The Three Essential Points, Day One
January 20, 2017 – Tergar Monastery, Bodh Gaya, Bihar, India
Today the Gyalwang Karmapa began a teaching based on the Three Essential Points, the next section from Mikyö Dorje’s One Hundred Short Instructions. The three points relate to the essence of practice for this life, for the time of death, and for the bardo.
This practice for developing compassion is related to Avalokiteshvara and was given by the great Mitra Yogi to Tropo Lotsawa. Mikyö Dorje’s text, however, does not give Mitra Yogi’s complete instruction, but only his verse on view, meditation, and conduct.
The root text divides into three sections or three types of explanation: the overview, the detailed explanation, and the conclusion (where we find Mitra Yogi’s verse). In the Eighth Karmapa’s instruction, this last section is explained extensively, especially the part focusing on view.
The verse for the first section, the overview, reads:
- In this life meditate continually on the yidam deity.
- When dying, meditate on the instructions for phowa.
- In the bardo, meditate on blending.
- These are the essential points for continual meditation.
The first line indicates the practice for this life; the second, the practice for dying (transference); and the third, the practice for the bardo. The fourth line connects to the other three and unites them into continual practice. The Karmapa remarked that if we are to benefit from these practices and be able to do them, we must start now and practice continually like the flow of a river—not a lot on one day and then nothing on another. This is a key point.
The first practice, meditating continually on the deity as a practice for this lifetime, involves four points: recalling impermanence to inspire practice, developing bodhichitta, supplicating the lama and the yidam, and meditating on our mind as nonarising. Our lama is visualized above our head and the deity, in our heart while we meditate on the mind as not arising, or on the mind’s nature free of an essence.
Commenting on these, the Karmapa said that any practice will go well if we recall impermanence, which functions to reverse attachment to this life. This is important because we do not know when death will arrive. We regard samsara as having the very nature of suffering, and give up attachment to the things of this life. This stage of the path is for lower and middle level individuals.
The second practice of rousing bodhichitta is to fully develop great compassion, wishing not only that we ourselves are freed from samsara but taking on the burden that is the responsibility to liberate all living beings by engaging in the conduct of a bodhisattva. The best way to train ourselves in bodhichitta is through the seven instructions on cause and result, the main two of which are seeing the equality of ourselves and others, and exchanging self for other. To truly develop bodhichitta, however, we should go through all the stages. This practice is for superior individuals.
The third point is supplicating the lama on our crown and the yidam deity in our hearts. The Karmapa explained that after rousing bodhichitta, perfecting the two accumulations, and attaining buddhahood, we will be able to benefit all living beings. At present we do not have this capacity, so we need to expand our compassion, one that cannot bear to see the suffering of all living beings who are tormented in samsara and the lower realms. With a feeling of overwhelming compassion, we think, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if I could free all these beings?” We supplicate Avalokiteshvara and the 1000 buddhas of this fortunate eon to bless us to attain this ability, and not in the far future, but right now so that we can immediately begin to help others.
Describing the visualization in the 8th Karmapa’s text, the Karmapa said that above our crown is a white crystal stupa with 1000 doors (like the traditional Gomang Stupa); sitting in the middle of a jeweled throne with the seat of a lotus and moon disk is red Amitayus (in essence is our lama), who wears the three Dharma robes and holds an alms bowl filled with wisdom nectar. The 1000 doors are opened wide and in each one resides one of the 1000 buddhas of this fortunate era. They take the form and the color of the traditional buddhas of the five families: those in the east appear as Vairochana, those in the south as Ratnasambhava, those in the west as Amitabha, and those in the north as Amoghasiddhi.
Above the crystal stupa is a vast field of refuge, composed of the kagyu lamas, the buddhas and bodhisattvas, listeners and solitary realizers, and so forth; they are inconceivable in number. In our heart is a freshly blossomed white lotus with 1000 petals, in the middle of which Khasar Khechari Pani (a form of Avalokiteshvara) resides. He has one face and two hands, the right holds the mudra of supreme generosity, and the ring finger and thumb of his left hand hold the stem of a white lotus that flowers near his ear. He is sitting at ease with one leg straight and the other bent. In his crown, throat, and heart are oṃ, āḥ, hūṃ. Amid the hair knotted on his crown resides Amitabha, adorned in jewels and marked with oṃ, āḥ, hūṃ in his three places. In Khasarpani’s heart is a white hrīḥ with a visargah (the two stacked spheres to its left). around which spins the six-syllable mantra.
