Buddhism of Tibet

Buddhism of Tibet

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Unlike most books by the Dalai Lama which are edited compilations of talks that he has given, this book consists of two texts that he himself wrote and two that he chose—all especially aimed at helping Western readers become better grounded in Buddhism. He wrote "The Buddhism of Tibet" and "The Key to the Middle Way" sections to explain the principal topics and central practices of Buddhism. There are four sections to this compilation:

   • "The Buddhism of Tibet" by the Dalai Lama: In this excellent introduction, the Dalai Lama explains the principal topics and central practices of Buddhism.
   • "The Key to the Middle Way" by the Dalai Lama: The Dalai Lama leads the student to the discovery of the true meaning of emptiness. With acute precision, he presents many insights into the nature of"emptiness.
   • "The Precious Garland" by Nagarjuna: Originally written for a king, this text is famous for its descriptions of the bodhisattva path of compassion and for its clear, concise analysis of the"Buddha's teachings on emptiness. It describes how to find happiness by cultivating virtues of body speech and mind and how to amass the stores of merit and wisdom required for enlightenment.
   • "The Song of the Four Mindfulnesses" by the Seventh Dalai Lama Kaysang Gyatso: This short poem contains all the essentials of sutra and tantra. It is to be used as a basis for meditations on mindfulness of"the guru altruism deity yoga and emptiness.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781559391856
Publisher: Shambhala
Publication date: 09/28/2002
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 219
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.40(d)

About the Author

His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama is considered the foremost Buddhist leader of our time. The exiled spiritual head of the Tibetan people, he is a Nobel Peace Laureate, a Congressional Gold Medal recipient, and a remarkable teacher and scholar who has authored over one hundred books.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

The Need for Religious Practice in Our Present Lives

The reason why we should engage in religious practice is that no matter how much material progress there is, it alone cannot generate adequate and lasting pleasure. Indeed, the more we progress materially, the more we have to live in constant fear and anxiety. Through progress in new fields of knowledge we have reached the moon, which some ancient peoples regarded as a source of refuge. Although there may be instances where the resources of the moon and other planets can be utilised for the advantage of human beings, perhaps in the end such advances will make enemies outside our world. In any case, such techniques can never bring ultimate and lasting happiness to human beings. These methods induce only an external physical pleasure; therefore, even though slight mental pleasure sometimes arises due to these conditions, it cannot last. On the other hand, it is widely known that when one searches for happiness in terms only of the mind, physical hardships are easy to bear. This depends on engaging in the practice of religious methods and transforming the mind.

    Furthermore, even the arising of pleasure in this life depends on religious practice. Pleasure and pain, whether great or small, do not arise from superficial external factors alone; one must have their internal causes. These are the potencies or latencies of virtuous and non-virtuous actions in the mind. These potencies are in a dormant state; they are activated when one encounters external causes, and thus feelings of pleasure or pain occur. Ifthese potencies are absent, no matter how many external factors are present, there is no way for pleasure or pain to appear or disappear. Such potencies are established by deeds done in the past.

    Therefore, regardless of what form of suffering the effect takes, one initially must have done a bad deed through an undisciplined mind and thereby 'accumulated' such a deed. The deed's potency is established in the mind, and later, when one meets with certain causes, suffering is undergone. Thus, all pleasures and pains basically derive from the mind. For this reason, the mind cannot be disciplined without religious practice, and by not disciplining the mind bad actions are 'accumulated'. They in turn establish potencies in one's mental continuum, in dependence on which the fruits of suffering are produced.

The Need for Religious Practice for Our Future Lives

Although in some regions of existence beings have only minds, most sentient beings also have a physical base. Both body and mind have their direct causes, and if we illustrate this with birth from a womb, the direct cause of the body is the semen of the father and the blood of the mother. The mind likewise has a direct cause of a type similar to itself. The beginning in this life of the continuum of the mind that is of similar type to the present mind is the mind at the moment of its 'linking' to the centre of the mingled semen and blood of the parents. This mental entity must definitely have a former continuum, because external phenomena cannot become mind and mind cannot become external phenomena. If a continuum of this mental entity necessarily exists, then it definitely must be a mind before its 'linking' [to the new life]. This establishes the existence of a former life.

    Because such a mind is one continuum, even nowadays there are cases of former lives being remembered by some adults and children who have all the conditions conducive to such memory. In attested biographies from the past there are also many instances of remembrance of former lives.

