He’s the most famous Buddhist in the world – but some of his views are not Buddhist.
During a talk at ‘Ideas for a new Millennium in Panaji, Goa, the Dalai Lama urged people not to worship idols and said:
Instead of having speechless objects such as the statue of Buddha, one should print more books. Knowledge does not come from the temple or church, but from education
Of course it’s not constructive to worship idols, but is this what the Dalai Lama thinks about having an image of Buddha in your home? He’s completely wrong. Buddhists regard any image of Buddha as an actual Buddha; indeed, this is a commitment of Buddhist refuge, so what are we to make of the Dalai Lama’s comments? He clearly doesn’t understand what the nature and function of Buddhist refuge is which is quite shocking. It’s taught that looking at holy objects such as statues of Buddha place positive imprints in our minds which are causes of the highest happiness – enlightenment itself. Geshe Kelsang Gyatso says in Eight Steps to Happiness:
In the lamrim teachings, it says that just seeing an image of a Buddha places a potentiality on the mind that is a
definite cause of enlightenment and which nothing can destroy.
This isn’t just Geshe Kelsang’s view, because Lama Zopa, a sympathizer of the Dalai Lama and supporter of his ban on Dorje Shugden practice says:
Holy objects only leave positive imprints, no negative imprint. When we watch TV or go sightseeing in the city many of the things we see can leave a negative imprint on our mind, depending on how we look at them. But the benefit that we get from looking at holy objects is like the limitless sky.
The Dalai Lama therefore appears to contradict traditional Buddhist teachings by regarding Buddha statues as less worthwhile than education. Ordinary education is destroyed by death, whereas the imprints of seeing holy objects such as a Buddhas are not – therefore, in the long term, which is more valuable? It seems that the Dalai Lama is thinking only of this life alone, which is not even spiritual, let alone Buddhist! Also his assertion that Buddha statues are speechless is incorrect – there are many stories of Buddha statues speaking. One famous example is Atisha’s statue of Arya Tara, whom he would consult. He would make a mandala offering in front of the statue and then ask advice. The statue would then speak to him and tell him what to do.
The Dalai Lama’s comments regarding the temple or church are ambiguous – of course knowledge doesn’t come from a building, but religious teachings that do alleviate the suffering of the world are given in temples and churches, so it’s very curious of him to say otherwise. It’s good that he’s encouraging people to develop compassion as this is one of the main paths to true happiness, but ordinary education doesn’t necessarily encourage this.
The Dalai Lama also disparages prayer in his speech:
Action is more important than prayers to achieve the desirable
Again, he is contradicted by traditional Buddhist teachings. Lama Zopa says:
Medicine Buddha practice is not only for healing. In addition, it is very powerful for success and for solving any problems. Medicine Buddha practice is good for someone who has died, for family problems, for someone who is sick, for receiving happiness and freedom from suffering, for finding a job, for success in business, and for all one’s wishes to be actualized.
So Lama Zopa advises praying to Medicine Buddha for success and to solve all problems, whereas the Dalai Lama advises engaging in physical actions. How are those actions going to help those who have died or those who are suffering in hurricanes, earthquakes, floods and so forth? Physical actions have limitations whereas mental actions, such as prayer, have no limitations. Many years ago, at Medicine Buddha teachings, Geshe Kelsang taught that prayer is how Buddhists get things done because resorting to politics is not an option. Dalai Lama take note – no wonder you haven’t got Tibet back in over forty years of political manoeuvring.