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KARMAPA PAST ACTIVITIES: January 31-February 2, 2009

Interfaith Prayer Meeting for World Peace & Lineage Practice Teachings

The Third day of Gyalwang Karmapa’s Lineage Practice Teachings

Thursday January 2, 2009

On the last morning of the teachings Gyalwang Karmapa conferred the Bodhisattva Vow and spoke about developing bodhichitta.

He began by detailing the necessary conditions when taking the Bodhisattva Vow.

First came motivation and then there needed to be a support - either a human, a deity or a god. The vow could be taken in front of a Lama, a spiritual friend or a support such as a picture. The maximum support was someone who held the eight Pratimoksha vows, the minimum support was someone with the refuge vows.

Third was the ritual. His Holiness chose to use three verses from Shantideva’s “ The Bodhisattva’s Way of Life”, which contained all three possible forms of the vow, the aspirational, the engaged, and both.

When taking the vow we needed the intention to benefit all sentient beings, who were our mothers as limitless as space. The best way to prepare our minds and to accumulate merit, which would develop and increase the power of the vow, was to recite the Seven Branch Prayer.

For beginners there would be more obstructions, difficulties and less supporting conditions, so His Holiness explained how reciting the Seven Branch Prayer functioned as an antidote. Prostration was the antidote to pride. Making offerings was the antidote to miserliness, and developed generosity. Confession was the antidote to all our negative deeds. Rejoicing was the antidote to jealousy and envy. Requesting the buddhas to turn the wheel of dharma served as an antidote to ignorance and karmic obstacles arising from abandoning the dharma. Requesting the Buddhas to remain was the antidote to karmic obstacles preventing us from meeting our gurus. Finally, the branch of dedication was the antidote for not believing in karma cause and effect, and not believing in the results of our own actions.

After accumulating merit we needed to develop good motivation. There were several methods we could use to do this: through exchanging self and others, or through contemplating the chain of cause and effect. In the latter we remember how all sentient beings have been our mothers, or our friends and supporters. Then we recall their suffering and generate the motivation, the pure wish to free all of these beings from their suffering. First we had to recognize that all sentient beings had been our mothers – our parents gave us our bodies and usually showed us affection, especially our mothers. Although they may not have done a good job sometimes, we needed to concentrate on what our parents did to help us, and more than anything they gave us life and a body, the greatest gift we can be given. There may have been differences in the love and affection given, but the gift of a life and a body were an incomparable kindness.

Similarly, all sentient beings in the world were interdependent; indeed there is no sentient being with whom we do not have a connection. Consider clothing, the materials come from animals or plants, and we depend on an infinite number of beings for our clothing. Even fame is dependent on the recognition of others. The global village means that these days we are also connected through business, politics etc. When we consider interconnectedness we usually think of the benefit we received from other sentient beings. Logically we could also consider the converse – the harm they have done to us – but to do so would be neither beneficial nor helpful.

His Holiness then extended the concept of interconnectedness to include not just this world but the galaxy we live in. The world was formed out of the karmic perceptions of all sentient beings, of all sentient beings in the galaxy. We may not be able to go everywhere in the universe but we say ‘limitless beings as vast as space’. In addition, there was interconnectedness evident in the plant and animal world. We depended on plants – the forests that made oxygen for us to breathe. We depended on the insects who pollinated our plants and fertilised them so that they bore fruit which we could eat. Without pollinating insects there would be no delicious fruit.

So all these sentient beings who are kind to us, want happiness, but they only heap suffering on themselves. If we focused on this idea until we felt unbearable compassion – then we would be able to develop the wish to free them from suffering, from impurities and obscurations. Then we could develop our bodhichitta.

His Holiness then gave the Bodhisattva Vow in Tibetan, Chinese and English.

Finally he reminded everybody that Bodhgaya was the place where the Buddha defeated the four maras, so they were no longer present here, and it was a blessed place. This was the place where the Buddha awakened so virtue was increased a thousand fold, and the ground itself was a support. The place itself was like a mandala; we should be happy, excited and courageous. Having taken the Bodhisattva Vow we were now a child of the Buddhas, a member of their family.

