Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche: Importance of Buddha’s speech
Transcript of Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche’s speech from “An Evening of Appreciation & Awareness: Buddhist Literary Heritage Project”, held on 20 March 2010 at Tai Pei Buddhist Center, Singapore
I’ve been talking a lot, so this is going to be brief.
I heard that Singapore has something to do with the lion, is it? Lion city. Well, I’ll take this as something very auspicious, because as Jing Rui mentioned, this is actually the first-ever exposure of BLHP.
This is the first introduction or exposure after forming the organisation, and since Buddha, especially his speech, is always symbolised by the lion’s roar, I hope and pray that our project will take off from here onwards and really flourish and become beneficial.
Jing Rui has already mentioned a lot of the necessary background and information. When the conference decided to ask me to be the interim caretaker, and when I had to accept the post, I have to say that in my own monasteries and institutes that I run in Tibet, in Bhutan, and also in India, there were some people who were genuinely worried, because we have so many things to do, and they think that the BLHP project might hijack all the rest. It’s very understandable that they think this way.
But as a follower of the Buddha—myself, my friends, and probably you also—we do care about our own particular small nest. We do care about our gurus, and our lineage, but it’s very strange that somehow we forget the real boss, the Buddha. It’s very interesting that we go through this. Actually, I realise this more, because recently, after my retreat, I went to Sri Lanka to pay homage to the Buddha’s relics and the original bodhi tree. Growing up in places like Bhutan, you see temples and all the tantric deities, shrines, mandalas, prayer flags, and gurus. Of course we call ourselves Buddhists, but when I was in Sri Lanka, suddenly something struck me. Actually I’m a Buddhist, I’m a follower of the Buddha, and yet somehow, unconsciously or consciously, we have forgotten the Buddha. There in Sri Lanka, it is so wonderful, where every time you go to see Buddhist sites, the first thing they take you to is a bodhi tree, and then to a stupa, and only then, only after that, they take you to a temple.
So suddenly I realise, “Yes, of course, I’m a follower of the Buddha.” What I’m trying to say is that, in the midst of trying to follow our own teacher, our own lineage—Mahayana, Theravada, Tantrayana—well, in Tibet there are even more complications between this school, that school. In the midst all of this, we tend to forget that we are actually followers of the Buddha. We have at least the responsibility to appreciate what Gautama Buddha has taught us and what kind of path he has laid for us.
Let me talk about the Buddha.
I’m sorry. I can’t help it—there’s always a preaching element whenever I talk about things. When we talk about Buddha, we always think about a guy, a human being, don’t we? I mean, that’s understandable, because after all, it is a name given to a person, an Indian, a prince.
But, on a more profound level, actually Buddha is not to be understood as just a form. If you want a category, at least Buddha should be understood as a form, as speech, as mind—thoughts, compassion, and all that, and as the quality of the Buddha. Quality of the Buddha is basically Buddha, and the activity of the Buddha is also Buddha. So these five are actually what makes the Buddha, even though in our head Buddha is always someone who has two eyes, one head, begging bowl, one who taught us, so on and so forth. The Buddha is basically the form or body, the speech, the mind, the quality, and the activity. That is so important for us to know.
Buddha himself stated that one should never rely upon a person, ultimately. Ultimately one should rely on what this person has to say. So if you ask the Buddha which one is more important—the Buddha’s form, speech, mind, quality, or activity—I think it is the Buddha’s speech. Because even from a very mundane point of view, if you think of Shakyamuni Buddha as a form, that he has come and gone, and that it’s been almost 2,500 years, we can’t really see him.
The mind of the Buddha is beyond our reach. The speech of the Buddha, what he taught, is actually readable. It’s tangible, it is something that is within our reach, if you have the diligence, if you have the motivation. It is something that is actually alive, so to speak.
I may sound contradictory here. Although the Buddha’s body, speech, mind, quality, and activity are inseparable, in the relative world, the speech of the Buddha is something that, even today, we can appreciate.
