An Audience With His Holiness the Dalai Lama (1985)

By His Holiness the Dalai Lama
Dharamsala, India

An audience with His Holiness the Dalai Lama at Tushita Meditation Centre, Dharamsala, India, October 1, 1985.

His Holiness discusses a range of topics, including how to practice Dharma, the mind or consciousness, rebirth, karma and world peace. Edited by Sandra Smith, February 2013.

Question: Your Holiness, we have been saddened by the death of your brother. With this humble offering of flowers, we offer our prayers for his quick return to another precious human rebirth, where through his example of compassion and wisdom, an infinite number of sentient beings will be able to lessen their suffering and ignorance.

His Holiness: Thank you very much. Oh, it’s quite a long list.

Question: First, we would like to know what are the most suitable and beneficial practices for beginning Buddhist practitioners and for those not committed to specific spiritual path, but who want to develop their minds?

His Holiness: I think that according to different people’s mental dispositions, maybe there are different methods, but generally speaking, those people who think more intelligently and investigate shunyata and the major phenomena, for example, “who am I”, and also what is consciousness… that kind of thing is best to do. Another category is thinking more about suffering nature, the major or physical bases. I think the very nature of the physical form is suffering. When life begins, from birth, our physical form has a suffering nature. When life begins, from our birth there is major suffering, and the final, last moment is death. So during that period there are all different kinds of trouble or suffering. Think more on this line.

And, as usual, generate love, kindness and the feeling of human warmth. In the beginning, of course, generally, reciting mantras and some higher practices may not be good, may not be so effective. But then again for certain people, due to previous experience, or due to previous karmic effect, without this life, without proper preparation, but still reciting some mantras or doing some meditation, some extraordinary experience occurs. So there’s that exception. But generally speaking, it may not be so useful to recite mantras. [Inaudible]. This is right?

Question: The relationship between karma and its results, such as virtue being the cause of happiness, are extremely hidden phenomena. They are very difficult to see. In our everyday life, are there examples illustrating that virtue brings happiness and non-virtue brings suffering, based upon which we can gain confidence in karma and its results?

His Holiness: It’s difficult to say. If I speak about relationships, it is impossible to conclude. Just at this moment, if there is irritation, shouting and harsh words, it will cause some tension immediately. As a result, some feeling of uneasiness comes immediately. On the other hand, if there is sincere motivation and a sincere attitude, this very important, very sincere expression immediately gives us a good result, satisfaction, ease and calm. This is the immediate result. If there is a good or bad motivation, or a good or bad action, we see a good or bad result immediately.

Now on a deeper level, in some cases whatever action we did in the earlier part of our life, the ripening effect of that action happens in a later part of our life. In that case we are satisfied with the earlier part of our life but later we could renounce that. That is also cause and effect. Then, for example, if something happened today, that event imprints or reflects on our mind.

There are different levels of mind or consciousness. The moment or the first impression that something happened like that—at that moment our mind has realized, has understood that. Then after some time the mind or consciousness that has realized or perceived that thing stops. It ceases, but we see some effect on the semi-conscious level. The root of that imprint from life is later received on our face.

We may feel uncomfortable or uneasy due to that incident, or we may feel more relaxed. That also. We see an indication that something has happened previously, and though that event or that moment has already disappeared, some influence still remains, and is felt by that person. We sense that the imprint of something which happened in the early part of our life is planted on our consciousness. At a later time in our life, even if we can’t remember the thing which actually happened, but then we can feel something and in this way we can trace the origin back to the previous life. Then of course, again it’s difficult to understand and to accept our previous life. That is another subject.

Unless we realize through experience the basic nature of consciousness, something that is a separate entity is visible. There are many levels of consciousness and some consciousnesses are very much visible. So we can say these are a special energy of this body. But within a deeper consciousness, at a deeper level, some consciousnesses are quite independent from the physical parts. With the help of physical particles, the grosser consciousness of, for example, the human mind or the animal mind, within that human mind there are the sense organs, for example, the eye sense organs. This is something like a special energy of these organs or particles, isn’t it?

So when we investigate the particles by simply training the mind through meditation and through reasoning, this can affect the physical. In any case, if there is a valid consciousness—a deeper, very subtle consciousness, something quite independent from the physical particles, then this lifetime is simply a new physical form, isn’t it? When we die, the old particles of physical form completely disappear, but the consciousness has an independent nature.

