The Dalai Lama's Teachings to Commemorate the Buddha’s Birth and Enlightenment

The Buddhist Channel, 23 June 2023

Dharamsala, HP, India -- On June 4th, the full-moon day of Saga Dawa, marking the fourth month of the Tibetan lunar calendar, Tibetans gathered to honor the birth and enlightenment of Buddha Shakyamuni. His Holiness the Dalai Lama delivered his annual teachings in commemoration of this occasion at Tsuglagkhang, the main Tibetan temple.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama addressing the congregation gathered to attend his Saga Dawa teaching at the Main Tibetan Temple in Dharamsala, HP, India on June 4, 2023. Photo by Tenzin Choejor

Addressing the audience, His Holiness began, "Today, my Dharma brothers and sisters, we come together to remember the Buddha's attainment of enlightenment."

He emphasized, "The Sages do not cleanse unwholesome deeds with water or remove beings' suffering with their hands. Instead, they liberate beings by teaching the truth of suchness. Motivated by compassion, the Buddha's intention was to guide sentient beings out of suffering. For countless aeons, he aspired to benefit sentient beings and ultimately achieved enlightenment. He taught that suffering arises due to causes and conditions, which are not external factors imposed by a creator god but rather result from sentient beings' unruly minds. Our attachment, anger, and hatred often overwhelm us, leading to actions that create karma and give rise to suffering."

"While phenomena are merely designated and lack inherent existence," he explained, "they appear to exist independently, and we grasp onto this distorted view. To help beings overcome this misconception, the Buddha taught the Four Noble Truths: understanding suffering, eradicating its causes, actualizing cessation, and cultivating the path."

His Holiness further elucidated, "The Buddha taught that suffering manifests at different levels: the suffering of suffering, the suffering of change, and existential suffering. The root causes and conditions of suffering lie within our actions and mental afflictions. Our distorted view, perceiving things as having an objective and independent existence, underlies these afflictions. Contrary to this view, the Buddha taught that all phenomena lack a substantial core or essence and are empty of inherent existence. Understanding this counteracts our afflictions, and the deeper our understanding, the more our afflictions diminish."

Moving on to discuss the 'Eight Verses for Training the Mind', His Holiness highlighted the text's guidance on humility. He emphasized that despite our tendencies towards pride and arrogance, the verses encourage us to consider ourselves inferior to others in the company of others. He reminded the audience that other individuals, just like us, possess faults, but that shouldn't lead to dismissal or disdain. By seeing oneself as lower than others, one cultivates the seeds of greater qualities, ultimately leading to a higher status.

Referring to the verse advising against succumbing to mental afflictions, His Holiness spoke about the examples set by the Buddha and subsequent great masters in overcoming negative emotions.

He noted, "After Buddhism reached Tibet, various traditions emerged, including the Sakya, Nyingma, Kagyu, and the Kadampas following the great Indian master, Atisha. The Kadampa masters were known for their humility. Geshé Langri Thangpa, the author of these 'Eight Verses,' was one of them and was renowned for his compassion towards sentient beings. He wept at their plight and had an unwavering determination to be of help. I personally recite these verses daily."

Expounding on the verses, His Holiness explained, "When negative emotions or mental afflictions arise during any activity or situation, counteract them. If others criticize or harm you, refrain from seeking retaliation and offer them the victory instead."

Regarding the verse advising compassion towards those who commit great wrongs, he expressed his compassion for certain Chinese communist leaders who criticize him and condemn Tibetan culture, explaining that their actions stem from ignorance, short-sightedness, and narrow-mindedness.

The seventh verse, "May I take all their harm and pain secretly upon myself," suggests engaging in the practice of giving and taking quietly within one's heart. The eighth verse concludes with the aspiration to see all things as illusions, gaining freedom from attachment and bondage.

"What is the primary cause of a Buddha?" His Holiness posed the question, answering, "Bodhichitta—the altruistic mind of enlightenment. Based on this mind, the Buddha accumulated merit and wisdom for countless aeons, leading to his enlightenment. We too should make bodhichitta our principal practice."

Sharing his personal experience, he said, "As soon as I wake up each morning, I generate bodhichitta, often moved to tears. Cultivating bodhichitta was the Buddha's key message. The goal is not just to overcome our mental afflictions but to reach enlightenment by following the path."

His Holiness explained that with bodhichitta, one experiences ease, as anger, hatred, and jealousy subside, allowing for relaxation and sound sleep. He encouraged the audience, as faithful followers of Avalokiteshvara, to envision him above their heads, aspiring to develop qualities similar to his and finding peaceful sleep.

While the Buddha expounded teachings on the Four Noble Truths, the Perfection of Wisdom, and the nature of the mind, His Holiness asserted that the essence of all these teachings is the altruistic mind of bodhichitta. If the Buddha were present today, he would advocate for the development of the awakening mind of bodhichitta. His message would emphasize that cultivating bodhichitta is the way to achieve happiness and overcome suffering. His Holiness urged the attendees to contemplate all sentient beings across space and aspire to become a Buddha for their benefit.

Concluding his teachings, His Holiness led the congregation in formally cultivating bodhichitta by reciting the following verse three times:

"I seek refuge until I am enlightened
In the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Supreme Assembly,
Through the collection of merit achieved by giving and other perfections,
May I achieve Buddhahood in order to benefit all sentient beings."

His Holiness commented, "The Buddha, our teacher, possessed Buddha-nature, enabling him to train on the path and attain complete awakening. Likewise, we all possess Buddha-nature and can overcome obstacles through study and practice to attain enlightenment. By steadily cultivating bodhichitta, our lives become meaningful, worthwhile, and filled with ease."

The Chant-master led prayers, including the thanksgiving mandala, prayers to the Dharma protectors, a prayer for the flourishing of the Dharma, and the Prayer of the Words of Truth.

As His Holiness stepped down from the throne, he approached the edge of the platform, leading a threefold recitation of a verse from Jé Tsongkhapa's 'Great Treatise on the Stages to the Path to Enlightenment':

"Wherever the Buddha's teaching has not spread,
And wherever it has spread but has declined,
May I, moved by great compassion, clearly elucidate
This treasury of excellent benefit and happiness for all."

Subsequently, he recited the last two verses of the Prayer of the Words of Truth, expressing aspirations for the fulfillment of Chenrezig's prayers and the quick appearance of their positive results.

With a smile and waves to the audience, His Holiness continued repeating the final verse while making his way from the temple to his residence.
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