Sức Mạnh Của Lòng Từ
(The Power of Compassion)
Translator’s note (by Ven. Thich Nguyen Tang)
From the 6th to 16th of June 2007, His Holiness the Dalai Lama will visit Australia. This is his fifth trip here to teach the Buddha-Dharma. Everyone here is anxiously waiting for His arrival. His first four visits occurred in 1982, 1992, 1996 and 2002. In 2002, there were approximately 110,000 people (from cities like Geelong, Melbourne, Sydney and Canberra) who came to listen to his preaching, in order to change and develop their spiritual lives. It can be said that His Holiness the Dalai Lama is the greatest Buddhist preacher in the modern age and has written many books on Buddhism, These have attracted many western readers to read about Buddhism.
This book, published in the year of Lord Buddha’s 2631st birthday, is a humble gift, offered to His Holiness the Dalai Lama on the occasion his Australian trip, and this Vietnamese translation also shares his message of compassion to all sentient beings in this suffering world.
May the Lord Buddha bless that Tibet regain their freedom and independence and may His Holiness the Dalai Lama return back to his homeland in the near future after many decades in exile.
Nam Mo Amitabha Buddha,
Quang Duc Monastery, Melbourne, Australia
Buddha’s 2631st Birthday, the year of fire Pig, 2007
Translator, Ven. Thich Nguyen Tang
TIBET’S LIVING BUDDHA
By Pico Iyer
Dogs bark in the Himalayan night. Lights flicker across the hillside. On a pitch-black path framed by pines and covered by a bowl of stars, dew ragged pilgrims shuffle along, muttering ritual chants. Just before dawn, as the snowcaps behind take on a deep pink glow, the crowd, that has formed outside the three storey Namgyal Temple, in northern India falls silent. A strong, slightly stooping figure strides in, bright eyes alertly scanning the crowd, smooth face breaking into a broad and irrepressible smile. Followed by a group of other shaven-headed monks, all of them in claret robes and crested yellow hats, the newcomer clambers up to the temple roof. There, as the sun begins to rise, his clerics seated before him and the solemn drawn-out summons of long horns echoing across the valley below, the Dalai Lama leads a private ceremony to welcome the Year of the Earth Dragon.
On the second day of Losar, the Tibetan New Year, the man who is a living Buddha, to roughly fourteen million people, gives a public audience. By eight A.M. the line of petitioners stretches for half a mile along the winding mountain road outside his airy bungalow. Leathery mountain men in gaucho hats, long haired westerners, little girls in their prettiest silks, all the six thousand residents of the village and the thousands more. Later, thirty dusty visitors, just out of Tibet, crowd inside and as they set eyes on their exiled leader for the first time in almost three decades, fill the small room with racking sobs and sniffles. Through it all, Tenzin Gyatso, the absolute spiritual and temporal ruler of Tibet, incarnation of the Tibetan god of compassion and fourteenth Dalai Lama in a line that stretches back 597 years, remains serene.
In Tibet, he explains later, Losar used to be conducted on the roof of the thirteen storey Potala Palace, with cookies laid out for the masses. “Every year I used to be really worried when the people rushed to grab the cookies. First, that the old building would collapse, and second, that someone would fall over the edge. “Now,” (the rich baritone breaks into a hearty chuckle) “now things are much calmer.”
It was twenty-nine years ago last week that the Tibetan uprising against China’s occupying forces propelled the Dalai Lama into Indian exile. Yet the spirit of his ancient, fairy-tale theocracy is still very much alive in Dharamsala, a former British hill station 250 miles north of New Delhi. Here, attended by a State Oracle, a rainmaking lama, various medicine men, astrologers and a four-man Cabinet, the Dalai Lama, at fifty-two, incarnates all he has done since first ascending the Lion Throne in Lhasa at age four.
Yet even as the “Protector of the Land of Snows” sustains all the secret exoticism of that otherworldly kingdom reimagined in the West as Shangri-La, he remains very much a leader in the real world. Since the age of fifteen, he has been forced to deal with his people’s needs against the competing interests of Beijing, Washington and New Delhi. That always inflammatory situation reached a kind of climax last autumn, when Tibetans rioted in Lhasa, their Chinese rulers killed as many as thirty-two people, the Dalai Lama held his first major press conference in Dharamsala, and the U.S Senate unanimously condemned the Chinese actions. Riots have erupted in recent weeks, but even before that, the modest man in monk’s raiment had found himself not only the spiritual symbol linking 100,000 Tibetans in exile to the six million still living under Chinese rule, but also, more than ever, a political rallying point. “The Fourteenth Dalai Lama may be the most popular Dalai Lama of all,” he says smiling merrily. “If the Chinese had treated the Tibetans like real brothers, then the Dalai Lama might not be so popular. So….,” (he twinkles impishly) “all the credit goes to the Chinese!”
On paper, then, the Dalai Lama is a living incarnation of a Buddha, the hierarch of a government-in-exile and a doctor of metaphysics. Yet the single most extraordinary thing about him may simply be his sturdy, unassuming humanity. The Living God is, in his way, as down to earth as the hardy brown oxfords he wears under his monastic robes, and in his eyes is still the mischief of the little boy who used to give his lamas fits with his invincible skills at hide-and-seek. He delights in tending his flower gardens, looking after wild birds, repairing watches and transistors and, mostly, just meditating. And even toward those who have killed up to 1.2 million of his people and destroyed 6,254 of his monasteries, he remains remarkably forbearing. “As people who practice the Mahayana Buddhist teaching, we pray every day to develop some kind of unlimited altruism,” he says. “So there is no point in developing hatred for the Chinese. Rather, we should develop respect for them and love and compassion.”
The Fourteenth God-King of Tibet was born in a cow shed in the tiny farming village of Takster in 1935. When he was two, a search party of monks, led to his small home by a corpse that seemed to move, a lakeside vision and the appearance of auspicious cloud formations, identified him as the new incarnation of Tibet’s patron god. Two years later, after passing an elaborate battery of tests, the little boy was taken amid a caravan of hundred into the capital of Lhasa, “Home of the Gods.” There he had to live alone with his immediate elder brother in the cavernous thousand-chamber Potala Palace and undertook an eighteen-year course in Metaphysics. By the age of seven, he was receiving envoys from the President Franklin Roosevelt and leading prayers before twenty thousand watchful monks; yet he remained a thoroughly normal little boy who loved to whiz around the hold compound in a pedal car and instigate fights with his siblings. “I recall one summer day, I must have been about seven, when my mother took me to the Norbulingka Summer Palace to see His Holiness,” recalls the Dalai Lama’s youngest brother Tenzin Choegyal. “When we got there, His Holiness was watering his plants. The next think I knew, he was turning the hose at me!”
It was at this time too, that the precocious boy first developed his prodigious gift for things scientific, teaching himself the principles of the combustion engine and fixing the palace’s generator whenever it went on the blink. To satisfy his insatiable curiosity about a world he was permitted to glimpse only through the silk-fringed curtains of his golden palanquin, the young ruler set up a projector by which he eagerly devoured Tarzan movies, Henry V and, best of all, home movies of his own capital. Often, he recalls, he would take a telescope onto the palace roof and wistfully gaze at the boys and girls of Lhasa carelessly going about their lives.
In 1950 the isolation of the “Wish-Fulfilling Gem” and his mountain kingdom was shattered as the Chinese attacked from eight different directions. Suddenly the teenage ruler was obliged to take a crash course in statesmanship, traveling to Beijing to negotiate with Zhou Enlai and Mao Zedong. Finally, in March 1959, when a bloody confrontation seemed imminent as thirty thousand steadfast Tibetans rose up against Chinese rule, the Dalai Lama slipped out of his summer palace, dressed as a humble soldier and set off across the highest mountains on earth. Two weeks later, suffering from dysentery and on the back of a dzo, (a hybrid yak) the “Holder of the White Lotus” rode into exile in India.
Since then, his has been a singularly delicate balancing act, the guest of a nation that would prefer him to remain silent and the enemy of a nation that much of the world is trying to court. Undeterred, the Dalai Lama has organized fifty-three Tibetan settlements in India and Nepal and set up institutes to preserve his country’s arts, its scriptures and its medical traditions. In recent years he has begun to race around the world like a Buddhist John Paul II; lecturing at Harvard, meeting the Pope and attending to his flock, be they unlettered peasants or the American actor Richard Gere (a student of Buddhism since 1982). Always inclined to see the good in everything, he feels that exile has in some respects been a blessing. “When we were in Tibet, there were certain ceremonial activities that took up a lot of time, but the substance was not much. All those exist no longer. That’s good, I think. Also, because we are refugees, we have become much more realistic. There’s no point now in pretending.”
Many young Tibetans would like their leader to be more militant. Angrily noting that there are more than three thousand political prisoners in central Tibet alone and the Beijing has at least three hundred thousand troops on the “Rooftop of the World,” they advocate violence. But the Dalai Lama refuses to be intemperate. “Once your mind is dominated by anger,” he notes thoughtfully, “it becomes almost mad. You cannot take right decisions, and you cannot see reality. But if your mind is calm and stable, you will see everything exactly as it is. I think all politicians need this kind of patience. Compared with the previous Soviet leaders I think for example, that Gorbachev is much calmer, therefore more effective.”
Pacifism however, does not mean passivity. “Ultimately …,” he continues, “… the Chinese have to realize that Tibet is a separate country. If Tibet was always truly a part of China then, whether Tibetans liked it or not, they would have to live with it. But that’s not the case. So we have every right to demand our rights.”
The Dalai Lama spends much of his time reflecting on how Tibetan Buddhism can teach and learn from other disciplines. He believes for example, that Buddhism can show Marxism how to develop a genuine socialist ideal “Not through force but through reason and through a gently training of the mind, through the development of altruism.” He sees many points of contact between his faith and psychology, cosmology, neurobiology, the social sciences and physics. “There are many things we Buddhists should learn from the latest scientific findings and that scientists can learn from Buddhist explanations. We must conduct research and then accept the results. If they don’t stand up to experimentation,” he says, beaming subversively, “Buddha’s own words must be rejected.”
Such quiet radicalism has at times unsettled followers so devout that they would readily give up their lives for their leader. In the draft constitution he drew up in 1963, the God-King included, against his people’s wishes, a clause that would allow for his impeachment. Now he is considering new methods for choosing the next Dalai Lama; adopting an electoral system similar to the Vatican’s perhaps, or selecting on the basis of seniority, or even dispensing with the entire institution. “I think the time has come, not necessarily to take a decision very soon, but to start a more formal discussion, so that people can prepare their minds for it.”
