The Four Noble Truths are the very foundation of the Buddhist teaching, and that is why they are so important. In fact, if you don’t understand the Four Noble Truths, and if you have not experienced the truth of this teaching personally, it is impossible to practise Buddha Dharma. Therefore I am always very happy to have the opportunity to explain them.
Generally speaking, I believe that all the major world religions have the potential to serve humanity and develop good human beings. By ‘good’ or ‘nice’, I don’t mean that people look good; I mean that they have a good and more compassionate heart. This is why I always say that it is better to follow one’s own traditional religion, because by changing religion you may eventually find emotional or intellectual difficulties. For example, here in England the traditional religious culture is Christian, so it may be better for you to follow that.
However, for those of you who really feel that your traditional religion is not effective for you, and for those who are radical atheists, then the Buddhist way of explaining things may hold some attraction. Maybe in this case it is all right to follow Buddhism - generally, I think it is better to have some kind of religious training than none at all. If you really feel attracted to the Buddhist approach, and the Buddhist way of training the mind, it is very important to reflect carefully, and only when you feel it is really suitable for you is it right to adopt Buddhism as your personal religion.
There is another very important point here. Human nature is such that sometimes, in order to justify our adoption of a new religion, we may criticize our previous religion, or our country’s traditional religion, and claim it is inadequate. This should not happen.
Firstly, although your previous religion may not be effective for you, that does not mean it will completely fail to be of value to millions of other people. Since we should respect all human beings, we must also respect those who are following different religious paths. Furthermore, your previous religion - like all religions - does have the potential to help certain types of people. It is clear that for some people the Christian approach is more effective than the Buddhist one. It-depends on the individual’s mental disposition. We must therefore appreciate that potential in each religion, and respect all those who follow them.
The second reason is that we are now becoming aware of the many religious traditions of the world, and people are trying to promote genuine harmony between them. One example of this is the interfaith gathering in Assisi in 1986 on religions and the environment. I think there are now many interfaith circles and the idea of religious pluralism is taking root. This is a very encouraging sign. At such a time, when people are promoting genuine religious understanding in many areas, a single individual’s criticism can be very harmful.
So on these grounds, we should maintain a spirit of respect for other religions.
I wanted to begin with these points, because when I actually explain the Four Noble Truths, I have to argue the Buddhist way is the best! Also, if you were to ask me what the best religion is for me personally, my answer would be Buddhism, without any hesitation. But that does not mean that Buddhism is best for everyone - certainly not. Therefore, during the course of my explanation, when I say that I feel that the Buddhist way is best, you should not misunderstand me.
I would like to further emphasize that when I say that all religions have great potential, I am not just being polite or diplomatic. Whether we like it or not, the entire human race cannot be Buddhist, that is quite clear. Similarly, the whole of humanity cannot be Christian, or Muslim, either. Even in India during the Buddha’s time, the entire population did not turn to Buddhism. This is just a fact. Furthermore, I have not just read books about other religions but I have met genuine practitioners from other traditions. We have talked about deep, spiritual experiences, in particular the experience of loving kindness. I have noticed a genuine and very forceful loving kindness in their minds. My conclusion therefore is that these various religions have the potential to develop a good heart.
Whether or not we like the philosophy of other religions isn’t really the point. For a non-Buddhist, the idea of nirvana and a next life seems nonsensical. Similarly, to Buddhists the idea of a Creator God sometimes sounds like nonsense. But these things don’t matter; we can drop them. The point is that through these different traditions, a very negative person can be transformed into a good person. That is the purpose of religion - and that is the actual result. This alone is a sufficient reason to respect other religions.
There is one last point. As you may know, Buddha taught in different ways, and Buddhism has a variety of philosophical systems such as Vaibhashika, Sautrantika, Chittamatra and Madhyamaka. Each one of these schools quotes the word of the Buddha from the Sutras. If the Buddha taught in these different ways, it would seem that he himself was not very sure about how things really are! But this is not actually the case; the Buddha knew the different mental dispositions of his followers. The main purpose of teaching religion is to help people, not to become famous, so he taught what was suitable according to the disposition of his listeners. So even Buddha Shakyamuni very much respected the views and rights of individuals. A teaching may be very profound but if it does not suit a particular person, what is the use of explaining it? In this sense, the Dharma is like medicine. The main value of medicine is that it cures illness,- it is not just a question of price. For example, one medicine may be very precious and expensive, but if it is not appropriate for the patient, then it is of no use.
