Before diving into an explanation of the four truths, he discussed the international relevance of Buddhist concepts and the need for a secular, science-based ethics.
7000 people from more than 50 countries-including 4000 Tibetans, 1100 people from China, Taiwan and Hong Kong, and 500 Singaporeans-attended the first day of the teaching. The English lecture was translated into Chinese, Tibetan, Spanish, Korean, Japanese and Hindi.
Although he gave the teaching at the request of his Southeast Asian followers from Singapore, Vietnam, Hong Kong and Indonesia, His Holiness noted that groups from far away non-Buddhist countries such as Romania, Argentina and South Africa had also traveled to Northern India to attend the lecture.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama attributed this international interest in a traditionally Asian religion to the growth of modern technology and communications, but also the increasing relevance of Buddhist concepts in our world today.
Tibet's spiritual leader explained that the Buddhist concept of interdependence has a crucial role to play in such areas as environmental conservation, global economics and holistic health. He noted that even scientists and non-religious people have expressed their interest in the idea of interdependence, and have found that it has practical applications in daily life.
"At the initial stage, when I expressed my desire to meet with scientists and discuss reality, some of my friends warned me that ‘science is a killer'," His Holiness said. But after 20 years of dialogue, he has found that "true" scientists are brilliant and open-minded people, and that "true" Buddhist scholars have a natural respect for science, because the scientific method of analysis and investigation forms the basis of their own religion.
"Buddhism can be divided into three aspects: Buddhist science; Buddhist concepts or philosophy; and Buddhist religion," His Holiness stated, explaining that when he talks with scientists he draws mostly on the first part, leaving out religious ideas such as reincarnation. By doing this, he has found that modern science and Buddhist science have much to share with one another.
"Scientists are now showing that a calm, positive mind is good for health," claimed His Holiness. Asian religions, which have long cultivated the practice of samadhi or "single-pointed mind," contain a deep wealth of information about the mind and emotions, and scientists are eager to learn about these discoveries.
Buddhism, on the other hand, can use modern scientific discoveries to learn about "external things" or the material world, including subjects such as quantum physics and cosmology.
His Holiness explained that his main objective in this ongoing discussion with scientists is "to bring a deeper awareness of modern ethics, or right thinking," because, "when we lack this, we create many unnecessary problems."
"We must develop a method to promote modern ethics without religion," stated the Dalai Lama, emphasizing that these ethics must be "purely secular," but include a respect for and tolerance of the world's various religious creeds.
His Holiness advised that even religious faith should be based on personal experimentation and analysis, rather than blind acceptance. He explained that through such a critical study of religion, "We can utilize human intelligence to bring new awareness and transform negative emotions."
In the afternoon session, His Holiness applied this approach of scientific and personal investigation to the Four Noble Truths, which explain the existence and origins of different types of suffering; the possibility of overcoming that suffering which is caused by human attachment and ignorance; and the method or "Eight-Fold Path" Buddhist practitioners follow to decrease suffering at both a personal and global level.
His Holiness stressed throughout the day's teachings that knowledge, more than faith, is required as a counterforce to overcome our ignorance and develop compassion for all sentient beings. "The more you understand, the greater your motivation to overcome the three ‘poisons' of desire, hatred and ignorance, and attain nirvana," he concluded.