A Final Goodbye? … And why go anyway?
By Greg Suffanti
QFWF, September 21th, 2018
For a Tibetan, seeing or meeting His Holiness means they can die happily
Some people I talked to after the lesson were really impressed with the teaching His Holiness the Dalai Lama (HHDL) gave this past Monday, the 17th of September, in Ahoy in Rotterdam. HHDL was also at Ahoy for a public talk on the 16th, as well as opening an exhibition on the life of the Buddha at the Nieuwe Kerk in Amsterdam on the 15th.
The public talk on the 16th also included an appearance by the actor Richard Gere, discussing the importance of the International Campaign for Tibet (ICT) in preserving both the Tibetan culture and Tibetan Buddhism.
The opening at the Nieuwe Kerk included two 40 minute panel discussions: one on AI and robotics, and the other on sickness and death. (All of these events are free to watch on YouTube)
In addition, HHDL met with abuse victims from the Buddhist community who’d petitioned to meet HHDL under the hashtag “metooguru”, resulting in HHDL pledging further action.
A couple of people I talked to thought HH went deeper than he normally would, and their thoughts centered around the idea that maybe HH knew he wouldn’t be coming back, and therefore he talked about all of Buddhism, especially the topic of emptiness, spending just a few moments at the end of his two hour talk to discuss the advertised topic of “The Eight Verses On Training the Mind”, by Geshe Langri Thangpa (1054-1123). It is possible that this was his last visit to the Netherlands.
HHDL is now 84, and he’s aged quite a lot in the last few years. I had the privilege of seeing HHDL and following his teachings in both the summer of 2016 and the summer of 2017 at Thekchen Choling Temple Complex in Dharamsala, India.
Nestled in the foothills of the Himalayas, what was once the summer home of the ruling British Viceroy, is now a complex that contains a teaching temple and accommodation for sangha (monks and nuns), as well as HHDL’s private residence.
I remember being quite shocked at HHDL’s physical aging between the two summer visits, and HHDL has said as well that he really feels the aging process now that he’s in his 80’s. Once HHDL starts speaking however, the strength of his voice is as powerful and ageless as it’s ever been.
Gone are the days when His Holiness would regularly tour Europe and the Americas
Back in Ahoy, HHDL sometimes needed assistance to walk, and especially to climb steps; his attendants carefully helped HHDL slowly ascend to his teaching “throne” on Monday: in this case, a grey, wing-back chair, slightly elevated on a small podium.
Please don’t get the impression that he’s giving up or about to retire, because HHDL has said nothing to this effect. I asked Geshe Rinchen, a Tibetan lama and student of HHDL, when he thought HHDL might “retire”? He said he thought “in around 10 years.”
However, HHDL has had to adjust his schedule for medical reasons and had to cancel various engagements as well, like touring North America this year, and a scheduled visit to Africa last year.
Thus, it was special to welcome His Holiness to the Netherlands in 2018, one of only two trips HHDL will make this year outside of India.
HHDL’s doctors have now advised him to have no afternoon appointments, but when you consider that he gets up at 3:30 each morning, his day is still rich and full, even if he ends his outside commitments after lunchtime.
He is a monk and spends much time in prayer, study and meditation.
This was the 8th visit of HHDL that I’ve had the good fortune to experience, and it was different for me this time as I was also hosting Geshe Yeshe Rinchen of Nalanda Monastery in France and his translator, Ana Gonzales, in my home.
Having a Tibetan Lama around the house is a unique and often illuminating experience when seeing first-hand how much of one’s day is devoted to prayer and meditation. (The lama’s, not mine!)
Geshe Rinchen had come from Nalanda specifically for the event. There were 10 other Geshes (or Lamas) and monks visiting from Nalanda. Although the ticket sales were slow and steady with the general public, the demand from the Budddhist Sangha was so high, that monasteries around Europe were allotted seats as the demand outweighed the capacity.
There were officially 70 sangha members on stage with HHDL at the teaching on Monday, an indication of the importance and increasing rarity of this kind of event in the western Buddhist community. Gone are the days when HHDL regularly toured Europe and the Americas, teaching in both the morning and afternoon, very often for a week at a time. The last time I had such extensive teachings from HHDL was in 2009 in Frankfurt.
Why did you come to see His Holiness the Dalai Lama
I was curious to find out why people were going to see HHDL and so I asked them a very simple question: “Why are you going to see HHDL?”
