The Essence of Emptiness

Ott 30, 2011 No Commenti da

Osaka, Japan, 30 October 2011 – His Holiness the Dalai Lama began his first day in Japan on his current autumn tour by addressing a crowd of several thousand, from Japan and Korea and many other countries, on the essence of the Heart Sutra, and the theme of “The Struggle in Overcoming LIfe’s Difficulties.”

Heading across Osaka on a grey morning to the great modern domed Maishima Arena, and speaking on the occasion of the 125th anniversary of Koyasan University, he began by inviting the audience to chant the Heart Sutra together, and then delivered an ever more incisive and rigorous dissection of the journey from emptiness to compassion, as explained in the great Buddhist text. “You have a jewel, growing up in this country with this tradition,” he told his listeners, “so you must preserve it. You must analyze and check Buddhism. It’s not only a matter of tradition and recitation; that’s only on the surface.”

He proceeded to give a clear, systematic description of the Four Noble Truths and our need for happiness at some level deeper than the senses; and he stressed that you must work hard and think carefully in pursuit of inner happiness, not just pray to Buddha. Indeed, in the non-theistic traditions, it is mind, the individual, that is the source of power, not some external deity.

Emptiness is not, of course, the same as nothingness, he stressed; and as he began to explain the roots of the Heart Sutra, he moved into an accelerating and steadily more scintillating description of delusion and projection. “If I am sitting here,” he said, “where is the Dalai Lama? What part of me is the Dalai Lama? And if you’re thinking about yourself, what part is the ‘you’? Where does the “you” come from? Is it your body? Your hand? Your mind?”

Gaining momentum, and visibly quickened by the theme, and the taking apart of philosophical ideas, he continued speaking for more than 40 minutes longer than the two hours allotted for the lecture, using emptiness as a way to dissect and dissolve the heart of hatred. “If you hate someone, where is that person? In which part of him does it lie? It’s mostly in your head. And so with love.” If you hate someone, we might almost say, who is the “you” and who is the “someone”? Freedom comes only when you cut out delusion and projection.

After lunch backstage, the afternoon session began with 18 monks from Koyasan chanting, and His Holiness inviting questions from the audience. A long line quickly formed in the middle of the large arena, and many of the questioners clearly took their cue from his analytical and searching talk, addressing issues of reincarnation and compassion and impermanence, asking for clarification of specific aspects of the text.

“Attachment to what appears real is what keeps us from clear-mindedness,” His Holiness said. “And also the imprint of what appears to be real.” When a young boy asked if two projections could enter into a friendship, His Holiness pursued and deepened his discussion of things as they are. “We just had lunch,” he said, “and it was real. And so was the body that was consuming it.” But if you look for the self, it;s nowhere to be found.

“Sometimes we have a strong anger towards a person, or even hatred. But what exactly are we angry at? The man’s body? The man’s mind? Really, that person we dislike doesn’t exist. This person called the enemy: where is he? When we are really truthful, we can’t find him. Besides, when somebody looks like an enemy, we notice that that person has friends. So there must be other sides to him that we don’t see.”

The importance of secular ethics, he said, is that it is not conditional: unlike with the love that might be connected with Buddhism or Christianity, we can’t say that it is closed off from those who don’t belong to this religion or that one. He then broke down the three kinds of compassion: the biological, the social and the one being borne out by science.

“The essence of emptiness,” he concluded, “is that everything depends on everything else. “And in Japan,” he went on, “you have advanced science, but you can’t buy inner peace with science. You’ve invented lots of cameras, but the camera doesn’t reflect your mind. Not yet!”

When a man from the audience asked His Holiness about impermanence, in relation to the tragic earthquake in Japan seven months ago, he pointed out that there are two levels of impermanence: the first is the visible, obvious kind. But impermanence is also taking place, more incrementally, every second. So in truth the visible kind is only a sudden manifestation of what is always happening. “The wisdom of emptiness is sometimes likened to the mother of Buddhism, in all its vehicles,” he said. and “Bodichitta, or compassion, as the father.”

At the end, as one audience member after another thanked His Holiness for his explanations, he said, with evident delight, how much he enjoyed these topics, and how much he hoped he might return sometime for three or four days of such discussions.


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