Monday, February 22, 2016

His Holiness the Dalai Lama Teaches the Tibetan Community in Minneapolis

Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA, 21 February 2016 - His Holiness the Dalai Lama left the religious institution where he’s been staying in Rochester early this morning for a nearly ninety mile drive to Minneapolis. The local Tibetan community there had invited him to teach. The journey took him through a frozen landscape of rolling fields still bearing remnants of the winter snow.

Arriving at the Minneapolis Convention Center he was welcomed by representatives of the Tibetan community as he stepped out of his car and was offered the traditional ‘Chema Changpu’ once inside the building. Tibetan children danced and sang a delightful song of praise to him as he took the stage. His face radiant and brimming with health, he waved to the audience before greeting the assembled lamas and monks. Mayor of Minneapolis, Betsy Hodges and State Representative Carolyn Laine welcomed him to their city.

President of the Tibetan American Foundation of Minnesota, Dr Tsewang Ngodup spoke briefly, rejoicing in His Holiness’s good health and thanking him for accepting the Foundation’s invitation. He noted the additional auspiciousness of its being Losar, the day before the Day of Miracles and the beginning of a Monkey Year with its propitious links to Guru Padmasambhava. He affirmed Minnesotan Tibetans' aim to be active members of the Tibetan diaspora, to contribute to their local communities and conduct themselves as global citizens. He expressed a wish that His Holiness’s medical treatment be a complete success.

Seated before thangkas of Chenrezig, the Medicine Buddha and Guru Rinpoche, His Holiness began his talk:

“I always start by greeting my brothers and sisters. That’s how I think of you and how I think of all 7 billion human beings, so I’m never lonely. Many Tibetans came here as refugees, although many of them have passed on. Now there is a new generation who were born and brought up here. I’ve met you now and then over the last ten years that I’ve been receiving care at the Mayo Clinic. Two years ago we celebrated Losar together and I’m happy to see you all again.

“I’m glad to know that you are trying to preserve our traditional values. It's 57 years now that we’ve been in exile, while the turmoil in Tibet began 60 years ago. Nevertheless, you’ve kept your spirits up, which is praiseworthy, and maintained our cherished values, for which I’d like to thank you all. The Tibetan spirit is strong and we’ve kept our culture and religious traditions alive, which is important because they have a contribution to make to the world at large. That’s something to be proud of. The Nalanda tradition is based on logic and reason, which is why aspects of it appeal to scientists today. We Tibetans are able to study these traditions in our own language without any need to look elsewhere. It remains our responsibility to keep these traditions alive and to raise our children with love and affection.

“Today I want to speak about some of the thoughts and experiences I’ve had as a human being, not as a Buddhist or as Dalai Lama.”

He said he was committed to sharing with others how to help humanity live more happily and more peacefully. The key is to develop a concern for others’ well-being; a sense of compassion. He noted that many of the problems we face are of our own making, worst among them being when others are killed. He remarked that we feel concern when we hear about someone being killed by a tiger or an elephant, but we seem to accept reports of people killing each other as something normal. He reminded his listeners that although they were comfortable where they sat, at the same time, in other parts of the world, people were dying violently, some in the name of religion. He drew attention to the link between our physical and verbal actions and our emotions. If, instead of anger, hatred and suspicion, we were moved by loving-kindness, we would naturally have greater respect for others and our actions would be non-violent.

His Holiness observed that we live in a materialistic world in which there is insufficient attention to human values. We rely for satisfaction on material things rather than on warm-heartedness. But, as human beings, we are social animals. We need friendship and friendship depends on trust. Building trust depends on concern for others and defending their rights, not doing them harm. Friendship has a direct link to warm-heartedness, which also has benefits for our physical health. He added that some scientists have found that constant anger, fear and suspicion undermine our immune system.

“In my experience, what we need is a calm mind and warm-heartedness provides a basis for that. That’s how we make ourselves happy as individuals in families, local communities and nations. I believe that if we can train those who are young today in these qualities the world will be a more peaceful place later in this century. I try to promote human values because we tend to forget that we are all the same as human beings. If you think of me as your friend, try to do the same. This is not something we can hope the government or the UN can do, real change starts with individuals. We each have to make a contribution. I request you to do so too.”

Applause rippled across the nearly 3000 people in the hall.

“Let me add one thing,” His Holiness resumed. “I’ve been in conversation with scientists for more than 30 years. Many of them show an interest in learning about the science of the mind. Ancient Indian understanding of the mind is profound when compared to modern psychology which seems to be at an early stage of development.

“However, scientists have shown that even infants who are too young to talk can distinguish between illustrations of harmful and helpful behaviour and respond positively to help and negatively to harm. They conclude that basic human nature is compassionate. And this gives us hope.”

His Holiness explained that his second commitment is to promoting inter-religious harmony. He declared that, despite their apparent philosophical differences, all religions carry a common message of love, forgiveness and tolerance. Their common purpose is to produce compassionate human beings. He cited the examples of religious people dedicated to the service of humanity. He noted too that the Buddha taught different things at different times and places to different people. This was not because he was confused, nor because he sought to confuse others. It was because he appreciated that people of different aptitudes respond better to different explanations, much as the same illness may respond to different remedies.

Pointing out that many religions teach about God the creator, there are others, a branch of the Samkhya tradition, Jainism and Buddhism among them, that teach that responsibility for what we do and what happens to us rests on our own shoulders. However, thinking of God as a being of infinite love and seeking to emulate him is a very powerful practice.

“Those of us who follow a religious practice ourselves have a responsibility to work to foster inter-religious harmony.”

During the course of his talk His Holiness spoke some of the time in Tibetan and asked his translator to provide the essence of what he’d said and at other times spoke directly in English himself.

