Buddha Smiles - A Light in the Darkness
By Tenzin Phulchung, Source: Phayul, The Buddhist Channel, January 9, 2006
Barcelona, Spain -- Wangyal la´s recent article “the four ignoble truths of Tibetan Buddhism” is thought provoking. It motivated me to attempt this piece of writing. His article resembles a poetry that depicts the facial imperfections of a philosopher rather than the philosophy in question.
The poet, it seems, is deadly ignorant of the deeper beauties of the philosophy under his attack. I am not at all trying to criticize his views as I am not a religious fundamentalist. My attempt here is to clarify misinterpretations of certain truths of Tibetan Buddhism that I feel is misleading and dangerous for young innocent minds.
Resurrection of noble truths of Tibetan Buddhism
To begin the resurrection of the noble truths of Tibetan Buddhism from Wangyal la´s deeming them to ignoble truths, let me begin by claiming that his presentation of four noble truths in the very first paragraph is misguided. The four noble truths do not state, “Life is suffering”. The truth of suffering means Samsara, the entire round of birth and death in the six realms of cyclic existence. That means the life as suffering has a limitation of space and time. What about life beyond Samsara?
The four noble truths do not preach that desire is the true cause of suffering. The true cause of suffering means Karma and Delusion. The teachings of lord Buddha are self-help guides to enlightenment and thereafter to help others. Only translations are facing difficulties in finding exact - word - equivalents in other languages to relate the philosophical terms and their profound meanings as expressed in Tibetan and Sanskrit. The four noble truths are the Buddha’s first sermon; teachings meant for people gifted with spirituality but have limited views. The four noble truths do not encompass the entire teachings of Buddha and therefore is not the totality of Buddhism. Buddha taught 84000 methods to tame and purify negative emotions and thereby to attain realization of the ultimate truth. His higher teachings on the doctrines of emptiness and tantrayana were addressed to mahayanists of higher intellect capacities. His teachings include both sutras and tantras that are contained within (“The great scripture”. Kagyur in Tibetan).
Authenticity of Tibetan Buddhism
Wangyal la’s article reminds me of a painter’s self-portrayal with confidence as a professional carpenter or a biologist entertaining himself as a theologian. Let me put it this way: a scientist can be the master of a scientific field but can not be authenticated as the wisdom holder of knowledge separate from his filed of scientific expertise. But, I do not deny all of Wangyal’s points. On the contrary I appreciate his emphasis on Tibetan Buddhists’ need of grasping the roots of Buddhism rather than branches. Wangyal la, it seems, is an intellect of modern thoughts and a skilled writer.
But, having limited knowledge of Buddhism and lot of skill in writing critiques is a self-piety of dangerous influence on innocent contemporary youths.
Nowadays, some people seem to have the wrong idea that Tibetan Buddhism as we find today is an invention of Tibetan Lamas. Being deficient in understanding of the situation and miscomprehension of cultural assimilations, they think that Tibetan Buddhism is not the pure teachings of Buddha. I find it most important to clarify this misconception. The great scripture of hundred volumes known as Kagyur in Tibetan are direct teachings of Buddha. The kagyur has two sections: the Sutra section and the Tantra section. The Sutra section contains three subjects called the Tripitakas: Vinaya, concerning the principals of morality; Sutantra, concerning meditation and Abhidharma concerning philosophy of transcendental wisdom. Wangyal’s criticism of reincarnation is based on Vinaya concepts and modern view, which I think is not so justifiable.
The two hundred and thirteen volumes of main commentaries by Indian scholars and maha-siddhas on the Tripitakas in Tibetan translation are called Tengyur. Tibetan Buddhism is based exclusively on Kagyur and Tengyur and retains exact basis of the teachings of Buddha. In essentials it does not bear alterations and additions at the hand of Tibetan lamas. To emphasize the authenticity of the Tibetan Buddhist texts and commentaries of the Tripitakas the original titles have been left Sanskrit. When present day scholars compare the same texts in the original Sanskrit with its Tibetan translation, they are amazed by the accuracy and the absence of errors. This truth can be understood if you go into the teachings and attain some real knowledge instead of putting bold judgments by looking at the surface, which can be misleading. If Lord Buddha were to return today, I am sure he would appreciate the purity of Tibetan Buddhism. The element of surprise is not germane to the wisdom mind of the one who is: all knowing, all encompassing and omniscient.
The spinning of prayer wheels, recitation of texts, chanting of mantras and performing saddhana pujas are not something unbuddhist. These are the paths to generate merits and purify mind to succeed in the higher paths of realization. Seven primary methods of such practices have been recommended in the sutra teachings. Buddha himself has pursued the same practice when he was just like you and me. These activities are in essence, practices engaging accumulation of merits and abidance by the principal of refraining from negative conducts. The fruition of merits in the long run becomes the cause of attaining the level of supreme enlightenment. Tibetan Buddhism is not at all acknowledged as a combination of what Wangyal claims is of three distinct religious traditions.
