Mike Austin: How do you feel about Buddhism coming to America and the West?
Dalai Latma: Religion has no boundaries. There are some Americans who are interested in it, and if it helps them, then that’s sufficient.
Mike Austin: In general, it’s not just interest in Buddhism, but there’s been something of a spiritual renaissance in this country in the past 15 years. What do you think has caused this?
Dalai Latma: It could be due to materialistic progress, and American culture is a mixture of many cultures. Therefore, Americans are very open to anything. There must be many factors, and there is much competition for jobs and so forth. Thus, people come to meet with difficulties, and out of that get interested in something serious. They go deeper, you see.
Mike Austin: From difficulty comes an interest in spiritual growth?
Dalai Latma: If the mind is very restless, then just to meditate on one point or one subject for a short while will create some calm. In the beginning people became attracted to this kind of thing because it was like going on a mental picnic or vacation. And it was not just Buddhism, but all Eastern religions.
Mike Austin: What do you think of cults; people forfeiting their individuality to a religious figurehead or authority?
Dalai Latma: To answer that, I’ll talk about the Buddhist way of viewing a teacher. The doctrines that Buddha taught were not for the sake of displaying his knowledge to others, but in order to help them. Therefore, no matter what his own thought or realization was, he taught in accordance with the disposition, interest, and so forth of the listener. Those who follow Buddha’s word, in order to determine his final meaning, must make a differentiation between that which is interpretable - as it was spoken for a specific purpose - and that which is definitive or incontrovertibly true. If in differentiating what is interpretable and what is definitive, one had to rely on another scripture, then one would have to rely on a scripture to validate that scripture and a further one to validate the latter. It would then be limitless. Therefore, once one asserts that there is this differentiation, it is necessary to rely on reasoning to implement it. That which is not damaged by reasoning is definitive. Since this is the case, Buddha set forth the four reliances.
Rely not on the person, but on the doctrine.
With respect to the doctrine, rely not on the words, but on the meaning.
With respect to the meaning, rely not on the interpretable meaning, but on the definitive meaning.
With respect to the definitive meaning, one should rely not on comprehension by an ordinary state of consciousness, but on understanding by an exalted wisdom consciousness.
Because of this, the reliability of teachings cannot be determined by considering the person who taught them, but by investigating the teachings themselves.
In sutra, Buddha said “Monks and scholars should accept my word not out of respect, but upon analysing it as a goldsmith analyses gold, through cutting, melting, scraping and rubbing it.”
One doesn’t determine that Buddha is a reliable source of refuge by the fact that his body was adorned with major or minor marks, but because his teachings for the achievement of high status and definite goodness are reliable. Since the teachings regarding high status touch on matters that involve very hidden phenomena and are beyond the ordinary processes of reasoning, it is necessary to examine Buddha’s teachings for the achievement of definite goodness.
Specifically, these are the teachings regarding the realization of the wisdom of emptiness. Through determining that they are correct and incontrovertible, one can come to the conclusion that the teachings regarding high status are as well. As Dharmakirti says, a teacher must be one who is skilled in which behaviour is to be adopted and which discarded. One cannot accept a teacher because that person performs miracles, has the clairvoyant ability to see things in the distance or is able to create certain physical emanations. Whether one can see far in the distance or not, doesn’t matter. What matters is whether one knows the techniques for achieving happiness - as Dharmakirti says. If it were sufficient to be able to see things at a distance, then one should go for refuge to a vulture. (This is in the root stanzas of the Pramanavarttika itself.)
Now, this is all to show that a teacher who explains what is to be adopted and discarded must be fully qualified. Therefore, Buddha set forth in detail the qualifications for many different levels of teachers within the vinaya or discipline scriptures, within the sutras and within the various divisions of the tantras.
It’s very important before one accepts a teacher to analyse them, to see if he or she has these qualifications. It is particularly important in tantric practice. In one tantra, it says that since there is great danger for both the master and the student, it is necessary to analyse before - hand even if it takes twelve years to come to a conclusion.
Now, if in Buddhism it were sufficient just to have faith, then Buddha would not have needed to set forth such great detail concerning the choice of a teacher. In mantric practice - tantra - guru yoga is very important. But even though it is important, it doesn’t operate on the basis of blind faith. It says in the discipline that if a lama teaches contrary to the doctrine one should object to it.
