December 20, 2010 – Bodhgaya
As thousands of Kagyu Monlam attendees received sojong vows under the Bodhi tree at the crack of dawn, several hundred others were lining up at Tergar Monastery for group audiences with His Holiness. In response to an exceptionally large number of requests from groups attending the Monlam, the Gyalwang Karmapa added an extra session of audiences to his already packed schedule. Despite the full day of initiations and further audiences that lay ahead—and the grueling schedule he had already since well before Kagyu Monlam even began, from 6am until 8:30 am today, His Holiness offered the consummate example of selfless determination to work for others’ happiness. To ensure that none left disappointed, time after time, His Holiness graciously took khataks, invited visitors to sit, listened attentively, offered brief oral transmissions, granted blessings, answered questions, and then stood for group photos for those who requested it. He did so repeatedly without a rest for over 2 hours. After just a short break, His Holiness was whisked off to the stupa to confer the Akshobhya empowerment on all those awaiting him there.
SESSION ONE: SOJONG
Kyabje Goshir Gyaltsab Rinpoche gave the Sojong vows this morning. Kyabje Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche, Khenchen Yongzin Thrangu Rinpoche and Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche were also there to preside over the first session.
SESSION TWO: AKSHOBHYA EMPOWERMENT
The Akshobhya Empowerment: Entering the Vajra Family
When asked why Akshobhya is important, His Holiness responded that in general, meditation on Akshobhya is best for cleansing karma related to negative actions. Through the power of this practice of ritual purity and lustration, the force of negative karma is weakened. So when we have committed very negative actions, that is a good time to do this practice. Akshobhya is also practiced for the deceased, and this year in particular, there has been an emphasis on Akshobhya’s sutra, ritual, and dharani for the benefit of the numerous people who passed away during the earthquakes in Tibet at Jyekundo and also at Drugchu Sakul as well as those who passed away during the floods in Ladakh.
With a variety of practices and events related to him, Akshobhya figures prominently at this year’s Monlam. From November 23 to December 7, a select group of practitioners—six monks, five nuns, and four lay people—performed the Akshobhya puja next to the Karmapa’s quarters in a spacious pavilion on the roof of Tergar monastery. During the Monlam itself, for six days in the evening, along with the ritual for the deceased, the Akshobhya practice continued in the same venue. The evening of the seventh day sees the long Akshobhya fire ritual, at the end of which the names of the living and deceased, written on strips of paper, are offered to a blazing fire with some of the pieces floating aflame into the night-time sky.
For today’s empowerment, many people have come and fill to overflowing the space around the stupa. The Karmapa’s throne is higher today, covering up the statue of the baby Buddha behind him. Next to his throne and holding up a long curving branch of the Bodhi Tree, a green iron pillar is wrapped in spirals of orange and yellow marigolds. After the Mahamudra lineage prayer, tea and buns for all, the empowerment begins. His Holiness explains that this is a maturing empowerment, which means that its purpose is to place the imprint of the deity within our mind stream and also that there will be no requirements for practice.
After His Holiness performs the first part of the empowerment, he addresses those gathered, saying that the special commitment Akshobhya Buddha made is not to harm others and to benefit living beings. The Akshobhya Mandala Ritual says:
As Akshobhya gave rise to bodhicitta
Making the first of eight aspirations,
“May my mind never be angry or wishing to harm others.”
Thus may I, too, accomplish them all.
[His Holiness had mentioned in an earlier talk that his mind was more peaceful in Tibet and he did not get angry easily. Whereas in India, with all the problems, it was easier to become angry. But then he developed an interest in Akshobhya and in this practice, which was very helpful. Perhaps he was thinking of this verse.]
His Holiness continues to say that we should imagine Akshobhya to be inseparable from our lama. If we can do the practice well, we can purify even the five limitless actions that have immeasurable negative consequences. Further, we can also think that this empowerment will help to develop our compassion for all living beings. Most masters say that the practice of Akshobhya belongs to the Kriya or Action Tantra. This first level of the tantras also spread in China during the Tang Dynasty though the tradition of practicing it later disappeared.
