March 12, 2011 – Vajra Vidya Institute, Sarnath
The session began with questions and answers.
If we have been educated in the West we have a spirit of competition, as it is considered a virtue there. When we deeply wish to practise Dharma properly, we have to work on this competitiveness and also on our jealousy. Could Your Holiness please tell us how to recognise these negative aspects in our mind, how to deal with them, and how to work with others’ projections of jealousy onto us. Is this competitiveness and jealousy connected with low self-esteem or pride?
Gyalwang Karmapa: In general, the Buddhist teachings classify laziness into three types, one of which is the laziness of self-deprecation. It’s the worst type of laziness. It is important to have confidence, but we must not confuse confidence with pride. In the West there is often a strong sense of individuality, a sense of personal identity and the idea that we ourselves are important, which in one way can be a good thing. For instance, in the West small children never seem daunted when they meet great people, whereas Tibetan children are very self-conscious, look at the ground and don’t have the confidence to ask questions. On the other hand, sometimes in the West people get too confident; they become proud and disregard other people. If we are confident, we can recognise our own good qualities such as intelligence and our confidence can be a source of courage, but, at the same time, it’s important not to treat others with disrespect and to remember that there are people who have greater qualities than we have, and not to be jealous of them in any way.
A little competitiveness can be useful. There are stories of great lamas who thought of the achievements of realised practitioners such as Marpa or Milarepa and determined to follow suit. This is a form of competitiveness but it is based on confidence connected with faith and devotion.
Rather than being jealous, we should take delight in the qualities of others, and have the confidence that in future we too will become like them, so that our minds remain calm and undisturbed.
In many Dharma Centres abroad it seems that Western Buddhists behave worse than non-Buddhists in terms of being kind or supportive. How can we deal with this? How can we have more peace and harmony in Western Dharma Centres?
Gyalwang Karmapa: This is a very big question! [His Holiness commented in English]. If I had the answer, I would have solved all the problems of the centres.
Firstly, when Lamas give us profound instructions we need to put them into practice. At Dharma centres we have the opportunity to receive instructions on practising the Dharma but we may feel contrary and choose to ignore them. Or we may put them into practice but not whole-heartedly. We may be irritated by what seems like a long list of rules and commitments or we may pay lip-service to the Dharma– all words but no action! Buddhism offers us the methods to become a good person by developing loving kindness and compassion but we have to put the teachings into practice.
So why don’t people put the teachings into practice? Perhaps the problem lies with the Dharma centres themselves. Perhaps the administration and organisation are not good enough. If well-organised, teachings will be structured in such a way that students are able to understand clearly the stages of the Buddhist path, how they need to progress, and how to achieve that goal.
Perhaps we Tibetans set a bad example to the Westerners, as we often don’t put the Dharma into practise ourselves! You can talk about the paramita of generosity for a hundred years but it’s pointless if you can’t show generosity. Similarly, with transcendent patience, we don’t always practice it. There’s a story about a lama who went to visit another lama, who asked him what he was doing those days. The first lama replied that he was teaching in his monastery, teaching Shantideva’s Way of the Bodhisattva. “That’s good,” replied the second lama. They continued to talk and the first lama recounted how someone had caused problems for him so he had taken out a lawsuit against the man and won. “Oh,” observed the second lama, “You haven’t taught the chapter on Patience in the Way of the Bodhisattva, yet, then?” “Oh, no,” countered the first lama.”I taught it very well.”
That’s what is meant by paying lip-service to the Dharma. We need to practise in order to tame our mind-stream, and if all we’re doing is talking about it, that is not a genuine Dharma practice.
A further problem might be that Dharma centres are not stressing the basics of Buddhism. From the very beginning, students need to be aware of the essential teachings and the aims of practice so that it can be incorporated into their experience. We fail to teach them about refuge, loving kindness and compassion. We wrongly emphasise a partisan view instead. We should be explaining clearly the reasons for practising the Dharma and instructing them on how to become a good person through working with their mind.
Instructions on meditation say that we should keep our gaze stable and in front of us. I have been meditating for a long time with my eyes closed. When I meditate with them open, I can’t sit for a long time and I can’t keep my mind calm. What should I do?
Gyalwang Karmapa: Sometimes it is said that you should look into the space in front of you, but actually there are many different instructions on ways of focussing the eyes in meditation, in both Dzogchen and Mahamudra. In calm-abiding meditation [shamatha] we are often told to look into the space in front of our noses. In many sutras it says that we shouldn’t look to right or left, but should let our eyes relax, without staring. However, if you meditate with your eyes closed, there is the danger, especially for beginners, that you will become lethargic, and this will be an obstacle to your meditation. For this reason, you shouldn’t close your eyes, but neither should you open your eyes wide. When you become accustomed to it, meditating with the eyes open is comfortable.
