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Question/Answer Session at Shandong University
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Question/Answer Session at Shandong University

November 11 afternoon, 2011

1. Question: I teach philosophy at Shandong University. Those study western philosophy are particularly interested in Buddhism. I am puzzled by one thing:  For example, if I am on the road and run into someone who is in need of help, but I also have something very urgent to attend to. If I help him, this urgent matter will be delayed. If I do not want to have this matter delayed, I will not be able to help him. How should I do?

Answer: This teacher has asked a very good question! In this situation, the key element lies in how significant your altruistic mind is.

When the life of someone else is in danger, and if your altruistic mind is very strong, then you would try everything to rescue him even if you have to hole up your own business. On the contrary, if a person’s altruistic mind is rather insignificant, he will hesitate with this and that concerns even when he actually does not have any urgent matters – he would not reach out and help.

Therefore, it is difficult to generalize on a proper decision. It depends on how much a person loves and cares for others.

Question: I have another confusion: there are way too many con artists nowadays. If a beggar asked me for money on the street, do I or do I not give him?

Answer: While practicing generosity , Buddhism does not require that we must give without  observing if the person is a fraud. Generally speaking,  when we practice  generosity we should ascertain with wisdom to see if the recipient is indeed poor.  It is alright not to give if we run into a conman.

But some people are rather stingy, thus they assume all the poor folks are fraud. This is not very equitable. Basically it is not hard to tell if some beggars are fraud. If you really cannot tell, the decision should be based on if you have compassion at that time.

2. Question: I am a graduate student at the School of Life Science, Shandong University.  My I ask Rinpoche how do we maintain the practice of Bodhichitta?

Answer: There are many methods to practice Bodhichitta such as the practices of the intention and application aspects of Bodhicitta. There are also practicing methods such as considering others as equal to oneself, and exchanging oneself and others. The specifics are detailed in  “Three Bases and Three Virtues” and “ The Words of My Perfect Teacher “.

Simply put,  you may contemplate on this anywhere: May I offer my own happiness to all sentient beings, and may I bear the sufferings for them all.

Some feel this is too frightening. Would I be infected if other people have communicable diseases ?  In fact it is not like this, and you need not worry. Quite the contrary, you may gain inconceivable benefit with the great power of Bodhichitta.

Question: How do we find accurate direction in the path of life?

Answer: We do not live only this life.  It continues life after life. Therefore I suggest we all try to understand some principles in Buddhism, this will not harm you at all.

I myself have read “Tripitaka” and many books, both ancient and modern, Chinese and foreign. Through comparison, I find Buddhism indeed has an guiding effect in our life beyond imagination. As such, I believe it is the wisest to look for the path of life in Buddhism.

3. Question: I am a student specializing in Chinese Medicine at Shandong University. May I ask if I must give up myself in order to be altruistic? In that case, don’t I need to find my true self before giving myself up,  just like a person must learn how to love himself before he can love other people? If so, how do I find the true self?

Answer: It is entirely possible to follow the path of altruism  to find the true self.

Grasping to a self  is the source of all sufferings according to the viewpoint of Buddhism. Let us envision: Were all the tears we had shed in the past for ourselves, or for the benefits of sentient beings?  Once we observe closely, we will find out the root cause of all our sufferings, afflictions and  restlessness is all about our ego. We work very hard for ourselves; we worry about gains and losses in our personal relationships; we rack our brains for our health; we blame everybody but ourselves for how we are treated…

As long as there is self-attachment,  suffering will be like the  shadow following us everywhere. If only we give up our ego and choose to benefit others, then true self could be found  after we have realized the meaning of the absence of any true existence. This is also the most profound essence in Buddhism.

The stress in work and life, and worldly competition are extraordinary for young people today. Many problems can be easily solved if they reach a certain state through the study of Buddhdharma. Therefore, Buddhadharma is the most precious  spiritual panacea at present.

4. Question: I specialize in the study of Confucianism in Chinese Philosophy at Shandong University. It is my great honor to meet you.  I  have benefited greatly from your teaching in Bodhichitta. May I as you: what are the similarities and differences between the Confucian “benevolence” and Bodhichitta?  Is it possible to tell which one is of a higher state?

Answer: I am very interested in the Confucian classics , and have studied some. The idea of Confucianism is very essential for today’s society.  However, the “benevolence” in Confucianism is limited to the love and care for human beings in this present life. Whereas Bodhichitta is extended to all beings life after life.

Since most people have not specifically studied these subject areas, their somewhat murky concepts lead them to believe Buddhism and Confucianism are the same.  But in fact Buddhism is very profound.  No matter what you study in Buddhism, be it of the “Lotus Sutra”, “Avatamsaka Sutra”, or the thinking of Cittamatra (Mind only) or  Madhyamaka (Middle Way); it is very easy to realize the profoundness  in Buddhism.  Of course for some people who are not fair-minded and just rejects all together, it is a different matter. Nevertheless, if you have interest in Buddhism and are entering into this field, you will find it is indeed Benton comprehension.

