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Kagyu Monlam: His Holiness Telling the Story of Milarepa

January 06, 2009

The relationship between Marpa and Milarepa was unlike an ordinary lama-student relationship. Some lamas threatened their students that if they didn’t follow through instructions they would be breaking samaya, and so would go to a hell realm. In contrast, Marpa treated Milarepa like a son. Nor was he motivated by gain. A lama should skillfully nurture his students and always be compassionate.

His Holiness went on to discuss tsultrim – ethical conduct. He explained that rules of good conduct such as not stealing or not killing should be understood not as a codex, a set of laws to be observed, but rather as a description of the behavior which was necessary if we wanted to be happy. Ethical conduct was also essential for the well-being of the society in which we live. He reminded everyone once more of the interdependent nature of our existence. Throughout life we are dependent on others. We were born because of the love our parents had for each other. They cared for us and did their best for us. At every stage of our life, when we were born, as a baby, at school, when looking for work, when we were ill, we relied on others to help us. It was impossible to live completely independently. Given this interdependence, we should never ever look down on other people or show them disrespect. We should never intentionally harm others. It was very difficult to live in a society where people disrespected and harmed each other.

His Holiness cited two reasons for engaging in ethical behavior.

The first was our responsibility to transform the society in which we lived because we were dependent on all the other members of that society. If it were full of negativity, non-virtuous actions and a general lack of compassion, there would be so much suffering and so many difficulties that we would find it very hard to live in a peaceful and positive way.

The second was that if we did not guard our own values, we might be ousted from society. Therefore we had to maintain ethical discipline, which meant practising the ten virtues of body, speech and mind. [The three related to the body are to abstain from killing, stealing, and sexual misconduct; the four related to speech are to abstain from lying, from slander, from harsh speech, and from gossip or meaningless talk; the three related to the mind to be avoided are covetousness, malice and wrong view. ] However, His Holiness commented, it was self-evident that a good person would not kill or rape. When society had to make laws to control behavior it was as a last resort.

Living by these ten virtues we could transform both our own lives and society. As a matter of fact, we didn’t have much choice in the matter, because positive deeds produced positive results. Those people who do great things for the good of others – such as His Holiness the Dalai Lama – are highly respected by other people and seen as indispensable to society. On the other hand, those who always engaged in negative actions were not respected, were viewed as bad people to be avoided, and ostracized. By engaging in good behavior we could bring peace and smiles to the faces of other people.

Many people had a tendency towards negative actions. People were often very selfish and believed that through negative actions they would fulfill their wishes very quickly. In contrast, those who did positive deeds were considering the well-being of lots of people; they were concerned for the welfare of the world and society. As dharma practitioners we should want to bring peace and well-being to all sentient beings. If things weren’t going well, we should remember the first line of the four immeasurable: “May all sentient beings be happy and have the causes of happiness”

This was not just a great aspiration, it was also something which was achievable. But we had to take action. In which case, what should we do? Basically we had to practice virtue, work on transforming our minds, and change our behavior. There were many types of virtuous actions described in the Dharma, but some were culturally dependent or archaic. The baseline was to be somebody who refrained from non-virtuous actions.

His Holiness went on to say that he thought people who committed suicide sometimes did so because, without help and support and with no one to love us, it was too difficult to live in such a gloomy world. He expressed some amazement that in some countries there are now self-help books on committing suicide. This was indicative of society’s failure. In the past, life used to be viewed as the most precious thing, but now knowing how to commit suicide had become a necessity.

Our responsibility, however, remained the same. Even if the whole world was filled with negative people and actions, still we had to do good. We had to make the aspiration to live truthfully and act ethically, showing love and respect to all other sentient beings. These days society was very difficult and full of falsehood, but without good people the world would lose all hope. Whether we were male or female, lay or ordained, we needed courage, sincerity and the commitment to be a good person. It wouldn’t be easy. Yet, however dark the world might be, we had to be a small lamp in that dark. From now, everybody had to take on that responsibility from today.

After singing another doha His Holiness instructed everybody in a short meditation focused on rooting out the three poisons. When you practiced Dharma, he told everyone, it was important to aim the arrow in the direction you wanted to go, and reminded the assembly that they were the lineage holders of Panchen Naropa and should not disgrace his name. If you did nothing about the three poisons, he advised, your dharma practice would not be Dharma. These three poisons could not be destroyed in one go; you had to work on them day by day. He gave the following visualization of the three poisons.

At the navel is a blue pool or lake which represents attachment, because it is as if we drown in it. At the heart is a red fire representing hatred and aggression. At the forehead is blackness and darkness in the form of smoke or a cloud. This represents ignorance.

In the sky above is Buddha Shakyamuni or your own root guru. You request blessings from his body that all 3 mind poisons be eliminated. From his forehead a pure white light radiates, from his heart centre a red light radiates, and from his navel a blue light. Visualise the blue light entering your navel, the red light entering your heart, and the white light entering your forehead, thus eliminating all three poisons.

So once more, in front of the bodhi tree, in the shadow of the Mahabodhi temple, the Gyalwang Karmapa led the Kagyu Monlam assembly in five minutes of meditation, before concluding the morning session with The Great Aspiration Prayer.

Consecration ceremony at the Bangladeshi Buddhist Monastery
After attending the morning session of Kagyu Monlam at the Mahabodhi Temple, and giving a teaching on The Songs of Milarepa, His Holiness went on to the Bangladeshi Buddhist Monastery. There he lit candles and at the shrine to bless the shrine room, and chanted prayers with the resident monks, who belong to the Theravadin tradition. He then consecrated a new Buddha statue in the monastery grounds.


26th Kagyu Monlam Chenmo: Jan 6, 2009

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