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A Force for Good and Stages of Meditation

New York, USA, 9 July 2015 - His Holiness the Dalai Lama arrived in New York yesterday at the end of a long and delayed flight from Los Angeles. Refreshed by a good night’s sleep, one of his key meetings this morning was with old friends Dan Goleman and his wife Tara. They came to present His Holiness with Goleman’s new book, ‘A Force For Good: The Dalai Lama's Vision for Our World’ just released to mark his 80th birthday. The book reveals His Holiness’s broad message, his long-term perspective on creating a better future. It’s a vision that individuals can assimilate wherever they are and whatever they do on the basis of their common humanity.    

“Here is your message,” Goleman said as he offered His Holiness a copy of the book, adding, “Some people who have already read it expressed surprise that compassion can be so powerful.”

His Holiness thanked him, remarking, in reference to the recent shootings at a church in Charleston, that simply praying or expressing criticism of this or that is not enough.

“We need to find a new approach to bringing about inner peace. Just as America, as I often say, is the leader of the ‘free world’ and technologically innovative, now it needs to take a lead in terms of education and the cultivation of inner values.”

Tara Goleman then showed His Holiness the companion website for ‘A Force for Good’, http://www.joinaforce4good.org/, which includes everything that is in the book, but also allows people to share their own stories and acts of compassion. The homepage says: “Help us light up the world - one good deed at a time.” His Holiness was pleased, joking that the rays of light radiating from the image of the world were like Avalokiteshvara’s 1000 arms with their 1000 eyes. Meeting the team who have given their time and skills to developing the website, he thanked them for working, “Not for money, or with any sense of ‘us’ and ‘them’, but because compassion is the basis of peace.”

At the Javits Center more than 14,000 members of the North American Tibetan community welcomed His Holiness as he took the stage flanked on one side by abbots and monks and on the other by Sikyong Lobsang Sangay, Speaker Penpa Tsering and several serving and former members of the Kashag. The backdrop included huge thangkas of the Buddha and 17 Masters of Nalanda, White Tara and 1000 armed Avalokiteshvara.

“I’ve been asked to teach this ‘Stages of Meditation’,” His Holiness began, “but I generally like to begin with an introduction to Buddhism as a basis. We can say the Buddhadharma flourished in Tibet, but public understanding of what it was about was not very high. If you understand, then practice will be easy. Today, even scientists who are not Buddhists take an interest in such explanations as dependent origination, which is very helpful when it comes to understanding reality.

“This middle volume of the ‘Stages of Meditation’ was written by Kamalashila, who came to Tibet in 8th century at the instruction of Shantarakshita. At that time, amongst the various departments at Samye there were Chinese meditation teachers who asserted that study was not important to make spiritual progress. Kamalashila engaged in dialogue with them and the content of those conversations was written down on the orders of King Trisong Deutsan. That material formed the basis of the ‘Stages of Meditation’, a comprehensive text with extensive explanations of calm abiding and insight meditation.”

The session began with recitations of the Mangala Sutta in Pali, followed by recitations of the ‘Heart of Wisdom’ in Sanskrit, Chinese and, finally, Tibetan.

His Holiness commented that the Buddha had appeared in the form of an ordinary human being, a prince, who, as a result of witnessing the basic sufferings of birth, aging, sickness and death, adopted the life of a mendicant. He engaged in six years of ascetic practice, including the prevalent forms of concentration, which he eventually concluded would not by themselves yield liberation.

According to the great vehicle of the Mahayana, the Buddha gave three turnings of the wheel of Dharma. The first concerned the Four Noble Truths that are common to all Buddhist traditions. The second involved the Perfection of Wisdom teachings and the third included explanations of the nature of the mind and Buddha nature.

His Holiness explained that he had received an oral transmission of ‘Stages of Meditation’ from the Sakya Khenpo, Sangye Tenzin. He in turn had received it from a man from Kham, but he did not know from whom he had received it. What is known is that it is one of the first Buddhist texts to have been composed in Tibet at the request of Trisong Deutsan, second of the three religious kings of the Land of Snow. And it was written by Kamalashila, a follower of Nagarjuna. His Holiness remarked that meditation, which is a practice found in common among Buddhist and non-Buddhist traditions, is used here in an active sense of familiarization with the path.

As he began to read, His Holiness pointed out that it is not sufficient to say Manis over and over again.

“We need to understand the causes and conditions for enlightenment. This means developing the awakening mind of bodhichitta, whose source is great compassion and being able to eliminate our disturbing emotions, whose root is grasping at true existence, by developing an understanding of emptiness.  

“If Buddhahood did not depend on causes and conditions, everyone could have it, but because it is dependent on causes and conditions, it is difficult to achieve.”

Returning after lunch, His Holiness offered to answer questions from the audience, but none were forthcoming. Resuming his reading of the text he said that the question is what the causes and conditions for enlightenment are. Kamalashila wrote that he would undertake to explain them, but comparing himself to a blind man, suggested he would rely on the Buddha’s own words to do so.

His Holiness mentioned three aspects of phenomena, that they are evident, concealed and completely concealed. He said that by and large science deals with what is evident, with what can be empirically perceived by the senses. Understanding of slightly concealed phenomena can be inferred on the basis of reasoning, but completely concealed phenomena can be understood on the basis of testimony. He gave an example of meeting, listening to and appreciating what someone says as understanding evident phenomena. By reading their gestures and body language we can infer more about them and what they say. However, when it comes to understanding the speed or way their thoughts work, we have to rely on their testimony. Authenticating the source of testimony then assumes particular importance.

His Holiness read briskly through the text, touching on training the mind, compassion, developing equanimity and identifying the nature of suffering. A short explanation of wisdom preceded an account of calm-abiding and special insight before he stopped for the day. He suggested that he will start early tomorrow morning with preparations for a Long-Life empowerment. Before giving that he will finish reading the text, and after the empowerment the North American Tibetan Associations and the Himalayan Buddhist, Mongolian & Russian communities will offer His Holiness a Long-Life Ceremony.