In the meantime, the exiled leader will continue to pursue a simple, selfless life that is close to the Buddhist ideal of the Middle Way. Neither hostile to the world, nor hostage to it. Buddhism’s supreme living deity still refuses to fly first class and thinks himself always, as he told the press last autumn, as a “simple Buddhist monk.” Though he is one of the most erudite scholars of one of the most cerebral of all the world’s philosophies, he has a gift for reducing his doctrine to a core of lucid practicality, crystallized in the title of his 1984 book, Kindness, Clarity and Insight (Snow Lion Publications). “My true religion,” he has said, “is kindness.”
It is in fact, the peculiar misfortune of the Chinese to be up against one of those rare souls it is all but impossible to dislike. Beijing has felt it necessary to call him a “political corpse, bandit and traitor,” a “red-handed butcher who subsisted on people’s flesh.” Yet everyone who meets the Dalai Lama is thoroughly disarmed by his good-natured warmth and by a charisma all the stronger for being so gentle.
To an outsider, the life of a living Buddha can seem a profoundly lonely one. In recent years, moreover, nearly all the people closest to the Tibetan ruler; his senior tutor, his junior tutor, his mother and the elder brother, who in youth was his only playmate, have died. Yet this, like everything else, the Dalai Lama takes in the deepest sense, philosophically. “Old friends pass away, new friends appear,” he says with cheerful matter-of-factness. “It’s just like the days. An old day passes, a new day arrives. The important thing is to make it meaningful; a meaningful friend or a meaningful day.”
Source: Sidney Piburn (1993), The Dalai Lama, A Policy of Kindness, Snow Lion Publications, Ithaca, New York, USA
A life in the Day: The Dalai Lama
As told to Vanya Kewley
When I wake at four o’clock, I automatically start reciting the Ngagihinlab mantra. It’s a prayer that dedicates everything I do, my speech, my thoughts, my deeds, my whole day, as an offering, a positive way to help others. Like all monks, I obey a vow of poverty, so there are no personal possessions. My bedroom has just a bed and the first thing I see when I wake is the face of the Buddha on a holy seventeenth-century statue from Kyirong, one of the very few that escaped the Chinese desecration. It’s cold when I wake, as we are at 7,000 feet, so I do some exercises, wash and dress quickly.
I wear the same maroon robe as do all the monks. It’s not of good quality and it’s patched. If it was of good material and in one piece, you could sell it and gain something. This way you can’t. This reinforces our philosophy of becoming detached from worldly goods. I meditate until five-thirty and make prostrations. We have a special practice to remind ourselves of our misdeeds and I make my confession and recite prayers for the well-being of all sentient beings.
Then at daybreak, if the weather is fine, I go into the garden. This time of day is very special to me. I look at the sky. It’s very clear and I see the stars and have this special feeling of my insignificance in the cosmos. The realization of what we Buddhists call impermanence. It’s very relaxing. Sometimes I don’t think at all and just enjoy the dawn and listen to the birds.
Then Penjor or Loga, monks from Namgyal monastery who have been with me for 28 years, bring my breakfast. It’s a half-Tibetan, half-Western mixture. Tsampa roasted barley flour and porridge. While I have breakfast, my ears are very busy listening to the news on the BBC World Service.
Then at about six, I move into another room and meditate until nine. Through meditation, all Buddhists try and develop the right kind of motivation, compassion, forgiveness and tolerance. I meditate six or seven times a day.
From nine until lunch I read and study our scriptures. Buddhism is a very profound religion and, although I have been studying all my life, there is still so much to learn.
Unfortunately nearly all our ancient books and manuscripts have been destroyed by the Chinese. It’s as though all the Gutenberg bibles and Domesday books in the world had been destroyed. No record. No memory. Before the Chinese invasion, we had over six thousand functioning monasteries and temples. Now there are only thirty-seven.
I also try and read Western masters. I want to learn more about Western philosophy and science. Especially nuclear physics, astronomy and neurobiology. Often Western scientists come and discuss the relationship between our philosophy and theirs, or compare their work on the brain function and Buddhist experience of different levels of consciousness. It is an absorbing exchange, for all of us!
I often get up and go and fiddle with things. Change batteries for the radio, repair something. From childhood I have been fascinated with mechanical things; toys, small cars, aeroplanes. Things I could explore with my hands. We had an old movie projector in Lhasa that belonged to the Thirteenth Dalai Lama. It was looked after by an ancient Chinese monk. But when he died, no one else knew how to make it work. So I learnt how to make it go, but it was trial and error, as I couldn’t read the instructions. I only spoke Tibetan. So now sometimes I work in my workshop repairing things like watches or clocks or planting things in the greenhouse. I love plants, especially delphiniums and tulips, and love to see them grow.
At twelve-thirty I have lunch, usually non-vegetarian, though I prefer vegetarian. I eat what I’m given. Sometimes thupka soup with noodles, occasionally momo steamed dumplings with meat and skabakled deep fried bread with meat inside.
The afternoon is taken up with official meetings with the Bha’zhag (Tibetan cabinet in exile), or deputies from the Assembly of Tibetan People’s Deputies. But there are always people coming from Tibet, with or without the permission of the Chinese. Mostly brave people who escape over the 17,000ft Himalayan passes.
It is very painful for me. They all have sad stories and cry. Practically everyone tells me the names of relatives who have been killed by the Chinese, or died in Chinese prisons or labor camps. I try to give them encouragement and see how I can help them practically, as they arrive here destitute and in very bad health.
Very often they bring their children here. They tell me it is the only way they can learn our language, faith and culture. We put the younger ones in the Tibetan Children’s Village here or in Mussoorie. Older ones who want to be monks we send for training in our monasteries in South India.
Although Tibetans want me to return, I get a message from inside, not to return under the present circumstances. They don’t want me to be a Chinese puppet like the Panchen Lama. Here, in the free world, I am more useful to my people as a spokesman. I can serve them better from outside.
Sometimes Pema, my younger sister who runs the Tibetan Children’s Village for orphans here, comes and discusses problems. Like all monks, I don’t see much of my family; my parents are dead. My elder brother, Norbu, is Professor of Tibetan studies in Bloomington, Indiana. Thondup, a businessman, lives in Hong Kong.
Unfortunately my middle brother, Lobsang Samden, died two years ago. We were very close. He lived and studied with me in the Potala where we used to get up to all sorts of mischief. Before his death, he worked here at the medical center. I miss him very much.
At six I have tea. As a monk, I have no dinner. At seven it is television time, but unfortunately they transmit discussion programs. And as one is from Amritsar and the other from Pakistan, and I don’t know Punjabi or Urdu, it’s all talk to me. But occasionally there is a film in English. I liked the BBC series on western civilization, and those wonderful nature programs.
Then it’s time for bed and more meditation and prayers and by eight-thirty or nine I fall asleep. But if there is a moon, I think that it is also looking down on my people imprisoned in Tibet. I give thanks that, even though I am a refugee, I am free here; free to speak for my people. I pray especially to the patron deity of Tibet, Avalokitesvara, for them. There is not one waking hour when I don’t think of the plight of my people, locked away in their mountain fastness.
Source: Sidney Piburn (1993), The Dalai Lama, A Policy of Kindness, Snow Lion Publications, Ithaca, New York, USA
An Interview by John Avedon
JA: What were your first feelings on being recognized as the Dalai Lama? What did you think had happened to you?
DL: I was very happy. I liked it a lot. Even before I was recognized, I often told my mother that I was going to go to Lhasa. I used to straddle a window sill in our house pretending that I was riding a horse to Lhasa. I was a very small child at the time, but I remember this clearly. I had a strong desire to go there. Another thing I didn’t mention in my autobiography is that after my birth, a pair of crows came to roost on the roof of our house. They would arrive each morning, stay for a while and then leave. This is of particular interest as similar incidents occurred at the birth of the First, Seventh, Eighth and Twelfth Dalai Lamas. After their births, a pair of crows came and remained. In my own case, in the beginning, nobody paid attention to this. Recently however, perhaps three years ago, I was talking with my mother, and she recalled it. She had noticed them come in the morning; depart after a time, and then the next morning come again. Now, the evening after the birth of the First Dalai Lama, bandits broke into the family’s house. The parents ran away and left the child. The next day when they returned and wondered what had happened to their son, they found the baby in a corner of the house. A crow stood before him, protecting him. Later on, when the First Dalai Lama grew up and developed in his spiritual practice, he made direct contact during meditation with the protective deity, Mahakala. At this time, Mahakala said to him, “Somebody like you who is upholding the Buddhist teaching needs a protector like me. Right on the day of your birth, I helped you.” So we can see, there is definitely a connection between Mahakala, the crows, and the Dalai Lamas.
Another thing that happened, which my mother remembers very clearly, is that soon after I arrived in Lhasa, I said that my teeth were in a box in a certain house in the Norbulinka. When they opened the box, they found a set of dentures which had belonged to the Thirteenth Dalai Lama. I pointed to the box, and said that my teeth were in there, but right now I don’t recall this at all. The new memories associated with this body are stronger. The past has become smaller, more vague. Unless I make a specific attempt to develop such a memory, I don’t recall it.
JA: Do you remember your birth or the womb state before?
DL: At this moment, I don’t remember. Also, I can’t recall if at that time when I was a small child, I could remember it. However, there was one slight external sign perhaps. Children are usually born with their eyes closed. I was born with my eyes open. This may be some slight indication of a clear state of mind in the womb.
JA: When you were a little boy, how did you feel on being treated by adults as an important person? Were you apprehensive or even frightened at being so revered?
DL: Tibetans are very practical people. Older Tibetans would never treat me that way. Also, I was very self-confident. When I first approached Lhasa on the Debuthang plan, the Nechung Oracle came to further verify that I was the correct choice. With him came an old, much respected, and highly realized geshayfrom Loseling College of Drepung Monastery. He was deeply concerned whether or not I was the correct choice. To have made a mistake in the finding of the Dalai Lama would be very dangerous. Now he was a religious man, not someone in the government. He came into the tent, where I was in a group audience, and determined that I was unquestionably the right choice. So you see, though there were certain very proper old people who wanted to be sure, I apparently put on a good performance and convinced them (laughter). I was never uneasy in my position. Charles Bell has mentioned that I was taking it all quite casually. To go with fear, there’s one thing I remember clearly. One night I wanted to go visit my mother, who had come with the rest of my family to Lhasa. I was in the tent of the regent. A very large bodyguard was standing by the entrance. It was evening, sunset, and this man had a bad, damaged eye. I remember being scared, frightened then, to go out of the tent.
JA: Between the ages of sixteen and eighteen, after you assumed temporal power, did you change?
DL: Yes, I changed… a little bit. I underwent a lot of happiness and pain. Within that and from growing, gaining more experience, from the problems that arose and the suffering, I changed. The ultimate result is the man you see now (laughter).
