25 Oct 2009

Sample Essay: Dalai Lama, the World of Tibetian Buddhism

The truths and brilliance found in His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s theology speak of peace and generosity for a group of people constantly bombarded with hatred and war. Since that fateful day some fifty years ago, when China, then under Mao’s rule, invaded Tibet and sent thousands of men, women, and children into exile, His Holiness has been sending messages of hope and enlightened to the world around him through the deep understanding and insightful interpretation of ancient texts.

In his book, The World of Tibetan Buddhism, the Dalai Lama begins with an overview of what Tibetan Buddhism actually is. There are many different forms of thought in classic Buddhism, and these forms of thought are referred to as yanas or vehicles. Within these vehicles there are, of course, many separate avenues to be taken: the vehicle of individual liberation, the vehicle of universal salvation, and the vehicle of tantra. And together these various vehicles outline and label the relationship between humans and divine beings. The Buddha, it is said, also listed another vehicle, one of mediation and removing oneself from all external devises, this being referred to as the Brahma vehicle.

All of these vehicles, from a Buddhist view, demand respect, as they are all connected and play an intricate role in determining one’s place in the cycle. Though, relying on these things alone will not necessarily lead to ultimate liberation and freedom. To achieve such results, the Dalai Lama states that we must forget our fundamental ignorance, which binds us to the constant cycle of life and death in Samsara. Where Tibetan Buddhism differentiates itself from classic Buddhism is in the vehicle of Individual verse Universal. The Individual Vehicle enlightens the view of selfness toward the person or to those of personal identity, whereas the Universal Vehicle is farther reaching, and not limited to, or confined to just the individual, but to the whole of humanity, which is what the Dalai Lama is famous for teaching. Tibetan Buddhism is founded on the belief on non-violence, and this non-violent belief is rooted in two very basic understandings: 1) “as sentient beings, none of us want suffering, and 2) suffering originates from its causes and conditions.” So according to the Dalai Lama, if we do not desire suffering, then the logical step is to refrain from destructive habits. If pain and suffering come not out of isolation, but from the results and conditions we have placed ourselves in, then we only have to end the cause, and for Tibetan Buddhism, non-violence is the result to ignorance.

In the beginning, and throughout the book, the Dalai Lama makes reference to the Four Truths, and within these truths there are two sets of cause and result: “suffering is the result, and the origin of suffering is its cause…and the path leading to it is the cause of that peace.” So the happiness everyone in the world tends to look for, to seek out, can only happen when we truly purify our minds.

When talking about Buddhism, you cannot simply talk about selflessness as an overarching principle, bound only to one faction, or ideology, or theme. In fact, there are four different explanations with regards to selflessness: All composite phenomena are impermanent, All contaminated things and events are unsatisfactory, All phenomena are empty and selfless, and Nirvana is true peace. To begin to think about this, the Dalai Lama offers the idea of “I”, and what that means to us all, what our perceived ideas of it is. Everything belongs to “I”, but through meditation, a person can begin to loosen their grip on such attachments and gradually begin to liberate themselves, and this is all done through the path to selflessness and emptiness.

The Four Noble Truths that are continually referred to, stand as the master plan, the frame work for the teachings the Buddha gave. And when looking into the various explanations of philosophical ideologies, it becomes necessary to understand and distinguish the different sutras. A lot of times the texts in these sutras must be interpreted. For example, in certain sutras it says that one must kill one’s parents. Of course, this cannot be taken literally, so a degree of interpretation must be used. This is where the use of various sutras comes into play, because, as the Dalai Lama states, “parents” in this particular sutra refer to “contaminated actions and attachments, which result in future rebirth”. But someone who is studying these sutras should also look into the difference between interpretable and definitive sutras, which have the ability. Within these various schools, Tibetans follow the Shen-tong view. This view accepts only ten sutras as definitive, meaning they are not up for interpretation, rather like laws. The Shen-tong view says that all phenomena are “empty of themselves, and that all phenomena are ultimately empty of existing even conventionally”. Many masters of this school of thought, including the Dalai Lama, have gained and achieved extremely high realizations on the Generation and Completion Stages of tantra. However, if we were to literally believe that all things are empty of themselves, then nothing at all could, or would, exist, and would therefore fall into the far extreme of Nihilism. To speak of phenomena as having an empty nature, cannot be misinterpreted as phenomena not existing at all, but rather dependent upon many aspects of ideology, so to understand one part of a sutra, one must understand another, one must look at the whole part rather than just a piece.

To begin with some ideas on what are good points and valid ideas, I would first like to mention the heavy emphasis on the non-violent mentality. I see this idea as very courageous, given what has happened to the Tibetan people in the past, and is continuing to happen to them. To remain non-violent against such violent oppressors is noble. It seems that many great minds and many great people have followed this mindset, and in the long run, have made a greater positive impact then the ones who have chosen to violence to be heard. I also agreed completely with the idea of forgetting, and letting go of our ignorance. For such a long time the world has been plagued by evil, and this evil, according to Tibetan Buddhism stems from ignorance. I loved the statement that “genuine freedom and liberation can only be achieved when our fundamental ignorance, our habitual misapprehension of the nature of reality, is totally overcome.” I found, after reading that sentence, that that view can be linked to many of the things happening in our own lives. And then I found myself, thinking about the interpretation of the text, how I perceived genuine freedom and liberation as thinking about something as simple saving gas by taking the bus, and the ignorance of our dependency to drive cars. The idea that our ignorance underlies every aspect of our lives seems incredibly poignant to the lives of Americans. This ideology seems very close to that of rethinking the way go about our daily lives, and seems closely connected to the way we live and die.

What I thought was the weakest point, was that of interpreting various sutras and texts to understand the true meaning. I see this as very dangerous in some cases. I see the manipulation of certain texts to certain people justification to their own ideology and bringing a sense a duty to views they have. Yet, I understand that the overwhelming belief of Tibetan Buddhism is a non-violent, is still wonder about individual’s beliefs, people who do not fully read, or understand the teachings of Buddha. It seems that anytime you have the possibility to interpret something, it’s inevitable that and outcome, somewhere down the line, will be a negative one, and one that does not agree with the ideologies foundation. But I do not condemn this viewpoint to simply Tibetan Buddhism.

No, this opinion can be said for any religion or idea, where a certain bit of information is open for interpretation. To stay on the subject of Tibetan Buddhism, and that of The World of Tibetan Buddhism, I am thinking of the specific example of in certain sutras, one must kill one’s parents. The Dalai Lama reiterates that this cannot be taken as literal, and in fact, it is the interpretation that suggests one must cleanse oneself of contaminated attachments, but what if someone did take that as literal? What if that person was a troubled person, just beginning to read and delve into Buddhism and they read that one must kill one’s parents to achieve enlightenment, now that is a dangerous thing. I do not think a majority of the people of the capacity to fully understand the true meaning of Buddhism, nor do I believe they have the patience.

Filed under: Sample essays — Tags: , , , , — admin @ 11:53 am
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