The New Mandala by Rev. John Lundin


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The New Mandala by Rev. John Lundin

  1. 1. THE NEW MANDALA Eastern Wisdom for Western Living by Rev. John Lundin with His Holiness the Dalai Lama Copyright© 2001 by John W. Lundin All rights reserved. This manuscript, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.
  2. 2. THE NEW MANDALA Eastern Wisdom for Western Living by Rev. John Lundin with His Holiness the Dalai Lama The New Mandala, Eastern Wisdom for Western Living, is a journey toward spiritual awakening and rediscovery. On one level it is an engaging and entertaining journal of a Christian clergyman’s quest for enlightenment. On another level it is a road map for the reader’s own spiritual journey. Written in collaboration with His Holiness the Dalai Lama, The New Mandala is a guide for all who are on the journey of life, and who desire a movement away from the constructed boundaries in their lives toward the divine energy of their center. It is an invitation to the readers to explore the wisdom and practice of an ancient new tradition, while at the same time illuminating and reclaiming the inherited faith of their formation. The author, an American Protestant minister, speaks to all who are walking the same path he is on - the path toward a deeper spirituality. With his feet firmly planted in the Christianity of his faith tradition, Rev. John Lundin enters into the world of Tibetan Buddhism in search of a new spirituality. The quest takes him - and the reader - on a journey to Dharamsala in north India, the home of His Holiness the Dalai Lama of Tibet. In private dialogues with His Holiness, the author discovers the empowering affinity between Buddhism and Christianity. Reverend Lundin weaves the personal experiences of his own pilgrimage with the wisdom and teaching of the Dalai Lama himself. This simple, easy-to-read glimpse at the heart of Buddhism offers seekers from the West a structure and a practical guide to meditation and spiritual practice that can become an integral part of their own faith. The Middle Way that the Buddha taught, and which Reverend Lundin and the Dalai Lama present to the reader in a clear and accessible manner, can become the way for anyone - Christian, Jew, even the non- believer - to grow spiritually. The New Mandala is an opportunity for discovery and a valuable guide for everyone who wishes to travel from here to there, for anyone who wishes to make the ultimate pilgrimage toward becoming fully human.
  3. 3. The New Mandala has been written in twelve brief chapters that allow the reader to explore each new topic and then to reflect upon it before moving to the next. Each chapter begins with an issue drawn from the author's spiritual questioning, then expands on the topic with illustrations drawn from his Dharamsala experiences, and ends with a challenge to the reader to relate the teaching to his or her own personal life experience. The entire book is intended to be experiential, and includes a practical guide to meditation and daily spiritual practice. The New Mandala is an engaging and entertaining sharing of the author’s journey of discovery that becomes, in the end, the reader’s journey - an invitation to enter into the metaphorical spiritual path of the Mandala. Rev. John Lundin with His Holiness the Dalai Lama Dharamsala, India – August 2000
  4. 4. The Author Rev. John Lundin earned his Master of Divinity degree from Chicago Theological Seminary at the University of Chicago and was ordained by the United Church of Christ. (U.C.C.) He served as a parish minister, hospital chaplain and pastoral counselor on the south side of Chicago before making his journey to Dharamsala. Rev. Lundin is retired from the ministry and is now an environmental activist and clean energy advocate. He also teaches classes and workshops and leads retreats focusing on world religions, cross- cultural spirituality and meditation. He currently lives in the Lake Tahoe area of the Sierra Nevada. Acknowledgments A special thank you is offered to Tenzin Gyatso, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet, without whose support this book would not have been possible, and to the Office of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Tenzin Geyche Tethong, Secretary to Hs Holiness, who facilitated the Dalai Lama’s participation. Additional thanks to the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives for transcripts of His Holiness’ teachings, some of which are included in this book and used with permission. The author also gratefully acknowledges the assistance and support of the Dalai Lama’s sister, Ama Jetsun Pema and the staff of the Tibetan Children’s Village, as well as the entire Central Tibetan Administration, in particular Tempa Tsering, Secretary of the Department of Information and International Relations and Tenzin Topgyal, Deputy Secretary of Religion and Culture.
  5. 5. THE NEW MANDALA Eastern Wisdom for Western Living by Rev. John Lundin with His Holiness the Dalai Lama
  6. 6. CONTENTS 1. The New Mandala 1 2. Who Are You and Where Are You Going? 12 3. Venturing Forth 30 4. The Four Noble Truths 46 5. The Middle Way 59 6. The Illusions of Emptiness 73 7. The Reality of God 88 8. Resurrection and Rebirth 109 9. Meditation and Contemplation 122 10. Taming Your Monkey Mind 144 11. Cultivating Compassion 163 12. Spiritual Exercises 179
  7. 7. 1 Chapter 1 The New Mandala I, an ordinary monk in the lineage of Buddha Shakyamuni, humbly urge you to make efforts in spiritual practice. Examine the nature of your mind and cultivate its development. Take into account your welfare in this and future existences, and develop competence in the methods that produce happiness here and hereafter. Our lives are impermanent and so are the holy teachings. We should cultivate our practice carefully. - His Holiness the Dalai Lama “This is the path to the domain of the Deity.” The smiling monk speaks even as he concentrates on the Mandala, gently tapping the narrow silver flute to add a few more grains of colored sand to the lotus-blossom border that is taking shape around the geometric design. “But the path exists only in the mind. Each time a new spiritual journey is initiated the path must be constructed anew - one grain of sand at a time. And the path is never the same as the last one - always new, always changing, always impermanent.” Tap. Tap. Tap. Each grain of sand falls into its place, exactly as the monk’s mind’s eye recalls the intricate pattern.
  8. 8. THE NEW MANDALA 2 “Once the journey is initiated, the path is dissolved, returned to the stream from which it came, to flow back into the sea from which we all come. There it rests, indistinguishable from all other sand that is the earth, until one day it is reborn again as a new path, for a new journey about to be initiated.” Tenzin shifts position and adjusts his burgundy robe. Cross-legged on his saffron cushion he leans forward and peers intently into the Mandala. “It is like the kingdom of the Deity - with chambers and hallways, places to discover, places to get lost - but it is only represented in the sand. In reality, it is only ever discovered in the mind.” I had often appreciated the sand Mandala as a beautiful and intriguing expression of Tibetan art and culture, but now I was entering into it at a deeper level. The oddly intersecting patterns constructed in the colored sand were beginning to resonate with the seemingly coincidental intersections of events in my own life. Even as the various paths and spaces in the Mandala all eventually lead to the center, so, too, were the various paths and spaces in my life becoming more integrated and drawing me toward my own center. Whether constructed as a path of sand within this Buddhist temple of the Dalai Lama, or illuminated in the rose window of Chartres Cathedral in France, or inscribed as a labyrinth on the floor of Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, the Mandala circle has historically been an archetype of wholeness, a sacred space and form that transcends religion and touches the spirit in a manner that calls one into the calm depths of the soul. Tenzin turned toward me and smiled. “John-la, this is your path. This particular Mandala is a representation of the domain of Yamantaka, protector deity of wisdom who personifies the triumph of wisdom over ignorance, suffering and death. But it also represents the interconnectedness of all things, the entire universe, what you would call
  9. 9. THE NEW MANDALA 3 creation. And finally, John-la, it’s a way of understanding your journey, a map of your self, a path leading inward, away from the borders you have imposed upon yourself and toward the energy of your own center.” He handed me the silver flute. “It’s your turn. Tap it gently and add your part to the whole. Be careful not to disturb the rest of the sand. Go ahead, give it a try.” The sand Mandala had been painstakingly constructed over ten days so far, and was the most detailed I had ever seen. I was in awe and visibly nervous as I leaned over the magnificent creation and ever so gently tapped a few grains of colored sand into a small chocolate-chip shaped mound next to a hundred other mounds like it. The final border was being completed, and now my small effort was a part of it. Tenzin was right, I felt connected to the whole. I knew I had been blessed and honored with this opportunity to participate, and I returned the flute of sand to Tenzin with a broad smile of my own. Then I sat on the cushion and gazed silently into this path of life with wonder. I pictured myself as any one of the solitary grains of colored sand in the pattern before me. Where was I in my life’s journey? Was I in that bright orange high point over there, or in the dark blue box of walls to the right? Was I on the twisting, turning path that led toward the center, or was I wandering among the lotus blossoms at the fringe? And I couldn’t help reflecting on the maze of twists and turns, peaks and valleys, dead ends and new beginnings that had brought me to this unique place and time. Here I am in Dharamsala, perched on a promontory of the Himalayas with all of India spread below me, sitting crossed-legged before this new Mandala in the temple of the Dalai Lama, a Christian minister entering into the meditation of the Buddhist monks and contemplating my life’s journey.
  10. 10. THE NEW MANDALA 4 And life is a journey. Allowing myself to enter into the Mandala, I am reminded that the real journey of life - the real twists and turns, peaks and valleys, dead ends and new beginnings - is an inward journey, or, in Tenzin’s words, “a path leading inward, away from the borders you have imposed upon yourself and toward the energy of your own center.” I recall the words of Thomas Merton, the Christian monk who wrote in his journal while visiting this same holy ground some twenty-five years earlier: “Our real journey in life is interior: it is a matter of growth, deepening, and of an ever greater surrender to the action of love and grace in our hearts.” I am on that journey. Thomas Merton was on that journey. You are on that journey. As my mind’s eye wanders the colorful maze of the sand Mandala, I am fascinated by the intersections that have colored my spiritual journey. I am reminded that I am a pilgrim on a long and broad path, a path that has intersected that of Thomas Merton, of His Holiness the Dalai Lama of Tibet, and even the path that you are on. You and I are sharing this path with everyone who has ever questioned the meaning of life and pondered his or her place in the great scheme of things. This new Mandala, this path to the domain of the Deity, this collection of myriad grains of sand has become for me a poignant meditation on connectedness. I am orienting myself in relation to all those who have ever traveled the path before me, those who will travel the path after me, and perhaps most importantly, those who are on the journey of life alongside me this day. For me, spirituality has become a matter of relationships: my relationship with my self, with others, with the Divine, and with the divine creation. To grow in one’s spirituality is to grow and become more mature in each of these four relationships.