Since there are different types of people in the world, we need different types of religion. Let me give you one example of this. At the beginning of the 70s, an Indian engineer showed a keen interest in Buddhism and eventually became a monk. He was very sincere and a very nice person. Then one day I explained to him the Buddhist theory of anatman, the theory of no-self or no-soul, and he was so frightened by it he was shaking all over. If there really was no permanent soul, then he felt there was something very fundamental missing. He was literally shivering all over. I found it very difficult to explain the meaning of anatman to him; it took months. Eventually his shivering grew less and less. So for such a person, it is better to practise a teaching that is based on atman, or a belief in the soul.
If we are aware of all these points, then it is very easy to respect and appreciate the value of traditions other than our own.
BASIC PRINCIPLES OF BUD-DHISM
Whenever I introduce the Buddhist teachings, I make a point of presenting them in terms of two basic principles. The first of these is the interdependent nature of reality. All Buddhist philosophy rests on an understanding of this basic truth. The second principle is that of non-violence, which is the action taken by a Buddhist practi-tioner who has the view of the interdependent nature of reality. Non-violence essentially means that we should do our best to help others and, if this is not possible, should at the very least refrain from harming them. Be-fore I explain the Four Noble Truths in detail, I propose to outline both these principles by way of back-ground.
Taking Refuge and Generating Bodhichit-ta
First, I will introduce these principles in traditional Buddhist terms. Technically, we become a Buddhist when we decide to take Refuge in the Three Jewels, and when we generate bodhichitta, which is known as com-passion, the altruistic mind, or our good heart. The Three Jewels of Buddhism are the Buddha; the Dharma, his teaching; and the Sangha or community of practi-tioners. It is very clear that the idea of helping others lies at the heart of both Refuge and Bodhichitta. The practice of Generating Bodhichitta explicitly entails committing oneself to activities which are primarily aimed at helping others; while the practice of Taking Refuge lays the foundation for the practitioner to lead his or her life in an ethically disciplined way, avoiding actions that are harmful to others and respecting the laws of karma.
Unless we have a good foundational experience of the practice of Taking Refuge in the Three Jewels, we will not be able to have a high level of realization of bodhi-chitta. It is for this reason that the distinction between a practising Buddhist and a non-Buddhist is made on the basis of whether or not an individual has taken Refuge in the Three Jewels.
However, when we talk about Taking Refuge in the Three Jewels, we should not imagine that it simply in-volves a ceremony in which we formally take Refuge from a master, or that merely by virtue of participating in such a ceremony we have become a Buddhist. There is a formal Refuge ceremony in Buddhism, but the ceremo-ny is not the point. The point is that as a result of your own reflection, even without a master, you become fully convinced of the validity of the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha as the true ultimate objects of refuge, and that is when you actually become a Buddhist. You entrust your spiritual wellbeing to the Three Jewels, and this is what is really meant by Taking Refuge. On the other hand, if there is any doubt or apprehension in your mind about the validity of Buddha, Dharma and Sangha as being the ultimate objects of refuge, even though you may have taken part in a Refuge ceremony, that very suspicion or doubt prevents you from being a practising Buddhist, at least for the time being. It is therefore important to un-derstand what these objects of refuge are.
When we speak about Buddha in this context, we should not confine our understanding of the word to the histori-cal person who came to India and taught a certain spir-itual way of life. Rather, our understanding of bud-dhahood should be based on levels of consciousness, or levels of spiritual realization. We should understand that buddhahood is a spiritual state of being. This is why the Buddhist scriptures can speak about past buddhas, bud-dhas of the present and buddhas of the future.
Now the next question is: how does a buddha come into being? How does a person become fully enlightened? When we reflect on buddhahood, we are bound to ask ourselves whether or not it is possible for an individual to attain such a state, to become a fully enlightened be-ing, a buddha.
Here we find that the key lies in understanding the na-ture of Dharma. If the Dharma exists, then the Sangha will certainly exist - the Sangria are those who have en-gaged in the path of the Dharma, and who have realized and actualized its truth. If there are Sangha members who have reached spiritual states where they have over-come at least the gross levels of negativity and afflictive emotions, then we can envision the possibility of attain-ing a freedom from negativity and afflictive emotions which is total. That state is what we call bud-dhahood.
In the present context, I think we must make a distinc-tion between the use of ‘Dharma’ as a generic term and its use in the specific framework of the Refuge. Generi-cally, it refers to the scriptural Dharma - the Buddha’s teaching and the spiritual realizations based on the prac-tice of that teaching. In relation to the Refuge it has two aspects: one is the path that leads to the cessation of suf-fering and afflictive emotions, and the other is cessation itself. It is only by understanding true cessation and the path leading to cessation that we can have some idea of what the state of liberation is.
