28TH Kagyu Monlam: Day Five
December 19, 2010 – Bodhgaya
Kyabje Goshir Gyaltsab Rinpoche gave the Sojong vows this morning. Kyabje Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche, Dolrob Tenga Rinpoche, Khenchen Yongzin Thrangu Rinpoche and Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche were also there to preside over the first session.
SESSION TWO: TEACHING BY THE GYALWANG KARMAPA
The King Of Aspirations: The Noble Aspiration To Excellent Conduct
Infinite Bodhicitta For Beings Beyond Number
Pausing at the top of the stairs to remove his shoes, His Holiness descends the stairs leading to his throne and the Bodhi Tree. As usual he passes by his throne through a door of yellow cloth into the inner path around the stupa. Walking around the left side to enter the main temple, he offers prostrations to the golden Buddha and then offers a radiant set of robes to the statue.
Returning to his throne outside, the Karmapa begins to receive the offerings for his long life. The main one this morning was offered by Thrangu Rinpoche with his senior monks. Following them come long lines of devotees carrying a variety of scarves, some white and short, some so long they almost touch the ground, some golden with the eight auspicious symbols, and some bright red. Afterward, the main sponsors pass along the rows of burgundy and yellow robed monks to make individual offerings of scarves and envelopes with money inside. All the while prayers are being said or the names of sponsors and their wishes in making their offerings are being read. These declarations are almost a literary form in themselves, often quite flowery following the Sanskrit influence on Tibetan poetic thought. Lamas are described as the shining lights that illuminate the world; they are the second buddha, the ones who hold perfectly the vows of all three vehicles (Foundational, Great, and Vajra), and so forth.
There are praises along with aspirations that extend to limitless numbers of living beings who fill all space, and the merit of the offerings is dedicated so that they may swiftly attain full awakening. In line with the Karmapa’s wishes for the Monlam this year, the victims of earthquakes in Tibet and the floods in Ladakh are especially remembered. During this long recitation, servers are moving among the crowd pouring tea and passing out buns wrapped in cellophane to everyone. After these have been presented to the Buddha and a tea offering prayer has been recited (often to the teachers of the lineage or to Guru Rinpoche), His Holiness is asked to turn the wheel of Dharma.
Following his custom, he begins with some words about bodhicitta. Living beings are a source of infinite merit. Why so? When we have the wish to dispel their suffering, even for just a second, this brings us infinite merit. If this is so, then there’s no need to speak of the merit in the desire to bring all living being to unexcelled enlightenment.
If we wish to arrive at the level of Buddhahood, we have to turn our attention to what helps us attain it. Some people direct their dedication to liberation and omniscience in their next life, and at the same time, hope to get better things in this life as well. It is not necessary, however, to have such hopes or fears.
If we aspire to bodhicitta, we will naturally gain happiness in this life and the next, as our roots of virtue will increase exponentially and never run out. If we give a single drop of water or a single grain with a good motivation, this virtue, if it had a form, would be immeasurable. If we do not have this motivation, even if we make a huge material offering, there is not so much merit. If we know how to make offerings, even a small one, the merit is equal to the reach of space, for merit does not depend on material objects, but on our intention. We should not be discouraged about making a small offering as the physical aspect of the offering is not so important. What does matter is our intention, our pure motivation. We think about making an offering, we should make it a vast one.
We are here at Bodhgaya, the Vajra Seat where the Buddha became enlightened. He has said that when people cannot see him, if they come to the place where he became enlightened or entered parinirvana that would have as much merit as actually seeing him. So being here is the same as seeing the Buddha in person.
All our many friends here are directing their minds toward virtue and gathering the roots of merit through prostrating, circumambulating, giving tormas, doing prayers, and so forth. Their activities and aspirations make this a special place. This mandala of virtue and love blesses the site and the site blesses the individuals. All of this, however, is not only for our individual happiness but to bring all beings as vast as space to full awakening. Here at the Buddha’s place of enlightenment and in this special state of mind coming from our practice is the right time to make this aspiration.
His Holiness then turned to the “King of Aspirations” continuing his explanation. Basically, the aspiration prayer is speaking of following the Buddha’s example, which Shakyamitra defines as training in the ten perfections (Skt. paramitas) to gather all the accumulations. Actually, the essence of the prayer can be found the following two verses:
I offer to the Buddhas of the past
And those who dwell in all the worlds in the ten directions.
May those yet to appear fulfill their wishes
And swiftly awaken to enlightenment.
May every world in any of the ten directions
Become vast and completely pure
Filled with bodhisattvas and with buddhas
Who’ve gone beneath the lordly Bodhi Tree.
