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28th Kagyu Monlam: Day Three

December 17, 2010 – Bodhgaya

SESSION ONE: SOJONG

Today, before dawn, on the third morning of the 28th Kagyu Monlam, the whole assembly of monks and nuns gathered under the bodhi tree, which was lit up by a few overhead lights. All ordained Sangha were wearing their maroon dagams [heavy cloaks] awaiting the arrival of the master who would bestow the sojong vows. This morning was a little cooler than the previous mornings.

As the sky began to lighten, Kyabje Goshir Gyaltsap Rinpoche arrived, followed by the young Jamgon Kontrul Rinpoche.

Khenchen Yongzin Thrangu Rinpoche, Dorlob Tenga Rinpoche, Yonge Mingyur Rinpoche and other senior Kagyu lamas were in attendance this morning to receive the vows.

Kyabje Gyaltsap Rinpoche came down the central aisle, stood before the Shrine, put on his chogu and namcho, and made three prostrations. He then knelt in prayer towards the stupa before turning around and facing the congregation. As he recited the sojong liturgy we all recited after him and finally with the third repetition we received the vows.

After the bestowal of the vows, the sun arose. All lights were turned off as the natural light of the sun lit up the beautifully decorated shrine. The various combinations of colours were an offering to the Buddhas and bodhisattvas and a feast for the eyes of all looking. The blue, white and yellow cloth, beautifully arranged behind the tormas, brought to mind the colours of the 16th Karmapa’s dream flag and the devotion of the people who set up the Shrine.

Then the umze [chantmaster] began the Sanskrit prayers, which we do each morning, as the young novice monks and nuns appeared carrying large baskets of Tibetan bread rolls to pass out to everyone, followed closely by the tea kettle carriers. After everyone was served, the umze began the food offering prayers. Everyone held up their bowl of tea and bread to offer it to the Three Jewels, then after the Rinpoches began to partake of the tea and bread everyone followed suit. For those who had taken sojong on Thursday, this was their first food since noon that day.

SESSION TWO: TEACHING BY THE GYALWANG KARMAPA
The King of Aspirations: The Noble Aspiration to Excellent Conduct
Parting from Wrongdoing

As an aid to setting the motivation for his teaching during the day’s second session, His Holiness cited a verse from the King of Aspirations: The Noble Aspiration for Noble Conduct.

As far as to the ends of the blue sky,
As far as to the ends of sentient beings,
Until the end of karma and afflictions,
Thus far are the ends of my aspirations.

This reflects the vastness of the spontaneous aspirations of bodhisattvas, he said, which is grounded in the vastness of their great compassion that has arisen in their minds. When we speak of mind, the Gyalwang Karmapa said, Buddhist texts offer numerous ways to analyze and classify types of mind. However, the most important of minds or mental states are wisdom and compassion. The term for ‘wisdom’ in Tibetan is sherab, with she meaning consciousness or understanding, and rab meaning best. The term for compassion is nyingje, with nying meaning heart and je meaning lord. As such, wisdom can be understood as the best of minds and compassion as lord or supreme of hearts. By practicing the two indivisibly, enlightenment can be brought within our reach, His Holiness stated.

Between compassion and wisdom, His Holiness said that Buddha’s own way of guiding disciples and teaching the Dharma reveals that compassion is primary. For example, the Buddha did not insist on having all his students think as he did. Rather, he offered various presentations in accordance with what would benefit his students and what they could most easily understand and practice. For this reason, we may say that when Buddha opened the door to Dharma, he did so out of compassion.

Compassion is thus indispensable, and therefore it is essential that we give up violence and cease harming others. This does not mean simply refraining from physically or verbally assaulting others, but includes the source from which such actions spring: the mental states of anger, hatred, jealousy, resentment and greed. Among the 10 unvirtuous actions described in Buddhist texts, the three of body and four of speech come about when we harbor resentment towards others. That is to say, it all boils down to our mind. Even if our negative thoughts or attitudes do not lead to physical and verbal harm to others, the mere presence of such mental states within us is harmful to us. There is a wise saying that even before anger harms others, it has already harmed the one who is angry, and this is clearly the case, the Gyalwang Karmapa stated.

