The Gyalwang Karmapa's
Mahamudra Teachings at
The 25th Great Monlam Aspiration
Glorious Unequaled Kagyu Sangha
Wednesday 19th December
Evening Teaching at Tergar Monastery: In the evening Gyalwang Karmapa began a special three day teaching for foreign students. In all, nearly 2000 people were there to listen to His Holiness teach on the text The Fivefold Mahamudra by Kyobpa Jigten Sumgon.
The teaching was scheduled to begin at 7.00pm but by 5.00pm queues had begun to form, and by 6.15pm the great hall at Tergar Monastery was chock-a-block; those arriving later were forced to sit outside on the veranda in the chilly night air.
It was clear that the teaching had been carefully planned to reflect the needs of an international audience. As people arrived, they received a free copy of The Fivefold Mahamudra containing the text in Chinese, Korean, Tibetan and English, and a leaflet of the opening prayers, which were recited in Sanskrit, English and Chinese. The teaching itself was translated into Chinese, English, Korean and Russian.
Five minutes before Gyalwang Karmapa appeared; the chant master came and began to lead the Karmapa Khyenno (Karmapa, think of me). Everyone joined in and the sound of the mantra rose to fill the vast space. His Holiness arrived promptly, walked briskly across the dais, prostrated gracefully three times, and greeted the audience warmly with folded palms before mounting the throne.
The first verse of The Fivefold Mahamudra reads:
If the stallion of love and compassion
Does not win the race of altruism
He will not earn the praise of the crowd of gods and humans,
So, earnestly focus your mind on this preliminary practice.
Gyalwang Karmapa explained that this was a metaphor based on a Tibetan-style horse race, linking it with a Tibetan saying which tells people to study and practice Dharma with such speed that a hundred dogs will be unable to catch them. The horse in the race symbolizes loving kindness and compassion: the wish for all beings to be happy and the wish that all beings should be free of suffering. His Holiness emphasized that two things were essential in Dharma practice: to practise with effort and determination, and to be able to work to fulfil the purposes of other sentient beings. He advised that meditating on loving kindness and compassion generally might just result in ‘quite comfortable’ feelings; it was better for beginners to focus on generating loving kindness and compassion towards specific individuals, as this was much more difficult and therefore of greater benefit. He cited an amusing and vivid example: you can use a large piece of cloth to cover the heads of a crowd of people very easily, but making individual hats from the cloth is much more demanding.
Not only do practitioners need to strive continually to broaden and increase their loving kindness and compassion, but then it has to be put it into action for the benefit of other sentient beings, not hidden away. Thus, the result of developing loving kindness and compassion should be manifest in the actions of body, speech and mind. And, just as in a horse race, there would be obstacles to be avoided or overcome.
It was also essential to understand the goal, our destination, otherwise how could we ever get there? If we tried to practise what we didn’t understand, for example a beginner attempting to practise Dzogchen or Mahamudra, it would create difficulties, not just for us but for our lamas too. So Dharma practice should begin from the point we are at and gradually, step by step, as our understanding grows, lead us to enlightenment.
Gyalwang Karmapa concluded the evening by conferring the Refuge Vows, emphasising that in future no one should take refuge in worldly things; true refuge is in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. He emphasised that, having taken refuge, the important thing was to do no harm, but work for the benefit of all sentient beings.
As he left the platform, the congregation applauded loudly. He acknowledged this with a shy smile and a blessing, before disappearing into the wings and back upstairs to his private quarters on the roof.
Thursday 20th December
Evening Teaching at Tergar Monastery: In the second part of a three-part series, Gyalwang Karmapa continued his exposition of Kyobpa’s The Fivefold Mahamudra. He concentrated on verses two and three:
If your body, the king of the enlightened form,
Does not hold the throne of the unchanging basis,
Mother dakinis, the citizens, will not appear,
So, earnestly focus on seeing your body as the yidam deity.
If, on the snow mountain, the lama of the four kayas,
The sun of devotion does not shine,
Streams of blessing will not flow.
So, earnestly focus on cultivating this devotion.
Gyalwang Karmapa referred to the Tibetan idea that if something helps it’s of use. He reassured people that if the intention of helping existed, even if the action itself wasn’t helpful, it was of value. In this context he explained that his own intention in living was to be of benefit to the world, and, with this aim, he would try to continue to live in the world. He explained that he was deeply committed to helping those people whom he loved, and those with whom he had a connection.
