7 H.H. Dalai Lama ’08: Teachings on Lamrim Chenmo

His Holiness the Dalai Lama: So that’s the way to improve oneself.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama: So that’s the way to improve oneself.

7 His Holiness the Dalai Lama: Teachings on Lam-rim Chen-mo

Day Three, Morning Session, July 12, 2008. Part one. Different Religious Traditions All Serve Humanity. Answering Three Big Questions: What is the Self? Is There an End to the Self?

Chanting of the Heart Sutra in Tibetan.

Different Religious Traditions All Serve Humanity

His Holiness: Now today, I think in the beginning I want to say that on this planet there are different religious traditions, and at different times, in different locations, these different traditions developed. Each tradition is suitable to the people where these traditions started. So therefore, for the last more than a thousand years, in some cases two thousand, in some cases more than one thousand, these traditions really served humanity. And even today millions of people get inspiration from these traditions. It is a fact. And in the future also these major traditions will remain, serving humanity.

Occasionally some problems happened also in the past. I think now in the future maybe, hopefully, now better, less of that problem, because of closer understanding and better awareness about the value of other traditions.

So for the different people of different traditions, it suits them. Therefore in the West, generally, mainly Christianity is dominant, the Judeo-Christian background. So therefore it is better to keep your own tradition, your own religious tradition, because it is safer and better.

I often tell some stories which I myself observed. One Polish lady, a member of Theosophy, from maybe early 50s or late 40s even. At the 1956 Buddha Jayanti Celebration, I came. Then I visited the Madras Theosophical Society there, so I met her. Then after ‘59 that old Polish lady became very close with Tibetans. She also helped some young Tibetan students’ education. So eventually she accepted Buddhism as her own religion. But later, when I think her age was beyond 80, at the time of her final days, it seems in her mind the concept of God creator seems now becoming more alive. So certainly it creates some confusion in her mind.

Then another story. One Tibetan lady, her husband an official of the Tibetan government, he passed away. Then some small children remained with her. Then some Christian missionary took care about the education of their children. So then in early or mid-60s, I think mid 60s, one day she came to see me and expressed to me these sort of sad stories. Then she told me, for this life, now Christian missionaries are so helpful, so she also now became Christian. So for this life she’s Christian, but in the next life she’ll be Buddhist. So this also, you see, is a very clear sign of confusion. I think in reality neither Buddhist nor Christian.

Therefore it is much better to keep one’s own tradition. So when I give some lecture on Buddhism in the West, I always make this clear because sometimes I feel a little hesitant. Whereas when I give a Buddhist lecture to Chinese, or to Tibetans, or to Mongolians, or Japanese, or Vietnamese, traditionally the majority of them are Buddhist. So then no problem. In fact, I get a feeling of handing over their traditional teachings, their own religion. Particularly when I give some Indian… some Buddhist teachings to some Indian Buddhists, I really feel something very, very touching, very moving. Like that.

So I always am telling… or feel that all these, my sort of talks, my message in different parts of the world wherever I go, all these things, you see, are nothing except the ancient Indian thought. That’s all. The message of nonviolence, ahimsa, that’s the Indian tradition.

And all these now last few days of talks, are the treasure of the Nalanda institution. So like that. Therefore when I give some teaching or explanation to my Indian friends, I really feel how the treasure—which they generally lost—through centuries in Tibet we kept alive. Now this is returned to them. So I really feel something, something very happy, or sometimes very much emotion. Like that.

So it is important to keep one’s own tradition. Meantime, you can carry some practice from other traditions, for example, from Buddhist tradition. Some of my Christian friends practicing certain techniques or methods about compassion, about tolerance, contentment, in these fields they practice—they use some Buddhist techniques without changing religion. So that’s a healthy way. That’s very good.

Sometimes I’m jokingly telling some of my Christian friends who are showing interest about emptiness, then I am usually telling them, “This is not your business.” Not think, you see, these things. Then it may sort of harm their sort of solid sort of faith towards creator. Something absolute. Something very strong. So from Buddhist viewpoint this is difficult.

However, many years ago in England, one Christian group, they asked me for an explanation on gospel to the Christian community. So that’s a difficult task, isn’t it? As a Buddhist—from strictly speaking a non-believer about God, about Creator. So one non-believer trying to help to promote faith of creator!

Then I tried my best, you know, to utilize some of the reasons, you see, used by some of those ancient Indian traditions which believe Creator. So I used these methods, these sorts of reasons. So afterward, many of the audience were very much sort of pleased. After hearing my explanation about some passages of the Gospel, you see, they really get deeper understanding about God.

