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The 29th Kagyu Monlam: Day Three – Gyalwang Karmapa’s Teachings on the Pure Realms to the East and West

3 March, 2012 Bodhgaya

According to science, this earth is the only planet where all of the positive conditions exist for human life. So to have all the conditions necessary for life is very rare. And human beings have a special quality that other beings lack: we are able to distinguish right from wrong. Many species of living beings have become extinct, but among those that exist, humans are the most intelligent because they have the capacity for ethical or moral discernment, knowing which actions are positive and which are negative. It is not just a matter of gain and loss in the short term; we can also comprehend what is beneficial in the long term. But even though we have this capacity, so far we have not used it very well. We tend to only look at what is good for ourselves in the short term, but we do not look closely enough at what is best for everyone in the long run. On top of that, for our own benefit or that of our immediate communities, we mistreat other groups of beings and create a lot of damage and loss of life. In this way, because of negative human activities, many beings have been killed and have become extinct.

And in the same way, all the problems in the environment are due to the mistakes of human beings. In one way, there has been vast technological and material development, making it easy to communicate and travel. But in another way, we are living in degenerate times. By this I mean that natural and traditional ways of doing things are being replaced by all kinds of artificial or made-up methods.

Because of this, human beings have arrived at a time when we really need to think deeply. We have all kinds of ease and assets in our environment, creating the right kind of conditions to practice dharma. And these conditions not only facilitate dharma practice, but also enable us to engage in positive actions. Thus we need to use our great capacity for intelligence to understand how to act in ways that are the most beneficial for ourselves and for others. If we can do that, then this precious human life will become useful and fruitful.

Furthermore, when we talk about our lives we are not just referring to our individual bodies. We are part of an interconnected web and whether or not our lives become meaningful depends upon acknowledging this interdependence and using our minds, thoughts, and actions in such a way that they will be beneficial, not just for ourselves, but for everyone.

Now today I will finish teaching about Amitabha’s pure realm:

1) How do we create conditions to be reborn in Dewachen?

It is said in the Amitabha Sutra, “If anybody hears my name, and then makes a prayer or aspiration to be born in Sukhavati, unless that person has created the five heinous deeds or abandoned the dharma, if they are not born there, then I will not be enlightened.” So Amitabha says that if someone really aspires to be born in Dewachen, and practices positive deeds, he will make it possible for them to be born there. But first you have to aspire to it and focus your mind on it. Then you must accumulate positive deeds and dedicate those deeds to be born in Dewachen.

In the Amitabha Sutra, the Buddha says to Sariputra, “If someone concentrates on Dewachen for one to seven days, then if that person dies, they will necessarily be born into Dewachen. So therefore one must pray to be born into Dewachen.”

And in another sutra called Chime Nada, “The Drums of Deathlessness,” it says that if you recite the name of Amitayus, you can also be born in Dewachen or Sukhavati. The conditions for being born there are:

1)    With devotion and a clear, inspired mind, you recite the name of Amitayus or Amitabha.

2)    You must perform many positive deeds and dedicate them to being reborn in Dewachen.

As for the special causes or complete conditions, try to generate within yourself all the qualities of the bodhisattvas that reside in Dewachen. What are those qualities? The bodhisattvas lack hatred or anger, are very diligent, and never tire of learning. Even if they possess an ocean of knowledge they are never satisfied and all of their senses have been tamed and are under control. So we need to try to cultivate those same qualities and that comprises the complete cause of being born in Dewachen.

And what kind of life forms can create the conditions to be born there? Anybody–gods, humans or non-humans—can as long as they have the capacity to transform or direct their minds in a positive and virtuous way. Also, regarding all those causes described in the sutras, it is not enough to just do them once. We have to practice them again and again and we have to generate strong devotion and confidence in the teachings of Buddha Sakyamuni.

Ordinary positive deeds will cause us to take a good samsaric birth but special positive deeds create the conditions for us to be born in Dewachen. These special deeds need to be done with a clear understanding and confidence in Amitabha’s realm and also in Buddha Sakyamuni’s teachings. Being undistracted is very important too. It is not enough just to recite the Buddha’s name or mantra but we must do it one-pointedly. And likewise, if we perform positive deeds in a state of non-distraction, we will create the causes and conditions to be born in Dewachen. So these are ways to create conditions for ourselves to be born in Dewachen.

2) How can we create the conditions for others to be born in Dewachen?

We should not practice dharma for our own gain or honor but we should practice from the depths of our heart so that other beings may be born into Dewachen. We should read the Amitabha Sutra and the Chime Nada Sutra aloud so they are heard by other beings. And when we recite the names and mantras of the buddhas, we can encourage others to recite the names and mantras also. So in order to create the conditions to be reborn in Dewachen, we request or teach people to abide by their precepts and create positive deeds. Furthermore, we allow them to hear the name of Amitabha and his sutra. We can also spread sand or material that is blessed by the recitation of mantras and sutras on others’ bodies and them show Amitabha’s form. We can make prayer flags so that all beings will be touched by the wind that is blown through the mantras and representations of Amitabha. So these are some ways to help other people to create the causes and conditions to be born in Dewachen.

