Lama Glenn came to Vilnius in June, 2019 to launch the Lithuanian
translation of his book about fourteen Dalai Lamas. He kindly accepted
Ignas’ request to record an interview, they met and talked in the dormitory
of Vilnius University where Glenn stayed.
I.S.IGNAS STAŠKEVIČIUS I will start with the question of the phenomenon of reincarnation. This concept is not very close to the Western worldview, so it keeps coming up when discussing the Lithuanian edition of your book “Fourteen Dalai Lamas.” Here I remember a book “The Demon-Haunted World” by American astrophysicist and writer Carl Sagan. He briefly mentions the meeting with the Dalai Lama XIV there.
Sagan, strictly adhering to the scientific view of the world, was particularly skeptical of all religions, so he asked His Holiness how he would react if science denied reincarnation. The Dalai Lama then replied that Buddhism should recognize such a scientific discovery. However, he is convinced that it would be challenging to scientifically reject the Buddhist doctrine’s fundamental dogma.
You have probably not only researched a lot, but you have also meditated a lot on reincarnation topics. What can you say about that?
G.M.GLENN. H. MULLINThe Dalai Lama’s response that it would not be difficult for Buddhism to accept any scientific discovery stems from the Buddha’s own perspective. Before he died, he said, “Don’t believe anyone just because I said so.” [Laughs] All statements must be checked and researched by students to see how gold merchants value the metal they bring before paying. [Laughs] It’s also appropriate to deal with philosophical truths and ideas. We should be extremely skeptical before accepting them. We cannot take them by relying on faith alone.
Neither in Tibetan nor in Sanskrit is the word “faith” consistent with the Western definition of religion. In Tibetan, faith can be defined at least in three ways. One such word means roughly “responding to what really inspires you.” When you try to live by imitating a role model. Or discover a seemingly meaningful idea. Or faith comes from personal experience, solves accumulated worries. None of these options offer a blind acceptance of religion. The concept of such meaning does not exist in either Tibetan or Sanskrit.
This approach also applies to reincarnation. I would advise Westerners to read Plato, especially “The Apology of Socrates.” Socrates defends his position there, arguing that reincarnation is an undeniable reality. It seems to me that his arguments are sensible and convincing. The Buddha has presented his argument, which was later summarized by strong Indian logics, especially Dignaga and Dharmakirti. That logic has been defended in a heated debate several times. After all, India has developed a high culture of controversy and discussion. [Laughs]
It is still essential to find a personal connection with the idea of reincarnation. Maybe it opens up a little invisible aspect of life and possibly explains why you feel some connection with some people? Perhaps it helps to orientate in everyday life?
Atisha, whom we consider the pioneer of Tibetan Buddhism, advised us to study the one-way meditation shamatha. This is the first level of samadhi. By perfecting it, one can remember some of his previous lives. Of course, it will still be relevant to you, even your next of kin will not necessarily believe in your memories. [Laughs] After all, our whole experience is subjective, but it still justifies a common perception. Atisha added that one day of life would be equivalent to a century of perfecting the corresponding ability. Buddhists loved round numbers: one day - a century. [Long laughs] And the Buddha loved them, many times compared one day to a hundred years. To meditate one day is more valuable than to live a century without meditation, one day of compassion is more expensive than a century without it, and the like. [Laughs]
Not all Buddhists recognize reincarnation. The Zen Buddhist movement takes a different position. But the Buddha himself, of course, thought similarly to Socrates and Plato. To him, this seemed a logical disposition, he considered it useful to base life on, and finally, his experience of meditations clearly testified to the action of reincarnation.
I think many people have experienced memories of past lives. Speaking to Tibetan lamas, I have repeatedly heard them say that by the age of three or five, they remembered perfectly well what they had before. Then the memories of this life somewhat overshadowed the former, and they only remember being reminded. Or remember not to remember anymore. [Laughs]
It’s not very appropriate for clergy to talk about such things because they would turn out to be modest, but that seems to be true. I also clearly remember how I lived as a child with a sense of continuity. I saw myself walking in the clothes of a monk meditating in the mountains. Maybe it’s just a prank on my imagination, perhaps I was looking at National Geography photos. [Laughs] But those images made me particularly inspired, inspired me more than others. My peers imagined themselves to be hockey players or astronauts, and I had seen myself as a secluded contemplative grandfather for about three years old.