And of course, you see in all teachings, traditions, from the philosophical side there are big differences, but on the practical level—the same. The practice of love, kindness, and with that, forgiveness, tolerance, and also self-discipline and contentment. All these— same practice. And faith.

So one of my Christian friends in Australia, one I think a minister, he also you see very much involved helping poor people. Once, you see, in my public talk he introduced me at the beginning. So he described me as, “A good Christian.”

That’s nice, isn’t it? So sometimes I jokingly telling him, “I consider you as a good Buddhist.”
So there are reasons, you see, all these common practices are sincerely practiced and dedicated to well-being of others. That’s the purpose. As a result, you yourself feel, “Ah!”—fulfilled of one’s own purpose of our life.

Just a luxurious sort of way of life and spend a lot of money, and meanwhile, same planet, some people facing difficulties or even starvation. Isn’t it? So helping others, serving others is, I think, the real meaning of life.

After all, God created as a social animal. So there must be some meaning. So therefore as a social animal, the basis— the very basis of sort of survival of the community of the social animal—affection, taking care of each other, or taking a sense of concern and helping each other. Like that. So.

Answering Three Big Questions: What is the Self?

Now I want to… I want to start the three questions. On one occasion in India, some interfaith sort of meeting, I think one Jewish… I think one Jewish and also one Sufi practitioner raised three questions. First question: “What is self? What’s ‘I’?” Second question: “Whether there is a beginning or not of the self?” And third question: “Whether there is end of self?” So three questions.

Now in order to answer the first question, “What is self?” now the real demarcation; Buddhism and non-Buddhism. Buddhism, Buddha’s teaching’s emphasis—no independent soul or independent self. [continues in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: Buddhism rejects any notion of a self that is independent of the physical and mental elements of the individual.

His Holiness: I think that’s the demarcation—Buddhism and non-Buddhism. All the rest of the non-Buddhist traditions, within non-Buddhist traditions, the theistic and non¬theistic—all accepted soul, soul theory, some independent self which owned this body and mind. [continues in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: Of course, when it comes to identifying what exactly is the nature of that self, even within the Buddhist tradition there is a divergence of opinions, a diversity of positions.

Is There a Beginning to the Self?

His Holiness: Now second question: “Whether there is a beginning or not?” In order to answer that question, now concept of God comes. If there is a beginning that God created, so some (according to Christianity)—this very life created by God. It is wonderful, I think. Very, very wonderful sort of presentation…

Thupten Jinpa: …concept…

His Holiness: …concept. Because the very purpose, or very, I think, the essential, essential of Christianity is love or affection. So therefore, now this very life created by God. That brings strong sort of feeling of intimacy with God, like my… like our own mother. This body… comes from mother or parent, particularly mother. Therefore even animals, very close feeling. So similarly this very life given by God. So that means we are very close to the… towards God. The more feeling of intimacy, the more willingness to listen God’s sort of advice, or God’s wish. Like that.

Then, non-theistic religions, including Buddhism, now law of causality, so no certain sort of creator. Causes and conditions—actually causes are the creator of the result. So that cause is also result of previous sort of causes. So through that way, now, as far as Buddhism is concerned, logically cause-effect… that logic they use. Then if there’s a beginning without cause, then difficult. So every event must be… [have] its own causes.

[continues in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So (although the discussion will come later on) for example in the context of the teaching on the twelve links of dependent origination (which will come up in Lam-rim Chen-mo and the later discussion) Tsongkhapa explains the Buddhist understanding of the origination of things. And there, citing from the Buddha’s sutra on dependent origination, he makes, cites, the statement where Buddha states that “because this exists, that exists,” and “because this arises… this has arisen, that arises.”

So with these two statements… In the first statement Buddha is pointing out that things come into being from their causes and conditions. And this is explained in terms of what is called the conditionality of absence of prior intelligent design. The idea here is that things do not come into being as a result of some intelligence, prior intelligence, that designs them and as a result they come into being, but rather they come into being from their own causes.

And then the second point, statement, when the Buddha says that, “because this has arisen, that arises,” Buddha is making the point that there is the second conditionality which is the conditionality of impermanence. And the idea here is that not only do things originate from their causes but the causes themselves are impermanent, and the causes themselves are products of their own corresponding causes. So in this way when you relate the chain of causation, events come from their causes and causes themselves, being transient, come into being as a result of their own corresponding causes which in turn come from their own causes and so on.