Gyalwang Karmapa concluded the morning session by presenting each member of the audience with a small New Year’s gift.

In the afternoon session, Gyalwang Karmapa again spoke on the theme of combining life and practice. Continuing the idea of creating a ‘home’, a place of rest and peace, for our minds, he explained how our practice should be an antidote to afflictive mental states; we needed to know how to meditate and how to use that meditation.

It often happens that students made lots of mistakes in their practice but these mistakes and obstacles should be used as part of the path and could be seen as rungs on a ladder. They could be used as the basis for further practise.
Chili can be very hot and spicy but if you eat it on the side with other food, you don’t experience the entire heat of the chili. But if you eat a chili on it’s own you really get to know how hot it is! In the same way, it is often difficult to identify the true nature of the problems which arise from afflictive mental states. For example if someone is usually bad-tempered, it could be difficult for them to identify the affliction of anger. However, if there were to be an incident when they became very angry, and then, overwhelmed by this anger hit someone, perhaps even wounding them, and, as a consequence got arrested and had to go to court, the consequences of their anger became clear and because it was such an extreme example of the affliction they were able to recognize it.

Having recognized the nature of the afflictive mental state we then needed to know how to get rid of it. We needed to examine how it affects our perception, and then develop the antidote. In this case , anger, the antidote is patience, but we may not have much patience, so we have to use whatever we have. It’s like repairing a broken watch – it’s very small, you need to use a magnifying glass to work on it – it’s not something you can use a sledgehammer on – our minds are like the watch; we need to repair them and make them functional, gradually.

The afflictions and the three poisons are evident in our lives. When anger is present, we have no thought of love, and our actions and words exhibit this. But we have difficulty identifying the affliction as a fault. Faults are like a heap, we have to get to the bottom of the heap. We tfind ways to convince ourselves that it’s a small problem or normal: everyone gets angry sometimes, we have to get angry sometimes. This is denying that it’s a fault, and, until we can perceive these afflictions as faults, it will be difficult to clear them.

When we can see the afflictive mental states as a fault, we can’t wait to get rid of them. It’s like smelling something foul which makes you want to vomit. You know that you have to rid yourself of them as clearly as you know when you have to go to the toilet.

Unfortunately, when we see these afflictions as a mass of faults we are often in two minds about them: part of us doesn’t want to give up the afflictions and another part wants to get rid of them. It’s obvious that you can’t go backwards and forwards simultaneously. In the case of a team, if there is disunity, you call the teamleader. Our mind is the same. What do we want to accomplish? What is compatible with how things are? If you are undecided, nothing will be achieved. So we need a teamleader in our mind. Where do we find it?

Basically our character is good. If you draw a horse that deosn’t look like a horse, it can’t be a horse. Anger, pride or jealousy are not essential to life, but without goodness, knowledge and wisdom it is difficult to live. Our nature is inherently good and kindhearted. Without that we would be unable to live, so it is important and necessary to distinguish between what we need and what we want. Some things we don’t want are beneficial such as medicine. Sometimes we neglect the things we need and focus instead on getting the things we want, giving them power over us.

If we know that the afflictive emotions are a fault, we can give the power to the part that sees the afflictions as a fault, and then the antidote will be effective. Meditation was the tool for getting to the root of the afflictive mental states.

His Holiness then gave instructions on how to meditate.

First he explained the correct vajra or half vajra posture, joking about how difficult this could be for Westerners, whereas Tibetan children had vajra posture competitions! The focus for one-pointed meditation could be any object, such as a flower, but the most powerful focus was an image of the Buddha.

His Holiness then led the audience in a meditation on the Lord Buddha at the point of enlightenment, golden in colour because of his radiance, his eyes full of love.

His Holiness advised that it was important not to let the mind wander away from that form. Generally, the rule for beginners, was to meditate for short periods but often. This did not mean getting on and off your meditation seat but rather staying put and having several short sessions consecutively. It was important to use our awareness, recognizing when the mind was distracted and then using that awareness to bring it back to focus again. In daily life every one was so busy that it was important to find time for resting the mind and body.

