Aurangabad, Maharashtra, India – This morning His Holiness the Dalai Lama drove across Aurangabad to the PES College of Physical Education, where a stadium had been prepared for him to address the public. From his car he was driven in a golf-cart along a cordoned off corridor across ground to the stage on the other side. Smiling people thronged the barriers to catch a glimpse of him as he passed.
When he reached the stage, His Holiness paid his respects before a large white statue of the Buddha and an image of Dr Ambedkar. After he had taken his seat the stadium began to fill more rapidly, eventually accommodating more than 50,000 people. The Bhikkhus wore saffron and maroon robes, while lay devotees were mostly dressed in white. Mahanayaka Thero from Sri Lanka, seated next to His Holiness, led a chant of the verses for taking refuge in Pali.
Dr Harshadeep Kamble explained to the audience that he and his family had taken the initiative to launch the event and were supporting it financially. Ven Bodhipalo Mahathero invited His Holiness to address the venerable monks and lay devotees.
“Firstly, I’d like to recite some preliminary verses,” His Holiness told the crowd.
Praise for the Perfection Wisdom:
Homage to the Perfection Wisdom,
The Mother of all Buddhas of the three times,
Which is beyond words, inconceivable, inexpressible,
Unproduced and unobstructed, in the nature of space,
The objective domain of self-aware wisdom.
The homage from Nagarjuna’s ‘Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way’:
I prostrate to the perfect Buddha,
The best of all teachers, who taught that
That which is dependent origination is
Without cessation, without arising;
Without annihilation, without permanence;
Without coming; without going;
Without distinction, without identity
And peaceful – free from fabrications.
And the first verse of Chandrakirti’s ‘Entry into the Middle Way’:
The Shravakas and those halfway to buddhahood are born from the Mighty Sage,
And Buddhas take their birth from Bodhisattva heroes.
Compassion, nonduality, the wish for buddhahood for others’ sake
Are causes of the children of the Conqueror.
“Nagarjuna wrote a clear commentary to the perfection of wisdom teachings called ‘Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way’, which clarifies their explicit instruction, emptiness of intrinsic existence. Maitreya composed the ‘Ornament for Clear Realization’ which elucidates the path that is the implicit instruction of the perfection of wisdom. These are both texts studied deeply in Tibet.
“We learned to employ logic through studying Dignaga’s ‘Compendium of Valid Cognition’ and Dharmakirti’s ‘Commentary on Valid Cognition’ The Vinaya we follow belongs to the Mulasarvastavada Tradition. We rely on the clear commentary of Gunaprabha. We also paid close attention to Vasubandhu’s ‘Treasury of Higher Knowledge’.
“The Buddha himself trained in India’s existing spiritual traditions. He adopted the practices of ‘ahimsa’ and ‘karuna’. Eventually he advocated a profound philosophical stance.
“In the first round of his teachings at Sarnath, he taught ethics, concentration and wisdom— ‘shila’, ‘shamatha’ and ‘vipashyana’. Later, at Rajgir he revealed the perfection of wisdom to a more select and intellectually inclined audience. He explained ultimate reality to them. He stressed the difference between appearance and reality, with the explicit purpose of undermining the subtle level of ignorance. This was the essentially the path followed by the Nalanda Tradition.
“Nalanda masters like Nagarjuna developed what the Buddha had taught with his explanation of dependent arising. In due course, the teachings of Buddhism extended right across Asia. In the 20th century Westerners also began to take an interest. Here in India, Dr Ambedkar made a significant contribution to the understanding of Buddhism with his own formal conversion and conversion of 500,000 others at Nagpur in 1956. It is because of Dr Ambedkar that many of you are here today. With him, Buddhism was revived in this country.
“As growing numbers of people show interest in Buddhism, it’s important to understand what is meant by the words Buddha and Dharma. The Tibetan word for Buddha indicates someone who has cleared away all the defilements of their mind and freed themselves from all obstructions to knowledge—from being able to see phenomena as they are.
“Understanding what is meant by the Buddha and the Three Jewels entails understanding the two truths, the four noble truths, as well as how you abandon unwholesome action and follow the path to true cessation. Attaining true cessation is the real refuge, the jewel of Dharma. To attain that and follow the path of the Buddha effectively, it’s necessary to become a member of the Sangha with a direct understanding of emptiness. Faith alone is insufficient; you need to apply reason and study.”
