|Choosing a Live
by Renuka Singh
|Director of Tushita Mahayana Meditation Center in Delhi, India, Renuka Singh, talked to His Holiness the Dalai Lama for her book Women Reborn, published by Penguin India last year. (Reproduced with permission.)|
|I met him ten years ago, but each time I
meet my teacher the freshness and fullness of his whole being touch my
heart directly. His simplicity, humility, childlike innocence, serenity,
joyousness, and scholarship are equally captivating. A stage comes when
the boundaries between the master and the pupil disappear, and they
experience a deep and momentous spiritual union. This is exactly what I
felt when I went to Dharamsala to interview His Holiness the Dalai Lama
for my book.
Can you give me some details about the difficulties you faced in your spiritual struggle?
(Long silence) Actually I do not know how to say this. You see, according to Buddhist practice, basically there are three stages or steps. The first step or the initial stage is to reduce attachment towards life. The second stage is the elimination of desire and attachment to this samsara. Then in the third stage, there is the elimination of self-cherishing. During the 1960s, as a result of some sort of rigorous practice or analytical meditation about the negativeness of samsara and attachment to samsara, I felt there was a possibility of cessation, that is, nirvana. Of course, theoretically I got some sort of feeling and I think, the desire to achieve nirvana was quite properly developed.
However, at that time, I found it very difficult to practice infinite altruism, and altruism seemed to me a beautiful ideal. Then, around 1967 I received Shantideva's teaching and went for further training and meditation. By the mid-1970s, somehow I was completely changed. Thus, I did not find it difficult to cultivate infinite altruism, which was a basic experience for me.
Further, at least intellectually, I got some understanding of shunyata, and that was a great help to realize the possibility of cessation. Although not true realization, that kind of feeling led me to develop the determination to achieve nirvana. Now, since the mid-70s, I feel that the only problem is the shortage of time and my position. Otherwise, if I have the opportunity to go to a remote area, then I almost have the confidence that I can develop these practices. At the moment, however, I have no real experience.
Now, in the case of desire and regarding my control of anger, sometimes it is still difficult. Whereas, right from my childhood I had no difficulty in eliminating or weakening ill feeling. Desire as attachment to good things, and fame, is not strong either. Then comes desire as sexuality. The path of practicing celibacy is followed in order to achieve the cessation. The main obstacle or the main factor which holds samsara is desire or attachment. There are different kinds of attachment: attachment towards life, attachment towards oneself, and the sexual attachment. Attachment to food involves taste, smell and sight. In the case of sexuality the combination is more complex – that is, of beauty, appearance, smelling, also kissing and then finally the touch.
The scriptures usually say that sexuality is the strongest or worst kind of desire or attachment. Therefore, in order to reduce attachment, it is useful to be celibate. Thus, from the Buddhist perspective, spiritual practice means reducing attachment to this life and samsara.
For the layman or the Upasikava, it is not necessary to control sexual desire, but at the same time you can purify your mind, and eventually achieve nirvana without becoming a monk.
For whom is it more difficult?
I think it depends on the circumstances. Much depends on the individual. In some cases, suppose that in those practitioners who are actually well-equipped to practice MahaAnnutara Yoga Tantrayana, strong sexual desire exists along with a high intellectual potential. They first try to understand emptiness. Then, with the help of the realization of emptiness, sexual desire is transformed into extra energy which leads our mind into deeper clarity. In some other individual cases, neither is there strong sexual desire nor are they able to transform the desire. Thus, in such cases, according to different circumstances, different Tantrayana systems exist.
Why have you mentioned that one should practice Hinayana externally, Mahayana internally, and Tantrayana secretly?
Many scriptures say that being secret does not mean doing wrong things and keeping quiet. Here, tantric teachings are called the secret doctrine, and there are some reasons for it. Vinaya, which is external, can clearly be seen from the outside, whereas Mahayana Bodhicitta cannot be seen outwardly. It is a mental attitude which is called the inner worldly practice of Mahayana. Then, in the secret doctrine of Tantrayana, you have to visualize a deity with his/her consort. A monk is very much concerned about conserving and controlling one's energy, but through visualization with a consort, you have to think about some sort of sexual activities and the energy comes and goes back. This is what we have to practice and do.
