His Holiness the Dalai Lama Commences Teaching Shantideva’s Text in Sarnath
Sarnath, Uttar Pradesh, India, His Holiness travelled from Patna to Sarnath outside Varanasi, where he is to teach Shantideva’s Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life. Sarnath, like much of North India, is in the grip of an intense cold wave and many in the audience waiting for His Holiness this morning were wrapped up warm against it. As he made his way to the throne he greeted many old friends, among them the Jangtse Choje, Lobsang Tenzin.
A group of Theravada monks were invited to recite the Mangala Sutra in Pali, followed by a recitation of the Heart Sutra in Sanskrit by students of the Central University for Tibetan Studies, which is co-host to these teachings. His Holiness pointed out that while the Pali and Sanskrit traditions of Buddhism have the Monastic Discipline or Vinaya in common, Tibetan Buddhism seems to be the only tradition to employ logic. For this Tibetans are grateful to the Nalanda master Shantarakshita who helped establish the practice of Buddhism in Tibet and who was himself a master of philosophy and logic.
His Holiness began by explaining that all religious traditions teach the positive virtues of love and compassion; that an altruistic attitude is the source of happiness whereas selfishness is ruinous. He said all human beings should be aware of this. Because we create the causes we are responsible for what happens to us. If we deceive and bully other people, ultimately we will suffer. It is part of the law of causality that we are the agents of our own happiness.
The great 7-8th century Indian Master Shantideva says that if you cannot exchange your happiness for the suffering of others, you will not achieve Buddhahood. You need to think of others as more important than you and their happiness as more important than your own. He goes on to say that the Buddhas who have considered this for a long time have concluded that the best way to help other beings is to develop the awakening mind of bodhichitta, which is the altruistic aspiration for enlightenment. His Holiness commented:
“I feel fortunate to be able to give this teaching and you should think yourselves fortunate to be able to listen to it. This is not about listening in order simply to receive blessings. Nor is it a case of hearing the teaching once and then setting it aside. You have to study steadily, understand it and think about it again and again.”
“When you are in trouble,” His Holiness advised, “think of everyone else who is facing trouble and suffering. Think to yourself, ‘May I take on the suffering of others until the ocean of suffering is dried up.’ I don’t mean to imply that I have any realization of bodhichitta, but I do have great admiration for it, I think about it every day and I am convinced it has brought me peace and happiness.”
“On the other hand, it would be inappropriate to boast ‘I have heard the Dalai Lama explain of the Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life so many times’. Nor is it appropriate to think of it as a potential means to gain money, power and influence. If we do that we’ll merely be hypocrites posing as dharma practitioners with our minds set on wealth.”
He suggested that everyone recite the verse of Mahayana refuge together, clarifying that it is neither an aspiration for a better life now, nor for a better life in the future, but for the ultimate attainment of Buddhahood in the future. Taking refuge in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha is what qualifies you as a Buddhist, and generating the awakening mind of bodhichitta is what qualifies you as intent on the Bodhisattva’s path.
“When you say, ‘I take refuge in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha and by the merit I create.....’ try to think of the ‘I’ not as something that exists autonomously and intrinsically, but as a mere designation.”
His Holiness received the transmission and explanation of this text, Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life, from the Kinnauri, Khunu Lama Tenzing Gyaltsen in Bodhgaya. However, the first teaching he received from him was his Praise to Bodhichitta in a sparse Hindu temple here in Sarnath, which Khunu Lama Rinpoche said was an ideal, quiet place to stay.
“The text has been made available in Tibetan, Hindi and English. I will give a reading transmission with the occasional comment, but you should read it again and again, chapter by chapter. When you go home, don’t lose this text; keep it with you; read it every day.”
Of the 7 billion people in the world today, all want happiness and none want problems or suffering. Yet, many of the problems we face are manmade. In this context religion is not meant to bring harm to others but to help them. It is meant to bring about inner transformation. His Holiness read in the newspaper that of the 7 billion alive today, 1 billion have no particular religious belief. But if the 6 billion others do not follow religious principles in their day to day life, they are not sincere. Therefore, it is important to make people aware of the benefits of love and compassion.
Referring to what science is beginning to learn about the mind, His Holiness said that there are those who still consider that the mind is an emergent quality of the brain and that only what happens in the brain affects the mind. However, there is now increasing evidence that changes and developments in the mind affect the brain. He cited, as evidence of the power of the mind, the more than 20 cases of Tibetan masters in exile, who, over the last 50 years, have engaged in posthumous meditative absorption. This is a phenomenon that is now being investigated by scientists.
In the ongoing dialogue between scientists and Buddhists, it is not that the scientists are becoming Buddhists, but are learning from Buddhist science and philosophy and applying what they learn in their research.
After lunch His Holiness praised the Guide as the best text for learning about the awakening mind of bodhichitta. He said it draws on Nagarjuna’s writings and in its views corresponds to Chandrakirti’s position. Shantideva also wrote the Compendium of Training, which His Holiness received from the Sakya Lama Kunga Wangchuk. There is a Kadampa tradition of teaching these two texts together, because they aptly complement each other, a tradition he has revived.
His Holiness then unwrapped his copy of the text and began to read it, starting with an explanation of the title and the author’s intention.
Referring to the awakening mind of bodhichitta as a source of courage and confidence, His Holiness recalled the reference to this in the Eight Thousand Verse Perfection of Wisdom Sutra:
“On 17th March 1959 I had been reading the Eight Thousand Verses and came to the verse that advises you to be confident and courageous, and although I was nervous, that’s what I read immediately before I left the Norbulingka.”
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