Treasures of Tibetan Buddhism
by His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama
I think that, briefly speaking, there is within Tibetan Buddhism the complete practice of all of Buddhism. As all of you know, within Buddhism there are the designations of the Vehicle of Hearers and the Vehicle of Bodhisattvas. Within the latter, there is a division into the Vehicle of the Perfections and the Vehicle of Secret Mantra, or Tantra. In Ceylon, Burma, and Thailand, the type of Buddhism that is practised is Theravada. It is one of the four main divisions of the Great Exposition School (vaibhasika, bye brag smra ba) school of tenets — Mahasamghika, Sarvastivada, Sammitiya, and Sthaviravada or Theravada.
Among Tibetans, the transmission of the monks’ vows stems from one of these divisions of the Great Exposition School, the Sarvastivada. Due to the fact that there are these different sub schools, the Theravadins follow a system of discipline in which there are two hundred twenty-seven vows, whereas we who follow the Sarvastivada discipline have two hundred fifty-three.
Except for these slight differences, both are the same in being Hearer Vehicle systems. Therefore, we Tibetans are practising the Hearer Vehicle form of discipline, this covering the full range of activities related with discipline, from the time of taking the vows, to the precepts that are kept, to the rites that are used in the maintenance of these vows.
Similarly, we also practice the modes of generating meditative stabilisation as they are set forth in Vasubandhu’s Treasury of Manifest Knowledge (abhidharmakosa, chos mngon pa’i mdzod), a Hearer Vehicle compendium, as well as the thirty-seven harmonies with enlightenment [a central part of Hearer Vehicle path structure]. Therefore, in Tibetan Buddhism we engage in practices that are completely in accord with Theravada modes of practice.
The doctrines of the Great Vehicle spread widely to countries such as China, Japan, Korea, and some parts of Indochina. These doctrines, embodying the Bodhisattva Vehicle, are based on specific sutras such as the Heart Sutra or Lotus Sutra. In the Great Vehicle scriptural collections, the basis or root is the generation of the altruistic aspiration to Buddhahood and its attendant practices, these being the six perfections. In terms of the view of emptiness, there are two different schools of tenets within the Great Vehicle — the Mind-Only School (cittamatra, sems tsam pa) and the Middle Way School (madhyamika, dbu ma pa). These Great Vehicle modes of practice of compassion and wisdom are also present in complete form within Tibetan Buddhism.
With respect to the Mantra or Tantra Vehicle, it is clear that its doctrines spread to China and Japan. However, within the division of the Tantra Vehicle into the four sets of tantra — Action, Performance, Yoga, and Highest Yoga Tantra, only the first three — Action, Performance, and Yoga — spread there. It appears that Highest Yoga Tantra did not reach China and Japan, although there might have been cases of its secret practice. However, with respect to the tantras brought into Tibet, in addition to the three lower tantric systems, Action, Performance, and Yoga, there are many tantras of the Highest Yoga class.
Thus, the practice of Buddhism in Tibet includes a complete form of practice of all systems within Buddhism — Hearer Vehicle, Sutra Great Vehicle, and Mantra Great Vehicle. The mode of practising a union of sutra and tantra in complete form spread from Tibet to the Mongol areas — including Inner Mongolia, Outer Mongolia, the Kalmyk peoples, and so forth. It also spread to the Himalayan regions including Nepal, Sikkim, and Bhutan. Thus, the Tibetan form of Buddhism is complete. I say this not to show off but in hope that you will gradually look into the matter and discover it yourself.
There are four schools or orders of Tibetan Buddhism: Nyingma, Kagyu, Sakya, and Geluk. Each of these, in turn, has many divisions. Nyingma, for instance, presents nine vehicles — three sutra systems and six tantra systems. Also, within Nyingma there are systems derived from discovered texts. Despite the fact that one can make such differences among even the four schools of Tibetan Buddhism, each is a system of complete practice of a unification of sutra and tantra. This is because in terms of their view of the way things are in reality, each of these systems holds the view of the Middle Way Consequence School (prasangika-madhyamika, dbu ma thal ’gyur pa), and in terms of motivation and altruistic deeds, all follow the system of generating the altruistic intention to become enlightened and practising the six perfections.
What is the mode of practice by which one person can simultaneously engage in the practice of the union of sutra and tantra?
It is said that externally, one should abide within the behaviour that accords with the Hearer Vehicle discipline. For instance, even Tibetan yogis who practice tantra as laypersons assume the vows of a Hearer Vehicle layperson and externally maintain a lifestyle that accords with that discipline. Then, internally, one needs to train in and develop the mind of the altruistic intention to gain enlightenment which has as its roots love and compassion. Then secretly, through the practice of deity yoga, one engages in concentration on the channels, essential drops, and winds, in order to enhance progress on the path.
In Tibet, we see all these aspects of practice as compatible; we do not view sutra and tantra as contradictory, like hot and cold; we do not consider that the practice of the view of emptiness and the practice of altruistic deeds are contradictory at all. As a result of this, we are able to combine all of the systems into a single unified practice.
To summarise, the altruistic intention to become enlightened is the root, or basis, of the vast series of compassionate practices. The doctrine of emptiness is the root of the practices of the profound view. In order to develop the mind that realises the suchness of phenomena higher and higher, it is necessary to engage in meditation. In order to achieve meditative stabilisation and bring great force to these practices, there is the special practise of deity yoga, for in dependence on deity yoga, it is possible to achieve easily a meditative stabilisation that is a union of calm abiding and special insight. As the basis for such practice, it is necessary to keep good ethics. Thus, the complete system of practice in Tibet is explained as externally maintaining a Hearer Vehicle system of ethics, internally maintaining the Sutra Great Vehicle generation of altruism, love, compassion, and secretly maintaining the practice of the Mantra Vehicle.
Having explained a little about the general outline of the type of practice, I will now say a bit about the practice itself. The root of all the Buddhist and non-Buddhist systems which appeared in India is that people were seeking happiness, and within the division of the phenomena of the world into objects that are used and the user of those objects, the Indians put particular emphasis on the self which uses objects. Most of the non-Buddhist systems, based on the fact that it often appears to our minds that the self is the controller of mind and body or that the self is undergoing pleasure and pain which in some sense appear to be separate from it, came to the conclusion that there is a separate self, a different entity from mind and body, which is the factor that goes from lifetime to lifetime and takes rebirth.
However, Buddhists do not assert that there is a self that is completely separate, or a different entity, from mind and body. Thus, they do not assert a permanent, single, independent self. This is because the four seals that testify to a doctrine as being Buddhist
are that (1) all products are impermanent, (2) all contaminated things are miserable, (3) all phenomena are empty of self, and (4) nirvana is peace.
Since within the Buddhist systems there is no self completely separate from mind and body, there come to be different assertions within those systems on how the self is found within the mental and physical aggregates. In the systems of the Middle Way Autonomy School (svatantrika-madhyamika, dbu ma rang rgyud pa), Mind-Only School, Sutra School (sautrantika, mdo sde pa), and Great Exposition School, a factor from within the mental and physical aggregates is posited as that which is the self. However, in the highest system of tenets, the Middle Way Consequence School, nothing from within the mental and physical aggregates is posited as the illustration of, or that which is, the self.
In this highest of systems, as in the others, there is an assertion of selflessness, but this does not mean that there is no self at all. In the Middle Way Consequence School it means that when we search to find the kind of self that appears to our minds so concretely, we cannot find it. Such a self is analytically unfindable.
Analytical findability is called “inherent existence”; thus, when the Middle Way Consequence School speaks of selflessness, they are referring to this lack of inherent existence. However, they do assert that there is a self, or “I,” or person that is designated in dependence upon mind and body.
All Buddhist systems assert pratıtya-samutpada, dependent-arising. One meaning of the doctrine of dependent-arising is that all impermanent things — products, or things that are made — arise in dependence upon an aggregation of causes and conditions; therefore, they arise dependently. The second meaning of dependent arising, however, is that phenomena are designated, or come into being, in dependence upon the collection of their own parts. The breaking down of phenomena by scientists into extremely small particles serves to support this doctrine that phenomena are designated in dependence upon a collection of parts, these parts being their minute particles. A third meaning of dependent-arising is that phenomena only nominally exist. This means that phenomena do not exist in and of themselves objectively but depend upon subjective designation for their existence. When it is said that phenomena exist or are designated in dependence upon a conceptual consciousness — which designates them as this or that — we are not saying that there are no objects external to the consciousnesses perceiving them as is asserted in the Mind-Only system. There it is said that phenomena are only mental appearances, but again not that forms and so forth do not exist, rather that they do not exist as external objects — objects external in entity to the mind. In this way, the meaning of dependent-arising becomes deeper and deeper in these three descriptions.
Because the self, which is the user or enjoyer of objects, exists in dependence upon other factors, that self is not independent, but dependent. Since it is impossible for the self to be independent, it is completely devoid of independence. This lack of independence of the self that undergoes pleasure and pain and so forth is its reality, its emptiness of inherent existence. This is what emptiness is getting at. Through understanding and feeling the meaning of this doctrine you can begin to gain control over your emotions in daily life.
Unfavourable emotions arise from superimposing upon objects a goodness or badness beyond that which they actually have. We are putting on something extra, and in reaction to this, unfavourable emotions arise. For instance, when we generate desire or hatred, at that time we are seeing something very attractive or very unattractive strongly in front of us, objectively. But then if we look at it later, it just makes us laugh; the same feeling is not there. Therefore, the objects of desire and hatred involve a superimposition beyond what actually exists; something else has become mixed in. This is how understanding the actual mode of being of objects without such super impositions helps us to control our minds.
This is the factor of wisdom, but there is also a factor of method. For what purpose are we striving to generate wisdom? If it is for your own selfish purposes, then it cannot become very powerful. Therefore, wisdom must be accompanied by a motivation of love, of compassion, of mercy for others, such that it is put to the use of others. In this way, there comes to be a union of method and wisdom. Love, when it is not mixed with false conceptuality, is reasonable, logical, sensible.
Loving-kindness and compassion, without emotional feelings and with the realisation of ultimate reality, can reach even your enemy. This love is even stronger for your enemies. The other kind of love, without realisation of reality, is very close to attachment; it cannot reach enemies — only friends, your wife, husband, children, parents, and so forth. Such love and kindness are biased. Realisation of the ultimate nature assists in making love or kindness become principled and pure.
Such a union of wisdom and method is to be brought into daily life. One can assume externally the behaviour and discipline of the Hearer Vehicle; one can have the six perfections as explained in the Great Vehicle texts; then if in addition, one has the tantric practice of deity yoga, meditative stabilisation (samadhi, ting nge ’dzin) will be achieved quickly and will become stable. Since this is the way Tibetans practice in daily life, I call these practices the “Treasures of Tibetan Buddhism.”
The Dalai Lama at Rutgers, Sept. 25, 2005 Photo by Nick Romanenko, Rutgers Photo Services