    Although cause and effect are different, they must be related through partial similarity. For example, because a body has tangibility, shape, and colour, its direct cause must also have these qualities; and because a mind does not have shape and so forth, its direct cause cannot have these qualities either. Analogously, seeds of sweet-tasting plants create fruits that are sweet. Therefore, the parents' semen and blood, which are physical, cannot be put as the direct cause of a nonphysical mind. In dependence on this and other reasons, it can definitely be concluded that former and later lives exist. Then, as former and later lives do exist, it is extremely clear that there is nothing except religious practice that is helpful for the continuum of lives. These are the reasons why religious practice is necessary.

Buddhism, One of the Many Religions of the World: Its Teacher

In this world, just as there are many medicines for a particular disease, so there are many religious systems that serve as methods for achieving happiness for all sentient beings, human and otherwise. Though each of these systems has different modes of practice and different modes of expression, I think that they are all similar in that they improve the body, speech and mind of those who practise them, and in that they all have good aims. They are all similar in teaching that bad actions of speech, such as lying and divisiveness, and bad physical actions, such as stealing and killing, are improper.

    It is sad that throughout history there have been instances of struggle and hatred among the followers of different religions. It would be good if these were all things in the past that would never happen again. The practitioners of religions definitely could come to agree together. At present there are, in general, the two factions of those who do and those who do not engage in religious practice; it is therefore important that practitioners be unified without bias. This is not to be done with a sense of hatred [for those who do not practise]. Not only will unity help practitioners, but also its very purpose should be to achieve temporary and lasting help and happiness for non-practitioners as well. It would serve as a method for removing their ignorance, which obscures what should be adopted and what should be discarded, and would set them on a path towards ultimate happiness. I wish to offer my hopes and prayers that all religions unite to achieve this purpose.

Books written or translated in the past have certainly done a great service to Buddhism, but some of them, other than giving only a rough treatment of the path, cannot provide the deeper significance. To remedy this situation a cultural institution called the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives has been established. Among other activities, it has undertaken the translation into English of several works from original Tibetan sources. Translation teams consisting of Tibetan and foreign scholars have been specially set up for this purpose. The present volume forms the first in the series of this project of producing translations that accord with the oral tradition and the real meaning of all the technical terms. For followers of religious systems to come together, they must be able to know and understand each other's systems, and to this end I am presenting a brief introduction to the Buddhism of Tibet.

    Our teacher, Sakyamuni Buddha, is one among the thousand Buddhas of this aeon. These Buddhas were not Buddhas from the beginning, but were once sentient beings like ourselves. How they came to be Buddhas is this. Of body and mind, mind is predominant, for body and speech are under the influence of the mind. Afflictions such as desire do not contaminate the nature of the mind, for the nature of the mind is pure, uncontaminated by any taint. Afflictions are peripheral factors of a mind, and through gradually transforming all types of defects, such as these afflictions, the adventitious taints can be completely removed. This state of complete purification is Buddhahood; therefore, Buddhists do not assert that there is any Buddha who has been enlightened from the beginning.

    Buddhas are always striving for the welfare of beings migrating in cyclic existence. In every hour and minute they create limitless forms of welfare for beings through billions of emanations of their body, speech and mind. For instance, in this aeon—an aeon being a period of an extremely great number of years—they will appear in the aspect of one thousand supreme Emanation Bodies (Nirmanakaya) as Buddhas, and each will have his own new teaching.

    The teaching of Sakyamuni Buddha is different from the teachings of the other Buddhas in that his has a union of sutra and tantra, whereas most of the others do not have any tantra. [Sakyamuni Buddha was actually enlightened many aeons ago, but] from the point of view of common appearances his life was a display of twelve main events: his descent from the Joyous Pure Land (Tusita), his conception, birth, schooling, mastery in the arts, sporting with his retinue of wives, renunciation, asceticism, meditation under the tree of enlightenment, conquest of the array of evil ones, becoming a Buddha, turning the wheel of doctrine, and nirvana.

    Buddha's coming to this world was for the sake of beings migrating in cyclic existence. Because his miraculous exhibition of speech is chief among the three types of miraculous exhibitions [body, speech and mind], his coming was for the sake of turning the wheel of doctrine.

