Everything we said about Dharma follows the aim to preserve our mental tranquillity. There are cases when this goal seems to be very hard to attain and one comes across great difficulties even if one devotes himself seriously to the practise. I would like to take the opportunity to tell you about my personal experience: When I first came to the West I was confronted with very different situations and conditions compared to those I was used to while living and studying in India. I encountered problems with facing and overcoming those situations even though I am a Buddhist monk. What has helped me during that period of hardship is a scripture I have always kept present which says: “Whatever difficulties one may encounter, a skilful student must never lose his mental stability”. The scripture continues by stating: “every time we engage in a battle against illusions, much destruction will arise during this battle. But in the opposite case, if there is no battle, if there is no war against what opposes you, no destruction will take place and no problem will be solved.” This scripture, this very short inscription of three lines in Tibetan has been very helpful to me because I understood that in life we can only rely on our mental qualities to support us. Our mental qualities are the most important thing we possess in this life and we can take them with us to our future lives.
Even without going into reincarnation but dwelling on our being present in the moment, we can very well affirm that education and studies are fundamental questions to our existence. A properly educated person who has studied has a different lifestyle. Therefore, while practicing Dharma in this world we face many difficulties because we are victims of confusion. It is therefore inevitable for problems we have to fight against to arise. A real Dharma practitioner, whatever hardships he may be confronted with in his practice, will face them with courage and effortlessness as he is able to perceive existential problems with extreme clarity. The essence of this is that having to deal with problems represents one more possibility to practice Dharma; problems provide us with a further chance to be consistent.
The most important, as I mentioned before, is to keep up qualities of firmness and stability. Stability and tranquillity characterise the continuity of our practice which provides us with the opportunity to overcome all problems that arise. When we go through challenging situations and feel discouraged and without hope, it means that we are losing our battle. It is necessary to state more precisely that the word “war” has generally speaking a negative connotation, comparable to feelings of anger and hatred. However, the internal battle I am talking to you about lacks such feelings.
If battling against our problems were predominated by anger and hatred, it would imply our defeat and our own destruction. To be able to win we need to guard mental stability and that type of mental qualities I have been outlining before. Tranquillity and mental stability are the instruments that open up the opportunity to win, to resolve our problems. The source of all our internal qualities is Buddha nature or as it can also be called, the Little Buddha. Bertolucci has had obstacles in Nepal while he was shooting the movie “Little Buddha” because the Nepalese Buddhists were resentful and told him not to entitle the movie “Little Buddha” as Buddha is not little. Bertolucci had to promise he would never use this title for the movie. When the movie came out he went to see the Dalai Lama who told him that “Little Buddha” was a perfect title because there is a “Little Buddha” existing in all of us.
We often possess internal qualities we do not even know about just like Bertolucci, who has provided a suitable title to the movie without knowing it. From a Christian point of view it is as if God had given him the inspiration.
Therefore, this Little Buddha that abides in us, a better definition for it would be “Buddha Nature”, is the source of all our internal qualities that give us a chance to win the battle against our problems and the necessary encouragement to defeat delusions. How can we recognise and become aware of this Buddha Nature in us? With the understanding of the fact that Buddha Nature is nothing else than a mental quality. Everyone of us has consciousness which bears the potential and the capacity to be peaceful and calm. The nature of consciousness is the Little Buddha: practically speaking, tranquillity and peace that pervade us with immense happiness and great joy. Therefore, to preserve mental tranquillity there is what we call the practice of Dharma which represents the most precious good we possess.
This becomes very obvious if we carry out a mindful introspection. There is nothing more healthy that provides us with more internal happiness. To realise it, to comprehend it, to understand it, we must realise our Buddha Nature. Since we generally do not do it we are not aware of our having this great internal quality. Everyone reading this book, therefore everyone of us, and also all animals possess this precious ability to maintain tranquillity and mental peace.
Yet, human beings feature the further potential or rather the possibility to recognise this quality, given that it is very difficult for the other beings to understand and particularly to develop it. For this reason the human form of existence is considered to be the best one and therefore we must not waste our lives and lose this amazing opportunity we have. In a certain sense we have the Buddha, the Enlightenment, placed in our hands: if we accept or abandon it depends solely on our judgement.
