The Chinese government recently passed a new law that bans Tibetan lamas, or monks, from reincarnating without Chinese government approval. The Chinese government wants to have the right to approve reincarnations of living Buddhas or senior religious figures in Tibetan Buddhism.
This is so ridiculous, and utterly petty, on the part of the Chinese. You would think a world super-power might have better things to do than go around “approving” reincarnations and bickering with a 76 year-old monk. Yet, there may be a method to their madness. After all, it does divert attention away from the Chinese government’s ongoing campaign in Tibet of ethnic cleansing through population transference and their reign of violence and terror.
The ruling has forced the Dalai Lama to make a formal pronouncement on the subject of his reincarnation. He says that when he reaches the age of ninety, he will decide for himself about the matter.
Despite his well-constructed argument in favor of reincarnation, logical from the particular point of view of Tibetan Buddhism, I would not be a bit surprised if personally the Dalai Lama didn’t have a more practical approach to the subject. For one thing, he is an astute scholar of Buddhist philosophy and he must realize that “reincarnation” does not comport with Buddhist teachings, which deal with the subject of “rebirth,” a somewhat different sort of thing. But I think his “reincarnation statement” is more of a political statement, using reincarnation as an expedient. He may be retired as head of state, but he is in no way removed from politics. As long he is Beijing’s rhetorical crosshairs, he’s in the game.
Were it not for the Chinese government, the Dalai Lama might have made a pronouncement of another kind. Several years ago, during a visit to the U.S., he made quite a point of denying his status as a “living Buddha.” It was a courageous thing to do. For many years, it has been the Dalai Lama’s special status that alone has held the Tibetan community together. By undercutting the mystique surrounding him, and which he is reportedly uncomfortable with, he gambled that his people and the world would see and accept him for the human being he is, and not as some sort of living god in the way others and his tradition has proclaimed. In this way, he helped move his culture in a more modern direction.
I suspect that Tenzin Gyatso would much prefer having a reasonable and fair dialogue with the Chinese over the issues, but since, from the Chinese side, it doesn’t seem possible, he feels compelled to perpetuate some of these old myths and superstitions. By putting a “final” decision off for fourteen years, he buys some time, for the situation to become diffused, or perhaps for both sides to grow up. But, don’t be surprised if someday, he ends up disavowing or radically changing this reincarnation message.
In the meantime, the Tibetans have the right to believe in any damn fool thing they wish. The Chinese have taken everything else from them. You can’t begrudge them trying to hold on to their idea of reincarnation.
Tenzin Gyatso, The Dalai Lama – Commentary on The Precious Garland of Nagarjuna
June 5-8, 1997
We will begin the session. First, I would like to thank the members of the Chinese Sangha for their recitation . . . So we begin the questions.
Previously questions were submitted on pieces of paper, which the translator reads in English and then in Tibetan. Several of the questions concern virtuous and non-virtuous actions in which the Dalai Lama basically repeats the points about these kinds of actions he has already made in the previous session.
The next question deals with religious tolerance, in which he makes the following points: 1) He feels that is more appropriate for people to follow the religious tradition of their own society or culture, but there can be exceptions to that; 2) if someone does decide to change religious traditions, this should be done only after careful consideration; 3) the differences between traditions especially between Buddhism and other traditions, reflect the richness of spiritual diversity and should be a cause for greater admiration; 4) it is possible in the beginning for a person to be able to follow both the Buddhist path and the Judeo-Christian path, but at some point one must choose between one or the other, since the Buddhist concept of emptiness and the Judeo-Christian concept of a creator god do not really fit together; 5) this last point may hold for people in the Buddhist tradition also, since there are some concepts from the various schools that, also, do not fit together. But no matter what, one should never become overly critical of religious tradition different from your own.
Q: How can we maintain faith when so many of the lamas and teachers misbehave?
A: If one is able to cultivate a faith that is grounded in a personal understanding, then there is no possibility of developing such a faith towards a lama or teacher who misbehaves.