So in that way, when you trace the causation from the Buddhist point of view, if you try to posit a beginning, it runs into logical problems. And because if you posit a beginning there are two alternatives to this beginning; either one has to accept a notion of some kind of uncaused event, so one will have to say that that beginning point was totally uncaused. But then an uncaused event becomes problematic because the fact that events, particular events sometimes come into being and sometimes do not is an indication that they are dependent upon some causation. So the notion of an uncaused event is rejected.

The second possibility is to say that the first event was caused by a permanent cause, an eternal, permanent cause. Again here the problem with permanent causation is that then one will have to maintain that this cause can never produce an effect at all, or if it does produce an effect, then it should be producing the same event, effect, continuously, if it is a permanent causation. So on this basis, Buddhism rejects any notion of a beginning to the causal chain because that beginning will have to be either uncaused or caused by a permanent entity.

So, and then the Buddha makes the third statement where he says that, “because of ignorance, volitional actions arose.” And here he refers to what is called the conditionality of potential, potentiality. And the point being made here is that, not only do things come into being from their causes and conditions, but also the causes and conditions are impermanent, and even here, not anything produces everything. There should be a kind of commensurable relationship between the causes and effects so that the characteristics, the specific characteristics, of the effects are dependent upon the specific characteristics and qualities of the causes. So there needs to be a relationship of commensuration between causes and conditions.

So in the case of the twelve links of dependent origination, the first cause in the causation chain is identified as ignorance because, as explained before, at the natural level, none of us wishes for suffering, but at the same time, we continue to create conditions for suffering. And that’s why the root cause of our suffering is ignorance, and that’s why, in the twelve links of dependent origination, ignorance is identified as the first link, the first member in the twelve links.

His Holiness: So now in order to answer whether there is a beginning or not of the self—now since self is a designation on the combination of body and mind, so in order to get an answer, make an answer, whether there is a beginning or not, we have to find out the… [continues in Tibetan].

Thupten Jinpa: So then the question of whether or not there is a beginning to our self really boils down to whether or not one can posit a beginning to the continuum of the mind and body, the physical and mental aggregates, which is really the basis upon which the notion of self arises.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So if you look at what we call aggregates, or skandhas, physical and mental aggregates, we can summarize them into two main classes. One is a type of aggregate that has physical properties or material properties and form and so on. Then there is another class of phenomena that belong to the category of aggregates which are not physical, which are in the nature of subjective experience.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So now if you compare the two, the physical and the mental aggregates, when it comes to the physical aggregates (although one can talk about a very subtle level of physical aggregates, so setting that question aside) generally when we talk about the physical aggregates, we are talking about the physical body of this life. So, the physical body of life of the individual changes from life to life.

So therefore the kind of the more enduring continuum that we find with respect to the individual’s existence is really at the level of the mental aggregate. So therefore, when we talk about the person or the self as being designated upon the continuum of the aggregates, we are talking about primarily designating the person on the basis of the continuum of the mental aggregate, the mind.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So here it becomes important to contemplate whether or not consciousness has a beginning, the mind has a beginning.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So even with respect to material objects or physical phenomena, although one can speak of different types and different kinds in the physical world, but if we were to think about their continuum in terms of the kind of… the elementary material that composed their existence, then even in the case of physical entities, it would be very difficult to posit a real beginning, an absolute beginning.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So in fact, from our current scientific understanding or point of view, all of the material phenomena that exist in the world, including the physical bodies of the sentient beings that inhabit the natural world—the sources of all of these can be traced back to the beginning of the universe, which in the scientific understanding is pointed toward the big bang, the event of the big bang. But even here we then have to ask where did the big bang come from? Where did that event come from?

