(April 11, 2015 – Flushing, New York) On a sunny, spring Saturday morning in New York, His Holiness the Karmapa gave his second scheduled dharma talk for the tour, teaching to a sold-out audience on the “Four Dharmas of Gampopa.” The teaching came at the request of the Danang Foundation, headed by Lama Tsewang Rinpoche, who was one of the small group to escort the fourteen-year-old Karmapa over the Himalayas at the turn of the century on his flight out of Tibet and into exile in India.
Around 1,000 people gathered in an upstairs conference room at New York’s Sheraton LaGuardia East Hotel, which was filled to capacity with those fortunate enough to secure tickets. Tickets for the event had sold out rapidly and many who missed out waited hopefully outside the teaching venue for a last-minute space to open up. Inside the room an image of the Buddha Akshobhya hung above the stage. The image was painted by His Holiness and reproduced in the style of a large thangka with a maroon and gold silk border, specially for the weekend’s activities, which included an Akshobhya empowerment and teaching.
His Holiness began by noting that when one teaches the dharma, one should either have so much experience that one is able to teach spontaneously, or else engage in careful preparation. Since he did not feel that he had either experience or preparation, His Holiness the Karmapa commented that he did not feel confident that his teaching on the “Four Dharmas of Gampopa” would be of much value.
He went on to say that the “Four Dharmas of Gampopa” primarily explain the gradual path to enlightenment for the three different types of individuals. His Holiness would teach on just the first two of these dharmas: “the mind going to the dharma,” and “the dharma becoming the path.”
The first of these, the mind going to the dharma, mainly concerns the path of the lesser individual, though it can also be applied to the person of medium scope. His Holiness then noted that traditionally, the lesser individual is understood to be one motivated by concern for future lives, but observed that nowadays many people do not look beyond this life. Therefore, he said he felt that there must be ways to present the Dharma such that it is also relevant for those whose concerns do not go beyond the boundaries of this life.
Training in the first dharma of Gampopa means learning to truly believe in future lives, and as a result of this conviction developing genuine concern with the type of rebirth we will have. The Karmapa drew on his ongoing concern with the world’s environmental crisis as an everyday way to train in this dharma.
“In this twenty-first century, because of our tremendous material progress, we have come to depend more and more on external or material things for happiness,” he said. “However, while human desire or greed is unending and limitless, the external resources that we use to satisfy that desire, including natural resources, are limited. It is impossible to have unlimited use of limited resources.
“The problem is that in our consumerism—in our endless craving for external pleasures—we lose track of the difference between what we want and what we need. We never think about this difference anymore and finally we become slaves of our possessions and lose our independence.”
His Holiness emphasized he was not saying that this life is unimportant. Some people mistakenly interpret this point to mean that we must give up all concern with this life. But rather, he clarified, it means the exact opposite.
“If we are really concerned with future lives, we must be all the more concerned with what we do in this life,” he said. “I think the most important thing therefore is that we carefully consider how not to waste this human life, this freedom and these resources. I think this consideration is the basis or starting point of training in the mind going to the dharma.”
The Karmapa next explained that the second of the four dharmas, the dharma becoming the path, is the path of the greater individual and concerns the six perfections. We practice this path not just to receive a higher rebirth but to achieve perfect and omniscient buddhahood. In order to do this we must enter the Mahayana path.
Returning once more to the difference between what we want and what we need, His Holiness drew a distinction between our immediate and ultimate needs. Of these, our ultimate need is more important, and this is the achievement of perfect and final happiness, or buddhahood. Furthermore, our ultimate goal is not just our own happiness but that of all beings.
With compassion and bodhicitta being hallmarks of greater individuals, His Holiness described how our lack of these qualities is having a real impact on the state of the world.
“As everyone knows, nowadays there is a lot of war and a great deal of violence in this world. Millions of people are being displaced, thousands of people are being killed, parents are being separated from children and spouses are being separated from each other as well. None of us wants to experience war or violence. We fear these things and are rightly saddened by them.
“A funny thing about the human brain, however, is that we ignore anything unless it is right in front of us. To use the environmental situation as an example, many people remain uninterested in climate change because they do not see it directly. But we should fear things that are happening even if we cannot see them right in front of us.
“The weakness of our compassion, and the weakness or outright lack of our bodhicitta has placed this world in grave danger. We know this, it is all around us and we are responsible for it. And yet we lack enough compassion to care. We lack enough bodhicitta to do anything about it. We need to work on that.”
At one point during his talk the Karmapa stopped and considered whether being a Buddhist actually made him a good person.
“If someone were to ask me whether I consider myself a Buddhist, I would automatically say yes,” he explained. “But if someone asked the follow-up question whether I think I am a good person, I would not be able to answer on the spot. I think sometimes I am a good person, and sometimes I am not a good person. This is a contradiction. If I am sure I am Buddhist but not sure whether I am a good person, that is a bit funny!
“The point of Buddhist practice is to be a better person. If you are unsure whether you are a good person or not then your identification of yourself as a Buddhist is very questionable.”