Talk Categories Modern Spiritual Life | Talk Locations University of Göttingen

Religion and Modernity

In modern society, religions are becoming an indispensable part of our life. Desire is like a bottomless pit that can never be filled. But by the practice of Buddhism, you will find out suffering does not necessarily become an unfavorable condition. When the Buddhist views of emptiness, impermanence and compassion start rising in your heart, it will bring peace into you, as well as for all humankind.


“I want to say that as humanity is now in the midst of the 21st century, to rely completely on science to solve human problems is potentially very problematic. However, religion is a science of the mind, which is inseparable from our life and consequently of great importance to us.”

Speech from Khenpo Sodargye

Religion: an Indispensable Part of Our Life

University of Göttingen: Why It Interests Me?

Today it is my great pleasure to be here, together with the teachers and scholars of the University of Göttingen, to talk about religion and modernity. Just this morning, Professor Schneider and I had an extensive discussion on the topic of religion and modern life. I also had the opportunity to visit the old university library, which has a history dating back more than 400 years. While visiting here in Göttingen, I have experienced quite a wide variety of feelings.

One thing that strikes me is the way that Germany has maintained some of its traditional cultural aspects, including some architecture and bookstores, many of which are very well preserved and have stood unchanged for over four or five centuries. At the same time, Germany’s high-tech industries are well known all over the world. Whether we are speaking of the automobile or electronics industry, it is clear that it is an advanced country and attractive to many people. So this also interests me.

When I was still in Tibet, I had already heard about the University of Göttingen. So, I have been very interested in this university for quite some time for three reasons. First, we often compare the Buddhist views of emptiness and mind-only to quantum mechanics. As a result, I have been interested in the lives of the many pioneers of quantum mechanics, such as Max Planck, Max Born and Albert Einstein, and found that they all had a close relationship with the University of Göttingen.

I have also been interested by the stories about Einstein’s development of his Theory of General Relativity and heard that when Einstein was studying relativity theory, he needed a Riemann formula, which is a particular mathematical formula, so he consulted with the mathematician David Hilbert and found the field equations necessary to develop his theory. In fact, some people thought that Hilbert should have been given partial credit for the General Relativity Theory, but, Hilbert himself, felt that in the streets of Göttingen, there were so many people talking about mathematical formulas like this, that it was not worth mentioning his name. He said that it was Einstein who had discovered it, not him. That’s the story I heard. So, this was the first reason I became interested in the University of Göttingen.

The second reason is that, in today’s world, Germany is the country with the largest number of Nobel laureates and the majority of these are associated with Göttingen. Some scholars have said that the total number of Nobel laureates associated with Göttingen is about 60. I have not been able to verify this information yet but from the previous information that I had read, at least 45 of these, had studied or taught in the University here. I also asked the professor during our discussion today why, of all the scholars around the world, so many people in this small city had won Nobel Prizes. It seems clear to me, that the University of Göttingen is a true treasury of talent in the field of science and innovation.

The third reason for my interest is related to the famous Chinese scholar Xianlin Ji, who is regarded as one of our National Treasures. He learned Sanskrit at this university and said that his experience here changed his entire life. He lived here for about 10 years, from 1935–1945, to study Sanskrit, received his Ph.D. and did some teaching here. Many of us would like to study Sanskrit, because it’s so closely associated with Buddhism. So, I am curious about the fact that since Sanskrit originated in India, why there is no school teaching Sanskrit there, whereas here in Germany, the University of Göttingen has provided one? Why were there such excellent Sanskrit teachers here? What’s the reason for this? So this is also among the reasons why I am so interested in this university.

Religion: an Indispensable Part of Our Life

Now I will speak briefly about my view of religion and modernity. As a Tibetan monk, I am familiar with the interests of Chinese people and the importance of religion to them. In today’s society, religions should actually become an indispensable part of our life. Not long ago, I read a report that came from the U.S., that stated that according to 2012 statistics, of the 7 billion people in the world, only about 1 billion state that they do not to follow any religion; all the rest adhere to some religious belief, to at least some extent. Among those 1 billion people, some of them may come from countries where they feel more comfortable stating that they do not follow a religion, whereas, in fact, they do. I’ve met many scholars and leaders in the Han Chinese areas who have faith, but for various reasons, don’t show it publicly. But if nothing else, from this survey, we can see that human life is, for the most part, connected in some way to religion.

