28th Kagyu Monlam: Day Two
December 16, 2010 – Bodhgaya
Kyabje Goshir Gyaltsab Rinpoche gave the Sojong vows this morning.
Dorlob Tenga Rinpoche, Khenchen Yongzin Thrangu Rinpoche and Yonge 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
Their minds prepared with the sojong vows taken before daybreak under the Bodhi tree, the assembly of thousands of monks, nuns, laymen and laywomen received the nectar of Dharma from His Holiness the Gyalwang Karmapa during the day’s second session.
His Holiness began by citing a verse from the dedication of the Sutra of Golden Light, which is regularly read during the Kagyu Monlam:
May all those who are beaten, bound in fetters,
Placed in desperate situations,
Agitated by thousands of kleshas.
And undergoing unbearable dangers and misery
He pointed out that there are many situations where people intentionally inflict harm on one another and place no importance on the feelings of others. In particular, human beings often completely disregard the feelings and wellbeing of animals. We who have gathered in the sacred site of Bodhgaya are currently experiencing great fortune in being here, His Holiness said. This should serve as a reminder to us of the need to change our minds. We should take this opportunity to bring about a transformation in our attitudes. Our ordinary attitude is one that leads us to err and to cause problems for ourselves. We need to reflect carefully what changes we need to make to our attitude and our conduct, and to think seriously about how to do so.
Returning to the commentary on the King of Aspirations: The Noble Aspiration of Excellent Conduct, the Gyalwang Karmapa continued with the presentation of the prayer in terms of a division into ten major aspirations. The two aspirations covered in this day’s session were offering and, briefly, confession.
Offerings are presented differently in sutras and tantra, he explained, but the King of Aspirations follows the sutra presentation. In this context, the King of Aspirations guides us in making two types of offerings, surpassable and unsurpassable, and begins with the former.
I make an offering to these victors of
The best of flowers and the finest garlands.
Cymbals and ointments, the best parasols,
The best of lamps, and incense the most fine.
I make an offering to these victors of
The finest robes, the finest fragrances,
And powders in heaps equal to Mount Meru,
Arranged in the most sublime of displays.
The idea is to make offerings of whatever and however much we have, His Holiness commented. We may feel that we have nothing that is really worthy of offering. But in their great compassion for us, the buddhas and bodhisattvas gladly receive our offerings even if we have only humble offerings to make.
The seven types of offerings listed here are flowers, garlands, cymbals and so forth, but there are various enumerations of seven types of offerings. Dromtonpa said that the seven that appear here in the King of Aspirations are the seven offerings that Atisha described when he spoke of seven offerings.
The flowers spoken of in this context may not be actual flowers that we possess, but flowers that we can only imagine. We can even visualize that they have been sent over the Internet, His Holiness suggested. In any case, we should visualize the flowers and other offering substances as being pleasing to all five senses. In the case of flowers, they should be beautiful to behold, with petals that make a lovely sound when they rustle, having an exquisite scent, edible and delicious, and soft and pleasing to the touch—thus delighting in terms of sight, sound, smell, taste and touch.
The garlands we imagine offering can be inspired by the garlands of flowers of different colors, scents and shapes that we find in India, His Holiness suggested. Cymbals can include all musical instruments, and even to refer more broadly to music per se.
Ointments should be imagined as fragrant, and can be medicinal or have cooling properties. Lamps can be natural sources of light, such as the sun, moon and stars, as well as manufactured lamps that are lit by electricity or oil. The oil-lit lamps could be visualized as burning fragrant oils. The incense we offer can also be natural or manufactured.
In the second verse, the robes can be imagined as keeping us warm and to be of the finest fabric. The best parasols might be visualized as having a handle and staff of vaidurya. The Gyalwang Karmapa explained that buddhas and bodhisattvas are able to emanate parasols as vast as the world, with bells that sound with Dharma teachings.
His Holiness commented in that spirit that the large parasol that was hung above the Dusum Khyenpa statue on the stage during the Karmapa 900 celebration was enormous, so much so that it turned out to be too large to hang, so it had to be slightly reduced in size.
