… Many people can be indignant at what this Tibetan lama says. Most often this is due to a lack of understanding and unwillingness to understand what he is saying. You react, but do not try to understand.
Western society is built upon machines. You live with them and even within them. And among them, too. Don’t tell me that your environment doesn’t influence your mind. It surely does. We Tibetans are not very tender. It is because our mountains never have been. To live in Tibet, one must be as strong as a yak. Mountains are peaceful, though. You cannot fight with mountains as you do with the jungle. If you run too fast along a mountain path, you may fall down from a rock and die. That was why we have never been too aggressive: just strong, hardworking, a bit retired people. It was mountains that formed our national character.
It was forests that formed yours. I am far from criticizing European culture. It used to be a beautiful one. Your composers grew up in forests, so to say. They always could go for a walk in a forest. There was something in your forests which inspired them. Now you have only few forests left. You probably still have some, but of what use are they if they are too far from your big cities? You have got your machines instead. Every kind of machines: cars, computers, mobile phones, lifts.
I don’t say machines are bad. When I was a child I would be happy to get a washing machine. Bad is that they had become your entire environment. Your environment forms your character. So you have become like human machines, at last. Like robots.
You will say: ah, that’s an old comparison. An old metaphor. We know it for ages. You are mistaken. It’s not a metaphor. It’s simply reality. And even if you know it, so what? Are you proud of it? Some of you may even be. Do you find it all right?
Now you begin to disagree. You say: it surely mightn’t be so worse. We aren’t robots. Some of us may be, but most of us are educated people, healthy both physically and mentally, free from your Asian complexes and your slavish devotion to idols and tyrants. Do you have any proofs that we are robots?
Well, I have plenty of them.
A machine is driven by commands. It cannot perceive reality as it is. For a machine, it is too difficult. You just enter some commands, some words into a machine, and it reacts. Its reactions may be very difficult, very ‘intelligent.’ But one thing you cannot change, though: a machine always depends on words. And it always reacts in the same way. It never changes.
It is exactly how you live your social life.
When you get acquainted with a person you first of all are eager to learn what he or she is. It means how one earns one’s money. You attempt to state one’s value. You are grown great masters of this value-stating. You do it not simply by a visit card, but also by clothes one wears, by manner one speaks, by words one uses, and so on, and so on. A person is always wider than its profession, title, or social habits. But you don’t pay attention. You learn that this one is a scientist. That one is a taxi-driver. Another one is a priest. This information is a ‘command,’ an ‘input’ according to which you react. At your schools or in your family you were told how to behave with scientists, taxi-drivers, and priests. You were pre-programmed, so to say. You may follow those programs or not, it doesn’t matter. They stuck in your mind. If you aren’t religious (very few Westerners are, in fact), you probably don’t respect priests. You may criticize them, show them your lack of respect, and even abuse them. It matters nothing. You behave like that because they are priests. So some of you automatically start to feel aversion towards a priest however good the priest may be.
It is so because in your youth you were re-programmed by atheistic ideas or by some ‘gurus’ of the Western world. And if not, something just went wrong with your machine. The computer of your mind caught a virus. It broke down under the heavy burden of lies your head was stuffed with. The program got a so-called bug. So now you insult your priests and think yourselves to be ‘free individuals.’ Nothing of the sort. You are just acting in accordance with your new prejudice, with your new mental program.
If you were really free from prejudices you first of all should ask who a person is. Who he is and not what he does. You would try to learn him instead of classifying him. If you did so you would learn that even a Catholic priest or a communist may be a good person. And even an activist of Greenpeace or a volunteer who helps aged people may be a bad one.
