His Holiness the Dalai Lama: Advice on Buddhist Practice

His Holiness the Dalai Lama: Usually our minds are attracted towards different objects. When this connection is cut, with more practice we’ll experience a sort of vacuity, which is the gap between the mind and those objects.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama: Usually our minds are attracted towards different objects. When this connection is cut, with more practice we’ll experience a sort of vacuity, which is the gap between the mind and those objects.

Advice on Buddhist Practice

By His Holiness the Dalai Lama at Dharamsala, India (Last Updated Oct 15, 2012). An interview with His Holiness the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala, India, on November 2, 1988. Lightly edited by Sandra Smith, October 2012.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama: Greetings. I’m very glad to meet you as a Dharma friend.

Question: Since the Buddha’s teachings were not written down for hundreds of years, how can we be sure that they are accurate?

His Holiness the Dalai Lama: There are different texts and teachings and everyone claims they originally came from Buddha himself. At the same time there are different scriptures, so it’s difficult to accept this at once. After the Buddha, learned realized scholars deliberated on the teachings and then later, mahasiddhas practiced the doctrine sincerely and internalized the teachings and gained realizations. Whatever teaching can enable us to gain realizations makes it a reliable one. So whether that teaching or scripture is reliable or not depends on whether we can gain realizations or not.

It is very difficult to prove if a teaching comes from Buddha or not. We have to compare those texts which everyone accepts as authentic. Arya Asanga, Shantideva, Chandrakirti or Dharmakirti’s teachings can be compared and we can see whether their teachings are according to the authentic texts or not.

Particularly in certain tantric teachings there may be differences in terminology. In those cases we can’t make judgments on words only, but rather on the meaning. So even if the words are not identical with the original text, if it goes in accordance with what is said in the authentic text, then we can say this teaching or text can be accepted as reliable and authentic.

Then the third method is practice. If through some practice we gain some experience or if in our daily life the teaching of a particular or book or text is something useful, especially when we confront certain external or internal problems, than accept it. If it has no use, it doesn’t matter. So, that’s the only way.

If there’s a certain text that’s not accepted as authentic, then there’s debate and argument. So this is the way to find out if a certain teaching is authentic or not.

Question: Should the Buddha’s teachings on the three realms be accepted literally?

His Holiness the Dalai Lama: If we accept the existence of the three lower realms, then logical reasoning should not harm our position. If we don’t find contradictions regarding the lower realms with our direct experience and then we want to establish the existence of the three lower realms through logical reasoning only, that is difficult. This is a certain point; there are certain things we simply cannot prove. In such cases what is left for us to do is to rely on valid scriptural quotations. Now for that, whether that particular quotation is reliable or not, we have to do lots of investigating analysis.

We cannot deny the existence of the three lower realms, but it’s difficult to establish their existence through logical reasoning. In the Treasury of Knowledge, there is a description of the environments of the three unfortunate states of rebirth. If we accept whatever the Abhidharmakosha mentions, it becomes contradictory with our own direct experience or perceptions.

If an assertion is harmed or cannot stand by valid reasoning, we cannot accept it. The basic Buddhist attitude is that the final decision is one’s own experiences and reasoning. So if there is something that clearly becomes a contradiction with our experience, then if that point is even Buddha’s own word, we have to take a different interpretation, or reject it. That is the basic Buddhist attitude.

Therefore, if the description of the hells is contradictory to modern science, we cannot accept it. So either we have to take a different interpretation, or simply reject it.

Question: Should we interpret differently or reject?

His Holiness the Dalai Lama: About selflessness, there are a lot of different interpretations. According to Madhyamaka philosophy or school of thought, we find the presentation of the coarse selflessness of a person. Even though this explanation is not completely accurate, it is given out of necessity according to the dispositions of certain individuals or groups of people. But from a general point of view, one may reject that explanation or interpretation. Because Buddha said such things out of necessity, by understanding this, we can reject those things based on this understanding.

Question: So, in the case of the three lower realms?

His Holiness the Dalai Lama: We cannot refute their existence. It’s quite clear that there are certain things we cannot prove by conventional logic. Unless we experience a certain thing, it’s beyond our mental capacity. That is one fact. Now within that, we cannot prove nor disprove the three lower realms, neither can we refute their existence or establish their existence through evidence or proof. Still we can speculate if the three lower realms exist or not, because there are scriptural quotations which confirm their existence, and we don’t have the capability to reject their existence. We cannot make any definite statement about the three bad migrations. We may say, “I don’t think they exist”; that much we can say. If we think about that, we can make the statement, “I don’t think.” Is the I an omniscient one, an all-knowing I? If we believe in something, it’s not absolute necessary that it’s something valid, and if we feel that something exists, we can’t be totally sure if it really exists or not. So we have to follow the texts. It’s clear that there is a limit to our mental capacity, so under those circumstances it’s difficult to reject.