The consciousness is changing, so that shows it has a cause. There are certain causes, so we can make the conclusion that there is a substantial cause and a simultaneously arising cause. When we talk about substantial cause, we have to trace back to the previous substantiality. We trace back to the previous moment of consciousness. In any case, that is the basic reason why we accept a previous continuation of consciousness. When we accept a previous life or a future life, then just as in this one lifetime—the early part and the later part—if in previous lifetimes something happens, the imprint is planted. Later in life, although we can’t remember, there is an effect; it feels as if something happened.

Again now, dependent arising. Because the previous lifetime’s influence is there; due to that, some motivation happens and there is some action, some contact for the behavior to happen. Due to certain environmental and behavioral changes, the cause brings a big result. It’s possible. One cause acts like a trigger and a chain reaction happens and produces a result. So that is the relation of karma, but these things are rather difficult to pinpoint. It’s related in some cases to philosophy.

At this moment, this generation of scientists is finding some new theories. They are not like previous scientists. If this goes on continuously, it will provide more open-minded scientists. If there is one scientist in one particular field, then we may not take notice, but if there are more open-minded scientists, at the end of this century we may find something good. What is really crucial is the relationship between consciousness and matter. It’s very important to know if things are really particles or not. There are many people who ask how and why things happen in this world. If we ask how, then the scientists can explain. Why, why, why, is a further mystery.

Question: Western science is now able to measure various reactions of plants to people around them. If someone is going to destroy them, they may even react violently. It is also said that if people sing or talk to plants, they grow better. Doesn’t this seem to indicate that plants have mind?

His Holiness: I don’t know. It’s difficult to say. We believe some living being or living creature appears as a plant. Which kind is a living being and which kind is simply a plant? If that happens for everybody, then that is something different. Some occasional, some exceptional cases happen, but again, that’s different. When you pick these flowers , is their reaction violent?

Question: Happy. If they knew they were for you, they would be very happy.

His Holiness: [Laughter] So, they also know the motivation. So, they are more intelligent than human beings. [Laughter] We don’t know what their motivation is; it’s very difficult to know what it is. If we have that kind of power to realize the other side’s motivation, then the next assignment (?) will be easier. The problem is nobody knows the other side’s motivation, and there is skepticism, suspicion and mistrust.

Question: The goal of all sentient beings is the complete elimination of suffering and the attainment of happiness. Can this be achieved through the practice of a combination of different religions, such as Buddhism and Christianity together? Or can it only be achieved through strict adherence to the Buddhist path?

His Holiness: Generally we say there is no end to samsara, but in individual cases, there is an end to samsara. So that means the achievement of all sentient beings is to become Buddha. In individual cases, there is the possibility of achieving buddhahood, but since all sentient beings are limitless, as a whole, it’s not possible to achieve. If there is strength and determination in every individual case, there is the possibility of achieving buddhahood, which is the highest possibility there is. Therefore, worldwide, we should determine to achieve buddhahood for every sentient being, but that does not mean it is something practical.

Even with world peace there is no disagreement—everybody wants it, but it is difficult to achieve. In the main bodhisattva’s prayer, there are many things which in practical terms are impossible, but because of our determination, or trying to increase our willpower, it doesn’t bother us whether we can achieve them or not. From our viewpoint, where our determination is concerned, we are really determined.

Generally try to make this a better world, a happier world, a more harmonious and more balanced world. In many fields, I think the human attitude, the Western education system, the entire way of thinking, has too much emphasis on external things. It is very difficult to be concerned about inner experience. As a result, that way of thinking very much influences many aspects of life or society. Anyway, the imbalance is there.

The requirement for human beings is not only external things, but internal experiences. These are equally important and for that we need a more balanced attitude. Of course, we need technology. Science and technology are very useful, very good, but in the meantime we should absolutely not neglect internal experience. We need more balance and that we can achieve, can’t we? For that reason, it is more balanced. Now that, we can achieve, from various different spiritual teachings —Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism —many religions accept the value of internal development. So it’s possible to achieve and it’s necessary to make the effort.

Question: As someone who has been aware from when you were very young of your past life, do you still have remembrances of specific events and details from your past life?

