Thursday January 2, 2009
On the last morning of the teachings Gyalwang Karmapa conferred the Bodhisattva Vow and spoke about developing bodhichitta.
He began by detailing the necessary conditions when taking the Bodhisattva Vow.
First came motivation and then there needed to be a support – either a human, a deity or a god. The vow could be taken in front of a Lama, a spiritual friend or a support such as a picture. The maximum support was someone who held the eight Pratimoksha vows, the minimum support was someone with the refuge vows.
Third was the ritual. His Holiness chose to use three verses from Shantideva’s “ The Bodhisattva’s Way of Life”, which contained all three possible forms of the vow, the aspirational, the engaged, and both.
When taking the vow we needed the intention to benefit all sentient beings, who were our mothers as limitless as space. The best way to prepare our minds and to accumulate merit, which would develop and increase the power of the vow, was to recite the Seven Branch Prayer.
For beginners there would be more obstructions, difficulties and less supporting conditions, so His Holiness explained how reciting the Seven Branch Prayer functioned as an antidote. Prostration was the antidote to pride. Making offerings was the antidote to miserliness, and developed generosity. Confession was the antidote to all our negative deeds. Rejoicing was the antidote to jealousy and envy. Requesting the buddhas to turn the wheel of dharma served as an antidote to ignorance and karmic obstacles arising from abandoning the dharma. Requesting the Buddhas to remain was the antidote to karmic obstacles preventing us from meeting our gurus. Finally, the branch of dedication was the antidote for not believing in karma cause and effect, and not believing in the results of our own actions.
After accumulating merit we needed to develop good motivation. There were several methods we could use to do this: through exchanging self and others, or through contemplating the chain of cause and effect. In the latter we remember how all sentient beings have been our mothers, or our friends and supporters. Then we recall their suffering and generate the motivation, the pure wish to free all of these beings from their suffering. First we had to recognize that all sentient beings had been our mothers – our parents gave us our bodies and usually showed us affection, especially our mothers. Although they may not have done a good job sometimes, we needed to concentrate on what our parents did to help us, and more than anything they gave us life and a body, the greatest gift we can be given. There may have been differences in the love and affection given, but the gift of a life and a body were an incomparable kindness.
Similarly, all sentient beings in the world were interdependent; indeed there is no sentient being with whom we do not have a connection. Consider clothing, the materials come from animals or plants, and we depend on an infinite number of beings for our clothing. Even fame is dependent on the recognition of others. The global village means that these days we are also connected through business, politics etc. When we consider interconnectedness we usually think of the benefit we received from other sentient beings. Logically we could also consider the converse – the harm they have done to us – but to do so would be neither beneficial nor helpful.
His Holiness then extended the concept of interconnectedness to include not just this world but the galaxy we live in. The world was formed out of the karmic perceptions of all sentient beings, of all sentient beings in the galaxy. We may not be able to go everywhere in the universe but we say ‘limitless beings as vast as space’. In addition, there was interconnectedness evident in the plant and animal world. We depended on plants – the forests that made oxygen for us to breathe. We depended on the insects who pollinated our plants and fertilised them so that they bore fruit which we could eat. Without pollinating insects there would be no delicious fruit.
So all these sentient beings who are kind to us, want happiness, but they only heap suffering on themselves. If we focused on this idea until we felt unbearable compassion – then we would be able to develop the wish to free them from suffering, from impurities and obscurations. Then we could develop our bodhichitta.
His Holiness then gave the Bodhisattva Vow in Tibetan, Chinese and English.
Finally he reminded everybody that Bodhgaya was the place where the Buddha defeated the four maras, so they were no longer present here, and it was a blessed place. This was the place where the Buddha awakened so virtue was increased a thousand fold, and the ground itself was a support. The place itself was like a mandala; we should be happy, excited and courageous. Having taken the Bodhisattva Vow we were now a child of the Buddhas, a member of their family.
Gyalwang Karmapa concluded the morning session by presenting each member of the audience with a small New Year’s gift.
In the afternoon session, Gyalwang Karmapa again spoke on the theme of combining life and practice. Continuing the idea of creating a ‘home’, a place of rest and peace, for our minds, he explained how our practice should be an antidote to afflictive mental states; we needed to know how to meditate and how to use that meditation.
It often happens that students made lots of mistakes in their practice but these mistakes and obstacles should be used as part of the path and could be seen as rungs on a ladder. They could be used as the basis for further practise.
Chili can be very hot and spicy but if you eat it on the side with other food, you don’t experience the entire heat of the chili. But if you eat a chili on it’s own you really get to know how hot it is! In the same way, it is often difficult to identify the true nature of the problems which arise from afflictive mental states. For example if someone is usually bad-tempered, it could be difficult for them to identify the affliction of anger. However, if there were to be an incident when they became very angry, and then, overwhelmed by this anger hit someone, perhaps even wounding them, and, as a consequence got arrested and had to go to court, the consequences of their anger became clear and because it was such an extreme example of the affliction they were able to recognize it.
