January 21, 2019
First, I would like to welcome and extend Tashi Delek to all of you who have gathered for the 36th Kagyu Monlam: the great regent of all the victors, Goshir Gyaltsab Rinpoche, Kyabje Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, the other tulkus, khenpos, acharyas, spiritual friends, all the monks and nuns from the various monasteries, and all the faithful lay people from all over the world.
Further, this year, the principal sponsors of the Monlam are a group of lay people and monastics from the Nyeshang region of Nepal. We are all aware of this place in Nepal. At the time of Jetsun Milarepa, one of his disciples, the hunter Kira Gonpo Dorje, was from there. From that time forward, Nyeshang has had an uncommon and noble connection with the Kagyu. Further, I have seen a pilgrimage guide for Nepal by the Sixth Shamar. When he traveled in Nepal, he went through Nyeshang and highly praised the people of that region as having great faith in the Dharma, being kind-hearted and generally very good. And for me personally, when I was traveling from Tibet in 1999, I came through Nyeshang. There is a mountain pass there called To-rang. It is very high and very steep. The top is like no pass I have experienced, and it was very difficult to cross. Based on this, I have a very strong impression of and love for Nyeshang. Not only have all of you sponsors offered money and many physical things, you have also served with your bodies and speech–serving tea, moving and carrying mats and other things, sweeping, cleaning, and so forth. You have worked really hard, serving in many greater and lesser roles. So you have been sponsors in both name and in actuality, and all has all gone very well.
It occurred to me that other people of the Himalayan region could learn from your example. For instance, there are the various peoples of Sikkim. Maybe in the future all of you could be the sponsors for the Kagyu Monlam—doing that work would be very good, right? Likewise, there are the Bhutanese; in Nepal there are the people of Dolpo, Nubri, Tsum, and so forth. If you people from these places have the ability, I think it would be good if you could also do likewise. We all have been connected for generations and if you take the opportunity to serve the Kagyu Monlam, I think it could be a significant event in the histories of your people.
For this year’s Kagyu Monlam, I personally requested Chamgon Situ Rinpoche to definitely come, but in the end, Rinpoche was not able to attend. And so I supplicated Goshir Gyaltsab Rinpoche to again come and serve as the head of the assembly, just as he did last year. Not only did Rinpoche agree to this, but also during the pre-Monlam program, he granted the profound torma empowerment of Chenrezig, the Five Deities of Gyalwa Gyatso. Then during the actual Monlam, he bestowed deep teachings on The Seven Points of Mind Training. Rinpoche worked very hard for all of us. So on behalf of all the Kagyupas and principally all of those who attended Kagyu Monlam, I want to thank Rinpoche for his great kindness.
Another fortunate aspect of this Kagyu Monlam was having the exalted reincarnation of the supreme tulku Sangye Nyenpa Rinpoche granting profound teachings on The Ganges Mahamudra during the pre-Monlam program. I am very grateful to Rinpoche for fulfilling my hopes just as I had expressed them.
In truth, in terms of the Dharma, the Kagyu Monlam is one of the most important events of our year. And now twice, I have not been able to come—this is quite noteworthy. Therefore, I want to take this opportunity to apologize to all of you. At the end of November last year, there was a great meeting planned in Dharamsala, which the leaders of the various lineages were insistently called to attend. I had a great wish to do so. But before this, in October, I had thought that I would quickly travel to India before going to Canada. I wanted to meet His Holiness the Dalai Lama as I hadn’t seen him for a long time. I also wanted to meet and discuss some things with members of the Indian Government. It was my wish to go. But, as all of you know, I have a new passport. Once I got the new one, my old document—the I.C.—became invalidated. As that was the case, as soon as I got the new passport, I went to the Indian embassy in New York to turn the I.C. in. I went there and told them I needed to turn in the old travel document, and I further requested them to grant me a visa in my new passport. But the officials there said that they were not authorized to do so and needed to speak with the offices in Delhi about it. There was a lot of back and forth, which took a bit of time, and in the end, I could not get these things done.
