New York, NY, USA, 5 November 2014 – Under grey skies, the New York streets wore a sombre look as His Holiness the Dalai Lama drove to the Javits Convention Center for almost his last engagement of this visit to the USA. Inside it was colourful and 5000 assembled Tibetans were full of smiles as His Holiness took the stage before a backdrop of the Potala Palace. Everyone stood for the Tibetan National Anthem, and then the President of the New York & New Jersey Tibetan Association (NYNJTA) presented a report to His Holiness. He explained that the association began in 1979, that it is non-sectarian and acknowledges no regional bias either. Its objective is to provide a platform for all Tibetans to have a sense of community and to participate is a cultural life. It also concerns itself with offering opportunities for Tibetan children to study Tibetan and so on. The association meets the cost of such classes. By keeping up the Green Book contributions, members of the association contribute $200,000 per year to the CTA.
The association not only recognises His Holiness as the leader of Tibetans, but as a leader for the whole world, and while pledging to follow his advice, requests him to live long.
“My dear Tibetan brothers and sisters,” His Holiness responded, “today, when I have this opportunity to meet all of you, I wondered for a moment if I was back in Tibet, or in one of the large settlements in South India. You’re all working hard to retain your Tibetan identity and spirit and I thank you. Here on this new soil, it seems you have made a lot of children! Ensure that they grow up as Tibetans. They may learn to chant the verse for taking refuge, but that’s not enough. You can even teach a parrot to chant. We had one at the Norbulingka Palace that could recite ‘manis’ while nicely nodding its head. The children need to study and know what the Dharma is about. 21st century Buddhists need to study. Prostrating, chanting mantras and circumambulation are good, but they are not the main practice. You need to know how to transform the mind.”
He went on to explain that the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, which derives from the Nalanda tradition, is impressive. It’s a culture of peace that has a contribution to make in a world riven by competition and conflict. Today, he said, even scientists take interest in its knowledge of the mind and emotions. It is peace of mind that is important and mere chanting isn’t enough to secure that.
His Holiness talked about his hopes for reclassifying the content of the Kangyur and Tengyur in terms of science, philosophy and religion. He pointed out that the Mind Only and Middle Way Schools of Thought have much in common with the approach of Quantum Physics and can be of interest to anyone, while topics like the Four Noble Truths are primarily of interest to Buddhists. Two volumes of science from these sources were recently published in Tibetan and will soon be available translated into English, Chinese and other languages.
After Buddhism came to Tibet, the collective values of society became more compassionate. Tibetans have their own spoken and written language, and it is the language best suited to expressing the Buddhist path including Tantra, logic and epistemology. His Holiness has encouraged the study of the classic Buddhist texts, even in monasteries and nunneries that were previously concerned only with chanting rituals. These days there are nuns who have studied well and are close to receiving their Geshe-ma degrees. Individuals who have an interest in Buddhism need to study. In Ladakh, laypeople have set up discussion groups to encourage this and His Holiness said he had heard of people doing the same in Tibet. It is not necessary to have a lama involved. This is how to preserve Tibetan religion and culture.
“I have studied in our tradition and whoever I meet, wherever I am, I’m proud and confident. I respect all the major religious traditions, but I am aware that of all the great religious teachers it was only the Buddha who gave his followers advice and encouragement to examine and question what he had taught.”
Changing the subject to what is happening in Tibet, His Holiness said:
“The 6 million Tibetans in Tibet are our real masters. They have been going through difficult times, not least because of the hard-line policies pursued by Chinese officials in Tibet. And yet Tibetans have not lost their spirit and character. Just as Chinese are proud and devoted to their culture, so are we Tibetans. The people of the three provinces feel a strong sense of unity as Tibetans and we in exile should give them our support.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama addressing the Tibetan community at the Javits Center in New York, NY, USA on November 5, 2014. Photo/Sonam Zoksang
“Whenever I can, I meet Chinese. Many years ago I encouraged the setting up of Sino-Tibetan friendship groups and they have been quite effective. Today, there are 400 million Chinese who call themselves Buddhists, many of whom have an interest in Tibetan Buddhism. Others concern themselves with preserving the natural environment and ecology of Tibet. Relations with ordinary Chinese have improved. The Tibetan issue appears to be a struggle between the gun, the use of force, and the truth. It may appear that in the short term the gun is more effective, and yet in the end the truth will prevail.
“When I was young in Lhasa, the servants used to keep me informed. I became aware of the shortcomings of too much power in too few hands. Everything depended on who you knew. I wanted to change it, but my attempts at reform were thwarted. We began democratization in 1960 and when a new leadership was elected in 2011, I retired. It took time, but eventually we have reached a point where our leaders are elected.”
