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Buddhist Path Beyond Borders

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The author with a portrait of His Holiness the Dalai Lama at Tibet House in New Delhi. Image courtesy of the author

India is the motherland of Buddhism and a great source of knowledge and wisdom. In August, I had the honor of teaching a series of lectures on Buddhism in India. I was invited by the Centre for Indology at the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan—an internationally reputed institution dedicated to the promotion of education and culture, founded in 1938 by the Indian politician, writer, and educationist Dr. Kanhaiyalal Maniklal Munshi (1887–1971). My lecture series on Buddhism in Tibet, Mongolia, Russia, and Bulgaria was organized by the dean of the Center of Indology, Prof. Dr. Shashi Bala, with the support of the director of Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan,  Ashok Pradhan.

After arriving, I had the good fortunate to attend a dialogue between Russian and Buddhist scholars on “The Nature of Consciousness” in New Delhi on 5–8 August, presided over by of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. This historical meeting inspired me in many ways. For one, it served as an example of how Buddhism can be applied beyond national and cultural borders. the Dalai Lama often promotes the oneness of humanity as a key that can unlock peace. During the dialogue he stated:

This 21st century should be a century of peace. In order to solve problems, we must use dialogue and consider ourselves as brothers and sisters, all part of humanity. Whether we like it or not we have to live together on this planet. Due to global warming and the global economy, national borders are not that significant anymore. Through education and awareness we have to change the strong feeling of “us” and “them,” which is the basis of violence.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama during the forum “The Nature of Consciousness” in New Delhi. Image courtesy of the author

The Dalai Lama declared his commitment to promote this sense of oneness, founded in a sense of love and concern for the wellbeing of others. He explained that a life based on friendship and trust is a much happier one. There is scientific evidence that suggests that a compassionate mind brings benefits first at the individual level, than at the family, community, national, and eventually the international levels. The most important point here is education, which reveals our potential and brings us closer to the light of knowledge that dispels the darkness of illusion.

Some of the educational initiatives at Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan are organized under the motto “Education for Enlightenment.” I have witnessed the application of this inspiring motto in the work of the eminent scholar Prof. Dr. Shashi Bala, a specialist in Buddhist art and Sanskrit studies. My lecture series started with a lecture on “Buddhism in Tibet, Mongolia, and Russia” at the India International Centre in New Delhi. Founded in 1958, this center is considered one of the country’s premier cultural institutions. Prof. Lokesh Chandra, a prominent scholar on the Vedic period, Buddhism, and the Indian arts, attended the lecture along with an international audience. The following lectures were dedicated to the sacred art of Tibet and Mongolia at the National Museum Institute of History of Art, Conservation and Museology, and lectures about Sanskrit as a sacred language in Tibetan Buddhism, and the Mongolian Buddhist tradition at Jawaharlal Nehru University. The last lecture “The Spread of Tibetan Buddhism in Mongolia, Russia and Bulgaria” was held at Tibet House, in New Delhi. Tibet House was founded in 1965 by His Holiness the Dalai Lama to preserve and disseminate the unique cultural heritage of Tibet and to provide a center for Tibetan and Buddhist studies. During all the lectures, I tried to trace the path of Buddhism beyond national and cultural borders and emphasize the universal message of peace and the development of wisdom and compassion. 

Lecture by the author at Jawaharlal Nehru University. Image courtesy of the author

At the end of my lecture series, I attended teachings on Buddhapalita by the Dalai Lama from 29 August–1 September at Theckchen Choeling Temple, one of the main temples of Namgyal Monastery, the residential monastery of the Dalai Lama in McLeod Ganj. More than 8,000 people gathered to listen to Buddhapalita’s commentary on Nagarjuna’s “Fundamental Wisdom.” On the last day of the teaching, His Holiness performed a ceremony for generating the awakening mind of bodhichitta (Tib: jangchub sempa). This spontaneous wish to attain enlightenment motivated by a great compassion for all sentient beings is traditionally accompanied by an absolving of the attachment to the idea of an inherently existing self (Skt: atman, Tib: dag). He noted that bodhichitta must be complemented by understanding emptiness (Skt: shunyata, Tib: tong pa nyi) and that it is important to develop both bodhichitta and emptiness within ourselves.

The Buddhist path gives us ways to go beyond the borders of our mind: it is a science of the mind, and of the transformation of the mind. In India, there are many methods to transform the mind—not only in many different religious schools, traditions, and practices, but also holy places where the environment has a strong impact on the mind and perception. There are numerous holy places in Himachal Pradesh, a region known for its natural environment, hill stations, and temples—both Buddhist and Hindu. I was able to visit some of them, including temples in Dharamsala and its suburbs McLeod Ganj, Bhagsunath, Dharamkot, and also made a pilgrimage to the holy place of Tso Pema (the Lotus Lake) in Rewalsar, where Padmasambhava, the second Buddha for Tibetan Buddhists, transformed a funeral pyre into a lake, after the king of the ancient Buddhist kingdom Zahor attempted to burn him and his consort, the Indian princess Mandarava, alive.

Himalayan peaks on the way to Galu Devi temple in Dharamkot, Himachal Pradesh. Image courtesy of the author

The Buddhist path, as the Dalai Lama noted during Buddhapalita’s commentary to “Fundamental Wisdom,” is a path to find the causes and conditions for happiness and to dispel any disturbing emotions. There are many ways to go, many destinations to reach, and one possible road is the path of love—the love beyond borders. During the first day of his teachings in Dharamsala, His Holiness transmitted a touching message: “God is infinite love. Feel close to God and make your life compassionate.”

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