First Day of His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s Teachings in Riga, Latvia

May 6th 2014

Riga, Latvia, 5 May 2014 - A blustery wind off the Baltic Sea added to the cold as His Holiness the Dalai Lama was welcomed at the door of the Kipsala International Exhibition Centre and escorted to the stage. Almost 3500 people of all ages, some from Latvia, but most from the European part of Russia waited attentively to hear what he had to say.

“As you have shown interest in our meeting and as I am at present unable to come to Russia, I thought it might be easier for us to meet here, than for you to come to India,” he told them. “I asked the local organizers if this could be done and I’m grateful to them for making these arrangements. What’s more I’d like to thank all of you for making the effort to come.”


His Holiness the Dalai Lama greeting the audience at the start of his teaching in Riga, Latvia on May 5, 2014. Photo/Tenzin Choejor/OHHDL
He said that the texts he wanted to teach were the ‘Heart Sutra’ a short Perfection of Wisdom text, which is recited in all Mahayana Buddhist countries, China, Korea, Japan, Vietnam, Tibet and Mongolia, although those reciting do not always understand what it means. The second text was the ‘37 Practices of a Bodhisattva’ by Thogme Sangpo, a Tibetan scholar and practitioner. His Holiness suggested that at the end of each session there should be time for him to answer questions from the audience.

He then chanted the formula for taking refuge in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha in Pali before requesting his friend, the Indian monk Tenzin Priyadarshi to recite the ‘Heart Sutra’ in mellifluous Sanskrit. After that he invited local people to recite it again in probably its most recent translation into Lettish, the language of Latvia.

His Holiness posed the question why religion or spirituality is relevant in today’s world and answered it by explaining that spirituality is related to inner values and so to inner peace. He said:

“If material and technological development brought complete peace and happiness, people in advanced, developed countries should be really happy, and yet many are not. Material development provides physical comfort, but not mental peace. We may feel pain and pleasure on a sensory, physical, level, or on a mental level. Pleasure on a sensory level, like that derived from watching sport or listening to beautiful music is relatively short-lived, whereas satisfaction on a mental level, for example, love and faith, which do not depend on our senses, is more durable.”

He said that while physical pain can be subdued by mental satisfaction, mental unease is not allayed by physical comfort. If we are worried, stressed or frightened, having a beautiful house or listening to delightful music brings little relief. A disturbed mind is not calmed by mere physical satisfaction. As an example of the distinction he was trying to draw, His Holiness recounted his meeting with a Christian monk at the abbey of Montserrat who had spent five years living as a hermit in retreat in the mountains with little other than tea and bread to sustain him. When His Holiness asked about his practice he said he had been meditating on love. As he said it His Holiness noted a sparkle in his eyes that indicated his tremendous satisfaction.

“On the other hand I’ve met billionaires who have all they need and more who are very unhappy. Scientists have findings that show that a calm mind is good for our physical well-being. They also have evidence that mental training can change our attitudes, enabling us to be happier. Our human intelligence can be a source of happiness, but if misused it can also be a source of stress and worry.”

He said that only human beings develop religious faith. Such faith may have begun with worship of the sun, but in time the idea of God the creator emerged and with it the idea that since he created everything, there is a spark of God in everyone. All religions convey a message of love and compassion and because hatred is an obstacle to that, they teach tolerance and patience. And because greed is also an obstacle they teach simplicity and contentment. Non-theistic traditions like the Samkhyas, Jains and Buddhists instead of turning to a creator teach the law of causality, the principle of cause and effect, which resembles a scientific view.


His Holiness the Dalai Lama speaking to the over 3500 people attending the first day of his two day teaching in Riga, Latvia on May 5, 2014. Photo/Tenzin Choejor/OHHDL
In addition to this, a unique feature of Buddhism is that it teaches that to accept the existence of an independent self is to entertain all sorts of contradictions. The German brain specialist Wolf Singer pointed out to His Holiness that there is no central authority in the brain, which he felt resonated with the idea of no independent self.

His Holiness reiterated that because all religious traditions teach love, compassion and self-discipline they have helped humanity immensely. But one tradition cannot satisfy everyone, so there is a need for variety. If we choose to adopt a religious or spiritual practice he said we should do so seriously and sincerely. He added:

“I’m a Buddhist, but wherever I go I speak about our need for secular ethics. Ethics give rise to inner values which encourage self-confidence enabling us to lead a meaningful life.”

Mentioning two matters of pressing concern everywhere today, the gap between rich and poor and ingrained corruption, he asked people in the audience to indicate with their hands whether these problems were large or small where they lived. The number of outstretched arms indicated that these are two major problems to reckon with. His Holiness suggested that while the use of violence may seem to provide short term satisfaction, it never solves problems, but creates new ones. He asserted that this century, in contrast with the last, should be an era of dialogue.

In answering questions from the audience, His Holiness recommended that teachers not only concern themselves with communicating knowledge, but also with setting an ethical example. Meanwhile, it is essential that parents shower their children with affection. He pointed out that not everyone has an interest in religious practice, but no one can object to advice about love and compassion. He also highlighted a unique feature of Buddhist tradition that is the Buddha’s own advice to subject all he taught to investigation and experiment, not to accept it on faith alone. His Holiness compares this to a scientific view.

