Talk Categories Religion & Modernity | Talk Locations Oscar Auditorium, Beurs-World Trade Center Rotterdam

Wisdom and Compassion

Transcendental wisdom and great compassion are the core of Buddhism. In this talk, Khenpo Sodargye guides us to an understanding of transcendental wisdom and also explains the concept of great compassion. As Khenpo points out, with transcendental wisdom, self-attachment can be eradicated and along with this eradication, suffering is likewise dispelled. While discussing the spirit of great compassion, Khenpo shows his concern for the issue of the refugee crisis and appeals for the need to take care of all disadvantaged groups, including animals. He also asks that everyone contribute to the well-being of all disadvantaged groups by offering loving compassion towards them. At the end of his talk, Khenpo shares with us his advice on how to arouse great compassion within ourselves as well as providing guidance on how to develop transcendental wisdom.

Preview

Regardless of how long humankind has lived, or will live, on this planet, compassion and wisdom will be forever fresh and will never become outdated. Whoever you are, regardless of your identity, as long as you possess wisdom and compassion, you will lead yourself to a meaningful life in both this and in future lives.

Speech by Khenpo Sodargye

Transcendental Wisdom: See the Beauty of the World

Opening Speech by the Host

Ladies and Gentlemen, we are really honored to welcome Khenpo Sodargye Rinpoche to the Netherlands today to share his wisdom and compassion with us. Please allow me to briefly introduce Rinpoche.

In the Land of Snow, under the clear blue skies, there is one of the world’s largest Buddhist institutions—Larung Gar Buddhist Institute. With its numerous red painted cabins and the many monks dressed in their scarlet robes, Larung Gar appears as a red lotus in full bloom. It is in this holy place that Khenpo Rinpoche began his Dharma activities many years ago, and it is also where he has been teaching these past 30 years. To this day, Khenpo continues to joyfully meet the challenges of balancing a life of translating, teaching, writing, along with administering to the needs of the large Chinese Sangha who live and study at Larung Gar.

Khenpo explains that as a Buddhist in the 21st century, one needs to receive systematic Dharma training and cultivate genuine wisdom through listening, contemplating and meditating, if one is to develop a pure and abiding faith in Buddhism. Only in this way can one give forth the wisdom and compassion that the modern world yearns for so thirstily, and which it so desperately needs.

In this complicated and chaotic age, incisive wisdom can help us make decisions, protect us from being overwhelmed by the turbulence of modern life and guide us as we seek to benefit both ourselves and others. In addition to wisdom, it is also necessary to cultivate loving-kindness and compassion towards all of humanity as well as to all other living beings. Even a small kindness on our part may be able to alter another’s life trajectory in a way that brings benefit to them. Khenpo once said that if, while passing through an alley, you happen to see a small insect struggling under the burning sun, if you can gently place it onto the cool grass. That insect will have been relieved from its suffering and its life will have been completely changed by your simple action.

In the 1990s, Khenpo accompanied H.H. Jigme Phuntsok Rinpoche on a visit to Southeast Asia, the US, and Europe, and (during that visit) was able to make auspicious connections with people all over the world. These many years later, as the heart disciple of His Holiness, Khenpo Sodargye continues to transmit the teachings of his lineage to different communities throughout the world and carries forward the great aspiration of spreading the Buddha’s wisdom and compassion.

It is said that when the Buddha was born, his every step gave birth to a lotus blossom. It is our hope that in a similar way, with Khenpo’s every teaching, his pure wisdom and compassion will bloom in our hearts and guide us to build a better world. Now, ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Khenpo Sodargye Rinpoche.

The Impression of the Netherlands

Today is quite special as it is the Mid-Autumn Festival, which many Han Chinese will mark with great celebration; families will gather together to enjoy the full moon and to eat delicious moon cake, etc. This tradition also remains popular in many other countries, such as Japan and South Korea. According to the Tibetan Calendar, today is also a full moon day and for that reason is also very auspicious. So, I feel really happy to be with you and to share some of my thoughts on such an auspicious day.

My connection to the Netherlands goes back to 1993 when I accompanied H.H. Jigme Phuntsok Rinpoche on a trip to France. We had originally planned to visit the Netherlands (as a part of that trip), however, it was not until today that this plan has been actualized, so this is another indication that today’s meeting is an auspicious connection.

After my arrival here, my first impression is that the territory of the Netherlands is not that big. Being here reminds me of a story told to me by my friend who had lived in Netherlands. I once asked her, “How big is the country? I had planned to go but failed.” She said that the country is not big at all and that sometimes, when she had quarreled with her husband and had the feeling to run away, she would get in her car and begin to drive, but very soon would find herself almost in another country. I doubted her words then, but now that I am here myself, I am more convinced (of the truth of her story).

