Advice to Tibetan and Western Teachers at Dharma Centers
The Second Conference on Tibetan Buddhism in Europe
Fribourg, Switzerland, April 2013
Lightly edited by Alexander Berzin
Indeed I am very, very happy, and it is a great honor to meet with people, including Tibetans, who are actually dedicated to the Buddhadharma. I have a few points I’d like to share with you.
There are seven billion human beings, and as you know I always mention that everybody wants a happy life. Up to now, many people feel that the ultimate source of a happy life is money, or material facilities. Now in recent years, I think maybe due to the global economic crisis, there has been a sort of awakening for those people, who almost took it for granted that as long as there is money, then everything is okay. Now people have some questions about whether our existing way of life is truly right or if something is lacking. I think most importantly a number of scientists have begun to feel that mental comfort and peace of mind are very important factors, even just for a healthy body.
As far as I know, there is the Mind and Life Institute, which is really making an effort to educate people. We must pay more attention to our inner peace, and to achieving a calm mind. Here of course, I think that various religious traditions have the potential to help promote inner values.
In Buddhism, the Buddha taught three vehicles, known as the shravaka-yana, the pratekyabuddha-yana and the bodhisattva-yana.On the philosophical side, we have four different schools of thought – Vaibhashika, Sautantrika, Chittamatra and Madhyamaka. Generally speaking, we can say that one single person, thinker, philosopher taught these different philosophical views. Why? The Buddha realized or recognized that different people have very different mental dispositions, and therefore the Buddha had to show different vehicles or different philosophical views. We, as students of the Nalanda tradition, are quite familiar with these things. So, based on that example, it is very helpful to appreciate all different religious traditions.
Recently I saw in one report that out of seven billion people, one billion have formally discarded their religion. That’s quite a big number! One in seven people are non-believers. And among the believers, often you hear of scandals, exploitation or other unhealthy things, so this clearly shows that even among the six billion believers, many of them are not very serious. Sometimes I used to describe religion as something that teaches us the practice of hypocrisy – of saying something nice, but doing something different. So this clearly shows that these people just carry their religious tradition as some sort of custom – maybe a few moments of seriousness in a day, but the rest of the twenty-four hours not very serious. This is bad, as it shows a lack of conviction in moral ethics. Therefore we now need some serious effort to bring about a conviction in moral ethics. Moral ethics are not a religious matter, or God’s matter or Buddha’s matter; they are our own matter, our own concern.
Anyone, who really lives their life according to moral principles will him or herself be a much happier person, because with moral principles, all actions, verbal and physical actions, become positive. As a result, you carry out all your work with transparency, and through that, you’ll get more friends, and also you’ll get more self-confidence.
I think some religions really hesitate at the very word “secular.” According to Buddhism, and of course generally according to Indian tradition, the idea of “secularism” is already over three thousand years old. According to the Indian understanding of secularism, one should respect non-believers. As I’ve mentioned earlier, if the Buddha came today I think he would seriously look at non-believers also as human beings and would not impose upon them some sort of belief system that they’d have to accept. So for Buddhist centers and the Buddhist community, firstly we have to think seriously about how to make a contribution to the promotion of moral ethics, mainly using a secular approach.
I’m always saying that we as Buddhists should not try to propagate our own tradition. Over several decades I have had the opportunity to talk about and explain Buddhist philosophy, the Buddhadharma in America, Europe and many other non-Buddhist countries, and I always make it clear that it is better to keep your own tradition. Changing religions is not easy. I think you all know that, so I never try to propagate. Of course I am a Buddhist and if someone shows a genuine interest in Buddhism, I feel happy. But I would never tell anyone that they should follow Buddhism. That is akin to interfering with their individual rights, especially in the West or in non-Buddhist countries.
There is a Tibetan saying that says you should take yourself as an example in not harming others. Imagine if a non-Buddhist tradition built a big temple in one of the Tibetan settlements in India, I think Tibetans might feel uncomfortable. And so here, which is a country with a Judeo-Christian background, if we start building huge Tibetan Buddhist centers, some people may feel okay, but at the same time it’s actually interfering with their faith. There was one time in France, where one donor wanted to build some sort of big center, but I suggested it wasn’t appropriate to do so in France. If you really want to make a donation or have some sort of big center, then either Thailand or some other Buddhist country, or India, is preferable. This is something to keep in your mind, to have a little sensitivity. You should think about yourself and what would happen to you, if others would do such things.
As mentioned earlier, the Buddhadharma accords with the audience’s mental disposition, so the Buddha taught different philosophies, and different sorts of methods. Now we have reached the twenty-first century, and there is a large number of non-believers, so we have to think seriously about how to help these non-believers become more sensible, more compassionate people. The only way is through education, from scientific findings and using our own common sense and experience – in this way we can educate non-believers. Yes, you can remain a non-believer, absolutely right. Even if you are anti-religion, okay, it’s no problem. But you must be a more compassionate person, because it is in your interest. So denying religion is okay, but to deny moral principles will certainly lead to destruction.
I think our existing Buddhist centers in different places should think more, not just about giving information to Buddhist practitioners, but about how to make a contribution, even a small one, to the betterment of the society where you live. One time I visited a Lama Zopa hospice center in Australia, a facility for dying people.
There were some Tibetan Buddhist nuns and some European nuns taking care of the patients, so they are really doing something useful.
