An Explanation of the Four Noble Truths and a Public Talk to Begin His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s Visit to New Zealand
Christchurch, New Zealand - After a long journey from India, His Holiness the Dalai Lama was given a warm and friendly reception on arrival yesterday for his seventh visit to New Zealand. He then drove in brilliant wintry sunshine to his Christchurch hotel, where a traditional Tibetan welcome awaited him, before retiring for the night.
This morning began with an interview by Maari McCluskey for MindFood magazine. She wanted to know if His Holiness thought that spirituality had the effect of blunting a person’s competitive edge. His reply was straightforward:
“Material development alone does not bring peace of mind, so there is an increasing trend towards developing inner peace. For some this leads to an interest in religious faith, but there are others for whom this has little appeal. However, within our minds are many emotions and the better we understand how they work, the better will we be able to respond when they arise. We already accept the need for physical hygiene, what we need in addition is a sense of emotional hygiene.”
He said that when we are young we have a vivid sense of basic values like trust and warm-heartedness, but in the competitive world in which we live we tend to neglect them as we grow up, and yet from birth we all have a need for affection. He suggested that there is not much difference between the emotions experienced by human beings today and those at the time of the Buddha, but the interest increasing numbers of people are showing in their inner world and how their emotions work is a sign of maturity.
At the CBS Canterbury Arena where he was due to speak, His Holiness was given a traditional Maori greeting, which involved a welcoming song and a declaration by one of the elders who made the wish,
“May peace and good will prevail in the landscape.”
As he walked onto the stage in the Arena, an applauding audience of more than 2300 took to their feet and His Holiness saluted them with folded hands. After making three prostrations he took his seat on the throne before a backdrop of a large video screen and paintings of the 17 Masters of Nalanda and Avalokiteshvara. He requested followers of the Pali tradition to recite the Mangala Sutra.
“Respected monks and nuns, human brothers and sisters,” he began, “we are all the same; physically, mentally and emotionally, which is why I greet you as brothers and sisters.”
He remarked that Buddhism belongs to the East and as does New Zealand geographically, while culturally looking to the West. In the past, communication with the outside world was poor, much as it was in Tibet, but now this has changed. The world has become one multi-religious, multi-cultural community. Although the West was not traditionally Buddhist, interest in Eastern thought, including Buddhism, seems to be growing.
“The topic for today is the Four Noble Truths, which are the basis of all Buddhist traditions. This is the first teaching the Buddha gave. In the Sanskrit tradition we have the perfection of wisdom of which the Heart Sutra is a short explanation. It discusses the ultimate reality to which the third noble truth refers. In the first turning of the wheel of Dharma, the Buddha taught the Four Noble Truths, in the second turning of the wheel he taught the perfection of wisdom and in the third turning of the wheel he taught about the clarity of mind and the path referred to in the fourth noble truth. The ultimate source of suffering, referred to in the second noble
truth is ignorance, which is the opposite of wisdom.”
Expressing a wish to explain the context of the Buddha-dharma, His Holiness remarked that people seem to have begun to cultivate spiritual faith 4-5000 years ago in the face of difficulties that seemed beyond their control. Religion gave them hope. About 2600 years ago in India Buddhism and Jainism emerged, while the Middle East gave rise to Judaism, Christianity, Islam and before them Zoroastrianism. All these religious traditions, along with indigenous Hinduism, Sikhism and so forth, have flourished side by side in India, proving that it is possible to achieve genuine religious harmony. His Holiness explained that these different traditions, as well as the different traditions of Buddhism, came about because of people’s different dispositions and locations.
“Just as we need different medications to treat different ailments, we need different solutions to help us deal with our different disturbing emotions. Even when they take a different approach, all these religious traditions share a common message of love and compassion.”
He explained that in Buddhism there is no creator apart from us. The law of causality shows that certain actions bring certain results; our future depends on us. If we do good, there is a positive, happy result; if we do harm, the result is negative and unhappy. Because all major religions make guiding our actions their common purpose, they deserve our respect. With regard to the notion that there is one truth and one religion, he said this may be true on a personal level, but in terms of the wider community the reality is that there are several religions and several truths. What’s more, we need to promote harmony and respect among them.
Turning specifically to Buddhism he referred to the Pali and Sanskrit traditions. The Buddha’s teachings were gathered in three councils after his death and eventually recorded in Pali. These were studied in great centres of learning like Taxila, Nalanda and Vikramashila, from which Sanskrit Buddhist literature later emerged.
