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What Makes An Authentic Buddhist?

9th April, 2013 –Gyuto Monastery, Dharamsala.

Meeting recently with a private group of 300 advanced Mahamudra students, the Gyalwang Karmapa explored what it means to be an authentic Buddhist. The group of international students had travelled to Gyuto Monastery to seek the Gyalwang Karmapa’s heart advice in an annual tradition, after recently receiving the Level 6 Mahamudra transmissions from Kyabje Tai Situ Rinpoche.

The Gyalwang Karmapa began his teaching by observing that it’s difficult if we merely call ourselves dharma practitioners or Buddhist followers in name, without really understanding the essence of being a true Buddhist. “Sometimes the most important thing is to be a good person, a good human being. This is very important,” he began. Turning to himself as an example, the Gyalwang Karmapa continued, “For example, in terms of me myself, sometimes I think I’m a real Buddhist follower or a real Buddhist student, because I was born in a Buddhist family and raised in a Buddhist environment, in a monastery. I think I’m the real sort of Buddhist practitioner or follower. But if you really think carefully about it and discover, ‘Oh, maybe I’m a Buddhist practitioner or follower, but I’m not sure if I’m a good human being or not,’ then that is a little bit funny.”

Urging the students to cut to the core of being an authentic Buddhist, he continued, “So maybe the point is to confront ourselves with the question: am I really a good person, a good human being? Because that is what characterizes being an authentic Buddhist.”

The Gyalwang Karmapa then returned to a key theme of his heart advice, that the essence of religion should be internal. He drew a clear distinction between merely following the external customs or traditions of religions, rather than the inner transformation of the mind. “We are involved in religious traditions with whatever degree of religiosity, and that means following certain traditions, or maybe more often they’re just customs. But does it mean that we should be steeped in the external customs and traditions? Should religion come from outside us? Or should it be something we invoke within ourselves and cultivate within ourselves?”

Urging the students gathered to put the instructions they’ve received into practice, the Gyalwang Karmapa offered his support. “I want to encourage all of you to continuously engage in the practice,” he said, “so that as long as you live you have this sense of determination and conviction to continue the practice.”

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