December 11, 2010 – Bodhgaya
True Dharma Practice Transforms Our Mind
Today the chanting started at eight-thirty with the famous prayer to Guru Rinpoche, “Eliminating Obstacles on the Path.” Present today in the front row were Gyaltsap Rinpoche, Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche, Dolop Tenga Rinpoche, Mingyur Rinpoche, Khenpo Donyo, and Bagyo Rinpoche.
The setting is the same as yesterday except the ornamental brocade umbrella which usually accompanies a high lama to symbolize a noble rank, is now stationed at a corner of throne with the practical function of protecting the Karmapa from the hot rays of the morning sun. Karmapa Khyenno is chanted with a lovely new melody.
To the sound of the jalings, His Holiness walks down the central aisle with an ease of dignity belying his years. Coming to the stage stairs, he removes his shoes and walks straight ahead to a long brocade laid out in front of his throne below Dusum Khyenpa and the Buddha. After three slow and careful bows, he takes his seat and opens a long text, swathed in golden silk.
Today again there are offerings for the Karmapa’s long life, this time by sponsors from Southeast Asian Dharma centers. The Karmapa then recites his prayers, which include a stanza from the Aspiration to Excellent Conduct expressing the wish to connect with every living being through all types of utterances:
May I teach the Dharma in all languages—
In those of the gods, the nagas, the yakshas,
Of the kumbandhas and humans, too,
In as many languages as living beings may know.
His Holiness followed this with the praise to interdependence, which begins Nagarjuna’s famous Fundamentals of the Middle Way:
Whatever arises in dependence
Has no cessation and no arising
No extinction and no permanence
No coming and no going,
And is neither different nor the same.
Mental constructs completely stilled,
It is taught to be peace.
I bow down to the genuine words
Of the perfect buddhas.
As he recites the last two lines, the Karmapa bends forward in a deep bow and then finishes his last prayer.
The Karmapa began by saying that an older monk from Tergar Monastery had passed away last night and asked for prayers. Everyone chanted a supplication to Chenrezik and his mantra, Om Mani Padme Hung. His Holiness concluded the practice with the aspiration that the monk enter the correct path in his next life and swiftly become enlightened.
The Karmapa then began to teach. It is said that without mind training, we are like the picture of a lamp: devoid of actual light, it cannot dispel darkness. Similarly, not truly transforming our mind, we are just the image of a Dharma practitioner, so the practice of Dharma cannot function to do its work of bringing us to full awakening.
What is the meaning of the word Dharma (in Tibetan cho)? It means “to transform,” “to make changes,” or “to alter.” This is not a change forced by something outside like a hammer: it is the actual discovery of an antidote for our afflictions. It functions just like the medicine we take when we are sick. In this way, the afflictions will start to lose their power, and we are better able to deal with them. This undermining of our afflictions is the destination, the true goal, of all the teachings.
The first Karmapa, Dusum Khyenpa, said that through the wisdom of listening and studying, we come to understand the nature of our mind; through the wisdom of reflection, we come to control our afflictions; and through the wisdom of meditation, we uproot the afflictions completely.
This process is very important as it is the afflictions that trouble our mind. It could be said that the purpose of all Dharma is to work on the afflictions. When the Dharma connects with our afflictions, the Dharma becomes the Dharma and the instructions become worthwhile. If this is not the case, it’s like making offerings to the East for spirits who abide in the West. With you back to the target, you’re facing the wrong direction.
For working with the afflictions, the Kadampa spiritual friends have a system of counting black and white pebbles. With a heap of each color, you count one white pebble for a positive thought and one black pebble for a negative one. At end of a session or of the day, you see what is left. If there are a lot of black pebbles, you chide yourself for being so negative. If there are more white ones, then you congratulate yourself. In either case, you make the commitment to do better the next day. You can also remember, “Today I used this remedy for that affliction.” Like this, we can work for a year on our afflictions and then see how we have changed. Otherwise, it will be difficult to transform as we have no way to improve ourselves.
In this special place of Bodh Gaya and at this special time of the first Karmapa’s 900th anniversary, we are extremely fortunate to have with us so many great masters and so many practitioners who have gathered together. We must, therefore, think in a different way and make a special effort to do our practice.