His Holiness: Today, no more. Even the memory of yesterday is no more. [Laughter] People who are very young have very strong influences or traces of previous lives. They have not yet fully developed those grosser consciousnesses which are this life’s physical form. That moment people express very clearly the past life, that means it’s also clear to understand in that period. These days, many times there are quite a number of people, quite a number of children, who express a previous experience. As far as I know, as a result of a report of Indian newspaper, there is one Indian girl in Ambala in the Punjab state. Actually I met this small girl, who very clearly expressed her past life, and I met another small girl when I was passing through ... The demonstration of their expression was so clear, so authentic. In each case these two girls had four parents; two parents in this life and two parents from a previous life. Both cases were female. In the West, the feminist movement is so strong. These two girls stated this very clearly. It was not stated by a boy.

I think in my case these days, when I study certain books on very difficult subjects, it is easy to understand. Generally, there are certain things that people regard as difficult, but to me they are very easy. Still, of course, I cannot say I am a learned person. I am just a Question, but when I discuss with some elderly scholars, then I realize my knowledge is not so poor. They have so many years of study and with great hardship, but for me, I study for a short period and it is easy. That natural and quick knowledge is obviously due to my previous life imprints.

Sometimes when we have met a person, without any particular reason, we feel more peace, so this is due to our previous lives’ relationships. Sometimes without any reason we feel some kind of discomfort. The other day I saw General Patton’s story. According to that story, he also realized some previous...

Question: There’s a second part to the question. If Your Holiness is the embodiment of Chenrezig, thus having clairvoyance, you must be able to recollect past lives in the god realms and the hell realms. Are they as good or as bad as described in the teachings?

His Holiness: I don’t know. If I have that kind of power, that possession, then I would never make mistakes. Of course, Buddhists balance common karma or individual karma. Now these different realms, it’s difficult to say. These need detailed measurement and explanation.

One thing is quite clear. There are certain things we quite clearly can’t accept as literal, for example, the eight hells. There are eight hells underneath Bodhgaya, about the size or length of 20,000 people. Anyway, there are 20,000 in that hell. So that means we can’t accept it literally. The general Buddhist attitude is, first we must investigate; we must do a thorough investigation. If we find something is a fact, then we accept it. If through investigation, it’s not true, then we should not accept it. That is the basic Buddhist attitude. Now, we must investigate the description for that hell according to that scripture. If we can investigate, we can find a solution.

Today, our physical body, the structure of our human physical body, is there, so we accept it. If there is not that kind of physical body there, if someone explains such-and-such brain and these small, small cells and particles, then people may not believe it. But today, something is there, so we accept it.

Similarly, on some other planet where we have never been, if they are telling us their story, we can’t believe it. If we develop certain mental power and extra sensory perception, then we know that certain things do not exist. There is a difference between what is found and what is not found to exist. They say so many things recently. The basic nature we simply don’t know, but we pretend we know it is not existing. Now human form is basic, you see. Then, elemental forms we can see. There are some ghosts or spiritual things, some very unusual phenomenon occurring from time to time; some different noises or different omens. This is not superstition, but certain mysterious things happen here and there. So that means there is some mystery world here and there. So here, we believe our consciousness can develop in a positive way. Although it’s not a big experience, but a small experience, some different unusual experience happens.

Some practitioners have had unusual experiences, so that means the sixth level consciousness can develop. This is the way to know that there is the potentiality to develop certain things. Similarly, bad motivation and wrong view can lead to results worse than the human realm. A more complicated, more suffering nature is very possible, therefore human beings are something like in the middle. The further our developments increase, the happier we are. Degenerations, I think, go down. So if we look at it from this viewpoint, naturally we cannot deny that more unfortunate realms exist.

Question: Many religious doctrines say that each person has a responsibility to help others. Buddhism gives the reason that others are just like me—they want happiness and they do not want to suffer. Therefore, I must accept the responsibility for helping them, just as I help myself. This is based only on the reason of equality of self and others. Why must I accept the responsibility of eliminating others’ suffering and placing them in happiness?

