Thekchen Chöling, Dharamsala, HP, India – Today, for the first time, His Holiness the Dalai Lama gave a teaching with no one sitting in front of him that was captured on video and webcast to the world. Viewers, who included Tibetan monks and nuns, laymen and laywomen throughout the settlements in India and elsewhere, as well many other people in distant locations, were able to see and hear His Holiness clearly. Many rejoiced that he was so evidently strong and in good health.
“Today, we are able to use this marvellous technology to communicate,” he explained. “Many friends have shown interest and requested a teaching, but due to restrictions related to the coronavirus pandemic, we not able to meet physically.
“The main topic of my talk today will be Nagarjuna’s ‘Precious Garland’, which, along with the six books of the ‘Collection of Reasoning’, we continue to study. The first part of the text, which I’ll read today, deals with the sixteen factors for high status or good rebirth. Later in the text is the verse,
“May sentient beings be as dear to me as my own life,
And may they be dearer to me than myself.
May their ill deeds bear fruit for me,
And all my virtues bear fruit for them.
“This refers to generating the awakening mind of bodhichitta, which I’ll talk about tomorrow.
“Sentient beings including even insects are all the same in wanting happiness and seeking to avoid suffering. There is no dispute about this. We tend to rely on physical and sensory sources of pleasure, but without peace of mind, we won’t be consistently happy. Material development has greatly improved our physical facilities, but peace of mind is not manufactured by machines in some factory, we have to create it within.
“I’m a human being, one of the seven billion on this earth, and I believe that if people were more at peace within, they would be happier. These days, scientists are looking into this too. Ancient Indian knowledge included a rich understanding of the workings of the mind and emotions. Buddhism is part of this. In addition to advice about love and compassion, ancient Indian tradition was accomplished in its cultivation of concentration and analytic meditation. However, there is no need for these skills to be confined to religious practice; we can all incorporate them into our own lives.”
His Holiness spoke about his three commitments. He explained how, as a human being, he’s committed to encouraging people to be happy—to helping them understand the importance of incorporating human values into their lives and securing peace of mind. Secondly, as a Buddhist monk, he has dedicated himself to encouraging harmony among the world’s religious traditions. Thirdly, as a Tibetan, although he has retired and passed his political responsibility to an elected leadership, he remains committed to preserving Tibetan language and culture, while also speaking up for the protection of Tibet’s natural environment.
He mentioned that in the 7th century, during the reign of Songtsen Gampo, a new Tibetan script was designed. Subsequently, the great abbot Shantarakshita advised Trisong Detsen to have Indian Buddhist literature translated primarily from Sanskrit into Tibetan. Since Sanskrit was a scholarly language, when Sanskrit works were translated into Tibetan new terms were coined and the language was deeply enriched.
Shantarakshita, an exemplar of the Nalanda Tradition, emphasised the study of philosophy and the use of logic and reason. This extended the range of knowledge from understanding what is empirically evident to matters that are slightly obscure, but can be understood through inference. A third class of objects of knowledge is wholly obscure and can be understood only in dependence on the testimony of a trusted authority, trust in whom is established through reason and logic.
His Holiness declared that it was this rational and logical approach that prepared him to enter into discussions with modern scientists. Consequently, because the knowledge contained in the Kangyur and Tengyur collections, especially a deep understanding of the workings of the mind and emotions, he feels a responsibility to preserve the Tibetan language.
His Holiness remarked that, drawing on ancient Indian knowledge, Mahatma Gandhi revealed how non-violence can be employed in contemporary circumstances. He noted that the Collection of Higher Knowledge, the Abhidharma, describes world eras dominated by famine and weapons. He lamented that one of the results of material development has been the focus on designing and producing ever more lethal weapons. Some people take pride in them and base their business on their production and sale.
At the same time, there are others who comprise a movement intent on disarmament. They understand that human problems are not resolved by employing more powerful weapons. Problems arising from attachment and hatred are not eliminated by resorting to the use of force. No one ever achieves complete victory; enemies are never completely vanquished. Because, ultimately, we have to live together, we have to settle our problems through dialogue and negotiation. And to achieve external disarmament requires that we first have a sense of inner disarmament.
“Children survive because their parents care for them,” His Holiness declared. “Even as adults, individuals survive in dependence on the community. This is because we are social creatures. In the past, people lived in small communities with little interaction between them. Today, we are economically interdependent and we are faced by challenges like climate change that we can only meet if we are united. We must think globally and work together. “As far as climate change is concerned, our own experience tells us it’s happening. When I first came here to Dharamsala we had far heavier snowfall than we ever see today. Flying over Afghanistan you can see areas now barren that look as if they were once lakes.