We repeat often, “May I attain full awakening for the sake of all living beings.” But nothing is really happening within our minds, we are just mouthing some words. [His Holiness picks up a bunched kata lying next to him and vigorously swings at his cushion, imitating someone killing a bothersome insect. Then he gently raises his palms and softly blows across them, commenting, “Maybe we should do like this.”]
Though our body, speech, and mind, we should engage in positive actions with a clear intention. For example, refraining from killing does not just happen: you make an clear decision, a firm commitment, not to kill and this makes your intention into something positive. Since everything comes back to the mind, we should talk to our mind and give it advice. We should both counsel and analyze our minds. The Buddha Shakyamuni has given us effective methods for working on our minds; however, whether we use them or not depends on us. The Buddha does not sit there and tell us what to do all the time. We are our own savior, our own protector. We should give ourselves the gift of a good future.
Some people say, “Well, this is my personality. It’s just the way I am.” That’s an excuse not to change. Right now, our personality is coarse, so we need to work on it: this is the only way.
If we do not have the discipline that allows us to make these changes, then it is like a treasure bereft of an owner. Similar to the natural resources of gold, silver, or oil, we may have a treasury of good deeds, but we need to engage in them with discipline, for this will turn them into a basis for a good rebirth. The true cause for this is excellent discipline. Having good thoughts is not enough: you have to act on them.
In sum, it is said that renunciation presides over meditation and that discipline is the basis of positive action.
[His Holiness then gave the refuge ceremony.]
We go for refuge to the Buddha as the teacher, the Dharma as the path, and the sangha as companions. To lead our lives well, at first, we need the guidance of those who are kind to us, such as our parents. Then, we need to learn and develop our body and mind to become an independent human being. This process resembles studying the Dharma. As we move along this path, we need friends, those who support us, or life partners with whom we can work together.
Through taking refuge, we are ultimately seeking liberation, which is lasting peace. It is not a temporary thing, like being voted into office and then losing the election the next time around. Further, liberation cannot be purchased or brought in from the outside. In truth, it is not far away, waiting for us in the East while we are sitting in the West: liberation is found within our own mind. This is where we experience suffering. Rocks and the earth do not suffer because they do not have minds.
What is the source of our suffering? Our karmic actions and our afflictions. When impelled by our afflictions, we act in a negative way, the result is suffering. So we have to work on our afflictions, which cause our misery and dissatisfaction.
How do we do this? 2,500 years ago, the Buddha was a prince with everything one could wish for. Then he saw a sick person, an old person, and a corpse. He also saw a monk. When the prince asked, “Who is this person?” The reply was “Someone who has renounced the world.” So the prince also renounced the world in order to become free. Through years of practice, he discovered a middle way between asceticism and indulgence and thereby became enlightened. The Buddha completely understood the way things are. He moved from relying on consciousness (rnam shes) where only the forms or images of things are seen, to realizing primordial wisdom (ye shes), when the true nature of all phenomena is seen.
For example, if the Buddha sees a danger, he would not be affected by it because he knows its nature; he is not deceived by what is arising in the present moment. Ordinary beings, however, will feel afraid and suffer because they see only superficial appearances. If someone does something negative to the Buddha, he does not take on this suffering and carry it around with him, because he sees the nature of the situation. Appearances deceive ordinary people, who do not even know that they are being deceived. This way we suffer and remain bound to samsara. The Buddha knows all this and gives teachings so that we can move along the path to finding true freedom.
The term sangha can refer to the Buddha, a spiritual friend, or the more ordinary sangha of the ordained. When we relate to teachers, it is important to see them as Dharma friends. Some people are afraid of lamas and I don’t understand why. We should see them as a good friend, who helps us along the path. Of course, we have first to see if this person can serve as a trustworthy friend or not and this is a gradual process.
On the path, we need Dharma friends who have kept their samaya. In general, we make a promise to be friendly with all living beings throughout space but first we have to be friendly with the people who surround us. If not, how can we relate to the vast number of all living beings?
In sum, to become fully awakened, we need a very good teacher, excellent methods of practice, and Dharma friends along the path.
Once we have taken refuge, there a few things to understand. First, when we go for refuge to the Buddha, we no longer take refuge in mundane deities; when we take refuge in the Dharma, we make the commitment not to harm living beings; and when we take refuge in the sangha, we make the decision to avoid negative friends.
