DHARAMSHALA: On early Monday morning, after attending the monastic confession and purification ceremony (So-jong) in the main temple here at Theckchen Chöling, His Holiness the Dalai Lama came down to take his seat on the throne in the temple garden. First he explained the significance of the day:
“Today, when the moon is full, we remember the occasion on which the Buddha displayed miracles and defeated rivals. There is a tradition of reading one of the Jataka Tales, the stories of the Buddha’s previous lives as a Bodhisattva, on this day. It’s a tradition that began with Je Tsongkhapa, who in 1409 founded the Great Prayer Festival, the Mönlam Chenmo. The festival was celebrated for 550 years in Lhasa and we have maintained the tradition since coming into exile in 1959. It was also revived to some extent in Tibet due to the influence of late Panchen Rinpoche.”
His Holiness asked, “What is it we are commemorating?” and explained that when Vasubhandu paid homage to the Buddha, he praised him for overcoming ignorance and becoming enlightened and on the basis of that knowledge for teaching about reality. There are different levels of knowledge: knowledge of things that are open and obvious and knowledge of things that are slightly obscure that we can understand through reason and inference. If we confirm these things to ourselves through reason and analysis, we conclude that we can trust what the Buddha taught, including those things that are very hidden, to be true. Thus, we can develop trust based on investigation and research, not merely on blind faith.
Pointing out that we all want pleasure and don’t want pain, His Holiness said that the main cause of suffering, the pain we cause ourselves, is ignorance. Therefore, we need to overcome ignorance. We need to understand reality, which is how we can directly counter ignorance. We can gain freedom and liberation, overcoming suffering, by acquiring knowledge, gaining insight into the ultimate nature of things. We are able to know and understand because the nature of the mind is clear and knowing. His Holiness advised that we need to read and listen to teachings, reflect on what we have read or heard until we have understood it and then meditate on what we have understood. He mentioned that there are some teachings that can be taken literally and others that need interpretation. He said that what the Buddha clearly explained is that things are interdependent; nothing comes about by itself, independently. Things only come about in dependence on other factors.
His Holiness said that there are 7 billion people in the world, none of whom wants to face trouble. So why do we face problems? because we have a narrow view and do not look at things from a holistic perspective. The USA and China may be superpowers, but they have many problems for the same reason. The Chinese authorities need to see the Tibetan problem, for example, from a larger perspective. Instead of just imposing their own point of view, they should act according to reality. Deng Xiaoping recommended seeking truth from facts. This is consistent with the teaching of the Buddha. Why should we seek truth from facts? to overcome the problems that confront us.
“If you take the welfare of others into consideration,” His Holiness said, “you will remain ethical and moral. Then, if you have the opportunity to cheat and deceive other people, you will restrain yourself. Because we are dependent on others we should avoid harming them.”
In foregoing their own happiness in the interest of helping others and cherishing others more than themselves, Bodhisattvas wisely ensure their own welfare. He asked why we need to be moral and answered that it is because we want happiness. If we are moral, it creates trust. Trust brings us friends. We earn trust by being honest, straightforward and transparent. This is how being moral is for our own benefit.
Buddhahood is the result not only of overcoming both the coarse and subtle obstructions within us; the Buddha also taught how to cultivate positive qualities by applying reason. He showed the means by which we can transform ourselves from beginners on the path to its final fruit.
Of the 7 billion people on the earth today, about 1 billion are said to have no religion. But, His Holiness asked, how many of the supposed religious believers are actually deceiving themselves and others. In India, people are by and large very religious and yet corruption flourishes in apparent contradiction to this trend. No religion teaches us to bully, cheat or exploit others, so those who are corrupt in this way are not really religious. He said that what we can learn from this is the need to be sincere followers of the Buddha or whichever religious teacher we believe in. Developing compassion, a warm heart, is fundamental to leading such a moral life.
His Holiness remarked that Tibetan literature includes more than 300 volumes of Kangyur and Tengyur, the translated teachings of the Buddha and commentaries to them by subsequent Indian Buddhist masters. He said we should treat these as text books to be read and studied, not just as objects of veneration. He pointed out that on his travels he never commends Buddhism over other spiritual paths or suggests that other people become Buddhists, however, Tibetans need to acknowledge the treasure that is their Buddhist heritage.
“We have our own language, which is the best means for explaining Buddhism. English is not always adequate or precise enough for what we want to say. Tibetan may not yet be up to explaining modern science, but it is the best language for conveying Buddhist teachings. We need to be aware of the value of what we have. We keep gold and other valuables secure in a safe, but knowledge is not like that. If we don’t use it or apply it, it’s not useful.”
Saying that this had been a general introduction, His Holiness quoted Je Tsongkhapa’s praise of the Buddha for teaching about reality; Buddhism is a path to liberation. Reasoning is a part of the path. He said,
“In the sixties the Chinese dismissed Buddhism as a form of blind faith, predicting that with the growth of understanding of science it would wither away. This hasn’t happened. In fact, many reputed scientists today have great admiration for Buddhism as we saw in the recent Mind & Life conference in Drepung Monastery in South India.”
Turning to the 29th Jataka Tale, ‘A Visitor from Brahmaloka’, His Holiness said that Brahmaloka refers to the various stages of developing concentration. He remarked that he had recently been invited to attend the Maha Kumbh Mela in Allahabad and had looked forward to going. However, the first date turned out to be unsuitable and on the second occasion that he was hoping to go, the weather prevented his visit. He expressed regret because he wanted particularly to talk to the experienced meditators, those who also see attachment to coarse objects as negative.
He read the Jataka Tale, concluding that due to his encounter with the Bodhisattva the king in the story overcame his wrong views and developed humility. As he walked back to his residence, His Holiness greeted many members of the public. Monks, nuns and lay-people gathered in the temple then conducted the final sessions of this year’s Mönlam Chenmo.