Saturday, July 9, 2011

Kalachakra 2011: Day 4. Preliminary Teachings

I didn't go to the Capitol Lawn event this morning; when I came to the Verizon Center in the afternoon for the first Teaching and looked at the big-screen monitor I was surprised to see HH the Karmapa on the stage. Quick Internet search confirmed that he is indeed in DC for the Kalachakra initiation, and that immediately upon arrival he participated in the West Lawn event.

Whitworth, M. (2011), Karmapa lama to travel to Washington DC, The Telegraph, 7 July 2011.
Woeser, S. (2011), Karmapa to receive Kalachakra initiations in Washington, DC, Phayul, 7 July 2011.

His Holiness the Karmapa arrives at West Lawn of the US Capitol
© Kagyu Office
His Holiness the Dalai Lama is received on the stage at the West Lawn of the US Capitol by Gyalwa Karmapa, Speaker of the Tibetan Parliament Mr. Penpa Tsering, and Dr. Lobsang Sangay Kalon Tripa-elect of the Central Tibetan Administration on July 9, 2011. © Tenzin Choejor/OHHDL

Teachings on Acharya Kamalashila's Stages of Meditation (Gomrim Barpa) and Gyalse Ngulchu Thogme's Thirty-seven Practices of a Bodhisattva (Lagden Sodunma). Day 1

The afternoon began with a sutra in Sanskrit, that sutra is common to all Buddhist traditions: Theravada, Mahayana, and Vajrayana.

[What follows is my incomplete and probably incorrect interpretation]

In a wide-ranging lecture, HH The Dalai Lama touched upon many subjects:
  • he said that Kalachakra initiation has become so popular (in the West) that he uses it as an occasion to give Teachings;
  • he emphasized that Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhism is inseparable from the Pali Theravada tradition as practiced in, e.g., Burma, Thailand, and Cambodia; incorporates the Sanskrit Nalanda/Mahayana tradition as transmitted to Tibet; and builds upon both with its own Tantric tradition;
  • he observed that growth of material wealth and power does not necessarily make people happier. It appears that in the more affluent societies the incidences of alcohol and drug abuse and even suicide are on the rise;
  • he said that believers must be “21st century Buddhists”, that is, to combine the scientific understanding of reality with the Buddhist understanding of human condition and the methods Buddhism offers to improve it;
  • he stressed the importance of learning the scriptural languages: too many people recite the prayers without understanding what they mean or ability to read the texts;
  • he emphasized that it is imperative to show respect to people whose view we may disagree with; as an example he offered a secularist (and a nihilist?) tradition in Indian philosophy;
  • he underscored the danger of hypocrisy and corruption (“if one prays to succeed in a robbery then Buddha should punish such a person more than if he didn't pray at all”);
  • he said that the historical Buddha taught contradictory philosophies during his lifetime not because he was confused or he wanted to confuse his disciples but because he recognized that his audiences were different, and different audiences needed different approaches;
  • he expressed a view that people are better off remaining in their own religious tradition but recognized that there is a big attraction to Buddhism in the West;
  • he observed that a maintaining order in a society only by means of law enforcement, by instilling fear, is not enough; rather, maintaining order should be supplemented or in based on the citizens' morality;
  • he touched upon the issues of attachment and transience/impermanence, reminding us how delicate the human body is and how easily it can be damaged, how it is changing, and what happens even with the most beautiful food :).
To elucidate how the Buddhist view differs from that of other religions he recalled an interface meeting where a Sufi scholar posed three questions: What is “self”? Does it have a beginning? Does it have an end?

What is “self”?

While many religions regard “self” as invariable and unchangeable (e.g., a soul), the Buddhist view is that “self” is indeed malleable and that it does change: old/young, sick/healthy, in other words, “self” depends on the state of body and mind. According to the Buddhist view, there is no unchangeable soul, given and taken by god.

Does “self” has a beginning?

Some religions postulate that “self” as a combination of body and mind is created by god for each individual. In the Buddhist view, while body decays, the mind does continue (through reincarnation?) One should recognize that mind does change because of various causes and conditions; nevertheless, the mind does endure. By “mind”, the Buddhists understand the subtle (basic) mind, that is the mind that endures even after death. (Here he relayed some stories about Buddhists whose bodies didn't decay for a long time and how scientists tried to measure and explain that phenomenon. Indeed, that reminded me of an interview with a Chicago physician who treated the 16th Karmapa and couldn't explain why his body remained warm long after his death.) Thus, “self,” understood as the subtle mind, has no beginning—this is the Buddhist answer.

Does “self” has an end?

While the manifestation gets dissolved, the prime substance endures, thus “self” has no end. He then commented on the Kamalashila's text Stages of Meditation (Gomrim Barpa) and explained (in Tibetan, with translation) different methods of meditation (trying to experience an actual feeling, e.g., compassion, intellectually contemplating an object, a discourse using negation, etc.)

Evening dharma talk: Under the Buddhist Umbrella: Do science, secularism, and religion all fit?

After the Teaching was over, Thupten Jinpa (Stanford University), a scholar, commentator, and the Dalai Lama's personal translator for 25 years, gave a talk Under the Buddhist Umbrella: Do science, secularism, and religion all fit?

He compared two different audiences, people who grew up in a Buddhist tradition and then came to the West and absorbed the Western science and philosophy (like himself), and Western Buddhists, who grew up with a rationalist point of view and then came to the Buddhist religion and philosophy. He commented on the inherent difficulties in studying Buddhism not in Sanskrit or Tibetan but learning it, for example, in English. A language necessarily reflects a certain perception of reality, the words and terms express certain conceptual framework. Thus lossless translation is not always possible. He then was generous with his time in answering many ensuing questions.

1 comment:

  1. As always an excellent post. I am so glad that you are not only learning so much but enjoying the whole experience. WT