Go beyond, Go further beyond

Gate gate pāragate pārasaṃgate bodhi svāhā – the Heart Sutra, which the Dalai Lama
translated as ‘Go, go, go beyond, go further beyond, establish Buddhahood’, could be seen
as a core message that emerged from his teachings in Delhi recently. The implication is
to practise, constantly and diligently, ways of transforming oneself until Buddhahood is
achieved. It is an enlightenment that is not just for oneself, though, and is accompanied by
vow to work for all sentient beings.

Organised by the Foundation for Universal Responsibility of His Holiness the Dalai Lama,
the teachings were centred on the ‘Four Noble Truths’. Given the Dalai Lama’s facility
and skill as a teacher, they went far beyond, and knitted complex concepts of Buddhist
philosophy about the nature of reality with latest research in quantum physics, and
detailed explanations of mind and emotions in Buddhism’s ‘science of mind’ with everyday
experiences.

The Four Noble Truths have usually been translated as: the truth of suffering, its cause in
grasping and desire, the possibility and the path to its eradication. ‘All phenomena are born
from causes and conditions and these have been taught and also their cessation by the
Buddha,’ explained the Dalai Lama. He went on to connect the changeability of phenomena
with impermanence and interconnectedness – everything changes and is impermanent, and every result is conditioned by its causes, making for an interconnected reality.

Speaking to an audience of 300, the Dalai Lama often employed his legendary wit to liven
his discourse and the ensuing conversations. His jokes were at times about others – the
solemnity of the Queen of England and a head priest of a Korean tradition, for instance –
but he laughed the hardest while poking fun at himself. His own example cropped up time
and again, like how he was made aware of his own attachment to his tradition when a
scientist remarked that he was practising detachment from his tradition, science.

While talking about the importance of rational thought in spiritual practice, the Dalai Lama
recounted how he had given up the scriptural notion that Mount Meru held up the centre
of the universe because his aeroplane journeys had shown him otherwise. Yet, he says his
scientific temperament was doubted by a friend who said it could not co-exist with his belief in the state oracle. The Dalai Lama countered it with an explanation of different levels of reality, many of which cannot be explained or measured in scientific terms. These instances revealed his openness to interrogating tradition, while not losing sight of the wisdom that is transmitted through it, which in the case of Tibetan Buddhism includes insights into the nature of mind and reality that are now being validated and valued by modern science.

His humour transformed many a moment. With a twinkle in his eye, he recounted how he
followed the Christian tradition and kissed his friend, Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s ring, and
how the latter would praise him and add in jest, ‘He is a wonderful man, but what a pity he
is not Christian!’

The Dalai Lama’s ability to exude a lightness of being at a time when he has spent most of
his life in exile from his homeland, where the situation continues to be tense, is a testimony
to the equanimity that is a result of intense spiritual practice. The poignancy was not lost
on the audience, and one of the questions asked was, ‘How can we share your pain?’ The
Dalai Lama’s response was that he needed to deal with his pain through his own effort. This
was in keeping with what he had asked us to do – because suffering arises from ignorance of reality, it is possible to eradicate it through knowledge and practice.

The Dalai Lama ended by reminding the largely Indian audience that India, who he refers to as the guru of Tibet, having taught it the dharma, should now not forget its chela.

*

This article was published in The Speaking Tree paper on April 1st, 2012.

Advertisements

Kindle the Light Within

After nirvana, for some time, the Buddha remained silent. Seven weeks later, he made his way to the Deer Park at Sarnath, near Banaras, where he met his five former ascetic companions. To them, for the first time, he spoke about his realisation. It was the beginning of a lifelong commitment to teaching the truth to as many who desired to know it.

Even as he took on a teacher’s role, his emphasis remained on self-effort. He certainly did not wish to spoonfeed students his teachings. The Majjhima Nikaya quotes him as saying,Vibhajjavado aham, naham ekamsavado,’ that is, ‘I am an analyst, not a doctrinaire.’ He clearly positioned himself not as a propounder, but a questioner, of doctrines. In this sense, he would have seen his path and teachings more as a ‘theory of existence’, a science of the mind, not to be followed as such, but lived and experienced.

Somewhat like a latter-day scientist, the Buddha is said to have urged his followers not to take anything for granted, not even what he said. They were to verify each statement and doctrine for themselves, by living it and questioning it. Clarifying the importance of individual striving, and also his relationship with his followers, the Buddha is quoted in the Dhammapada as having said, ‘You yourself should make the exertion. The Tathagatas (Buddhas) are only teachers.’

In fact, this was also the very last thing the Buddha told his followers. As he lay dying, his foremost disciple, Ananda, asked him for a final teaching. ‘Be lamps unto yourselves,’ said the Buddha, as he fell silent to embrace his approaching death. This, like so many others, appears to be a jewel of understanding gleaned from his own experience. He had followed teachers and learned from them, but true realisation came when he sat under the bodhi tree and became a lamp unto himself.

Of course, the teacher is present to point out the way. But that is what he is – the finger that points to the moon, which should not be confused with the moon of truth. In his very first sermon, the Buddha presented a clear vision of the path. It consisted of the ‘four noble truths’ – pithy statements that contain the distilled essence of the Buddha’s understanding of the human condition, as well as the Noble Eightfold Path, following which one could live a balanced, meaningful life. It included developing the right view, right resolve, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration.

The Eightfold Path emanates from the very heart of the attitude that has come to be known as Buddhism’s ‘middle way’ approach to spiritual seeking, and indeed, to life.

*

Published as a column in the Asian Age newspaper on January 31, 2012.