A Day Moving from Empowerment to Intellectual Pursuit and Finally Song and Dance
December, 10, 2016 – Sherabling Monastery, Baijnath, Himachal Pradesh, India
Today’s events took place in the vast shrine hall of the new shedra (monastic college), which was inaugurated in 2015 and provides housing for 500 monks. In the center of the shrine hall, the Karmapa’s throne has been set before a radiant statue of the Buddha in preparation for the empowerment he will bestow today. The hall is bright with light that streams in through side windows and illuminates the thangkas of the Golden Garland hung on either side of the central aisle. Down this path His Holiness entered in a formal procession and took his seat in front of the altar specially set up for the empowerment. Here he preformed the preparations and then took his seat on the throne. After a formal mandala offering by Mingyur Rinpoche, the Karmapa began the empowerment, and finishing the preliminaries, he paused to give a talk.
Warmly greeting everyone present for the occasion, the Karmapa then spoke about the initiation he would give. “For an auspicious beginning, I will bestow the empowerment of the five deities of Gyalwa Gyatso with the great master of meditation Karma Pakshi as the sovereign of the mandala inseparable from the yidam deity. I felt that since this has an extraordinary and special blessing, it would be good to give this empowerment here today.”
“In general,” the Karmapa explained, “at the time of an empowerment, many factors should be present. The one giving the empowerment should have gathered many positive conditions and so should those receiving it. Like this, if both the lama and the disciples are authentic, then no matter which empowerment that matures is given or which commentary that liberates is explained, they all will be in accord with reality and lead to fruition as that reality.”
He continued, “The one bestowing the empowerment today has no special qualities of knowledge, love, or power; however, it is possible that he has the blessing of the lama’s lineage. Since the bodhichitta of the buddhas and their heirs does not fluctuate over time, if disciples have faith, pure vision, and devotion, there is the opportunity, or the hope that blessings will enter into them.” The Karmapa said he would pray and give rise to great inspiration and asked that the disciples strive to generate faith, pure vision, and devotion. “If we receive an empowerment in this way,’ the Karmapa advised, “a special auspicious connection and powerful blessing will surely come about.”
Speaking of the difficulties in the spiritual world, the Karmapa encouraged everyone present to recognize how fortunate they are now and to take advantage of this situation. “If you really want to receive empowerments, instructions, and the blessings of an authentic lineage, now is the time to do so. This is obvious to everyone. We should rely on a lama with the thought, ‘Present here is a lama who is like a wish-fulfilling jewel, extremely difficult to find, and endowed with precious understanding.’ As I have often said, it is important that we accomplish whatever such a lama says.
“This is especially true if it is someone like Chamgon Vajradhara (Tai Situ Rinpoche), who as we all know, has worked tirelessly for the sake of the Buddha’s teaching in general and the Karma Kamtsang in particular. His kindness and compassion are inconceivable. They extend not only to his main seat of Palpung and its branches but also to the whole practice lineage of the Karma Kamtsang, and moreover, to all of the Kagyu lineage, and even beyond to the entirety of the Buddha’s teachings. Therefore, it is extremely important that remembering this vast kindness, we pray for the long life of the lama. If the lama’s life is long, the range of his enlightened activity can expand and become increasingly vast.”
The Karmapa advised, “Since the length of a lama’s life depends on the attitude and behavior of the disciples, their mindset and conduct should be in line with the intention and thought of the lama, and their efforts should be in tune with his directives. This is actually what constitutes the authentic supplication for the lama to live long. Otherwise, even if you arrange for an extensive longevity ceremony with abundant offerings, when you do not actually accomplish the lama’s requests and, more importantly, when you do not practice exactly according the lama’s instructions, that longevity ceremony will be just a false show.”
“Once someone said to me,” the Karmapa recalled, ‘During longevity ceremonies for Tibetan lamas, lots of offerings are made.’ And this person found it quite strange. Why? Because people think that if they make offerings to the lamas, they will stay a long time, and if they do not, the lamas will depart. If you make as large an offering as possible, the lamas will be pleased, thinking, ‘Oh, today I received lots of gifts, so I think I’ll stay around.’ It needless to say how strange this attitude appears.
“Nevertheless, as mentioned before, an authentic request to lamas to live a long life is very important. For the lamas to live long and their activity to expand, what is most important? It is not rituals and ceremonies to turn away obstacles but the fulfilling of the lamas’ wishes, and further, engaging in the practice of Dharma just as they taught it. What I consider the most important is that through the three activities of shedra studies, retreat and ritual practice, and serving on the monastery’s staff, people engage in holding, preserving, and spreading the teachings of the Buddha.
