Tibetan Buddhism
by His Holiness the Dalai Lama

We are very grateful to His Holiness for finding time to write this article for The Mountain Path amidst his manifold other preoccupations. Many readers will be interested to see in it a categorical statement from the highest authority that there still are valid initiatic paths in Tibetan Buddhism and qualified gurus among the refugee Lamas able to impart guidance on them. (Editor)

According to Tibetan Buddhism, the Lord Gautama Buddha was one of the thousand Buddhas of this fortunate aeon or kalpa. For the realization of perfect Buddhahood he introduced two types of method, one gradual and the other sudden. These differences of method were required to suit the mental aptitudes of different followers; but no matter in how many ways he taught, the purpose was always the same: to enable people to attain the Buddha-state. Similarly there are countless streams and rivers flowing in every direction, but they all flow ultimately into the same ocean. There are valid reasons why Lord Buddha taught various ways of attaining the same goal. He was teaching with full knowledge of the past and future and knew that some had attained such a high state in their previous life that in this life they needed only to call upon the Name of Buddha to attain Buddhahood. He varied his teaching also to suit different people's attitude of mind and to open the minds of those who attached too much importance to ethical codes and doctrinal theory. In some cases also he taught the existence of individuality or form for the benefit of those who shrank back from recognising the truth of Egoless Being.

In an article of this length it is not possible to go into detail about absolute and relative truth; however the basis, the path and the result have to be considered. The basis from which to start is a clear understanding of both relative and absolute truth. The path demands the acquisition of understanding and the accumulation of merit. When understanding and merit or moral worth have been brought to a sufficiently high level the Result is achieved. This is the spiritual and bodily form of a Buddha. The mind, which is the basic material for the attainment of Buddhahood, is as pure as gold. The mind of a Buddha is basically the same as that of any other human being, the only difference being that the mind of a Buddha is purified while that of an ordinary human being is coated with the dirt of sin. It is like two pieces of gold, one polished and shining, the other discoloured and dirty: in fact both alike are gold.

The common starting-point both in Hinayana and Mahayana Buddhism is a feeling of repentance causing and caused by an aversion to wordly matters (samsara), just as we feel aversion to a nest of poisonous snakes or avoid stepping into a fire, or as a person sick from over-eating feels disgust for food. Starting from this aversion, one must observe all the moral laws and proceed with the constant feeling that Buddhahood is not being sought for one's own good but for that of others. Then one must meditate on the Egoless Existence of mind and body and follow the steps of Preparation, Application, Seeing, Practice and finally Fulfilment.

Though one may speak of 'Tibetan Buddhism', it is in fact no other than what Lord Gautama Buddha taught. The translations of his teachings from Sanskrit into Tibetan are most carefully perused and verified before being accepted as authentic and practised. The utmost care is devoted to checking every detail to verify whether such translations of teachings noted and handed down by great Indian pandits really are genuine, whether they have been practised by great Indian Sages with good results, and whether they have been generally accepted by learned Indian and Tibetan sages and saints as being beyond doubt Lord Buddha's true teaching and have been handed down to us without any breach of continuity from the time of Lord Buddha himself. Only after this thorough checking and verification and the removal of all doubt is any teaching accepted and practised.

The way of practising these teachings is also very important. For those who seek to follow them in these later ages, after the death of Lord Buddha, it is essential to find a Lama or Guru capable of taking the place of Lord Buddha and imparting his teaching. The teaching should then be studied and practised in due order under the guidance of one's Lama or Guru. To those who ask whether valid paths are still open under the guidance of Lamas who have escaped from the Chinese it can be answered that there are such paths and there are Lamas capable of imparting guidance on them.

There are many varied paths, both of the Tantra and Sutra type. According to the Sutra school, human minds can be grouped into three different classes: those qualified to attain a state of paradise or beatitude, those qualified to attain Nirvana, and those qualified to attain Buddhahood. These must be studied in due sequence. An ordinary man in his natural state is generally below all three, his thoughts and actions being on too low a level to attain even the state of beatitude or paradise, that is to say to take rebirth in the realms of gods, demi-gods or men. Especially difficult is it to obtain rebirth in the world of men, and particularly in the form of a man endowed with the eighteen necessary mental and physical qualifications for spiritual progress. Rebirth in this human state is most rare, the very material for such an achievement being rare, as also the examples of it. One who has the great good fortune to be reborn as a human being with the eighteen necessary physical and mental qualifications for progress is most precious, powerful and beneficent. Such a person can attain once more the state of beatitude or even advance to Nirvana or Buddhahood. In order to do so, however, he must use his life to good purpose and not waste his precious endowments.

