Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment – Teachings by The Gyalwang Karmapa: Day Three
December 12, 2010 – Bodhgaya
We Live to Benefit Beings
As usual, the lilting chant of Karma Khyenno fills the pavilion. After the Karmapa is seated on his throne, today’s long life offering is made by Khenpo Donyo and the Mirik Monastery of Bokar Rinpoche.
His Holiness begins by speaking of people who are destitute and without protection. For all of them, we should have a special compassion. We should extend it to those who are difficult to transform, who have engaged in many negative activities, and thereby brought suffering upon themselves in this and future lives. We should see all of them as a treasure and feel a particular compassion for them.
All the living beings who surround us have been our enemies, friends, or someone somewhere in between. These are the possibilities in the present and they will be so in the future. If someone is our enemy now, there is no certainty that she or he has always been or will be like that. The condition of being an enemy is temporary. We Buddhists believe in birth following after birth. Some people have a hard time accepting this. However, just because we cannot see something, does not mean that it is not there. Just because we have not found something does not prove its nonexistence.
And if reincarnation is true and we do not prepare ourselves, we could be taking a big risk. If we spend all our strength on this life only, and suddenly the scientists find out that indeed there is a next life, it might be too late for us. So we have to think carefully. A spiritual friend is difficult to find, good teaching of the Dharma is difficult to find, and someone who is meditating on bodhicitta is difficult to find.
Drugpa Kunley stated that it is more profound to meditate on the living beings of the six realms than to meditate on all the Buddhas or yidam deities. They can be a bit difficult to imagine with their thousand arms and eyes. So Drukpa Kunley said it is more profound to meditate on the suffering of the six realms, than all the buddhas, because we can see and hear this suffering without having to meditate. And if we do meditate on it, this misery is something that moves us, something we can feel in our heart.
If we look inside, we can see that one part of our mind tells us to do positive things and follow Dharma; another part tells us to enjoy ourselves and that it’s not necessary to follow the Dharma. Which voice will we listen to? We cannot listen to both. We should trust the voice that tells us to do positive things. If we follow our shadow side, then it is the same as being in the company of negative friends, for they are nothing other than our afflictions.
Some people say that meditating on compassion brings them more suffering and pain, and so it’s difficult to meditate on it. Actually, this is not the case. Due to great compassion, we become fearless. It is only when we do not understand how to meditate on compassion properly that we will have pain. It is also extremely important to realize that we are not meditating on suffering, but on the people who are suffering. This is a key distinction.
Some people first think about what is difficult, something that is totally beyond their capacity. Actually, we should first ask ourselves, “What can I do?” And since we are beginners, we start with what is not so difficult.
We know that living beings do not want to suffer, so we wish them to be free of it. And this is not just a casual wish: we should feel as if something very dear to us is about to be consumed by fire. In this situation, we would not focus on how intense the fire is, but on the best way to move this precious object to safety.
Once the Buddha was asked if this world is permanent or impermanent. He did not reply directly, but asked a question in return: If you were a hunter in the forest and another hunter by mistake shot you with a poisoned arrow, would you spend your time worrying about where the arrow came from? Or would you try to pull out the arrow? In the same way, we do not focus on the suffering but on how to be free of it.
The text speaks of three types of suffering. The suffering of suffering is the normal pain we feel. The suffering of change is, for example, our happiness vanishing into sadness. Freeing ourselves from this type of suffering, however, brings only temporary relief like shifting a heavy load from our tired right shoulder to the left one. This movement brings the temporary happiness of relief, but not an ultimate and stable happiness. The third type of suffering is all-pervasive suffering, which comes with taking birth or appropriating the five aggregates.
The text then speaks of bodhicitta. If we have a good heart, we could call it bodhicitta, but actually, this is not enough: Bodhicitta must encompass all living beings with the wish that they be free of all suffering and find lasting happiness. This is great compassion.
Perhaps some examples would help. A father and son are walking along a path through an empty, fearful place when they lose their way and become separated. After much searching, the father finds the path again and with delight puts his right foot on it. But as he starts to lift his left foot, he remembers his lost son, so he immediately turns back to go and find him.
In the same way, we wish to be free of samsaric suffering and then we remember all living beings who are like our children and lost in the limitless suffering of samsara. We cannot abandon them, so we go back to find them and bring them into the right path.
Wishing enlightenment for ourselves alone is not the right view. We have to think about what causes enlightenment and then we will see that to develop our compassion, we need all living beings: they are a cause of our enlightenment.
There’s another example of a house on fire and the father naturally started to run outside to escape it. At the threshold of the door, with one foot outside, he remembered his family and jumped back inside to save them.
