Transformation - Learning with the Dalai Lama
by Jamuna Rangachari
A four-day workshop with the dalai lama was an unparalleled opportunity to be with one of the most lovable and human spiritual teachers of our times
The workshop with the Dalai Lama was, above all, time spent with an extremely evolved soul. A down-to-earth, childlike persona, the Dalai Lama exudes rare warmth and openness that belies his position as one of the world’s most revered spiritual leaders. Explaining each principle clearly with scientific reasons, he makes one see how each of them is really an aid to one’s own personal growth.
“Language is the least important component of communication,” I realized as I absorbed His Holiness’s child-like eagerness to share and communicate, which overrode his halting English.
When I had registered myself for a workshop on “A First Course in Buddhist Philosophy, Teachings and Practice” conducted by His Holiness in Dec 2006 under the aegis of The Foundation of Universal Responsibility (FUR), it was certainly with excitement, but also with mixed feelings. On one hand, such a workshop was a dream come true as I had always wanted to meet him personally and on another, I was a bit apprehensive about attending a four-day philosophical discussion on the nuances of Buddhist philosophy.
Within the first few minutes itself, however, my apprehensions were laid to rest as the Dalai Lama, without a trace of pedantry, sought to demystify the teachings and principles of Buddhism.
People from varied backgrounds and interests connected and responded to His Holiness who never once lost the pulse of the group. Not averse to learning even from the audience, he often paused and asked for inputs from others on their experiences, including confirmations on the concepts of Indian philosophy.
Coming across as ‘more Indian’ than many Indians, both in his knowledge and his approach, he was happy to be conducting this workshop here as a keeper of the wisdom from India. “India has given the world Buddhism through the Buddha, and several Indian masters after him have refined the teaching,” he said, introducing himself and the Tibetan school as a “sincere chela (disciple) of India.”
In keeping with the Buddha’s focus on self-reliance, HH’s main thrust was: “Test everything for yourself. He clearly stated that nothing he said should be followed blindly but interpreted and examined carefully before it was practiced.
He also stated, “I do not want anyone to feel that they should abandon the tradition they belong to and take up Buddhism, though personally, I shall speak on the principles of Mahayana Buddhism or the middle way, as that is the path I am familiar with.”
He added, “It is not necessary to change your religion but to be open to all thoughts and examine what is told to you. I come from a tradition that does not subscribe to a creator God. However, if believing in a creator God helps you connect better and feel more comforted, do so by all means and call him whatever you wish to. If, on the other hand, you prefer not to believe in a creator God, then that is also fine.”
The most important aspect in any religious practice is to live it all through the day and not just at prayer time.
Stressing the importance of application over theory, he observed, “The most important aspect in any religious practice is to live it all through the day and not just at prayer time. This is, unfortunately, the least practiced in reality.” He went on to speak on those principles that he considered most important to everyone, no matter what their religious orientation.
“I am convinced that affection and goodness is an essential part of all beings,” said His Holiness. Emphatic that the act of compassion was actually not for another but for our own selves, he requested, “Test the effect on your own selves when you feel compassionate and when you are not and decide for yourselves how you would rather be.”
Switching to a personal plane, he admitted smilingly, “I too am not always compassionate,” and spoke of the many times he gets irritated with the mosquitoes that trouble him. “I do slap at them but this does not make me feel good. I am still trying to overcome this feeling,” he said, as everyone joined him in laughter.
“Once we truly understand the law of causality or karma, our whole countenance becomes much more balanced and equanimous as we realize that it is only the mind that we carry onto the next birth,” he said.
Characteristically adding his personal example with a candor rarely seen in the world, he continued, “I am trying to become an Arya (wise soul) now, and hope that after some births, I too may attain Buddhahood (enlightenment).”
Interdependence and Nonviolence
“Just as all elements are dependent on each other, everyone in the world is linked and interdependent,” he said. Once we realize this fully, non-violence as a principle of life automatically follows, he explained, seamlessly integrating the two.
His Holiness’s insight and experience in various other areas also were very interesting and refreshingly different.
Science and Spirituality
“One of the major stumbling blocks is the rigidity of the participants on both sides,” he said and felt strongly that better synergy is essential for holistic development.
Giving the example of arguing with his guru on his astronomical beliefs that were based on mythology, he said he had tried to prove to him by making him see through science where the planets and the moon were actually placed.
We cannot blindly accept all that is told or written in the scriptures,” he emphasized, making it clear that questioning and debate were the force that kept any philosophy or religion alive.
On Secular Values
“There would always be many religions and different beliefs and this need not deter us from being better human beings,” said His Holiness, stating that his priority was “good secular values” before spirituality and the preserving of Buddhist tradition.
Rituals and Practices
“Can you imagine Nagarjuna, or for that matter, any master, not meditating because he did not have a particular type of bowl?” he said, in response to a question on how to use the Tibetan technique of keeping water in some bowls if they are of the appropriate size.
“Never give so much important to any ritual that it becomes an impediment to your practice,” he reiterated, with a request that the participants should remember the core teaching of this workshop and any others they may be exposed to, without wasting time on the externals.
What it meant to me
“What you are shouts so loudly in my ears that I cannot hear what you say,” said Emerson. The converse is true with the Dalai Lama. What he is, shouts so loudly in our ears that we cannot help but be inspired and motivated to apply at least some of the principles he teaches and applies in his own life. Further, his down-to-earth attitude, childlike countenance and an absolute admission to limitations made him truly accessible as a role model.
I had certainly heard of most of the principles before but the simple explanation and relation of these to each aspect of our lives made it more real and in a sense, as necessary as the daily bath we take.
Shantideva's prayer for longevity says, “As long as space endures, and sentient beings endure, may I too remain, to dispel the misery of the world.” A part of the workshop, this prayer acquired a totally different meaning after his teachings. I understood that it is not mere longevity but life lived for a purpose and with the right principles that is worthwhile and meaningful.
The last day was a meditation session with HH and a formal White Tara initiation and empowerment to all those who had conveyed their willingness to commit themselves to a more regular practice.
As I was being initiated, I realized that before the workshop, while I viewed the Buddha as one of the greatest sons of India, the ‘ism’ part of it had always been an enigma, as I was pretty confused about the various schools and philosophies that had sprung from this religion. The Dalai Lama made me realize that the most important lesson of the Buddha is that no ‘ism’ is as important as one’s own quest and it is the self that shall always be the litmus test of spirituality.