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Issue 15,  July 27, 2009     —      His Holiness, The Dalai Lama, Consciousness

In this issue:   FEATURE: His Holiness, The Dalai Lama, Consciousness    Jack Armstrong, Illusions of the Physical World   Guy Finley, Harness the Transformational Power in Self-Reliance   Sharon Elaine, Affirmations for Spiritual Matters   Mark Bowser, The Keys to Empowered Leadership   Daylle Deanna Schwartz, Lightening Guilt   Wider Screenings, Borat Does Bruno    Events   Reviews   Earlier issues   Submit Article

Photo courtesy of http://www.dalailama.com

The following is an excerpt from: All You Ever Wanted to Know from His Holiness the Dalai Lama on Happiness, Life, Living, and Much More, published by Hay House.

Conversations with Rajiv Mehrotra

Consciousness continues to be a complex phenomenon for the modern mind, whether we approach it through science or spirituality. Your Holiness, could you clarify how Buddhism defines consciousness?

HH: Consciousness is generally divided into two: sensory consciousness and mental consciousness. The arising of sensory consciousness such as eye-consciousness depends on certain conditions—for instance, the objective condition or the internal condition that is the empowering condition. On the basis of these two, the sense organ also requires another factor—that is, the preceding moment of the consciousness itself.

Let us talk on the basis of this flower, the eye-consciousness that sees the flower. The function of the objective condition, which is the flower, is that it can produce the eye-consciousness that brings forth awareness of the different aspects of the flower.

Vaibhasika, one of the Buddhist schools, does not accept the theory of aspect. It says eye-consciousness has direct contact with the object itself. This is very difficult to explain. It says that things are perceived without aspect but by direct contact. Other schools say that things do have aspects through which the consciousness perceives the object.

The theory of modern scientists, which accepts the aspect of the object through which it is perceived, seems to have a more logical background. The eye-
consciousness perceives a form, and not a sound, that is the imprint of the sense organ on which it depends. What is the cause that produces such an eye-consciousness in the nature of clarity and knowing? That is the product of the preceding moment of the consciousness that gives rise to the eye-consciousness.

Although we talk about states in which gross levels of mind are dissolved, and we talk of consciousness states and so on, the subtle consciousness always retains its continuity. If one of the conditions—for example, the preceding moment of the consciousness—is not complete, even when the sense organ and the object meet, they will not be able to produce the eye-consciousness that sees it.

Mental consciousness is very different, and the ways in which the sensory and mental consciousnesses perceive an object are also very different. Because sensory consciousness is non-conceptual, it perceives all the qualities—all the attributes of the object—collectively.

When we talk about mental consciousness, it is mainly conceptual. It perceives an object through an image. It apprehends an object by excluding what it is not. One has really to think deeply about the question of whether consciousnesses are created or produced from chemical particles of the brain mechanism.


As a spiritual leader you have taken unprecedented initiative in involving the scientific community in testing, analyzing, and validating spiritual phenomena. Yet the mind and the brain are as far as scientists are willing to explore. What is their stand on consciousness, and how does it differ from yours?

HH: In recent years, I met scientists in the fields of nuclear physics as well as neurology and psychology. Very interesting. We have to learn certain things from their experiments, from their latest findings; and, equally, they show a keen interest to know more about Buddhist explanations of consciousness and mind.

I have raised this question with many people but have never found a satisfactory answer. For example, if we adhere to a position that consciousness is nothing other than a product of the interaction of particles within the brain, we have to say that each consciousness is produced from particles in the brain.

In that case, take the possible experiences in relation to a rose. One person might have the view that this is a plastic rose—that is a mistaken consciousness. Later, he might doubt it, thinking that it might not be a plastic rose, so the mistaken consciousness now turns into a wavering doubt. Then he presumes that it is a natural flower—this is still only a presumption. Finally, through some circumstances, such as touching it or smelling it, he finds that it is a natural rose.