The text also speaks of living in harmony with all beings. The Buddha always abides in harmony with them. How do we do this? I’d like to tell a story here. Once there was a lay practitioner who liked beer and gambling and who hung out with similar people. Then a lama asked him, “Why are you doing this? It’s a terrible way to lead your life.” The man answered, “The King of Aspirations says that you have to get along with all living beings. If I don’t hang out with them, they won’t have the chance to connect with the Dharma.” But is this really what the prayer meant? If we just follow after others, we may have a good motivation, but it is not accompanied by intelligence, which tells us what to do and what not to. So this was not a good way to be in harmony.
When we talk about being harmonious with others, there is a big difference between hanging out with people and being truly harmonious. Being in harmony means making a good connection, one which is not one based on the afflictions. To give another example: If someone else is angry, we do not respond with anger, but show great compassion. In this way, we sow the seeds of good imprints in our minds. Looking at living beings in terms of their nature, we should get along with them, but when it comes to their afflictions and misguided thoughts, we should not emulate them. Getting along with people means relating to them in accord with the Dharma.
Being harmonious also means respecting all living beings as buddhas and bodhisattvas. It is due to their kindness that buddhas and bodhisattvas are able to attain full awakening, so we can think of them as the source of enlightened beings. And it is always important to remember the causes. We can think of living beings as the field to which we make offerings and regard ourselves as being lower. We are humble in respect to all living beings. If we think of ourselves as superior and others as inferior, bad, or difficult, we think we must change them into something good. Being arrogant like this is not the way. We should become someone who always puts others first. Just as people in India transport things on their heads, the most valued part of the body, it is there that bodhisattvas carry all living beings.
When we gradually train in the sequence of prostrating and praise, we become able to praise others. This is why we train. If we make offerings and then criticize others, we are doing two contradictory things. Whether we praise the Buddha or not, it does not make any difference to him. It’s like a flower keeping its fragrance whether we throw it or not. So we praise the buddhas and bodhisattvas in order to train our mind. They are so captivating, so attractive, everything that we want to be, so it is rather easy.
Actually, if we think about it, the fact that the buddhas and bodhisattvas have a vast ocean of qualities is not as amazing as when living beings, so habituated to the afflictions, develop one positive quality. This is truly wondrous. So we need to praise and think of as a lama or bodhisattva all the living beings who may have one or two virtuous thoughts in their mind. This training in offering praise, of course, will not happen immediately, but gradually as we train on the path.
We will have to move along more quickly now as the time is running short, so let us look at the verse on languages. [This is a verse that His Holiness recites at the beginning of the teachings.]
May I teach the Dharma in all languages—
In those of the gods, the nagas, the yakshas,
Of the kumbandhas and humans, too,
In as many languages as living beings know.
In the beginning I did not have much of a feeling for this verse, but then that changed. I thought what a wonderfully vast aspiration this prayer is, wishing to connect with all beings through their own language. If we could just say one verse in all the different languages of this world, we could share this Dharma with others. Those of you who have come here have spent a lot of money and some do not know English, or Tibetan, or any of the Indian languages. I am sorry that I cannot talk directly with all of you. I thought of becoming a scholar and training in all the languages, but maybe all I can learn is Yes and No.
Actually, there is a story about one man who studied Yes and No in many languages and then he had a chance to go abroad. He came to a place that was guarded by a big, burly man, who asked him, “Are you going to fight with me?” Not understanding the question, the traveler wondered, “Shall I say Yes? Or No?” He decided to say Yes, and the hulk beat him to a pulp. The next day, the traveler was walking in the same area and met the brawny man again. He had, however, changed his mind and asked, “Do you want to be my friend.” After the disastrous Yes, this time the traveler was sure he wanted to say No, and again he was creamed. So maybe we have to know more than Yes and No.
Another verse states:
Free from afflictions, karma, and the works
Of maras, may I act in every realm.
Like a lotus to which water does not cling,
Unhindered like the sun and moon in space.
When we are pulled around here and there by our karma, afflictions, and the maras, we can put on the armor of our compassion and wisdom to protect ourselves and not fear these.
I’ll act to fully quell the suffering
Of lower realms and bring all beings to joy.
I’ll act to benefit all beings throughout
The reaches of the realms and the directions.
Buddhism talks about infinite realms in all directions, up, down, and around, in whatever size they may be, which are all filled with living beings. We act to benefit everyone and not just once but for all eons. Lifetime to lifetime, we are able to remain in the lower realms just to help one living being. On another scale, it is infinite living beings whom we vow to bring to buddhahood. This seems to be a task we cannot accomplish, but bodhisattvas have tremendous courage; they can even give their own flesh and limbs. This is so because the roots of virtue we accumulate are not for ourselves but for all living beings, to whom we dedicate all that we do.