His Holiness gave an example of how that should feel. Once upon a time in India, there was a king who had to move from his old palace to a new one, but he didn’t trust anyone so he asked one of his ministers to help him. The king promised him a new house, and enough food and money to live on for the rest of his life so the minister agreed and then spent the whole day going backwards and forwards, without resting, but by the end, he had completed the task. Thankfully, he went to the new home the king had given him and sat down: Ahh! That, said His Holiness, is what resting your mind feels like.

It was also important to be focused on the present and not distracted by thoughts about the past or the future.
Another story illustrated the dangers of this. Once upon a time a beggar, who had nothing, managed to accumulate some grain. He sold it, made a profit, and was able to buy more grain. Suddenly his future looked bright. Walking across a bridge, carrying the grain atop his head, he began to daydream. If he sold this grain, he could buy more, make an even bigger profit, get a wife, and then he would have children. His life would be transformed. He would be so happy going home every night to his wife and children. They would greet him…The beggar was concentrating so much on this daydream of the future that he dropped the grain. It fell into the water and was ruined. Once again, he had nothing.

The teaching was finished. In his concluding remarks the Gyawlang Karmapa observed that the teaching had been like a family reunion. The ‘family’ had chanted together, studied the Dharma, smiled together. His Holiness was certain that the buddhas and bodhisattvas of the ten directions had witnessed the uncontrived smiles of the people gathered at Tergar for the teaching. He thanked the Hwa-Yue Foundation for sponsoring the teaching and the hard work its members had put in to make it all possible. He then dedicated the merit.

He concluded, “When I am in Dharamsala, I hope to be like a lamp or a star in the sky at night – a place for your hope. We can be lamps for each other.”

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The Second day of Gyalwang Karmapa’s Lineage Practice Teachings

Thursday January 1, 2009

The morning session was devoted to the Refuge Vow, which was given in Tibetan, Chinese and Korean. His Holiness began by explaining the meaning of refuge and why we needed a refuge. First he pointed out that from the time of our birth until our death we were dependent on others. The very nature of our lives meant we had to rely on other people. These people, including family and friends, who protected and cared for us were a form of refuge. Also, everyone wished to be happy, as witnessed by the many people who wrote to him or sought audiences to ask for help – failing businesses, illnesses, and other unhappiness.

It seemed we were unable to free ourselves from suffering and problems. Thus, we needed to look for a way to free ourselves completely. We needed to find the ultimate refuge. Someone like a doctor might be able to help us temporarily but in the end we still suffered sickness, ageing and death – and we had to experience these lifetime after lifetime.

So what would an ultimate refuge be? It had to be one which could help us rid ourselves of the root causes of suffering, and this could only be done by someone who had already accomplished this. Prince Siddhartha had grown up in sheltered luxury but when he left his palace and encountered the four sufferings, he abandoned his comfortable life and the son he loved very much, in order to find liberation. He renounced palace life, practised austerities, and finally attained enlightenment. Thus the Lord Buddha has the qualifications to give us refuge.
The other two jewels are the teachings of Lord Buddha and the sangha.

Lord Buddha had taught all the external causes that could free us from samsara, not for his own benefit, but for the benefit of all suffering sentient beings.

The noble sangha were the people who were practicing the path the Lord Buddha taught. The extended sangha could include our dharma friends and those we practised with, the people who supported us in our practice.

With faith in the Three Jewels and practice we had everything we needed in order to liberate ourselves from samsara. Taking the Refuge Vow was to take the first steps on the path, and involved making a commitment to keep the precepts. His Holiness advised people that if they felt daunted by the responsibility of taking the Vow, they should think how marvelous it was to take refuge in the place where the Buddha had achieved enlightenment.
Having taken the Vow, three things had to be abandoned. The first was trusting in worldly gods. Going for refuge meant we had chosen to follow a genuine path in order to free ourselves, something which would bring us to ultimate, stable happiness.

The second thing to be abandoned was harming sentient beings. This meant harming them with the intention to harm them. Sometimes the very nature of our lives meant that we might harm others unintentionally. We harmed sentient beings intentionally because of attachment and afflictive mental and emotional states, so we had the responsibility to train our minds in order to tame them, to stop the causes which made us harm others.

The third thing to be abandoned was harmful and evil friends. These were the people who could influence us negatively and lead us away from the path. We needed to cultivate good friends from the sangha; in this context all our dharma friends are our sangha. His Holiness explained that because he had so many students, it was often impossible to give individual help and advice, so it was very important for his disciples to help and support each other.

Having taken the Vow, three things had to be respected: all Buddha images, every single syllable of Dharma, and every piece of yellow robe. It wasn’t the robe itself but it represented the noble ones who wore it. There were also the common precepts: reciting the refuge three times daily (His Holiness admitted that the recitation in the middle of the night was a little difficult these days)!; offering the first portion of food in remembrance of the kindness of Buddha and of the Three Jewels; helping anyone who wished to take refuge; never trivialising the Three Jewels.
The afternoon session focused on a question from the audience: how could lay practitioners combine busy lives with dharma practice.

His Holiness began by saying that this was a frequently asked question. People wanted to make progress in their practice, yet work often drained them of physical and mental energy. Practising in the shrine room was not enough; often we left our practice behind there! A new way was needed which brought work and practice together as complementary. People suffered from internal and external pressures, which could place them under such severe stress that they felt they were going crazy or they became sick or even committed suicide. It was important to be able to distance ourselves from such emotional pressure, so the question was how to use our practice to achieve this.

The word ‘practice’ (the Tibetan word is nyamlen) means a ‘feeling in the mind’, but it is more than a feeling; it has also to manifest through body and speech. Practice means to transform our minds and hence change our conduct and our speech. In this way we can also change the environment around us and our relationships with our families and friends. If we pray for world peace we need the impetus to work for world peace.

We all need a home; if someone is under a lot of pressure at work, returning home to a loving family, where they can relax, have a cup of tea, talk with the family, makes them feel relaxed and at ease. We also need a home for our minds: a place of contentment and rest. We have to build this for ourselves.

If we fail to give our minds a place to stay, they become like a street child – neglected, troubled, sad and getting into trouble. The nature of mind is clear and knowing, not ignorance, and we use these characteristics of the mind – its luminosity – to recognize its inner peace. When we die we lose all our possessions but we are not separated from the nature of the mind. When we look at our minds, we often just see discord and forget that the true nature of our mind is virtuous and good. In order to develop peace of mind we have to practice, but there are some mistaken views about what practice is.

First of all practice isn’t like a job. Usually when we have a job there are fixed working hours. If we treat practice like a job we go to the shrine room, do our practice, but there is no habituation, no transference into our lives beyond the shrine room. To get rid of large obscurations we needed to start removing small ones, step by step, every day, all day The Tibetan word for ‘meditation’ is related to the word which means ‘to become accustomed to’, or making something a habit. If we don’t train ourselves in compassion, how can we sit in the shrine room and say, “May all sentient beings be happy.”?

Secondly, practice isn’t like homework set by the lama for his students. An example of this is the Ngondro (preliminaries). Some people become very expert at prostrations. They use a smooth board and they prostrate really fast, as if they’re doing physical exercise. What’s the point of doing it like that? Practice is about transforming our minds not completing 100,000 prostrations. In the end some people look back and say, “All I did was count!” Nor is practice something to show to the lama, like showing the teacher your work. We have to own the practice. We are doing it for ourselves and not for someone else. Some people go to their lama and say, “I’ve done my Ngondro.” And when the lama says, “OK. Now you can practise a yidam deity” they mistakenly view it in the same way as if a teacher was giving them a good grade.

The third fault is treating practice as ritual – reciting mantras, visualizing the meditation deity, making the mudras etc. The point of practice is to transform our minds, so we need to constantly check if this is happening. We often miss the profounder meanings, for example, in the four-armed Chenresig, his four arms represent the four immeasureables.