To suggestions that the Sanskrit texts were not taught by the Buddha, masters like Nagarjuna asserted that while the Pali texts represented what he taught in public, the teachings preserved in Sanskrit represented what he had taught to more select groups of listeners. Southern Buddhist countries such as Sri Lanka, Burma and Thailand preserved the Pali tradition well on the basis of the Vinaya or monastic discipline. The Sanskrit tradition travelled to China in about 3rd century CE and from there on to Vietnam, Korea and Japan. It was conveyed to Tibet in 8th century by the renowned scholar Shantarakshita who established it there with the aid of Padmasambhava.
In the first turning of the wheel of dharma, the Buddha taught the Four Noble Truths: suffering, the cause of suffering, cessation and the path. His Holiness clarified that the ignorance that is at the root of suffering refers to the contradiction between appearance and reality. The appearance that things exist independently is unreal, but gives rise to disturbing emotions in our minds. Any action motivated by ignorance is a source of suffering, while actions motivated by wisdom are a source for overcoming suffering. Wisdom is to understand reality, while ignorance is to misconceive it.
“Just as heat displaces cold, light eliminates darkness. We will not overcome suffering just by making prayers or engaging in thoughtless meditation, but by understanding reality. The third noble truth, cessation, refers to the elimination of suffering and the way to it is the path of the fourth noble truth. The ultimate method to overcome ignorance is wisdom understanding reality.”
The three trainings in morality, concentration and wisdom constitute the path. To achieve them we need mindfulness and determination and His Holiness outlined the four mindfulnesses of body, feelings, mind and phenomena that are included, along with the four restraints and so forth in the Thirty-seven Wings of Enlightenment. These culminate in the eightfold noble path that we can observe in practice in our daily lives.
His Holiness concluded that the desire to overcome ignorance is an aspiration for liberation. Once we cultivate that in relation to other sentient beings we develop the awakening mind of bodhichitta, the aspiration for enlightenment. We embark on the practice of the six perfections and engage in the four classes of tantra. Once we have a basic understanding of the teaching, we can follow the path gradually, step by step.
“This,” he declared, “is a realistic approach.”
After lunch, His Holiness returned to the stage, where his public talk was introduced by Sam Johnson, who was honoured as 2012 Young New Zealander of the Year for his co-ordination of volunteers in clearing up after the recent Christchurch earthquakes. His Holiness began:
“I appreciate your invitation. I was glad to be able to visit here after the earthquake to express my sympathy and I appreciate your work to help others facing difficulties. I think what I do, just talking, is much easier than actually giving a helping hand like you have done. Sometimes hardship brings about a greater sense of community. We saw this in New York after September 11th, in Brisbane after the floods and in Japan after the tsunami and nuclear accident.”
Noting that this relates to an awareness of the oneness of humanity, he said we also have to remember that everywhere there is a huge gap between rich and poor. It is a gap we have to address not by making the rich poorer, but by improving conditions for the poor.
Recalling that 20th century was, for all its great achievements, a century of violence, he stressed the need to make this 21st century an era of peace. He said this can be done only if we seek to solve our problems through dialogue and non-violence. Doing this requires that we acknowledge the oneness of humanity, that people are essentially the same, rather than dwelling on secondary differences such as nationality, race, gender, education and so forth.
“If I think of myself as Tibetan, Buddhist, as Dalai Lama, this isolates me from you; it creates a gap between us. That’s the kind of gap that allows us to bully, exploit and deceive others, to condone corruption. If, on the other hand, we think of ourselves as the same as others and concern ourselves with their needs, we become closer to them, which puts a stop to our negative behaviour.”
He pointed out that our experience of our mother’s affection at the start of our lives is what prepares us to express affection and concern for others later on. However, we lack the training necessary to tackle our disturbing emotions, something that involves the mind and can only be achieved by using the mind. This is something we need to introduce to modern education.
Asked for advice on fostering inner values in the community, His Holiness recommended we check our motivation and cultivate will-power and determination. He said we naturally have self-interest but it should be wise self-interest rather than foolish self-interest. That means taking others needs into account as well as our own.
Answering a question about who he admires, His Holiness mentioned Mahatma Gandhi and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who creates a happy atmosphere wherever he goes and who along with Nelson Mandela worked so hard for reconciliation in South Africa. About Tibet and China he encouraged people to go to Tibet to see for themselves what is happening there. He said visitors from abroad are good for Tibetan morale. But he also advised taking opportunities to explain the situation to ordinary Chinese. Tibetans need to preserve their language, culture and identity, but many Chinese are ill-informed about the situation in Tibet, because they are only provided distorted information that conceals reality. He asked for help to rectify this.
Finally, he answered a question about how to get through tough times:
“We are all the same as human beings; we have the same potential. The ultimate source of peace of mind is within us.”
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