanno Archive Foundation; the International Network of Engaged Buddhists; the Sri Lankan Tibet Buddhist Brotherhood Society; the Buddhist Society of Western Australia; the Buddhist Union of Kalmykia, Russia; the Department of Buddhist Studies, Dharma Drum Institute of Liberal Arts, Taiwan; the Department of Religion and Culture of Hsuan Chuang University, Taiwan; the Kertarajasa Buddhist College, Indonesia and Labsum Shedrup Ling, Korea.
Ms Ng Wee Nee mentioned that there are presently at least 500 million Buddhists in the world for whom dependent arising is their philosophical view and for whom non-violence and compassion are their basic conduct. She observed that the internet has provided an opportunity for a virtual gathering of Buddhist communities. During the conference, which will take place over two days, 38 speakers from 14 countries will address the role of the Three trainings in the Pali and Sanskrit traditions.
Functioning as moderator of the discussions, Ven Mahayano from Thailand introduced the first speaker, the Most Ven Bhikshu Jing Yao, Chairman of Buddhist Association of the Republic of China (Taiwan), who spoke in Chinese. He observed that the purpose of the three trainings in both the Pali and Sanskrit traditions is to help beings overcome suffering. The Buddha taught the noble eightfold path in order that sentient beings cease to develop afflictive emotions and can face death peacefully.
The Most Ven Bhikshu Jing Yao went on to say that the scope of the noble eightfold path is wide. It includes the extensive practices of the four noble truths and the three trainings. We cannot establish the reality of the four noble truths without practising the noble eightfold path. The eightfold path is inseparable from the four noble truths and the twelve links of dependent arising. The twelve links establish the reality of suffering, while the four noble truths embody the process of pacifying these sufferings and the noble eightfold path enable us to pacify completely the causes of suffering—this is the truth of the path.
If we practise ‘sila’, ethics, ‘samadhi’, concentration and ‘panna’, wisdom, we can purify desire, hatred and ignorance. We will understand what is to be adopted and what is to be abandoned. In this way, we will become more peaceful human beings. Ven Bhikshu Jing Yao concluded, “Let us all practise the three trainings for the sake of all mother sentient beings. May all be peaceful and happy.”
Ven Mahayano next requested the Most Ven Dr Dammapiya – Secretary General of International Buddhist Confederation (India) to offer his introductory remarks. He began by reciting the refuge formula, “Buddham saranam gacchami, Dhammam saranam gacchami, Sangham saranam gacchami,” and then continued in English. He noted that Tisikkha and Trishiksha appear to be different terms, but refer to the same teaching of the Buddha. He also remarked that although Buddhist tradition has many branches, it shares a common root. He expressed gratitude for this opportunity for representatives of different Buddhist traditions to come together in discussion.
Previous deliberations have revealed that the Vinaya upheld by all Buddhist traditions is essentially the same. Now there is a chance to examine the three trainings. He pointed out that the Buddha began with objective observation. He saw a sick man, an old man and a dead man and recognised things as they are. There was no blind faith involved, but objective observation.
Understanding is deepened by vipassana, enabling the recognition of unsatisfactoriness, impermanence and selflessness. These days, Dr Dammapiya remarked, there is a growing desire for more, but in representing the middle path of moderation, the three trainings can have a positive impact on society. A compassionate heart, he declared, a clear, purified mind and a right view of the world lead to a balanced mind avoiding violence and extremes and fostering peaceful, harmonious co-existence in the world.
Technical difficulties prevented the third introductory speaker, the Most Venerable Makulewe Wimala Mahanayake Thero from joining the conversation at the appointed time, so Ven Mahayano invited His Holiness the Dalai Lama to give his inaugural address. After reciting a short verse of homage, he began.
“People from different Buddhist communities have come together on this occasion. Holders of the Vinaya, of which I am one, have been invited. I hope our exchanges will be marked by openness.
“Buddha Shakyamuni’s teaching has flourished for more than 2500 years making it one of the world’s major religious traditions. However, lately it has also attracted scientific interest. Although we have the terms Hinayana and Mahayana, I prefer to speak of the Pali and Sanskrit Traditions. Vinaya, monastic discipline and the three trainings in ethics, concentration and wisdom, the essence of the Buddha’s teaching, are upheld in both. The Buddha was a monk and the practice of Vinaya is the foundation of both the Pali and Sanskrit Traditions.
“As a human being, I regard as one of my principal responsibilities to increase awareness of love and compassion in the world, irrespective of whether other people believe in rebirth or the law of karma or not. This is my first commitment. As a religious practitioner I appreciate that all religious traditions speak of the need to develop compassion. We may adopt different philosophical positions, but we all have a common regard for compassion.
“One category of religious tradition is theistic and emphasizes the role of God, not only as the creator, but also as the personification of compassion—the quality to aspire to. Buddhism is a non-theistic tradition. It’s foundation, preserved particularly in the Pali Tradition, is the upholding of Vinaya, monastic discipline, the focus of which is keeping vows of individual emancipation. In Tibet we followed the Mulasarvastivadin lineage, in China they have the Dharmagupta tradition and followers of the Pali uphold the Theravada tradition.
