Meeting of Faiths
[Sister Hannele's welcoming speech for the morning participants. The words spoken in Finnish were orally translated only.]
Lama Yeshe Rinpoche:
First of all I want to thank you for inviting us here to this beautiful island.
I completely agree with Sister Hannele that this inter-faith work is what I’ve been doing for the last 30 years. Every faith has goodness in it and we should start to experience this quality in whatever we are learning. There can be too much talking, in different languages and about different ideas. A lot of talking creates a lot of chaos and misunderstandings.
So, I’ve been doing exactly what the Sister was saying, and I’m also glad that she speaks my language. We are going to invite her to Holy Island next year – we are having Christian and Buddhist dialogue there. We have two people who have experience of being Christian as well as Buddhist and they are inviting a big group of people so I think you will enjoy it.
I always think that Christianity, the teaching of the Christ, and the teachings of the Buddha are not really that different. Too much talking has been causing all the problems! If you are Christian you have the Ten Commandments, and aim to live your life by these values. In Buddhism we say Ten Virtues, so you actually have a similarity there. We talk about avoiding the ten negative acts with body, speech and mind and cultivating their opposites, the ten virtues. I think these two schools both have value for people. They don’t accept hurting others or taking life; that is the answer to our problems. Our idea is giving life and serving humanity.
I feel that in the long run, if people practise more and experience on a mind level how beautiful life is, it is like we are able to go above the clouds. When you reach above the clouds there is no limit. I think arguments and disagreements all happen under the clouds. So we have to get above the clouds by learning to meditate.
I have no problem going to church, actually some of my friends are Christians – I have friends who are Cardinals and Bishops. I have just come from London where I gave a sermon with Father Laurence, one of the most important men in the Benedict School. He has been talking with His Holiness Dalai Lama and they have written books together. [HH Dalai Lama: The Good Heart]
He has been giving many courses and is in charge of 200,000 meditators’ in Christian monasteries. I would like to see this opening up and somehow getting rid of these boundaries of division so we can walk the spiritual path together. Number one, we want to be close to what we believe and number two, we want to engage everything we say, think or do for the benefit of humanity. I think then there will be a very big benefit to this planet.
If we have nothing but sectarian fighting, arguing, killing, destroying the environment in the name of our belief, then I think we are no better than just worldly political groups. Spiritual groups must go beyond this. I believe what you believe and I am very happy. I want to thank Ani Sherab for arranging this for me. Then when I go home I’m thinking: maybe in every corner of the world there are a lot of decent human beings, both schools working very hard to bring peace and harmony together.
It doesn’t mean we have to give up our belief system. We have to have a belief. It’s not a matter of one is giving up something, no. One is accumulating more wisdom, more knowledge. When I was in America, I met many Christian people and many Jewish people from around the world, they now say: “We are better Christians now than before we met Buddhists” or “we are better Jews now than before we met Buddhists”.
I have never seen any Buddha’s teachings saying we have to convert or make people believe in my system. Buddha is saying may we all be able to be whoever we want to be, but we must make sure it is for the benefit of all humanity. We have to give up this selfishness; we have to have feeling for all life forms. So, I think people like you and me, and everybody else, if someone is talking sectarian, we should never listen or follow those people, because that is how war is forged, that is why life is lost. But if everything is teaching loving kindness and forgiveness then this is very beautiful.
So I hope this will continue on this island and it will be today very good to see it: two major belief systems working together with their wisdom. As you say, when we meditate, there is no boundary. So something good will come out from this meeting and I want to thank you for receiving us here. And I think we want everybody to go back thinking: we all have responsibility, we will all do something good.
Thank you. I appreciate very much what she and her belief system are doing. Maybe there is no use to talk more, all of you just watching and listening. That’s not good enough, so we have time to participate. If everybody participates, then there is more value. Just two points of view are not good enough! (Laughs)
I think I understood! I think this is very wonderful, now we can see we all have same goal. We all have to be here today, not in the past, not in the future. We will talk about how our short meeting together is going to benefit us. If you believe in God, it’s going to make you very close to Him very quickly and fast, so that you will not be so in the distance, far away. If you are Buddhist we say you have Buddha-nature within you, then we don’t have to seek something out there.