In the Sutras, Buddha stated several times that whoever perceives the interdependent nature of reality sees the Dharma,- and whoever sees the Dharma sees the Bud-dha. It is my belief that if we approach this statement from the perspective of Nagarjuna’s teachings of the Madhyamaka School, we can arrive at the most compre-hensive understanding of its implications. If you were to accuse me of having a bias in favour of Nagarjuna, I would certainly accept that criticism! So following Na-garjuna, we find there are three levels of meaning here.
Firstly, the understanding of the principle of interde-pendent origination (pratityasamutpada) that is common to all Buddhist schools explains it in terms of causal de-pendence. ‘Pratit’ means ‘to depend on’, and ‘samutpada’ refers to ‘origination’. This principle means that all con-ditioned things and events in the universe come into be-ing only as a result of the interaction of various causes and conditions. This is significant because it precludes two possibilities. One is the possibility that things can arise from nowhere, with no causes and conditions, and the second is that things can arise on account of a trans-cendent designer or creator. Both these possibilities are negated.
Secondly, we can understand the principle of dependent origination in terms of parts and whole. All material ob-jects can be understood in terms of how the parts com-pose the whole, and how the very idea of ‘whole’ and ‘wholeness’ depends upon the existence of parts. Such dependence clearly exists in the physical world. Similar-ly, non-physical entities, like consciousness, can be con-sidered in terms of their temporal sequences: the idea of their unity or wholeness is based upon the successive se-quences that compose a continuum. So when we consider the universe in these terms, not only do we see each con-ditioned thing as dependently originated, we also under-stand that the entire phenomenal world arises according to the principle of dependent origination.
There is a third dimension to the meaning of dependent origination, which is that all things and events - every-thing, in fact - arise solely as a result of the mere coming together of the many factors which make them up. When you analyse things by mentally breaking them down into their constitutive parts, you come to the understanding that it is simply in dependence upon other factors that anything comes into being. Therefore there is nothing that has any independent or intrinsic identity of its own. Whatever identity we give things is contingent on the interaction between our perception and reality itself. However, this is not to say that things do not exist. Bud-dhism is not nihilistic. Things do exist, but they do not have an independent, autonomous reality.
Let us now refer back to the statement by the Buddha, when he said that seeing dependent origination leads to seeing the Dharma. There are three different meanings to this concept of Dharma which correspond to the three different levels of meaning of dependent origination which we have just described.
Firstly, we can relate Dharma to the first level of mean-ing of dependent origination, which is causal depend-ence. By developing a deep understanding of the inter-dependent nature of reality in terms of causal depend-ence, we are able to appreciate the workings of what we call ‘karma’, that is, the karmic law of cause and effect which governs human actions. This law explains how ex-periences of pain and suffering arise as a result of nega-tive actions, thoughts and behaviour, and how desirable experiences such as happiness and joy arise as a result of the causes and conditions which correspond to that re-sult - positive actions, emotions and thoughts.
Developing a deep understanding of dependent origina-tion in terms of causal dependence gives you a funda-mental insight into the nature of reality. When you real-ize that everything we perceive and experience arises as a result of the interaction and coming together of causes and conditions, your whole view changes. Your perspec-tive on your own inner experiences, and the world at large, shifts as you begin to see everything in terms of this causal principle. Once you have developed that kind of philosophical outlook, then you will be able to situate your understanding of karma within that framework, since the karmic laws are a particular instance of this overall general causal principle.
Similarly, when you have a deep understanding of the other two dimensions of dependent origination - the de-pendence of parts and whole, and the interdependence between perception and existence - your view will deep-en, and you will appreciate that there is a disparity be-tween the way things appear to you and the way they actually are. What appears as some kind of autonomous, objective reality out there does not really fit with the ac-tual nature of reality.
Once we appreciate that fundamental disparity between appearance and reality, we gain a certain insight into the way our emotions work, and how we react to events and objects. Underlying the strong emotional responses we have to situations, we see that there is an assumption that some kind of independently existing reality exists out there. In this way, we develop an insight into the various functions of the mind and the different levels of consciousness within us. We also grow to understand that although certain types of mental or emotional states seem so real, and although objects appear to be so vivid, in reality they are mere illusions. They do not really exist in the way we think they do.