There were more than 5,000 Tibetans that showed up at Ahoy for a glimpse of HHDL. HHDL met privately Sunday morning at 8 with the refugees, including Geshe Rinchen, who told me that for a Tibetan, meeting and/or seeing HHDL “live” one time in their life was enough; “they can then die happily.”
“I always think it is a valuable experience to come and see HHDL. Also, the whole atmosphere around HHDL I love. I would compare it to a vacation to a warm, sunny place. I get energy from coming and I always learn something useful for my daily life.”
“I’ve been following HHDL for so many years, watching his lectures on YouTube, reading his books and attending his teachings when possible. I have so much respect for him because he’s 84 and he still keeps going. He’s an inspiration to me and I always feel more balanced after I’ve seen him.”
“I got these tickets as a gift for my 70th birthday… I was very happy!”
“My niece has wanted to come to see HH for years. She knows a little bit from me, and has even helped me with the animal liberation ceremony I do at the (Buddhist) center where I volunteer. Also, this time is special because it may be the last chance I have to see HH.”
“I’ve been a student of Ven. Kaye Miner’s for nearly 20 years. I came to HH today to better understand some of the teachings from Ven. Kaye, and to get a motivational boost!”
“I came to HHDL to help keep the fire of inspiration burning… to let it burn strong. I also came to receive his blessings and to develop insight into Bodhicitta and emptiness.”
This is my first time coming to see HHDL. This is such a unique opportunity and I absolutely wanted to see HH “Live”. I find his books so inspiring, and he’s such a perfect example of a Dharma (teachings of the Buddha) practitioner.
Tibet preserves the Buddhist structure and is a treasure of the world HHDL
Part “simple monk”, part diplomat, part (retired) leader of the Tibetan people, part religious leader and always a champion of Tibet, Tibetans and Tibetan Buddhism, which are inseparable, even though the leaders of Tibetan Buddhism all live in exile in India, HHDL also used this visit to discuss the current situation in Tibet and to remind the audience of the importance of continuing the pure Nalanda tradition; carrying on the Indian University’s full teaching traditions, which are to be found, intact, in Tibet.
HHDL said that,
“we follow the Nalanda tradition, which is about investigation. We always ask, why, why, why?”
HH went on to say that because Tibet preserves the Buddhist structure, it is a
“treasure of the world” and “therefore, the Tibetan issue is more than political, there really is something worth preserving.”
HH said the situation in Tibet
“is serious, including torture and murder.”
Unfortunately, HH said that some hard-liners
“consider the Tibetan language and culture a threat.”
HH went on to say that in spite of this, there are
“around 400 million Chinese Buddhists”, and that they “recognize (the value) of the pure Tibetan Nalanda tradition.”
He added that important scholars and practitioners like
“Nagarjuna and Asanga wrote texts here (Nalanda). We still use these texts,” he said.
All of the deity practices and visualizations have not had much effect on my mind
Towards the end of his lesson on Monday HHDL said that all of the deity practices he’s done, all the visualizations, etc. had had “not so much effect” on his mind, but that these mind training exercises have had a “big effect” on his mind. He mentioned several times that these “Eight Verses on Training the Mind” are something that he recites every day. He said the
“Essence of this text is altruism,” and that this text can be “useful for everyone.”
His Holiness talked a good deal about emptiness, saying that there is
“no such thing as an independent self. In the final analysis, there is no self to be found.”
He said that
“false mental projections are rooted in grasping at reality,” and that this whole hallucination, this whole process “can only be brought to an end by realizing emptiness.”
He went on to say that
“based on an ‘I’ we have ‘I ‘and ‘mine’ and then reactions and in this way we chain ourselves. (It Is) Important to cultivate the view of no self,” which HHDL said is “unique to the Buddhist tradition.”
HHDL then told the story of the Buddha who went to the forest after gaining enlightenment and realizing emptiness, fearing that no one would understand what he was talking about. HH added that
“understanding needs to be cultivated gradually”, emphasizing the importance of emptiness within the Buddhist path, saying, the “wisdom of no self is the core of the path.”
HH called this
“the intelligent approach in order to allow the Dharma survive,” saying that it’s “not a good future with a faith-based approach.”
The Eight Verses On Training the Mind
Then, when it looked like time was running out, HHDL ended his explanation of the Buddhist path and specifically, the importance of emptiness, and moved on to
The Eight Verses On Training the Mind
- With a determination to achieve the highest aim
For the benefit of all sentient beings
Which surpasses even the wish-fulfilling gem,
May I hold them dear at all times.
