Concluding Teachings, Public Talk on Ethical Mindfulness in Everyday Life and Addressing a Gathering for Tibet in Sydney
Sydney, Australia - The first people to meet His Holiness the Dalai Lama today were a group of philanthropists with whom he had some conversation before leaving his hotel this morning. Asked the secret of his optimism, he said:
“We are basically social animals. We are not like turtles that lay their eggs, but never meet their offspring. Our survival depends on our mother’s care and affection and someone who has received such affection has the potential to show affection to others.”
Back in the Sydney Entertainment Centre for the last of five sessions of Buddhist teachings, because it was his intention to give the Bodhisattva Vows, His Holiness sat quietly for some minutes while he refreshed his own vows. He then took his seat on the throne and the Heart Sutra was chanted in Vietnamese and English.
He began his instruction by quoting Chandrakirti’s ‘Introduction to the Middle Way’ as saying, ‘This very mind gives rise to the external conventional world.’ The 7th Dalai Lama, Kalsang Gyatso, said, ‘The whole of cyclic existence and the peace of liberation are merely designated by the internal world of the mind.’
His Holiness repeated that things exist merely by way of designation. Things are nominally existent; they exist as labels. Cyclic existence and the peace of liberation, samsara and nirvana, are brought about by our minds; without mind there is no karma. Nagarjuna said that cyclic existence and the peace of liberation ultimately cannot be found; they have to be understood in terms of our mind.
“Does it make any sense?” he asked. “Since the text we’ve been reading is mainly concerned with praising compassion not wisdom, I wanted to balance it out. I make no claim to have any experience of bodhichitta or insight into emptiness, but I began to take an interest in my early teens. Once I became a refugee, when I had restarted my studies, I took more interest in emptiness. It wasn’t until my late 30s that I really had the courage to consider altruism.”
Indicating the image of the ‘Fasting Buddha’ displayed behind the throne, His Holiness recalled that when he was young he had a copy of the same photograph in his room in the Potala, along with photographs of Bodhgaya and Sarnath, that had belonged to the 13th Dalai Lama. After 1959, he enquired about the location of the original statue and hearing it was in Lahore would have liked to go and see it, but that has not been possible. He described it as an important image for Buddhists because it reminds us of the hardship our teacher underwent in attaining enlightenment.
Because Atisha has written that someone receiving the Bodhisattva Vows should hold at least some personal liberation or pratimoksha vows, His Holiness first went through the ceremony for giving the layperson’s precepts. As a preliminary to generating the awakening mind he asked the entire audience to recite the Seven Branch practice contained in chapters two and three of Shantideva’s ‘Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life’. Following that ceremony he gave the Bodhisattva Vows.
“So now the teaching is complete,” he said, “this afternoon I’ll talk about secular ethics. Buddhism is only for Buddhists, but the universal nature of secular ethics makes them applicable to all 7 billion human beings alive today.”
After lunch he met members of the Parliamentary Group for Tibet and the Australia Tibet Council, who he told:
“Chinese policy about Tibet will not change unless there is an overall change in China. Former Prime Minister Wen Jiabao has spoken of China’s need for reform and human rights’ activist Liu Xiaobo has expressed concern for an open society. The free world has a responsibility to support people like Liu Xiaobo.”
While noting that as an ancient nation China cannot be overlooked, it must be brought into the mainstream of world affairs. At the same time there is an urgent need to find ways to preserve Tibet’s language, religion, culture and ecology. He thanked them all for their support.
Returning to the stage, distinguished actress and Sydney resident, Cate Blanchett gave the audience of more than 11000 a warm and generous introduction to His Holiness. Choosing to stand, he began his talk:
“I am grateful to have this opportunity to speak to all of you. In my visits here and there, being able to address the public is what’s most important. Everyone wants a happy life without difficulties or suffering. We create many of the problems we face. No one intentionally creates problems, but we tend to be slaves to emotions like anger, hatred and attachment. These emotions are essentially based on misconceived projections about people and things.
