Mind in Comfort and Ease - Selections
CHAPTER 1: INTRODUCTION
First of all, let me tell you how happy I am to be able to spend these few days here with you, my spiritual brothers and sisters, and speak about the Dharma. You have come from every corner of the world, which probably has not been so easy as you are doubtless all very busy, and you have had to overcome difficulties of many kinds in order to get here. There are a number of you as well who have worked to make this event possible. So let me welcome and thank you all.
I would like to say one thing at the outset. You have all come here to meet me, and if your purpose in doing so was because you expected to hear me say something quite amazing or to receive some kind of blessing from me that would instantly remove all your suffering and grant you true happiness—I’m afraid you were mistaken. Here we are basically all just human beings, and we are all the same. Our minds work in the same way, and we experience the same kind of emotions and feelings. There is one other thing we have in common and which we need to be aware of: that we all possess the capacity to become good human beings and to make our lives happy. It is up to us. Equally, we have the power to render our lives unhappy, and not only to experience individual misfortune and sorrow but also to cause pain and misery to those around us and bring ruin to others. Looking at it like this, there is no difference between us.
So what do I have to offer? I am just a practitioner of the Buddhadharma, a simple Buddhist monk. I am now sixty-six years of age. Ever since I was about ten or fifteen years old, I have felt a conviction and a sincere interest in the teachings of Buddha. Over the years I have not been able to practice a great deal, but still I have tried, as much as possible, to persevere in the practice. What it has taught me is that all of us are the same, in wanting to find happiness and to avoid suffering. Since we wish to be happy and to steer clear of suffering, naturally we will be keen to know what will truly be of benefit as we live our lives. We will want to know the causes and conditions that lead to either a happy life or an unhappy one. And this is where I do have some slight experience, which is what I would like to share with you now. It is possible that some of you may benefit from my words, and if you do find something helpful, please take it into consideration. But if you find no benefit in what I say, forget it. There’s no harm in that, is there?
The Common Objective of All Religions
During the course of my life, on account of my training in the Buddhist teachings, I have gained some experiential understanding; I have thought a lot about these topics, and this is what I would like to share with you. However, if, as I speak, I relate my experience to the Buddhist teachings, it is not in order to propagate Buddhism. That is not my intention, not even in the slightest. I have reasons for this.
First, among human beings there is an enormous variety of mentalities and interests, and over the last three to four thousand years, numerous great religious and spiritual traditions have flourished on earth. Many of them are still alive and active on the planet. Throughout their history, they have served the spiritual needs of millions of people. They still do so and will certainly continue to do so in the future. If, on account of our diverse capacities and inclinations, there are these different spiritual traditions with their individual views and philosophies, it can only be of immense benefit to the individual. This is why I feel convinced that people who adhere to the spiritual tradition of their parents, and live according to its view and philosophy, will find that it suits them very well.
Second, while the spiritual traditions of the world do have different views and philosophies, whatever their differences—and some of them are quite major—we find that the ethical training is mostly the same. For example, when it comes to cultivating love, compassion, patience, and contentment, or the observance of self-discipline and ethical principles, most spiritual traditions seem to be more or less the same. This is why I feel that, from the point of view of their potential to benefit people and help them develop into good human beings, most spiritual traditions are indeed the same, and this remains my firm conviction. This is a good reason for staying with the religion we have inherited from our parents.
Otherwise, changing one’s religion is a serious matter and can be problematic; in some cases it can lead to real difficulties. Whenever I give talks in Western countries to people of different religious backgrounds and I explain the Buddhist teachings, my aim is never to proselytize on behalf of Buddhism. In fact, from time to time, I do have slight misgivings about teaching Buddhism in the West. Why? Because in these countries there are already established spiritual traditions, whether Christian, Jewish, or Muslim. If someone appears and talks about something like Buddhism, in certain cases it may cause people to have doubts about their own faith that they never had before. That is why I feel a little uneasy and apprehensive.
As for the spiritual traditions and religions that do exist around the world, two dimensions or aspects can be discerned. One aspect consists of the metaphysical or philosophical views. The other aspect comprises the precepts we need to follow in order to put these views into practice. This means the regular practice of training the mind, day by day, together with the appropriate kind of speech and physical behavior that go along with it. I believe that the major faith traditions generally exhibit these two aspects.
Sometimes you might wonder: What is the point of having such a diversity of metaphysical views and philosophies? Their aim is to tame this mind of ours and help us develop into good human beings. From the point of view of training the mind, all spiritual traditions are more or less the same and possess this same potential. It is only when we discuss them from the standpoint of the views and philosophies themselves that their differences stand out.
