Path to Freedom – His Holiness The Dalai Lama
Freedom and Dharma
To practice Buddhism is to wage a struggle between the negative and positive forces in your mind. The meditator seeks to undermine the negative and develop and increase the positive.
There are no physical markers by which to measure progress in the struggle between the positive and negative forces in consciousness. Changes begin when you first identify and recognize your delusions, such as anger and jealousy. One then needs to know the antidotes to delusion. There is no simple way to remove delusions. They cannot be extracted surgically. They have to be recognized, and then, through the practice of the teachings, they can be gradually reduced and then completely eliminated.
The teachings offer the means to free oneself from delusion – a path that eventually leads to freedom from all suffering and to the bliss of enlightenment. The more one comes to understand the Dharma, the weaker will be the grip of pride, hatred, greed, and other negative emotions that cause so much suffering. Applying this understanding in daily life over a period of months and years will gradually transform the mind, because, despite the fact that it often seems otherwise, the mind is subject to change.
The word ‘dharma’ in Sanskrit means ‘that which holds’. All existents are dharmas, phenomena,in the sense that they hold or bear their own entry or character. Also, a religion is a dharma in the sense that it holds persons back or protects them from disaster. Here the term dharma refers to the latter definition. In rough terms, any elevated action of body, speech or mind is regarded as dharma because through doing such an action one is protected or held back from all sorts of disasters. Practice of such actions is practice of dharma.
Motivated by compassionfor all sentinent beings, Buddha Sakyamuni was borm more than twenty-five hundred years ago in India.He took birth as a prince. Even as a child he was mature in terms of both his knowledge and his compassion. He saw that by nature we all want happiness and do not want suffering.
Suffering is not something that always comes from the outside. It does not involve only problems like famine and drought. If this were the case we could protect ourselves from suffering, for example, by storing food. But sufferings like sickness, aging, and death are problems related to the very nature of our existence, and we cannot overcome them by external conditions. What is more, we have within us this untamed mind, susceptible to all kinds of problems. It is afflicted with negative thoughts like doubt and anger. As long as our minds are beset with this host of negative thoughts, even if we have soft, comfortable clothes, and delicious foods to eat, they will not solve our problems.
Buddha Sakyamuni observed all these problems, and he reflected on the nature of his own existence. He found that all human beings undergo suffering, and he saw that we experience this unhappiness because of our undisciplined state of mind. He saw that our minds are so wild that often we cannot even sleep at night. Faced with this host of sufferings and problems, he was wise enough to ask whether there is a method to overcome these problems.
He decided that living the life of a prince in a palace was not the way to eliminate suffering. If anything, it was a hindrance. So he gave up all the comforts of the palace, including the companionship of his wife and son, and embarked on the homeless life. In the course of his search he consulted many teachers and listened to their instruction. He found that their teachings were of some use, but they did not provide an ultimate solution to the problems of how to eliminate suffering.
He undertook six years of strict ascetism. By giving up all the facilities that he enjoyed as a prince and engaging in strict ascetic practice, he was able to strengthen his meditative understanding. Seated beneath the Bodhi tree, he overcame the obstructive forces and attained enlightenment. Subsequently he began to teach, to turn the wheel of doctrine, based on his own experience and realization.
When we talk about the Buddha, we are not talking about someone who was a Buddha from the beginning. He began just like us. He was an ordinary sentinent being who saw the same sufferings as we do: birth, old age, sickness, and death. He had various thoughts and feelings, happy feelings and feelings of pain, just as we do. But as a result of his strong and integrated spiritual practice, he was able to achieve various levels of the spiritual path culminating in enlightenment.
Sometimes when I reflect on the life of Buddha Sakyamuni, I have a sense of unease. Although Buddha Sakyamuni’s teaching can be interpreted on various levels, it is evident from historical accounts that Buddha Sakyamuni underwent six years of hard practice. This shows that the mind cannot be transformed merely by sleeping and relaxing and enjoying all of life’s comforts. It shows us that only through working hard and undergoing hardhip over a long period of time will we be able to attain enlightenment. It is not easy to attain all the spiritual levels and realizations within a short time without making any effort. Even the Buddha, the proponent of the teaching we are following, had to undergo such hardship. How, then, can we expect to attain spiritual heights and become enlightened merely by performing certain so-called practices and having a relaxed time? If we read the stories of the great spiritual teachers of the past, we find that they attained spiritual realization through a great deal of meditation, solitude and practice. They did not take any shortcuts.
The root of suffering is ignorance, which here meand the misconception of self. All the myriad sufferings we encounter arise because of this misconception, this wrong understanding. Therefore, when it is said tha Buddha discarded all wrong views out of compassion, it means that he had the compassion to work for the benefit of sentinet beings. In order to benefit sentinent beings he gave various levels of teachings that are free from wrong views and negative thoughts. Therefore, those who follow these teachings, by understanding the right viewand putting it into practice, will be able to eliminate suffering. We pay homage to Buddha Sakyamuni because he gave such sublime teachings.
