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
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.