Q: Your Holiness, what advice might you give those of us who are working to develop Buddhist communities and organizations in the West ?
A: As I often tell my Buddhist friends, if we want to keep the excellent tradition of Buddhism developed in Tibet alive, it will depend on the existence of freedom in Tibet. To that end, since you are already working together, I would like you to continue to work for the cause of Tibet's freedom with those who are already doing so.
We try to make a distinction between the words "freedom" and "independence." The use of the word independence is somewhat delicate. Obviously, I have been trying to establish contacts with the Chinese government and begin serious negotiations. For fourteen years I have been trying my best, persisting in this approach, and pursuing my efforts incessantly to bring these negotiations to a successful conclusion through direct talks with the Chinese government.
I would like to share some of my thoughts with all of you gathered here, brothers and sisters in Buddhism. First of all, Buddhism corresponds to a new tradition, a religion which did not previously exist in the West. Consequently, it is normal that all those who are interested in Buddhism in its Tibetan form would also like to be informed about and continue to study other religions and traditions. This is perfectly natural. However, for those who are seriously thinking of converting to Buddhism, that is, of changing your religion, it is very important to take every precaution. This must not be done lightly. Indeed, if one converts without having thought about it in a mature way, this often creates difficulties and leads to great inner confusion. I would therefore advise all who would like to convert to Buddhism to think carefully before doing so.
Second, when an individual is convinced that Buddhist teachings are better adapted to his or her disposition, that they are more effective, it is quite right that this religion be chosen. However, human nature being what it is, after their conversion and in order to justify it, such a person may have a tendency to want to criticize his or her original religion. This must be avoided at all costs. Even if the previous religion does not seem as effective as he or she would have liked (and this is the reason for the change), this is not sufficient reason to claim that the old religion is ineffective for the human spirit. That religion continues to bring immense good to millions of people. For this reason, as Buddhists, we must respect the rights of others, for other religions help millions of people. In particular, we are in the process of trying to create and maintain a perfect harmony among all religions. In these circumstances it is absolutely essential to be aware of the need to respect other religions.
Third, in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition emphasis is always placed on the combination of study and practice. Of course, it may happen that you devote yourself more or less to study. Some people may pursue their studies very far, others may be satisfied with a more limited level of study. Whatever the case, at the foundation you must never separate study, reflection, and meditation. You must also preserve the tradition of practice in which study, reflection, and meditation are indivisible.
Fourth, I would like to insist upon the importance of non-sectarianism. It sometimes happens that people attribute an exaggerated importance to one or another of the different schools and different traditions within Buddhism, and this can lead to an accumulation of extremely negative acts with regard to the Dharma. The advantage of non-sectarianism is that after receiving the transmission of the instructions, initiations, and explanations pertinent to each different tradition, we will be able to have a better understanding of the different teachings. From my own experience, this is without doubt very beneficial. Consequently, if we keep a non-sectarian attitude, as we receive teachings from different traditions, think about them, and put them in practice, it is certain we will improve our understanding of the Dharma. This is why non-sectarianism is so important.
Traditionally in Tibet there have been two approaches used by the many great scholars and accomplished masters. Indeed, while some concentrated on the study and practice of their own tradition, their own spiritual heritage, others expanded the field of their study and their practice of Buddhism from a non-sectarian point of view. This tradition already existed in Tibet among the great masters, and I think that today this non-sectarianism is extremely important and is the best Tibetan custom to follow.
There is a fifth point I would like to go into. For just under thirty years, Tibetan Buddhism has been spreading through the different continents of our earth. Lamas, tulkus, and Geshes have made an enormous contribution to the flowering of Tibetan Buddhism all over the world, aided by hundreds of thousands of students and disciples. During the same period, some rather unhealthy situations have arisen, and this has led to difficulties. Initially this was due to an excess of blind faith on the part of the disciples and also to certain teachers who eventually took advantage of their disciples' weaknesses. There have been scandals, financial and sexual abuses. Such things happen! As a result I must insist at this point that it is absolute necessary that both disciples and teachers keep the goal in mind--to preserve a perfectly pure Dharma. It is the responsibility of us all to put an end to this type of unhealthy activity.
The Buddha taught the four ways to bring together the disciples, and this was to ensure the welfare of others. The six perfections (Sanskrit: paramita) are practised to achieve one's own good, and the four ways of bringing together the disciples to achieve the good of others. This involves, first of all, giving material gifts, then practising right speech, then providing help, and finally harmonizing one's words and acts. Above all, it is important to keep this last point in mind. If we do not master our own mind, it is impossible to master the minds of others. We do not know whether or not it is possible to master the mind of another, but it is what we are supposed to do! Whatever the case, it is essential for those who claim they wish to help others that they control their own minds. To do this it is very important nowadays for teachers to be reminded again and again of the teachings of Buddha on how to help others and harmonize words and acts.
As far as the disciple is concerned, to quote a Tibetan proverb: A disciple must not throw himself upon a spiritual master "as a dog throws itself upon a piece of meat." A disciple must not rush to place their trust immediately in a master, but must rather take the time to reflect carefully and examine the master's qualities before establishing a spiritual bond with them by receiving their teachings. It is preferable to receive the teachings of a master while viewing him or her first and foremost as a spiritual friend. We must not rush to hear their teachings and consider them our master at the same time. Little by little, if having observed them we are convinced that they are a true master, fully qualified and worthy of trust, we can follow their teachings by considering them our master. We must not hurry.
