Thanks to a new Snow Lion Publications translation, The Great Treatise is now available to people like me: the more I learn, the more I realize I Do Not Know. Sometimes I am comfortable in this place, sometimes I am not. At any rate, there's where I find myself!
We were lucky to attend 2 of the 6 days at Lehigh University where His Holiness the Dalai Lama gave a lecture on The Great Treatise. Our first day was spent at the very top of the bleachers, listening first to Ven.Thubten Chodron of Sravasti Abbey, and to Dr. Robert Thurman: they gave an overview of Tibetan Buddhism, and of Je Tsong-kha-pa in particular.
They are both wonderful speakers: clear, relaxed, entertaining. Tubten Chodron, in particular, struck many chords for me, especially when she talked about wishing she could pay someone to sleep for her, since there were not enough hours in the day to accomplish all she set out to do!
In the afternoon, the Dalai Lama opened the lecture series with sutra chanting and prayers. There were several Vietnamese Buddhist nuns who chanted in unison, making the hairs on the back of my neck stand up--the sound was unearthly.
Beginning his lecture, the Dalai Lama spoke generally about Emptiness, and how important it is to study and completely understand the Buddhist concept of Emptiness before tackling any other concepts. He spoke also about fully understanding the process and meaning of taking Refuge in the Triple Gems, that the concept of Buddha, Dharma, Sangha exists on many levels, and that the way to fully understand it is to look at it from several different vantage points. In fact, if we want to understand anything fully, he urged us to use this method of discovery--it reminded me of how a sand mandala is initially viewed as one dimensional, but in meditation, imagined in expanded, three dimensional glory.
On the second day of the lecture, going from the ordinary to the sublime, we were gifted with 2 tickets in the first row. We sat so close to the Dalai Lama we could see those deep wrinkles of thought in his forehead as he lectured, mostly in Tibetan, and waited as his translator went through the discourse. The relationship between the Dalai Lama and his translator is remarkable to witness--sometimes it seemed as if they were one giant energy mass circling one another.
Also up on stage, chosen Tibetan monks and Abbots, scholars and nuns sat around the dias. Behind everyone hung an enormous shimmering thangka of Maitreya--at times, streamers on the side of the thangka seemed to breath like giant lungs, and all the primary colors associated with Tibetan Buddhism were a feast for the eyes.
But once the lecture was under way, it took all of my powers of concentration to keep up. In fact, there were many times when I simply did not understand. I could feel my little brain sizzling. Then there were times when the Dalai Lama said something so practical and simple, I had to say YEAH! to myself. I could understand, and even equate his words to my own experience. Then suddenly, I was lost again, wondering where I had dropped the thread. So the day was a mix of clear & cloudy. When it came down to it, I understood that no point, no concept, has one entry for perception and understanding--it must be circled to be seen clearly, without obscurity, without condition, without ignorance.
And how do we do that?
We live life as our practice, each moment an opportunity for practice, open mind, open heart, and then going beyond all teaching. And in order to do that, the concept of Emptiness needs to be fully understood. This is what I understand as the starting point.
I felt lucky to be there. Beyond the pomp and the amazing fact of the Dalai Lama's existence as the embodiment of Avaloketeshvara, which seemed so evident to me, he is also a dear, simple, 73 year old man who needed help coming off the stage and smiled impishly to the crowd, hands in Gassho. He is both Bodhisattva and Sentient Being, and I love him for it.