Although the country is about as big as a medium-sized province in China, I do feel that the overall situation here, the people’s warm-heartedness combined with a high level of political and economic stability, is really admirable compared with the conditions found in many other countries. As it’s my first time here, someone told me that my good feeling for this place might be because the weather has been so nice; they felt that if the weather had not been so nice, I might feel differently. Anyway, I do feel good here. This is just my simple feeling.

From the Buddhist viewpoint, it is due to certain causes and conditions that we have the opportunity to be here together today. The cause and condition that brings us together is the aspiration for wisdom and compassion. For both Easterners and Westerners, wisdom and compassion are indispensable. These qualities are greatly needed by people of all backgrounds and identities.

Transcendental Wisdom: See the Beauty of the World

The two kinds of wisdom that I’ll talk about today can be classified as worldly wisdom and transcendental wisdom.

Worldly wisdom is wisdom that comes from the kind of knowledge that we ordinary people learn in the course of living our lives. It includes worldly, professional and technical knowledge, as well as the knowledge about how to conduct oneself in society.

This worldly wisdom may differ among different individuals as a result of differing points of view or the choices that different individuals make as to what to focus on. For example, many Westerners may have a strong sense of self. They are educated in this way since childhood by teachers and parents, so their emphasis is more on the self-centered concepts, such as self-protection, self-esteem, self-development, self-forgiveness, self-promotion and so on.

Self-protection or self-esteem is actually important, but if we put too much emphasis on the self or cling to our sense of self too strongly, suffering is certain to arise. As an example, quarrels between people and wars between countries are all caused by thoughts of self-protection and self-attachment, though this may not be noticeable to many of us.

In Buddhism, we recognize the wisdom of no-self. Through careful observation and analysis, we can reach the conclusion of no-self, although certainly, as a result of their education and habitual ways of thinking, many people may not accept this idea right away. If, however, one observes things carefully and logically, one can also come to the understanding that the so-called self that he is struggling so hard to maintain, does not exist at all. However, to reach this understanding, careful and logical observation is really necessary.

So, at a certain point, the wisdom of Buddhism does not nourish or expand the concept of self but rather serves to weaken our self-attachment. This is because this self-attachment will indeed bring us numerous kinds of suffering over the course of our lives. Have you ever noticed that the many kinds of suffering that have occurred in our life actually came from our clinging to self? For example, if you don’t care too much about a thing, then it will not bring you much suffering. On the other hand, if you have a strong attachment to a relationship or a particular point of view, you may experience great suffering when faced with loss or resistance.

In the Tibetan Buddhism that flourishes in the Himalayan area, many people practice the wisdom of no self. After a certain period of time spent cultivating this practice, they have attained a personal realization of no self. As a result, no matter what kind of unpleasant things happen in their lives, rather than feeling pain or frustration, they remain in a happy state of mind and are able to face life optimistically.

So, to be clear, this transcendental wisdom that we have spoken of, refers to the wisdom of no self. If you examine the existence of self with your own intelligence, you will eventually reach the conclusion that the so-called self is nothing more than a concept, a fabricated idea. Once you embrace this realization, you will be able to appreciate the beauty of the world more deeply.

If you examine the existence of self with your own intelligence, you will eventually reach the conclusion that the so-called self is nothing more than a concept, a fabricated idea. Once you embrace this realization, you will be able to appreciate the beauty of the world more deeply.

Let Compassion Open Your Mind

A Scientific Religion that Can Withstand Observation

In Buddhism, one is required to observe and examine a particular teaching before accepting it. If, through careful observation, you come to feel that the teaching is reasonable, then you can accept and rely on it. Otherwise, you are totally free to abandon it.

In the time of the Buddha, there was a very rich person by the name of Upali, who had been following another religious path. After listening to the teaching of Buddha Shakyamuni, he felt that the Buddha’s teaching was more meaningful and reasonable, and so wanted to take refuge. To his surprise, the Buddha refused to accept him as his laity disciple and asked him to think about it more carefully. It was only after he had made a much more careful and thoughtful observation that he was allowed to take refuge. Later, Upali said, “I believe Buddhism is quite special, because other religions would most likely have immediately welcomed a wealthy person like me, but the Buddha advised me to think over and over before becoming a follower, which really impressed me.”

Buddhism never tries to convert others through self-advertisement, nor does it use every possible method to attract people to become Buddhists. Rather, Buddhism encourages people to have more open space to observe its teaching through the vehicle of their own intelligence. If you believe it reasonable after deep reflection, you can accept it. If not, simply abandon it. You are encouraged to use your own intelligence to refute and criticize it. Any authentic Buddhist should be willing to accept such criticism.