Another verse states:
And may I always meet those spiritual friends
Who have the wish to bring me benefit
By teaching conduct that is excellent.
I’ll never do anything to disappoint.
Spiritual friends are there to help us but when we place them too high up and make them into gods, it is difficult to have the feeling of being close to them. Some people hear the name of a lama and they get afraid. A spiritual friend is our good friend, someone to whom we turn our minds, seeking to be in harmony with them. So a lama is someone who is close to your mind and wishes you well, so there is no need to fear them.
The next verses combine the ten bodhisattva levels with the ten perfections. [What follows are excerpts from the Karmapa’s comments.]
The buddhas possess the ten powers, and the power of miracles which allows them to enter in a single instant [the Karmapa snaps his fingers] all the realms; in one moment they can be everywhere to help all living beings at the same time. Now that is being swift and vast.
The power of the vehicle in terms of the mahayana means that our aspiration to help others is so powerful that everything we do becomes beneficial. People are very busy with work these days and it is difficult to help others directly, but if we know how to sustain our bodhicitta, we can be helping all the time. When we are drinking tea or coffee, we can benefit others. We do not have to make a special time, thinking, “Now I’m going to help.”
The text also speaks of the power of conduct which is virtuous in the beginning, virtuous in the middle, and virtuous in the end. Whether an action becomes virtuous or not, depends on these three stages: at the start is the motivation of bodhicitta; in the middle is good practice; and in end is the dedication of merit to benefit others. Like this, the buddhas spend countless eons practicing, all in order to help living beings.
“The power of love is pervasive everywhere,” means that we imbue the whole extent of space with love. The universe is not small like the little mat we sit on: it is vaster than all space. The moment we feel bodhicitta we have infinite merit. We should develop the resolve that whatever I do, whether I’m happy or sad, I will help others. Awakening to buddhahood comes down to just this.
Living beings have different capacities, shapes, and colors. Only the Buddha can understand all the causes for these. As ordinary beings, we have to understand the inclinations and minds of others through their physical actions and verbal expressions.
“The King of Aspirations” ends with a series of dedications, the essence of which is that for living beings as limitless in number as space is vast, we pray that whatever we do, even the slightest virtue, may bring them onto the path of happiness, and that ultimately, we all may realize the true nature of phenomena and be liberated from the ocean of samsara.
This concludes a brief explanation of “The King of Aspirations: The Noble Aspiration for Excellent Conduct.” It was the primary focus of the Kagyu Monlam when Kalu Rinpoche began it in 1984 and remains central to our practice. I hope that my few comments have been helpful to you.
Attaining the state of full awakening is in order to benefit others. All masters of the past accomplished all they did for this sole purpose. This should also be our intention, and not just during the time of the Monlam, but all the time. If we can make this commitment, then I feel that these talks will not have been wasted.
At the end there was a minute of meditation on anything one wished and the recitation of the first twelve verses of the aspiration prayer, which epitomize its vast intention with its countless, immeasurable, numberless buddhas and atoms encouraging our minds to expand beyond the limits of space and include every being in our hearts and minds, wishing them freedom from suffering and the greatest happiness of full awakening.
AFTERNOON & EVENING: TERGAR MONASTERY
Public And Private Audiences, Dress Rehearsals, And Akshobhya Purification Ritual
During the Monlam, most of His Holiness’ time away from the Mahabodhi stupa is taken up with audiences. Each day he sees hundreds, sometimes more than a thousand people, from India, Tibet, Bhutan, Taiwan, China, South East Asia, Europe and the Americas.
Then, every evening he meets with the fifteen Akshobhya retreatants, comprising four laypeople, five nuns and six monks, to offer the Akshobhya Purification Ritual in the small shrine room on the roof of Tergar Dukhang.
His Holiness has emphasised the importance of the ritual this year; firstly, following the great loss of life in the two natural disasters which affected Tibet and in the flash floods in Ladakh; secondly, because this is an age where negative forces seem to be gaining in power and the natural balance between human activity and the environment has been disrupted.
Today there was a heavy programme of audiences, which finished well past 6.00pm. Consequently, the dress rehearsal for the Kangyur Procession, the Alms Procession and Marme Monlam, supervised by His Holiness personally, was delayed, and the Akshobhya Purification Ritual, which His Holiness always leads, started much later than scheduled and didn’t conclude until 10.30pm.
The following morning (Day Six) His Holiness was up well before dawn and began giving private audiences in his quarters at 6.00am, before going directly to the Mahabodhi Stupa to bestow the Akshobhya Empowerment.
This day, which is not unusual, provides a thought-provoking and moving example of the way in which the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa works ceaselessly and selflessly for the benefit of beings.