December 31, 2009 - Under the Bodhi Tree, Bodhgaya
The tremendous efforts undertaken by organizers seeking to fulfill His Holiness’ vast vision for this year’s monlam came to their fullest fruition today, as the 27th Kagyu Monlam drew to a joyful close. From early morning until the deep chill of the night, thousands of disciples who had gathered from all corners of the planet spent the final day of 2009 in the presence of His Holiness. During the first session of the day, students were able to receive Mahayana sojong vows directly from His Holiness, who began by reminding students of the great purpose of taking such vows.
The day included many special events, including two sessions devoted to Guru Puja (lama chöpa) practice using the exquisite text that His Holiness himself compiled. In his customarily inclusive fashion, Gyalwang Karmapa drew on guru puja texts from multiple traditions in his preparation of this new Offering to the Gurus text, published by KTD Publications. During the Guru Puja practice, His Holiness paused to confer bodhisattva vows, following an extended generation of Bodhichitta section included in the text itself.
In a special address to the gathering, His Holiness reiterated his commitment to working for the environment. He noted that like the stage of a theater, this planet can serve as the site for whatever dramas we wish to produce on it, good or bad. However, if the stage is destroyed there can be no performances of any sort.
Gyalwang Karmapa further announced that Kagyu Monasteries this year would be undergoing education in health and hygiene. The program of raising awareness of health and hygiene is not aimed solely at monks and nuns, but is envisioned as a means of improving the level of health in Tibetan society overall. Echoing his earlier comments on the need for Dharma practitioners to take an active role in working for society, His Holiness said monasteries should serve as examples to society, and should acting as leaders in effecting positive changes. This program in health education was one instance where change could be made.
His Holiness concluded the address by expressing his wishes that the New Year be a year of peace, free of prejudice and racism. He offered his prayers for the long life and activities of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, for the new Ganden Tripa (formal head of the Gelug order) to have no obstacles for his plans, and for the reinvigoration of the Jonang tradition that once flourished in Tibet but is now in peril.
In a ceremonial expression of gratitude to the kind sponsors whose generosity made these eight days possible, Gyalwang Karmapa evoked Milarepa’s words, that yogi and benefactor go together to enlightenment. During the final session of the afternoon, His Holiness lent his voice in chanting Milarepa’s own aspiration sing to his disciples:
In the evening, supremely kind master and disciples met one last time by the bodhi tree for the last session of the day, Marme Monlam the song offering and Lamp Prayer. During this final event of this eight-day festival of prayers, blessings, teachings and the inspiration of aspiring in one voice to enlightenment for all beings, chants were offered in Pali, Sanskrit, Tibetan, Korean and Vietnamese, and rousing choral performances in Chinese and English.
His Holiness lit a flame that was then passed, person to person, until everyone present held a softly glowing light to offer the buddhas—as if this entire international community of practitioners were transferring to others the love and blessings radiating from His Holiness, each giving to the next without losing anything themselves in the process. With this most appropriate act, the vast assembly was bathed in the gentle candlelight, the Lamp Prayer was sung and the 27th Kagyu Monlam drew to its beautiful close.
As the crowd dispersed into the shadowy Bodhgaya night, the long process of carrying His Holiness’ blessings and the transformative beauty of his teachings out into the world and into the New Year had begun.
December 30, 2009 - Under the Bodhi Tree, Bodhgaya
By inviting and embracing attendees from all over the world, providing translation into nine languages and sending out a live webcast viewed by people all over the globe, and by generating aspirations that encompass other worlds as well, the Kagyu Monlam has truly expanded to fill all space. On its seventh day, the scope of the Kagyu Monlam also stretched to fill time, with activities to protect the environment as well as to honor the Kagyur, or the canon of Buddha’s teachings. As such, the day’s focus spanned from 2,500 ago in India when the Buddha first taught, to a distant future that monlam participants actively seek to create, so that our heirs to this planet may still find it a viable and welcoming home.
As part of the morning’s focus on the Kagyur itself, Gyalwang Karmapa and the other Kagyu lineages holders led a solemn and stately procession of bhikshus and bhikshunis (gelongs and gelongmas) to carry the 108 volumes of the canonical collection on a circumambulation around the stupa. The procession path was lined with the reverential public, white scarves and flowers in their hands, and deep faith in their hearts, as the members of the sangha moved past with great dignity as each respectfully bore a single volume of the Buddha’s teachings on their shoulder.
The next session was devoted to a reading of the entire Kagyur by the monks and nuns present. Gyalwang Karmapa prefaced the activity with a talk about the precious Kagyur itself. He first described the history of the translation of Buddha’s teachings in Tibet and the formation of the Tibetan canon. This collection, he noted, is the single source for all the Buddhist traditions in Tibet. All the Dharma we need is contained within it, including personal instructions. It is excellent to prostrate and show reverence to it, but actually it is something to be read and put into practice. If it is read carefully, it can help us develop our devotion and gain clarity and certainty. With great joy, the reading then commenced.
The air of the stupa grounds then filled with the magnificent sound of the Dharma, as the many tens of thousands of page of the collection were distributed among the sangha and read aloud simultaneously.
At the end of this session, His Holiness swiftly proceeded from the reading of the Kagyur out to the Gaya Airport shortly after eleven o’clock. Inside the airport VIP lounge he was received by various Indian dignitaries including the ADM Uday Kumar and the Airport Controller Mr Prabhu Dev.
Under the auspices of the 27th International Kagyu Monlam, Rangjung Khoryug Sungkyob Tsokpa, the environmental organization for Kagyu monasteries and centers established by His Holiness, has begun a small reforestation project on scrubland within the grounds of Gaya Airport, with the blessing of the State Government of Bihar.
On Tuesday fifty monk and nun volunteers from Khoryug came out to the airport to clean the grounds as a gesture of friendship, and to prepare the holes for the saplings. During today’s inauguration ceremony, His Holiness was the first to plant one of ten young ashoka trees in a small garden area in front of the terminal entrance. The rest were planted by the ADM, the Airport Controller, Drupon Rinpoche and Lama Karma Choedrak, Chief Executive of the International Kagyu Monlam, and other guests. Tergar Monastery is taking the lead in this project and will have responsibility for nurturing and protecting the saplings.
Commenting on the work of the monks and nuns, Mr Prabhu Dev said how impressed he had been by their active leadership in protecting the holy and sacred sites of Bodhgaya, and he hoped that other members of the community would follow their example.
Because of the aridity of the environment, this is the wrong time of year to plant some species of native trees and a separate area of 15 000 square metres has been set aside for the second stage of the project, planting a greater variety of trees during the rainy season, June and July 2010.
The project has been dedicated as a long-life prayer for His Holiness the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa, and a commemorative stone has been erected bearing his words:
At the same time, the day also saw a massive undertaking by monlam participants to clean the vast field where His Holiness the Dalai Lama will soon be conferring teaching— the Kalachakra grounds in Bodhgaya.
The effort to render the space spotless for the teachings ahead is only one of several projects to work for the local environment. Earlier, the area surrounding Tergar monastery, including marshland, was restored to a healthy state of cleanliness. A separate day was devoted to cleaning the market square outside the Mahabodhi Temple itself. Each of the 36 Kagyu monasteries and nunneries delegated 5 of their monks or nuns, and many lay volunteers offered their time as well. Volunteers reported that the clean-up brigades worked with great enthusiasm as they filled bag after bag with garbage. These projects were undertaken in partnership with Sacred Earth Trust.
The issue of cleaning the area around Bodhgaya is intimately connected to the overall purpose of the Kagyu Monlam. As His Holiness explained last year during his commentary on the King of Prayers, the Aspiration for Excellent Conduct. This prayer involves three main activities, including purifying.
We are praying for the impure realms to become pure, and in the Kagyu Monlam we have begun working towards the actual purification of the environment of our world. This is our short-term aim, and our long-term goal is to transform this all into a Buddha realm, so these two aims are conducive to purifying the realms.
As monlam attendees have witnessed, the vastness of His Holiness’ vision is matched by an aptitude for finding supremely practical steps to actualize that vision. Under the guidance of this exceptional master, there is little doubt that even the most vast of aims to benefit beings can indeed be achieved.
For many days before this special ceremony people have been giving the names of their close relative and friends, living or deceased, to monks who are sitting at tables in a large tent next to the Mahabodhi Society. The donors are seeking to benefit their loved ones through the ceremony that His Holiness will perform this evening. Akshobya (in Tibetan, Mitrukpa, “The Immovable One”) is considered to have a special ability to help those who have died and are in the intermediate state of the bardo. His Holiness will perform this fire ritual with a small group of fully ordained monks and select attendants; no one else is allowed in the shrine hall. For the ceremony, the names that have been collected will be placed in two boxes, from which His Holiness will select seven or eight to be read aloud. The rest he will bless and offer to the ritual fire.