Therefore, the similarity between the “benevolence” in Confucianism and Bodhichitta is being kind-hearted towards human beings. But in terms of the extent and depth of such love and compassion, there is a certain degree of difference between the two.

5. Question: I am a graduate student of Buddhism at Shandong University. Would you please compare the differences between Chinese and Tibetan Buddhism based on your experiences in the Han Chinese and Tibetan areas.

Answer: In the past, people in Han area in the past knew very little about the Tibetan Buddhism. It was not until 1987 after H.H. Jigme Phuntsok Rinpoche visited Wutai Mountain, many Han Chinese began to come into contact with the  Tibetan Buddhism.

Chinese Buddhism has always encouraged vegetarianism, Chan meditation, and reciting the Buddha’s name. They have done better than  Tibetan Buddhism in these aspects; whereas the type of debate propagated by Tibetan Buddhism helps to allay all kinds of doubts in Buddhadharma. In the meantime, the systematic practice and study order  in Tibetan Buddhism is similar the modern higher education: the step by step knowledge learning from grade school to college takes about ten to twenty years.  Moreover, many practitioners in Tibetan Buddhism become certified  Dharma teachers  through long-term Dharma teaching, debate, composing commentaries, and numerous reviews in every aspect.

Generally speaking, both Chinese and Tibetan schools  are of Mahayana Buddhism, there is not much difference between them. However, I do wish Chinese Buddhism will not limit its teachings  within monasteries from now on. Instead, we should create more opportunities to propagate Buddhism among ordinary people and at universities.

Many Han Chinese are very pious these days, but may be a little superficial.

Question: Would you please briefly describe the current state of  religious beliefs in the Tibetan region. For example, Are there any conflicts between Buddhism and other religions?  There are also many different schools within the Tibetan Buddhism, are there conflicts amongst them?

Answer: There have been very few religions other than Buddhism in the Tibetan area.  The number is very minimal in recent years. For instance, there might have been a few Christian families in my hometown. However, there are basically none now.  Some Tibetans in  Gansu province are Islamic. But the number is not particularly large. Therefore, other religions have not been that popular in the Tibetan region till this date.

As for Buddhism, it has started to prosper in Tibet since 333A.D.  The Tibetan Buddhism has been through its ups and downs in history such as the time of the anti-Buddhist King Langdarma,  but the pure lineage of Buddhism has been preserved intact and has attracted many foreign scholars to come here and study.

There are eight major schools within the Tibetan Buddhism, including Gelug, Nyingma, Sakya, Kagyu, and Jonang. In the past, there was a little discord in some individual places due to different schools of teaching. But nowadays all these schools get along very well. They all recognize the path of practice begins with the initial vow of Bodhichitta, followed by accumulating merits during the process, and eventually attains Buddhahood.  Therefore, we can say that there are no major conflicts among different schools with respect to their primary doctrines.

6. Questions: We are Tibetan students at Shandong university, and are very grateful Khenpo could come here to teach us the Buddhadharma. We also thank the university very much for providing this opportunity. We are very, very excited!

There are more than 90 Tibetan students on this campus. There are fewer than that here today, for the news was not released until this afternoon. I heard about it when I was in class. I cannot ride the bike very well normally. But today I practically “flew” over here  on the bike. I was going to bring a khata from my dormitory. But there was not enough time, so I did not bring any.

We came to know you primarily through internet. We were moved deeply after watching many of your videos on life-release and others. I have also been studying videos of your teachings. Please tell us what we should pay attention to while we are attending colleges in  Han area?

In addition, we Tibetan students are very enthusiastic about learning Buddhadharma on internet. We are very serious about this and work hard. May we ask Khenpo to post more videos in Tibetan language on the web for us to study? If not, there are just too few means for us to study.

Answer: It is not easy at all for you to come to a strange place as a stranger in order to pursue your study.  Therefore you must seek the truth and study the best of the Han Chinese culture while you are here and do not waste your time

As I just mentioned, Shandong is the birthplace of Confucianism, and Confucianism has been the main stream culture in Han area for thousands of years, similar to Buddhism in Tibetan area.  Not too long ago, I gave a talk at a university in Qinghai and I stated that many Tibetan college students nowadays do not pay much attention to their own traditional culture – Buddhism. I have also been to many schools in Han area, and I have noticed many teachers and students there know a lot about Tibetan Buddhism. This is very embarrassing.

Therefore, I hope you could study both the most outstanding aspects of the Chinese culture and Tibetan Buddhism simultaneously while you are attending college.