Looking out for oneself is easy; looking out for others is not. Everyone wants to do something for themselves. That is OK, but we cannot forget helping others. We should check our minds to see if we are still fixated on ourselves. When we think “I”, then others are out there. Have we singled ourselves out from others? Is there a sense of distance? Behind me is a statue of the first Karmapa, which was made in Thailand. It is so life-like that some people mistook me for him and thought I had arrived early. Now we have to think: Is it true that we two are separate? Or not?
In the Middle Way Philosophy, we use many analytical methods to understand interdependence but we do not need them here. We can just look at our lives. The food we eat comes from others; the clothes we wear come from outside as well. Even the air we breathe is not ours: it comes from the trees and plants. Being sustained by what comes from outside of us does not happen just once, but every moment of every day for our whole lives. We are able to live because of others.
The teachings often speak of the right or harmonious conditions. These depend on other beings, so we have to do something positive for them; we should help everyone to progress and have something good, because we know that everything is interdependent. When we only think of ourselves, we are still dependent on others. So even if we do not want to, we have to do good, because we cannot help but rely on others.
When we are always thinking of others, we become part of them and lose our focus on ourselves.
During the cultural revolution in Tibet, there was a lama from Golok who was asked to destroy a stupa. If he refused, he would be sent to prison. But this lama had a ninety-year-old mother and he was the only one left to look after her. If he didn’t destroy the stupa, he would not be able to serve his mother. What could he do? After thinking for a long time, he told his mother, “I’m going to prison.” She replied, “Forget that you have a mother. And stay well in prison.”
Another lama was asked to kill stray dogs, and when he refused, his hand was crushed between stones. Afterwards, he said, “I didn’t suffer much. At this time, I found a use for my hand because it did not kill the dogs.”
Sometimes when we’re feeling compassionate, it is from a position of superiority: “I’m up here, a positive, powerful and important person, and those suffering are down there.” If we are really compassionate, we become part of these people. When we want to help them, we do not feel separate, but one with them.
Actually, any kind of compassion is good. When people are young, some have compassion naturally. Others take a lot of teachings, study, and think a lot: “I have to become compassionate.” This way we fabricate compassion and it is less strong than the compassion that comes naturally. In my homeland, fall is the time when animals are killed, usually by suffocation. Family members do not do the killing, but bring in others. In those days, I felt such intense compassion, but it is not the same as now; it was much better then— an unbearable compassion. Now I have all the thoughts, and know the ways to practice, but the spontaneity is not the same. It was like a chick still inside the egg, moving around in the shell.
All the positive deeds we do are dedicated in order to discover this natural compassion. It involves a process. First we understand what it is that we are, then we understand the world and how things are, and then we learn what the practice is really about.
Today we are in Bodhgaya, where all the thousand Buddhas of the world have been and will become enlightened. Some people who come on pilgrimage here from Tibet, dedicate the merit of even a few steps made in the direction of Bodhgaya.
When I escaped from Tibet, first I did a mo (divination), to see if it would be possible or not. I didn’t have the trust that I would be able to escape, although there was a kind of deeper certainty. Some say that I left in order to bring the black hat back to Tibet. But if you weigh a person’s life against a hat, it’s clear that the balance is in favor of the person’s life. You don’t exchange your life for a hat. I left because I needed to get the teachings and transmissions and all my teachers are here in India. If I could have flown, I would have, but it was not possible. The only way out was to escape by foot.
I also had the concern that when I became eighteen or nineteen, I might be given a political status and forced to say negative things about His Holiness the Dalai Lama and also forced to work against the cause of Tibet. I could not do this. So I said to others, “Even if I can make a few steps toward India and then I die, it doesn’t matter. I am going.” So with lots of difficulties and hardships, I was able to make it to India. These days as well, for people who come from Tibet and China, it is not easy to get a passport and visa, and still they came to this sacred and auspicious place.
It is important that we all have gathered here, If we want to clean a place using just one stalk of kusha grass, it will take a very long time, but with many stalks together, we can get the job done more easily. Similarly, it is more powerful when we have a large crowd and both genders—monks as well as nuns, female as well as male lay practitioners— praying together. With our hearts and minds combined together, we can make strong prayers and there is nothing that we cannot accomplish.
Buddhas and bodhisattvas intentionally come in the form of human beings to give continuous aid to others. The Karmapa started the tulku system, which is a way of not abandoning living beings: the Karmapas come back to the world again and again in order to help them.