From the point of view of the actual training of the mind, I feel that it is difficult to say that one particular religion is better or worse, or higher or lower, than another. They are all there to suit our various capacities and interests, and it is because of these differences that someone can say, “For me, personally, this spiritual tradition is the most profound and the most appropriate.” But it would be difficult, I feel, to make the claim that any one religion would be just as profound, or not so effective, for everyone as a whole.
On the other hand, if we talk about the views and philosophies of the various religious traditions, I think we can describe one tradition as being vast and profound and another as being more concise or succinct. So from the standpoint of metaphysics and philosophy, it would seem permissible to establish some kind of hierarchy. And yet, however vast and profound it may be, when it comes to putting a given view or philosophy into practice, if it does not suit a particular individual’s mind, it will not inspire any profound experience nor frankly will it be of much use. Conversely, even though a philosophical view may not be labeled profound and vast, if it helps a person to develop his or her mind, then truly it is profound as far as that person is concerned.
Let me give you an example. Even within the Buddhist teachings, there are numerous philosophical systems. In the Mahayana tradition there are two principal systems—the Mind Only (Chittamatra) school and the Middle Way (Madhyamaka) school. These two schools both convey the ultimate intention and vision of the Buddha, and both are based on his words. Yet at first glance, they might seem to be in complete disagreement. The Mind Only school considers certain aspects of the Middle Way school of philosophy to be a kind of nihilism, while from the latter school’s point of view, the Mind Only school falls into the extremes of either materialism or nihilism. So there do appear to be contradictions, even great differences, between these two schools. But they were taught by the same teacher! So you might well wonder, “How are we to reconcile this? What are we to make of it?”
The point is that when Lord Buddha taught the Dharma, he recognized among his followers a diversity of capacities and inclinations and saw just how important it was for his teachings to adapt accordingly. It was to address this need that he taught different kinds of view, and so this is how we can understand and explain the seeming contradiction.
One Truth, One Religion
The same principle can help us consider another important point. Individual practitioners of the various religions need to believe and have faith that their religion is for them the ultimate truth and the only authentic teaching. They might call it “the one and only truth, the one and only religion.” Yet since all the various spiritual traditions and philosophies exist on account of people’s diverse mentalities and interests, it follows that they must all, in a sense, be “true.” But if there are all these authentic religions and philosophies, and yet now only one of them is regarded as correct, isn’t this a contradiction? It seems we have to accommodate two ways of thinking simultaneously: the idea that all religions are good and the idea that the religion we practice is the authentic one.
As I mentioned earlier, within the framework of the Buddhist teachings, a person for whom the Mind Only school is the most appropriate and whose mind is inclined toward this approach will be a follower of this school and therefore reckon it to be the best. Adherents of the Mind Only school will employ the view of their school to assess the ultimate point of view of the Middle Way school, namely, the ultimate state of buddhahood, and they will conclude that the meaning of the Middle Way school, as explained by its followers, is not authentic. That is what they are bound to say, because they feel that the Mind Only school is the approach most suited to their capacities and inclinations. Since this view serves them in such a way, they will think: “This is the most profound; this is the best. And so ours must be the unmistaken and ultimate explanation of the state of buddhahood.” They would have to feel this way, wouldn’t they?
At the same time, someone who is more impartial will know that the followers of Lord Buddha, whichever of the four schools of Buddhist philosophy they uphold—Vaibhashika, Sautrantika, Mind Only, or Middle Way—are all followers of one and the same teacher, all of them dependent upon his kindness. So this impartial person will view the followers of any Buddhist school with equal faith, devotion, and respect.
Therefore, we can say that the statement that there is only one truth is entirely valid and authentic for a given individual, from his or her own personal point of view. But from a global point of view, referring to a group of many individuals, we have to say that there are many truths and many authentic paths. In this way, I feel that there is no contradiction. To sum up: From the point of view of a single individual or of your own spiritual practice, there can be one truth. But from the point of view of a multitude, there can be many.
I believe the different religions and philosophies of the world— Christianity, Judaism, Islam, or any of the many branches of Hinduism—are all extremely beneficial and truly help many people. And so I admire and respect them all. It is never my intention to denigrate or find fault with other traditions. Of course, sometimes if I meet a very sectarian or stubborn person, I may feel they are exaggerating and be slightly irritated, but these are isolated cases! Overall, I have a deep reverence and appreciation for all the great religious traditions of the world. So I would like to invite you, my spiritual friends, to think likewise. We should recognize that all the different religions are truly wonderful and serve to help many people. There is a benefit for us, as well, in developing such appreciation for other religions. This is an important point.