  11. 11. THE NEW MANDALA 5 Examining the myriad patterns in the Mandala, I am meditating upon my place in relation to my center, my interconnectedness, and my boundaries. This book is my meditation, and it has been written for you. You are my traveling companion on the journey to the domain of the divine. I know you. You may be my son or daughter, my mother or father, my wife or my ex-wife. You may be the checker in the grocery store I shopped at yesterday, or you may be the parishioner I greeted in church on Sunday. Perhaps I visited you in the hospital or in prison, or you may have visited me in my office for counseling. You may have been a student in one of my classes. More probably you are someone I have never encountered in person on my journey, but nonetheless - I know you. We share the same long and broad path on the Mandala of life. We have the same hopes and fears; we have shared many of the same joys and concerns. And, most important, we are seeking answers to many of the same questions. I rise from my cushion and bow with my palms together in a gesture of thanksgiving toward my host and teacher, the venerable Tenzin. As I step out into the morning light I face the Dalai Lama’s residence across the square and again recall a journal entry of Thomas Merton. He noted that all of Dharamsala, with its stupas and shrines, its residences of monks and rinpoches, its collection of monasteries and temples, and its meandering paths reminded him of the Mandala itself, with the Dalai Lama in a sort of center, a “central presence...a fully awake Buddha.” I share that feeling in this moment. The sun is just rising above the peaks of the Himalayas as I walk the path that rings His Holiness’ compound, joining the faithful who daily circumambulate this living shrine counting their mantras with their prayer beads. This has become my daily prayer
  12. 12. THE NEW MANDALA 6 walk as well. At the south end of the circuit is an elaborate stupa adorned with thousands of brightly-colored prayer flags, offering their prayers of the people to the Buddhas with every breath of the wind. As I look out over the vista of India far below from this finger of land that is Dharamsala, I am approached by a young lady whose British accent intones, “Excuse me...aren’t you the priest who’s also a Buddhist?” I smile, having heard numerous variations of this introduction in Dharamsala before. “I am a Protestant minister, and also sort of a Buddhist, yes.” “Hi, I’m Christine...and I was raised Catholic...but I was sort of turned off by the Church...but I think of myself as a very spiritual person...and I like what I’ve learned about Buddhism. But my Mum would disown me if I ever became a Buddhist!” With a smile she continues, “Do you suppose we could talk sometime?” I have heard this same spirit of inquiry and incredulity often during the course of conversations with seekers in Dharamsala and among students in my classes in California. How can one be both a Christian and a Buddhist? Perhaps her thoughts are your thoughts. Over lunches and dinners of noodles and rice, I have responded to similar inquiries many times, and on each occasion I have moved deeper into my own Mandala, examining the path that has brought me to this place and time. By articulating what I have experienced and learned I have come to a greater personal awareness of the affinity that exists between Buddhism and Christianity, between Buddhism and the Truth of all the world’s great religions. I have discovered, as did Merton, that the real journey of life is taking place in my soul, not under my feet. And I have experienced how the wisdom and practice of the Buddha can actually provide a framework for personal growth within the faith of my formation, my inherited Christianity.
  13. 13. THE NEW MANDALA 7 Out of my conversations with Christine and others has come this book, and I intend it to be a sharing of my spiritual journey in a dialogue with you. We will be joined by a wise teacher, His Holiness, the Dalai Lama of Tibet. I will share with you his teachings and his private conversations with me as we look for ways that Eastern wisdom can illuminate our Western living. We will look at the new Mandala each of us is constructing as we embark on another stage of our respective spiritual journeys. Together we are about to discover how the wisdom of the East - the enlightened teaching of the Buddha - shares an affinity with the faith we have each inherited, and how it can be borrowed by those of us in the West and made a valuable part of our spiritual quest and our daily spiritual practice. We will have some of our questions answered by the Dalai Lama, and still others by the historical Buddha, whose universal teachings are older than those of the Christ. We are going to explore a discipline and a structure that can guide us toward unlocking the wisdom of our own faith. We are going to walk the labyrinth. We are going to create a new Mandala. And we are going to start with a journey to Dharamsala. Where exactly is this Dharamsala and why the journey there? As with the Mandala, the answer is found on more than one level. Dharamsala is a real place. The village of Dharamsala, in the region of Himachal Pradesh, at the base of the foothills of the Himalayas in northern India, is a former “hill station” of the colonial British who occupied India until 1947. The officers of the Royal Army would escape to the cool, dry elevation of Dharamsala for rest and relaxation. Then came Partition and independence, and Dharamsala returned to being a quiet, sleepy, largely forgotten dot on the map. In 1959, the religious and temporal leader of the nation of Tibet was forced to flee the
  14. 14. THE NEW MANDALA 8 mounting oppression, torture and killing of his people by the invading communist Chinese government. The Dalai Lama, and several thousand of his followers, crossed the rugged Himalayas to find sanctuary in neighboring India. Soon, residents of Dharamsala invited the Tibetans to make their village the home of the government-in-exile. Today, Dharamsala is still the seat of the Tibetan government which is continuing its struggle for recognition by the world community and for the eventual return of the Tibetan people to their rightful homeland. It is also the home of the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, the fourteenth reincarnation of the Dalai Lama. This simple monk, as he describes himself, has become a living saint. For many, his voice is now the spiritual conscience of the world. Pilgrims and the curious alike journey here each year to be a part of this unique community of monks, nuns and ordinary Tibetans, and perhaps to see and hear the Dalai Lama. Surrounded by India and Indians, this Buddhist refugee community coexists with Hindus, Sikhs and Moslems while also welcoming the Jews, Christians and others who come here from all over the world seeking some form of enlightenment. I have made the journey to this Dharamsala. I was invited and encouraged by a family friend, the Reverend Doctor Rafael Bastianni, a kindly, self-effacing French Catholic priest and medical doctor who has given half of each of the past thirty years providing rehabilitation services to orphaned refugees in a small dispensary in the Tibetan Children’s Village. I have made my own pilgrimage of discovery to Dharamsala. I have lived with the ever-smiling Tibetans. I have worked with them, shared tea with them, shared my faith with them and learned from them. Buddhist monks have invited me into their monasteries and the Dalai Lama has challenged me in dialogue. The gentle
  15. 15. THE NEW MANDALA 9 wisdom of the Buddha has been a gift, shared with me by fellow travelers on the Path. Paradoxically, I have been strengthened in my Christian faith. Though I am an ordained Protestant minister, I, like you, struggle with questions that my inherited faith does not always seem complete enough to answer. My time in Dharamsala has been an inner journey of spiritual growth. In the pages that follow, I hope to share that journey of growth with you. I invite and encourage you to initiate the creation of your own new Mandala by joining me in this journey to Dharamsala. But this is not the only dharamsala we will visit. In fact, this tiny Tibetan village is not our true destination, though much of what I will share with you on this journey has been gleaned from my time there. In India a dharamsala is any simple, temporary shelter that is made available to religious pilgrims for a brief stay while journeying. India was home to the original Buddha, Gautama Siddhartha, though Buddhism migrated and flourished outside of India. India is also home to several other religions, most notably Hinduism. Each of these faith traditions honors its respective shrines and holy sites. Pilgrims of all faiths traverse India to pay homage to the sacred people and places of their faith. Along the way, they are welcomed into the hospitality of the local dharamsala, a sort of hostel for the often weary sojourner. So the dharamsala we will share is a stop along the way, a place of communion for the one who is at the same time both faithful and seeking, both believing and questioning. It is a place of shelter for the one who is reclaiming his or her past, while also asking today’s questions of fellow travelers. It is a place to get one’s bearings, to orient oneself, to reflect on where one has been and to seek direction for the next portion of the journey. It is here that we will create a new map for ourselves, a new Mandala. It
  16. 16. THE NEW MANDALA 10 is to this refuge that we journey, and it is in its inviting shelter that we can encounter the love and hospitality of fellow travelers and experience what Thomas Merton experienced: that our real journey of life is interior, that it is a matter of growth, of deepening, and of an ever greater surrender to the creative action of love and grace in our hearts. Dharamsala will therefore be for us not so much a place as an experience. But an experience must be experienced. I will share with you my experiences, my search, my discoveries, but if this journey is to be your journey, then the pages that follow must become an invitation to a path that we walk together. With the road map, the new Mandala, that has been shared with me by my Tibetan friends I can lead the way, but the sights and sounds, the trees and flowers, the birds and the monkeys that are constantly to the left and the right of the path will have to be your sights and sounds, your trees and flowers, your birds and monkeys. The memories evoked by the stories we hear will have to be your memories. The responses to the wisdom we encounter will have to be your responses. The answers we find will have to arise from your questions. In other words, just as you can’t curl up in a corner easy chair and “read” a road map, you can’t simply “read” this book if you want to allow it to spark that real journey - the inner journey. For that you will have to put this book down every once in a while and just reflect upon it. Let my stories resonate with your stories. Stop where you are and put the map away, then just absorb the presence of where you are before continuing on. Remember, life is a journey and we will spend a lifetime taking our place on the great Mandala as it passes through our brief moment in time. Our destination is our center, and we can only get there by turning inward. So let’s be open to just that. Let’s pause. Close this little book and reflect on the Mandala. Consider your journey of life. Where are you? Where
  17. 17. THE NEW MANDALA 11 are you going? How are you going to get there? Then consider your deepest questions: Does life make sense? Does it have meaning for you? Does your faith tradition help you in your meaning-making? If you ask yourself these questions, as I have done, and then, just as I also have done, still find yourself asking more difficult questions, still searching for meaning, still trying to make an historical faith relevant to your life today, then you have begun your meditation. You have entered into your journey and are already applying the grains of sand to your own new Mandala. You are ready to begin exercising your mind and strengthening your spiritual foundation.