The Karmapa Dusum Khyenpa has helped so much for the last nine hundred years. All the activities of the lineage he created have benefitted thousands and thousands of living beings, bringing them to liberation. Due to the kindness of the first Karmapa, lineage holders have appeared. So if to these lamas you make prayers, offerings, and dedications, they will have a great benefit and power. What are the benefits of the teachings? Living beings are led to a more positive life and into true happiness.
Why do we ask that the buddhas live long? To benefit beings. If they don’t to this, then there is no need for them. Buddha generated bodhicitta and developed wisdom and compassion for eons, finally becoming enlightened: all this was in order to help living beings.
People with good intentions are very precious, since many deceive others and few are trustworthy. If everyone becomes like this, it is very sad. People are too concerned with an outcome that benefits themselves: “If I win and get what I want, I’ll do this. If I’m defeated and don’t get what I want, I’ll do that.” Not wavering like this, our positive intention should be our guide in making a firm and clear decision: “Whether I have difficulties or not, I shall take this path. If I am happy, I will share it with everyone. If I am unhappy, may I carry this by myself alone.”
All creatures are living by the light of one sun and from the same oxygen in our air. We may have different religions, faiths, and cultures, but we have the same wish to be happy and be free of suffering. The world is becoming smaller and smaller; if there is trouble in one place, it spreads to all. Furthermore, the environment is deteriorating, so we live with anxiety that a catastrophe will happen. Last year, we saw many earthquakes that caused great loss of life and much destruction.
One thing we can actually do right now is to work on our mind. At least if we become a better person, there is one bad person less.
Now let us take the bodhisattva vow. We say to ourselves: “To bring all living beings to enlightenment, may I become enlightened.” Please make at least that much of an aspiration. If you have a higher understanding, then think, “Living beings have so many problems. It’s not the time for me to relax. I have to do something. I must move into high gear.”
All those who want to take the vows, please kneel, and if you cannot actually do it, then make the intention to kneel. Now think, “May I be able to bring all beings to lasting happiness. Never giving up this intention, I’ll do something from today and until I attain full awakening.”
His Holiness does his prayers and continues saying that we need a refuge tree—the Buddha was enlightened under the Bodhi tree—so we should imagine in front of us the Buddha who is in the sky or on the ground. Recall a lama whom we trust the most and also the lineage of buddhas and bodhisattvas. Feel that all living beings surround you.
Then His Holiness gives the vow while those taking it repeat after him. After the third repetition, he states that those who feel they have received the vow, have done so. They should think, “I want to generate bodhicitta for all living beings so that they may attain full awakening. I’ve now made this decision. My promise is sealed. I must bring a permanent end to the suffering of living beings and establish them in permanent happiness.”
His Holiness then returns to the text, emphasizing certain points. Space knows no limits, and our intention to benefit others is even more limitless than limitless space. Think about this. When we talk about our mind, our intention is larger than space. Our bodies are small, but we can send out our intentions to everywhere there is space and beyond.
The texts speak of giving up four negative actions, What are they? First is to fool the lama, sangha, and others through lies. The source of qualities is the lama and the source of kindness is our parents. There is nothing worse than fooling people like these. The sangha also has to think about not fooling their sponsors, who have gone through so much effort to be able to make donations. They must be an unmistaken recipient for these. If we fool others, we are in danger of losing our aspiration bodhicitta and then we would lose our engaged bodhicitta, and as a consequence, our vajrayana vows.
The second point is not to cause regret when it is not appropriate. For example, your friend has done something wonderful and out of jealousy, you say it is not that good. You friend might then regret a positive deed, so we have to be careful about what we say to others.
The third is not to criticize bodhisattvas or say anything disrespectful. Actually, we do not know who is a bodhisattva. A bug may be a bodhisattva. Our minds are fogged by dense ignorance, so we really do not know how others’ minds are. We may have a lot of information and some knowledge, and we do not really know how things are.
Fourth is causing harm to others. This is another way to lose our bodhicitta. In the political arena, there are people who use war as an instrument for their goals. However, if you kill, then others will want to kill in return and so the killing continues. We must find peaceful ways to be in the world. And it is also important that we do not do anything to cause the teachings to decline.
As I mentioned yesterday, the main thing is not to give up on even one living being. We maintain our desire to help, whether it is of temporary or ultimate benefit. This includes doing good deeds so that we will take a positive rebirth and be able to continue helping living beings in the future. This is another way of not giving up on them. If we maintain this intention well, then even if we take birth as a tiger, we will not forget.
In this light, I have thought about vegetarianism, which is actually about developing a kind heart. When we hear about slaughtering pigs by shooting them in the head with a small gun, our hearts suffer, so I wrote an aspiration that I may never be separate from all living beings who are as limitless as space and who are experiencing suffering in their lives. It is important for us to make aspirations for a good rebirth, one in which we would not harm living beings. For example, Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye made the aspiration that he would take a future birth in which he did not have to eat meat.