There is no such thing as distinct religious traditions in Tibet as divine dharma and human dharma. The ten precepts called Lha-choe and sixteen precepts called Michoe are state laws imposed by king Songtsen Gampo. These precepts are based on Buddhism and are in fact simplified practices most comprehensible to the general people who are not so familiar with Buddhism in those times.
Bon is a distinctively separate religion of old Tibet wildly practised before the spread of Buddhism. Even these days, this old religion is followed by many but not as a part of Buddhism. There did occur some good incorporation of methods like incense burning and prayer flags. But the idea of putting coloured flags on mountains of worship were present in Bon tradition but putting prayer mantras on flags, stones and wood are very rooted in Buddhist tradition. If you go so much by weak authorities like the American dictionary on definition of religion, then you might some day believe that George W. Bush is the speaker of truth and harbinger of peace
Paradox of superstition
The divination of Mo is not a superstition but in fact a higher wisdom trait of realized masters and the divine intervention of deities in human decisions when asked for with true faith. However, false practices if prevalent in Tibetan society are the faults of individual Tibetans. The divination practice by state oracles comes under the category of Mo tradition. If you say that this tradition is superstitious then the authenticity of His Holiness the Dalai Lama being the true manifestation of Avaloketeshvara is questionable! The dream interpretations are not at all fantasy creations of Tibetan Buddhists. It was traditionally present since from the time of the third Buddha (Oesung) of this eon. Many teachings of Buddha Shakyamuni are also inspired and invoked by dreams of his disciples, both earthly and divine.
The origin of Namgyal Stupa is a dream intervention, which invoked Buddha to give the teachings of this particular dharma. Buddha’s conception to his mother came in dreams by way of a descending white elephant from the Tushita heaven. The conception of His Holiness the present Dalai Lama accompanied a mystic dream to his mother. The Dream Yoga, one of the six doctrines of the great Indian yogi Naropa, concerns higher meditation through controlling dreams state of existence. I agree that most of the dreams in general are illusion in nature but that doesn’t shun other realities of dream phenomenon. Dreams have a prophetic aspect, a parallel nature of existence in the intermediate state (Bardo in Tibetan) and if one can master Buddhist practices like dream yoga, then far subtler aspects of mysticism can be unfolded. A dream in one way is the other reality of life, which is half awake and half asleep.
The tradition of choosing auspicious days for special activities like journey, business and marriage is a social culture rooted in astrology. The influence of planetary and star energies on human walks of life is accepted around the world. It is neither a superstition nor a Tibetan thing alone. Many seemingly superstitious believe rampant in Tibetan society are health related. The absence of modern science has handicapped Tibetans of understanding much knowledge related to health, hygiene and environment. So, the wise people interpreted these subjects by way of religious explanations, which are in present days proclaimed by many like Wangyal as Tibetan superstition.
Buddhism as the ultimate science of truth
The father of modern science Albert Einstein has said, “If there is any religion that would cope with modern scientific needs it would be Buddhism”. Many other scientists hold the view that Buddhism is the inner and ultimate science or truth of nature. Why I am saying Buddhism and not Tibetan Buddhism as should be in the context is because the undefiled form of Buddhism, as a whole, is preserved in Tibetan Buddhism alone. In comparison to science, the highest level of physics is emptiness and the emptiness according to Buddhism is the basis of true nature of all existing phenomenon. The ultimate knowledge of biology ushers into the light of Buddhist concept of karma, which Charles Darwin has put as the “Theory of Natural Selection”.
Two fundamental theories of modern science-quantum theory and the theory of relativity are very much in common with Buddhist concepts on universal truths of existence. The notion of relativity or interdependence is the fundamental concept of entire Buddhism. When we come to the study of the theory of “Time and space” as propagated by modern science, we have volumes of articles on the subject mostly written by Nagarjuna which are studied and debated in Tibetan Buddhist tradition. Science and Buddhism both agree on the notion of the emptiness of all things. But, Buddhism also presents both emptiness and clarity nature of mind. Many scientists are now taking interest in Tibetan Buddhism. Scientists from all fields of science such as neuroscience, psychology, Physics, Biology and chemistry are looking for scientific answers in Buddhism; answers they couldn’t find in science.
Let me conclude here by a line from Einstein,“Buddhism has the characteristics of what would be expected in a cosmic religion for the future: it transcends a personal God, avoids dogmas and theology; it covers both the natural & spiritual, and it is based on a religious sense aspiring from the experience of all things, natural and spiritual, as a meaningful unity”.