Today we are really going to talk and share – I’ll be very open. It doesn’t matter if you have wrong views about Buddhism, or if you want to debate about rights and wrongs of Buddhism, doesn’t matter, I’ll be very open. If you think I can teach you, I will help. So, we will make sure this meeting is a very positive one. Because the goal is same. I know it, I have worked with Christians before and I also studied. When we think God is some being out there, if our mind is diluted, even if the God is right here, we will never be able to see Him. That’s why people become disillusioned. When you come into retreat and meditate you weed out your poisons. Then if you say the God is already there, you will be able to see Him and feel Him. Same in Buddhism.
So I hope that this discussion will be very, very positive and of use to your tiny island here. The population is very small, there are a lot of chances for the wrong groups to come here and plant the wrong seeds, sectarianism, people who have wrong lineage, teaching something that is wrong and not right. So hopefully, if something useful will come out from here, next year when we have this meditative experience on Holy Island, we’ll invite both Ani Sherab and you Sister Hannele together. So you two come as Buddhist nun and Christian nun from this island to Holy Island because I think this is how it should be.
I never try to make anybody to become a Buddhist. I have been to many meetings. I’m part of a group called Scottish Heads of Religion. People always say, Christians say: we have these hundreds of millions of followers; Muslims say we have all this. This is Lama Yeshe – how many Buddhists do you have? I said I have no clue. I don’t even know whether I have one or none, I have never counted heads. Number is not a big deal for me.
I want to plant seeds of loving-kindness and forgiveness in every human being. So it doesn’t matter whether you have faith or you don’t have faith, whether you are believers of Buddhism or Christianity, it doesn’t make a difference. We must have this superior quality which we in Buddhism call unconditional loving-kindness. That’s called God’s love. God doesn’t have biased love, it’s unconditional. If all human beings are made by God, He or She should not have favouritism, this group or that group. That’s why Buddhism says: unconditional loving-kindness.
Many of you say this is what happens in Samye Ling. We have every weekend four different courses. Buddhist, Christian Buddhist Dialogue, yoga, tai-chi, everything happens in Samye Ling under one roof. I have centres around the world called Centres for World Peace and Health. Their doors are always open for all of you. Human beings are really this time out of choices, we are lost. So, if somebody can be helped through yoga, why not teach yoga? Or if somebody can be helped through tai-chi, or for that matter, through therapy, healing, massage or meditation, whatever has a good lineage, really good lineage, we can teach.
A path which wants to imprison you, a belief system which want to take your resources, money, freedom, that’s not called a liberating self-freeing path, it’s worse than that! Liberating, self-freeing means there is no condition, the door is open. I say to many people, I don’t mind whether you have belief or not, I’m always there to help you. So I think this is why we should all work like-minded.
Working with dialogue: you bring in what is good in Christianity; we bring in what is good in Buddhism. See how it’s going to make everybody who is working together have a wider vision, because if we are not exposed to other belief-systems of the world, we become very narrow-minded. We don’t have a big view. A very narrow view means there is not much benefit we can gain through practicing. So see how we are going to really give the individual people the confidence they need to have.
So, as you Sister and all of you are saying, you cannot actually experience, even if you are a Christian person, God within you or where-ever, outer or inner, without having a calmer, more positive mind. That is why retreat, meditation and solitude are necessary. Otherwise, if there is no meditation, there is no retreat, there is no solitude, then even people who have faith, they die very disillusioned, saying: “I was a believer of this religion or that religion, but I have never experienced what they say one is going to experience.”
The future is for meditators, practitioners, experiencing this authentic sort of teachings of… if Christian, Christ’s teaching. As Buddhist like I am a meditator, in Buddhism there are so many teaching, there are 84,000 types of teaching – it means, if I don’t meditate I just get lost of what Buddha has taught. In the words no useful purpose will come. But if I am a meditator, I’m practitioner, I have confidence, because then I know what he has taught to us. I can experience it. So that’s called self-confidence.
And I think in this our gathering today we will make sure we can discuss how we can all help each other to make this meeting a very valuable one. Then when you go home you have really something to work on.
What is Common to Christian and Buddhist Meditation?
[Sister Hannele welcoming everyone]
Good afternoon, everybody. I’m very, very happy to be on this beautiful island of yours. Not only do you have a most beautiful island, now we have many beautiful people here! We will try to work together so that we can enrich our life and become a wholesome human being.
