His Holiness the Dalai Lama is in Mumbai at the invitation of the Nalanda Shiksha, a collection of Indian Buddhist groups from places as far flung as Bangalore, Bir, Sankisa and Nasik. Having come to Dharamsala in 2012 and 2013 to listen to him, this is the first time they have gathered in Mumbai, where the teachings are hosted by Somaiya Vidyavihar, an eclectic education institution.
This morning His Holiness walked through a Festival of Tibetan Culture organized by Tibetan MP Karma Yeshi, that featured an exhibition focused on the history of Tibet, a Medicine Buddha sand-mandala under construction and an opportunity to consult a team of physicians from the Tibetan Medical & Astro Institute.
After His Holiness had taken his seat on the stage, proceedings began with a recitation in Sanskrit of the Campus Prayer. Introducing His Holiness, Mr Samir Somaiya, President of the Somaiya Trust, whose motto is Knowledge Alone Liberates, remarked that this is his third visit. He noted that when his grandfather started Somaiya Vidyavihar in 1959, his intention was that any person of any background could come and receive an education in any branch of study. Today, the wish remains to provide a holistic education that contributes to training the mind. Before requesting His Holiness to speak he quoted the Dhammapada “Rather than hear a thousand words without meaning, better to hear one word through which to attain peace.” His Holiness responded:
“I am very happy to be here once more. I met your father, a wonderful man who is no more. It’s natural that new faces come and old ones disappear. The important thing is to lead a meaningful life so we can die without regret. Meaningful means not only earning money and fame, but helping others. We all have a responsibility to help our human brothers and sisters. I really appreciate the opportunities and different styles of education you provide here.”
He said that because he was going to explain the Buddha’s teachings he would like to begin with a recitation in Pali of the ‘Mangalam Sutta’, followed by ‘An Invocation of the Seventeen Great Sagacious Adepts of Glorious Nalanda,’ recited simultaneously in Tibetan, Hindi and English. He quoted from the colophon that prayer to explain why he had composed it: ‘At the present time, when in the ordinary world there is great advancement in the fields of science and technology, but we are also 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 them closely.’
“We should be 21st century Buddhists with a thorough knowledge of what the Buddha taught. Just closing our eyes and reciting the refuge formula is not enough, we need to know what it means. Why is the Buddha respected? because of his conduct and knowledge. We can’t just rely on his kind face; we have to examine his teachings. From an intellectual point of view the Buddha’s teaching is marvellous, but even more important is that we can use it to transform our emotions. Through such practice in life after life he attained enlightenment. “
His Holiness explained that when we examine the teachings we should investigate them without bias. He said we need a degree of scepticism, which prompts questions, leading to an eagerness to investigate, which in turn will yield answers. This was the approach of the great masters of Nalanda. Buddhism in general and the Nalanda tradition in particular stress the use of reason. His Holiness said that texts written by the masters of Nalanda are extremely useful and that he himself began to learn from them at the age of seven. He mentioned that when Western writers in the late 19th and early 20th century dismissed Tibetan Buddhism as Lamaism, they overlooked its real value. They had no appreciation of its use of philosophy and epistemology or of the subtlety of Buddhist tantra.
Buddhism was introduced to Tibet in the 8th century by Shantarakshita, a top scholar from Nalanda invited by the Tibetan Emperor. He initiated the translation of more than 300 volumes of Buddhist literature mostly from Sanskrit, but also from Pali and Chinese. Tibetans studied these texts rigorously and eventually composed their own commentaries. When Dipamkara Atisha came to Tibet in the 11th century, the country had fragmented and yet his influence, also linked to Nalanda, was deep and widely felt. His Holiness made the point that these ancient Indians were Tibetans’ gurus and that as chelas or disciples Tibetans had proved themselves reliable. They had kept alive values and practices forgotten in the land of their origin and now brought them back again.
“Why do we need inner peace? because, for one thing, a calm mind is important for our health. Constant fear, anger and stress can make us ill. All sentient beings want to live a happy life, but most, like animals and birds seek to do so only a sensory level. Their intelligence is limited and yet they respond to affection and kind words. We human beings have intelligence that allows us to project into the future and remember the past. We invented language and writing, but we also developed faith.”
His Holiness explained that in theistic terms there is faith in a creator god, but in non-theistic terms there is faith in causality. Both approaches have been of great benefit to humanity in the past and will continue to be so in the future. Those who believe they were created by god see a spark of god in everyone. Buddhists on the other hand speak of everyone having Buddha nature. In non-theistic traditions there is greater emphasis on our own effort. If we create positive action, we meet with positive results. Actions that bring joy we regard as positive, those that provoke misery we regard as negative. His Holiness said:
“Some of my friends who follow Dr Ambedkar dislike the word ‘karma’ because it is used by those of the dominant caste to justify the caste system. There are lazy and defeatist Tibetans too who say because everything depends on karma there’s nothing left to do. However, we must work to create more powerful karma or action by which we can change or neutralize our negative karma. Strong positive action can prevent the ripening of earlier negative actions. It depends on what we do, which is why the Buddha said we are our own masters.
