Sunday, May 6, 2007

The Dalai Lama Appears in Chicago

Tenzin Gyatso, the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, appeared on Sunday morning, May 6, 2007, at Chicago’s Millenium Park, Harris Theatre, before a crowd of about 1,500 and taught from a lesson entitled “Eight Verses for Training the Mind,” based on a text attributed to Geshe Langre Thangpa, an 11th century monk. Before addressing the text, the Dalai Lama went over some basic principles, which took about 90 minutes. We heard the Tibetan monks chanting, which imparted a sense of peacefulness throughout the entire assembly.

He shared the principles of love, forgiveness, reconciliation, non-violence, and above all: the practice of contentment. He observed that, as participants in a sensory world, that has material limitations, we fall prey to the attraction of greed, and seek contentment in excess, beyond that which constitutes basic necessity.

The Dalai Lama provided some basic background for audience members who might not have been familiar with Buddhism and other non-western religious traditions. He pointed out some of the distinctions between “theist” and “non-theist” religions, including the most basic: that non-theist religions, such as Buddhism, have no concept of a creator and no concept of an “eternal soul.” While the philosophies of the various world religions may differ, they lead to the same goals. He said there was no need for people to reject their own traditions. It is possible to have faith in one’s own traditions while having respect for the traditions of others. He warned against the dangers of “attachment” (in terms of emotion, anger, fear) to principles; that this is at the core of the difficulties that occur in religious fundamentalism. It is not “religion” that produces problems, but rather “attachment” that creates the problems we see in the world.

At an entymological level, “Buddha” means “cleansing” and “perfection.” All sentient beings have the potential for knowledge, leading to enlightenment, while the basic nature of mind is “delusion and ignorance.” It is thus only by cultivating knowledge that ignorance can be vanquished. Following the Buddha leads to clarity and the disappearance of ignorance. The state of all-knowing can be achieved through practices that reach a state of enlightenment; changes in the nature of the universe – causality, cause and effect – can be achieved. Ignorance and knowledge are contradictory, like hot and cold, like light and dark. These cannot coexist forever. As training and practice take hold, compassion can drive out anger. Emotions exist in this realm: anger, jealousy; the object of these emotions occurs as “bad” and there is no reality in this; it is all the projection of the mind.

The gateway to wisdom is “emptiness”; where is the self? You see before you Tenzin Gyatso; you agree that this is who he is. But where, after all, is “he”? Is the self in his body? In his mind? In his words? And yet he is indisputably here before you. But there is no independent “self” that can be identified. The emotions of hatred, anger, jealousy, all require “self”; without self, no emotion. It is the same with time; there is past and future. Where is “now”? As soon as you ask, it is gone, and is past. And yet, we know there is “now.”

We all have the potential for “Buddha”-hood. We can all train for this; the tradition is nearly 2600 years old; we can practice compassion; we can practice “emptiness.” Achieving “Buddha”-hood is not possible in this lifetime, but we can begin.

The Dalai Lama took us through the eight verses and identified the contributions of Acharya Nagarjuna, an Indian philosopher of the 2nd Century C.E., to whom can be attributed the principle of “dependent origination,” in some ways parallel to the concepts of quantum physics, which itself recognizes the dubious nature of so-called “objective” reality.

The aspiration to “Buddha”-hood consists of the practice of altruism, the cultivation of compassion. In turn, this occurs as aspiration for others to be free of suffering, alongside an awareness that every individual is responsible for the suffering of others. He characterizes this as the “great compassion.”

With this, the Dalai Lama announced that we were finished, and the remarkable session ended to a standing ovation.

No comments: