What to expect at teaching events
Buddhas do not wash unwholesome deeds away with water,
Nor do they remove the sufferings of beings with their hands,
Neither do they transplant their own realisation into others.
Teaching the truth of suchness they liberate (beings).
Therefore, learning the principles and methods for reducing suffering and becoming happy forms the core of our activities. Teachings at the centre are formal events, and we follow traditional ways of learning from qualified teachers who are transmitting wisdom that comes down to us from the Buddha. You are welcome to join us as a casual observer or full participant.
The Buddha's teachings were praised as being good in the beginning, good in the middle, and good in the end, and this is reflected in the structure of teaching events as well. We begin with preliminary prayers paying homage to the Buddha and lineage masters who are the source of the teachings. By respecting the enlightened qualities of others, we open our minds to learning and turn away from our self-centred attitude.
Za Choeje Rinpoche follows a traditional set of prayers, beginning with the Constant Three Practices which pays homage to Shakyamuni Buddha, the source of all Buddhist teachings in our time, and the Three Jewels. This is followed by Praise of Manjushri, the personification of enlightened wisdom, since these events are a time to develop our inner wisdom. Next, the Heart Sutra, a scripture belonging to the Perfection of Wisdom teachings is recited to remind us of ultimate truth and also to eliminate obstacles. Another Buddhist principle is to teach only in response to a question or request. Therefore, the next prayer is a mandala offering, in which an idealised universe is offered to the teacher as an expression of the students' sincerity, how much the teachings are valued, and as a request for the teaching to be given. Finally, the teacher leads the students in reciting the refuge and bodhicitta verse. Taking refuge in the Three Jewels is the gateway to Buddhist practice, and ensures that the teaching is on the right path. Bodhicitta is the wish to become fully awakened in order to benefit all sentient beings. By setting an altruistic motivation for the teaching event, this ensures that both the speaker and listener are engaged in true spiritual practice. After this, the teacher offers their own brief homage, and invites any non-human beings in attendance to listen to the teachings as well.
Geshe Palden Tsering and some of our visiting teachers use a different sequence of prayers. They begin with the Praise of Manjushri and the mandala offering, then recite a new prayer composed by His Holiness the Dalai Lama paying homage to Shakyamuni Buddha and the 17 scholar-practitioners of Nalanda University. These 17 Indian masters transmitted the profound view lineage and extensive conduct lineage which form the core of our tradition. They authored many key commentaries which continue to be studied today, and so we turn to them for guidance and inspiration. And as before, the refuge and bodhicitta verse is recited last to set the motivation for listening to the teachings.
As for the good in the middle, the main event itself, the practice of Buddhism can be described as the cultivation of our three wisdoms. They are wisdom from hearing, wisdom from reflecting, and wisdom from meditating. When we first start our spiritual path, we need to study extensively to know what to do and why we are doing it. As Patrul Rinpoche said, just as a man without arms cannot climb a cliff, a person who hasn't studied cannot meditate, as they will not even know what to meditate on or how to meditate. Many of our teaching events focus on classic works composed by our lineage masters, while some will be talks on a particular topic such as the four foundations of mindfulness. Those focusing on the classic works include two elements: the oral transmission of the text, and a commentary given by the teacher.
The Buddha's teachings were originally preserved by dividing them into collections and different groups within the monastic community were responsible for reciting, memorising and transmitting their assigned collection. These collections were orally transmitted for 500 years until the scriptures were first written down in Sri Lanka. Therefore, hearing was the main way of learning the teachings. Although studying written works became more common, the Tibetan Buddhist traditions retained this element of learning through first hearing the teachings from a master. Even modern authors like His Holiness the Dalai Lama give oral transmissions for their compositions. Our teaching events preserve this tradition, while the teachers' commentary brings the principles being taught to life, and illustrate the continued relevance of Buddha's timeless wisdom to our modern lives.
Finally, the good in the end concludes the teaching event. Both the teacher giving teachings and the students listening to them with altruistic motivation are said to generate an enormous amount of positive karma. Rather than taking all this positive karma for ourselves, it is shared with all sentient beings and also dedicated to the flourishing of the Buddha's teachings and upholders of the teachings.