From the many books that I’ve read, I find that religion, in fact, disciplines us from the inside. That is to say that it provides rules of morality for noble behavior. Such rules are indispensable in our world. As Kant said, two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and awe. One is the starry heaven above us. If there were no rules, the rotation of all the stars would be in some kind of random disorder. Perhaps what he was speaking of was the arrangement of natural order, created by God. The other is the moral law within. If there were no moral discipline, such as that which religion provides, our daily life would be in chaos.

Tibetan Buddhism as I have seen myself, exerts a considerable influence, whether one lives in the East or in the West. Influenced by Buddhism, according to traditional Tibetan customs, people offer blessings when a baby is born; there are special Buddhist ceremonies on wedding days or other important life occasions, and there are special Buddhist rituals when people die as well. Although such rituals are external behaviors, many traditional cultures use rituals and behaviors such as these, to embody their inner wisdom.

The external forms and internal meanings of Buddhism have spread to thousands of people in the U.S., Europe and China. Following this trend, more and more people are learning about it and many have developed a passion for it. Compared to other forms of worldly and religious knowledge, I believe that the Buddhist teachings are particularly worthy of study, especially in terms of its worldview.

From the many books that I’ve read, I find that religion disciplines us from the inside. That is to say that it provides rules of morality for noble behavior. Such rules are indispensable in our world. As Kant said, two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and awe. One is the starry heaven above us. If there were no rules, the rotation of all the stars would be in some kind of random disorder. Perhaps what he was speaking of was the arrangement of natural order, created by God. The other is the moral law within. If there were no moral discipline, our daily life would be in chaos.

Equality Between Humans and Animals

Equality Between Humans and Animals

First I’ll talk about the concept of equality in Buddhism. Indeed all humans should be treated equally. In the past, black people were treated as slaves in the U.S. That is inequality. But these days, nearly everyone enjoys equal rights. Almost all of us understand and hold this notion in our mind. However, in Buddhism the concept of equality means not only equality between humans but also between humans and animals. Why should humans and animals be treated equally? Many religions and scholars in the world feel deep sorrow at the abuse and killing of animals. I have heard that in Germany, anesthetics are applied to animals before they are killed. I think that if you have no other choice but to kill animals, certainly it is better to consider their feelings, but to be clear, I am not praising you for killing animals like this, as in every case, killing is a very bad action. But if you really have to kill an animal, you should consider their feelings. This is appropriate. Nevertheless, as I said, in every case, killing an animal is unfair to them.

Although, there is much talk these days about the need to adopt the view of equality, in fact, the phenomenon of inequality was created by people. During World War II, the concept of inequality between different people was used as an excuse for slaughtering other human beings. Today, we continue to use our power and strength to kill animals. For instance, recently the bird flu broke out in some places; as a result, many kinds of birds were killed. To me, such cruelty towards animals by human beings is really unacceptable; I believe that this is one form of very foolish behavior by humankind. The Buddhist concept of equality is worth being examined by every scholar here. Actually in current society, people hold many different views on the concept of inequality. Such views have a direct relationship to our education and to the current circumstances related to humankind’s survival.

The Very First Step for Actualizing World Peace

Another subject I would like to address is the Buddhist view of peace. Everybody talks about world peace, but the idea of world peace, whether from a political perspective or from any other perspective, should include all of the lives that coexist together on this planet. We all love and need peace. In Buddhism, with its history of more than 2,500 years, we can find the ultimate idea of world peace.

Buddhism teaches that, of all the types of negative karma, taking the life of a human or of any other living being is the most terrible of human behaviors. If humankind had held onto this concept firmly, World War I and World War II would not have taken place. Even today, there are some countries that threaten other countries with annihilation by nuclear weapons. This is a sure indication that people still lack the Buddhist view of peace.