It is through this type of reflection and analysis that we will be able to gain an insight into what in technical Buddhist language is called ‘the origin of suffering’, in other words, those emotional experiences that lead to confusion and misapprehension; and which afflict the mind. When this is combined with an understanding of the interdependent nature of reality at the subtlest level, then we also gain insight into what we call ‘the empty nature of reality’, by which we mean the way each and every object and event arises only as a combination of many factors, and has no independent or autonomous existence.
Our insight into emptiness will, of course, help us to un-derstand that any ideas that are based on the contrary view, that things exist intrinsically and independently, are misapprehensions. They are misunderstandings of the nature of reality. We realize that they have no valid grounding either in reality or in our own valid experi-ence, whereas the empty nature of reality has a valid grounding both in logical reasoning and in our experi-ence. Gradually, we come to appreciate that it is possible to arrive at a state of knowledge where such misappre-hension is eliminated completely; that is the state of ces-sation.
In Clear Words (Prasannapada), Chandrakirti states that if one can posit emptiness, then one can posit the world of dependent origination. If one can posit that, then one can posit the causal relationship between suf-fering and its origin. Once one accepts this, then one can also conceive of and accept the possibility that there could be an end to suffering. If one can do that, argues Chandrakirti, then one can also accept that it is possible for individuals to realize and actualize that state. Final-ly, of course, one can conceive of buddhas who have ac-tually perfected that state of cessation.
The point is that by developing a profound understand-ing of the principle of dependent origination, we can un-derstand both the truth of the subtle origins of suffering, and the truth of cessation. This is the meaning of Bud-dha’s statement, that by understanding dependent origi-nation, we see the Dharma. In this way we can see the truth of cessation and the path that leads to that cessa-tion. Once we understand these, we are able to conceive that it is possible for Sangha members to realize and ac-tualize these states, and for buddhas to perfect them. Finally, we come to some understanding of what bud-dhahood really means.
The Two Truths
Now in order to develop a comprehensive understanding of the Four Noble Truths, I think it is also necessary to be familiar with the Two Truths, conventional or relative truth, and ultimate truth. Here you must keep in mind that I explain them from the perspective of the Madh-yamaka or ‘Middle Way’ School of Buddhism. Of course, the concept of Two Truths is not confined to this school alone. You can find the concept of Two Truths in other Buddhist schools of thought, and also in some non-Buddhist Indian philosophies. Here, however, I take the Madhyamaka view.
So how can we develop a personal understanding of the fundamental Buddhist doctrine of the Two Truths? By coming to know our everyday world of lived experience, we appreciate what is known as samvaharasatya, the world of conventional reality, where the causal principle operates. If we accept the reality of this world as conven-tional, then we can accept the empty nature of this world which, according to Buddhism, is the ultimate truth, the paramarthasatya. The relationship between these two aspects of reality is important. The world of appearance is used not so much as a contrast or an opposite to the world of ultimate truth, but rather as the evidence, the very basis on which the ultimate nature of reality is es-tablished.
Only when you have an understanding of the nature and relationship of these Two Truths are you in a position to fully understand the meaning of the Four Noble Truths. And once you understand the Four Noble Truths, then you have a sound foundation on which to develop a good understanding of what is meant by Taking Refuge in the Three Jewels.
Q. What is the difference between individual’s gaining insights and the buddhas’ perfection of those in-sights?
HHDL: Let us take the example of gaining insight into the subtle impermanence and momentary nature of all things and events.
For an individual who starts with an understanding of things as being permanent, at the initial stage his or her grasping at the permanence of things could be quite strong and intense. Now in order to loosen that grip you need some form of critical reasoning which, even if it on-ly casts a doubt in the person’s mind as to the perma-nence of things, can in itself make an impact because it has at least had the effect of loosening the grip on the idea that things are permanent or eternal.
However, that is not enough. You need the further rein-forcement of more critical reasoning to point you towards the impermanence of things. Even that is not enough. You will need yet more conviction than this, and that can be gained through constant reflection, which can lead to what is known as the inferential understanding of im-permanence.
The process is not over yet. For this understanding to have a definite impact on your behaviour, you need to gain direct insight, or intuitive experience, of the im-permanence of things. That in turn needs to be further perfected, because the point is that our grasping at per-manence is so deeply embedded in our consciousness that just one single insight is not enough to dispel it. It re-quires a long process of deepening our insight, so that eventually even the smallest tendency to grasp at per-manence has been eradicated.
The process would be the same in the case of insight into the emptiness of things, or of any other principle in fact.