The sixth point which I would like to go into regarding Dharma centres concerns our oft-invoked prayer: "May all beings find happiness and its causes." This is something we should apply directly by doing something useful for society. engaging in social activity in the community, by trying to help those who are In difficulty, such as those with mental or other problems, for example. This does not necessarily mean we should teach them the Dharma, but rather use the teachings ourselves in order to help them. I think such activity directed toward others is something we should develop. It is the natural conclusion of another common prayer: "May all beings attain happiness and be free from suffering." On this principle, if we can bring good, even if only to one person, we are fulfilling in part the vow we have made. Moreover, the entire Buddhist community of these centres should participate in social engagement by assisting others, and I think this is something very important with regard to the operation of these centres.
A vegetarian diet is not obligatory for Buddhists. Still, for those of us who follow the teachings of the Great Vehicle, it is important. But the teachings of the Buddha were open and flexible on this subject, and each practitioner has the choice to be vegetarian or not. Large gatherings are sometimes held in Dharma centres and when there are such festivities, celebrations, or teachings, I think that if a great number of people are to be fed it is very important to serve only vegetarian food for the entire duration of the meeting.
Seventh point: we often say this prayer, "May the teachings of the Buddha (the Dharma) be propagated." If Tibet regains its freedom, this will certainly help to preserve the vast and profound teachings of Buddha, including the Lesser and Great Vehicles as well as all the Tantras. T here is therefore an obvious connection between the freedom of Tibet and the preservation of the teachings of Buddha in the world. If this were not the case, if the fundamental question of Tibet's freedom were solely a political issue, then as a monk and a disciple of the Buddha's tradition I would have no reason for such concern. But the two aspects are closely linked.
Even when I am advocating the demilitarization
of Tibet, that it be made into a peace zone, although the term "demilitarization"
is not strictly speaking a term from the Dharma, the project is nevertheless
closely related to the Dharma. Many of you, representatives and members of the
different centres, are among those who have already contributed to the cause
of Tibet's freedom. I thank you for that and ask you to continue your efforts,
bearing in mind the relation between the preservation of the teachings and the
freedom of Tibet, in order to give practical expression to the vow that the
Buddha's teachings be preserved and developed.
My last point--you must keep your mind happy and know how to laugh!
Q: Your Holiness, you have just visited a Catholic shrine. Do you hope to one day go to Jerusalem or Mecca?
A: I am particularly happy to have gone today, in person, to the shrine at Lourdes, the heart of this holy place of pilgrimage I had heard of in the past. I was deeply moved. Of course I have been attending services and taking part in interreligious exchanges for a long time. For two years I have been planning to do a major pilgrimage to holy places in the company of representatives of other religions. When we visit such places we benefit from their atmosphere, we pray together, or we may simply meditate and commune with our thoughts in silence. I have already done this in India and am happy to begin again today. I believe these sites awaken in us a feeling of communion and understanding much greater and deeper than a simple intellectual comprehension. I would like very much to begin such a pilgrimage by visiting Jerusalem and Mecca, but I do not know when circumstances will allow me to go there.
Q: Have you and the other representatives discussed among yourselves the issues raised by conversion, changing from one religion to another, in particular the different forms of Protestantisrn, Catholicism, or even Buddhism here in France?
A: In our private meeting, a Christian quoted to me an inscription of King Ashoka, which speaks of how intolerance towards other religions can destroy one's own religion; how the prosperity of a religion is linked to respect for other religions.
Q: What do you think of the work of solidarity taking place between Christians in the West and in China?
A: Christians have always been a minority in China, and they have suffered as such. Moreover, the lack of communication due to the political regime has certainly limited their vision of the international situation. I think, therefore, that any dialogue that can be established with Christians outside China can help them to open their minds to the realities of the world.
Q: Do you think it is possible to be both Christian and Buddhist at the same time?
A: I ... [previoiusly--see later] replied to this question indirectly when I said that belief in a Creator could be associated with the understanding of emptiness. I believe it is possible to progress along a spiritual path and reconcile Christianity with Buddhism. But once a certain degree of realization has been reached, a choice between the two paths will become necessary. I recently gave a series of teachings in the United States and one of these teachings was about patience and tolerance. At the end there was a ceremony for taking the Bodhisattva Vows. A Christian priest who was in the audience wanted to take these vows. I asked him if he had the right to, and he replied that yes, of course, he could take these vows and still remain a Christian.
Q: Christ's words "Love thy neighbour" embody for us the Christian religion. What is your message to humanity when you meet another human being?
A: Love of one's neighbour, kindness, and compassion--these are, I believe, the essential and universal elements preached by all religions. In spite of divergent philosophical views, we can establish harmony among all spiritual traditions on the basis of these common traits of love, kindness, and forgiveness. I always insist on this point and devote a great deal of energy to it. Most difficulties between religions come about because of people who, having failed to transform and bring peace to their own minds, not only apply their own beliefs yet are all while to impose them on others. This unfortunate behaviour can provoke serious conflicts, although I have noticed a considerable re-conciliation between the different religions, more particularly between Tibetan Buddhism and Christianity. We have actually set up a very constructive programme of exchanges between monks and nuns of our two traditions.
Q: What are the ten virtuous acts spoken of in Buddhism?
A: Three concern the body: one must not kill, steal, or engage in sexual misconduct. Four others are verbal: do not lie, defame others, speak offensive words, or engage in frivolous conversation, which relates to everything that might be said under the influence of afflicting emotions. Finally, the last three virtuous acts are of a mental nature: do not develop covetousness or malice and, finally, do not hold false or perverted views, such as the extreme view, close to nihilism, which totally denies spiritual perfection.