Returning from lunch, His Holiness spoke about the Buddhist tradition and how some time after the Buddha objections were raised that the Sanskrit tradition, the Mahayana, was not his teaching. He said that Nagarjuna, Bhavaviveka, Maitreya and Shantideva all wrote in its defence. The Pali tradition records teachings the Buddha gave in public, whereas the Perfection of Wisdom teachings, including the ‘Heart Sutra’ were taught to a more select audience. On the one hand they were not taught publicly; on the other their content reveals them as the Buddha’s teachings. They convey the weight of the Buddhadharma. The teaching of the Four Noble Truths is part of the Pali tradition, but their detailed explanation is part of the Sanskrit tradition. It would be a mistake to say that the Buddha’s presentation was limited, but his followers’ was more elaborate.


His Holiness the Dalai Lama speaking during the first day of his two day teaching in Riga, Latvia on May 5, 2014. Photo/Tenzin Choejor/OHHDL
His Holiness recalled that the Vinaya is a theme common to all Buddhist traditions. He told a story of meeting two Burmese Buddhist monks at the World Parliament of Religions in Australia. They told him we are followers of the same Buddha, but there are differences between our traditions. His Holiness agreed, but told them that at least they had the Vinaya in common. The Burmese monks expressed surprise that the Vinaya was upheld in Tibet.

Clarifying the history of Buddhism in India, His Holiness mentioned the great universities of Taxila, Nalanda and Vikramashila. Indicating the painting behind him he said these 17 masters depicted around the Buddha were not only monks, but also great scholars and logicians. He refers to Tibetan Buddhism, not as Lamaism as some writers have described it, but as the pure Nalanda tradition.

In some places the Buddha referred to the five psycho-physical aggregates as like a load carried by the person, as if the person were separate from the aggregates. But elsewhere he says there is no person apart from the aggregates. Later Indian scholars wrote extensively about logic and epistemology, including Shantarakshita and his disciple Kamalashila who were instrumental in establishing Buddhism in Tibet. Consequently, Tibetan scholars such as Sakya Pandita investigated the teachings with logic and reasoning.

“Both Chinese and Tibetan Buddhist traditions derive from the Nalanda tradition. I began to study in this manner from the age of 6, an age at which I would have preferred to play,” His Holiness recalled. “And my limited experience has shown me that an understanding of emptiness and altruism brings peace of mind.”


View of stage at the Kipsala International Exhibition Centre, venue for His Holiness the Dalai Lama's teaching in Riga, Latvia on May 5, 2014. Photo/Tenzin Choejor/OHHDL
Explaining the three Turnings of the Wheel of Dharma, His Holiness said that the Vinaya is part of the First Turning; the Perfection of Wisdom teachings, which extensively explain selflessness, are part of the Second Turning, while the Third turning deals with the nature of the mind. So, the First Turning deals with morality as the basis for mindfulness and introspection, the Second deals with emptiness and the Third with meditation on the awakening mind of bodhichitta and emptiness in terms of the nature of the mind. He mentioned different levels of subtlety of the mind, such as the waking state, the dream state and deep sleep, adding that in Buddhist tantra it is the subtlest level of the mind that is the basis for Buddhahood.

The collection of Perfection of Wisdom teachings include the 100,000, 25,000, 18,000 and 8,000 line editions, the 100 line ‘Diamond Cutter Sutra’ popular in China and this 25 line ‘Heart Sutra’. His Holiness remarked that the Buddha showed the path in teachings such as these, but the benefit arises from putting them into practice. In some ways, he said, this is why the Buddha is comparable to a scientist.

Going through the ‘Heart Sutra’, His Holiness explained that things exist in dependence on other factors, so they do not exist independently. Emptiness does not make things empty; phenomena themselves are empty, because they do not have independent existence. He alluded to the interdependence between cause and effect, that something is a cause only because there is an effect. The ‘Heart Sutra’ shows that independent existence is an illusion by saying “Form is empty, emptiness is form.” Emptiness is a property of the form, and form is the basis of the property of emptiness. When you look for form, you find emptiness. This is what undermines clinging to intrinsic existence. He remarked that consciousness too is empty and mentioned that meditation on emptiness is effective in undermining our negative emotions; it is not just an intellectual exercise. Negative emotions are not of the nature of the mind; they do not taint its luminosity.

Taking questions again from the audience, His Holiness was asked about the function of the Buddhist temple that is proposed for Moscow. He said that he had met members of the organizing committee and told them that it should be a learning centre, a place to study. He mentioned his reappraisal of Buddhist literature in terms of Buddhist science, philosophy and religion. Buddhist science and philosophy can be of universal interest, while the religious part is only for Buddhists. In this context, he said a book dealing with Buddhist science has been prepared and is being translated into different languages. He proposed that Russian be one of them.


A member of the audience asking His Holiness the Dalai Lama a question during the first day of His Holiness the Dalai Lama's two day teaching in Riga, Latvia on May 5, 2014. Photo/Tenzin Choejor/OHHDL
To a question about previous lives, His Holiness’s answer that previous lives are already in the past amused his listeners. He said that what are more important are tomorrow and the next life which is still in our power to shape. He mentioned that the substantial cause of mind is mind, that consciousness has no beginning or end. Therefore, if we lead meaningful lives now, we can ensure a good life in the next.

A young woman from Ukraine asked how she could contribute in the present circumstances and His Holiness said the question was quite sensitive. However, he recommended Shantideva’s advice to act according to reality. Most important is to achieve the benefit of the greatest number of people. If something will cause more trouble, better avoid it. He gave the example from the Vinaya that if a monk sees a deer followed by a hunter who asks which way it went, he is justified in answering, “I only saw a bird,” to protect the deer.

“Adopting violence is always wrong; this is no longer the time for violence. Violence and the use of force provoke unexpected results. The use of force is out of date; it brings fear and distrust, which will not help solve the problem.

“Good night, see you tomorrow.”
 

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