His Holiness: Why do you want happiness? You do want it, don’t you? It is a natural feeling. Why is that? It is a simple fact. So on that basis, without reason, we naturally want this feeling . Therefore, others also have that same nature. And moreover, think, “I am one single person. The other majority are more important.” Furthermore, if we help other people we will get the benefit, but if we neglect other people, other people will neglect us. As a result, we will be lonely, alone. That is totally selfish, isn’t it? The basic question is: why do other people want happiness? In the same way that I want happiness. I have no answer. Just I feel like that.

Question: What are some methods for transforming afflictions such as hatred and attachment into a path to enlightenment?

His Holiness: I cannot think of any other techniques to do that, but when such delusions arise in our mind, we should apply antidotes at once. I have no special idea, but for this the most important thing is time. One quotation says this: If a big plant leaves a very bitter taste, one drop of sweetness cannot change that taste. Similarly, for our mind, if there is a bad thought or bad motivation, the mind becomes bad. It’s so influential, isn’t it? The antidote is through practice, but one week or two weeks, once or twice, or three months’ retreat, is not sufficient. Even the recitation of 100,000 mantras is not sufficient. That is actually great work of the lips, it is not necessarily a mental thing.

So, time is very important. We need more time— years and years—then little by little, we can develop. I can almost give a guarantee. We can change. But within one moment, it’s impossible. Even with Lord Buddha, if we read Buddha’s story, during the six years of sacrifice of food and these things, he simply remained in meditation. He demonstrated hardships, and also, I think, every great teacher—Buddha, Mohammed, Jesus Christ—in order to show their followers, they demonstrated a great number of hardships.

Question: What is the difference between afflicted desire and the desire for liberation and buddhahood?

His Holiness: The desire which should be abandoned is based on the wrong reason, the wrong feeling—there is no proper reason. The other type of desire, we should thoroughly investigate and think about over and over again, so it becomes clearer and clearer. With that kind of realization, that type of conviction, we develop that desire or wish with a good reason.

Furthermore, on a deeper level, there is the desire of the “I”. We feel there is something solid, an “I”, but independent nirvana is also wrong desire. So, the desire to achieve a goal of nirvana or buddhahood by the mere “I” or the person, is like an illusion.

At a deeper level, the deeper means, there is the right type of desire, but that is something difficult. Unless we experience some kind of feeling, or experience a knowledge or awareness or realization of shunyata (emptiness)—unless we develop that—we can’t have that right kind of desire; we can’t distinguish between these two desires.

Question: How can one tell if a person is being affected by demonic influences?

His Holiness: I don’t know. I don’t know. I think generally speaking this is big problem. From a practitioner’s viewpoint, those people who go on a wrong path or have the wrong perspective—harming other people, or becoming more cunning and more aggressive by nature—that is the influence of demonic things. Usually, if everyone who knows a person, and regards him or her as a very normal person under normal circumstances, then certainly something changed, something happened. If behavior and the way of thinking change more wrongly, then you could say this, if there is no physical change, no change of circumstances and things are very normal, but something happened. Then you could say there is some kind of influence or some kind of mysterious forces. But investigating or thinking about these things does not have much worth. These things can develop more as suspicions or superstitious beliefs.

As practitioners, especially as Buddhist practitioners, we must accept that everything is due to our own karma. These other forces are there, but if some karmic forces are not prepared or not invited, then these things cannot happen. So, do not put much emphasis or concern on these things. It’s better to forget them, isn’t it? We should try as best, as much as we can. Then if we achieve something, some good things happen, and if bad things happen, we have no regret. If we blame everything on demons or others, including demons or bad spirits, that is not good.

Question: What can we do to protect or prevent such a thing happening?

His Holiness: If there is some very significant indication—a clear or authentic indication, then recite some mantras or do some meditation. Like that.

Question: Great care is taken in Buddhadharma to preserve the purity and exactness of the teachings. However, the versions of mantras differ immensely in different texts and as well, they differ from the original Sanskrit. Also, the pronunciation differs. How serious is this problem for practice, and should something be done about it?

His Holiness: As Nargajuna said, mainly the Buddha’s teachings are for mental practice. They are practices of the mind, not practices for changing external things or practices of the mouth. They are practices of the mental side, which means Buddha’s teachings and meditation are mainly mental practice. Also, the wisdom side—the understanding of shunyata and the Yoga Tantra teachings —is mainly mental practice.