Before the ceremony begins at eight o’clock at night, the white marble veranda around the shrine room, especially in front of the windows, has been filling up with people who wish to witness the ceremony and send their prayers to all living beings, headed by those they especially care for. There is quite a chill in the evening air and everyone is bundled up for the three hours the ceremony will take.
Inside the temple, elaborate preparations have been made to set out all the offering substances and symbols. The same rectangular alter that was present for the Milarepa feast offering, is now placed in the middle of the hall. In front, facing the main shrine, is a throne for His Holiness, the same height as the alter. The image of Milarepa has been replaced with one of Akshobya in the Chinese style. He is indigo blue with his left hand in the earth touching gesture and his right in the meditation mudra. As if descended from the sky and barely resting on his palm is a shimmering golden vajra.
At eight o’clock, His Holiness enters the shrine hall and first speaks to the assembled monks. Taking his seat in front of the alter, he asked that all but a few central lights be turned off and this gives a soft and warm wash of color to him and the alter. He then performs the self-empowerment and places a white kata around his shoulders. Opening prayers, such as the Seven-Branch Prayer, are recited. The microphone is placed in front of His Holiness; with a slight echo in the almost empty space, his strong, resonant voice fills the hall and flows out to those sitting outside and beyond into the night.
After the fire in the center of the alter is lit, the vajracharya (shrine master) and his assistants bring to His Holiness the various substances to be offered. He also offers ghee from a long-handled spoon. As he reaches forward in rhythm with the chanting, the light from the fire flickers across his face. Occasionally, additional sticks of wood are offered to keep the fire burning well and finally all the substances have been given for the benefit of all.
Then His Holiness descends from his throne and walks out the front door of the shrine to a place next to the reflecting pool where thick branches have been arranged in an open, circular structure about five feet in diameter. It is into the middle of this blessed circle that His Holiness will offer the names. The two boxes are brought outside and placed next to him, and he begins to offer the myriad pieces of paper to the fire. It blazes higher and higher and some of the names float up into the sky as they turn to ashes and fall back down. Surrounding His Holiness and the fire is the crowd of people who had been sitting on the veranda. His Holiness empties one box and then the other. He finishes and returns to the shrine for the closing prayers while many remain around the fire to chant Om mani padme hum and with hearts warmed by the fire, remember their friends and relatives.
December 29, 2009 - Under the Bodhi Tree, Bodhgaya
The sixth day of the 27th Kagyu Monlam offered students numerous ways to continue connecting to Milarepa and the Kagyu practice lineage. In the morning, the Gyalwang Karmapa conferred a Milarepa Empowerment to a massive gathering, including to such holders of Milarepa’s illustrious lineage as: His Eminence Goshir Gyaltsap Rinpoche, His Eminence Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche, Khenchen Yongzin Thrangu Rinpoche, His Eminence Zurmang Gharwang Rinpoche, Bhayoe Rinpoche, Khenpo Lodoe Dhonyoe, Drupon Dechen Rinpoche and Drikung Gyese Rinpoche.
Also among those fortunate enough to receive such an empowerment, directly from the Gyalwang Karmapa, was the entire troup of actors who will be performing the drama on The Life of Milarepa composed by His Holiness, to be staged at the conclusion of the Monlam.
Continuing the day’s celebration of Milarepa’s life and practice heritage, in the evening His Holiness led a Milarepa Ganachakra gathering, at Tergar Monastery, for those who had completed the Four Preliminary Practices (ngondros) of the Kagyu tradition.
His Holiness had recounted earlier, in his reading of the biography of Milarepa, that Milarepa had buried several sacred objects for his disciples to unearth after he passed away. Among the inheritance Milarepa left was a piece of cloth that he had worn throughout his meditative awakening. This cloth was blessed so that its qantity would never be exhausted, no matter how many times it was cut up and distributed. His Holiness possesses of a piece from this cloth, and as a gesture of his appreciation for their efforts in their practice, His Holiness offered a piece to each of those in attendance at the ganachakra gathering.
In between the empowerment and ganacakra gathering, His Holiness attended the afternoon session of the Monlam. He the led the aspiration prayers for the flourishing of the Dharma in Tibet, and for the long life of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, His Holiness Sakya Trizin and masters of all sects who are maintaining Tibetan Buddhism. His Holiness began the session by commenting on the phrase ten si, used in Tibet to refer to the productive relationship between the Buddhadharma and the sphere of government, or politics. The term si can be taken to refer to politics or to the activities aimed at benefiting society more widely. It can also refer to future lives, and thus future generations, and implies our responsibility to care long-term for our society.
"Some people say that politics and religion should be kept separate and that Dharma practitioners ought to steer clear of politics," His Holiness commented. "However, this is entirely mistaken," he said. He cited the example of Buddha Shakyamuni himself, who began life as a prince and later, after his enlightenment, actively guided and advised numerous kings. Nagarjuna and many other holy beings also addressed kings in their compositions. Gyalwang Karmapa especially hailed His Holiness the Dalai as a consummate example of one who actively applies the Dharma to social needs in a manner that benefits not only Tibetan people but also the entire world. This reflects the fact that the Dharma exists as a means of creating peace and harmony in the world.
If Dharma practitioners remain completely aloof from society, even though it is clear that the Dharma has so much to offer society, then we are failing to allow our Dharma practice to live up to its fullest purpose. Gyalwang Karmapa noted that people in Tibet are undergoing a very difficult period of great instability. If we choose not to seek to act in response to this situation, we cannot call what we are engaged in Dharma or compassion.
"If we had only our own well-being to think of," His Holiness said, "it would be fine to simply remain in mountain hermitages meditating alone. However, this is not the case. Given the extreme sufferings taking place in the world and in Tibet in particular, we cannot afford to sit back and do nothing for society."
However, His Holiness cautioned that there are negative and positive ways to engage in politics. If we engage in politics, or political activism, interacting with our ‘opponents’ in an egocentric manner, this goes against the principles of our Dharma practice. But with what he called ‘positive politics,’ our engagement is completely motivated out of a concern for the well-being of others, and of future generations and future lives as well. This form of ‘politics’ is entirely consistent with Dharma.
December 28, 2009 - Under the Bodhi Tree, Bodhgaya
The recitation of the Twenty-Branch Monlam, that which provides the structure for the prayers recited during the Kagyu Monlam, is a powerful means by which we can deepen our relationship with Buddha Shakyamuni. By reciting these prayers, we prepare a place for Buddha; invite, greet and offer ablution to him; and we praise, make offerings and requests to him. To do these things beneath the Tree, where Buddha himself was enlightened, exponentially intensifies our daily encounters with Buddha.
Today, His Holiness completed a long project which is intented to enhance his disciples’ connection to the great Tibetan master Milarepa. His Holiness has given the oral transmission of the entire life story of Milarepa, page after page, year after year, for three consecutive years. Today that story drew to a close; but in coming days, the Gyalwang Karmapa will further extend the process of deepening students’ engagement with Milarepa by offering a Milarepa empowerment, a Milarepa Ganachakra, and with the live performance of a play depicting Milarepa’s life, that His Holiness composed and directed himself.
Following the reading transmission, His Holiness gave a talk on developing compassion and bodhichitta. "If there is one single thing that unites all the teachings of Buddha, it is compassion," he said.
In describing how we can actively cultivate compassion for others, the Gyalwang Karmapa focused on the sevenfold practice for generating bodhichitta. This practice begins by recognizing that all sentient beings have been our mother, remembering their kindness, and then generating a strong wish to repay that kindness. His Holiness noted that some people have difficult relationships with their parents, a statement exhibiting His Holiness' attentiveness to the diverse needs and experiences of his students, an example of his own great kindness. His Holiness said that people with such difficult relationships may take as their object of contemplation someone whose kindness to them they do recognize and appreciate deeply. Gyalwang Karmapa pointed out that there was once a Kadam Geshe who was raised by his aunt, after his mother died in his infancy. Since he was unable to recall his mother, Kadam Geshe used to reflect that all sentient beings had once been his extremely kind aunt!
In the afternoon, the Gyalwang Karmapa led a session to remove obstacles, featuring requesting prayers to Guru Rinpoche. He prefaced the prayers by telling the biographical story of Guru Rinpoche. His Holiness observed that there are many different presentations of Guru Rinpoche’s life story, including one tradition that places his birth shortly after the Buddha’s parinirvana. However, His Holiness chose to relate the biography as presented by Jetsun Taranatha. As one of the greatest scholars of Indian history in Tibetan history, Taranatha’s knowledge and account of Padmasambhava’s life and activities is exceptional. But also, continuing the theme of aiding disciples to connect with the great masters, Gyalwang Karmapa also noted that he had chosen this biography with the thought that it would make it easier for listeners to connect with Guru Rinpoche.
His Holiness concluded the session by guiding a meditation on compassion.