The practice of Akshobhya is particularly apt for our time of the five degenerations, (of wrong view, afflictions, strife, life span, and the well-being of body and mind), when the afflictions are strong and living beings hard to train. It is also true that all the advances in technology have made it possible to do greater harm with less effort. So, for example, fishermen, butchers, and hunters make an even worse misfortune for themselves than before. We have also depleted our natural environment and diminished the number and variety of the animals who live there. We have razed primal forests and done tremendous harm to our environment. The responsibility that we have for all this damage has become greater as our impact grows.
Then came the mandala and long life offerings with the lines of devotees becoming longer each day. When he continues, the Karmapa speaks of the importance of Akshobhya in many of the Kagyu lineages; the Drugpa, Drikung, and Taklung. For the Kamtsang Kagyu, the sixth Shamar, Chokyi Wangchuk, composed a sadhana, called “The Ornament of Abhirati” and among the many commentaries on this are those by Situ Chokyi Jungne and Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye. This particular empowerment was composed by the tenth Shamar and it is found in many of the Kagyu traditions.
Among the five buddha families, Akshobhya is the Lord of the vajra family according to Atisha and Padma Karpo. The Karma Kagyu has a special connection to vajra family and Akshobhya. The primary practices of many masters in our lineage, such as Guhyasamaja and Hevajra, belong to the vajra family. Further, the Karmapa is said to be an emanation of Akshobhya, and some of the previous Gyalwang Karmapas have stated, “I am an emanation of Akshobhya.” As a symbol of this connection, they wear the crown with a vajra in the front. Actually, the famous Black Crown (or Hat) is not really black but a deep, dark blue to represent the depth of space. Just as space is unchanging, so is the dharmata, (the nature of mind or suchness). This is the deeper meaning of the color of the crown, which is said to bring liberation upon seeing. It is also true that each of the buddha families has a different colored crown and that of Akshobhya is blue.
We are very fortunate that not only can we do the practice of Akshobhya, we can also encounter him. This practice is important for purifying our negative actions, and we can do this by taking on all the misdeeds of all living beings, making them our own, and then confessing them. We are in a special place now and so we must make vast aspirations not just for ourselves but for all living beings. If we just take the empowerment to gain things in this life—good health, long life, money, and children —there’s not much point. We don’t need to practice Dharma for this; we can get them in many other ways.
Generally, when we talk about the secret mantrayana, we say that it is for appropriate disciples, those of the highest faculties who can actually do the practice. There are many levels to understand. If we take the texts literally, there is a great danger. So we have to look at ourselves to see if we are appropriate vessels for the vajrayana or not. However that may be, we are now taking this empowerment so we have to “try.” [spoken in English]. We are in the presence of the greatly meritorious Bodhi Tree. If we need to gather the accumulations and purify afflictions, now is the time.
His Holiness then gives the sections of the empowerment and makes the dedication that the lamas live for a very long time and that the teachings also continue to benefit beings. He further gives a reading transmission for the preliminary practice he composed and also for “The King of Aspiration Prayers.”
SESSION THREE: PRAYERS FOR THE WELL-BEING OF TIBET
Long-Life Prayers For H.H. Dalai Lama, H.H. Sakya Trizin and H.H. Trulshik Rinpoche; A Short Speech On Politics And Religion
The Gyalwang Karmapa led today’s third session, devoted to the well-being of Tibet and the long life of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and other great masters of Tibetan Buddhism.
Providing context for the practice session, His Holiness first gave a talk on Dharma and politics, or religious and secular affairs. The Tibetan term ‘si’ that in this context denotes politics, more generally describes a way of bringing about short- and long-term benefit to a society or country. His Holiness noted that the Tibetan term ‘si’ also means length. In its wider sense, this term ‘si’could also apply to the Dharma, because the Dharma aims to bring about long-term benefit to society.
During the reign of the three Dharma kings of the Tibetan imperial period, the Tibetan people were ruled according to the Dharma. Later generations too prospered due to the prior rule of the Dharma kings, who sought to apply principles of Dharma in their governance. Citing the well-known line of verse stating that all phenomena are impermanent, His Holiness noted that times have of course changed greatly since then. The relation between religion and politics itself has undergone many changes over the years, and there have been periods of growth and contraction. Within Tibet, there was great fluctuation, as was the case also in Tibet’s relations with neighboring countries.