There are some superficial differences. Sometimes the solution mentioned is generated first, then next comes the deity generation. Sometimes the deity generation is done first and then the solution mentioned is generated next. You can also find differences in the rituals that can be done, but these difference don’t count much. Then we say mantras. We should do our best to practice in the right way. But we just have to do our best and that is all. When you speak Tibetan, you have a different accent. The same thing for us, and for the Japanese and Chinese people who speak English. I have old Japanese friend, a monk. He usually refers to me as “Hish Helinessh”, as if walnuts are inserted in his mouth.

Question: How does one cultivate and practice compassion and selflessness in Western society, which operates around a system of selfishness and greed?

His Holiness: Again, I don’t know. Besides Shantideva’s work and all these teachings, I have no special advice or special information. As I mentioned before, I think it depends on mental practice—mentally you can develop, no matter what kind of environment. Actually your way of life, your practice, you have to follow in a realistic way, don’t you? So, for example, in a very strong, competitive society, if you remain too humble, then other people may take advantage of you, so finally you may lose. Then you have to follow according to the circumstances, you have to stand tough. Make a tough stand or a strong reaction, strong action.

Of course when you practice certain things, depending on the circumstances, it can be very harmful. I mean there is some effect on your mental development. But in actual practice, after seeing the circumstances—if circumstances are such that you should take a firm stand—then without losing compassion or without losing respect, you may take counter measures. But of course, it is difficult. It is also not good, but possible if that is the only choice.

I always think that Westerners who practice the Dharma should remain in society. You should not isolate yourself from society. After all, you have to remain in that society, isn’t it? In the sense of serving other people, on a long-term basis, Westerners should remain in Western society and try to help others. Westerners should take a form of social work, that’s very good. I think that’s better than staying in the East. Teaching, nursing, the medical field and different kinds of social work are very good jobs. Not only as a profession or a field, but also with a deep sense of responsibility, as Buddha’s teachings say. I think this way of thinking is very good, very good. It is worthwhile to avoid killing and also to avoid as a main business, farming, poultry, making beef (although beef tastes good, I like it). Of course many people think like this, it is much said, isn’t it? So it’s worthwhile to avoid taking business or taking jobs of this kind.

Question: Considering we have all had limitless lives before this one and there have been limitless buddhas, would it be logical to say that we have all met the Dharma in some previous life and therefore should be enlightened by now?

His Holiness: Yes, that’s it. So, whether we achieve buddhahood or not, that is not a question of simply meeting the Buddha or not. It is a question of great effort. [Laughter] I think we had same attitude in previous lives.

Question: Instant buddhahood—just add water. Instant buddhahood.

His Holiness: Yes, that’s it. So, whether we achieve buddhahood or not, that is not a question of simply meeting a buddha or not. It is a question of great effort. That is also not one lifetime. In our scripture, achieving buddhahood in one lifetime—in this lifetime or three years —that is propaganda. Of course, there are very exceptional cases, but generally it’s impossible.

Question: What are the main principles of Tibetan Buddhist natural sciences? In the West, for example, one aim of physicists is to gain control over nature. How would a Tibetan Buddhist scientist explain such phenomena as thunder and lightning, or the falling of a stone?

His Holiness: Do you mean material substances, these things?

Question: Yes.

His Holiness: I can’t follow your question well. Do you mean Western scientists try to gain control over nature? I think it's very difficult to control nature—for them to know that function of nature. In a very limited way, there is some control, some influence, but it’s basically very difficult to control nature. Is that the main question?

Question: The main point is how Tibetan Buddhist science would explain phenomena?

His Holiness: By Buddhist scientist, you mean what?

Question: I don’t know. Is the person who asked the question here?

Question: The general idea is: do Buddhists have thoughts or knowledge about what Newton found, like gravity. Have they thought about this? What do they think Newton found? What do they think about falling stones? Do they have their own knowledge?

His Holiness: I don’t know. In Buddhism, generally, the main emphasis, is on internal experience, internal development, so there’s not much detailed explanation about external things. Then occasionally, as a supplement, certain things happen, certain things are mentioned. But, basically there is more effort, more emphasis on internal things. As an example, trillions and billions and billions of limitless worlds, these things are mentioned. Today, through powerful telescopes and certain electronic equipment, people now accept that there are so many galaxies. More people are now wondering whether on other galaxies, other planets, there are different beings there or not. There could be different kinds of beings. About this Western science explanation about gravity, these things, I don’t know.

