Manali, Himachal Pradesh, India - The overnight rain relented as His Holiness the Dalai Lama set off from Ön Ngari Dratshang this morning. On the nearby Municipal Council Parking Ground a stage and a covered space for the audience had been set up. The Ngari Dratshang Abbot welcomed him and, with local leaders, escorted him to the stage from where he saluted the crowd and greeted lamas representing the various Tibetan Buddhist traditions. Among them was the young Dungsey Asanga Rinpoché from the Sakya Phuntsok Phodrang.
As His Holiness arrived, monks were debating in front of the stage. Once he had taken his seat, prayers were recited, while tea and sweet rice were distributed.
“Today, we’re here in Manali at the invitation of Ön Ngari Monastery,” His Holiness began, “which has been re-established at the request of the former Abbot of Gomang Monastery in a building that had been given to the Three Seats of Learning. This is now a monastery where monks are not limited to memorizing texts. They study them too. Ngari Dratshang, Dakpo Shedrupling and Chö-khor Gyal were founded by the Second Dalai Lama.
“During the three month rainy season retreat, the monks would all gather at Chö-khor Gyal. However, that was a monastery primarily focused on performing rituals, much as Namgyal Monastery used to be, whereas the monks of Ngari Dratshang and Dakpo Shedrupling were dedicated to serious study. I was pleased to visit the re-established Dakpo Shedrupling near Patlikuhl and now I’m happy to be here.”
His Holiness remarked that there are many Buddhists in the Kullu Valley and reminded them that Buddhism is more than a matter of faith—it employs reason. He declared that he never says Buddhism is the best spiritual tradition, because just as medicine is prescribed according to the patient’s condition, the efficacy of a religious tradition depends on a person’s disposition.
“Today, we are gathered here to listen to a Dharma discourse, so both the teacher and audience should generate a proper motivation. There should be no wish for fame or good reputation because of the number of times you have attended a teaching. Think of this as part of your Dharma practice based on taking refuge in the Three Jewels and a determination to fulfil the wishes of all sentient beings.”
His Holiness led the crowd in repeating the verse for taking refuge and generating the awakening mind of bodhichitta. He mentioned that since Kullu is one of the 24 places sacred to Heruka or Chakrasamvara, there are many gods and other beings in the vicinity. He recited a verse calling on them too to pay attention to what was going to be taught.
“In the Buddhist tradition,” he continued, “we talk about mother sentient beings extended across the expanse of space. All of them, as sentient beings, are equal in not wanting suffering and in seeking happiness. This includes all the beings living on this earth, and in particular the 7 billion human beings.
“People follow religion because they have the power of thought, whereas animals and other beings depend primarily on sensory consciousness. There are believers, non-believers and agnostics. Those who have little interest in religion may sometimes find themselves overwhelmed in the face of trouble. Those who have some belief find solace in that.
“In India the idea of Dharma arose and with it ‘ahimsa’ or non-violence. And when we think of non-violence, we also tend naturally to think of compassion. India has also nurtured the practice of single-pointed concentration and analytical thinking as ways of training the mind. Buddha Shakyamuni put all these practices into effect.
“Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam developed in West Asia, which have provided their followers with solace and hope. Analysis of the nature of things, as found in modern science, can present a challenge to religious belief, but the human mind has an ability and an inclination to undertake critical analysis. Accordingly, the Buddha advised, “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.”
“Taking a lead from this, Nalanda masters used reason and analysis to categorise the recorded teachings of the Buddha into those that were definitive and those open to interpretation. This is because the Buddha gave certain instructions in accordance with the disposition of the disciples before him. In other words, there was a purpose for what he taught in particular instances.
“Those teachings that deal with ultimate truth are regarded as definitive; those that deal with other things are considered to be subject to interpretation. In the Nalanda tradition such use of critical analysis was important.”
His Holiness explained that the Buddha forsook his comfortable royal life and adopted the life of a homeless monk after encountering examples of birth, aging, sickness and death. He embarked on six years austere practice and eventually found enlightenment, whereupon he reflected: ‘Profound and peaceful, free from elaboration, uncompounded clear light, I have found a nectar-like Dharma. Yet if I were to teach it, no-one would understand what I said, so I shall remain here silent in the forest.'
When he met his five former companions, Kaundinya and so on, they prevailed on him to recount what he had experienced. He explained in terms of the Four Noble Truths, which Nagarjuna stated would be easily grasped by anyone who had understood dependent arising. This explanation of the truth of suffering, origin, cessation and path were part of the first round of teachings. These Truths, and especially the truth of cessation, the possibility of overcoming the origin of suffering, the Buddha elaborated on in his second round of teachings.
“The Four Noble Truths and their sixteen characteristics are the foundation of both the Pali and Sanskrit traditions,” His Holiness observed. “The perfection of wisdom teachings were given on Vulture’s Peak, above Rajgir, to beings with purer karma. One of the shorter scriptures reporting these is the perfection of wisdom in 25 verses, popularly known as the ‘Heart Sutra’. The content of the first two rounds of teachings reveal how profound was the Buddha’s insight.