In today’s more difficult times, it is incumbent upon us as Dharma practitioners to reflect on what course of action would be beneficial and consistent with the Dharma, and what would not. When we analyze historical situations when there was great decline, we ought to consider the role that abuse of power played in bringing about those difficult times. In the past several decades, Tibetans have faced unprecedented sufferings and hardship, and hundreds of thousands of Tibetans have been forced to leave their homeland. Today, Tibetan culture and the Tibetan way of life are at high risk of disappearing forever.
Nevertheless, Tibetans are extremely fortunate in that they continue to be led by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and Tibetans continue to place their trust and hopes in him as their leader. Many other Tibetans—and indeed people of many countries—are working for peace and harmony between Tibet and China, the Gyalwang Karmapa noted, and have not been overwhelmed by purely political motivations. His Holiness the Dalai Lama in particular is not pursuing any partisan aims, nor does he merely promote Tibetan interests. Rather, he is working for the well-being of Chinese as well as Tibetans, so that Chinese and Tibetans can live together for many generations in mutual respect, joined as one large family.
It is important not to overlook the long history that links China and Tibet. Whereas Tibetans looked up to Indians as Dharma teachers and adopted appropriate relationships with Indians on those terms, by contrast Tibetans saw Chinese as cousins or brothers. Thus whether or not we can establish relations of mutual respect and harmony between Chinese and Tibetans depends on our own cultivation of love and compassion.
The Gyalwang Karmapa noted that Tibetans in Tibet harbor great hopes and make great aspirations that His Holiness the Dalai Lama and other great masters will one day be able to return to Tibet and re-establish a time of peace and harmony.
Stressing the importance of making requests and invoking the activity of Chenrezig, as well as Padmasambhava and the emanations of Chenrezig, White and Green Tara, the Gyalwang Karmapa cited a verse about Chenrezig’s commitment to care for Tibet:
To the north of Bodhgaya in the east,
You have the land of the kingdom of Tibet.
You have high peaks as pillars supporting the sky,
You have white snow forming crystal stupas.
You have summers beautified with turquoise blooms.
O, Chenrezig, Protector of this land of snow,
In this place you have your disciples.
At the same time, His Holiness stressed that the crucial factor determining whether we have peace and harmony is our mind. If we succumb to negative tendencies, and just criticize others and feel annoyed with one another, it will be very difficult to fix the situation, he cautioned.
His Holiness also observed that in this holy place of Bodhgaya, we may only appear to be making aspirations for happiness, but in fact we are preparing ourselves to put these aspirations into action. Thus it is important to begin with aspirations, the Gyalwang Karmapa concluded.
Spiritual teachers as well as sponsors and government officials form the key conditions that allow the Dharma to flourish. For that reason, the Gyalwang Karmapa asked all those assembled to make sincere prayers for the long life of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, as well as all masters of all traditions. In India, Bhutan and throughout the Himalayas where people practice Tibetan Buddhism, these masters are the only place they can turn for guidance. Thus it was important to offer strong aspiration for their wishes to be fulfilled and their activity flourish. We should put on the strong armor of courage, His Holiness said, and make even stronger aspirations that all people be free of the sort of terrible difficulties and problems they have faced in this life and that in their next life they connect swiftly with Chenrezig.
Don’t just chant the words, His Holiness urged the assembly. Chant with your hearts, he said. Even if no feeling comes, at least reflect on the meaning as you say the words. This is important, he said. Our chanting should not be left on the level of mere words.
The recitation of prayers began with the seven-line supplication to Guru Rinpoche, which was repeated 21 times, followed by praises to the 21 Taras three times. Next were prayers for the flourishing of the Dharma of all traditions, and then long-life prayers for His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Sakya Trizin, Kyabje Trulshik Rinpoche and the various Kagyu masters.
Just as His Holiness had exhorted, as thousands of voices uttered fervent aspirations for the well-being of Tibet and its spiritual leaders, thousands of hearts were chanting too.
EVENING AT TERGAR MONASTERY: AKSHOBHYA PURIFICATION RITUAL
Once more Gyalwang Karmapa met with the 15 retreatants to perform the Akshobhya Purification Ritual for the sixth evening in succession.
During this Monlam, His Holiness has consistently urged people to offer the Akshobhya practice as a powerful means of clearing karmic obscurations at a time of the five degenerations.