As far as particles are concerned, there are descriptions of particles and there is mention of momentary time. There are many explanations about time and particles. Also, the internal and external five elements, and the relationship between these internal and external five elements. Again, on a deeper level, a more energy type, there is a basic substance of five internal elements, but it is a very subtle energy. These things are mentioned. Like the nucleus in physical form that causes futures cells. I think it creates the internal and external five elements. That’s all.

Question: Ignorance is the first of the twelve dependently related links, and actions arise because of this ignorance. Please explain the process by which ignorance causes us to engage in actions.

His Holiness: Desire is due to ignorance, as we have already discussed. Generally, it is desire without proper reason and that kind of thing. Therefore, human actions without motivation happen very rarely. The majority of actions, especially those producing a good or bad result, are done with a motivation. Some actions are done without motivation, but most things are deliberately done with a motivation.

Question: With respect to the same object, sometimes the conception of true existence arises and sometimes it doesn’t. What is the cause of this difference?

His Holiness: If we pay more attention to that particular object, then the conception of true existence arises. In all cases, there is the appearance of true existence, and with that, when we push ourselves a little bit more and focus more attention on that object, then there is the conception of the true existence of that object. I think it best to ask, is it truly existent?

Right from the beginning, as soon as we see or hear something, it appears as an independent object. I mean, the object appears to exist independently. Then in addition to that, we try to know more about that object and pay more attention to it. We have an attitude of wanting to know more about that object, based on the appearance of true existence of that object. Then conceptions arise in us, such as “how nice it is.” These conceptions are based on the appearance of that object as truly existent. So before these conceptions arise, in the first moment, that object has merely appeared to us as truly existent. Then in the second moment, we accept it. And later we tend to accept that those objects exist in the way that they appear to us. So with this, we have developed the conception of true existence.

Question: In a hospital situation if someone were to die clinically, that means the heart and breathing stop, then it is the responsibility of the medical staff to attempt to revive him. If someone is very old and suffering, or has severely impaired mental and physical functions, is it morally right to resuscitate them and prolong a difficult life situation for them as well as their relatives?

His Holiness: We have to judge that on each particular occasion. If the actual circumstances are such that there is no use, no value, nothing worthwhile from this patient’s viewpoint, and it creates more trouble and more suffering, not only for the person himself but for some other people, then of course, it is different. But generally, if it is within our power, I think the best thing is to save people, as much as possible. There may be less suffering if his life duration shortens, but the same amount of suffering may occur at another time. The person will have to face a certain amount of suffering in this lifetime, but if some people deliberately shorten his life, he has to suffer the same amount on another occasion.

So for these things, as Shantideva says, we must act according to the actual circumstances, and when the actual circumstance are very difficult to judge, then finally, it depends your motivation. As far as your motivation is concerned, if it is very sincere, very pure, even though you did a wrong action, then it is alright.

Question: If you could have a meeting with Reagan and Gorbachev, what advice would you give for ending the nuclear arms race?

His Holiness: My advice is, as in old days, the kings should fight without involving the masses, but they never fight without involving these nuclear weapons. The two persons should fight. I have nothing to say. I think one day, the kings will become so anxious, so tense, so definite, and they will become more serious. That is one very unfortunate way. Another way it may open and there may be a breakthrough to some better way, more human relationships. Through suspicion, through competition, from force, even with a very gentle manner, actually this is threatening, isn’t it? So, it’s very difficult to achieve. So that practice for so many years goes that way. So that is temporary, isn’t it? There becomes more danger, an increase in danger. But this time people on both sides have said there is peace with fear. There is peace without a sincere motivation or sincere understanding, but simply with fear. This cannot last. It already becomes clearer. So, I think it may help to find a new way for better human relationships. According to this morning’s BBC broadcast, the new Soviet leader is offering some new ideas. The American attitude also seems positive, compared to the previous attitude. We must try to contribute as much as we can for a peaceful world. Not only for peace in Europe, but peace for everybody. At the moment our world peace is not balanced, is it? On the European continent, there is a quiet peace, with no killing. But in the Arab world, in many Asian continents and in Africa, the same. In America, South America, it’s very sad.

Finished? Thank you.