More than that, obviously the animal world is there, and quite probably there are other sentient beings, different shapes, different forms, and even on other planets. That’s almost certain. So it’s very likely that there are beings with different forms, sizes, feelings and experiences and also different environments. Sometimes having more physical pain, sometimes more mental pain, that’s also possible. Therefore more reasons can be cited for the existence of the lower realms than for their non-existence.

Question: Is it possible to attain enlightenment by following other religious traditions and practices?

His Holiness the Dalai Lama: You mean non-Buddhist?

Answer: Yes.

His Holiness: Liberation or enlightenment?

Answer: Enlightenment.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama: That depends on how we define enlightenment. In different schools of thought we find different explanations of enlightenment and liberation. Now the enlightenment and liberation explained in Buddhism is entirely based on the wisdom of shunyata. So only through the teachings which explain shunyata, and through the practice of those teachings, is it possible to find that kind of liberation.

In the same way, the heaven described in Christian teachings—whether that goal can be achieved through Buddhist recitation, I can answer, no. I think when the final judgment comes, the Buddhists remain in some corner. The goal has a different nature, so there is a different method. So it becomes a specialty for different teachings. Liberation explained in Buddhism is something uniquely Buddhist. Heaven and such things are uniquely Christian.

At the beginning of the practice, at the preliminary level, all teachings are the same—trying to reduce anger, hatred and these things, and trying to increase love, compassion and these things. Again, on philosophy, there may be some differences, but generally it’s the same teaching, the same goal, so, there’s common ground.

So, I think that at that moment the practitioner is half Christian, half Buddhist. Possible. Like a being in the lower class at school. At that level, the students are more or less the same. Then one advances higher and higher, and one becomes an expert in a certain field.

Question: According to Tibetan Buddhism, is it more difficult for women to gain enlightenment, and do they need to aspire to a male rebirth?

His Holiness the Dalai Lama: According to Vinaya, Sutrayana and the lower three tantras, yes, in the final life before attaining enlightenment one has to be a male. In Tibetan Buddhism, the final authority is Maha-anuttara Yoga Tantra, in which it is clearly mentioned that male and female are equal and they both can attain enlightenment on their respective bases. In Highest Yoga Tantra more emphasis is made on cultivating respect for woman. In the fourteen root tantric vows, there’s a vow not to despise women, but disparaging men is not breaking that vow. So according to Maha-anuttara Yoga Tantra, men and women being the same, or equal, that is clear.

Question: I have doubts about reincarnation. Would Your Holiness kindly describe your own experience of this process?

His Holiness the Dalai Lama: That is a complicated thing. One of the reasons is that we have to investigate form and formless consciousness, and whether such a thing as consciousness exists or not. First we have to establish this. First we have to establish existent and non-existent phenomena. That which is established by valid perception is what is called existent. If something is not established by valid perception, valid cognition, it doesn’t exist. Existent phenomena can be classified into two—those which are dependent on causes and conditions, and those which are not.

Regarding phenomena that are dependent on causes and conditions, there are three types of phenomena—those including form or matter, and then the category of consciousness. Color and shapes and these things that we can see and touch is one category. Then there are things we can understand only through feelings and experience. Those phenomena are of consciousness.

Another category of phenomena are such as time or persons which are neither form nor consciousness, but are dependent on causes and conditions. The phenomena belonging to these three categories are all dependent on causes and conditions, so we can speak of their substantial causes and their cooperative conditions. So, by discovering the substantial cause of consciousness, we trace back to the original cause of consciousness. Those who doubt the existence of previous lives also doubt the existence of consciousness. The existence of consciousness is the key factor. Then do more investigation on what is the substantial cause of consciousness.

Form cannot be the substantial cause of consciousness nor can consciousness become the substantial cause of matter. On this basis we can establish the existence of former lives.

Another aspect is that if we accept rebirth without beginning, we find less contradictions. If we accept that there is a beginning point of rebirth, we find more contradictions, or we have to say that sentient beings have been born without causes. That is difficult to accept. If we say sentient beings have been born adventitiously, why have they been born like that? We find it hard to give an explanation; a lot of questions and contradictions remain. Another point is accepting God as creator. That also raises many questions.