In the meantime, there is one more thing which I need to remind you: Many Tibetan students now go to Han area to study and forget their mother tongue all together. Basically they do not speak Tibetan any more after they come back home. This I think is very unfortunate. Even those Han Chinese went abroad to study could still speak very fluent Chinese after  they came home. They would not communicate with their parents with a mouthful of English. Then why do our Tibetan students choose to give up their  mother tongue?

Perhaps many Tibetan young people are trying to keep up the latest trend, including some college students I financially supported in the past. After they went to attend some universities in Han area, they forgot their own language completely in four to five years. This is rather unfortunate. Therefore, I particularly wish the Tibetan students here today would pay close attention to this matter in the future.

In terms of the Tibetan language audio, video and publications, you may find some materials in the Tibetan language section of the Wisdom & Compassion Buddhism Web, my Tibetan weibo and Tibetan blog.  When all the right conditions come together in the future, I plan to set up an independent Tibetan language Wisdom & Compassion Buddhism Web[1]. On the one hand, it allows us to propagate the traditional culture of Tibetan Buddhism. On the other hand, this provides a forum for us to integrate Buddhism into practical issues and produce something this meets the needs of Tibetan youth today.

7. Question: There is a saying in Buddhism, “ Renounce, let go, attain a state of carefree and comfort, and  accord with the conditions.”  As such, before we let go, don’t we need to understand the truth about the universe and life first,  in order to reach a state of freedom in accordance with the conditions?

Answer: It is not very practical if one does not understand the underlying theories of Buddhism but just wishes to renounce and let go right away. Moreover, “letting go”  should not be generalized. For example, we must not let go on practicing virtuous deeds and avoiding negative actions. Otherwise, it will be very easy to become indifferent to good and evil, and go terribly astray.

“Renounce and let go” is actually a relatively higher level in practice. If one has really reached this state and renounced the secular world completely, then either he chooses to be an ordained monk or a lay Buddhist will be just fine.  He is at ease and accords with conditions all the time. He  does not have any attachment any more.

But for a beginner who has not systematically studied Buddhadharma and does not know how to overcome his own negative emotions, this is merely a slogan. It might be rather contradictory to shout such slogans if one still has a bunch of negative emotions and obsessions in his daily life.

Therefore, whether or not we can achieve this state depends on what level of learning and practice we are at.

Question: Although I have read some books on Buddhadharma, but in life the first thing I often think about it still myself. In the end I am still self -centered, and this really bothers me. I would like to ask you, the Great Master, how do I apply the genuine  Bodhichitta in everyday life?

Answer: If is very, very difficult to put Bodhichitta to use in daily life. Nevertheless, it is still very imperative to train our own minds gradually.

As for me personally, I have studied Buddhism for such a long time. But often times my first thought is this “I”, and I am particularly ashamed of it.  Therefore, we should  read  biographies of past sages such as Jowo Atisha more often, in order to emulate their deeds bit by bit and gradually lighten the attachment to self.  At the beginning, we might be thinking of “I”  everyday. But after we realize the importance of altruism and the harmful impact of selfishness, we will not longer regard this “I” so highly any more.

Of course, this cannot be accomplished in a day or two, nor in one or two years.  We must persistently follow in order and advance step by step. Then we will eventually be able to  spontaneously think of all sentient beings instead of “I” anytime and anywhere.

As a matter of fact, many great sages of the past and present have all followed this practice. Some eminent masters at our colleges also made great effort, started at the very beginning and trained themselves for a long term, to place the benefits of all sentient being as top priority no matter what they say or do. In the course of time, they are able to apply Bodhichitta with ease.

8. Question: Buddhism apparently emphasizes the motives of action,  and uses altruism to guide our behavior. Does this mean it pays less attention to the results of action?

Answer: The “cause” is the most critical in doing anything. When the “cause” is good,  the “result” will be good naturally. If the “cause” is  bad, it is impossible to have good “result”. Just like when farmers plant crops, fruits will grow heavy only when pellets of seeds are plump. Similarly, the consequence of behavior is satisfactory only when  motives of action are accurate.

Therefore, the emphasis Buddhism places on motives is not to ignore consequences. Instead, this is the wisest way to emphasize result. Of course, sometimes our motives were very good, but we did not succeed in our endeavor. This is not because we did not pay attention to the result; it was because causes and conditions were insufficient.

9. Question: I major in Communication Studies, and  just graduated this year. I have been studying Buddhism and become a vegetarian for two years. I am currently studying “The Great Commentary on the Words of My Perfect Teacher”. Everyday I do prostrations, recite sutras and meditate.  I sincerely wish all sentient beings will be liberated and hope I can accomplish in this life to help them.