Do you undertake any exercises during deep sleep and in your dream state?
Occasionally I need some effort, but not regularly. Sometimes I do realize it is a dream state and I want to control it.
How do you conduct an exercise in pure consnousness? If neither language nor everyday experience can really communicate the experience of pure mind, how do you establish its validity?
Unless you have some experience as a result of intense meditation for a month or so, you cannot know. Once, in Ladakh, I stayed in retreat for 40 days. There, slowly my inner stillness increased. I thought that kind of experience was valuable when half my mind was watching the other half of the mind and knew whether it was still or whether it was about to run in any direction. So, that time, I developed the confidence that if given a chance to practice continuously, I can achieve a certain state of mind.
What sort of psychological change or transformation took place in you when you took the Kalachakra initiation?
When I received the first Kalachakra initiation from my tutor in the Potala, it was not a special one. In the end, I was made to go around the Mandala by my guru, make prostrations and then afterwards, the teacher offers his student to the deity. At that moment, my tutor Ling Rinpoche was very moved when he offered me to the deity. He lost his voice. I felt it was a special experience.
Besides being unhappy, how did separation from your family, especially your mother, affect your personality? How do you handle sadness in your life?
When I was small, I do not know. When I grew up, I do not know. But at the same time, when as a child I was separated from my mother, the feeling came up. Later on, during one summer festival in Norbulinkga, my mother came to stay with me, was close to me. (She used to come every ear.) After the festival she used to leave her residence in Lhasa. That particular day when she was leaving, I felt very uncomfortable and very sad. Perhaps, there were some other reasons also. It was a complete holiday for five days – drama, parades, band, etc. It was a very happy moment. After it was over I felt very sad. Everything put together probably produced that sadness (laughs).
Then, you know, later on when my mother actually passed away, and my senior tutor and also my guardian, a person who served me as a father-mother – when these three persons passed away, I was most sad.
Of course, in the Buddhist practice it is part of nature. Birth and death are there whether you like it or not. In all the three cases they were in their eighties – quite old, and had lived for a sufficient time. However, when my tutor and mother passed away, I had a heavier responsibility. Earlier I could rely on my tutor, and now it means more responsibility for me. I realized that giving in to sadness or worry would not help, because death is natural. Other teachings and practices related to suffering from the Buddhist point of view also helped me.
Then, perhaps, it seems I usually make some distinction between the emotional and intellectual levels. At the emotional level, I always take it lightly or take it easy even when some serious thing happens. So there is no emotional shock or sadness. But then as time passes, on the intellectual level I begin to worry and feel uncomfortable. After two or three weeks my thinking increases my worry.
In the early 1960s, one good practitioner was suddenly missing. After a few days we noticed that he had hanged himself. Later I understood the reason. A few days before that we had a discussion about the practice. I had told him about some of the Maha-Annutara Yoga Tantra practices and said that this body is an important factor. When you are young, physical energy is growing. So, if the practice starts early, it is very effective. After the age of 50, physical energy starts declining and therefore the practice becomes difficult. It seems that I mentioned this and he felt discouraged. He had a firm determination to be reborn in a new life and carry on with the practice. So, if he was reborn quickly, now he must be around there. There is still some possibility of receiving some teaching from me. I did not realize his calculation. He also left a note.
At that time, people around him respected him very much, and they were in deep shock. I was the only person then who said that it does matter, it is all right, and was consoling everybody. After a few weeks, however, I became very uncomfortable.
Something happened at the emotional level, I felt. One way to reduce sadness is not to take things seriously at an emotional level.
Further, there is no room to argue with oneself at the emotional level. Such argument is disturbing. Emotion is like stubbornness. At an intellectual level, however, you can recognize negative things and can reason through it. Ah, this is bad but there are some good points too. At an emotional level there is no such reasoning. So, maybe that is my technique.