December 27, 2009 - Under the Bodhi Tree, Bodhgaya
As the 27th Kagyu Monlam reaches its half-way mark, thousands of disciples spent the day offering their voices, hearts and minds to generate vast aspirations for the well-being of the world. Along with those who traveled from over 52 countries to attend in person, many more have been able to participate this year from their homes, since this year’s Kagyu Monlam is being webcast live at kagyumonlam.tv with prayers and teachings transmitted in eight languages, including English, French, German, Polish and Russian.
Today Gyalwang Karmapa brought his reading of the life story of Milarepa to the moment of Milarepa’s passing into nirvana. He then gave advice on how to use adverse conditions for spiritual growth. Taking the example of a common situation faced by foreigners attending Monlam in Bodhgaya—physical ailments and sickness—His Holiness indicated several ways to make such problems fruitful for our Dharma practice. For one, we can use sickness to deepen our recognition of the teachings on death and impermanence. We can also reflect that by undergoing that particular form of suffering, we are experiencing the result of negative karma we created in a past life. We can consider that had we not faced it now, that Karma, in all likelihood, would have ripened in a much more painful form in a future life. Contemplating in this manner can even allow us to face painful situations with a sense of joy. As His Holiness noted in an earlier day’s teachings, our suffering is a potent means of deepening our renunciation.
Quoting a verse from Aryadeva’s Four Hundred Verses, His Holiness said that for bodhisattvas, there is not much difference between samsara, with its many problems, and nirvana, which is entirely free of problems. All the difficult situations that arise in samsara have a completely different meaning for those with bodhichitta, since the main aim of bodhisattvas is to work for the welfare of others. His Holiness observed that when some people hear that it took Buddha Shakyamuni three countless great eons to accumulate the merit needed to become enlightened, they feel this is too long to wait. But in fact, whether they have reached enlightenment or not, the principle aim of bodhisattvas is simply to benefit others, and so their orientation before and after enlightenment is the same. Bodhisattvas’ main goal is not to become enlightened; their main goal is to free others from suffering and bring them to happiness.
The third session was devoted to Tara, a female buddha who embodies enlightened action. His Holiness began the session with an explanation of the Praises to Twenty-One Taras, a prayer that he noted crosses all boundaries and is widely practiced in Tibet by members of all schools of Buddhism. Following that, His Holiness granted an audience to all the members of Friends of Kagyu Monlam, personally signing and offering each and every member a copy of the Medicine Buddha practice text in English, Chinese and Tibetan that was prepared especially for this year’s Monlam.
December 26, 2009 - Under the Bodhi Tree, Bodhgaya
Once again students had the privilege of receiving Mahayana Sojong Vows directly from His Holiness the Gyalwang Karmapa, under the Bodhi Tree. In his reading of the Life of Milarepa, His Holiness reached the point where Milarepa was intentionally poisoned by a well-educated geshe who had become overwhelmed by jealousy and resentment towards Milarepa. Taking these events of Milarepa’s life as a departure point, His Holiness taught today on the danger of giving up the Dharma. Gyalwang Karmapa noted that the geshe in question had done extensive study of Dharma texts, but his actions reveal that he had completely abandoned the pure Dharma. His Holiness commented that giving up or abandoning the Dharma can also occur when we teach something that is not pure Dharma and present it as Dharma. Abandoning the Dharma does not only imply turning our backs entirely on all the Buddha’s teachings. It can also happen, His Holiness stressed, when we engage in sectarian partiality towards our own lineage or lama, and on that basis disparage other lineages or lamas.
When we accuse other lineages, lamas or philosophical systems of not teaching the pure Dharma, we are in grave danger of incurring the serious fault of abandoning the Dharma. Gyalwang Karmapa pointed out that giving up on the Dharma is considered a heavier negative deed even than killing one’s parents or an arhat, precisely because if we remain within the teachings of the pure Dharma, we have the chance to purify and correct all other faults.
As an antidote to counteract attitudes that veer towards abandoning the Dharma, His Holiness suggested that when we find another Dharma lineage or set of teachings, we may begin by noting that this particular presentation is not suited to us, at this moment. We should then make the aspiration that in the future we may become suitable to practice that Dharma, and moreover to be able to teach that Dharma to others. Gyalwang Karmapa noted that a diversity of presentations is required because of the diversity of people’s inclinations. Indeed, he urged his followers not to limit their study to their own lineage, but to study all other systems. Since bodhisattvas’ aim is to be able to benefit an infinite range of sentient beings with differing capacities and inclinations, we need to be conversant with a wide range of presentations of the Dharma, and other areas of study as well
When His Holiness revised the Kagyu Monlam prayer book in 2007, one of his express aims was to make it more inclusive of prayers from other lineages, reflecting his nonsectarian approach. This outlook was visible in action throughout His Holiness’ comments during this third day of the 27th Kagyu Monlam. As if to underscore his message, His Holiness selected an aspiration prayer composed by Lama Tsongkhapa, the founder of the Gelug order of Tibetan Buddhism, and offered commentary on that prayer during the morning session.
December 25, 2009 - Under the Bodhi Tree, Bodhgaya
The second day of the 27th Kagyu Monlam opened with His Eminence Goshir Gyaltsap Rinpoche conferring Mahayana Sojong Vows on the thousands of fortunate disciples gathered beneath the Bodhi Tree.
His Holiness arrived for the second session, which was devoted to the biography of Milarepa. Along with the reading transmission of the text, which has been conferred over the past several Kagyu Monlams, each day His Holiness gives a Dharma teaching on a relevant topic, leads a meditation session, and selects one of Milarepa’s songs (Gur) for the entire assembly to sing together. Today His Holiness taught on the relationship between lama and disciple. After describing the qualities of a lama in different practice contexts, His Holiness gave advice on the correct way to rely on a spiritual guide. In general, we do not have the purity of karma to be able to meet buddhas directly and receive teachings from them in their full form as nirmanakaya or sambhogakaya. Instead, our only option is to connect with teachers in the form of ordinary individuals. Thus, we have cause to be grateful when we do receive Buddha’s teachings from these ordinary human beings. It is extremely difficult nowadays to find a lama who is completely without faults, Gyalwang Karmapa observed. When we are given instructions by our lama, that we do not think are sound, it is important to acknowledge that due to our own limitations, we may lack the wisdom to judge whether that advice will benefit us or not. However, if we are given advice that we believe contravenes ethics or that we suspect may not be in accord with the Dharma, we can check the Dharma teachings themselves and compare whether the advice given is consistent with the ethical system presented in the Dharma. If it is not, or if it truly exceeds our personal capacities, we have every right to go respectfully to our lama and excuse ourselves from following that advice.
Following the Dharma teachings, His Holiness guided a meditation visualizing one’s own lama in the form of Buddha Shakyamuni.
December 24, 2009 - Under the Bodhi Tree, Bodhgaya
As His Holiness moved through the dawn mist yesterday to take his place under the graceful branches of the Bodhi Tree, the long-awaited 27th Kagyu Monlam was officially underway. The theme for this year’s prayer gathering is "gratitude," and this theme was surely reflected in the hearts of the thousands of disciples who managed to bring together the conditions to be present in Bodhgaya after this year of economic turmoil.
The Gyalwang Karmapa opened Kagyu Monlam by offering the 24-hour Mahayana Sojong precepts to the immense gathering of monks, nuns, laymen and laywomen. His Holiness has noted in the past that aspirations made by men and women together are more powerful and carry greater effects, as are the aspirations made by people holding vows. As such, the Mahayana Sojong ceremony is a particularly appropriate way to open Kagyu Monlam, since it allows monastic and lay to observe pure ethical discipline and so to strengthen the power of the prayers they make throughout the day.
During the second session of the day, His Holiness continued the reading transmission of The Life of Milarepa that he had begun in previous years. This year he will conclude that transmission, and in honor of that, the Monlam will be followed by the performance of a play composed and directed by His Holiness himself, depicting Milarepa’s biography.
With simultaneous translation into nine languages, Gyalwang Karmapa took the opportunity to comment on Milarepa’s life, noting that Milarepa’s renunciation was greatly fueled by the suffering he had experienced in his earlier life – the suffering he underwent at the hands of his aunt and uncle, as well as the hardships that he endured in his efforts to receive Dharma teachings. This shows us what a powerful teacher our suffering can be, and its value in producing renunciation. Without suffering, His Holiness said, there is no renunciation.
Following a practice he instituted last year, the teachings session concluded with a meditation guided by His Holiness himself. For many practitioners, the opportunity to meditate in the presence of this extraordinary spiritual master has become yet another of the many highlights of the Kagyu Monlam.
Those not able to attend in person may add their aspirations from afar by logging into the live webcast of this year’s Kagyu Monlam. For details, see the Kagyu Monlam website.