“If you contemplate deeply, our indebtedness to others is profound. Our morality can only arise in dependence on others. Loving kindness can only be practiced in relation to others. We should recognize how others help us and (cultivate) a perception where we value others.”
- Whenever I interact with someone,
May I view myself as the lowest amongst all,
And, from the very depths of my heart,
Respectfully hold others as superior.
“We should not relate to others as though (we’re) superior.”
The “point” is that it is “important to aspire to (genuine) confidence,
A confidence grounded in wisdom.”
“You display humility.”
- In all my deeds may I probe into my mind,
And as soon as mental and emotional afflictions arise—
As they endanger myself and others—
May I strongly confront them and avert them.
“(Our main) “obstacles are the afflictions.”
Thinking “‘I’m the best’ is rooted in conceit.”
“We need to apply the antidotes: temporary suppression
(is achieved by) cultivating loving kindness. The lasting antidote (is)
meditation on emptiness.”
- When I see beings of unpleasant character
Oppressed by strong negativity and suffering,
May I hold them dear- for they are rare to find-
As if I have discovered a jewel treasure!
“May I hold problem people as most dear gives (us)
The opportunity to truly test (our) practice.”
- (and stanza 6)
When others, out of jealousy
Treat me wrongly with abuse, slander, and scorn,
May I take upon myself the defeat
And offer to others the victory.
- When someone whom I have helped,
Or in whom I have placed great hopes,
Mistreats me in extremely hurtful ways,
May I regard him still as my precious teacher.
These verses “echoes Nagarjuna’s “Precious Garland”,
‘may all negative effects ripen on me’.”
(We need to learn to see) “Those who hurt us as precious teacher(s).”
- In brief, may I offer benefit and joy
To all my mothers, both directly and indirectly,
May I quietly take upon myself
All hurts and pains of my mothers.
“Secretly taking on hurt and suffering (is)
Tonglen, giving and receiving.”
(To) “Secretly take on means using the breath,
To take on, (with the ‘in’ breath) take on suffering,
(with the ‘out’ breath) give benefit.”
- May all this remain undefiled
By the stains of the eight mundane concerns;
And may I, recognizing all things as illusion,
Devoid of clinging, be released from bondage.
“Lines one and two (are about) a good and right
motivation (that is) needed.”
(The) Main antidote that needs to be applied is the wisdom
“Refuge and Bodhicitta are specifically Buddhist.
Emptiness… No need to be a Buddhist!”
Seed in the scientific world due to Buddhism
Then HHDL continued his talk about emptiness, in addressing the question of whether modern science talks about interdependence. HHDL has held regular and ongoing discussions with a broad range of scientists since the first meeting was organized in 1987 by the Mind and Life Institute. HHDL said that scientists are telling him that through Buddhism there is now a “seed in the scientific world due to Buddhism.”
HHDL often talks about the findings of quantum physics and how science now demonstrates what the Buddha taught more than 2,500 years ago.
We should be 21st century Buddhists based on reason and logic
HHDL has often said that if scientists are able to disprove aspects of Buddhist science and philosophy, that Buddhism should accept that scientific reality. He said that “just faith is not 21st century.” He said that in order for Buddhism to succeed in the 21st century it needed to be based on “reason and analysis.”
Finally, HHDL encouraged his audience to cultivate loving kindness for others, saying,
“a self-centered attitude brings a lot of anxiety and unhappiness and eventually it ruins your health.”
He encouraged us to study and to keep our own religion, adding,
“but you should be serious about your religion.”
A Catholic nun attending instead of a Jewish rabbi at a Buddhist event: that’s HHDL
After the event I asked my friend Paula de Wys — Paula is the chairperson of the stichting Dalai Lama Bezoek Nederland — how she felt about the event, which she was heading for the 8th time, and which drew 21,000 visitors, 400,000 internet viewers and was made possible by 250 volunteers:
“As an organizer I’m very happy. The vast majority of things we organized went well.”
Then Paula told me a story that she felt characterizes a visit from His Holiness the Dalai Lama:
“Rabbi Soetendorp is well-known and therefore receives VIP tickets/passes because he frequently attends HHDL’s teachings. However, on this occasion, he had business at the Vatican and could not attend. Was there anybody who needed his VIP ticket/pass he asked? It turned out that there was a Catholic nun who wanted to attend. There you have it; a Catholic nun attending instead of the Jewish rabbi at a Buddhist event… that’s His Holiness the Dalai Lama.”
Oh, and I saw a few muslims as well. Everybody is welcome, and His Holiness has something for everyone… that’s his magic!