Foreword to Tibetan Buddhist Life

by His Holiness the Dalai Lama

(The foreword, dated July 19, 2003, was received by the publisher too late for it to be included in the U.S. edition of Tibetan Buddhist Life, however translations of it appeared in foreign editions of the book)

Ever since I came into exile more than forty years ago, one of my primary concerns, besides the welfare of the Tibetan people, has been the preservation of our religion and culture. I believe that even today, our rich culture, peaceful outlook and respectful attitude to the environment contain a wealth of experience that can be of widespread benefit to others and that therefore they form a precious part of the world's common heritage.

The religious kings who ruled Tibet in the seventh and eighth centuries initially introduced Buddhism. Under their patronage a firm foundation was laid in the inauguration of the monastic tradition, the building of temples, and the translation of scriptures. However, when the royal dynasty collapsed in the ninth century, Buddhist influence waned with it. When Buddhism was revived in the eleventh century, there was no longer any single ruler to guide its development. A variety of traditions came about associated with particular personalities, the Ka-gyu with the translator, Marpa, the Sakyas with Könchog Gyalpo, and the Kadam with the Indian teacher Atisha, but they differ more in terms of lineage and emphasis of approach to practice than in fundamental doctrine.

Tibetan Buddhism encompasses the full range of Buddha’s teachings. Each of the four schools of Tibetan Buddhism is a system of complete practice of a unification of sutra and tantra. Some people may wonder how one person can simultaneously engage in the practice of the union of sutra and tantra. It is said that externally, we should observe behaviour that accords with Hinayana discipline. Internally, we need to train in and develop the awakening mind of bodhichitta, the altruistic intention to gain enlightenment, which has as its roots love and compassion. Then, secretly, through the practice of deity yoga, we engage in concentration on the channels, essential drops, and winds, in order to enhance progress on the path.

This approach to Buddhist practice is not something invented by Tibetans. The Buddhist tradition and teaching, which flourished in Tibet, is a pure tradition, a genuine tradition, which had its source in Nalanda University. In terms of making the teaching available to general public, it was the abbot Shantarakshita who taught it first and his system of teaching was based on the manner of study and teaching of Nalanda University. Whether we consider the philosophical view, the meditational practice, or the approach to spiritual development and way of life, the whole approach to Buddhism in Tibet had its source in India.

A guiding principle of the Nalanda tradition was to pay attention to the three purities - the purity of the teacher, the purity of the text or teaching and the purity of the mind of the disciple. It is in this context that we Tibetans looked to India and particularly the great teachers of Nalanda such as Nagarjuna, Aryadeva, Chandrakirti and Shantideva for inspiration and instruction. Similarly, the early translators were extremely careful when translating the scriptures from Sanskrit into Tibetan neither to add nor omit anything. Moreover, Buddhist culture was conveyed to Tibet at a time when it had reached a high point of its development in India.

When after several centuries of assimilation a mature Tibetan Buddhism emerged, students came from far and wide, from Central Asia, China, Mongolia and the Himalayan regions to study. Similarly, requests were made from those places for Tibetan teachers to come to teach. Therefore, despite its reputation as an isolated and forbidden land, Tibet was in fact surprisingly open to the give and take of foreign relations on a religious level. A corresponding phenomenon has taken place in our exile in India, following the tragedy that befell Tibet with the Chinese invasion. Now that many of our monastic educational institutions have been re-established in refugee communities, they attract students from the Mongolian and Himalayan regions and even further afield once more.

Don Farber is an old friend of the Tibetans. This book of his photographs depicting Tibetan Buddhism is the result of years of work. I am grateful to him for seeking to portray our religion and culture so vividly, often capturing not only the spectacular scene, but also the accompanying peaceful atmosphere. While I know that such images are often capable of speaking for themselves, I am glad that these photographs are accompanied by clear and succinct explanations of many aspects of Tibetan Buddhism. I have no doubt that readers who know little or nothing about Tibetan Buddhism will learn a great deal from this book and that those who know something will learn a little more. I am confident that any increase in understanding and respect will contribute to a growing momentum of support for our efforts not merely to preserve this rich tradition in exile, but also some day to restore it freely to its native land.