When I arrived in Europe I was told that a big number of people show respect to me just because they respect me personally, as an individual. I was surprised to learn it, for I knew that most of my admirers had had no chance to get acquainted with me or to listen to my teachings before. Yet those who accompanied me attempted to persuade me, that it was precisely so. Then, all of a sudden, hard times came. I was told to be a bad person, a false lama. I became ill and, to crown it all, had no money. Some good people helped me without asking much what I am. At that time I was nothing. An outsider. A beggar. And where were my former admirers? I still was the same I had been before. Only one thing had changed. The word. The label. The command, which prescribed how to perceive me, how to behave with me. A big number of people started to believe in this single word: a false lama. Well: imagine that I really am one. Imagine that I am cruel and ignorant. Why not see it at the first or at the second glance? Is it really so difficult, to notice one’s cruelty and ignorance? It is difficult, however, if you are a robot. A robot always executes commands. It never perceives what really happens. It never gets its own way of thinking. You may think that it is only the personal insult which now leads me to speak about your robotized mind. You are mistaken. You really are. I don’t care much for myself. A monk can exist everywhere. I began to talk about this Western mental machinery after my first week spent in Europe, when I was listened to with much enthusiasm. Yet I couldn’t help saying the truth. I wasn’t going to preach ‘sweet harmless Buddhism.’ And I still don’t want to do it.
You probably want to contradict me. You say that one cannot help judging others by their profession. You say that you have much more compassion and personal feelings for your nearest ones, for the people you love. At the first glance, it seems to be true. But in fact you just change the label. You put on your friends, relatives, and beloved ones another label. Having put it on them, you begin to call a former taxi-driver or a former scientist your ‘sweetheart.’ But all your sweethearts are somehow similar. You treat them all in the same way. You act in accordance with the program ‘partner’ which was put into your mind, without analyzing much what kind of a person your partner is.
You allow them to have physical relations with you and to care for you. To cry ‘Oh, dear!’ and so on. But in reality you have no much interest in them, neither do they have much interest in you. You don’t study your partners. And you never reflect. Someone has told you that a partner is a closest person to you, that now you have everything in common, that your partner shares all your ideas and convictions, and so probably do you. It is simply not true. He or she neither shall do it nor does it actually. People differ. Studying your partner would be of much use for you. You probably could learn something from him or her, as well as your partner could learn from you. Sympathy begins with understanding another person, with studying one. Having studied your partner, some of you would probably realize that you have no much love for him or her. And even in case a true love exists relations are not bound to be similar. Some of your beloved ones can help you, others need your help. One can be hurt by your coarse words; another will be insulted, if you are too gentle with him. And so on. But you never reflect, never distinguish. You act as robots, executing the same program.
As soon as the label ‘partner’ is put on a person, you take you partner into your bed, allow one to call you ‘sweetheart,’ and begin to regard one as another part of yourself. Why, he or she has never been it. Sooner or later, something goes wrong. The sweetheart’ ceases to be sweet, tender, and sexy. Then you separate and probably begin accusing another sex of your problems. After your first divorce you believe that men can never understand a woman. Not such a difficult one as you, at last. You believe that women can never understand a man. Surely not such a deep one as you. Did you do anything to understand your first partner, though? I don’t speak about everyone. I am glad to know that there still are exceptions. These exceptions will be in lesser numbers each year. They will be in lesser numbers because of the robotized mind which simply puts a label of a ‘partner’ on a person instead of studying one.
As for much esteem you have for your nearest and dearest ones, I doubt of it. What is esteem? You respect a person if you are devoted to this person, if you find him or her superior to you, if you easily believe what the person says or at least appreciate his or her words, if you don’t mind doing something to please him or her, if you do it sincerely and without any selfish interest. Don’t esteem someone you perceive the person as a human being, you know why he or she deserves your respect. Western people have many idols.
However, the most of you are hardly capable of respecting anyone. You even fail to respect your parents. You seldom do what your parents say to you. You often argue with them. Why,you don’t even respect your god, Jesus Christ. Do you really do much to please him? Did you give up all you have got, as he taught you to do? Did you ever give up any small thing for his sake? Did you ever refuse to follow the smallest of your silly ideas, selfish desires, or bad habits? Each religion starts from respect, from esteem, from devotion, not from philosophy. It also may be based on idolizing, but then it simply degrades to fanaticism.