What we mean by "erroneous views" generally includes absolutist, eternalist, and Nihilistic views. But in the context of the ten virtuous acts, only nihilistic views are implicated. It is therefore on the basis of a lifestyle disciplined by ethics that one abstains from committing the contrary acts, the ten non-virtuous acts. When faced with a situation where you might possibly commit such negative acts, you abstain from committing them. A life rooted in ethics has at its foundation the abandonment of the ten non-virtues in favour of the practice of their opposites.
Q: If we have committed a serious negative act, how can we let go of the feeling of guilt that may follow?
A: In such situations, where there is a danger of feeling guilty and therefore depressed, the Buddhist point of view advises adopting certain ways of thinking and behaving which will enable you to recover your self-confidence. A Buddhist may reflect on the nature of the mind of. a Buddha, on its essential purity, and in what way disturbing thoughts and their subsequent emotions are of an entirely different nature. Because such disturbing emotions are adventitious, they can be eliminated. To think of the immense well of potential hidden deep within our being, to understand that the nature of the mind is fundamental purity and kindness and to meditate on its luminosity, will enable you to develop self-confidence and courage.
The Buddha says in the Sutras that fully enlightened and omniscient beings, whom we consider to be superior, did not spring from the bowels of the earth, nor did they fall from the sky; they are the result of spiritual purification. Such beings were once as troubled as we are now, with the same weaknesses and flaws of ordinary beings. Shakyamuni Buddha himself, prior to his enlightenment, lived in other incarnations that were far more difficult than our present lives. To recognize, in all its majesty, our own potential for spiritual perfection is an antidote to guilt, disgust, and hopelessness. Nagarjuna says in "The Precious Garland of Advice for the King" that pessimism and depression never help in finding a good solution to any problem. On the other hand, arrogance is just as negative. But to present as an antidote to it a posture of extreme humility may tend to foster a lack of self-confidence and open the door to depression and discouragement. We would only go from one extreme to the other.
I would like to point out that to set out on a retreat for three years full of hope and expectations, thinking that without the slightest difficulty you will come Out of it fully enlightened, can turn into a disaster, unless you undertake it with the most erious intentions. If you overestimate your expectations and have too much self-confidence, you will be headed for dissatisfaction and disillusionment. When you think of what the Buddha said--that perfect enlightenment is the result of spiritual purification and an accumulation of virtues and wisdom for eons and eons--it is certain that courage and perseverance will arise to accompany you on the path.
Q: You have said that according to Buddhist philosophy there is no Creator, no God of creation, and this may initially put off many people who believe in a divine principle. Can you explain the difference between the Vajrayana Primordial Buddha and a Creator God?
A: I understand the Primordial Buddha, also known as Buddha Samantabhadra, to be the ultimate reality, the realm of the Dharmakaya-- the space of emptiness--where all phenomena, pure and impure, are dissolved. This is the explanation taught by the Sutras and Tantras. However, in the context of your question, the tantric tradition is the only one which explains the Dharmakaya in terms of Inherent dear light, the essential nature of the mind; this would seem imply that all phenomena, samsara and nirvana, arise from this clear and luminous source. Even the New School of Translation came to the conclusion that the "state of rest" of a practitioner of the Great Yoga--Great Yoga implies here the state of the practitioner who has reached a stage in meditation where the most subtle experience of clear light has been realized--that for as long as the practitioner remains in this ultimate sphere he or she remains totally free of any sort of veil obscuring the mind, and is immersed in a state of great bliss.
We can say, therefore, that this ultimate source, clear light, is close to the notion of a Creator, since all phenomena, whether they belong to samsara or nirvana, originate therein. But we must be careful in speaking of this source, we must not be led into error. I do not mean chat there exists somewhere, there, a sort of collective clear light, analogous to the non-Buddhist concept of Brahma as a substratum. We must not be inclined to deify this luminous space. We must understand that when we speak of ultimate or inherent clear light, we are speaking on an individual level.
Likewise, when we speak of karma as the cause of the universe we eliminate the notion of a unique entity called karma existing totally independently. Rather, collective karmic impressions, accumulated individually, are at the origin of die creation of a world. When, in the tantric context, we say that all worlds appear out of clear light, we do not visualize this source as a unique entity, but as the ultimate clear light of each being. We can also, on the basis of its pure essence, understand this dear light to be the Primordial Buddha. All the stages which make up the life of each living being--death, the intermediate state, and rebirth--represent nothing more than the various manifestations of the potential of clear light. It is both the most subtleconsciousness and energy. The more clear light loses its subtlety, the more your experiences take shape.
In this way, death and the intermediate state are moments where the gross manifestations emanating from clear light are reabsorbed. At death we return to that original source, and from there a slightly more gross state emerges to form the intermediate state preceding rebirth. At the stage of rebirth, clear light is apparent in a physical incarnation. At death we return to this source. And so on. The ability to recognize subtle clear light, also called the Primordial Buddha, is equivalent to realizing nirvana, whereas ignorance of the nature of clear light leaves us to wander in the different realms of samsaric existence.
This is how I understand the concept of the Primordial Buddha. It would be a grave error to conceive of it as an independent and autonomous existence from beginningless time. If we had to accept the idea of an independent creator, the explanations given in the Pramanavartika, the "Compendium of Valid Knowledge" written by Dharmakirti, and in the ninth chapter of the text by Shantideva, which completely refutes the existence per se of all phenomena, would be negated. This, in turn, would refute the notion of the Primordial Buddha. The Buddhist point of view does not accept the validity of affirmations which do not stand up to logical examination. If a sutra describes the Primordial Buddha as an autonomous entity, we must be able tointerpret this assertion without taking it literally. We call this type of sutra an "interpretable" sutra.