I.S.IGNAS STAŠKEVIČIUS It is you, as a toddler, who may not have seen the past as much as you foresaw the future.
G.M.GLENN. H. MULLINYes, but then I felt like I was looking at my past.
I.S.IGNAS STAŠKEVIČIUS Is it far? After all, those memories do not necessarily come from a recent life…
G.M.GLENN. H. MULLINIt is said that by enlightening, at first sight, you look at a hundred of the previous lives, and in the second - infinity. Of course, this is just an allegory. Although the Buddha wandered in many places, he remembered the things that had happened in them before.
I remember another incident. I felt incredibly close to my main teacher, Kyabje Ling Rinpoche, who was also the Dalai Lama’s most crucial spiritual educator. While living in Dharamsala, I visited him every Wednesday for many years because he invited an interpreter on Wednesdays. Then I learned Tibetan well, and I have been translating for him since 1979. He was sitting in his usual llama chair, and I was next to him, facing the gathered Westerners I helped talk to. He often leaned over and grabbed me by the goat’s beard I had been growing at the time, and amused her to pee while I was collecting words. Occasionally, having a fun crunch, it still slapped me gently over the back of my head.
Maybe a couple of years after his death, I remember returning to Dharamsala from a lecture tour around the United States and meeting at the market another familiar llama dedicated to selecting a new incarnation of Kyabje Ling Rinpoche. He said he found three candidates, the most likely of whom - a one-and-a-half-year-old boy - was awaiting an assessment in the temple for one Tibetan children’s boarding school. “You were very close to the teacher of the previous incarnation, would you help?” The lama asked. “Previous incarnations” do not sound like this. [Laughs] In Tibetan, it is said more respectfully: “the previous incarnation of the necklace” because all lives are like pink beads.
So, with me, he called a couple of men who had never interacted with the deceased, and we went to the little one. He had not yet learned to speak, but only baptized and repeated individual syllables. When we climbed into the courtyard of the temple, the kid and another peer rode a ball there. They immediately inspected the newcomers with great penetration. When the gazes of the two met, his face lit up with a wide smile. Tekin came up to me, rushed in my arms, grabbed me by the beard, and began to slap my cheeks. [Laughs] Didn’t want to run. We sat inside the temple, and maybe in an hour, he didn’t get off my knees. He plucked his beard, brazen mischievously. The lama tried to divert his attention to the other two men, asking, “Rinpoche, who is this? Look here, Rinpoche…” The baby just shrugged and grabbed me by the beard again.
So, a few weeks later, the Dalai Lama assigned him a throne. A crowd of at least three thousand gathered. I transported the child for a couple of hours from that temple to the Rinpoche residence, then maybe chanted mantras for half an hour, and then hundreds of people went to bow to him. It lasted another three hours. And throughout the ceremony, the little one sat patiently on the throne, showing in no way the slightest impatience or annoyance. However, it was not his parents who stood by him, but the housekeeper of Rinpoche’s house and the high clergy. The child felt at home. We can guess how a boy who does nothing would behave in such circumstances.
I.S.IGNAS STAŠKEVIČIUS How many, at present, could there be any long-term Tulku incarnations recognized, each time using similar procedures?
G.M.GLENN. H. MULLINThere are between three and four thousand Tulkus in Tibet, but they are divided into several categories. One is called the “returnees.” They are considered to be actual emanations of the creature in question. In other cases, when a teacher dies, the monastery or school superiors decide whether it is worth seeking his reincarnation, how to proceed would be more beneficial to the tradition. Often in such cases, a student of the deceased is ordained. And it happens that even if an honorable and accomplished teacher is not a real Tulku, after his death, he is still looking for a “return,” thus honoring the deceased’s merits and strengthening the school.
