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Interview with HE Kyabje Lati Pinpoche

HE Kyabje Lati Pinpoche is one of HH the Dalai Lama's spiritual advisers and the Root Guru of Trijang Rinpoche Yangsi- Trijang Rinpoche is the present Dalai Lama's junior tutor. This interview was conducted by Kunga Nyima on 26 December 2000 at Sakyamuni Dharma Centre, Singapore.

Vegetarianism in Buddhist Monasteries
Q: In recent years, we heard that there are plans to convert the diet of the three great Gelugpa monasteries into full vegetarianism. What is Rinpoche's view of this plan and for that matter, for Buddhist monasteries in general, to become full vegetarian?
A: I am happy the monastic authorities want to make this huge change. That is really appreciable. I really support this type of change coming up.

Q:Why does Rinpoche feel that it is better to be vegetarian?
A:If the number of people who consume meat is reduced, it then automatically reduces the number of people who kill the animals to meet the demand. In this way, by becoming vegetarian, we contribute, to some extend, the reduction in the number of animals killed.

Q:Why is it then in old Tibet that the monasteries are rarely fully vegetarian?
A:In Tibet, there are many people who are strict vegetarian. Even in the big monasteries where there are huge gatherings of monks, they never eat non-vegetarian food. In the monk's individual quarters, though, there might be some monks who eat meat as food.

Vegetarianism is something not very new in Tibetan society. Generally, in the old Tibetan society, most of the people try to avoid taking meat specifically killed to feed individual person. This is evident in very level of Tibetan society. Even in the scriptures of the Buddha, we have to avoid taking such meat which is killed specially just to feed ourselves. The texts prohibit us from taking this type of meat. That is the common way of practice and instructions in the Buddha's teachings. Especially in the Mahayana teachings when a person does intensive practice of Bodhicitta, they are advised or prescribed to avoid taking meat.

Introduction of the Bhikshuni ordination into Tibetan Buddhism.
Q:What is Rinpoche's view about introducing the Bhikshuni ordination into Tibetan Buddhism?
A:If the tradition of the Bhikshuni ordination is an authentic and valid one that can be traced back to the Buddha, such a lineage of the the Bhikshuni ordination is indeed worthy of my support for introduction back into Tibetan Buddhism. I really support it. On the other hand, if the Bhikshuni ordination is something that we are not very certain of in terms of its lineage, history and others, then I think it is not proper to introduce into Tibetan Buddhism.

The issue of the Bhikshuni ordination is very much discussed and investigated subject not just in Tibetan Buddhist circles but also in Burmese Buddhism, Sri Langka Buddhism, Thai Buddhism and so on. All these different traditions of Buddhism are doing serious investigations into the present surviving lineage of the Bhikshuni ordination. The important thing is that we need the continuation of the ordination "blessings" or the valid lineal connection all the way back to the Buddha. If we are able to trace this without doubt, we can really support it.

Q:What is Rinpoche's view on the Buddha's alleged answer to Venerable Ananda that with the establishment of the Bhikshuni ordination, the period of time where the world will have the Dharma, sometimes called the "True Dharma Period", will be reduced by half?
A:We find such stories or historical events allegedly happenings in the Buddha's lifetime. We are not sure what is the main objective behind this type of advice given by the Buddha to Ananda. We will need to find out what is the real meaning behind such advice given by the Buddha.

Q:So does Rinpoche think this is true?
A:Anyway, these accounts happen more than 2,000 years ago. Even if these accounts are true, we will not know what is the main objective or meaning about this alleged statement from the Buddha to Ananda.

Q:Does Rinpoche think that these accounts are true?
A: I have never encountered such accounts or stories in the Buddhist scriptures. I will believe in these accounts when I really find them in the Buddha's scriptures. I have read many different Vinaya texts but I have never seen this alleged conversation before.

Q:What is Rinpoche's view on the so-called "Eight Pure Vows" that all Bhikshunis need to observe? For example what does Rinpoche think of one of these eight vows which states that even the most senior Bhikshuni need to bow and be subordinate to even a newly-ordained monk?
A: I have also encountered this view question in the West. I told them that this view is acceptable to the then social practices.

However, later on, the society changes. Due to change in society, the mentality of the people correspondingly change. The female sex begins to emphasize on equal rights. At that time, this advice is given in conformity to the situation of the society and the mentality of the people then. But in today's society, as the mentality change, it seems not to be appropriate to follow this advice.