Q: Interest im the discoveries of modern astrophysics and the "Big bang" theory reveal both a great fascination in the cosmos and a probing interrogation by members of our generation into their origins, their destiny and the meaning of their existence. The "Big bang" theory has had a significant impact on our way of looking at matter and nature; it has introduced considerable conceptual innovations. The formation of the structures of the universe, which function in interdependence, and which new research continues to reveal, is a seemingly endless source of wonder. Like all spiritual traditions, Buddhism conveys a cosmogonic myth. And yet Buddhism rejects the idea of creation. Why?
Most Western scientists think that life and consciousness are a magnificent result of the universe's material evolution, and yet they know neither how nor why matter emerged in such a way as to fulfill the conditions necessary to engender life and consciousness. What they do know is that these conditions are very strict, yet have nevertheless been fulfilled in our universe in an astonishing way. You have a very different point of view on this subject. Would you therefore speak to us about consciousness in its relation to matter and the universe?
A: Why is there no creation possible in Buddhism? It has been said that one cannot find living beings at the becoming of the universe for the essential reason that causes have no beginning. If there were a beginning to the universe, there would also have to be a beginning to consciousness. If we accepted a beginning to consciousness, we would also have to accept that its cause has a beginning, a sudden cause which would have instantly produced consciousness; this would lead to a great many other questions. If Consciousness had arisen without cause, or from a permanent cause, that cause would have to exist on. A permanent basis, always, or not exist at all, ever. The fact that a phenomenon exists intermittently proves that it depends on causes and conditions. When all the conditions are met, the phenomenon is produced. When those conditions are absent or incomplete, the phenomenon does not appear. As causes have no beginning and stretch back to infinity, the same thing must apply for living beings. Creation is therefore not possible.
Let us now consider a particular phenomenon,
a glacier for example: it does indeed have a beginning. How was it created?
The outside world appears as a result of the acts of sentient beings who use
this world, These acts, or karmas, in turn originate in the
intentions and motivations of those beings who have not yet taken control of their minds.
The "creator of the world," basically, is the mind. In the Sutras, the mind is described as an agent. It is said that consciousness has no beginning, but we must distinguish here between gross consciousness and subtle consciousness. Many gross consciousnesses appear as dependents of the physical aggregates, of the body. This is evident when you consider the different neurons and the functioning of the brain, but just because physical conditions are met does not mean that this is enough to produce a perception. In order for a perception which will have the faculty to reflect and know an object to arise, it must have a consubstantial cause. The fundamental consubstantial cause, of the same substance as its result, will in this case be the subtle consciousness. It is this same consciousness or subtle mind which penetrates the parental cells at the moment of conception. The subtle mind can have no beginning. If it had one, the mind would have to be born of something that is not the mind. According to the Kalacakra Tantra, one would have to return to the particles of space to find the fundamental consubstantial causes of the external physical world as well as of the bodies of sentient beings.
Buddhist cosmology establishes the cycle of a universe in the following way: first there is a period of formation, then a period where the universe endures, then another during which it is destroyed, followed by a period of void before the formation of a new universe. During this void, the particles of space subsist, and from these particles the new universe will be formed. It is in these particles of space that we find the fundamental consubstantial cause of the entire physical world. If we wish to describe the formation of the universe and the physical bodies of beings, all we need do is analyse and comprehend the way in which the natural potential of different chemical and other elements constituting that universe was able to take shape from these space particles. It is on the basis of the specific potential of those particles that the structure of this universe and of the bodies of the beings present therein have come about. But from the moment the elements making up the world begin to set off different experiences of suffering and happiness among sentient beings, we must introduce the notion of karma -- that is, positive and negative acts committed and accumulated in the past. It is difficult to determine where the natural expression of the potential of physical elements ends and the effect of karma -- in other words, the result of our past acts -- begins. If you wonder what the relation might be between karma and this external environment formed by natural laws, it is time to explain what karma is.
Karma means, first of all, action. We distinguish one type of karma which is of a mental nature, a mental factor of volition or intention. There also exist physical and oral karmas. To understand the connection between these physical, oral, or mental karmas and the material world, we must refer to the tantric texts. The Kalacakra Tantra in particular explains that in our bodies there are to be found, at gross, subtle, and extremely subtle levels, the five elements which make up the substance of the external world. It is therefore in this context, I believe, that we must envision the connection between our physical, oral, and mental karmas, and the external elements.
Q: Given the fact that in your tradition there
exist states of clarity and there are reports of people experiencing this more
subtle state of mind, my question is two-fold: first, do you think that such
non-cognitive states of mind could in theory be observed with our external tools?
For example, if we were to place a meditator who is in a state of clear light
into one of our modern machines with magnetic resonance, using new brain-imaging
techniques, would we be able to see something, some sign of this subtle state?
Perhaps we do not yet know how to do this but, in theory, do you think it would
it be possible? If so, what, in your opinion, would be the relation between
the two levels, gross and
subtle, in the field of interdependence? We do not want to succumb to a new dualism, that of grossness and subtlety. What is the nature of causality between these two levels?
