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The 29th Kagyu Monlam: Day Four

4 March, 2012 Bodhgaya

This morning began with another first.  H.E. the Fourth Jamgon Kongtrul Lodrö Chökyi Nyima gave the Mahayana Sojong vows to those gathered before dawn at the Monlam Pavilion for the very first time. The surrounding fields resounded with the chattering of waking birds, as, in a deep voice, reminiscent of the Gyalwang Karmapa, the sixteen year old led the congregation for the first time.

Significantly, this Monlam, Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche has assumed a more prominent role. Earlier, he was in evidence at each session of the Gutor Mahakala Puja, supporting the vajra master Gyaltsap Rinpoche. In addition he gave a short teaching on Calling the Lama from Afar and led the Subduing the Ground vajra dance.

Born in Central Tibet on November 26, 1995, Rinpoche was located  in the summer of 1996 by a search party following instructions given by the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa. During this Monlam, His Holiness commented how, of all the recognitions of trulkus he made while he was in Tibet, this was the one he experienced most strongly and clearly.  Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche travelled to India in 1997 and now lives at the monastery established by the previous Jamgon Kongtrul in Lava, West Bengal.

Gyalwang Karmapa’s teachings on the pure realms to the East and West —Day 4

At the Monlam Pavilion on the morning of March 4, the Gyalwang Karmapa continued his teaching on the purelands. After he takes his seat on the throne, tea and biscuits are offered to everyone while the aspirations and names of the sponsors are read out by the discipline master.

It is not as if we get involved in Dharma because we are at a loose end and have nothing better to do. I am talking to you because I think it is really important, and you have to see for yourself if you think so, too. You are not just passing time here, having to sit through all of this. That is not the right reason to be here.

The word dharma in Sanskrit has ten different meanings. It was translated into Tibetan as chos, which means to change, to transform, or to make better. We have to alter our mind, transform it.  What does this change entail? It does not mean undergoing plastic surgery to make our face more beautiful, nor does it mean hair implants or dying our hair. This is not the shift intended. When we talk of Dharma, it is not an alteration that tools can perform: only mind can transform mind. You have to use your mind to change your mind.

To begin with, you can meet with your mind and talk to it, making clear what is good and what is not. You can also watch your mind, determine what is going on, and take responsibility for what it is doing. In brief, you give yourself counsel and follow it, thereby transforming your mind. If you look inward and analyze, you can see that sometimes the mind is turning in a positive direction and sometimes not. Which part of your mind you follow, depends on you. Just as when someone is telling you what to do, you can choose to do it or not. We have to decide for ourselves. One side of your mind says , “You should get upset and angry.” The other side says, “You mustn’t do that. You have to be more open and compassionate.” By inspecting your mental processes, you observe what is going on and take control.

Then you have to come to a conclusion and make a real decision: This is what I will do. If you do not have this resolve, then your plan will not be stable, and you will fluctuate between positive and negative actions. If you have a clear and stable commitment, your decision is consistent in the beginning, middle, and end.

Then His Holiness turned to talk about Akshobhya, saying that in Tibet his mind was more at ease, but when he came to India, many problems surfaced so he could become upset and angry. He had an interest in Akshobhya, which he then pursued, doing as much research as he could.  He discovered that there was a bodhisattva named Great Vision who made the commitment that until he became fully awakened, he would not get angry. That was a big decision—to keep this commitment just until one dies would not be easy. So the Karmapa thought that he, too, should make a similar promise: Until I die, as much as I am able, I will not get angry or upset with anyone.

Since we make a commitment with our body, speech, and mind, we have to treat all three as servants, who are under the power of this commitment; otherwise, they might not obey us. We offer our body, speech, and mind to this promise, so they will follow its guidance. Nevertheless, sometimes we forget, so we have to remind ourselves every day. If we do so, then after a few months, our commitment will become a natural part of our life. So thinking in this way, the Karmapa made his promise. Then he thought it would be good to record it so that he would automatically be reminded whenever he was about to do something contrary to his promise, but it seems that our technology is not quite at this level yet.