In my book, I described how the Dalai Lama is traditionally traced. Initially, Lama Conkapa, the founder of the Geluk-pa Buddhist school, did not want to establish a tradition of Tulkus because translationism and monasticism were somewhat contradictory. Upon the death of a monk or nun, the property is inherited by the monastery. And the tradition of Tulkus, which began several centuries before Conkapa, establishes a different order of inheritance. Tulku lamas were often not monks, but yogis meditating in the mountains with families and children. In the time of Conkapa, however, the monasteries flourished, and eventually, many of them adopted the custom of Tulku.
After the death of the Dalai Lama I, the Dalai Lama II returned. He recognized the Tashilhunpo Monastery and paid the names of the people who were there. It became abundantly clear that he should be given the throne. The second was known to both Geluk-pa oracles, and since then, their findings have become essential in recognizing other Dalai Lamas. The same is true in other schools.
Sometimes the candidacy of a ‘returnee’ is not supported by such clear evidence as in the cases I mentioned in Rinpoche or this Dalai Lama. When a candidate does not recognize people or does not remember where the forks are placed in the house [Laughs], a division is made that determines whether it is worth putting a particular person on the throne. No one is publicly stating that “there may not be a real Tulku here, but it will be more useful for the common good,” but in principle, a similar principle is followed.
I remember sitting once with the Dalai Lama’s 14th elder brother, who had left Tibet together and become a professor at Indiana University. He thought aloud, “We may not be entirely sure that those children are reincarnated famous teachers, but it is quite clear that the Tibetan lamas were able to recognize the little talents wonderfully.”
I.S.IGNAS STAŠKEVIČIUS After all, there can be several incarnations of one teacher?
G.M.GLENN H. MULLINAfter the death of the Dalai Lama II, the chief oracle announced the birth of more than a hundred of his reincarnations. All you had to do was find the right one to go to that position. And the Buddha taught that only an overly strong human ego instills it in being one and reincarnating into one person.
I.S.IGNAS STAŠKEVIČIUS Very western.
G.M.GLENN H. MULLINYes. There can be only one Socrates.
I.S.IGNAS STAŠKEVIČIUS Plato wrote in “Phaedo” about the immortality of the soul. The soul is only one and indivisible.
G.M.GLENN H. MULLINIn the Buddhist world, the self is just a fiction, just a sign of the sense of self. I am a banker because I only do banking, I am a father because I have children, I am a son because I have parents, and so on. We find that the sense of self is very flexible. Upon reaching the first level of a bodhisattva, the sense of self weakens considerably, becoming secondary, overshadowed by love and compassion.
We talked about multiple reincarnations yesterday when Professor Audrius Beinorius asked if there were any signs that the Dalai Lama XIV could incarnate as a woman. I replied that many of the women who work for the good of the world may already be emanations of the Dalai Lama. After all, when you become a Buddha, the mind merges into the enlightened consciousness dharmakaya as a drop of water falls into the ocean. You no longer distinguish which drop you are the previous you. The boundaries disappear.
Perceiving reincarnation in this way, she dresses in a different outfit. We can talk about a dual reincarnation. One is when we gain some new form because of the pollutants and instincts of our karma. Another is when we develop the mind, dissolve it in the universal consciousness, and manifest ourselves as beings of an altruistic nature.
I.S.IGNAS STAŠKEVIČIUS Is this probably a possible combination of both types of reincarnation?
G.M.GLENN H. MULLINUp to a certain level. The lower we are on the karmic hill [Laughs], the stronger the forces that carry us, the less freedom we have to choose, and the space to maneuver. At the Aryan level, space expands quantumly, making multiple parallel incarnations possible.
I.S.IGNAS STAŠKEVIČIUS It seems that positive science can hardly really deny anything here.
G.M.GLENN H. MULLINScience is sometimes astounding. As a child, I enjoyed a show of humor where a comedian spoke into a shoe, playing to hold a videophone. Now everyone is talking to smart people.
