In his speech to a large crowd of Tibetans from Tibet given on Mar 27, 2006 at the end of his Monlam teaching in Dharamsala, the Dalai Lama spoke passionately about several issues, one of which was about the need for the concerned Tibetans and Buddhists to bring primary focus on quality when it comes to religious education, discoursing, or practice. The following are relevant excerpts, as translated by the editor.
Most of us Tibetans are poor when it comes to standards of knowledge. Speaking from the religious point of view, there are in our society of six million Tibetans people with astonishing degree of genuine faith in Buddhism. Buddhism is profound, became widespread and has been propagated from generation to generation and has therefore progressed and flourished. As a result, today too, the Snowland of Tibet is almost the only place where on the world stage the entirety of the Mahayana, Hinayana and Tantric teachings of Buddhism could be fully preserved, and where in this world the religious heritage of the Great Nalanda University could be fully kept, defended and spread without a whiff of contamination. In particular, in terms of keeping, defending and spreading the teaching and practice of Buddhism in an integrated manner, Tibet has the most profound tradition and curriculum. Taking the Tibetan society as a whole, the Snowland of Tibet has, through generations over a millennium, been a race of people who preserved Buddhism by keeping, defending and spreading it. Nevertheless, among the general public, it is obvious that knowledge of Buddhism is extremely poor.
In terms of the religious activities in our ecumenical monasteries in Tibet, the main consideration should not be given to the numerical strength of the monks and nuns in them; what is more relevant is that it is extremely important to ensure good qualities of training and discipline in them. Otherwise, if the standards of study and training are poor and the state of discipline too is nothing to talk about, large populations of monks and nuns would only mean too large numbers of such monks and nuns, which is of no help. Good quality is extremely important.
I some times see in the Tibetan community big efforts being seemingly made to enlarge the numbers of monks and nuns. I do not see this as particularly important. To speak bluntly, we do raise protests over the existing dangers of Tibetans becoming a minority in our own land. The danger is real. We also have considerable international support on this. In a period of such great change, when the Tibetan population is dangerously small, we ourselves would seem to be contributing further to the declining number by raising the population of monks and nuns to the point that there would be too many of them. Therefore, if despite the fact that the Tibetan population is already too small, the number of monks and nuns is raised further, the result will surely be a further decline of our population.
We also need to think about the situation in places like Ladakh. It is a failure resulting from extreme short-sightedness that there is an impression that in the ecumenical monasteries both in and outside Tibet great attention is being paid to an imperative to raise the number of monks and nuns, with seeming shortage of focus on the training and discipline of the monks and nuns.
Therefore, unless we think by paying attention to all aspects of the situation today, this is definitely not an era of progress for us. We all should think on the basis of having looked in all directions in our back and front, and to our left and right. It is certainly not a period in which we can make decisions solely on the basis of what we actually see before us. In any case, it is extremely important to uphold the quality of training and discipline as more important than the number of monks and nuns.
Like I said recently, when teaching on Choejug (Bodhisattva way of Life), being familiar with the Sutra and Tantra texts alone won't do. Ritualistically beating drums, striking cymbals and performing cham (religious dance) in supposed displays of religious practice, but remaining unable to recognize the Three Jewels (The Buddha, Dharma and Sangha) in reality would put us in danger of performing self-blessings. We must be very cautious about it. Buddhism is not revealed merely by beating drums and striking cymbals, and there is no way such rituals can enhance devotion. On the other hand, there is a danger of it becoming a system of ideas without foundation.
So, it is extremely important for everyone not to lose touch with his or her roots. Within the Tibetan community one can see many instances everywhere of people who had lost their roots and go about clinging to branches. To sum up, the noble tradition of the learning of the Tibetan Buddhist philosophy extant in the time of our ancestors should primarily be maintained by our monasteries. On that basis, the monks and the nuns in the monasteries should ensure high quality of study and training as well as discipline and thereby must be able to maintain the faith in both teaching and practice. Everyone needs to make efforts to bring progress within the general public in terms of modern knowledge, and, on that basis, enable people to gain in-depth understanding of Buddhism and thereby find devotion in it. This is one of the important points on which I routinely make appeals.
Over many decades in China, especially during the Cultural Revolution, when the Four Olds were being destroyed, there was a lot of persecution, with opposition to religion and culture being total. But human nature is such that it needs a source of faith and hope, and, as a result, the number of followers of the Christian faith is witnessing high growth. The number of people practising the Buddhist faith, too, is growing likewise. Especially, in the recent period, many people have been turning their attention to Tibetan Buddhism. Over the last two decades, there have been many Chinese people paying attention to Tibetan Buddhism and receiving teachings from Tibetan Lamas, Geshes, etc. Today, this number is increasing ever more.
Take the case of the seat set up by Khen Rinpoche Jigme Phuntsog. Not only were there a large number of ethnic Chinese disciples there, but it also had a flourishing academy. But it suffered unimaginable decline recently and, ultimately, even the great abbot himself passed away. This was an immensely sad development. But, still, not only are there so many ethnic Chinese taking interest in and following Tibetan Buddhism, but they are also receiving teachings from Tibetan Lamas, Geshes, etc. These are highly positive developments and I greatly appreciate them.
The Lamas and Geshes of Tibet, and other teachers and propagators of Buddhism must all bear in mind that in this period one very important consideration to be borne in mind is that it would be a grave error to propagate and teach Buddhism for the purpose of monetary or material gains or for the purpose of living a life of luxury. Not only that, when looked at from the point of view of the karmas of merit and sin, this would amount to merchandizing religion. Practitioners of religion would not act like that. In any case, concerned persons from all sides need to exercise caution.
It is possible that some times Lamas and religious masters will feel a sense of being important and develop an inflated ego on the basis of very strong faith and hope reposed in them by believers as they make offerings and pay obeisance. Such developments are not at all good. As Drom Toenpa has said: Even if one were held in the highest esteem by everyone/ It is better to hold oneself in subdued humility. One should never forget this. In my own case too, I have constantly been keeping this in mind. Whenever people show great obeisance to me by addressing me as His Holiness, I always humble myself by earnestly recalling thus: Wherever and whomsoever I go to for whatever purpose,/ by holding myself the humblest of all,/ may I hold others, in all sincerity,/ to the highest level. I do this at all times without any relaxation of effort. You too should think by doing likewise.
To speak to you about a sad aspect in our situation today, recently, in many countries such as Taiwan, America, Europe, Russia and Mongolia, there have been cases of fake Tibetan lamas and religious masters doing irreligious things. In China too, reports have been emerging about fake Tibetan religious masters coming from Tibet. All this is an extremely tragic development.
What one witnesses is of well endowed and capable religious masters remaining in meek withdrawal while there are out there fake religious masters who, devoid of all sense of shame, and brimming with greed and talking naked falsehood, wear the mask of religion with great audacity, carry out irreligious activities and thereby bring disrepute to the Buddhist religion and faith. In view of this, everyone should exercise utmost care to gain purposive determination. It is especially important that the well-endowed religious masters should assume the responsibility to serve the religion and humanity.