It’s better to go and ask a lama who has all the instructions.
How do we practice deity yoga and looking at the mind together, both during a meditation session and afterwards?
Gyalwang Karmapa: These are really profound questions connected with Mahamudra, and I’m not sure whether I can answer them very well. However, generally when we talk about meditating on ourselves in the form of the deity, we do not meditate on this flesh-and-blood body as being the deity. Rather it’s that our own innate wisdom appears in the form of the deity. In terms of the highest yoga tantra, we refer to ‘the wisdom of great bliss’ which appears in the form of the deity. We need to understand emptiness and how this form appears.
When we meditate on Mahamudra or Dzogchen, this is not analytic meditation, but primarily it’s resting meditation. We practise resting without altering the mind in any way, as a way to allow the wisdom of the luminosity which is present within us to manifest. When we meditate on ourselves as the deity, the essence is the innate luminous wisdom, but the aspect is the deity. It is the essence of our mind, the innate luminous wisdom, which takes the form of the deity. We take imagination as the path.
The main point is that there is profound emptiness and then the vast way in which things appear. Emptiness is not the same as nothingness, but neither should we see appearances as real, solid things. Rather it’s that while things appear they are empty, and while they are empty they appear.
Actually, I’m meant to be talking about becoming a good person and this is not really in that scope, so “Keep going”.
During the Qing Dynasty, Emperor Kangxi was good to the people and protected them, but he also raised armies and fought wars where many people died. If he wanted to attain buddhahood, would it be necessary for him or someone like him to purify his karma in the same way as Milarepa?
Gyalwang Karmapa: We have to consider the dynastic history, and during the Xing Dynasty Kangxi was one of the most famous emperors and, of course, because he was the emperor he had to wage war occasionally. He practised Tibetan Buddhism and invited lamas from Tibet, particularly Gelukpa lamas, to advise him on his religious practice. It is said that when he took empowerments he was very humble.
Usually, when we think about practising the Dharma it has to be in accordance with a person’s capacities. Not everyone can be like Milarepa, enduring hardship in order to attain Buddhahood in one lifetime.
His Holiness said before that to practise guru yoga with the lama in nirmanakaya form brings blessings more quickly. Would this or yidam deity practice be faster in eliminating samsara?
Gyalwang Karmapa: “I can’t remember saying that!” Generally, when we talk about emptying samsara, whatever practice we are engaged in, has to be taken as an antidote for the afflictions, especially as the antidote to ignorance and clinging to a self, because the root of samsara is clinging to a self. This is what we need to meditate on, whether it is in the form of the lama or the yidam deity.
Gyalwang Karmapa then resumed his discourse on the main theme of the teachings by exploring the meaning of true happiness.
When we talk about happiness, there are conditions which can bring about a sensation of pleasure, but that is not happiness. Genuine happiness is internal and comes from a virtuous mind. Similarly when we speak about suffering, it’s not external things which cause us most suffering, but the afflictions which disturb our minds and make us unhappy, the non-virtues. Thus, in order to make ourselves happy, we need to nurture the seeds of virtue in our lives and decrease the power of the afflictions, the unwholesome things in our mind, which are the sources of suffering.
People are confused about the sources of true happiness. For example, everyone is familiar with film stars and heroes. In India, film stars are very famous. When they enter a room people start clapping. Would you prefer to be that film star or one of the people applauding? Many people believe that if they could become an important person, a hero or film star, someone rich and famous, someone who stands out from the crowd, they would be happy. They think that happiness is something out there that they haven’t got, so they need to get it. Often this translates into the idea that we can become happy by acquiring something new to replace the old–a new partner, a new car, a new house. That’s how we try to make ourselves happy.
It’s not always how it seems. When that film star appears and everyone starts applauding, do you think they are happy or not? We can’t be sure whether the film star is happy or not, but the people standing clapping their hands are definitely happy and enjoying themselves.
In fact, happiness is very simple. It means living in the present and appreciating the experiences we are having right now. As I said yesterday, it really isn’t a question of what we have or don’t have, but more a question of what we are or what we are not. There are poor people who are extremely happy and rich people who are consumed by worry and have lots of difficulties. Every day we take hundreds of thousands of breaths. Consider how each breath we take is incredibly amazing and precious. If we were unable to breathe, we would be unable to live. Each breath is priceless. These days we have to pay for everything – food, electricity and so on – so perhaps they will find a way to charge us for the air we breathe! But for the moment breathing is free and incredibly amazing. If we can take delight in this, we have happiness here and now.
Gyalwang Karmapa concluded the teaching by saying that he hoped it had been an opportunity ‘to make connections and develop a bond of love and affection’ and that through this teaching everyone would find happiness, a happiness that would flourish and grow stronger.