The Dalai Lama has offered to explore the phenomenon of obscurity, where a Tibetan spiritual teacher meditates profoundly and holds his subtle mind in the body for weeks or months. Many such cases are known. The body is not, though not breathing, the heart no longer beats. It would be interesting to examine this medically, only the researchers would have to sit for a long time in advance surrounded by a lama, plugging in their devices, waiting for him to leave. The venerable lama could feel urged to hurry sooner to final death. [Laughs]
Such studies might not positively demonstrate the effects of reincarnation, but could reveal exciting things about the relationship between soul and body.
I.S.IGNAS STAŠKEVIČIUS However, even if images of the changes taking place in the dying body were observed on the screens, it would not be easy for researchers to attribute any of them to the manifestation of an inhuman soul.
G.M.GLENN H. MULLINYes.
I.S.IGNAS STAŠKEVIČIUS Let us return to reincarnation. When we speak of any of its types: a reincarnation determined by karmic instincts or a compassion-based return, we still mean some kind of carrier of soul, life, or subtle mind. What modern term would best describe the nature of such a substrate?
Tantric Buddhism uses the image of an immortal drop. A drop in immortality. [Laughs] It’s also called the most subtle body.
Thus the soul could be described by two qualities: first, the energetic body, the personal plexus of energies, the wind, and second, the flash of the mind, the flicker, the sense of being. Those two sides are united by a sense of self-condemned to duality syndrome. Everything that appears in this universe is of an energetic nature, and all our perception comes from a radiant being. Like a rider on a horse — where the horse is an energy and the rider is a sense of being.
Hence the selflessness that Buddhism talks about a lot. The energies are continually waving and changing, it is impossible to touch them with a finger and say, “Here it is - I am.” Something is. But there is nothing that exists arbitrarily and is perceived separately, independently of the universe. There is only a false sense of self, resembling the illusion of a drop in the common ocean. After all, a drop of water that has fallen into the ocean does not drown apart from the others like a pebble. [Laughs]
I.S.IGNAS STAŠKEVIČIUS It really is.
G.M.GLENN H. MULLINIn Tibetan, a person is defined as “the perception of the self as an individual being arising from a sense of being.” My self-awareness as a separate being is found in the fact that I see, touch, hear, smell, taste, react to it, and in my activities, faith, and other aspects of consciousness. We only define ourselves as something separate.
What travels from life to life is just like a magnet. The magnet sliding under the table forces the pins lying on the table to move invisibly, and our sense of self draws with it the qualities that characterize a person: I am a banker, a father, a son, a man, and so on. This undermines our capacity for transcendence. How to get rid of depression, anger, addictions, suicidal thoughts? It all follows a magnet.
The Buddha offered a way out - to rely on the power of emptiness. “Emptiness” here corresponds to the notion that none of these phenomena exist by themselves. We create and overcome them with our imagination based solely on our organic processes.
I.S.IGNAS STAŠKEVIČIUS Sounds impressive and meaningful. The concept of reincarnation also seems to have changed and evolved over many centuries.
G.M.GLENN H. MULLINEven Christianity rejected it only during the fateful meeting in Constantinople, where the church decided on its own provisions. Until then, reincarnation was a strong idea. It can be said that the church from St. Peter before the emperor Constantine considered reincarnation part of his teaching.
I.S.IGNAS STAŠKEVIČIUS In the modern world, as we have already discussed, we can think of reincarnation in a wide and varied way.
G.M.GLENN H. MULLINAs a teenager, I read one of Albert Einstein’s reflections. I cannot quote him exactly now, but it says there that spiritual traditions should not be constrained by any dogma in the future. Faith should be based on rationality and open to kism. As I matured later, I discovered that only Buddhism meets such conditions. Of course, as Buddhism spread from one country to another, in some places, it was also permeated by certain dogmas, although Buddhists themselves do not notice it. [Laughs] If I spoke for a few days, you would notice some twenty-five things that sound dogmatic. What is dogma for one, a sense of reality for another. [Laughs]
But sticking to dogma is something else… Einstein reminds the Buddha here again, “Don’t believe just because someone says so to you.” The Buddha said, “Don’t believe me just because I say so…” because he appealed to the disciples. “Cut, melt, and otherwise inspect everything as the goldsmith inspects the metal. If you feel this is true, try it for yourself. If it works for you, use it.”
I.S.IGNAS STAŠKEVIČIUS Let’s talk about bliss. How could one define it?
G.M.GLENN H. MULLINIn Sutra, bliss merely means happiness and doesn’t have much physical connotation in terms of physical pleasure - such is purely a condition of the mind.
Every Buddhist meditation session begins with a small prayer, related to happiness causes of happiness. Positive motivation produces happiness for oneself and for others in some kind of way. Wherever the mind goes, the body follows, and whatever the body does - your life is impacted.
A kind act creates a happy environment and mind. In Tantra, a body impacts the mind. And here we talk about three levels of the body, the coarse, the subtle, and the most subtle.
The tantric literature refers to energies that are in perfect balance in five chakras. Physical energies have a very fluid, joyful kind of quality. As a result, they tend to support a mental state. By keeping the energies balanced in the five chakras, we make a solid base for our enlightenment quest, which is maximally efficient.
Imagine you’ve got a 12-cylinder Jaguar, but three of the cylinders aren’t running well, you’re not going to win many races. And your ride isn’t going to be smooth, and you won’t have a great benefit from having those 12 cylinders. Three cylinders that aren’t working well will act as a drag on the nine that work well.
When five chakras are in harmony, we have a physically very pleasant feeling. As a result, the mind feels happy. You feel much more awake, much more intensely alive. When they’re out of balance, you feel low on the energy scale. Life is passing you by, but you’re watching it from a distance, or you’re too close to it, and they’re racing by, and you can’t keep up. You end up in one of those two extremes.
When the energies are out of balance in your crown chakra, you either feel overly aggressive or overly fearful. You’re never really in here and now. You’re never relaxing and enjoying the totality of the universe at that moment.
The example given in Mahamudra literature’s about a leaf that falls from a tree; the leaf doesn’t make any effort to travel to the ground. It just follows the natural energies of being and falls effortlessly. The leaf goes without any effort on its side, without any pushing or pulling. In other words, it is simply resting with full awareness, bliss, awakeness, radiant presence, and openness, in the present moment. We can’t catch enough of the brightness of things that we can find satisfaction in their engagement.
In addition to that, emptiness is wisdom. And wisdom, in this sense, means a state of consciousness.
Non-intellectuals are often more happy than intellectuals. In this sense, wisdom means the ability to rest the mind without exaggeration to the positive or negative side of what appears.
For instance, if you’ve had a hectic day and get to sit for 10 minutes with nothing to do whatsoever, it’s a very pleasant experience. On the other hand, if you’ve been doing nothing for 10 hours and have to wait another hour to do nothing, you’ll be anxiously waiting, “I can’t wait to get out of here and do something.”
Whatsoever, in Tantra, bliss is best symbolized by sexual orgasm. The balance of male-female energies within a body is vital for a happy mind and a successful life. Sexual orgasm is a universal consciousness state. In other words, a man and a woman experiencing sexual orgasm together a million years ago, or a hundred years ago, their mind goes into the same dimension of being and state of consciousness.
In other words, the mind at the time of sexual orgasm goes beyond the brain, culture, time, and space. One study showed that in the time of sexual orgasm, the brain 99.9% shuts down.
The brain is the processing unit for consciousness, and that consciousness exists on seven other levels simultaneously. And one of those levels based in the heart chakra is an entirely formless nature. Thus sexual orgasm is bringing all the male-female energies to the heart chakra, shutting down the brain and other activities — giving rise to the primordial bliss and radiance of the mother’s clear, light mind.
