Dharamshala — His Holiness the Dalai Lama arrived in Riga, Latvia on the morning of September 22nd, welcomed at the airport by members of the bodies organizing his visit, Saglabasim Tibetu (Save Tibet Latvia) and Save Tibet Foundation, Russia, along with people from Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, Russians, Kalmyks, Buryats and Tuvans, who greeted him outside his hotel.
The Tibetan leader also conferred a two-day teaching on the middle volume of Kamalashila's ‘Stages of Meditation’ and Tsongkhapa's ‘Concise Stages of the Path to Enlightenment,’ from September 23-24.
Arriving at Skonto Hall, His Holiness first met with members of the media.
“I’m happy to be here,” he told them. “As human beings we are all the same, and if we pay too much attention to secondary differences between us it can result in conflict and violence. Our faces are the same. We all have two eyes, one nose and one mouth. Behind these faces our minds and emotions are the same. The important thing is that we all want happiness and peace—violence disturbs this.
“Climate change is not limited to this or that country, it affects us all. Nature is teaching us that human beings should work together as one community. I am committed to promoting awareness that we are all one in being human. In addition, since all major religious traditions carry a common message of love and compassion, I’m committed to fostering harmony and respect between them. You media people could contribute to this too.”
The first question His Holiness was asked related to areas of conflict in the world today. He responded, “It’s still early in the 21st century, but reality has changed. However, old ways of thinking still prevail, especially in the minds of some leaders. They still cling to 20th century notions that problems can be solved by force. This counterproductive, out of date approach must change.
“I’m an admirer of the spirit of the European Union, which, placing greater value on the well-being of the whole community, has kept the peace for several decades. In due course, it should also include Russia. It’s my dream to see such a spirit cultivated in Africa, Latin America and Asia.”
He explained that he has lately been coming to Latvia because interested Russians have urged him to teach, but while he is presently unable to travel to Russia, many of them cannot afford to come to India—Latvia is where they can meet. He added that when you’re faced with difficulty is the best time for spiritual practices like patience and tolerance.
His Holiness then graced the stage, where he was greeted by an audience of more than 3800 — from Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, and Russia.
“Today, I’ll be giving a teaching mainly for people from Russia,” His Holiness began, “which recognises Buddhism as one of its religious traditions. Kalmyks, Buryats and Tuvans are not only traditionally Buddhist; they have a historic connection to Tibetan Buddhism.
“In the West, where the traditional faith is not Buddhist, I’m cautious about teaching Buddhism directly. In Germany and Italy, where I’ve just been, I talked more about philosophy and psychology. I had a good Christian friend, Brother Wayne, with whom I would discuss techniques for developing concentration and cultivating compassion. But when it came to emptiness, I told him not to ask. I was concerned that explaining how things are interdependent and described as like an illusion could undermine his faith in God.
“What does religion mean in the 21st century? Is it relevant in the face of so much technological and scientific development? These days people may find relief from stress in medication, but that won’t help them reduce their negative emotions. The way to do that is to transform the mind. Education and religion have taken different directions. Care for our inner world has been left to religion, but its influence is in decline.
“Therefore there’s a place for secular ethics—secular in the Indian sense of unbiased respect for all religions. We are looking into how to incorporate secular ethics in education. Emory University, for example, is preparing to publish a curriculum for schools and the Tata Institute for Social Sciences has just launched a program for higher education.
“Nevertheless, in due course he met his five former companions in Sarnath and at their request he taught the Four Noble Truths. He explained how mindfulness of the body yields understanding of suffering, mindfulness of feelings discloses understanding of its origins, mindfulness of the mind reveals understanding of cessation and mindfulness of the Dharma lays bare the path. The explanation of the Four Noble Truths and their sixteen aspects is common to all Buddhist traditions.”
His Holiness alternated his reading of the two texts, completing the section on identifying the nature of suffering in ‘Stages of Meditation’ and the instructions for a person of initial scope in the ‘Concise Stages of the Path’. At the end of the morning, he announced that he would conduct a ceremony for generating the awakening mind of bodhichitta when he resumes teaching tomorrow.
The second day of teachings opened once more with the ‘Heart Sutra’ being recited in Russian.
His Holiness began: “The essence of Buddhahood, the emptiness of the mind, is obscured by obscurations and their imprints. All these obscurations can be eliminated by meditating on the emptiness of the mind—its natural purity and clear light nature. It is because of this clarity and awareness of the mind that we have the potential to manifest the four bodies of a Buddha—the nature and wisdom bodies of the truth body, as well as the enjoyment and emanation bodies.
“The accumulation of merit as a result of skilful means gives rise to the form body, while the accumulation of wisdom results in the truth body. Nagarjuna says the teaching of the Buddha depends on the Two Truths, conventional and ultimate, which is accepted by all four schools of Buddhist thought, even if their interpretations differ. The main factor in the accumulation of merit is the cultivation of the awakening mind of bodhichitta—and its expression in the service and benefit of others.”
His Holiness then set the scene for conducting the ceremony for developing bodhichitta. He explained the potentially elaborate visualization of figures around the Buddha who have contributed to the transmission of Buddhism. He mentioned the eight bodhisattvas, the 17 Masters of Nalanda, the 84 great adepts, as well as the masters of the various traditions of Tibetan Buddhism.
After conducting the bodhichitta ceremony, His Holiness resumed reading the ‘Stages of Meditation’, rapidly covering the sections on Wisdom, the Common Prerequisites for Meditating on Calm-abiding and Special Insight, the Practice of Calm-abiding, Actualizing Special Insight and Unifying Method and Wisdom. In the course of his reading, he stopped to explain, demonstrate and lead people through the nine-round breathing practice, which is employed for clearing and settling the mind in readiness for meditation.
His Holiness also met with agroup of parliamentarians from the three Baltic States—three from Latvia, including a former Minister of Justice, three from Estonia and four from Lithuania.
Veteran Tibet supporter and Latvian MP Andris Buikis reminded His Holiness that the Baltic States were occupied for 50 years, so he and his colleagues understand and sympathise with what the people of Tibet are going through. He told him there are various Parliamentary Friendship Groups in Latvia, but the two he is primarily interested in concern Tibet and Taiwan. He added, “We are happy to provide an opportunity for people who can’t otherwise meet you to do so.”
“I escaped from Tibet in 1959 after our various efforts to find a peaceful solution had failed,” His Holiness responded. “I reached India, where I have lived for the last 58 years as a stateless refugee. However, I also gained access to the global community. When I made my first visit to Europe in 1973 I told BBC correspondent Mark Tully I was going because I was a citizen of the world. In 1979, I went to the Soviet Union where I had a clear impression of people living in fear of attack from the West. At the same time I knew that people in the West lived in fear of an attack from the Warsaw Pact.
“Totalitarian systems don’t last forever and when the Soviet Union collapsed you here in the Baltic States seized the opportunity to restore your independence. President Landsbergis invited me to Lithuania.
“It’s an honor for me to meet with you parliamentarians again. I believe that sometimes smaller nations which are no threat to China can be more critical in what they tell them.
“We approached the UN in 1959, 1962 and 1965, but Nehru warned me that sooner or later we would have to enter into discussions with the Chinese authorities. In 1974 we decided not to seek independence. Contact with the Chinese government was opened in 1979, but has lapsed since 2010. The Chinese authorities have used all sorts of methods to eliminate the Tibetan spirit in Tibet, but human determination cannot be destroyed by force.”