Monday, May 30, 2016

The Dalai Lama Teaches ‘Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life’ in Osaka, Part 3

Continued from:
The Dalai Lama Teaches ‘Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life’ in Osaka, Part 1
The Dalai Lama Teaches ‘Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life’ in Osaka, Part 2

Osaka, Japan, 12 May 2016 - After several days of cloud and rain, Osaka awoke today to bright sunlight streaming through the windows and bright blue skies overhead. As His Holiness the Dalai Lama walked through the hotel to the Osaka International Conference Center the light caught the fresh leaves on the trees around the buildings.

“Today I want to tell you about the Stages of the Path tradition,” he began once he had sat down. “In the 8th century Shantarakshita came to Tibet at the invitation of the Emperor Trisong Detsen. He was a leading scholar of Nalanda University in his day and established the pure Nalanda tradition in Tibet. Following the reign of Tri Ralpachan, Tibet became politically fragmented.

“In the west of the country, Ngari, was the Kingdom of Guge with its capital at Thöling. The king wanted to invite Buddhist teachers from India to restore the traditions set up by Shantarakshita and Guru Padmasambhava that had fallen into decline. A local translator, Rinchen Zangpo had already been active in the region when the king prevailed upon Dipamkara Atisha to come from the University of Vikramashila to Tibet.”

His Holiness explained that the king requested Atisha to compose a teaching that would be specifically suitable for Tibetans and in response he wrote the ‘Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment’. What distinguished this text from other Indian treatises was that it laid out the entire path to enlightenment in terms of an individual’s spiritual practice - the stages of the path. He described these stages in relation to practitioners of three capacities. Those of least capacity aimed to achieve higher rebirth. Those of middle capacity sought liberation from the sufferings of the cycle of existence and those of great capacity aspired to cultivate compassion and the awakening mind, intent on achieving enlightenment.

The stages of the path became a model for subsequent Tibetan authors. The Nyingma master Longchenpa followed it in his ‘Mind at Ease’; the Kagyu Dagpo Lharje did so in his ‘Jewel Ornament of Liberation’, which begins with an explanation of Buddha nature. Sakya masters followed the pattern in their ‘Paths and Fruit’ texts. And eventually the founder of the Renewed Kadampa tradition, Je Tsongkhapa commented and elaborated on the ‘Lamp for the Path’ in his several Stages of the Path texts. He also made reference to the Six Kadampa texts, of which the ‘Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life’ was one.

His Holiness explained that according to the ‘Ornament for Clear Realization’ it is on the basis of understanding the Two Truths and the Four Noble Truths that people go for refuge to the Three Jewels. He remarked that when they understand the possibility of liberation and what it is they will be inspired. This is much more effective that frightening them with the prospect of hell if they do not follow instructions. He observed that the Buddha taught in a way people could be comfortable with, adding that it is Buddhism’s strong background in reasoning and philosophy that equips it to engage in conversation with science.

Turning to the ‘Guide’ His Holiness began to read chapter eight which deals with patience and opens with this straightforward advice:

Having patience I should develop enthusiasm;
For awakening will dwell only in those who exert themselves.

He highlighted the need for confidence in achieving what you want to do and mentioned how in relation to the disturbing emotions it needs to be combined with vigilance and alertness. If you allow the disturbing emotions to arise before you take action it will be too late; you have to apprehend and deal with them before they erupt.

Moving on to the chapter on meditation he explained that the main topic was developing a single pointed mind, a practice also maintained by other non-Buddhist Indian traditions. He said ‘shamatha’ is about stability, but not necessarily about keeping physically still with a mind emptied of conceptual thought. The text discusses how to develop a calmly abiding mind, how to choose an object to focus the mind on and how this can be disrupted by either laxity or excitement. His Holiness advised that Buddhists often choose an image of the Buddha as an object on which to focus, but that some traditions take the mere clarity and awareness of the mind as their object.

He clarified that where Shantideva advises how to counter the distraction of desire and lust for women, he was addressing monks. What he says applies equally to women with regard to men.

Shantideva’s distinctive explanation of exchanging self and others begins with the reflection:

First of all I should make an effort
To meditate upon the equality between self and others:
I should protect all beings as I do myself
Because we are all equal in (wanting) pleasure and (not wanting) pain. 

And continues:

Whoever wishes to quickly afford protection
To both himself and other beings
Should practise that holy secret:
The exchanging of self for others.

His Holiness remarked that exchanging self for others is referred to as a secret because of association with the practice of tantra which is secret, but also because it is not something everyone can do. The practice is summarized by the following verse:

Whatever joy there is in this world
All comes from desiring others to be happy,
And whatever suffering there is in this world
All comes from desiring myself to be happy.

After returning from lunch, His Holiness advised that when it comes to instructions about meditation he recommends a book called ‘Stages of Meditation’ composed in Tibet by the Indian master, and disciple of Shantarakshita, Kamalashila.

Embarking on chapter nine of the ‘Guide’ dealing with wisdom he remarked:

Buddhas do not wash unwholesome deeds away with water,
Nor do they remove the sufferings of beings with their hands,
Neither do they transplant their own realization into others.
Teaching the truth of suchness they liberate (beings).

The chapter contrasts the views of different Buddhist schools of thought particularly Mind Only with the Middle Way to ascertain the Two Truths. It goes on to explore first the selflessness of persons and then the selflessness of phenomena. It concludes:

Therefore this life swiftly passes with no meaning
And it is very hard to find the chance to investigate reality.
In this state, where is there the means to reverse
This beginningless habit of grasping at true existence?

It will be hard to find the leisure (of a human life) again,
And extremely difficult to find the presence of the Buddhas.
It is hard to forsake this flood of disturbing conceptions.
Alas, sentient beings will continue to suffer!

And by having, in the manner of not referring (to true existence),
Respectfully gathered the accumulation of merit,
When, by referring to others, will I be able to reveal emptiness
To those who are wretched and sad?

As the afternoon came to an end, His Holiness noted that he had not read every verse of the text, but had tried to communicate the spirit and meaning of Shantideva’s work.

“Keep it with you and, when you can, read it. Think about what we’ve talked about. It’s not like a story; read it and think about it. If you do that your understanding will grow and your disturbing emotions will begin to decline.

“Tomorrow I’ll be giving first the layperson’s vows, which Atisha said make a good basis, followed by the Bodhisattva vow and Manjushri permission. We will recite the ‘Heart Sutra’. Because we’re in Japan we’ll recite it first in Japanese and after that in Mandarin. Those of you who speak Russian, Mongolian, Korean, Tibetan or English can recite it to yourselves in your own language.”

Once again the audience of 2700 clapped with friendly enthusiasm as His Holiness left the hall.

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