His Holiness: There must be tremendous sort of energy so then the explosion happened. So there must be substance of that energy. So its own causes go like that. So even on the physical level, I think very difficult to accept beginning…. [continues in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So the simple reason really is that things arise from their previous continuum and which share some relationship of continuity.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So similarly, now if we think about the continuity or continuum of consciousness, then we are talking about a phenomenon that has no form, that has no shape, that has no color, that is in the nature of subjective experience, but that does have an effect in terms of our experience of happiness and suffering. So this is a phenomena, when we try to understand its existence, we will again, from the causal point of view, kind of attribute its existence to some kind of previous continuum that shares the same characteristics.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So when it comes to tracing the source and continuum, earlier continuum, of our physical body, then in the case of our body we can trace it to parents’ regenerative fluids. However, when it comes to tracing the source and earlier continuum of our consciousness and mind, we cannot attribute that to the parents’ mental continuum or parents’ consciousness or mind.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So in this way, if we try to trace the kind of the earlier continuum of our consciousness, particularly from the point of view of the substantial cause of that phenomena, it would be very difficult to posit, again, a real, absolute beginning to consciousness.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: Because if we were to posit an absolute beginning to our consciousness, then again we will have two alternatives, two choices. One is to say that the first instance of consciousness came from nowhere, so it was a totally uncaused phenomena; or we will have to admit that at that point, consciousness arose from a cause that did not share the same nature, similar kind of characteristics.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: And then of course, it is not just the Buddhists who accept the notion of previous existence, previous lives, and rebirth. So in all of these philosophical traditions that subscribe to the notion of previous existence and rebirth, one of the key arguments that is used is to cite the empirical example of individuals who recall their past lives’ experience.

His Holiness: According to my own sort of experience…

Thupten Jinpa: …observation…

His Holiness: … observation, you see, I met some Indian girl, at least two, memory of her past life so convincing. So in one case the four parents, parents of this life and the parents of the immediate previous life, the previous life’s parents also accepted this young girl, so convincing. So they accepted as their own girl. So one girl, I think fortunately, four parents.

In these cases you see some clear indication of reflection of the past life there. But they cannot read letter. Some …on some occasion, in some instance, one Tibetan boy, although I never met, I was told—can read letter. So we need, you see, further investigation, why, in the same category of those who have very clear memory of past life— recognize their past sort of friend and recall their name and their own house, and what kind of articles in their sort of house, everything very clear, and found, you see, the books— but cannot read. In some cases they can even read. So what are the differences? [continues in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: I am wondering whether one can begin to understand these differences on the basis of some genetic dispositions.

His Holiness: I don’t know. I really don’t know. So you see we need these further investigations. Like that.

So, now answer. From Buddhist viewpoint—no beginning of the self.

Is There an End to the Self?

Now the third question—whether there is end or not? Now within Buddhism… [continues in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So within the Buddhist tradition there are two different positions on the third question—whether or not there is an end to the self. There is one school of thought that maintains, or one group that maintains, that when one attains the final nirvana, mahabodhi, the great nirvana, at that point one has attained what is called the nirvana without residue, and at that point the very continuum of the self, the individual, completely ceases to exist. Like a flame of a butter lamp just going, blowing out.

His Holiness: So in order to answer these three questions, different traditions then come, or different traditions try to answer differently.

So then in meantime, I must say some of the Americans or Westerners who not only are showing interest about Buddhism but also, you see, become genuine Buddhist practitioners and also become professors, professors of Buddhism. So now I think I must say, generally, general public much better, safer, keep one’s own tradition.

Out of millions of people and, in Tibetan case also ninety-nine percent are Buddhist, but some Tibetans, at least in last four centuries in Lhasa area, there is a Muslim community. Originally they came from Ladakh. They settled in Tibet, and some Tibetan girls married them and ultimately became Muslim. So, no problem.

And some, I think since the beginning of the previous century, twentieth century, some Christians also there, very faithful Christians, although the number is very small. So out of … A few hundred thousand, out of sort of six million Tibetans, some, you see, attracted more towards other traditions.

So like that, among millions of Europeans or Westerners who are basically Christian tradition but some, with sort of special interest about Buddhism, in any case some sort of desire, have some spirituality. And in the meantime your own traditional sort of spirituality not much effective, and in such a case you look at some other tradition, then found Buddhist way of approach is more suitable—then accept. So that’s okay.

And meantime it is important to keep genuine respect towards your traditional religion. That’s important. Like that.

Practical Steps for Improving Oneself3

His Holiness: Now… [continues in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So now, to return to the teaching itself of the text, at the beginning I would like to cite a stanza from Gung-tang Jam-bay-ang, Gung-tang Rinpoche, where, and this is from his songs on, evoking, impermanence, awareness of impermanence, where he says that:

At this moment once when I have attained the precious human life of leisure and opportunity, there is a danger that I may lose it without having made this existence meaningful, and therefore now the time has come for me to try to reach towards liberation.”

And therefore, and he admonishes himself, he’s talking to himself, he says that,

Now therefore I must be held by, seized by, the iron hook of impermanence awareness.”