  18. 18. 12 Chapter 2 Who Are You and Where Are You Going? No matter how much faith we have, if we do not constantly maintain an inquisitive and critical attitude our practice will always remain somewhat foolish. - His Holiness the Dalai Lama I am often asked how it is that this Protestant minister wound up in the company of the Dalai Lama, and is now a Christian preacher and teacher of Buddhist wisdom and practice. I generally respond by noting that I was never one to “color within the lines.” So the story of my spiritual journey - my Mandala, if you will - has its own unique pattern with a lot of fuzzy margins. The bend in the road, the turning point in my spiritual journey occurred as a direct result of an auspicious conjunction of anxiety, curiosity and opportunity. In the classic story of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Dorothy is lost, disoriented, confused, even frightened when she first encounters the Scarecrow who greets her with the words, “Who are you and where are you going?” It’s a metaphysical question that confronts us all at some point as we find ourselves stumbling along the yellow brick paths of our lives. Her reply, “I’m Dorothy, and I’m going to Oz - to see if the Wizard can help me get home,” is her way of responding for all of us: I am what I have named
  19. 19. THE NEW MANDALA 13 myself, and I’m exploring, seeking a wise guide who can help me return to my roots, the ground of my being, my center. In the summer of 1993 the Scarecrow’s questions were often being asked in the silence of my mind. One particular evening that summer I found myself asking the questions out loud: “Who are you? Where are you going? How are you going to get there?” I was leading a discussion among the members of my parish, and my questions were addressed to this suburban Chicago congregation of ordinary people who were struggling with the direction of their church in a time of change. Their children were all grown now and lived somewhere else, earning their living doing something other than fabricating steel as their fathers had done, most likely some high-tech job their parents didn’t really understand. Most of the old neighbors had left, too, either by choice or by death, replaced by people whose culture they also didn’t really understand. A post-war community of European immigrants seeking a better life was rapidly being replaced by a community of immigrants from the ravaged inner city, also looking for a better life. White was being replaced with yellow, with brown and with black. The churches that had nurtured them, and which had once been filled every Sunday with the sounds of families recalling Dutch and German hymns, were now filled only on weekdays, serving as daycare centers nurturing the children of working mothers, children who now danced to seemingly strange African and Mexican rhythms. My parishioners knew who they had been, but they were less certain about who they had become. And the reality was they didn’t want to “go” anywhere - not physically, not emotionally. They wanted things to remain as they used to be. They knew about change, all right, but they wanted their church to be their one sanctuary from
  20. 20. THE NEW MANDALA 14 it, the one unchanging monument to the way things once were, the anchor in a disquieting sea of change. I had been called as their interim pastor, one who would bridge the gap between the old and the new and guide them during their “in-between” time. I was expected to be a little like the Prophets whom I once heard described as “the ones who point the way, but who never get there themselves.” I was not merely a caretaker minister, charged only with keeping the pulpit warm until a real minister was chosen. No, in my denomination an Interim Minister is a special calling, and is acknowledged as such by appointment and training. An experienced saint of the faith once explained the interim time in the life of a congregation with this image: the covered bridge. Those picturesque clapboard-sided wooden bridges that colored the New England and Midwestern landscape provided more than inspiration for painters and photographers. They were built in a time when the path from this side of the stream to the other side needed to offer some degree of protection for the journey or else the flock would balk, afraid to make the crossing. The shingled roofs kept the rain and snow from accumulating along the span. The barn-red planks that formed the sides of the bridge obscured any frightening view of the dizzying height and the dangerous currents below. With the security of a protected pathway leading toward a shining view at the end of the tunnel, even the most timid sheep would venture forth and arrive safely on the other side. We all have interim times in our lives - in our solitary lives and in our congregational lives - when we need a covered bridge. For the tribes of Israel, the wilderness experience of the desert required a Moses and even a parting of the waters. For some of us a two-week vacation is that bridge, for others the safety of a
  21. 21. THE NEW MANDALA 15 psychologist’s guidance is the path from here to there. For the congregation in Chicago, on this day and in this place, the interim was now and the shepherd guiding the anxious flock across the bridge was me. “Who are you? Where are you going? How are you going to get there?” These were the questions I had been called to ask. These were the questions I was expected to help them answer. And, more and more frequently I was discovering, these were the same questions that were troubling me. Who are you, I was asking myself. This has been the question posed by the Greeks and by the philosophers and by the psychologists, even by both the disciples and the enemies of Christ. I had no simple answer for myself. Perhaps I knew better who I wanted to be than who I was. I wanted to be more spiritual, I knew that. And I wanted to be more religious, but in the authentic sense. I was already religious in the superficial sense. I was, after all, a man of the cloth, a leader of the Church. But I longed to wrap myself in the essential garments of a religion that would transform me, that would help me answer the questions of my soul, that would give voice to my calling and put passion into my response. As I spoke to this meeting of the mothers and fathers, the widows and widowers, the sons and the daughters of this anxious worshiping community of faith, I feared that I might not be adequately equipped to lead them on their journey. Even as I challenged this band of weary pilgrims to question what was right and good within their church, to reclaim the faith of their formation, and to use that strength in the building of a bridge to their church’s future, my troubled heart was silently challenging me with its own soul-
  22. 22. THE NEW MANDALA 16 searching questions. As I faced the next bridge in my own spiritual journey, I found myself unsure that it was capable of carrying me safely toward my destination. Over and over, I now more frequently felt the timbers under my feet creaking and the voice in my heart asking, “What’s wrong with my religion?” I have often noticed that it is the coincidence of simple events which marks the turning points in life. I have come to view these not as coincidence at all, but rather as significant “co-incidents.” As I was dealing with my anxiety and questioning the faith of my formation within the sanctuary of my Midwestern church, I was invited to participate in the global Parliament of the World’s Religions. Representatives of the world’s religions had come together this summer, exactly one hundred years after the first Parliament of the World’s Religions was held on the same ground as part of the Chicago World’s Colombian Exposition in 1893. Today they had transformed the lawn of Grant Park into a colorful bazaar of the dress and the music and the dance and the prayers of the world’s peoples. Today I would again be confronted with the question of what’s wrong with my religion. And today I would hear the teachings of the Dalai Lama for the first time. “No matter how much faith we have, if we do not constantly maintain an inquisitive and critical attitude our practice will always remain somewhat foolish.” These words of the Dalai Lama rang true since curiosity has always seemed a natural part of life to me. Nonetheless, as a minister of the Christian Church, I have frequently encountered some who openly wondered why I would be looking for Truth outside my own religion. Even as I sat with my thoughts among this diverse assembly, protesters surrounding the park were proclaiming the position of the evangelical and fundamental Christian
  23. 23. THE NEW MANDALA 17 perspective that what was taking place at this ecumenical Parliament was a heresy. Sadly, years of conditioning had quelled their sense of curiosity and taught them to be suspicious of inquiry. And it’s no wonder. History is rife with examples that have given us the message that inquiry is always suspect and often dangerous. It is a sad commentary on the religions of our world, not singling out Christianity alone, that most protests against inquiry come from the faith traditions that portray themselves as the bearers of Truth, while history reminds us that our religions have constantly endeavored to set up roadblocks and detours on the path toward the discovery of any new revelation of that Truth. Religious leaders in the past who have dared to suggest that inquiry, even when it conflicted with the current and accepted teachings, might be the appropriate path to Truth were typically silenced. Jesus was a devout Jew who called the faithful to move beyond the confining legalism of his inherited religion toward a spirituality that would replace tired old doctrine with love and compassion. He was neither the first nor the last to be crucified for questioning the status quo, and no single religious tradition can be awarded all the blame. This suspicion of inquiry seems to be related to issues of vulnerability. When we embark upon a journey we inevitably discover things, whether that journey is to the Grand Canyon or an interior journey to the heart of what we believe. Journeys are never passive; they always lead to discovery. Such discovery may open us to a new vision that brings our old view into question. We may even find we have to abandon the old in favor of the new. This is the vulnerability we fear. It’s hard to let go, and going forward always involves letting go.
