Words of the Dalai Lama

I had the lucky opportunity to be able to see and hear the Dalai Lama give a teaching on Thursday, May 7, 1998 in the countryside of Washington, New Jersey. Driving there from campus with a group of 12 other Swatties, we were bussed from the fairground parking lot to the nearby Tibetan Buddhist Learning Center with the rest of the crowd. The center is an estate of beautiful land, with ponds, woods, grassy fields, and a temple. While the weather had been rainy the previous few days, this Sunday afternoon ended up being very sunny and warm, as the audience of several thousand sat on blankets on the grass in front of the temple. I enjoyed observing the interesting mix of people who were there in anticipation of seeing His Holiness; I saw men and women of all ages and ethnicities, wearing a spectrum of fashion styles.

The Dalai Lama spoke for about an hour and a half, sitting on the stage-like porch of the temple that overlooked the small field below. He began with a long Tibetan prayer, and then proceeded to share his warm and wise words, translated for the audience into English by a man next to him. I found a lot of value in what His Holiness said, taking detailed notes of the whole speech. This page is a version of those notes, as I've transcribed his words as best I can.

His Holiness

There is an impermanence, a transience in life that no one can stop. What we can control is how we choose to use this time - the only thing we have in our hands. Leading life in a purposeful meaningful way does not necessarily mean having to be religious; it really means helping others and not being destructive to others. Those who wish to make their lives meaningful through religion can focus on incorporating the teachings of their beliefs into their actual daily acts. Integrating essential teachings into day-to-day life can be a tremendous benefit. There are many religions on earth; today the context of the talk is Buddhist teachings.

In Buddhism, discipline and transformation of the mind are key. The more convinced we are of a particular value by making a commitment, the more likely we can be carried through temptations of distraction. Ideally our wish to attain a goal is grounded in firm conviction, valid reasons and personal experience.

"Understanding the nature of reality becomes very crucial," according to the Dalai Lama when speaking in the context of Buddhist spirituality. Thus we cannot become deceived by appearances; there is often a disparity between how things seem and how they really are. One needs to appreciate the fact that appearances are not always the truth. It becomes critical to recognize the various levels of existing truth. The purpose is to seek a deeper understanding of reality, therefore we can see the relevance of Buddhism's Four Noble Truths.

What was the significance of the Buddha's teachings? He identified the heart of existence as the desire to seek happiness and overcome suffering, which is a natural human instinct.

In one of the tantras, the Buddha speaks of the endlessness and beginninglessness of mind. Nothing exists outside the bounds of causation, both in the reality of consciousness and the outside world. In the material world, an object must have either a substantial or a material cause to exist. Looking at mental phenomena, there must be a continuum maintained by entities. However, not every instance of consciousness has endlessness. There are many levels of subtleties, as we are contingent (on physical organs) and timebound. Within consciousness, there must be something unique, a luminous nature. Awareness. Some are not contingent on any physical or temporal elements.

In Buddhism, the nature of self (or "I") is designated upon this continuum of consciousness, said to be beginningless and endless. This means that the self is based on consciousness and a transformation of the mind.

Ignorance leads to volition (leads to other steps) leads to suffering. These Seven Links can be reversed. It is possible to eliminate ignorance through prayer or other behavior. The process cultivates insight and eliminates illusion. Knowledge leads to happiness and enlightenment. "Long term fruits of cultivating knowledge" leads to enlightenment in Buddhist texts. Joy, liberation and enlightenment are from states of mind that are not deluded, based on real points of experience. Cultivating the right knowledge and insight is crucial for our spiritual selves. The more education a person gets, the better informed the person is to deal with life.

How does cultivating knowledge help us eliminate ignorance? We can use an analogy of illumination and darkness. As soon as a light is turned on, darkness disappears. It is mutual exclusivity. In our thoughts, we can know that an object is either a tree or is not a tree -- one thought excludes the possibility of the other. Looking at wisdom vs. ignorance, the latter is an active case of "mis-knowing" (not just NOT knowing); the former, an insight, is grounded in valued cognition. Fundamental ignorance does not have validity. Of directly opposing thoughts, whichever has the support of grounded experience has more power and validity.

These reasons make it very important to understand emptiness in Buddhism. There are a number of interpretations of what emptiness actually is. Here we will call it "dependent origination" (not mere nothingness). It is intrinsic reality. When things are dependent by nature, it shows that they're devoid of intrinsic reality; this simply means that things do not exist with independent reality.

"Self-grasping thought or attitude" is one source of confusion and ignorance -- an attachment to ourselves. Self-cherishing thought can make us oblivious to the well-being of others. However, this is not to say that self-regarding is not needed. We DO need a sense of self in order to proceed with helping others. The problem is when self-regarding reaches the extreme of sacrificing others to help the self. If you don't have the experience of caring for yourself, how can you start to care for others?

How do we overcome the excessive forms of self-cherishment? Through cultivating thoughts that involve caring for others. The essence of our spiritual power is found by cultivating compassion and love, as well as emptiness. These are the key elements of our individual practice.

There was an empirical study that found that people who have the tendency to use more self-referential terms (I, me, myself) tend to have more health problems and earlier deaths (the Dalai Lama had heard this the day before from another speaker in neurology at a symposium on Buddhism and meditation in New York City). These people have more involvement with the self. Being self-absorbed has an immediate effect of narrowing one's focus and blurring one's vision. It is like being pressed down by a heavy load. If, on the other hand, you think more about others' well-being, it immediately makes you feel more expansive, liberated and free. Problems which before may have seemed enormous would then seem more manageable.

Extend your thoughts to all sentient beings. Have a strong commitment to an altruist mind that never degenerates.

Visualize the Buddha, the Buddhist articles of the past, and the masters of India and Tibet. Cultivate strong faith in them. It will reinforce within you strong empathy and compassion for others' suffering. And it will generate the mind of enlightenment.

The source of happiness is within ourselves. While we make money and do other material things, it is equally important to be in touch with inner values. To find balance. Ultimately we get more happiness with more compassion for others.

In our minds, something can become more natural, easier and more applicable with repetition. "Whenever you have spare time, it would be beneficial to reflect on these verses and their meanings," said the Dalai Lama in reference to this tantra (that everyone then recited three times together):

Generating the Mind for Enlightenment

With a wish to free all beings
I shall always go for refuge
to the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha,
until I reach full enlightenment.

Enthused by wisdom and compassion,
today in the Buddhas' presence
I generate the Mind for Full Awakening
for the benefit of all sentient beings.

As long as space remains,
as long as sentient beings remain,
may I too remain
and dispel the miseries of the world.

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