An Audience With the Dalai Lama: Buddhist Teachings from Tenzin Gyatso
I was in college and on a semester abroad in 1989. I was studying Tibetan culture in Northern India, Nepal and Tibet. This article is based on an audience with the Dalai Lama that I was greatly blessed and honored to be a part of.
The rain had just stopped as we stood outside the 14th Dalai Lama's abode in Upper Dharamsala, India. We were college students on a semester abroad. Our purpose was to intensely study all aspects of Tibetan culture. As I entered I saw him standing in the middle of the room. I could not believe it; I was in awe. The Dalai Lama---the one I had read about for years and idolized---there he was in front of me.
The lighting was a bit subdued and I'm not kidding---he had a rather visible aura surrounding his entire body. I had seen auras around peoples' heads before but never around an entire body and never so visible. To make sure I was not crazy I later asked others if they had seen it and they answered in the affirmative.
I went before him and greeted him by presenting him with a traditional khata. He blessed it and then placed it around the back of my neck; the two ends of the white cloth fell over and in front of both of my shoulders. Others were waiting to greet him but there was a problem---I could not move. I was in such a state of awe that I was glued to the floor in front of him. He laughed heartily at me while someone else pulled me aside.
Dharamsala, India - Where The Dalai Lama Currently Lives
This audience with the Dalai Lama was held on September 18, 1989. The flow of the answers within this transcription may at times seem odd and a bit disconnected. This is because the Dalai Lama speaks broken English and uses a translator to convey many of his ideas or thoughts. I copied down the responses as I heard them and have tried not to add or take away from what was said.
Q. Is it possible for somebody to use Buddhist teachings in their everyday life without becoming a Buddhist?
A. Yes, that's fine, that's no problem as far as I know. There are some Christian monks who without changing religions or faiths sometimes practice some Buddhist techniques to improve compassion and forgiveness. And also in Buddhism, there is still the tradition to train one pointedness of mind; we call this samadhi. This training is still very much alive in Buddhism. To use Buddhist techniques in one's faith is perfectly all right. We Buddhists can also use Christian methods.
Q. How do we know if Buddhism is correct and if other religions are not correct and is it possible that two are true at the same time?
A. That is a complicated question. I think you must be clear as to what is the purpose of different religions. Naturally, because there are so many different mental dispositions, at least among human beings--because there are so many different people--and so many mental attitudes, different teachings have occurred.
So now, the important thing is that we must choose according to our own mental disposition or taste; just like with food, places, the taste of food, and different materials. Then you see, it is difficult to say if this is good or if this is not good or if this is right or if this is wrong--it's difficult to say. We can say, for this person, this religion or this type of food is not suitable. So according to that person this is wrong. Then you see, for this person, this kind of religion or philosophy is more suitable. So for him or for her it is right.
Now for example you see, for someone to appreciate their things or future, entirely depends on one's self and if one doesn't like to depend on others--for that type of person, Buddhist teachings are more suitable because in Buddhism there is no creator so the Buddhist concept is something like self creation. One's own future entirely depends on one's self, nothing else. So therefore, responsibility completely lies on our own shoulders. We ourselves must make sure we follow the right path.
Then, another type of people more easily depend on someone else. In different religions such as Christianity there is a creator, there is God; so if you behave well, God will bless you--God will help you since God is the ultimate creator. If you do not behave well and if you behave against God's wish, you will suffer, you will get punishment. So for that type of person the approach of Buddhism may not be suitable--so Christianity is much more useful, is much more effective.
So according to individual taste or individual mental disposition, then we can say for me this is more suitable---it is right or that way of thinking is not suitable--so for me that is wrong. It is very difficult to say what is right or what is wrong. Of course, if someone asks for Buddhism, then for that person, Buddhism is best.
Even according to science and philosophy, it is often difficult to say if something is right or wrong. To a certain extent, Buddhist explanations are very much close to scientific explanations. Buddhism is actually a science of the mind rather than a religion.
Q. Is love for a husband or a wife wrong since it makes attachment stronger?
A. I think generally speaking, everywhere there is limitation, things are relative---from a Buddhist viewpoint things are relative so therefore right and wrong is also relative.
Now you see, love or close feeling towards a husband or wife--that feeling--the feeling of closeness is something reasonable. That of course is right. Sometimes that feeling is so strong and very often it creates a negative side effect. That kind of closeness feeling can bring disaster or negative things so it is wrong. You can say it this way. The feeling of closeness which is accompanied with sound reason for a husband or a wife--not just because they are your husband or wife but because you love the qualities about that person--I respect, I love--this is good.
Another kind of love is just based on emotion--I love, blind faith, blind love with no proper reasoning--that's dangerous. Love with affection may be all right but as soon as that strong emotion increases trouble will start--there will be fights. The best lover eventually becomes the worst enemy--because of it blind faith.
If from the beginning a relationship is based on reasoning or something real, some quarrels might happen but it will not affect the basic relation. According to particular circumstances you have to judge. Someone might consider something to be right, but under different circumstances, that same thing might be wrong and vice versa, so, things are relative, that is the Buddhist explanation. Anyway, it's like rubber, you can pull it any way (laughs).
