Introduction to Tibetan Buddhism
In the passage before us, the Dalai Lama presents negative emotions as our true enemy, and emphasizes that since we cannot remove the negative emotions by surgery, mind training is the only way to free ourselves from them - that is the importance of mind training. The Dalai Lama talks about different levels of consciousness, and explains that by working with the most subtle consciousness, we can remove the negative emotions from our hearts. The Tibetan Buddhist meditation techniques were developed in order to uproot the negative emotions from our mind quickly and with maximum efficacy. The Dalai Lama shows us the main reasoning behind mind training, and thereby accepts the argument that Buddhism is essentially a science of mind.
Prior to reading His Holiness' text, I briefly introduce the Three Yanas, the Vehicles, that the Dalai Lama mentions, and devote a few preliminary words to the type of text and the restrictions that apply to students regarding texts of this type. Following each paragraph by His Holiness below, I explain the text. In my view, this passage stands on its own, but the explanations are intended to clarify a bit more for the reader for whom Tibetan Buddhism may be new and foreign.
The Mahayana vehicle, way or scope, is the development of the altruistic intention, the intention that all beings be happy, and the wish to help them, as much we can, to realize happiness. The more we develop the altruistic intention, the more our practice will ultimately benefit our own selves. The Dalai Lama advises us to be wise egotists – if we wisely practice thinking of others and doing for others, we will be the first to obtain the benefit. “In our concern for others, we worry less about ourselves. When we worry less about ourselves, an experience of our own suffering is less intense.”1
Vajrayana2 is the tantric path, the path of practice guided by an experienced and qualified teacher, a relatively short and fast path to the realization of enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings. These three paths of practice refer to the different Buddhist teachings (“Three Turnings of the Dharma Wheel”) that spread to the different parts of the world – the Fundamental Vehicle to the countries of southeast Asia such as Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, Burma, Mahayana to China, Korea and Japan, and Vajrayana to Tibet. Practice according to these three vehicles is practice according to what the Buddha taught. Lest we be mistaken, ethics is an essential basis for Mahayana and Vajrayana practice, and according to Tibetan Buddhism, all three of these vehicles together comprise the graded path to enlightenment.
With these causes and conditions, from a book that is forbidden to me and to most of us to read, let's move on now to the text by His Holiness the Dalai Lama:
The Consciousness of Death – the Most Subtle Consciousness
Another example of the most subtle level of awareness at the time of death is the state of “thukdam” that Tibetan spiritual teachers remain in after physical death, but before their consciousness has completely disconnected from the body. This state, in which the body does not begin to decay, can last for a week or longer; a Tibetan lama (spiritual teacher) remained in this state for 18 days in 2008 and was examined by scientists with the newest and most modern equipment available to science.8 Thukdam is common in Tibet: only the mind of an adept is capable of remaining in thukdam.
The Wisdom that Realizes Emptiness
A Swift and Profound Approach
The Dalai Lama explains that in Tibetan Buddhism, Highest Yoga Tantra makes use of the consciousness of death in order to liberate from mental suffering, to liberate from the mistaken grasping of the I or self, for the cessation of suffering, for enlightenment. When analytical reasoning, the understanding of emptiness, the correct view of how the I exists, is combined with a serviceable and pliant mind, along with compassion and a large accumulation of merit, with the help of a teacher, we can uproot ignorance, which is the root of suffering. As we have already seen, the Tibetans like analogies. To what can it be compared? A mind trained in concentration is like a drill, the understanding of emptiness fitted upon this drill is like the drill bit, and with these two, we then have a very powerful tool for breaking down walls. By drilling a small hole in the wall of the mistaken perception of I with this tool, we can uproot the root of negative emotions and attain liberation.12
An Undisciplined Mind Is the Source of Suffering
Taming the Mind - The Most Important Task
Science of Mind
Today neuroscientists are verifying the Buddhist claim that we can develop and change the mind through mind training. An entire field of study, neuroplasticity,13 has resulted from the collaboration of the Dalai Lama and Tibetan monks with neuroscientists. Examples of productive collaboration between neuroscientists and the Tibetan masters are studies by Prof. Richard Davidson at the University of Wisconsin,14 15 and the many publications by participants of the Mind and Life Institute.16 17 Matthieu Ricard, a Tibetan Buddhist monk of French origin, a former scientist, was Prof. Davidson's research subject, and according to the data for his pre-frontal cortex, he is 4.5 standard deviations happier than the average person, so he is sometimes called “the happiest man in the world.” There is no doubt that meditation on compassion leads to happiness and peace of mind.
Examining the Truth
Aspiring faith develops when we observe the qualities of a spiritual teacher who we respect and say to ourselves, “I want what he has. I want peace of mind and patience, and the qualities that I see and appreciate in him.” The Tibetan teachers explain that from this point, from the moment aspiring faith develops in our minds, this is the real refuge.
Knowing faith develops in the course of practice, when we experience, from practice, by personal experience, the same qualities, truths, experiences and views that the teachers speak about. For example, after several months or years of practice, we may find that we are a little more patient, more empathic, less judgmental. These are examples of knowing faith that develops in the course of mind training: I applied it, and I find that this practice really has value. Although mind training has a scientific basis, and perhaps especially for that very reason,21 in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, faith is very important for practice.
Why Is It Important That We Train Our Minds?