When we say “Dharma,” it concerns understanding what is good and bad, what is beneficial and what is not. We need to use this power, demonstrate and arouse it in a big way. If we do not know the Dharma well, we might do strange things, so we must study and develop our understanding. Many practice the vajrayana without knowing its actual meaning. We may think we have to have all sorts of implements and do strange things, and then our family might think we are being misled or have gone astray. But to practice vajrayana is not strange or different: it is directly related to our daily life.

There are different levels of vehicles (yanas) and some might think there is a large difference between them, but that is not the case. Some might mistakenly think that vajrayana is good and mahayana is not. Just as the four elder and eight younger schools are not higher or lower, the vehicles are not bigger and smaller or better and worse, or one more popular than the other.

Thegs pa is the Tibetan word used for “vehicle” (yana in Sanskrit) and it means “to lift” or “to carry.” For example, different animals have different capacities to carry a load: an elephant can carry a big burden that would be too much for a goat. In a similar way, the difference in our practice depends on the extent of our bodhicitta, the aspiration to attain full awakening for the sake of all living beings. How much responsibility are we willing to take? How much of a load can we carry? Is it just for ourselves or for all other beings?

We can practice the vajrayana without malas, bells, dorjes, and so forth. These are things that anyone can purchase or possess. We should look to the essence of the three vehicles, which can be understood in terms of their focus—which of the three poisons and its antidote is central? In the foundational vehicle, renunciation, the antidote for excessive desire, is emphasized; in the bodhisattva vehicle, compassion and love, the antidote for anger, are most important; and in the vajrayana, taking the result as the path, the antidote for ignorance, is prominent. The vajrayana emphasizes wisdom so that impure view is cleared away. In all the vehicles, therefore, you are working with the afflictions. If you find an antidote, a way to deal effectively with the affliction, you are doing Dharma practice. If you are sincerely working with the difficult emotions and wrong views, only then you are doing Dharma practice.

The great masters have said that if you understand one Dharma, or one teaching of the Buddha, then put that into practice.  If you understand two, put these into practice. Some people think that Dharma practice is to make us happy and relax our mind. Our work in a big, busy city is stressful so we escape to a special place for practice, trying to bring a little peace, happiness, and relaxation to our minds. This is not a bad thing, but the Dharma is not limited to stress reduction, which has too narrow a focus. Further, if we go to a spa for a massage, a sauna, and other treatments, the effect does not last long; in a few days, it is gone. The practice of Dharma is not like taking a drug and then everything is fine.

The practice of Dharma is like exercising or carefully following a course of training, which is powerful and deeply significant. For example, if you are in the military, you train every day, and in the same way, with the Dharma, you have to train your mind daily, not just to relax but to be able to relate to whatever is happening around you. You integrate your practice with whatever conditions you meet so that you are not carried away by them and do not lose your patience.

Patience or forbearance is not like the Shaolin monks, who become very strong fighters and can split bricks with their hands and so forth. Real patience means that we see the afflictions as faults, not positive qualities, and recognize that they are our real problems. The moment they appear, we immediately see that they are negative. Then no matter what people say to us, we will not be thrown off. Real patience does not mean we are wimps, but we know naturally when to be firm and not.

Understanding the basis of Dharma is crucial. In this life, we must come to see the nature of mind directly. Our Dharma practice is to find what is true, to see the truth. This experience is not something that we bring in from the outside or something that runs counter to facts. It is not useful to fabricate something in our mind that is not there; we need to understand our mind as it actually is. Milarepa understood the nature of samsara and of negative actions. Since he understood the facts, he practiced the Dharma and become a siddha, a fully realized master.

The Buddha first taught the Four Truths of the Noble Ones, the first of which is suffering—birth, old age, sickness, and death—and the second truth shows the origin of suffering and examines its causes.  We have to understand these, because enlightenment is actually the complete understanding of how things really are. This is what full awakening is. The Dharma teaches us what our world is all about, how it is in all its aspects.

The Karmapa then turned to the topic of Akshobhya, or Mitrukpa, the Immoveable One. Yesterday some people were feeling sleep, so today I brought volume kha of the Kangyur (the Teachings of the Buddha), which has an Akshobhya text of about seventy pages with forty-nine chapters so now you can really doze off, he joked.

