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Day Three of Autumn Teachings: Looking in the Mind’s Mirror

September 17, 2010 – Gyuto

The teaching hall at Gyuto frequently rang to the sound of laughter today, as the Gyalwang Karmapa continued his Autumn Teaching Series with a third day of teaching on the generation of relative bodhichitta. Today’s serious message on the damage done by our anger and other afflictive emotions was leavened by a series of humorous stories that His Holiness related with great joy and mirth.

Continuing the theme introduced yesterday of human cruelty to animals, His Holiness commented that because animals cannot express their feelings in human speech, somehow we feel entitled to ignore them. He then offered an imaginative exploration of what might ensue if fish, chicken or other animals whose flesh we consume unthinkingly might suddenly be endowed with the power of human speech. Surely they would hire lawyers and take us to task for our actions towards them, he said. Should we have to face them in court, what explanation could we possibly give for our treatment of them, His Holiness wondered. When required to account for our repeated killing and cruelty, the best we might be able to do is reply, “But you taste good!” or “Well, you just look like food to me!” These would obviously not hold up in court as justifiable reasons for our actions, the Gyalwang Karmapa wryly pointed out. Yet humanity’s acts of cruelty towards one another, up to and including genocide, develops from precisely this habitual willingness to enact our selfish and aggressive impulses, and ignore the suffering of others in the process, His Holiness cautioned.

In another humorous narrative, the Gyalwang Karmapa recounted an exchange between a king and his loyal servant named. One day, the king caught sight of himself in a mirror and exclaimed indignantly, “What is this ugly face doing here!” Apparently feeling that the problem lay in looking in mirrors, he thrust the mirror aside, determined not to pick it up again, and counseled his servant similarly to refrain from looking in mirrors. The servant seized the opportunity to comment to the king, “Your Majesty, you have seen that face in the mirror once, and now are done with it. But I have had to look at that face continually day after day, and will have to keep seeing it in the future as well!”

To ensure the point was not lost in the laughter that the story occasioned, His Holiness noted that just as we rely on mirrors to take stock of our physical appearance, we are in even greater need of a mirror that allows us to see our own minds. In a sense during the evening’s teaching the Gyalwang Karmapa was holding up just such a mirror for us all, as he shared insight after piercing insight into the ways that our minds can become marred by anger.

Analyzing how anger works, His Holiness observed that we generally do not recognize that the perception of others as our enemies comes from our own attitude of hostility and from our own willingness to nurse grudges over often minor incidents. When we choose to obsess continually over past harms done to us—incidents that in many cases lasted a fraction of the time we later spend fuming over them—we ourselves are voluntarily turning our kind father and mother sentient beings into our enemies. Instead, we can determine as spiritual practitioners to respond to others’ harm with even greater compassion for them.

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