Subject: My notes/thoughts from the Dali Lama's talks last week
Date: Wed, 23 May 2001 12:09:46 -0700

Typed this up for a friend (and for myself) and thought that some of you might also be interested.  If so, here are the "back of the envelope Raff's Notes" on the Dalai Lama's talks that I attended when he was here last week....  :-)  -Rich

Marianna Tubman wrote:
> Please listen carefully (to the Dalai Lama) for me... I'll probably like to hear your
> report.  Try to remember an outstanding quote to share if you can.  BTW if you want some fun
> go look up a book by the Dalai Lama on the public library catalog and look at how his name
> appears in the author field - it's quite a mouthful!

First of all, the teachings of the Buddha are called "sutras", and there are many of them.  Most of the Dalai Lama's talks (and I didn't hear them all) were on just one sutra, the Heart Sutra--which in its full, unabridged form is something like 100,000 words.  It took the DL a couple days of talks at Shoreline to cover it (and I'm sure he left out a lot).  To my (limited) knowledge, these teachings of the Buddha ("sutras") form the core of the spiritual practices of India, Tibet, Burma, China, Japan, etc...cultures quite different from our own...and of which I don't really know much.  Further, the Heart Sutra is the central/core/most sacred teaching of the Buddha...and some people spend the better part of their lives studying it.  So, it's quite a thing for me to try to report some kind of brief summary of the Heart Sutra.  But, what the heck, I'll give it a go...and will hopefully learn/discover something for myself in the attempt....

(Much of the below is informed by the Buddhist teachings of Gil Fronsdal, who gives the "dharma" talks after the Vipassana meditation in Palo Alto that I've been attending for a couple years now.)

Here's all of Buddhism in two words: "Don't Cling!"
(Ie, know that absolutely everything [except Nirvana] is impermanent [temporary], and have no attachment to *anything*.  The goal of Buddhism is Nirvana: the enlightened liberation from all suffering, which can only occur when one ceases to be attached/clinging to whatever s/he desires or feels that s/he "owns".)

Here's the mantra (translated to English) for the Heart Sutra (which is said to have healing/liberating powers when spoken):  "Gone.  Gone.  Completely Gone.  Beyond Completely Gone!  AWAKE!  HALLELUJAH!!"

...which I don't think is something the Buddha said when he was really wasted one night (though I know it sounds like that ;), but rather I'm thinking it's about the realization of the <emptiness> (*) which is truly inherent in all "things" (including not just all physical things/forms, but also all thoughts, feelings, and perceptions)...and that once you truly awaken to this realization, you have no attachment to any of it (no clinging) and you are truly liberated, enlightened, awakened (ie, free from the "grasp" of all "things" = free from all desire = free from all suffering = Nirvana).

(*) For the philosophically-inclined, this is what I remember from one of Gil's talks: Emptiness is an inherent characteristic of form (like wetness is a inherent characteristic of (liquid) water and space is an inherent characteristic of the universe.)  Ie, without form, there is no emptiness, and without emptiness there is no form: the two are one, and emptiness is form and form is emptiness.  [I remember Plato said something similar (yeah, we used to hang out ;)...and that "form" doesn't truly exist, although we live our lives as if it were all that existed.  I think it was Huxley that said that 99% of who we are is "not form" and only 1% of who we are is in form (our "physical packaging"/ bodies)...but that we spend 99% of our lives concerned with the 1% of ourselves that is form...and, thus, spend 99% of our lives neglecting the 99% of who we really are (which is "not form").]

How to get there (theoretical): By bringing a fully matured/disciplined insight and awareness to your every waking moment.  Buddhism believes that we are each responsible for our own suffering...and that our own mind/intelligence is the greatest obstacle to our happiness.

How to get there (practical): Strengthen your concentration, quiet your thoughts, and expand/deepen your awareness, so that you can overcome the illusions of your own mind and see the true nature of reality.  How to build up this "muscle"?  Meditate.

The DL also spoke a lot about compassion and loving kindness.  I think the theme there was: The degree to which you can become genuinely unattached (ie, not grasping for, clinging to, or otherwise concerned with things: people, beliefs, thoughts, feelings, perceptions, money, success, achievement, power, or other personal desires), coupled with your ability to be close to the pain/suffering of another, is the degree to which you are capable of being a truly compassionate/kind person.  And, of course, "being capable" is only the first step.

Just about everyone believes that they're not only capable, but are actually compassionate and kind.  But, if you examine their actions, their societies, or the effects of their actions or societies on other sentient beings, you quickly realize how rare genuine compassion/kindness truly is.  As extremely difficult as this is to actually live, however, more genuine kindness and truly compassionate people is what the world most desperately needs right now.  This is the real message that he came to this country to give.  (Which has had me thinking ever since about my own actions, their effects, and whether I'm truly compassionate/kind...something for me to sit down and meditate on, for sure.)

And, for the minimalist in you, here's the Heart Sutra in one word: The non-clinging/releasing/letting go sigh of "Aaahhhh!"  (Go ahead, try it!)