A: I think it may be difficult to measure the activity specific to the mind that consists of reflecting one's object and knowing it. But as the experiences of the gross consciousness appear in the activity of the brain and can therefore be observed as such, it seems to me that it should also be possible to study the physical manifestations of the more subtle states of mind. The subtle level of consciousness, referred to by the term "clear light," appears among other things at the moment of death. Those who have practised ahead of time are able to remain voluntarily in this state for several days after death, and for the duration of this time their bodies do not decompose. Modern scientific instruments would be able to observe this phenomenon, and in fact this has already occurred in India. Although it seems to me that it would be difficult to observe the subtle mind in its entirety using these methods, I think all the same that this might give us an idea.
To answer the second question, concerning the
relation between the gross mind and the subtle mind, you must know that the
degree of subtlety of the mind will depend in part on the degree of subtlety
of its physical support and on the particular ruling condition, the six senses.
But the faculty shared by all perceptions -- to reflect an object and know it
-- comes from the subtle mind. In this way it is possible to understand the
fundamental relation that exists between the subtle and gross levels of the
mind. Sensory and mental consciousnesses are produced depending on ruling conditions
specific to each of the six senses: visual sense for visual perceptions, mental
faculty or sense for mental knowledge, etc. Because the grossness of their support
is. greater, sensory perceptions are relatively gross compared to mental consciousnesses.
Still, all h ave the ability to reflect their object and know it, an aptitude
which derives from their common underlying foundation, the subtle mind, clear
light. The tantric texts of Buddhism comment on the manner in which the gross
levels of the mind are linked to the subtle mind. It is explained how eighty
states of consciousness correspond to four stages of absorption of the gross mind into the subtle mind, during death for example. The links between the different levels of the mind are illustrated, but it is a very complex subject which would be difficult to go into at this point.
Q: I am particularly interested in the question
of the validation of phenomena by consciousness, and therefore in the conditions
of their integration. I would like to ask if, apart from certain limited analogies
-- which are very interesting -- between the Dharma and contemporary sciences,
Buddhism has something more fundamental to offer the West. I am thinking here
of the practice of meditation in particular: a renewed open-mindedness and sense
of space and time which might give scientific information access to a more truly
conscious "reality, "so that it would no longer be merely a fascinating
"fiction" related to matter/ energy, the space/time curve, the nonsubstantiality
A: I have no immediate answer to your question, but I do have a few ideas to put before you. It would be interesting to refer some of these ideas to certain types of phenomena mentioned by Buddhist philosophical texts. There are physical phenomena, forms, which are not made up of gross matter (one of the properties of which is solid obstruction), but which are, rather, subtle forms, which may be classified into five categories. The first are forms deriving from an assembly, infinitesimal particles such as atoms. Their form is described as being spherical, but their colour is not mentioned. Next we have the mental appearances of space, that is the appearance with which the sky appears to mental perception. I think that modern science could provide more explanations on this subject and have greater success in making it comprehensible. Will it, in reality be particles of space or of light? These two first types of subtle physical phenomena are accepted by all and are not solely creations of the mind.
The third type of subtle form includes those which are imagined and might appear, for example, to a person meditating, but which only the meditator can see and which cannot fulfill their usual functions. The next category is that of forms created by the powers of concentration; these are phenomena which originate from the four physical elements through the force of meditation practised by those who have been very successful in developing their powers of concentration. These phenomena may be experienced not only by the meditator but also by other people. Through meditating in this way it is possible to create fire, for example fire which can fulfill its function of burning and heating. It may seem strange, to say the least, that forms can be produced through the power of concentration. I do not know exactly how they can be interpreted or understood, but I do not think they last for very long after they have been created, probably only for the duration of the meditation. These third and fourth types of form should give scientists matter for reflection! If these phenomena exist, how are they produced?
Up to now we have talked about information contained in the Sutras. We could also examine them in the light of the Tantras, the esoteric aspect of Buddhism which deals at length with the nature of more or less subtle energies.
Q: What is the concept of time in Buddhism?
A: Excuse me, I misunderstood the Tibetan translation of the question; in our language the words for "demon" and "time" are pronounced almost identically, and I was about to give you a talk about what a demon is from a Buddhist point of view!
Regarding the Buddhist concept of time, our philosophy
has. adopted several positions. The Sautrantika school, also known as the "Holders
of Discourse," affirms that all phenomena and events exist only in the
present moment. For this school, past and
future are nothing other than simple concepts, simple mental constructs. As for the Madhyamika-Prasangika school, the Consequence School of the Middle Way, it generally explains time in terms of relativity, as an abstract entity developed by the
mind on the basis of an imputation, the continuity of an event or phenomenon. This philosophical view &scribes, therefore, an abstract concept whose function is dependent on the continuum of phenomena. From this point on, to try to explain time as an
autonomous entity, independent from an existing object, proves impossible. That time is a relative phenomenon and can claim no independent status is quite clear; I often give the example of external objects which can be easily conceived of in terms of the past or future, but of which the very present seems inconceivable. We can divide time into centuries, decades, years, days, hours, minutes, and seconds. But as the second is also divisible into multiple parts, milliseconds for example, we can easily lose
our grasp of the notion of present time!
As for consciousness, it has neither past nor
future and knows only present moments; it is the continuum of a present moment
being trans . formed into another present moment, whereas with external objects
the present disappears in favour of notions of past and future. But further
pursuit of this logic will lead to absurdity, because to situate past and future
we need a frame of reference which, in this case, is the present, and we have
just lost its trace in fractions of milliseconds.. . .
Q: If consciousness has neither beginning nor end, and if it is not permanent, does it age like an old house, changingwith each moment? And if it has neither form, nor colour, nor odour, bow can it be transformed?