Genuine peace should come from the inner heart rather than from such external actions as holding meetings or giving lectures, or for a few leaders to make official visits to each other. These do not result in the realization of genuine peace. In principle, if I don’t hurt you, you won’t hurt me back. Among the most fundamental five precepts of Buddhism, there is a precept of non-killing. I myself think that if we really want to actualize world peace, starting with the Buddhist view of compassion would be an easy first step.

Happy Life Requires Wisdom

The Buddhist view of happiness describes how to live a happy life. I don’t know how European countries think about happiness, but I do know that these days, many people in Mainland China are desperately pursuing it, but most of them fail to achieve their goal and end up experiencing a lot of suffering. They are tortured by various kinds of pressure such as purchasing a car or a house, paying for medical bills or endowment insurance, etc. Some are suffering from having to face up to such daily predicaments, as disagreement in their marriages or families, bad interpersonal relationships, the feeling that they lack  professional abilities, along with the competition with others for better status or for some other form of vanity.

Given this situation, Buddhism does not advocate that we should put all of our worldly pursuits aside however, although it does discourage too much competition or vanity in our life. Instead, we should use reasoning and moral wisdom to come to terms with our lives. Among the Buddhists I have met, in the past many of them were caught up in the struggle for existence and were suffered greatly from feelings of frustration in their relationships with family members and others. However, after having studied Buddhism, they now feel true happiness in their hearts. You could say that though Buddhists also suffer, they can deal with it without much difficulty. This is due to the practice of the Buddhist view of happiness. This kind of happiness has nothing to do with money. Both the rich and the poor can obtain it as it is available to every person.

I am not trying to praise Buddhism in this way just because I am a Buddhist. But in the course of my life, I have observed these kinds of stories in the lives of many people. In actuality, the Buddhist concepts for living are simple and effective. There is a story that says that there was once a man who could not swim, but who fell into deep water. He struggled desperately, and all the while that he was sinking deeper and deeper, he said to himself, “It seems there is no hope, so I should just wait to die.” So, he let go of the tension in all of his limbs and at that point, his body floated up to the top of the water, bringing him out of danger.

I think that this is a good story to remind us that our life is in some meaningful ways, very similar to this. Some people desperately grasp and pursue status and fame, but the more they pursue these things, the more pain they feel. In the end, they achieve very little actual success. As an example, some people cling to relationships. However, the more they want to bring the other person closer to them, the farther away that person retreats. In the same way, some people are especially attached to money, but the more they want it, the less they get. But once we let go and accept a condition as it is, we will pursue our desires in such a way that, while we feel that it would be good if we get it, if we don’t, we can just let it be. By doing things in this way, many opportunities come naturally. This is the wisdom of life that deserves our consideration.

We should have an attitude of wisdom toward our life. Whether in Buddhism, or in other religions, it is always said that people should live happily. People should not spend the entire day, thinking only about what they want, then their desire is like a bottomless pit that can never be filled. At a certain point we should feel content. Such contentment actually has great benefits to our family, our body and our mind.

So when facing life, on the one hand, we should not cling too much to suffering. When we encounter any kind of suffering, we should think of it as actually being helpful to our life. Suffering does not necessarily become an unfavorable condition or an obstacle, if we can seek out and find the essence of our suffering.

In Tibetan Buddhism, we often consider the point at which we encounter our own or others’ suffering as one of the most important moments to practice the Dharma and to train our minds. I suggest that everyone should think of these moments in this way, when you encounter suffering.

We should have an attitude of wisdom toward our life. Whether in Buddhism, or in other religions, it is always said that people should live happily. People should not spend the entire day, thinking only about what they want, then their desire is like a bottomless pit that can never be filled. At a certain point we should feel content. Such contentment actually has great benefits to our family, our body and our mind.

What If Death Is Not the End?

What If Death Is Not the End?

The most essential thing for everyone here to keep in mind is that no matter how learned you are, or what status, talent, or good looks you have, all of these are impermanent and will be gone in the end. You should always maintain this sense of impermanence. Although nobody likes to accept it, it still happens. Nowadays, many people do not hold onto this attitude of impermanence and live as if they are going to be alive for 1,000 or 10,000 years. This is not good. When the time comes, something inauspicious will appear, including your own death, even though you refuse to think about it.

