Kurukulla Center

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His Holiness the Dalai Lama visits Kurukulla Center - September 12, 2003


I’m very happy to be here. Last year, in south India, Geshe-la requested me to visit the Center during my next visit to Boston and I replied that if it were convenient, I would definitely do so. Therefore, I’m very pleased that I’ve been able to fulfill that promise today. You have all extended me a very warm welcome, and I would like to thank Mayor McGlynn in particular for coming to receive me as well.

As you know, I always encourage people to stick to the religious traditions of their own country or area. America is basically Judeo-Christian, with a certain number of Muslims and practitioners of smaller religions. Whichever of these it is, I think it’s safer for people to follow their own tradition.

An old Polish friend of mine was a member of the Theosophical Society in Madras, India, for many years. I met her in 1956. In 1959 she started to practice Buddhism, but at the end of her life Christian concepts arose in her mind; she seemed to be more familiar with them. That’s an example of how changing religion can cause confusion. Therefore, it’s safer to follow your own tradition.

However, among millions of people, some may find that they have no inclination toward the religion into which they were born and lose interest in it. At the same time, they want to follow a spiritual path and find the Buddhist approach suits their mind, so develop interest in Buddhism.

Ninety percent of the six million Tibetans are Buddhist, but over the past four centuries many Tibetans became Muslim. In the last century, some Tibetans became Christians. Therefore, although most Western countries are Judeo-Christian, some people will be interested in other traditions—especially those of India, and Buddhism in particular. Many of you here today, too, have developed a deep interest in Buddhism—I only hope that you haven’t become Buddhist because of Geshe-la’s forced conversion! If that’s the case, I’ll certainly object! But if Geshe-la simply teaches you Buddhadharma and leaves the choice of whether to follow it or not freely up to you, then OK.

I have known Geshe-la for many years and can say that he’s a very sincere practitioner. He often comes to the major teachings I give in India and I’ve noticed that when, after many hours, some of the listeners are starting to nod off to sleep, Geshe-la always remains fresh and alert. Also, when I tell some emotional story and start to cry, Geshe-la also sheds a tear, which means he has genuine feelings and some experience.

So, as a small follower of the Buddha, I would like to thank Geshe-la for all that he’s doing.

One of the main practices of Buddhadharma, especially the Mahayana, is to be dedicated to serving others, not just in this life but infinitely. Therefore, one of my favorite prayers is

As long as space remains
And as long as sentient beings remain,
Until then may I too remain
And dispel the miseries of sentient beings.

This is something like the pledge of a Mahayana practitioner, and with motivation, in whichever way we can, we try to offer service to and help all sentient beings in general and human beings in particular.

With respect to the blessings of the Buddha, the real blessing is that which we develop within ourselves. Buddha always stressed to his followers, “You are your own master.” Therefore, as followers of the Buddha, we should practice well and in that way gain more blessings.

The first level of benefit we receive is that of inner peace, which helps us deal with any problem that we encounter, whether manmade or natural, such as old age, illness or death. The inner peace we develop through practicing Buddhadharma gives us the inner strength to face any kind of problem.

When practicing the Buddha’s teachings, our main task is to struggle with our negative emotions with the goal of attaining the complete freedom of Buddhahood, and the path to this goal is not ceremony or ritual but transformation of mind.

In order to transform our mind, we first need wisdom and enthusiasm, and enthusiasm itself much depends on wisdom. In order to gain wisdom, we need knowledge; therefore, study is most crucial.

The Tibetan Buddhist tradition is actually the pure tradition of Nalanda. In the Nalanda tradition, study is indispensable. Thus, you should study as much as you can. In that way you gain deeper awareness of reality—of external reality, internal reality and the present reality. On that basis there is the possibility of change. Change is natural; everything always changes. With the kind of right effort you can make change positive. Therefore, through study you get a fuller knowledge of reality and in that way develop enthusiasm for transforming your mind.

We all want happiness; nobody wants suffering. If there’s a way to overcome suffering, naturally, it’s worth pursuing. So, knowledge brings enthusiasm. Then with enthusiasm, or determination, and self-confidence, practice Dharma.

When it comes to practice, we have the three higher trainings: ethical discipline, or morality; concentration; and cultivation of insight into selflessness. The question is, how do we integrate these three higher trainings with our daily life?

The first stage is to restrain ourselves from indulging in negative actions; actions that harm ourselves and others. In addition to this, if possible, we should also be pro-active and try to help others; at the same time, we should be trying to decrease the intensity of our self-centeredness.