After this, I was supposed to go to Canada, but I was unable to. Still, I thought that I should attend the meeting of the heads of the lineages. In the end, this meeting was postponed due to the passing of the head of the Nyingma lineage, Katok Getse Rinpoche. All the work around the passport was not being resolved, so I thought to set it aside and rest for a while. I wasn’t feeling that well physically and thought to relax and do some retreat. I thought it would be good to not rush things around the passport, but to work on it carefully. Up to this point, I have not been able to return, but we continue our conversations with the Indian government. I hope to return to India just as quickly as I can to see you all.
It is customary to have a special address on the last day of the Monlam. Though I don’t have anything special to share, I would like to encourage all of you. I have had the actual task of supervising the Monlam since 2004. Thus far, more than ten years have passed, and many things have changed on many fronts. I think there have been many positive changes, many alterations for the better. I consider the most important adaptation to be those concerning the behavior and conduct of the monastics.
As best we can, we have put into practice the Vinaya teachings of the true Dharma. We have done a lot of work to increase understanding in this area. You all know the reason for this. There are many who become monks and nuns in Tibet, India, Nepal, Bhutan and so forth, but of those who do so, not many understand well what it means to be a monk or what it means to be a nun. In order to live up to the name of being a monk or nun, we first need to understand what it means to be a monk or nun. For that reason, there’s no choice but to inform our monastics about this.
Especially, many think that after ordination or according to the Vinaya, there are many things that ordinary people are allowed to do that monastics can no longer do. They think there are many things that are not allowed—that it is like a bunch of rules. But really, the vows of ordination are not just rules or a list of things we are allowed or not allowed to do. What is more important is that it is desiring or striving for liberation or having renunciation. This renunciation or longing for emancipation is very important. And it should also be unfabricated, meaning that one shouldn’t need to try to generate it—it should arise naturally from within. When it’s like that, we call it unfabricated. If it arises in an unfabricated way in our being, we will have what we call “the ethical conduct of renunciation” or “perfectly pure vows.” If we don’t give rise to this, we won’t have “perfectly pure vows” or “the ethical conduct of renunciation.” For this reason, the vows of ordination are not just an outer form or a ritual of body and speech. In truth, the essence of the inner meaning is the generation of this mind that strives for liberation and the mind of unfabricated renunciation or wishing for emancipation
There is a teaching of the Kadampa spiritual friend Potowa where he said that first he received novice and full ordination from an abbot. But it was later, when following the old Shramana of Ratreng, that he really received the vows of ordination. Now, this old Shramana of Ratreng is Dromtönpa. Dromtönpa was a lay person, a householder. So he actually received the novice and full monastic vows i from a lay person. What did he mean by that? It was based on the kindness of Dromtönpa that he generated the mind of renunciation, and it’s based on generating this mind of renunciation that one receives the true vows, the perfectly pure vows, the ethical conduct of the vow of renunciation. The vows that he received before were just an outer appearance of receiving the vows, he had not received the inner essence of the vows, the life-force of the vows. This illustrates a very important critical point. The vows are not received merely through the outer form; what we really need in order to receive the true vows comes from having this inner essence.
Take me for example. Until I was seven (in the Western way of counting) I stayed with my family. Once I was recognized, in the presence of the Jowo statue in Lhasa, Chamgon Situ Rinpoche and Kyabje Gyaltsab Rinpoche ceremonially cut my hair. In truth, during the hair cutting ceremony, one receives the lay vow of threefold refuge—it’s part of the upasaka or lay vows. At that time, I was very young, and didn’t really understand what it was that the two Rinpoches were giving me—it was more like a show for those gathered. But it was the lay vow of threefold refuge. So I had not received anything but the lay vows, and I didn’t even receive the full lay vows either, it was really just the threefold refuge vow. Drupon Dechen Rinpoche was alive at that time. He told me that since I was the Karmapa, my situation was special, and that it would be okay for me to wear monks’ robes. So from that time forward, I wore the robes, even though I did not have any ordination vows.