Now to comment on these one by one. (1) Not to go for refuge to worldly gods does not mean that we cannot sometimes bow or make offerings on certain occasions. What it does mean is that we do not take refuge from the depth of our being, because these deities can only help us on a temporary basis and not ultimately: they cannot lead us out of samsara. For example, you might seek the shade of a tree to get out of the sun, but when the sun moves, so does the shadow. So it’s a temporary protection and worldly deities are like that.
It is important to understand that there are different kinds of protectors. Dharma protectors are there to guard the teachings; they are servants of the Dharma. On the other hand, there are wisdom protectors, who are great bodhisattvas, or enlightened beings, appearing in the form of protectors. To them we can go for refuge.
The main point is that in the Dharma, we work on ourselves and train our minds. To give tormas and make offerings to Buddha or to engage in prostrations are not enough to free us from suffering: we have to change ourselves, find our wisdom through meditation and engage in good conduct.
When we go for refuge to Dharma, we vow to refrain from harming living beings. It is said that the Dharma bring us to remain in peace with our minds undisturbed. So harming refers to more than causing physical suffering: it means to avoid creating any suffering at all. In foundational vehicle, it is said that we should refrain from any negative deed; and in the mahayana, we make the further commitment to help living beings as well.
In the world, conflicts arise due to different religions and so His Holiness the Dalai Lama has said that just saying “world peace” is not enough because people make war saying they do it for the sake of peace. What we need is peace through non-violence. We have to bring non-violence into peace-making.
The nature of Buddhism is non-violence, which we can find through controlling our mind and discovering an inner peace that is not disturbed by afflictions. Further, it’s important to transform our minds not only in relation to enemies, but also in terms of those close to us. We must think and act carefully at al levels. Even the thought, “I don’t want to harm,” is really wonderful.
When we go for refuge to the sangha, it is said that we should avoid negative friends. How do we understand this? Negative friends do not have horns or an ugly face. They are people who engage in a sectarian view and say, “These Gelugpas, Sakyapas, Bonpos, and so forth, are not good.” This is splitting the sangha. We go for refuge to all the Buddhas, all the Dharmas and all the Sanghas. If we do not see all of them in a positive way, then we go against our refuge vows.
The Buddha gave different teachings to different people. To some, he said there is a self (atman), and to others, there is no self. So clearly, there are differences, and we cannot say,”This is good Dharma or “That is bad Dharma.” This is the study lineage” “This is the practice lineage.” Splitting the sangha like this brings nothing positive.
We have a number of Dharma lineages in Tibet, and each one has its merits. If we become attached to being Kamtshang Kagyu, it is not good. We should think in a correct way that accords with the Dharma. The Buddha came into the world and prayed that the Dharma would spread like the radiant sun. If the sangha remains in harmony, then surely the Dharma’s life will be long.
Drukpa Kunley said that if we don’t agree with a friend’s negative actions, we can just refrain from doing them. If we give advice to others and we cannot change or reform them, we simply do not participate in what they do, and this is all right.
The seventh Karmapa, Chodrak Gyatso, sent an open letter to the Tibetans. I have the Karmapa’s teaching, this is my activity. And anyone who enters into Dharma is connected with this. Anybody who enters into Buddhism is a member.
The great master of India, Dorje Denpa, sent to Dusum Khyenpa many gifts and said, “You will be in charge of the Buddha’s Dharma.” The Karmapa’s lineage, however, is not from India or China, no is it from Vajradhara. This lineage comes from the teachings of the Buddha. In Tibet, we have different lamas, different monasteries, and different lineages. Fundamentally, all of these are same: there is no difference in the teachings. So if we talk against any lama or against any tradition, we are going against the Dharma.
In sum, it is not easy to transform ourselves completely. We simply do what we can based on our individual capacities. If that’s just one short practice, that is good. Please take this to heart.
Developing Compassion for all Sentient Beings
The Gyalwang Karmapa began by explaining how Atisha’s text was predominantly used by Mahayana practitioners, both the Sutrayana and the Vajrayana. The perfect method is aspiration bodhicitta with its training, and action bodhicitta.
First we should begin by accumulating merit:
v. 7 Facing paintings, statues and so forth
Of the completely enlightened one,
Reliquaries and the excellent teaching
Offer flowers, incense–whatever you have.