“These emotions are powerful and we need to find ways of reducing them by eliminating the ignorance that underlies them and applying opposing forces. So long as we don’t learn A,B,C, for example, an ignorance of A,B,C remains. It is only removed by learning about A,B,C that our ignorance is removed. It’s the same with our emotions.”
He explained that some experts say that any social animal has some limited sense of altruism. Without others we cannot survive; the rest of society is the source of our future. He compared this to having a piece of land on which our livelihood depends. We have to take care of it. Likewise, in human society we have to take care of others. Despite the superficial differences between us, we need to have a sense that all 7 billion human beings belong to one human family, the basis of our future. He cited going to hospital as an occasion when we are treated as equal human beings. We don’t expect our nationality, race, religion or educational qualification to be an issue before receiving the treatment we need. Climate change and the environmental crisis similarly have no respect for national boundaries. From outer space you can’t see them. All you can see is our one blue planet.
His Holiness spoke of a dream of harnessing the potential of great areas of desert to generate solar power that could run desalination plants and so generate water to make the deserts green.
Thinking about the whole of humanity, he observed that we have all taken birth from our mothers and that most of us have survived and grown as a result of her care. The affection she showed us gives us the potential to show affection to others.
“While murder, bullying, exploitation and scandal regularly make the news, when thousands of children receive their mother’s care and affection every day it isn’t reported because we take it for granted. We may be subject to negative emotions, but it is possible to keep them under control, to cultivate a sense of emotional hygiene, on the basis of the human values that are rooted in that affection. This is what I call secular ethics.”
Mikey Robins put questions from the audience to His Holiness, starting by asking him what it felt like to be a Buddha. The reply was swift:
“Me? Nonsense! I’m a human being like one of you.”
To a question about how to make a difference as an individual, His Holiness answered that the UN has shown that having a big office and a lot of paper doesn’t produce peace. World peace must come from inner peace within individuals. About why I’m here, he said there are Christian and Buddhist answers, but a simpler one is not to worry about this and to try to be a happy person. Asked what to do to avoid a death full of fear and regret he recommended leading a more meaningful life, not creating problems, helping other people out and avoiding doing them harm. About forgiveness he said if you forget then there’s nothing to forgive, but if you’re angry and resentful towards others it’s like being part of a chain reaction. Forgiveness is how we put a stop to anger, ill-will and a desire for revenge.
To the last question, if he’ll promise to come back, His Holiness responded:
“Certainly, I love to come here. Maybe once every two years over the next 5-10 years. Yes.”
“Think about what we have talked about. If it makes sense, think about it some more. Discuss it with your family and friends. If it doesn’t make sense, it doesn’t matter, just leave it here in this hall when you go home.” His final advice was met by friendly applause.
Attending the Gathering for Tibet at Tumbalong Park, Darling Harbour, His Holiness took to the stage with Speaker of the Tibetan Parliament-in-exile, Penpa Tsering, Chinese liberal intellectual, Dr Feng Chongyi, and his old friend Rev Bill Crews. He spoke about Tibet’s ecology and the role it plays as Asia’s watershed that has earned it the name the Third Pole. He mentioned that since 1974 the Central Tibetan Administration decided not to seek separation, but to acknowledge that remaining with the PRC has the potential to be in Tibet’s interest as far as development is concerned. But the Chinese government must give Tibetans meaningful autonomy and implement the rights included in the Chinese constitution.
“We have our own language, culture and way of life and want to preserve them. Our contacts with the Chinese people are improving, but because of censorship they are very poorly informed. Recently I have been advising Tibetans to reach out to Chinese people. I have been told that if they knew more about our Middle Way Approach, a majority of the Chinese people would support it. The best way to solve our problems is to take a realistic view of them. I appreciate all your support. Please, whenever and wherever you can, educate Chinese people about reality.”
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