It is the seventh time now that The Foundation for Universal Responsibility of HH the Dalai Lama has hosted the Gyalwang Karmapa for a weekend of teachings in New Delhi. For this occasion, the stage of Indian International Centre’s main hall has been set up with a spacious white chair covered in red and gold brocade for the Karmapa, flanked by members of the ordained sangha in their burgundy robes, the eight auspicious symbols on backlit screens, and tall, double sprays of flowers in hues of red and white.
To explore the topic of this weekend’s teachings, entitled Science of the Mind, the Karmapa chose the famous verse, The Four Freedoms from Attachment, composed by the founding patriarch of the Sakya school, Sachen Kunga Nyingpo:
If you are attached to this life, you’re not a Dharma practitioner.
If you are attached to samsara, you don’t have renunciation.
If you are attached to selfish aims, you don’t have bodhicitta
If there’s grasping, it is not the view.
Since these teachings are especially meant for Indians who have an interest in Buddhism, the Karmapa first extended his greetings to them for Diwali, the glittering festival of lights, wishing them a very happy holiday. Since it is customary to bring gifts of sweets, the Karmapa said playfully, “I should have brought some sweets for you but hopefully my talk will be sweet enough.”
The Karmapa began his teaching by saying that the text was a profound oral instruction, expressing all the points of the foundational and great vehicles or all three types of people (a teaching from the stages of the path or lam rim tradition). There are numerous commentaries on this verse, but it would be best just to focus on the verse itself, which is easy to understand and can be recalled again and again.
How does one listen to profound Dharma? Both the one giving the teaching and those receiving it should be clear about their motivations and their reasons, because it is a good motivation that makes for true sharing of Dharma. If you just come to the teachings out of curiosity, what you hear will not bring much benefit. However, if you come with a clear motivation and understanding of the reasons why you came, then the teachings will help to develop your minds.
When listening to the Dharma, you also need to keep clearly in mind a goal, no matter how large or small it may be. The Karmapa then provided an opportunity to experience what this might be like and asked people to reflect in a natural way about why they came while he chanted the refuge vow and the generation of bodhicitta. Having reminded people of the proper motivation, the Karmapa began his explanation of the first line of the verse:
If you are attached to this life, you are not a practitioner.
Since we are Dharma practitioners, the Karmapa commented, we have to recognize what it means to be one. This line can also mean that someone on the Dharma path investigates what is within their own mind. If we do not ask ourselves questions, then how can we know what is means to be a practitioner? And if we spend most of our time doing things other than Dharma, how can we become a true practitioner? The Karmapa asked, “Is being a real practitioner putting aside our family and the work that supports us and spending all our time on Dharma? Is it something separate like this?” Actually not, he replied. We need a stable livelihood and a happy household and do not have to give them up to practice Dharma.Otherwise, Dharma practice would be for the select few and not something ordinary people could do.
Dharma practice should inspire us and bring strength of mind. It is focused not on the temporary but the ultimate, on what can truly satisfy our minds and bring lasting joy. For this reason, the Karmapa explained, a true practitioner looks to future lives and not just what concerns this present one. Of course, Dharma practice will benefit us in this life, but our ultimate goal is a high and deep kind of true joy. The Karmapa commented, “Believing one hundred percent in past and future lives is not easy, even among Buddhists. In Kham we say ‘Believing is pretending to believe.’” It is difficult to believe in past and future lives because we are asked to trust something we cannot see.
Some people think, the Karmapa noted, that making prayers to a deity is practicing Dharma. If we are lucky and our prayers are answered, then our expectations grow. But this kind of result does not bring true happiness; it only increases our expectations. What we need is a goal for our lives that will benefit us when we come to the day we must die. At that time whether our mundane prayers were filled or not will not matter. What we need, he said, is something that has made our lives meaningful, that has brought true joy and confidence to our minds.
Taking an example from his own life, the Karmapa related that since he was recognized at the age of seven, he has had to face many difficulties and situations that he did not wish for. However, he kept in mind that he had a responsibility and the profound purpose of helping others, so temporary obstacles became a way to become a better person and strengthen his character, and also a way for his mind to become more spacious. If we let our minds get upset and disturbed, he noted, this will just stir up more problems.
The Karmapa’s talk was followed by a few questions. The first one, related to what he had just said, asked about what to do when obstacles arise. Should we fight them or just let things be?
The Karmapa responded: “The goal a practitioner has in mind is very important. If an obstacle is temporary, it’s not a problem. The actual problem is not accomplishing the ultimate goal of our lives, so we can take temporary troubles as a chance to improve ourselves and develop our resolve and courage. The real obstacle is to lose our inspiration and enthusiasm.” He added, “If our motivation is vast and stable, it will not disappear in the face of obstacles.”
The next question asked: If we practice Dharma for future lives, how will it benefit us in this one?
The Karmapa replied: “When we say we’re practicing for next life, it means that we’re taking the benefit of the Dharma in this lifetime as a basis for future lives. When we practice Dharma, we are not wasting our time; on the contrary Dharma makes life meaningful. Then at the time of death we will not be disappointed, and at the least, we will not have regrets.” He continued to explain, “It is by having a result in this life what we can figure out the benefit in a future life. When we think about the benefit in the future, it means that there has to be a benefit in this life, for without it, there would be none in the future.” In sum, we should take the long-term view but not give up on this life.
The next question asked: How should we prepare for death?
In responding, the Karmapa spoke of the reflection on death and impermanence. “When we contemplate death and impermanence, this spurs us on to make efforts so that we make each day meaningful. From another perspective, thinking about impermanence is a preparation for death: everything is undergoing change from moment to moment; it is the nature of all things to come and go.” If we can accept things are they are, he stated, “we will have less fear of death and see it as a natural process.” We can also prepare for death by experiencing each day as an entire life time: we are born in the morning, go through the day of our life, and die at night.
The final question queried: How do we enhance our diligence or joyful exertion?
The Karmapa responded: “Diligence should be imbued with a sense of enthusiasm. And meditating on impermanence will inspire our diligence, since we will not want to waste this life.” We can also think about the benefit of Dharma practice. The Karmapa noted that these days people are very result oriented but that the results of Dharma practice may take time to appear so we need certainty and enthusiasm that allows us to stay the course. Reflecting on the benefits and deeper meaning of Dharma practice will allow to practice for a long time.
The teachings will continue tomorrow and are being made available through webcast translations into English, Spanish, Chinese, German, and Polish.