“I’m also a Tibetan,” he said, “and since I’ve been nurtured by Tibetans since I was small, I can never give up the cause of Tibet. In 2001 I semi-retired from political responsibility and in 2011 completely retired. I did this to promote democracy. Still, Tibetans both within Tibet and outside have placed their hopes in me, but now my responsibility is to work to protect Tibet’s natural environment, which is fragile and delicate because of the altitude and dry climate. Because they see it as important to global climate change as the North and South Poles, some environmentalists have referred to the Tibetan Plateau as the Third Pole. Special care needs to be taken of it.”

Describing Tibetan culture as a culture of peace and non-violence, His Holiness suggested it can contribute to making the world a more peaceful, compassionate place. As for Tibet’s Buddhist traditions, he said it seems to be the most complete transmission of the traditions of India’s Nalanda University, including logic, psychology and a range of philosophical views. These traditions are contained in the more than 300 volumes of Buddhist literature translated, mostly from Sanskrit, into Tibetan.

At this point a small girl dressed in red came and stood right in front of the stage looking up at His Holiness. He smiled and waved to her, asked how old she was and heard that she was four. She held his gaze steadily for some time before turning and running back to her family. His Holiness remarked:

“Children like this are very pure and open. They have no prejudices or preconceptions. They aren’t bothered by the secondary differences of colour, faith, nationality, wealth or education that seem to pre-occupy adults. We would be better to be like them and one remedy is to remember that we are all the same as human beings.”

His Holiness resumed his account of the Nalanda tradition’s being introduced to Tibet by the great Nalanda scholar Shantarakshita. He came at the invitation of Tibetan Emperor Trisong Detsen. That he was a great scholar can be seen today in his writings such as the ‘Compendium of Reality’, which His Holiness said he has suggested that both the Nyingma Monastery of Namdroling and Tashi Lhunpo Monastery in South India include in their curriculums. Shantarakshita gave the first monastic ordination in Tibet, helped found the first monastery at Samye, and explained the great treatises, as well as encouraging and participating in the translation of Buddhist literature into Tibetan. The renowned Indian traveller, Rahul Sankrityayan, who made several trips to Tibet in the early 20th century, noted with bemusement that although images of Guru Padmasambhava widely prevailed in Tibet, he saw not one statue of Shantarakshita.

After the achievements of the 8th century, in the 9th, Tibet fragmented politically and Buddhism declined. In the 11th century, a descendant of the earlier emperors, the King of Ngari invited Dipamkara Atisha from the Indian university of Vikramashila. He composed his seminal text ‘Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment’ at Thöling. His principal student Drom Ton, Gyalwai Jungney founded the Kadampa tradition. Within that were those who belonged to the scholarly lineage, who studied classic Indian treatises, those who belonged to the stages of the path lineage and those who belonged to the instruction lineage. Geshe Langri Tangpa, disciple of Potowa and author of the ‘Eight Verses for Training the Mind’, which His Holiness had been invited to teach, belonged to the scholarly lineage.

Taking up the text, His Holiness explained that the first verse emphasised the practice of altruism - ‘May I always cherish all beings.’ But, His Holiness asked, what does the ‘I’ refer to? He explained that while many Indian philosophical schools asserted the existence of an independent self, all four Buddhist schools of thought reject a permanent, independent, self-sufficient self. He quoted Nagarjuna:

A person is not earth, not water,

Not fire, not wind, not space, 
Not consciousness, and not all of them. 
What person is there other than these? 

Noting that while a person is designated on the basis of these six elements, those elements too exist only as designations. His Holiness stated clearly that understanding this is not easy and that he has been working on it for 60 years. He suggested that 40 years ago it began to make sense. Asking what would be the use of such an understanding, he answered that it was related to developing peace of mind. His Holiness mentioned that when he was talking to some Christian nuns the other day one asked what to do about our strong ego. He said he told her that it’s very powerful to think of yourself as just one small part in the whole of God’s creation.

Turning to the ‘Eight Verses' again, he explained that the first verse shows you should have compassion and affection for others. The second is about humility, the third is about being mindful in daily life, for example applying the anti-dote of love when you sense anger arising. The fourth verse is about not giving in to anger but showing compassion when you encounter uncouth, unruly people, while the fifth recommends accepting defeat and giving the victory to others. The sixth verse advises cultivating patience when those you have helped scorn you. The seventh deals with the practice of giving and taking; imagining giving virtue to others and taking their sufferings upon yourself. The final of the eight verses tells you not to give in to the eight worldly concerns and to see everything as like an illusion, completely lacking independent existence.

His Holiness then led the gathering of nearly 3000, including about 2000 Tibetans, in reciting three verses as the basis for generating the awakening mind. With regard to the first verse that dealt with taking refuge in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, he said that those belonging to other faiths could visualize and imagine addressing their own objects of refuge. The second verse dealt explicitly with developing the awakening mind and the third rouses courage to do the practice.

For as long as space endures
And for as long as living beings remain,
Until then may I too abide
To dispel the misery of the world.

His Holiness concluded his talk with a succinct explanation of making progress through the five paths, which he related to the mantra found in the ‘Heart of Wisdom’. He said the first ‘gate’ indicates the path of accumulation, the second ‘gate’ the path of preparation, ‘paragate’ indicates the path of seeing, ‘parasamgate’ the path of meditation and ‘bodhi svaha’ the attainment of enlightenment.

After representatives of the organizers had offered white silk ‘katas’, His Holiness smiled and, waving to the happy crowd, left the stage. He was offered lunch before climbing into a car once more and driving back to Rochester.

Link to original article & photos: http://www.dalailama.com/news/post/1369-his-holiness-the-dalai-lama-teaches-the-tibetan-community-in-minneapolis

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