A sutra quoted in Tsongkapa’s Great Exposition of the Stages of The Path, says that one should rely on a lama by agreeing with what is concordant with the doctrine and opposing that which is discordant. This is in a sutra in the Bodhisattva Pitaka.
Then with respect to mantra, Ashvaghosha’s Fifty Stanzas on the Guru states that if a lama says something which one cannot accept, one should verbally explain to him why. This describes how one is to rely on a lama within the three vehicles of Buddhism. One shouldn’t fall to either of the extremes. As in all practices, after ascertaining the truth with reason, one should then have faith, but that isn’t a blind faith leading you into a chasm. You should examine what the teacher says, accepting what is suitable and rejecting that which is not. This is the general Buddhist procedure, and I agree with it. I follow it.
Mike Austin: How can you really go for refuge to either the teacher or the Buddha unless you yourself have already experienced the validity of their teaching?
Dalai Latma: If one speaks about refuge with valid cognition, then it would be necessary to ascertain nirvana before going for refuge. In order to ascertain both the existence of nirvana and that it is obtainable, it is necessary to realize emptiness. This would be the mode of procedure for one who follows the facts; who has to get down to the facts. However, for other types of people, who mainly follow through faith, there are many different ways in which they generate belief. Thus, even if one had not gotten valid cognition regarding nirvana and its obtainability, at least one would have to have a correct assumption concerning it.
Mike Austin: Isn’t it a contradiction to say that the followers of fact have to travel the whole path before taking refuge in the very path they would have then already travelled?
Dalai Latma: The actualisation of nirvana and the ascertainment that it exists are very different. For instance, actually arriving at this place and ascertaining that this place exists are different.
Mike Austin: The vast majority of people in the world are not actively engaged in spiritual development. The most important or deepest aspects of their lives are their relationships with others - particularly family members. To what degree do you think these basic relationships serve as a means for human growth? Do they function at all on their own to help people evolve?
Dalai Latma: I don’t know. One kind of love which we possess is the right kind of love. This can extend towards spiritual development. It can be used as the basis for the development of infinite kindness. So from that viewpoint, yes, the family life or family ties can benefit. In human nature, we already have a certain type of kindness. Part of that is reasonable. Now at the same time, this usual kindness that comes with human nature is strongly influenced by attachment. Now that has nothing to do with the spiritual side, and in fact, acts as an obstruction.
Mike Austin: Love, based on attachment?
Dalai Latma: Yes.
Mike Austin: Can you talk about the right kind of love?
Dalai Latma: There are many reasons for it. When you have pity or compassion for a very poor man, at that moment you are showing sympathy because he is poor. That love is based on right reasons. Now, the love towards your wife, your children, or a close friend is love based on an object of attachment. Once your attachment changes, then that kindness no longer exists. The other kind of love is not based on your attachment, but is love - as in this case - because a man is suffering from poverty. So as long as he suffers from poverty, your love will remain.
Mike Austin: Are you saying that the correct love is found only in empathy?
Dalai Latma: Yes. It is similar. The right kind of love will not change according to your emotional feelings towards the object. Love that is connected with attachment will fluctuate very much according to how you look at it.
Mike Austin: Buddhists believe that the emotions are obscurations - mental defilements - which should be abandoned. In the West, though, one major criteria for a full life is just how deeply feelings are experienced. If passion is avoided, one feels a person is superficial. On the other hand, people often admire someone who has richly experienced life. Must these two views negate each other?
Dalai Latma: This is a little complicated. Certain strong emotions come into you because of your attachment. Similarly, strong feelings can even enter into your practice of Dharma or your attitude towards your guru. Although the emotion might seem good, if someone is practicing properly, at a later stage he has to get rid of these feelings.
Mike Austin: So there really is no way to equate the two views? What if someone’s friend or parent dies, don’t you think it’s good for them to feel sad?
Dalai Latma: At the death of a parent or anyone else, there is a reason for being sad. I don’t find much wrong in this. If something unfortunate happened to your own parents or someone for whom you’ve had much love, there is a good reason to feel sad. Now here, if someone loses their parents and is sad, I think their sadness should be based on reasoning - no more, no less. I think that is correct. No less means he feels very sorry. No more, he accepts it. Now you see, the sadness which is based on strong attachment is bad. Because of that sadness people may even kill themselves. Going to that extent is beyond reason.
Mike Austin: So that is what should be abandoned?
Dalai Latma: Yes.