JA: How about when you just entered adolescence? Many people have a difficult time defining themselves as an adult. Did this happen to you?
DL: No. My life was very much in a routine. Two times a day I studied. Each time I studied for an hour, and then spent the rest of the time playing (laughter). Then at the age of 13, I began studying philosophy, definitions, debate. My study increased and I also studied calligraphy. It was all in a routine though, and I got used to it. Sometimes, there were vacations. These were very comfortable; happy. Losang Samten, my immediate elder brother, was usually at school, but sometimes he would come to visit. Also, occasionally my mother would bring special bread from our province of Amdo. It was very thick and delicious. She made this herself.
JA: Did you have an opportunity to have a relationship with your father when you were growing up?
DL: My father died when I was 13.
JA: Are there any of your predecessors in whom you have a special interest or with whom you have a particular affinity?
DL: The Thirteenth Dalai Lama. He brought a lot of improvement to the standards of study in the monastic colleges. He gave great encouragement to the real scholars. He made it impossible for people to go up in the religious hierarchy, becoming an abbot and so forth, without being totally qualified. He was very strict in this respect. He also gave tens of thousands of monks ordinations. These were his two main religious achievements. He didn’t give many initiations, or many lectures. Not, with respect to the country, he had great thought and consideration for statecraft, the outlying districts in particular, how they should be governed and so forth. He cared very much about how to run the government more efficiently. He had great concern about our borders and that type of thing.
JA: During the course of your own life, what have been your greatest personal lessons or internal challenges? Which realizations and experiences have had the most effect on your growth as an individual?
DL: Regarding religious experience, some understanding of shunya (emptiness: lack of independent self-nature) some feeling, some experience, and mostly bodhichitta, altruism. It has helped a lot. In some ways, you could say that it has made me into a new person, a new man. I’m still progressing. Trying. It gives you inner strength, courage, and it is easier to accept situations. That’s one of the greatest experiences.
JA: On the bodhichitta side, are you speaking about a progressive deepening of realization or a certain moment associated with external experience?
DL: Mainly internal practice. There could also be external causes or circumstances. External factors could have played a part in the development of some feeling for bodhichitta. But mainly, it has to come from internal practice.
JA: Can you cite a specific moment from your practice when you crossed a threshold?
DL: Regarding shunya theory, first shunya theory, then bodhichitta feeling… Around ’65, ’66, in that period. This is really a personal matter. For a true religious practitioner, these things must be kept private.
JA: OK. Not asking you about your own deepest experience, but in terms of the course of your life, the events of your life, how have these affected you as a man? How have you grown through experiencing them?
DL: Being a refugee has been very useful. You are much closer to reality. When I was born in Tibet as the Dalai Lama, I was trying to be realistic, but somehow because of circumstances, there was some distance, I think. I was a bit isolated from the reality. I became a refugee. Very good. So there was a good opportunity to gain experience and also determination or inner strength.
JA: When you became a refugee, what helped you gain this strength? Was it the loss of your position and country? The fact of everyone suffering around you? Were you called on to lead your people in a different way than you had been accustomed to?
DL: Being a refugee is a really desperate, dangerous situation. At the time, everyone deals with reality. It is not the time to pretend things are beautiful. That’s something. You feel involved with reality. In peace time, everything goes smoothly. Even if there is a problem, people pretend that things are good. During a dangerous period, where there’s a dramatic change then there’s no scope to pretend that everything is fine. You must accept that bad is bad. Now when I left the Norbulinka, there was danger. We were passing very near the Chinese military barracks. It was just on the other side of the river, the Chinese checkpost there. You see, we have definite information two or three weeks before I left, that the Chinese were fully prepared to attack us. It was only a question of the day and hour.
JA: At that moment, when you crossed the Kyichu River and met the party of Khamba guerillas waiting for you, did you assume a direct leadership capacity? Who, for instance, made the decisions on your flight?
DL: As soon as we left Lhasa, we set up an inner group, a committee to discuss each point. Myself and eight other people.
JA: Was it your idea to make it unanimous?
DL: Yes. Those who were left behind in Lhasa also established a People’s Committee. Something like a revolutionary council. Of course, from the Chinese viewpoint, this was a counter revolutionary committee. Chosen by the people, you see, within a few days… they set up that committee and all major decisions were made by it. I also sent a letter to that committee, certifying it. In our small committee, those who were escaping with me, we discussed the practical points each night. Originally, our plan was to establish our headquarters in southern Tibet, as you now. Also, I mentioned to Pandit Nehru, I think on the 24th of April, 1959, that we had established a Tibetan temporary government, shifted from Lhasa to southern Tibet. I mentioned this casually to the Prime Minister. He was slightly agitated (laughter). “We are not going to recognize your government,” he said. Although this government had been formed while still inside Tibet, and I was already in India…
JA: I’d like to ask you about being the incarnation of the bodhisattva of infinite compassion, Avalokiteshvara [Tibetan: Chenrezi]. How do you personally feel about this? Is it something you have an unequivocal view of one way or another?
DL: It is difficult for me to say definitely. Unless I engaged in a meditative effort, such as following my life back breath by breath, I couldn’t say exactly. We believe that there are four types of rebirth. One is the common type, wherein a being is helpless to determine his or her rebirth, but only incarnates in dependence on the nature of past actions. The opposite is that of an entirely enlightened Buddha, who simply manifests a physical form to help others. In this case, it is clear that the person is a Buddha. A third is one who, due to past spiritual attainment, can choose, or at least influence, the place and situation of rebirth. The fourth is called a blessed manifestation. In this the person is blessed beyond his normal capacity to perform helpful functions, such as teaching religion. For this last type of birth, the person’s wishes in previous lives, to help others, must have been very strong. They then obtain such empowerment. Though some seem more likely than others, I cannot definitely say which I am.
JA: From the viewpoint then of the realistic role you play as Chenrezi, how do you feel about it? Only a few people have been considered, in one way or another, divine. Is the role a burden or a delight?
DL: It is very helpful. Through this role I can be great benefit to people. For this reason I like it: I’m at home with it. It’s clear that it is very helpful to people, and that I have the karmic relationship to be in this role. Also, it is clear that there is a karmic relationship with the Tibetan people in particular. Now you see, you may consider that under the circumstances, I am very lucky. However, behind the word luck there are actual causes or reasons. There is the karmic force of my ability to assume this role as well as the force of my wish to do so. In regard to this, there is a statement in the great Shantideva’s Engaging in the Bodhisattva Deeds which says, “As long as space exists, and as long as there are migrators in cyclic existence, may I remain, removing their suffering.” I have that wish in this lifetime, and I know I had that wish in past lifetimes.
JA: With such a vast goal as your motivation, how do you deal with your personal limitations, your limits as a man?
DL: Again, as it says in Shantideva, “If the blessed Buddha cannot please all sentient beings, then how could I?” Even an enlightened being, with limitless knowledge and power and the wish to save all others from suffering, cannot eliminate the individual karma of each being.
JA: Is this what keeps you from being overwhelmed when you see the suffering of the six million Tibetans, who on one level, you are responsible for?
DL: My motivation is directed towards all sentient beings. There is no question, though, that on a second level, I am directed towards helping Tibetans. If a problem is fixable, if a situation is such that you can do something about it, then there is no need to worry. It it’s not fixable, then there is no help in worrying. There is no benefit in worrying whatsoever.
JA: A lot of people say this, but few really live by it. Did you always feel this way, or did you have to learn it?
DL: It is developed from inner practice. From a broader perspective, there will always be suffering. On one level, you are bound to meet with the effects of the unfavorable actions you yourself have previously committed, in either body, speech or mind. Then also, your very own nature is that of suffering. There’s not just one factor figuring into my attitude, but many different ones. From the point of view of the actual entity producing the suffering, as I have said, if it is fixable, then there is no need to worry. It not, there is no benefit to worrying. From the point of view of the cause, suffering is based on past unfavorable actions accumulated by oneself and no other. These karmas are not wasted. They will bear their fruit. One will now meet with the effects of actions that one has not done oneself. Finally, from the viewpoint of the nature of suffering itself, the aggregates of the mind and body have as their actual nature, suffering. They serve as a basis for suffering. As long as you have them you are susceptible to suffering. From a deep point of view, while we don’t have our independence and are living in someone else’s country, we experienced a certain type of suffering, but when we return to Tibet and gain our independence, then there will be other types of suffering. So, this is just the way it is. You might think that I’m pessimistic, but I am not. This is the Buddhist realism. This is how, through Buddhist teaching and advice, we handle situations. When fifty thousand people in the Shakya clan were killed one day, Shakyamuni Buddha, their clansman, didn’t suffer at all. He was leaning against a tree, and he was saying, “I am a little sad today because fifty thousand of my clansmen were killed.” But he, himself, remained unaffected. Like that, you see (laughter). This was the cause and effect of their own karma. There was nothing he could do about it. These sorts of thoughts make me stronger; more active. It is not at all a case of losing one’s strength of mind or will, in the face of the pervasive nature of suffering.
JA: I’m interested in what you do to relax: gardening and experimenting with electronics.
DL: Oh, my hobbies. Passing time (laughter). When I can repair something, it gives me real satisfaction. I began dismantling things when I was young because I was curious about how certain machines functioned. I wanted to know what was inside the motor, but these days I only try to fix something when it breaks.
JA: And gardening?
DL: Gardening in Dharamsala is almost a hopeless thing. No matter how hard you work, the monsoon comes and destroys everything. You know, a monk’s life is very gratifying; very happy. You can see this from those who have given up the robes. They definitely know the value of monkhood. Many have told me how complicated and difficult life is without it. With a pretty wife and children you might be happy for some time. In the long run, though, many problems naturally come about. Half of your independence, your freedom, is lost. If there is some benefit or meaning to experience the trouble which arises on giving up your independence, then it is worthwhile. If it is an effective situation which helps people, then it is good - The trouble becomes worthwhile. But if it isn’t, it is not worthwhile.
JA: But none of us would even be here talking about this unless we have mothers and fathers!
DL: I’m not saying that having children is bad, or that everyone should be a monk. Impossible! (laughter).
I think that if one’s life is simple, contentment has to come. Simplicity is extremely important for happiness. Having few desires, feeling satisfied with what you have is very vital. There are four causes which help produce a superior being. Satisfaction with whatever food you get. Satisfaction with rags for clothing, or acceptance of any covering, not wishing for fancy or colorful attire. Satisfaction with just enough shelter to protect yourself from the elements. And finally, an intense delight in abandoning faulty states of mind and in cultivating helpful ones in meditation.