Rather than such disturbing mental states, what we need is peace and a sense of comfort within ourselves. Nowadays, His Holiness observed, there is growing awareness of the importance of inner peace. Yet our lifestyle has become increasingly busy, such that it causes us to lose our peace of mind. His Holiness recollected that during his childhood in a nomadic region of eastern Tibet, people needed to work no more than three to four hours a day, and spent the rest of their time warming themselves in the sun, talking to one another and drinking tea. By contrast, people living in urban environments seem to be working 24 hours a day, and even then do not have enough time to finish their jobs. Our lives are regulated by the clock, rather than by what it is necessary to do, His Holiness observed. Technology has captured our imagination and we are carried away by our fascination with electronic goods, but this is not the fault of the machines or electronic devices. It is a mistake, he said, to expect human beings to function as machines, working around the clock without rest. We seem to have developed such an expectation, and there are cases of factory workers committing suicide due to the pressure placed on them to perform.

Along with practicing non-violence and ceasing harming others, the Mahayana teachings require us additionally to act to benefit others. This is necessary if we are to live up to the name of Mahayana practitioners that we claim for ourselves. His Holiness then related an anecdote, which he emphasized was a true story, of a person who had recently become Buddhist. When this man was driving his car, he was struck by a truck. The truck driver descended from his truck and began berating the man, accusing him of being at fault. The new Buddhist had the thought that he lacked the wisdom of a Buddha, but needed to train himself in the compassion of a Buddha. Therefore, he did not respond verbally to the man’s accusations. After a police officer arrived, the truck driver continued his abusive rant and his false accusations. Suddenly, there was a downpour of heavy rain, and the truck driver moved to return to his truck, but then noticed that the rain was not falling on him, although the driver of the car himself was being drenched by the rain. As he looked about, he saw that the driver, practicing compassion, was holding the umbrella up over his head, exposing himself to the rain. He was at once struck by the incongruity between his own abuse of the driver, and the driver’s kindness to him, and regretted his behavior. The truck driver then admitted to the police officer that he had been at fault. This shows the power of compassion, and inspires us to practice it even if we may lack the wisdom to do so perfectly.

Returning to the text, His Holiness made some additional comments on the branch of offering. One danger in making offerings, he said, is that our act of offering can be rendered improper or impure due to the object itself that we offer, as well as due to our attitude in offering. Nagarjuna’s Ratnavali gives a clear presentation of forms of ‘wrong livelihood’ associated with offerings, enumerating five that monastics must avoid, and five for householders to give up.

In general, His Holiness observed, it is said to be difficult for monastics to give up sustenance, while what is difficult for householders to abandon are their views, particularly their tendency to seek ordinary refuges and their lack of conviction in karmic cause and effect. For example, when they face sickness or a family crisis, householders tend to turn to worldly refuges rather than to the three jewels.

In Buddha’s day monastics subsisted on alms given by the lay community, and continue to do so today in some Theravada countries. A monk or nun might receive only rice, or only dal, and that had to suffice for them for the day. Monastics relied entirely on what others voluntarily offered them. For this reason, there was a temptation to manipulate or act deceitfully in order to gain the means of sustenance. These faulty ways of gaining offerings constitute wrong livelihood in the case of monastics.

His Holiness noted that there were instances when even senior monastics engaged in flattery or were particularly friendly towards potential benefactors in hopes of receiving material support from them. Of course, His Holiness commented there is no fault in showing kindness to others, including our sponsors, but to do so in hopes of gaining offerings is wrong.

Another fault that can creep into monastics’ dependence on offerings from the lay community is giving gifts to sponsors or potential sponsors in hopes of getting back more later from them. A further form of wrong livelihood for monastics is to insinuate that they would like the sponsors to offer something. For example, if a given benefactor has offered something to one monk, another monastic might highly praise that act and stress how beneficial it had been, in hopes that the benefactor would give something to them as well. Additionally, pretending to have spiritual qualities that one lacked in order to gain offerings also constitutes wrong livelihood, and must not be done.

In the case of householders, wrong livelihood refers primarily to their means of earning a living. The five wrong livelihoods in this context refer to making offerings of objects attained with money earned by selling sentient beings, such as animals, by selling meat, weapons, poison or through selling alcohol.

This concluded His Holiness’ presentation on offerings. He turned next to the branch of confession, as expressed in the text in the line:

Under the influence of desire, hatred
And ignorance, I have committed wrongs
Using my body, speech and also mind—
I confess each and every one of them.

Sometimes, His Holiness observed, we focus on certain negative deeds done earlier in life, such as killing birds, frogs or other small animals. Once people gain some understanding later in life, they may feel great regret for such acts done as children. To sincerely confess these is excellent, but confession should not be limited to such deeds.

