Kagyu Monlam: His Holiness Continues the Story of Milarepa
January 07, 2009
His Holiness drew several lessons from Milarepa’s story to illustrate how we should practice. The first concerned our commitment or rather lack of it, and our inability to tolerate hardship.
Like all the great masters in the lineage, Milarepa renounced the world, expressed his disgust with samsara, and had a fierce determination to practice the Dharma. He knew that this was the only way to bring benefit both to him and to others, including his dead parents. We, on the other hand, relax and enjoy good food.
The great translator, Marpa Lotsawa, endured many difficulties on his journey to India. He had to trudge across the never-ending Indian plains, and yet he translated all those texts! These days we get tired when we travel by train or plane!
Milarepa demonstrated immense commitment. Marpa set him to build four houses – not small but big ones – and then he had to take them down again, stone by stone. He was even made to build a house with nine storeys, which His Holiness had had chance to visit. His Holiness commented that the house looked like it had been built by one person – the pillars were unfinished wood and the construction generally was very rough. When Marpa threw him out of teachings or beat him, Milarepa still persevered.
Gampopa too had to face great hardships. He was a householder with a wife and two children, until an epidemic killed first his children and then his wife. When his wife was on her deathbed it seems she was worried that he might remarry, but he reassured her that his only attachment was to the Dharma.
The First Karmapa, Dusum Khyenpa, also had an interesting background. It is said that something happened when he was fifteen that changed his life. There are two explanations given, either he murdered his father’s enemy, or he murdered the man who ran off with his girlfriend. However as Dusum Khyenpa was quite ugly and looked like a monkey, perhaps his girlfriend had left him. Whatever happened, he became very sad and out of this experience came his decision to commit his life to practising Dharma. Gyalwang Karmapa grinned, “Because he was ugly, Dusum Khyenpa made a special prayer that in future all Karmapas should be handsome!”
According to His Holiness it seemed that when things were going smoothly we forgot about Dharma. This showed lack of commitment. It was essential to have determination and an aspiration that we put into practice. This applied not only to monks and nuns, but to householders too. If someone has never begun to do something, there was no problem, but if they had already made a commitment, they had no choice – they had to follow through to the end. A good person should never give up the Dharma.
His Holiness told a story about a pork butcher who killed a pig a day, and a total of 360 pigs a year. He was well aware of what he was doing, that his life was stained with blood, but excused himself, “It’s the only livelihood I’ve got. It’s not that I want to kill pigs, but that society wants pork.”
In this way, he transferred the blame and responsibility from his own shoulders to the larger community. But that is not how it is. Whether you are a Buddhist or not, it is of benefit to you to do something positive with body, speech and mind. If you are a Buddhist, you have promised to give up the ten non-virtuous actions and you have taken vows. If you disrespect these commitments and engage in negative actions, the result will not be good.
Next, His Holiness returned to the subject of breaking samaya. He explained that if you were unable to keep every detail of samaya, you might not be breaking the samaya, but, on the other hand, if you became careless or showed disrespect, you would be breaking the samaya, especially monks and nuns. You would be like someone who enlists, puts on armor, goes to the battlefield and then runs away. Continuing the analogy, His Holiness likened Rinpoches and Lamas to the generals, and the monks and nuns were like warriors. The enemy was the three poisons and the afflictive mental and emotional states. If you just give in when the enemy of afflictive emotions attacks, it is very shameful. You have surrendered to your enemy and become his slave. That is not the behavior of a warrior.
His Holiness pointed out that each of the 84,000 teachings of the Buddha were designed to work on one of the poisons. Every one of those teachings was like a sharp weapon against the poisons and afflictive emotions. All the commitments were about conquering them.
Sometimes people misunderstood the meaning of samaya. “Do you have a book called ‘Samaya’, please?” he joked. But, in essence, both samaya and tsultrim [ethical behavior] meant working on our negative emotions. We had to see the mind poisons very clearly as something really negative and undesirable. Then we had to work to overcome them, otherwise they would lead to suffering for ourselves and others, and to rebirth in the lower realms.
His Holiness used anger as an example. Sometimes, if he became a little angry, he confessed, he became aggressive. Some people considered anger and aggression to be helpful, but they were fooling themselves. “We are practising patience not kung-fu,” he quipped. If someone told us, “Kyakpa za!” [a common form of mild abuse in Tibetan meaning “Eat shit!”] Our response was usually “You eat shit!” but perhaps it would be better to think along the lines, “I wonder what it tastes like? Perhaps it’s sweet.”