This precious human life as a free and fortunate human being can be obtained just once. Even though we have had countless lives in the past, we have never yet been able to put such a precious human life to proper use. Today, we are fortunate to have found a life in which our mental and physical faculties are intact, and we have some interest in practicing the Dharma. Such a life is unique. Similarly, the Dharma we have access to is unique. It first derived from the Buddha in India, and it was passed down by subsequent great Indian masters. Gradually it came to flourish in Tibet, and that tradition of Buddhist practice is still very much alive. In Tibet, the Land of Snows, we have maintained the complete range of practice of the teachings of the Buddha. Therefore, at this time it is extremely important that we make a concerted effort to use it to fulfil the best purposes of ourselves and all other sentinent beings.
Four Noble Truths
The Buddha arose from meditation 2500 years ago after attaining enlightenment. The subject of his first teaching was the Four Noble Truths.
The First Noble Truth was the truth of suffering, the fact that our happiness is constantly passing away. Everything we have is subject to impermanence. Nothing within wahat we commonly think as real is permanent. Ignorance, attachment, and anger are the causes of our relentless suffering. Thus the Second Noble Truth is to understand this cause of suffering. When you eliminate the root of suffering (delusions), you achieve a state of cessation of suffering – the Third Noble Truth, or nirvana. The Fourth Noble Truth is that there exists a path leading to the cessation of suffering. In order to achieve that state within your mind, you must follow a path.
To understand well these four truths, it is necessary to recognize that they are rooted in two other truths, namely relative and absolute truth. At the level of relative truth, this and that, I and other, each seems to have an independent existence of its own; but from the viewpoint ofm absolute truth, every object and every being is found to exist only in dependence on all other existing entities.
With this perception comes the understanding of the ultimate mode of existence, namely the complete absence of independent or inherent isolated existence of anything whatsoever. This ultimate nature of phenomena is called emptiness and these two different concepts of it are known as the conventional and the ultimates modes of phenomena. Understanding these two truths of the true nature of phenomena, one sees that they arise in dependence upon conditions and that they are completely lacking an independent existence of their own. When certain conditions come together, then phenomena arise; if the co-operative conditions do not come together, or if they should cease, then these phenomena do not exist. So this then is the process by which phenomena arise and pass away.
In explaining the Four Noble Truths, Iwill do so not in the context of one individual but rather in the context of the whole of mankind or of this world community, this human society. So now, first of all comes the first truth, The Truth of Suffering. There is a wide variety of suffering, but now the most frightening, the most serious, is that of war. The situation of the world is one in which there is danger not only to the life of each individual, but rather to the lives of the population of this entire planet.
Next, on searching for the source of the suffering loeading to tears, one finds that this source is in the mind, specifically in mental factors and such mental distortions as attachment and anger, as well as an evil related to anger, namely jealousy. Anger, hatred and so on are the actual sources of suffering. Certainly there are also external weapons, but these weapons themselves are not the source of the problem, because they need to be employed by human beings; they cannot work by themselves, and, in order for human beings to employ them, there have to be motivations. These motivations are mainly hatred and attachment, especially hatred. This is a vicious state of mind. If we have contentment, happiness or tranquility, we have inner peace. If we do not have inner or mental peace, how can we have external peace? It will not do to drop atom bombs on people; in seeking the establishment of peace, one has to turn to the mind.To destroy mental defects, external weapons are of no use at all. The only way is to endeavour to control one’s own mind.
Coming now to the truth of cessation of suffering, it is clear that the cessation of mental distortions such as anger and jealousy, though they can be ultimately eradicated, is something to look for in the future. What can be done now is to try to foresee the future. Clear understanding of what seems likely to be our future would surely reduce such mental defects as anger. To reduce anger effectively requires that we avoid the conditions that lead to anger, such as pride and jealousy. We must try to abandon these and, on the other hand, accustom ourselves to states of mind that are incongruous with jealousy and pride. That it is possible to lessen such mental distortions is something that can be verified.
The truth of the path to the cessation of suffering, has, as its root, compassion. This involves developing a mind of kindness and kind-heartedness, that is to say, developing motivation towards the service and benefit of others. This is the very essence of the path to cessation of suffering. To cultivate compassion, it is necessary to minimize the effects of such divisions among humanity as race, culture, appearance and varying philosophical traditions. Putting aside these classifications, one becomes very much aware of the fact that human beings are human beings and have this great factor in common, whether we are easterners or westerners, belivers or non-believers, all of us are human beings, that is to say beings of the same kind. From this recognition will come a true sense of brotherhood, love for one another, more concern for others, less selfishness. These things are essential. This kind of effort is indeed difficult, but not impossible to cultivate. It is worth all efforts.
Courtesy: The Buddhist Path to Freedom – HIS HOLINESS THE DALAI LAMA, published in Facets of Freedom – Dimensions of Freedom in the Modern Context, Sri Ramakrishna Math, Chennai, 2011, pp 37-45
His Holiness The Dalai Lama is the spiritual head of the Tibetan Buddhism and winner of Nobel Peace Prize.