As a representative of all beings, I’d like to thank you for taking the bodhisattva vow today.
Our Future is in our own Hands
The following is an edited account of the teaching not a transcription, and is derived from the English translation, not the original Tibetan.
Gyalwang Karmapa began the afternoon session by conferring the transmission of the longer Mahamudra Ngondro (Foundational Practice) at the request of an individual. He then resumed his preparatory teaching for receiving the engaged Bodhisattva vow, based on Jowo Atisha’s text.
Some say that in order to take the Bodhisattva vow, you should have a basis of one of the individual liberation vows. Others say that you do not need the Vinaya, but generally, you cannot start to work for the benefit of people before you have given up harming them. The refuge vows, therefore, are the basis. You have to take the vows from a qualified teacher:
v.23 …one skilled in the vow ceremony,
Who lives by the vow and has
The confidence and compassion to bestow it.
There are two types of vow – ones taken from a teacher, and ones, which can be taken without a teacher. Vinaya vows are always taken with a teacher, but the Bodhisattva vow can be taken without. According to the Ornament of Manjushri’s Buddha Land Sutra, Manjushri as Ambaraja, took the Bodhisattva vow in the presence of the protectors. His Holiness then read verses 26-31 of the text, which describe how it was done, and explained that this could be done in the absence of a teacher.
In terms of the procedure for taking the engaged Bodhisattva vow, it is important to know the downfalls, which differ superficially in number according to text and tradition. This does not mean that they are contradictory, rather that some are elaborations and also that there are different stages, according to the experience or level of the practitioner. The more advanced may be given 18 downfalls for example, and the less advanced may have fewer. His Holiness gave examples. He advised that people should try to observe what they could and train in that; there was some leeway.
There is a composite of 18 downfalls, which people who wished to take the engaged Bodhisattva vows should study and understand a little.
- To praise oneself and criticise others for personal gain
- To refuse to give wealth or Dharma out of miserliness
- To fail to forgive people who ask for forgiveness
- To give up on the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha
- To steal offerings
- To reject the Dharma
- To harm the Sangha in some way
- To commit the 5 heinous deeds
- To hold a wrong view
- To destroy villages, towns etc
- To teach emptiness to the untrained
- To turn people away from the Dharma
- To make people give up pratimoksha discipline
- To disparage sravakas and pratyekabuddhas
- To lie about realisations
- To receive offerings under false pretences
- To make harmful rules
- To abandon bodhicitta and helping sentient beings
In the morning people received the aspiration Bodhisattva vows. However, an aspiration doesn’t make things happen. The difference between aspiration bodhicitta and engaged bodhicitta is the difference between someone who wants to do something and someone who does it. Aspiration has to be transformed into action. For example, working to protect the environment saves the lives of many sentient beings. We need to protect the snow mountains so that the snow doesn’t melt and so that all the great rivers of the world can continue to flow. Protecting these rivers will save millions of sentient beings who either live in them or depend on them. It is very important to take action. Quoting from the first line from the Four Immeasurables prayer: May all beings have happiness and the causes of happiness, His Holiness warned that sometimes when we recite this we are merely paying lip service, whereas we should be creating something concrete and helpful.
Engaged bodhicitta does not require extreme sacrifices such as cutting off a hand. Such actions have to be practised skillfully, as, for example, in one of the Jataka stories, somebody gives an eye, makes a dedication, and then the eye comes back. Somebody who is highly advanced can only do this. You have to be able to give without any regret. But it is not necessary to go to these extremes: you can make a start in small ways at your own level.
We are gathered here in this really holy and sacred place of Bodhgaya. The Buddha foretold that if people in the future, who had not been able to meet him, went on pilgrimage with pure motivation and devotion to places where he had been, it would be the same as meeting him. Our mind is the main thing. Someone said once, “We are so deluded and so ignorant, it is extremely fortunate that I see my lama as a human being, and not as a dog or a donkey.”
We hold our future in our own hands, to use the occasion to create something good for the future, so we should use this opportunity. Sometimes one action can achieve many things.
[Gyalwang Karmapa then gave the engaged Bodhisattva vow, and the assembly repeated the vow for the first time.]
His Holiness told how he used to be short-tempered when he was a child in Tibet and in India because there were so many difficulties. He would regret losing his temper afterwards, determine not to lose it again, but then forget. However, he was influenced by the story of the gelong who asked, “What is the most important thing to attain enlightenment?” and the answer was “not to get angry, not to get disturbed”, and so he vowed “From this moment I will never get angry with anybody,” and from that time on he was known as Mitrugpa – the one who is never disturbed – until he became the Buddha Mitrugpa [Skt.Akshobhya].