It is very important when you relate to someone who is a dharma-teacher to use your critical faculty to subject that person to close scrutiny, so that you are aware that if not all the qualifications that are commented on in the scriptures are not found in that person, at least most of them are found in that individual.
Sometimes people select a dharma-teacher or choose a particular tradition during a very low period in their personal life. When that happens, when someone chooses a person or a tradition because they have a need to lean on someone or they lack confidence or self-esteem, then there is a real vulnerability for abuse and when that dependence is placed on someone, given that you are not really able to use the critical facility, then there is scope for abuse and disappointment.
Often when it comes to choosing a spiritual path or a teacher, our tendency is to be hasty and take on anything that comes near you, like a dog who will eat any food that comes its way and that is not how we should approach the question of choosing the dharma or a teacher.
As I say to members of the media, that they should have as long noses as possible, sort of sniffing around [laughter] and also this is true for the students-you should be able to sniff around so that you can see from both the front and the back. Sometimes what happens is that things may look very impressive from the front, but from the back they may be sort of empty, just hollow. [laughter]
If a teacher is able to maintain a good kind of integrity, then, of course, that person is worthy of your admiration and trust.
Judging the integrity of a teacher should be approached in the context of the three higher trainings on morality, meditation and wisdom or insight. That is what the Buddha taught in the Tripitaka, the Three Spiritual Collections . . . So, this means that since I am also a teacher, you should subject me to such investigation as well. [laughter]
Q: What is the quickest and easiest way to realize selflessness or no-self?
Both the Dalai Lama and the audience laugh, but it soon tapers off into a rather long pause.
A: Let us be serious, now. Even though I cannot claim to have any high levels of realization in relation to the understanding of selflessness, the little realization that I have is a product of effort over thirty years of time and also –
It was difficult to follow the translator here. Even after listening to the tape repeatedly, I am unsure exactly who the Dalai Lama via the translator is referring to here, whether it is himself or some other lama.The Milarepa story below seems separate from this.
Translator: Tenzin Gyatso [?], after he met with [? name unclear] and he had a long discussion with him . . . later, he happened to write a biography of [?] and in it Master [?] mentions . . . that the realizations that he attained were a result of intensive effort and commitment of over a period of forty years, and now he’s reached . . . a point where he is on the threshold of gaining a high liberation.
The Dalai Lama says something to the translator in Tibetan. There is another long pause. Silence. The Dalai Lama then begins to cry. He wipes his eyes. The entire hall is completely hushed. The Dalai Lama muttering to himself, continues to wipe his eyes.
Translator: His Holiness was saying that Milarepa [one of the most revered teachers in the history of Tibetan Buddhism], when Milarepa was giving his last instructions to one of his foremost disciples, sGam-go-pa, he showed his behind to him – ah, he showed the calluses on his behind that were the result of his long sitting in meditation and said, “Look that this! This is what I’ve endured. This is the mark of my practice.” And this is how, you must remember that the realization of dharma requires effort and commitment –
The Dalai Lama breaks in, speaking for the first time in English:
So don’t think easiest, best, cheapest!
The rest of his comment is drowned out by applause.
[Back to Tibetan and the translator]: What one Tibetan master [? name unclear] said is very true. He said that someone who, at the initial stage is so enthusiastic about the practice that he or she doesn’t have time to eat properly, but this lasts only three or four days, then they are distracted and go on to something else and loses interest – such a person expects to have results immediately, but then loses interest – such a person will never achieve anything. therefore, it is important to always maintain a steady flow of effort, a steady flow, like a stream, always continuous.
[The Dalai Lama in English]: You agree? [audience applauds] That’s good!
Two days later, at the very end, following the empowerment ceremony on the last day, the Dalai Lama offered his only other words spoken in English: “I hope that you will reflect deeply on these teachings, so that the next time I come you won’t have to ask about best, fastest, easiest.”
To be continued . . .