His Holiness mentioned the three kinds of suffering—the suffering of suffering, suffering of change and existential suffering. He remarked that the suffering of suffering can be avoided by abandoning unwholesome actions. In the second case, things and feelings we consider pleasurable change into suffering. Existential suffering is the unsatisfactoriness that pervades all three realms of existence, the desire, form and formless realms. In the higher of these realms it is temporarily possible to avoid the suffering of suffering, but existential suffering pervades everywhere.
Suffering is rooted in ignorance that is depicted as the first of twelve links of dependent arising. This ignorance is not a case of simply not knowing reality, it refers to a misconception of reality. Once you understand dependent arising this misconception will not arise.
His Holiness drew attention to coarser and subtler understandings of selflessness in the context of the four schools of Buddhist thought. The Particularists and Sutra Followers—Vaibhasika and Sautrantika Schools—assert the lack of a self-sufficient ‘I’. The Mind Only and Middle Way Schools—Chittamatra and Madhyamaka—explain not only the selflessness of persons, but the selflessness of phenomena too, especially the selflessness of the body/mind combination.
Earlier, His Holiness had inaugurated a block-chain enabled platform for preserving the Tripitaka and Dhamma texts. He suggested that it would be helpful if, in time, it could also present the gist of Nagarjuna’s ‘Fundamental Wisdom’ and the ‘Ornament for Clear Realization’. These texts would represent the core of the Nalanda Tradition, which Tibetans have kept alive since Shantarakshita introduced it to them more than 1000 years ago.
“Although I didn’t study as long as some of our top Geshés, I studied the Nalanda Tradition for 13 years, then sat for and acquired the degree. As Jé Tsongkhapa wrote: ‘In the beginning I sought much learning, in the middle the teaching dawned on me as spiritual instruction and in the end, I strove day and night in practice. I dedicate the merit that the Dharma may flourish.’
“What would we meditate on, if we didn’t know what the Buddha taught? He said, “I’ve shown the path to liberation, but whether you follow it is in your hands.” We must identify the disturbing emotions and apply antidotes to them. Faced with all sorts of difficulties in my life, I have discovered that what I studied has been really helpful to me.
“I generally advise Buddhists to be 21st century Buddhists, to study and develop faith that is based on understanding. In his book, ‘Clear Meaning’, Haribadra referred to two kinds of follower, the intelligent and the dull. If you follow the path of the dull, the Buddha’s teachings may not last much longer. But if you follow the path of the intelligent, Buddhism may survive several centuries more.
“The Buddha instructed his followers, “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.” When we see an image of the Buddha we say, “This is our teacher.” If that’s how we think of him, we should also consider ourselves as students, which means we need to study.
“I’ll give a brief reading of the ‘Eight Verses for Training the Mind’, which I first heard when I was a child and which I have recited daily since then. I find it very helpful.”
Reading the short text in English, His Holiness commented that the first two verses teach us not to be arrogant. If we develop the awakening mind of bodhichitta and restrain ourselves from harming others, there’s no room for arrogance. The third verse recommends tackling the destructive emotions with wisdom. Verse four highlights the difference between the kind of compassion we feel for relatives and friends, which is coloured by attachment, and the more genuine compassion we feel when we recognise that even an enemy is a fellow human being.
The fifth and sixth verses allude to Shantideva’s remark that your enemy is your greatest teacher. The seventh refers to the practice of giving and taking, which His Holiness said he’s have found very helpful. Where the final verse says ‘May I see all things as illusions and, without attachment, gain freedom from bondage,’ there is an aspiration to understand dependent arising.
There are two options. Things can either be independent or they exist in dependence on other factors. As quantum physics asserts, things have no objective existence. They exist, but are not independent.
“Studying Nagarjuna’s ‘Fundamental Wisdom’ and Chandrakirti’s ‘Entering the Middle Way’ sheds light on the disparity between appearance and reality,” His Holiness observed. “I’ve been analysing this for 70 years or more and I’ve been cultivating the awakening mind of bodhichitta for 50 years. These practices have been helpful in counter my misconception of self and my self-cherishing attitude.
“Lastly, I want to express my deep appreciation to those who have provided this opportunity for us to be together. And I would also like to thank all the members of the audience for taking the trouble to come and for showing such deep interest. Buddhism is profound, but I never claim that it is the best tradition. Just as you can’t say that one medicine is always the best, because what is best depends on the need and condition of the patient, so different people find different spiritual traditions helpful according to their various dispositions.”
As he prepared to leave, His Holiness came to the front of the stage the better to see the faces of people in the audience. He saluted them with folded hands and waved. Many people eager to be closer to him pressed forward as he left the stage and walked to his car. From the stadium he drove to Aurangabad airport, from where he flew to Delhi. Tomorrow, he will return to Dharamsala.