We do not know where we will be reborn next, but we vow “until I become enlightened”, so why not during this life? One of the worst things is to make promises and break them. His Holiness suggested that what we need is a new invention: a tape recorder that automatically records our promises, linked to an alarm, to warn us and remind us of our promises whenever we are about to break them but that technology doesn’t exist, so all we can do is to remind ourselves of our promises again and again.
All the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas have done this before us. We have to pray with the determination to be enlightened this very day – that strongly! We have to motivate ourselves to take personal responsibility to liberate all the beings who have not been liberated and release them from the ocean of samsara.
[The assembly repeated the vows for a second time.]
The afflictions, such as anger and jealousy, don’t make us feel good, so we need to remind ourselves,” I have this precious bodhicitta which will help me and all other sentient beings, so I don’t need these afflictive states. I can let them go. Even when I have to confront difficulties, I have this method, this bodhicitta, in good and bad times.
[The assembly repeated the vows for the third time.]
The Bodhisattva vows are not for this life only but until we become enlightened, so even if we commit downfalls, if we do not abandon the main aspiration, we won’t lose our vows.
His Holiness then returned to the Lamp for the Path to the next section, which discusses meditation (verses 34 – 38). We have to be very careful when we want to help other sentient beings so that we can see whether our help will benefit them or not, and for this we need to develop higher perception. It is accomplished through effort not laziness, and requires the attainment of calm-abiding (shamatha).
Verse 40, describing the meditation technique, quotes from a text written by one of Atisha’s teachers, “Place the mind on any one Virtuous focal object.”
Sometimes we see meditation as something very important, Is it hard to meditate because it is too difficult or because it is too easy? Maybe it is too easy. We need to be more relaxed but we make it more strenuous. His Holiness gave another illustration from his personal experience: “Usually I don’t smile, so in group photos they always ask me to say cheese, but even if I try to smile I look strange, so it’s not easy for me.” Meditation is also very because it’s a natural state; we want to be relaxed, we don’t want to be distracted. If you kick a football hard into the water it will bounce back out, but if you place it carefully on the water it will stay put.
Verses 41- 54 This section introduces emptiness.
Buddha said that you don’t look for the nature of the thing by getting rid of the thing. Whatever is appearance, that is emptiness. It’s not that first the vase exists and then through analysis it becomes empty. The vase you see is appearance, but when you examine it, you can see that it does not exist independently. When you see a film of me it appears I am there but at the same time you know I am not there, my form is there. Through technology, the appearance is there, but the appearance doesn’t mean it exists in that way. There is nothing which arises independently so there is nothing which does not have the nature of emptiness. Emptiness is not the same as non-existence, such as the horn of the rabbit. The crux is establishing how it exists–it doesn’t exist in the way we thought it existed. Vajrayana talks of the union of appearance and emptiness. The way it exists is not the way that we at this moment think it exists.
The Madhyamaka view of emptiness is established through negation.
The Mahamudra view is established through experience.
Beginners should perhaps start with analysis and then move to experience.
Sometimes we talk about emptiness but it has no impact in our daily lives; for example there is no independent “I” or “me” yet, we have the arrogance to think ourselves free and independent.
The Nepalese King Mahendra made Nepal into a democracy, so one day, someone was lying down in the road, and this was stopping the traffic. So a crowd gathered to find out what had happened. The person said, “Now it’s. a democracy, I’m free, so I’m sleeping in the street.”
That’s not how democracy and freedom should be. You know about interdependence, and you know that you have responsibilities whatever we do has an effect on others.
These days we all live under stress and tension; perhaps if we consider interdependence and emptiness we will feel more relaxed. Belief in emptiness and selflessness is part of the Four Seals of Buddhism. We are easily deceived by appearances-things appear concrete but everything is emptiness. However, causes and conditions are not empty, so don’t ignore karma.
Finally, the Gyalwang Karmapa referred to the special prayers to be held on the 8th day of the Monlam in gratitude for the services of three great living lamas Thrangu Rinpoche, Tenga Rinpoche and Khenpo Tsultrim Gyatso, and the wish that they will remain. Three books of their teachings have been published specially.
His Holiness appealed to all Kagyu Dharma Centres to join in by reciting Long Life Prayers, the Vajrasattva Mantra, Seven Line Prayer, and the Sixteen Arhat Prayer on that day.
He also expressed the hope that Bokar Rinpoche’s reincarnation be found quickly.