The best of fragrances refers to perfumes or any fragrance in liquid form, while powders refers to fragrant substances that have been ground into powder. The line, “Arranged in the most sublime of display,” is not limited to powders, but includes arrangements of robes, parasols and so on.
In any case, no matter what the specific offerings in question might be, when we speak of ‘offerings,’ the original Sanskrit term is puja. Etymologically, the term puja means ‘to please.’ Speaking more poetically, puja fills the heart with delight. The pleasure that we generate by making offerings to the buddhas and bodhisattvas is not the contaminated pleasure we ordinary beings experience, a pleasure that naturally turns to pain. Rather, it is an uncontaminated form of pleasure or delight.
We tend to focus on the actual substances or objects that are being offered, but that is not the crucial aspect of an act of offering. Rather, it is the delight that is produced by the offering. We do use the term ‘offerings’ or ‘puja’ to denote the objects that we give in order to produce delight in the mind of the recipient. But when we use the term ‘offerings’ or puja in this way, we are actually using the word for the result (puja in the sense of pleasing) to the cause (that which pleases.)
Generally, His Holiness observed, everything that we do as Dharma practitioners should act as an antidote to our afflictions or kleshas. Otherwise, that Dharma is not functioning as Dharma for us. This branch of offering serves as an antidote to our stinginess. When we are tight-fisted and do not wish to give away what we have, that is stinginess, which is directly opposed by making offerings.
His Holiness noted that there are numerous ways our acts of offering can become impure, for example, if we are giving what we would otherwise discard, such as stale cake. What is crucial here is not the actual object but the attitude or mental state involved. The point is to train our minds. If we ask ourselves what is pleasing to the buddhas and bodhisattvas, it is clear that it is not to accumulate offering substances or objects. Rather, their aim is to liberate sentient beings from suffering. The way that we beings can be liberated is through our own actions in accumulating merit and eliminating misdeeds. There is no one who can do this on our behalf. The buddhas and bodhisattvas can and do serve as supremely inspiring models for us, but they cannot act in our stead.
Although in the sutras there is often discussion of offering what is owned and what is not owned, nowadays the world has been carved up and sold off, and even the moon is now being divided into sections claimed by various nations.
His Holiness commented that when Jowo Atisha arrived in Tibet, he was struck by how pure the water was, and suggested that it would make an excellent offering substance, because it is so pure, but also because it is freely available and thus does not give rise to stinginess.
Next His Holiness turned to the unsurpassable offerings, which are the offerings that can be given by great bodhisattvas.
I also imagine offering to all victors
That which is vast and unsurpassable.
I offer and bow to the victors with
The power of faith in excellent conduct.
Such bodhisattvas emanate innumerable bodies and each pore emanates another set of innumerable bodies. And each of those bodies makes offerings, continually. Though this is beyond our ability to conceive, they can do so within the dharma expanse due to the power of their aspirations and samadhi. This is currently beyond our ability, but if we make these aspirations with great faith, it can be of immense benefit. We can imagine that a small bowl of water that we offer is as large as the universe and are enjoyed continually by the buddhas and bodhisattvas for many eons. To make an unsurpassable offering we can make the aspiration that our offering becomes just like the offerings made by Manjushri and Samantabhadra.
During Buddha’s lifetime, there was a householder by the name of Deva who was childless. It was the custom of the day that the wealth of those who lacked heirs was appropriated by the king. When Deva died, Kimg Bimbisara received his wealth, which amounted to 80,000 bars of gold. This was startling because during his lifetime, he lived as a pauper, wearing poor clothes and riding in a poor chariot. The Buddha then was dwelling in Rajagriha, and commented on this situation when King Bimbisara asked him about it. Buddha stated that stingy people may have wealth but are unable to share it, whereas people of intelligence make great offerings with it. Buddha further explained that because Deva had been so stingy, his roots of merits were severed, and as a result he fell into a lower realm. This can be compared to squirrels who are able to collect many nuts and seeds, but are unable to plant seeds, so that their harvest of merit continues. Deva in a previous life had made an offering to a pratyekabuddha and dedicated that merit to never be reborn in a lower realm. However, he later regretted the generous deed. Due to that, although he had the karmic cause to be wealthy by virtue of his offering, yet due to his regret he was unable to enjoy that wealth. The intelligent may have little to give but can increase their merit greatly by giving skillfully, His Holiness noted. If you never lose your spirit of generosity, you will never become impoverished, he said.