Source: Sidney Piburn (1993), The Dalai Lama, A policy of Kindness, Snow Lion Publications, Ithaca, New York, USA
THE POWER OF COMPASSION
The Dalai Lama and Michael Toms
His Holiness Tenzin Gyasto, 14th Dalai Lama in a line of incarnate Buddhist monarchs dating back to the 14th century, is a modern spiritual leader who manifests an acute awareness and concern for contemporary social issues. Born to a peasant family, his Holiness was recognized at the age of two, in accordance with Tibetan tradition, as the reincarnation of his predecessor, the 13th Dalai Lama. The Dalai Lama is the political, religious, and spiritual leader of the Tibetan people.
Unlike his predecessors, his Holiness has traveled extensively in the Western world, meeting with major religious and secular leaders in Western Europe, North America, the Soviet Union, and Asia. During his travel abroad, his Holiness has spoken strongly for better understanding and respect among different faiths. He has made numerous appearances at interfaith services, imparting the message of universal responsibility, love, compassion, and kindness. Since his first visit to the West, his Holiness’ reputation as a scholar and a man of peace has grown steadily. Western universities and institutions have conferred peace awards and honorary doctoral degrees upon him in recognition of his distinguished writing and Buddhist philosophy, and for his leadership in the service of freedom and peace.
On October 5, 1989, his Holiness was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The Nobel committee states that “the Dalai Lama…consistently has opposed the use of violence. He has instead advocated peaceful solutions based upon tolerance and mutual respect.” To Tibetans, the Dalai Lama is the embodiment of their faith, the symbol of their national identity, and their hope for freedom. To the rest of the world, his Holiness is a devoted and highly respected advocate of universal compassion, justice, and peace.
Shortly before receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, his Holiness visited Central America and Costa Rica for the first time and participated in the first major interfaith gathering ever to be held in Central America. He was a keynote speaker along with President Oscar Arias of Costa Rica, also a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, at the “Seeking the True Meaning of Peace” conference. It was during this conference that I had the rare opportunity to have a private interview with his Holiness, at a convent of Catholic nuns where he was staying outside of San Jose, Costa Rica.
MICHAEL TOMS: What are your impressions of Costa Rica?
THE DALAI LAMA: What I have seen of the country itself is very beautiful. Its people, it seems, are not rushing as in New York and other places. This country has no military forces, no production of military equipment. These things, I think, are very important, as everyone talks about peace and disarmament, trying to reduce arms production, and arms competition. I really was impressed when they instituted this practice in the ‘40s. At that time, I saw no one else practicing this kind of idea. And also, you see, things were very complicated at that time, in the 1940s and 1950s, during World War II. So I am very impressed. And I feel that we could learn many things from this country’s experience.
What do you think Buddhism offers people that live in these times? What do you think that Buddhism brings to us today?
I believe that Buddhism, as with any other religion, has some potential to contribute, mainly through mental peace and by changing our outlook on life in terms of our neighbors and our environment. So that, I think, is what Buddhism can contribute. One special significance of Buddhism is the theoretical explanation of existence. Things are relative. Things are interdependent. That is a very helpful way to look at the world. For example, the modern economic structure itself is a very good example of interdependency, isn’t it? It is heavily interdependent. I was at lunch the other day with the Archbishop of this country, and he mentioned that they produce bananas here and sell them to the United States. And this country buys U.S wheat. It is an exchange; things are dependent on one another.
Another aspect of Buddhist philosophy that I think has some special significance is the idea of things being relative. God is always found somewhere between black and white or between negative and positive. You cannot say, “This is my enemy,” and see that enemy as 100 percent negative. Nor can you say, “This is my friend,” and see the friend as 100 percent positive. That is impossible. Basically, this is the same situation. It is that kind of attitude that is very helpful in reducing hatred. I always say, “Talk to people.” Religious people should not think only of how to propagate their religion, but also of how much they can contribute to humanity.
How do you see the connection and the relationship between Buddhism and Christianity here and in the rest of the Western world?
Generally, the relationship among various religions during the last few years is much improved- particularly between Tibetan Buddhism and Christianity. They have a much closer relationship: a much deep understanding has developed. The present Pope and I have had several occasions to discuss this. And I’ve also discussed this with many other important figures in the Catholic and Protestant communities. I think we’ve developed very positive, close relationships. And that is very helpful to mutual learning. We have learned many things from Christian brothers and sisters and they have also learned some new techniques from us. For example, there is the practice of love and compassion and forgiveness. There is also a certain Buddhist technique adopted or utilized that involves concentration, or discipline. It is the Shamata, the one-pointedness of mind. That practice in Buddhism, in Eastern philosophy, is still a living tradition. It is something that I think is useful for some of our Christian practitioners.
In 1968, Thomas Merton came to Asia on his first visit out of the States. You had a chance to meet with him. He was a Catholic Trappist monk who was very interested in Tibetan Buddhism. What do you remember of your meeting with Thomas Merton?
That was a very pleasant meeting. And also, due to meeting with him, my understanding of Christianity was expanded, adding to my genuine respect for Christian practitioners and their contribution to humanity. I consider Thomas Merton a very strong, solid bridge between East and West. Since his sudden death, I’ve felt a great loss. I think he made one big contribution regarding a closer understanding and relation between Christians in general, and Catholics in particular, and Tibetan Buddhists.
You have spoken about compassion and love producing an inner courage and inner peace. Could you explain?
Compassion is a concern for people, for other sentient beings. And it is not merely a feeling of sympathy and pity, but a desire to do something to help. That is the kind of compassion that opens one’s mind and one’s self to others. It automatically develops a feeling that the other is part of you. And I think that helps. You see, there is no barrier; fear and suspicion are reduced. That in turn, gives you courage and will.
Many people feel overwhelmed and oppressed when they look at the external world and its many problems. They feel unable to do anything. How can one small individual make a difference in a world with so many problems? What do you have to say to that?
Today’s problems did not spring up overnight. It could be anywhere from two years to two centuries that brought these problems where they are today. So now, the issue is to reduce or eliminate our problems, which may also take 100 years. It takes time; that’s the nature of change. Basically, many of these negative things are essentially man-made. If we do not want these things to exist, we have to make an effort to change them. No one else is here to take care of them. We have to face them ourselves. There is no other choice. But the initiative must come from the individual. First there is one individual, then another joins, then a third person joins, until there are 100, then 1,000. After all, human society, human community, means a group of individuals. A big change will not take place because of one individual effort, but by the combined efforts of individuals.
How do you see what went on in China in June 1989 in relation to what has been going on in Tibet? How do you see the future of Tibet relative to that unrest?
For the time being, because the Chinese government practices hard-line policy, it is Tibetan policy, too. But there is something else going on in China. Something really great, I think, of historical importance. One thing that impresses me is that although the Chinese people, particularly the students, are brought up and educated in the communist society, which is of a violent nature, the people sincerely and strictly follow Mahatma Gandhi’s teachings of non-violence. That is something really remarkable. This is a kind of confirmation for me, that non-violence is much closer to basic human nature, or human spirit, than is generally credited.
They were completely nonviolent in their demands for more freedom, more democracy, and less corruption. That, also, I think, is very beautiful. And although for the time being they lost, I think they made a great impact in the Chinese people’s mind and on the world outside, too. Because of their strong human spirit and sincere motivation, it is only a question of time, I think, until their wish will be fulfilled. And I pray for their goal. China is the most populated nation in the world. As a Buddhist monk, when I pray for all sentient beings, that means a greater part of my prayer includes China because it has the largest population. Even small things can have a big effect in that country, because it affects so many people- more than a billion human souls.
MICHAEL TOMS: That interview took place with the Dalai Lama in Costa Rica in June 1989. In October 1989, his Holiness led the chanting during the performance of a traditional Tibetan Lhasang ceremony designed to heal the environment. This ceremony was performed atop Mt. Tamalpais in Marin County just north of San Francisco. There are those who claim that the earthquake damage to the Bay area was considerably less that it might have been because of his Holiness’ visit just prior to its occurrence.
I had the opportunity to ask his Holiness a question at a press conference held immediately following the Lhasang ceremony. I asked him about the coming together of East and West and what that really means.
THE DALAI LAMA: As I mentioned earlier, these things are a very positive change, a positive development. At a certain stage in a society’s development, an authoritarian, very rigid system may work. An example of that might be when the Russian Revolution took place and the Chinese Communist Revolution took place. For a certain period of time, it worked. But I believe that even though this system or ideology had the potential to break through the existing system, it has very little to offer as a new, meaningful way of life. The reason, to me, is quite clear. These revolutionary movements mainly come from hatred, not from love.
Of course, there are advances and a certain kind of love and concern involved. As far as working-class people and less-privileged people are concerned, the advances can seem very good. But compare the hate and energy of power with the energy of love. Compare the force of hatred with the force of compassion. I think the hatred force may be 60, 70, or perhaps 80 percent and only 20 to 30 percent compassion. Therefore, things cannot work properly and now we are seeing people who are realizing this situation. People are either compelled to change or compelled to accept things as they are. That’s human history, right?
I consider the 20th century one of the most important in human history. Within this century, we’ve gained many experiences, positive as well as negative. As a result, I think humanity has become more discerning. When things become so dangerous and delicate and fearful, that helps develop human awareness. It took the nuclear attack, so awful, so powerful, to wake up the desire for world peace. After World War II, many people thought a third world war would inevitably. But because of the nuclear threat, people developed their awareness. So that is hopeful.
The same is true with the environment. We see that it is damaged. The signs of damage are already there. Again, that helped develop human awareness. In the religious field also, I feel that human awareness is being developed. In the name of different religions, human have suffered and inflicted great misery. By developing an awareness of other religions, we can open our eyes, our minds, and look with tolerance at the message of different religions.
The Dalai Lama serves as a model of kindness and compassion for each of us. Here is a man who has lost friends, family and his nation (more than one million Tibetans have lost their lives since the Chinese takeover in 1959, and this from a nation with less than a population of five million), yet he still exemplifies the ideals he speaks about.
In an emerging global society, the Dalai Lama also addresses the importance of recognizing the sameness inherent in all human beings, whatever their religion, race, or status in society. It’s clear that this realization begins at home for each of us. As we are able to practice more kindness and compassion in our daily life, so too will the world change.
Source: Michael Toms (1998) Buddhism in the West, New Dimensions, Hay House, California, USA
Dimensions of Spirituality
The Dalai Lama
TWO LEVELS OF SPIRITUALITY
BROTHERS AND SISTERS, I would like to address the topic of spiritual values by defining two levels of spirituality.
To begin, let me say that as human beings our basic aim is to have a happy life; we all want to experience happiness. It is natural for us to seek happiness. This is our life’s purpose. The reason is quite clear: when we lose hope, the result is that we become depressed and perhaps even suicidal. Therefore, our very existence is strongly rooted in hope. Although there is no guarantee of what the future will bring, it is because we have hope that we are able to continue living. Therefore, we can say that the purpose of our life, our life’s goal, is happiness.
Human brings are not produced by machines. We are more than just matter; we have feeling and experience. For that reason, material comfort alone is not enough. We need something deeper, what I usually refer to as human affection, or compassion. With human affection, or compassion, all the material advantages that we have at our disposal can be very constructive and can produce good results. Without human affection, however, material advantages alone will not satisfy us, nor will they produce in us any measure of mental peace or happiness. In fact, material advantages without human affection may even create additional problems. Therefore, human affection, or compassion, is the key to human happiness.
THE FIRST LEVEL OF SPIRITUALITY:
THE RELIGIONS OF THE WORLD AND THEIR VALUE FOR HUMANITY
The first level of spirituality, for human beings everywhere, is faith in one of the many religions of the world. I think there is an important role for each of the major world religions, but in order for them to make an effective contribution to the benefit of humanity from the religious side, there are two important factors to be considered.
The first of these factors is that individual practitioners of the various religions; that is we ourselves, must practice sincerely. Religious teachings must be an integral part of our lives; they should not be separated from out lives. Sometimes we go into church or temple and say a prayer, or generate some kind of spiritual feeling, and then, when we step outside the church or temple, none of that religious feeling remains. This is not the proper way to practice. The religious message must be with us wherever we are. The teachings of our religions must be present in our lives so that, when we really need or require blessings or inner strength, those teachings will be there even at such times; they will be there when we experience difficulties because they are constantly present. Only when religion has become an integral part of our lives can it be really effective.
We also need to experience more deeply the meanings and spiritual values of our own religious tradition- we need to know these teachings no only on an intellectual level but also through our own deeper experience. Sometimes we understand different religious ideas on an overly superficial or intellectual level. Without a deeper feeling, the effectiveness of religion becomes limited. Therefore, we must practice sincerely, and religion must become part of our lives.
THE IMPORTANCE OF A CLOSE RELATIONSHIP AMONG RELIGIONS
The second factor is concerned more with interaction among the various world religions. Today, because of the increasing technological change and the nature of the world economy, we are much more dependent on one another than ever before. Different countries, different continents, have become more closely associated with one another. In reality the survival of one region of the world depends on that of others. Therefore, the world has become much closer, much more interdependent. As a result, there is more human interaction. Under such circumstances, the idea of pluralism among the world’s religions is very important. In previous times, when communities lived separately from one another and religions arose in relative isolation, the idea that there was only one religion was very useful. But now the situation has changed, and the circumstances are entirely different. Now, therefore, it is crucial to accept the fact that different religions exist, and in order to develop genuine mutual respect among them, close contact among the various religions is essential. This is the second factor that will enable the world’s religions to be effective in benefiting humanity.
When I was in Tibet, I had no contact with people of different religious faiths, so my attitude toward other religions was not very positive. But once I had had the opportunity to meet with people of different faiths and to learn from personal contact and experience, my attitude toward other religions changed. I realized how useful to humanity other religions are, and what potential each has to contribute to a better world. In the last several centuries the various religions have made marvelous contributions toward the betterment of human beings, and even today there are large numbers of followers of Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, and so forth. Millions of people are benefiting from all these religions.
To give an example of the value of meeting people of different faiths, my meetings with the late Thomas Merton made me realize what a beautiful, wonderful person he was. On another occasion I met with a Catholic monk in Monserrat, one of Spain’s famous monasteries. I was told this monk had lived for several years as a hermit on a hill just behind the monastery. When I visited the monastery, he came down from his hermitage especially to meet me. As it happened, his English was even worse than mine, and this gave me more courage to speak with him! We remained face to face, and I inquired, “In those few years, what were you doing on that hill?” He looked at me and answered, “Meditation on compassion, on love.” As he said those few words, I understood the message through his eyes. I truly developed genuine admiration for this person and for others like him. Such experiences have helped confirm in my mind that all the world’s religions have the potential to produce good people, despite their difference of philosophy and doctrine. Each religious tradition has its own wonderful message to convey.
For example, from the Buddhist point of view the concept of a creator is illogical; because of the ways in which Buddhists analyze causality, it is a difficult concept for Buddhists to understand. However, this is not the place to discuss philosophical issues. The important point here is that for the people who so follow those teachings in which the basic faith is in a creator, that approach is very effective. According to those traditions, the individual human being is created by God. Moreover, as I recently learned from one of my Christian friends, they do not accept the theory of rebirth and, thus do not accept past or future lives. They accept only this life. However, they hold that this very life is created by God, the creator, and that idea develops in them a feeling of intimacy with God. Their most important teaching is that since it is by God’s will that we are here, our future depends upon the creator, and that because the creator is considered to be holy and supreme, we must love God, the creator.
What follows from this is the teaching that we should love our fellow human beings. This is the primary message here. The reasoning is that as we love God, we must love our fellow human beings because they, like us, were created by God. Their future, like ours, depends on the creator; therefore their situation is like our own. Consequently, the faith of people who say, “Love God,” but who themselves do not show genuine love toward their fellow human beings is questionable. The person who believes in God and in love for God must demonstrate the sincerity of his or her love of God through love directed toward fellow human beings. This approach is very powerful, isn’t it?
Thus, if we examine each religion from various angles in the same way- not simply from our own philosophical position but from several points of view- there can be no doubt that all major religions have the potential to improve human beings. This is obvious. Through close contact with those of other faiths it is possible to develop a broadminded attitude and mutual respect with regard to other religions. Close contact with different religions helps me to learn new ideas, new practices and new methods or techniques that I can incorporate into my own practice. Similarly, some of my Christian brothers and sisters have adopted certain Buddhist methods- for example, the practice of one-pointedness of mind as well as technique to help improve tolerance, compassion, and love. There is great benefit when practitioners of different religions come together for this kind of interchange. In addition to the development of harmony among them, there are other benefits to be gained as well.
Politicians and national leaders frequently talk about “coexistence” and “coming together.” Why not we religious people too? I think the time has come. At Assisi in 1987, for example, leaders and representatives of various world religions met to pray together, although I am not certain whether “prayer” is the exact word to describe the practice of all these religions accurately. In any case, what is important is that representatives of the various religions come together in one place and, according to their own belief, pray. This is already happening and is, I think, a very positive developing harmony and closeness among the world’s religions. Since without such effort, we will continue to experience the many problems that divide humanity.
If religion were the only remedy for reducing human conflict, but that remedy itself became another source of conflict, it would be disastrous. Today, as in the past, conflicts take place in the name of religion, because of religious differences, and I think this is very, very sad. But as I mentioned earlier, is we think broadly, deeply, we will realize that the situation in the past is entirely different from the situation today. We are no longer isolated but are instead interdependent. Today, therefore, it is very important to realize that a close relationship among the various religions is essential, so that different religious groups may work closely together and make a common effort for the benefit of humankind.
Thus, sincerity and faith in religious practice on the one hand, and religious tolerance and cooperation on the other hand, comprise this first level of value of spiritual practice to humanity.
THE SECOND LEVEL OF SPIRITUALITY:
COMPASSION AS THE UNIVERSAL RELIGION
The second level of spirituality is more importance than the first because, no matter how wonderful any religion may be, it is still accepted only by a very limited number of people. The majority of the five or six billion human beings on our planet probably do not practice any religion at all. According to their family background they might identify themselves as belonging to one religious group or another- “I am Hindu”; “I am Buddhist”; “I am Christian”- but deep down, most of these individuals are not necessarily practitioners of any religious faith. That is all right; whether or not a person embraces a religion is that person’s right as an individual. All the great ancient masters, such as Buddha, Mahavira, Jesus Christ, and Mohammed, failed to make the entire human population spiritually minded. The fact is that nobody can do that. Whether those nonbelievers are called atheists does not matter. Indeed, according to some Western scholars, Buddhists are also atheists, since they do not accept a creator. Therefore, I sometimes add one more word to describe these nonbelievers, and that is “extreme”; I call them extreme nonbelievers. They are not only nonbelievers but are extreme in their view in that they hold that spirituality has no value. However, we must remember that these people are also a part of humanity, and that they also, like all human beings, have the desire to be happy- to have a happy and peaceful like. This is the important point.
I believe that it is all right to remain a nonbeliever, but as long as you are a part of humanity, as long as you are a human being, you need human affection, human compassion. This is actually the essential teaching of all the religious traditions: the crucial point is compassion, or human affection. Without human affection, even religious beliefs can become destructive. Thus, the essence, even in religion, is a good heart. I consider human affection, or compassion, to be the universal religion. Whether a believer or a nonbeliever, everyone needs human affection and compassion, because compassion gives us inner strength, hope and mental peace. Thus, it is indispensable for everyone.
Let us, for example, examine the usefulness of the good heart in daily life. If we are in a good mood when we get up in the morning, if there is a warm-hearted feeling within, automatically our inner door is opened for that day. Even should an unfriendly person happen along, we would not experience much disturbance and may even manage to say something nice to that person. We could chat with the not-so-friendly person and perhaps even have a meaningful conversation. But on a day when our mood is less positive and we are feeling irritated, automatically our inner door closes. As a result, even if we encounter our best friend, we feel uncomfortable and strained. These instances show how our inner attitude makes a great difference in our daily experiences. Therefore, in order to create a pleasant atmosphere within ourselves, within in our families, within our communities, we have to realize that the ultimate source of that pleasant atmosphere is within the individual, within each of us- a good heart, human compassion, love.
Once we create a friendly and positive atmosphere, it automatically helps to reduce fear and insecurity. In this way we can easily make more friends and create more smiles. After all, we are social animals. Without human friendship, without the human smile, our life becomes miserable. The lonely feeling becomes unbearable. It is a natural law- that is to say, according to natural law we depend on others to live. If, under certain circumstances, because something is wrong inside us, our attitude toward fellow human beings, on whom we depend, becomes hostile, how can we hope to attain peace of mind or a happy life? According to basic human nature, or natural law, affection- compassion- is the key to happiness.
According to contemporary medicine, a positive mental state, or peace of mind, is also beneficial for our physical health. If we are constantly agitated, we end up harming our own health. Therefore, even from the point of view of our health, mental calmness and peacefulness are very important. This shows that the physical body itself appreciates and responds to human affection, human peace of mind.