My specialty is meditation. I dedicated 32 years of my life to it. Out of this, 12 years have been in solitary retreat. I did three 49-day dark retreats. And every day of my schedule is 7 hours of meditation. My meditation starts at 3.30 in the morning.
Buddhist principle is: what is your motivation to meditate? Why do you want to meditate, why do you want to follow a spiritual path? For example, one motivation could be that if samsara means drowning in a sea, because of all the different workings, different chaoses we have, we need to know how to help any human beings who wish to be helped, by not letting them to sink into samsara. So, in meditation we always need to have a proper motivation.
The proper motivation is: how to become a stable and kind person, how not to become a judgmental or critical person, how not to criticize or judge other people’s beliefs or other people’s ways of life. In Buddhism we say: “Don’t ask everybody fit in your shoes but you learn to fit in everybody’s shoes.” That is the principle number one.
So, we want to learn to meditate in order to gain wisdom. Because samsara right now is very tempting, we have so many choices. Every human being, especially in Europe, lives in free world and we have lots of choices. But if you have no wisdom, you don’t actually know what kind of choice you want to make. Even if you do succeed and make a choice, your choice doesn’t stick with you. It’s like you are watching consumer’s TV and you think: “I’ll get that”, but then next day something else comes. We keep on changing what we think we need to have to be happy and fulfilled.
In many universities in Europe and America people are doing lots of research, and they are finding that if you have some form of a belief system and if you have faith or devotion, it’s much better than if you have no faith, devotion or belief.
Faith, devotion and belief are like learning to trust in yourself. So we want to learn increase our trust in our own choices, our own judgment. Then, if you are from Christian background, it’s absolutely necessary to have unconditional loving-kindness, respect or faith to Christ. If you don’t have that, your prayer will not make it happen. It’s like electricity. There has to be both. If there is God or Christ, there must be you to make this happen by absolutely unconditional belief or trust. It is necessary to gain fullest benefit of what you want to do.
According to our belief system we have to have also similar belief and trust in our own – we call Buddha mind or Buddha- nature, without doubting. Then we can make progress. Otherwise many people, because of their upbringing, go through lots of hardship, lots of people experience not being able to be brought up properly by their parents. And also there are many different [spiritual] schools. The teaching has not been authentic, honest and always true. People experience lot of pain and suffering. Due to these reasons so many people around the world right now, they say: “We don’t want to have anything to do with established belief system, because they did not fulfil our needs.”
Then also you have a difficulty sometimes with your own parents. Also the great expectation you have for your choosing government. When they are not able to fulfil your expectation, we manage to blame everybody else except ourselves. Meditation means: we first learn to improve our state of mind. Then we have enough wisdom. Maybe then we can reduce the blame for God or civilization or family. It’s called self-healing. How can we become wholesome unless we are able to do this self-healing? No outer wealth or choice will ever make you fully satisfied human being.
That is learning how to meditate. Harmony. On a meadow anything can grow, an untamed mind according to Buddhism means lot of weeds. Meditation means we do lots of weeding. We have to weed out our weakness, our poisons, our desire, our anxiety, our anger, our jealousy. So, when you keep on weeding through this meditation, then the field out there will be very healthy and wholesome.
I’ll give a very simple meditation technique. After that we talk about how she in her school teach, we will have both school’s type of teaching.
This technique is seen in Buddhism as one of the highest form of meditation, but because it doesn’t involve any chanting or reciting, the mind is yours. Your meditation with me means whether you believe or not, you never need to worry about anything.
Because we are in the right place, this place where we are now is used for meditation, so your body is here. Your mind should be inseparable from your body. When we meditate, don’t allow your mind jump out from the body. Bring it back, it’s called “inseparable”.
Physically relax, mentally relax. Our idea is to be here now. Normally when you sit here, because your mind has been very active, very busy, you never know what to do, so most people who have some emotional disturbance or things they don’t want to deal with, you go back to the past. So what you need to say is: no, stop going there. Not even one hour before. Just be here now. That’s what you have to tell to your mind. Not in the past any more. Present, present.