We make the seven-part offering, which is generally similar to the seven-branch offering of prostrations, offerings, purification and so forth, as, for example, in the Samantabhadra Dedication Prayer….
v.8 With the seven-part offering
From the [Prayer of] Noble Conduct
…and then we go for refuge.
With the thought never to turn back
Till you gain ultimate enlightenment,
v.9 And with strong faith in the Three Jewels,
Kneeling with one knee on the ground
And your hands pressed together
First of all take refuge three times.
Till you gain enlightenment signifies the special Mahayana refuge commitment until enlightenment.
Having taken refuge we have to train in loving kindness and compassion, firstly in aspiration bodhicitta and then in action bodhicitta.
The root of bodhicitta is compassion so we need to develop a natural compassion such as is shown by a mother or a nurse. Having made the seven-branch offering we should train to gradually transform our minds so that our principal mindset is one of compassion. One method for achieving this is to consider all sentient beings as having been our mothers at some time, and contemplate their kindness,. This does raise the question of previous and future lives. Buddhists argue that consciousness depends on a preceding moment of consciousness and use this logic to support reincarnation. Also, these days there is evidence collected by scientists of children who remember previous lives.
Generally, mothers are used as an example because of the great compassion and love they show for their children, but it is possible to imagine instead anyone who has been kind and affectionate towards you, such as a dear friend. Using the example of a mother, first, when we are born, we are a mass of flesh, the product of our parents. Our parents then give us food and clothing, all we need when we are cold. In Tibet there is no central heating and no heaters, so when a baby or infant gets cold, the mother tucks the child inside her chuba; it’s the mother’s own body which acts as the furnace. The mother cleans up the waste we excrete, she feeds us with milk from her breast, speaks to us and treats us with great affection. When we are older she still continues to give us food and clothing from her own resources, even sometimes at a cost to herself.. Mothers go through such difficulties for their children, shed so many tears. Their one thought is for the good of their children. Now we need to perceive how these kind parents are trapped in the suffering of samsara, experiencing unbearable suffering. Consequently, we should develop strong compassion for them.
There are, however, some people who might take the opposite view. Since everyone has been our enemy in a previous life, for example, when we were animals, others killed us for meat or for our fur and hides, we should view other sentient beings with hatred!!
In such a case, we have to consider which view is more beneficial. If we can develop loving kindness and bodhicitta we can attain enlightenment, whereas if we develop hatred we will just sink deeper into the lower realms. It’s true though that we abuse animals in this world. If they took us to court over our cruelty to them, they would win!
Further, we should also remember that all sentient beings are similar in having feelings of pleasure and pain. Even if someone is our enemy there will be a reason, and it is often our fault that we have not taken care. Perhaps we have been unhelpful or disrespectful.
A second ground for developing compassion is that though, sometimes it is possible to find happiness through knowing correctly what is to be done and what is to be abandoned, many sentient beings confuse the causes of suffering with the causes of happiness. For example, out of her caring, a mother bird kills countless worms and insects in order to feed her chicks, but this accumulation of negative actions, lifetime after lifetime means that the mother bird moves further and further away from a fortunate rebirth. Mothers have done so many negative things for the sake of their children and consequently continue to wander in samsara.
We are all interconnected and dependent on each other. Many people earn their living by killing other sentient beings in order to provide us with meat and so forth. If no one consumed these products, there would be no killers. No factory farms! We need to take responsibility and when we see suffering,we should want to do something about it.
A third reason is that under the effect of the afflictive emotions we have all become a little crazy. When we see someone who is insane we don’t hold their behaviour against them. Yet, we are all a little insane! Made so by the afflictions. Hence, we should practice patience. If someone hits us with a stick on the head, we get angry at the person. We don’t get angry at the stick because it had no control, it didn’t wish to hit us. We need to think of the person who harms us in the same way. It is as if the person is drunk, intoxicated by the alcohol of the afflictive emotions and under their control. This is how we should view it. The Buddhas and bodhisattvas do not abandon sentient beings who are under the control of the afflictive emotions, so we should train with their example in mind. When someone is offensive, we might have a momentary reaction but we should not allow ourselves to bear a grudge as that would be in contradiction of the Bodhisattva vow.