Twenty-five years after the Buddha became enlightened, he was in Rajgir (Vulture Peak) along with 2,500 fully ordained sangha members. Shariputra asked about the aspirations of past bodhisattvas, saying that if the Buddha were to  speak of them, it would be an inspiration, and further, the sangha could learn about what to do in future. In response, Buddha taught this Sutra of the Features of Victorious Akshobhya’s Realm. The sutra revolves around the generation of bodhicitta, which functions as an armor so that others’ weapons will not harm you. Here, armor is a metaphor for patience.

The Buddha began the sutra by saying that a thousand buddha realms from here is a pureland called Abhirati where a past buddha, Great Vision, taught the six paramitas to his followers. Then one monk kneeled on his right leg, put his shawl over his right shoulder, and placed his palms together. He said that he wanted to practice the vast path of the bodhisattva. The Buddha Great Vision responded that the practice of the bodhisattva’s way is extremely difficult. Why so? Because you cannot get angry at any living being. You must remain stable, unperturbed, or unmoved by anything anyone might do. The monk responded with complete sincerity that until he became enlightened, he would generate bodhicitta and never become angry with anyone and never be disturbed by what another might do. If this did not happen, it would be as if he had deceived all the buddhas of the ten directions.

So the monk generated bodhicitta and made eight commitments, the first of which was that his mind would not be disturbed by anger. The Buddha Great Vision prophesied from this time onward, the monk would have the name Abskobhya, the Unmoveable One, in all his lifetimes until reaching buddhahood when he would be known as Akshobhya Buddha.

The monk also made eighteen aspirations, which included: I will remember the Buddha with every step I take; every lifetime I will be ordained; and I will never criticize the four communities of the sangha (the male and female ordained and lay sangha). In addition, the monk made seven earnest aspirations. To show that his commitment was irreversible, he made the billion world systems quake (without any harm) with his right toe.

We should follow the example of Akshobhya Buddha. Of course, we will not be able to do all that he did, but we do what we can and that is very good. If we cannot do anything, we pray that in the future we will come to resemble Akshobhya. If we can keep the thoughts, “I will not get angry with anyone,’ and “I will not have the thought to harm anyone,” then we are really practicing.

When we practice Avalokiteshvara (Chenrezik), our compassion develops. It is not that we simply become familiar with the deities, but we actually develop and integrate their qualities. We do not need to please them for they do not need anything. When we offer prostrations, for example, it is not for them, but for us. We wish to be born in a pureland, and that comes about through these kinds of practices.

Then it was time for meditation. The Karmapa talked about dedication, saying that first we have to create a positive action so that we have something to dedicate.  This is different from an aspiration prayer, when we generate a vast intention to benefit others, but there is no specific deed to dedicate. We can make aspirations even if we have not done anything special, which is not to say that they are not important. After the Buddha first generated bodhicitta, he practiced for three countless eons; during this time everything he did benefited others and all of it he dedicated for their benefit. Thanks to his immense, almost infinite, aspirations and dedications, when he became enlightened, all his activities happened without effort.

When we first generate bodhicitta and continue to do so, it is a kind of prayer: we want to bring lasting peace and happiness to all beings, so it is a huge aspiration. The benefits of bodhcitta like this are very powerful and long-term. They allow us to practice for countless eons without tiring. It is taught that because of the Buddha’s aspirations, the Dharma rests in the palm of our right hand. Our aspirations have gathered us here, and now we need to make aspirations for innumerable living beings, all of whom are connected to us, so that they attain full awakening and discover irreversible peace and happiness within. Please make this aspiration now.

There are those whom past masters could not help, so we aspire to liberate these people, too, for it is important that everyone becomes enlightened. Ordinary people can help others to a limited extent but most of this assistance turns out to be rather ineffective. If we really want to help, we must know what people really need, and for that, the higher perceptions are indispensable, so we must have stable shamatha meditation. When a bodhisattva gives assistance, nothing is useless, everything is meaningful.

Ordinary people do not know how to investigate or how inference works. Like a blind person, they are led around by their preferences.  How could they help others?  We need to be very clear and hold a great aspiration throughout the day and night.  This is not easy, but if we can manage it, we have accomplished someth

The Removal of Obstacles: The Twenty-One Praises of Tara, prayers to Tara and Sarasvati.

