As just one of 5,000 participants filling the Melbourne Exhibition and Convention Centre for the three day event watched online by another 30,000 people, I gained an appreciation of the great influence this son of humble parents and refugee from his native land now exerts throughout the world. As the crisp winter sunlight poured through huge glass windows to warm the bustling market area inside, the sense of anticipation grew. Maroon robed Tibetan monks set about creating a brilliantly coloured sand mandala and stall holders offering books, beautiful photos and gifts engaged visitors with gentle conversation and genuine enthusiasm. Finally, the moment came for us to file into the timber lined Plenary Hall for a moment of meditation in preparation for His Holiness's arrival.
I think we all sensed that with a growing shift of consciousness throughout the world and increasing concern at the future we all face, to be in the presence of His Holiness as he discussed a centuries' old text in such detail was the learning opportunity of a lifetime.
There is an overwhelming love that radiates from the Dalai Lama that anyone who has experienced his presence would recognise immediately and would likely find difficult to describe. I sense it's a combination of love, compassion, acceptance, honour, calm and even some intrigue. Gradually shuffling to his seat as we all stand in admiration and respect, His Holiness looks upon us and starts to giggle. As we respond with a wave of gentle laughter, he takes his seat and begins to chant gutturally with the monks, gently rocking back and forth with his hands grasped in prayer.
Before beginning the teachings on the six perfections, we're told emphatically that the importance of practising any perfection is the motivation behind the action. His Holiness begins our three days of intensive philosophical learning by stressing the vital importance of achieving inner peace. He explains that inner peace shapes a sensible and good person who will not cause harm to others, bringing with it a stronger vision for the future and purpose to attain it. He assures us that the attainment of inner peace is not a selfish pursuit and, in fact, without it we and others will only suffer further.
Love, compassion, forgiveness and tolerance all stem from attaining inner peace, while hate, envy, jealousy and greed are self centred attributes. Practising and increasing affection, compassion and faith in complete submission will create inner peace, reminding us that if our path is to serve humanity, we must begin with ourself, then our family, our community, then the world. Each and every person's goal should be to pursue altruism, the Dalai Lama teaches us, as with altruism, happiness will follow.
Tibetan Buddhism has a far reaching audience and appeal, crossing the boundaries of religion, philosophy and science. It places no limitations on those of differing religions who want to learn more; it encourages scientific discovery, which has blossomed in recent years with the advance of understanding of neuroplasticity and contemplative meditation, and relishes philosophical questioning and discussion.
Our introduction to the six perfections, under the guiding hand of the Dalai Lama, begins with the end goal, the perfection of wisdom. Wisdom helps us to understand ultimate reality. It challenges us with the law of causality, that suffering is essentially of our own creation and we become enveloped in our ignorance of the ultimate reality - a difficult concept for many of us to grasp. With wisdom we analyse, we question, we ponder to gain a deeper understanding of our inner and outer worlds.
Suffering comes from its own causes and, according to Tibetan Buddhist thought, can't be overcome through prayer alone; it is only with questioning and exploration that the root of suffering can be found and dispelled. Once wisdom is achieved, with altruism it becomes easy to overcome obstacles. Wisdom's three forms, following the model of Shantideva's text, teach about recognising science, realising phenomena, and the wisdom to know how to help others. Wisdom dispels obstructions to learning how to apply all other perfections.
Generosity can be achieved first, by giving of our possessions, second, by offering our protection, third, by offering our thoughts to others and, finally, by offering the Dharma to those who request it. By volunteering and tending to the needs of others we gain inner strength, our lives become courageous and have meaning and purpose. Jealousy, competitiveness and envy naturally decline. With the passage of understanding and the practice of altruism, your opinions begin to change. And as the Dalai Lama confides, a profoundly greater understanding of altruism came to him at the age of thirty two.
Ethics pertain to keeping one's Bodhichitta vows, which His Holiness offered to administer to those in the audience who felt ready to undertake them. The Dalai Lama repeats his vows every morning to concentrate his desire to work for all sentient beings, to refrain from negative thoughts and actions and to continue to grow with motivation for helping others.
Throughout the three day teachings, the Dalai Lama continues to remind us of his own humanity, his own vulnerability to make mistakes, to get angry, to be human: "We are not unalike," he offers, "We all have potential." The essence of Buddha Dharma is to refrain from harming others, to serve others and, most importantly, to do so with the right motivation; to carry out our deeds with full enthusiasm, compassionate motivation, non violence, and to pursue this with a general sense of concern for the wellbeing for one another.
Patience incorporates the patience to learn, to not become overwhelmed with anger or suffering, the ability to accept hardship and problems, and to remain undisturbed by harm inflicted upon us. Having to deal with difficult situations or difficult people provides us with the opportunity to practise this perfection. Our enemies provide us with the opportunity to practise altruism and act as teachers to increase our inner strength. Even if our inner anger tries to defend itself, remember that it is of the self grasping and self centred mind.
Perseverance is what is needed to be able to practise generosity, ethics and patience. With persistent effort and enthusiasm, this perfection helps us in our efforts to work for others, in our efforts to pursue the other perfections and to pursue virtuosity. Perseverance also applies to being focused, to putting our efforts into a particular aspect and to succeeding.
It teaches us not to spread our efforts across too many things so that we don't succeed in any of them, fluttering to and forth with no aim. Our practice and deeds should be well planned, with focus, purpose and aim. Our motivation and meaning is of paramount importance - it is not the words we speak, but our intention. His Holiness points to the importance of bringing conviction to our intentions and to act, not to "story tell".
Concentration applies to our meditative practice and contemplation, giving us the mental stability to stay in a place of calm. Concentration may be achieved through either analytical or meditative concentration. His Holiness spent time addressing the audience on the best way to achieve a meditative state to channel all the energy of the mind.
Our mental experience is totally reliant on our sensory experience. To enhance this he encourages practitioners to awake early after a restful and adequate night's sleep. Begin your meditation by sitting with a straight spine, cross legged, with your head gently tilted down. Place your right hand facing upward on top of the left, your two thumbs touching at the height of your navel. Elbows should be comfortable with space between the arms and body, the tip of your tongue resting gently on your upper palate and lips rested. With eyes slightly open and caste downward, visualise an image. Be alert but not agitated, calm but not sleepy. Mindful and alert, aim to be free from mental distraction. Begin by practising breathing in suffering and exhaling love for 20 breaths to calm your inner self and grow your meditative practice over time.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama tells us that, through practice, we can transform our emotions; whether it begins with one moment or one day, we can transform our lives into something meaningful and purposeful and become a Bodhisattva with a pure and altruistic mind. Regardless of external pressures, nothing can change your mental position. The Dalai Lama tells us that he believes, "In this century, maybe not my lifetime, the world will be much more peaceful, much better, so let us try."
Interested in the Bodhichitta Vow? See "Jewel of the Mind" in our Articles archive September 2010 Wonder - http://bit.ly/9JvGkc