Having said all this, it can happen that someone whose parents follow one religion may decide to adopt another. We could take the case of an individual from a Christian family who becomes a Buddhist practitioner, because he or she finds that this tradition suits his or her mentality and inclinations. He or she might even seek ordination as a Buddhist monk or nun and choose the path of a “homeless one” over that of a householder. This person’s family tradition was Christian, but among the millions of Christians in the world, there must, of course, be a wide variety of capacities and inclinations. But what is important is that those who decide to take up the practice of Buddhism maintain respect for the traditions of their parents. It would not be desirable for people to take up a new religion and use that as a reason to act and speak as though their former religion were useless. Their former religion is still benefiting countless people now
Learning from Other Spiritual Traditions
I believe that there is an obvious benefit to learning about spiritual traditions and religions other than our own. For one thing, we can find in other religions a great inspiration that deepens our understanding of our own faith. I find this so often to be the case. Some of my friends who are Christian practitioners have told me how they incorporate certain points of Buddhist contemplative practice into their spiritual life and how this has helped deepen their own practice. In the same way, too, I think that the Buddhist community, and especially the monastic community, can learn from their Christian brothers and sisters— particularly from their example of community service, in the fields of education and healthcare, and in providing humanitarian aid, all of which they do with such great dedication and commitment. This is definitely an example from which our Buddhist community can learn, and I believe this is extremely important.
So it is with this background of acknowledging our need to foster harmony among the different religious traditions and cultivate a pure and positive attitude toward them, that over the next few days I will speak a little about the teachings of Buddhism. Of course, when I speak from the Buddhist standpoint, I will express philosophical views that are quite different from those held by other religions, for example, the belief in a Creator, which is not accepted in Buddhism. However, in explaining these views, my aim is to clarify the Buddhist philosophical point of view and in no way to create controversy or refute the points of view of other religions.
The Preliminaries to the Teaching
Usually, when I give general Buddhist teachings, I sit on a chair, and I tend to prefer it that way. In that case, there is no need to begin with prayers. However, today, as you will have seen, I am seated on a throne. The reason for this is purely out of respect for the words of the Buddha, the vast and profound teaching he gave more than two thousand five hundred years ago, and not because of any sense I may have of being someone important. You may have noticed that before sitting on the throne, I made three prostrations in front of it. In so doing, I was paying homage to the words of the Buddha that I am going to interpret. If I were really some very important person, there would be no need for me to perform such prostrations. It would be enough for me simply to sit up here and look impressive. But if the truth be known, I consider myself just a very simple Buddhist monk, a follower of the Buddha who interprets and shares his words.
Traditionally, whenever a teacher takes his seat on a throne to teach, he recites this verse from the sutras:
Regard all compounded things in this way—
Like stars, hallucinations, and flickering lamps,
Like illusions, dewdrops, and bubbles on water,
Like dream images, flashes of lightning, and clouds.
The teacher climbs onto the throne, recites these lines, and then snaps his fingers. At that instant, he recalls the impermanence of everything; he reflects on suffering and brings to mind the lack of identity in things. Otherwise, when you sit on a throne, there is a risk that you might start to feel proud of yourself. The mind of the one who explains the teachings must be peaceful, tamed, and free from any trace of arrogance or pride.
Of course, some of you here may have been following your spiritual practice with great perseverance and sincerity and gradually progressed through all the levels that lead to spiritual realization. So you may have reached a much higher stage of realization than I have. In which case, it is from you that I should be receiving blessings!
The main point, for each and every one of us, is to tame and train our minds and to put the teachings into practice. In that light, for me to sit on a high throne and fancy myself someone special and different would be a huge mistake. Incidentally, I am not particularly comfortable with all the ostentatious kinds of ceremony we tend to indulge in. In fact, I feel we would be much better off without it. Long ago, after the Lord Buddha had awakened to perfect enlightenment and began turning the wheel of the Dharma, apart from on a few special occasions, as a rule he did not indulge in any ceremony whatsoever. He simply went about barefoot, carrying his alms bowl, walking here and there, as he taught the Dharma. We hear no accounts of the Buddha being chauffeured around in splendor in some ornate chariot.