Rather, the Gyalwang Karmapa stated, the negative acts that are particularly important to confess are any and all acts we have done that contradict our vows. Within the Buddhadharma, we have the opportunity to take three types of vow—the outer vows of pratimoksha, the inner vows of a bodhisattva and the secret vows of tantra. Setting aside these technical Buddhist categories, His Holiness said, in general terms if one makes a solemn commitment or accepts a serious responsibility, but later does something that contravenes that commitment, this has a very deep impact on our mind within the same life.

Setting aside past lives, if we try to recollect all the mistakes and wrongs we have done in this life, it would be extremely difficult to bring them all to mind. So while it is good to remember and confess as much as possible, more importantly we need to generate a sense of regret for all the misdeeds we have committed since time immemorial.

As an aside, His Holiness noted that it is said that misdeeds or negative actions have one positive quality, and that is the fact that they can be confessed and purified.

All our misdeeds are commingled with afflictions and arise based on them. All the afflictions in turn arise from confusion or ignorance. Ignorance is compared to a boss, with attachment, anger and the remaining afflictions serving as the henchmen of ignorance. This is because ignorance suggests to us mistaken ways of acting, and anger and attachment impels us to actively engage in them. Yet these are faults in the mind, and based on those we engage in physical and verbal misdeeds.

Heretofore, we have been speaking of misdeeds we engage in ourselves directly. Even heavier than these are instances when we encourage or get someone else to engage in wrong deeds for us. His Holiness gave an example from his childhood in Tibet, where people were unwilling to engage in killing themselves, and so hired a butcher to slaughter their livestock on their behalf. This is doubly wrong, for we are involving others in our own wrongdoing. In this sense, His Holiness said, it would be better to kill the animals oneself, rather than make someone else do so on one’s behalf.

In addition, rejoicing in the wrongdoing of others also incurs negative karma and is counted as a misdeed. For example, if we were to hear that our archenemy were beaten, tied, imprisoned or killed, and then rejoiced, this would also be a misdeed. If on top of the mental rejoicing, we expressed our delight or approval of the harmful act physically or verbally, this would be even more serious. His Holiness cautioned that rejoicing in acts that one has taken vows to refrain from doing oneself can actually cause one to lose those vows. Monastics for whom abstaining from killing is a root vow are in danger of losing their vows altogether if they express their delight in someone’s else act of killing either by physical or verbal means, such as clapping one’s hands or exclaiming approval. Laypeople run the same risk of losing their vows through such acts of rejoicing.

There can be many wrongs that we do not recollect and thus will not regret having done. However, we can reflect that the buddhas through their omniscience do know all the misdeeds we have done. With that in mind, we can then confess all the deeds that the buddhas know we have done under the influence of the afflictions, with body, speech and mind, since beginning-less time, and add to that the acts of all other sentient beings. In this way, our confession practice can become inclusive, vast and powerful. Nevertheless, although we may add others’ deeds to our own when we are generating regret and confessing, we should not pay any substantial attention to others’ mistakes. It is our own faults we are concerned with recognizing and remedying.

Purification is made complete through the application of what are called the four powers—regret, resolve, support and antidote. Each of the four powers has its own benefit in terms of purifying, His Holiness, serving to counteract different forms of karmic results.

The four are called powers because they have the power to purify our misdeeds. Among the four powers, His Holiness said, the most important is the power of regret, which entails recognizing our wrong deeds as wrong. When the power of regret is combined with the power of resolve—in which we determine not to repeat our wrongdoing—the remaining two powers, of support and antidote—will come naturally, His Holiness said.

If we feel content to have done misdeeds, there is little chance of changing, and we will continue to enjoy and look forward to engaging in further wrongdoing, the Gyalwang Karmapa reflected.

Regret too can be grounded in an understanding of the results of our misdeeds, which is rebirth in the three lower realms—the animal, hungry ghost and hell realms. These three correspond to the three main delusions of ignorance, attachment and anger, respectively. We can perceive animals directly, but people often express skepticism about the remaining two realms. Yet His Holiness suggests that we do not need to see them directly, for it is sufficient to observe our own minds when under the power of attachment and anger. This alone offers a glimpse of what the hungry ghost and hell realms are like. For example, when we burn with anger, we can see how anger consumes us like the fires of hell consume those who live there.