BASIC HUMAN NATURE
If we look at basic human nature, we see that our nature is more gentle than aggressive. For example, if we examine various animals, we notice that animals of a more peaceful nature have a corresponding body structure, whereas predatory animals have a body structure that has developed according to their nature. Compare the tiger and the deer: there are great differences in their physical structures. When we compare our own body structure to theirs, we see that we resemble deer and rabbits more than tigers. Even our teeth are more like theirs, are they not? They are not like a tiger’s. Our nails are another good example. I cannot even catch a rat with my human fingernails alone. Of course, because of human intelligence, we are able to devise and use various tools and methods to accomplish things that would be difficult to accomplish without them. Thus, as you can see, because of our physical fundamental human nature as shown by our basic physical structure.
COMPASSION AND CONFLICT RESOLUTION
Given our current global situation, cooperation is essential, especially in fields such as economics and education. The concept that differences are important is now more or less gone, as demonstrated by the movement toward a unified Western Europe. This movement is, I think, truly marvelous and very timely. Yet this close work between nations did not come about because of compassion or religious faith, but rather because of necessity. There is a growing tendency in the world toward global awareness. Under current circumstances a closer relationship with others has become an element of our very survival. Therefore, the concept of universal responsibility based on compassion and on a sense of brotherhood and sisterhood is now essential. The world is full of conflicts; conflicts because of ideology, because of religion, even conflicts within families. Conflicts based on one person wanting one thing and another wanting something else. So if we examine the sources of these many conflicts, we find that there are many different sources, many different causes, even within ourselves.
Yet, in the meantime, we have the potential and ability to come together in harmony. All these other things are relative. Although these are many sources of conflict, there are at the same time many sources that bring about unity and harmony. The time has come to put more emphasis on unity. Here again there must be human affection. For example, you may have a different ideological or religious opinion from someone else. If you respect the other’s rights and sincerely show a compassionate attitude toward that person, then it does not matter whether his or her idea is suitable for yourself; that is secondary. As long as the other person believes in it, as long as that person benefits from such a viewpoint, it is his or her absolute right. So we must respect that and accept the fact that different viewpoints exist. In the realm of economics as well, one’s competitors must also receive some profit, because they too have to survive. When we have a broader perspective based on compassion, I think things become much easier. Once again, compassion is the key factor.
Today, our world situation has eased considerably. Fortunately, we can now think and talk seriously about demilitarization, or at least the idea of demilitarization. Five years ago, or perhaps even as recently as two years ago, it was difficult even to think about it, but now the Cold War between the former Soviet Union and the United States is over. With regard to the United States, I always tell my American friends, “Your strength comes not from nuclear weapons but from your ancestors’ noble ideas of freedom, liberty and democracy.” When I was in the United States in 1991, I had the opportunity of meeting with former President George Bush. At the time we discussed the New World Order, and I said to him, “A New World Order” with compassion is very good. I’m not so sure about a New World Order with compassion.”
I now believe that the time is ripe to think and talk about demilitarization. There are already some signs of weapons reductions and for the first time, denuclearization. Step by step, we are seeing a reduction in weapons, and I think our goal should be to free the world, our small planet, from weapons. This does not mean, however, that we should abolish all forms of weapons. We may need to keep some, since there are always some mischievous people and groups among us. In order to take precautions and be safeguarded from these sources, we should create a system of regionally monitored international police forces, not necessarily belonging to any one nation but controlled collectively and supervised ultimately by an organization like the United Nations or another similar international body. That way, with no weapons available, there would be no danger of military conflict between nations, and there would also be no civil wars.
War has remained, sadly, a part of human history up to the present, but I think the time has come to change the concepts that lead to war. Some people consider war to be something glorious; they think that through war they can become heroes. This usual attitude toward war is very wrong. Recently an interviewer remarked to me, “Westerners have a great fear of death, but Easterners seem to have very little fear death.” To that I half-jokingly responded, “It seems to me that, to the Western mind, war and the military establishment are extremely important. War means death, by killing, not by natural death, because you are so fond of war. We Easterners, particularly Tibetans, cannot even begin to consider war; we cannot conceive of fighting, because the inevitable result of war is disaster: death, injuries, and misery. Therefore the concept of war in our minds is extremely negative. That means we actually have more fear of death than you. Don’t you think?” Unfortunately, because of certain factors, our ideas about war are incorrect. Therefore, the time has come to think seriously about demilitarization.
I felt this very strongly during and after the Persian Gulf crisis. Of course, everybody blames Saddam Hussein, and there is no question that Saddam Hussein is negative; he made many mistakes and acted wrongly in many ways. After all, he is a dictator, and a dictator is of course, something negative. However, without his military establishment, without his weapons, Saddam Hussein could not function as that kind of dictator. Who supplied those weapons? The suppliers also bear the responsibility. Some Western nations supplied him with weapons without regard for the consequences.
To think only of money, of making a profit from selling weapons, is really terrible. I once met a French woman who had spent many years in Beirut, Lebanon. She told me with a great sadness that during the crisis in Beirut there were people at one end of the city making a profit selling weapons, and that every day, at the other end of the city, other innocent people were being killed with those very weapons. Similarly, on the one side of our planet there are people living a lavish life with the profits make from selling arms, while innocent people are getting killed with those fancy bullets on the other side or our planet. Therefore, the first step is to stop selling weapons. Sometimes I tease my Swedish friends: “Oh, you are really wonderful. During the last period of conflict you remained neutral. And you always consider the importance of human rights and world peace. Very good. But in the meantime you are selling weapons. This is a little bit of a contradiction, isn’t it?
Therefore, since the time of the Persian Gulf crisis I myself made an inner pledge, a commitment that for the rest of my life I will contribute to furthering the idea of demilitarization. As far as my own country is concerned, I have made up my mind that in the future, Tibet should be a completely demilitarized zone. Once again, in working to bring about demilitarization, the key factor is human compassion.
CONCLUSION: THE MEANING OF COMPASSION
I have talked a great deal about compassion without explaining its precise meaning. I would like to conclude by explaining the meaning of compassion, which is often misunderstood. Genuine compassion is based not on our own projections and expectations, but rather on the rights of the other: irrespective of whether another person is a close friend or an enemy, as long as that person wishes for peace and happiness and wishes to overcome suffering, then on that basis we develop genuine concern for his or her problem. This is genuine compassion.
Usually when we are concerned about a close friend, we call this compassion. This is not compassion; it is attachment. Even in marriage, those marriages that last a long time do so not because of attachment, although it is generally present, but because there is also compassion. Marriages that last only a short time do so because of a lack of compassion; there is only emotional attachment based on projection and expectation. When the only bond between close friends is attachment, then even a minor issue may cause one’s projections to change. As soon as our projections change, the attachment disappears; because that attachment was based solely on projection and expectation.
It is possible to have compassion without attachment and similarly to have anger without hatred. Therefore, we need to clarify the distinctions between compassion and attachment, and between anger and hatred. Such clarity is useful in our daily life and in our efforts toward world peace. I consider these to be basic spiritual values for the happiness of all human beings, regardless of whether one is a believer or a nonbeliever.
Source: This teaching was givenby His Holiness Dalai Lama at the National Tennis Centre, Melbourne, Australia. May 4, 1992, t his teaching and others in booklet form by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, such as A Human Approach to World Peace (65,000 copies in print), Compassion and the Individual (61,000 copies), The Global Community and the Need for Universal Responsibility (15,000 copies), and Words of Truth: A Prayer for Peace in Tibet and Compassion in the World (7,000 copies). Tens of thousands more copies of most of these booklets are also in print in many different languages. (Wisdom Publication, 1995).
AWARENESS OF DEATH
By Dalai Lama
Just as when weaving
One reaches the end
With fine threads woven throughout,
So is the life of humans.
It is crucial to be mindful of death, to contemplate that you will not remain long in this life. If you are not aware of death, you will fail to take advantage of this special human life that you have already attained. It is meaningful since, based on it, important effects can be accomplished.
Analysis of death is not for the sake of becoming fearful but to appreciate this precious lifetime during which you can perform many important practices. Rather than being frightened, you need to reflect that when death comes, you will lose this good opportunity for practice. In this way contemplation of death will bring more energy to your practice.
You need to accept that death comes in the normal course of life. As Buddha said:
A place to stay untouched by death - Does not exist.
It does not exist in space, it does not exist in the ocean.
Nor if you stay in the middle of a mountain.
If you accept that death is part of life, then when it actually does come,
you may face it more easily.
When people know deep inside that death will come but deliberately avoid thinking about it, that does not fit the situation and is counterproductive. The same is true when old age is not accepted as part of life but taken to be unwanted and deliberately avoided in thought. This leads to being mentally unprepared; then when old age inevitably occurs, it is very difficult.
Many people are physically old but pretend they are young. Sometimes when I meet with longtime friends, such as certain senators in countries like the United States, I greet them with, “My old friend,” meaning that we have known one another for a long period, not necessarily physically old. But when I say this, some of them emphatically correct me. “We are not old! We are longtime friends.” Actually, they are old- with hairy ears, a sign of old age, but they are uncomfortable with being old. That is foolish.
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 not to harm others, or create 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.
Of life’s one hundred years, the early portion is spent as a child and the final portion is spent in old age, often just like an animal feeding and sleeping. In between, there might be sixty or seventy years to be used meaningfully. As Buddha said:
Half of the life is taken up with sleep. Ten years are spent in childhood. Twenty years are lost in old age. Out of the remaining twenty years, sorrow, complaining, pain, and agitation eliminate much time, and hundreds of physical illnesses destroy much more.
To make life meaningful, acceptance of old age and death as parts of our life is crucial. Feeling that death is almost impossible just creates more greediness and more trouble, sometimes even deliberate harm to others. When we take a good look at how supposedly great personages, emperors, monarchs, and so forth, built huge dwelling places and walls, we see that deep inside their minds was an idea that they would stay in this life forever. This self-deception results in more pain and more trouble for many people.
Even for those who do not believe in future lifetimes, contemplation of reality is productive, helpful, scientific. Because persons, minds, and all other caused phenomena change moment by moment, this opens up the possibility for positive development. If situations did not change, they would forever retain the nature of suffering. Once you know things are always changing, even if you are passing through a very difficult period, you can find comfort in knowing that the situation will not remain that way forever. So, there is no need for frustration.
Good fortune also is not permanent; consequently, there is no use for too much attachment when things are going well. An outlook of performance ruins us: Even is you accept that there are future lives, the present becomes your preoccupation, and the future takes on little import. This ruins a good opportunity when your life is endowed with the leisure and facilities to engage in productive practices. An outlook of impermanence helps.