We can extend our practice beyond the shrine room by observing and reflecting on the world around us. Consider the four seasons. At one level wintertime might just mean time to put on warm clothes. But when we practise we can see the changes as a manifestation of impermanence. In summertime there are wonderful flowers, but they die, so, reflecting on this, we can really begin to understand that everything changes and everything is destructible.
Work could become part of our practice too. Many people work in manufacturing companies, in which case they could think: we make high quality products that will benefit the world. This becomes a form of generosity because generosity is not just giving things away (when the Buddha completed the paramita of generosity there were still plenty of beggars) but rather a mindset which wants to give. Thus dedication could also be a form of generosity.

These teachings, sponsored and organized by the Hwa-Yue Foundation from Taiwan, are the third in a series of teachings entitled: Lineage Practice Teachings. More than one thousand five hundred people filled the main assembly hall at Tergar Monastery to listen to His Holiness deliver the teachings in a mixture of Tibetan and Chinese. Chinese devotees from Taiwan and Hong Kong formed the majority of the audience. However, there were also disciples from the Americas, from Europe and from other Asian countries including Korea, Vietnam and Malaysia.

The morning and afternoon sessions began with prayers in Chinese, accompanied by traditional Chinese instruments – a wooden bell beaten to keep time, and a bronze bell. At the morning session, representatives from the audience prostrated along with the Gyalwang Karmapa.

His Holiness’ theme was teacher and student. He began by joking that these teachings, and the ‘English’ ones which would follow Monlam, were as much a test of his burgeoning linguistic skills as of his dharma knowledge and experience. He then congratulated the audience on attending the teachings in spite of the economic downturn and the recent terrorist bombings in Mumbai. Speaking confidently and fluently in Chinese, he proceeded to explore the concepts of teacher and student in Tibetan Buddhism, delighting his listeners with lively caricatures, humorous asides, and witty puns.

(Please note that what follows is a précis of the English translation of the teachings given in Tibetan, so that you can share some of the experience. We hope that a definitive translation from a full transcription of the Chinese and Tibetan will be possible later.)

Because so many different interpretations of the word exists, Gyalwang Karmapa began by clarifying the meaning of ‘lama’, the Tibetan rendering of the Sanskrit word ‘guru’, as meaning someone who is ‘heavy with good qualities’. Hence a lama was someone who possessed the qualities necessary to develop students. The characteristics of a spiritual friend and a lama were basically the same. They should be well-educated in the Dharma, able to teach the Dharma, hold Pratimoksha vows, and hold any other relevant vows, transmissions etc.

Gampopa mentioned three characteristics of a genuine lama. The first characteristic was to have cut the ties to this life. No attachment to this life meant being focused on more than this life and paying no attention to the eight worldly dharmas, but it was difficult to find someone who was completely free of attachment to this life. It was possible to talk of three types of worldly interests: the white worldly interest of the Bodhisattva, who could enjoy being praised; the mixed worldly interest when people sometimes focused on future lives, sometimes on this life; the black world ly interest when all activity was fixated on this life only. A person who could only focus on this life was not a genuine dharma practitioner. A dharma practitioner should think of future lives and the path of liberation.

The second characteristic was that they could guide their students with their great wisdom; without wisdom and intelligence a lama was unable to teach the dharma to a range of students with different needs. A lama needed to know what things to abandon and what to practise, and had to be able to teach in a way that students could understand.

The third characteristic was endowment with great compassion, so that a lama never gave up on their students, supporting them however bad they were. Without this great compassion, a lama might well abandon a very difficult student. The ideal was that a lama would want to keep their students from falling into the lower realms, even at the cost of his or her own life.

In short, a lama’s good qualities should exceed their faults. An uneducated person able to help students focus on the dharma and future lives, could be a lama, in the same way a mother who loves and cares for her children tries to pass on her best traits to them, in spite of her lack of education.

Then how could a student assess a lama’s qualities? Gyalwang Karmapa warned that, except for a few extraordinary individuals, it was very difficult to assess a person’s qualities, and impossible to know what they were thinking, so the only method was to observe the lama’s words, deeds and conduct, checking that they were in harmony, and that they did not contradict the dharma. Although a skilled imposter might fool people for a short time, they wouldn’t be able to fool all of the people all of the time!
In assessing a lama, we could also reflect on whether the lama was helping us, whether our minds were becoming clearer or calmer, whether we were engaging with the dharma more. If the mind of a student turned more to the dharma under a lama’s influence, then that was a genuine lama. A further sign was to feel joy at encountering a lama.