Setting the Scene - Early Morning, Tergar Monastery
The following summary of the morning’s teachings is based on Ringu Trulku Rinpoche’s translation from Tibetan into English, except where the Gyalwang Karmapa spoke directly in English.
The teachings should have begun promptly at nine o’clock. Gyalwang Karmapa was seated expectantly on his majestically high, intricately carved and gilded throne. The sound crew was confident. Hours of preparation had gone into setting up the sound system: microphones, speakers, and the FM translation transmission system. At the final dress rehearsal everything had worked perfectly, but now suddenly, it took on alife of its own and began emitting high-pitched squeals, squeaks and whines. The audience sat patiently while the sound crew dashed back and forth, fretting over banks of equipment, antennae, cables and microphones. His Holiness smiled, pulled faces, and tentatively tapped his microphone. Finally the problems were resolved, and the teachings were under way.
Having greeted everyone warmly, Gyalwang Karmapa explained why he had chosen this particular text – Nagarjuna’s Letter to a Friend – because, not only did it thoroughly cover the philosophy of Madhyamika, but it was mainly an instruction for householders on how to practice dharma. In ancient India householders who held the five precepts would study the text. It was His Holiness’ hope that this teaching would provide a new perspective for laystudents on how to be a householder and practice the dharma at the same time. A new edition of the text, containing the original Tibetan and translations into Hindi, Chinese, Korean, Spanish, English, French and German, had been published specially for the occasion. He pointed out the illustration depicting Nagarjuna on the front cover which he himself had drawn and wryly commented that some people had complained, “The face doesn’t show much character and the body looks like a rock.” He explained that, although he hoped to be able to go through the whole text, there would not be enough time to cover all the stanzas, so his objective would be to convey the essential meaning, stopping to elaborate on some points in detail but glossing over others.
Turning to the text, Gyalwang Karmapa then read and began his commentary on the first three verses which form an introduction to the teaching and more detailed instructions, and request people to listen to the teachings.
The Karmapa explained that its author, Nagarjuna, was a great scholar who, it is said, lived during the 1st or second century CE. The main exponent of the Madhyamika school of Buddhist philosophy, he wrote Letter to a Friend, a text focussing on the six paramitas, to his friend, a South Indian king called Surabhibhadra. This is one of the many texts written by him preserved in Tibetan literature, which include several commentaries on sutra, and other important texts on tantra, demonstrating that he himself was practising both. It was he who composed the Mula-madhyamaka-karika which is the foundational text on Madhyamika. It was he who brought the Perfection of Wisdom sutras to the Mahayana tradition. There are two accounts of how this happened. One tells how the King of the Nagas gave these books to Nagarjuna. The other, found in a Chinese souce, is from a biography of Nagarjuna written by the great Indian scolar, Kumarajiva, who travelled to China and translated many Buddhist texts into Chinese. According to Kumarajiva, Nagarjuna had a vision in which he entered a jewelled palace where he met a great boddhistatva who showed him many caskets, containing sutras which he had never seen before. When he rose from this vision he wrote down what he had read —the 100,000 Stanza Perfection of Wisdom Sutra.
Although the letter was written specifically for the king it also applies to others as well, including ourselves, commented the Gyalwang Karmapa. In the first stanza Nagarjuna says that all his instructions come from the sacred words of the Buddha himself and from no other source, and their purpose is to generate the yearning to do the positive.
Even if a statue of Buddha is not made of precious materials, wise people still honour the image. Similarly, though these instructions were written by a simple monk, the source is the Buddha, so it is worthwhile listening to them.
The text refers to the Great Muni , the one of great capacity who can defeat the kleshas, the afflictions,so Nagarjuna says that even though you may already know the teachings of the Great Sage, it is worth heeding these verses because a chalk or plastered building gleams clearly and brightly in moonlight.
His Holiness explained that it is important to know about what we don’t know, but even the things we know have to be internalised. This is the threefold process of hearing or studying, thinking, and meditating. Initially we have to study, applying our wisdom and our intellect.
The fourth verse introduces the actual instructions, which are organised into three main topics. The first topic is the practice of positive virtues, the second is understanding the nature of samsara and feeling renunciation, and the third is seeing the benefits of liberation. The first general instructions are common to householders and monastics: six things to be mindful of the Buddha, the Dharma, the Sangha, ethical behaviour, giving, and deities.
Gyalwang Karmapa stopped momentarily and surveyed the assembly hall, then commented in English on the fact that the traditional tea was not being provided during the foreign teachings.
“No tea break, “ he observed, “I hope my words become tea.”
He then began to discuss the meaning in the Buddhist tradition of taking refuge in the three objects of refuge: Buddha, Dharma and Sangha.
There was a further exchange at this point between the Gyalwang Karmapa and the audience because at the FM transmission stopped working properly and members of the audience were gesticulating anxiously that they couldn’t hear.
“Can you hear me?” asked the Karmapa, looking down over the audience, who shook their heads. When he realised that they couldn’t hear the translations, he quipped in English,“Is it the FM not working or the mind not working?” Everyone laughed. He then advised us to try to meditate on patience while the sound crew worked to rectify the problem.
A few minutes later, the teaching resumed and Gyalwang Karmapa continued his commentary on taking refuge. He said that generally it can be difficult to differentiate between Buddhists and non-Buddhists, but that refuge, if properly understood, provides a demarcation line. Three things had to be considered: the person who takes refuge, the objects of the refuge, and the nature of the refuge. With reference to the first, those who go for refuge can be categorised according to the three capacities of beings. Those of small capacity take refuge with the motivation that they do not want to suffer in the lower realms. Those of medium capacity have understood the nature of samsara as suffering or unsatisfactoriness and wish to liberate themselves. Those of great capacity , because of their immense compassion, are motivated by the wish to liberate all sentient beings from samsara.
Earlier, during the Gunchoe teachings His Holiness had raised the question whether those who do not believe in rebirth can be classified as Buddhists. He now returned to this dilemma again, questioning whether it was possible or meaningful for people who do not believe in rebirth and cyclic existence to take refuge. He was unsure what its function could be for such people. He also clarified the purpose of differentiating between people of different capacities. It would be wrong to think in terms of one being better than another, which might lead us to try to do something beyond our capability. The categories were there to help us. We needed to examine our own mindstate and decide which was the most suitable starting point for us. Then we would be able to make a natural progression, step-by-step, based on our aspirations at that point in time. It would also be wrong to look down on others because they had different aspirations.
Moving on to the objects of refuge, the Gyalwang Karmapa first considered the historical Buddha. Born more than 2500 years ago, a prince who enjoyed a protected life of luxury, he renounced samsara, underwent hardship during six years of meditation, then finally achieved enlightenment. This, he explained, is the biography of the Buddha as a human being, a bhikkshu who then became a Buddha. The Tibetan word for Buddha – sangye – has two parts: sang means to awaken from ignorance and gye means vastness in the way that mind or wisdom becomes vast.
At this point Gyalwang Karmapa made a Hindi/Sanskrit pun. In Hindi the word budhu means idiot, but change the spelling slightly and the word becomes buddha, thus we can all become Buddhas from budhus.
The supreme emanation Buddha revealed the Four Noble Truths to his five disciples in Sarnath, and at this point they experienced the true Dharma. The Dharma has two parts: true cessation and true path which means the experience of liberation and the path. Cessation occurs when all karma is exhausted and negative emotions completely extinguished. His Holiness emphasised that cessation was not to be understood in a nihilistic way, as a form of annihilation, but rather as a completely joyful experience, similar to the feeling of relief and well-being we experience on becoming completely well after a long, painful illness. The true path is the clear realisation that leads to freedom.
Finally, the third object of refuge, is the noble sangha which means those who have experience of cessation and the path.
As to the manner in which we take refuge, there are three things to be considered: our motivation, the depth of our refuge which depends on our motivation, and the level of our faith and devotion.
When we understand and appreciate the suffering of the three realms, the fear of this suffering propels us to seek liberation from samsara and pursue enlightenment. It is important to understand that ‘fear’ here refers not just to being frightened but also includes realizing the disadvantages of samsara. Having seen its negative side, we have the conviction that we must free ourselves from cyclic existence. His Holiness warned that to be ruled only by fear was the road to madness. It was also essential to clearly understand that there should only be fear of samsara; the objects of refuge should never become a source of fear. Indeed they are the source of fearlessness. The question of fear also applies to the samaya relationship between guru and student in the Vajrayana tradition. The guru should be viewed as our best friend who will always help us in whatever situation we find ourselves, so, in one way, it is inappropriate to have fear of the guru with regard to breaking samaya.
