How to serve humanity: A deeper experience of the subtle mind

With more inner strength, destructive emotions do not have much effect. At the subtler level, there is no longer any danger of destructive emotions arising.
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There’s another crisis now—global climate change. I’ve heard you say that at some point the rivers in Tibet will be dry, like the rivers in Afghanistan are becoming today. And that, of course, would be a catastrophe for all the people throughout Asia who depend on water from Tibet. How long will it be until that happens? One Chinese expert told me that in the next few decades, there is a real danger that all the water on this planet will dry up.

So for the next few decades, it is our responsibility to take special care about ecology. I think the human mind is not thinking long term. We just follow the last few centuries in our way of life and habits. Global warming is a reality. Accordingly, we should pay more attention. Tibet is the ultimate source of water for all the major rivers in India, China, and Vietnam. So we must pay more attention to the ecology of Tibet. We must think about the next two to three generations at least.

If you see the next two or three generations as being able to slow down global warming or reverse it, does that mean that the prediction of rivers drying up would be far in the future? Global warming, nobody can stop that. But we can postpone.

You’ve been very active in the encounter between Buddhism and contemporary culture, particularly science. What are some of the major things each side has learned from the other? Buddhists use reason and an analytical mind in meditation. Science is seeking reality. Both analyse reality, but we have differences. Scientists utilise a lot of different machines. The Buddhist tradition, the knowledge tradition, uses only the brain.

Now many scientists are paying more attention to a subtle level of explanation about reality and particularly about the mind. So modern science, [which was mainly] about material [things], now pays more attention to our brain. Then that automatically brings attention to the mind and the emotions.

Looking at it from the science side—I’m a psychologist by training—it seems that Buddhism has a subtler understanding of the mind. In fact, it talks about subtle levels of mind that Western psychology doesn’t know anything about. Does it seem to you that something is missing in Western psychology? To some extent, yes. Science from the West is mainly oriented around external things.

Ancient Indian tradition, including Buddhism, [has] more explanations about mind—for example, why in a waking state we use one level of mind and emotion, and then the dream state is a deeper level of mind and emotion. You can train during dreaming [to reach] a subtler level of mind and emotion. Then [at the] subtlest level, [there is] no longer emotion but still, pure mind. So a deeper experience of the subtle mind affects the grosser level of mind.

You’re helping Richard Davidson [University of Wisconsin–Madison psychology professor and founder of the Center for Healthy Minds] do research on thukdam, a rare deep meditative state after physical death. This practice seems to depend on a subtler level of mind. Could you explain why this project is important? Here, in Dharamsala, there have been a number of such cases after death. For example, my own teacher, Ling Rinpoche, remained in thukdam for 13 days. And one scholar, a practitioner in South India, remained in thukdam for almost three weeks.

So now some scientists—one is a Russian professor at Moscow State University—are seriously paying attention. Richie Davidson noticed that when a brain monitor is connected to a person in thukdam there is some sort of unusual [activity]. This shows clearly a different level of mind—when the brain is no longer working, but still, the subtle mind is there.

Some years ago, you requested a Mind and Life institute meeting on destructive emotions. Given the different levels of consciousness you’re describing, are there differences in when emotion becomes destructive? The destructive emotions are mainly related to the grosser level of mind. Subtler mind also uses the subtle level of some emotions. But the grosser level of emotion is no longer there.

Anger or fear, jealousy—these destructive emotions are based on too much self-centeredness. Altruism is thinking about the well-being of all sentient beings, and sometimes in thinking about them tears come. So some emotions are very positive and don’t disturb your mental state. As soon as I wake up, I think about altruism. One Shantideva prayer [says], “So long as space remains, I will remain in order to serve sentient beings.” This gives you inner strength, and determination. With more inner strength, destructive emotions do not have much effect. At the subtler level, there is no longer any danger of destructive emotions arising.

One reason to meditate [is that a] deeper level of mind reduces the power of those emotions that are related to a grosser level of mind. On a subtle level, the body is like a dream body separate from your [ordinary] body while you meditate. That shows the effect of meditation. People who have disturbed their mind and do too much thinking should just meditate. That is good for mental rest.

One-pointed meditation, not thinking, is useful for strengthening the stability of the mind. Then, in vipashyana, analytical meditation, the mind will not follow [or be attracted by] sounds and seeing but will remain still. There are many different analytical meditations. As a Buddhist practitioner, I always use analytical meditation about shunyata. Very useful.

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso is the spiritual leader of Tibet. Since taking asylum in India in 1959, His Holiness has become a global advocator of peace, compassion and happiness. He is the first Nobel Laureate to be recognised for his concern for global environmental problems.

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