His Holiness explained that the Vinaya or monastic discipline functions on a democratic basis too. An example of this is the issue of the full ordination of women that he says he fully supports. A lot of people, especially people from the West, ask him simply to issue an edict about it and say that because he doesn’t he is obstructing progress. In fact, changes related to the Vinaya require a group of at least five qualified individuals to be legitimate.
His Holiness spoke at some length about the matter of Dolgyal. He said:
“I was at Dromo, Nechung and Gadong were not with us, but there was a medium there, who although illiterate, was reputed for giving good predictions. This is how my relationship with Dolgyal began. I am also a custodian of Pabongka’s tradition, so from 1950-70, I propitiated Dolgyal. In the 60s Nechung mentioned that is was not good to propitiate the vagabond, Asay Khenpo. I told him to keep quiet and he did and I continued the practice.
A member of the Tibetan community listening to His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s address at the Javits Center in New York, NY, USA on November 5, 2014. Photo/Sonam Zoksang
“Then the Yellow Book came out suggesting that for a Gelugpa to practise other traditions would arouse Dolgyal’s anger. I consulted Nechung again and he told me a long story. Consequently I did a divination involving special offerings to Palden Lhamo, attended by the Abbot of Namgyal Monastery. He didn’t know what it was about, but when I told him he remarked that it had been a powerful ritual. The questions were whether I should stop the practice, whether immediately or gradually. I stopped. I informed Ling Rinpoche who was pleased, having earlier been very apprehensive about my relations with Dolgyal. I also explained everything to Trijang Rinpoche, who said divination involving Palden Lhamo was infallible. He cast no doubt over it and said that Nechung was very reliable too. He said there must be reason for what we had learned, but he was not annoyed or anything like that.
“The pro-Dolgyal demonstrators shout about religious freedom, but my religious freedom was restricted while I did that practice. I wanted to receive teachings of the Guhyagarbha from Khunu Lama Rinpoche, but because he was apprehensive about Dolgyal, Ling Rinpoche advised against it. I was only free once I gave Dolgyal up and was able to receive many teachings from Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche.
“Dolgyal is a mundane deity. Some say he is a manifestation of Manjushri, but we could also say that Nechung is ultimately something transcendental too. The 13th Dalai Lama warned Pabongka Rinpoche that relating to Dolgyal as he did he risked breaching his refuge, which is recorded in Rinpoche’s own biography. The 5th Dalai Lama said Dolgyal arose from distorted prayers, that he is a ghost of the dead and his function is to do harm. Many other great Gelugpa masters like Trichen Ngawang Chokden opposed this practice. These protestors are mistaken and full of ignorance, but I don’t feel angry towards them.
Younger members of the Tibetan community attending His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s address at the Javits Center in New York, NY, USA on November 5, 2014. Photo/Sonam Zoksang
“They say, ‘Stop Lying, stop lying’, but you stood behind me; I thank you. The thing is it’s harmful, but whether people listen to this or not is up to them. My responsibility anyway is to warn people and to make the situation clear. I have never said anyone has to listen to me.”
His Holiness also made reference to the work that is going on in Vancouver and British Columbia to introduce secular ethics in schools. He concluded his talk by offering transmission of the mantras of the Buddha, Avalokiteshvara, Manjushri, Vajrapani, Tara, Hayagriva, Vajrakilaya and the Medicine Buddha. He said it had been 20 days since he left India, that there had been some benefit and that his health was good.
“Be happy, Tashi Delek.”
After lunch at his hotel, but before leaving for the airport, His Holiness met with a group of Chinese students studying in New York and nearby areas. Addressing them as brothers and sisters he made reference to the long standing relations that exist between Tibetans and Chinese, which have often been good, but have sometimes been difficult.
“One of the problems between us is ignorance. For too long, too many have thought of Tibetans as backward and barbaric. But now they have the opportunity, more Chinese are finding things to admire in Tibet. Spiritually, China and Tibet are very close. Today, there are said to be 300-400 million Chinese who call themselves Buddhists, many of whom have some interest in Tibetan Buddhism.”
His Holiness the Dalai Lama meeting with Chinese students in New York, NY, USA on November 5, 2014.
In answering questions from the audience he gave a survey of relations between China and Tibet over the last 50 years or more, of how at times hopes of a solution have been raised only to be dashed again. He mentioned how he had tried to introduce reforms and faced obstructions, but then reforms were imposed by others by use of force.
He said that since Tibetans would like to see material development too, it was in their interest to remain part of the PRC, expressing his admiration for the voluntary way European countries had put the common interest ahead of national interest within the EU. He also drew attention to the way diversity flourishes in India without any risk of the country breaking up. He also mentioned his wish to make a pilgrimage to Wu-tai-shan.
Leaving the hotel, His Holiness drove to JFK airport and boarded a flight that will take him to Frankfurt on the way back to India.