With regard to faith and devotion, His Holiness observed that though foreign disciples usually go through a process of examining the Buddhist teachings, becoming convinced and then taking refuge, and consequently their faith is based on a clear understanding, there is often a different process at work for Tibetans and those who have been born into Buddhist families. Such people may not have `gone through this thought process, but may have developed great faith and devotion. However, when we consider faith and devotion, it is crucial to have a correct understanding of how the objects of refuge help us; if this is misundertoood, there may be many problems. Faith can degenerate into blind faith and superstition. His Holiness illustrated this point effectively and humourously, giving three examples of blind faith in action. For Buddhists the Buddha embodies compassion, loving kindness and blessing, but a person of blind faith may suppose that the Buddha, out of his great compassion, will take care of everything. Someone who flings their dirty clothes into a corner, thinking the Buddha will wash them, will end up with a pile of dirty laundry. When crowds of mosquitoes are buzzing around, someone who believes that Buddha will protect them from being bitten, will end up being badly bitten. A school student who relies on blind faith in Buddha rather than studying hard to pass their exam will get a zero. The Buddha taught the way but then we have to practise it. The Buddha is in a different world – the pure realm—and cannot transform us into enlightened beings. We have to do the work ourselves. If you then ask, why do we need the Three Jewels, the answer is that we need to know the way and we need someone to instruct us. Buddha shows the way, and we have to follow that path, work hard ourselves and then there will definitely be a result. Once we have taken refuge, we still have to work on ourselves.
Who then are the noble sangha? In the Hinayana sutras it states that someone who upholds ethical discipline, who has achieved a degree of meditative stabilisation, has generated some wisdom and is contented, and has abandoned the afflictions, can be called one of the noble sangha. They have entered the path, and if they continue to practise the ten virtuous actions they will attain enlightenment, without a doubt. Because of their qualities, the ten virtuous actions will continue to grow and increase.
In the end, the final result depends on us.
After offering three bows and prayers, His Holiness continued his teaching on Nagarjuna's Letter to a Friend. in the afternoon of December 20, 2009.
There are benefits that come from bringing to mind the gods who live in the higher realms. In order to arrive at their high status, they needed to develop their practice of peaceful abiding (shamatha), so remembering their achievements can have the positive effect of our becoming more mindful and aware. We can also recall that in order to arrive at a rebirth in a higher realm, the gods had to engage in numerous virtuous actions. So we should bring to mind how the gods attained their rebirth. Being a powerful god is the result of positive actions.
His Holiness then read out the Verse Five:
The ten wholesome, or virtuous actions, are to avoid the ten unwholesome or unvirtuous ones. We should understand why it is important to follow this teaching, for it leads us away from what is not harmonious with Dharma and turns us towards what is.
In the Vinaya, a positive way of life is emphasized through respect for the rules of conduct. There is a lot say about this, but not much time, so we will focus more on the life of the householder, who develops respect for the Dharma.
First let us look at vows. Taking refuge in the three jewels is the basis for all other vows. Any other kind of Buddhist vow we might take is based on refuge. If we take refuge, we can become an upasaka (a lay holder of vows).The initial promise we make when taking refuge is not to harm living beings and refrain from violence. The first practice of Buddhism is not to harm others. In particular, abstaining from harming is the basis of the Foundational Vehicle.
Not harming can be understood in terms of avoiding the ten unwholesome actions: the three related to the body (killing, stealing, and sexual misconduct); the four related to speech (lying, harsh words, gossip, and divisive talk); and the three related to the mind (wishing to harm others, envy, and wrong view). All of these actions injure others. If we are able to purify our minds, then doing harm to others along with its very basis is eliminated.
The mind is the basis of the first seven unwholesome actions of body and speech, which directly harm others. If the three negative mental actions are not present, then the negative actions of body and speech will not happen. If we eliminate negative actions and the afflictions (klesha) from our mind, we will naturally have a mind that benefits others, because the ten negative actions of the mind stem from the afflictions of hatred, excessive desire, and ignorance. Therefore, giving these up relates directly to not harming others.
Hinayana also speaks of not harming others. Sometimes we may think that the Mahayana is the only path of compassion, but that is not completely true. The extent of the compassion may differ, as the Mahayana aspiration is for all living beings, but in the Foundational vehicle there is a very strong desire not to harm others. If we speak only of not harming others, it is difficult to separate the Hinayana from the Mahayana.
Motivation is extremely important. In the beginning, we may have a good motivation, but if we have not worked on eliminating our negativity, then we could harm others later. Meditation helps us to work on our afflictions. We can learn to subdue and control our anger, for example, and in general, our minds will become more flexible. If we do not meditate, we may start with intention to help others, but it is possible that our negativity will return and subvert what we are trying to do, so we could wind up harming others.
According to the Abhidharmakosha, the first seven negative actions (the three of the body and the four of speech), are karmic actions; the three of mind are not karmic actions, but create the path through which actions happen.
If we commit a negative action, we can make a firm resolution not do it again. Then we can purify the negativity in front of a Dharma support, such as a statue or image of the Buddha. Our motivation should be so strong that even at the risk of our lives, we would not do it again.
If we take as an example, the negative action of killing, then we can see that it starts with rejection or aversion. At this point, however, the action is not complete, so we have time to stop it. There are many different stages so we can tell ourselves why we should not kill and change our intention. If you can catch it at this stage, then an action is not complete. So our intention is the main thing and it allows us to catch a negative action before it happens.
You might think that the three negative actions related to mind happen so quickly that there would be no time to change them. But it is possible. For example, suppose you really wanted a certain computer. First you think of computer—how critical it is to your life; how beautiful it is, how useful, and so forth. You think of all the good things connected with it and you convince yourself that you have to have that very computer. Your life will go well. You’ll finally be happy. If you don’t have it, you’ll be just miserable. Finally, you think , “I must absolutely have that computer.” You mind narrows down around this one thing and becomes stuck to it. So there is a process here and there is time to interrupt it. First we have the thought related to a negative emotion, then an object for it appears, and finally we do something negative.
We must be mindful, aware, and conscientious, because these patterns repeat themselves. When problems arise, they provide an occasion for these afflictions to surface. So we have to apply ourselves again and again to identifying and halting negative thoughts.
Working with our minds is especially important, because the mind is the source of our physical and verbal actions. If we do not this, then our negative actions become like thieves who steal away our merit and virtues. If we are involved in any of the ten negative actions, we will accumulate karma. So our intention to improve ourselves and change is very important. If we do not have this positive motivation, then transforming ourselves is very difficult. Mindfulness and awareness are arising with every moment and we should try to maintain this continuum and not waver from it because negative actions can be halted by mindfulness.
The third negative action related to the mind is wrong view. In the Abhidharmakosha, it is said that for monastics, it is difficult to avoid wrong view because they are dependent on others: They beg for food and rely on other people for donations. This may led them to say something in order to receive offerings; they could play the dancing monkey for their sponsors.
For lay people it is difficult to avoid wrong views due to the way that they use divinations (Tibetan, mo). When they encounter difficulties, lay people tend to ask for a mo. They also practice Dzambhala to accumulate wealth or Tara if they are sick. This is not the right way to apply the Dharma, because we are using it to gain worldly benefits. These are the kinds of mistakes lay people make.
Actually, the Buddha already made an excellent mo for us. He said that if we engage in virtuous actions, the results will be virtuous; if we engage in negative actions, the results will be negative. This is very clear. The most effective mo is to practice virtue.
In working with negative actions, it is also very helpful to take vows. They give constancy to our actions and provide a counteracting force to our negative tendencies. They also serve as a basis for awareness. There are hundreds of ways to take vows. One way is related to number of people. For example, first we meditate on not killing. Then we can vow not to injure one person, a group of people, or no one at all. In terms of time, we can take a vow for one day, one month, one year, or until you die. You could also take a vow not to kill or seal from the Karmapa (laughter).
If someone takes a vow to give up any, some or all of the negative actions, we should praise and encourage them, and also rejoice. We should all train in avoiding the ten negative actions.
Another way of working with the afflictions is to look into how they come about. We can examine to see: Where did this negative action come from? Where does it stay? Where does it go?
The last two lines of Verse Five state:
This applies to both the lay and ordained sangha. For those with lay vows, there are negative ways to earn a living, such as selling alcohol, selling poisons, killing others, and selling meat. However, the main negative actions are all contained with in the ten that we should abandon. We should also practice the six perfections. These are very important.
Question and Answer Session
The following summary of the morning’s teachings is based on Ringu Trulku Rinpoche’s translation from Tibetan into English.
Gyalwang Karmapa began by reviewing yesterday’s discussion on ethical discipline, emphasising that practising ethical discipline was important for the world in terms of transforming society. Behaving ethically meant abandoning the ten non-virtuous actions. For householders who hold the lay vows, adopting ethical behaviour can also be very helpful on an individual level; a couple who quarrel can create a harmonious relationship instead, for instance.
The Gyalwang Karmapa continued his teaching with an exposition of verse six. He explained that the previous verses had been applicable to both householders and those holding monastic vows, but the sixth verse is addressed specifically to laypeople.
