Dalai Latma: There is collective karma and specific karma.
Mike Austin: 0K.
Dalai Latma: The collective karma involved in this world system is not just that of humans, but of every type of sentient being - bugs and so forth - in the system. If four people set their hands on this table, the table becomes an object used by the four in common. Thus, this action causes them to accumulate a karma in common, the fruition of which they will experience in the future. Now, those things which one uses individually, they are based on - as well as produce - one’s own individual karma.
Mike Austin: In other words, you’re saying that DNA is the product of both the collective and individual karma of all the beings in this world system, through which they then manifest themselves?
Dalai Latma: I’ve not had the opportunity to look into DNA in detail, to study it. It is matter; it is an object of comprehension by an eye consciousness. Can you see it through a microscope?
Mike Austin: Absolutely. Yes. There are sixty-four chromosomes on which it is collected for a human being. On each, it is arrayed in thousands of combinations called genes.
Dalai Latma: It’s physical. Once it’s physical, then it has parts to it and directions. There’s no way for it to be partless. If it were partless, if anything were partless, then there wouldn’t be any form. The form couldn’t be there. It probably doesn’t have consciousness, but serves as a basis of consciousness.
Mike Austin: If it doesn’t have consciousness itself, what is the cause which establishes it in a correct manner to manifest consciousness? If you said that originally consciousness does not manifest matter, then what exactly is it that produces this inanimate DNA, which in turn manifests consciousness?
Dalai Latma: This would be similar to the sense power of an eye. That is matter; it is not consciousness, yet it serves as a basis of consciousness and by doing so is a cause of consciousness. For instance, the brain. It’s not consciousness, yet it serves as the basis of consciousness. Once something is a consciousness, it is necessarily not shape and colour. However, as I mentioned earlier today, in dependence upon the power of meditative stabilization, samadhi, you can achieve or create a higher order within a physical level. There are two types of this: that which can be observed by the senses, and that which can be perceived only by the mental consciousness. There are subtle physical things which can only be known by the mental consciousness. Thus there is fire and water that is produced by the power of meditative stabilization and yet, they are really not fire and water for they are produced in dependence on samadhi only. But they can perform the function of burning or making something wet.
Mike Austin: Where is this fire you’re talking about?
Dalai Latma: It is produced by a person who is capable of cultivating it: fire, water, wind and so forth. This is similar to a photograph that a person has imprinted with a mental image, which we saw earlier today. This is like that.
Mike Austin: So at a certain degree of control of the mind, physical things can be manifested?
Dalai Latma: Yes.
Mike Austin: To what purpose?
Dalai Latma: Just depends on one’s motivation.
Mike Austin: I see. I’d like to ask you about something related to this. Since you were a little boy, you’ve been very interested in science. Why?
Dalai Latma: Why? It is my wish. Well, let’s see. I looked at many pictures, and then from that, I got interested. I had a lot of curiosity as a child. And as you extend the “hows” back, that’s how you get interested in science.
Mike Austin: Looking for a root cause or something like that?
Dalai Latma: If you look for the root cause, then that’s not science. Science comes after the root cause.
Mike Austin: Halfway through your life you came out of a world where there was no technology into the middle of the twentieth century. Which developments, discoveries, have impressed or interested you most?
Dalai Latma: Again, today, this scanning machine. That is something special. Body scanning; it takes every centimetre of your body in cross-section. Very marvellous.
Mike Austin: Why did that one interest you?
Dalai Latma: Hm? Very beneficial.
Mike Austin: For that reason, it was the most intriguing?
Dalai Latma: There’s no need to operate on the person to get the picture.
Mike Austin: Some of these machines are making a lot of trouble for people as well as helping them. What do you think the best way to use technology is?
Dalai Latma: That depends on motivation. Moderation and kindness. It’ll go alright; that’s it.
Mike Austin: How do you feel about nuclear energy?
Dalai Latma: Good. I think it is good.
Mike Austin: Why?
Dalai Latma: Because it helps. If you use it properly, I think so.
Mike Austin: You feel that the possible benefit outweighs the danger?
Dalai Latma: Everything is a dependent-arising, You see, whether nuclear power is absolutely of benefit; of course not. But we have a difficult topic. You cannot determine that nuclear energy is bad on the basis of itself alone, because if you do that, then you’ll just be an extremist yourself. If you go to any one extreme, it could be harmful.
Mike Austin: What do you think about the broader, spiritual implications of nuclear power? We’ve tapped the energy in the atom, and with this most fundamental force - nothing less - we might well destroy our world. Do you see anything ironic in that?
Dalai Latma: Again, this just depends on your skill in knowing how to use nuclear energy. For instance, with respect to diet, if you don’t know how to eat properly, you might kill yourself.
Mike Austin: Going back to what we were discussing before; existence, and the evolution of the universe. Western science has shown that life on this planet developed from simple forms to highly sophisticated ones. Can you equate this linear evolution with the Buddhist view of cyclic existence in which beings migrate in an essentially circular pattern through the same basic life forms?
Dalai Latma: According to the scriptures I mentioned earlier, we also believe in both a highly developed state which slowly degenerates and a primitive one which evolves. Otherwise, I don’t know. It’s difficult to say. We have to investigate this further. I feel that different things could exist together. What science has found the present nature of evolution to be could be true, and at the same time, another type of evolution could also exist. It’s difficult to say.
Mike Austin: Is there a specific date, a fixed point or period set down in the scriptures, when cyclic existence, time and space, will be emptied of all beings?
Dalai Latma: According to one Buddhist scripture, it is explained this way. If you dig down one thousand yards into the earth and then dig around one thousand square yards and then fill this space with hairs a half inch long each; if you then throw away one hair every hundred years; when you are done, that will be the length of one intermediate aeon one of the eighty. So like that.
Mike Austin: Does it say how many great aeons there are going to be?
Dalai Latma: Oh, limitless. There is no limit to the maha or great aeons. The existence of this kind of earth disintegrates, begins to take form, and disintegrates again everywhere in the universe.
Mike Austin: So there is no fixed point when samsara, cyclic existence, will cease? It is said, isn’t it, that samsara is beginningless, but it will have an end?
Dalai Latma: Individually, it can end. Collectively, it is beginningless and endless. If you examine an individual person, there exists the possibility to bring to an end the causes which produce that person’s samsaric existence. Therefore, there will be an end. But now, when we speak of the whole of samsara, then it is difficult to say because it has no limit. So something which is limitless - how can you put a time on it? That’s the problem.
Mike Austin: A final question - the life forms we see around us are primarily broken into two types. One is plant, the other animal. Plants survive through the medium of their own beings, from sunlight, earth and air. Animals, though, have to take food from the outside and usually by killing others. Do you see any meaning, any spiritual significance to the fact that life exists in these two ways?
Dalai Latma: (loud laughter) That is difficult. According to Buddhism, there might be a difference based on whether it is a sentient being or not.
Mike Austin: Are plants sentient beings? Do they have consciousness?
Dalai Latma: Generally as a plant, no. But now again, there is a further complication. What is a real plant and what is something animal? That is difficult. These plants around us may be real plants. In that case, we would consider them not to have consciousness. There are some kinds of plants however, where it is difficult to say if it has consciousness or not. Even if you take the human body; when you break down the cells I’m not sure which kind don’t have consciousness and which do. According to Buddhist texts, there are about eighty thousand cells with consciousness, eighty thousand sentient beings in the body, including worms. I think it’s impossible for the human body to contain eighty thousand worms, which could be seen with the naked eye, but as I said, everything that moves doesn’t necessarily have consciousness.