I’ve met a lot of scholars who were unwilling to even mention death. Whenever death was mentioned, they felt unhappy. They simply did not think about these things at all nor were they preparing for it. They refused to practice for death. This is in fact very bad. Many people who were very learned, unfortunately died in immense suffering.

No matter how successful one may be in society, life will continue to cycle endlessly. Therefore, it is unreasonable to muddle your way through. Speaking of this, Confucius once remarked, “If you do not know anything about life, what can you know about death?” He said that we didn’t even know how to live our lives, how could we think that we know anything about death? This statement has misled many people who wrongly believed that he was saying life does not exist after death. Unfortunately, his words were ambiguous and led many people to neglect the existence of death.

Concerning the existence of past and future lives and the continuity of the mind after death, Christianity, Catholicism, Buddhism and Islam all have different views. Most religions generally state that people will go to one or more versions of heaven or hell after death. But in Buddhism, there are detailed descriptions about how human beings take rebirth in the next life. Plato also stated that humans would take rebirth, either in the forms of animals, humans or other sentient beings. He believed that future lives did exist. However, most Western schools of philosophy and religion fail to explain this issue clearly. It so happens that it is explicitly described in Buddhism.

Therefore, I think present-day scholars and scientists should investigate the issue of future lives; to me this is quite an essential area to research into. In most fields of scientific research, after only a few decades of research in a particular field, even if the research has borne fruit, yet, I personally think that such findings have only a transitory value.

Regarding the existence of future lives or the existence of life beyond that of our human bodies, I have read many books written by scientists, but was particularly fascinated by the Swiss scientist and psychiatrist, Carl Jung. In his book, he recounts a great deal of his personal biography. In his memoir, he recalls a near-death experience (NDE) that took place in 1944. In Near-death, the mind separates from the body but does not depart from it entirely. Jung said that once, while he was having a heart attack, his mind left his body, flew across the ocean and visited such faraway places as Sri Lanka and India. Finally, his mind returned to his bedroom. From then on, he was a complete believer in the idea that the mind exists separately from the body. But in Europe, he was viewed as a mystic and his research into the near-death experience was not acknowledged due to the limitations of science at the time. He held onto the hope, that 50 years after his death, people might realize the benefit of his thoughts on human society.

I visit many universities and exchange ideas with a lot of students and intellectuals. I find most of them don’t really know much about the existence of future lives or of our own past lives. Frankly speaking, this disappoints me a little. Although their research accomplishments benefit society and the world, I have to always repeat that, as a scientist, you should not only investigate the natural and social sciences, but also the question of your own future lives. If future lives do exist, you should follow the teachings to prepare for it. You should abandon all non-virtue and whole-heartedly practice virtue in order to have good outcomes in the afterlife. This is extremely important for everyone.

Last but not least, I want to say that as humanity is now in the midst of the 21st century, to rely completely on science to solve human problems is potentially very problematic. Some young people now are obsessed with trends in fashion; they constantly fall prey to external factors and do not understand religion adequately. However, religion is a science of the mind, which is inseparable from our life and consequently of great importance to us. Therefore, you scholars in attendance today should re-focus your first priority to religious research. Daisaku Ikeda once said in San Francisco in 1996, that humans are not necessarily living for the sake of religion, but religion exists for the sake of humans. This was his way of saying that our life is actually inseparable from religion. That’s all I have to share with you today. Thank you very much.

Question & Answer Session

Right Way to Maintain a Healthy Body

Killing, Wrong Solution on the Bird Flu

Question #1:

Hello, Khenpo! I want to ask you a simple, maybe a kind of naive question. In your talk, you mentioned that the killing of birds during the bird flu outbreak was a kind of inequality. How could we have dealt with this better? How can we stop killing for the sake of equality while solving the problem properly? Is there a better way? I think it’s pretty difficult sometimes.