Animals like birds and pigs are unable to recite the names of the buddhas, so we recite the mantras or names in their ears in order to create the causes for them to be born in Dewachen. There are many stories about that. About a month ago, I heard something but I don’t know whether it is true or not. A person wanted to eat frog meat and went to the market to buy some frogs. Apparently, skinning frogs can be done quite easily. So this person bought three frogs, skinned the frogs, and brought them to his home. By the time he got home, one frog had already died. Another frog that had been skinned was still breathing a little bit. So that frog was looking up at the person with large eyes. This spooked the person and he began to recite the mantra of Amitabha. Slowly, the dead frog revived and the frogs listened carefully to the mantra, Om Ami Dewa Hri. And then one of the frogs seemed to be reciting Amitabha’s mantra. So this is an incident I read about, but I don’t know if it really happened or not.

In short, most of us aspire to be reborn in Dewachen. In Tibet this has been the case for a long, long time and the same is true for Korea, Vietnam, and Japan. These traditions have been around for a long time and there are many great masters who are very skilled in the practice. However, some are rather strange because they say that we should only do the practice for rebirth in Dewachen. That is mistaken, I think. Some people are very inspired to be born in Dewachen but maybe others are not. So you cannot tell all of them that they must only do Amitabha’s practice and nothing else. Even Buddha Sakyamuni never said this.

Because as I said before if you really want to create the complete causes and conditions for rebirth in Dewachen, then you must engage in all the practices of the Buddhadharma such as study, reflection, meditation, generation of bodhichitta and the bodhisattva’s way of life, and the three trainings. People prefer an easier way so that is why some people say that Amitabha’s practice is the only one to do and you do not need anything more. That is not right. If our aspiration is that small and simple then we risk becoming a sect by thinking “only my way is the right way.” We have to be very careful about that otherwise we could create sectarianism.

Generally in the Buddhadharma, any dharma practice we do can cause us to be born into Dewachen. There is nothing that does not become a cause for us to be born into Dewachen. The only criteria are whether we are especially inspired and praying to be born there or not.

A three-minute meditation on Bodhichitta

In order to meditate on Bodhichitta, first it is important to meditate on compassion. Meditation is like a mirror or coin with two sides. Facing out is renunciation and facing in is compassion. In Tri Gyatsa, “100 Instructions” by the Karmapa Mikyo Dorje, there is a very nice instruction on how to meditate on compassion. I will try to go through this a little bit.

As I said before, we have attained the precious human life. The main feeling of gratitude we need to have is to our mother. Because she gave us this body, we should be extremely grateful to her. In order that we live, our parents went through many difficulties and did a lot of positive and negative things. And the reason they did the negative deeds is because of their love for their children and grandchildren. All the business they did and cultivation of the land, etc. was not just for their own livelihood but to keep their children and grandchildren alive and well. So because of all these positive and negative deeds they did for our benefit, they might be born into lower realms in their next lives. Because of this, we have to be responsible for them in some way.

Similarly, all sentient beings are like our parents. When we talk about parents, there are many different types of parent. There are the parents who gave us our body, and the parents who have been kind to us in other ways. Our parents gave us life, but other beings on earth also gave us things that allowed us to keep on living. If we eat food, it comes in a package, and we don’t know who prepared it. Even though we don’t know their names, some people definitely cultivated and cooked this food and packaged it for us to enjoy. Therefore, many, many people, who like our parents became causes for our survival, have been very kind to us. Anyway, to be able to feel gratitude is a very important thing. When we feel compassion, kindness, and gratitude, we become content, happy, and joyful. Thus, feeling gratitude is very beneficial and important for us as human beings.

And compassion is actually feeling gratitude for all sentient beings and remembering that all those beings in samsara have a lot of suffering and problems. When we really see that situation we feel unbearable compassion and sadness and become inspired to free them from their sufferings. So we have to cultivate that kind of sincere and burning aspiration thinking, “I want to free all beings from their suffering!” This is what we will meditate on today.

Imagine all the buddhas and bodhisattvas, like Amitabha and Avalokiteshvara, present in the sky in front of us. Then recollect all the positive deeds that we have done in the three times, past, present, and future, and offer them to the buddhas. And because we offer them to the buddhas, the Buddhadharma spreads. And because it spreads more people create positive deeds and those positive deeds are also dedicated. There is the power of creating positive deeds and the positive deed of offering that to the Buddha and the result is the spread of dharma and that creates a lot more positive deeds for many people and is dedicated for the benefit of all sentient beings. And the positive deeds that come out of that, we also dedicate for the benefit of others and the positive deeds that come out of this dedication we dedicate again. So there is an endless cycle of positive things, and we dedicate in this way, creating an unending cycle of dedication. Maybe we will do some prayer and recitation first and then meditate.

At this point the Dewachen Monlam is chanted, followed by the meditation bell.

1.50pm and the Monlam Pavilion is buzzing. People returning from lunchbreak are greeting friends, others are sitting quietly, the sangha are putting on their yellow prayer shawl in spite of the early afternoon heat.  Steadily the flow of people – monks, nuns and laypeople – fills the great tent. Everything and everyone appears strangely tinted by the pale blue light filtering through the blue tent cloth and blue PVC tarpaulin.   A wind picks up and ruffles the tent cloth. The PVC tarpaulin snaps, rustles and crackles in the breeze.

This is the third of eight days; there is a feeling of harmony and unity of intent within the Pavilion.  At 2.00pm promptly the chanting master begins the first prayer of the session “The King of Aspirations: The Noble Aspiration for Excellent Conduct”.

 H.E. Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche and H.E. Gyaltsap Rinpoche presided over the afternoon sessions.

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