If a lama had only a few good qualities it was still possible to take them as one’s lama, because it might be that their qualities exceeded their faults, or that they held the altruistic intention. Gyalwang Karmapa referred to the First Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche who travelled across Tibet, receiving instructions from many lamas. Some of these were only village lamas, uneducated and illiterate, but he received transmissions and empowerments from them. In some cases he even had to teach them the alphabet first! So, although the rule was to find a lama who possessed more qualities than we did, this may not always be the case, if we had a special purpose.

Finally, there should be a mutual connection between the teacher and the student.
Gyalwang Karmapa then turned his attention to what it means to be a ‘student’.
According to Gampopa, a student should possess three characteristics: they needed to be able to ‘bow down to the lama with respect that has no pride’, the student must follow the lama’s instructions joyfully, and finally the student must engage in actions that are pleasing to the lama.

First, Gyalwang Karmapa explored what it means to be able to bow down to a lama with respect that has no pride. He reminded us that often, out of ignorance, we believe we have qualities that we do not possess, and this makes us vulnerable. We need to be protected from ourselves. The role of the lama is to teach us the path, otherwise we will be prey to our own afflictive mental states and emotions.

Our very birth is the product of these afflictive mental states, and our karma controls when we will die. The four sufferings of birth and death, ageing and sickness are beyond our control. What we often call happiness is not true happiness but only a change in the degree of suffering or a temporary relief, similar to someone going from extreme heat into a cool place. At first it is a great relief from the heat, and then you begin to feel cold, and finally you are freezing. Feelings of happiness end up as suffering. Thus, we have to rely on a lama to teach us the Four Noble Truths which will lead us on the path of liberation.

The Sutras teach that the lama is similar to or equal to the Lord Buddha. In the Diamond Vehicle teachings the lama is Buddha, and so we have to train our minds, like exercising the body, in order to habituate ourselves to see only the good qualities and not the faults of the lama. In the Sutras Buddha promised that he would appear as Vajradhara to help sentient beings, and the lama is the only one who can fulfill the activities of the Buddha.

All buddhas and bodhisattvas ‘woke’ out of the wish to help sentient beings, but sentient beings had to be open to this help, and the key was faith. Regarding an ordinary lama as Buddha was to treat the lama as the representative of the Buddha, in an unbroken lineage passed down from the Buddha. The lama was like a magnifying glass on a pile of cut hay in sunlight. Without it the hay would not catch fire, but if you used a magnifying glass to focus the sun’s rays, it would catch fire.
We had to be careful because we could not always see people as they really were. Naropa thought Tilopa was a fisherman when he first met him. Mila thought Marpa was a farmer. Appearances are deceptive, often affected by our karma. Even a street dog might be a buddha. We could never be sure.

The second requirement was to follow the lama’s instructions. Since the lama is the one who shows what is to be abandoned and what is to be adopted, it is important to put into practice whatever the lama says. However, if in some instances we are unable to do the practices given us, it is permissible to go to the lama and give clear reasons why one is unable to do it, and in this case there would be no degeneration of samaya. If, on the other hand, we knowingly decide not to do what the lama has instructed then there would be degeneration of samaya.

Finally, His Holiness commented on ‘actions that please the lama’. He explained that this did not mean praising the lama or making material offerings, as people sometimes seemed to think. Rather, it meant practicing the dharma teachings and oral instructions. That is an offering to the lama.

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The first day of Gyalwang Karmapa’s Lineage Practice Teachings

Wednesday 31st December, 2008

These teachings, sponsored and organized by the Hwa-Yue Foundation from Taiwan, are the third in a series of teachings entitled: Lineage Practice Teachings. More than one thousand five hundred people filled the main assembly hall at Tergar Monastery to listen to His Holiness deliver the teachings in a mixture of Tibetan and Chinese. Chinese devotees from Taiwan and Hong Kong formed the majority of the audience. However, there were also disciples from the Americas, from Europe and from other Asian countries including Korea, Vietnam and Malaysia.

