I visited India and Nepal for the first time on a Buddhist pilgrimage led by Shantum Seth in 2007. The following is from my 2008 trip, about a year later.
At four pm, we attended the Dalai Lama’s translator’s talk in the Kalachakra Hall. It was inside the temple and in the center of the second floor. We ascended a flight of stairs and turned left. We passed a hall where someone was teaching a crowd in the Tibetan language. Outside the double doors leading into the Kalachakra Hall were shoe racks, and we took off our shoes and lined them up on the wooden racks before setting foot inside the vast thangka-decorated hall.
The room has several columns that, like the walls, display colorful thangkas, Tibetan Buddhist hangings framed in traditional and colorful brocade. The floors are covered with cloth, which in turn is covered with meditation cushions. Everyone entering picks a cushion, and we sat along one wall, closer to the back than the front.
The Dalai Lama’s translator, a younger monk in burgundy robes, appeared at the front of the hall. He’s a Geshe, which is a Tibetan Buddhist title — the equivalent of a Ph.D. Some Tibetans prostrated themselves, and he told them that wasn’t necessary. He fortunately used a microphone and spoke clear English in a pleasant voice. In fact, his is the same voice speaking English on the radio during the Dalai Lama’s talks.
The following are notes I took during his talk.
The path that can lead us to the state of liberation: 1) personal freedom, 2) enlightenment, Buddhahood. Simply expand it to lead to full enlightenment.
The four noble truths are the whole path, which can be explained in the (scribble) person; someone seeking freedom from suffering or someone seeking full enlightenment. This is the basic foundation of all Buddhism. That is, suffering, the cause of suffering, the cessation of suffering, and the path to the cessation of suffering.
Someone who is sick doesn’t at first realize that they’re sick. Unaware, they don’t notice. Go to a doctor who can help you — but you don’t entirely trust this knowledge, because you don’t identify with your pain. If someone knows they’re suffering, they know the lecture is helpful.
“Identify” means to realize the truth of the suffering. But without identifying the cause of the suffering, you might not do the right thing. Identify suffering first, and next identify the truth of the cause of suffering. For instance, bacteria is causing the suffering. You know elimination is something you can seek — freedom of the sufferer — when you see other people who have the same suffering who are trying to get healed. You ask: how did you get cured of this illness? They give advice and share personal experience with you.
Noble: connotation of something so pure and immaculate that it is not important to label yourself as Buddhist; you feel that understanding reality and your goal is what’s important. They are what you need to get the freedom you’re seeking. “Don’t be entangled in the labels.”
“Innately, I seek happiness … this is your goal.” With labels, you’re imprisoning yourself in a different way.
Seek help of someone else. It is important to follow this instruction of the Buddha…. “Never be a blind follower.”
“Just as the goldsmith examines the gold… so should you test my word.”
“Examine different paths handled by different people and embrace whatever suits you best.”
Buddha, dharma, sangha — for those seeking liberation from the egoistic mind, that insists individuals exists so solidly as you perceive them.
“Examine whether what I’m saying is correct, whether it is acceptable to you.”
Profound knowledge of emptiness. Whatever means exists that can give you one hundred percent happiness, it is the most important knowledge in this universe. Nagarjuna talked about this: he says that the fundamental wisdom of Middle Way is ceasing. Mental fabrication is ceased by emptiness — afflictive emotions and their respective karma — liberation. Mental fabrication is ceased by emptiness.
Nirvana is the opposite of samsara (ordinary daily experience). Aim of the way of describing suffering and distraction, samsara. How does this dissatisfaction arise? We don’t want to get sick, to have pain, to die. Even small things can cause dissatisfaction, such as not getting what we want, etc. The mind is full of dissatisfaction.
“What created all these dissatisfactions in you? Did someone else? No, just you — your own mind created that.” Excessive hostility from someone, or group in “negative thoughts engage you in negative actions.” Wanting to eliminate someone is aversion. Disagreeable objects. The wish to have agreeable objects is attachment; the desire to eliminate disagreeable objects is aversion. The result — negative actions like killing or stealing — lead to the suffering of a person, for instance. Contaminated actions give rise to suffering.
Conceptions, conceptual thoughts, exaggerate the qualities or attributes of things. Not a general conception but a specific conception or thought.
Mental fabrications: you have a hallucination and claim there’s a flower on the table. Some say it’s kind of beautiful, some say it’s extremely beautiful, but there’s no basis because there’s no flower. Someone disagrees about how beautiful it is, and soon people are fist fighting about the flower, which doesn’t even exist. For this argument to go on, you all must be exaggerating. This exaggeration is triggering all these pains.
Misconception, labeling qualities, exaggerating qualities, or fighting, and you might both be in prison and suffering. What is the final cause of suffering? It is the misconceiving (what you started with). All pains we experience are connected with our negative actions in previous lives (karma).
Or, this is the secret:
Say you’re dreaming. You’re so hungry you dream about eating food. Suppose someone says, “Wait here,” and all this food disappears. This obsession with food doesn’t go away when you wake up. Wherever did it go? It was just a dream, it wasn’t real, it was part of your own mind. It appears that dream food is real food. Everything you see around you is nothing but a dream.
But don’t think that we’re dreaming now. You do exist, but in a different way than you think you exist. There is a gap between appearance and reality. In reality, there is no such thing as solid and independent; as soon as you wake up, you have no such attachments to the dream. When you face reality, obsession disappears.
After misconceiving these things, labeling things as so beautiful or so unattractive — these are afflictive emotions. Acting badly consists of afflictive actions because of afflictive emotions. Ignorance that believes everything exists inherently and independently is the root of suffering. How to see what the Buddha said was correct; study more.
The truth of the suffering is afflictive emotions and their karmas, and the ignorance of believing things to exist independently. If you are hungry, don’t just pray to make hunger go away. It’s practical to eat something.
Cultivate wisdom and accept the reality that things don’t exist independently. Ignorance will be reduced. Introducing wisdom is so natural that things will go away. Ignorance will diminish altogether (the third truth). You will experience the satisfaction of nirvana.
How can I escape myself from suffering? See the suffering in others and help others. Only if you achieve a state of Buddhahood can you help others eliminate their samsara. Altruism, sharing with others, is Mahayana’s distinctive feature.
[Theravada Buddhists also practice altruism. My regular practice is insight meditation, including lovingkindness or metta, which comes from Theravada Buddhism and the practice of the Buddha and his original sangha.]
How prayers play a role in the path: they ignite happiness. Wishful prayers — may this happen — bodhisattva vow = a way of prayer. Prayer plays an important role in dharma. Wisdom of emptiness must be pushed by wisdom.
Namgyal Café — has copies of texts (Tibetan Dhammapada).
The closer you come to a rainbow, the more it disappears.
Dalai Lama: How to See Yourself as You Really Are
Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way
Supplement to the Middle Way
Commentary on Bodhicitta
Ocean of Wisdom: Commentary on Nagarjuna’s Wisdom of the Middle Way
My travel memoir Every Day is Magical: A Buddhist Pilgrimage in India and Nepal is available on Amazon here: