Dalai Lama on the Four Noble Truths

You may have read that the Dalai Lama has announced his intention to relinquish his political role as head of the Tibetan government-in-exile. This should help dilute the argument put forth by critics that the he is some sort of autocratic ruler.

I heard Robert Thurman say one time that if the Dalai Lama had his way, he would just as soon go back to being an anonymous monk and do a three-year retreat. I seem to recall hearing the Dalai Lama say pretty much the same thing himself.

Fortunately, he is not resigning as the spiritual leader of Tibetans, or as a Buddhist teacher. That is how I tend to view him, as a teacher, especially as a scholar of Nagarjuna’s Madhyamaka (Middle Way) philosophy. He is one of the few Buddhist teachers who lectures from that perspective, as that is the general view of Tibetan Buddhism, and certainly he’s the only one who can present Madhyamaka teachings to such a wide audience.

I’ve had the opportunity to attend a number of the Dalai Lama’s teachings over the years. From time to time, I have posted my transcript of the teachings he gave in 1997 at UCLA on Nagarjuna’s Precious Garland. [Here, here, here, here, here, and here]

For newer readers of The Endless Further, I’ll mention again that I taped the entire four days of teachings, some 24 hours worth of tape, transcribed it by hand, and then made a second copy using an ancient writing device known as a typewriter. A rather tedious and time-consuming process, but it really helped to engrave these teaching on my mind.

When the Dalai Lama lectures on Buddhist dharma,  he always speaks in Tibetan and then it is translated. This is from the English translator, and it is verbatim, so in places the sentences are a bit fractured.

In this short excerpt, the Dalai Lama talks about the Four Noble Truths. When he speaks of the Ariya Sangha, in this context, I believe he is not referring to a small, elite group of individuals, but rather to anyone who has “perfected these levels of realizations.”

It is on the basis of a profound understanding of the nature of the Four Noble Truths that one can finally arrive at a deeper understanding of dharma. All the Buddhist traditions agree that the Four Noble Truths was among the first dharmas or doctrines that the Buddha taught. And according to this dharma, the cessation of suffering that one attains, and also, once you are able to recognize the possibility of such attainment, then one will also be able to the path that leads to such cessation.

So if you able to understand the nature of dharma, then you will be able to conceive the individual or being in whom such realization has taken place. These individuals or beings are sangha, the true sangha, and once you are able to conceive the existence of Sangha, once you can conceive of Sangha, then one will be able to recognize the possible attainment of Buddhahood, because these fully realized and enlightened beings, these Ariya [Pali: Ariya-Pubbala: “noble ones”] Sangha who have perfected these levels of realizations to the highest point – through these perfections, one is able to develop a good understanding of the Three Objects of Refuge: the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. Therefore, in the text it reads, “he is utterly free from all faults”, referring to the qualities of the Buddha, which is an elimination of all faults. In the next line, it reads, “adorned with all good qualities,” refers to the perfections inherent in our consciousness. In that sense, the capacity to perceive, to know something is inherent within our minds and it is only the delusions that obstruct that full expression of the natural capacity of the mind.

So when the obstacles are removed, then the full flowering of that natural capacity of the mind to know is expressed as the wisdom of the Buddha, which directly recognizes the ultimate nature of reality and the relative world of multiplicity and diversity.



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