The morning and afternoon sessions began with prayers in Chinese, accompanied by traditional Chinese instruments – a wooden bell beaten to keep time, and a bronze bell. At the morning session, representatives from the audience prostrated along with the Gyalwang Karmapa.

His Holiness’ theme was teacher and student. He began by joking that these teachings, and the ‘English’ ones which would follow Monlam, were as much a test of his burgeoning linguistic skills as of his dharma knowledge and experience. He then congratulated the audience on attending the teachings in spite of the economic downturn and the recent terrorist bombings in Mumbai. Speaking confidently and fluently in Chinese, he proceeded to explore the concepts of teacher and student in Tibetan Buddhism, delighting his listeners with lively caricatures, humorous asides, and witty puns.

(Please note that what follows is a précis of the English translation of the teachings given in Tibetan, so that you can share some of the experience. We hope that a definitive translation from a full transcription of the Chinese and Tibetan will be possible later.)

Because so many different interpretations of the word exists, Gyalwang Karmapa began by clarifying the meaning of ‘lama’, the Tibetan rendering of the Sanskrit word ‘guru’, as meaning someone who is ‘heavy with good qualities’. Hence a lama was someone who possessed the qualities necessary to develop students. The characteristics of a spiritual friend and a lama were basically the same. They should be well-educated in the Dharma, able to teach the Dharma, hold Pratimoksha vows, and hold any other relevant vows, transmissions etc.

Gampopa mentioned three characteristics of a genuine lama. The first characteristic was to have cut the ties to this life. No attachment to this life meant being focused on more than this life and paying no attention to the eight worldly dharmas, but it was difficult to find someone who was completely free of attachment to this life. It was possible to talk of three types of worldly interests: the white worldly interest of the Bodhisattva, who could enjoy being praised; the mixed worldly interest when people sometimes focused on future lives, sometimes on this life; the black world ly interest when all activity was fixated on this life only. A person who could only focus on this life was not a genuine dharma practitioner. A dharma practitioner should think of future lives and the path of liberation.

The second characteristic was that they could guide their students with their great wisdom; without wisdom and intelligence a lama was unable to teach the dharma to a range of students with different needs. A lama needed to know what things to abandon and what to practise, and had to be able to teach in a way that students could understand.

The third characteristic was endowment with great compassion, so that a lama never gave up on their students, supporting them however bad they were. Without this great compassion, a lama might well abandon a very difficult student. The ideal was that a lama would want to keep their students from falling into the lower realms, even at the cost of his or her own life.

In short, a lama’s good qualities should exceed their faults. An uneducated person able to help students focus on the dharma and future lives, could be a lama, in the same way a mother who loves and cares for her children tries to pass on her best traits to them, in spite of her lack of education.

Then how could a student assess a lama’s qualities? Gyalwang Karmapa warned that, except for a few extraordinary individuals, it was very difficult to assess a person’s qualities, and impossible to know what they were thinking, so the only method was to observe the lama’s words, deeds and conduct, checking that they were in harmony, and that they did not contradict the dharma. Although a skilled imposter might fool people for a short time, they wouldn’t be able to fool all of the people all of the time!
In assessing a lama, we could also reflect on whether the lama was helping us, whether our minds were becoming clearer or calmer, whether we were engaging with the dharma more. If the mind of a student turned more to the dharma under a lama’s influence, then that was a genuine lama. A further sign was to feel joy at encountering a lama.

If a lama had only a few good qualities it was still possible to take them as one’s lama, because it might be that their qualities exceeded their faults, or that they held the altruistic intention. Gyalwang Karmapa referred to the First Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche who travelled across Tibet, receiving instructions from many lamas. Some of these were only village lamas, uneducated and illiterate, but he received transmissions and empowerments from them. In some cases he even had to teach them the alphabet first! So, although the rule was to find a lama who possessed more qualities than we did, this may not always be the case, if we had a special purpose.