Stanza four had mentioned the six paramitas, one of which is generosity. Three things needed to be considered with reference to generosity: the objects, the reasons, and the benefits. This verse explains the importance of generosity and who best deserves to receive it. There are two types of object: the higher ones, those who are a field of good qualities, which includes Brahmins, monks and nuns, and those who are a field of benefit such as one’s parents. The second group includes the poor and disadvantaged. The reason for giving is that wealth is impermanent and unstable – as we can see from the present economic crisis – so the most effective way of using our wealth is to share it, even though we may have limited resources.
The benefit of giving is that , even if you give only a little it establishes predispositions for future lives and ensures rebirth in a good migration with good resources.
This verse is an instruction for monks and nuns. Monastics have taken vows of ethical discipline and it’s important not to allow them to degenerate. One needs to give up all harming of others. The actions to be abandoned are the seven of body and speech, and the three mental actions that are the cause of the former. Hence, one trains in abandoning these by hearing, thinking and meditating. Ethical discipline should be uncorrupted meaning that it is not kept only because of concern for this life. It must be quite free of stain meaning that ethical discipline should not be solely for the purpose of future lives either. The basis of one’s virtuous actions should be the goal of attaining liberation and omniscience. The three precepts are ethics, concentration and wisdom, and ethical discipline is the basis on which we realise the latter. His Holiness observed that if we cannot control body and speech, we cannot control our minds. Even for hearing, thinking and meditating one needs one-pointedness of mind, and this too is difficult to develop without a base of ethical discipline.
This verse gives more detailed instructions for monks and nuns and lists the six perfections.
As it is said in the Madhyamika-avatara, if ethical discipline exists, the other five perfections grow and increase, but, without it, it is very difficult for the other five to develop. To become a bodhisattva is not easy. A bodhisattva has to have great skill, real compassion and wisdom, and training in all six perfections in order to attain this.
Nagarjuna’s detailed instruction for householders, which follows, has nine parts, the first of which is to respect one’s parents.
His Holiness commented that we all come from many different backgrounds and life situations. He himself had been able to meet a wide range of people, many of whom had love and respect for their parents, but some of whom had great difficulty doing this, so it was necessary to explore ways in which we could relate to this verse. He himself had no problems loving and respecting his mother and father. His only problem was having little opportunity to do this. He suggested that perhaps he was not the right person to give instructions to those who did have problems doing so. However, there are many teachings in Buddhist texts on cultivating patience, kindness and compassion, and how to regard all beings as attractive. Perhaps those who have difficulty loving and respecting their parents, he advised, could use these trainings, so that they abandoned feelings of anger and hatred, and practiced patience. In that way they could rid themselves of negative feelings towards their parents. As we as Buddhists must practice equanimity and show loving kindness and compassion towards all sentient beings, whether they are relatives and friends or not, if there were difficulties, perhaps we could include our parents in the latter group. Moreover, we need to reflect on our past history, learn to forgive ourselves and others, and let go of any painful or negative feelings we may still harbour.
Stanzas Ten and Eleven
This second and third verses of detailed instructions to householders encourage them to take the eight Mahayana sojong precepts, which can be divided into 4 root precepts , and 4 branches and are taken for twenty-four hours. During Buddha’s time, the Buddha instructed his followers to observe the sojong precepts on the 8th, 15th and so forth of the month. It is said that those who had done so, when they heard one word of instruction from the Buddha, became Arhats. By observing these precepts, His Holiness said, there will be great benefits in the next life.
He then introduced Verse 12, which lists actions and attitudes to be avoided by householders.
Question and Answer Session
Gyalwang Karmapa concluded the morning session with two reading transmissions: Thogme Sangpo’sThe Thirty Seven Practices of a Bodhisattva and the dedication prayer from Shantideva’s Way of the Bodhisattva.
Today we will begin with discussing mistaken attitudes, or literally, “what is turned around the wrong way.”
Verse 12 reads:
When people are stingy, they’re unable to give to others. They can’t give either the Dharma or material things, but must keep everything to themselves.
The next mistaken attitude is translated as “cunning” but actually it’s made up of two words. g.Yo means that you conceal your faults and sgyu means that you pretend to have qualities that you do not, so there are two ways of being cunning. “Sloth” refers to allowing ourselves to be carried away by laziness.
With pride, we think we’re something very special. We are puffed up, inflated with ourselves. We are one hundred percent certain that you are a wonderful person, even if we actually don’t have so many positive qualities. We are so stuffed with the idea of our self that there’s no space for anything else. Our mind is obese. We think that we are some high ranking VIP. Or we think we’re special because we have tons of money or years of learning. No matter what positive qualities we may have, it’s important not to come under the sway of pride.
Of the three poisons, attachment comes in two kinds: attachment to people and to material things. Then, even though we may have all that we need and more, we still have aversion and feel the need to compete with others. None of these mistaken attitudes are good for this life or the next. They steal away our positive qualities and so they are seen as “enemies of good.” None of them allow us to make good connections with others, which is another reason why we should discard them.
It’s a tradition in India and Tibet that great masters are very humble. They say things like, “I really don’t know very much.” “I haven’t studied a lot.” “I have no realization.” Now that the Dharma is spreading to the East and West, many masters are traveling and they still follow this tradition of humility. However, some people assume that the masters are actually telling the truth and take what they say at face value: “Well, if he doesn’t know, then there’s no need to take teaching from him.” They have not yet learned that this is an expression of humility. It is possible that someone could have false humility and harbor pride deep within. Such a person is not a true practitioner. So students have to understand this tradition of humility. When the teacher and students are of one mind, then something good can happen.
Real humility is felt deep inside. Even if we have many positive qualities, we understand how much more we have to learn. When we compare ourselves with others, we can see that what we know is like a drop of water in the ocean. We feel a natural humility when we see the great qualities we have yet to attain.
It is important for us to practice love and compassion, to the point that they become inexhaustible. From our heart we wish that living beings be free of suffering and find real happiness. We want to extinguish all the suffering of living beings and be their servant. To be able to do this well, we have to work on reducing our pride. But we should not do this by putting ourselves down. The Supreme Continuum (Uttaratantra Shastra) by Maitreya gives reasons why the Buddha taught about Buddha nature, (tathatagarbha). If we know that this essential nature of ours, (and that of all living beings), is basic goodness, the potential for full awakening, then we will not be discouraged or plagued by a sense of worthlessness. We should definitely not seek to diminish our pride by putting ourselves down because that will just make us feel hopeless. Instead, we can just think that there are many more qualities that we could attain and that now we are a small pond compared to the vast ocean of what is possible. This humble mind is what we need to develop.
Verse 13 concerns with being careful or conscientious.
We may have the name of a practitioner or call ourselves Buddhist but we may not really practice, so we are merely assuming these names. What we should do, however, is examine ourselves to see what is positive and negative. In this way, we should be the witness for ourselves. As it states in The Seven Points of Mind Training: “Of the two judges, rely on the first.” And the first is we ourselves.
This verse compares being careful and attentive to nectar. The word for nectar, or amrita, in Tibetan is made up of two syllables: Dud (Tib. bdud) refers to maras or demons, which actually refer to obstacles of various kinds, such as old age and sickness or the four traditional maras of the afflictions, fear of death, the aggregates, and worldly pleasures. And tsi (Tib. rTsi) here means “to get rid of.” So the word means that those who are able to recall the nectar of carefulness are able to eliminate obstacles. Such a person is a true Dharma practitioner. To avoid negative actions of body and speech, we look very carefully at our minds to make sure that a mara does not slip in, whether it is during or after a session of meditation.
This careful attentiveness is actually necessary for any kind of practice. When following the Vinaya, we need this carefulness and mindfulness, for example, in observing the five virtuous acts. In the Mahayana the mind is much more important than body and speech. We need to be aware and evaluate what is going on in our mind. This is even more true in the Vajrayana.
Verse 14 continues to speak of carefulness:
Here Nagarjuna speaks of first being corrupted by misdeeds and then purifying ourselves of them. This process is likened to the moon escaping from behind the clouds. It tells us that change is possible. The examples given are Ananda, who had strong attachment; Angulimala who killed hundreds; Darshaka who killed his mother, and Udayana who committed many negative actions.
So it is possible to purify even extremely negative actions, and this process happens through stages of purification. First we regret what we have done and see it as a real mistake. We make a confession in front of the Three Jewels or a lama; we vow not to do it again, and then we practice to purify it through reciting, for example, Vajrasattva’s mantra. What is most important is that we see what we have done as wrong. Fearing suffering, some people might still harbor some hesitation deep down inside and this will subvert the purification. So it is important to confess from our very depths. When we can do this, it brings us true joy and happiness.