During all these stages, his consciousness is directed toward one single object, but he is passing through these different stages of consciousness: from the mistaken view to doubt, then presumption, and finally from valid cognition to valid perception. He is experiencing different stages of consciousness. But how does one explain that the chemical particles change during these stages?

Another example: We see a person and think he is our friend. But that person is not our friend. We mistake him, and the consciousness is mistaken. When we saw that person, we had an erroneous consciousness. But the moment someone told us that he was not our friend, hearing this sound caused a change from that mistaken perception of the person to a valid perception.

What about the experiences of great meditators? When a practitioner enters a very deep state of meditation, both breathing and heartbeat stop. Some of my friends who practice these things remain without heartbeat and breathing for a few minutes, I think. If someone remains in such a state for a few hours, what is the function of the brain during that time?

On the basis of all this, I am trying to argue that there exists one phenomenon, called consciousness, that has its own entity apart from the brain cells. Although the gross level of consciousness is very closely related to the physical body, it is also naturally related to the brain. But the consciousness of its own nature is something distinct. The subtler consciousness becomes more independent of the physical particles.

That is how the physical functions of a meditator stop when he reaches a deep state of consciousness; yet consciousness is there. At that moment, because the physical functions have stopped, the gross level of consciousness is no more and the subtle level of consciousness becomes obvious.   ###

The Dalai Lama Interview

His Holiness The Dalai Lama (Tenzin Gyatso) is the 14th and current Dalai Lama. Born on July 6, 1935, he was the 5th of 16 children from a farming family in the Tibetan province of Amdo. When he was two years old, he was proclaimed the tulku (rebirth) of the 13th Dalai Lama. At the age of 15, he was enthroned as Tibet’s Head of State and most important political ruler, as Tibet faced occupation by the forces of the People’s Republic of China.

After the collapse of the Tibetan resistance movement in 1959, the Dalai Lama fled to India, where he was active in establishing the Central Tibetan Administration (the Tibetan government in exile) and in seeking to preserve Tibetan culture and education among the thousands of refugees who accompanied him.

A charismatic figure and noted public speaker, His Holiness is the first Dalai Lama to travel to the West. There, he has helped spread Buddhism and promote the concepts of universal responsibility, secular ethics, and religious harmony. In 1989, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his distinguished writings and his leadership in the solution of international conflicts, human rights issues, and global environmental problems.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama describes himself as “a simple Buddhist monk.” However, to millions of people around the world, he embodies the highest human aspiration: to be happy. His messages of compassion, altruism, and peace are articulated in a unique secular ethic for our times and supported with techniques and practices that can help us achieve these ideals.

He is the Dalai Lama—or simply, His Holiness—the epitome of the Buddhist model of loving-kindness and an incarnation of Avalokitesvara, the bodhisattva of infinite compassion and mercy. Evoking global respect and admiration, he is both a prophet and a statesman for our troubled times, yet he’s intensely human and accessible. He’s an inspiration to millions, yet many feel as if he touches and speaks to them personally. He is a Buddhist but belongs to all humanity. His Holiness is one of the most recognizable—and recognized—faces in the free world.


This remarkable book is an edited compilation of mostly personal conversations spanning nearly 20 years between the Dalai Lama and Rajiv Mehrotra, one of his early disciples who’s now the trustee and secretary of the Foundation for Universal Responsibility, which was established with the funds from the Nobel Peace Prize. Here, the Dalai Lama is a teacher to a spiritual aspirant; a divine master and a temporal leader; an ambassador for Tibet and a lovable guru-philosopher to the whole world; a practitioner of the 2,500-year-old teachings of Buddhism; a Tibetan Buddhist and an interfaith ambassador; and an intense practitioner of mind-training and an inveterate optimist. His multiple hats may appear contradictory at times, but he balances them all, living his life with ease and happiness.

Within these pages, the Dalai Lama’s disarming candor, his deep empathy for his student’s quest, and his wisdom—garnered not just from texts and scriptures, but also from an active engagement with life—offer invaluable insights to us all on how we may find true happiness in our lives.


Hay House, Inc. 130x130 Flower






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