“In Vaishali and other places he gave the third round of teachings, including the ‘Unravelling of Thought Sutra’ and the explanation of Buddha-nature that was the basis for Maitreya’s ‘Sublime Continuum’. Where the third round of teachings deals with subjective clear light or the luminous mind, the perfection of wisdom taught the object clear light or emptiness. The clear light mind is also taught in highest yoga tantra in terms of the union of clear light and illusory body.
“The Sanskrit tradition emphasizes investigation and analysis. As Nagarjuna says, the Buddha’s teaching is based on the two truths. Taking refuge and faith are conventional practices, whereas understanding true cessation requires understanding that the afflictive emotions are rooted in ignorance. As Aryadeva’s ‘400 Verses’ states, they are permeated by ignorance. To eliminate them we have to understand the nature of things—that they are dependently arisen. Ignorance is a distorted view that doesn’t accord with reality. But because it is a misconception, there is always an opposing factor to counter it.
“Afflictive emotions and disturbing conceptions are temporary and adventitious, whereas the true nature of the mind is of clear light and is not affected by them. This is made clear in the Buddha’s third round of teachings and in highest yoga tantras such as Guhyasamaja, where it is explained that destructive emotions arise on the basis of 80 different conceptions. When you stop the three phases of whitish appearance, reddish increase and blackish near attainment, the 80 different conceptions cease and the clear light mind is manifest. Because afflictive emotions can be overcome by wisdom, you can see that attaining Nirvana is possible.
“Non-Buddhist traditions discuss the two truths, but to understand them precisely you have to understand the perfection of wisdom teachings. The ‘Heart Sutra’ states that form is empty, emptiness is form; form is not other than emptiness and emptiness too is not other than form, which means that although things exist, when you search for their enduring identity, you can’t find it. Therefore, they only exist by way of designation. The Mind Only School says that when you search and cannot find something, it is because it doesn’t exist externally.
“Just as physical things cannot be found when searched for, neither can the mind be found. It has no physical presence, but exists as a continuity—a continuum of moments of consciousness. Physical things appear to have an objective existence, but can’t be found when sought. Likewise the mind cannot be found. Quantum physics observes that nothing has an objective existence, which I find useful in my own meditation on emptiness.
“The Middle Way School rejects things having any substantial existence. Chandrakirti, in his ‘Entering into the Middle Way’, proves that things have no objective existence. Although the Middle Way School rejects things having substantial or intrinsic existence, because they affect us, despite not being found under the sevenfold analysis, things, like a chariot, exist by way of designation. Form is emptiness and emptiness is form, because things exist by way of relationships. They do not exist the way they appear to us. Since they depend on other factors, they have no intrinsic existence, existing instead as dependent arisings.”
His Holiness explained that when we see that mental defilements are adventitious and can be eliminated, we can see that the nature of the mind is pure and luminous. He pointed out that where followers of the Pali tradition rely on scriptural authority to understand impermanence, suffering and selflessness, the Nalanda tradition depends on reason. At the beginning of his ‘Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way’ Nagarjuna salutes the Buddha for teaching dependent arising. At the end he praises him again for teaching to rid us of all distorted views. Both Buddhapalita and Chandrakirti elaborated on the idea of existing by way of designation.
Dignaga and Dharmakirti used reason to demonstrate the truth of the Buddha’s teaching. In the second chapter of his ‘Commentary on Valid Cognition’ Dharmakirti uses reason to prove the Buddha to be a reliable authority. This use of reason sets Buddhism apart from many other traditions, but His Holiness observed that all religious traditions commend the practice of loving kindness. Christianity, for example, teaches that because we are all children of the one god, we are all brothers and sisters. However, His Holiness remarked that these days we see religion being used as an excuse for people to kill each other—sad and unthinkable. Nevertheless, because they offer a common message of love and compassion, it is crucial that different religious traditions should live in harmony with each other.
His Holiness announced that he would stop there for the day. Since books containing the texts he is to teach in Tibetan, Hindi, English and Chinese have been distributed among the audience, he encouraged his listeners to read them before tomorrow’s session. He told them that today he had given a general introduction to Buddhism, but when it comes to practice it’s important to have an understanding of the awakening mind of bodhichitta supported by an understanding of emptiness—and that’s what these texts explain.
He argued that a self-cherishing, selfish attitude makes us unhappy and afraid. We risk viewing the whole world as our enemy. When you can see the world as your friend, you can live at ease. He urged his listeners to adopt a threefold approach to knowledge—to study, reflect and meditate. That will equip them to proceed through the five paths as Avalokiteshvara describes when, in the ‘Heart Sutra’ he says, “Tadyata gaté gaté paragaté parasamgaté bodhi svaha” (“It is thus: Proceed, proceed, proceed beyond, thoroughly proceed beyond, be founded in enlightenment”).
His Holiness clarified what this means:
“Gaté gaté - proceed, proceed - indicates the paths of accumulation and preparation and the initial experience of bodhichitta and emptiness; paragaté - proceed beyond - indicates the path of seeing, the first insight into emptiness and achievement of the first bodhisattva ground; parasamgaté - thoroughly proceed beyond - indicates the path of meditation and the achievement of the subsequent bodhisattva grounds, while bodhi svaha - be founded in enlightenment - indicates laying the foundation of complete enlightenment.”
Leaving the teaching ground for Ön Ngari Dratshang, His Holiness plans to continue teaching tomorrow.