However, there are certain aspects of the spiritual path which have less to do with experiences related to knowledge, and more to do with the enhancement of our good heart. For the latter, at the initial stage, you have to develop some intellectual understanding of what com-passion is, of course, and you have to have some notion of how it could be enhanced. Then, as a result of your prac-tice, you may gain some kind of simulated experience of your good heart. For example, when you sit and reflect on it, you may arouse your compassion, but that compas-sion is not long-lasting or pervasive, and does not per-meate your very being. So what is needed is a further deepening of that experience so that your compassion be-comes spontaneous, so it is no longer dependent upon in-tellectual simulation. It has to become a truly spontane-ous response to occasions that demand that response. That experience of compassion can be further deepened again, until it becomes universal. So this is a different aspect of the path, which again entails a long pro-cess.
These two aspects of the path are known in traditional Buddhist terms as the Method Aspect and the Insight or Wisdom Aspect, and both must go hand in hand. For in-sight to be enhanced and deepened, you need the com-plementary factor of bodhichitta from the Method As-pect. Similarly, in order to enhance, deepen and strengthen your realization of bodhichitta, you need the insight which grounds it. So we need an approach which combines method and wisdom.
Likewise we need an approach which combines several different methods, not an approach which relies on only one. If we take the previous case of insight into the im-permanence of things, although that insight might in it-self enable a person to overcome grasping at perma-nence, in practice you need further complementary fac-tors in order to perfect that particular insight. This is be-cause there are so many other fetters that constrict the mind at the same time. The person’s problem is not just grasping at permanence in isolation; it is also grasping at the independent, objective reality of things, like grasping at abiding principles, and so on and so forth. All these factors can be counteracted together by developing in-sight into emptiness.
So what we are dealing with here is the very complex process of the progression of an individual’s conscious-ness towards perfection.
Q: Can you say more about exactly what is meant by Go-ing for Refuge?
HHDL: I feel that the essence of Going for Refuge is the development of a deep conviction in the efficacy of the Dharma as a means liberation, as well as a deep aspira-tion or desire to attain that liberation.
Generally speaking, Buddha is said to be the teacher who shows us the path, Dharma is the actual object of Refuge, and the Sangha are your companions on the path. So therefore a deep conviction in the Dharma is a precondition for developing deep faith and respect in the Buddha and the Sangha.
In his Commentary on the Compendium of Valid Cogni-tion (Pramanavarttika), Dharmakirti tries to rationally prove the validity and reliability of the fact that Buddha is an enlightened teacher. He defends his argument by subjecting Buddha’s own teaching to profound scrutiny, and by demonstrating the reliability of his teaching on the Four Noble Truths because it is grounded in both reasoning and valid personal experience. The point here is that we should first appreciate the truth of the Dhar-ma, and only on that basis recognize the Buddha as a genuine teacher.
Only in relation to extremely obscure areas is the reverse logic sometimes applied; in other words, that Buddha’s statements on such matters can be relied upon because he is a reliable teacher. This is a complex process of rea-soning. In order to follow it, we actually proceed from our own conviction in the reliability of Buddha’s teach-ings on the Four Noble Truths, which are open to critical reasoning. When we have gained personal insight into the truth of these, we develop a deep conviction in the reliability of Buddha as a teacher. Since Buddha has proven to be reliable and rational in areas that are open to reason, we have the confidence to take Buddha’s tes-timony on trust in other areas which we find more ob-scure.
Taking Refuge in the Three Jewels therefore derives its full meaning from the act of Taking Refuge in the Dhar-ma.
Q: What is the purpose of Taking Refuge in a ritual or ceremony if one can take refuge within one’s own heart alone?
HHDL: In Buddhism we have a number of different pre-cepts or vows. For example, there are bodhisattva vows, tantric vows, pratimoksha vows (monastic vows), lay person’s precepts, and so on. It is said that you can take bodhisattva vows in front of a representation of the Bud-dha (a statue or painting, for example) and do not need to take them from another living person. However, it is necessary to take Vajrayana and pratimoksha vows from another living person, because you need an unbroken continuum. Perhaps one of the reasons for this is that taking vows in the presence of a master or other living person brings a greater sense of commitment. It rein-forces your own conscience, and gives a sense of personal obligation. If you wish to pursue the reasons for this fur-ther, then I must admit we would have to defer the question to the Buddha himself.
Q: If we see someone engaging in a wrong action which will lead to their suffering, should we try to prevent them from carrying it out, or would that be imposing on their karma? In other words, is it better for us to experi-ence our own suffering so we can learn from it?