It was the same in the case of Nagarjuna, who was known as the “second Buddha,” and his spiritual son Aryadeva, and with Asanga and his brother Vasubandhu. They were all fully ordained monks, who carried their bowls as they went about begging for alms. Apart from that, it does not seem that they went in for any fuss or ceremony. I often joke that we don’t hear about the glorious protector Arya Nagarjuna’s business manager or his treasurer or private secretary. It is most likely he did not have any. However, in Tibet a custom slowly developed whereby spiritual and political roles merged, so that people were at one and the same time lamas and chieftains. This gave rise to a lot of elaborate ceremony and spectacle. Nevertheless, there have been many learned and highly accomplished Tibetan masters, from all traditions—Sakya, Geluk, Kagyü, and Nyingma—who were impeccable upholders of the victory banner of the Dharma. For the most part, these masters acted quite ordinarily and lived as pure and simple monks. All the more reason, I feel, for us not to let ourselves get carried away with ceremony and ostentation but to exercise restraint and caution.
The scriptures state that the Dharma, or spirituality, does not depend primarily on some kind of physical expression, like attire or deportment, nor on some verbal expression, such as recitation and chanting, but is experienced, first and foremost, on the basis of the mind. They say that, rather than emphasizing some outward expression, the Dharma consists principally of special methods for analyzing and watching the mind so as to transform it.
It is true that the methods given in the Buddhist teachings do not focus predominantly on external verbal acts such as reciting prayers and mantras, or on physical acts such as prostrations, and the like. Rather, the teachings are put into practice by means of your mind. This makes the process a little more difficult. Another scripture says, “For this reason, the tradition of the Buddha is a subtle one.” Why? you might ask. Because it is always possible for people to behave outwardly like spiritual practitioners, while at the same time harboring negative thoughts unworthy of a real practitioner. Similarly, it is possible for people to recite prayers and mantras continuously, while their minds are simultaneously polluted by all kinds of destructive thoughts. However, if we are practicing something positive in our mind—say we are cultivating faith or compassion, for example—at the same time as that positive quality is generated in our mind, it is quite impossible for us to give rise to a harmful state of mind. By the same token, where there is a negative state of mind, a positive one cannot coexist. So the important point here is that everything is accomplished on the basis of our mind.
Now, to begin with, I will be reciting certain traditional prayers—a homage that calls to mind the qualities of the Buddha’s body, speech, and mind; a recitation from the sutras; and a dedication. These are the “three regular prayers” that come before a teaching. Then I will recite the Heart Sutra in its Tibetan translation, the homage from The Ornament of Clear Realization—its prayer in praise of the “mother” Prajnaparamita—and a prayer of praise from The Root Verses on Wisdom, which honors our unsurpassable teacher, the Lord Buddha, as the one who revealed the truth of dependent origination. Those of you who are Buddhists may not know exactly how to chant these verses along with me, but it will be fine if you reflect on the qualities of the gracious Lord Buddha’s body, speech, and mind and rest the mind for a moment with a sense of vivid inspiration. If you are not a Buddhist, then just take a moment now to relax.
Homage to the teacher, the conqueror, the tathagata, the arhat, the perfect Buddha, the glorious and victorious one, the sage of the Shakyas.
Praise to the Prajnaparamita
Through knowledge of all, you guide the hearers who seek for peace toward perfect peace,
Through knowledge of the path, you enable those who benefit beings to bring about the welfare of the world,
Through being endowed with you, the omniscient sages can teach in various ways—
Homage to you, mother of the buddhas and of all the hearers and bodhisattvas.
Homage to the Buddha
He who taught dependent origination—
No cessation and no origination,
No annihilation and no permanence,
No coming and no going,
Neither different nor same—
This thorough calming of conceptual elaborations:
To you, who are supreme speaker
Among all fully enlightened buddhas, I pay homage.
Taking Refuge and Generating Bodhichitta
Someone teaching the Dharma should do so with a completely pure motivation, and someone listening to the teachings should also do so with a completely pure motivation. If the teachings are explained and heard in this authentic way, they can have a beneficial effect in guiding your mind, but, without this pure motivation, there is no such benefit. So let us now, teacher and students, recite this prayer together three times:
In the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Supreme Assembly,
I take refuge until I attain enlightenment.
Through the merit of practicing generosity, and so on, May I attain buddhahood for the benefit of all beings.
This prayer includes both the taking of refuge and the generation of bodhichitta. Without taking refuge in the Three Jewels, this would not qualify as a Buddhist teaching, and without generating the altruistic aspiration of bodhichitta to seek enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings, this would not count as a Mahayana teaching. So at the outset of my explaining and your listening to the teachings, we should recite this prayer and so take refuge and arouse bodhichitta.
How to cite this document:
© The Tertön Sogyal Trust and Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, Mind in Comfort and Ease (Wisdom Publications, 2007)
Mind in Comfort and Ease by The Dalai Lama is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at http://www.wisdompubs.org/book/mind-comfort-and-ease.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at http://www.wisdompubs.org/terms-use.