I hope you are finding this commentary by the Dalai Lama to be of interest. Just to remind you, this is a verbatim transcript, so in places it is a bit redundant. As far as I can tell, when he gives teachings, the Dalai Lama speaks extemporaneously. I’ve included his asides along with short descriptions of the action taking place, which hopefully will give you a sense of the atmosphere.
This is a long section so I will cut to the chase and merely add that in this excerpt, the Dalai Lama discusses suffering and happiness, the Four Noble Truths, karma, and motivation.
The Dalai Lama – Commentary on The Precious Garland of Nagarjuna
June 5-8, 1997
1st Day – Afternoon session
The second half of the day’s teachings were opened with sutra chanting in Japanese, led by Rev. Noriaki Ito, Abbot of Higashi Hongwanjii Temple in Los Angeles.
I would like to express my appreciation to the members of the Japanese Buddhist sangha for their wonderful recitation. I was not able to follow the meaning of the verses, though. [Laugher.]
Now, I will resume our discussion where we left in the morning session.
We were talking about beginninglessness and the continuum of consciousness and also the continuum of the individual being, which is designated upon the basis of this beginningless continuum of consciousness or mind.
However, in the Buddhist schools of thought, as far as whether or not there is a possibility to an end of this continuum, all Buddhists schools converge on the point that it is beginningless. But, as far as whether or not there is a cessation or an end to the individual, which is designated in the continuum of consciousness, there are divergent opinions among the Buddhist thinkers on this point.
In any case, as human beings or as sentient beings, we all posses this fundamental fact of our own existence, which is the ability to discern or perceive things. And similarly, as human beings, we all have the natural capacity to experience pain and pleasure and the natural capacity for feelings. Within the realm of feeling or sensation, we can, generally speaking, distinguish between two principle forms: those types of feelings which are pleasure or joy, and those other types of experience that are undesirable in the sense that when they occur within us it creates a sense of disturbance or affliction.
So, as human beings, as sentient beings, we are all naturally drawn towards happiness. We wish happiness and we wish to overcome suffering. We would like to avoid suffering. That is a natural disposition we all have.
And within the sphere of joyful experience, or pain and pleasure, one could say there are certain types of experiences which may be uncomfortable or painful in the short term, but in the long run it could lead to greater experiences of joy and fulfillment. Within the category of pleasurable experience, there could be certain sorts of joyful states, which in the short run could, temporarily, lead to a sense of joy or pleasure, but in the long run, it could lead to dissatisfaction or suffering.
So, one could say that there are four types of sensation: ones that are joyful in the short term and also in the long term; ones that are joyful in the short term but lead to suffering in the long term; ones which are not only painful in the short term but also in the long term; and others which are temporarily painful but in the long term lead to more joyful or lasting happiness.
Whatever we feel in the nature of experience, if it is a painful experience, it is something we instinctively want to avoid. It is something that we do not desire. And if it is a joyful experience we are naturally drown toward it and it is something that we instinctively desire. So the point that I am making here is that, insofar as the basic disposition of wanting happiness and wishing to overcome suffering is concerned, it is something that is so fundamental to all of us as sentient beings, and each of us has a right to fulfill this basic aspiration. Not only do we wish to overcome suffering, but if there is any possibility at all of remaining in a state that is totally free of suffering, then it is natural that we seek such a goal.
Now it is crucial for us to think whether or not the attainment of such lasting states of freedom from suffering is possible, and it is something that can be understood only on the basis of examining where the root or the causes of happiness and suffering lie. It is only through causal analysis that one can address this question. So, when going through such a line of thinking, then the Buddhist teachings on the Four Noble Truths becomes immediately relevant to one’s question.
The procedure of the Four Noble Truths becomes established. That is, at the first stage one must recognize the nature of suffering, to define suffering as suffering. The second stage is to then seek where the suffering comes from, where does the principle source of suffering lie. And, when you find that, then the third stage is to investigate whether or not it is possible to bring about a cessation of suffering. Once you have gained real confidence about that, then the fourth stage is to search for the way, or path, by which one can attain the cessation of suffering.
Another fact of existence is that within the spectrum of reality you find that certain phenomena or certain facts – if their causes or origins have other opposing forces or antidotes and if through the development and enhancement of those opposing forces, can the origin of suffering be diminished? We know that such facts as suffering and pain, are in some sense, occasional, that they come into being as a result of certain conditions and they come into cessation as a result of certain causal positives.
At this point, all the lights on the stage go out, along with most of the lights of the hall. The audience beings to chuckle, but the Dalai Lama continues talking.
Let us take the example of physical illness, if there are opposing forces to the conditions that lead to certain symptoms, if there are antidotes or medications which can counteract the agents that cause the illness, then there is a real chance that one can bring about a cure for that particular illness. If there are no counter-forces or antidotes which counteract the agents that lead to illness, then it would mean that once we are sick there is no chance of a cure.
In fact, many of the tasks that we engage in our everyday lives, such as the plans that we have or projects we undertake – these everyday activities require a degree of comparison and investigation into the competition between different forces of opposing elements.
The lights come back on in the hall but not on the stage.
Earlier the lights were unequal and certain parts of the hall were quite dark, but now it’s completely qualitative. [Laugher.] Except for the stage. [More laugher.]
The Dalai Lama continues to speak in the dark for several minutes before all the lights are restored.
According to Buddhism, the causal process of pain/pleasure or happiness/suffering is understood in terms of a particular kind of process. Of course, many of our experiences have their conditions in circumstances that are really immediate. However, in Buddhism, there is an appreciation of deeper underlying causes that make these immediate conditions to give rise to a certain form of experience, be it painful or joyful. And if these underlying causes are certain potentials or dispositions planted in the psyche of the individual as a result of certain deeds committed by the individual in the past, and these deeds may not be present right now but they retain their potency, retain their potential and this potential then causes immediate conditions to create either a joyful or painful experience.
Among deeds or actions – we are talking about karma now – of the individual, there might be certain types of actions or deeds that may not be potentials, may not be motivated, but occur in context of certain situations only and these may not be important. But there are many other types of actions which are motivated by certain forms of thought or intention, and these can be said to be very important, in the sense that they are motivated action. Because of these distinctions, the Buddhist scriptures mention certain types of actions, certain kinds of karma, which are definitely coming into fruition, certain types of karma that are not determined.
Given that it is on the basis of intensity and the nature of the motivation that makes a kind of action important or powerful, motivation becomes very crucial in determining the nature of the action. Therefore, when we talk about motivation, we are talking about virtuous states of mind that create virtuous actions and non-virtuous states of mind which create negative actions. Given the cardinal importance of insuring the outcome of motivation, it becomes central in Buddhist practice to target the disciplining of mind as the key objective in one’s religious life.
More to come soon . . .