In Buddhism one of the most important philosophies is voidness or emptiness. There is no absolute independent nature, things are interdependent, things are relatively existent. Therefore, the ultimate nature of everything is emptiness. This does not mean that things don't exist. Things exist because of other forces, not by itself. There is no independent existent nature. Things happen due to other forces. All things are absent of independent nature. That we call selflessness or voidness.
Q. If you depend heavily on another person like a husband or a wife--is that an obstacle?
A. Now here you see, I think it's relative. For us, unfortunately the Chinese communists, for us, were an invader or troublemaker. From this aspect the Chinese were very negative because they brought so much destruction and misery--for the Chinese people also. The Chinese liberation brought us misery.
Anyway, the Chinese themselves got into a lot of embarrassment and a lot of trouble in Tibet. And for Tibetans, there was a lot of suffering and destruction. From that angle, we look at the Chinese communists as negative, you see--enemy. Another angle, I think they did something very bad and also did some good things--for Chinese people. I think if you compare the negative and positive side, the negative side is bigger but at the same time there are some positive things.
Because of troublemaker we can develop inner strength and because of this we can learn patience. You see, we need patience. Patience will give us tolerance and that will give us inner strength. It's relative. From one side, you can see a positive and from the other side, you can see the negative side.
If someone beats you--that is very bad, but if you compare this to killing, the beat is better. If someone is to give you a present you may look over this present and think it is very good, you will be happy. If you feel that the person should have given you more, then the gift will have no value to you.
Things depend on people's mental attitude. It depends more how you look at the object rather than the object itself. In order to judge if one's perception is right or wrong, much depends on the object sight, but at the same time, there is great influence on perceiver's sight---some people say knower. When things become very subtle, then it becomes very difficult to judge objectivity--the perceiver's sight--the subject's sight. So, it's relative.
There are different types of meaning. For instance, this finger--if you ask if it is long or short. Compared with this finger, this finger is short, but compared with this finger, this finger is long. There is no independent nature you see, short has no independent nature--you must compare.
Another thing, parts and the whole. Without part, there is no point in discussing the whole. Without the whole, we cannot say that is a part of that. If we divide parts we cannot find whole. Each individual part is not the whole but there is a whole--a totality. Without totality we cannot say part and vice versa.
Now for example, this is a table made of wood. Over this point, there is no dispute. Upon this fact, everyone agrees. Then, you see, the color, shape, Eastern part, Southern part, Northern part of the table, are further composed of particles on the subatomic level. All these parts of the table--yes--these things belong to the table but if we make all these parts separate, then, where is the table? On the subatomic level, there is no differences whether something be stone, wood, vegetation, human flesh, in that all of these things are made up of particles. Through investigation, we can't find the table.
So, according to material philosophy, these things are designated upon the combination of their parts. Ultimately, we designate things and we say things exist. On this level, things are irrelevant and interdependent and depends on the perceiver's sight. Without our designation, things can't exist. Again, this does not mean we deny things do not exist, things are there. What I'm talking about is the relation between mind and object. We have to find out what is mind.
Myself as a Buddhist, we have had many talks with neurologists and psychologists. We've had many dialogues between ourselves and they have been interesting. Next month, I meet with some more.
Q. There now in the United States is much controversy concerning abortion, what are your thoughts on this topic?
A. The best thing is to avoid abortion through birth control. Best is not to have sex--become a nun or monk (laughs). If that is not possible then some kind of birth control is best.
Abortion, in particular cases--if the child remains and is born retarded or is seriously deformed or if the mother's life is in danger, then, abortion might be the best answer. If the child's life will create many problems, then someone must judge what they think will be best. So you see, once again, it's all relative. Abortion, in particular circumstances is more right. So, one has to judge. The unborn child is a potential human being and also has the right to live. That is the Buddhist explanation.
Again, what one decides to do is up to one's self. As a Buddhist, I cannot tell another person what to do or what is right, I can only tell them what my beliefs are. The most important thing is to be happy because happiness or joy is right and is the purpose of life. The meaning of life is to be happy and to enjoy. Enjoyment or happiness without disturbing others is very right. If one's happiness causes problems for another, then that is not good. Being happy without disturbing others is perfectly right and that is the aim of life.
So therefore, every action, whether right or wrong--the final basis upon whether to judge if something is right or wrong is to determine if that something brings us joy. That is how judgements should be made. There is no further explanation.
There is natural feeling of I although we can't understand the self. The feeling is there--and with that feeling--I want happiness and do not want suffering. This feeling is there by nature. There is no need for explanation or investigation. Because of this, there is the right to be happy and the right to rid one's self of suffering. That is right. This is the foundation of religion and man-made constitutions, laws--all of these things are based upon this principle.
Dalai Lama Audience Excerpts (not the one I attended_
- The Office of His Holiness The Dalai Lama
The Official Website of The Office of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama