It has been ten years since this book was first published, and since that time the Tibetan diaspora and the character of the Tibetan people has become better understood. Their naturally open and dynamic nature and their courageous adaptation to exile has made them much appreciated in the countries that have welcomed them. His Holiness the Dalai Lama has also become more familiar in the West, paralleling the rapid spread of Buddhism in which he occupies a prominent position. If for the Tibetans the Dalai Lama is the symbol of their lost country and their cherished faith, for Westerners he is the protector who gives access to the vast Buddhist teachings.
Because of the many tasks imposed by his double role as temporal and spiritual leader, it is not very easy to obtain a private audience with the Dalai Lama. But when you do, he welcomes you at once and you immediately feel at ease. He is unassuming, glowing with love and happiness expressed in a youthful, contagious laugh, and you understand the Tibetans' name for him: Kündoun, which means 'Presence'. This is in fact the Dalai Lama's secret: to know how to give to each person all his attention, all his interest, and to allow each person to feel cared for and helped.
He has a quick mind and speaks concisely, and his answers to questions are always clear and exact, precise and penetrating, expressed in a few words that follow a moment of reflection. The Dalai Lama, Gyalwa Rinpoche, does not speak unless he has something to say, and he only speaks the truth. If he can confront with serenity the many problems of life in exile for the Tibetans, it is because the Dalai Lama is a perfect monk and his thoughts, his words and his actions are constantly inspired by the higher Mahayana ideal.
His teachings have a special flavour. He can open the minds of his listeners to a comprehension they would never be able to reach by themselves, because before all else he has realised what he teaches. He himself has said, 'One who teaches should speak only of what he has experienced; merely enumerating theories will offer little encouragement and will not be a sufficient base for the study of Dharma. If that which I tell you is in accord with lived experience, it will give you, I am sure of it, strength and inspiration.'
This profound teaching, however, is not easy for the West to approach, situated as it is in such a different context. In Buddhist countries and particularly in Tibet, a Buddhist perspective is the religious aspect of the social fabric; the natural integration of Dharma into daily existence brings with it a set of values for ideas and for society. This influence arises from the historical development of Buddhism in Tibet, and it allows a teaching based on the relationship between master and disciple which does not necessarily turn into a cult of personality. Without this natural context, there would be great danger for Westerners to follow a model of the conditions innate in Buddhist countries, occupying ourselves only with individual practice under the guidance of a master. In order to lessen this danger we must first situate ourselves in the entirety of Buddhist tradition by studying the fundamental texts of this tradition.
There are two aspects of the approach to Buddhism: the study of doctrine, and then its application in practice. In both approaches, the Dalai Lama's contribution towards the development of Buddhism in the West is extremely important. The Dalai Lama is invaluable because he represents Buddhism in its wholeness. He does not limit himself to any of the four Tibetan traditions: the Nyingma-pa, the oldest; the Sakya-pa; the Kagyu-pa, the school of oral transmission; and the school founded by Je Tsong Khapa, the Gelug-pa. The Dalai Lama participates in all of these and in so doing has a sense of the universality that should be a model for the development of Buddhism in the West. The Dalai Lama's manner of teaching well illustrates what the Buddhist attitude in a Western context should be.
During his 1986 visit to Digne in France, the Dalai Lama said, 'I give to you a general presentation of the doctrine, which is very important and much more difficult than presenting a particular technique of meditation.' He stressed the manner in which we should receive the teaching of the Buddha by recalling his words, quoted in this book: '0 monks and wise men, as we prove gold by rubbing it, cutting it, and melting it, in this way judge my words and if you accept them let it not be simply from respect.' So the attitude that the Buddha himself recommends is independent, personal investigation of his teaching. As soon as the teaching is offered, we must examine it carefully and objectively in order to know if it can be adopted or not. If we accept it, we do so because we feel it is right and beneficial, and not for any other reason.
We can be guided in this examination by the Four Reliances described in the Mahayana Lamkara Sutra, which His Holiness the Dalai Lama explains in 'The Key of the Madhyamika'. We must first realise that we should not blindly believe in what a teacher says because we admire him or because he has a great reputation; we must base our belief on the teaching itself. The master is important and necessary, yes, because it is through the master who transmits the tradition that we are able to receive it. But the teaching takes precedence and should be judged on its content. Listeners have the responsibility to accept the teaching and put it into practice,
and must analyse and reflect upon it ourselves. We cannot relinquish this responsibility.
The Second Reliance warns us against the tendency to let ourselves be influenced by the beautiful language or perfect form of a discourse. We must judge a teaching only on its profound content.
'Interpretable' meaning, noted in the Third Reliance, describes certain teachings of the Buddha or those of some great non-doctrinaire masters, who may sometimes use indirect means in order to bring certain people to a realisation they could not have reached by a direct teaching. These discourses are spoken out of compassion in response to different needs. If we want to find the truth of such a teaching, we will not stop at its provisional meaning but will search for its profound and direct meaning. When we have found the definitive meaning of the teaching, we must go beyond intellectual understanding and arrive at a nonconceptual grasp of its essence through meditation.
Reflection, investigation, and analysis carried out in this way, and the experience that follows, constitute the general attitude to adopt towards the teachings. Because we are not born Buddhist, we become Buddhist only through this kind of understanding. This is the first aspect in our approach to Buddhism.
However, it is not enough to have a general understanding of the teaching. This is the necessary foundation; from this base we put the teaching into practice by specific meditative techniques which will allow us to realise it. At this time the importance of a teacher becomes foremost in the choice of the path we are to follow. In this, the help and advice of an experienced person are essential.
A directed practice is therefore the second aspect of our approach to Buddhism. It is presented in this book as 'The Path of the Bodhisattva', a teaching given by His Holiness the Dalai Lama in Bodh Gaya in igi~. at the time of the Kalachakra initiation participated in by more than 1oo,ooo Tibetans who came from refugee centres in India, Nepal, Sikkim and Bhutan, and even from Europe and America, along with a number of Westerners. On this occasion, the Dalai Lama reminded all Buddhists of the principal points of the Mahayana Dharma and allowed translators to record his remarks to make them accessible to readers of the French language.
'The Thirty-Seven Practices of the Sons of the Buddha' (or Bodhisattvas) are explained in a verse form of a text by Lama Thogs-med bsang-po (1245- 1396) written in a cave near the town of dNgul-chuhirinchen in Tibet. This text was the foundation and motivation for the Dalai Lama's commentary on the practice of Mahayana Dharma.
His principal theme is bodichitta. Bodhichitta means literally 'mind of awakening.' This may be the mind awakened to the desire of becoming a buddha according to the Mahayana ideal, which is the goal of helping all sentient beings leave the state of samsaric consciousness in order to attain the state of enlightenment, complete liberation. A second aspect of bodhichitta is the development of the spirit of service, of love and compassion towards all sentient beings.
'The Key of Madhyamika' reveals the central theme of Madhyamika, Nagarjuna's philosophy of the 'middle way', as it has been interpreted by Chandrakirti and other masters of the Prasangika tradition. This interpretation of the Madhyamika is regarded by most Tibetan masters as most genuinely reflecting the thoughts of Nagarjuna. His Holiness presents to us the essential points of this view, which holds that phenomena neither do not exist nor inherently exist, but dwell in the centre.