Your mind has been always grasping, holding onto something. It’s like today some you managed to get lost [walking on the island]. If you manage to get lost without thinking something, you start immediately thinking: “Now I’m lost.” So your mind wants to lead to the future. It means, if you meditate on the future, you might think: “What am I doing after the talk?” or “What am I going to do this evening?” If you let your mind go to the future, it’s never ending. So you need to make an effort to stop leading the future.
So, you should never stay with the past, never lead to the future, just remember to be calm, relaxed and present here. That’s called wholesome. Now your mind and body are inseparable, together. Otherwise, most of the time, even if our body is here, mind is always somewhere up there doing something, thinking something, planning something. That’s why there is no wholesome, there is no fulfilment.
What happens [in meditation] – I’m realistic and I know how mind works. For the first time in your life you are told there is nothing you have to do and you will find this is the most difficult thing you actually have been taught. The most difficult thing is to ask you do nothing! I think most of you won’t be able to stay there for five seconds. But if that happens then you have to anchor your mind into something. So, because breathing is part of your life, close your eyes and then start breathing normally in, out (one), in, out (two). You should start counting the breath.
We do 15 minutes meditation. We will go into real beautiful silent meditation. You need to do nothing. You can start. Just relax.
[Sister Hannele guides Christian meditation]
Questions and Answers
Of course, when we have a gathering of people with different belief systems or no belief, then meditation actually is very beautiful. Christianity in a way is very similar, because Sister is now saying Christ loves you. We also have visualization, we invite so called bodhisattvas in front of us. You trust in your spiritual form, so you are pure enough to receive the bodhisattvas from you. Then the bodhisattvas can come in a light form and dissolve into you. And you and the bodhisattva become one. So, this is very much the same, it is very nice. If you don’t want to do a complicated way, then my way is dzogchen or mahamudra talk, because it doesn’t require anything. You need devotion and to make the connection, then in Buddhism you can visualize the Lama or Guru. But if you don’t have that sort of belief, faith and devotion, then you invoke the bodhisattvas. This is very, very similar.
What I want is all of you to see there is so much similarity. Our aim and goal is same. If people want they can ask me anything to do with Buddhism. Whether you have heard something different from what I’m saying or you have doubts about this Lama. Even if you want to insult Buddha, that’s fine. I’m here to clarify things - you should not have the wrong information, you should have the right information. We are not reading a book. Since I am a live Lama here, I could answer you very successfully.
How you celebrate Wesak?
In Buddhism we have many different schools, Wesak is actually Theravada tradition, but we also celebrate by rejoicing. Celebration is rejoicing, make sure we are really able to rejoice and move forward. According to Buddhism we must renounce the so called feeling of guilt. We must weed out the feeling of guilt. How are we able to rejoice if we have so much feeling of guilt? We must renounce the guilt-business and move forward.
I’ve been meditating and the more I meditated the more I felt I’ve got a buffer zone around me, so when people did something to me or I did something to them I started to see what was going on behind, our motivations. And I started interfering less and less and then, as a Christian, I got afraid, because Christianity is very much going out, helping people, starting things, and that made me little bit afraid.
There is a big difference in this. We become fearless. If there is no “me”, if there is no Buddha, then we are not afraid of anything. Because when we have so called solidification of somebody, of yourself, then through the solidification fear comes. If you really want to be connected to Christ, then you don’t want to become cut off from this connection, so the fear comes.
In Buddhism we actually have more gods than in Christianity, we have hundreds of different gods. But ultimately we say they don’t exist. Because it is our mind – we say everything is mind – mind thinks there is god and mind doesn’t think there is god. According to your mind god said there is god, I’m some god. You have absolute belief in this. Buddha says: “Actually I haven’t made them, I haven’t seen them.” Therefore I found nothing called buddha. In Buddhism relatively there is me, you, I visualize bodhisattvas, I visualize gods. But once I reach the bodhisattva levels, I let go. It’s like a plane that takes you to space. Then you let go of the plane. You don’t need the plane, you’ll be in space. Solidification means you can’t let it go, because you think you are going to fall out.
If you are a Buddhist, you should look at this fearful form, who is the one I am afraid of? Am I afraid of losing the connection to God? If God is something all-pervading, you can’t cut God off. You should not be fearful of meditating.