These days, in many different places around the world, Buddhists, for the most part, align their behaviors with the Dharma. Unfortunately, even amongst Buddhists, there are some who act improperly and try to attract and convert others through various means. Personally, I think we should let things flow naturally rather than forcing them to happen, as anything else goes against the basic principles of Buddhism. While some may criticize Buddhism because of the misbehavior of certain individuals who may call themselves Buddhists, the fault for these types of misbehaviors lies only with those individuals and not with the teachings of the Buddha. The teachings of Buddhism can withstand examination by any of the wisest men in the 21st century, including its greatest scientists. According to the highly respected scientist, Albert Einstein, “If there is any religion that could cope with modern scientific needs, it would be Buddhism.” Therefore, although Buddhism is an ancient religion, it can withstand critical examination by anyone living in the modern world.

Let Compassion Open Your Mind

Compassion can also be classified as either worldly compassion or transcendental compassion (otherwise known as great compassion).

Worldly compassion can refer to the kinds of love one experiences in a relationship, in a parents’ loving-kindness towards their children, or in a child’s respect for his or her parents. Normally, people show this kind of love to family members, close friends and the people closest to them. This is a special love and is indispensable in our life.

Although, this kind of love is important, it may not be so reliable. Many people enjoy this kind of love initially, as in the passion that exists between young lovers or in the affection that parents have towards their young children. Yet, with the passing of time, passion fades and it is even possible for family affection to begin to decline. It may then happen that people feel indifferent and unconcerned towards one another. In fact, phenomenon of this kind is quite common in our modern society.

I know a story about a rich Dutchman with only one child who, upon reaching a certain age, went to live in a nursing home. After many months of having no one visit him, the old man contacted his child and asked if the son might have the time to come for a visit. The young man replied that because of how busy his life and his work were, he had no time to spare for a visit. Finding no way to relieve his loneliness, the Dutchman finally applied for euthanasia, which is legal in the Netherlands, and made the choice to leave this world. As human beings, when we become old and are neglected by our next generation or feel isolated by society, even abundant material wealth is not sufficient to replace the love and affection that we all need to feel happy and cared for.

These days, the relationships that exist between modern people are quite different than those of the past. This has led to widespread feelings of anxiety and restlessness, as well as increasing numbers of those who suffer from such mental disorders as depression; this is particularly true in the big cities of both the East and West. While most people wish to be cared for with love and affection, many are left with the feeling that feel their lives lack the love that they desire. There are others who find it so difficult to associate with others that they become isolated from general society, which in itself, can cause even more mental problems. These kinds of mental issues have become quite common in many parts of the world.

Many of these types of mental issues can be alleviated through meditation or through the practice of benefiting others along with the cultivation of an altruistic mind. By training in this way our minds can once again become relaxed and tolerant, an indication that the mind has returned to its normal, healthy state. I know of many people that experienced pain and boredom in their lives before they engaged in mind training. These painful states of mind were not due to the lack of material wealth but rather occurred without any obvious external reason. Later, as a result of engaging in the practice of altruism, they were able to find and maintain a healthier mental state. It follows that once our mental health is improved, our physical health will also become better.

 

The greatest achievement, according to Buddhism, is not self-fulfillment but rather helping as many sentient beings, including animals, as one can.

How to Achieve Transcendental Wisdom and Compassion

Great Compassion, the Unconditioned Love

In Buddhism, we refer to worldly compassion as a caring for others that is limited to certain people or certain animals. Conversely, when speaking of great or transcendental compassion, we are describing a kind of compassion that is shown towards all living beings, not just certain people or certain animals. As long as a living being can feel pain and happiness, they deserve our love and care. Such love and care are not just valid for a certain period of time but are given without limits of any kind and the way of love and care is also limitless. This is what is called great love, or great compassion.

As we can see, there is a big difference between worldly and great compassion. Within the Buddhist traditions, great compassion can be considered as the core spirit of Mahayana Buddhism and is such a noble and perfect concept that it deserves everyone’s appreciation. Why? Because worldly love has its limitations and is conditioned by different situations. An example of this kind of conditioned love is: “You love me, so I love you; once you stop loving me, I’ll also turn away from you.” However, great compassion is unconditioned by circumstance: “I will certainly love you if you love me, but even if you don’t, I will still love you.”  This kind of love is much more difficult for most ordinary people to grasp or to practice.

Due to individual perspectives on compassion, conflicts arise in our lives. After arriving in Europe, I could feel a great tension resulting from the recent arrival of so many refugees. The current refugee crisis is the worst Europe has seen since WWII and is said to be the worst ever in history. Driven by empathy, many countries, such as the Netherlands and Germany, are trying to lend these refugees a helping hand. German President Merkel has expressed her plan to accept about one million refugees this year. Of course, while actually implementing her plan, she may find herself with all kinds of unforeseen problems.

