The 29th Kagyu Monlam: Day Two – Mahayana Sojong Vows
2 March, 2012 Bodhgaya
At the close of the first day, the chief chötrimpa (disciplinarian) gently chided some of the monks for being late for the first session of the Monlam. Today, everyone was on time.
The session began with Gyaltsap Rinpoche bestowing the Mahayana Sojong vows, proceeded on to the refuge prayers in Sanskrit, and then on to the Twenty Branch Monlam. The Gyalwang Karmapa attended the second session of the Monlam but not the other sessions. He worked busily in his quarters with preparations and audiences. He also visited the Nyingma Monastery and dropped in on the gelong and gelongma who eat lunch in the shrine room at Tergar Monastery. In the evening he went to the Monlam Pavilion to supervise the final rehearsal for the evening performance of “Karma Pakshi” on the 3rd March.
Gyalwang Karmapa’s teachings on the pure realms to the East and West
March 2, 2012, underneath the blue arch of the Monlam Pavilion, the Gyalwang Karmapa continued to teach on the pureland of Sukhavati (Dewachen). Yesterday, he talked about who could be born there, and after looking at various aspects of the question, he concluded that anyone who could engage their mind in virtuous actions could take rebirth in Sukhavati. Today he explained the purpose and particular benefits of being born in this pureland. Among these are avoiding the experience of the lower realms and the feeling of suffering, whether physical or mental, for this is a place (or level of realization) where we do not need to experience suffering or its origins. Instead, every day we will witness a festival of miracles. Further, in every lifetime until we become enlightened, we will attain all the leisures and resources. The most important benefit, however, is that the conditions obstructing liberation and omniscience are fewer and those that support attainment are greater.
What are these opposing inner conditions on a physical level? The body degenerates and grows old, experiences disease and weakness. The elements decline; eventually our life force fades away; and finally we die. While alive, we are poor and destitute and busy with maintaining a place to stay, food, and health. These experiences do not exist in Sukhavati. Mentally, the opposing conditions are mainly grasping on to the self of an individual and the self of phenomena on a coarse level. This has become manifest as having a great fixation on our place, our body, and objects we own. In brief, our self, this “I,” is greatly favored; we think about it almost constantly.
Further, we have the wrong view that disparages karma cause and effect, and we also have the thought to harm others. The afflictions, such as aversion and excessive desire, have come to the surface. Due to our ignorance, we do not know others’ minds, or the higher perceptions, and so forth. All these negative conditions, which are coarse, manifest, and mostly mental, do not exist in Sukhavati.
Connected to both the body and mind are the five things that veil or obscure our samadhi: seeking pleasure, maliciousness, torpor and sleepiness, agitation and excessive regret, plus doubt. Through these, we take up what is negative and cannot turn our mind to virtuous activity. We gather the karma that propels us into lower rebirths. Through body, speech, and mind, new negative karma is accumulated and the old is brought to fruition. In Sukhavati, these kinds of counterproductive conditions that are internal obstacles to liberation and omniscience are minimal.
Externally, negative conditions also arise—fires, floods, poisons and weapons, all the things related to what brings harm. Further, there are all manner of negative spirits that bring harm as well as enemies, thieves, and so forth. The five objects of the senses (forms, sounds, smells, tastes, and tactile objects) can also obstruct. In Sukhavati, these outer, or objective, conditions that give rise to what is unvirtuous, or that cause something else to do so, are also minimal.
In Sukhavati, conducive conditions, those in harmony with the path of practice, predominate. For example, we can take birth in another world and practice the path there. We do not die involuntarily, so we have a long life. Many positive qualities are born within—we attain the siddhis, the higher perceptions, the various special eyes, such as the wisdom eye or the divine eye. During one morning, we can come before the buddhas of the ten directions and make limitless offerings. Born near them we can receive key instructions. Without hindrances and just as we wish, we can attain everything to be enjoyed—the nourishment, clothing, residences and so forth in numberless buddha realms. And these pleasures will not promote or encourage the afflictions; rather, they are an aid leading to the experience of the genuine Dharma. We feel always blissful like those in the state of the third meditative concentration. Thoughts related to the genuine Dharma—such as impermanence, the nature of suffering, the meaning of no self—arise effortlessly within our mindstream. Present in Sukhavati are also great beings, such as buddhas and chakravartins. In sum, there are many positive conditions that help an individual to move along the path.
As for the outer conducive conditions, there is no need to mention the blissful joy found in Sukhavati. In addition, Amitabha, Avalokiteshvara, and Vajrapani are always present. From the pure realms in the ten directions come vast numbers of bodhisattvas-and arhants with their retinues, who remain in Sukhavati and turn the wheel of Dharma. Positive outer conditions appear without effort. The sounds relate not to ordinary phenomena, but to the Dharma which is naturally heard, telling of impermanence, peace, and no self. The beauty of the realm—the wishfulfilling trees, the celestial gods and goddesses—does not cause afflictions or distractions, but brings to mind what is virtuous on this profound and spacious path: the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha as well as samadhis, faith, emptiness, and full knowing. What arises is a mind wishing to attain liberation and omniscience. Therefore, although there are outer objects, they function as perfect conditions for accomplishing the path. In sum, compared to other pure realms, with this immense provision of outer and inner positive conditions, Sukhavati provides a special opportunity—profound, vast, and swift— to attain the qualities of the path.