So what Gung-tang is pointing out here is that we need to recognize the tremendous opportunity that has been accorded to us by our attainment of human existence, when we possess such resources of intelligence and all the facilities of human intelligence. Therefore if we do not recognize this opportunity, there is a danger that we might waste it away. And so what he is saying is that there is a real danger that we may waste it away without fully appreciating the opportunity, the precious opportunity that it provides us.

Therefore he says that, by invoking the notion of impermanence, the awareness of impermanence, particularly of the two important points, facts, that death is certain but how, when, it might befall upon us is totally unpredictable. Therefore one can lose this precious human existence in any moment. So with awareness of that kind of uncertainty and unpredictability of the death and certainty of death’s occurrence, we must motivate ourselves and make our precious human existence meaningful.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: In order to make one’s human existence meaningful, the most effective method is to try to really engage in the practice of Dharma by making distinctions between the state of mind during the formal sitting meditation and the state of mind during the post-meditation periods, so that during both of these periods, we maintain our application of mindfulness and introspective awareness, or meta-awareness. And based on that, through the application of these two faculties of mindfulness and awareness, we constantly observe our own mind, and in this way make our human existence meaningful.

His Holiness: These practices are common to all traditions. And in order to carry out these sort of practices, whether we accept religion or not, up to individual. In order to become a good human being, sensible human being, not necessary become religious person. Non-believer are… Wonderful non-believer people also there. But if you accept religion then we should be serious and sincere so that the teaching of one’s own tradition becomes part of our life. So our daily life, from early morning when we start our daily life, one corner of our mind watching our mind, our behavior.

Now for example, on one occasion in Jerusalem, one meeting with some Jews and some Palestinians and some different people. One Jew, one Israeli (profession as teacher) he told our meeting, once he told in his class to his students, “Whenever you meet some people whom you don’t like…” I mean he told the Palestinian students, “…when you meet some Israeli check posts or these things,” (usually they got some irritation) so he advised, “whenever you meet such people, you should think that person—image of God. Remember that.”

So later a student reported to him, “Oh, that advice is so sort of helpful. After that, I heard that sort of advice…” then their mind much calmer, much easier, without much sort of irritation, when they meet, you see, they…

Thupten Jinpa: …when they meet the guard at the checkpost.

His Holiness: So that’s the practice. Implement it. The idea, or religious sort of teaching—implement it on the practical level.

So that’s wonderful. So in order to carry such practice, constantly watch our mind. And for that also, as soon as you get up, try to make some kind of pledge…

Thupten Jinpa: …determination…

His Holiness: …determination. Now, rest of this day, I should be, I should implement what I believe as much as I can. So that’s important. As soon as get up, try shaping our mind, and remind rest of day, rest of the day, I should follow what I believe. Then, end of the day, each, check what happened.

Thupten Jinpa: Review, review the day.

His Holiness: And if you carry that whole day according to your kind of morning’s determination then…[continues in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: …rejoice.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: And then reinforce further your motivation to continue in the same line.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: However, when you do your reviewing, if you do discover that there were certain things that you had actually committed during the day that were contrary to your own religious values and beliefs, then at that point, you should acknowledge them and cultivate a deep sense of remorse, and then reinforce your resolve not to indulge in these actions in the future. And if you continue in this way, then clearly, slowly there will be a real change and transformation within your mind.

His Holiness: So that’s the way to improve oneself. Change, out of just one session prayer—that’s impossible. Constant sort of watching our minds and, day by day, year by year, decade by decade, carry these practices, then improvement definitely come. So that’s common to all believers, all traditions, like that.

In July 2008, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama gave a historic six-day teaching on The Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment (Lam-rim Chen-mo), Tsongkhapa’s classic text on the stages of spiritual evolution. Translator for His Holiness was Thupten Jinpa, Ph.D.

This event at Lehigh University, Pennsylvania, marked the culmination of a 12-year effort by the Tibetan Buddhist Learning Center (TBLC), New Jersey, to translate the Great Treatise into English.

These transcripts were kindly provided to LYWA by the Tibetan Buddhist Learning Center, which holds the copyright. The audio files are available from the Tibetan Buddhist Learning Center’s Resources and Linkspage.

The transcripts have been published in a wonderful book, From Here to Enlightenment, edited by Guy Newland and published by Shambhala Publications. We encourage you to buy the book from your local Dharma center, bookstore, or directly from Shambhala. It is available in both hardcover and as an ebook from Amazon, Apple, B&N, Google, and Kobo. http://www.lamayeshe.com/article/chapter/day-one-afternoon-session-july-10-2008