On July 28, a crowd of some 40,000 people gathered in Leh India to attend a three day series of teachings by the 14th Dalai Lama on Shantideva’s Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life, one of the most important philosophical works in Mahayana Buddhism. Some general remarks by the Dalai Lama seemed noteworthy to me (everything he says is noteworthy) and I thought I would share them with you.
“Many people have gathered here, not for entertainment, business, or for a political rally, but for a spiritual teaching. What does that mean? Here in the 21st century all 7 billion people alive today want to be happy and not to suffer. We’re all equal in that. Many seek solace in religion, but 1 billion declare they have no interest, saying that religion is exploitative and unnecessary. All religious traditions commend the practice of love and compassion, which are a source of peace and happiness and warn of the faults of destructive emotions like anger and jealousy.
Scientists say they have evidence that those who cultivate love and compassion have greater peace of mind, while constant anger and fear make us uneasy and are bad for health. Common sense too tells us that people who are moved by love and compassion are peaceful and happy. Those overwhelmed by destructive emotions like jealousy and competitiveness feel the whole world is their enemy. It’s easy to see that love and compassion earn people’s trust and trust wins friends. Similarly, honesty and truthfulness are the basis of justice.
Economic development alone is not a solution to the problems we face, nor is the use of force. Peace in the world depends on individuals, families and communities achieving peace of mind. It can’t be bought. We need to cultivate those inner values that counter our destructive emotions…
I’m here to give a Buddhist teaching today. The Buddha clearly said that mind can be tamed and when it is tamed it is conducive to happiness. It is also said that Buddhas do not wash unwholesome deeds away with water, nor do they remove the sufferings of beings with their hands. Neither do they transplant their own realization into others. They liberate (beings) by teaching the truth of suchness.”
Some may be unfamiliar with the term “suchness” (tathata). As the Dalai Lama is using the term here, I believe it corresponds with B. L. Suzuki’s* definition of suchness as “to see things as they are in themselves.” It means to see reality, not illusion, and in the context of these remarks, suchness refers to the reality of interdependency (pratitya-samutpada). We are many in being, however owning to the fact that all things are interconnected, we are one in reality. Most religions teach this principle in theory but too often religion is often a tool used to divide people, to keep them separate from others.
Buddhist teachers like the Dalai Lama and Thich Nhat Hanh prefer to emphasize the points where religions interconnect, rather than those points where they diverge. We do not have to agree with another person’s religion but we should be able to respect different religions. I used to carry around the attitude that “my religion is better than yours.” Eventually I realized that this was a negative attitude that only constructed walls between people and that it was counter-productive to the Buddhist aim of tearing down walls.
Although it is not an exact quotation, one of the most famous sayings of the Dalai Lama is “My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness.” Peace and happiness in the world will only be possible when we all practice this same religion.
For more on the Dalai Lama’s teachings on Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life, visit the Dalai Lama’s website here.
– – – – – – – – – –
* B. L. Suzuki: Beatrice Lane Suzuki, wife of Zen teacher D. T. Suzuki; also a scholar and author of a number of books on Buddhism and Theosophy.
Photo by Tenzin Choejor/OHHDL