Khenpo Sodargye:

If we believe that life is precious, then, not only human life, but the lives of birds and animals are also precious. Let’s imagine that if some people were to become infected with bird flu, would we decide to kill them to avoid future infection among others? Would this be considered reasonable? From the perspective of honoring the value of life, it makes no sense to protect uninfected people from infection by killing all those who are already infected. Therefore, I think from the highest perspective of honoring life, which is that all life, including the life of animals, should be treated equally—therefore, it doesn’t make any sense to take away the lives of animals to maintain the lives of humans. But from the perspective of humankind, and believing, as people normally do, that animals are a lower species of life—there might be a different viewpoint stating that animal lives are not as valuable as human lives.

Right Way to Maintain a Healthy Body

Question #2:

I am a professor of the Centre for Modern East Asian Studies. Khenpo said that Buddhism is a religion about mind and consciousness. But we also care about our physical bodies, as we just now discussed the serious disease bird flu. Everybody has a physical body and wants to avoid sickness. What can Buddhism offer to us to maintain a healthy body?

Khenpo Sodargye:

As for the human body, Buddhism expresses its views quite clearly. We say that there are two ways to protect the body. One is not proper because it goes against the laws of nature and morality, and the other one is in accordance with both the laws of nature and worldly morals.

Taking care of the body is highly emphasized in Buddhism. For instance, the Sutrayana scriptures describe how to sleep at night and how to eat in the daytime. As a matter of fact, all such behaviors are explicitly described.

However, Buddhism always emphasizes that protecting your body should not be done by causing other people or other sentient beings suffering. If it brings suffering to other sentient beings, even if you are temporarily protected, for example, due to causes and conditions, you may be able to protect yourself temporarily through the killing of others, but nevertheless, this result may bring about unhappiness sometime in the future. Therefore, in Buddhism, it is always said that we need to protect our body in a proper way and not by the bringing of suffering to other beings. This is the way of protecting your body and this concept is very important.

A Tip on Living Longer

Question #3:

You are suggesting that we should not harm other people or other beings for the purpose of maintaining our own health but for many medical or pharmacological studies, animal experiments normally come first. Would this also not be allowed? Also, now that there are a lot of technologies that don’t actually harm people, and in fact, live longer and longer, even up to 80 or 100 years old, but most people do not actually live very comfortably during the last 10, 20 or 25 years because our bodies continue to get weaker and weaker. So I am wondering your opinion of this type of technology. Also, what would be the Buddhist view of this?

Khenpo Sodargye:

Many people want to live longer. Sometimes medicine can help people to extend their natural lifespan. Of course, relying on medicine is making use of the scientific method. From the Buddhist point of view, whether or not the extension of a lifespan can completely rely on science is hard to say. Of course, if we take supplemental nutrition, it may prevent us from being ill, so that may help us to live a little bit longer. This is allowed in Buddhism. In many Buddhist prayers, it says that, may you live long, be free from disease and be happy. We always chant in this way from the sutras.

On the surface, science can sometimes benefit us temporarily. For example, some medicines can dispel our temporary pains. On the other hand, they may also bring harm or side effects to our lives. These days, many young people choose to get cosmetic surgery. On one hand, it may make people better looking, but after a while the side effects may badly affect the entire body, or even shorten one’s life. Therefore, you cannot only focus on the temporary benefits of highly advanced technology because in the end, it actually could damage your basic constitution.

Buddhism Flourishing in the West

Question #4:

I am a teacher from the Centre for Modern East Asian Studies. I also have a naive question. You mentioned earlier that religions of the West and the East actually have a lot in common, such as some basic views on morality. But even so, in modern societies of the West, over the past 20 or 30 years, more and more people have started to follow Buddhism, including many celebrities. How do you explain this phenomenon? Would you please talk a little bit more about what Buddhism brings to western society that is not already available in western religions? Thanks.

Khenpo Sodargye:

It seems to me that this phenomenon is not only occurring in the West, but also in China. In the past, many old people believed in Buddhism, but these days, many young people, particularly well-educated people, as well as celebrities and successful entrepreneurs have also begun to follow Buddhism.

I think there are good reasons for this phenomenon. I’ve studied many western religions and some of these religions are based on nothing more than a simple ritual or a simple concept. One may be required to visualize something, but the requirement does not explain the reason behind it or any related details; at best you may just get told a story that is designed to calm your mind. However, young people these days are actively pursuing science and truth; if all they get is a story or a simple ritual, it may not be enough to fully convince them.