We must examine what anger and hatred do to us—how they transform us—in order to understand how deeply problematic they are for us. To fully work to remove them, we first need to see them as entirely and completely harmful and undesirable. Often a serious obstacle to our practice is that, on the one hand, we dislike our anger, but, on the other, we feel it serves some purpose. Yet we need to reach the point that we see our afflictions as utterly revolting, and almost feel nauseous when we see them arising.

The power of support entails going for refuge and generating bodhicitta. These two basic practices that we do regularly have a purifying effect. However, only when combined with a resolve not to commit the wrongdoings is the purification full and complete. His Holiness raised the question of whether failing to keep the promises or resolves we make to abstain in future from negative deeds constitutes a form of lying. It does not, he explained, as long as we have a sincere and genuine wish to refrain and feel a sense of resolve at that time that we make the resolve. If later we find ourselves unable to follow through, this is not a lie. For example, we might be asked if we plan to go somewhere and reply yes, because at the time we do intend to do so. If later it turns out that we do not make the trip, this does not render the previous assertion a lie.

The crucial point is to regret the misdeeds we have done. However, if we allow ourselves to wallow in guilt and cling to a self-image of ourselves as wholly faulty and good for nothing in this life or in the next, this is extremely harmful, and is clearly not the point of confession practice. Reflecting that we did not arrive in this life perfect, but came with a beginning-less personal history of engaging in wrongdoing, we should not feel shocked or discouraged by our present misdeeds. On the contrary, the mere fact that in this life we recognize our wrongdoing as wrong is already wonderful, and can be a source of great reassurance and joy.

His Holiness related that he once had the thought that the Tibetan word for confession – shakpa – is etymologically connected to dividing or splitting, in the sense of cutting something in half with a knife. This aspect of separating ourselves from our own misdeeds is an important component of the practice of confession, he said. This shakpa or parting from our wrongdoing entails not only giving up misdeeds in the future. It also indicates that we ought not to continue carrying our past wrongdoings, holding on to them as if they were still part of who we are.

With this profound advice, His Holiness concluded the teaching and turned to guiding the motivation for a meditation on bodhichitta.

All sentient beings in the three realms are wandering in samsara, not just at the moment, but at all times and continuously, the Gyalwang Karmapa reflected. Yet they are unaware that they are mired in suffering, and do not see their suffering as suffering. In their confusion, they would not recognize the magnitude of their own suffering even if it were pointed out to them.

His Holiness offered the analogy of a frog in a pot of water on a fire. The frog might find it pleasantly warm at first, and by the time it realized that it was being cooked it would be too late. Similarly all our mother sentient beings are trapped in fiery pits of suffering, but do not recognize this fact, and do not know what they ought to do or what they ought not do.

With these deeply moving comments, His Holiness sounded the gong and the vast assembly sat together for several minutes of meditation.

WEBCASTING IN SAMSARA:
THE WEBCAST FAILS TO GO OUT

The webcasting team had arrived on time at 5.30am in the chilly pre-dawn to find that they had lost their internet connection. They began a rigorous sequence of checks and established that, unbeknown to them, during the night, the fibre optic cable which delivers the fast 2 Mbps connection had been cut. Meanwhile, the minutes were ticking away. It would require checking three to four kilometres of cable to find where the fault lay and the Gyalwang Karmapa was due to arrive at 9.00am to continue his teaching on The King of Aspirations.

The absence of any sign of panic at this point is a tribute to both the technical expertise and the professionalism of this team which comes together each year to deliver the webcast of the Monlam. Displaying remarkable calmness, they set out to find a solution—and found one. One of the team had a USB modem Internet connection, and this was used to send out a low resolution webcast of the second session.

Meanwhile, the internet engineer, Tenzin Norbu from Dharamsala, was checking the cable, and miraculously located the break within a couple of hours (it could have taken as many days!), so was able to repair the cable. The webcast was back on line by lunchtime.

As a member of the team commented later, “Every year, we expect to encounter obstacles – it’s all practice here – keeping calm when there are difficulties. We have to see these problems as opportunities for practice. As His Holiness says, it’s ‘living the Dharma’.”

SOME STATISTICS

Ordained sangha from 84 Tibetan Buddhist monasteries and nunneries have registered for this year’s Kagyu Monlam Chenmo, the greatest number of institutions ever. And they’re not only from the Karma Kagyu tradition. The breakdown of institutions is as follows: 57 Kagyu, [both Karma and Drukpa Kagyu] 14 Nyingma, 9 Geluk, 3 Sakya and 1 Jonang.

In addition there are guests from both Theravada and Mahayana Buddhist traditions in India, Burma, Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam and Singapore.

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