So Buddhists accept the beginninglessness of rebirths, of self or consciousness. There are still some questions about the beginning of the universe, galaxies, and why these things happen, but I think there are less questions. We have to find accurate answers to all these questions.

The third aspect is the individual person’s experience. Some young people remember their past lives very clearly. Unless there are previous lives, how can these children remember their past lives? Some explanations could be given, but they may be difficult to accept.

So these are the reasons to explain the existence of previous lives. If someone finds it hard to believe in these things, there’s no need to push. If a person believes in just one life, that person should try to be a good person. If there is no future life, maybe better, simple, but that one life should be a good life. At least we should not create any trouble for others. That is important. If there is only one life of about a hundred years, we should use it in the maximum way to create calmness and peace in our own mind and for our neighbors. That is most important. Then if there is no next life, then alright. Even if someone does not accept future lives, but in reality there are future lives, then he or she has made all the good arrangements and preparations. Like those of us who always explain about next lives, but are not doing proper things in our daily lives. Although we speak about the existence of future lives, in reality we’re not making preparations for our future. So, being a good human being is the most important thing.

Question: When is it appropriate to begin the practice of tantra and how do I know it will be beneficial?

His Holiness the Dalai Lama: In order to practice tantra we must have a good understanding of bodhicitta and the wisdom understanding emptiness. From the depth of our heart, we must have the sincere aspiration seeking the altruistic attitude or the mind of enlightenment, and insight into emptiness.

If we don’t have interest in Buddhist practices, that is a different matter. If we know the view of emptiness and how it is the antidote to delusions, this would enable us to understand the effectiveness of tantric practice. If we don’t have interest in tantric practice, that’s a different matter. Otherwise what I feel is that tantric practice is really beneficial.

Question: Would Your Holiness help me to understand bodhicitta and how to bring it through my heart and into my daily life?

His Holiness the Dalai Lama: The most important thing is the time factor. Bodhicitta and altruism are not very difficult to understand. For the actual experience of the strong force of altruism, the major factor is time. Familiarization is the most important thing. Within a short period we cannot expect to genuinely experience bodhicitta. From a Buddhist point of view, it may take eons to gain intimacy with this altruistic attitude. So, it’s not easy.

First we must realize that this time factor is important, and then we must realize the importance of the goal. If we can convince ourselves of the importance of the goal we are seeking, then we won’t mind how long it takes us to reach our goal. If the goal is not clear, then we might feel that it can easily be reached. That’s good, but if it’s difficult, then we may drop it. So it’s all dependent on the time factor, as you can see.

How would you feel if we did a short meditation together?


When we apprehend various objects, different states of mind arise in the aspect or image of those objects. Because of this, the mind becomes obscured by the images of objects. If we try to prevent the mind from arising in the aspect of those objects, slowly and gradually we’ll be able to keep the mind at a distance from those objects and the mind won’t easily arise in the images of those objects. Then we will be able to see the clear nature of the mind. This clear nature of the mind is not something precious or holy, but it’s very important for us to be able to experience it. The reason we practice Dharma is to bring changes within our mind. To bring this inner transformation, it’s very important to understand and see the clear nature of the mind.

In our daily life, even in dreams, our mind is so distracted by external things. So in a way we completely neglect to look within ourselves, to watch our own mind or consciousness. So try to look within yourselves as much as possible.

When we meditate, if we completely close our eyes, that’s not good. If the eyes are focused on something attractive, that attractive object will draw us to it. The primary mind will go to that object. So it’s good to find an object that is not attractive that might distract our mind and then focus our eyes on that object. That means the eye consciousness is placed on that object, but don’t let the primary mind, the main consciousness, go towards that object.

Generate a strong feeling that we’re not going to let this primary, main consciousness be disturbed by any conceptual thoughts dealing with any sensual objects such as sounds and so on. Make this strong decision.

When we decide not to allow our mind to be distracted by conceptual thoughts, it seems that more conceptual thoughts arise. This shows that usually in our daily lives we don’t pay much attention to how many conceptual thoughts arise within our mind. When we do this, after some time we’ll experience a kind of vacuity.

Usually our minds are attracted towards different objects. When this connection is cut, with more practice we’ll experience a sort of vacuity, which is the gap between the mind and those objects. We’ve created a distance between them. When we try to place the mind on that vacuity and we achieve some stability of the mind then it’s possible to experience the clear and cognitive nature of the mind. Once we’re able to have some experience of this, we can make a plan for our different practices.

Good, thank you. Font http://www.lamayeshe.com/index.php?sect=author&id=9.