“We Buddhists don’t believe in a self separate from the body and mind. We say that although there is no independent self, there is a self existing in dependence on the body and mind.”
Some people describe Buddhism not so much as a religion, but more as a science of mind. In fact those Indian traditions that train in concentration and insight have a wealth of understanding of the workings of the mind. Meanwhile Madhyamaka and Quantum Physics adopt a similar stance. The Indian nuclear physicist Raja Ramanan once told His Holiness of his pride when what he read in Nagarjuna resonated with the approach of Quantum Physics. There is also a wealth of information about tackling those emotions that disturb our inner peace.
Taking up a different point His Holiness said that major religious traditions in India have lived together side by side for a long time. He quoted Mr Advani as saying that democracy has succeeded in India because of ahimsa or non-violence and respect for others’ rights and views. He commended keeping your own faith, but respecting that of others. Inter-religious harmony is a longstanding Indian tradition and a living example that it is possible. His Holiness said that whenever he travels abroad he considers himself a messenger of India.
If ethics depended only on one religious tradition, it would have only a limited appeal, whereas ethics need to be accessible to all 7 billion human beings, who include the 1 billion who have no faith. This is why, he said, we need a system of secular ethics and mentioned that a program of secular ethics is being designed for use in schools.
After a break for lunch, His Holiness resumed, clarifying that some Christian and Muslim friends have objected that secularism can seem akin to atheism and opposed to religion. He counters by saying that in the Indian understanding a secular approach is one that respects all religious traditions and even those who believe in none. He continued:
“If we are truthful, honest and have a genuine concern for others’ well-being, a respect for them, there is no room to bully, exploit or cheat them. A more compassionate mind brings with it self-confidence, which gives rise to honesty, truthfulness and transparency. Therefore, the real meaning of secular ethics is to be warm-hearted. This warm-heartedness doesn’t necessarily derive from faith, but from our natural sense of affection. Dogs and cats, for example, appreciate sincere affection. They respond in kind, for although dogs can’t smile, they wag their tails while cats purr and retract their claws.”
We all depend on others for our survival, so we need affection. However, this biological factor tends to apply only to friends and relatives. It takes the use of our intelligence to be able to see that an enemy is also a human being, a human brother or sister, someone to whom we can extend love and compassion. Only human beings can do this. His Holiness explained that compassion is a source of happiness, while self-centredness can lead ultimately to violence. Mentioning that in many cases corruption is also a form of violence, he advised that the practice of ahimsa should include being honest and truthful. He said that the quality of our actions, whether they are positive or negative, depends on our motivation. This is why we have to transform our minds.
With regard to the Buddha’s teaching, he taught in response to a request. In Varanasi he taught the Four Noble Truths, explaining them three times in terms of nature - that there is suffering, its cause, cessation and the path; in terms of function - that we should know suffering, overcome its causes, and attain cessation by following the path; and in terms of result - having eliminated the cause, suffering is overcome, having followed the path, we attain cessation. He said that knowing suffering, there is nothing to be known; eliminating the cause, there is nothing to eliminate; attaining cessation there is nothing to attain and cultivating the path, there is nothing to be cultivated.
His Holiness drew attention to the observation of American psychiatrist Aaron Beck that when we are angry about something or attached to something, we sense that the object of our anger or attachment is completely negative or attractive, but 90% of this is our own mental projection. He remarked that this accords with what Nagarjuna taught too.
He said that suffering is based on ignorance. Ignorance of causality is rooted in ignorance about reality. While the first turning of the wheel of Dharma dealt with the Four Noble Truths, the second dealt with the nature of reality and the third with clarity and awareness, the nature of the mind. Because of the nature of the mind we can eliminate its defilements, overcome suffering by eliminating its causes, and achieve cessation by following the path.
His Holiness answered several questions from the audience including a request for advice about how to meditate. He recommended reading Kamalashila’s ‘Stages of Meditation’. As to how to overcome anger, he recommended studying Chapter 6 of Shantideva’s ‘Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life’. And finally, when asked whether the conduct of ahimsa or non-violence does not suggest that we should be vegetarian, he quoted a Sri Lankan monk who told him that because a Buddhist monk who depends on alms has no kitchen he has to accept whatever he is given. Therefore, he is neither vegetarian nor non-vegetarian. That said His Holiness pointed out that in the Tibetan community the main kitchen in monasteries and schools is now generally vegetarian. He conceded that although he encourages vegetarianism, for health reasons, on the advice of Tibetan and Ayurvedic physicians, he himself has been unable to maintain an entirely vegetarian diet.
His Holiness will continue to teach tomorrow. See this page for part 2 [including photos]. http://www.dalailama.com/news/post/1134-living-loving-laughing-and-dying-the-buddhist-way---mumbai---second-day