The aim of refuge is to transform an ordinary person into a Buddha. When this has been accomplished, the purpose of refuge has been fulfilled. It is the moment when our mind becomes Buddha; our speech becomes Dharma and our body, Sangha.
Becoming Buddha compiles the invaluable teachings of contemporary Buddhist teachers who have sought to illuminate the ways of the Buddha in a manner that is comprehensible to a wide audience. These lectures comprise easy-to-follow dialogues, with anecdotes from the Buddha’s own life as well as the lives of ordinary people, to explain how everyone can attain Buddhahood.
The message underlying the e teachings is that becoming Buddha is not an unattainable ideal. Each person can be a Buddha by becoming the perfect spiritual practitioner, one who wants enlightenment for all fellow creatures this is not achieved simply through prayers or offerings but through the practical application of Buddha’s wisdom to our own lives.
The book reaffirms the significance of taking responsibility for our action and instructs us to cherish all sentient beings in this life. The friendly empathetic tone put the reader at ease, reducing the distance between teacher and disciple.
Becoming Buddha includes a previously undocumented lecture by the Dalai Lama, rare photographs of the other educators who speak through this book and an article by the eminent Buddhist scholar Professor Robert Thurman,
which locates enlightenment in a socio-historical context, establishing that it is not merely a spiritual desire but an essential tool for survival today.
RENUKA SINGH is associate professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University and director, Tushita Mahayana
Meditation Centre, New Delhi. She has compiled and edited The Path to Tranquility, The Little Book of Buddhism,
The Transformed Mind the Path of the Buddha and Many Ways to Nirvana, works which have been translated into various languages. She is the author of Women Reborn and The Womb of Mind.
I should begin by recalling how Tushita Mahayana Meditation Centre started. It was in January 1977 at our Kopan Monastery, near Kathmandu, Nepal, that my late teacher, Lama Yeshe, who was also kinder to me than the Buddhas of the past, present and future, first suggested that we start a centre in Delhi. Lama said that he wanted to repay the kindness of the Indian people.
How had the Indian people been kind? Well, leaving aside the fact that according to the Mahayana teaching all sentient beings have been kind, Tibetans identify several particular kindnesses shoe to them by Indian. The most immediate, of course, was that of giving Tibetan refugees a home in 1959, after the occupation of our country by the communist Chinese, and thereafter allowing us the freedom to preserve our culture and practice our religion completely unfettered. This is an enormous kindness…not just to Tibetans but to the entire world as well.
More generally, because India is where Lord Buddha lived and taught and is the source of the Buddha Dharma, Tibetans have always held the ‘Land of the Aryas’ in high esteem. We have also been extremely grateful to India for facilitating the transmission of the Dharma teachings to Tibet, starting in the year 650 CE, by sending teachers to Tibet, training Tibetan scholars in India, and essentially providing the Tibetan script, which is based on Sanskrit and was developed in order to translate Buddhist scriptures into Tibetan. Although we speak of ‘Tibetan’ Buddhism, the Buddhism of Tibet is essentially Indian Buddhism, especially that which His Holiness the Dalai Lama calls the Nalanda Tradition. In Tibet, for teachings to be accepted as authentic, they had to be shown to have a pure Indian source. Along with Nalanda, the other great Indian monastic universities of Odantapuri and Vikramshila served as the inspiration for the great monastic universities of Tibet.
Buddhism flourished in the land of its origin for some 1500 years, and around the time it reached its zenith in India, the transmission to Tibet began. As a result, the Buddhism that went to Tibet over a period of some five centuries contained all three vehicles—the Hinayana sutra, the Mahayana sutra (‘Paramitayana’) and tantra (‘Vajrayana’). In Tibet, as Buddhism declined in India and was essentially destroyed, Dharma flourished for a thousand years, until in Tibet too h was largely destroyed by external forces.
Therefore, the main kindness that Lama Yeshe was wanting to repay by establishing Tushita as a teaching am meditation centre, where Indian people could once again study and practice Indian Buddhism as it had been preserved developed in Tibet was that of India’s providing Dharma t Tibet in the first place.
In 1959, after the failed uprising against Chine oppression, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, his two tutors Kyabje Ling Rinpoche and Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche—mar other high lamas, and one hundred thousand ordinary Tibetans fled for safety to India, bringing with them centuries of learning and experience. Many of them settled in Dharamsala, after the Indian government offered them facilities in that area.