Being aware of impermanence calls for discipline, ‘taming the mind’, but this does not mean punishment, or control from the outside. Discipline does not mean prohibition; rather, it means that when there is a contradiction between long-term and short-term interests, you sacrifice the short-term for the sake of long-term benefit. This is self-discipline, which stems from ascertaining the cause and effect of karma. For example, for the sake of my stomach’s returning to normal after my recent illness, I am avoiding sour foods and cold drinks that otherwise appear to be tasty and attractive. This type of discipline means protection. In a similar way, reflection on death calls for self-discipline and self-protection, not punishment.
Human beings have all the potential to create good things, but its full utilization requires freedom, liberty. Totalitarianism stifles this growth. In a complementary way, individualism means that you do not expect something from the outside or that you are waiting for orders; rather, you yourself create the initiative. Therefore, Buddha frequently called for “individual liberation,” meaning self-liberation, not through an organization. Each individual must create her or his own positive future. Freedom and individualism require self-discipline. If these are exploited for the sake for afflictive emotions, there are negative consequences. Freedom and self-discipline must work together.
BROADENING YOUR PERSPECTIVE
From a Buddhist perspective, the highest of all aims is to achieve Buddhahood in order to be capable of helping a vast number of sentient beings; however, a medium level of achievement can liberate you from the painful round of birth, aging, sickness and death; a lower, but still valuable level of achievement is the improvement of your future lives. From the gradual improvement of your lives liberation can be attained. First, your perspective extends to include future lives; then by thoroughly understanding your own plight, your perspective deepens to include all of the rounds of suffering from one life to another, called cyclic existence or samsara. Finally this understanding can be extended to others, through the compassionate wish that all sentient beings be freed from suffering and the causes of suffering. This compassion drives you to aspire to Buddhahood.
You have to be concerned with deeper aspects of life that affect future lives before understanding the full nature of suffering and cyclic existence. This understanding of suffering, in turn, is required for the full development of compassion. Similarly, we Tibetans are seeking to achieve a measure of self-rule in Tibet in order to be of service to the beings in our homeland, but we are also striving to establish ourselves in a refugee situation in India. The accomplishment of the former, greater purpose depends upon our accomplishing the latter, temporary aim.
DISADVANTAGES OF NOT BEING MINDFUL OF DEATH
It is beneficial to be aware that you will die. Why? If you are not aware of death, you will not be mindful of your practice, but will just spend your life meaninglessly, not examining what sorts of attitudes and actions perpetuate suffering and which ones bring about happiness.
If you are not mindful that you might die soon, you will fall under the sway of a false sense of permanence “I’ll die later on, later on.” Then, when the time comes, even if you try to accomplish something worthwhile, you will not have the energy. Many Tibetans enter a monastery at a young age and study texts about spiritual practice, but when the time comes to really practice, the capacity to do so is somehow lacking. This is because they do not have a true understanding of impermanence.
If, having thought about how to practice, you make a decision that you absolutely have to do so in retreat for several months or even for many years, you have been motivated by your knowledge of impermanence. But if that urgency is not maintained by contemplating the ravages of impermanence again and again, your practice will peter out. This is why some people stay in retreat for years but experience no imprint on their lives afterward. Contemplating impermanence not only motivates your practice, but also fuels it.
If you have a strong sense of the certainty of death and of the uncertainty of its arrival, you will be motivated from within. It will be as if a friend is cautioning, “Be careful, be earnest, another day is passing.”
You might even leave home for the monastic life. If you did, you would be given a new name and new clothing. You would also have fewer busy activities; you would have to change your attitude, directing your attention to deeper purposes. If, however, you continued busying yourself with the superficial affairs of the moment; delicious food, good clothing, better shelter, pleasant conversation, many friends and acquaintances, and even making an enemy, if someone does something you do not like and then quarreling and fighting, you would be no better off than you were before you entered the monastery, and perhaps even worse. Remember, it is not sufficient to withdraw from these superficial activities out of embarrassment or fear of what your friends who are also on the path might think; the change must come from within. This is true for monks and nuns as well as lay people who take up practice.
Perhaps you are beset by a sense of permanence, by thinking that you will not die soon and that while you are still alive, you need especially good food, clothing, and conversation. Out of desire for the wondrous effects of the present, even is they are of little meaning in the long run, you are ready to employ all sorts of shameless exaggerations and devices to get what you want; making loans at high interest, looking down on your friends, starting court proceedings, all for the sake of more than adequate provisions.
Since you have given your life over to such activities, money becomes more attractive than study, and even if you attempt practice, you do not pay much attention to it. If a page falls out of a book, you might hesitate to retrieve it, but is some money falls to the ground, there is no question. If you encountered those who have really devoted their lives to deeper pursuits, you might think well of that devotion, but that would be all; whereas if you see someone dressed in finery, displaying his or her wealth, you would wish for it, lust after it, hope for it, with more and more attachment. Ultimately, you will do anything to get it.
Once you are intent on the fineries of this life, your afflictive emotions increase, which in turn necessarily bring about more bad deeds. These counter-productive emotions only lead to trouble, making yourself and those around you uncomfortable. Even if you briefly learn how to practice the stages of the path to enlightenment, you acquire more and more material things and get involved with more and more people to the point where you are, so to speak, practicing the superficialities of this life, meditatively cultivating desire for friends and hatred for enemies and trying to figure out ways to fulfill these afflictive emotions. At that point, even if you hear about real, beneficial practice, you are apt to feel, “Yes, that is so, but…”. One ‘but’ after another. Indeed, you have become accustomed to afflictive emotions throughout your initial, less cyclic existence. But now you have added on the very practice of superficiality. This makes the situation even worse, turning you away from what will really help.
Driven by such lust, you will find no comfort. You are not making others happy, and certainly not yourself. As you become more self-centered- “mythis, my that, my body, my wealth”- anyone who interferes immediately becomes an object of anger. Although you make much out of “my friends” and “myrelatives,” they cannot help you at birth or at death; you come here alone, and you have to leave alone. If on the day of your death a friend could accompany you, attachment would be worthwhile, but it cannot be so. When you are reborn in a totally unfamiliar situation, if your friend from the last lifetime could be of some help, that too would be something to consider, but it is not to be had. Yet, in between birth and death, for several decades it is “my friend,” “my sister,” “my brother.” This misplaced emphasis does not help at all, except to create more bewilderment, lust, and hatred.
When friends are overemphasized, enemies also come to be overemphasized. When you are born, you do not know anyone and no one knows you. Even though all of us equally want happiness and do not want suffering, you like the faces of some people and think, “These are my friends,” and dislike the faces of others and think, “These are my enemies.” You affix identities and nicknames to them and end up practicing the generation of desire for the former and the generation of hatred for the latter. What value is there in this? - None. The problem is that so much energy is being expended on concern for a level no deeper than the superficial affairs of this life. The profound loses out to the trivial.
If you have not practiced and on your dying day you are surrounded by sobbing friends and others involved in your affairs, instead of having someone who reminds you of virtuous practice, this will only bring trouble, and you will have brought it on yourself. Where does the fault lie? In not being mindful of impermanence.
ADVANTAGES OF BEING MINDFUL OF IMPERMANENCE
However, if you do not wait until the end for the knowledge that you die to sink in, and you realistically assess your situation now, you will not be overwhelmed by superficial, temporary purposes. You will not neglect what matters in the long run. It is better to decide from the very beginning that you will die and investigate what it worthwhile. If you keep in mind how quickly this life disappears, you will value your time and do what is valuable. With a strong sense of the imminence of death, you will feel the need to engage in spiritual practice, improving your mind, and will not waste your time in various distractions ranging from eating and drinking to endless talk about war, romance, and gossip.
All beings want happiness and do not want suffering. We use many level of techniques for removing unwanted suffering in its superficial and deep forms, but it is mostly humans who engage in techniques in the earlier part of their lives to avoid suffering later on. Both those who do and do not practice religion seek over the course of their lives to lessen some sufferings and to remove others, sometimes even taking on pain as a means to overcome greater suffering and gain a measure of happiness.
Everyone tries to remove superficial pain, but there is another class of techniques concerned with removing suffering on a deeper level; aiming at a minimum to diminish suffering in future lives and, beyond that, even to remove all forms of suffering for oneself as well as for all beings. Spiritual practice is of this deeper type.
These techniques involve an adjustment of attitude; thus, spiritual practice basically means to adjust your thought well. In Sanskrit it is called dharma, which means “that which holds.” This means that by adjusting counterproductive attitudes, you are freed from a level of suffering and thus held back from that particular suffering. Spiritual practice protects, or holds back, yourself and others from misery.
From first understanding your own situation in cyclic existence and seeking to hold yourself back from suffering, you extend your realization to other beings and develop compassion, which means to dedicate yourself to holding others back from suffering. It makes practical sense for you, just one being, to opt for taking care of many, but also, by concentrating on the welfare of others, you yourself will be happier. Compassion diminishes fright about your own pain and increases inner strength. It gives you a sense of empowerment, of being able to accomplish your task. It lends encouragement.
Let me give you a small example. Recently, when I was in Bodh Gaya, I fell ill from a chronic intestinal infection. On the way to the hospital, the pain in my abdomen was severe, and I was sweating a great deal. The car was passing through the area of Vulture Peak (Buddha taught here) where the villagers are extremely poor. In general, Bihar State is poor, but that particular area is even more so. I did not even see children going to or coming from school, just poverty and sickness. I have a very clear memory of a small boy with polio, who had rusty metal braces on his legs and metal crutches up to his armpits. It was obvious that he had no one to look after him. I was very moved. A little later on, there was an old man at a tea stop, wearing only a dirty piece of cloth, fallen to the ground, left to lie there with no one to take care of him.
Later, at the hospital, my thought kept circling on what I had seen, reflecting on how sad it was that here I had people to take care of me but those poor people had no one. That is where my thoughts went, rather than to my own suffering. Though sweat was pouring out of my body, my concern was elsewhere.
In this way, though my body underwent a lot of pain (a hole had opened in my intestinal wall) that prevented sleep, my mind did not suffer any fear or discomfort. It would only have made the situation worse if I had concentrated on my own problems. This is an example from my small experience of how an attitude of compassion helps even oneself, suppressing some degree of physical pain and keeping away mental distress, despite the fact that others might not be directly helped.
Compassion strengthens your outlook, and with that courage you are more relaxed. When your perspective includes the suffering of limitless beings, your own suffering looks comparatively small.
Source: His Holiness Dalai Lama, Jeffrey Hopkins (2002) Advice on Dying and living a Better life, Atria Book, New York, USA.
Visiting His Holiness the Dalai Lama at Dharamsala
By Steve Lowe - Nguyen Thien Bao
As you may already know, in November 2006, Venerable Thich Nguyen Tang was honoured to lead a pilgrimage of 51 Vietnamese Buddhist followers, a group consisting of people from Melbourne, Sydney & Perth (Australia) and Texas & California (USA). Between November 7th to 19th, we visited many holy sites where the Lord Buddha had significant experiences in his life. Places such as Lumbini - where Buddha was born; Bodhgaya - the place Buddha attained enlightenment; Sanarth - where Buddha gave his first sermon; Kusinagar - where Buddha attended the Mahaparinirvana.