“Now we have here in India the main seat of Palpung and its branches, which are extensive and beautifully developed. In Tibet, as well, there are the main seat of Palpung monastery and its many branches. These have their extensive sections of the sangha focused on practice, the shedra on textual studies, the monks’ residential colleges, and so forth. What is the most important for all of these? There are three things: 1. to continuously align our heart/mind with the traditions just as they have been transmitted; 2. to maintain good discipline; and 3. to spend our time in study, practice, and Dharma activity. It is important to be involved in all three.”
Turning first to the importance of harmonious relationships, the Karmapa said, “It is high time that we in the Karma Kamtsang tradition learn our lessons from the immediate, unfortunate past. Belonging to the Karma Kamtsang tradition, we are also holders of the Buddha’s teachings, so there’s no need to speak of how important it is to be in harmony with each other. Whether one considers the secular or religious world, it is critical that the famous four traditions in our Land of Snow (Nyingma, Kagyu, Sakya, and Geluk) plus the fifth of the Jonang as well as the Yungdrung Bon maintain harmonious relations. Within these traditions, our karmic fortune has brought us into the position of holding the lineage of the peerless Dakpo Kagyu, stemming from Dakpo Lhaje (Gampopa) and extending down through the generations of the four elder and eight younger lineages.
“In addition to keeping positive relations with each other, he noted, we should also train in having a pure vision of each other.” To underline his point, the Karmapa referred to two quotes that predicted how the teachings of the Buddha would decline and disappear. The past Buddha Kashyapa said that the Buddha’s teachings would disintegrate through the great laziness of the fully ordained monks. Our teacher the Buddha Shakyamni predicted that the teachings could not be conquered or destroyed by outer forces such as other religions; they would founder on the rock of inside fighting and quarrelling with one another. The teachings would be brought down by hatred, attachment, and partisanship.”
Whether an individual becomes a destroyer of the teachings or not, he said, usually depends on their way of thinking, talking, and behaving. In general, when someone is not conscientious or careful, they say whatever thought pops up in their mind. “Especially in this age of the Internet,” the Karmapa noted, “we say immediately whatever occurs to us, and soon it is all over the world. It is certain that this will lead to great turmoil.
“This need for harmonious relationships applies to all the individuals who hold the teachings,” he explained, “Whether one holds monastic vows or female and male lay vows, all are holders of the teachings in that they are practitioners of the Buddha’s Dharma.” This being the case, the Karmapa advised, “If you cannot support and spread the teachings, you should at least commit to, or take responsibility for not allowing even one small act to diminish them. To state it concisely, the basis of practicing and preserving the Dharma is that we have minds that are in harmony.”
The second point is maintaining good discipline. “If you are an ordained member of the Sangha,” the Karmapa explained, “you have those special vows. If you are a male or female lay practitioner, you have the novice vows. If you are a mantrayana practitioner, you have that discipline to follow.” His Holiness remarked, “These days some people think it is very difficult to take monk’s vows, so they become instead a ngakpa (mantrayana practitioner). But if you think about it, being a ngakpa is more difficult than taking a monk’s vows. During his life, the glorious lord Atisha did not break or impair any of his monk’s vows. He said that he broke a few times the root bodhisattva vows, and that like a rainfall, he broke the mantrayana vows every day. To take an example, Delhi has a lot of pollution. If you polish a mirror clean and set it out in a corner of the city, in a short while, it will turn dark with dust. Like this, it is said that the mantrayana vows are extremely difficult to keep. It is not easy to be a ngakpa and it is not easy to be a monk.”
His Holiness continued, “If you are a householder, you cannot just hang out, let your mind go, and not make any effort at all. In sum, the specific groups have their vows and samayas (vajrayana commitments) to keep, and they should do their utmost to do so; however, to systematically maintain them in good order as described in the texts is not easy. Since people have their individual ways of being and live in a variety of environments, it will be difficult to maintain the vows just as they are described in the texts; however, it is critically important to practice as much as one can.”
“Finally,” the Karmapa counseled, “we should spend our time in listening, reflecting, and meditating on the teachings. How do we hold, preserve, and spread the teaching from the perspective of someone in the shedra, in retreat, or practicing rituals in the shrine hall? The teachings as scripture are preserved and spread through listening and reflecting. The teachings as realization are held, preserved, and spread through the practice of meditation and retreat.”
The Karmapa then added an important point. “Further, the wheel of activity and work is vital. In the Sutra of the Ten Wheels of Kstitigarbha, it is said that those who participate in the wheel of activity and work are the ones who provide the necessities of living that support others: they help those who listen and reflect on the texts they read and those who work with samadhi to give up what should be given up. The people belonging to this third wheel do the important daily work of holding and preserving the teachings.
