by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, edited by Renuga Singh
This book teaches us how to reach Nirvana. Dalai Lama introduces us the concept of Nirvana and what benefits could understanding Nirvana bring us. What is Nirvana? Is it something you can attain in the future? If it is possible for us to attain, how come we hardly hear anyone who attains it. If it is a state that is not possible for us to reach, why does Dalai Lama talk about it? I had all these questions before I read this book, and after reading it, I started to tease out a bit, not wholly, the complex but wise teaching of the Lord Buddha.
Being a Buddhist believing in the great power of all Buddhist deities, I have been chanting Buddhist incantations and scriptures for a long time. I used to just memorize and repeat them without trying to understand the hidden meaning that they try to deliver to us. It truly sounds funny, but I believe most people who consider themselves Buddhist and regularly recite Buddhist scriptures would definitely do so. Since the Lord Buddha achieved Nirvana 2500 years ago, he has being represented as having high divinity. Due to this reason, people living in Southeast and East Asia would consider Buddhism as a religious belief rather than a philosophy for studies like the academics would do nowadays. In Taiwan, we all learn that reciting incantations and scriptures will bring us blessings from the Lord Buddha and Bodhisattvas. By doing so, we will also have our wishes come true. The more we recite them, the better our life will be. When we reach the end of our time, we will be granted the chance to enter the pure land where peace and happiness are offered as rewards. This belief has such a strong religious significance meaning our devotion to Buddhism grants us the access to be free from any kinds of suffering. We could say our devotion is a strong recognition of the existence and the supernatural power of the Lord Buddha and all Bodhisattvas. When we chant and recite these incantations and scriptures, we confirm their presence and spiritual power, which could release us from anxieties and troubles.
Is this state of being free from all anxieties and troubles called Nirvana? Nirvana is the full enlightenment, is the realization of reality and emptiness, is ultimate happiness, is peace, and is the purpose of our life. Dalai Lama says, “Nirvana is peace … when the mind is totally purified of afflictive emotions, that state of mind is called Nirvana”. (p. 19) He clearly points out that Nirvana means being free from sufferings. How do we achieve Nirvana through our devotion to Buddhism? Dalai Lama explains that we should all develop compassion and altruism because they transform our mental attitude, which is what guides us to accomplish the purpose of our life. (p. 34) When we develop these two distinct characters, we are not only leading ourselves towards happiness but also helping all other sentient beings wherever possible. In the book, Dalai Lama says that we can easily develop compassion and altruism through reciting incantations and the study of Buddhist scriptures because they give us good examples of compassion and altruism. We should all remember the meaning of these examples and utilise these meanings in our everyday life. Only when we finally practise compassion and altruism in our everyday life, could we start to transform our mental attitude and proceed to Nirvana.
Dalai Lama intends to introduce Buddhism as a way of learning and living, and Nirvana is the only goal for us to achieve in this life. He says, “The essential feature of Buddha Dharma [the teaching of the Buddha] is to maximize the utilization of human intelligence so as to develop an effective way to transform our emotions.” (p.109) This has given us a very different approach to our belief in Buddhism, especially for those believing in the supernatural power of Buddhist deities. From his perspective, reciting incantations and scriptures requires a good understanding of the text. It is a learning process in which we utilise our intelligence to the maximum for understanding the teaching of the Lord Buddha. It is our intelligence that equips us with the concept of compassion and altruism. It is our intelligence that guides us to practise these qualities in our everyday life. According to this, we could say the blessings don’t come directly from deities but from our good understanding of the Buddhist text. Because of our daily practice of compassion and altruism, we gradually obtain peace and happiness. In other words, the great pleasure we receive from practising these qualities is the purpose of our life, is Nirvana we all seek to achieve.
This book explains the concept of Nirvana concisely, and it also introduces us that we should all aim at using our intelligence to develop compassion and altruism. Furthermore, it guides us to look at Buddhism through another perspective. Instead of talking about all sorts of surprising effects from reciting Buddhist incantations and scriptures, Dalai Lama focuses on the text of them. What has been described in them is truly what we could and should practise in our everyday life. The book only intends to say that it is highly possible for all of us to achieve Nirvana, and Nirvana is nothing supernatural at all. He says, “What is important is a transformation within oneself. That is where the hope lies” (p. 37); when there is hope, nothing is impossible.