Having recognized the nature of the afflictive mental state we then needed to know how to get rid of it. We needed to examine how it affects our perception, and then develop the antidote. In this case , anger, the antidote is patience, but we may not have much patience, so we have to use whatever we have. It’s like repairing a broken watch – it’s very small, you need to use a magnifying glass to work on it – it’s not something you can use a sledgehammer on – our minds are like the watch; we need to repair them and make them functional, gradually.
The afflictions and the three poisons are evident in our lives. When anger is present, we have no thought of love, and our actions and words exhibit this. But we have difficulty identifying the affliction as a fault. Faults are like a heap, we have to get to the bottom of the heap. We tfind ways to convince ourselves that it’s a small problem or normal: everyone gets angry sometimes, we have to get angry sometimes. This is denying that it’s a fault, and, until we can perceive these afflictions as faults, it will be difficult to clear them.
When we can see the afflictive mental states as a fault, we can’t wait to get rid of them. It’s like smelling something foul which makes you want to vomit. You know that you have to rid yourself of them as clearly as you know when you have to go to the toilet.
Unfortunately, when we see these afflictions as a mass of faults we are often in two minds about them: part of us doesn’t want to give up the afflictions and another part wants to get rid of them. It’s obvious that you can’t go backwards and forwards simultaneously. In the case of a team, if there is disunity, you call the teamleader. Our mind is the same. What do we want to accomplish? What is compatible with how things are? If you are undecided, nothing will be achieved. So we need a teamleader in our mind. Where do we find it?
Basically our character is good. If you draw a horse that deosn’t look like a horse, it can’t be a horse. Anger, pride or jealousy are not essential to life, but without goodness, knowledge and wisdom it is difficult to live. Our nature is inherently good and kindhearted. Without that we would be unable to live, so it is important and necessary to distinguish between what we need and what we want. Some things we don’t want are beneficial such as medicine. Sometimes we neglect the things we need and focus instead on getting the things we want, giving them power over us.
If we know that the afflictive emotions are a fault, we can give the power to the part that sees the afflictions as a fault, and then the antidote will be effective. Meditation was the tool for getting to the root of the afflictive mental states.
His Holiness then gave instructions on how to meditate.
First he explained the correct vajra or half vajra posture, joking about how difficult this could be for Westerners, whereas Tibetan children had vajra posture competitions! The focus for one-pointed meditation could be any object, such as a flower, but the most powerful focus was an image of the Buddha.
His Holiness then led the audience in a meditation on the Lord Buddha at the point of enlightenment, golden in colour because of his radiance, his eyes full of love.
His Holiness advised that it was important not to let the mind wander away from that form. Generally, the rule for beginners, was to meditate for short periods but often. This did not mean getting on and off your meditation seat but rather staying put and having several short sessions consecutively. It was important to use our awareness, recognizing when the mind was distracted and then using that awareness to bring it back to focus again. In daily life every one was so busy that it was important to find time for resting the mind and body.
His Holiness gave an example of how that should feel. Once upon a time in India, there was a king who had to move from his old palace to a new one, but he didn’t trust anyone so he asked one of his ministers to help him. The king promised him a new house, and enough food and money to live on for the rest of his life so the minister agreed and then spent the whole day going backwards and forwards, without resting, but by the end, he had completed the task. Thankfully, he went to the new home the king had given him and sat down: Ahh! That, said His Holiness, is what resting your mind feels like.
It was also important to be focused on the present and not distracted by thoughts about the past or the future.
Another story illustrated the dangers of this. Once upon a time a beggar, who had nothing, managed to accumulate some grain. He sold it, made a profit, and was able to buy more grain. Suddenly his future looked bright. Walking across a bridge, carrying the grain atop his head, he began to daydream. If he sold this grain, he could buy more, make an even bigger profit, get a wife, and then he would have children. His life would be transformed. He would be so happy going home every night to his wife and children. They would greet him…The beggar was concentrating so much on this daydream of the future that he dropped the grain. It fell into the water and was ruined. Once again, he had nothing.
The teaching was finished. In his concluding remarks the Gyawlang Karmapa observed that the teaching had been like a family reunion. The ‘family’ had chanted together, studied the Dharma, smiled together. His Holiness was certain that the buddhas and bodhisattvas of the ten directions had witnessed the uncontrived smiles of the people gathered at Tergar for the teaching. He thanked the Hwa-Yue Foundation for sponsoring the teaching and the hard work its members had put in to make it all possible. He then dedicated the merit.
He concluded, “When I am in Dharamsala, I hope to be like a lamp or a star in the sky at night – a place for your hope. We can be lamps for each other.”