Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Dalai Lama's Teaching on Nagarjuna’s ‘A Commentary on the Awakening Mind’ in Basel, Switzerland

Basel, Switzerland, 7 February 2015 - This is only the second time His Holiness the Dalai Lama has visited Basel, the ancient European city on the Rhine that lies where the borders of France, Germany and Switzerland converge. The historic hotel in which he is staying, Les Trois Rois, has previously hosted such famous but diverse guests as Napoleon Bonaparte, Pablo Picasso, and Theodor Herzl. There, before leaving for the venue where he would teach, he met with members of the media. He told them:

“I am one of the 7 billion human beings alive today. We are social creatures and today everything is interdependent. Therefore, we have to consider the welfare of the whole of humanity and the health of the planet. You media people have an important role to play in keeping people informed of the importance of ecology. Promoting awareness of the need to protect the environment is one of my own commitments.

“Secondly, I’m a Buddhist and I’m committed to fostering inter-religious harmony. This is not just wishful thinking, it is a realistic possibility. Look at India where all the world’s religious traditions, those that are indigenous and those from abroad, live together in peace. India is today a living example of diversity and pluralism.

“Thirdly, I’m a Tibetan and dedicated to the preservation of Tibetan culture.”

The first question from the floor was a simple “How are you?” and His Holiness replied that yesterday, when he arrived, he was tired. However, after going to bed at 5.30pm and getting up again at 2.30am he felt refreshed. Asked what needs to change in education today he remarked that the existing education system is focused on materialistic goals with insufficient attention to inner values. What is needed, he said, is a curriculum that incorporates such human values in a way that is universally acceptable. He mentioned meeting with members of the Mind & Life Institute a few days ago to hear about progress on just such a program called ‘Call to Care’.

In the context of religious freedom he was asked what he had to say to the pro-Shugden protestors on the street outside. He replied that the issue has nothing to do with religious freedom because it’s about spirit worship. The Buddha counselled his followers only to take refuge in and seek guidance from the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. He said we should not seek refuge in spirits. The history of the controversy goes back to the time of the 5th Dalai Lama in 17th century. And the 5th Dalai Lama pronounced Dolgyal or Shugden an evil spirit. Many prominent Gelugpa masters concurred. His Holiness continued:

“In 1951, at Yatung, due to a variety of circumstances I took up the practice. However, my Senior Tutor remained sceptical about it. In 1970, because I already harboured doubts about it I investigated further and discovered what the 5th Dalai Lama had written about this practice. Realizing it was a mistake, I stopped and eventually word got out.”

He explained that these protestors have tried to create  mistaken impression, particularly in Tibet, that the Dalai Lama opposes this practice because he’s pandering to the Nyingmapas. He said this is nonsense. They accuse him of lying, but he asserts that he is not, while they just don’t know the reality of the situation. His advice, he said, is to investigate the matter more thoroughly. His Holiness concluded that the protestors are clearly able to exercise their freedom of expression, which is good. Nevertheless, it remains his duty also to share what he knows. That’s all he’s done.

Under bright winter sunshine, His Holiness drove to St. Jakobshalle where he was to teach. Tibetans singing and dancing in colourful costumes at the door gave him a traditional welcome. Inside the hall, as he came onto the stage, with its backdrop of large thangkas depicting the Buddha, Nagarjuna and Manjushri, a capacity crowd of 7500 also welcomed him with warm applause.

He began by stressing the importance of knowledge,

“Today, we should be 21st century Buddhists, who know what the Nalanda tradition is. When we recited the verse taking refuge in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, we need to understand what and who the Buddha is. If we understand the causes and conditions that result in a Buddha, we’ll understand what the word ‘Buddha’ signifies. Likewise, the Dharma indicates the path to liberation and the Sangha those who embody it.”

