Dharamshala: This morning His Holiness the Dalai Lama was joined in conversation via video link by Gaur Gopal Das, a former Hewlett Packard engineer who is now a monk belonging to the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON). As the link came online, Das offered His Holiness, “Namaste” and he replied, “I’m ready.”
After stating how honoured he was to take part in the conversation, Das gave a short introduction to His Holiness. He concluded by noting that we are all shaped by our teachers and our education and invited His Holiness to say something about his own upbringing.
“I’m very happy. It’s also an honour for me,” His Holiness began, “to have this discussion with you, an Indian, and, if I may say so, a typical Indian. I feel that modern India places too much emphasis on material goals. For more than 3000 years, India has upheld the practice of ‘ahimsa’ and ‘karuna’. And yet these qualities are somewhat neglected today.
“I’m a follower of the Nalanda Tradition. The masters of Nalanda that we remember today were all Indian. The Buddha was Indian and he assimilated the Indian practices of ‘ahimsa’ and ‘karuna’. However, one thing that distinguished him from other teachers was his advice to his followers: “As the wise test gold by burning, cutting and rubbing it, so, bhikshus, should you accept my words — only after testing them, and not merely out of respect for me.” Nalanda Masters like Nagarjuna followed this cue and adopted a logical, questioning approach.
“I feel that the ancient Indian conduct of ‘ahimsa’ rooted in ‘karuna’ emerged from common practices for developing a calmly abiding mind, ‘shamatha’, and insight into reality, ‘vipashyana’. Achieving insight involves reasoning and analysis, while the mind’s calmly abiding increases its ability because our minds are usually scattered. Analysis is a faculty that only belongs to mental consciousness, so we need some deeper experience of the mind if we’re going to employ it. I believe India has the ability to educate people at large about the potential of the mind.
“All sentient beings survive due to the loving kindness of others. Without our mother’s affection, we human beings would not survive. We depend on the compassion of others. And despite their differing philosophical views, all religious traditions convey a message of love and compassion.
“‘Ahimsa’ and ‘karuna’ provide the basis for mental peace. What destroys peace of mind is anger — and ‘ahimsa’ and ‘karuna’ are antidotes to that. Modern education teaches the benefits of physical hygiene, but what we need in addition is to teach what amounts to emotional hygiene, as revealed in ancient Indian tradition. This is part of a deeper understanding of the mind that we need to develop if we are really going to achieve inner peace.
“I describe myself as a messenger of ancient Indian thought because wherever I go and whenever I can, I talk about ‘ahimsa’ and ‘karuna’ in a strictly secular context.”
Gaur Gopal Das thanked His Holiness for drawing attention to India’s universal values — values that are applicable to everyone. He observed that His Holiness had stressed the need to apply these ancient values in modern ways. He compared this to a lame man and a blind man, neither of whom can cross the road by themselves. The lame man can’t walk and the blind man can’t see, but if they help each other, the blind man carrying the lame, they will be able to cross the road. Das compared modern education to having able legs, with ancient knowledge providing the ability to see.
He picked up on His Holiness’s remarks about peace and how everyone has a part to play in achieving it. He asked how, today, when people are so distraught, they can make the changes necessary to be at peace. His Holiness replied that it’s always necessary to analyse the particular situation and use our human intelligence to decide what to do. He mentioned that it is reason and intelligence that reveals the importance of compassion.
Until the end of the 20th century, he remarked, scientists were only concerned with the brain. But towards the end of the century they began to understand that there is something else — the mind — that affects the brain. They discovered that deep meditation can be shown to have brought about changes in the brain. Consequently, scientists today accept the importance of the mind and training in compassion.
His Holiness also observed that quantum physics distinguishes between appearance and reality. This is significant because destructive emotions are based on the misconception that things exist as they appear. Ancient Indian traditions concur that nothing exists as it appears. One way to cultivate peace of mind would be to combine the insights of ancient Indian knowledge with those of modern science.