The teaching is most precious and one should put it into practice immediately and not postpone it to a later date, for everything in this world is transitory and nothing lasts. Every living being dies. None has ever escaped death or ever will. In the whole universe there is nowhere one can go to escape from death, Nor can one measure out one's span of life. Rich or poor, mighty or weak, wise or foolish, when the time comes there is no way of escape. Neither medicines nor any other inventions will be able to save one at that time. And no man can say when death will come or what will be the cause of it. One may be healthy in the morning and that same evening be laid upon a sickbed; or one may go to bed feeling quite well and never rise in the morning. Death may call you while you are eating, walking, talking or doing anything at all or even while taking a medicine to cure yourself of sickness. Aged parents may bury their children; in fact such cases are to be seen everywhere and every day. No matter how wealthy you may be or how devoted to your parents, children or relatives, when the time of death comes nothing will help and nothing will go with you except your good and evil deeds. Religion is the only thing that can help at the time of death. Remembering this, one should follow religious teaching and practise it, looking upon every form of worldly enjoyment as a delusion.

When a man dies in his sins without having started to practise his religion it is not just like a flame being put out. It is worse than that, because he will not be able to escape rebirth; and it will not be a favourable rebirth. Man can be reborn either in a state of beatitude or in one of the three undesirable states to which a life of sin leads. These are: hell, the state known in Tibetan as 'Preta' and the animal state. In hell one suffers unquenchable fire and bitter cold, in Preta unappeasable hunger and thirst, and in the animal state from being treated as an animal. The only escape from these undesirable states is by seeking salvation through the Tri-Ratnas - Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. These are a sure refuge because they are above all these sufferings, their means of salvation is perfect and they are indiscriminately compassionate towards all alike. In order to attain salvation and avoid being reborn in any of the three evil states one has to shrink from such a birth and to have absolute faith in the Tri-Ratnas as the sure means of salvation. This faith, however, should be based on reason and understanding; it is not blind faith that Lord Buddha asks for. With the help of enlightened faith, as Lord Buddha taught, one can resist evil and do good.

Something must be said here about actions, their causes and their fruit. There are four points to notice.

In the first place good actions performed for good motives will bear good fruit. Of that there is no doubt, just as one is sure to reap oranges when one sows an orange seed and to reap thorns when one plants thorns.

Secondly, whether one's actions are good or evil the fruit that results from them will be far in excess of them. If one sows a single small orange-seed or the seed of any other fruit tree it will grow into a tree bearing not merely one fruit but many.

Thirdly, we cannot reap what we have not sown, whether good or evil. For instance if a person undergoes a severe wound, or illness but does not die of it, that means that he has not committed any action which should result in death from a wound or illness at that time.

The fourth point is, that one cannot escape from reaping the fruit of one's actions, whether good or ill. In illustration of this there is a story that in the time of Lord Buddha a king by the name of Phakyipo murdered 70,000 persons. Seeing this, Lord Buddha foresaw that he would be burnt to death in this lifetime as part of the fruit of his great crime. When the king heard this he set out to sea in a ship to escape the possibility of being burnt to death. However, the sun's rays, focused through a gem worn by one of his queens kindled a spark in his garments and this burst into flame and burnt him to death. The various kinds of death, good and evil, are grouped under the ten virtuous acts and the ten evil acts; and each of these twenty can be subdivided into various categories.

Those who simply do good and resist evil are still counted among the lower ranks, since the most they can attain is to avoid the three states of suffering and be born in one of the three states of happiness. But these three states are themselves not free from suffering, and beside they carry with them the danger of being reborn in one of the three evil states. One who wishes to go beyond this and escape from the cycle of rebirth altogether must have firm faith in the Tri-Ratnas and practise the three dogmas. Only those who follow this path are counted among the higher ranks.

Having thus attained a high rank, one must conceive compassion for the suffering of all living beings, even though one has oneself escaped these sufferings and won free from the cycle of rebirth. Even here, however, one has still only the feeling of compassion for the sufferings of others and not yet the power to give them salvation. This is achieved only when one has attained the state of Buddhahood. Therefore, with the purpose of attaining Buddhahood for the salvation of every being, one must have faith in Buddha, Dharma and Sangha and conceive the feeling of perfect Spiritual Enlightenment, absolutely and relatively. One must then practise and live as a true and perfectly enlightened person. This is the path for those of the highest rank.

The above is a general summary of the practice of Buddhism.

There is another path, the shortest but very dangerous, quite different from those mentioned above. This is Tantrism. It enables one to attain Buddhahood in a very short period, even in this lifetime. On this path there are only two steps, but only persons of the highest aptitude and understanding can take them. For him who can learn, understand and practise them perfectly Buddhahood is attainable in this very lifetime.

To sum up

Lord Buddha cannot wash away your sins for you.
Lord Buddha cannot separate you from your sins.
Lord Buddha cannot exchange his place with yours.
But Lord Buddha has shown us the true path to salvation.