At the beginning I was able to get up at 5:30AM everyday, insisted on reciting sutra and prostrating 200 times. But after one to two months, my inner laziness rose up and gradually I became bored. I noticed you said in the Dharma text that, “ A good practitioner practices consistently everyday through his entire life. “ But my willpower  really is not strong enough, and I blame myself very much.

My Dharma brother says, “ This is rather common. As you become more motivated, you encounter more unfavorable conditions.” I really would like to know: why would I experience greater hindrances as I become more motivated?

Answer: First of all, I praise your diligent practice. But I disagree that greater aspiration leads to greater hindrances.

Although there is a saying  that “ however persuasive good is, evil is yet still stronger”, it is also said that, “A tall tree catches the wind .”  When a person’s undertaking gets greater, his practices becomes more successful, there will be more and more hindrances surrounding him. But things do not always follow the same pattern. The unfavorable conditions may disappear all together for some people when they become better and better practitioners.

Therefore, I do not quite approve the remarks of your Dharma brother. Nowadays some people like to advocate ideas apparently right but actually wrong. Sometimes they even pretend to know what they don’t know, but ironically people choose to believe in these remarks as if they are Vajra words.  This is rather absurd.

Sometimes it is true that some people might be very diligent at the very beginning, but gradually they get lazy and slack off. But you will not give up as long as you understand the importance of practice and the real benefits resulted from studying Buddhadharma.

Of course, it is inevitable to have endless afflictions as a person living in major cities. But I believe as your practice gets more  and more advanced, your hindrances will become less and less, and your accomplishment will be reached  sooner and sooner.

10. Question: I am a student at Shandong Traditional Chinese Medicine University.  I often see hawkers selling turtles and fish  outside the school gate or on the sidewalk. At first I wanted to purchase and rescue these lives. But there is a saying, “When there is no transaction, there will be no killing.”   “Life-release is also a form of  transaction”.  As such, I began to have doubts and blame myself.  I even have hypothesize to the extreme that some people might catch these animals deliberately and sell to you for life-release. What should I do ?

Answer: “Transaction” does not necessarily lead to “killing”, such as life-release. Thus we need to specifically address this specific issue.

Of course, some people might catch some birds or fish on purpose, then sell for our life-release activity. But even so, life is still the most precious. We must always put saving and protecting life as top priority regardless of the situation.

In the meantime, we need to be cautious about a few things when we perform life-release. Otherwise, some people will notice a pattern and deliberately catch animals on the first and fifteenth of each month, or Buddhist holidays, to sell at high prices. Therefore, we should avoid such dates. Life-release could be done at any time – after all, life-release is an occasional behavior. If we do it once or twice in a month randomly, then people would not be able to guess your schedule, and try to catch animals for you to release.

Therefore, some of us might need to be more considerate regarding the action of life-release. If we do so, the problem that worries you no longer exists.

11. Question:  – Great master, would you please show us what you have accomplished?

Answer: I have not accomplished much.  I just always feel that the Buddhadharma is the truth, and I have gained very significantly through diligent study and practice in many years. I would love very much to share such spiritual wealth and wisdom with  people all over the world, especially those in deep distress. What I have is but this heart of devotion, Other than this, there is nothing else which can be called “accomplishment”.

(12) Question: I am a Ph.D. Student at Shandong University. Buddhism advocates altruism. But if I take the initiative to help others, would they be indebted to me and thus passively accept the result in this  cause and effect relationship? Isn’t this in conflict with the views of altruism?

Answer: The Altruism advocated by Buddhism is unconditional and expects no return. Those receive such help in this situation need not to repatriate the debt in the future. It is like you must return later what I loan you. However, if this is given to you as a gift, there is no need for you to give back in the future.

(13) Question: I am a student at the Liberal Arts College of Shandong University. I have not taken the refuge to become a Buddhist and I also have many doubts. The world must have been in existence before Buddha appeared. May I ask: where did this universe come from? Who created it?

Answer: I am always very delighted in exchanging with non-Buddhists on whatever occasion.  Numerous Buddhas had appeared prior to Shakyamuni according to the point of view in Buddhism. Therefore, there is not just one Buddha ,Shakyamuni, in this world.

It is believed in Buddhism that this world which has been in  existence prior to Shakyamuni was the result of causes and conditions. It was not created by God or other gods.  Not only this world, but so is everything else, including all the plants in four seasons and infinite variety of animals. This reasoning  has been detailed in “Abhidharma-kosa Shastra”, “Yogacarabhumi-sastra “ and Tantrayana’s “Kalachakra”.


[1] The Tibetan version of the Wisdom & Compassion Buddhism Web was formally introduced on June 18, 2012, the 100th anniversary of  the Omniscient Mipham Rinpoche’s entering nirvana. http://www.zhibeifw.com/Tibetan/

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