In 1997, I was deeply involved with both Christianity and Buddhism. I went to Los Angeles to hear three days of teachings from the Dalai Lama at UCLA. It was a grand adventure, which culminated in meeting His Holiness briefly, by chance, on the final day. That happened just over fifteen years ago. Yesterday I found my journal from that trip, tucked away in a box full of poetry and cinema books. I took a lot of notes during the talks, and I apparently made no effort to distinguish between my own thoughts and the words of he Dalai Lama or his translator. I haven't the time to transcribe the whole weekend, but here are a few highlights (unedited):
"By rejecting Atman, buddhists are not rejecting the natural sense of self, of 'I.' The transient nature of life is part of a continuum with what is labeled or perceived as the eternal."It is only possible to paraphrase. Selfhood of person can be interpreted as both true and false, depending on the definition of "selfhood."
Through constant awareness, mindfulness, and self analysis, we should learn to use the dharma when it is most needed--when negative action arises. In that instant we should check or let go of the seeds of negativity. We should not forget the dharma in a crisis, in the face of difficulty or adversity.
He leans forward, rocks back, raises his eyebrows and smiles. Now and then a pure giggle bubbles up in him, the way a clear spring bubbles and gurgles to the surface. "Worldly concerns pollute motivation." A true practitioner is able to disregard worldly concerns. (Fame or reputation, the opinions of others, is the most difficult to disregard.) "No self"--the concept brings joy to the wise. It allows one not to grasp at the aggregates. (Form, sensation, recognition, mental conditioning, and consciousness.) If the root of samsara, self-grasping, is cut, it allows for a whole new level of enlightened existence--much practice is required.
Question: What is the difference between the no-self of person and the no-self of phenomenon? (Lunch break.)
[In response to my question about living with both Christianity and Buddhism, H.H. replied...] At the societal level, it is better for society to work with its own religion. However, certain individuals may arrive, after a long process of reflection and investigation, at the choice to follow another religious path. Also, an individual may embrace both a Christian and Buddhist path in the early stages. However, as one moves into deeper levels of understanding, one must choose a specific path and follow it. The concept of an all-knowing, eternal, independent Creator Spirit and the concept of all things being interdependent do not really sit together in the mind of an individual.
His Holiness just broke down in tears, retelling the story of a great teacher whose last teaching was to show one of his students the callouses on his behind (from sitting for a lifetime) as evidence, the mark, of devotion to the long, disciplined path to enlightenment. Before that, in English, he said, "There is no faster, easier, cheaper way [to selflessness]."
Anything that comes into being dependent on any other thing or things is not independent. Therefore it is important to deny the independence of selfhood, the separateness of the one.... All separateness is false. Nothing, nothing is left out.
It is important to have positive, practical vision for the future. Happiness is the purpose of a life--not misery or destruction. We can achieve lasting world peace only through inner peace. World peace starts with one individual. We have to do our best to develop infinite patience. The force of peace comes from within us.
Inner peace, through training, can become something reliable. A peaceful attitude and environment will affect your neighbor.
We should have a complete vision of a world without armament. [Much applause.]
We have to reduce the gap between rich nations and poor nations. We must cultivate our relationship with nature. You have to consume less. Carry the sense of global responsibility. Be more kind.
Although all things are illusory, their functionality can be maintained. One is trying to understand the emptiness within the context of interdependent origination. In other words, things do exist as a result of cause and effect. This is a great challenge for the practitioner--maintaining a robust awareness and sense of reality after negating the suchness of everything.
One should loosen one's grip on the worldly concerns of this life alone. Whatever behavior you adopt should inspire joy and happiness in the people who see you--even in the animals. One should cultivate altruistic intentions and maintain them with the steadfastness of a mountain, using all critical faculties, intelligence, and wisdom.
Remorse should not be hopeless self-punishment. It should lead to a hope for future actions.
It is almost magical when he breaks out and speaks English directly to us. My sleepiness falls away. My attention leaps up and my mind stands instantly at attention the way a barracks full of soldiers responds the moment a superior officer walks into the room.
When one begins to think of the accumulation of merit in terms of the millions of years it takes to accumulate merit, one might be discouraged. One should disregard this amount of time, be prepared to commit an infinite amount of time to reach enlightenment. Infinity can be swift when it contains infinite ways to accumulate merit, so don't be daunted by any investment of time--enlightenment is here, accessible now. The real challenge is finding patience when confronted with pain and suffering. If one sees the purpose of one's life as being of benefit or service to others, every event becomes valuable.
When you truly understand the way that compassion and an understanding of emptiness reinforce each other, you can be free of dualism. Appreciation of conventional reality and of ultimate reality are the two wings with which one may fly toward the ultimate enlightenment of buddhahood. Engage in a path with both the skillful means and the wisdom--the middle way. The unification of method and wisdom, both complete in a single instant.
There's a bit more, but that's probably well over half--and the better half, at that. Having left behind both religious practices for over a decade, some of this sounds quite foreign, quite unfamiliar to me. But the wisdom shines through, and it's good to remember where I've been to understand where I am.
And, speaking of Magnificent Mistakes, I have eleven copies left of the first printing. We'll print a new round in August, in time for a couple of relatively high-profile reviews in the works--but if you'd like a signed, first-edition copy you can order directly from me at a slight discount from Amazon or Ravenna Press. I'm selling these for $10 each (normally $12.95) plus shipping ($2.50). Check or PayPal will work. Just drop a line to myname at gmail dot com for full details, and I'll ship your book within a day or two.
I have one more project in the pipeline, but I hesitate to write about it here. Don't want to jinx it! Stay tuned. And thanks for stopping by. What's on your mind?