Now let us take, for example, desire and attachment. At an
emotional-level, there is blind desire and attachment: I want this and I
want that. When you are reasoning at an intellectual level, you
understand. At an emotional level you also have the power to reason, but
you remain stubborn. Intellectually, yes, I want sexual desire. Everyone
is very happy about it, everyone is very excited about it (laughs). And
poor monk, he has no such glorious opportunity (laughs heartily). So, then
you judge what course is best, and remain a simple monk for the rest of
your life and develop a mental state of calmness. Of course, after a few
weeks, life without attachment looks less colorful, but it is very steady
and stable. After 20, 30, 40, or 50 years, that fact of life is conducive
for health and happiness.
By Renuka Singh
Tushita's much-awaited XII Dharma Celebration – meant to happen in January – was held on November 16 at Sir Shankarlal Hall, Modern School, New Delhi. Preparation for such a function starts six months in advance. The talk on Path for Spiritual Practice was to begin at 4:00 p.m. and finish at 6:00 p.m. and people had been asked to be in their seats by 3:45 p.m. To our surprise, His Holiness arrived at 3.40 p.m. but he agreed very graciously to wait in the wings.
At 3:45 p.m., His Holiness appeared on the stage and already the hall was jam-packed. According to various estimates, over 3,000 people thronged the hall, and once the lecture began the security officers turned many people away.
Each time you meet His Holiness the freshness and fullness of his whole being touches your heart directly. The divine ambience of that evening – His Holiness surrounded by big bouquets and tangkas in the back drop – has left an indelible mark on the minds of innumerable people.
"His Holiness was so full of energy." "His Holiness was very joyous and happy." "His Holiness was emitting light." "His Holiness poured so much love and compassion during the teaching." "There was a very warm feeling of intimacy and we established a direct connection with His Holiness."
Listening to the Dalai Lama is like climbing a mountain to look ahead. He presented the essence of Dharma: renunciation, bodhicitta, and the wisdom of emptiness that effectively liberates all beings, constituted the path for spiritual practice.
Urging people to accept religious pluralism, His Holiness said, "While at the individual level one religion and one truth may be all important, at the community level there will be several religions and several truths. Religious pluralism is extremely relevant."
Holding compassion and concern for others as the essence of spirituality, His Holiness said that it was imperative to utilize our intelligence and very existence for constructive purposes. He repeatedly stressed co-existence and a sense of interconnectedness as the path to salvation in a world where borders and barriers now had little meaning.
The discourse was pitched at two levels. The first part was for beginners whereas the second part was a masterly exposition of Buddhist philosophy (with the help of his translator Thupten Jinpa, who flew back to London the same evening.)
A special indebtedness to the Indian pandits, particularly Nagarjuna and Arya Asanga was the highlight of his talk. For us, this teaching was a great blessing, like a shower of nectar, as His Holiness stayed on till 6:15 p.m. And finally, the question-answer session ended on a lighter note.
His Holiness – the embodiment of the Buddha of Compassion to Tibetan Buddhists – indicated that he was as human as anyone else. When asked what made him most happy, he quipped cherubically: "Good sleep and good food."
We got excellent media coverage in the daily newspapers. Unfortunately, Lama Zopa Rinpoche could not make it to our function but his message to us is still resounding in our ears:
"On this very important occasion not only will we have the opportunity to see all the Buddhas' compassion but we see Avalokiteshvara in the dynamic human form of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, a form that allows us to communicate directly. Also, we will receive blessings by hearing his holy speech.
"There is no question that this opportunity is an incredible miracle, like a dream, because it will definitely lead us to the end of samsara. It not only will bring about the elimination of all the dukkhas, the sufferings of samsara, but it also includes the elimination of the cause, which resides in our own minds, the delusions and karma. Even just seeing his holy body has the effect of liberating one from dukkha, planting the seed of liberation from samsara and the seed of full enlightenment. It is an unforgettable memory in this life."