HHDL: As you know, a practising Buddhist is deliber-ately engaged in a way of life that is dedicated to helping others. Here we should know that, in the Buddhist sense, we are talking about helping others find their own liberation through engaging in the right path; that is, engaging in a way of life that accords with the karmic law, where the person avoids negative actions and en-gages in positive actions. So generally speaking, when a Buddhist sees others engaging in wrong actions, it is right to try to stop them from doing so.
However, this does raise several questions. To what ex-tent can we impose our own morality, or our own sets of values, on to another person? We might even wonder whether the Buddha’s prescription to his followers to live their lives according to the moral discipline of avoiding the Ten Negative Actions’ is also a way of imposing his set of moral values on us.
It is useful to remember that one important principle in Buddhism is the need to be sensitive to individual con-text. There is a story which illustrates this point well.
Shariputra, one of the chief disciples of the Buddha, knew that if he were to give the basic teachings on the Shravakayana to a group of five hundred potential disci-ples, these disciples would without doubt gain insight to the truth and become Arhats. However, the bodhisattva named Manjushri intervened, and instead taught them the Mahayana doctrine of emptiness. These five hundred disciples understood what he taught as a doctrine of to-tal nihilism, denying the validity and reality of every-thing. They all developed wrong views on the nature of the path and reality, and as a result it is said that they created karmic actions that led them to take rebirth in the lower realms of existence.
So Shariputra sought out the Buddha straightaway, ar-guing that if Manjushri had let him guide these five hundred people, they would have at least attained high levels of realization, if not full enlightenment. The Bud-dha responded by saying that in fact Manjushri had ap-plied the principle of skilful means. Manjushri knew that in the short term these people would create negative ac-tions through their wrong views, but he also knew that because the doctrine of emptiness had been implanted in their consciousness, those seeds would later ripen and would lead them to buddhahood. So in effect, their path to buddhahood had been shortened.
The moral that we can draw from this story is that until we reach the state of full enlightenment ourselves, it is very difficult to judge what is, and what is not, the right response to a given situation. We should simply do our best to be sensitive to each particular situation when we are interacting with others.
Q: Your Holiness, it is a well-known fact that you are a very busy person with many demands on your time. Could you advise a lay person with home, family and work demands, on how to develop a systematic pattern of Dharma practice?
HHDL: My Western friends often ask me for the quick-est, easiest, most effective - and cheapest - way of prac-tising Dharma! I think to find such a way is impossible! Maybe that is a sign of failure!
We should realize that practising the Dharma is actually something that needs to be done twenty-four hours of the day. That’s why we make a distinction between actu-al meditation sessions and post-meditation periods, the idea being that both while you are in the meditative ses-sion and also when you are out of it, you should be fully within the realm of Dharma practice.
In fact, one could say that the post-meditation periods are the real test of the strength of your practice. During formal meditation, in a sense you are recharging your batteries, so that when you come out of the session you are better equipped to deal with the demands of your everyday life. The very purpose of recharging a battery is to enable it to run something, isn’t it? Similarly, once you have equipped yourself through whatever practices you engage in, as a human being you can’t avoid the dai-ly routines of life, and it is during these periods that you should be able to live according to the principles of your Dharma practice.
Of course at the initial stage, as a beginner, you do need periods of concentrated meditation so that you have a base from which you can begin. This is certainly crucial. But once you have established that base, then you will be able to adopt a way of life where your daily activity is at least in accord with the principles of the Dharma. So all this points to the importance of making an effort. With-out some effort, there is no way that we can integrate the principles of Dharma in our lives.
For a serious practitioner, the most serious effort is nec-essary. Just a few short prayers, a little chanting, and some mantra recitation with a mala (rosary) are not suf-ficient. Why not? Because this cannot transform your mind. Our negative emotions are so powerful that con-stant effort is needed in order to counteract them. If we practise constantly, then we can definitely change.
Q: What is the relationship between relative compassion and absolute compassion?
HHDL: There are different ways of understanding the meaning of compassion according to whether you ap-proach it from the Mahayana or the Vajrayana point of view. For example, although the Vajrayana uses the same word for compassion, karuna, as the Mahayana, it has a totally different meaning.
Perhaps this question is related to another distinction made in the scriptures between two levels of compassion. At the first level, compassion is simulated. This is the in-itial stage, when you need to practise certain contempla-tions in order to generate compassion. As a result of this practice you reach the second level, at which compassion becomes natural and spontaneous. This is one of the ways of understanding the difference between relative and absolute compassion.