Moving on to the text, he explored the metaphor of the king and his court. He explained that in essence the aggregates are pure and unstained, but because of the tendency to grasp at things as solid, to see them as real in a samsaric way, we are unable to experience their natural purity, which is the deity. By meditating on a deity and generating the divine pride, it was possible to purify our view. He emphasized the importance of a clear and stable visualization along with a clear and stable divine pride, when practising deity yoga.
In the meditation, colours and forms of the deity, clothing and accoutrements needed to be clear. (This could be very complicated and also difficult for people coming from a different culture who might not be familiar with these things.) His Holiness gave Tara as an example. In order for the visualisation of Tara to be vivid, it was necessary to know exactly what she looked like so that an image could be created in the mind. Yet, if we reflected on people we knew, when we thought of them, we didn’t see their whole body, but had a more general idea of what they looked like. Similarly, in deity meditation, the important thing was not so much precise detail as the sense of aliveness.
Commenting on the third verse of the text, Gyalwang Karmapa explained that this also was a metaphor using the image of the sun melting the snow on the mountains in Tibet, so that the streams flowed down. Devotion to the Lama was like the power of the sun, and the streams were the blessings of the Lama. He quipped that these days there was so much devotion that Lamas were sweating profusely! Or, perhaps, he suggested mischievously, devotion was adding to the problem of global warming.
More seriously, he explained that devotion meant seeing the qualities of the Lama and implied trust. Devotion and trust in one’s Lama was one of the most important factors for realising the true nature of one’s mind. This could not be explained. It had to be experienced.
The evening concluded with Gyalwang Karmapa conferring the Bodhisattva Vows.
Tuesday, December 25th
Evening Teaching at Tergar Monastery:
This was the third and final evening of Gyalwang Karmapa’s teaching on The Fivefold Mahumudra.
Verse four reads:
If, in the vast sky of the nature of mind,
The clouds of concepts do not disperse,
The stars of the two wisdoms will not brightly shine.
So, earnestly focus on cultivating this non-conceptuality.
Gyalwang Karmapa explained the metaphor. The empty nature of the mind is like the sky which is clear and pure; in the same way the mind is naturally pure. However, it is clouded over by temporary defilements which obscure the view, so that we cannot see the stars. These defilements have to be cleared away in order to experience the pure nature of mind and its qualities. The practitioner of Mahamudra rests in the nature of mind. All phenomena have two aspects: their specific characteristics and characteristics common to other phenomena. So all phenomena, not just mind, share the characteristic of not truly existing, of having a basic nature of emptiness. The nature of the mind which is emptiness and the emptiness of all phenomena are the same. Thus, if we are able to experience and understand the nature of the mind, we can experience the nature of all phenomena.
Gyalwang Karmapa then elaborated further on the meaning of emptiness and the dependent arising of all appearances, and the practice of Mahamudra.
Verse five reads:
If the wish-fulfilling jewel of the two accumulations
Is not polished with the aspiring mind,
The results you need and want will not arise.
So, earnestly focus your mind on this dedication.
Gyalwang Karmapa explained this verse briefly. He described how a wish-fulfilling jewel could be neglected so that it accumulated dust and dirt, and then might even be forgotten so that its power was worthless. Yet, such a jewel needed to be polished so that it shone brightly and then it should be put on display for everyone to enjoy and benefit .Similarly, we needed to dedicate all our merit for all sentient beings so that everyone could benefit.
Gyalwang Karmapa first gave the transmission in Tibetan of the Ngondro he himself had written, explaining that, as the compiler of the text, he was the only one who could give this particular transmission.
He then gave the transmission of the Mahamudra Aspiration Prayer, composed by the Third Karmapa, followed by the transmission of several mantras.
Finally he gave the transmission of The Fivefold Mahamudra in Tibetan, English, Chinese and Korean. The audience really appreciated his efforts in doing this and each transmission was applauded enthusiastically.
In conclusion he thanked everyone for coming, and apologized that pressure of time had meant only three days were available for the teaching. He explained how happy he had been every night to see so many people with joy on their faces and smiling eyes; it was a sight he would never forget. He rose, stepped gracefully down from the throne, and left the hall, smiling shyly and blessing everyone as he went.
[A full transcript of these teachings should be available next year. This is not intended as a precise or complete record but as a summary providing a taste of the profundity of His Holiness's teachings. -Tashi Paljor]
Current Activities of His Holiness Karmapa
Interview and Discussion with His Holiness about the 25th Great Kagyu Monlam Aspiration
Photo Galleries of His Holiness's Activities (Nov. - Dec. 2007)