A: First of all, let us try to agree on the problematic notion of consciousness, of the mind. We have only a gross and partial intellectual understanding of consciousness. Our desire to perfect that understanding through analytical research will lead us to the discovery of the luminous, clear, and knowing nature of consciousness. It is extremely important to know how to identify clearly the object we are analysing, in this case the nature of consciousness. Once we identify the nature of consciousness with its immaterial and non-obstructive characteristics, we will be able to use it to confront external objects and a third category of phenomena, abstract concepts such as the notions of time and change which have neither the nature of consciousness nor that of material objects. Keeping these three classifications well in mind -- physical objects, the mind, and abstract mental constructs -- we will be able to identify consciousness by comparing it to the two other categories of phenomena. Once we have clear knowledge of its nature, it will not only be possible to have a conscious experience of the process of change occurring within consciousness, but also to understand how consciousness and the experience of consciousness depend on a preceding moment of consciousness. Only the preceding instant of consciousness may lead to a subsequent moment of consciousness nothing else has that faculty.
I do not think we can talk about the continuity of consciousness solely in terms of chronology. The very idea of chronology, and thus aging, only has meaning in relation to material phenomena, such as the body. On the level of different individual consciousnesses, such as sensory faculties, we can use the term "aging" to refer to the physiological basis, the body of a human being; in the case of sensory consciousnesses, aging in large part progresses in keeping with the individual's physiological condition. The two evolutions are not independent. To speak of the "aging of sensory consciousnesses" is possible if we associate this affirmation with a biological, physiological process, something we cannot do when we speak of mental consciousness.
I think it is very important to reflect on the
nature of consciousness, to know the different types of consciousnesses and
their natures. Buddhist scripture holds that sensory perceptions, such as visual
consciousness, are direct and not conceptual; a visual perception perceives
a form, without however discerning between its good or bad, desirable or undesirable,
aspects. The discernment takes place on a conceptual level, which constitutes
a far more interpretative process than. that of simple sensory
As far as mental consciousness, the world of conceptual thought, is concerned, we distinguish different levels of subtlety, from the gross to the most subtle, well-documented in the tantric system The brain, neurons, synapses, etc., are connected to consciousness, and this opens onto a vast terrain for investigation when we connect them with what tantric literature calls energy (Tibetan: lung; Sanskrit: prana).
Research into the exact nature of the relation between the brain, consciousness, and energy proves to be very interesting. When all the functions of the brain have stopped and physiological conditions have disappeared, it would seem that a form of the process of consciousness continues to exist. This has been observed in the experience of certain realized lamas whose bodies, although declared clinically dead, do not decompose and remain fresh for several days or even several weeks. At this stage, the Buddhist point of view maintains that the individual is not altogether dead, that he is continuing to evolve through the process of death, and that he remains in a state of subtle consciousness. I think scientists ought to seek logical explanations for these cases when the body does not decompose even when the functions of the brain and the body have stopped.
The texts also give accounts of meditators who have learned to develop a supernatural ability to create physical objects with their mind, or produce elements such as fire and air, perceived not only by their creator but also, apparently, by other people. Other types of mentally created objects are only perceived by the meditator. I do wonder what the substantial, material cause of these external objects might be. If there is a result -- a mentally created physical object -- it must be preceded by a cause and conditions of the same nature. I also wonder if these objects exist solely during the practitioner's meditation, and cease to exist as soon as he leaves his meditative absorption. I cannot say what the material cause of this type of mentally created object might be. It is a question I address to the monastic community: can consciousness become a substantial cause of material objects? The Tantras, such as that of Guhyasamaja, speak of the illusory body and its substantial cause, which is purported to be subtle energy, as subtle energy is part of the material world. I must say that this problem leaves me puzzled.
Q: How did illusion begin?
A: As the continuum of the mind has no beginning, ignorance does not have one either. If it did, we would have to discover from within a state of consciousness that predates ignorance and is different from ir in an enlightened mind, therefore -- a cause resulting in ignorance. This makes no sense.
Q: Is there a primordial cause for all causes?
A: No. Generally, causes have no origin, and for this reason effects have none either. We can nevertheless say, in the context of a very specific point, that in some cases causes and effects have a beginning. When we establish that the continuum of the mind is without beginning, to want t o discern a beginning to causes would be an obvious contradiction! You know, Buddhist logicians are quite rigorous. From the moment they accept that the mind has no beginning they can affirm logically and resolutely that neither causes nor effects have one either.
Q: Over the last few years the physics community has shown increasing interest in questions dealing with the understanding of a reality which seems to escape scientists, despite the great precision and powers of prediction of modern theories, such as quantum physics. Generally a physicist seeks not only to report on appearances and the sequence of an events's cause and effect, but also to perfect an intelligible way of interpreting what we call "nature." Our creativity seems to depend largely on this. In order to accomplish this we create representations in term of atoms, particles, forces, energies, space, time, etc.
The Buddhist tradition contains a great number of texts dealing with the nature of phenomena, discussing the reality of atoms, the nature of space and time. Would you explain to us why Buddhist teachings insist on this question? Do you feel it is important for scientists in their research to take into consideration the explication found in the Middle Why which refutes the inherent existence of phenomena?
A: This is why when followers of this school speak of negations they refute exclusive negations and admit only evocative negations. The followers of the Sautrantika school hold that certain phenomena, such as negations, are merely imputations or designations of discursive perceptions. This is the case, for example, with space, with compound phenomena dissociated from the form and the mind or the individual. Having said that, the meaning assigned here to the word "designation" or "imputation" differs slightly from that of the Madhyamika school, according to which all phenomena exist merely by simple imputation or designation.