How could we Tibetans, we poor folk master the immense difficulty of Prajña Paramita, if we didn’t have our true love and devotion to the Buddha, the Great Teacher? You see, you don’t even respect your god and teacher which is, to my opinion, more than a god. Gods are many, good teachers are rare.
A machine is not capable of having religious feelings. Religion is something beyond words. But you cannot go beyond. This lack of respect combines with your lack of mental independence. Again you seem not to believe me. You believe that all of you have independent opinions. You believe you never allow others to influence your ideas and convictions. It’s not true.
You do argue with others, simply from a childish desire to argue. But only few Westerners think their own thoughts. You are awfully afraid not to be original. Afraid to be like others. You awfully want to differ from the crowd. Aiming for this you can do anything. What does it matter? Taking Refuge or becoming a communist is just a way you re-program yourselves. You just stop executing program called ‘Christianity’ and start executing program called ‘Buddhism.’ But you are hardly able to execute the latter, because this Asian program requires much sincerity.
You are as well afraid of thinking independently as of being said to be mediocre. Looking originally and thinking independently is not the same. Your thinking must always proceed in accordance with theories; you always must go the way other people go. If by a chance an idea which has never been before enters your head you simply ignore it, because you have no tools to work on this idea. If a genius appears you immediately make one a laughing-stock. You keep despising one, criticizing one, and throwing mud at one until it turns out that this one is a real genius. A robot simply cannot have own thoughts. Its independent thinking has nothing to rely on. Your thoughts are to rely on reality. But it’s only words you stuff your head with.
An independent thinking is not always original. Throwing mud at priests or admiring homosexuals is, to your opinion, very original, because it is something that breaks traditions. Traditions might be of great use, however. On the contrary, studying Scriptures bores you immensely. You are afraid one might call you dull fish, mediocrities if you start studying them. Yet someone who does think independently doesn’t care what label is put on him or her.
Remember 1932, the year in which Adolph Hitler became the head of Germany. As soon as he did it he declared that Germany should go back to its Middle Ages, shall once again become an empire of your European Middle Ages. Hitler did think independently. He most probably was inspired by demonic powers, but a robot he wasn’t. If someone declared such a thing now you would surely think the person to be mad. But Hitler you didn’t. Quite the contrary: it had turned out that Germans had for ages been dreaming of it. I don’t blame you. I just want to show you how easily someone who has no true opinion of one’s own is re-programmed.
You may think that there is a domain in which you still stay more or less spontaneous. I mean religion. A domain less robotized than other domains of your life. It may be so, may be not. I want to tell you a story I have never told before. Once I was very eager to learn what a Catholic mass looks like. So I went to a church. Not in a monk’s robe, of course. I believe I put on trousers and a shirt. There were laymen as well as nuns in the church. I listened to a sermon and to prayers. Then communion followed. I have nothing against Jesus so I didn’t mind to take part at it. As you know, during a communion small wafers which symbolize the body of Jesus are used. As for laymen, the priest put these wafers directly into their mouths. As for nuns, they stretched out their hands, and the wafers were laid on their palms. I didn’t see much difference. However, as I am a monk, I stretched out my hand, too. The wafer was laid on it. I went back to my place. Then one of the nuns turned her head and gazed at me with gleaming eyes. She surely blamed me, because I broke common rules. I believe she even blamed the priest, for his having laid the wafer on my palm instead of putting in into my mouth. How sorry I felt for this old nun! Of course, one shouldn’t be provocative during a ritual, I understand it very well. One never should hurt religious feelings of other people. But I sincerely didn’t mean to be provocative. And it weren’t religious feelings I hurt. It was altering a command the nun was angry with. Some of few people of the West who still remain religious are terribly afraid of altering even the smallest detail in their religion. Do you remember that machines always work in the same way? If a single letter of a program is altered a machine cannot execute it.