Even people who have committed crimes and are serving a sentence in prison have a great opportunity: to develop their own nature for becoming enlightened. I would like to tell you a short and clarifying story about a Tibetan monk who has been imprisoned in Tibet for twenty years. When he was finally released he went to India to speak to the Dalai Lama. His Holiness asked him about the most horrible event he had experienced in prison. The monk answered that the worst thing for him had been the risk of losing compassion. The worst problem the monk had to deal with was the danger to lose his own compassion as the people were beating and torturing him, therefore he had seriously faced the risk of giving up his compassion.
This relates to what I was saying in the beginning: whatever problem we have to face, we must never lose our mental tranquillity. It has to accompany us wherever we go. Therefore, if we compare the great hardship that monk has gone through during imprisonment in Tibet to our daily difficulties here in the West, their importance become so minimal compared to what the poor monk has suffered. In fact, not renouncing compassion and benevolence has allowed him to maintain his mental stability during twenty years he spent in prison.
Let us think about it: it is a very crucial point. Fortunately our monk had the capacity to recognise that compassion and benevolence are the most important instruments for our present life and also for all future lives. Keeping tranquillity and peace of mind is the reason why we practice Dharma: we certainly do not practice it in order to accumulate material goods.
Analysing the question under the viewpoint of cause and effect, in this case we can affirm that the cause is our Little Buddha, our Buddha Nature, and the effect is the Big Buddha. So, if the cause is motivated by Buddha, Buddha will ripen in the effect too. Buddha has to be born from Buddha, Big Buddha has to be born from Little Buddha. If little Buddha is within us he will produce Big Buddha in us as a result. But be careful because when we speak about Buddha here we do not refer to the physical, historical Buddha. It is the image, the symbol, the form of his mental qualities representing tranquillity, happiness and stability.
I have been to a conference in Naples once and in the end I was told that I had spoken about daily life but not about death. I answered: “If you live peacefully you will also die peacefully.” In general, people I come across are very afraid of dying. But I say: if you live in a peaceful and calm way you will see that death will not represent a problem. Learning to live in peace means to learn dying in the same peaceful way. Learn to live in a joyous way, this is what is crucial.
I would like to add a few more thoughts about living in peace. This rule is at the root of Buddhist practice. Taking refuge in the Three Jewels, receiving the precepts, is a fundamental act in the context of cause and effect. Taking refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha is equivalent to taking refuge in our Little Buddha, activating him while creating the cause is like taking refuge in the moment of the result. All of this is part of the law of cause and effect. The theory of cause and effect produces Karma.
The question arises whether the growth of a flower is dependent on Karma or not. Not everything is connectable to Karma. Karma depends on the mental continuum. Therefore, if the growth of a flower depends on our mental continuum or not is a very complex question which can be connected to the theory of causality. The theory of karma is an overall of the philosophy of cause and effect. But this theory does not only illustrate karma. When we talk about karma we discuss something related to a mental continuum.
Analysing cause and effect is a very important form of meditation. You always have to question the reason for what is surrounding you. When you meet problems do not just confront them blindly but try to find an answer with a quiet mind. Move a step backwards and analyse the information you have firmly. Eventually you will find the solution. This is meditation: awareness, Samatha, or single-pointed concentration. Samatha and Vipassana do not only refer to a certain sitting posture, they have to be practised constantly. Zen emphasises Samatha, which means concentration, while Vipassana is more prevalent in the Theravada tradition. Tibetans are specialised in visualisations.
Theravada is the form of Buddhism practised in the South, in Indochina and South-Eastern Asia. It is the most ancient form. Ch’an and Zen are typical of the Northern areas, of Japan and China. Vajrayana is the central form of Buddhism because it was passed on from India to Tibet. Tibetan Buddhism is the most recent form that was directly introduced from India between the 8th and 10th century. Each of these traditions has their own characteristics, but in an ecumenical sense we speak about one form of Buddhism.