The "Heart of Wisdom" talk on Saturday evening was much easier to understand, less abstract/more practical, and more in layman's terms.  The thing that most stood out for me was when someone asked about world peace.  The Dalai Lama said that it depends on each of us being at peace within ourselves...and if you really want world peace, then work to reach a genuine state of peace with yourself and your life, and work to compassionately help others do the same.  Ie, hire a life coach, become a life coach, or both!  (Ok, so that last part is a bit of my personal interpretation. :-)

Parenthetically, some of the shamans I've studied with said almost exactly the same thing, regarding not just world peace, but also in reply to people who asked them the question, "What can I do to heal the planet/environment?"  (To which they generally respond with something to the effect of, "You, the Earth, and all the beings on the Earth are one.  Once you awaken to the illusion that you hold of your separateness, it will become obvious to you:  Heal yourself and you will heal the Earth and all beings on it.  Help any other being on this planet and you help yourself."  Sort of the Golden Rule raised up a notch: Do onto all sentient beings and the Earth with the full awareness that they really ARE you.)  (**)

Anyway, I'm not necessarily espousing any of this (still trying it out myself :)...nor is there any guarantee that I even heard/remembered/restated any of it correctly: Like all info, it's just hearsay.  What I do espouse is taking nothing on faith (even from the Buddha or Dalai Lama), but trying everything for oneself and forming one's own beliefs/lifestyle based on an informed examination of one's own direct experience.  So, sit down and meditate and let me know if it really does decrease your suffering and/or increases your capacity for compassion and kindness...or, if you find something completely different!  :-)

(**) Just in case you're interested, I've attached a brief account of my current personal experience with the Oneness concept below.  :-)

A quote I once heard: "The language of God is silence.  Anything else is a mistranslation."

Last one to Nirvana's a rotten egg...GO!  ;-)

(**) My current Oneness experience:
I, personally, used to be really hung up on whether this "we are all one" stuff was indeed "true" or not.  I certainly wasn't going to be "made the fool" by believing something so outlandish and obviously ridiculous as this!  I mean, I spent most of my life as a computer engineer for chrissakes, and my world and belief system is built on science and logic.  Further, my eyes can "see" the separateness!!  My highly developed left brain and visually-based belief system just wouldn't have it, and I guess that I was really terrified of being wrong or betrayed by a false belief or something.  But, since I kept hearing this same thing in different forms from different teachers, and I really couldn't find anything wrong (and a lot of things right) with living as if I fully believed in this Oneness, I started directing my energy into just trying this belief out (ie, doing a "life experiment" so to speak, just out of sheer curiosity--rather than putting my energy into trying to argue, prove, or disprove it.  Since I've started living as if this really were true (again, "believing" it temporarily just as an experiment :), it has started to become one of those "you'll see it when you believe it" things.  Ie, I have actually begun to "see"/experience/understand and even believe in this "oneness" of all beings.

And, interestingly, it doesn't even look much like what I was originally thinking it meant when I was originally trying to verify it.  Which made me really start to question *everything* that I believe.  Since, if in one belief system it's quite possible that I could never have accurately proven what I have now experienced (and, thus, _know_) as true...then, well, the whole scientific method kind of falls apart.  And, so I've come to think that maybe science itself is just another religion/belief system...based on the faith/belief that you can prove what's true/false or real/unreal regardless of your own personal, scientific, or societal perspectives and beliefs.  If those basic precepts of science are false, then the only way to see the true reality might be to have NO beliefs!  (But, then, maybe what you end up with is that reality is really just "emptiness"?)  Which makes me wonder if there's really any objective reality at all.  Since it seems like without beliefs, nothing is really real for us.  So, then, if "reality" can only be defined relative to my beliefs and "how I look at things," it is, in a sense, created and defined by my beliefs.  Then, whoa!!  This means that to the extent that I can consciously choose and then fully give myself over to and maintain my chosen set of beliefs, is the extent to which I can actually CREATE MY OWN REALITY!!  (Of course, I also need to be able to remain committed to these beliefs in spite of the influences of others with differing beliefs, ostensible evidence to the contrary, etc.)

The important questions then become: What reality do I wish to create?  What is the most beautiful existence that I can imagine?  What such existence would bring the most peace to myself and those with whom I come into contact?  What beliefs do I need to inculcate in myself in order to create My Reality?  How will I instill these beliefs in myself?  How will I hold to them in the face of others who believe differently and, even, attack my chosen beliefs?  What do I do when I "lose faith in these beliefs"?  What structures or people do I need to have (and NOT have) in my life to support my chosen belief system/reality?  How do I hold to my beliefs/reality while simultaneously holding the space for the right/privilege of all others to have/create their own beliefs/reality?  Well, these are no small questions!!

It's like I've now become God of my own Personal Universe!!!  What freedom!  What responsibility!!  So, when I sit down and do the contemplative type of meditation, now you know some of things I meditate/think/imagine about.  As you might imagine, actually implementing this in my life in this society is extremely challenging...any help/wisdom you might be willing to share in this regard would be greatly appreciated!  :-)