After I had come to India, in 2002, Kyabje Tenga Rinpoche gave me some advice. He said, “Up to now, you have not received any vows of ordination, and it would be good if you did so. The first vow you should take is barma rabjung—intermediate ordination.” That was the first I had heard of intermediate ordination. It is said that the 16th Gyalwang Karmapa received this intermediate ordination from the HH the Dalai Lama, so Rinpoche thought that it would be good if I received it from the Dalai Lama. Tenga Rinpoche further advised that it would be good for me to receive the vows of novice and full ordination from Chamgon Situ Rinpoche and Kyabje Gyaltsab Rinpoche since I should receive the vows according to our Kagyu tradition. We shared this advice and thinking with Chamgon Situ Rinpoche and Kyabje Gyaltsab Rinpoche, and they agreed that it was very good. A message was sent through Lobsang Jinpa, the secretary of His Holiness’ Private Office, to His Holiness requesting him to grant the vows of intermediate ordination, explaining that since I had to uphold the lineage of the vows of our Kagyu tradition, there was a plan for me to receive the vows of novice and full ordination from Chamgon Situ Rinpoche and Kyabje Gyaltsab Rinpoche in the future. His Holiness received the message and consented.
In 2002, when I was 16, His Holiness granted me the vow of intermediate ordination. And on the day when he did so, he gave me both the vow of intermediate ordination and getsul [novice monks vows] at that same time. Our request was only for the intermediate ordination, but he gave me both ordinations. He must have had a special reason for doing so. Though at the time, my thought was to first receive the intermediate ordination and to later receive novice ordination from Situ Rinpoche and Gyaltsab Rinpoche, His Holiness gave me both. There was some talk within our lineage of the importance of my taking the vows according to our own tradition and that it wouldn’t be quite right to do otherwise. But at that time, to be honest, I hadn’t studied the Vinaya much. In actuality, the vow of intermediate ordination is not the actual monastic ordination. It is really just permission to wear the robes, the symbol of religious ordination. One sets aside the clothes of a layperson and takes up the symbolic robes of ordination, but it is not actual ordination.
After this, much time passed while I was wondering whether I should receive the novice vows according to our Kagyu tradition or not and what to do about full ordination. Further, I also became very busy with the work of Kagyu Monlam. As I studied the Vinaya and my understanding of it gradually increased, I felt like my former way of approaching vows was not quite correct. I thought my previous manner of taking them was not right, and that if I really wanted to receive the vows in a pure way, I should start again from the beginning. Especially, if one wants to receive the vows purely into one’s being, one needs stable renunciation and wishing for emancipation in one’s being. Without this, it would be difficult to keep the vows in a stable manner. These days, it is as if we were just following the custom of taking monks or nuns vows, but it’s actually very rare that one thinks deeply about this and wishes, from the depths of one’s being, to ordain. I think many people must be wondering and talking about why I have not taken full ordination by now. From my side, the main thing is that if renunciation and wishing for emancipation has not truly arisen, the novice and full monks vows will not be based on this ethical conduct that longs for liberation, and it would be difficult for them to result in perfectly pure ethical conduct—though there must be some benefit in holding the vows anyway.
Further, these modern times are unlike times of the past. The previous eras of the past masters were different. These days, there are a lot of fluctuations, a lot of outer developments, and many inner and outer causes for distraction. Taking me as an example, not only do I have to think about Dharma, I have to be concerned with politics; I meet many different kinds and nationalities of people, and am involved in other avenues of learning. This creates a great deal of busyness and distraction. In truth, in such a situation, it is difficult have stable renunciation and a mind with the stable longing for liberation. And without these, it is difficult to hold the vows in a completely pure way. So I am trying to develop stable renunciation within my being. I am trying to develop a certain degree of true renunciation—it’s difficult to generate a really high level—but if I can develop a certain degree of renunciation, I feel that I will be able to receive the vows of individual liberation in a full and complete way. Then, at the time of death, if I can die with the support of ordination, I feel my mind would be at ease. This is the high hope that I hold for myself and the reason things have been as they are up to now.