  24. 24. THE NEW MANDALA 18 No one feels more vulnerable than someone who is standing upon the weak foundation of an unsupported idea. This was the vulnerability felt by the leaders of the dominant religion of the Western world in the early sixteenth century. Ever since Aristotle, three hundred years before Christ, the politically correct idea was that the whole universe revolved around the Earth. This was a neat bit of thinking since it complemented the more insidious notion of the day that Man was actually the center of the universe, and it just so happened that Earth was Man’s home. This was a particularly attractive arrangement of things for those men who were in positions of authority and privilege in the Church. Along comes Nicholas Copernicus who argues that his observations have convinced him that the Earth and the other planets revolve around the sun. The Earth is not the center of the universe, nor, for that matter, is Man and his Church. Unfortunately for Copernicus, his ideas predated the printing business, and his discovery was not widely circulated, and even less widely accepted. By the year 1600 there were only about ten known advocates of his ideas alive in the world. One of those was Galileo. Galileo was a true seeker, a master of curious thinking. His curiosity led him to develop the modern compass and the telescope. By simply keeping his eyes wide open, by not limiting his vision to that of his predecessors, by using the tools he had, Galileo journeyed into the heavens and discovered that the nearly forgotten Copernicus had been right. The Earth did, in fact, revolve around the sun. However, following the publication of what was quickly labeled heresy, Galileo was summoned to Rome by the Inquisition and ordered to renounce his findings and was sentenced to life imprisonment. His published discovery was ordered to be burned, and the sentence against him was read
  25. 25. THE NEW MANDALA 19 publicly in every university. This was not a promising step by Western religion toward the advancement of the cause of curious thinking! With respect to perhaps the greatest search for knowledge imaginable - the inquiry into the origins of the universe and the mysteries of our own origin - curious thinking is, today, fighting for its life with every new revelation. The poetic Jewish myth that traditionally explained our human relationship to the divine creation has seemed by many to be somehow threatened by curious thinking. The Genesis account of the creation story is reduced by many in the West to mere details of archeological history, when the reality is this beautiful myth seeks to display a cosmic wonder of relationships that is much greater than mere facts. The amazing mysteries that science is daily unfolding regarding the origins of the cosmos and the baffling adaptability of the human and other species should be expanding our curiosity into the wonders of the Divine. Instead, the scientific journey of inquiry is continually the object of religious scorn. Roadblocks are constantly thrown up to thwart our curious thinking. Charles Darwin had also been guilty of curious thinking. Traveling the world in a little boat, he had wondered how animals were so wondrously adaptable, and he had speculated on what implications this might have for us, the human animal. The rest of the world had been conditioned to accept the old answers and attempted to suppress his theories, afraid and unwilling to let go, feeling too vulnerable on their weak religious foundation to accept the possibility that serious inquiry might result in the need to assimilate new Truth. I put forward this brief history lesson because these historical seekers remind me of a consciousness that is alive within each of us, and which was a flame burning within
  26. 26. THE NEW MANDALA 20 me that day in Chicago. It is this flame of consciousness that fuels the natural spirit of inquiry. Galileo, Copernicus and Darwin were each discovering the structure of the universe and the place of their world within it; humankind has always been searching for the origins of the universe and of itself. It is the mind’s calling to be about the unraveling of the great cosmic Mandala. It is the need we have to resolve these questions of our place in the great scheme of things that is basic to our every wandering. It is our thirst for meaning in the seemingly chaotic that causes us to journey from the less-than-satisfying here to the inviting but unknown there. Life is movement, from where we are now toward somewhere new. To be alive is to be searching, to be inquiring. To be alive is to be filled with curious thinking. The reverse implication, then, is that to be static, to be content with where we are, to have ended the journey - this is to be dead. But our religions and our Western culture have often failed to nurture our inborn spirituality and our natural tendency to question, to seek the difficult answers. Not only have Western cultures and religions unwittingly advanced the “God is dead” mentality, they have managed to effectively dampen the human spirit of curious thinking. Acceptance and conformity have become the hallmark of both religious and secular education, hence, the hallmark of Western lives that have ceased exploring. You and I are the products of Western religion, culture and education that have systematically attempted to extinguish the burning inquisitiveness we were born with. You and I were taught in public schools and in Sunday school to memorize and regurgitate without question. The true prophets of the world’s great religions would have had none of all this. Curious thinking was their hallmark. The Jewish and Christian sages and saints, the
  27. 27. THE NEW MANDALA 21 historical forerunners of my inherited faith, were always questioning that which was currently accepted. The prophets, from Moses to Isaiah to Jesus, all exhorted the faithful to question the conventional wisdom and to discard the false, following only the revealed Truth. On this day I was among the faithful in that Parliament of the world’s diversity who believed that knowledge and practice which proves to be false should be discarded, and that which is discovered to be in harmony with reason, inquiry and experience should be appropriated as new Truth by the discoverer. I continue to believe that. Seizing upon Galileo as an example, I don’t want to be satisfied with answers I have so far been given regarding my place in the universe. Like Darwin, I should continually be striving to know why I have evolved into the person I am today. Like the child I used to be, I should be asking why, why, why. My growth toward full human adulthood can only come with questioning the adolescence I find myself in at any given moment. I will never be mentally and spiritually mature if I accept where I have been as my final destination in life. Living and growing requires an ever-expanding vision which comes from eyes that are inquisitive and curious. When I don’t understand why life is handing me a raw deal, I should be asking why. When I am fortunate enough to have all I ever thought I wanted, and then am not really satisfied, I should be asking why. When I see others suffering due to political or economic injustice, I should be asking why. When politicians offer simple answers to immensely complicated problems, I should be asking why. When I am feeling depressed or when the relationships in my life seem shallow and meaningless, I should be asking why. When I am laboring day after day in endeavors that don’t challenge my talents and gifts, I should be asking why.
  28. 28. THE NEW MANDALA 22 When God seems absent in my day to day living, I should be asking why. When God suddenly and mysteriously acts in my life, I should certainly be asking why. And so it was that my curious nature and my insatiable spirit had brought me to the historic Parliament of the World’s Religions. All the truths of the world’s religions are contained in the stories they tell. So it was no surprise that this Parliament of the World’s Religions became a time for sharing of each other’s stories. One of the stories I heard was especially poignant as I explored the smorgasbord of religions that was shared during this ecumenical event, while also struggling with questions about my own inherited faith. As we sat on the lawn, awaiting the arrival of the keynote speaker, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, an American student of Buddhism shared the story of an earlier public teaching offered by the Dalai Lama in the south of India. He described a huge open-air arena where monks and nuns from throughout Asia, together with thousands of lay Buddhists, had gathered on the lawn. To their side sat another crowd: a fairly large group of Americans and Europeans who had converted to the Buddhist faith and who were now monks and nuns themselves. Heads shaved and clothed in the saffron and crimson robes of the Tibetan monastic, they too eagerly awaited the arrival of His Holiness, the most venerated figure in all Buddhism. When the Dalai Lama entered that Indian arena, an awesome silence swept over the crowd. There was not a sound to be heard as his incense-carrying attendants led him to the platform where his raised throne had been prepared. The air was filled with a gentle, fragrant smoke and a deep spirit of reverence.
  29. 29. THE NEW MANDALA 23 His Holiness stood facing the throng of Buddhist faithful. He then surprised everyone by walking over to the monks and nuns and greeting them, some with a handshake, most with a smile or a disarming wink of his eye. Then he offered the same informal greeting to the lay men and women who had crowded in. Finally he took a few steps toward the Westerners. The American and European monks and nuns, some of whom had traveled thousands of miles to be in this place at this exact moment, each straightened his or her spine, sitting perfectly erect, legs crossed and hands positioned in a prayerful gesture of respect. Each was secretly hoping to be recognized by His Holiness as the epitome of Buddhist correctness. The Dalai Lama greeted them all right, but not in the manner they were expecting. As their idol surveyed this collection of former Jews, Catholics, Protestants and atheists, he began to speak. “Why are you wearing those silly robes?” There was not a sound from the crowd as he continued, “We Tibetan Buddhists wear these robes only because of an accident of geography and birth. It’s our historical custom. We inherited the tradition. We are supposed to dress like this, but you - you look silly!” He chuckled with his inimitable childlike laugh. Then he asked the most incredible question: “What’s wrong with your religion?” Again his question was greeted with stunned silence. He continued, “Would you all like to be good Buddhists? Yes? Then why don’t you do this: go back to your country, get a job and practice being compassionate. Your own faith has plenty of teachings that can help you with compassion. Do that, and you will be good Buddhists.”
  30. 30. THE NEW MANDALA 24 One can only imagine the interior reaction of that stunned group of westerners. A once-in-a-lifetime encounter with the world’s foremost spiritual leader, and he pulls the rug out from under them. While I was not a part of that Indian crowd of western mendicants in the story, His Holiness’ piercing question hit home that afternoon in Chicago. What is wrong with my religion? It’s a rhetorical question, of course, and it implies that perhaps there is nothing wrong with your and my Western religion. The Dalai Lama was in fact suggesting that his listeners would do well to return to their faith, that their tradition already held all the answers. Yet here in this little story, and on the lawn here at the Parliament of the World’s Religions as well, were converts from some Western religion which, for now at least, seemed to be wrong for them. Somehow their religious inheritance had been insufficient, unable to answer the questions they were wrestling with at the moment. The Dalai Lama was not suggesting that westerners were not invited to become Buddhists. Quite the contrary is the reality. Many truly spiritual westerners have found in Buddhism the religious answers they were seeking, and have joined Tibetan monasteries and nunneries. Some of the most helpful Buddhist teaching I would later receive in Dharamsala would come from the compassionate western Buddhist monks and nuns I came to know there. The Dalai Lama was suggesting, however, that I don’t have to become a Buddhist, or even a Christian, Jew, Hindu or Moslem. I don’t have to become a member of any organized religious group; I don’t need any labels, new or old. What I do need to become is fully human. What I need to become is liberated from all that is holding me
  31. 31. THE NEW MANDALA 25 back from being fully human. What I need is to live my life in accordance with the wisdom of all the world’s great religions, Buddhism included. This was the Dalai Lama’s argument that day in India. This had been the Buddha’s teaching two thousand years earlier. Has our religion failed us? As a minister of the Church, my response may surprise you. Yes! Yes, institutional religion in the West has failed many of us. That’s part of the reason some of us find ourselves on a quest for something more. I am troubled by the institutions of religion that seem more concerned with their self-preservation than with the spiritual needs of real people. Men and women have burning questions about the purpose of life and death, about the pain and suffering that are constant companions to them; they want to know why a loving God seems at times too distant; in a troubled world they wonder if their life can make a difference. As an ordained leader within the institutional Church, I struggle with the same concerns, and then feel embarrassed when the Church responds by creating a new committee, establishing another social service program, or remodeling the church kitchen and hosting more potluck dinners. Like many others I have encountered in my ministry, I want to grow in my spirituality and humanity. We are asking heartfelt questions and all too often are being told to attend worship on Sunday and serve on the church council - become involved. I want to feel that I am part of a spiritual community that, like me, is asking questions of itself, not merely reacting to a rapidly changing world with the litany, “We’ve always done it this way.” As a vehicle for the transformation I seek, my religion has all too often left me wanting.
