Opening Remarks

Slightly edited transcript of His Holiness’ inaugural speech, 21 November 2010, New Delhi. Mind and Life XXIII

Brothers and sisters,

As the previous speakers already mentioned, I want to tell you that, originally, from my own curiosity, I wanted to start a dialog with scientists. Since my childhood I have been interested in modern science. In 54-55, when I was in Beijing with Chairman Mao, he told me:

“Your way of thinking is very scientific.”

About 40 years ago, when I was beginning to think seriously to have a discussion with scientists, one of my American friends, a Buddhist lady, told me:

“Be careful, science is the killer of religion, so you should be very careful.”

So I thought “Hmmm… In Eastern tradition, Indian tradition, and in the Indian Buddhist tradition, particularly that of Nalanda University, all the great philosophers, Buddhist masters, such as Nagarjuna, Aryadeva, Dignaga, Bhavaviveka and Chandrakirti placed the emphasis upon investigation. They were like “professors” at Nalanda. According the Buddha’s own recommendations, they investigated the words of the Buddha to see what was acceptable and what was not. The ultimate criteria was thus that that of reasoning.

In the beginning of many classical Indian texts one finds four points are mentioned: what is the purpose for composing the text; what is the subject matter; what are the ultimate goal and benefit of the text; and what are the relationships between the three first points. So once you understand the intent of the composer in composing the text, thereafter you find the reason for it and at last the goal. Of course, there can be short term and long-term benefit. One shouldn’t just focus on the short term but rather on the long term. This is understood through investigation. Through one’s study and investigation, one strives to achieve the ultimate goal. One needs to understand with a full awareness the means to achieve this.

This means that the great Indian masters did not accept at face value the word of the Buddha: they used reasoning and investigation to examine the content of the text. The basis of this process is a quote of the Buddha: “A follower of mine should not accept my teaching out of faith or devotion but rather out of investigation on the subject matter, seeing its meaning and then reproducing it into practice. So it is very scientific, skeptical and open minded.

Once you have found the real nature of something, the next step is to think about the benefit of such finding. Therefore I thought that the scientists’ process of investigation was similar to the Eastern investigative approach. So, I thought, “there is not much danger with science (laughter).” These professors from Nalanda were like scientists. Initially, the dialog happened between myself, my interpreter Thubten Jinpa, and a few friends.

I remember one occasion, in Newport Beach, in California, there was a lady, a world known philosopher of science who, when we began the meeting felt that that there would be no basis for Buddhists and scientists to talk. She thought the meeting would be useless or boring, and she showed that in her expressions. But as we started having a discussion, she said to me:

“Your Buddhist tradition is something quite strange; there is no god, no creator, and no idea of permanence.”

Of course Buddhists adopt the view of anatman, [the lack of existence of a self-entity]. Then she really showed interest and during our tea breaks, she would ask me lots of questions. So at the beginning, I was mostly motivated by curiosity.

At the beginning of the Mind and Life meetings, when I suggested to our monastic institutions in India that it would be worthwhile to learn about modern science, they were not very receptive, particularly the older generation of scholars. So I had to give them more explanations. After a number of years quite a few students have become interested and take part on the “Science for Monks Program” with, in particular, the cooperation of Emory University. Now we have lots of scientific manuals translated into Tibetan, which are distributed in our monastic institutions.

In the monastic universities we study ancient non-Buddhist thought, mainly Hindu. But I have always told these senior monks: “When we were in Tibet, and you studied those texts, you didn’t interact directly with non Buddhist philosophers, you only learned there ancients texts and wrote some refutations of those texts. But now we are in India, so there are living representative of those traditions, who have studied fully and practice them. You should go and receive teachings from these individuals. Instead of studying some philosophies that is now more or less dead, it is very important to learn living traditions, Christianity, Islam, modern philosophy, as well as the works of ancient Western philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle.

Over the past thirty years more and more scientists have been showing genuine interest in the Buddhist views of the mind and of its relation to the body. As a result some scientific institutions, in America and in Europe, have undertaken some research.

This collaboration has two purposes: First, simply to expand our knowledge, not only about matter, particles and molecules but also about the mind.

Sometimes I tell my scientist friends: “You have been only investigating what is detectable in the external world. Now you are beginning to investigate as well the internal mental life.”

So the first purpose is to expand our common knowledge. The second should be to bring more happiness to human beings and to protect the environment.

Some times, the scientific findings have been used for destruction, for building weapons. These really beautiful scientific investigations, which are the fountain of knowledge, become used for destruction. In such cases, scientific knowledge and intelligence lead to disasters. Some people are intellectually brilliant but nevertheless suffer from a lot of anxiety and might end up having nervous breakdowns. Therefore to use our intelligence become fully constructive, we need to increaser our human awareness, to educate the heart and develop a sense of responsibility, a sense of the concern for the well being of others. Do you understand?

Religious traditions have been teaching these human values since thousand years but the majority of people are not really influenced by them. I am a Buddhist so and naturally consider the Buddha as the embodiment of wisdom and compassion. In spite of this, the Buddha was unable to inspire everyone. So even though he Buddha came to India, he was unable to make the whole of India a peaceful place.

In regard to other traditions, for example Jain tradition, they tried to influence the human race to become more compassionate and peaceful, but also failed. During the past thousand years, millions of people have benefitted from these traditions, but religion alone is not enough, that is a fact. This is why, I have been promoting the notion of “secular ethics,” in order to be able to cultivate basic human values, independently of religious beliefs.

India for instance, is a very good example of a secular country, which, according to its constitution, is not against religions, but is not associated to any particular religion. More open-heartedness gives you endless benefits, including for your own health. There is not need to focus too much on next life. You can to see the immediate benefit of a warm heart, which will give you better health, make you more peaceful, compassionate and joyful. The fundamental source of all these benefits is compassion. So this remarkable intelligence we have must be not be used only for material development.

In India, for the past several thousands years, there has been a lot of investigation regarding all the traditions that involve samadhi (concentration), vipassana (deeper insight) and other techniques. Naturally there have provided a lot of explanation about the mind and its functions. So there is a lot of material there within these traditions and many people worldwide study them. Since science and technology can lead to some dangerous application, so now in order to check these, one must balance them with another force, which should also be based on secular ethics. That’s my view.

So now, for the first time, we are meeting here in India, contemplatives and scientists together, and I am extremely happy.

I always say that for we, Buddhists, India is our Guru. We are the disciples, the “chela.” Sometimes I add that we are quite a good and reliable “chelas.” So sometimes I say this to Indians, half jokingly, half seriously, that since we have such a Guru disciple relationship, when the “chela” faces some problems the Guru also has some responsibilities to help the “chela.”

All of our knowledge comes from this country, so I consider myself a messenger of ancient Indian thought, and I try to make some contribution here and there during my travels around the world. Of course sometimes it is difficult to communicate, but however, wherever I go, I always talk about love compassion, these values that I consider important and that can be developed. Now my master, my Guru, my Boss if you want, India, should take a more active role in the promotion of religious harmony and non-violence, all values that are related to warm-heartedness. I really hope for this to happen. In such meeting in India, when you speak about your wish for all of us to continue to see one another, on my side, as a disciple, whatever the guru wants, that’s my duty to do it, or to serve you. So as long as my body remains active, maybe ten for years—I’ll be 85 then—I can do that. Yesterday there was a yogi here, Iyengar, who is 93. I don’t know whether I can remain as active as him when I come to 93, but as long as I can do something, I am at your disposal.