According to the Cittamatra school, it does not matter whether we are speaking of the nominal basis of designation, of the nominal designation "form" applied to a form, or finally of the conceptual basis of the representative perception of the form as form - the form is believed not to exist by itself, in an exterior manner. However, if we look again at the earlier Sautrantika tradition, the form, as the conceptual basis of the representative perception apprehending it, exists by virtue of its own characteristics.
Up to this point, all Buddhist schools affirmed
that all phenomena have an absolute existence. The followers of the Madhyamika
, school, however, refute the absolute existence of phenomena. Among these followers,
those of the first sub-school, the
Svatantrika, consider phenomena to exist conventionally, on their own. The other sub-school, the Prasangika, holds that even conventional phenomena do not exist through their own characteristics. All schools accept non-self, but the way in which it is conceived becomes progressively more and more subtle.
One question must be asked. If by "reality" we mean that once we have sought a designated object it can be found and is sufficient unto itself, then Buddhist philosophy denies the existence of such a reality. Reality does exist, however, if we define it as a situation where, although we cannot find the conceived object as such when we seek it, we nevertheless accept its existence as a designation. The Madhyamika or Middle Way philosophy places great emphasis upon the elimination of the two extremes.
What in physics is called "undiscovered" refers to a field which is infinitely partial and restricted in relation to the Buddhist notion of the "unfindable" character of the analysed object. For Buddhists it is not enough to assert that the apprehension of self is false and that it will automatically disappear once we have understood that the object of our erroneous perception does not exist. We must eliminate this erroneous perception of our ego, that is, our apprehension of self, and not the perception of self as a simple designation. Why go to such trouble?
As I already explained briefly at an earlier stage, from this false perception an exaggerated vision of the ego will arise, one which is far removed from reality, and from that point we can divide the world in two: on the one hand, everything which has to do with self; and, on the other, everything else. We feel attachment for the first and aversion toward the second. It is precisely to weaken this attachment and aversion that we strive to eliminate the erroneous perception of the ego.
The Middle Way seeks principally to eliminate the two extremes of eternalism and nihilism. If we do not eliminate the extreme of eternalism we will not have the means to eliminate the false perception of our ego. At the other extreme, nihilism totally denies the existence of an ego. If we do not eliminate that extreme by reaching certainty with regard to the positive and negative aspects of an act and its agent on a conventional level, we will likewise reject the law of cause and effect, and that is something which is inadmissible. By ruling out the extreme of nihilism, we a&m that whoever creates or accumulates a cause must necessarily experience the results thereof, By refuting the extreme of eternalism, we avoid an exaggerated apprehension of the ego. This is the explanation of the Middle Way of the Madhyamika. In short, we must endeavour to eliminate the erroneous perception of the ego and reinforce the correct view of the ego, without limiting ourselves to a strictly intellectual comprehension of these notions. Once we have understood this, we must continue to reflect and meditate on the subject so that a true inner transformation can take place. These notions will be more and more beneficial to us as pure mind gradually becomes familiar with them.
Q: You just said, a few minutes ago, that emotions
can be a source of suffering. Do you have a definition for illness specific
to Buddhism? Is illness the sign of an anomaly in one: biological or psychological
behaviour, or is it a physical disorder pointing to a psychological disorder?
Isn't it normal that at certain times in life a human being will
become ill! And what should the attitude of the medical profession be in these conditions; should it seek to remove the anomaly, by any means possible or help the human being live with it?
A: With regard to the states of mind sometimes referred to as "emotions," we can distinguish positive ones and negative ones. Thus, we say that feelings such as kindness, love, and compassion are positive emotions. But this is tantamount to saying that emotions subsist in the flow of consciousness of Buddhas, since such qualities emanate from their minds. This must not be confused with the affirmation that Buddhas are always concentrated on emptiness. Once Buddha-hood is attained there is no longer any representative or discursive perception. What remains is direct comprehension of emptiness. But when they meditate on the wisdom of which emptiness is a part, all the qualities such as love and compassion are present in the minds of Buddhas.
As for the negative states of mind, we speak of the three main kleshas - afflicting emotions (literally, "poisons" of the mind) - attachment, aversion, and ignorance. From the point of view of a practising Buddhist, these afflicting factors or mental poisons are the true mental illness. But we will not be cured of this illness until we achieve liberation. Before we reach that point, we will speak, therefore, of illness on a less subtle level.
In our society in general we consider a person to be perfectly healthy when his or her mind is not troubled or deeply perturbed by the three afflictions of the mind, even if these negative factors remain present in that person. It does occur, however, that under the influence of the three kleshas the mind, deeply disturbed, will lapse into confusion. At this point we can speak of mental illness. We distinguish two levels of mental illness: gross and subtle; both may be associated with physical illness. For this reason, Tibetan medicine regards a patient as a whole entity, ,taking into account not only his or her body but also his or her mind. This is why there are those who treat mental illness by combining Western psychotherapy with Buddhist methods. I think this is an excellent method.
Now, what should our response to illness be? It is perfectly obvious that all beings aspire to happiness and that they have every legitimate right to seek it. At the same time, they wish never to be afflicted by illness or any form of suffering whatsoever. We must try to prevent suffering and, in this context, preventive medicine is judicious. We must try to prevent illness in every way possible. If in spite of our efforts, certain conditions lead to illness and suffering, we must try to think clearly and not add to our suffering by worrying.