  32. 32. THE NEW MANDALA 26 For many of us, the religion we received from our parents has been insufficient, but has it been wrong? Is there something wrong with our religion? Ah, now that’s another question, and here I offer a qualified “No.” If we mean by that question is there something inherently wrong with the historical teaching of our faith, the answer is no. The wisdom and Truth are there. But if, on the other hand, we are asking about the priestly function of organized religions, which is to interpret the teachings and to pass them on, then yes, organized religion has all too often been a failure in the West. There is something wrong. Western religion is our culture’s repository of wisdom and Truth, but all too often the gatekeepers of our traditions have kept their treasure hidden away like a miser’s hoard. My discovery and my quandary has been that the religions of the West have repeatedly been guilty of providing time-honored - but not timely - answers to questions that today’s seekers were not, in fact, asking, then rebuking those who were asking for more. Those were among my concerns on this final afternoon of the Parliament, which was to be a celebration of all that had happened during one whirlwind week of interreligious and inter-cultural sharing. On this warm late summer’s day, the Parliament was culminating with a joyous and prayerful celebration, with the Nobel Peace Prize laureate, His Holiness the Dalai Lama of Tibet, delivering the keynote homily. Blankets and picnic baskets had been laid out on the lawn of Grant Park and thousands were gathering in a sort of religious Woodstock to hear Arlo Guthrie sing songs of a bygone era, and to bask in the warmth that had been created by the coming together of such a vast collection of spiritual folk from every walk of life throughout the world. The divisions between souls, which religion has often been guilty of creating, had somehow
  33. 33. THE NEW MANDALA 27 been suspended for one incredible week, and this was the time to mark that with prayer and alleluias and a ritual of true communion. Waiting in the summer sun for the ceremonies to begin, my wife and I had spread out our blanket and enjoyed a picnic lunch. As the crowd grew, one couldn’t help noticing the peace and joy that pervaded this makeshift holy place. Among those arriving were a busload of Tibetan refugees, expatriates living in Madison, Wisconsin, under the auspices of the Tibetan Resettlement Program. This initiative of the American government had allowed one thousand Tibetan refugees to enter the United States as immigrants and to live and work here. One day soon their families would be allowed to join them as well. Each Tibetan was assisted by host sponsors in selected cities across America. This particular group had journeyed from Madison with their sponsors to hear their revered spiritual leader address the followers of all the world’s religions and to catch a glimpse of the Dalai Lama himself. A small group of these excited Tibetans spotted our only partially occupied blanket and asked - mostly with gestures - if they might share our space. We were pleased to have them join us. What better way to listen to His Holiness than in the company of eager Tibetans. That day I was struck by the smiles. The Tibetans never stopped smiling. These righteous people, these people who for no reason had been stripped of their land and possessions, forced to trek over the Himalayas to shelter and who now found themselves displaced in America, these folks never stopped laughing or at least smiling. In an instant, we felt as though we were among friends, our new Tibetan friends, our laughing,
  34. 34. THE NEW MANDALA 28 smiling, Tibetan friends. And when the Dalai Lama arrived at the pulpit, he was smiling, he was laughing. There was joy on every wide-eyed, cherubic Tibetan face that day. There was also a sacramental electricity in the air as His Holiness stepped to the podium and began to speak with a gentle smile in his heart. “Nowadays the world is becoming increasingly materialistic, driven by an insatiable desire for power and possessions. Yet in this vain striving, we wander ever farther from inward peace and mental happiness. Despite our pleasant material surroundings many of us today experience mental dissatisfaction, fear, anxiety, and a sense of insecurity. There is some kind of vacuum within the human mind. What I think we lack is a proper sense of spirituality.” I knew I wanted to cultivate a greater sense of spirituality. I listened with my new Tibetan friends as he continued, “The purpose of religion is not merely to build beautiful places of worship, but to cultivate positive human qualities of tolerance, generosity, and love. Whenever we pursue noble goals, obstacles and difficulties are bound to occur. As human beings, we may lose hope. But there is nothing to be gained from discouragement; our determination must be very firm. According to my meager experience, we can change. We can transform ourselves. Therefore, if we all were to spend a few minutes every day, thinking about these things and trying to develop compassion, eventually compassion will become part of our lives. Generally speaking, religion in the real sense has to do with a positive mind. A positive mind is what ultimately brings us benefit or happiness. The essence of religion is therefore the means by which these things are generated.”
  35. 35. THE NEW MANDALA 29 In the company of strangers who had become friends, in the sanctuary of that time and place, in the hearing of this simple monk’s teaching, I resolved to experience more of this clear and gentle wisdom. And as fate would have it, the anxiety I was experiencing over my inherited faith and my place in it, and the curiosity that led me to this hearing of the words of the Dalai Lama, would soon be conjoined with a unique opportunity to enter a rich new path on my spiritual journey.
  36. 36. 30 Chapter 3 Venturing Forth When we compare two ancient spiritual traditions like Buddhism and Christianity, what we see is a striking similarity between the narratives of the founding masters . . . In both the lives of Jesus Christ and the Buddha, it is only through hardship, dedication, and commitment and by standing firm on one’s principles that one can grow spiritually and attain liberation. - His Holiness the Dalai Lama At any given point in the Mandala that is our life’s story, we are where we have been, and we are becoming where we are going. We are at once the I Am of our past and the I Am of our future. There is little distinction between our good-byes and our hellos; between our letting go and our venturing forth. “You must go,” Father Bastianni was telling me now, “not to discover Buddhism...but to discover your own spirituality.” For a few years now, it had become my custom to escape the cold of the Chicago winter and retreat to the south of France just after the Christmas holidays each year to join my wife’s family for vacation. This year, one of my first destinations was a return visit to the medieval church and parish home of the Reverend Doctor Raphael Sanzio Bastianni. During each of my previous visits this aging Catholic priest and long-time friend of my wife’s family had been gently but persuasively urging me to make a pilgrimage to Dharamsala. It was in this same country church - with its ancient walls
  37. 37. THE NEW MANDALA 31 displaying figures of the Buddha alongside images of Christ, its stone fireplace hung with garlic braids and dented copper skillets, and its windows open to a view of the golden sunflower fields in the farming valley below - that I first heard the stories of Father Bastianni’s “other ministry” with the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan refugee community. He had been a medical doctor many years ago, before following his call to the priesthood. In the nineteen-sixties, he had traveled to Dharamsala, then the new home of the Dalai Lama who had recently fled to north India to escape the onslaught of the Chinese communist army into his native Tibet. Father Raphael had asked His Holiness if he might conduct research among the monks into the long-term effects of meditation on the hypothalamus of the brain. After a year of conducting his research among the Tibetan monastics, Father Raphael spoke with His Holiness and asked what he might be able to do for the Tibetan community to repay their warm hospitality during his stay. The Dalai Lama did not hesitate, and suggested that the new Tibetan Children’s Village, a home and school for orphaned Tibetan children, was in need of a medical clinic. Reverend Doctor Bastianni returned to France, raised the funds and recruited the personnel, then returned to Dharamsala the following year to establish the clinic. The kindly priest-doctor continued to return to Dharamsala for a major portion of each year thereafter to staff the clinic himself. Over the years this pious Catholic cleric had become enamored with the wisdom and practice of his Buddhist hosts, and had discovered the empowering affinity between Buddhism and Christianity. It was this discovery that he was encouraging me to experience for myself. I had been yearning to make this pilgrimage, particularly since that day in Chicago when I first heard the Dalai Lama speak, but I felt somehow inadequate. I
  38. 38. THE NEW MANDALA 32 reminded the good doctor that I had no medical skills to offer the refugees, and that in Hindu India these Tibetan Buddhists probably had no need of a Christian preacher! He replied simply, “They will find ways for you to help...and they will share their homes and their wisdom with you.” In the past, I had been able to claim other commitments and responsibilities that kept me from responding to this ever-clearer call to embark on my journey of discovery. This time, however, there were no excuses. My interim responsibilities with my Chicago parish were concluding, and I had accepted no new church assignment. Seemingly before I could make the decision myself, Father Raphael had contacted the office of His Holiness and the abbots of the monasteries of Dharamsala, and they were warmly indicating their readiness to welcome me. Each new beginning starts with farewell. It was with a mix of sadness and trepidation that I was bidding farewell to the comfort and security of the familiar to venture forth toward the unknown. As pastor of a local church, my role provided a fairly clear definition of identity and purpose. Even though I questioned the spiritual vigor of the contemporary church and its capacity to lift me to another level in my spiritual growth, the uncertainty of the change that lay ahead was disquieting Nonetheless, it was with more anticipation than apprehension that I said my good- byes and packed my bags. The first stop was Paris, then non-stop to New Delhi. Our flight plan took us toward Switzerland, then over the northern edge of Italy and past Sarajevo (where I imagined someone was shooting at his neighbor down there), over Bulgaria to Turkey. Most of the flight was above clouds, but at Istanbul we could clearly see the Bosporus Straight, just as I had drawn on a map in some long-ago geography class. From there it
  39. 39. THE NEW MANDALA 33 was over Iraq and across Iran (where I was briefly wondering if someone might be shooting at us), into Afghanistan and Pakistan toward north India. I had left Paris in the early morning and would arrive in New Delhi in the dark of night. Since clouds obscured most of the view out the window, I used the time to begin my inquiry into Buddhism. I had made a conscious decision early on not to read too much about Buddhism before arriving in Dharamsala, as I wanted to experience it, not study it in the academic sense. But I was well aware that any understanding of Buddhism must begin with an introduction to the life of the Buddha, and, since his life pre-dated that of Christ, and I would only be able to experience him through second-hand sources anyway, I opened the first of several books that would guide my exploration and discovery of Buddhism. I will share with you that elementary introduction to Gautama Siddhartha, since it colored my initial experience of India, even as I stepped off the jet- way into the smells, the noise, the heat and humidity, and the people - all the people - of this amazing land. It was Joseph Campbell, in his Power of Myth, who had initially led me to examine the life of the Buddha. He wrote, “Read myths. Read other people’s myths, not those of your own religion, because you tend to interpret your own religion in terms of facts - but if you read the other ones, you begin to get the message. Myth helps you to put your mind in touch with the experience of being alive.” He was saying, in effect, that we don’t study Buddhism to learn about Buddhism, per se; we study Buddhism to learn about ourselves. As my magic carpet winged its way toward India, I was beginning my inner journey toward a deeper understanding of myself, and I was doing so by looking at this person we call the Buddha in an effort to discover how his life might also be my life.