Q:So, do the nuns need to follow this advice?
A:The Buddha has drawn a borderline for the Bhikshunis: if you want to be a bhikshuni, you must follow a certain type of lifestyle. Now if you do not follow these precepts, you will break the precepts.

These precepts cannot be changed. These borderlines set up by the Buddha 2,500 years ago cannot be changed by some one 2,500 years later.

These issues are mainly aggressive campaigned by a small minority of nuns. The majority of nuns are still faithfully following the precepts. If they follow the Buddha's precepts, they will gain merit. If they don't, they gain demerit.

More Centres- Good ??
Q: In recent years, Singapore has witnessed a great blossoming of many new Buddhist societies, especially those affiliated with Tibetan Buddhist tradition.

There are 2 views about this: One is that having many centres weakens the original centre and we end up with not one strong centre but numerous weak centres.

The other view is that these different centres are supported by different people and so the original centre is not affected adversely.

Moreover different centres cater to needs of people with different karmic links and that these many centres is a favourable sign of the proliferation of the dharma just as is the case with other religious groups.

What is Rinpoche's idea on this?

A: It is difficult to adopt one single standpoint on this issue. In my trip to Malaysia during my previous teaching tour to South-East-Asia, I attended a religous seminar. The Malaysian Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohammad, was also present then. Dr Mahathir said that he gives full endorsement to the existence of numerous centres of different faiths throughout the land because these different centres are educating the public to be good people. These centres contribute towards the peace and happiness of the society. I feel that this is reasonable and logical.

I personally feel that it is good idea to have many centres.

Flying to other centres??
Q:According to some resident teachers of some of the Buddhist centres, they do not encourage their students or members to visit other centres or to participate in other centres' programme.

These people claimed their own centre already provides all the teachings that are needed and that going to these different centre will be confusing.

It has been suggested however that these people are simply afraid of losing their followers or sponsors to new centres.

What does Rinpoche feel about this?

A:It is very difficult to say something about this because we can hardly know what are the motivations or intentions of these people. It is very difficult to say this is good or bad.

Deep in their mind, when they give these instructions to their student, if they think that if these students go to other centres, they may be coming into contact with wrong teachers or instructions, if the advice is coming from such feelings, then it is fine.

But if the advice is coming from the other less noble motivation such as worrying about losing followers or sponsors to other more attractive teachers, this is then a very bad act.

Q:What does Rinpoche feel about a centre helping out other centres in their programmes in terms of logistics, co-ordination and the like even should they come from different traditions?
A: Helping each other out is totally appreciable and good.

Q:Can students of one tradition attend teachings from established or realized masters of the other traditions?
A: If they go to attend the teachings from these great masters through their own interest and needs, we have to be appreciative and supportive of it. If they are not willing to, of course, we cannot push them! Even in the case of high tantric initiations, if the students are capable of practising them, it is highly appreciable for them to attend even if they are of different lineages and traditions.

Buddhism misinformed- What to do??
Q: In certain countries and contexts, certain religious groups are busy propagating misinformation on Buddhism and other faihts in attempt to increase their own religious group's following. What should we as Buddhists do?
A:One important fact here is that we always need to avoid feelings of animosity towards these groups of people. We always have to avoid these feelings. It is destructive karma if we have negative feelings.

The real action we can take is to have compassion for the people who misinform and people who have been misinformed or misled. Teach them the real facts about Buddhism. We have to try to open their eyes to the bad "advertisements" that they have been exposed. We must point out to them whatever is untrue. We should try to reach out to them and tell them the facts. Let them get into the right path and practice. This is what we need to do.

However, even after such efforts, they still feel that other religious practices are more suitable for them, then this is their choice. Religion is a matter for the individual. We cannot make laws to stop conversions!

This is what we can do.

Six realms of exixtence in existencse??
Q:Some Buddhist scholars have out across that the 6 realms of existence according to the Buddhist teachings are not to be taken in its literal context, but should be interpreted in a figurative manner. For example, they put forward that hells do not exit below the earth under Bodhigaya but can be found say in the sufferings experienced by final stage cancer patients.

What does Rinpoche think about this?

A:The existence of the 6 realms is true and factual in samsara. It is not mere ideological theory.

It has been perceived by many great practitioners in the past. These great practitioners have seen the 6 realms with their eyes. If these things do not exist, the Buddha will not have taught about them. The Buddha does not need to lie to us.

