February 19th & 20th, 2010 – India Habitat Center, Delhi
The 17th Gyalwang Karmapa today commenced a two-day series of teachings in Delhi at the invitation of the Foundation for Universal Responsibility. The foundation is a not-for-profit organization founded by His Holiness the Dalai Lama with the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to him in 1989. The topic for this second set of teachings the Gyalwang Karmapa has given at the foundation was ‘Cultivating Compassion.’ As the talks were addressed to a general audience including Buddhists and those curious about Buddhism, the Gyalwang Karmapa offered practical tools for developing greater compassion, while philosophically grounding his call for greater compassion in Buddhist teachings on interdependence.
The teachings consisted of four sessions, morning and afternoon and included a question-and-answer period at the end of each session. The first morning opened with a warm welcome from Rajiv Mehrotra, an award-winning filmmaker and talk show host who manages the foundation at His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s behest.
The Gyalwang Karmapa began his first talk by noting that compassion is core to all Buddhist traditions, and can rightly be called the essence of the Buddha dharma. He then drew a distinction between compassion that focuses outwards and compassion that focuses inwards. When we look outwards and observe the suffering of sentient beings, and feel a wish to remove their sufferings, this is what we generally call compassion. When we look inwards and observe our own suffering and wish to end it, this is called renunciation. These two forms of ‘compassion’ are distinguished primarily by the object on which they focus. Different Buddhist vehicles may stress one more than the other, yet Gyalwang Karmapa noted that both consist in the basic wish to remove suffering, either that of oneself or of others.
Continuing to clarify the relationship between working for ourselves and working for others, His Holiness commented that the scriptures speak of three types of bodhisattva. The highest are able to accomplish both their own aims and the aims of others at the same time, the middling type accomplishes the aims of others and the lowest accomplishes their own aims. Although the idea that there are bodhisattvas working to further their own aims might seem counterintuitive, in fact, His Holiness explained, without taming our own minds it is unrealistic to expect that we will be able to tame others. This does not mean that bodhisattvas give up the idea of working for others: far from it. Rather, some bodhisattvas—who may be likened to beginners like us on the path—recognize that they are currently unable to benefit others, yet they make strong aspiration to be able to do so in the future. On that basis, they engage first in the three higher trainings of ethics, concentration and wisdom in order to equip themselves to be able to benefit others.
In this sense, His Holiness urged the audience to cultivate affection for themselves. To truly cherish ourselves entails recognizing what is of real benefit and what is of harm to us, His Holiness emphasized. To that end, we need to think deeply and use our basic analytical intelligence. For example, we may treat others with contempt with the idea that this furthers our own interests but in fact it only harms us in the long run.
Although it is possible to achieve liberation from our own suffering simply by developing our wisdom, and specifically the wisdom realizing ultimate reality, this would only result in our own liberation, Gyalwang Karmapa pointed out. As principled human beings, it would be out of the question that we escape alone samsara’s cycles of suffering and leave everyone else behind to continue suffering. Especially in Buddhist teachings where we are urged to consider that all sentient beings have been our mothers in past lives and have raised us with great tenderness and kindness, it would be an act of ingratitude for us to strive solely to free ourselves from suffering.
Yet to be effective in working for the well-being of others we need to understand their individual dispositions, capacities and needs. Gyalwang Karmapa commented that this requires great wisdom and, ultimately, omniscience, since sentient beings are infinite and so are their dispositions. For that reason, out of compassion wishing to alleviate the sufferings of all sentient beings, bodhisattvas seek as their final goal the omniscient state of buddhahood.
In the case of our own cultivation of compassion, since at the moment we ourselves are also inundated with an ocean of sufferings, we cannot simply neglect our own condition and solely seek to care for others. Rather, we must cultivate a sense of affection and genuine love towards ourselves, and care for ourselves on that basis. His Holiness gave the example of wanting to make charitable donations. To do so, we need to possess wealth of our own to give, he said. In that sense, if we wish to bring about the wellbeing of others, we have a responsibility to work on our own minds as a means of developing the inner wealth to offer to them.
His Holiness opened the afternoon session with one of the initial verses from Chandrakirti’s Madhyamakavatara, or Entering the Middle Way.
The abundant harvest that is buddhahood
Has compassion as its seed, and as the moisture that makes it grow.
Compassion is what ripens into its lasting state of happiness.
Thus it is compassion that I praise first.
His Holiness stressed that the seeds of compassion that will ripen as buddhahood do not need to be bought in a store or imported from anywhere else. They are naturally present within us. But they do need to be planted and tended with care and attentiveness. Using the example of his own experience as a small child in a nomad family in Tibet, His Holiness recounted his own intense emotions when he saw animals brought to be slaughtered for meat. At that time he did not even know the word compassion much less what it signified, he said. Yet despite the intervening years of studying Buddhist texts and his facility in uttering such phrases as ‘may all sentient beings equaling space be happy,’ no experience of compassion he has had since then can compare to that spontaneous response to the animals’ suffering he had as a child, Gyalwang Karmapa said. This indicates that we do have the innate seeds within us, he added. But just as a tree needs roots that go deep into the ground to hold it firmly in place and to draw water that sustains the entire tree, so too we need to root compassion deeply in our hearts, and we need to allow our compassion to become stable so it can support our further growth.
In that regard, the Gyalwang Karmapa stressed the component of choice in the cultivation of compassion. If we want to plant a forest, he said, we cannot simply wait and hope that the wind might blow the seeds to some spot where the conditions are right for them to grow. Rather we must choose to begin the process, and then follow up with consistent action; not only do we need to choose to plant the seeds but also to tend them mindfully by giving them the water they need in the right amounts at the right times.
His Holiness wryly noted that he once had the thought that since there are bombs that can instantly kill hundreds of people at the same time, it would be nice if we could make a bomb of compassion that would suddenly alleviate the sufferings of hundreds when it exploded and make them all burst into delighted laughter. As wonderful as that would be, it is not possible, Gyalwang Karmapa said, precisely because ordinary bombs rob us of our lives against our will, while the development of compassion is not something that can be done to us against our will. We must voluntarily wish to develop compassion. In that sense, compassion involves personal choices, and brings us freedom. By contrast, our afflictive emotions remove our freedom and place us under their control. Compassion gives us the opportunity to take control of our own lives.
For the remainder of the day’s teachings, Gyalwang Karmapa turned his attention to the cultivation of patience or forbearance. He stressed that patience or forbearance does not imply merely putting up with adversity or forcing oneself to bear hardship. Rather, His Holiness said we must actively train ourselves to see the faults in our afflictive emotions, such as anger. This recognition must not be limited to seeing them as partially faulty, of sometimes inappropriate and other times good. Rather, we must gain a clear certainty that our anger and other afflictions are completely and fully faulty. With that certainty, we will be prepared to defend ourselves against them. Gyalwang Karmapa gave the example of a person who has already decided that they do not want to do something. If they are then asked to do it, they can say no without hesitation or doubts. In the same way, if we have determined ahead of time that there is nothing whatsoever to be gained from following our afflictive emotions, that knowledge will fortify us against them when they do arise.
Gyalwang Karmapa concluded his teaching by emphasizing that we should not view our spiritual practice as a chore or a job, since this can make it seem heavy or overly serious. Rather, we can take a more playful approach, not forcing ourselves but engaging in our practice with enthusiasm and joy.
Gyalwang Karmapa Commences Two-Day Teachings on Compassion in Delhi