Visualizing clearly, we supplicate the lama on our crown in the form of Amitabha and the 1000 buddhas of the fortunate eon. With devotion overflowing, we pray that all beings be released from samsara. This invokes a stream of blessings in the form of lights that descend from the lama’s heart, pass down our central channel, and dissolve in to the heart of Khasarpani visualized in our heart. Alternatively, on each of the 1000 petals of the lotus in his heart is the red letter Ah. Through the force of our devotion, these blaze with dancing flames, and light from the heart of the lama above us comes down the central channel and dissolves into the letters Ah and making their blessing powerful.
Between sessions we should engage in analytic meditation on the absence of a self in a person and in phenomena, and then rest our minds on the meaning we have discovered. That was a brief explanation of the first point.
His Holiness then addressed the second essential point, which is for the time of death and presents presents the practice of transferring consciousness (‘pho ba). The root verse states:
- After offering your own body,
- Entirely give up all dependencies.
- By training in the shaft of light,
- Shoot the mind to Tushita.
The Karmapa explained that there are three mandatory parts for the practice of phowa: eliminating the impediments, gathering the favorable conditions, and actually doing the practice. The impediments, or obstacles, refer to our attachments to our body, possessions, or places. They weigh us down so that no matter how much we would wish, we cannot fly up to Tushita. It is like tying a stone to a bird’s wing, so it cannot leave the ground. If we wish to take flight, we need to overcome our fixation on our body. One way of doing this is to offer our illusory body as a ganachakra or feast offering. This is similar to the practice of severance (explained later in Mikyö Dorje’s instructions), so we could also follow the visualizations of severance here.
The second line states “Entirely give up all dependencies,” which means to separate from attachment for friends, relatives, places, and wealth. We see the people in our lives as having assembled for the time being, like those who have come at the same time to a shopping center and will soon go their separate ways. This resembles the process of dying when we must separate from everything to which we are attached—our personal connections, our wealth, and all our possessions. Ultimately these are without purpose and pointless, so we must find ways to reduce and eliminate this clinging.
The third step, the Karmapa explained, is to gather the positive conditions. To be born in Tushita, we need to feel a fervent longing and make intense aspirations as well as dedicating all the virtue we may have in order to be born there. These three represent the favorable conditions.
The fourth step is the actual practice of transference, covered in the last two lines, which involves training with a shaft of light through which we shoot our mind up to Tushita, the beautiful Joyous Heaven that is part of the desire realm. We imagine it in front of us and see in the middle a golden Maitreya who resides on a lion throne and faces our world, looking at us.
We pray to him from the depth of our heart, requesting to be rescued from samsara. From him comes a long tube of light that reaches our open fontanel. The Khasarpani (the essence of our mind) in our heart looks up and sees that the shaft of light goes directly to a brilliant golden mandala, shining like a sun in the heart of Maitreya, and so Khasarpani travels along that path. In sum, there are three thoughts here: the shaft of light comes to our crown; it is recognized as the path to Tushita; and we have a fervent longing to go there.
Through the power of supplicating again, from the heart of Maitreya lights radiate in the form of a hook with descends through the channel of light and, catching the Khasarpani in our heart (the essential nature of our mind), pulls him upward through our fontanel to the heart of Maitreya where he dissolves, so that our mind and Maitreya’s mind become inseparable. Rest in equipoise here. Once more lights radiate from the heart of Maitreya and we emerge from his heart as a youthful god, sitting on a 1000-petaled lotus in front of Maitreya with the sole wish is to partake of the mahayana Dharma. Imagine that you have taken such a rebirth.
This completed a brief explanation of transference. The Karmapa commented that the explanation used the example of Tushita, but we could think of other pure lands, such as Sukhavati, or of being born in the presence of our own kind lama, and becoming inseparable from them. We evoke the lama who comes from wherever they are—their present residence if living or from a pure land If not. The lama comes in front of us and our minds are blended as one.
The Karmapa commented that this concluded the teaching for the time of dying, and now we need to practice, as it is difficult to engage this meditation when we are actually in the process of leaving this world. This teaching of the Three Essential Points, the Karmapa noted, spread widely through different lineages and it would be good to read other accounts of the practice. Tomorrow he will give teachings on the bardo, the second practice.