“Previously it was said the first two wheels of reading and abandoning were the teachings of the Buddha and that the third wheel of activity and work was not. When this was made known, the general secretaries and the stewards in some of the monasteries were very disappointed, as it seemed tha the work they were doing was not Dharma work. But here in the Sutra of the Ten Wheels of Kstitigarbha, it is clear that this work is supported and part of the Buddha’s teachings.”
The Karmapa summarized, saying “What is most important is listening, reflecting, and meditating on the teachings as an integrated whole and not in isolation. Dakpo Rinpoche (Gampopa) said that beginners should vigorously study and listen to the teachings. Once they gain stability, they should devote themselves to meditation. Following his advice, listening, reflecting, and meditating are practiced successively in the mind stream of one individual; it is not the case that one person listens and studies and another meditates. Nothing good will come by dividing people in this way.
“In general, ‘those who read’ refers to those in shedra who listen and study—this is their work. Those who are in retreat should not think that they do not have to listen and reflect. The retreatants should practice listening, reflecting, and meditating linked to each other and the shedra students should do the same.
“Our lineage in particular is one of meditation practice, descending from the noble ones, Marpa, Milarepa, and Gampopa. Not letting it deteriorate, we should hold this wondrous lineage of our forbearers, illustrated by their life stories that relate their practice of meditation, their perseverance in it, their turning away from samsara, and their devotion to their lamas.”
In conclusion, the Karma advised, “Speaking from the perspective of a holder of the practice lineage, there is one thing that is the most important. There are new shedras being built and the old ones are expanding, and this is all to the good. One can understand the purpose of building shedras as providing an education through listening and reflecting; at the end of this, we practice in retreat so that at the close of our lives, when we are on the verge of dying, we can face death without fear or anxiety. It is critical that we become able to do this. If it were not possible, that would be a disgrace to the practice lineage. Therefore, I request that everyone give rise to excellent bodhichitta.”
Lightheartedly, His Holiness remarked at the end of his advice, “If I talk much more, I’ll turn into a lecturer and not one who came to give you an empowerment.”
After he had finished the main part of the empowerment, the Karmapa was offered a damascene, five-tiered mandala by Mingyur Rinpoche who, as the Karmapa, was wearing the Gampopa hat. While Tai Situ Rinpoche made offerings, his attendant stood on the side and respectfully held up Situ Rinpoche’s famous red crown. For a long time, offerings flowed up the main aisle and past the Karmapa.
When the offerings were finished, the Karmapa concluded the central part of the ceremony and descended the throne to give a direct blessing to each of the over 5,000 people who had gathered. Continually ringing a bell in his left hand, he placed a torma on the heads of everyone inside the hall, and then left through the front door where a golden umbrella, its fringes rippling in a gentle wind, was waiting to shield him from the late morning sun. Outside thousands waited behind flags in repeating sets of three—the five-colored Buddhist flag, the yellow and blue curves of Karmapa’s flag, and Situ Rinpoche’s light blue flag. To the sound of jalings, the Karmapa passed up and down the rows, blessing all the people, many of whom had come from the Himalayan region.
Once back inside, the Karmapa again took a seat in front of the special altar to finish the empowerment. As he rose and walked before the five statues on the spacious altar—Marpa, Manjushri, the Buddha, Guru Rinpoche, and Situ Rinpoche—in powerful grace, he blessed each of them with grains of golden rice.
The afternoon’s events, taking place again in the shedra shrine hall with the presence of His Holiness, showcased the wide range of studies that take place at Sherabling. A talk on the Four Dharmas of Gampopa by a shedra khenpo began the series, which was followed by a dialogue on Tibetan medicine, a debate on Madhyamaka philosophy, a discussion of Situ Panchen’s famous grammar, nuns debating on the collected topics, a talk on the vajrayana, monks debating the collected topics, and the history of astrology.
After dinner, people made their way to the monastery courtyard through scattered drops of rain that would turn into a steady pour and continue for hours giving the first winter snow to the mountains behind the monastery. In the covered courtyard, a stage had been set up with klieg lights and a central photo of the Karmapa, who was sitting across from it with Situ Rinpoche in the windowed balcony.
The evening saw dances and music from Tibet and the Himalayan region, performed by the young students of the Palpung Riglam Kyedtsal School. Beautifully trained by a teacher from Delhi and professionally costumed, the students showed a grace and joy in their movements that was beyond their years. In two interludes, dohas composed by Situ Rinpoche were sung to the accompaniment of a harmonium and another man offered a melodic praise of the Karmapa. The evening ended with a face-paced, boot-stomping finale that filled the stage with multicolored, whirling scarves. It was a joyous end to a very full day.