After this discussion, His Holiness backs up his explanations by reading citations from a sutra, How the Pureland of Sukhavati Is Arrayed. The quotes speak of Sukhavati as a place where even the name of suffering does not exist; where one has all possible resources; and where the concepts of self and other are not present. In brief, the reason that we want to be reborn in the buddha realm of Sukhavati is that we can meet numerous spiritual friends, true buddhas such as Amitabha and true bodhisattvas such as Vajrapani. Through this, qualities of the paths and levels will arise; through bringing these benefits to mind, our practice will develop.
Then the Karmapa discussed some of the disputed points about Sukhavati, the first one being whether listeners, solitary realizers, gods or humans could be reborn there. In a sutra related to Amitabha, it is said that they all could take birth in Sukhavati. Nagarjuna affirmed the same. It was also said that since all causes and conditions are perfect, everyone born in Sukhavati has the five higher perceptions and the five eyes, (the physical, divine, wisdom, etc). There are also discussions about how the five pleasurable objects of the senses are enjoyed. Since they are experienced through a samadhi of perfect joy, involving a pliant and relaxed body and mind, attachment does not manifestly arise.
To summarize, in Sukhavati, all the positive outer and inner conditions are present, and the negative outer and inner conditions are absent. The most important point, however, is that we can actually meet the Buddha and listen to his teachings. Bodhisattvas and spiritual friends also give advice, so that we can enter the path leading to liberation and omniscience in a very profound, swift, and vast manner.
The Karmapa then shifted the topic, saying that if I continue like this people will be going to sleep, so I’ll change topics and talk about science. I am not schooled in this and have just a basic understanding so there may be mistakes in what I say. He then spoke of the vast number of galaxies, the clouds of billions of stars, the unimaginable number of universes there are. We know very little about them, so it is not impossible that among them we could find Sukhavati. Some say that Sukhavati is just a product of our habitual patterns, some kind of imprint in our mind. However, there are both pure and impure universes, and ordinary people can only see the latter. There are many things that we cannot see with our physical eye and we still believe to exist because we know them through inference or by implication.
The Karmapa also spoke of Mt. Meru and the universe as it is presented in the Abhidharmakosha, saying that some of the measurements do fit what modern science has found, and general statements, such as the preponderance of water over land, are also true. When the texts speak of the “golden ground” they do not necessarily point to something made of gold; “The Golden Field” was a name for Indonesia, the home of Atisha’s teacher with the same name, and gold can also be understood as the essence of the earth. In sum, these statements are based on samadhi and not technology so we have to study and reflect on them.
Then the Karmapa returned to the discussion of Sukhavati. Some say that it is not true that birth in Sukhavati brings one swiftly up the bodhisattva levels, because there is no suffering to create discontent and renunciation. Some also say that one day of practicing discipline in an impure, difficult world is worth more than practicing in a pure one. Here we need to understand that Sukhavati is beyond the three worlds of desire, form, and formlessness. From Sukhavati, we can go to myriad other realms and listen to the Dharma, which talks of impermanence and suffering so these are not unknown. Contrary to rebirth in Sukhavati, suffering in the impure realms is the result of unwholesome activity. It is also true that those who take rebirth in Sukhavati have already practiced Dharma deeply and passed beyond laziness, and so forth, so their renunciation comes naturally. Further, discipline develops more quickly and deeply in Sukhavati because there is a preponderance of positive conditions that foster it. Ultimately, the true nature of discipline does not change no matter where it is practiced.
His Holiness then followed his talk with a meditation. The main way we can take rebirth in Sukhavati is through clearing away the obscurations in our mind. We should then visualize the Buddha Amitabha, with Avalokiteshvara to his left and Vajrapani to his right in front of us. We acknowledge, or confess, previous negative actions and vow not to commit them again. This delights Amitabha, who smiles and radiates lights that come to purify the obscurations of our body, speech, and mind, allowing the qualities of Amitabha’s body, speech, and mind to arise within us.
After the meditation, the Karmapa comments that there are many different prayer festivals held here in Bodhgaya and what supports them is the money that comes from donations for the living and deceased. There is no other way for the sangha to serve the donors except to make excellent aspirations their behalf, wishing that they find an easy path to enlightenment. And this is done by remembering the qualities of the Buddha, who appeared in this world and taught the Dharma. Due to this, we could work together and hold this Kagyu Monlam. So even when taking a sip of water, we should remember his kindness. We take the example of his life as an instruction and make a great effort to become able to do as much as the Buddha did to help living beings, to bring them peace and happiness.
Some people might say that this is just an aspiration, even so we still have to make it and this is the time to do it. Our prayers may be just words in the beginning, and we aspire that we can actually accomplish them. One of the main characteristics of the mahayana is making vast plans for the future to help beings until the end of endless samsara.
A drop of water in an ocean will not disappear until the ocean does. Similarly, if we dedicate a small virtuous action to full realization, it will not disappear until we attain full awakening. Whether these actions become a cause for Buddhahood or not, depends on this dedication. We are the driver of the car and can choose its direction. When the right circumstances gather, a small seed can become a great tree with numerous flowers and fruits. So a small virtue can be imbued with a vast aspiration. The result we achieve depends on the scale of our intention.
So we need to be over-confident in our aspirations: May I become a Buddha today. The main point is not to think of me alone, my things and so forth. If we analyze this me and these things, we find nothing real, nothing truly existent. Everything is interdependent. If we think about a package of food we have, it happened due to numerous causes and conditions coming together. Praise and fame come from others; the air we breathe comes from many things outside us. It is also true that when many people are together and make a strong aspiration, it becomes more powerful. If men and women gather, and also if the male and female ordained and lay sangha assemble, their aspirations are more powerful. Please keep this in mind.