  Session Three today was devoted to obstacle-removing prayers, predominantly repetition of the nyer-chig  or Twenty-One Praises of  Tara, followed by other prayer to Tara and a prayer to Sarasvati. Arya Tara, known as Jetsun Drolma (rje btsun sgrol ma) in Tibetan, is a female bodhisattva, the female aspect of Avalokiteshvara, who combines compassion and action.  Her name means “the one who liberates” because she liberates from fear and from mental obscurations.

Before the recitation of the Twenty One Praises to Tara began, the Gyalwang Karmapa gave an introductory talk.

He began by recounting one story of the origins of Tara.

Millions of years ago in a resplendent, multi-coloured  world system where a Buddha abided, there lived a Princess called Yeshe Nangwa – the Light of Wisdom – who spent millions of years making offerinsg to the buddhas and bodhisattvas. Each day she made offerings of jewels which filled an area 12 leagues across.

She developed the resolve of bodhichitta, and at that time, the bkikkshus all exhorted  her to aspire to become male: You have gathered many roots of virtue so if you make the aspiration to have a male body you will be able to accomplish all your wishes.

But the Princess could not be persuaded.  In the end, she told them: There is no male. There is no female. There is no individual at all. Labeling things male and female creates great confusion in the world.

  She made the vow: Many have become Buddhas in a male body, but there is no one who has achieved Buddhahood in female form, so, until such time as samsara is emptied, I will take only a female birth.

 Through practice and meditation she achieved the path of seeing and then achieved the samadhi which can liberate all sentient beings. Because of this, every single day, each morning, she was able to commit hundreds of different acts for the benefit of sentient beings. She was able to understand the minds of beings and lead them on to the path of Dharma. She did the same each afternoon. Her previous name had been Princess Yeshe Nangwa; now she was renamed as Tara (the Liberator).

Both the Indian and Tibetan masters explain the meaning of her name in similar ways.  She is called Liberator because she can liberate sentient beings from the sixteen types of fear and so forth, and she can gather the eight things that are necessary.

The Gyalwang Karmapa then went on to give a short commentary on the meaning of the “21 Praises”.

Some versions of “21 Praises of Tara”, he explained, have a short praise at the beginning, which was written by the Noble Atisha. According to one story, while Atisha was at Nyethang, he prayed to Tara. There was a prophecy that he could accomplish 20,000 Tara recitations in one day, so as this seemed impossible, he asked Tara for advice.  She gave him a shortened form of the ‘Praises’ that he could use: Om Jetsunma Drolma la chag tsel lo   (Om. I prostrate to the Noble Lady Tara).

Om incorporates three sounds oh-ah-hum and represents the body, speech and mind of the buddhas. In the mantra it refers to the body, speech and mind of Tara.

Je in Jetsunma means she is like the mother of the Buddhas.

She is called noble lady– Jetsunma – because she holds all three types of vows in her mindstream and because she does not reside in samsara.

She is called  Drolma because she liberates all sentient beings.

Chag tsel lo  means to prostrate, and we prostrate to Tara with body, speech and mind.

The praises can be broken down into three sections. In the first section, we prostrate to Tara’s sambogakaya form.  She is described as “the quick and heroic”, describing her activity.  ”Who arose from the open heart on the lotus face of the three world’s protector”: these lines refer to  Chenresig (Avalokiteshvara), who is the protector of the three realms, and the story that Tara was born from a tear on his lotus face. The praises continue with references to both her wrathful and peaceful forms. Some show respect to her as a bodhisattva and buddha. This section  concludes with the line :Who, frowning with the syllable HUM  conquers the seven levels.

In the second section, the prostrations are made to her dharmakaya form. This section begins with the line:  I prostrate to you whose conduct is blissful.

The third section describes the benefits of reciting the praises. At dawn it is good to remember the peaceful aspects and make aspirations. In the evening one should remember the wrathful aspects. There is then the aspect of benefits for both oneself and for others, and the number of times the praises should be recited.  To recite these praises is the best way to ensure that we have what we need. Tara clears away obstructions and difficulties. Reciting the praises is especially important at this time when there are many obstacles; Tara can bring harmonious conditions and long life as stable as the vajradharma.