In short, the main point I want to make is that the practice of the three foundational rituals are very important. In general, the Vinaya texts speak of many rituals, and these three foundational ones are critical. Some time ago, I thought that it would be excellent if we could perform these three foundational rituals properly and well. I did some thorough research into this. These days in our various monasteries, it seems that it would be difficult to assemble the conditions to perform them in a complete way. I think that if there were an institution that focused intently on the Vinaya, and if there were just one hundred monks who practiced the vinaya from the depths of their being, maybe we could do it. But in the monasteries these days, it would be difficult to perfectly perform the three foundational practices.
When we look at the source texts, all we see are all the things that aren’t right in what we do; we don’t see many examples of what we’re doing correctly. From one perspective, it must be that there is a large gap between our hopes and the way things actually are. We can wish for whatever we want, but that doesn’t mean that it will manifest in reality. We can do the best we can, but sometimes our wishes and the reality of the situation just seem to get farther and farther apart. We experience that difficulty at times. But in any case, if there were a Vinaya monastery where the Vinaya was practiced as it was done in the past, the tradition of the vows could be propagated and the three foundations could be practiced in an excellent and complete manner. This is actually indispensable. Previously, in Tibet, there were Vinaya monasteries like this. Likewise, in Chinese histories we see that this was so. In any case, my reason for sharing this is that we have striven to make the behavior and rituals of the Vinaya an important part of the Kagyu Monlam. I want to encourage you to continue to make effort here because conduct, and our increasing understanding of it, is one of the principal conditions causing the Monlam to go well. It is said that there is no aspect of conduct laid out by the Bhagavan Buddha that we are unable to perform; it just comes down to whether an individual is going to observe it or not.
The second point I want to make concerns some other important news from last year—that is, my requesting a meeting with Gyalwa Thaye Dorje. This was widely reported, and afterwards, I had an opportunity to clarify what happened. I’d like to take this opportunity to say more now. The main purpose for having the meeting was solely for the benefit of the teachings and beings. I am always working to this end. Generally, people say that I am Karmapa, a buddha, a bodhisattva. They say what they say, but when I look for myself, all I see is an ordinary being with afflictions and faults, not someone who is free of faults and endowed with all the qualities, as others think.
In any case, my wish to benefit the teachings and benefit beings has never waned, and at the very least, I pray that I will be able to benefit the teachings and beings not only in this lifetime but in all my lifetimes. In particular, for myself, I don’t have any confidence or basis to think that I will be born in a pure realm in the future, but whether I am born in the high realms as a god or human or whether I am born in the lower realms as a horse or donkey or such, no matter what, may I be able to remember The Three Jewels with faith and not forget my compassionate wishes for all my parent-sentient beings.
In particular, because of the good karma I have accumulated in the past, in this life I have been able to take birth as a servant of the teachings of the Kagyu lineage, the protectors of beings. Likewise, I have been able to receive the blessings of the lineage of the great Karmapas. Thus, I always think to myself that we must not let the blessings of the ocean of Kagyu siddhas weaken and that we should always keep the name of the buddha Karmapa in mind in all our lifetimes, never forgetting it. Please everyone pray that we can accomplish this.
At this time, I am in a retreat with only a very few people around me. My body and mind are not like they were before; I am in a period where I feel sad and discouraged. In particular, the thought of death and impermanence is arising strongly within me. Perhaps, from the perspective of a practitioner, developing the awareness of death and impermanence is good. But from another perspective, this is happening when I am not feeling particularly well in either body or mind. I can’t explain it clearly.
For a long time, no one has heard much about what I am doing, and there are many rumors and a lot of hearsay about it. We are all the same. No matter who we are, people say all sorts of things about us; they misunderstand or make up things. In my life, this has often happened from the time I was little until now. Such situations happen often to all of us. But the main thing is that because our own minds are not hidden from us, it is important for us to believe in ourselves. For me, as I said before, I intend to continue working for the sake of Buddhism and sentient beings.
To conclude, this 36th Kagyu Monlam has been gone very well; it has been excellent in the beginning, excellent in the middle, and excellent in the end. This is primarily thanks to the kindness of Goshir Gyaltsap Rinpoche, all the lamas and tulkus, and the ocean of the sangha. I would like to thank all of you. I pray that next year I will be able to come to the 37th Kagyu Monlam in person and serve with my body, speech, and mind. Thank you, everyone.