In Buddhism, very few young people attend rituals, but many of them study Buddhism. Why do so many young people like Buddhism? A few of them may be emotionally touched by its teachings and may feel a special enthusiasm, but for the majority, they enjoy the reasoning of the Dharma teaching, and this is particularly true of Tibetan Buddhism. Through much debating, their incisive questions have been continually explored and finally result in decisive conclusions. This way of seeking truth is now very favorable to young people, so they seek it out.

There are abundant teachings and reasoning in Buddhism. No matter whether the subject is history, literature or any other, you will find it is not just based on a legend or a one-sided belief. Today I said to Professor Schneider, “If our religion were nothing more than mere faith, it would easily degenerate. But when true wisdom is involved, whether talking about science or religion, people have to admit to such wisdom.”

Therefore, this is a question about the truth. Many people here like to explore philosophy. I also mentioned at the Max Planck Institute yesterday that many Tibetan Buddhist masters, and many scholars in Göttingen, may have the same way of thinking, because they all pursue the truth with great rigor. People who study Buddhist logic are also very rigorous; if they sense even a small doubt, they will point it out, give you their explanation and, in the end, convince you completely. In this way, they are like many of the philosophers here. It is said that philosophers here always stay indoors due to bad weather, so they have the chance to enlighten their minds. I don’t know about this. The weather in Tibet is not good either, so this may be another similarity.

Buddhism in the 21st Century: More Challenges or Opportunities?

Why Buddhist View of Happiness Stresses Death?

Question #5:

I’m a religious researcher. My question is kind of substantial. As Socrates said, happiness is just an experience in a certain period. Another idea is that happiness is the joyfulness at this exact moment and that it doesn’t matter what will happen in the next. So why does the Buddhist view of happiness concern itself with the afterlife when talking about true happiness? Why is it necessary to address death?

Khenpo Sodargye:

Well, in Buddhism, happiness is an unavoidable topic, particularly, because in today’s society, so many people are very much concerned with it. I don’t know the specific situation here, but I believe that in this world most people want to be happy. In the hope of attaining happiness, they are busy with their jobs or businesses every day. Most people work hard for the sake of their own happiness. Some of them may not understand the meaning of life, yet are urged on by their dissatisfaction with their fortune and prestige. They keep working their way upwards seeking for more, and all the while they fall short of their expectations.

From the Buddhist perspective, it’s worthwhile to make efforts to strive for what one needs, but overdoing it is not necessary. It only causes pain to continue to seek for things that remain out of your reach. So here we return to the notion of happiness. I feel content with my life, but this does not mean I am slack or passive. I feel content with everything as long as I’ve made efforts and have worked hard for them.

In fact, the happiness we talk about is a feeling of contentment in our hearts. Meanwhile, we have to talk about death as well. It is certain that every person will die, and unfortunately, most people will be filled with dread at that moment. If a person were to be told about their imminent death, except for very few individuals, anyone would feel scared. But if we understand death beforehand, we can be well prepared, like a soldier who is trained in advance to be ready for the battlefield. However, most worldly people make no preparation for death and the next life. The moment they know they are about to die, their mind becomes filled with terrible fear.

A while ago in China, a 96-old man was told by his doctor that his life was likely to end soon. He was so outraged that he whacked the doctor. He said, “Don’t say such inauspicious things to me!” In fact, from the Buddhist point of view, everyone is bound to die. Yet death is not an end; instead it is the beginning of the next life. That’s what we believe. So we discuss death and happiness in Buddhism. That’s what people should really care about. We are not saying that death brings unhappiness or happiness. That is not the issue.

Buddhism in the 21st Century: More Challenges or Opportunities?

Question #6:

I was a teacher from Anhui University in China and now am teaching linguistics in the University of Göttingen. This semester, I also teach some literature courses.

I am not a Buddhist, but many of my friends and family are. They are very pious. Sometimes I also listen to chants, such as the Great Compassion Mantra and the Heart Sutra. Every time I listen, I feel peaceful in my mind. So, like you just said, Buddhism is a spiritual science of the 21st century; I couldn’t agree with you more.