Lama Yeshe himself had a retreat centre there, but when it came to starting a teaching centre for the benefit of Indians, he chose New Delhi, which was where many people resided and was a great crossroad for many teachers and travelers. Accordingly, he sent the Australian monk, Dr Nick Ribush, to India to work with an Indian student, Sunita Kakaria, to establish Tushita in New Delhi. It took them over two years to find a suitable location, but eventually a beautiful house was chosen in the suburb of Shantiniketan, and in the summer of 1979, Tushita Mahayana Meditation Centre opened.
Right from the start, the Centre began inviting some of the greatest Tibetan lamas in exile to teach there and hosted many other Tibetan teachers as well as Indian anti Western scholars, offering a full programme of teaching and meditation. Among the lamas who taught there were Ilk Holiness’s two tutors, Tsenshab Serkong Rinpoche, HH Song Rinpoche, Geshe Rabten, Geshe Sopa and Geshe Dhargyey Lama Yeshe also taught there many times and we were very fortunate that Gelek Rinpoche was resident in New Delhi at that time and he was Tushita’s most regular teacher for several years.
In 1981, Lama Yeshe invited His Holiness the Dalai Lama Co launch what he envisioned would become a regular event, Tushita’s Dharma Celebration. Unfortunately His Holiness was not available that year but the then home minister, former president Giani Zail Singh, accepted Lamas invitation to be the guest of honour at a wonderful event held at Hotel Oberoi.
However, the following year His Holiness was able to attend and participate in a teaching event at Hotel Ashoka. Following many previous directors, Dr Renuka Singh took over the running to Tushita and has ably continued the tradition of regularly inviting His Holiness to preside over these occasions.
Therefore, again, it is my pleasure to invite you to enjoy this book, which contains teachings by some of the teachers who visited Tushita in the early years.
The age of reason vanquished religion whereas our secular age today is starting to see that we need to re-recruit the religious consciousness. It denounces the fetishism of the market and technology, and legitimizes subjective freedom. Our modern malaise produces a depressive scenario and in the post-modernist consumerist era, commodity forms have triumphed. A pragmatic approach reduces everything to quantity and eviscerated identity. Living in a purely materialistic time, people lead sleepy lives instead of being aware and awake.
A widespread sense of ethical disarray, terror and destruction, depletion of natural resources and psychic catastrophes have resulted in a pandemic of suffering, not to forget the human vulnerability to disease, old age and death. While writing about the impossibility of a wholly secure self- identity and/or social structure, D. Whillis talks about the
critique of modernity as inducing meaninglessness.* He quotes P. Goodchild** as he questions the global dominance of the new religion of money and materialism:
The most urgent and fundamental political problem is to restore to people an insight into the power and freedom of their attention. For a world of excessive mediation, attention is captured by image, spectacle and glamour; if it is demanded by economic necessity; it is reduced by flattery of greed, lust and ambition; it is compelled by fear. Mediation substitutes for singular experience, leaving segmented, isolated and fragmented individuals enclosed by the walls of their own thoughts and desires. All too often, escape from isolation builds collectivity out of violence against difference and singularity. In such a condition, nothing is more needful than the redemption of attention: the discovery of the possibility of turning towards that which matters.
Whereas Buddhism is emerging as a re-enchanting force throughout the world today, the practice of Buddhism flourished long in India and spread to Tibet in the seventh century CE. It has been brought hack to India following the tragedy that befell Tibet in the 1950s and the flight of many Tibetans to exile in India. The presences of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and many other precious lamas and teachers have been a spring of inspiration for several generations.
The idea behind the Tushita Centre in Delhi, according to Lama Yeshe, is to repay the kindness of Indians for their support and generosity towards Tibetans and make an offering to the Arya Bhumi—the land of Lord Buddha and other spiritual masters. It would not be wrong to say that we consider Tushita a centre for the study of wisdom culture and its preservation. It has been nudging Delhiites towards an eternal process of self-centring and crossing the ocean of samsaric suffering by providing teachings and meditational guidance on the Buddhist path of middle-way and non-violence.
The centre owes its existence to two very special lamas—Lama Thubten Yeshe and Lama Thubten Zopa Rinpoche. Buddhist teachings have been followed by countless practitioners for thousands of years, but its ontological ethos remains the same. It is based on an impermanent reality which is insubstantial and forever evolving, and involves dependent arising that is always open to change.
Buddha taught us to develop our minds as he had done and paved the path to enlightenment. He points to the three types of spiritual practitioners: the wise, the wiser and the wisest. The wise ones strive for happy future lives whereas the wiser ones will attempt to attain liberation from cyclic existence. The wisest, however, will opt to realize the ultimate goal of enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings.
In this book, one has tried to give a new incarnation to these teachings by our highly qualified masters who follow the Buddhist intellectual traditions of Nalanda, Vikramshila and Odantapuri monastic universities. These teachers speak the same language at times and surely enough, have the same objectives. A rapturous encounter with the Lamas resolves all contradictions because they see reality as it is and one is able to rise above all hatreds and class, caste and racial distinctions.
They work with worldly wisdom as well as spiritual insight. For many of us who have taken teachings at Tushita from such masters, they have been a beacon of hope and inspiration. The last chapter by Robert Thurman provides the context for ‘Buddha Politics’ and situates the wisdom of the Lamas in a socio-historical background, advocating enlightenment as a necessity for survival.
His Holiness urges us to seek inner refuge and remove the delusions and emotional afflictions from the mind, and thus facilitate valid perception. Purifying the mind and generating inner qualities cannot be achieved by somebody else. We have to take responsibility for our liberation and perceive the Buddha as our source of inspiration. Ling Rinpoche highlights the significance of bodhicitta through learning of correct attitudes and actions for cultivating an effective guru—disciple relationship. Gradually, the seeds of bodhicitta our teacher plants within us can grow to full maturity and subsequently lead to the blossoming of the lotus of enlightenment.
For Lama Yeshe, as long as we have grasping and hatred in our minds, we have not renounced samsara. He wants us to avoid grasping at material objects and seek instead an indestructible understanding of the ultimate nature of the mind. Lama Zopa Rinpoche also advocates that inner development is a trillion times more effective than external development in producing lasting happiness. Getting rid of the bondage of unsubdued minds and karma is the real source of liberation from our suffering. The essence of the spiritual path is the good heart and the greatest, highest good heart is bodhicitta—the determination to become a Buddha in order to liberate all sentient beings from suffering.
For the same goal, Geshe Lhundrub Sopa emphasizes the combination of method and wisdom and introduces the practice of six perfections—generosity, discipline, patience, energy, meditation and wisdom. The first five of these must act as supporting methods in order for the sixth—wisdom—to become stable.
Tsenshab Serkong Rinpoche writes about contemplating impermanence and death. The only possible outcome of birth is death, and we are inevitably going to die as no medicine can cure us of death. However, if during our lifetime we refrain from committing negative actions, death won’t be difficult to face and it can be a joyous experience like that of a child coming home. Renunciation forms the theme for this and the next teaching as well. Geshe Rabten describes two ways to develop the fully renounced mind. The first is to meditate on the nature and causes of suffering. The second is to meditate on the twelve links of interdependent origination (His Holiness also talks about it in the penultimate chapter and points to the nature of reality which can either be understood by means of dependent causes and conditions or by means of dependence on the designating factors, and therefore, the tremendous emphasis on the teaching, the basis, the path and the result.)
Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche speaks about following the three paths—small, medium and great—which correspond to the three scopes of being. So, on the graded path to enlightenment, one has to keep in mind one’s principal aim, attaining Buddhahood for the sake of all sentient beings, even while training in the level of initial and medium scopes.
Gelek Rinpoche describes samadhi as meditative power that is useful in general application to both contemplative meditation and concentration meditation. In the former, one investigates the object of meditation by means of contemplating it in all its details, whereas in the latter, one focuses single-mindedly on one aspect of the object and holds the mind there without movement.
Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey sets out in search of the self and finds how the false self manifests—the self that we have habitually presumed to exist in persons and objects. One discovers that it does not exist at all. Even though things and the self appear as self-existent, they are the sport of emptiness, like a magician’s creations. A firm faith thus arises from understanding the true nature of reality as emptiness.
Thus, the proximate cause of suffering is the ubiquitous phenomenon of desire and mistaken view of the self. The desire-laden thrust into the future prevents people from living on a second-to-second basis, but apparently, as is obvious from the lives of the Lamas, realizing emptiness might create the magic moment when life is as it should be. It is my sincere wish and hope that Tushita Centre can benefit countless people on their spiritual journey.
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