When we realized the need to rid ourselves of these mind poisons, practice became an ornament not a burden.
His Holiness gave another example. If people who wanted to work for world peace failed to understand the negativity of the mind poisons, in spite of a fine aspiration, they could not succeed because all their endeavors would become mixed with pride, arrogance or other mind poisons, which infiltrated their good intentions. In a similar way, when someone wanting to work for the Dharma failed to understand the afflictive emotions the result could be like good food mixed with poison. If, for example, the person has the poisons of aversion and attraction, this could lead to sectarianism, so that even if they were trying to preserve the Dharma, because of the intrusion of their negative emotions, they would end up harming it.
His Holiness reminded everybody, “It is said that the Buddha Dharma is the source of all benefits, but that depends on being a good Dharma practitioner too.”
We needed to make the aspiration to be good Dharma practitioners, otherwise we would be selling the Dharma short, like selling something for 100 rupees when it was worth 10, 000.
His Holiness concluded by reasserting that the Dharma was the path to true and lasting happiness for ourselves and others. As to our own happiness, we had the choice to practice or not, but if we chose to work for the Dharma, more than our own welfare was at stake. We had committed ourselves to working for the benefit of all sentient beings, and that meant it should never be mixed up with envy, jealousy and pride. Sectarianism was particularly dangerous to the Dharma. Our work for others had to be based on compassion and the realization that other sentient beings are just like us in that they want happiness and they do not want suffering. We should view all the beings of the six realms as like our mothers.
His Holiness then led a short meditation on the Lord Buddha, when he was meditating in the area around Bodhgaya for six years, practicing asceticism.
His Holiness reflected on how we ourselves were like hungry ghosts, chasing after food, wealth, fame, and all the attractions of this life, never considering the next life, whereas the Buddha renounced the world in order to bring benefit to limitless sentient beings as vast as space. We were a disgrace to his name.
Later that day: Approximately five hundred members gathered in the assembly hall at Tergar Monastery, waiting expectantly for His Holiness. Seated quietly in rows, the array of races and nationalities truly illustrated the international nature of the Kagyu Monlam, and the bond of friendship through the Dharma which has united people from all five continents.
His Holiness arrived, walking briskly and energetically, he smiled and bowed his head before sitting down in an armchair specially placed below the dais.
Having recited a blessing, His Holiness gave a short speech, in which he compared the growth of Kagyu Monlam to the growth of a fruit tree. The seed had been planted twenty-six years ago, with the inception of the Kagyu Monlam in India, and now the tree had grown to maturity, its branches had spread and were fruit-bearing. Continuing the analogy, fruit trees needed the right conditions in order to grow, and His Holiness acknowledged the support and generosity of the Kagyu Monlam Members which had provided the conditions for the growth of Kagyu Monlam.
Others were now benefiting from the fruit and it was His Holiness’ aspiration that these auspicious conditions would continue to ripen, and that those of us who lived on this earth would leave behind a good imprint. Kagyu Monlam was the foundation for creating an imprint of virtue, well-being and harmony for the future. It was a mandala which attracted goodness.
His Holiness then showed everybody a postcard-sized print of one of his own drawings, a White Tara, which he wanted to share with them. He apologized that it had not turned out as he would have liked, but assured everyone that he had drawn it with one-pointed concentration. It was a symbol of the one-pointed concentration with which he regarded all his followers, and was linked with the Tara empowerment he would give on Friday. Finally his hope was that by the merit accumulated from participating and supporting Kagyu Monlam, all those present would be absorbed into the Tara mandala of longevity.
Settling down with the prints on a table in front of him, His Holiness joked that he’d brought a lot of pens with him in order to sign the prints. Members then came forward, one-by-one, to present their khatags, and each received a freshly-signed print, the ink still wet, directly from the hand of the Gyalwang Karmapa.
Clutching their prints, the members moved reluctantly away from His Holiness and left the hall with radiant faces. Many had tears in their eyes. Through the power and grace of His Holiness, this had been an extraordinarily precious experience for everyone, a moment of transcendence, out of time and the ordinary dimensions in which we live our lives. It would be a memory to treasure when they returned home, a source of strength in the future, and a reassurance that the Gyalwang Karmapa sincerely holds every one of his disciples in his heart and mind.