One highlight, of our pilgrimage in India, was hoped to be an audience with His Holiness the Dalai Lama, but nothing could guarantee we would be able to see Him. On November 17th we set out on a 2 day trip to Dharamsala, north of New Delhi. The first day was easier open roads, but most of the second day of our trip was spent driving up steep and winding mountain roads. It was a hard climb, the road often seeming quite dangerous, with barely enough room for vehicles to pass each other. But, some how, due to the merit and virtue of practicing Buddhism, our group arrived safely in Dharmasala at 8pm.
Once there, it became easier to understand some of the suffering which His Holiness and his people have been experiencing for so many decades, since 1959. The path leading here is difficult, so too the life here is hard.
At 9am, the next morning, November 18th, our group came to visit and pay our respects by prostrating ourselves before His Holiness. Although His Holiness had just returned from Japan and many television, radio and newspaper reporters had interviewed him, he was very happy to give us an opportunity to see him directly. He asked us to recite the Heart Sutra for him in Vietnamese. He also read of some of our Buddhist publications and saw photographs of our monastery in Melbourne. Venerable Thich Nguyen Tang was most honored to be able to present to him a publication of ours, authored by His Holiness, ‘Compassion and the Individual’ which I had translated into Vietnamese from his original publication’.
“It is a true ‘holy place’ of India, if we compare with other holy places in India”. They were a few of the words which Venerable Nguyen Tang said to His Holiness, when our group met him. Because Dharamsala is the location in which His Holiness, the living incarnation of the Buddha, is living, many hundreds of thousands of people around the world visit and practice Buddhism here every year. They also come here to share the sorrow and suffering of the Tibetan people.
Our group donated US$1,000 and AU$1,000 to this Living Buddha. His Holiness offered every one in our group a white Katag (scarf) and small golden Buddha statue. He was particularly careful to make sure all members had the opportunity take a group photo with him. It was a most wonderful experience, that day we met His Holiness.
We, the Vietnamese Buddhist members from Quang Duc Monastery, Melbourne, Australia, wish that His Holiness enjoys good health, longevity, peace and happiness and that all of His Buddhist works reach completion. We also pray that his country will soon get back her freedom and independence and that His Holiness the Dalai Lama may safely return back to his homeland in the near future.
Nam Mo Sakya Muni Buddha
Quang Duc Monastery
History, lineage and organisation
Vietnamese Australians are the largest single ethnic Buddhist group in Australia. According to the 2001 census there are a total of 154 833 Vietnam-born people in Australia, 56 664 or 36.6% of whom live in Victoria. The majority (33 145) of the Vietnam-born in Victoria are Buddhists, and the 17 Vietnamese Buddhist temples in Melbourne out-number those of any other single Buddhist group. This study looked at two Vietnamese temples in Melbourne: Quang Duc Temple and Quang Minh Temple. These will be described in the next two case studies.
Quang Duc Temple is a major Vietnamese Buddhist Centre for the northern and western
regions of Melbourne. The temple is named after Most Ven. Thich Quang Duc, a Vietnamese monk, who in 1963 self-immolated while sitting in the lotus position as a protest against the oppression of Buddhist priests and the Buddhist community by the Diem government in South Vietnam.
Quang Duc Monastery incorporates Quang Duc Monastery as well as Quang Duc Buddhist Welfare Association of Victoria. Ven. Thich Tam Phuong, who came to Australia in 1987, is the Abbot of the Quang Duc Monastery as well as a director of the non-profit Quang Duc Buddhist Welfare Association of Victoria, and Ven. Thich Nguyen Tang is the Vice-Abbot of Quang Duc Monastery; Ven. Thich Nguyen Tang arrived in Australia in 1998 and was the first Buddhist monk to be granted permanent residency in Australia based on a religious visa application. In addition to the abbot and the Vice-Abbot there are two nuns residing at the Monastery. The Monastery is managed by a committee of 10 who are elected by the abbot. Quang Duc Monastery has 1000 members who receive the Monastery's newsletter, which is published once every three months in English and Vietnamese.
The members of the Monastery are mainly Vietnamese except for a small minority of around 20 Anglo-Australians. The first Anglo-Australians to come to the Monastery were local retirees who would come in every day to help; later they began to attend the meditation classes at the centre and to study Buddhism. Other Anglo-Australians at the Monastery have heard about the Monastery through the Moreland City Council, which provides information about the Monastery in their information booklet as well as on their website. The Monastery belongs to the Lam Te lineage of Vietnamese Buddhism.
Quang Duc Monastery was established in 1990 as an initiative of the local Vietnamese
community who wanted to have a Monastery in the area. The community members set up a small three bedroom house in the northern suburb of Broadmeadows, and asked Ven. Thich Tam Phuong to take residence as the abbot. The house was used for worship, religious education and many other Buddhist activities. Over time the Monastery community grew, and it became evident that to meet the needs of its members as well as the Vietnamese Buddhist community of the northern region a larger place was needed. In May 1997 the centre purchased a former primary school, in the suburb of Fawkner, from the Victorian Education Department, on an area of nearly two acres. This was one of the approximately 200 primary Schools in Victoria which were sold due to cut backs in education funding. The Monastery also received approval from the local Moreland City Council to set up a Buddhist Welfare Centre as part of the complex. By 2001 plans were made for the construction of a large two story building. The first level is a multi-purpose community hall, the second level is a large Buddha Hall which is solely dedicated to religious practices such as meditation and chanting. The structure of the building reflects the dual focus of the Quang Duc Monastery on the preservation of Vietnamese traditions and culture as well as strictly religious concerns. The foundation stone for the building was laid in 2001 and the construction was completed and the building opened at the end of 2003.
Since its inception in 1990 the main objective of the Monastery has been to serve the local Vietnamese communities living in the northern region through the provision of a range of activities and services. The religious activities at Quang Duc Monastery include weekly classes in Buddhist education, daily recitation ofsutras, Buddhist Youth groups (which, as in Vietnam are modeled on the scouts) and Buddhist family groups. Regular prayer services are held, which include prayer for peace and happiness to promote quality of life for all sentient beings. Morning tea and discussion groups are held every weekend. The Monastery runs meditation classes for beginners and advance students; these are very popular and attended by the Vietnamese members and the Anglo-Australians. Three retreats are held at the centre annually in July, April (during Easter holidays) and in December; the latter is a very popular retreat and rotates between Vietnamese Monasteries around Australia. In 2005 it was held in Queensland, and was attended by 300 people. Other religious activities offered by the Monastery include marriage celebrations, special prayers for weddings, funerals and memorial services, and activities and entertainment for the aged members. The bulk of these activities take place on weekends, when over 200 people attend the centre.
The centre also offers a range of cultural activities which include Bo De Vietnamese
Language School, children's cultural classes designed to help them retain their Vietnamese Buddhist tradition and culture, and Kong Fu classes, which are very popular and attended by around 50 on weekends. The Monastery also hosts a vegetarian lunch once every three months; this is both a social gathering and a fundraising event. Ven. Thich Nguyen Yang emphasized the importance of fostering the Vietnamese culture and language among the young Australian- Vietnamese members:
The second generation of Vietnamese in Australia have lost their way, they have lost their culture, they lost their land. 20% of young Vietnamese people are put in jail; this is a very high level. So, as Buddhists we would like to do something for the Vietnamese young generation. We can give them their culture and their language and this is important, because within the families there is a lack of communication between the parents and the children. The parents are busy all the time and don't have time to talk to their children. The children speak English 24 hours a day and the parents speak Vietnamese so they can't communicate [...] the Monastery is bringing the families back together, parents and children attend the Monastery together, children to do activities and study and parents have other activities like working in the garden and the kitchen, or pray in the Buddha Hall for the deceased. These activities are followed by Dharma talks and a free vegetarian lunch, which gives everyone more opportunity to socialise.
The major events celebrated at the centre include the New Year Celebration (Tet), the Buddha's Birthday and the Parents' Day. The Monastery is active in the area of welfare and community service. It is involved in the prison chaplaincy program and visits Vietnamese and other Buddhist inmates once a month. The centre also makes monthly visits to Footscray Hospital, Sunshine Hospital, St. Vincent's Hospital and the Royal Children's Hospital to offer prayer. The Monastery offers monthly tours of the Monastery to primary schools in the area, which includes an introductory talk on Buddhism and Vietnamese culture. Quang Duc Monastery offers a one-to-one counseling service to help community members with family problems, social problems and, in particular, gambling related problems. It offers temporary accommodation and a referral service to those in the Vietnamese community affected by domestic violence, gambling and substance abuse. Some of these services are provided in partnership with agencies such as the Vietnamese Women's Association, the Community Health Centre in Footscray and Centrelink. The Monastery has sought the help of various government agencies to enhance welfare services to the Vietnamese community. For instance, employing gambling and financial counsellors, expanding the temporary accommodation available for homeless people (which is at present limited to three rooms), employing paid staff to coordinate the growing number of families and individuals who need emergency assistance at the Monastery, and the construction of facilities designated for welfare services and counselling.
Quang Duc Monastery also runs Work for the Dole projects through CVGT Employment and Training Specialists. The projects which have helped the participants in gaining a variety of useful skills include the construction of a garden at the centre and work on a new building at the centre currently under construction. The Monastery runs an informal overseas aid program. Ven. Thich Nguyen Tang, together with other members of the Monastery, have travelled to Vietnam to deliver food to the poor and the needy. According to Ven. Thich Nguyen Tang the welfare activities of the Quang Duc Monastery are a new phenomenon, and involve a shift from the traditional responsibilities and concerns of Buddhist Monasteries in Vietnam, which are more narrowly defined and largely limited to meeting the religious demands and needs of the community.
The Monastery has close association with other Buddhist centres in Melbourne. The local Sri Lankan Buddhist community uses the facilities at Quang Duc Monastery to hold children's language and Dharma classes. The Monastery also takes part in the activities of the Tibetan Buddhist Society, where Ven. Thich Nguyen Tang has spoken about the Vietnamese Buddhist tradition. The Monastery works closely with Quang Minh Vietnamese Buddhist Monastery in planning and coordinating activities for the Vietnamese community.
By Shiva Vasi
(source: Profile and Contribution of Buddhists in Victoria, Buddhist Council of Victoria, 2006)
Tying: Kim Thu - Kim Chi
Layout: Pho Tri
Update : 01-04-2007