Shewatsel, Leh, Ladakh, India – This morning, His Holiness the Dalai Lama drove from his residence at Shewatsel Phodrang to the Kalachakra Temple at the far end of the teaching ground. Inside, a group of monks from several local monasteries, including Samten Ling, Spituk, Rizong, Likir and Zanskar, who have formed a Kalachakra practice group, were conducting a Kalachakra ritual. An old thangka painting of Kalachakra hung on the wall before them and a painted mandala had been laid out in the mandala pavilion. His Holiness saluted these and the statue of the Buddha before taking his seat with the monks and joining in their recitation.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama joining monks reciting a Kalachakra ritual at the Shewatsel Teaching Ground in Leh, Ladakh, India on July 31, 2023. Photo by Tenzin Choejor
Next, he moved to address 70 delegates, who attended the just concluded U-tsang Annual General Body Meeting here in Leh, and who were sitting on the veranda of the temple. He leafed through their written report as prayers were chanted.
“We Tibetans of the Three Provinces of Tibet have been united since the time of the great religious kings. King Songtsen Gampo married a Chinese princess, and yet when he decided to create a Tibetan form of writing, he chose to model it on the Indian alphabet. He was someone with far-sighted vision and a strong Tibetan spirit.
“At the time of King Trisong Detsen, on Shantarakshita’s advice, a project was begun to translate Indian Buddhist literature into Tibetan. This was the source of the more than 300 volumes of the Kangyur and Tengyur we have today.
“Shantarakshita established the glorious Nalanda Tradition in Tibet and we have kept it alive since then. We have preserved it well. When it comes to explaining the psychological and philosophical ideas the tradition presents, Tibetan is the language capable of doing so most accurately. Following the masters and kings of the past, we have kept the tradition alive by studying, reflecting and meditating on the content of the classic treatises. We begin with ‘Collected Topics’ and ‘Mind and Awareness’, which I memorized as a small boy.
“I also have a vivid memory of visiting Kumbum Monastery near my birthplace when I was very little. I watched young monks doing prostrations and reciting the mantra Om ara patsa nadhi and wanted to copy them.
“As a result of profound and extensive study of the classic treatises there were many great scholar-adepts in Amdo, Do-tö and Central Tibet.
“More recently we have been living through difficult times, but Tibetans in Tibet have a strong spirit of resilience. They have worked hard to keep our language and culture alive. What’s more, there are today increasing numbers of Chinese taking an interest in Buddhism and Tibetan Buddhism in particular. Students from the University at Lanzhou told me that the Chinese may rule us now, but in the long term we’ll be teaching them. Chinese communists used to call me all sorts of names, but lately they seem to have stopped.”
His Holiness the Dalai Lama addressing delegates to the U-tsang Annual General Body Meeting at the Sehewatsel Teaching Ground in Leh, Ladakh, India on July 31, 2023. Photo by Tenzin Choejor
His Holiness observed that Tibetan Buddhism is compatible with science because it is based on logic and reason, as well as the process of study, reflection and meditation. He noted that growing numbers of people in China and the West are paying attention to this tradition without necessarily making a religious commitment. He said this reminds him of what Jé Tsongkhapa wrote at the end of his ‘Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment.
Wherever the Buddha’s teaching has not spread
And wherever it has spread but has declined
May I, moved by great compassion, clearly elucidate
This treasury of excellent benefit and happiness for all.
He noted that in the past Tibetan Buddhism was only known by name, but now people at large have a much broader understanding of it as educated people and scientists take interest in it.
“Tibetan Buddhism derives from the Nalanda Tradition,” His Holiness continued, “and the writings of Nagarjuna, Chandrakirti, Dharmakirti and Dignaga. We have evolved a culture that has a beneficial contribution to make to the world. For reasons like this we can be proud to be Tibetan.
“These days lots of people talk about world peace, but it will only be found if more of us have love and compassion in our hearts. World peace is rooted in peace of mind. With the name Dalai Lama I’ve been to many different places and come to the conclusion that we can be proud of our cultural traditions. The essence of them is that world peace depends on achieving peace within.
“You should all feel at ease. I’m nearly 90 years old, but I feel fit and my doctors confirm that. Indications in my dreams and other sources suggest that I will live to be beyond 110.”
First the Utsang delegates and then the monks from the Kalachakra group gathered around His Holiness to have photographs taken with him.
From Shewatsel His Holiness drove steadily up to Stok village and the colossal golden Buddha statue there. The road was lined by local people in their best clothes with flowers and silk scarves in their hands and smiles on their faces. Some of them had brought pots of geraniums and other flowers to decorate the side of the road.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama lighting a butter lamp in the temple under the Great Buddha Statue in Stok, Leh, Ladakh, India on July 31, 2023. Photo by Tenzin Choejor
His Holiness was protected from the fierce sunlight by an ornamental yellow silk umbrella. He entered the temple under the great statue where he paid his respects and lit a butter lamp. Next, he tossed flowers into the air as a mark of auspiciousness as he said prayers to consecrate statues, ‘malas’ and other objects that had been set out to be blessed.
