- Sunday, 24 March 2013 19:00
- By: Office of HH the Dalai Lama
He said that serving and helping others out of compassion is non-violence in action. Similarly, refraining from harm, not out of fear, but out of concern for others, their well-being and out of respect is non-violence.
With respect to inter-religious harmony, His Holiness explained how around 5000 years ago, people began to develop religious ideas. They were prompted by feelings of danger to seek help from “higher powers.” This is something only human beings have the ability to think about. Gradually, the human mind moved from worshipping the sun, moon and fire to more refined ideas of god the creator.
As those religious traditions that believe in god the creator developed they began to describe him in terms of infinite love and began to emulate him through the principle of loving-kindness. The opposite of loving-kindness is self-centredness and when you submit yourself to god, your sense of selfishness is naturally reduced.
His Holiness remarked: “We see that maternal affection for the young is found amongst most mammals; this is not a function of religion but a biological factor. But in due course we find that all religions talk about the importance of concern for others.”
Those spiritual traditions like part of the Samkhyas, the Jains and Buddhism that do not believe in a creator god explain our existence in terms of the law of causality and the workings of karma, which means action. Any action that brings pain to others is regarded as negative and action that brings pleasure is regarded as positive.
“So, what happens to us depends on the quality of our actions, that’s why it’s wise to help others if you can, but, even if you can’t do that, not to harm them.”
In the Indian traditions, wherever there is the practice of calm abiding (shamatha) and insight (vipasyana) there is a great deal of understanding of the workings of the mind and emotions. Consequently, the Buddhist accounts of the functioning of the mind are very useful to modern scientists. One of them, a German brain specialist called Wolf Singer explained to His Holiness, holding a model of the brain in his hand, that because the brain is an interdependent network it has no central authority, which he suggested confirms the Buddhist position of selflessness.
“My main point,” His Holiness said, “is that the essence of the practice of all the major religious traditions is love, compassion and forgiveness. Among their followers are many who have been of immense benefit to others.”
Continuing to clarify the Buddhist point of view, His Holiness said that the Buddha appears to have taught contradictory things at different times and in different places. He referred to the five psycho-physical aggregates (skandhas) as the burden and the person as the one who carries them. He also said on some occasions that things exist externally, and on others that they don’t and are only reflections of the mind. He didn’t teach in this way because he was confused, or because he wanted to confuse his listeners, but because he was teaching in accordance with the mental disposition of his listeners.
“I urge those of you who belong to the new young generation, who truly belong to the twenty-first century not to work to preserve inter-religious harmony just because it is an old tradition. Set an example to the rest of the world to show that here in India religions can and do live together side by side. This respectful secularism in action is a worthy example for others to follow.”
A young man asked whether belief in good wasn’t the same as belief in god. His Holiness replied:
“Many people seem to behave piously in their places of worship, yet in their real lives they are corrupt and engage in scandalous conduct because they don’t seem to care. Their prayers seem to be more along the lines of ‘Please bless me so that my corrupt and unjust actions may succeed.’ How can that be? What kind of religious wish is that?”
His Holiness continued to point out that it is action rather than prayer that is effective. If you are thirsty, you will not quench your thirst by prayer but by drinking water. He recalled hearing that when Tibetans were being starved in Chinese prisons, the guards jeered at them to pray to the Buddha to feed them.
Asked about the chances of moves towards peace being effective in Asia, His Holiness replied that whether we consider the individual, family, local, national or international level, peace must arise from inner peace. For example, making prayers for peace while continuing to harbour anger is futile. Training the mind and overcoming your anger is much more effective than mere prayer. He said that anger, hatred and jealousy never solve problems, only affection, concern and respect can do that. He suggested that just as we employ physical hygiene to preserve our physical health, we need to introduce a practice of mental and emotional hygiene. We need a map of emotions to show us which are helpful and which bring harm. This implies developing self-discipline based on awareness, which we can achieve through education.
His Holiness concluded his encounter with the young students by offering them a short meditation on Sarasvati, goddess of knowledge, that he recommended they could practice to improve their memories and sharpness of mind.
In the afternoon, he resumed his explanation of Atisha’s “Lamp for the Path” along with Je Tsongkhapa’s “Lines of Experience”. Speaking about the Four Noble Truths as the Buddha’s basic teaching, he explained that it is based on the powerful idea of dependent arising. Just as a result depends on its cause, so there is a mutual dependence between the cause and the result. He repeated that things do not intrinsically exist but are merely designated, but clarified that mere designation does not mean that we can think about anything just to make it happen. He said that if we investigate a cup, asking whether it is the colour, the shape or the material from which it was made, we conclude that a cup is merely designated on the basis of these things.
“What’s the point of this? When we are angry, the object appears to be independent and completely negative, but most of this is our projection. The concept of dependent arising is the most powerful antidote to destructive emotions like anger.”
Je Tsongkhapa makes clear that someone who has not subdued their own ignorance and destructive emotions is not capable of helping others subdue theirs. Self-discipline in a Buddhist context involves training yourself in the path indicated by the Buddha’s teachings, by cultivating the three higher trainings in ethics, concentration and wisdom. There is a need for urgency, as Gungtang Tenpai Jungney said, “We spend 20 years not able to practice, 20 years wishing to practice and another 20 years regretting that we didn’t practice.”
His Holiness repeated the classic Buddhist admonition:
“At death money, fame and power are of no benefit. If you believe in the next life the only thing that is of any help is the imprint on your mind of the positive actions you have done. Death is inevitable, but its time is uncertain. Neither wealth, family nor friends, nor even this body can help us. So long as ignorance persists, there will be suffering. If you want suffering to stop, you must overcome ignorance. All destructive emotions are based on ignorance; awareness is the only way to defeat ignorance, and to do so requires ethics, tranquil meditation and wisdom.”
His Holiness said that he would talk about the development of altruism tomorrow in association with a Medicine Buddha blessing. The session was unexpectedly concluded with a stirring performance by a visiting group of Sufi musicians and Dervishes from Turkey who had requested the opportunity to dance for the assembled audience, who gave them a warm welcome.
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