    The teacher Sakyamuni was born in a royal family, and in the early part of his life he performed his princely duties. When he saw that all the marvels of cyclic existence are of the nature of suffering, he renounced his kingdom and began to practise asceticism. Finally, at Bodh Gaya, he displayed the ways of becoming fully enlightened. Then in stages he turned the three renowned wheels of doctrine.

    In the first period, at Varanasi, Buddha turned the wheel of doctrine that is based on the four noble truths; he did this mainly in consideration of those having the lineage of Hearers (Sravaka). In the middle period, at Grdhrakuta, he set forth the middle wheel of doctrine, which is based on the mode of non-inherent existence of all phenomena; he did this mainly in consideration of trainees of sharp faculties who bear the Mahayana lineage. In the final period, at Vaisali, he set forth the final wheel [which is based on discriminating between those phenomena that do and those that do not truly exist]; he did this mainly in consideration of trainees of middling and lower faculties who bear the Mahayana lineage. The teacher Buddha also appeared in the body of Vajradhara and set forth tantric doctrines.

    The volumes of translations into Tibetan that are widely known nowadays as the Kangyur are solely the word of Buddha. The sutra portion of the Blessed One's word is incorporated in the three scriptural divisions. These are arranged according to their subject matter: the discipline (vinaya) is concerned with ethics (sila); the class of scripture (sutranta) with meditative stabilisation (samadhi); and knowledge (abhidharma) with wisdom (prajña). The tantric doctrines are incorporated in the four sets of tantra. Or, in another way, the four sets of tantra can be included in the scriptural division called 'class of scripture'.

    The Spread of Buddhism to Tibet

Long before Buddhism spread to Tibet the Bon religion, which came from the country of Shang-Shung, was prevalent in Tibet, and even nowadays there are lecturers and practitioners of the Bon system. Originally, it seems not to have been very extensive in scope. However, when later the Buddhist teaching spread from India and was widely disseminated in Tibet, it appears that the Bon system of assertion on view, meditation and behaviour became more vast and profound.

    The Buddhist teaching first spread to Tibet during the reign of the Tibetan King Hla-to-to-ri-nyen-tsen (Lha-tho-tho-ri-gnyan-bstan). Then it gradually increased, and many famous Indian scholars, such as Santaraksita and Kamalasila, as well as many adepts, such as Padmasambhava, translated and disseminated many sutras, tantras and commentaries. During the reign of Lang-dar-ma (gLang-dar-ma), the teaching suffered a setback for almost a decade, but revived again, starting from the eastern and western parts of Tibet. This marked the beginning of the later dissemination of Buddhism in Tibet. Many scholars, such as Rin-chen-sang-po (Rin-chenb-zang-po), met with famous Indian scholars and adepts and through hearing, thinking and meditating maintained and furthered the Conqueror's teaching. Also, many Indian scholars, such as Atisa, came to Tibet and translated and disseminated many sutras, tantras and commentaries. At this point, many of Tibet's own people became skilled in the doctrine and began writing the many Tibetan commentaries, and after a time not many famous Indian or Nepalese scholars came to Tibet.

    Thus, the Buddhist teaching that spread to Tibet is just the stainless teaching of India and nothing else. The Tibetan lamas neither altered it nor mixed it with another religion. For example, in Tibetan commentaries, even after a brief exegesis of doctrine, a source is cited, be it the speech of Buddha himself or of another Indian scholar, and the point is settled only on this basis. As an extremely clear proof, during detailed discussions I have had with modern Indian scholars of both Buddhist and non-Buddhist philosophies they have said that even in instances where it is difficult to understand the meaning of doctrinal passages, the entire meaning is given in the Tibetan translations done many centuries ago. Not only that, but also some Indians scholars say that some passages which are difficult to understand in Sanskrit are understood more easily through looking at the Tibetan translations. On the basis of this information I think that those who, noticing the slight differences with Indian Buddhism due to locality, time, or external conditions, identify Tibetan Buddhism as 'Lamaism' specifically in the sense of its being a transformation of Buddhism are completely wrong. Also, at the present time, if one wants to know thoroughly all the views, meditations and practices of Hinayana and Mahayana, I think that one should read the Tibetan treatises with fine analysis over a long period of time. I may be wrong, so I hope that no one will take offence.