The fourth reason is to consider the suffering of our mothers. All sentient beings want to be free of suffering, and though we may find it difficult to envisage the suffering of the lower realms, it is possible to see so much suffering in the world: war-torn countries, famine, orphans, lawless places, places where all hope has been lost. We see these on the news.
At the very least, when we see such things, we should make prayers for those places. Instead, we simply pass comment, “Oh, there’s a war in that place…” or “There was an earthquake there…” without ever considering the people caught up in those terrible situations. When we read the newspapers or watch TV, we can use the activity as a way to bring benefit to others, by offering prayers for them. We cannot train in bodhicitta while ignoring the suffering of others..Many masters in the past stayed in retreat, but they were bringing benefit to beings. Benefit to beings doesn’t just mean bringing truckloads of food for example, though that can be good.
We also need the instructions on emptiness and compassion in order to bring benefit to beings. We don’t need grand Dharma centres. When we teach the Dharma we should be like beggars—a beggar gets a single rupee, and is satisfied. We can think, “I did a little virtue.”
I heard a story, I think it is true. There was a very wealthy man who wanted to demonstrate his wealth to his friends so one day he took them out on his yacht. He also took a huge pile of $100 bills. Once they were out at sea, he made a great display of casting these dollar bills away into the ocean. Just to show how rich he was!
Even if we only do one positive thing we should not discount it. For example, if you help an elderly person who has difficulty walking take a few steps, you feel good, don’t you?
The seven- point mind training recommends:change your attitude but remain natural. Sometimes we think that practising the dharma means buying all the ritual instruments and equipment, but this might even casue conflict in your own family. Rather, your attitude has to be to create benefit for sentient beings, and that includes your family.
An infinite number of sentient beings are experiencing an infinite amount of suffering, so we need to develop infinite compassion. But it is difficult to change and to develop mindfulness. Some people really don’t understand anything! It is difficult to tolerate their presence and difficult to help them. But we are doing this for the benefit of all sentient beings, even for the benefit of just one being. Karma Pakshi said that he came to tame just one being – the Mongol emperor.
We need to develop compassion as vast as space.An image which I find helpful is that of a powerful beam of light. If you shine it from below, it only lights up a part, buty if you take it to the top of Mount Everest, the beam of light will fill the world around. This is what we need to do with our compassion.
In old Tibet, when people went on pilgrimage, they would recite mantras as they circumambulated holy places, and then they would dedicate the merit to all sentient beings. They didn’t know much about the world – they didn’t know where America was, and some believed Russia was inhabited by cannibals – but they did know that all sentient beings share the experiences of happiness and suffering, and so they made the aspiration that well-being should extend in all the ten directions.
Think of it! We all live on the third planet from the sun in our solar system, and our solar system is like a grain of sand in the galaxy, yet, even though we know nothing of these other worlds and solar systems, we can make an aspiration for the well-being of all sentient beings, throughout the universe.
There’s not a day or a moment in which we are not under the control of this enemy of the afflictions negative emotions and our mother sentient beings have been in its clutches since beginningless time. We need to develop compassion for these people.
We can also contemplate our own suffering, and from there consider the sufferings of other sentient beings.
Here’s a true story. There was a dog-owner who found the body of a dog and decided to use it for meat. When the family pet, a female dog who had just given birth to five or six puppies, arrived, they tried to give her some of the meat but she refused it, and she wouldn’t let her puppies eat it either. The people were insistent and were going to eat the meat, so the dog gave her puppies one last look, and ate some meat. Immediately she was taken violently ill, vomited blood, and died. Unbeknown to the family, the meat had come from a dog which had been poisoned and there was still poison in the meat! The family buried the mother dog, and a hundred people came to the funeral. Later the dog was reburied in a cemetery and a dog-shaped gravestone erected. That dog was acting for the benefit of sentient beings– animals also have love and affection. If animals can do it, we humans should be able to do it too, but we often think too much, and are indecisive.
This is the auspicious occasion of the birth anniversary of Dusum Khyenpa, an example of how great people come back again and again to work for the benefit of sentient beings. The Eighth Karmapa, Mikyo Dorje, said that even to be born as a dog in the presence of the Karmapa depended on the accumulation of merit. We need to remember the kindness of our root lamas. We should consider their actions. How they donned the armour of courage and were able to bring benefit to beings.
The session concluded with the Gyalwang Karmapa bestowing the five precepts (upasika vows).