Q: We have the unique opportunity to examine, together with the Dalai lama, some issues dealing with the heart of scientific practice from the point of view of interdependence. Before you begin this discussion, would His Holiness explain in a few words the meaning of interdependence in Buddhist philosophy and what you hope to take with you from this symposium?
A: I have learned a great many things from my encounters with scientists of all sorts and profited greatly from these meetings. Certain Buddhist explanations have also proven useful to scientists, insofar as they have enabled them to consider the specialisations from another prospective. Most of you, I believe, are familiar with the elementary Buddhist approach, in particular that of the Mahayana, where we should initially be sceptical, then probe the question, and finally accept it once we are convinced of its veracity. We even have the right -- with, of course, as we are Buddhists, the highest respect -- to refute the teachings of the Buddha if our discoveries contradict them. As you can see, we are, in a way, free to have a critical mind, even with regard to our own philosophy. In such a context I see no obstacles to engaging in dialogues with scientists or even with radical materialists. On the contrary, this is a very good thing.
In addition, there are, in my experience, certain ideas which we take for granted. As a result, our reasoning process remains insufficient. Critical questions which make us think about the subjects concerned are therefore very useful. For people who are brought up in a Buddhist culture, certain concepts are self-evident. Because of this, we sometimes neglect to follow the entire thread of complex reasoning to its conclusion. This is why questions raised by people of diverse disciplines oblige us to envision these question in a new way.
To begin with, I would like to present briefly the Buddhist view of interdependence. We may comprehend this principle, also called dependent origination, on different levels, beginning with that of causality, the law of cause and effect accepted by all four schools of Buddhist philosophy. There is another way to understand this principle, to see it in relation to the fact that a whole depends on its parts. Indeed, any existent thing is considered to be a whole, that is, composed of parts. Since it is made up of parts, it depends upon them. Its very existence depends on its parts and it cannot exist in an autonomous or independent manner.
To give a better explanation of the principle
of interdependence, we must place it in the context of the Buddhist description
of reality. First of all, all existent phenomena are either permanent or impermanent.
There is no third possibility. Among the impermanent phenomena we find physical
phenomena, also called "form," and non-physical existents which include,
on the one hand, mental phenomena (the mind), and on the other, abstract phenomena,
known as "compound phenomena dissociated from form and mind." The
interdependence of physical phenomena is defined in relation to space; such
phenomena depend on their directional parts. The interdependence of non-physical
phenomena is envisioned in relation to time or even according to spatial directions.
The mind, for example, is a succession of moments. We speak of a mental continuum.
We say of, compound phenomena dissociated from form and mind that they also
depend on their directional parts. As for non-compound space itself,we speak
of the south of space, the east, etc.
I have been presenting the principle of interdependence in a general manner according to the Madhyamika school, the Middle Way, which includes two sub-schools, of which the Prasangika school (the "Consequentialists") is the higher. This school adds an even more subtle explanation to existing interpretations of dependent origination -- that of the unfindableness, the "undetectability," of any designated existent thing whatever. In other words, when through analytical method we seek the phenomenon behind its appearance, it is unfindable. However, if it is said that existents are unfindable after they have been sought through analytical process, should we then conclude that they do not exist at all? To abandon this nihilistic view, we will answer with a categorical "No." Phenomena exist -- not in an autonomous way, per se, but rather in a relation of dependency with other phenomena, such as the name by which they are designated. This is the most profound way to understand the principle of interdependence. Phenomena exist, therefore, as denominations. No phenomena exist otherwise. However, everything which can be designated by the mind does not necessarily exist. The most difficult thing is to determine, among all the things imputed by the mind, which ones exist and which do not. Even while we deny the autonomous and independent status of existents, we must not fall into the trap of an exaggerated relativism in which everything the mind conceives of is real. The problem now is to determine which criteria will enable us to find out which phenomena among ail those designated by the mind actually do exist. The Prasangika texts describe three such criteria: a phenomenon conceived by the mind is said to exist, first of all, if it is admitted by an immediate, non-discursive perception; then, if this immediate perception is not contradicted by a known perception which observes the conventional plan; and finally, if its existence is not negated by the analytical mind which examines the ultimate mode of existence of a phenomenon. According to these three criteria we can determine whether or not a phenomenon exists conventionally. These criteria refer solely to the mind perceiving the object in question, and this reminds us once again that nothing can exist independently from the mind which perceives it.
This obliges us to delimit the notion of known perception. For all the schools, with the exception of the Prasangika school, a known perception apprehends its object without the slightest error or inaccuracy. These schools tolerate no element of inaccuracy in a known perception, whereas the Prasangika school of the Middle Way affirms that, although a known perception cannot err in the acknowledgment of the apprehended object, an element of inaccuracy may nevertheless be present. Let us take, for example, the case of the known discursive perception of the impermanence of sound: this experience, which occurs solely in relation to the object apprehended -- the impermanence of the phenomenon of sound -- is nonetheless inexact for followers of the Prasangika school, because they hold its' object to be endowed, moreover, with an absolute, independent existence. All the other schools accept the inherent existence of conventional reality. So for them the perception that phenomena exist in this way is car rect, just as the known perception is from all aspects correct and exact. According to the Prasangika school, the only perfectly accurate perception, free of any form of error, is the direct and convincing experience of emptiness -- that is, the non-representative perception of the ultimate nature of phenomena.
This has been a brief presentation of the principle of interdependence.