We should not think, however, that we are all black inside. This would be an obstacle to our path of practice. If we reflect on our present and past lives, the fact that we have made mistakes is not at all surprising. From our numerous past lives, we are not arriving here perfectly white; there are faults that we have not discarded; it is due to our karma and our afflictions, we have taken our present birth. What we have done wrong in past lives might be huge compared to this life.
So it’s good to recognize what we have done wrong, but we should not feel totally discouraged and think that there’s nothing to be done. We can change by recognizing our faults and then confessing. And when we do this, it should be complete; we shouldn’t leave behind anything inside us. Confessing is like splitting an apple in half; we totally cut ourselves off from what is wrong. For example, Milarepa worked very hard on building the towers to purify killing so many people. We can look at this from two sides: from one side he was purifying his negative action, and from another side he was creating great joy.
The following summary of the morning’s teachings is based on Ringu Trulku Rinpoche’s translation from Tibetan into English.
The Gyalwang Karmapa began by saying that this the third day of the teachings would also be the final session. Consequently it would not be possible to give a detailed commentary on the whole text so he preferred to at least give the reading transmission of it, occasionally commenting, in order that both he and the audience would have a sense of completion.
The next three stanzas, 17, 18, and 19, contain instructions to abandon lowly actions of body, speech and mind.
This verse is concerned with abandoning negative thoughts. The simile compares a drawing on water which is immediately erased, with a drawing on earth which remains for a short while, and a carving on rock which can last for centuries. His Holiness explained that, especially when we first begin to practice, we experience many afflictions in our minds. Thus, we should train our minds so that these afflictions become like words on water. When, on the other hand, we train in positive qualities such as loving kindness and compassion and so forth, the results should be like rock carvings, at best, or, at least, as if drawn on the earth.
This verse describes three different types of speech – helpful and beneficial which is sweet like honey; truthful and beautiful like a flower; the last is wrong speech, unclean like dirt, and refers to such things as lies and divisive speech, which should be avoided.
Verse 19 explains why we should stop non-virtuous actions and train in positive qualities. Our ultimate aim is enlightenment, but in cyclic existence negative emotions influence our actions, and our actions harm others. If we turn away from these non-virtuous actions and work on positive deeds instead, our lives now will become happier and there will our rebirths will also be more fortunate. Gyalwang Karmapa quoted from Shantideva’s The Way of the Bodhisattva “If you ride the horse of bodhichitta you will go from one happy place to another. So how could a bodhisattva ever be lazy?” Of the four possible directions we can take in samsara, he advised, we should aim to go from light to light, to turn ‘good’ into ‘better’.
His Holiness then read verses 20 to 29, pausing to comment on verse 29.
This verse refers to the eight worldly concerns and the problems that can arise if we depend too much on external conditions for our happiness and well-being. This leads to an imbalance in our lives and our mental states become like waves on the ocean. For instance, some people when praised become overjoyed, but then when they are criticised they become sad and depressed. Consequently they have no stability. If, instead, we can be content with whatever conditions we face, we will always be happy. His Holiness warned that Dharma practitioners should not pay too much attention to what people are saying about their practice. He advised that if we can maintain internal stability and equanimity, irrespective of what is happening externally, life becomes trouble-free. As practitioners we should understand and accept the nature of samsara. The definition given of samsara is ‘not everything goes well’, so why should we be surprised when things go wrong? If you put your hand in hot water you will be scalded. You shouldn’t be shocked by this – it’s how things are. If you take a bath in icy water, you aren’t surprised that it’s freezing cold! Our view of samsara should be similar – we should be expecting problems and not be thrown off balance by them.
Gyalwang Karmapa went on to suggest ways in which it was possible to maintain mental equipoise in daily life. The Abhidharma lists five ever-present mental factors, one of which is samadhi- a one-pointed factor of stability. Speaking from his own experience he said how sometimes he was so busy that when he reviewed the day at night, he failed to recall anything useful that he had done and felt that the day had lacked purpose and that this precious human life was being wasted. His Holiness then moved on to consider what it really means to waste time. The essential thing, he advised, was to maintain a stable awareness in whatever we are doing, and if we can do this we will never be wasting time. There was no point fretting over time spent brushing our teeth, sitting in a traffic jam, or standing in a check-out queue. These were merely external conditions. We always have a choice, whatever we are doing; we can always make use of our minds. Some people misguidedly believe that their happiness and well-being depend on external conditions such as acquiring a new car, but, a careful examination will show that happiness depends on internal not external factors. If we understand this, whatever is happening around us, we can work on our minds and use that time in a positive and meaningful way. It is fundamentally important to understand that happiness comes from within.
Gyalwang Karmapa then gave the reading transmission of verses 30 – 57. He paused again at verse 58, to discuss the correct understanding of impermanence.
Observing that some people became fearful when they meditate on impermanence, he commented that this was not the point; it is not intended to bring fear. As Buddhists we believe that this birth is but one of a succession, a cycle of birth and death. However, people often mistakenly think in terms only of this life—one birth, one life, one death. As a consequence, death becomes uncertain and frightening. The correct way to look at impermanence, however, is as a sequence of births and deaths which we can see operating at all levels of our everyday lives. Moment by moment, new things come into being, that is birth, and other things come to an end, that is death. Understanding impermanence in this way should have two positive effects: firstly, it should reduce our fear of death itself, and secondly it should heighten our appreciation of our moment-to-moment existence leading us to value and focus on each moment. If we fail to do the latter, we may waste our lives. If we take each moment as a drop, we can make our lives an ocean of happiness.
Gyalwang Karmapa resumed his reading of the text and completed the reading transmission.
Question and Answer Session
This concluded the teaching. Gyalwang Karmapa thanked everybody for coming . Hundreds of years ago the friendship between Nagarjuna and King Surabhibhadra had produced this text, and now, because of the text, everyone at the teaching had formed a karmic connection, and he would pray to ensure that this connection would be renewed in future. He hoped that everyone would carry the experience of friendship, love and harmony they had shared back to their own countries, East and West.
The Closing Ceremony
After three days of inspiring teaching, His Holiness brought to a close his discussion of Nagarjuna’s Letter to a Friend with thanks to the students who had gathered for so far away.
He said, “I am happy to have been able to give teachings on this text and thank you for giving me this opportunity. Letter to a Friend was composed over a thousand years ago when the great scholar Nagaruna sent a letter to his dear friend, King Decho Zangpo. I am very happy to have been able to speak about this text to faithful students from the East and West. The fact that we could all meet here is due to our gathering considerable merit in the past. I sincerely hope that in the future we will be able to meet again and again. I am continually doing as much as I can to make this possible.”
As thanks to His Holiness for these special teachings and with prayers for his very long life, leaders from Dharma centers and the organizers offered him the supports of body, speech, mind, qualities and, activities. Then Lama Chokyi from France spoke for everyone when he compared His Holiness to a skilled gardener. In the beginning, the seeds are rather colorless and not very attractive, but the gardener knows that with care they will grow into beautiful flowers, so he nurtures them as they grow to maturity. Likewise, in the beginning, we students are rather undeveloped, but with His Holiness’s compassion and teachings, we hope to blossom into true flowers of the Dharma.
Afterward, everyone had the opportunity to offer their auspicious scarves and personal thanks to His Holiness and receive his blessing. Many stayed behind in the surrounding gardens of Tergar Monastery to enjoy the sunny, warm weather, to circumambulate the shrine building where His Holiness stays, remaining a little longer in his presence.
December 22, 2009 - Tergar Monastery, Bodhgaya
This afternoon, in the packed assembly hall of Tergar Monastery, His Holiness the Gyalwang Karmapa formally launched www.khoryug.com, a Tibetan and English-language website dedicated to environmental protection. The website offers educational resources on environmental protection, news on environmental projects underway in Kagyu monasteries and nunneries, and offers a forum for people interested in the environment. Khoryug.com forms part of a larger series of projects that His Holiness has undertaken to protect the earth for future generations, goals for which will eventually restore the natural environment of Tibet and the Himalayan areas. As such, khoryug.com follows the emerging pattern of the activities of the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa, to work for the well-being of others in ways that are both immeasurably vast and yet eminently practical.
The event opened with a presentation by Dekila Chungyalpa, Director of the Greater Mekong area for the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) - the single largest organization devoted to environmental protection in the world. Dekila has served His Holiness as coordinator for his activities to protect the environment, and she stressed the importance of geographical areas that are part of the larger Tibetan cultural zone. She noted that three of the 19 areas in the world chosen for special attention by the WWF, for their value in terms of biodiversity, fall within Tibet and the Himalayan region. The rate of change in Tibetan and the Himalayan areas is ten times faster than elsewhere, with glaciers visibly melting from year to year. In addition, the mountains of this area are the source of rivers that support millions of people. As such, the environmental condition of Tibet and the Himalayas has particularly far-reaching consequences. Dekila described a number of projects that participants in the Kagyu Monlam can participate in to clean the environment around Bodhgaya itself.
