His Holiness the Dalai Lama interacts with Indian students on ethics and compassion

New Delhi, India, 22 March 2014 – On a bright spring morning today in the Indian capital His Holiness the Dalai Lama met with almost 260 students as well as 40 teachers and principals from13 Delhi schools including the Step by Step School, Mount Abu School, Salwan Public School, Springdales School – Daula Kuan, Springdales School – Pusa Road, India Habitat Learning Centre, Bal Bharati School – Rohini, Bal Bharati School –  Pitampura, Aman Biradari Homes, Vasant Valley School, G. D. Goenka School, Pathways International School, and Bluebells International School. The theme of the discussion was Ethics and Compassion for Young Minds and the event began with a young woman graciously welcoming and introducing His Holiness and a young man offering him a symbolic white scarf. His Holiness responded:

“I am very happy to be here to meet you young people, young brothers and sisters. The world belongs to humanity. As a result of human intelligence we have made a lot of progress, and yet human beings can also be a source of trouble. War, for example, which is nothing more than legalised violence, is something only human beings engage in. During excessive wars in the 20th century some historians say up to 200 million people were killed, including many innocent people, women, children and the aged among them. Nuclear weapons were used. In Hiroshima I met survivors of those attacks and heard of their terrible experiences, something that should never be repeated.”

He said that people of his age belong to a century that is now gone, but will look forward to what the new generation can achieve. This is why His Holiness is keen to meet young people, because while the past is past and cannot be changed, the future remains open like space in which there is still room to move. He said that young people like those before him have the opportunity to create a more peaceful world, a world built on compassion rather than fear. He advised that if they acted honestly, truthfully and transparently they would win trust and friendship. 

His Holiness noted that India is one of the world’s ancient nations that for thousands of years has cherished the idea of ahimsa or non-violence, which finds expression in tolerance and inter-religious harmony. What holds society together is concern for others, while anger and hatred split it apart. On an individual level, science has shown that warm-heartedness contributes to physical well-being. Findings also reveal that even preliminary training in compassionate attitudes can reduce blood pressure and stress, so individuals feel happier and enjoy better inter-personal relations. Now, let’s have some questions and a more heated discussion!”A young man opened the questions by asking about the status of women in Buddhism. In his reply His Holiness mentioned the general need for a firm sense of ethics rather than faith. He explained that the Buddha had treated men and women equally, they had the same rights and similar precepts. However, when monks and nuns gather the monks take precedence because of the social climate existing at the time of the Buddha. In the greater vehicle traditions, men and women are equal and in the tantric tradition women are honoured and practitioners are forbidden to look down on them. He mentioned a meeting of religious leaders he is convening in September at which the status of women will be a topic of discussion along with anachronisms like dowry and caste distinctions.

Asked about the economy, His Holiness said that the gap between rich and poor must be reduced. He also remarked that while India has to put its own interests forward, it must also take the world’s needs into account. Whenever problems or conflicts arise in this connection, they should be resolved through dialogue not a resort to force and weapons. To a question about whether he had ever felt sad and lonely, he recalled sitting in retreat in the dark Potala palace in the company of his stern tutor. He would find relief in watching mice drink from the water bowls and listened to boys and girls outside bringing their flocks home. He briefly yearned to be free like them, but said that eventually he realised he could use his name and position to benefit others.

With regard to technology by which so many are distracted His Holiness said it is important to remember that technology should serve humanity and not the other way around. If we allow ourselves to become slaves to it we’ll have no rest.

A young woman asked if compassion doesn’t often involve attachment and His Holiness commended the question saying that the compassion that arises as a biological instinct is like that. However, as human beings we can use our intelligence to extend it, reflecting that if others are happy, we will be happy. He noted an increasing resistance to the use of violence and a growing desire for peace in the world. He remarked that action is more effective than prayer. Since human beings are responsible for violence, they must put a stop to it and create peace.

The afternoon session began earlier than planned when His Holiness first released a book, the second in a series of novels, ‘Gaise Jampa Goes to Tibet’ by Neerja Madhav.

“This text I’m going to read, the ‘37 Practices of a Bodhisattva’ was written by a Tibetan master called Thogmey Zangpo (1285-1369),” His Holiness explained. “He was a great practitioner of the awakening mind of bodhichitta and a good scholar too. The subject is compassion and infinite altruism. We all want to live a happy life and avoid suffering. And while we have developed impressive technology, we haven’t yet developed our minds accordingly. Sensory satisfaction is short-lived, but the peace derived from mental development is longer lasting and more powerful. It can also help us withstand physical problems.”

His Holiness commended the need to think of the Buddha as a teacher not a protector, someone who said: “You are your own master; the Buddha only shows the path. He does not say your future is in my hands, he says it depends on your practice. Since you are your own master, who else will your master be?” His Holiness pointed out that the scriptural teachings comprise the texts in the Three Collections, while the teaching to be realized consists of the Three Trainings. These are common to several Indian spiritual traditions and only when followed in the context of selflessness do they become the Three Higher Trainings. Scriptural teachings are like a prescription, teachings to be realized are like the medication.

Having affirmed the Buddha’s statement that happiness and suffering are not without cause, but are also not the result of some permanent cause, His Holiness embarked on a complex exploration of the relation between cause and effect. He spoke of how a cause is not a cause until it gives rise to an effect, and yet the cause ceases just as the effect arises. A man is not a father until his child is conceived. There are similar relations between action, agent and the object of the action. These interdependent relations indicate that nothing exists independently.

His Holiness remarked on the contribution the ‘Ornament of Clear Realization’ (Abhisamayalankara) and ‘Entering the Middle Way’ (Madhyamakavatara) make to these discussions and how difficult these two texts are for monks to memorize. The philosophical positions they describe are a direct antidote to misconceptions about true existence. They are part of the various means the Buddha taught to lead sentient beings out of suffering. Ultimately things arise through dependent origination; they exist as merely designated. The Perfection of Wisdom Sutras say everything is a mere label or designation.

Reading the homage at the opening of the ‘37 Practices’ His Holiness mentioned that he recites a verse of homage to the Buddha on waking every day. It expresses gratitude for his teaching of dependent origination. He reiterated that the aim of Buddhist teaching is liberation and enlightenment and to achieve it we need to understand emptiness, something that only human beings can do.

As he read through the verses of the text he pointed out impermanence, the perils of preoccupation with the next life, the power of the practice of exchanging self with others, the ultimate awakening mind with its space like absorption and illusion like appearance. Then came the verses dealing with the Six Perfections. Finally, he highlighted the admonition in the penultimate verse: “Whatever you are doing ask yourself ‘What’s the state of my mind?’”

Briskly reading through the ‘Eight Verses for Training the Mind’ His Holiness mentioned that he long ago memorized the text and finds reciting it to himself can be far more helpful than saying prayers because it contains advice on how to conduct yourself. 

As the afternoon session came to an end, an artist, Ashok Chopra, came forward to offer a portrait he had done of His Holiness, who held it up and asked the audience:

“Which looks better the painting or my real face?”

Tomorrow morning His Holiness will offer an empowerment related to Buddha Shakyamuni and establishing the three pledges.