Sexual bliss is kind of a metaphor for the timeless, spaceless universality of the sexual experience. Of course, it doesn’t mean that celibate monks and nuns cannot achieve enlightenment. Their body and mind has all the components of both male and female, coming from their male and female ancestors.
It doesn’t mean it’s a non-celibate experience. That means bringing together male-female-ness within one’s own body. Nevertheless, non-monks can practice sexuality in a way, where one incorporates the timeless quality of male-female in the union as part of the meditation of the lovemaking process.
The Buddha used the example to be like a bird in flight, leaving no footprints. In other words, Milarepa’s great disciple Marpa continued that by one of the stays he said, you have to learn to do without doing.
In other words, you do things, but you don’t leave. You’re like the bird in flight, not leaving a footprint in your mind. Speak without speaking and listen without listening. The emphasis becomes on the emptiness and separateness of such activity.
I.S.IGNAS STAŠKEVIČIUS Very interesting. It is a matter of achieving a certain level of clear vision.
G.M.GLENN H. MULLINAt the moment of orgasm, all regrets of the past, and anxiety about the future disappear. But the problem is that these qualities are the roots of the three poisons of the mind: the root of attachment, the root of anger and the root of mental fogginess. Tibetans call it stupid state of mind.
I.S.IGNAS STAŠKEVIČIUS Dullness.
G.M.GLENN H. MULLINYeah, so these three can either be the roots of saṃsāra or can become avenues toward the cultivation of an enlightened presence and enlightened mind. If cultivated or accessed in a yogic way, then they can easily lead to enlightenment. And if not, then they can just become causes of bliss, that like people have become sex addicts or food addicts or alcohol addicts or jogging addicts. [Laughs]
I.S.IGNAS STAŠKEVIČIUS Yeah, exactly.
G.M.GLENN H. MULLINAny kind of pleasurable activity that you can feel happy if you’re not doing it.
I.S.IGNAS STAŠKEVIČIUS Yeah. Now, maybe we can also discuss a little bit in this respect about living creatures and other things. We perceive animals as close to humans because they are alive. But if we look closer, we see that stones, rocks, and other minerals also live a similar life only maybe slower. Multiplying takes millions of years instead of like several months or years for living beings and so on. What’s your opinion on that?
G.M.GLENN H. MULLINWell, I think if we look at various Buddhist texts over the centuries, we’ll get some different opinions. But for myself, I’m primarily into the tantric way. In the tantric world, everything that manifests in the universe, everything we can find in the universe, is a manifestation of primordial Buddha’s mind.
In other words, rock or water, any of the elements have as their quintessential nature a kind of God-consciousness. Perhaps not a distinct sense of self and the sense that humans are higher. Animals have a distinct sense of self. In Tantra, we think all things are a manifestation both of consciousness clear, light mind and of primordial universal energy or Lung, Prana or Vayu. And that these two are inseparable. There’s no such thing as energy not connected to mind or a mind not connected to energy. Until enlightenment, these two seemingly separate, but they’re always interconnected. So, one definition of enlightenment is that when we become enlightened when someone achieves Buddhahood, they notice that self and world are but one entity with conscious, perceptive apparatus placing the identity here or randomly.
I like the Buddhist teaching that all beings are interconnected and benefit you in one way or another. And you should generate a sense of appreciation, love, and, therefore, compassion for all living beings. I think that’s a vital clue. The Buddhist teaching on emptiness nothing is what it appears. Therefore always keep the mind relaxed at peace, self-contempt regardless of gain or loss, pleasure or pain, [Laughs] flattery or criticism, recognition or obscurity. I think those are essential clues in life or behavior.
Bringing compassion, wisdom, and power to yourself is the best way to repay others’ kindness.
The mystery of life is part of the beauty and wonder of life. But in that, we don’t know too much about the more profound purposes.
I.S.IGNAS STAŠKEVIČIUS Fantastic. Fantastic. Very good indeed. Thank you, Glenn. Thank you very much.
G.M.GLENN H. MULLINWell, my pleasure.