“Some scientists say,” His Holiness declared, “that because we are social animals, we have a natural concern for other members of our community. It’s they on whom our lives depend. This is why we need to teach our children about their emotions and how to tackle those that are destructive. We must all learn how to shape a healthy human being and healthy communities. Indian tradition can contribute to this today, just as Mahatma Gandhi revealed the value of non-violent action in the last century. Here and now, in the 21st century, India can contribute to educating people in ways to achieve peace of mind.”
Das agreed that we are meant to help each other, to serve each other. But, he wanted to know, what is it that holds us back?
His Holiness mentioned that one of his commitments is to promoting inter-religious harmony. He reiterated that all religious traditions convey a message of love and compassion, tolerance and forgiveness, self-discipline. It’s this practical essence, he said, that we should pay attention to, not the philosophical differences between us.
“I’m confident that it’s possible for our religious traditions to live in harmony with each other. Look at India. All the world’s religious traditions flourish here. And the essence of practice of them all is compassion and forgiveness.
“I encouraged my Muslim friends in Ladakh to convene a conference on this theme and representatives from countries such as Iran attended. Indian religious leaders in general should be more active in showing our neighbours that inter-religious harmony can be achieved. These days many people engage in the practice of meditation and yoga, but it would also be good if they worked to promote religious harmony and the importance of simple loving-kindness among the seven billion brothers and sisters with whom we share this planet. The past is past, but we can shape a new future.”
Das again agreed that people should work together and focus on the essence of spiritual practice. He recalled meeting His Holiness on previous occasions and noticing how he combines joy with depth and gravity. He asked how other people might find a balance between these traits.
“Many years ago, on a visit to London, I was at a tea party when an elderly British gentleman told me how much he admired the way I was prepared to say, “I don’t know”. It’s important to be honest and truthful. Added to that, I think we Tibetans in general are naturally joyful.
“Apart from this, my practice of altruism and compassion means that I see all human beings as my brothers and sisters. Altruism is the root of happiness, while self-centredness is the source of unending anxiety and anger.
“A book called ‘Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life’, by an eighth century Indian master, Shantideva, is my inspiration. The sixth chapter talks about patience and anger and chapter eight is about helping others to be happy. This is what I try to practise and what yields deep peace of mind. This book explains how your enemies can be seen as spiritual teachers because without them you’d have no opportunity to develop patience.
“I think of altruism the moment I wake up, so it’s an essential part of my daily practice. You believe in ‘atman’ and I believe in ‘anatman’, but we both need food and sleep and we both cultivate compassion. If we make the effort, we can extend our practice of compassion day by day, week by week and year by year. This is an aspect of longstanding Indian tradition that I really appreciate.
“When the eighth century Tibetan Emperor invited the Nalanda master, Shantarakshita to Tibet, he stressed in addition the importance of reasoned analysis.”
Finally, Gaur Gopal Das asked what three lessons His Holiness had learned in his long life.
“Firstly,” His Holiness told him, “Shantideva, who I referred to just now, recommended that when things are difficult, it’s worth analysing whether these difficulties can be overcome. If they can, you should make the effort to do so. If they cannot, there’s no use troubling yourself by worrying about them. This, I regard as essentially practical advice.
“With regard to educational reform, the Chief Minister of Delhi has initiated the introduction of a Happiness Curriculum in Delhi’s schools to shape better, happier children with improved values. It would be good to hold a seminar to discuss ways to combine ancient Indian knowledge with modern education. I believe there’s a real need to review how to teach children to be happier and how to make this approach more widely available.”
Gaur Gopal Das thanked His Holiness for sparing his time to speak to him and share his thoughts. “I’m sure there has been great benefit,” he said.
In his concluding remarks, His Holiness noted that some scientists have declared that global warming is increasing decade by decade and maybe beyond our control. As a consequence, lakes and rivers, our sources of water, may disappear. “In the time we have left,” he stressed, “it would be better not to quarrel, but to live together happily.”
SOURCED FROM DALAILAMA.COM.