Issue 15, July 27, 2009
— His Holiness,
The Dalai Lama, Consciousness
In this issue:FEATURE: His Holiness, The Dalai Lama, ConsciousnessJack 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 BrunoEventsReviewsEarlier issues
The following is an excerpt
You Ever Wanted to Know from His Holiness the Dalai Lama on Happiness,
Life, Living, and Much More, published by Hay House.
with Rajiv Mehrotra
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?
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
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-
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
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
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
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.
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?
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
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
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
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. ###
His Holiness The Dalai Lama(Tenzin
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.
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.
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
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.