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The Essential Dalai Lama
His Important Teachings
There is little doubt in my mind that, by now, the 14th Dalai Lama has become the equivalent of an ecumenical saint to many people of different faiths. Just like Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., he enjoys an almost unanimous support across the board. To be fair, the status has been achieved not only due to a good amount of sound wisdom, but also to the fact that it is easier to preach than to implement policies. Still, the fact is that he is a source of inspiration to millions of people worldwide, and for good reason.
This book, edited by Rajiv Mehrotra, a well known personality in India, brings together a broad selection of writings by the Dalai Lama covering topics from human happiness, meditation, or the foundations of Buddhism to the ethics and social issues. The book is neatly divided into four parts: the first, introduces us to the overall vision of the Dalai Lama, with chapters on human happiness, compassion, and a sense of global or universal responsibility; the second part is dedicated to the intricacies of Buddhist theory (including chapters on the concepts of karma, interdependence, the Four Noble Truths or dependent origination, together with musings on the Bodhisattva ideal and other central tenets of Buddhist theory; the third chapter centers on the practice itself, including some references to basic Buddhist concepts, but also ideas about the nature of the mind, suggestions on how to meditate or the relationship between disciple and master; the fourt and final chapter, finally, discusses general ideas to promote harmony in the world, with a particular emphasis on harmony between the different religions.
Overall, the book is quite easy to read and it could even be of some help as an introduction to Buddhism and meditation. In any case, it does a good job offering a selection of texts that portray the thought of the 14th Dalai Lama. I would recommend it to anyone interested in these topics.
There are a number of qualities which are important for mental peace, but from the little experience I have, I believe that one of the most important factors is human compassion and affection, a sense of caring.
(Rajiv Mehrotra: The Essential Dalai Lama, p. 22)
Human beings and animals equally have the same basic desire for happiness or satisfaction. This is common to all sentient beings. The unique thing about us, however, is our intelligence. The desire to attain happiness, pleasure and satisfaction mainly through the five senses is not a uniquely human thing; there is not much to distinguish us from animals in this regard. What does distinguish us from animals, however, is our ability to use our faculty of intelligence in our quest to fulfill our natural desire to be happy and overcome suffering. It is this ability to judge between the long- and short-term consequences of our behavior and actions that really distinguishes us from animals; utilizing our unique human qualities in the right way is what proves us to be true human beings.
(Rajiv Mehrotra: The Essential Dalai Lama, p. 31)
Human intelligence itself is neutral; it is just an instrument that can be utilized in either destructive or constructive ways. For example, many of our sufferings come about as the result of the power of our imagination and ability to think about the future, which can create doubt, expectation, disappointment and fear. Animals don't have these problems. If an animal finds good food and shelter and there are no immediate disturbances, it can exist quite peacefully, but even when we human beings are well fed and surrounded by good companions, nice music and so forth, our sophistication and expectations don't allow us to relax. Human intelligence, in other words, is a source of worry and problems. The unhappiness that arises from an overactive imagination cannot be resolved by material means.
Human intelligence, therefore, can be very influential either negatively or positively. The key factor in directing it more positively is having the right mental attitude. To have a happy life —happy days and happy nights— it is extremely important to combine our human intelligence with basic human values. If our minds are peaceful, open and calm during the day, our dreams will reflect these experiences and be happy. If during the day we experience fear, agitation and doubt, we will continue to encounter troubles in our dreams. Therefore, to have happiness twenty-four hours a day, we must have the right mental attitude.
(Rajiv Mehrotra: The Essential Dalai Lama, p. 32)
Problems and sufferings arise because of an undisciplined state of mind. Therefore, our own happiness is in fact in our own hands. The responsibility rests on our own shoulders; we cannot expect someone to simply bring us happiness. The way to experience happiness is to identify its causes and cultivate them, and to identify the causes of suffering and eliminate them. If we know what is to be practiced and what is to be given up, we will naturally meet with joy.
(Rajiv Mehrotra: The Essential Dalai Lama, p. 72)
What is the definition of karma? We should remember to situate karma within the context of the wider Buddhist understanding of the natural laws of causality. Karma is one particular instance of the natrual causal laws that operate throughout the universe where, according to Buddhism, things and events come into being purely as a result of the combination of causes and conditions.
Karma, then, is an instance of the general law of causality. What makes karma uniquye is that it involves intentional action, and therefore an agent. The natural causal processes operating in the world cannot be termed karmic where there is no agent involved. In order for a causal process to be a karmic one, it must involve an individual whose intention would lead to a particular action. It is this specific type of causal mechanism which is known as karma.
So within the general field of karmic action we can talk about three different types of actions which produce corresponding effects. Actions which produce suffering and pain are generally considered negative or nonvirtuous actions. Actions that lead to positive and desirable consequences, such as experiences of joy and happiness, are considered to be positive or virtuous actions. The third category includes actions which lead to experiences of equanimity, or neutral feelings and experiences; these are considered to be neutral actions. are neither virtuous nor nonvirtuous.
In terms of the actual nature of karmic actions themselvs, there are principally two different types: mental acts —actions that are not necessarily manifested through physical action— and there are physical acts, which include both bodily and verbal acts. Then, from the point of view of the medium of expression of an action, we distinguish actions of the mind, actions of speech and actions of the body. Furthermore, in the scriptures we also find discussions about karmic actions which are completely virtuous, completely nonvirtuous, and those which are a mixture of the two. I feel that for many of us who practice the Dharma, most of our actions may be a mixture of the two.