Taking his seat on a chair on the temple veranda, His Holiness joined in the prayers being said. A spokesman for the people of Stok, Geshé Tsewang Dorjé, announced first how happy they were to greet him today. He reported that since 2016, when the great statue of the Buddha was constructed, they have read the Kangyur and Tengyur together every year. They have also created facilities where they can study Buddhism and learn Tibetan together.
Older people who couldn’t do so before have learned to read texts and prayers. There are classes where people study Buddhism and science. On 15th and 30th of every lunar month the Stok villagers gather to pray for His Holiness’s and other great beings’ long life.
However, the spokesman went on, they are not only saying prayers. They also learn about the ‘Stages of the Path’ (Lamrim) and ‘Mind Training’ (Lojong) in accordance with His Holiness’s advice. He ended by thanking His Holiness for visiting the statue today. There followed a song and dance presentation in praise of His Holiness to the accompaniment of drums and horns.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama addressing the crowd gathered at the Great Buddha Statue in Stok, Leh, Ladakh, India on July 31, 2023. Photo by Tenzin Choejor
“When I’m at Shewatsel Phodrang and I look up and see this great statue in the distance,” His Holiness told the crowd, “I feel like coming to see it. And today, here we are.
“Among the founder teachers of the world’s great religions, only the Buddha taught about dependent arising, profound teaching that it is. As far as I’m concerned, I understand that because they are dependently arisen, things are empty of inherent existence.
“We become attached or averse to different things because we think they are inherently or objectively existent. They appear to us in a certain way, which is actually only an illusion.
Through the elimination of karma and mental afflictions there is liberation.
Karma and mental afflictions come from conceptual thought.
These come from mental fabrication.
Fabrication ceases through emptiness. 18.5
“The purpose of mediation is to reduce our mental afflictions and attain enlightenment. I reflect on emptiness as much as I can every day. However, to think only of your own liberation is to be narrowly self-centred. ‘The Way of a Bodhisattva’ tells us:
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? 8/131
“We should all cultivate a kind heart and shun selfishness. We are all the same in wanting to be happy, so we should concern ourselves with the happiness of all.
A group of local women in traditional dress performing during His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s visit the the Great Buddha Statue in Stok, Leh, Ladakh, India on July 31, 2023. Photo by Tenzin Choejor
“Here in the presence of this great statue of the Buddha that can be seen from far away we should remember to be grateful to the Buddha for his kindness to us—his teaching.
“The people of Ladakh and other parts of the Himalayan region are followers of the Buddha who depend especially on Avalokiteshvara, recite ‘manis’ and meditate on bodhichitta that brings peace of mind.
“When I wake every morning, I generate bodhichitta and recite Om mani padme hum. Everyone wants to be happy, but there is so much violence and suffering in the world. When each of us finds peace of mind, we’ll be able to bring about widespread peace.
“Buddhist scriptures teach about past and future lives, not only this life. If you have a good heart and rely on Avalokiteshvara, you’ll live a peaceful life and be of benefit to many beings.
“Buddhism is not only about having faith in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. It’s about transforming our minds. This is what the Buddha taught. I respect all religions because they all commend having a good heart. Buddhism teaches us how to cultivate and practise it.
“Buddhism is not just a matter of faith; it involves detailed explanations of philosophical ideas. This is why we need to study, reflect on what we’ve learn and meditate on that until we gain experience. This is what I wanted to tell you.”
On behalf of the Stok villagers, Geshé Tsewang Dorjé thanked His Holiness for making this, his second visit, to their village. He repeated that the people of Stok have been studying and reciting ‘manis’ together as His Holiness advised. They also pray, he said, that His Holiness will visit Ladakh again and again.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama exchanging greetings with the Stok Gyalmo on his arrival at her residence in Stok, Leh, Ladakh, India on July 31, 2023. Photo by Tenzin Choejor
From the great statue of the Buddha above Stok, His Holiness drove down to the residence of the Stok Gyalmo, the erstwhile Queen of Ladakh, where she and her grandson had invited him to tea. A small square tent had been put up in the garden for them to sit in the shade and, while tea and refreshments were served, they enjoyed light conversation together.
Members of the family and other well-wishers, who had been seated on either side of the path, pressed forward hoping to be closer to His Holiness as he walked to his car. He smiled and greeted them in return. From Stok he drove down through Choshot Yakma, across the bridge over the Indus, and returned to Shewatsel Phodrang.