As a result of meeting and having had a series of discussions with scientists and other people over the last three decades, it has eventually become clear that a number of scientists have really found some useful information about the mind, emotions, and how to tackle emotions from Buddhist literature. Over the last two or three years, I have suggested that the contents of the three hundred volumes of the Kangyur and Tengyur can be divided into three parts. One part is about matter, time, the mind and emotions – this we can consider as the scientific part. The second part is philosophical, and concerns Madhyamaka philosophy, which is very similar to quantum physics. So this part we also don’t consider as being about the practice of religion. So we have two parts – science, philosophy, and finally we have the third part, religion.
Our various centers should start classes teaching about the mind, emotions and so forth, but without mentioning nirvana or moksha (liberation). Of course we ourselves very much believe in moksha, but it’s very difficult to achieve! We often say moksha, moksha (liberation, liberation) and semchen tamche, semchen tamche (may all beings….[be happy], may all beings… [be free from suffering]) but in reality, our actions are not up to that level. Therefore for other people, without talking about nirvana or the next life, I think learning about Buddhist science and philosophy can be very useful in order to simply be a happier person. As I mentioned before, the ultimate source of happiness is our mind, and the real troublemaker is our emotions.
In order to tackle our troublemaker, these destructive emotions, we need to know about the whole system of emotions. These days I talk about “emotional hygiene”, just like “physical hygiene.” As a part of our education, we usually receive some lessons on how to take care of the body, and so similarly, we need to receive some sort of lesson on how to take care of our emotions, as an academic, health-related subject, not associated to any tradition. Of course we Buddhists have a huge knowledge of these emotions and mind states, how to transform our emotions to nirvana, but in the secular field, it is simply needed to know how to deal with destructive emotions like anger, hatred, fear and so on.
So our centers, instead of just holding some pujas or prayers or chants while some people sleep in the corner [laughter], which of course is okay for Buddhist believers, should also include lessons on emotions, about the mind, and on lorig, or study of the mind. Also, the Abhidharmakosha (Treasury of Special Topics of Knowledge) and Abidharma-samuccaya (Anthology of Special Topics of Knowledge) include quite a lot of information on emotion. But that alone I think is not sufficient. A more detailed and deeper explanation of the mental functions can be found in the Pramanavarttika (A Commentary on [Dignaga’s “Compendium of] Validly Cognizing Minds”). In all chapters but especially the third chapter, Dharmakirti explains perception, and how our perception works in relation to objects. I think of these as purely an academic subject.
Eventually, I think our centers can be learning centers, educational centers, and not religious centers. Occasionally, for those Buddhist believers who want it, there can be pujas and meditation and things like that. But generally, to start purely on an academic level, with information on Buddhist science and the mind is very useful. The audience can be divided into two categories – one Buddhist and the other non-Buddhist (but can include Buddhists as well) – being taught simply knowledge of the mind, about emotions, or what I call a map of emotions, or map of the mind.
In order to deal with these destructive emotions, firstly we need to have a full picture of the vast field of information concerning emotions and the mind. Currently I think modern scientists are not very well educated on these matters, and the science of the mind is not yet developed enough. I think that ancient Indian traditions can be very useful here.
As for us Buddhists, I usually say that we need to be twenty-first century Buddhists. This means that our prayers and meditations should be practiced with a full knowledge of the whole Buddhist system. Studying and practicing meditation is very important, but the real material for meditation is knowledge, which is absolutely essential. Our various centers should try to explain the whole Buddhist system.
On one occasion in America, I was having lunch after a meeting and one American lady told me that when I’d mentioned the Tibetan tradition as being the tradition of Nalanda, some Kagyupas and Sakyapas didn’t fully agree, and at the time I didn’t argue or try to explain any further. But actually the Sakyas are from Virupa, who was one of the top master scholars of Nalanda. When he was studying and teaching as a Buddhist scholar, his name was Neten Chokyong (gNas-brtan chos-skyong), or Dharmapala. In the commentary, written by Yongtsey on the Samdhinirmocana Sutra (The Sutra Unravelling What Is Intended), there are lots of quotations from Dharmapala’s text – and later his name became Virupa. So the Sakya tradition came from that, and Virupa himself was a Nalanda master. Then regarding the Kagyu lineage, which came from Marpa, Milarepa and Gampopa, the main teacher of Marpa was Naropa, who was also a great Nalanda master.
I think it is quite important to know these things, otherwise it seems that the Sakyas were just invented by themselves, with no connection to a lineage. And the same for the Gelugpas or Kadampas. Each is more or less independent, but then “we” and “them” comes, followed by sectarianism, and then unfortunate things happen, so we must avoid this. The Tibetan Buddhadharma I have found to be the most complete, and richest form of a Buddhist tradition. There’s no question about it.
Also the Tibetan language is important, as it is the best language with which to describe the detailed thought and philosophy of the Nalanda tradition, and I think you know there are many good translators here. You know better than me. This rich tradition is today facing many difficulties, and during such a time, all Tibetan Buddhist practitioners must think about finding harmony, so close links are very essential. Sectarianism is actually quite silly and shows a total lack of awareness of reality. Sometimes I think sectarianism is created simply due to the different colors of hats. We have red hats, yellow hats, black and white hats. So far, there is no green hat. I think I may start a green hat to stand for ecology [laughter]. So this is all silly and is due to narrow-mindedness, and not being holistic enough. And especially with today’s serious situation, such silly, silly things happening!
So be careful. That is what I want to tell you, that’s all. Today it’s really been raining, such bad weather. After we got onto the plane, we had to wait I think almost one hour. But then finally, by God’s grace, we reached here [laughter]!
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