Well, we Tibetans are rather conservative in our rituals, too. Yet we never perform rituals only for the sake of rituals. We don’t mind altering our old rituals, we don’t mind inventing new ones. We never believe that performing a ritual guarantees some spiritual achievements in the same way in which starting washing machine guarantees clean linen. But you Western people are persuaded that a machine always performs its job. So you believe that prayers and communion will perform theirs. After your death, many of you will be very surprised to learn that they hadn’t. Why, communion is not a machine. Neither is Jesus one.
If you perceived reality, not words, you would notice that performing rituals mechanically never changes anything. I just cannot realize how some of you can go to church for many years and be exactly as they had been. Only a robot can perform an action for many years without being changed. Of what use is religion if it never changes anything in your mind? For a human being, religious activity like this is of no use.
For a robot, it is useful, though. It puts into the human machines the old lies Western society is built upon. It lets you feel like having performed your religious duties, so that you may remain a good robot. In a religion, no duty can ever exist. Nobody is obliged to become better. Nobody is obliged to achieve Enlightenment. Yet some of you fancy that Enlightenment will be achieved instantly after your death, that Jesus saves all of you from samsara, that going to church and refraining from crimes is the only thing required for it. This idea could spring only from a robotized mind, from a mind that deals with machines and believes the mysterious thing you call God to work as a huge enterprise. I don’t blame your priests. Even a best priest can change nothing when he preaches to machines.
And, last but not least, it’s only practical sense you think of. Why, no engine is created just to admire it. Each engine has to work. You Western people believe laboriousness to be the main human virtue. If it really were so, each engine would reach Enlightenment much sooner than you. Did you ever see a saint machine? A human being can admire beauty. A robot simply cannot. It lacks the part of its mind responsible for perceiving beauty. And it is quite comprehensible, because beauty is perfectly useless for business matters. You will tell me that it is not so, that you still have your philharmonic societies, that your school students still study Shakespeare, Dante, Goethe, or any author belonging to your Western cultural heritage. Did you ever think how you behave with your cultural heritage? Most pragmatically. You were told by your school teachers that Goethe is ‘a capital thing.’ You human machines are not capable of realizing the beauty of his poetry by yourselves. However, you do believe in your teachers and scholars, and they keep praising Goethe. They do it almost mechanically, to say the truth. They, too, are robotized. Nonetheless, they do their job; they reproduce the ‘old faith in cultural treasures.’ So you let Goethe, the poor man, be. But, as poetry cannot help boring robots, as it is awfully dull for them, you attempt to make your Goethe ‘comprehensible.’ You simplify your great authors. You translate their works into the vulgar slang of your teenagers. You probably think that vulgarizing them is better than giving them up altogether. That a half or even a third of ‘a treasure’ is better than nothing. You think as each robot would think. Well, if you reduce the capacity of a machine the machine still remains useful. But if you ‘reduce,’ if you simplify your Dante he simply ceases to exist. His whole beauty is completely destroyed. This is a thing only a human being is able to realize, a fact a robot will ever fail to understand.
If you ceased to be robots! Only a human being can reach Enlightenment. The Buddha said nothing about robots although He surely used to know some. Don’t believe in words. Don’t label people. Study them carefully, especially your nearest ones. Let each of your relations be unique. Respect those who deserve to be respected. Don’t let politicians or newsmakers guide you. Don’t be afraid not to be original. Give up your faith in robotized rituals, which might be effective in a miraculous way, without any effort of your mind. Develop your sense for beauty. Then you might get a chance to escape from a steel cage of samsara no robot can escape from. Why, a robot is made of steel. How can it go beyond the substance it is made of?
Khenpo Kyosang Rinpoche
From book SNOW LION FACES EUROPE