Hearing this explanation by Buddha, King Bimbisara had the idea that henceforth he should give only to Buddhists, but not to non-Buddhists. Buddha soundly condemned that notion, explaining that all sentient beings need food and clothes, so you should give to all. We are surrounded by impoverished people who lack access to medical care and food. Even if we are unable to meet their material needs, we need to train our minds to aspire to do so. We can ask ourselves if we have reluctance to give the best of what we have, but are willing to give away what we do not value greatly, that is an attitude heavily influenced by stinginess.
His Holiness recounted a situation he had seen in a documentary of a child with a disease that required expensive blood treatments. To help raise funds for his medical treatment, the children sold stuffed animals and gave the money to his mother. For those children, this was a vast gift, and His Holiness had the thought that any offering he himself might give would pale in comparison to what the children gave, even if it were far more money.
His Holiness touched briefly on confession, emphasizing the importance of confessing any lapses to our vows. This is crucial because breaking commitments is damaging to our mental condition within the same life, leaving us discouraged. He said he would save a more detailed presentation for the following day.
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.
The teaching session closed with a brief meditation on the kindness of sentient beings. All of us on this planet exist and survive in dependence on one another. All of what we enjoy, such as the clothes we wear, comes from others. Much of the fabric that warms us comes from animals, so without then we would lack even much of the material that covers our bodies. Even if not, generally our clothes have been manufactured, thus passing through many hands before reaching us. All that we have and rely on literally has passed through thousands of hands and tens of thousands of steps before coming to us, and in this way all sentient beings are extremely kind to us. It is actually amazing to consider just how much kindness we receive from countless others.
His Holiness shared a feeling he had one day while circumambulating Gyuto Monastery. Normally, we harbor some expectation that happiness will be produced by some new experience or acquisition. In this way, we project happiness into some imagined future. But happiness is in this moment and is available for us to experience at any moment. While walking around Gyuto, His Holiness said he contemplated the great number of conditions that had to come together in order for the air that he was breathing to be available to him, As he did so, he was filled with a sense of wonder at the fact that the natural environment on its own had made this available at every moment of every day. If we had to arrange it on our own, we would be unable to, yet all the air we need is effortlessly available to us at all times, and this alone can be a source of great happiness.
With this as the preparation for contemplation on interdependence and the kindness of others, the assembly meditated together in silence. As they did, thousands of people breathed together the air that is given so freely, and enjoyed together the second session of the Kagyu Monlam—another condition of goodness and happiness that is made possible for us through the kindness of thousands of others.
AFTERNOON ACTIVITIES OF THE GYALWANG KARMAPA
His Holiness did not return to the Mahabodhi Stupa for the afternoon sessions but engaged in a grueling schedule of meetings, interviews and audiences back at Tergar Monastery.
At 3.00pm he gave a public audience to several hundred people in the main shrine room at Tergar Monastery.
This year, in addition to Life TV from Taiwan, which always films the Monlam, there are four other film crews working on documentaries with His Holiness, requiring his direct involvement and time.
The American photographer, James Gritz, who took many of the marvellous photographs of Gyalwang Karmapa on his visit to America in 2008, is here to make a film on the Monlam. Or rather, what began as a documentary about the Monlam , and is now expanding into other areas.
Mary Young has returned to continue filming her study of the Tibetan butter sculpture tradition. Gyalwang Karmapa has assumed the role of overall director for an expanded version of Mary’s original documentary.
Ani Choekyi is here once more from Hong Kong with a crew of volunteers to film the Monlam and produce a DVD.
Finally, Terris and Leslie Nguyen Temple, famed for their creation between 1992-1997 of two giant appliqué thangkas for Tsurphu Monastery, Tibet, are here filming interviews in connection with their latest thangka project.
The live webcast is being watched around the world. On the first day of the Monlam there were about 1000 ‘hits’. On the second day, there were approximately 800.