(Rajiv Mehrotra: The Essential Dalai Lama, pp. 85-86)
Bodhicitta, the compassionate wish to achieve Buddhahood for the sake of others, is the entrance to the Mahayana path. When you cultivate bodhicitta, even though you might not make any further progress on the path, you become a Mahayanist, but the moment bodhicitta degenerates, even though you might have very high realizations, you fall from the ranks of the Mahayana. Shantideva says that the moment you develop bodhicitta, even though you might be living in a lower realm of existence, you will be called a bodhisattva, a child of the Buddhas. As a result of bodhicitta, you will be able to purify negativities very easilyand be able to fulfill your aims. You will be invulnerable to interferences and harm, because if you have this faculty of bodhicitta, you regard other people as more important and precious than your own life. When harmful spirits realize this, they hesitate to harm you. As a result of bodhicitta, if you are able to purify negativities and accumulate great stores of merit, you will encounter favorable circumstances that are necessary for making speedy progress on the path. Bodhicitta and compassion are the very sources and foundations of all the goodness in this world and nirvana. You should regard bodhicitta as the essence of your practive and should not have it only at an intellectual level; you should not be satisfied with your practice of bodhicitta if it consists merely of the recitation of a few verses at the beginning of a meditation session. You should try to generate it through experience.
(Rajiv Mehrotra: The Essential Dalai Lama, pp. 95-96)
(...) So here you find three statements: One is that because the cause exists, the effect follows; because the cause was created, the effect was produced; and because there was ignorance, it led to the action. Now the first statement indicates that, from an affirmative point of view, when causes are aggregated, effects will naturally follow. And what is also implied in that statement is that it is due to the mere aggregation of the causes and conditions that the effects come into being, and that, apart from the causal process, there is no external power or force such as a Creator and so forth which brings these things into being.
(Rajiv Mehrotra: The Essential Dalai Lama, p. 108)
Before considering what a spiritual and ethical revolution might consist of, let us therefore give some thought to the nature of reality itself. The close connection between how we perceive ourselves in relation to the world we inhabit and our behavior in response to it means that our understanding of phenomena is crucially significant. If we don't understand phenomena, we are more likely to do things to harm others and ourselves.
When we consider the matter, we start to see that we cannot finally separate out any phenomena from the context of other phenomena. We can only really speak in terms of relationships. In the course of our daily lives, we engage in countless different activities and receive huge sensory input from all that we encounter. The problem of misperception, which, of course, varies in degree, usually arises because of our tendency to isolate particular aspects of an event or experience and see them as constituting its totality. This leads to a narrowing of perspective and from there to false expectations. But when we consider reality itself we quickly become aware of its infinite complexity, and we realize that our habitual perception of it is often inadequate. If this were not so, the concept of deception would be meaningless. If things and events always unfolded as we expected, we would have no notion of illusion or misconception.
(Rajiv Mehrotra: The Essential Dalai Lama, pp. 116-117)
I usually think of the maximum duration of a human life as one hundred years, which, compared to the life of the planet, is very short. This brief existence should be used in such a way that it does not create pain for others. It should be committed not to destructive work but to more constructive activities —at least to not harming others, or creating trouble for them. In this way our brief span as a tourist on this planet will be meaningful. If a tourist visits a certain place for a short period and creates more trouble that is silly. But if as a tourist you make others happy during this short period, that is wise; when you yourself move on to your next place, you feel happy. If you create problems, even though you yourself do not encounter any difficulty during your stay, you will wonder what the use of your visit was.
(Rajiv Mehrotra: The Essential Dalai Lama, p. 123)
All our spiritual practices should be directed toward developing the altruistic thought of the awakening mind. In order for this sublime thought to arise, it is essential to understand sentient beings' plight. This helps us to generate kindness and compassion for others. Unless we have some experience of suffering, our compassion for others will not amount to very much. Therefore, the wish to free ourselves from suffering precedes any sense of compassion for others. The goal of all our spiritual practices should be the awakening mind. This is the supreme and most precious of all the Buddha's teachings. In order that our sense of the awakening mind be effective and powerful, meditate on death and the law of cause and effect.
(Rajiv Mehrotra: The Essential Dalai Lama, p. 142)
Because of Buddhism's emphasis on self-creation, there is no creator deity, and thus, from this viewpoint, some people consider it, strictly speaking, not a religion. A Western Buddhist scholar told me, "Buddhism is not a religion; it is a kind of science of mind." In this sense, Buddhism does not belong to the category of religion. I consider this to be unfortunate, but in any case it means that Buddhism gets closer to science. Furthermore, from the pure scientist's viewpoint, Buddhism is naturally considered a type of spiritual path. Again, it is unfortunate that it does not belong to the category of science.
The fundamental view or philosophy of Buddhism is that of dependent arising. When one talks about the view of dependent arising, one means that things exist in dependence, or that they are imputed depending on something or other. In the case of a physical phenomenon, one would specify that it exists in dependence on its parts, whereas nonphysical composite phenomena would be described as existing in dependence either on their continuity or an aspect of their continuity. Consequently, whether it is external or internal phenomena, there is nothing that exists, except in dependence upon its parts or aspects.
(Rajiv Mehrotra: The Essential Dalai Lama, p. 241-242)