Khenpo Kelsang Nyima from Rumtek spoke next, commenting on the experience that many of the Tibetan monastics had when attending the first environmental conference convened by His Holiness in March 2009 in Varanasi. "His Holiness led us to see," he said, "how beautiful a place the world is." He further emphasized that His Holiness had impressed on the monastics present that "we humans have created the problem, through our greed, and must take responsibility for solving it." Khenpo Kelsang Nyima praised His Holiness for his constant and far-reaching concern for others and for, not only caring for those in the present, anticipating dangers in the future and working proactively to avert them. The Khenpo then offered a report on the practical steps taken by the Kagyu monasteries and nunneries to work for their own local environments. A wide range of projects were implemented, including cleaning water sources, planting trees, separating waste and recycling, composting, installing solar heaters, converting to low-energy bulbs, ending the use of plastic bags and bottles, and much more.
Next to speak was the Gyalwang Karmapa himself. His Holiness presented the need to work for the environment as a logical extension of our Dharma practice, connecting it to our Mahayana commitment to benefit others, and to live in a way that is consistent with the basic fact of interdependence.
In a powerful address, His Holiness urged the audience to ask themselves whether the beautiful aspirations and prayers they make in the morning are carried out in their actions throughout the day. Often when opportunities arise to work to benefit others, we do not seize them, and if we ask ourselves why this is so, it is usually because we are simply working for our own egocentric concerns. "Too often we behave as if others existed for us, and as if the Earth was ours alone to use as we wish," His Holiness said, "and our actions based on such attitudes have had cumulative effects that are devastating for the Earth itself."
Drawing on the point made earlier by Dekila, that we humans are but one of the immense number of species of life on this planet: His Holiness added that we, nevertheless, dominate the planet as if it were ours alone, and we are responsible for virtually all the damage done to it. His Holiness emphasized that this attitude is inappropriate as well as damaging given our total dependence on others, and especially on the earth itself, for our well-being and for our very survival. The Gyalwang Karmapa noted that without the plants that yield oxygen, we would not even be able to draw a single breath.
Using a Powerpoint presentation to underscore his points with images, His Holiness took the audience on a dazzling tour of the galaxy, pointing out along the way that we humans have nowhere else to go if we destroy the earth’s natural environment.
"Yet unlike humans, the earth is endlessly forgiving," His Holiness noted.
The event concluded with a moving rendition of the song Aspiration for the World, composed by His Holiness himself and sung by a chorus of students from the Tibetan Children’s Village School.
Although the primary audience for the presentation were Tibetan monks and nuns, translators were on hand to deliver the message to the international audience in nine different languages. Many were in Bodhgaya to attend the upcoming Kagyu Monlam and the annual winter teachings for foreign students. For these students, the focus on taking steps to care for the environment, as an extension of Dharma practice, had a particular poignancy. One student from Mexico, visiting India for the first time, commented afterwards: one of the most pressing questions she had, from her stay in Bodhgaya thus far, was" how to respond practically to the great pain and suffering visible all around?" With His Holiness' message on environmental protection, as a way to take care for others, and the upcoming projects to work directly to clean the local environment in Bodhgaya, "her question is answered," she said.
December 22, 2009 - Tergar Monastery, Bodhgaya
2nd Annual Teaching for Foreign Students: Day 3
An extraordinary series of teachings by the Gyalwang Karmapa drew to its reluctant close today, as His Holiness completed the oral transmission of Nagarjuna’s "Letter to a Friend" (Suhrllekha) and selected verses for which he paid special attention. During the final morning session, his holiness offered strategies on how to use familiar Buddhist topics in fresh new ways. He suggested that there are ways that the contemplation of death and impermanence can generate a joyful appreciation for the value of our lives. His Holiness shared his own view of how meditation on Emptiness offers a direct support for the generation of compassion.
Included in His Holiness’ exquisite teachings this morning, he spoke of the Eight Worldly Concerns: of wanting praise, fame, material goods, and sensual comforts; and not wanting the contrary. His Holiness commented that, in general, there is nothing wrong with having a certain measure of comfort, praise and so on. The problem comes, he said, when we exaggerate their importance, feeling euphoric when good things happen and astounded or aghast when bad things happen. When we experience wild ups and downs in response to external conditions of praise, material goods and so on, our lives become totally unstable, as if we were constantly riding violent waves on a turbulent ocean. His Holiness offered a definition of cyclic existence, or samsara, as "things not working out," or "things going wrong." Just as it makes no sense to feel shocked when we are scalded by boiling water - since it is the very nature of our existence for things to go wrong - there is no point in feeling shocked when that indeed happens. If we can maintain this perspective on the nature of cyclic existence, our minds can become vast enough to hold both the good and bad experiences of life, without them overwhelming us.
Along with the advice he gave to help students create happiness for themselves, His Holiness vividly displayed his own personal commitment to work, himself, for the happiness of others. In response to a question from the audience on the possibility of him offering full ordination to women (bhikshuni or gelongma vows) in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, His Holiness expressed “great hope” that it would come about in the future. He added that this is not something that should be rushed, as it is an activity for the long-term benefit of the Buddhadharma, and has to happen at the right moment. In a demonstration of his exceptional courage in accepting the responsibility of working actively for the benefit of others, His Holiness added, in English, “I will do it,” but asked the audience to be patient in waiting for the right time.
At the conclusion of the teachings, Lama Chokyi Senge offered words of thanks to His Holiness on behalf of the audience. Recognizing His Holiness as a skillful gardener, who is carefully preparing the fields of students' minds, the French translator requested His Holiness to continue caring for us and showering us with the warmth and moisture of his Dharma teachings.
December 21, 2009 - Tergar Monastery, Bodhgaya
2nd Annual Teaching for Foreign Students: Day 2
An audience approaching 2,000 people shared four extraordinary hours today with His Holiness, as the teachings on Nagarjuna’s "Letter to a Friend" continued into their second day. His Holiness’ exceptional range as a teacher was on full display as he mixed formal commentary on the verses of the text, with heart advice for working with difficult emotions, intermittently lightening the mood with humorous anecdotes that had the entire assembly hall ringing with laughter. His Holiness spoke directly to students’ minds and hearts, and many were visibly moved when he described his own thoughts on what it means for students look to him as their root lama.
In encouraging students to confront their own afflictions, Gyalwang Karmapa paid particular attention to stinginess, anger and pride. Speaking of anger, His Holiness pointed to the irony of the fact that when we are angry at our enemies, we are actually accomplishing their aims for them. This is so because anger most harms the person who harbors it in their mind, and since our enemies are seeking to harm us, our anger has already done their work for them.
However, while urging students to make sincere efforts in working with their difficult emotions, His Holiness cautioned that it is important not to become discouraged when we commit errors or find that we have afflictions arising. Had we arrived in this life without ever having committed any errors or succumbed to our afflictions previously, then it might be surprising or disheartening to suddenly find ourselves doing so in this life, he said. But since we come to this life with a personal history of countless lifetimes in which we have been overwhelmed by afflictions, it is already commendable that in this lifetime we now recognize our faults as faults, and then work to change them.
More detailed teachings will be made available very soon.
December 18, 2009 - Mahabodhi Stupa, Bodhgaya
2nd Annual Teaching for Foreign Students: Day 1
Today His Holiness began his long-awaited annual teachings for foreign students. For three days at Tergar Monastery in Bodhgaya, His Holiness will be giving a commentary on Nagarjuna’s "Letter to a Friend"- a text mainly focusing on the Six Perfections. In acknowledgment of the large proportion of the audience who are practicing Buddhism as "householders", His Holiness explained that this text was addressed to a king, and thus contains practice advice that is particularly appropriate for laypeople. The number of attendees wishing to receive teachings from His Holiness exceeded the capacity of Tergar's immense assembly hall, and some latecomers could be seen listening intently from outside the gompa.
The main topic for today’s morning session was Refuge, while the afternoon teachings were devoted to the practice of the Ten Virtues. The afternoon session closed with a question-and-answer period.
Speaking about the practice of Dharma in general, His Holiness said that we need to grasp the words and meaning of the Dharma, and that our understanding must not remain on the level of mere words. Rather, we must take the meaning to heart and allow the Dharma to enter into our very being. Additionally, the results of our study and contemplation should become evident in our conduct.
His Holiness’ teachings are being translated this year into 9 different languages: English, Chinese, French, German, Spanish, Russian, Polish, Korean and Vietnamese. To extend access to His Holiness’ teachings further, the teachings are being webcast live at kagyumonlam.tv. Along with the video-cast of the Tibetan and English, live audio transmission in several other European languages will also be available through the same site.
December 18, 2009 - Mahabodhi Stupa, Bodhgaya
HH Gyalwa Karmapa
Detailed biographical information about His Holiness the 17th Karmapa is available from the drop down menus above. The materials are divided into:
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