Q: Does Rinpoche think that we can still take the 6 realms in a figurative manner also? It is said the hells can be found in hamburgers with the pigs getting sliced and roasted.
A: I think it is not good idea to take the 6 realms in a purely figurative way because there are real hell realms existing. We don't need to interpret the 6 realms in such way simply to justify the existence of them to others.. These realms truly exist.

The hells exist due to the bad karma of others. The Buddha in many sutras and Shantideva in the Bodhicharyavatara said that the creators of hells, the fire, the iron castles, the burning flames and others are created by the sinful mind. The hells are produced as a result of individual bad karma. The causes of hells have been thoroughly explained.

Q: What has been counter-argued is that we are never going to find the hells underneath Bodhigaya as stated in the Abhidharmakosha, right?
A: Well no one has dug that deep! It is not a good reason to say they don't exist simply because we cannot see them or have not seen them. For example, there is moisture in the air though we cannot see them. Whether we see them or not, there is moisture in the air. Science has yet been able to account for everything in the world!

"You need more merit for my tradition"
Q: These years, there are a few famous teachers who said that to be able to meet with their own tradition's teachings, beings will need a special merit extra merit. Those with less merit can never meet their tradition's teachings.

For example, they say that Milarepa has to undergo great hardship to gain enlightenment because he has no merit to meet with Je Tzongkhapa's teaching. This, according to them, contrasted to Gyalwa Ensapa who gained enlightenment relatively easier because he has enough merit to practice according to Tzongkhapa's tradition.

Citing another example, some other teachers claimed that their "termas" are much superior to other teachings and even other similar "terma" in their own tradition. These masters may think that saying so encourages their students to practice hard. It is sometimes has the unfortunate effect though of making their students extremely conceited about their own lineage and being unfairly condescending, towards other lineages.

Statements like these, from these famous teachers,have unfortunately created some minor havoc in the Tibetan Buddhist circle.

What is Rinpoche's view point on this?

A: Generally, to have a human rebirth, we need a lot of merit. To come into further contact with Buddhist's teachings, we need even more merit. From this point of view, we need much merit to come into contact with Je Tzongkhapa's teaching, some of the "terma" teachings mentioned above and for that matter, any Buddhist teachings of all the other traditions. We need huge amount of merit to come into contact with teachings of every tradition. From this view point, what is said is acceptable. If we use common sense, we will be able to understand it well.

On the other hand, we cannot say that we will need more merit to come into contact with Je Tzongkhapa's teachings and we will need less merit to come into contact with teachings of other traditions. We also need much merit to come into contact with teachings of all other traditions!

If we say that not everyone is coming into contact with Je Tzongkhapa's teachings, neither is everyone coming into contact with some "terma" teaching. This kind of "quantifying" merits in relation to traditions is inappropriate.

Milarepa has to undergo great physical hardship to purify much non-virtuous deeds accumulated earlier on in his life. Besides this difference, both Gyalwa Ensapa and Milarepa worked hard! It is not true that Milarepa worked hard but Gyalwa Ensapa has easier! Gyalwa Ensapa did put in maximum effort to attain enlightenment. If people claimed that Gyalwa Ensapa did not put in much effort to gain enlightenment, then this is wrong. These people have the wrong understanding.

Revisionist tendencies- Good??
Q:Amongst many Gelugpa centers around the world today, there is a trend to practice only the Solitary Yamantaka and the Vajrayogini of the Naropa Tradition or more commonly called the Naro Kachod.

There are two view points on these: One is that this is all we need to practice to attain Buddhahood. Anyway, these practices seen relatively simpler in term of their presentation and appear to be more appropriate for busy people in a modern industrialized society.

The other one is the concern that only concentrating on these two practices are diverting from and diluting the essence of the Gelugpa tradition as traditionally the Gelugpa's main practice focuses on the 13-deity Yamantaka, Chakrasamvara and Guhyasamaja.

What does Rinpoche think about this matter?

A:If someone is capable of carrying out practices of 13-deity Yamantaka, Chakrasamvara and Guhyasamaja combined as taught by Je Tzongkhapa himself, this is the best and highly appreciable.

If someone is not capable, has not enough time or does not feel capable enough, well he or she still needs to do some Dharma practice. For these people, the solitary Yamantaka and the Vajrayogini is also good. It is like you have to eat what is most suitable for your stomach. Not everyone can eat everything!

But if the people can do it, it is best that they do the 3 great tantras.



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