Finally, there should be a mutual connection between the teacher and the student.
Gyalwang Karmapa then turned his attention to what it means to be a ‘student’.
According to Gampopa, a student should possess three characteristics: they needed to be able to ‘bow down to the lama with respect that has no pride’, the student must follow the lama’s instructions joyfully, and finally the student must engage in actions that are pleasing to the lama.

First, Gyalwang Karmapa explored what it means to be able to bow down to a lama with respect that has no pride. He reminded us that often, out of ignorance, we believe we have qualities that we do not possess, and this makes us vulnerable. We need to be protected from ourselves. The role of the lama is to teach us the path, otherwise we will be prey to our own afflictive mental states and emotions.

Our very birth is the product of these afflictive mental states, and our karma controls when we will die. The four sufferings of birth and death, ageing and sickness are beyond our control. What we often call happiness is not true happiness but only a change in the degree of suffering or a temporary relief, similar to someone going from extreme heat into a cool place. At first it is a great relief from the heat, and then you begin to feel cold, and finally you are freezing. Feelings of happiness end up as suffering. Thus, we have to rely on a lama to teach us the Four Noble Truths which will lead us on the path of liberation.

The Sutras teach that the lama is similar to or equal to the Lord Buddha. In the Diamond Vehicle teachings the lama is Buddha, and so we have to train our minds, like exercising the body, in order to habituate ourselves to see only the good qualities and not the faults of the lama. In the Sutras Buddha promised that he would appear as Vajradhara to help sentient beings, and the lama is the only one who can fulfill the activities of the Buddha.

All buddhas and bodhisattvas ‘woke’ out of the wish to help sentient beings, but sentient beings had to be open to this help, and the key was faith. Regarding an ordinary lama as Buddha was to treat the lama as the representative of the Buddha, in an unbroken lineage passed down from the Buddha. The lama was like a magnifying glass on a pile of cut hay in sunlight. Without it the hay would not catch fire, but if you used a magnifying glass to focus the sun’s rays, it would catch fire.
We had to be careful because we could not always see people as they really were. Naropa thought Tilopa was a fisherman when he first met him. Mila thought Marpa was a farmer. Appearances are deceptive, often affected by our karma. Even a street dog might be a buddha. We could never be sure.

The second requirement was to follow the lama’s instructions. Since the lama is the one who shows what is to be abandoned and what is to be adopted, it is important to put into practice whatever the lama says. However, if in some instances we are unable to do the practices given us, it is permissible to go to the lama and give clear reasons why one is unable to do it, and in this case there would be no degeneration of samaya. If, on the other hand, we knowingly decide not to do what the lama has instructed then there would be degeneration of samaya.

Finally, His Holiness commented on ‘actions that please the lama’. He explained that this did not mean praising the lama or making material offerings, as people sometimes seemed to think. Rather, it meant practicing the dharma teachings and oral instructions. That is an offering to the lama.

First Day of Karmapa's Lineage Practice Teachings

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New Year’s Day: Gyalwang Karmapa Attends Interfaith Prayer Meeting for World Peace

Thursday 1st January 2009

His Holiness made a surprise visit to the Mahabodhi Stupa as guest-of-honour at an inter-faith prayer meeting, under the bodhi tree, where a small crowd was gathered, mainly Indian sangha, local schoolchildren, and representatives of the faith communities in Bodh Gaya. A few Tibetans and Westerners were also evident.
His Holiness first visited the main shrine hall and paid respect to Buddha image, later attended the meeting.

The meeting, organized by the International Buddhist Council of India, Bodh Gaya and Gaya branch, the Mahabodhi Management Committee and the local interfaith organisation, was held partly in memory of those who had died in the November Mumbai bombings, partly as an opportunity to pray for world peace and harmony on New Year’s Day.

There were chants and prayers for world peace, led by representatives of the Tibetan Buddhist, Hindu, Christian, Jain, Sikh and Muslim communities
The meeting concluded with a reading from Shantideva’s “Way of the Bodhisattva”, beginning with the verse:

May I be a guard for those who are protectorless,
A guide for those who journey on the road,
For those who wish to go across the water
May I be a boat, a raft, a bridge.

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