A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life
December 3, 2018
Reaching the grounds of the Youth Buddhist Society of India (YBSI) he again climbed out of his car to cut a ribbon and inaugurate an exhibition of paintings on Buddhist themes. Next, he unveiled the foundation stone for a proposed clinic and expressed his appreciation of their work to several medical volunteers who were introduced to him. Lastly, he unveiled a foundation plaque for a proposed school and took time to pay his respects before the image of the Buddha in an already established chapel.
Arriving at the teaching venue, His Holiness was given a traditional Tibetan musical welcome by a group from the Tibetan Institute for Performing Arts. They included performers from Tibet and Arunachal Pradesh, who were happy when he posed for photographs with them.
Welcomed to the stage inside a huge marquee by YBSI President, Suresh Chandra Baudhh, His Holiness lit an auspicious lamp and paid his respects before a statue of the Buddha prior to taking his seat. A group of local children in school uniform filed onto the stage and knelt down to recite the Mangala Sutta in Pali.
“First I must thank these students for their clear recitation,” he said as he began to address a crowd estimated to number 15,000. “You belong to the generation of the 21st century while many of the rest of us belong to the 20th century. Looking back, we can see that there was too much violence at that time. So many lives were sacrificed. If their loss had contributed to the creation of a better world, it might have been justified. But that was not the case.
“At the start of this 21st century violence persists because too many people still believe that the solution to problems lies in the use of force. This way of thinking is out of date. It’s clear that India’s longstanding tradition of ahimsa or non-violence is as relevant today as ever and young students like these represent our hope for a better future.
“Today, in this sacred place I’ve been requested to explain the Dharma. The organizers have worked hard to make this possible and I’d like to thank all of them.
“Whenever I meet monks, nuns and other religious people these days, I put a question to them. In this day and age when there has been great technological and material development, is religion something we still need. We see that in advanced countries, where there has been the most material development, people continue to be in mental turmoil. At such a time, when so many face emotional crises, people easily turn to violence. The arms industry thrives. Widespread sale of weapons increases the risk of devastating violence.
“Scientists declare on the basis of infant responses to different situations that basic human nature is compassionate. This makes sense since a mother gave birth to every one of us and then showered us with love and affection. Without her care we’d have died. It’s easy to see that the kinder and more affectionate we are to others, the more peaceful we are in ourselves and the more peaceful is the atmosphere in which we live and work.
“Anger, anxiety and jealousy ruin our well-being. We need calm and affection, but if we were to seek them in the market or shopping mall people would laugh at us. Religions are concerned with human beings and human activity. They all teach the value of love and compassion, with support from different philosophical points of view.
“Theistic traditions teach about a creator god full of love and wisdom, whose children we all are, which makes it easy to see our fellow beings as brothers and sisters. Our purpose is to be harmonious, compassionate and affectionate to each other. Non-theistic traditions make no reference to a creator. What happens is in our hands. As long as we have love and compassion, we have peace of mind, which we lose when we are overcome by anger.”
His Holiness spoke of the futility of seeking satisfaction only in sensory experience, neglecting the role of mental consciousness in peace of mind. He noted that for hundreds of years, not only has India cultivated ahimsa, it has also adopted a secular stance of respect for religious traditions without bias and with additional regard for the views of those who have no interest in religion. He remarked that such an approach is particularly relevant when we see people fighting and killing each other in the name of religion. He mentioned his commitments both to helping people find peace of mind and to maintaining inter-religious harmony.
Taking up a ‘Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life’ His Holiness remarked:
“Of course, I’m a Buddhist and I’ve studied Buddhist philosophy and psychology extensively, but I believe it is quite possible to look at their concepts and instructions from a purely academic point of view. This book can be very helpful to people. As sentient beings we easily fall under the influence of desire, hatred and ignorance. And when they overwhelm our intelligence it can be really unfortunate. As I’ve said above, the powerful weapons that are products of our intelligence can only be used to destroy others. We can create joy or wreak havoc depending on our motivation.
“Chapter 6 of this book explains patience, while Chapter 8 describes the development of altruism. We don’t have time to go through the entire book, but I can give you a succinct account of what it says.
“Chapter 9 is about wisdom and begins ‘The Sage propounded all these branches [of teachings] for the sake of wisdom. Therefore, those who wish to pacify suffering should generate wisdom’. The Buddhas don’t wash negative deeds away with water, nor do they remove the sufferings of beings with their hands, neither do they transplant their own realization into others. It is through teaching the truth of suchness that they help beings find freedom.
“Right from the start Buddhas are intent on overcoming suffering. They teach from their own experience that the suffering of suffering, the suffering of change and the suffering of pervasive conditioning all arise from destructive emotions. These are rooted in ignorance—a misconception of reality—the final antidote to which is the wisdom understanding emptiness.”
His Holiness explained how the trainings in morality, single-pointed concentration and insight converge in wisdom. He noted that in ancient India there was a consensus that the pleasures of the desire realm finally result in dissatisfaction, however for some the solution was to seek the greater peace of higher realms of absorption. The Buddha focused instead on refuting the idea of a single, permanent, independent self. The selflessness he taught is an antidote not only to the mental afflictions, but also to their residual stains, the obscurations to knowledge. And for it to be effective it needs to be combined with the awakening mind of bodhichitta.
His Holiness cited Nagarjuna’s observation that what the Buddha taught was based on the two truths-conventional and ultimate. He also recalled that the Buddha hesitated to teach what he had realised after his enlightenment because no one would understand what he had to say.
“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,
So I shall remain silent here in the forest.
“The first words of the first line ‘profound and peaceful’ refer to the true cessation that was the focus of the first turning of the wheel of dharma. ‘Free from elaboration’ alludes to what he eventually taught in the second turning of the wheel and ‘uncompounded clear light’ pertains to the third turning of the wheel. The first turning laid out the Four Noble Truths, the second revealed the perfection of wisdom that things have no essential independent existence.
“During the third turning of the wheel, the Buddha explained that he taught that things have no independent existence because of their three natures: their imputed nature implies they have no intrinsic existence; their dependent nature shows they are not self-created and their perfect nature is that they have no ultimate, independent existence. In the ‘Tathagata-garbha Sutra’ the Tathagata described Buddha-nature, referring to the objective clear light as the nature of the mind and the subjective clear light as Buddha-nature.”
“In the course of the first turning of the wheel, the Buddha explained the nature, function and result of each of the Four Noble Truths. He made clear that suffering is undesired, but that it has compatible causes and conditions. Cessation was taught on the basis of an insight into emptiness that counters the ignorance of clinging to intrinsic existence.”
His Holiness observed that just as Maitreya’s ‘Sublime Continuum’ states that appearance is not reality, quantum physicists declare that nothing has any objective existence because things are dependent on the observer. They seem not to have questioned the observer’s objective existence.
Remarking that when the second verse states ‘The Ultimate is not the object of mind’ it indicates that it is not a dualistic mind. When the third verse says ‘The world of common people is undermined by the world of the yogis’ it also refers to the non-dualistic mind.
He clarified that emptiness is only established on some basis. The ‘Heart Sutra’ states ‘Form is empty; emptiness is form’. It goes on to declare ‘Likewise are feeling, discrimination, compositional factors and consciousness empty.’ His Holiness stressed that it is necessary to understand what ignorance grasps at and that it is a misconception. This is understood in the context of the deeds of a Bodhisattva, the six perfections.
Finally, His Holiness pointed out that because of its use of reason and logic the Nalanda Tradition introduced to Tibet by Shantarakshita was scientific. These days, he advises followers of the Buddha to be 21st century Buddhists, understanding what the Buddha taught and therefore what it means to go for refuge to the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha.
With that he stopped for lunch. He will resume his account of ‘Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life’ tomorrow.