“Many of our problems are rooted in the unruly state of our minds. We are attached to our friends and relatives and hostile to foes. We neglect the fact of our interdependence. As Shantideva makes clear,
“All those who suffer in the world do so because of their desire for their own happiness. All those happy in the world are so because of their desire for the happiness of others.
“For those who fail to exchange their own happiness for the suffering of others, Buddhahood is certainly impossible—how could there even be happiness in cyclic existence?
“Nagarjuna points out that action and negative emotions arise from mental fabrication,
“Through the elimination of karma and affliction there is nirvana.
Karma and affliction come from conceptual thought.
These come from mental fabrication.
Fabrication ceases through (realizing) emptiness.
“Since we are the same in wishing to find happiness and overcome suffering, we need to pay more attention to cultivating peace of mind and tackling our disturbing emotions.”
Switching from Tibetan to English, His Holiness observed,
“When I became a refugee in this country, from one point of view it was sad. From another, it provided me with opportunities. I was able to meet religious leaders, scientists and people from many walks of life, who I would never have encountered if I’d stayed in the Potala.
“As I mentioned before I’m committed to helping people be happy and I encourage them to think of the whole of humanity. As a Buddhist practitioner I believe interreligious harmony is really important, because the common message of all our traditions included compassion and self-discipline. Here in India we see all the major religious traditions living peaceably together. I believe harmony among our religious traditions can make a significant contribution to creating a happier more peaceful world.
“I’m also a Tibetan, someone in whom the majority of the six or seven million Tibetans place their trust. I am politically retired, but I feel a responsibility to work to preserve the most complete presentation of the Buddha’s teachings that has been kept alive in Tibet for more than a thousand years. I have many friends from countries that follow the Pali tradition. In general, when I encourage Buddhists to adopt a more studious logical approach that leads to understanding, I’m inspired by the Buddha’s advice: “As the wise test gold by burning, cutting and rubbing it, So, bhikshus, should you accept my words—after testing them, and not merely out of respect for me.”
“In Tibet we kept the Nalanda Tradition alive and at Shantarakshita’s behest we translated Indian Buddhist literature into Tibetan—this is a body of knowledge worth preserving.
“Tibet is referred to as the ‘Roof of the World’, it’s where the major rivers of Asia rise that provide water for billions. So, I am also committed to preserving Tibet’s natural environment.”
Speaking in Tibetan once more, His Holiness began to read from the ‘Precious Garland’. He cited a verse by Nagarjuna’s chief disciple Aryadeva that summarizes the teaching.
First prevent what is lacking in merit,
Next prevent [ideas of a coarse] self;
Later prevent views of all kinds.
Whoever knows of this is wise.
The first verses of the ‘Precious Garland’ mention high status, a favourable life, which enables you to practise the dharma. Such a life is secured by gathering its causes—preventing ‘what is lacking in merit’. This entails thirteen activities to be avoided, the ten unwholesome deeds: killing, stealing and adultery; false, divisive, harsh, and senseless speech; covetousness, harmful intent, and wrong views. Three additional activities to be restrained include drunkenness, wrong livelihood and doing harm. There are three further activities to be adopted—respectful giving, honouring the honourable, and love.
His Holiness stressed that when we give to the poor, we should do so making every effort show them respect.
With regard to the second line of Aryadeva’s verse, ‘Next prevent [ideas of a coarse] self,’ His Holiness cited another verse from Chandrakirti’s ‘Entering into the Middle Way’.
Perceiving that all faults and all afflictions Flow from the idea of the transitory collection, And knowing that its focus is the very self,
This self is what the yogi will disprove.
He mentioned the fourfold expression of emptiness in the ‘Heart Sutra’:
Form is empty; emptiness is form. Emptiness is not other than form; form also is not other than emptiness.
He added that in the practice of tantra everything is purified by dissolution into emptiness and that nothing has any intrinsic existence. The self that depends on the body and mind cannot be found under investigation.
Before concluding the session, His Holiness reiterated that the climate crisis and consequent global warming is increasing decade by decade—we have to address it.
“This is the first time I’ve taught in this way,” His Holiness concluded. “I hope that in future we may be able to invite questions and have more interaction. Physically, at present, we have to remain apart, but by this means we can hold discussions together. Goodbye—see you tomorrow.”