His Holiness remarked that the dull-witted simply have faith. The sharp witted, however, research and investigate the teachings. He cited what he had written in the colophon to the praise ‘Illuminating the Threefold Faith’ that invokes the qualities of the 17 Nalanda Masters:

“At the present time, when in the ordinary world there is great advancement in the fields of science and technology, we are distracted by the hustle and bustle of our busy lives, it is extremely important that those of us who follow the Buddha should have faith based on knowledge of his teaching. Therefore, we should examine the reasons for it with an unbiased and inquisitive mind, analyzing it closely.

... the foremost sages of the Holy Land of India have composed numerous excellent, meaningful texts that can open the eyes of those possessing fine discriminative awareness. During this time more than two thousand five hundred years have passed, but still those teachings (dealing with) hearing, contemplation and meditation survive undiminished.”

He further quoted the first two verses of that praise:

By understanding the meaning of the two truths, the way things exist,
We ascertain through the four truths how we arrive in and how we leave the cycle of existence.
Engendered by valid cognition our faith in the three refuges will be firm.
May I be blessed to establish the root of the path to liberation.

May I be blessed to perfect an uncontrived awakening mind of bodhichitta
Which is rooted in renunciation - the aspiration for liberation and
The total purification of suffering and its source -
And that boundless compassion that wishes to protect wandering beings.

His Holiness was invited to lunch with the members of the local City-Canton Government by its President, Dr Guy Morin. The President welcomed him to Basel and, during the course of the meal, told him there are currently about 600 Tibetan residents in the city. He said Basel’s connection with Tibetans is so long that he can remember having a Tibetan classmate at school 40 years ago.

Opening Nagarjuna’s ‘Commentary to the Awakening Mind’ after lunch His Holiness told his listeners that the text explains developing the awakening mind of bodhichitta in both its conventional and ultimate aspects. The explanation accords with that found in the sutras although the text itself is derived from the Guhyasamaja Tantra, which speaks of two kinds of bodhichitta: bliss and emptiness and the indivisibility of the two truths. He read the first verse, which expresses homage:      

1 Bowing to the glorious Vajra Holder
Who embodies the awakening mind.
I shall explain here the meditative practice
Of awakening mind that destroys cyclic existence.

The next two verses describe what the text sets out to teach:

2 The Buddhas maintain the awakening mind
To be unobscured by such conceptions
As consciousness of “self,” “aggregates” and so on;
It is always characterized by emptiness.

3 It is with a mind moistened by compassion
That you must cultivate [awakening mind] with effort.
The Buddhas who embody great compassion
Constantly develop this awakening mind.

Verses 4-9 present and challenge the views of the non-Buddhist schools of thought that flourished in ancient India. The text then moves on to deal with the views of the lower schools of Buddhist thought, culminating in an assessment of the Mind Only school, which the reader is advised is not to be taken literally:

27 ‘All of this is but one’s mind,’
That which was stated by the Able One
Is to alleviate the fear of the childish;
It is not [a statement] of [final] truth.

His Holiness concluded the session with verses that summarize the two kinds of bodhichitta:

72 Those who do not understand emptiness
Are not receptive vehicles for liberation;
Such ignorant beings will revolve
In the prison of existence of the six classes of beings.

73 When this emptiness [as explained]
Is thus meditated upon by yogis,
No doubt there will arise in them
A feeling attached to the welfare of others.

74 ‘Towards those beings that have
Bestowed benefits upon me in the past,
Such as through being my parents or friends,
I shall strive to repay their kindness.’

His Holiness announced that he would conduct the ceremony for generating the awakening mind tomorrow in conjunction with an Avalokiteshvara empowerment. The empowerment comes from the collection of secret visions of the 5th Dalai Lama.

As he was leaving the building, His Holiness held a short meeting with about 200 elderly and frail Tibetans. He told them that since they had spent their lives trying not to harm others and trying to develop the awakening mind of bodhichitta, as he himself does every day, they should relax and feel at ease. In the light of the empowerment he will give tomorrow, he commented that Tibetans have a special connection with Avalokiteshvara. He added that although Tibetans tended to squabble among themselves when Tibet was free, now the difficulties they have faced has brought about a firm unity.

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