    In India formerly, even though the systems of explanation of the scholars at Nalanda and those at Vikramasila were essentially the same, there were slight differences in their names and modes of instruction. In the same way, different names arose in Tibet due to the names of the lineages of Indian scholars and their students, localities, times and so forth; the more famous of these schools are the Nying-ma (rNying-ma), Ka-gyü (bKa'-rgyud), Sa-kya (Sa-skya) and Ge-luk (dGe-lugs). Though they are fundamentally the same, they have several differences in mode of instruction. Still, all of them are only the Conqueror's teaching of a union of sutra and tantra.

    The Meaning of Dharma

The word dharma in Sanskrit means 'that which holds'. All existents are dharmas, phenomena, in the sense that they hold or bear their own entity or character. Also, a religion is a dharma in the sense that it holds persons back or protects them from disasters. Here the term dharma refers to the latter definition. In rough terms, any elevated action of body, speech or mind is regarded as a dharma because through doing such an action one is protected or held back from all sorts of disasters. Practice of such actions is practice of dharma. Since this is not the time to deal at length with the topic of dharma, only the Buddhist dharma will be explained briefly here in comprehensible terms.

    The Four Noble Truths

The Blessed One said, 'These are true sufferings, these are true sources, these are true cessations, these are true paths. Sufferings are to be known, their sources are to be abandoned, their cessations are to be actualised, the paths are to be cultivated. Sufferings are to be known; then, there will be no more suffering to be known. The sources of sufferings are to be abandoned; then, there will be no more sources to be abandoned. The cessations of suffering are to be actualised; then, there will be no more cessations to be actualised. The paths are to be cultivated; then, there will be no more paths to be cultivated.' These are the four noble truths in terms of their entities, requisite actions, and actions together with their effects. In explaining them, the interpretation of the Prasangika-Madhyamika system, the highest among all Buddhist schools, will mainly be followed.

    True sufferings are phenomena that arise from contaminated actions and afflictions and that are included within the term 'cyclic existence'. True sources are the causes producing true sufferings. True cessations are the states of extinguishment and disappearance of true sufferings and true sources. True paths are special methods for attaining true cessations.

    Because true sufferings arise from true sources, true sources actually precede true sufferings. Also, through cultivating true paths, true cessations are actualised; true paths therefore, actually precede true cessations. However, the Blessed One reversed this order when he taught the four noble truths, and this is extremely important. For, if initially one recognises the sufferings, then one investigates their causes; therefore, Buddha set forth the sources of suffering after identifying the sufferings themselves. When one generates confidence in the ability to eliminate these sources, then a wish to actualise their cessation arises. Then for the sake of doing this, a wish to cultivate the paths arises; therefore, Buddha set forth the true paths after identifying true cessations.

Cyclic Existence and Sentient Beings

One might wonder, 'Since cyclic existence together with its miseries are true sufferings, what is cyclic existence?'

    Cyclic existence is divided into three types by way of different types of abodes; these are a desire realm, a form realm and a formless realm. In the desire realm, beings partake of the pleasures of the 'five desirous attributes': forms, sounds, odours, tastes and tangible objects. The form realm has two parts: in the lower, beings are not attracted to external pleasures but partake of the pleasures of internal contemplation. In the higher part, beings have turned away from pleasurable feelings altogether and partake of neutral feelings. In the formless realm all forms, sounds, odours, tastes and tangible objects and the five senses for enjoying them are absent; there is only mind, and beings abide only in neutral feeling, one-pointedly and without distraction.

    There are six different types of sentient beings who migrate in cyclic existence: gods, demigods, humans, hungry ghosts, animals and denizens of hells. Gods include beings in the form and formless realms as well as the six types of gods in the desire realm. Demigods are similar to gods but are mischievous and rough. Humans axe those of the four 'continents' and so forth. Hungry ghosts are many types of beings who are severely deprived of food and drink. Animals are those in the ocean and those scattered about the surface of the earth. Denizens of hells are persons born in various colours and shapes through the force of and in accordance with their own previous actions.

    The essential meaning of 'cyclic existence' is a process outside of one's control, that proceeds in accordance with contaminated actions and afflictions. Its essential nature is misery; its function is to provide a basis for suffering and to induce suffering in the future. Technically, cyclic existence is the contaminated mental and physical aggregates appropriated through contaminated actions and afflictions. Because there is nothing in all three realms to which cyclic existence does not apply, the mental and physical aggregates of all these beings are cyclic existences.


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