Derry, Northern Ireland: - The spiritual leader of Tibet His Holiness the Dalai Lama said Buddhism is an important aspect of Tibetan identity during his short visit to a Tibetan Institute in Switzerland to hear what progress young Tibetans in the area have been making in programs to learn about Buddhist culture.
Offering a warm welcome to the Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Tibetans young and old holding flowers, traditional white scarf and incense lined the road to greet him as he arrived at the Tibet Institute in Rikon of Zurich regon, Switzerland on 17 April 2013.
Addressing the gathering, His Holiness said he usually tells people that "monasteries should be places that preserve and promote Buddhism through study and practice, which involves transformation within. It's not enough to recite the formula for taking refuge in the Three Jewels, the ultimate goal of Buddhism is to achieve Buddhahood."
Inner transformation is not just about seeking the Buddha's blessings, but making effort yourself. The Buddha encouraged his followers not to take his teachings on trust, but to examine them first to see if they make sense. Emotions arise in our minds, some of them positive, some of them destructive. We have to learn the difference between them, which is why it's important to study and why monasteries should be centres of learning.
"By holding these introductory courses here, you are contributing to the preservation of the Buddha's teachings. And I'm glad you are learning Tibetan, because, while it might not be so good as a means to discuss science, it is an excellent medium for explaining Buddhism."
The connection with science began with His Holiness's own curiosity, but over the course of time, scientists have taken an increasing interest in what Buddhism has to say about the mind and emotions. They are not becoming Buddhists, but their interest is an example of how the knowledge contained in the Kangyur and Tengyur can be of benefit to humanity at large. He stressed that Tibetan Buddhist literature is like a treasure, not because the books are sacred in themselves, but because of the knowledge they contain. For this reason it is good to remember that Buddhism is an important aspect of the Tibetan identity.
"I went to Srinagar in Kashmir last year," he said, "and was impressed to find that the children and adults in the Tibetan Muslim community speak exquisite Tibetan. These children learn Tibetan at home, whereas there are now some children in North America who know hardly any Tibetan because they generally use English at home."
Recalling how Buddhism came to Tibet, His Holiness reflected that Shantarakshita, who came in the 8th century at the age of 70, and Atisha, who came in 11th century, must have faced immense hardships coping with the difficulties of travel and differences in climate. At this point His Holiness sneezed, prompting a chorus of "Tsering," the Tibetan equivalent of "Bless you" from the children that made him chuckle.
"We shouldn't just say that this is what the Buddha taught, we need to use reasoning. The cause of something should be of similar nature; matter gives rise to matter not to consciousness and consciousness gives rise to consciousness not matter,' His Holiness told the crowd while responding to a question asked about proving past and future lives.
"The brain is a supportive condition for consciousness, but not its cause. We say that a moment of mind or consciousness must be preceded by a previous moment of consciousness. It is this continuity that is the basis for future lives. Apart from this there is the evidence of those people who remember their previous lives.
About whether compassion is the most important element of Buddhist teaching, His Holiness said that all major religious traditions make compassion their main message. However, Buddhism speaks of how all sentient beings wish for happiness not suffering and that compassion is the wish to free them from suffering. Asked what a Buddhist should study, he said:
"You should study everything. I started when I was young and although I'm nearly 78 today, I'm still studying. I think it was Sakya Pandita who said you have to go on learning even if you are to die in the afternoon, because you never know when the knowledge will be useful."