Regarding the refugee crisis, some countries take the attitude to let the refugees fend for themselves, feeling that the well-being of these strangers is none of their business. Some countries say nothing at all, pretending to be unaware of the entire issue. The actions of other governments may not necessarily be expressive of genuine kindness, but rather, arise out of a need to respond to pressure from the general public. Thus they feel that they have to announce to offer help but without ever saying what kind of help they will actually offer. Still other countries take real actions to be of help, but may fail to deal with other problems that are likely to ensue, such as religious conflicts, which out of practicality and necessity must be taken into consideration.

As a Buddhist, I am not interested in politics. However, as a Mahayana Buddhist, I am concerned about the well-being of all sentient beings and I do have the responsibility to care about their suffering regardless of who they are or in what country they originate from. I have been to and visited refugee camps in many Asian countries and when I walked into their world, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for them. They have lost their families, fled their countries and having become homeless are now living lives of misery. If I were them, I would certainly feel the need for the protection and assistance of people from all over the world.

Yesterday, when I arrived in the Netherlands, I heard that a Dutch boy of about 4 or 5 years old was raising money from people on the street because he wanted to help the refugees. I was so touched and inspired by this. If we were all willing to practice this kind of loving-kindness, it would be possible for us to help a lot of people with their practical difficulties.

Compassion Gives You Power

The greatest achievement, according to Buddhism, is not self-fulfillment but rather helping as many sentient beings, including animals, as one can. It is good to hear that the Netherlands has the Party for the Animals as because of this, one has somewhere that they can call if they see that a certain animal is being abused. It is progress. Although it is unlikely that for now that the slaughter of animals can be completely banned, (this is a discussion for another time), it is necessary to extend our compassion and loving-kindness to every living being, including animals, to uphold their rights to freedom and to safeguard their rights of survival. This is an obligation and a responsibility for all of us.

When we help others, we will inevitably face many challenges. For countries like the Netherlands, Germany and others, when they receive a flood of refugees, they have to deal with many difficulties in regard to seeing to the refugees’ needs, including their acceptance by the local population, as well as many other issues. Nevertheless, in developed nations such as these, filled, as they are, with great intelligence and capability, I believe that if people want to extend their loving-kindness to those who are in need, they can certainly overcome all difficulties and accomplish their goal.

I have heard that there was once an experiment where a farmer hid an egg that had been hatched by a mother hen and replaced it with an egg of a pheasant. In the beginning the hen had doubts about the egg and rejected sitting on it, but in the end, gradually accepted it and when the baby pheasant was hatched, took care of it as if it was its own child.

The farmer was surprised by this behavior and the next time that the hen laid an egg, he took it away and this time replaced it with a duck’s egg. Again, the hen was suspicious and hesitant at first, but once again, gradually accepted it and took care of it. Eventually, the mother hen had two unusual babies, one a pheasant and the other a duck, and it raised them in a way that was best for them. The little pheasant, it took to the mountains and showed it how to find food for itself in that environment, and the little duck, the hen led to the lake and taught it to swim and find food there.

Hence, even an animal, such as this particular hen, has the intelligence to figure out the difference between two babies of two different species and can adopt different approaches to raise them according to their specific needs. So too, as human beings, if we have strong minds, we’ll certainly be able to find good ways to practice our compassion and help those in need, including both people and animals.

How to Achieve Transcendental Wisdom and Compassion

If we want to achieve transcendental wisdom and compassion, and put them into practice in our daily life, we need to follow the Dharma teachings and enrich ourselves with the related knowledge. Found within the Dharma teachings are some ways that can expedite this process. Through visualizing and praying to Manjushri, the embodiment of wisdom, our wisdom can be developed; to increase our compassion, we can pray to Avalokiteshvara, the lord of compassion. One way of praying is to chant specific mantras. We can chant the mantra of Avalokiteshvara, Om Mani Padme Hum, to cultivate compassion, and chant the mantra of Manjushri, Om Ah Ra Pa Tsa Na Dhih, to develop wisdom. These methods work regardless of whether you believe in Buddhism or not, in the same way that medicine takes effect in your body regardless of whether you believe in it or not. These mantras are a kind of spiritual medicine that, if you use them, can help to increase your spiritual health, can efficiently dispel negative emotions such as anger and ignorance.

Regardless of how long humankind has lived, or will live, on this planet, compassion and wisdom will be forever fresh and will never become outdated. Whoever you are, regardless of your identity, as long as you possess wisdom and compassion, you will lead yourself to a meaningful life in both this and in future lives. If you miss out on cultivating either of them, life will be far less meaningful. Therefore, keep in mind that the cultivation of compassion and wisdom deserves all our effort because it can bring endless benefit to this and all future lives, both for ourselves and for others.

Oscar Auditorium, World Trade Center Rotterdam