Teachings on the ‘Heart Sutra’ and ‘Eight Verses for Training the Mind’ at Quang Minh Temple

June 19th 2013

Melbourne, Australia, 19 June 2013 - This morning His Holiness the Dalai Lama drove about 12 kilometres out of Melbourne to the Quang Minh Temple, a centre for the Vietnamese Buddhist community, overlooking the Maribyrnong River. He was invited by Geshe Sonam Thargye, Director of the Drol Kar Buddhist Centre, to give an explanation of the ‘Heart Sutra’ and ‘Eight Verses for Training the Mind.’ Well-wishers, among them Tibetans, Vietnamese, Chinese and Australians, crowded the temple’s halls to greet him and listen to him speak.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama during his teachings on the "Heart Sutra" at the Quang Minh Temple in Melbourne, Australia on June 19, 2013. Photo/Jeremy Russell/OHHDL
As His Holiness was taking his seat, surrounded by monks of several Buddhist traditions, respects were paid to the earlier Aboriginal inhabitants of the land and a representative offered words of welcome and good will. His Holiness began by expressing his pleasure to be there:

“I am very happy to come to this Vietnamese Temple to give an explanation of the Buddha Dharma,” and, noticing Christian brothers in the audience, “pleased to see spiritual brothers from other traditions joining us here. We’ll begin with a recitation of the Mangala Sutta in Pali, the Heart Sutra in Vietnamese and some subsequent verses in Tibetan.

“Usually, when I give a talk about Buddhism nowadays, I like to talk first about religion and what the Dharma is.”

He said that faith in the Dharma is something we only find among human beings. Once we understand the value of religion we develop faith in it. All religions offer us hope, sustaining us in the face of tragedy. If we believe in a creator we trust that whatever happens has some meaning. Buddhists see it as the unfolding of causes we have created. Those with no faith simply have to be realistic. Religion is helpful in helping us sustain our peace of mind.

His Holiness said that his first commitment, as one of the 7 billion human beings alive today, all of whom want to follow a happy life, is to the promotion of human values. He said that our experience of pain and pleasure is in the mind and that we have two levels of consciousness, sensory and mental. When we see a flower, we employ a sensory consciousness, but our recognition that it is beautiful is on the level of mental consciousness. The sensory level acts like an informer, while our experience of happiness is on a mental level. Sensory consciousness depends on sensory input, so when the music ends, that’s it. We deal with religion on the deeper level of mental experience.

As Pope Benedict aptly remarked, reason and faith should go together. When they do they provide inner strength and self-confidence. When we face obstacles on the way, we need tolerance, forgiveness and self-discipline. We also need to strengthen our feelings of love, otherwise our faith becomes dry. We can readily do this because we are equipped from birth with an ability to show and respond to affection.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama speaking during his teachings on the "Heart Sutra" at the Quang Minh Temple in Melbourne, Australia on June 19, 2013. Photo/Rusty Stewart/DLIA 2013
His Holiness mentioned that his second commitment is to fostering inter-religious harmony. He acknowledged that there are big differences in philosophy and practice between religious traditions, but asserted that they share a common message of love, compassion, tolerance and forgiveness. He recommends that the attitude to adopt is faith in your own religion combined with sincere respect for others. He also suggests that we think in terms of one truth, one religion in terms of our own personal practice, but that in the context of the world in which we live, we acknowledge the existence of several truths and several religions.

The Buddha probably spoke Magadhi, the dialect of Magadha, the Indian kingdom where he lived, but the scriptures recording his teachings were originally written down in Pali. This tradition spread to countries like Sri Lanka, Thailand, Burma and Vietnam. The Buddhist Sanskrit tradition arose with the emergence of the great monastic centres of learning like Takshashila (Taxila) and Nalanda. This tradition spread first to China and from there into Korea and Japan, as well as Vietnam. His Holiness usually points out that the Buddhism established in Tibet by the Indian Master, Shantarakshita and his disciple Kamalashila was the pure lineage of the University of Nalanda.

What is known as the first Turning of the Wheel of Dharma includes the explanation of the Four Noble Truths preserved in the Pali tradition. In the ‘Heart Sutra’ there is a discussion between the Arhat Shariputra and the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara who appeared in the form of a deity. To ordinary people unable to see the Bodhisattva it might have appeared that Shariputra was talking to himself. From this we understand that the second and third Turnings of the Wheel of Dharma did not take place in public. The second Turning of the Wheel, which concerns the Perfection of Wisdom teachings, elaborates on the third Noble Truth, cessation, while the third Turning of the Wheel expands upon the fourth Noble Truth, the path.

Turning to the text of the ‘Heart Sutra’ His Holiness noted that it states the Buddha is  absorbed in a concentration called profound illumination when Shariputra puts a question to Avalokiteshvara, to which he answers that the five aggregates, the psycho-physical components of a person, are empty of any inherent existence.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama offering a ceremonial scarf during a meeting with local Tibetans, Mongolians, Bhutanese and Sherpas during his visit to the Quang Minh Temple in Melbourne, Australia on June 19, 2013. Photo/Jeremy Russell/OHHDL
Vietnamese members of the temple had worked since early morning to produce a delicious Vietnamese vegetarian lunch. After eating, His Holiness met with a gathering of Tibetan, Mongolians, Bhutanese and Sherpas who live in the vicinity. He talked to them about their shared Buddhist culture of which they can be justly proud. He recalled the low point for Tibetans when they escaped into exile 54 years ago and how much has been achieved in terms of education and preservation of Tibetan language, culture and identity. He made a point of stressing Tibetans’ reputation for resilience, honesty and integrity, and that it is in these values that their enduring wealth lies.

Resuming his teaching, His Holiness explained that the gist of the Perfection of Wisdom teachings to which the ‘Heart Sutra’ belongs is that things do not exist in the way they appear. He compared this to the comments made to him by American psychologist Aaron Beck that when we are overwhelmed by anger, for example, the object of our anger appears to be completely negative and yet 90% of this misconception is our own projection. He said the essence of the ‘Heart Sutra’ is:  “Form is empty, but emptiness is form. Emptiness is not other than forms and forms are not other than emptiness.”

He explained how the mantra at the end of the Sutra can be seen as a summary of the entire path to enlightenment. The words ‘gate gate’ meaning ‘go, go,’ can be seen as indicating the paths of preparation and accumulation; ‘paragate,’ meaning ‘go beyond,’ can be seen as indicating the path of seeing; ‘parasamgate,’ meaning ‘go completely beyond,’ indicates the path of meditation, while ‘bodhi svaha’ meaning ‘awakening attained’ indicates the path of no more learning and the achievement of complete enlightenment.

He then proceeded to give a brisk explanation of the ‘Eight Verses for Training the Mind,’ the first seven verses of which relate to the method aspect of the path, while the final lines of the final verse refer to wisdom. The text consists of a series of aspirations or objectives for training the mind: to cherish all sentient beings; to see yourself as the lowest of all; to forcefully stop disturbing emotions as they arise; to regard ill-natured people as like a treasure; to accept defeat and offer victory to others; to regard those who spurn your help as spiritual friends, and to practise the visualisation of ‘giving and taking,’ imagining giving happiness to sentient beings and taking away their sufferings while observing the breath.

Lastly there is a caution to avoid the eight worldly concerns, especially a wish for admiration for doing this practice. The last two lines contain the final aspiration - just as clouds disperse in the sky, find liberation in the empty sphere of the mind.

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