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First Day of Teachings at Leura, Blue Mountains, Australia

Leura, NSW, Australia, 5 June 2015 - His Holiness the Dalai Lama entered an empty teaching hall this morning just before 8am and prior to the audience’s arrival. He paid his respects before the images of the enlightened ones and took his seat before a small mandala pavilion with his back to the hall. He began the preparatory rituals for the Vajrabhairava empowerment without further ado. About half an hour later people began to come in and seek out their chairs. Monks and nuns occupied several front rows. Once the rituals were done, His Holiness took a short break and returned to greet the crowd.

“Brothers and sisters, I am happy to be here once more. I’ve known many of you Australians and New Zealanders for many years so this is something of a reunion, as well as an opportunity to make new friends. We are all brothers and sisters with the same potential to achieve a happy life. But the ultimate source of happiness is not in material things but in our inner qualities. We all have Buddha nature and the potential to overcome suffering. Whether we believe in God or follow the Buddha, the teachings we observe give us self-confidence and inner strength.

“Our future depends on the rest of humanity. As human beings we each have a responsibility to contribute to creating a healthy, happy humanity. Because different religious traditions all teach love, compassion and forgiveness, they all have the potential to bring about inner peace. There are philosophical differences between them, but these are just different approaches to the same goal. This is why it’s so sad when religion apparently becomes a source of violence.

“I have three commitments: as a human being to encouraging human happiness, as a Buddhist monk to fostering religious harmony, and as a Tibetan. Since 2011, I have retired from any political responsibility, but I am still very concerned to protect Tibetan culture and the natural environment of Tibet.”

His Holiness said that at the end of his last visit to Australia, two years ago, he had suggested that next time a tantric teaching might be relevant for the monks, nuns and other people who take a sincere interest. Prior to giving that he wanted to explain how the Dharma spread in Tibet, principally in two phases. The first, before the time of Atisha and the translator Rinchen Zangpo involved the Nyingma tradition. The second included the Sakya, Kagyu, Gelug and Jonang traditions. The general structure of the path was the same for all of them and they all use logic and reasoning. The tantric teachings they convey, however, are teachings suited to specific disciples and consequently differ from each other. For example, the way the channels, energies and drops are explained in the Guhyasamaja and the Kalachakra tantras are different.

“Today, I stress that Tibetan Buddhism is essentially the Nalanda tradition,” he declared, “because some people have referred to it as ‘lamaism’ as if lamas invented it. But the teachings of the Nyingma begin with Shantarakshita, who was one of the top scholars at Nalanda, as his writings on philosophy and logic attest, and Padmasambhava, who counted Nalanda masters like Nagarjuna among his eight gurus. The Kagyu teachings come mainly from Naropa, who was a distinguished Nalanda scholar, while those of the Sakyas derive from Virwapa, who as a Nalanda scholar was known as Dharmapala. His realization was such that the Hevajra dakinis gathered in his cell to discuss the teachings. The monastic disciplinarian heard their female voices and dismissed Dharmapala from the monastery, so he became the yogi Virwapa. Atisha, the source of the Kadampa tradition, was a master of Vikramashila University, where they followed the Nalanda tradition. Therefore, it is appropriate to say that Tibetan Buddhism consists of the Nalanda tradition, a tradition immersed in the use of logic and reason.”

Referring to the need to verify the quality of both teaching and teacher, His Holiness cited Sakya Pandita who pointed out that when people do business, purchasing jewels and so forth, they are very careful to check what they are being sold. They do all kinds of tests. But when it comes to the Dharma people take for granted that the teaching they receive and the teacher who is giving it are genuine. There is a need to check those too. Je Tsongkhapa explained in his ‘Stages of the Path to Enlightenment’ that a lama, someone who will tame others, has to be tamed himself. He needs to have undertaken the three higher trainings.

His Holiness remarked:

“Today, followers of the Buddha need to be 21st century Buddhists who know what Buddhism is about. Reading and studying the classic works of Nalanda masters can help achieve this. Their approach was to refute others’ positions, assert their own and then to rebut criticism. Buddhist practice, meanwhile, is essentially about using our human intelligence to transform our emotions.

“Over the past 40 years in the Tibetan community I have encouraged monks, even in monasteries dedicated to performing rituals, to study. I have also encouraged nuns to do so and now an appropriate degree of Geshe-ma has been agreed and finalized. What’s more, lay people are also beginning to study.”

Although the main teaching he would be giving concerns Highest Yoga Tantra, His Holiness explained that Tsongkhapa’s ‘Three Principal Aspects of the Path’ would be the preliminary teaching because it deals with the awakening mind of bodhichitta and the wisdom understanding emptiness, without which we cannot engage in tantric practice. Unless we overcome ignorance by coming to understand that things are dependently arisen, that they have no ultimate existence, but only exist in name, we cannot approach cessation or liberation.

He explained that coming to understand that the ‘I’ is a mere designation and that the body and mind on which it is designated are also empty of intrinsic existence is what really undermines destructive emotions. The awakening mind of bodhichitta augments this because it counters our self-centred attitudes. His Holiness clarified the Three Principal Aspects of the Path, saying that realising emptiness counters ignorance and the obscurations to knowledge. The mind of bodhichitta, based on compassion, is the wish to actively free others from suffering. However, without recognising our own suffering we won’t be able to help others. Therefore we first need to develop a determination to be free.

After lunch His Holiness introduced the praise he composed to the 17 Masters of Nalanda. He pointed out that the scholars and adepts of ancient India had a thorough understanding of the workings of the mind, an understanding that has diminished, although Buddhists have kept it alive. He mentioned an earlier praise of the 6 Ornaments and 2 Sublime Ones which had not included such masters as Shantideva and Vimuktisena and his decision to write a praise highlighting their qualities. The most recent of these masters was Atisha whose ‘Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment’ has influenced all Tibetan Buddhist traditions, which each has texts that describe the stages of the path.

Finally, His Holiness mentioned that there were people in the past who denied not only that the Mahayana was the teaching of the Buddha, but that Tantra was not a Buddhist teaching either. Several great and reputable Indian masters defended the Buddhist origins of both vehicles.

As he began to give the preparatory section of the Vajrabhairava empowerment, His Holiness announced that he had received it first from Tagdrag Rinpoche and subsequently on several occasions from Ling Rinpoche. Nuns were prominent among the ritual attendants distributing the various paraphernalia. The empowerment will continue tomorrow.