  40. 40. THE NEW MANDALA 34 I opened Thomas Merton’s Asian Journal, and read his entry, written years earlier in the airplane that was taking him to the East, where he wrote, “I am going home, to the home where I have never been in this body.” It was his Journal that had suggested I read Christmas Humphrey’s Buddhism, among others, as an introduction to the life of the Buddha. Knowledge of the facts of the Buddha’s life are sketchy, at best, and like the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ life or the scriptural record of Moses and others in the Jewish texts, the legends have become larger than life. The received tradition of the lives of the saints, of Jesus, Moses and the Buddha has entered the realm of myth. But the myths of our world are the basis for our structuring of our lives, so they are of monumental importance. Each of us has already incorporated guiding myths - stories from our culture and stories from our own experience - into a framework by which we live. As I glanced out the window toward Asia to the East, I knew intuitively there was room to add another myth to my life’s mosaic: the myth that is the story of Gautama Siddhartha, the Buddha. His life is a story; a story with birth, happiness and pain, old age, and finally death; a story like many that preceded and that have followed. Everyone has a story. In fact, it is largely our stories that define who we are. When someone says, “Tell me about yourself,” we can’t really describe our self, so we tell a part of our story, a part of who we are. When we look at the wisdom of the world’s great thinkers, it is always best to start with a look at their life story. The philosophers, the movers and shakers, the sages of our culture have all pondered and written from the depths of their own personal stories. Who they really are is revealed not only in their writings and thoughts, but in their stories.
  41. 41. THE NEW MANDALA 35 Among the stories contained in the traditions of the world’s great religions, that of the Buddha is particularly intriguing. Gautama Siddhartha is perhaps the only founder of a religion, if we can rightly call him a founder, who is not portrayed by his followers as a God-figure. The Buddha was just an ordinary human being, like you and like me. In Judaism, Moses and the prophets spoke on behalf of God. In Christianity, Jesus was God incarnate. Buddha, on the other hand, was just an ordinary seeker, troubled with questions and finally discovering some answers. His journey of birth, adolescence, questioning, seeking and discovery is one that begins to look surprisingly similar to my own. When we were taught the story of Adam and Eve or of Noah and the Ark in Sunday school or synagogue, it was not because these were merely fun stories that our ancestors wanted to share with us. These stories of the faith were mytho-poetic explanations of our relationship with the creator God and with everyone around us in that creation. These stories, and all others in scripture, were templates for living, examples that allowed us to participate alongside all who have come before us in the journey of life. Moses’ story of being called, of hesitating, of journeying in the wilderness - this is my story, your story. The disciples’ stories of simple lives being transformed by their encounter with God incarnate - these are our stories. When Cain and Able live out their sibling rivalry, we find their story in our own family history. When Job struggles with the seeming unfairness of life’s troubles, we struggle with him, because his quandary is our quandary. His story is our story. When Jesus is finally crucified for his beliefs, we are hanging in there with him because we, too, have found ourselves being crucified for our differences with others around us. And when Christ rises to new life, we are given
  42. 42. THE NEW MANDALA 36 hope that we, too, will have a new tomorrow following some of the deaths we face in life, because we realize at some deep spiritual level that his story is our story. Stories don’t have to be from scripture in order to become guiding myths for us. The stories of our grandparents, the ones who came to a new land in search of something better, can be driving forces in our lives. Even a favorite sports figure or the hero in a classic novel can become for us a pattern for life when we discover ourselves in their story. C. S. Lewis, the Christian writer, is quoted as having said, “We read to know we are not alone.” By reading he meant reading other’s stories, and he knew the importance of discovering from our reading that we are not alone in our birth and life, in our pain and joy, and in our old age and death. C. S. Lewis knew that the journey of life is both easier and richer once we discover that we are on a road that has been traveled, and is being traveled even today, by fellow pilgrims, companions on the way who share with us the same questions and struggles, the same joys and concerns we have. When we are truly fortunate we discover that some of our traveling companions have found answers, answers to the same questions we are asking, answers that help us find direction in our own journey. That was my hope as the 747 brought me closer to the footpaths of Dharamsala. The Buddha has walked these paths before us. If we look at his story in the same way we might have first looked at Moses’ story, or hear it in the same way we first heard our grandparent’s story, we may find a little of ourselves in it. If we do, then some of the Buddha’s answers may become answers for our lives. As the proud monks and eager teachers of Dharamsala would soon share with me their legends of the Buddha, I would come to discover that my story was not at all unlike that of the young Siddhartha: an
  43. 43. THE NEW MANDALA 37 ordinary person who doesn’t have all the answers to questions about the meaning of life and his place in the great scheme of things. I still don’t have all the answers, I’m still just an ordinary seeker, but I can tell a story. Sit with me as I try to piece together the myth, the legend, the story, if you will, that is both universal and at the same time specifically that of the Buddha. As we look at this story, keep in mind that the term “Buddha” is an honorary title given to a real person, Gautama Siddhartha. The title was known to the people of India long before Siddhartha was born. The term “Buddha” literally means “enlightened” or “mentally awakened.” This title has come to be synonymous with Gautama Siddhartha, the Buddha, so to speak, but actually anyone who achieves enlightenment becomes a Buddha, and each of us can develop our own Buddha nature according to the Buddha’s teaching. This honorary title is not unlike the title of Christ, which means “anointed” or “sent by God,” and which was given to the person, Jesus of Nazareth. The same honorary name changing occurs often in the Jewish scripture, for example when Jacob was given the name “Israel.” When Simon Peter proclaims in the Gospel of Matthew, “You are the Christ,” he is echoing the first of Gautama’s disciples who proclaimed Siddhartha to be enlightened, to be the Buddha. The term Buddha also points us toward our first understanding of this eastern philosophy. In the teachings of the Buddha, enlightenment is of paramount importance. The Buddha attains enlightenment as he passes from this life. Enlightenment is his “liberation.” It is the Buddhist view of perfection, of liberating Truth, that one starts with humanity in ignorance and progresses toward full humanity enlightened. That is liberation. In the Jewish and Christian approaches, however, perfection starts with
  44. 44. THE NEW MANDALA 38 humanity and progresses toward God. Perfection, according to both the Jewish and Christian traditions, comes with a right relationship with God. I would learn that the humanity-centered approach of Buddhism is only the first of several ways in which the philosophy of the Buddha differs from the teachings of the western faiths, and it is an important difference which I shall examine on my journey. A look at the life story of Gautama Siddhartha may help us to understand, from the outset, the reason for this different approach to the ordering of things. In a country that historically had worshiped myriad Gods, Buddha finds his answers in other sources. The Gods of his forefathers and mothers no longer sufficed as his own Gods. Why? What was there about Siddhartha’s family life, about his early attempts at living life according to the norm, about his successes and failures, about his questioning that ultimately led him to new answers? These are the questions I tried to keep in mind as I looked at the life, at the story, of the Buddha. How is the Buddha nature in him? How is the Buddha’s nature in you and in me? The birth legends of the Buddha are filled with mythic embellishments, just as are the birth narratives of Moses and Jesus. Gautama Siddhartha was born while his mother was on a journey. She was traveling from Kapilavatsu to her parental home in Devadaha. (I couldn’t fail to notice the parallel with each went to be registered, everyone to his own city, out of the city of Nazareth into Judea, to the city of David.) In India it is common for a woman to go to her mother’s home for the delivery of her first child. According to a virgin-birth legend, Gautama came into the world from the side of his mother, without causing her any pain, while she was holding a branch of the sal tree under which she lay. This was in the park of Lumbini, in what is now Nepal, and which is today an important
  45. 45. THE NEW MANDALA 39 pilgrimage destination for the Buddhist faithful. Gautama’s mother, the princess Mahamaya, died seven days later, and Siddhartha was raised by his mother’s sister. His father was a chief, or king in some traditions, and Gautama was raised and educated as a nobleman. He was Prince of the Shakyas, hence his reference in Tibetan Buddhism as Buddha Shakyamuni. As is the custom in India, he entered into an arranged marriage - to another princess - at the age of sixteen, and she bore a son. Gautama’s father had lofty plans for his first-born son: he wanted the young Siddhartha to have a glamorous political career, not unlike his dad’s. To encourage his development on the right track, his father was what we would today label “over- protective.” He tried to provide his son with all the luxuries of life and to take special precautions to keep the miseries of life from his son’s inquiring eyes. But, as the Buddha would later teach, reality can never escape the person who is mindful and alert. The story tells us that, in spite of his father’s efforts to keep all knowledge of worldly woes from his eyes, the young prince, venturing forth from the palace one day, saw an old man, and then a sick man, and then a dead man being carried to his funeral pyre. At the sight of each he asked his charioteer the meaning of what he saw. “This comes to all men,” said the charioteer, and the Prince’s mind was troubled that such would be the effect of birth. Then he saw a recluse, a monk with shaven head and a tattered saffron robe. “What man is this?” he asked, and was told it was one who had gone forth into the homeless life of an ascetic. Gautama was struck by the calm and serene face of this mendicant holy man. For the Buddha, these visions were of three facets of the sorrowfulness of humanity, and the other a vision of release from that sorrow.