It’s very funny, though. Forget about actually bumping into a Buddha somewhere, if you have a Buddha in your dream, how happy you will get. “Wow, last night I had a dream of the Buddha.” Maybe not even a Buddha that is actually walking and with blinking eyes, but a Buddha statue. If you dream of that, you get excited. I don’t agree that the speech of the Buddha is within our reach. According to the Buddha, it’s even more important than the Buddha’s presence. And this is something that we forget.
What I would say is, we vaguely know that the teaching of the Buddha is really the most important. There are all the reasons why the Buddhadharma will decline. From a certain point of view, it could have disappeared a long time ago. It has to be the blessing and infinite merit of the Buddha that, for some amazing reason, the aspiration, interest, curiosity, and enthusiasm for the Buddhadharma are actually growing. It’s growing in many different corners of the world, where we would never even think of in the past. Not only is there genuine interest in the Buddhadharma, there are actually a lot of people from all sorts of places where there is genuine diligence, where people give up everything to contemplate and practice. So when you see these things, even though we call our age the degenerate age, in one way, it is very encouraging. Buddhadharma, from one angle, is growing. It is really encouraging. When we were having the conference, there were many university professors and intellectuals. Even in the intellectual world of this modern era, Buddhism is actually becoming respected and revered as a path that believes in reasoning, and that is so encouraging.
But, as Jing Rui mentioned, sadly, we have not really managed to translate the words of the Buddha. I have to admit, we Tibetan lamas have been busy translating our own gurus’ long life prayers, small slogans here and there, and probably we have translated some commentaries written by the Tibetan scholars, but not by the Indian masters. Not so much. You can almost say, nonexistence. It’s that little. We have really not managed to put in that effort. I think there are many reasons. Lack of resources, and also, sutra is difficult and profound and vast, and the sheer amount of pages. How much was it? 70,000 Tibetan pages. I think in English it would be times two, like 140,000 pages we are talking about.
But yet I think it is so important. Maybe this is a weak example. If you’re doing business, if you’re really trying to build your business, and you’re struggling, how would you feel if your friend introduced you to a connection that really could make a difference in your business? You would be overjoyed. Connection, that is so important.
Although this is difficult to say, for the Chinese, Burmese, Thai, probably Laotian and Cambodian, and also for the Tibetans, we can say that we do have the text translated in our own languages, even though as Jing Rui rightfully mentioned, you can ask my fellow Bhutanese citizens here, most of these Bhutanese can’t really open a Kangyur and read it and make meaning out of it. But at least there is a written and translated version available.
Here there are Croatians, Czechs, Poles, Texans, New Yorkers— these vast numbers of people who suddenly have at least an amazing curiosity toward the Buddhadharma. To introduce the words of the Buddha to them, as a Buddhist, as a follower of the Buddha, I don’t think there’s anything else that one can do better. Remember Lord Maitreya said, at the end of the Uttaratantra-shastra, that one has to do the “hearing” of the Buddhadharma. It is through “hearing,” which means teaching, which means reading, which means translating––it is through these that the door of the Dharma will be opened.
As Jing Rui mentioned earlier, at the moment, hypothetically, we have the 100-year goal. As you can clearly make out, looking at me, I am not one year old. Maybe I should not be speaking kind of inauspiciously like this, but if you look at reality, our goal is not something that can be achieved in my life, but it is something that we have to think.
I was talking to the translators during the translators’ conference. When you go to New York, it’s always so amazing to see the size of New York City’s avenues, and the size of the Metropolitan Museum.
If these American forefathers were in Tibet, the Tibetans would consider them as great bodhisattvas, or at least as omniscient beings. Because surely, about a hundred years ago, New York did not have this many cars, and Metropolitan Museum did not have this many artefacts, but those guys planned long ahead. Such kind of vision is really necessary.
So yes, it is a daunting task, but as followers of the Buddha, it is our practice, it is our path, and, if you are a Mahayana practitioner, it is also our act of benefiting sentient beings. It is serving the Buddha, and therefore it is also serving all sentient beings. So we do realise that this is quite an important task that we can’t afford to ignore.