My question is, now that we are in the 21st century, what challenges and what opportunities will Buddhism face in the course of its spreading and propagation? For instance, it is inevitable that it will be necessary to explain Buddhism in modern languages and to utilize high-tech communication devices. Many scholars nowadays suggest the notion of Buddhism is becoming more secular. I want to ask, from a Buddhist point of view, particularly from the standpoint of Tibetan Buddhism as characterized by the Tantrayana, will this notion bring harm to the actual roots of Buddhism? Or maybe it’s improper to question in this way, but what influence do you think that it will bring to Buddhism? I would like to hear your opinion on this. Thank you.

Khenpo Sodargye:

This is a very good question. Buddhism, like anything else, has to follow the course of time. It has to keep its traditions as well as to move forward. This is a challenge not only for Buddhism, but also for every other culture. Today, one of the things that I asked Professor Schneider, was about how the University of Göttingen preserves so many buildings that were built over a century ago—which in China, would be considered as very unusual—yet at the same time, these buildings have been modernized substantially as part of the inevitable process of the industrial and information revolution? How is such a kind of balance achieved?

In Buddhism, we have to face the same kind of issue. But in my opinion, this is not such a difficult question. Some specific traditions in Buddhism, for example, monastic precepts and monastic rituals as well as Tibetan Buddhist Tantrayana vows should be strictly concealed. They should not be disseminated freely no matter how open our society becomes. Otherwise, it may be that some people will not accept any part of it. It would be like replacing ancient buildings with modern skyscrapers, which would be a shame and should not be allowed. We particularly hope to keep original Buddhist traditions and preserve it with its original flavor.

However, does this mean Buddhism should not be progressing along with the times? Definitely not. Since Buddhism is a science of the mind, with its own vastness and profundity, it is not true, as some people may think, that Buddhism is insignificant, other than as some sort of cultural activity that takes place inside of temples. This is certainly not the case. When I looked around in this library today, I was told there are about 8 million books. As for Buddhist books, a huge number of texts are well preserved in the U.S. and in Tibet, sutra printing houses also store a great deal of sutras. Of the many sutras, some can be circulated in public, while many should not be.

Now that we are in the high-tech 21st century, some of the Buddhist teachings should be posted on the Internet. It is said that, in China, according to a survey circulated last year, over 500 million citizens use the Internet and live their life connected to it. One report stated that in the future, every prevailing culture will have its own space on the Internet. A culture’s survival may depend on whether it utilizes cyberspace, if not, it may simply die out. Therefore, I believe Buddhism, including Tibetan Buddhism, should also make good use of modern technology, because it is a science of the mind, and provides a very noble education for people. Such education should be spread to all areas of both the East and the West, without worrying if it will be impaired through propagation.

However, for some of the rituals and conduct, it would better not to secularize them. Some Humanistic Buddhists today are too secular, in my opinion, and have changed the original teachings too much. As I mentioned earlier, this would be like destroying an ancient building and replacing it with a new skyscraper. The skyscraper may look pretty, but what a loss when all the antiques are gone. I asked Professor Schneider today about how Germany balances the old and new architectures. Buddhism is facing the same situation. I think both should be kept as it would be a great pity to lose either one.

Tibetan Medicine in Modern Society

Question #7:

I have one more question. Talking about medical treatment as it pertains to Tibetan medicine, can Tibetan medicine maintain its traditions or must it adapt to modern society? What is the current situation of traditional Tibetan medicine in China?

Khenpo Sodaargye:

In Tibet, we have five vidyas, or five topics of knowledge, and medicine is one of them. The traditional way of Tibetan medicine is extremely strict and is well maintained to this day. As far as I know, Tibetan medicine has in recent years, won a large number of international prizes and remains popular in institutions of higher education, monasteries and among the general populace. Its transmission has never been interrupted, neither has its essence been impaired. Today Tibetan medicine is becoming very popular in eastern and western countries outside of Tibet, since it is very effective and has almost no side effects.

University of Göttingen