  46. 46. THE NEW MANDALA 40 This startling discovery of the impermanent nature of life, and the subsequent folly of being attracted by transitory values, led Gautama to renounce the world and become an ascetic himself. He was twenty-nine years of age when he left behind his wife and son. A western Christian or Jewish reader of twenty-nine might well be shocked at the idea of a married person leaving his wife and child behind to enter the monastic life. I could relate a little with this as I had entered seminary at the age of thirty-nine, and coincidentally ended my first marriage shortly thereafter, but it still struck me as radical for a prince to walk out on his family to join a monastery. I would soon learn, however, that leaving home for the practice of asceticism, after a period of marriage, was an approved form of behavior in Hindu society. According to the Hindu ideal, a person aspiring to perfection had to organize his life in a certain gradation. He first had to be a celibate student (a vanishing breed in the West!), then a married man, and finally either an ascetic or a hermit. According to that commonly accepted tradition, Gautama’s behavior was not at all abnormal. Actually, Gautama did not at first join a monastery or become a Hindu ascetic. He first placed himself under the guidance of two well-known yogi teachers of the time and trained in yoga and meditation. While meditation would later become a very important part of the Buddhist life, Gautama at this time was soon disillusioned with meditative trances that seemed to be entered into only for the sake of meditation itself. For Gautama, the right type of meditation had to lead an individual not just to an ephemeral experience but to an insight into the deeper realities of life.
  47. 47. THE NEW MANDALA 41 So he abandoned yoga and joined an ashram as a true ascetic, practicing the strictest forms of self-mortification and self-torture and fasting. It was not long before he realized the utter futility of such mortification to achieve the liberation he was seeking. He soon saw that what is required for self-liberation is not self-mortification but self- discipline or self-mastery. As soon as he discovered that pure asceticism could not give the deeper form of mental liberation he sought, he left the ashram and began to pursue his search by himself. Gautama’s rejection of rigorous asceticism led him to advocate a “middle path,” somewhere in-between the harmful extremes of penitential torture and material self- indulgence. Well known in the legend is the story that Gautama then reflected in solitude under the shade of the Bodhi tree and meditated on his past life and on the sorrowful state of the lives of others. He sought in his mind the reasons that kept men and women in an unliberated state and there he discovered the real nature of human suffering, the cause of it, the possibility of escape from it, and the path for such an escape. It is this discovery - or awakening - that is referred to as enlightenment, which for the Buddha meant seeing the reality of human suffering and the possibility of human joy in a way that he had never seen before. We Christians would express this experience in language familiar to us as revelation, but for Gautama it was something that arose in him by itself as a direct result of his own concentration. I was awakened from my own concentration by an announcement from the cabin speakers that we were beginning our approach into New Delhi, and a glance out the
  48. 48. THE NEW MANDALA 42 window revealed the snow-capped Himalayan range bathed in the light of the nearly full moon. My journey toward some form of enlightenment was nearly at hand. As soon as I stepped off the plane and into the terminal it was clear I was in another world. As I alluded to earlier, the faces and clothing of the crowds of people, the intense smells, the babble of a hundred languages, the heat and the thick humidity strike you as soon as you leave the modern jet-way and immediately plunge into ancient India. As my senses were bombarded by the sights and sounds and colors and smells and heat, I thought to myself, “This is the land and the culture that has given birth to the Buddha, that has seen the change brought about by Gandhi, and that is now going to give birth to change in me.” Outside the airport I was mobbed by cabbies and negotiated with the most aggressive one for a ride to the central bus station, then squeezed my over-weight bags into the little taxi. It was about two in the morning, yet even in the darkness the sights of crowded Delhi were amazing as the driver weaved his way through left-hand traffic like a madman, avoiding bicycles, mopeds, and cattle along the route. In the bus station I had my first taste of the real India: lepers hobbling alongside me on their stumps of limbs, begging for a few rupees; all manner of food cooking in open-air stalls; sacred cows walking freely in and out, and every vendor and bus conductor yelling over the other. I still don’t know exactly how I found the right bus after waiting for several hours in this amazing bazaar. At 6:00 a.m. I boarded a bus that looked like something straight out of a National Geographic photo, and watched in fear as a porter loaded my bags onto the roof of the bus, carrying them on his head! I died a thousand deaths as my computer and other worldly possessions tottered precariously up
  49. 49. THE NEW MANDALA 43 the ladder to the top of the rickety “Greyhound.” The bus ride lasted fourteen hours, from before sunrise ‘til after sunset. I saw a lifetime of sights in just that one journey alone. Birds of every description: egrets, herons, turkey vultures, hawks and eagles, even flocks of green and red parrots. There were water buffalo and oxen; carts filled with cargo larger than seemed possible pulled by horses, mules and oxen, all vying for the same space on the narrow road as our bouncing bus. Taxis, rickshaws, livestock, wildly decorated busses and cargo trucks all managed to turn a two-lane road into a ballet of one passing the other, every moment punctuated with the sounds of horns honking. The flat expanse of India seems to extend forever. We passed by rice paddies and tea plantations and through small cities and villages with cow dung drying in front of huts. Garbage and flowering crops were seemingly strewn together along the roadside. The smell of India is nearly overpowering for the newly arrived. Sewage and jasmine, incense and perfume, rotting garbage and decaying bodies, exhaust and curry - all of these at one time takes some getting used to. And then there are the people - everywhere, people. People in the streets, people on top of buildings, people sleeping along the road, people working in the fields. You can’t look for a moment in any direction without seeing people in the picture, people in places where my western eyes said they didn’t belong. Suddenly I felt a little like the young Siddhartha, away from my overly protective home for the first time. While I knew of disease, old age and death, of course, and I had traveled outside the U. S. before, I was struck with the poverty and the sprawling humanity that spread out before my eyes. As I gazed out the dusty window of my dilapidated chariot, I watched an elderly weather-worn Indian woman struggling with a wooden plow as it turned over the parched soil behind a
  50. 50. THE NEW MANDALA 44 weak old ox whose ribs were clearly visible through his meager flesh. I silently heard Gautama’s charioteer whisper in my ear, “This comes to all men,” and I realized that what I was seeing before me was the norm in the world. With more than half the world’s humanity living in China, India, Africa, this is what comes to most men and women, and today I was venturing out of the sugar-coated protectionprovided by the princes of America with whom I had been living as one of the privileged few in the industrial West. As I pondered the suffering in the world that I was seeing illustrated on those dry, flat river beds of India, the landscape and foliage began to change rapidly as we climbed gently from the plains to the lower plateau, and even more dramatically as we approached the foothills of the Himalayas. Soon we were surrounded by forests of evergreen and rhododendron trees as the winding road up the hills caused some in the crowded bus to suffer the discomfort of motion sickness. Not I, fortunately, even in spite of the spicy, intriguing food I ate during lunch stops at amazingly primitive roadside eateries along the way: rice, dal, curry and masala, and the ubiquitous flat bread chapatti. It was dark when I arrived in Dharamsala at about eight, and again Sherpa porters toted my bags on their heads, this time up a steep hill to the first cheap hotel I could find. Collapsing onto the hard bed, I quickly fell asleep. The brilliant sun awakened me early the next morning, and I stepped out onto a small balcony overlooking the already bustling marketplace. I was immediately confronted by a magnificent view of the Himalayas, a sheer wall of the most incredible snow-covered mountains I have ever seen, appearing to be thrusting themselves still higher into the deep blue sky. It was breathtaking. Then I was startled by the chatter of some company on the terrace. Monkeys! They were apparently hoping to share a little
  51. 51. THE NEW MANDALA 45 breakfast with me. From my hillside perch I surveyed this exotic village that would become my new home, vaguely aware of the deep throbbing of temple horns across the valley calling the monks to prayer. I had left behind the walls of my isolated kingdom, and I silently wondered what I would discover as I explored the colorful sands of the new Mandala I had entered. Perhaps you, too, find yourself looking out over the landscape that is your future and pondering which questions and whose answers may ultimately chart the turning points of your own Mandala journey. In the pages that follow, I will share with you my discoveries of the affinity between Buddhist wisdom and the truths of my inherited faith tradition, and how a new Eastern understanding has illuminated my Western spiritual path. With the help of the words of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the grains of sand which form the collage of Buddhist teachings will be gently placed alongside each other until a new and possibly liberating Mandala begins to take form.
  52. 52. 46 Chapter 4 The Four Noble Truths The teachings on the Four Noble Truths clearly distinguish two sets of causes and effects: those causes which produce suffering, and those which produce happiness. By showing us how to distinguish these in our own lives, the teachings aim at nothing less than to enable us to fulfill our deepest aspiration - to be happy and to overcome suffering. - His Holiness the Dalai Lama “Emptiness. Learn all you can about emptiness.” I had asked the Dalai Lama a simple question: As a Christian, seeking to understand Buddhist wisdom and practice, where should I start? What would be the most important concepts to grasp in order to comprehend Buddhism? His answer had been equally simple: Emptiness. Learn all you can about emptiness. Father Bastianni had graciously arranged for me to have the honor of an audience with His Holiness shortly after my arrival in Dharamsala. I was led into his office by Tenzin Geyche Tethong, his personal Secretary, and was immediately overwhelmed as I was greeted with a radiant, gentle smile by this living saint. My initial nervousness at meeting such a renowned spiritual leader was quickly assuaged by his self-effacing, almost casual manner, and by the genuine interest with which he approached our wide- ranging conversation. Little did I know then that this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity would, in fact, be the beginning of a lasting friendship, and that I would be blessed with
  53. 53. THE NEW MANDALA 47 several wonderful opportunities to share intriguing conversation with His Holiness again. And I would have more than one occasion to remind him of his challenge to pursue an understanding of emptiness, a challenge I accepted that spring day in a meeting which often seems so long ago, but which has had such a lasting impact on my life that it is fondly remembered as though it were yesterday. During the intervening years, I have attempted to follow His Holiness’ advice, and have discovered the depth of the ironic humor of this fourteenth reincarnation of the Dalai Lama. In suggesting I learn everything I could about emptiness, His Holiness knew all along that in so doing I would have to plumb the depth and breadth of Buddhist wisdom and practice itself. His answer had been more like a trick question than any real answer at all. It was similar to many Buddhist stories that are told of a student asking the master a weighty question only to receive a puzzling challenge in response. The knowledge of emptiness, I would discover, is not the starting point for the journey, but in fact the destination. In seeking this center of Buddhist understanding, one must enter the maze of the Mandala from the gates at the perimeter. One must begin by grasping the outer petals of the lotus before they can be peeled away to expose the bare core that is the life-giving heart of the flower. I will share with you my journey of discovery, beginning with the beginning. The path to the heart of the Buddha’s teaching has as its road map the Four Noble Truths. Just as one can get to the heart of Christ’s message by examining his first public teaching – Jesus’ beautiful Sermon on the Mount - one can find the framework of all Buddhist wisdom and teaching in Siddhartha’s first public discourse, his First Sermon.