By the way, when we speak of selflessness in the Buddhist ethical context, we don’t mean a total disregard of our own interests. The very premise of the Buddhist spiritual path is the pursuit of liberation and freedom.

With respect to the second training, that in concentration, or meditation, although normally our single-pointed concentration is not very well developed, we do experience instances of it in our day-to-day life. What we therefore need to do is to enhance this natural capacity that we all possess, and here the key is cultivation of mindfulness and vigilance, or introspection.

The third training is that in wisdom, or insight. In Buddhism, the key insight is that into no-self, or selflessness—an understanding of the manner in which things exist; a certain characteristic of the nature of reality. In order to ground such an understanding, we must also have a deep knowledge of the diversity of phenomena, upon which we are trying to cultivate this insight into no-self.

Although we accomplish advanced levels of the three higher trainings—especially those in concentration and wisdom—only later in our progress along the spiritual path, we do possess similitudes of them in our normal daily life.

Sincere Buddhist practitioners uphold these three higher trainings as their main practice; prayers and recitation of mantras are ancillary. The main practice is that of the three higher trainings. But many traditional Buddhists—Tibetan and Chinese, for example—sometimes get their priorities wrong and come to regard chanting and mantra recitation as the main practice and contemplation, reflection and the three higher trainings as something to be done on the side. However, while we can definitely attain liberation by practicing the three higher trainings, we can never do so by simply reciting OM MANI PADME HUM, the six-syllable mantra.

Therefore, I tell many of my fellow Tibetan Buddhists—partly in joke, partly seriously—that now we are in the twenty-first century, it is important that we strive to become twenty-first century Buddhists, which I define as practicing Buddhism on the basis of sound knowledge and understanding.

That also means that although Geshe-la’s hair looks white now, his heart and mind should be fresh, just like this new, twenty-first century!

So, that’s all I have to say now. Thank you. But finally, I would ask the members of this center to continue with your practice, recitations and so forth. Other than that, I have nothing to add.


Your Holiness, we would like to thank you for being
The compassionate one,
The king of kindness,
An ocean of wisdom and
A refuge for all sentient beings.

Although our gratitude for your holy presence among us is beyond words,
We must try to express here our thanks
For your so kindly blessing us
By visiting Kurukulla Center, here in Medford, today.

Please live long and
Continue to illuminate this world—
Which is increasingly mad with ignorance, aggression and suffering—
With your light of compassionate wisdom
For the enlightenment of all sentient beings.

Please return to this area soon, Your Holiness,
To turn the wheel of Dharma again
For the benefit of all.
We offer to do whatever we can
To help bring this about.

May our actions of body, speech and mind
Only please your holy mind,
May we never be separated from you, and
May all your holy wishes—
Especially those for the freedom of Tibet—
Be instantly fulfilled.

Thank you so much, Your Holiness.
Thank you so much.


Practice sincerely and seriously; that is important. Those of you who follow your own, Judeo-Christian tradition have practices in common with Buddhism, such as love, compassion, forgiveness, self-discipline and contentment. All religious traditions have those kinds of practice. So, if you believe in a certain religion, don’t take it as just a tradition but try to implement its teachings. That’s what’s important.

And even if you don’t have any particular belief, in that case, too, I still feel that compassion, tolerance, contentment, self-discipline and so forth are the basis of a happy life. If you analyze things properly you will see that this is true. Frustration, unhappiness and other mental problems are mainly due to a mistaken mental attitude; therefore, their antidote must also arise from a mental attitude. That’s why such things as a sense of brotherhood or sisterhood, love, compassion, forgiveness, tolerance, contentment and self-discipline are very, very useful.

Ultimately, we’re all human beings with this smart human brain of ours. But sometimes brain alone simply invites more trouble. However, without it we’d be dull, like animals. That, too, would be no good. What we need to do is set our intelligent, smart brain in the right direction; make it useful, meaningful and constructive. The energy for that comes from the warm heart; the good heart.

If the good brain and warm heart were to be conjoined on the individual, family, community, national and international levels, the world would be a much happier, healthier place. Irrespective of whether we are believers or non-believers, since we are human we all want a happy life. And since our future depends upon the planet as a whole, in order for each of us as individuals to have a happy life, we have to think globally and take care of the whole world.

That’s all. Thank you very much.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama gave these teachings at Kurukulla Center, Medford, Massachusetts, 12 September 2003. Translated by Thupten Jinpa. Transcribed & edited by Nick Ribush