“Scholars of Nalanda University worked in Sanskrit. When King Trisong Detsen invited the erudite scholar Shantarakshita to Tibet he recommended that Tibetans translate Buddhist literature into Tibetan. The resultant collection included 100 volumes of the Buddha’s discourses and more than 200 volumes of explanatory treatises by subsequent scholars.
“The tradition Shantarakshita introduced to Tibet was a comprehensive presentation of the Buddha’s teachings. It relied on the exercise of reason and logic and encouraged analysis of what was written in the scriptures. Nagarjuna’s work depended on logic and reason. Dignaga and Dharmakirti focused on logic and epistemology, as exemplified by the ‘Compendium of Valid Cognition’.
“The Buddha advised his followers, “O monks and scholars, as gold is tested by burning, cutting and rubbing, examine my words thoroughly and accept them only then—not just out of respect for me.” I recommend followers of the Pali Tradition to adopt this logical approach and examine the Perfection of Wisdom teachings along with 21 extant Indian commentaries to them. These were further clarified by Jé Tsongkhapa in his treatise ‘The Golden Rosary’.
“Tsongkhapa emphasized study of epistemology, the Perfection of Wisdom and Madhyamaka. He didn’t write much about Vinaya or Abhidharma—Higher Knowledge. Practice of Vinaya depends on scriptural authority. Vasubandhu’s account of cosmology and the size, position and distance between the earth, sun and moon, for example, are not to be taken literally, unlike Chandrakirti’s presentation of ultimate reality.
“Study based on reason, not only reliant on scriptural authority, has equipped us to interact fruitfully with scientists. Indeed, Buddhism is now attracting interest and attention from directions not seen before.
“As Buddhists we must cultivate good relations between us. We must also uphold the Three trainings, but nowadays I believe that ethics, concentration and wisdom can be useful even for those who follow no religious tradition.”
The moderator was pleased to announce that previous technical difficulties had been overcome and introduced the Most Venerable Makulewe Wimala Mahanayake Thero, the Chief Prelate of Sri Rammanna Maha Nikaya of Sri Lanka.
He began his address with the declaration that as a Buddhist monk
it is his duty to help everyone to lead a good life. To do this, the ‘Trisiksha’, namely virtue, concentration and wisdom play a very significant role. Virtue here, he clarified, is to tame the body and speech. Concentration is to focus the mind. Wisdom involves seeing the true nature of the world. Consequently, the mind that is born of wisdom will realize enlightenment. He observed that virtuous behaviour leads to concentration and strong concentration leads to the purification of the wisdom of insight meditation.
Virtue includes rules proclaimed by the Buddha, the discipline or taming of the senses, avoiding wrong livelihood and adopting right livelihood, as well as accepting instruction on the consumption of requisites. Concentration involves carefully preserving the mind from becoming scattered. Wisdom entails correct recognition of impermanence, misery, and selflessness.
The noble eightfold path encompasses three collections of virtuous behaviour (sila), concentration (samadhi), and wisdom (panna). The perfection of the noble eightfold path, the cultivation of virtuous deeds, concentration, and wisdom, is the path of enlightenment spoken of by the Supreme Buddha.
The moderator thanked the Most Venerable from Sri Lanka and explained that although this virtual assembly brought together many languages and traditions, questions for His Holiness would be framed in English.
The first questioner asked about relations between the Pali and Sanskrit Traditions. His Holiness replied that they held the precepts of individual emancipation in common. During meetings like this, in the exchange of views between scholars and practitioners, it’s possible to appreciate how much we have in common. Even in the Sanskrit tradition there are four major different schools of thought and yet for all of them the Vinaya is the foundation.
A questioner from Singapore wanted to know if aspects of the three trainings could be usefully incorporated into secular education. His Holiness agreed that since the essence of the teaching is not to harm others, but to respect and help them, it could certainly be done.
Finally, from Malaysia came the simple question, “How to be a good Buddhist?” His Holiness’s response was that just repeating the words,
Buddham saranam gacchami—I take refuge in the Buddha,
Dhammam saranam gacchami—I take refuge in the Dharma,
Sangham saranam gacchami—I take refuge in the Sangha
doesn’t make you a Buddhist. You need to understand what is the Buddha, what is the Dharma and what is the Sangha—that understanding is what makes you a Buddhist. And in order to develop such an understanding you need to study.
“As a follower of the Buddha,” His Holiness added, “I’ve studied to some extent. I really appreciate this kind of meeting and I hope it is something that can take place annually. I hope further serious discussions will take place. I’m already looking forward to our next meeting.”
The moderator, Ven Mahayano, thanked His Holiness for his inaugural address to the conference. Ms Ng Wee Nee thanked all the speakers and participants for their contribution. His Holiness recited dedication prayers and, waving to the virtual audience, announced, “See you again”.