  54. 54. THE NEW MANDALA 48 I have read the First Sermon, and I have heard it taught by monks and high lamas, and I have even taught it to students myself. I can no longer recall exactly how and when I first heard the deceptively simple logic of these profound Truths, but I know they have remained for me the starting point and the outline for all my subsequent discovery of Buddhist wisdom and practice. Simply stated, the Four Noble Truths are the truth of suffering, the truth of the origin of suffering, the truth of the cessation of suffering, and the truth of the path leading to the cessation of suffering. Even more simply one can say that we are all suffering, our suffering has causes, the causes can be eliminated, and there is a path of living that can enable us to achieve that perfect liberation. In public teachings, the Dalai Lama says, “The Four Noble Truths are the very foundation of the Buddhist teaching, and that is why they are so important. Therefore I am always very happy to have the opportunity to explain them.” For many, His Holiness is the embodiment of Buddhist compassion and loving kindness, and the voice of Buddhist wisdom, so I will allow his teaching to illuminate an understanding of this important foundation of my new Mandala journey: “The first of the Four Noble Truths is the Truth of Suffering, or duhkha.” Actually, Gautama Buddha said “life is duhkha,” but the English language doesn’t provide us with a neat, simple, one-word equivalent for the Pali word duhkha. The suffering to which Gautama was referring is our internal suffering, the sorrow that arises from real or imagined loss, such as the loss of a loved one or the unfulfillment of a wish or desire. This sorrow is a constant companion to all of us on the journey of life, Buddha argued. Life is sorrow-full.
  55. 55. THE NEW MANDALA 49 His Holiness continues: “What is duhkha? What is suffering? Buddhism describes three levels or types of suffering. The first is called ‘the suffering of suffering,’ the second, ‘the suffering of change,’ and the third is, ‘the suffering of conditioning.’ “When we talk about the first type, the suffering of suffering, we are talking in very conventional terms of experiences which we would all identify as suffering. These experiences are painful. In Buddhism there are four main experiences of this type of suffering which are considered to be fundamental to life: the sufferings of birth, sickness, aging and death. The significance of recognizing these states as forms of suffering, and the importance of this recognition as a catalyst of the spiritual quest, is very strongly demonstrated in the Buddha’s own life story. According to the story, when he was the young Prince Siddhartha, the Buddha is said to have caught sight of a sick person, an old person, and a dead person being carried away. The impact of seeing this suffering apparently led him to the realization that so long as he was not free of the infinite process of birth, he would always be subject to these other three sufferings. Later, the sight of a spiritual aspirant is supposed to have made the Buddha fully aware that there is a possibility of freedom from this cycle of suffering. “So in Buddhism there is an understanding that so long as we are subject to the process of rebirth, all other forms of suffering are natural consequences of that initial starting point. We could characterize our life as being within the cycle of birth and death, and sandwiched in between these two, as it were, are the various sufferings related to illness and aging. “The second level of suffering, the suffering of change, refers to experiences we ordinarily identify as pleasurable. However, in reality, as long as we are in an
  56. 56. THE NEW MANDALA 50 unenlightened state, all of our joyful experiences are tainted and ultimately bring suffering. “Why does Buddhism claim that experiences which are apparently pleasurable are ultimately states of suffering? The point is that we perceive them as states of pleasure or joy only because, in comparison to painful experiences, they appear as a form of relief. Their pleasurable status is only relative. If they were truly joyful states in themselves, then just as painful experiences increase the more we indulge in the causes that lead to pain, likewise, the more we engage in the causes that give rise to pleasurable experience, our pleasure or joy should intensify; but this is not the case. “On an everyday level, for example, when you have good food, nice clothes, attractive jewelry and so on, for a short time you feel really marvelous. Not only do you enjoy a feeling of satisfaction, but when you show your things to others, they share in it too. But one day passes, one week passes, one month passes, and the very same object that once gave you such pleasure might simply cause you frustration. That is the nature of things - they change. The same applies also to fame. At the beginning you might think to yourself, ‘Oh! I’m so happy! Now I have a good name, I’m famous!’ But after some time, it could be that all you feel is frustration and dissatisfaction. The same sort of change can happen in friendships and in sexual relationships. At the beginning you almost go mad with passion, but later that very passion can turn to hatred and aggression, and, in the worst cases, even lead to murder. So that is the nature of things. If you look carefully, everything beautiful and good, everything that we consider desirable, brings us suffering in the end.
  57. 57. THE NEW MANDALA 51 “Finally, we come to the third type of suffering, the suffering of conditioning. This addresses the main question: why is this the nature of things? The answer is, because everything that happens in samsara (the cycle of existence between life and death) is due to ignorance. Under the influence or control of ignorance, there is no possibility of a permanent state of happiness. Some kind of trouble, some kind of problem, always arises. So long as we remain under the power of ignorance, that is, our fundamental misapprehension or confusion about the nature of things, then sufferings come one after another, like ripples on water.” Here His Holiness is introducing three very important concepts in Buddhist thought - ignorance, impermanence, and karma, or cause and effect. We ignorant human beings don’t understand the true nature of reality, we don’t grasp fully the total impermanence of every thing and every phenomenon, and we are subject to causes and conditions from the past that affect us now and will affect us in the future. And this “condition of things” is the root of our suffering, of our unhappiness, of our less than satisfying existence. Is life suffering? Is life really suffering and sorrow? This is a new way of asking the same question every theologian has pondered at some time or another: What is the human condition? For Buddha, the human condition is one of sorrowfulness. For Christians and Jews the human condition has been, ever since Adam and Eve, our fall from God’s grace due to our sinfulness. Adam and Eve grasped at the fruit of knowledge of good and evil and, from that time on, humanity has been banished from the idyllic Garden of Eden, suffering, if you will, from the wrath of God. Suffering. God says in Genesis, “Because you have done this, cursed are you among all animals and among all
  58. 58. THE NEW MANDALA 52 wild creatures: upon your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life.” This was the Hebrew’s explanation for the suffering of the human life. It appears they agreed with the Buddha. Humanity is cursed. All the days of our lives will be filled with suffering. The author of Ecclesiastes put it this way: “For what has man for all his labor, and for the striving of his heart with which he has toiled under the sun? For all his days are sorrowful...” For Buddhists, the “condition of things” is the less-than-satisfactory nature of life, and it is our ignorance of the impermanent nature of reality, and the consequence of our actions borne out of that ignorance that lead to our sorrow-full existence. The Dalai Lama elaborates on this subtle level of the transient, impermanent nature of reality: “There are two levels of meaning here. One can understand impermanence in terms of how something arises, stays for a while, and then disappears. This level of impermanence can be understood quite easily. However, there is a second, more subtle understanding of transience. From this more subtle perspective, the obvious process of change I have just described is merely the effect of deeper change. At the deeper level, everything is changing from moment to moment, constantly. This process of momentary change is not due to a secondary condition that arises to destroy something, but rather the very cause that led a thing to arise is also the cause of its destruction. In other words, within the cause of its origin lies the cause of its cessation. “Momentariness should thus be understood in two ways. First, in terms of the three moments of existence of any entity - in the first instant, it arises; in the second instant, it stays; in the third instant, it dissolves. Second, in terms of each instant itself. An instant is not static; as soon as it arises, it moves towards its own cessation.”
  59. 59. THE NEW MANDALA 53 His Holiness is speaking of the Mandala of all existence. It is born with the painstaking application of the first and the second and the third grains of sand. It exists long enough to contemplate and to assume a sense of identity, and then it is dissolved. Inherent in the construction and in the contemplation is the knowledge of its eventual destruction. The very act of creating sets in motion the process of change and ultimately of loss. Our inability to understand this fully - our ignorance, if you will - sets the stage for our inevitable suffering. His Holiness says, “It is very important to understand the context of the Buddhist emphasis on recognizing that we are in a state of suffering, otherwise there is a danger we could misunderstand the Buddhist outlook, and think that it involves a rather morbid thinking, a basic pessimism and almost an obsessiveness about the reality of suffering. The reason why Buddha laid so much emphasis on developing insight into the nature of suffering is because there is an alternative - there is a way out, it is actually possible to free oneself from it. This is why it is so crucial to realize the nature of suffering, because the stronger and deeper your insight into suffering is, the stronger your aspiration to gain freedom from it becomes.” The Dalai Lama often explains this with the analogy of a sick person: “In order for a sick person to get well, the first step is that he or she must know that he is ill, otherwise the desire to be cured will not arise. Once you have acknowledged that you are sick, then naturally you will try to find out what led to it and what makes your condition even worse. When you have identified these, you will gain an understanding of whether or not the illness can be cured, and a wish to be free from the illness will arise in you. In fact this is not just a mere wish, because once you have recognized the conditions that led