The thoughts I’d like to share with you were said more or less. When we are near God, in God, there is no fear. God is Love and there is no fear in love. And when I think meditating and going near to God I think in Buddhism there is something in us, we have to get rid of the ego. Which is a false ego, built by us. It doesn’t exist and we have to get rid of it. And then there is the real Self, which God has made. It’s not so easy to put away the things you have made for you, it makes you a little bit afraid. But there is nothing to be afraid, because God is Love, and we just have to let go and receive what there is to get. And the beauty of it all, you can feel it here when we pray together or we meditate together as if we had met each other already long time ago. We are separated as physical persons, but kind of one.
I think I have fully understood what you are saying. I think you have to make sure they understand! I have understood, this is what I practice.
I think you understood, I’m not sure how I chose the English language.
Yes, then now I think what you need to do is to make sure you understand what they have to go through. Because we say, ‘one with God’ means weed and pure seed can’t mix together. We say in Buddhism we have to do cleansing, purification to get rid of this ego. So then we are the Buddha or we become Buddha. You are exactly the same. You could be God or God could be you, because He is the Creator, but ego is in between. So we need to deal with ego.
But mostly in samsara, they think differently. They don’t say: “I have to deal with my ego,” they attack other people’s egos! That’s the way the whole difficulty starts. So we have to take the challenge and say: we are all practitioners, that means we do nothing to pacify or hurt you, other people’s egos. We first pacify our ego. Then other people can benefit.
Many people who are Christian, people like her [the one making a former question], when they think they are sinners, they get afraid, that’s why the so called guilt comes. If you can reassure them saying: God hasn’t made you to be that person. I think help is necessary.
Number one, we should never think the universe has always been. You can look to [science], many, many milliards of years ago there wasn’t a so called Earth, it gradually transformed. That’s why Buddha said: there wasn’t something that is here. When he is talking about continuation, it means this mind, which is beyond here or there or everywhere. It has no birth and no death. It is a continuation. In Christianity it is called God. It’s not the Planet Earth, it’s not a tree, it’s not our body. Even our most solid body – your scientists are now saying 75% of our body is nothing more than water.
And we never remember that every second we are changing. We say: the nature of everything is change. We conceive from nothing. And we become a little thing in mom’s belly. Then a toddler. Just every second we are changing. Nothing remains same. If there is no change, there is a continuation of so called All-Pervading. So what Buddhists are saying is: we should never solidify ourselves to anything, because it keeps on changing. Weather keeps on changing, climate keeps on changing, our views keep on changing. If we are adaptable for the change, we are freed, we are more liberated.
Buddhism comes to a conclusion that essence is everywhere. It means we take tree as a real solid object, but actually it started from nothing growing into tree. One day it will dissolve into nothing. Everything is just like this, even the Planet of Earth, which is the most solid object we have, according to Buddha’s teaching, it is going to dissolve into emptiness. Within a certain period of time it will be destroyed by fire and water. The Earth will not exist forever. But this mind cannot be destroyed, because it hasn’t got shape, colour or form. When there is no shape, colour or form, how can you destroy it? If there is no shape, no colour, no form, how can we say something exists? So Buddhism comes to a conclusion: we see nothing, we hear nothing, we feel nothing, we measure nothing. If we can’t say anything, what can we say?
The essence of working with the mind is, if you are Christian: you have strong, strong devotion to Christ, so it pacifies this negative, strong doubtful energy. Get rid of that. If you are Buddhist, it’s very strong and good battlefield. Because Buddha is saying: what I have got, you all have got. You just follow or find yourself, where the Buddha mind is. So there is nothing we need to doubt or look for anything elsewhere, than looking into yourself. This all requires meditation, calming mind, positive engagement, believing in what we are doing.
Prayer, meditation, whatever. If we don’t have pure mind, even if God is in front of you, you will never find Him. You need to have this pure mind, it’s like people with no eyes can’t see God. You have to have pure eyesight. Buddhism is same. If you don’t have pure motivation, you can’t see.
I want to thank you and I hope you all learned something or gained something. Thank you.
Audience: Thank you!
Lama Yeshe Rinpoche's public talk May 14, 2011 in Helsinki, Finland: How Taming the Mind can Enrich our Life (mp3)
Gelongma Ani Lhamo May 14, 2011 in Helsinki, Finland: Taking Refuge (mp3)
© Rokpa Finland ry 2011